Friday, February 27, 2015

An Engineering Student Reports Visiting A Job Fair With Almost No White Male Engineers

From: An Anonymous Engineering Student [Email him]

I recently attended a graduate student engineering career fair on my college campus, and felt like sharing some of my observations.

The event was a typical career fair—employers had booths and tables set up where future graduates could provide resumes and get face-time with prospective employers. Several prestigious companies were at the event, and were looking to hire people with doctorates in engineering. Starting pay for jobs at these companies vary, but are likely over $100,000 a year.

The starkest observation was the races of the students. In a room of approximately 100 students, the breakdown was like this:

45% Chinese
45% Indian
7% White
2% Black
1% Arab/Middle-Eastern

As far as gender goes, I don’t recall seeing any white females at the event—but there were plenty of Chinese and Indian girls. The few blacks present were not even African-Americans; they were 100% Africans from Nigeria judging by their name tags. There was one African-American female at the event, and she was one of the company recruiters. I don’t recall seeing any Latins at the event either (though the Latins involved in engineering at this school are overwhelmingly white Hispanics, so it is hard to pick them out sometimes).

As the smell of curry penetrated my nostrils, I looked around the room in disbelief and reflection.

These Indians and Chinese people, like myself, are studying for graduate degrees in engineering. As we move into the 21stcentury, it is readily obvious that this century will, economically and politically, belong ever-more-so to degreed science geeks on the far-right-hand-side of the Bell Curve. These are who the movers-and-shakers are going to be in the coming decades. This observation extends to individual countries, as the countries most able to prepare their graduates to compete in the hard sciences are the countries that will capture economic growth. And degreed science geeks are the ones that will be able to command high incomes and live a life of comfort even as vast numbers languish in unemployment.

I asked myself, “Where are my people? Where are the white men? Why aren’t they out here trying to get their piece of the pie?”

What I am trying to summarize for the readers here is simple: these little Chinese girls and little Indian girls are leaving the white male flatly in the dust. There is no comparison. We complain bitterly (and rightly so)  about unchecked Hispanic illegal immigration, but the real competition for top niches in society is coming from Asia. Fifty years ago, as I know from the photographs of previous graduating classes on the campus, this room would have been composed 100% of white men.

But now today, these white men are sitting on their butts at home, working menial jobs, and playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on their Xbox Ones. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 can further educate any of those doubting Thomases out there further.

And to throw gas on the fire, the Republican Party wants to import more Asians to compete against us. God help us!


EU is being promoted in skewed history lessons: Academics warn  teachers are promoting a 'soft push' for further European integration in British classrooms

The history of Europe is being taught to pupils in a ‘distorted’ way in order to promote the EU, a leading British historian has claimed.

Professor David Abulafia, of Cambridge University, said the ‘soft push’ for further European integration that had been seen in French and German education was beginning to ‘creep in’ to British classrooms.

He joins television historian David Starkey and Professors Richard Shannon and Robert Tombs in launching a campaign, Historians for Britain, calling for a fundamental redrawing of the UK’s relationship with Europe.

In total 30 academics have backed the campaign and contributed essays to criticise the concept of a single European identity that underpins the emphasis on further integration.

In his essay Professor Abulafia wrote: ‘The search for common roots has not been ignored in Brussels and among its acolytes. School textbooks are issued that attempt to present the history of Europe as a common enterprise.

‘It hardly needs to be said that this has involved a distortion of the past, by assuming that a sense of European identity has existed for centuries, and by assuming a common purpose leading to the ultimate unification of Europe.’

Millions of children across the continent could be being taught a skewed version of history for political purposes, Professor Abulafia feared.

‘There is a soft push to create a sense of European citizenship which is based on frankly an invented common history, because the history of Europe is to a large extent the history of division, not the history of unity,’ he said.

‘When it has been the history of unity, as we’ve seen under Napoleon and Hitler or under the Soviets in Eastern Europe, it has gone disastrously wrong. It is a papering over the discordant elements in European history to create this idealised event.’

The Cambridge academic said the European Union had been presented as a ‘great train’ with the tracks leading to a ‘United States of Europe’ in some textbooks.

He raised concerns that children were being misled into believing that ‘European citizenship trumps national allegiance’ and suggests the notion that it is ‘obvious and natural’ to have a fully integrated European state.

He added: ‘Attempts to create an artificial notion of ‘Europe’ distract from the reality of the situation and make it harder to rectify the many problems that exist within the EU’s institutions.’ His concerns are shared by other historians, one of whom compared the push for European unity to the tyranny of Joseph Stalin, and another who warned that it undermined principles defended by Sir Winston Churchill.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Business for Britain, the campaign backing renegotiation which is affiliated with Historians for Britain, said the idea of a single European identity was ‘dangerous’.

He told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: ‘The EU’s official motto is ‘United in diversity’, a laudable philosophy. Unfortunately, many of the EU’s policies seem intent on crushing that diversity, striving to replace Europe’s many historic identities with a single, artificial ‘European’ culture.’


Wesleyan university Now Offering LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM Housing (Not a Typo)

Weslyan University in Connecticut is now offering “LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM” housing, because apparently “LGBT” — or even “LGBTTQQ” — wouldn’t have been inclusive enough. For the culturally ignorant among us, “LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM” stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexual, asexual, genderf**k, polyamorous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism.”

The name of this super-inclusive, social-justice-hero of a dorm is “Open House,” and it is meant to be a “safe space” for self-identified LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM students, according to the university’s official website. Of course, some students may feel their sexual orientation or gender identity is so unique that it could never fit into one of the 15 categories represented by those letters.

So, in order to make sure no one ever feels discriminated against, ever, the webpage also clarifies that Open House is “for people of sexually or gender dissident communities” in general. “The goals of Open House include generating interest in a celebration of queer life from the social to the political to the academic,” the web page states. “Open House works to create a Wesleyan community that appreciates the variety and vivacity of gender, sex and sexuality.”


Thursday, February 26, 2015

'Term-time holidays affecting academic success? Give parents a break'

Missing just seven days schooling per year reportedly has a significant impact on a child's level of success. Teacher, Gillian Harvey, isn't convinced

Remember that annual family holiday to the Cornish coastline in early July? That drizzly week in which you slipped into rock-pools, ate damp fish ‘n’ chips and complained to your parents that they were ‘ruining your life’?

Turns out, you were right. The following year when you opened your GCSE results and discovered that they weren’t quite as good as you’d hoped, little did you know that it was that one miserable week (plus the subsequent two days’ sickness absence brought on by continual damp socks) that wrote you off for life – at least educationally.

The fact that you were faced with a constantly changing barrage of supply teachers in Year 10? Negligible. Your refusal to do your Science homework? This meant nothing. Your parents’ refusal to attend any parents’ evenings? Who cares!

No, it was your parents’ desire to give you a holiday, and the limited budget that necessitated taking you out of school during term time, that sealed your fate.

At least that’s the conclusion of the Department for Education (DfE), who claimed this week that missing just seven days’ schooling per year has a catastrophic impact on a child’s level of success.

They found that just 31 per cent of children who missed more than 14 days of lessons over two years achieved good grades in English, maths, science, a humanity and a language.

As a teacher, I agree that it is not ideal when pupils take holidays during term-time. But simply making spurious connections between statistics in order to support a point you wish to make without looking more closely at the numbers is both misleading and unprofessional.

Most teachers will agree that a holiday taken, say, in the last few days of the academic year, will have little impact on a child’s education. Children are more likely to miss the school show, sports day or lessons spent taking down classroom displays than anything of real note.

Similarly, if a child (or their parent) makes the effort to speak to their teachers, requesting work to do during or after the break, any issues with ‘catching up’ can be minimised.

Even DfE admitted that ‘other factors’ had not been taken into account in their calculations. Surely it is the overall attitude of parents who take their children out of school during more critical times, or who do not see it as their duty to ensure that their child’s education isn’t impacted, that should be investigated further, rather than the act of allowing your child to miss a few days of school?

As usual, the Government are tarring all parents – even the most conscientious – with the same brush. Yes, taking children out during term time might indicate an attitude to education that is less than ideal, but this should be seen as a symptom of an overall malaise, rather than the cause of poor academic performance itself.

There will be plenty of parents who choose to take children out of school for a short while, but who practice due diligence, communicate with the school and ensure that their children catch up on missed work. These are the parents who will no doubt be wracked with guilt on reading this report from the DfE.

The parents who don’t care, and team term-time absence with an overall poor attitude to their children’s education, will probably not worry in the slightest about this latest ‘finding'.

Perhaps if the DfE was more willing to do its own homework, they could produce some meaningful figures to highlight issues in education. Jumping on the parent-bashing bandwagon, and looking at statistics on holidays in isolation is about as useful as that bottle of sun-cream your mum optimistically packed as you headed for the coast.


A thousand years (or more) of lessons

Times change in the world of education. But for three long-established schools the ethos of learning remains the same, says Eleanor Doughty

It is not unusual for a grand English school to have a long and interesting history. Some date to Tudor England and Henry VIII, others Victorian England and a time that can seem black and white to our technicolour lives in 2015.

But a handful of not-so-grand schools are more ancient still – foundations that predate Wolf Hall and the dissolution of the monasteries, and even the Battle of Agincourt. Some were established before the first millennium.

“Brown is good,” is the term that Leo Winkley, headmaster of St Peter’s School, York, the third oldest school in the country, coined by accident. It has become something of a catchphrase within the school “for whatever it is that we are”.

Brown is in reference to the unusually coloured uniform. “There used to be brown caps and brown blazers. As far as I know it’s always been the uniform. It may go back to monastic browns, monkish sort of browns.”

The school dates to 627AD and, in its 1,300-year history, has moved around a few times. It now sits on its ninth site, a half-mile walk from York Minster. Through the school’s rugby posts – fittingly painted with brown stripes – the Minster is in clear view. “There’s an element of joining up [the] historical dots,” Winkley says. “Particularly through the dark ages when the Vikings were in charge. Frankly, education and learning went into a bit of a hole during that time.”

St Peter’s is one of the few northern boarding schools – few, compared to the south’s near-monopoly. Winkley describes it as “a local school with a strong regional identity”, most children being from Yorkshire.

He doesn’t think about school rivalries, though, because “there is a collegiateness about independent schools. We’re all technically competing but there’s a real sense of sharing, and the sector is stronger when we have lots of different kinds of schools.”

York has a handful of independent schools: Queen Margaret’s School is seven miles out of town, and the two Quaker schools, The Mount and Bootham School, are just around the corner. “If you want to get a cheap round of applause at [an old Peterites’ dinner], you tell them that you’ve just beaten Ampleforth,” Winkley grins.

But how does a school so old keep current? “I want the place to be traditional but also have a sense of personality,” Winkley says. “Children are ultra-conservative about change, ultra-reactionary and very protective of their school. Once it happens twice, it’s a tradition. They say, 'Oh you can’t not do that’, so things can become traditions quite quickly and have that sense of ancientness even though they were only invented three years ago. We’re not the sort of place that’s got lots of quirky traditions, but the prefects wear gowns.”

Many aspects of the school are much older than three years. On the lawn outside the front of the building is a large tree on a mound; that mound was used to fire cannon shots at the castle during the Civil War. “You can look out there and think, 'blimey!’ ”

History is all around them, and one notable alumnus made his place in it quite clearly: Guy Fawkes. “We have a certain vested interest in making sure our pupils are politically aware,” Winkley says. “Obviously, we’re using the correct channels for these views to be expressed.”

The pupils themselves are very genuine, their headmaster says, as talk turns to the presentation of public schools in the modern world. “There’s no St Peter’s veneer – there’s a St Peter’s-ness, but it tends to be about people being open-eyed and straight forward. [They’re] keen to get on, and ambitious, but not in a narrow-eyed kind of way.”

Historical evidence is difficult to hold on to, certainly over a millennium. It is a problem that the King’s School, Rochester, has also had. Founded in 604AD, Rochester is another cathedral school. Traditions can be found quite literally as you walk around; the prefects wear boaters and blue and red academic gowns.

Morning “chapel” – for most schools with this facility held in an average-sized space – takes place in Rochester Cathedral. Pupils are Roffensians, and later Old Roffensians, after the school song Carmen Roffense.

At Rochester, traditions are maintained “with ease”, explains the Principal, Jeremy Walker. “It is hard to ignore the impressive past of the school and its surroundings when, every day, we move between lessons in the shadow of the best-preserved Norman keep in Europe and the magnificence of the cathedral.”

In the 21st century, Rochester’s ancient traditions are now high speed and equipped with Wi-Fi – bang up to date.

Just 30 miles away in Canterbury is Kent’s “best-kept secret”, the King’s School. Founded in 597AD, it is, as old boy Michael Morpurgo suggested, “a university for small people”. Unlike most other schools, it has no singular main building, and consequently no corridors. There is no bustling in narrow passageways; instead, pupils walk around an ancient campus from building to building to get to lessons.

Once inside, there are Hogwartsian spiral staircases; the journey to the endearingly lived-in History of Art room winds it way up to a room that, at first glance, appears to be a library. Departments are called faculties, and the boarding houses look like Oxbridge colleges, even down to their varied age-related architectural characteristics and the balance between old and new.

“Pupils go from here to Cambridge and they feel it is absolutely a home from home. It’s exactly the same,” explains Graham Sinclair, the registrar.

Their own chapel “just about” fits all 850 pupils in: on Sundays, they occupy their next-door neighbour Canterbury Cathedral. The prefects – “Purples” – are one for every house. George Booth-Clibborn is head of Linacre house, but is quick to say that there’s no “massive hierarchy”. “I get a really nice room, and that’s essentially it,” he jokes.

“Purples” are afforded some traditional liberties that range from skipping the lunch queue to walking across Green Court – a lawn in the centre of the school – at certain times of the year. They also wear purple robes over their uniform; this, for girls, includes a brooch instead of a tie, and usual garb is a wing-collared shirt. “Even though the girls don’t like doing up the brooches, they would hate to be rid of them,” Sinclair explains.

Debating is “big” at Canterbury, too, but almost everything is. At King’s, it is also “cool to be passionate”, Sinclair explains. “If you’re a wonderful chess player, that’s as cool to the captain of rugby as his vice captain, because that’s your talent. There’s a huge respect for people’s passions.”

The school is also hugely high-achieving. Last year King’s racked up 86 per cent A*-B grades at A-level, and casually mentioned in conversation are household-name alumni from Olympic skiers to famous chefs. “It’s very busy here, but you can be as busy as you want to be. You can take on as many activities as you can manage.” explains Tatyana Kalaydjian Serraino, Purple: and head of the sixth form Bailey house.

But is it pushy? “It’s pushy in a good way,” George says. “They want to get the best out of you. They will push you academically and set big targets, but it’s all for you.”

“We don’t wear it on our sleeves that we’re an old school,” Sinclair says. “It is part of them. Maybe the idea of tradition – the age of the school – gives us an ease.”

While some parts of the school have their place in history – Year 9s are “Shells” and Year 10s “Removes”, as at a variety of other public schools – other things happen organically. “Every Christmas we have to watch Love Actually,” George laughs in the common room of Linacre house.

And somehow one feels that, “oh, you can’t not do that”, would be appropriate, if anyone tried to stop it.


Australia: Training dummies as teachers is not the way to get good teaching

I agree with Christopher Bantick below but he fails to ask WHY dummies are being accepted as teachers.  It's because most really capable people have a fair idea, if only from their own education, that teaching in many government schools is not a pleasant experience.  The low standards of discipline that are allowed to prevail these days can even be dangerous to teachers.  So a requirement for high standards in teachers would simply mean that not enough of them would be recruited.  "Child-centered" approaches sound wonderful but can result in bedlam in the classroom. 

I once taught in a "progressive" (no overt discipline) High School (Chiron College) so I saw what happens. The brighter half of the pupils did well enough -- mainly due to parental encouragement to learn, I gather -- and the less bright half learned nothing at all, though their skill at playing cards improved.  Like so many of its ilk, Chiron college is no longer in business.

I note that the "Summer Hill" school founded by A.S. Neill along "progressive" lines is still surviving -- but as a boarding school only.  So the parents would generally be affluent and like the parents of the students who did well at the school where I taught. So the big lesson is that "progressive" education is not suitable as a mass system but rather something that can work for the children of elite families with a strong interest in education. 

So there are two solutions to low standards in government schools:  Return to traditional standards of discipline and traditional ("chalk and talk") teaching methods.  Only then will the teaching experience once again be positive enough to attract brighter teachers.

In the meantime, there is a tried and proven but mightily resisted  strategy that does work:  Large classes.   There are SOME good teachers and large classes would allow them to spread the benefit of their talents more widely.  Small classes are the holy grail of teaching unions but the research shows that they are beneficial  only at the very earliest ages.  See  here and here  and here and here and here.  By contrast, many Australian Catholic schools in the past had class sizes as big as 60 and yet got results that would be envied today.

ANOTHER report into teaching and another missed opportunity. The report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, tabled last week, repeats the well-worn mantra that teachers are not good enough. The way to improve teaching is to insist on high academic ability on entry. This is not one of the report’s recommendations.

Instead, you have the head of the review into teacher training, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, saying the problem is in the university training of teachers. This is disingenuous in the extreme.

Universities can only educate those they accept. If students are admitted with low Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores to universities, then this is who they educate. Harsh as it may sound, academically, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. You can’t make a great teacher out of someone who is not academically excellent.

Why teachers fail in the classroom is because they are not, bluntly, bright enough to cope with academic subjects and able students. To this end, the universities have not failed in their preparation of teachers, but they have failed spectacularly in permitting teachers to be trained with substandard ATAR scores.

Only NSW has set a benchmark for teacher entry of at least 70 per cent in three subjects including English before they can qualify for registration.

The Australian Education Union, the peak representative body of teachers nationally, has argued sensibly for a clear lifting of entry requirements. The AEU’s criticism of the review’s failure to recommend high ATAR scores is wholly correct.

“An ATAR score is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that a teacher’s academic ability is important and that we need some minimum requirements,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says of the review’s shortcomings.

The AEU is not alone in sharing its disquiet. The Australian Primary Principals Association — a long-time critic of low reception academic standards for teachers — says in a submission to the review that the applications for education degrees need to be “in the top 20 per cent of the population” in terms of academic performance. In other words, a minimum ATAR of 80 before admission is considered.

Moreover, the Office of the Chief Scientist, in a submission to the TEMAG review, was explicit, saying — rightly — that “teaching was not an attractive option” for the “top school-leavers”.

The comparison is damning when teacher applicants with ATAR scores of more than 80 are compared to science and engineering. Teaching draws less than a fifth of Year 12 offers to top ATAR achievers. Science and engineering achieve upwards of 70 per cent.

If this was not enough evidence, an Australian Council for Education Research report found the top-performing systems internationally depend on the entry cohort: “All high-performing education systems recruit their teachers from the ablest students.”

It makes no sense that outstanding teachers can be produced if they are academically incompetent. It also makes no sense that the TEMAG review recommends new teachers “pass a national test placing them in the top 30 per cent of the country for literacy and numeracy”.

This is absurd. If ATAR scores were high, then clearly the students accepted into teacher training would already be adequately literate and numerate.

But what worries me as a teacher heading towards four decades in the classroom is the federal government’s persistence in blaming teachers for its own failings in handling teacher education.

Teachers are the easy beats of education policy. It is an emotive argument and a good one — if your main game is to divert attention away from issues such as funding and family breakdown, and a generation that has difficulty reading anything longer than a tweet.

No matter, the TEMAG review has put accountability squarely back at the universities’ door and has threatened closure of substandard courses. It is quite comfortable about substandard students applying.

Craven, palpably avoiding the critical issue of entrance requirements, says: “We are laying down a huge gauntlet here. There is no doubt that some courses are substandard and will have to improve to survive.”

Craven is chairman of the review and vice-chancellor of the ACU, which has one of the lowest entry requirements for teacher education in the country.

This in itself raises a significant concern. Teaching has become a milch cow for commentators and critics who have either never spent time in a school or whose experience of schools is outdated and ossified.

Everyone has a view, but few have actual present classroom experience.

Independent schools, the system where I work, have always looked for the best teachers academically. It is no accident that independent schools dominate university entrance in courses such as law and medicine.

It is an indictment on Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s competence to handle his troubled portfolio that he has endorsed the review’s recommendations and simply ignored the pressing and obvious need for higher ATAR scores for teachers who enter universities.

It beggars belief that Pyne, at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders’ inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture, said he is demanding “more rigorous selection” to teaching courses but this does not include minimum academic standards. So misguided is the Minister for Education in his ideas on teacher education that he has sullied Hedley Beare’s place in educational thinking, saying standards are “just not good enough” and that some teaching courses “lag way behind in quality”.

The central issue for both the review under the misguided chairmanship of Craven and the recommendations parroted by Pyne is just how they are going to produce not just good teachers but truly great teachers who are dumb bottom feeders on ATAR scores.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

OK: AP History courses survive funding cut

Responding to a wave of public pressure, a conservative lawmaker in Oklahoma has backed off a bill that threatened to cut funding for Advanced Placement US History courses, unless they were revised to reflect the concept of “American exceptionalism.”

“It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous…. We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not to hurt AP,” Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) told The Oklahoman Wednesday. The new bill will simply ask the state education board to review AP history, The Oklahoman reports.

House Bill 1380 passed out of committee earlier this week, with no Democratic votes. Representative Fisher and other supporters objected to the recently revised framework for AP US history by the College Board, which administers related exams so high school students can earn college credit.

“The redesign … trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of constitutional government in favor of robust analysis of gender, racial oppression, class, ethnicity, and the lives of marginalized people,” Fisher said during the committee meeting. “The emphasis is on America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters. Certainly we all know ... we have our blemishes, but we don’t want only our blemishes taught.”

Such battles over how US history should be taught – and how much emphasis should be placed on the country’s role as a model for liberty, democracy, and a free-market economy – have been playing out for several decades.

Last year, the Republican National Committee condemned the new AP US History framework as “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

The Texas state board of education objected to the AP US History framework and emphasized that teachers of the course must also follow state standards. Students in Jefferson County, Colo., walked out of classes in the fall, successfully opposing an attempt by conservative members of the school board to review and revise AP US history.

Backers of the Oklahoma bill said they worried it would supplant state history standards with a skewed attempt at a national curriculum – an objection that conservatives also commonly lob at the Common Core State Standards, which many states have voluntarily adopted.

On social media and in calls to legislators’ offices, students, educators, and other concerned citizens laid out their objections to the possibility that students might lose the opportunity to earn college credits. They also defended the AP courses as offering a balanced understanding of US history.

“We all love our AP classes, and depend on them to challenge us, prepare us, and ultimately, provide us with the chance to excel and gain college credit,” wrote high school student Moin Nadeem in a petition he placed on that has since received more than 16,000 online signatures.

One post to the petition, by someone identifying himself as both a conservative and an AP US history teacher in Broken Arrow, Okla., said he was appalled by the bill: “The framework is a barebones ‘map’ of topics that are to be covered; however, the teacher has the opportunity (and fails to do their job correctly if they do not take the opportunity) to add to the framework … with the state standards for US History…. Keep the government out of my classroom!”

Supporters of the new AP framework say it’s inaccurate to say the framework overemphasizes negative aspects of American history, and that teachers do use many of the documents listed in the bill.

The framework is about “teaching kids to see complexity and draw their own conclusions,” says Fritz Fischer, a history professor at the University of Colorado and author of “The Memory Hole: The U.S. History Curriculum Under Siege.”

The problem with people pushing “American exceptionalism” in the curriculum, Professor Fischer says, is that they want to teach “that America was always right.… They believe the US is the best country now and therefore it has always been the best country.”

Fischer agrees there are many examples of shining moments for the nation, but worries that some backers of exceptionalism don’t want students to be exposed to anything negative. Some have objected to letting students know about some founders of the country being slaveholders, while others have said America’s expansion westward can only be called expansionism, not imperialism.

“It’s much too simplistic for the classroom, where you want to teach critical thinking,” he says.


Make College Free-Market, Not ‘Free’

The biggest problem with President Barack Obama’s proposal to make two-year community college “as free as high school,” which he has dubbed America’s College Promise, is that the new “free” associate degrees will become as costly and meaningless as many high school diplomas.

For the record, American public elementary and secondary schools already spend more than $13,500 per pupil per year on average - slightly more than two-year colleges spend.

That’s hardly the kind of “free” any of us can afford, even if public secondary schools were getting results. Which they are, of course, but the wrong kind.

The national high school graduation rate may have reached an historic high of more than 80 percent, but the average college freshman reads at a middle-school level, according to the educational assessment firm Renaissance Learning. National Assessment of Educational Progress results for twelfth-grade public school students released last summer also show that just one-quarter score proficient or better in math, and slightly more than one-third (36 percent) are proficient in reading.

So the story is simple: U.S. public schools are awarding high school diplomas to millions of students who haven’t mastered the basics - a fact that even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admitted when he derided the “educational stagnation in our high schools” last year.

Not surprisingly, some 75 percent of freshmen entering public two-year colleges need remedial work in English, math, or both, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. There’s no good reason to believe that academic quality—much less affordability—will improve by expanding the federal government’s reach into higher education, or taxpayers’ wallets.

At last count our national debt was $18 trillion. Mounting evidence indicates that student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion, is adding to the drag on our economy. Decades of government “financial aid” have done little to help and, according to any number of studies, have probably made matters worse, encouraging colleges and universities to increase tuition and fees. The last thing we should be doing is spending another $60 billion to $70 billion annually on public two-year colleges where barely 1 in 5 students earns a degree in three years.

What is “free” in the president’s equation are the schools: they, like the high schools that supply them with students who are poorly equipped to do college-level work, would be free of responsibility.

What is needed to make higher education more affordable are better incentives for students to buckle down, study and get their degrees on time, not more high-priced, top-down government giveaways.

Instead of funneling hundreds of billions of dollars annually to public institutions that face no consequences for out-of-control price increases, what we should do is provide the money directly to students as performance grants.

To qualify for these grants, students would have to demonstrate financial need and complete their chosen degree programs as stipulated. Otherwise, their grants would convert into loans that must be repaid.

Schools, two and four-year alike, would have to compete for students and their associated grant funding, which would exert powerful pressure on the schools to control costs, keep program quality high and offer more generous institutional aid - or risk losing students to other institutions.

Want to make higher education an engine for economic growth? Don’t make it “free.” Make it free market, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman recommended decades ago.


Why parents should stop helping their kids with homework

I am not sure about the "research" reported below but there do seem to be some sensible suggestions. Comment from Australia

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.


There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students.

“And parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a completely different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills” — in other words — initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children. Source: Getty Images


Associate professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”


Education expert from, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images


Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More States Push Back Against Common Core

Common core is basically a good idea but it has been hijacked by Leftists to make it their propaganda tool

Common Core continues to be a top concern in the states, with Mississippi and Wisconsin being the latest states taking steps to distance themselves from the controversial standards.

Mississippi is considering full repeal of the Common Core standards. State senators Michael Watson and Angela Burks introduced legislation to repeal the standards last month, with Watson telling Mississippi “will end up with our own standards that are better, higher and cleaner than Common Core.”

This measure follows Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s December 2013 executive order affirming Mississippi’s right to define their education standards.

The bill would create an advisory board to evaluate other state standards (using resources such as Fordham Institute’s State of State Standards), and introduce new Mississippi standards to the state department of education. This way the advisory board could craft a set of standards exclusively for Mississippi students, by borrowing from rigorous standards like California’s math and Massachusetts’s language arts standards, but also keeping strong standards of their own.

In addition, in January, the Mississippi Board of Education voted to withdraw from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, which is one of the two tests aligned to Common Core, and requested proposals for new state tests on Feb. 2. Until a new test is adopted, however, the state will use NCS Pearson Inc. assessments. This was met with skepticism because Pearson signed a contract with the PARCC last year, leading to concerns that the new tests will be influenced by Common Core standards.

Mississippi is practicing competitive federalism, which is the process of states evaluating their current standards, keeping what is good, discarding what is bad, and using what has worked in other states. Competitive federalism is the opposite of one-size-fits-all approaches like Common Core.

Wisconsin is also moving away from Common Core standards. Earlier this month Gov. Scott Walker, R., Wis., cut state funding for the other Common Core-aligned exam, the Smarter Balanced assessment, in his budget proposal. The proposal doesn’t prohibit schools from using Common Core, but encourages district level innovation.

“I want high standards—and those decisions should be made by school board members and parents and others at the local level,” said Walker in his budget address.

Withdrawing from the Smarter Balanced consortium gives Wisconsin the opportunity to use a new test—perhaps approved by the University of Wisconsin-Madison—that could reflect state and district-driven standards.

Common Core began as an effort to establish uniform national standards and tests, and was incentivized by billions in federal funding and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. It was developed in 2009 by Achieve Inc. with oversight from the privately-run National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, but was then promoted by the Obama administration. In the midst of a recession, 46 states signed on to the standards, agreeing to implement them by the 2014-15 school year.

To aid the implementation process, the federal government created two national tests aligned with the standards: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia. The Department of Education also created a “Technical Review Panel” to oversee the validity of assessment questions.

But as the deadline for implementation loomed closer, states began to realize the costs of adopting Common Core, both financial and in terms of their educational decision-making autonomy. By June 2014— two months before the implementation date— 19 states had either withdrawn from the tests or paused implementation of the standards. Four of the 19 (Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana) had exited the national standards completely.

UD-common-core-status-map (5)

Opposition to Common Core continues to build across the nation, driven largely by parents. Quality education is best supported and fostered by those closest to the children—local leadership, teachers and parents—who are best equipped to craft an education system that fosters upward mobility and opportunity for children in their state.


Student Success Act Does Not Repeal Common Core. States Must Take the Lead

The current proposals in both the House and Senate to reauthorize No Child Left Behind are working through Congress. Although the proposals eliminate and consolidate some programs, the proposals maintain elevated levels of spending overall. While they would, importantly, eliminate some mandates imposed by No Child Left Behind, they retain most others, and would extend the law through 2021.

One thing the proposals don’t do is repeal Common Core. Nor could they.

The reauthorization proposal under consideration in the House – the Student Success Act– includes a strong prohibition on the federal government being involved in curriculum. These prohibitions already exist in three federal laws, but the Student Success Act helps to reiterate such prohibitions, and strengthens existing language. It states, among other language, that:

…the Secretary shall not, either directly or indirectly, attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State—

“(1) adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative, any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standards; or

“(2) participation in any such partnerships.

Although the prohibition language is smart policy, ultimately, repealing Common Core is the job of individual states, which should work to fully exit the national standards and tests, and replace them with standards and assessments that work for their students, and that reflect state and local priorities.

Conservatives should not conflate good prohibitions against a federal standards and curriculum regime with a repeal of Common Core.

While the Obama administration heavily incentivized the adoption of Common Core through billions in federal grants and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, the onus is ultimately on state leaders to withdraw from the national standards and tests.

Conservatives should not conflate good prohibitions against a federal standards and curriculum regime (which already exist, but are strengthened in the Student Success Act), with a repeal of Common Core. Nor should such prohibitions overshadow the shortcomings of the proposals overall, which, as we have detailed, represent a missed opportunity to significantly limit federal intervention in education and restore state and local control.


UK: Censorship on campus: a tale of two comedians

The great and the good are angry. So angry they’ve written a letter to the Guardian/Observer. What has raised their heckles? The cancellation of feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmiths University by students who aren’t big fans of her brand of feminism. Apparently the great and the good don’t like it when comedy is censored by priggish undergrads.

In their letter, signed by academics, writers and feminists, they slam the ‘illiberal and undemocratic’ silencing of those who have the apparently wrong views, and call on universities to ‘affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange’, including for comedians. Which is nice. But also odd. For at the end of last year, another comedian, Dapper Laughs, was banned by Cardiff University, and not a single one of the signatories to this letter said a word about it.

Of course, there are differences between Dapper and Smurthwaite. The former is relatively funny; the latter is funny relative only to being hit by a truck. The former is genuinely popular; the latter, not so much. And the former was definitely banned by Cardiff — the SU passed a motion explicitly forbidding him from campus on the basis that he tells sexist jokes — while the latter’s allegations of censorship by Goldsmiths remain mired in confusion: student officers claim her gig was pulled because only eight tickets had sold. And yet, this possible-but-not-certain No Platforming of Smurthwaite by Goldsmiths gets the great and the good so exercised that they get off their chaise lounges and pen an angry letter, while the unquestionable censoring of Dapper by Cardiff elicited from them not so much as an arched eyebrow. What explains such unabashed double standards?

It’s probably foolish to expect consistency on free-speech matters from letter-signers whose number include individuals who want state-backed regulation of the press, people who have agitated for bans on homophobic dancehall music, and a feminist who had her Twitter-botherers sent to jail. Maybe in next weekend’s Guardian/Observer there’ll be a letter calling for world peace signed by Henry Kissinger, Bashar al-Assad and that bloke on drugs who runs the Lord’s Resistance Army. And yet the fact that these opinion-formers can so brazenly ignore student censorship of one comedian and rail against alleged student censorship of another does shine an unforgiving light on the state of free speech today. It highlights three points.

Attacks on free speech are always attacks on the audience

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out why the censoring of Dapper wins the approval of those who pose as pro-comedy freedom. It’s because of who follows Dapper and laughs at his sex-fuelled gags: youngish men of a mostly working-class bent. These people can’t be trusted to hear un-PC stuff because, well, they’re a bit thick and they might act on Dapper’s daft words.

Disregard for freedom of speech is fundamentally motored by doubt in the ability of an audience to use its moral autonomy to judge the value of words and ideas. That’s why politicos are so keen to muzzle the tabloids but aren’t really bothered about the broadsheets; why football fans are subject to far more stringent speech controls than, say, Glastonbury attendees; why boobs on Page 3 drive feminists mad while images of breastfeeding in the Guardian fill them with matronly joy… because in each instance, the concern is not simply with the offensiveness of the words or images, but also with gullibility, the volatility, of the audience to those words or images.

Censorship is the clearest expression of contempt for the idea of human rationality, for the idea that people can freely engage their minds rather than requiring moralists, Mary Whitehouse or their mums to tell them what is right and wrong, and the reason Smurthwaite’s right to speak is defended while Dapper’s is not is simple: Smurthwaite’s audience of Radio 4-consuming folk are seen as more human and rational than Dapper’s swarm of Sun-reading fanboys from that side of the tracks where people think ‘The New Statesman’ is a TV show and ‘The Archers’ is a pub.

No Platform is always a bad idea — even for fascists

Strikingly, while the great and good letter-writers complain about the No Platforming of Smurthwaite, they kind of defend No Platform. They say ‘No Platforming used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists’ but more recently has been used against feminists, their implication being that a once useful tool is now used to problematic ends. Nope — the problem isn’t the misuse of No Platform; it’s the existence of it in the first place. Because the instant you accept that some views are too controversial to be publicly aired, because some people are too fragile to be able to hear and independently discount those views, you set in motion a censorious dynamic that it’s really hard to rein in.

When I was a student in the mid-1990s, I and my student friends involved with the magazine Living Marxism devoted a lot of time — seriously, a lot — to campaigning for free speech on campus. We went to freshers’ fairs, had rows, sold mags, hawked a pamphlet called ‘Free Speech on Campus’ written by Jennie Bristow, and argued against No Platform, then only applied to fascists, precisely on the basis that its logic would spread and ensnare others.

The problem with accepting No Platform is that it meant more than saying ‘No to the fash!’; it also meant accepting a really bad idea: that public debate must be policed by those with authority, and ordinary people lack the sufficient free will to be able to hear and see and consider all arguments. Once you accept this idea, you’ve already conceded to the censors. After that, it’s just semantics. It pains me to say we were right. Or more accurately, Thomas Paine was right. He made a similar point long before us: ‘He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.’

If you defend free speech only for your mates, you aren’t defending free speech

A key problem with the great and the good’s letter, as with so much ‘free-speech agitation’ these days, is that its aim is to defend free speech for friends of the signatories: Smurthwaite and other feminists who’ve been No Platformed. Listen, it’s good to stand up for your mates. Really. But don’t kid yourself that this means you’re standing up for free speech.

Fighting for free speech is all about fighting tooth-and-nail for freedom for your enemies, for those whose words make you retch. Why? Firstly, because it’s usually only the truly outr√© who face serious censorship, whether they’re fascists, extreme-porn merchants, or Christians who describe homosexuality as a cancer. Polly Toynbee doesn’t face censorship. The spouters of centre-ground guff are safe. It’s those on the outskirts of society, the bizarre and hateful, whose speech is threatened and whom we must exert most energy defending.

And the second reason we must defend the right of our sworn foes to publish poison or produce porn or whatever is as an expression of faith in the rationality and moral independence of the public, as a challenge to every censors’ key belief: that the masses can’t be trusted to see all this nutty stuff without being warped by it and thus must have their eyes and ears covered by their betters.

So, well done for fighting a friend’s corner. But that’s all you did. As Noam Chomsky once said: ‘Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin.’ See? It isn’t only the right-on who fight for ‘free speech’ for friends alone — so do the very destroyers of freedom. Free speech for some, for your mates but not for comedians you hate, isn’t free speech: it’s privileged speech, to be enjoyed only by those judged palatable by polite society. True commitment to freedom means defending free speech for all, with a special, energetic and unflinching focus on defending the liberties of those you loathe.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The liberty advantages to homeschooling

My kids will be dumb, rejected by their peers, unable to get a job, go to college, or function in society as adults. They will miss out on prom, as well as all the other joys that normal kids get to experience… All these are thoughts that ran through my mind while making the decision to homeschool our three children.

My own qualifications as a teacher also weighed heavily on my mind. I don’t have any particular academic strengths. I never was, and never had the desire, to excel in school. In fact, I hated it so much that even in the late 1990s when the dogma of, “you have to go to college to get a job and succeed” was experiencing its climax, I happily chose to not take a single college course immediately out of high school.

Despite my best efforts in unshackling myself from my own conventional education, I still harbored many insecurities about taking the plunge into homeschooling. It’s one thing to make choices for myself; it’s quite another to make them for a small child. These thoughts weighed heavily on my mind, despite the fact that I can’t stand “the state,” and have proven quite successful in life by doing the exact opposite of what my teachers and school councilors advised me to do throughout my life.

As for my wife, who has her Master’s in Education and was a third grade school teacher for 7 years, we never automatically thought of that as sufficient. Our insecurities ran deep.

It wasn’t until my wife and I sat down and wrote out all the negatives and positives of each option — homeschool vs. conventional school (public or private) — that we were able to see the competitive advantage of a child who is homeschooled, versus one who is not.

***Before I go any further, I realize that homeschooling is a privilege. Not everyone has this option, so please excuse my enthusiasm for what it is: a father’s excitement about raising his kids***

Below are the Liberty Advantages to homeschooling as we see them.

1) Social Life — To start, the social life they will have in the context of being their own individuals is paramount. My children, who are homeschooled, currently interact with other children in sports, dance, karate, neighborhood play time, community events, homeschool groups. They also interact with me in daily business activities and conversations.

Rather than being locked up in a room with an authoritative figure for 7 hours each day, and literally needing a permission pass just to use the bathroom, children who are homeschooled have the opportunity to experience the same sovereignty individuals who are not in school have. You eat when you’re hungry, take a piss when you have to go, engage in conversation with people you enjoy, and voluntarily seek out hobbies with others who share your passions.

It’s funny, a lot of people think homeschooled kids are going to turn out weird.A far greater concern for us as parents is whether or not our kids will be like trained animals by the age 18 while in school, with conditioned limits placed upon their potential and a head filled with nationalistic, corporatist dogma.

1) One on One Teaching — You just can’t beat the 1-to-1 ratio a parent has, compared to a 1-to-25 ratio a public school teacher experiences. Even the most passionate teacher has to teach according to what will benefit the overall class most, which isn’t always at the level that will necessarily best teach your child. My wife, who as I mentioned is a former elementary school teacher, was shocked at how efficient a home classroom could be. What took 5 or 6 hours was only taking 1 hour when she was teaching my son.

Furthermore, you are not alone. Homeschool parents represent a large group with regular meetings, and there is plenty of curriculum, including the one my family is using: the Ron Paul homeschool curriculum.

1) The Freedom to Learn – We all learn best by doing. The biggest problem I have with conventional education is that we condition our young people to become order takers. Any diversion from what the teacher wants, or the state demands, is deemed as failure or underachievement. I don’t like training people to be submissive, or to fear the risk or being different. If a child is going to learn to live as an independent adult, why not allow them live a life of learning rather than be told what to think within these daily 8-hour conditioning sessions?

Some Other advantages — The flexibility to focus in on what your child is actually interested in. Then there’s the added bonus of being able to spend more time with your little ones.

My own personal journey and awakening came about due to the tyrannical actions of the state after 9/11, and what I have found is that the more I distance myself from the state, the higher my quality of life is. The more I choose to ignore it, the better every day becomes. 10 years ago, I would have happily sent my kids off to school. But now, I get to hang out with my children throughout the day, eat lunch with them, converse, and even join them for the occasional nap. Making your own life’s course and completely ignoring all expectations around you has to be one of the greatest acts of liberty one can experience. I can only hope that my actions can serve as an positive example for my children.


Atheist Group Goes After Okla. Schools For ‘Illegal’ Bible Distribution

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, expanded its campaign to keep Bibles from being given to public school students to Oklahoma this week, sending letters to 26 school districts across the state complaining of “illegal” Bible distribution by The Gideons International.

After learning the Bibles were being passed out, FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote “strong letters” to the school systems alleging the schools were violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing the Christian group, known for handing out Bibles in schools, hotels and prisons across the country, to bring Bibles into classrooms.

“It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the distribution of bibles as part of the public school day,” said the letter, according to an FFRF press release. “Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools is prohibited,”

Seidel also accused the Gideons of “illegal” and “predatory conduct” toward children.

“Parents carefully instruct their children not to accept any gifts from strangers. The Gideon practice of distributing bibles to schoolchildren teaches them to ignore that guidance," he stated.

The letter asked the school districts to halt all Bible distribution.

“It's time for school officials in Oklahoma to do their job, enforce the law and protect students from the Gideons,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in the release.

This is not the first time FFRF has blasted public school systems over this issue. Last year, after a long series of legal battles, FFRF successfully prevented Orange County Public Schools in Florida from allowing Bibles to be passively distributed to high school students on National Religious Freedom Day in January.

WorldChangers of Florida, a Christian group, had been placing Bibles on tables in common areas in local high schools for students who wished to take one.

In response, FFRF won the right to distribute its own materials on the same day, including an explicit pamphlet entitled “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible.”

After months of court battles with FFRF, as well as continued promises by the atheist group and the Satanic Temple to pass out their own materials to students, the school district amended its distribution policy to ban all religious materials from being made available to students by outside groups.


Australia: Industry Group calls for national strategy to address crippling STEM skill shortages

“A lack of critical Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills among the current and emerging workforce is holding back Australian employers in their quest to be more innovative, productive and competitive;” Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

The negative implications for our economy were highlighted in an Ai Group report released today - Progressing STEM Skills in Australia – which included survey results from more than 300 businesses across the economy.  The survey found that businesses are having difficulty recruiting employees with STEM skills including technicians and trade workers (44 per cent), professionals (21 per cent) and managers (19 per cent).

"This report demonstrates the significant challenges facing Australia's educators and employers to adequately skill the workforce required to build a competitive economy for the future,” Mr Willox said

"Over 36 per cent of the employers surveyed reported their greatest barrier to recruitment of staff with STEM skills to be a lack of qualifications relevant to their business.  Other key barriers included a lack of workplace experience and employability skills (34 per cent) and a lack of applicants with STEM skills (29 per cent).

"STEM skills are essential for the future economic and social well-being of the nation and employment in this area grew about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years.  Despite this, enrolments and the number of graduates with STEM qualifications continue to decline and secondary school enrolments in mathematics and science are also decreasing. Accordingly the pipeline of STEM skills to the workforce remains perilous.

"There is an urgent need to develop a national STEM skills strategy to lift the level of STEM qualified employees in the workforce to enable the Australian economy to be more competitive and prosperous” Mr Willox said.

Key findings:

*                STEM skills are increasingly important for the workforce and the competitiveness of the Australian economy.

*                Australia is underperforming internationally compared to STEM strong countries.

*                Participation by school students in STEM related subjects is decreasing and our performance in international comparisons is below many other countries.

*                Participation by university students in STEM related disciplines is not keeping pace with the needs of the economy and is low compared to other similar economies.

*                Employers continue to experience difficulties recruiting STEM qualified staff, especially as technicians and trade workers.

*                Australia lacks a national STEM skills strategy and is the only country in the OECD without a science or technology strategy.

*                Australian Government financial assistance to STEM is thinly dispersed, non-systemic and does not contribute to a national approach.

*                School – industry STEM initiatives are characterised by un-coordinated and non-systemic activity.

*                University – industry collaboration, including in STEM fields, is low by international comparisons.

*                There is a need to develop more engaging school curriculum and pedagogy to attract students to STEM and a need to increase the STEM qualified teaching workforce.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

AZ House panel moves to dump Common Core

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to do what schools chief Diane Douglas has so far been unable to do — kill the Common Core academic standards and any tests associated with them.

The House Education Committee voted 5-2 along party lines to block the state Board of Education from implementing the standards developed in part by the National Governors Association.

The Republican-backed HB 2190 also makes it illegal for the board to adopt standards for college and career readiness that are “substantially similar to standards or assessments used by 20 or more other states.”

The legislation says efforts to implement Common Core, adopted by the board in 2010, “are void on the effective date in this section,” and anything new adopted by the state board can’t take effect until approved by the Legislature.

By the same margin, the committee also approved another measure that could undermine not only Common Core, but any future statewide assessment.

HB 2246, sponsored by Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, would let parents opt out of having their children take any sort of statewide assessment. Ackerley, a high school physics teacher, said he’s not against any specific test but wants to affirm the rights of parents to make that choice.

And the full House voted 35-22 Wednesday for HB 2180, which would require the state Board of Education to create multiple alternatives to the AzMERIT test linked to Common Core — and allow local school boards to choose something other than that test.

Wednesday’s action comes as Douglas, who backed off on efforts to fire two Board of Education employees who were implementing the board-approved Common Core standards, put the board on notice the pair “will be permitted to interact only socially” with employees of the Department of Education, which Douglas controls.

“They will not be permitted to discuss any policy issues with or make any direct requests of non-board Department of Education staff,” an attorney representing Douglas wrote.

The move to quash Common Core is being led by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

“There seems to be some confusion about what local control is,” he told colleagues. “Local control is state control. Under Common Core, state control has been usurped by the federal government.”

Finchem also said Common Core has resulted in lower standards than what existed before.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Finchem is lashing out at the wrong things.  He said Common Core deals with standards for what students are expected to know at various points in their education. Bolding said Finchem is objecting to the curricula, including the books used, items controlled by local school boards.

Heather Kays, who lobbies for the Heartland Institute, called that an “argument of semantics.”  “If you are going to dictate what students need to know, that means you are defining what they will be taught,” said Kays, whose national organization opposes Common Core. “And these specific set of standards actually do outline specific methods that need to be used to arrive at the specific answer.”

But Amanda McAdams, the 2011 Arizona “teacher of the year,” said the materials used are determined by staff at the school. McAdams, who said she has three school-age children, acknowledged there may be some frustration by parents, as their children find their work and homework more difficult because of Common Core.

“Kids will struggle,” said McAdams, who teaches sophomore English at Apollo High School in Glendale. But she said the standards have resulted in students learning more.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, however, said the result of Common Core is that parents are less involved.  “I want the parents to be able to help with homework,” he said. “They can’t because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Brad McQueen, a fifth-grade teacher in the Tanque Verde school district, said the problem with Common Core is the standards were not developed and controlled by Arizonans. McQueen, author of the book “The Cult of Common Core,” said HB 2190 “returns everything Common Core took away from our state.”

But Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said that’s not necessarily good. The problem with the old standards, he said, is they really didn’t prepare students for college. Coleman, a former teacher, said that has resulted in universities and community colleges having to offer remedial courses for Arizona high school graduates.

But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he thinks the focus has been too much on preparing students for college and career and not enough on “who they are as individuals.”

Coleman also worried that the restrictions in HB 2190 would preclude Arizona from some common-sense goals, like saying first-graders should learn their numbers, simply because 20 other states have the same standards. But he agreed to go along with other Republicans to have further discussion of the issue.

HB 2190 also drew opposition from Garrick Taylor, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  “The current standards are working,” he told lawmakers. And he said it would be a waste of money to scrap the Common Core standards four years after they were approved and now start coming up with something else.


Imagining Danger: ‘America’s Worst Mom’ on Overreaction

Is America prone to overreaction? Are our schools imagining danger when they treat toaster pastries like a gun or a joke between friends as racial harassment?

In FIRE’s latest video, Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, argues that too often we exaggerate the potential for danger when pushing “zero tolerance” rules in elementary schools or passing speech codes on college campuses.

Skenazy gained national attention in 2008 after she wrote a column for The New York Sun about her experience letting her nine-year-old son use the New York City subway alone. He survived unscathed, but Skenazy did not—she found herself labeled “America’s worst mom.” Since then, Skenazy has worked to help parents realize that their children are not in constant danger and deserve—and indeed need—some independence.

In an interview recorded at last summer’s FIRE Student Network Conference, Skenazy describes some of the most absurd overreactions at schools across the country. One of the most bizarre incidents involved a second grader who bit his Pop-Tart into an “L” shape and was suspended because his teacher thought it resembled a gun.

“When people can’t see the difference between a toaster pastry and a gun, there is something wrong with society,” said Skenazy about the case.

Skenazy explains that FIRE and Free-Range Kids have similar missions: They both fight the idea that young people are always in danger and extreme precautions need to be taken to ensure that they are safe.

“It’s the idea that kids are in such danger that we are hallucinating it everywhere,” said Skenazy.

Skenazy and her Free-Range Kids movement are the subject of an article in next week’s New Yorker. Skenazy’s reality television series, World’s Worst Mom, premiered on the Discovery Life channel last month.

SOURCE. Video at link

British universities paying firms millions to bring in 'cash cow' foreign students

Universities are paying agencies millions to recruit overseas students who boost their coffers.  Home students suffer as lectures are dumbed down to help those with poor English, academics say.  And some institutions enrol lucrative non-EU students ‘regardless of their language skills’, it was claimed.

A study by Times Higher Education (THE) found 106 universities spent £86million recruiting abroad in 2013 to 2014, or £1,767 per student – a 16.5 per cent increase on two years before.

The Russell Group of top universities were some of the top spenders, with Sheffield, Glasgow and Cardiff each spending more than £6million from 2011 to 2014. Coventry spent the most, paying out £10.2million in commission and VAT to recruit 5,634 students, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. However, a university spokesman said: ‘By error the figures . . . included substantial non-agent related costs, and therefore do not represent the university’s spend.’

The University of Bedfordshire spent £9.5million and Middlesex University spent £8.8million including VAT.

Giving money to recruitment agents is worthwhile for institutions because the average fee paid by a student from outside the EU last year was £11,289 – or £13,425 for laboratory-based courses. Fees for UK and EU students are capped at £9,000 a year.

Liz Reisberg, formerly of the Centre for International Higher Education, at Boston College in the US, and now an independent consultant, told THE the situation was ‘staggering’.

Of 158 universities that gave data, all but 19 used agents to enrol non-EU students. At the 124 institutions that gave a breakdown of admissions, there were 58,257 international students enrolled using agents in 2013-14.

This month, a separate THE survey found more than a third of academics thought foreign undergraduates did not speak or write good English.

One admitted to The Best University Workplace Survey that tutors ‘lower the level of classes so everyone can keep up – to the disadvantage of native speakers’. A Russell Group lecturer called the issue the sector’s ‘dirty little secret’.

A respondent at a university in the Midlands said it tried ‘to attract as many international students as possible regardless of their language skills.’

As the survey was anonymous, there is no suggestion the complaints came from institutions that pay agencies fees to recruit internationally.

Nicola Dandridge, of Universities UK, which represents the sector, said: ‘International students are subject to numerous tests to ensure they meet high English language requirements.’

The group said official guidance puts an onus on universities to ensure agents act ‘ethically and responsibly’.