Friday, May 29, 2015

Larger class sizes and poor attainment leave UK pupils lagging behind Poles

The fact that Britain has lots of minorities while Poland has almost none might just have something to do with that

British pupils are getting a worse start in life than those in Poland because of larger class sizes and poorer attainment, a report suggests.

Researchers said pupil achievement in the UK was behind that of children in the former Soviet-bloc country, and fewer pupils go on to university.

The report, which analysed 149 countries, ranked the UK at number 36 – behind countries such as Poland, which was ranked ninth, Singapore and Hong Kong.

It was based on class size, enrolment to tertiary education, number of years in education and international test scores.

The study found that while Poland has an average class size of 20, the UK average is 26.

In addition, a higher proportion of Polish pupils go on to study courses after the age of 18.

Britain was ranked 26th in the 2012 PISA tests for 15-year-olds run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – behind Poland which was 14th. The tests in maths, science and reading allow comparison of pupils in different countries around the world.

The report comes amid mounting concern that British children are falling behind those in other countries after years of slipping standards.

The Coalition tried to reverse this trend in the last Parliament by making qualifications harder and taking a tough stance on under-performing schools.

But the report’s results were even more stark when researchers compared recent progress in education in different countries. Britain was ranked 133, while Poland was at 28.

The report, produced by management consultancy firm Boston Consulting Group, said that while the UK was still ahead of many countries, Poland has made more headway in education in recent years.

It said: ‘The Polish education system was reformed in 2009 with changes being implemented over several years.  ‘Education is now compulsory from ages 6 to 18, with alternative education options available from age 16, including apprenticeships. There is also a statutory entitlement to a year of pre-school education.’

A Department for Education spokesman defended the Government’s record, saying its education reforms and ‘focus on standards’ were helping more young people to ‘achieve their potential’.

The researchers also examined economic growth trends and how governments ‘converted’ wealth into well-being – or quality of life – among their populations.

While the UK’s performance was above the global average in measurements linked to well-being, its progress in converting growth into well-being had fallen back relative to the rest of the world.


Arrogant student 'diversity' officer who banned men from meetings and tweeted #killallwhitemen KEEPS her taxpayer-funded job

A university equality officer who sparked outrage when she tweeted 'kill all white men' has kept her taxpayer-funded position.  Bahar Mustafa, 27, student union Welfare and Diversity Officer at Goldsmiths University in London, was caught in the centre of a racism and sexism row after she told white people and men 'not to come' to an event.

She had also used hashtags including #killallwhitemen, as well as calling someone 'white trash' on Twitter.

Students launched a petition calling for her to be removed from the post saying she has 'made students feel intimidated', been 'unprofessional in her public conduct' and 'encouraged or expressed hatred based on an individual's race, gender, or social position'.

Despite building pressure for her to quit or be sacked, Goldsmiths Student Union have said she is to keep her job.

The students union petition, which closed today, had called for a vote of no confidence in Ms Mustafa.  It read: 'The current welfare and diversity officer has used hate speech based on race and gender.

'For example, the consistent use of hashtags such as #killallwhitemen and #misandry, and publicly calling someone 'white trash' under the official GSU Welfare and Diversity Officer Twitter account.'

A spokesman for Goldsmiths Student Union, which pays Ms Mustafa's wage out of a £600,000 grant a year from the university, said: 'Following action taken during the occupation of a university building last month, 165 students signed a petition calling for a vote of no confidence in welfare and diversity officer Bahar Mustafa.

'This represents 1.9 per cent of our 8,000+ members and our rules require three per cent to have signed to trigger a referendum. 'The petition has therefore failed and so a vote will not take place.

'However, we recognise some students and a large number of people outside the organisation are unhappy with the work of our elected representatives.  'We are looking at how we can address those concerns in dialogue with our members and our trustees, who oversee our work.'

The university petition ran for three weeks and was promoted through the Student Union website and social media. Only members of the Student Union were allowed to vote.

A separate petition on to remove Ms Mustafa from office has received more than 21,000 signatures.

Ms Mustafa's ban on white people and men from the meeting triggered outrage last month.

She had written on Facebook: 'Invite loads of BME [black and minority ethnic] Women and non-binary people!! Also, if you've been invited and you're a man and/or white PLEASE DON'T COME just cos i invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME Women and non-binary event only.'

Non-binary is a term used to describe people who do not consider themselves exclusively male or female.

Miss Mustafa, 27, added: 'Don't worry lads we will give you and allies things to do', followed by a wink.

The event's online page said it was open to 'self-defining BLACK and ETHNIC MINORITY women and non-binary people with gender identities that include 'woman'.'

She then defended her position by stating that she could not be racist because she is an ethnic minority woman.

A notice about the meeting later appeared to show the ban had been dropped, stating: 'Allies now welcome!'

One student at the university described the exclusive policy as 'patronising beyond belief'.

Ms Mustafa has previously defended her position on her ban in a video clip, where she said in a statement read out to her fellow students that ethnic minority women could not be racist as they 'do not stand to gain' from inequality.

She also accused the media of embarking on a 'witch hunt and shameful character assassination'.

In her response to the no confidence petition, Ms Mustafa admitted that using the phrase 'white trash' on an official account was 'not professional', but said the hashtags had been used as a joke.

She wrote: 'Regarding my use of hashtags: these were done on my personal account, which is separate to my work account. 'However, I still recognise and understand how this can be alienating and troubling to some.

'These are in-­jokes and ways that many people in the queer feminist community express ourselves­ it's a way of reclaiming the power from the trauma many of us experience as queers, women, people of colour, who are on the receiving end of racism, misogyny and homophobia daily.

'These are not political stances. However, in regards to calling someone 'white trash' under my official GSU Welfare and Diversity twitter account, I can accept that it was not professional and I do apologise for this.'

She also said that she had received racists and sexist abuse, as well as death threats, 'since the media storm' over her comments.

Miss Mustafa recently graduated from Goldsmiths with an MA in gender and media studies.

She is understood to live with her mother Nursen, 55, father Ismail, 57, and sister Ipek, 23, in Enfield in a £450,000 three-bedroom terrace.


Is it time to erase erasers? Nut says 'instrument of the devil' should be removed from classrooms

Erasers are an ‘instrument of the devil’ and should be banned from classrooms, an education expert has warned.  Guy Claxton, visiting professor of learning sciences at King’s College London, said rubbers wrongly encourage children to feel ashamed of their mistakes.

Youngsters need to be unafraid of making errors, to recognise and learn from them, the cognitive scientist added.  ‘The eraser is an instrument of the devil because it perpetuates a culture of shame about error,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.

‘It’s a way of lying to the world, which says, “I didn’t make a mistake. I got it right first time.” That’s what happens when you can rub it out and replace it.

‘Instead, we need a culture where children are not afraid to make mistakes, they look at their mistakes and they learn from them, where they are continuously reflecting and improving on what they’ve done, not being enthralled to getting the right answer quickly and looking smart.

‘They need to be interested in the process of getting the right answer because that’s what it is like in the big wide world.’

The academic’s advice was to ‘ban the eraser, get a big road sign with an eraser and put a big, red bar across it and get kids to say you don’t scrub out your mistakes – highlight them because mistakes are your friends, they are your teachers’.

Erasing mistakes does not help children prepare for life’s realities, Professor Claxton said, adding: ‘Out in the big wide world nobody is going to be following you around, marking your work, organising your time for you. In the 21st century you are going to be the designer, the architect, the curator of your own learning.’

He referred to research by Paul Tough – the US author of a book called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character – showing that both resilience and curiosity help pupils to do better in their exams as well as in life.

‘School should not be just a place for getting right answers to pass tests, it should be a real preparation for all kids to embark on life,’ Professor Claxton said.

‘We should narrow the gap between what learning is like in the real world and the way it is configured in school.’


Thursday, May 28, 2015

No Suspension for Swearing – Punishment Unfair to Minorities

The Oakland Unified school board in California voted unanimously last week to eliminate willful defiance as a reason to suspend any student.

Willful defiance is a broad category of misbehavior that includes offenses such as ignoring requests to stop texting and swearing at a teacher.

KRON-TV reports the new policy is expected to be in full effect next July.

Civil and child rights advocates have been lobbying for such changes based on statistics showing that minority students are disproportionately punished for disobedience.

According to EdSource, superintendent Antwan Wilson wrote a letter to the community saying, “If we are to ensure that success for Oakland children is not determined by cultural background or neighborhood, it means that we must build strong relationships with our students at school and invest deeply in restorative practices.”

The school district will now invest at least $2.3 million to expand “restorative justice” practices in its schools.

With the $2.3 million, “Oakland is on the way to full implementation of restorative practices in all their schools,” said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Council, a public interest law firm that has been advocating for positive disciplinary practices, according to EDSource.

“That’s real school safety and real school climate transformation. It doesn’t work when it’s underfunded,” Faer added.

The U.S. Department of Education publication “Guiding Principles: A Resource for Improving School Climate and Discipline” defines restorative justice practices as, “non-punitive disciplinary responses that focus on repairing harm done to relationships and people, developing solutions by engaging all persons affected by a harm, and accountability. A variety of restorative practices can be used in schools, ranging from brief on-the-spot responses to student behavior in the classroom to community conferencing involving multiple parties, such as students, parents, and teachers.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland has been criticized for disproportionate suspensions, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and a 2012 voluntary agreement that required the district to employ a range of practices that reduced suspensions


Student Debt Is Hot Topic for 2016 Field

The rise in college costs—and student-loan burdens—is breaking through as a hot issue in the 2016 presidential race as contenders float proposals that rethink what college should cost and who should foot the bill.

Republicans, who generally point to easy access to federal student loans as the culprit inflating the price of higher education, are focusing on driving down tuition prices and creating alternative pathways to degrees. Democrats are concentrating on pumping significantly more federal money into public universities to reverse years of state budget cuts.

The debate comes amid rising concern about the cost of higher education. In April, a Gallup poll found that only 21% of Americans view higher education as affordable. Another Gallup poll found that 73% of parents with children under the age of 18 are worried about paying for college.

The idea of a massive infusion of federal cash to guarantee “debt-free college” gained traction this week when presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton told reporters in Iowa it was critical to “move toward making college as debt free as possible.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who also is seeking the Democratic nomination, introduced legislation that would eliminate undergraduate tuition at public four-year colleges and expand work-study programs to help students at private universities. Mr. Sanders estimates the plan would cost $70 billion a year and would be partially paid for by a tax on financial transactions.

GOP presidential hopefuls have approached the issue by focusing on the price tag. In 2011, Rick Perry, then governor of Texas, began calling for $10,000 undergraduate degrees, a challenge that some colleges heeded.

Last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) told reporters in Iowa he wanted to enable college students to deduct the cost of education during the course of their careers.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla), who has called for the government to back new, less costly routes to postsecondary degrees, also has introduced legislation that would allow private investors to cover the cost of college for students in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings. Such income-share agreements are popular in South America.

The issue resonates beyond the 2016 field. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), who heads the health and education committee, has suggested schools should have more “skin in the game” by being held financially accountable for students who are unable to pay back their loans.

Mrs. Clinton’s choice of words in Iowa was a victory for the progressive wing of her party, which began championing the concept after left-leaning think tank Demos floated the idea in September. A paper from the group calls for the federal government to kick in about $30 billion to partly match state funding for higher education.

Progressives received a boost in April when three senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), introduced a resolution calling for debt-free college and highlighting the 300% increase in public college costs from 30 years ago.

The backdrop is a broader debate between baby boomers and millennials. Boomers graduated from college with little or no student debt and oversaw a significant drop in spending on public higher education.

Now, nearly three-quarters of college graduates have student debt; the average is about $35,000. This year’s class will be the most indebted ever.

“This is the first generation we’ve saddled with this kind of debt and frankly we don’t know what the consequences will be,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos and the author of the paper championing debt-free college. “I think you’re seeing an entire generation, the millennial generation, for whom this is the most acute financial issue they’re facing.”

President Barack Obama helped set the stage for the student-debt debate with a January proposal to make community-college tuition free for every American. He hoped to cover part of the cost by scrapping the tax deductions for 529 college saving accounts, but Democrats attacked that idea and he dropped it.

In his first term Mr. Obama put in place a program called “Pay As You Earn” that allowed student-loan borrowers to pay 10% of their annual discretionary income in monthly installments. Borrowers who work in the public sector—a government agency or nonprofit—are forgiven whatever debt they owe after 10 years. Borrowers in the private sector generally have debt forgiven after 20 years.

Enrollment in those plans have surged during the past year, in part due to outreach by the Obama administration. That growth has raised concerns that the cost of those plans could drive up long-term expenses. The Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington, said in a report last year that the most popular plan eventually could cost taxpayers $14 billion a year.


“Rape Culture” and the Implications for Liberty on College Campuses

College campuses are placing a stronger emphasis on reducing sexual assault. Unfortunately, universities and colleges often adopt heavy-handed policies to punish alleged offenders based on abstractions or simplistic understandings of college student attitudes and behavior. One of the more problematic overgeneralizations is the concept of the “rape culture”, and the pervasive use of the term interferes with our understanding of the nature of campus sexual assault and identifying practical solutions that are more consistent with individual liberty.

“Rape culture” posits that our colleges and universities are dens for sexual predators that promote violence against women and, more importantly, that this violence is institutionally supported. Since the problem is cultural, rather than individual, the solution is institutional–categorical policies that provide little room for context or individual circumstance. Also, because the problem is systemic, extraordinary means can be justified to bring it under control, including abrogating due process, tilting adjudication in favor of the accuser rather than the accused, and implementing draconian measures despite a lack of evidence to support the allegations. Emily Yoffe at does a nice job of laying out these dangers as does Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute.

But what if a rape culture doesn’t exist?

Take the case of Florida State University, a large urban campus that has been at the center of the national debate over sexual assault. More than half of its 33,000 undergraduates are female. Most students live off campus, and 6,500 are members of 22 fraternities and 19 sororities. The university hosts nationally competitive Division I athletic programs. All these factors should make the university a poster child for an institutionalized “rape culture.” Indeed, the university is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for violations of federal law over its handling of sexual assault.

So, does FSU exhibit a rape culture? Not if rape culture is defined as a set of shared values, institutional processes, and community environment supportive of rape and sexual assault. FSU has been tracking attitudes toward sex and consent among men since 2010. While this is a limited survey focused on heterosexual relationships and ignores female assaults on men, it’s illustrative of the broader cultural context for the university. The vast majority of men surveyed recognize that consent is necessary before having sex. In fact, nine out of ten men responding to the survey report obtaining consent before having sex.

But consent is sometimes problematic since men and women communicate sexual desires and intentions differently. Teenage men, in particular, often have difficulty interpreting nonverbal behavior and see “blurred lines” even when they are clear to women. At FSU, these lines have become noticeably brighter and less ambiguous. In 2013, for example, 88% of men disagreed with the statement: “When women are raped, it’s often because the way they said ‘no’ was ambiguous.” This percentage is up significantly from three years earlier, when 73% of men disagreed with that statement.

A greater concern might be the question of implied intent by women when they take certain actions. When men were asked if they agreed “if a woman is willing to go home with a man, consent to have sex is implied,” 23% said yes. By implication, the vast majority–enough for most survey takers to imply a social consensus–reported that they believed that consent to have sex was not implied simply because a women agreed to go home with them. This is still a disturbingly high number, but it’s a far cry from evidence of a campus-wide rape culture. Moreover, false or unrealized expectations are not the same as an actual assault.

Other questions elicited high responses from men in their willingness to intervene in cases when they believed a woman was being emotionally abused (94%) and when they witnessed another man pressuring a woman to leave with him (77%). Nearly all said they would admire someone that intervened to prevent sexual abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.

These data question the veracity of sweeping comments about the existence of rape culture at a university that has been in the national spotlight for its alleged failure to address sexual assault. I also doubt FSU is unique.

Does the lack of a rape culture mean that sexual assault and rape are not a problem on college campuses? No. Taking even the lower bounds of reported sexual assaults, an issue I will take up in my next blog post, female survivors of rape or attempted rape number in the hundreds at FSU and could fill two or more sororities. If we add men into the mix, the numbers are even higher.

So, what’s the solution? Is there a path that builds civil society and shifts the culture further toward individual freedom and liberty? I believe the answer is “yes,” and I think it’s an important libertarian issue (as I have discussed before here and here).

While I don’t have the space to go into a full explanation of the framework here, I believe it hinges on five elements: 1) directly addressing the moral case for respecting individual dignity and liberty, 2) transitioning social ethics on campuses from a bystander culture to one that supports active intervention when friends and acquaintances are threatened, 3) empowering individuals to neutralize threats through situational awareness and self-defense, 4) adopting policies that hold individuals accountable for the human damage inflicted on others, and 5) ensuring the consequences of poor decisions and judgement are transparent, consistent and equitable in their application.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Do Politicians Want to End a Program That Actually Works?

It’s hard to say which is more galling: when politicians want to extend the life of a program that doesn’t work, or when they want to pull the plug on one that does.

A prime example of the latter: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. It allows children from low-income families to attend the school of their choice. The OSP has helped more than 6,000 kids get a better start in life—a chance to learn in a safe, challenging school environment where they can reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, the program has come under fire from certain politicians who—not coincidentally—are beholden to teachers’ unions that resent the competition. The District’s Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton calls OSP “undemocratic.” The Obama administration has zeroed out funding for the program in its latest budget, setting it up to be phased out over time.

How anyone could want to snuff the OSP—or any effective school choice program, for that matter—is a mystery. Undemocratic? What could be more democratic, more American, than making every effort to ensure that children are able to climb as high and go as far as their brains and their drive can take them?

“When parents have better choices, their kids have a better chance,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said at a recent debate over the future of the OSP.

But the OSP has more to offer than anecdotal evidence. The program has empirical data on its side, too. As Scott has noted, 98 percent of recent scholarship recipients have gone on to two-year or four-year colleges, and 93 percent of them graduate on time, compared to 58 percent in D.C. public schools.

The OSP is more economical as well. D.C. public schools spend about $20,000 per pupil. OSP students, meanwhile, attend private schools for $8,500 (or $12,000 in high school).

Even better, the OSP improves graduation rates. “A 2010 evaluation published by the U.S. Department of Education found that the impact of voucher use in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program resulted in a 91 percent graduation rate for participants, compared to a 70 percent graduation rate among the control group,” Burke and Ford write.

A high school dropout earns about $19,000 in annual income. Compare that to the $28,000 a high school graduate earns—and the $52,000 a college graduate earns.

Small wonder that parents are such strong supporters. More than one study has found high parent satisfaction rates. As one parent put it: “When my son dressed in that uniform with that green blazer, the white shirt, tie, gray trousers, and he looked like a gentleman and a scholar, and he had his hair cut and his glasses, he was just grinning from ear to ear [because] he was going to be a part of that [new school culture], and he went to school that day and he was excited about going to school.”

Sounds like a recipe for success. We’re helping kids from lower-income families achieve their dreams. Can anyone offer a logical reason to kill a program that does that?


Hm: All 15 Charter School Applicants Rejected in NY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) recently proposed the Parental Choice in Education Act as a way to provide more opportunity for parents in choosing which schools would be the best fit for their children. The legislation would use $70 million in taxpayer money to create an education tax credit for families making $60,000 or less. Parents who qualify could receive up to $500 in a tax credit or refund for each student attending a private school. Among other benefits, it would also encourage more private school scholarships.

"This is about fairness and this is about parents choosing the school that is right for their children," Cuomo said on Sunday, as he promoted the idea in four churches in New York City. "We must reward donations to support public schools, give tax credits to teachers who pay for classroom supplies out of pocket, and ease the financial burden on families who exercise choice in sending their children to a nonpublic school."

Cuomo said his administration’s goal is to raise the cap of charter schools from 460 to 560.

However, a new report all but proves this is a far fetched goal and that school choice is non-existent in New York. Fifteen charter school applicants who applied to operate in the state have just found out they’ve all been turned down.

The State Education Department tried to justify the rejections, simply stating that none of the schools met their standards.

“We always look for quality and these applications didn’t measure up,” Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said Wednesday. “We invited several of the applicants to reapply in June and we gave them suggestions on how to improve their applications.”

Yet, others argue these denials do little more than defend the interests of teachers unions. Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, said as much.

“The timing and nature of these blanket rejections should raise serious concerns for New Yorkers.”

“The last thing parents would want to see is the politics of the moment standing in the way of opening more high-quality public charter schools for students,” Kittredge said. “Solving New York’s failing-schools crisis requires both that independent authorizers move swiftly to open strong charter schools and Albany to eliminate the charter cap.”

The prevalence of charter schools has been a constant point of contention between the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. While Cuomo has actually tried to take power from teachers’ unions and put it into parents’ hands, De Blasio has made it clear he’s the unions’ champion. What's more, his administration has insisted there’s no need to raise the cap.

There is some good news for the rejected charter school applicants. All 15 will have a second chance to apply come June 23, when the current legislative session ends.


Australia: Compulsory maths and science? You’ve got to be joking Christopher Pyne

Jenna Martin

THE news that Christopher Pyne is pushing to make maths and science compulsory for students in senior years has enraged me. It has infuriated me. It has made me exasperated, incensed and irate. Words I use with flourish because I’m a student of English. Not maths.

But let me be clear, this is not about Maths vs. English. This is about the right to not be EXTRA miserable in the most painful, boring two years of your young life: years 11 and 12.

When I was 7 my teacher- a boorish, balding man with a permanently blank expression, sat my parents down and told them, plain and simple, I wasn’t good at maths. This isn’t so shocking in itself. What is more shocking is the fact that he followed this up with the statement, “It’s not her thing, so she really shouldn’t worry about it.”

I remember I was mortified. I was a nerd and a shameless teachers pet: there was something I wasn’t good at?!

The fact is that while it probably wasn’t PC to tell a kid she was crap at something and shouldn’t bother trying, the truth is, he was kind of right. I know the counter argument: kids are blanks slates. Their brains are just vats, waiting, desperate to be filled, opened and inspired. They can learn anything, right?


You see, the fact is, I did try. I was determined to prove that teacher wrong. I was sure I could handle complicated equations and solve quantum physics … if only I knew what quantum physics actually were.

I tried harder at maths than almost anything in my life. But despite all my efforts, and all my extra hours of studying, I felt like a failure. I’d been losing sleep trying to study and worse than that, my other, better subjects were suffering.

The fact is, despite my determination to rally against my year 3 teacher, I just didn’t have a maths brain. I didn’t have a science brain either. I still don’t.

I put up with isosceles triangles and the periodic table for far too long. Every class was a struggle, every exam was a stress. I hated those lessons. Once I missed a maths test because I was throwing up with panic in the toilet. I hated how, even with great teachers, my useless, ineffectual maths brain made me feel tiny and stupid.

In the meantime, in every other area, I thrived. I escaped in Shakespeare and Jane Austen. I topped the class in modern history. I represented the school in a public speaking competition. When it came time to make my decisions for year 11 and 12, there was no question: Goodbye science. Goodbye maths.

That was 15 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I may not have known at the age of 16 exactly what I was going to do with my life … but I knew I wasn’t going to work for the CSIRO. Or get into aeronautical engineering. Or even become an accountant.

I can accept studying maths up until Year 10 (despite never in my adult life needing to know anything mathematical I couldn’t do with a calculator), but when it comes time to pick the subjects that are going to dictate your results and your university opportunities, it’s downright cruel to force students not to play to their strengths.

The government has suggested that up to 75% of the fastest growing jobs involve science, technology, engineering or maths, so called “STEM” skills. This may be true. But the fact is, forcing people to study these subjects against their natural ability will take time away from pursuing their strengths. And getting into most of those industries involves a tertiary qualification anyway: high school maths ain’t gonna cut it.

I was a bright student, but I certainly wasn’t an all-rounder. In my HSC I did nothing but humanities and my marks were high enough for law school. If I’d have been forced to study maths? No chance of that.

(I should also note that three of my friends also nixed the sciences. All of them got 99+ for the HSC and one now holds a job in Mr Pyne’s own government.)

High school is awful for most people. Teenagers already have to deal with hideous pimples and sexual frustration. They also have to figure out who the hell they are and what they can contribute to the world. Schools should be striving to help kids discover exactly what this is. Whether it’s English, history, sports, languages, the arts OR, indeed, maths and science. None should be prioritised over the other.

Try everything, sure. But if at once you try and don’t succeed- especially if you hate it- don’t try harder, do something else you like better. Something that inspires you. Or at the very least, something that doesn’t make you throw up.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Political correctness disaster will bolster voucher schools

It finally happened. A career Madison teacher is quitting her eighth-grade teaching job at Jefferson Middle School after this year.  “I don’t feel safe and I don’t think the kids are safe anymore,” 50-year-old math teacher Stephanie Bush told The Capital Times last week.

Bush said students are swearing at teachers and kicking trash cans. She says some students walk in and out of class and wander the halls.

Fifth-grade special education teacher Margaret Stumpf told the School Board: “We’ve been hit, spat on and had doors slammed on our fingers and toes.”

The game has changed after the School Board changed the discipline code throughout the district. The board was concerned the previous code expelled a disproportionate number of students of color.

Under the new policy that begin this school year, teachers are supposed to call for outside help when a student misbehaves. A support staffer is supposed to intervene and walk the student out of class and get a sense of what the problem is. But Bush said calls for help often go unanswered by an overwhelmed support staff.

“We call and no one comes,” she said. “Teachers have stopped calling.”

School administrators said they want to hold more meetings to discuss the issue. “It’s bad parenting 101,” Bush said.

In the meantime, Wisconsin Republicans want to expand the state’s voucher program, including a controversial extension of vouchers for special needs students to go to private schools.

Lawmakers want to turn failing Milwaukee schools into charter or voucher schools and change the state’s testing system. The voucher proposal would cap eligibility at 1 percent of a school district’s enrollment. That angers more conservative Republicans who want to see much wider eligibility.

“Some of our leaders are content with the status quo. They don’t want real reform,” said one frustrated Republican Senate staffer.

Most Democrats think the voucher program is too big already. So what happened to Act 10? The law allows school boards to change work rules and discipline codes without union permission. So what good does that do if students are allowed to swear at teachers and wander in the halls during class?

It is clear that political correctness in Madison is more important than imposing discipline on unruly students. That drives career teachers such as Bush out of the profession and throws her fellow teachers under the bus. The teachers are on the front lines every day fighting to make a difference while the School Board and administrators impose a policy that causes chaos.

Thomas Jefferson said: “The only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty” is the education of “the whole mass of the people.”

If you care about public education in Wisconsin, it is time to pressure principals and school boards to take control of the schools or more parents will join voucher advocates in looking for a place to escape.


Police investigate union officer over 'kill all white men’ tweet

Bahar Mustafa faces being dismissed from her position as welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths University student union

Police have launched an investigation into a controversial student union diversity officer who allegedly tweeted “kill all white men.”

Bahar Mustafa was criticised earlier this year for posting a message on Facebook banning all white people and men from a university event she was organising about diversity and inclusion.

The 27-year-old is also facing being dismissed from her position as welfare and diversity officer at the student union of Goldsmiths University, in London.

A petition with 18,000 signatures is calling for her to be removed from her job on the union, alleging she used “hate speech” on social media.

Scotland Yard yesterday confirmed that officers were investigating allegations about the alleged tweet.

A spokesman said: “Police received a complaint on May 7 about a racially motivated malicious communication that had been made on a social media account. There have been no arrests and enquiries are continuing.”

It is alleged Ms Mustafa used a university Twitter account to tweet racial slurs at student activist Tom Harris calling him “white trash”.

In a document defending her position, Ms Mustafa said: “However, in regards to calling someone ’white trash’ under my official GSU Welfare and Diversity Twitter account, I can accept that it was not professional and I do apologise for this.”


How’s that? The lessons cricket can teach us all

Pupils under pressure to focus on exams find this timeless game brings benefits no classroom can match, says Boarding School Beak

Ah, cricket. Normally I dread the start of the school cricket season. What with the constant showers and the endless shivering by the stumps, April and May usually feel more like the time for rugby.

Standing in the drizzle, you wonder why the game was ever invented. The recent wrangling between Kevin Pietersen (an old boy of Maritzberg College in South Africa) and the ECB is hardly in the spirit of 'Play up, and play the game...’, but I can’t help drifting off into a reverie at the first thwack of leather on willow.

Picture the scene. Green grass, blue skies, white flannels – the perfect colours of an English summer. It’s Saturday afternoon; you’re sat on a bench beside some splendid Thirties half-timbered cricket pavilion (every independent school has one of these), watching the first eleven, who look super-smart in their new kit and caps – all the while sipping tea or, even better, a beer.

Visiting parents are chattering happily, the deckchairs are out, tartan rugs are spread, picnics started. It’s one of those occasions when you feel privileged to be a boarding beak.

OK, there are a few drawbacks to being involved with the game, I must admit. Like the fact that, as a teacher, you have to umpire school matches. As with most things, this is not quite as easy as it looks on television. You need to master the complicated rules on LBW (leg-before-wicket) for a start. A batsman or woman is not necessarily immediately out when the ball hits his or her pads.

I discovered this quite quickly, to my consternation, while umpiring my first match. It was a glorious day, all was well with the world, our team were playing away at a well-known school and I was enjoying the occasion. So much so that my mind may have wandered a little.

The next minute, I’d given the opposition’s star batsman out LBW because the ball had struck his pads. The fielding team had vociferously appealed (as they always will). A clear head and some cool concentration were needed; instead I’d drifted off. He left the pitch protesting loudly (rare in a school match): “What on earth is that guy on? That was never out!”

This highlights one of the problems of cricket – for players, umpires and spectators alike. Given such pleasant surroundings, total concentration for an entire afternoon cannot be guaranteed. A match-winning catch may be heading straight at square leg, just when his mind has moved on to thoughts of post-match tea and cakes. Next thing he knows, his team-mates are bellowing, “Catch it!” and then groaning in despair as the ball slips through his fingers.

The importance of not missing such a catch was put perfectly in L P Hartley’s classic novel The Go-Between. Leo, the schoolboy hero, triumphantly takes a crucial catch in the village match: making it sound almost simple, a matter of instinct: “I threw my hand above my head and the ball stuck there.”

Yet sadly, every Saturday, I have to witness the ignominy of some of today’s teens dropping simple chances. Team-mates are largely sympathetic (after all, it can happen to anyone and it could be their turn next); nonetheless, the shame of missing a “sitter” can be a painful cross to bear.

Parents need to pay attention, too. Naturally there’s a temptation to park the shiny new car as close as possible to the pitch, so it can be seen by one and all. But one lusty blow from a batsman can dent even the costliest four-by-four. And who wants a cricket ball spreading havoc in the sandwiches?

Such small hitches aside, as I look around at the pristine pitches here, I can’t help thinking there couldn’t be a better advertisement for independent schools, where the cricket culture still runs deep.

Over the years I’ve “coached”, in my limited way, both boys’ and girls’ cricket and, in the process, visited some of the most stunning school settings in Britain. Many recent internationals, men and women, have graduated from such school teams. The past two England men’s captains have come from independent schools: Alastair Cook (Bedford) and Andrew Strauss (Radley).

What a pity that cricket has died out in so many state schools. As Hugh de Selincourt observed in The Cricket Match, cricket is a great equaliser: toff and tough come together to wear gentlemanly whites, all in the common cause of playing for the same team.

And every Saturday, during a close match, that sense of common purpose, of palpable tension at the end of the contest, lives on. So much so that Sir Henry Newbolt’s unfashionable poem “Vitai Lampada” occasionally springs to mind (“There’s a deathly hush in the Close tonight, /Ten to make and the Match to win…”).

Even in the lower-level teams I’m involved with, every member of the team is hushed and concentrating in those final few minutes, when the match is in the balance and 10 or a dozen runs are needed off the last over.

Whatever the outcome, sportsmanship is sure to prevail. Yes, the odd spot of Australian-inspired “sledging” (crass verbal comments aimed at putting off opponents) has crept into the school game. Even so, players will stay respectfully silent as soon as the batsman takes his or her stance and prepares to face a fast bowler.

It’s a shame, therefore, that, in our current over-pressurised exam climate, with so much now hanging on A-level and GCSE results, the pressure in school summer terms is to focus on academics – not stand on the boundary ropes, soaking up the sun. This, too, has helped to erode cricket’s wider appeal.

There is no doubt that, even at independent schools, boys and girls are becoming more reluctant to sign up for cricket teams. And if you count up the number of hours cricket involves each week, who can blame them? Several two-hour midweek practices, plus a full match each Saturday, equals a minimum of 10 hours weekly. Think how much swotting could be done in that time.

But that’s missing the point, ignoring the benefits cricket brings. Plenty of fresh air and a clear head, a healthy tan, relief from those headache-inducing books, the reinforcing of codes of gentlemanly conduct and fair play, a break from the “hothouse”… Pupil, parent or teacher, there is surely no better way of taking your mind off the grind of exams.

That’s why I still get a buzz each spring from the sound of bat on ball, the scent of fresh-cut squares. It’s a wonderful time to be at school. And in my view it’s a pity more teenagers and teachers won’t share this experience.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Dem To Grads: ‘They Go To College for Free in Germany’

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told Hartford Seminary graduates last week, “students ought to be able to go to college, they go to college for free in Germany.”

“We believe that the students ought to be able to go to college, they go to college for free in Germany. They’re not bigger than us, they are not richer than us -how can they send their kids to school for free and we cannot?” Ellison said.

According to the YouTube video posted by Hartford Seminary, which describes itself as a non-denominational graduate school for religious and theological studies, Ellison was addressing the “Myth of Scarcity."

“We live in a world where we are told constantly ‘there is just not enough’. We are given the myth of scarcity all the time,” Ellison said.

“There's just not enough. There’s not enough money so we cannot possibly afford to make sure our senior citizens retire in comfort –gotta cut social security. Oh, there’s not enough  – so our students they just gotta pay 40-thousand dollars a year in loans, because there’s not enough to educate our young people.”

Government supported college is a theme within the Democratic Party.  Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has proposed government funded tuition for 4-year public colleges and universities. Hillary Clinton has called for making higher education as “debt-free as possible” and President Barack Obama has proposed making community college free for two years.


The 'Science' of Sex Education

There's no classroom experience the libertine supports more mightily than "sex education." They have struggled to banish even a whisper of a religious worldview from the classroom. Only the secular and "science-based" ideology is allowed.

The Daily Beast website recently celebrated a San Francisco ruling: "Hero Judge Rules Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Is Illegal." Judge Donald Black ruled "access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right," and that one district had provided "medically inaccurate information," like the notion that sexual abstinence prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Do the guardians of "science" — like the happy "reproductive justice" folks at the American Civil Liberties Union — think this is "medically inaccurate" because no child can avoid having sex before graduation?

Liberals arrogantly think their "science" is superior because their religious opponents base their sexual ethics on faith, not on reason. (In truth, advocating abstinence is based on both.) These are the same radical "scientists" who tell us a baby isn't technically a baby until it's left the hospital, and insist that gender should not be oppressively "binary" or based on primitive methods of analysis, like looking at your genitals.

This same Daily Beast has discovered a brave new model of sex education for America. It's found in Norway. "All Hail Scandinavia," they proclaimed. A female doctor named Line Jansrud demonstrates sex for Norwegian children aged 8 to 12. In one episode, she "gives herself a hickie with a vacuum cleaner, narrates over a simulated masturbation demonstration, and reveals the science behind orgasm." This came after she French-kissed a tomato.

The article raved, "In a scene sure to make awkward prepubescent Norwegians practically die at their desks, Jansrud then pushes a lubricated hand-held dildo in and out of an anatomically correct model of a woman's lower half while a porno groove plays in the background."

"Science" has arrived! The Daily Beast mourns that this wouldn't "stand a chance" in archaic America, even though the Norwegians claim "the overall reception to Jansrud's joyous deconstruction of the most mysterious time in a young person's life has been overwhelmingly positive." And the effects on little children? "The most dangerous consequence for Norwegian preteens has been a few red faces."

This is child pornography in reverse — porn made for children to watch — and only a sick mind would support it.

The "joyous deconstruction" of sex has surfaced in America. These revolutionaries would probably saddened to hear that the authorities at Hampshire High School in Romney, West Virginia, managed to stop a spring showing of the porny R-rated sadist-sex romp "Fifty Shades of Grey" in a classroom as a reward for hard academic labor. The "medical accuracy" of that film could be very educational, they might argue.

And at Champion Theme Middle School in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a teacher of advanced "scientific" mien is being fired for organizing sexual trysts during school hours for eighth graders in one of his classroom closets. One mother discovered a long series of text messages between her 14-year-old son and his teacher, who warned he didn't provide the condoms, just the closet, and that the girl "can't tell anybody."

This wild lack of discipline ends at the cafeteria door. At lunchtime, the highest expectations for healthy behavior are demanded. The first lady of the United States insists that children must eat a government-mandated menu of broccoli and whole grains. No one on the libertine left argues it's unrealistic to expect children to eat their vegetables, even as the garbage cans overflow.

Apparently, you can lead a child to French-kiss a tomato, but you can't make them eat it.


UK: Bahar Mustafa and the rise of campus racialism

Bahar Mustafa, the welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, recently caused a media storm after she banned white men from attending an event aimed at challenging the ‘white-centric culture of occupations’. Students have since launched a petition to have Mustafa sacked, citing her fondness for hashtags like #KillAllWhiteMen as proof that she is guilty of ‘reverse racism’. Responding to the controversy, she said that, as an ethnic-minority woman, she ‘cannot be racist or sexist to white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender’.

Divisive and petty though Mustafa’s ‘liberation’ politics is, her no-whites rally is really nothing to get worked up about. Private campaign groups and organisations should have the liberty to organise – and discriminate – as they please. And the attempt to present Mustafa’s Twitter tirades as ‘hate speech’ will only further entrench the sort of illiberal campus politics she herself promotes.

What is concerning here is her definition of racism, which is now commonly spouted on campuses by pseudo-radicals. According to this definition, racism is not merely about racial prejudice or discrimination; in order to qualify as racist, those doing the discriminating must also occupy a position of power, of privilege, in society. The oppressor, therefore, has to be of a higher privilege level – in a predetermined hierarchy – than those they are ‘oppressing’. Ditto for every other ‘-ism’ and ‘-phobia’.

This obsession with ‘power’ and the eternal battle between the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’ offers campus radicals a shockingly simplistic moral lens through which they now analyse every expression, action and concept. From this perspective, unfettered freedom of speech on campus, for instance, is seen as a tool of oppression, used only to entrench the privileged in their positions of power.

At best, this logic projects a patronising view of ethnic minorities as in need of constant protection from the ‘privileged’ realm of public life. At worst, it is fetishising victimhood by associating powerlessness with virtue. I only wish this way of thinking was confined to campuses, but the wider pseudo-left also deploys this kind of patronising, power-relations politics. A common criticism of the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, for instance, was that they were ‘punching down’ – that is, satirising Muslims from a position of relative privilege. Similarly, while nominal leftists will happily mock the backward ways of Christianity – as a wealthy and privileged religion, it is fair game – Islam is seen as being off limits. This racialised outlook not only promotes a feeble view of particular groups — it also robs them of their moral agency, too. So, many commentators continue to interpret acts of jihadist violence as a natural response to alleged Western oppression.

This abandonment of universalism in favour of a more relativistic analysis of society has had disastrous consequences for the left, particularly in its current inability to compute anti-Semitism. Historically, the Jews were a persecuted group, but, in light of the Israeli-Gaza conflict, the tables are seen to have been turned. By suggesting that Muslims across Europe have somehow internalised the struggle in Palestine, Western commentators often rationalise and write off anti-Semitism as an understandable response to oppression. The recent attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen were framed by many commentators as being fuelled by the attackers’ anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict, rather than their clear hatred of Jews.

Confronting anti-Semitism head-on makes the left deeply uncomfortable, because, in this twisted relativistic mush, defending the perceived ‘oppressor’ is the only moral sin. The fact that presenting all Jews as somehow powerful or privileged echoes age-old, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories never seems to register.

Rather than crowing on about the ‘reverse racism’ of one pseudo-radical, we need to challenge this deeply divisive and distorted definition of racism. Mustafa’s dodgy tweets are only the tip of the iceberg.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

A tribute to British education

The kids know nothing these days

It's a disappointing collection of results, to say the least. A new survey, published today, has shone a great beaming light on British stupidity when it comes to geography, historical and cultural monuments and national landmarks.

The findings, put together by Mercure Hotels, establish that a third of Brits (35 per cent) couldn't pick London's Marble Arch out of a line-up, instead mistaking it for Paris' Arc de Triomph. 

It gets worse. A quarter (23 per cent) think the Lake District's Derwent Water is in New Zealand and more than a quarter (28 per cent) confuse St Paul's with the Vatican.

The survey questioned more than 2,000 people in this country and found more glaring gaps in knowledge of places of interest, whether real or fictional. 13 per cent of people thought that Mr Darcy's Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice is a real stately home and the same number thought Eastenders Albert Square is real.

Once shown pictures of the well known spots many of those asked thought Corrie's Weatherfield, Bond's Skyfall and Harry Potter's Platform 9 ¾ Kings Cross are real places in the UK.

30 per cent of Brits think the Brighton Pavilion is in fact the Taj Mahal. Almost half (44 per cent) of Brits think the Scottish Exhibition centre is the Sydney Opera House and 93 per cent of Brits fail to identify Bidean Nam Bian mountain range, one of the highest in the UK, as a real place.

Only 57 per cent of Brits think The Jurassic Coast is a real UK place of interest.

It seems ignorance is not quite bliss as 77 per cent of Brits asked said they would visit more places in the UK if they knew what else was there.

However, despite the knowledge gaps, 52 per cent of Brits feel that of all the countries they have visited, the UK has the most places of interest to explore, the next most interesting country being the USA (10 per cent).


U: Exams upheaval leads schools to ditch GCSEs and switch to international courses based on the old O-level

Schools have abandoned traditional GCSEs in favour of alternative international courses amid concerns over grading and exam upheaval.

GCSE entries in key subjects such as English literature, maths and the sciences have dropped, while take up of IGCSEs in these core areas has soared.

Headteachers’ leaders said schools believed the grading system of IGCSEs was more stable and were worried about volatility in the exams system.

Decisions about courses for this summer’s Year 11 cohort (15 and 16-year-olds) would have been taken by schools in early 2013 – months after serious concerns were raised about the grading of GCSE English in 2012.

And in June 2012, Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, revealed proposals to scrap GCSEs and return to O-level-style exams.

IGCSEs are based on the O-level and have long been favoured by private schools. They usually have exams at the end of the two-year course and less coursework.

Figures published by exams regulator Ofqual show that entries for traditional GCSEs have fallen by three per cent from 5,085,000 last summer to 4,916,000 this year.

This compares with a 55 per cent increase in entries for IGCSEs, from 294,000 last summer to 457,000 this year.

A subject breakdown reveals that entries for Year 11 students to take GCSE English literature are down by 15 per cent and maths by 4 per cent. Entries for biology, physics and chemistry have each fallen by 8 per cent.

But IGCSE entries for English literature are up by 207 per cent, maths by 64 per cent, biology by 83 per cent, physics by 80 per cent and chemistry by 78 by per cent.

Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents private schools, said: ‘In an extremely volatile environment, headteachers in the state sector are trying to ensure the best levels of attainment for their pupils from among the various public exams available.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘We are confident that teachers, parents and pupils will recognise the new rigorous GCSES – to be introduced from 2015 – are the best qualification.’


Oxford students vote in favour of continuing 900-year-old tradition of wearing gowns, suits and mortarboards to exams

Note:  This attire does NOT include traditional academic gowns

Oxford University students have voted overwhelmingly to keep a centuries-old tradition of wearing gowns, suits and mortarboards to exams.

Some students had argued that the formal dress - known as subfusc - is 'medieval', claiming it contributes to the perception of Oxford University as 'elitist' and 'unwelcoming'.

But in a referendum held by Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), 75 per cent voted to keep the signature sartorial look for exams.

The three-day referendum on the formal dress, which involves students wearing mortarboards, gowns and bow ties to exams, as well as matriculation and graduation ceremonies, ended this evening.

The student union announced that 76 per cent - 6,403 voters - said they wanted to keep subfusc compulsory. Just 2,040 students - or 24 per cent - voted against.

Subfusc is defined by the university as either a dark suit with dark socks, dark skirt with black tights or stockings or dark trousers with dark socks, that is worn with black shoes; a plain white collared shirt or blouse; white bow tie, black bow tie, black full-length tie, or black ribbon and a dark coat, if required.

Students made history as the referendum prompted the highest ever election turnout for a university student union in Britain.

Harrison Edmonds, 19, a first year history student at University College who led the campaign to keep subfusc, said he was 'delighted' with the result.  'I think it sends a positive message from the students in Oxford that subfusc isn't elitist but is egalitarian,' he said.  'No matter your background, your race, class, gender, when you go into exams wearing the gown you are equal.'

James Blythe, the union's vice-president for access and academic affairs, said he called the vote after some examiners asked to be allowed to stop wearing subfusc.  Mr Blythe, who stayed neutral throughout the campaign, said the student vote had been 'decisive'.

A university spokeswoman said: 'While this vote has indicated that students feel no need to change university policy on the wearing of subfusc, gathering comprehensive views of students on university policies and procedures is an important part of OUSU's work representing student views to the university through its governing committees.'

In 2012 gender restrictions for subfusc were dropped so students are free to wear a black ribbon or bow tie, or suits or skirt, as they wish.

Academic dress will be maintained for matriculation and graduation. At a previous referendum in 2006, students voted to continue the tradition.