Friday, July 03, 2015

UK: 100 extremists a year lecture at universities: Fanatics given a platform to spread hatred of the West despite ministers demanding crackdown on radicalism

Universities are providing a platform for more than 100 Islamist extremists every year, a disturbing report will reveal next week.

The fanatics are being allowed to make speeches at leading academic institutions despite ministers calling for a crackdown on radicalism.

The study says that more than 20 students who attended UK universities have been convicted of terrorism, or have lost their lives waging jihad in Syria.

They include young men guilty of planning a 'dirty bomb' attack and a plot to blow up a crowded London night club.

The report was compiled by the Student Rights group, which is a project run by the Henry Jackson Society – a respected Westminster think-tank.

It revealed that a string of student bodies have refused to participate in the Government's anti-extremism strategy, Prevent.

Rupert Sutton of Student Rights said: 'Universities should be the best place to challenge extremist ideas, yet at present this is simply not happening – something that must change if we are to successfully oppose on-campus radicalisation.

'Extremism on university campuses is a very serious issue, as the evidence presented in this report shows. Worse, the dominant narrative around Prevent remains a negative one – often fuelled by the very extremists it seeks to oppose, who campaign to undermine attempts to challenge the problem.'

Researchers carried out an exhaustive survey of social media and university websites and other literature to log speaking events.

Last year, there were 132 speeches by extremists, which featured claims such as 'the West is waging a war against Islam'. There were also 145 events in 2013 and 132 in 2012. While the far Right hosted a handful of events, the lists were overwhelmingly dominated by Islamic speakers.

The Student Rights report says the speakers have 'expressed views which promote the idea that there is a Western war against Islam, support individuals convicted of terrorism offences and express intolerance or opposition to non-believers'.

The hardliners also oppose democracy and speak in favour of being governed by religious or sharia law.

According to the report, the university which tops the league table for hosting extremists over the past three years is Queen Mary, in East London. Westminster, Kingston, King's College and Aston University complete the top five.

The speaker who appears most regularly is Hamza Tzortzis of the Islamic Education and Research Academy, which tried to make men and women sit apart during a debate at University College London.

Tzortzis has been criticised for stating that apostates (non believers) who fight against the Muslim 'community…should be killed'. He also reportedly said: 'We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom.'

Other speakers welcomed on to campuses have attacked the 'scourge' of homosexuality.

The student unions at King's College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies said they would not take part in Prevent unless compelled by law and would educate students on the 'danger' it poses.

The National Union of Students pledged to 'block or cease accepting' any Prevent funding.

The NUS Black Students' Campaign called on all universities to 'condemn/disassociate' from the key programme, which it claims 'attempts to demonise and isolate Islamic societies'. The NUS passed a motion claiming that Prevent had resulted in a 'racist witch-hunt in the tradition of McCarthyism'.

David Cameron this week ordered a 'full spectrum' response to extremism to 'take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds'.

From today, schools, town halls, police and health bodies will all have a statutory duty to pay 'due regard to preventing people from being drawn into terrorism'.

But a duty for universities and colleges to also adopt the guidance has been held up by a row over how it should apply to 'extremist speakers'.

Originally, the Home Secretary wanted the power to issue a ministerial direction, backed by the threat of contempt of court proceedings, to universities that refused to comply with bans on extremist speakers.

All speakers would have been vetted in advance, with student unions required to give 14 days' notice. Universities, however, insist they have to promote free speech.

A Home Office spokesman said: 'Further guidance for higher and further education institutions on managing external speakers will be published following parliamentary approval of the specific advice on this matter. The duty will commence for universities and colleges once the guidance has been published.'

Security minister John Hayes said: 'The new Prevent duty is about protecting people from the poisonous and pernicious influence of extremist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism. Protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk of radicalisation is a job for all of us. The new duty will make sure key bodies across the country play their part.'


School Warns Parents To Dress Daughters Modestly To Avoid Offending Muslim Refugees

The head teacher at a school in a small town in the southeast corner of Germany has sent a letter warning parents to prevent their daughters from wearing any skimpy clothing because about 200 war-displaced Syrian refugees are living in a shelter next to the school’s gym.

The fifth-grade to 11th-grade school is Wilhelm-Diess-Gymnasium, reports Die Welt, a German newspaper.  The school is located in Pocking, a Bavarian borough (pop.: 15,034) located 14 miles south of the somewhat larger German city of Passau.

In his note to parents, head teacher Martin Thalhammer explained that female students should dress especially modestly to avoid offending the Syrian refugees with the sight of too much skin.

“Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings,” Thalhammer instructed.

“The Syrian citizens are mainly Muslims and speak Arabic,” the head teacher wrote, according to Russia Today. “The refugees are marked by their own culture. Because our school is directly next to where they are staying, modest clothing should be adhered to.”

An unidentified local politician told Die Welt he supports the head teacher’s admonition. “If underage Muslim boys go to the pool, they are completely overwhelmed trying to see girls in bikinis,” the politician reportedly said. “The boys — in their culture bare skin of women is totally frowned upon.”

The letter also notes that the Syrian refugees will be barred from school grounds.  “For the refugees, access to the school gardens and buildings is strictly forbidden,” Thalhammer wrote. “The same goes for the school grounds during the day. The number of teachers on duty during breaks has been increased.”

The school’s gym has been shuttered while the refugees reside in their makeshift accommodations next to the school. Physical education classes have been moved to a nearly elementary school.


Australia: Queensland’s gifted students neglected as teachers focus on strugglers

GIFTED students are being overlooked in the classroom, with schools instead focusing attention on strugglers.

University of Southern Queensland special education lecturer Mark Oliver said there was a danger smart students were being turned off school as they coasted through the curriculum.

Mr Oliver warned that gifted students needed support to reach their full potential.

“When you get a bored student they can refuse to go to school or refuse to participate because they don’t see the point ... it then affects their long-term attitudes to school and self-esteem,” he said.

Mr Oliver said there was a focus on teaching for tests and getting students to obtain minimum standards, rather than providing extension to gifted students. Policy change was needed across the education sector.

“Maybe that’s not the best way to go for developing the creativity and talent we need for future careers,” he said.

An Education Department spokesman said schools were committed to meeting the needs of gifted and talented students.

Mr Oliver said teachers did their best but resources were often targeted towards struggling students, rather than those who needed to be challenged.

“We want to make sure these kids are tracking into their abilities for applied creative purposes and are not just producing future worker bees,” Mr Oliver said.

Several workshops have opened over the school holidays to encourage gifted students in Queensland, aiming to give them the best chance at developing their skills.

Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children president Anthony Stevens said gifted children needed a challenge.

“People think gifted children don’t need any extension,” he said.  “There’s that idea that we have got them to a certain level and can stop worrying.

“But the problems of the future are going to be solved by people who can come up with wonderful, creative solutions. That isn’t going to be the stuff taught in classrooms because we don’t know it yet.”

He said gifted students needed to be challenged with teachers often trying their best to accommodate students at all levels. “Just like anybody else, gifted kids need to experience what it’s like to work at something,” Mr Oliver said.

An Education Department spokesman said funding had been allocated to each region to support education of gifted children and to develop strategies to meet the needs of students and teachers.

“This is achieved through challenging learning experiences that engage these students in their learning and support them to keep advancing their knowledge and skills,” the spokesman said.

He said there were several programs and awards, including the Queensland Academies’ Young Scholars Program and the Peter Doherty Awards, which were geared towards recognising gifted students.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Delaware Passes Testing Opt-Out Bill

Delaware may be the next state to opt out of Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Last week, Delaware became the latest in growing number of states to push for the ability of parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. These tests were implemented as part of the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards, but parents and teachers alike have been dissatisfied with the amount of time and focus going into test preparation as opposed to more traditional teaching, involving individualized interaction between teachers and students.

Delaware’s HB 50 - surprisingly sponsored by a Democrat - cleared the state Senate and now only awaits a signature from the governor. The bill would codify that parents may elect to opt their children out of the tests, and specifies that there will be no academic or disciplinary consequences for students who make this decision. This comes on the heels of a similar bill recently signed into law by Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, indicating the growth of a larger opt-out movement among frustrated parents.

The trend of individuals deciding not to participate in the standards or their aligned assessments is in part a reaction to the inability of states to extricate themselves from Common Core as a whole. Seemingly promising repeal bills have repeatedly turned out to be disappointments, merely rebranding the standards instead of withdrawing from them. This has been the case in Indiana and Tennessee, where the governors claim to have repealed Common Core, when in fact such reforms are toothless.

Most recently, much was made of Scott Walker’s efforts to defund the Smarter Balanced tests in Wisconsin’s budget. As more details emerge, however, it appears that this has been yet another smokescreen, with the state’s new “Badger Tests” continuing alignment with Common Core. Since parents cannot rely on states to actually repeal Common Core, withdraw from the tests, or even be honest about the legislation they are passing, individual opt outs offer the best chance of meaningful educational freedom at present.

Of course, it remains important that individuals be vigilant in protecting their rights. Even in states where opting out is legal, school officials have been caught bullying students into participating, over fear that they might lose federal funding for failing to meet “participation quotas.” As long as the federal government remains involved in education, states are going to have a hard time avoiding the “strings attached” funding that restricts the ability to set policy at a local level.

The U.S. Constitution outlines no federal role for education, and the most recent attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - while it makes some important reforms - maintains the federal testing standards that are tying states’ hands. That leaves opting out of tests as the best option for parents who want to take back control of their children’s education from a central bureaucracy. If enough people refuse the tests, ultimately the state will have to blink. The power of grassroots action trumps the power of legislation every time.


The Cost of "Free" Community College

A few months ago President Obama announced his hope that “two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” Since then, various cities around the country have begun to implement programs that follow the president’s vision.

On June 23, the District of Columbia City Council held a hearing on Bill 21-55, the proposed Community College for All Scholarship Amendment Act of 2015. The city council writes:

The stated purpose of Bill 21-55 is to establish a scholarship program to provide free tuition and the cost of mandatory fees to students enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, and to require the University of the District of Columbia Community College to develop, adopt, and implement the scholarship program.

Students who receive the scholarship would be required to maintain a minimum GPA and participate in community service.

Councilman Orange, one of the members who introduced the bill, gave an opening statement at the hearing. He argued that the scholarship is “not a handout, it is an investment” to an enthusiastic crowd which seemed to be in unanimous support of the new legislation and President Obama’s proposal for universal free community college, without any explanation for how we will pay for it. Sorry, Mr. Orange, but free community college is a handout, and an extremely unnecessary one which will not have any positive return for the community.

Free community college, despite its outward appearance, is not about access to education and will not create a more educated society. In today’s world, information is everywhere; there is more knowledge at our fingertips than we could ever hope to absorb. Anybody who wants to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake can do so by taking free classes online (check out classes of all levels on Khan Academy) or going to the library. These resources are free and readily available. The only thing that free community college would do is grow credentialism and promote regulation.

Despite what President Obama and the councilmen for the District of Columbia may promise, sending more people to college will not create more jobs. There will be the same number of jobs and the same positions open; all that will change is the level of education required to fill these positions. In the end, free community college will turn out more people overqualified for the jobs they are working.

Free community college will effectively mandate that students waste two years earning the degree which will prove they have the skills they entered with. This serves to extend adolescence and postpone responsibility that accompanies entering the workforce, all under the false promise of a job waiting on the other end.

The primary reason Democrats promote free community college is because they want anybody, regardless of socioeconomic status, to be able to attend college if they want to. However, this is completely founded in the misconception that money is a barrier to lower class individuals who are qualified and wish to further their educations.

At the hearing, it was claimed that students are turning to community college because they cannot afford a four year institution, and because tuition at four year institutions is growing faster than inflation. In reality, the reason that four year colleges and universities are raising their tuitions is to help pay for the high percentages of students who receive financial aid.

Today, it is standard for schools to meet 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated need to ensure that tuition is not a hindrance to attendance. The University of Virginia says that approximately 34% of students receive financial aid. I personally receive financial aid from a private institution, along with about half of the student body. Admissions are typically need-blind to ensure that the ability to pay full price does not affect a student’s chances of being accepted. In addition to grants from institutions themselves, students can apply for need-based financial aid from the federal government by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Finally, the QuestBridge program connects high-achieving, low-income students with top colleges and universities and the students receive full scholarships.

The real problem activists should be focusing on is publicity surrounding these opportunities; students should know what options are available to them. One of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing testified that staggering numbers of students who are qualified to receive financial aid and would benefit greatly from financial assistance don’t even fill out the FAFSA. Many low-income students simply assume they will be unable to afford college, and they do not have anybody to explain to them how they can access the funds necessary to further their education.

Colleges and universities are also able to continually raise tuition because of the growing importance of getting a higher education. If jobs mandate college degrees, students have no choice but to attend college, and institutions are able to attach any price tag. With increased demand, comes higher prices. President Obama has made this cycle worse by offering student loans with low interest rates, and further increasing the demand for a higher education. And, once again, this is all predicated on the false understanding that college is the best choice for every student.

Finally, we simply cannot afford free community college. Of course, nothing is free. With an ever-growing national debt, we need to be cutting spending, not developing new programs. This will hit the American taxpayer hard. In fact, young people who choose to enter the workforce as opposed to going to college, will end up paying heightened taxes to foot the bill for the free education of others.

Thankfully, there is still time to stop the spread of free community college through the United States. The District of Columbia City Council currently has posted:

written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record. Written statements should be submitted to the Committee of the Whole, Council of the District of Columbia, Suite 410 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. The record will close at 5:00 p.m. on July 7, 2015.

I encourage you to submit a statement that points out the problems with free community college!


NZ student can't see the point

WHEN a Year 10 English teacher at Napier Girls’ High School set the class the task of giving a speech about something they felt strongly about, no one banked on Anela Pritchard.  And that should be a lesson to them.

The 15-year-old New Zealand teen saw an opportunity, letting rip with a blistering attack on her “lazy” educators and their teaching of “irrelevant information”.

“We have all these teachers that don’t enjoy their jobs and are all angry about the cutbacks in their pay cheques, making us feel like complete idiots and making us feel useless,” Miss Pritchard said in her scorched-earth address to the class.

“It’s teachers like this that make us students want to skip class and not go to school because they think we aren’t good enough for a certain subject. Like we are stupid and will never understand it. Teachers are paid to teach us, not paid to hand out a piece of paper with words on it and sit round and do nothing.”

Just to be sure no one missed the memo — and after delivering the speech to her “rather sad” looking teacher — Miss Pritchard emailed it to other school staff and, naturally, posted it on Facebook, the New Zealand Herald reports.

“Do I honestly need to know what a= 1+rn to the 2nd power is ... in order to get somewhere in life? Do I honestly need to know the structure of a seed and how it works and whatnot? No, I don’t think so,” Miss Pritchard thundered.

“In high school we should be learning about the real world — how to pay my taxes, apply for jobs, mortgage my house, buy a car — things that we will actually use in the future.  “So far, I’ve only learned that whatever I manage to get done in a short amount of time isn’t enough.

“I honestly used to love going to school. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it made me happy to go to school, to meet friends, to learn things that I never knew. But the minute High School starts, it’s either you fly, or you fall. Now I strongly dislike it, and want nothing to do with it.”

The English teacher who set the assignment — described by a supporter as “one of the kindest most compassionate teachers I’ve ever had” — was left in tears, according to reports.

Meanwhile a row has erupted over free speech at Napier Girls’ High, in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, and whether or not Miss Pritchard’s address had earned her a suspension.

“I do understand that this is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is mine, and that’s why I did it, for me,” she wrote, announcing her punishment on Facebook.

The teen and her father, orchard worker Andrew Pritchard, claim the school told her she was not welcome back. However, principal Mary Nixon denies it, telling The New Zealand Herald she had met with the Pritchards to discuss the matter, admitting staff were “shocked and upset” by the speech.

It has also touched off a wider debate about educational standards across the ditch.

Mr Pritchard, for his part, has backed his not-to-be-messed-with offspring, telling ONE News he “absolutely stands by her”.

“I’ve had a lot of support for what I’ve said but apparently some teachers and students aren’t very happy,” Miss Pritchard told the TV station, which reported the 15-year-old may have been asked to stay away from the school for her own safety.

“I was expecting an apology from the school today and we didn’t get one.”

Mr Pritchard said his daughter was tossing up a move to Australia over the holidays to live with her brother as the media storm clouds darkened. Best not to get in her way.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

UK: Hundreds of coasting schools face being turned into academies to 'shine a spotlight on complacency' in middle-class areas

Academies are the British version of America's charters.  They are more recent than charters but have already made bigger inroads than charters -- and many more coming, it seems

Hundreds of coasting schools face being turned into academies over the next Parliament under tough criteria announced today.

The Department for Education will introduce strict new rules in a bid to ‘shine a spotlight on complacency’ at under-performing schools.

The measure is expected to hit schools in middle-class areas which have high-attaining intakes but simply focus on raising pupils over the C-grade borderline.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said such schools may be failing to ‘stretch every pupil’ and have so far fallen under the radar.

Schools which fail to meet new standards on progress and attainment over the course of three years will be classified as ‘coasting’ and face intervention. Up to 900 primary and secondary schools are estimated to be coasting – with hundreds more expected to fall below the standard over the next Parliament.

Once identified, the so-called ‘coasting’ schools will be asked to formulate a plan for improvement. If this is found to be unsatisfactory then the school will be converted into an academy.

Turning schools into academies frees them from local authority control, making them directly answerable to the Department for Education.

The Government argues academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers and cutting bureaucracy.

The plans are aimed at incentivising schools to stretch bright pupils instead of simply focusing on those sitting on the C/D border.

Mrs Morgan said: ‘For too long a group of coasting schools, many in leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities, have fallen beneath the radar.

‘I’m unapologetic about shining a spotlight on complacency and I want the message to go out loud and clear, that education isn’t simply about pushing children over an artificial borderline, but instead about stretching every pupil to unlock their potential and give them the opportunity to get on in life. I know that schools and teachers will rise to the challenge, and the extra support we’ll offer to coasting schools will help them do just that.’

Under the DfE’s criteria, secondary schools will be considered coasting if they have fewer than 60 per cent of pupils obtaining five A*-C GCSE grades including English and maths, and have a below average proportion of pupils making expected progress.

At primary level, coasting schools will have seen fewer than 85 per cent of children achieving level 4 in reading, writing and maths and a below-average proportion of pupils making expected progress between the ages of seven and 11.

The coasting schools will be offered help from the Government’s education experts to produce a plan for improvement, which will be assessed by a Regional Schools Commissioner.

Teams of expert heads will also support improving schools, but those deemed unable to improve will be turned into academies under new leadership.

The new measure, introduced through the Education and Adoption Bill, could see schools which have been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted identified as coasting. David Cameron said last week: ‘Some schools are giving children “just enough” to avoid falling beneath our floor standards. But frankly “just enough” isn’t good enough for my children, and it shouldn’t be for yours.’

However, the plans have been questioned by teaching union leaders. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the criteria were ‘muddled’.

He added: ‘If the Government wishes to introduce such a measure it should surely be entirely on the progress that pupils make, rather than attainment.

‘As we have said previously, academisation is not a magic wand. Schools in challenging circumstances require individual support which takes account of their specific situation.’


U.S. Dept. of Education Celebrates Same-Sex Marriage Decision With Rainbow on Facebook

On Friday, just two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 ruling giving homosexuals the “right” to marriage, the Department of Education posted an altered image of its logo that included a rainbow – a symbol that has become synonymous with the gay rights movement.

The Facebook message says: “U.S. Department of Education changed their profile picture,” without any additional remarks.

The profile photo has since been changed back to the blue, white and green logo.

The post garnered more than a thousand comments, most of them critical, including a woman from Alabama who wrote:

“This picture from the US Department of Education made me instantly angry. What you should have been doing all along is educating our youth given equal opportunities. But you take the legalization of gay marriage to show gay pride colors. Department of Education, send someone down here to Alabama. I will take them by the scruff of the neck and show them more than 20 examples of inequality in education that has nothing to do with gay or transgender rights.

You can't even get the art of teaching the basics of English, Reading Comprehension, or Mathematics done. We have fallen way down the ladder among the world's countries in educating our youth. So right now, it seems flying these colors are more important to you. It might be the right time to disband your department and return oversight of education back to the states.”

Fox News reported in 2012 that Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed his support for same-sex marriage.

“Another top Obama administration official appeared to break with the president Monday by publicly declaring his support for gay marriage -- something President Obama has not done,” the report said.

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a television interview Monday morning, said unequivocally that he supports gay marriage,” the report states. “Asked if he thinks gay couples should be able to legally marry, he said: ‘Yes, I do.’”

The White House was lit with rainbow colors on Friday in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling.

“Tonight, the White House was lit to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to progress and equality, here in America and around the world,” the White House said in a statement. “The pride colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, and tonight, these colors celebrate a new chapter in the history of American civil rights.”


UK school leavers 'the worst in Europe for essential skills', report says

British school leavers are the worst in Europe for 'essential skills' needed to complete entry-level jobs in business, a new survey revealed.

Four in ten of firms polled in the UK felt that candidates for junior jobs lacked "functional skills, basic literacy and numeracy", compared to 18 per cent of European firms.

The disparity is partly explained because firms in Europe spend more time than the UK in liaising with schools on the skills they need in the workplace, according to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), which carried out the survey.

Noel Tagoe, executive director of CIMA Education said: “In the UK the school and the work systems are divorced from each other and this leads to schools not providing the subjects companies need.”

However, he said the situation was different in the rest of Europe. He said: “In Germany, for example, there is a causal link between schools and the workplace and firms are involved in getting schools to know the skills firms needed.” He said that as a result productivity tends to be much higher too.

He added: “The divide between employers and educators remains vast, raising the cost burden on British firms and holding back the productivity of the workforce. The realities of the workplace must be better reflected in the classroom through discussion and practical experience."

The poll also showed that a lack of essential skills in new hires is affecting the performance of firms with a third of firms taking more than two months to fill junior roles and three quarters of UK school leavers requiring significant training.

More than 90 per cent of firms in the UK said that their workload had increased as a result of skills shortages, with 46 per cent agreeing it had caused a fall in departmental performance.

CIMA polled 1,700 financial professionals in the UK and Europe and it focused on skills shortages for finance teams.

This isn’t the first time the gap in skills between the UK and Europe has been highlighted. A report published last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed a sharp increase in the number of UK school leavers going on to university failing to translate into higher levels of basic skills.

The OECD report revealed that just a quarter of British graduates had top-level reading compared to roughly a third in other European countries, including the Netherlands and Sweden.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Education spending isn’t working: Let’s try something else

In early June, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report on the state of public education finances in the United States. Among the reports many interesting charts and graphs is the tracking of per-student spending in elementary and secondary schools from 1992 to present. In all but one year, spending has increased, topping out at $10,705 per student. With a trend like that, most reasonable people would expect to see dramatic results reflected in student performance. Otherwise, what are we paying for?

Unfortunately, this is far from the case. While we continue to increase funding for schools, the chorus of voices decrying the deplorable state of public education in this country has only grown louder. Fear of falling behind in international assessments is driving politicians and pundits to ignore the actual evidence that throwing money at a problem rarely does much to solve it.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson proposed his vision of a Great Society and founded the U.S. Department of Education, it has been the tacit assumption of government bureaucrats that more spending will always have positive results. This is not the case. An analysis published by the Cato Institute found that forty years of constantly growing spending on education has had virtually no effect on math scores, reading scores, science scores, or even school enrollment.

President Obama’s Race to the Top program awarded more than $4 billion in federal funding to states that implemented specified reforms. The result led to a lot of compliance costs for states without much to show for it. The Head Start early education program costs around $8 billion a year, despite the program’s own analysis finding that it doesn’t work. The programs keeping getting bigger and more expensive, but the results remain elusive. How long will it take before we admit that it’s time to rethink this strategy?

The problem with government spending on something like education is that it’s an incredibly blunt instrument applied to something that is, by its very nature, subtle and individual. For money to be effective, it has to be targeted in very specific ways, and the best people to do this are those closest to the kids – namely, parents.

With per-student spending topping $10,000, it’s obvious that this money could be spent more wisely. Why not let parents decide how to spend it? The average cost of a private elementary school is considerably lower, at $7,770 a year, with private high schools averaging $13,030 a year. A state voucher system, like the one recently passed in Nevada, would let parents decide the best options for their children, instead of being tied to a particular district based on where they live. In addition to expanding people’s options, the ensuing competition will force schools to improve their performance if they want to retain students.

A familiar quotation, frequently attributed both to Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, runs, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to come out different.” The application of this principle to the United States’ education policy over the last 40 years is particularly appropriate. Rather than improving public education, the policy of ever-increasing funding has not only failed to produce results, but has been so ineffective that it has been driving people out of the education bureaucracy altogether and towards alternative options like homeschooling. This shift has been so dramatic that, in some states, homeschoolers now outnumber private school students.

As the U.S. Senate prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it’s important to acknowledge that the federal government’s efforts to meddle in education haven’t worked, and that it’s time to start thinking about a new approach.


MI: Study examines free college tuition programs

For 10 years, Kalamazoo, Mich., has been pioneering a remarkable experiment in public education: High school graduates get free or significantly reduced tuition to college.

On Thursday, the city got its first major look at what benefits that brings.

A new study suggests that the Kalamazoo Promise is boosting college enrollment and college success, with about one-third more students earning a post-secondary credential or degree within six years, many of them bachelor’s degrees.

The issue of college attendance and success rates is a priority not only for the Obama administration but also for struggling communities like Kalamazoo, which worry that they might be left behind as jobs of the future require higher levels of education.
Test your knowledge 1912 eighth grade exam: Could you make it to high school in 1912?

The Promise outcomes are particularly encouraging for more than 30 communities around the country that have started scholarships like Kalamazoo’s – called place-based college scholarships. Kalamazoo still has a long way to go to tackle poverty and racial achievement gaps, but the community continues to rally around its students, boosting early childhood and after school programs in the hopes that even more families will be able to benefit from the Promise in the future.

“There’s this feeling in the community that it’s a tremendous gift and it’s our responsibility to make it work,” says Bob Jorth, executive director of Kalamazoo Promise. “More people are volunteering their time and treasure to support students to successfully access college and the Promise,” he says. And he often hears from scholarship recipients about how the gift has inspired them not only to attend college and pursue their dreams, but also “pay it forward” through public service.
How it works

More than 3,800 Kalamazoo students have attended college using about $66 million in scholarships since the class of 2006 first benefited from the Promise, funded by a group of anonymous donors. All Kalamazoo public high school graduates who enrolled in the district before the start of ninth grade qualify for 65 to 100 percent college tuition, depending on how long they’ve been students in Kalamazoo. They can use the money at any public postsecondary institution in the state, and, starting this year, at 15 private ones as well.

Other communities have since followed suit. Some are targeted at disadvantaged students or can only be used at local community colleges. But others are sweeping. In El Dorado, Ark., for example, high school graduates can attend any public or private college in the United States, though the scholarship is capped at the rate of the highest-priced state institution.
Take Action:Reach out to organizations and individuals dealing with literacy, school funding, bullying, technology, social media, and other classroom issues.

Such programs help stabilize public school enrollment and can have a positive effect on housing prices, other research has shown. They can also reduce school disciplinary problems and increase students’ grade point averages. This week’s study was released by the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo study compared Promise-eligible students with a group of students from before the Promise plus graduates who were not eligible because they had not enrolled in the system by ninth grade. The likelihood of enrolling in any college within six month of finishing high school goes up by about 14 percent with the Promise, while the likelihood of enrollment in four-year colleges goes up 34 percent.

About 48 percent of Promise students complete college or earn a postsecondary credential within six years of high school graduation, versus 36 percent of the comparison group.

The benefits cross racial and economic lines. For black students, the Promise group completed college at a rate of 23 percent, versus 16 percent of the non-eligible group; for whites, it was 43 percent versus 40 percent.

The Promise only addresses one of the barriers to college completion – financial – but the impact is significant, says Timothy Bartik, co-author of the study. It generates about $4 in benefits for every $1 invested, based on the lifetime earnings of students who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to college, the study found. Others have questioned whether the benefits are that dramatic.

In order to truly improve social mobility, Kalamazoo and other communities “need to improve economic stability for families and improve access to well-paying jobs,” and “not rely solely on the education sector as a driver for change,” says Timothy Ready, a sociology professor at Western Michigan University.

Fortunately, Professor Ready says, Kalamazoo officials recognize that need. They’ve been working to boost early childhood education to better prepare students for academic success. And they recently launched Shared Prosperity, a community collaborative to address barriers for people seeking good work, ranging from child care and transportation needs to problems faced by job-seekers with criminal records.


Australian teachers will undergo national literacy and numeracy exams to test skills

TEACHERS will face a new national exam on literacy and numeracy from August, designed to stop universities from churning out graduates who struggle to spell and count.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne will today announce a pilot program to test the first 5000 teaching ­students.

But the first guinea pigs for the new test will be assured that they can still graduate — even if they fail.

The sample exam paper reveals a taste of what teachers can expect, including the style of questions that teachers will be asked on numeracy and ­literacy.

It includes problems designed to test teachers’ understanding of syntax, grammar and punctuation, with graduates asked to spot sentences without errors.

Teachers will also be offered a calculator to assist with some of the questions that ask graduates to determine the percentage of funding remaining in an education budget, and challenges graduates’ ability to calculate a student’s marks.

From next year, passing the test will be a requirement to graduate.

“I want to ensure we get this right,’’ Mr Pyne said. “For too long there have been public concerns about the variability in the quality of teaching graduates and in the effectiveness of existing ­programs in preparing new teachers.

“Testing key aspects of the personal literacy and numeracy skills of aspiring teachers will assist higher education providers, teacher employers and the general public to have absolute confidence in the skills of graduating teachers.’’

In one study, graduates at an unnamed Australian university struggled to spell a list of 20 words including ‘acquaintance’, ‘definite’, ‘exaggerate’, and ‘parallel’.

More than 200 students were tested with not a single teacher managing to spell every word right in a list of 20 words. One teacher struggled to spell more than one word correctly on the list.

Mr Pyne has also written to university vice-chancellors to stress that the new national exam must become core content for graduates from next year.

The test plan follows complaints universities are accepting students to teaching degrees with marks lower than 50 per cent for their Year 12 exams.

But Mr Pyne has insisted that ATAR scores are a “blunt instrument’’ that he doesn’t want to get too caught up on.

According to Department of Education statistics, universities offered 894 places to applicants with ATARs of 50 in 2014. The results were an improvement on the previous year.

The new trial will be available for any teaching student regardless of whether they are in first year or a graduating student.

The tests will be conducted by Australian Council for Educational Research.

Students in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Darwin and the regional locations of Albury and Ballarat will be tested.

Mr Pyne said the trial of the first 5000 teachers is designed to ensure that the test is “fit for purpose”.

It will become a course requirement for all initial teacher education students graduating from Australian universities from the end of next year.

New measures will also be introduced to ensure that teachers are provided with greater training on how to teach literacy and numeracy including a focus on phonics.

The decision to introduce a national exam for new teachers was a recommendation of the Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers report.


Monday, June 29, 2015

British universities slammed for allowing foreign students dictionaries in exams because their English isn't good enough

Half of all British universities allow foreign students to use dictionaries in their exams if their English is not good enough, a MailOnline investigation has revealed.

Among the dozens of institutions which give finalists access to a dictionary are some of the country's most prestigious universities, including 12 members of the elite Russell Group.

Critics suggest that universities are 'sacrificing academic integrity' to recruit more lucrative overseas students, while one MP condemned the policy as 'absolutely ridiculous'.

Of 115 universities surveyed by MailOnline, 62 said that they allow students to use dictionaries in exams if their first language is not English.

Top universities adopting the policy include Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Lancaster, Loughborough, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Nearly all Scottish universities - including Edinburgh, St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen - allow overseas students to use dictionaries.

In total, half of the Russell Group, which is often thought of as the top tier of British universities, sanction the use of dictionaries in exams.

However, Oxford and Cambridge, along with most leading London universities such as University College, King's College, Imperial and LSE, do not allow the practice.

University bosses claim that letting foreign students use dictionaries evens the playing field for all - pointing out that they have to attain a minimum level of English to get a student visa.

However, some experts have suggested that it is unfair to let one group of students use dictionaries when others are not allowed to do so.

In addition, critics link the regulations to universities' push to recruit more students from outside the EU, who pay fees many times higher than those demanded from British students.

Tory MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: 'I think this is absolutely ridiculous. An exam should be the same for everyone and universities shouldn't be bending the rules to help foreign students and giving them qualifications when their standard of English is not up to scratch.  'It is sad that in their desperate rush to get as much money from overseas students as possible that our universities are prepared to compromise on their standards and rigour.'

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, added: 'Once you give a dictionary to the non-English speaker, you're discriminating against English speakers. It's confusing, it's misleading, it's unfair.  'They should not be sacrificing academic integrity to recruit more foreign students.'

Universities UK, the body which represents all higher education institutions, warned that relaxing standards for overseas students could be damaging to academic excellence.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: 'International students are subject to numerous tests to ensure they meet high English language requirements.  'For overseas students to benefit from studying at a UK university, they need a high level of English so that they can complete written assessments and take part in discussions and seminars.

'It is in no one's interest for international students to come to the UK if they are unable to complete their studies because they are struggling with the language.'

Most of the institutions specify that students can only use a translation dictionary, between their own language and English, but some allow them to use regular dictionaries which contain words' definitions in English only.

Nearly all universities say that they check students' dictionaries to ensure that they do not contain any notes or additional material which could fuel suspicion of cheating.

Some only let students use dictionaries which are provided by exam invigilators, in a further attempt to stop students taking advantage of the policy to smuggle in crib sheets.

Universities have been keen to recruit as many students as possible from outside the EU because there is no cap on the level of fees they can charge.

Foreign students typically pay up to £14,000 a year for most courses, compared to a limit of £9,000 for students from the UK and other EU countries.

The Government requires overseas students to sit an English language test in order to qualify for a visa.  In addition, the most prestigious institutions have their own tougher language exam, which they say ensures that all students are completely fluent in English by the time they start their degree.

There is no official Government policy on the use of dictionaries in exams, because as autonomous institutions universities are free to set their own regulations in most areas.

The Quality Assessment Authority, which certifies degrees, says: 'Through inclusive design wherever possible, and through individual reasonable adjustments wherever required, assessment tasks [must] provide every student with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their achievement.'


Seven-year-old schoolchildren to be given new tests amid claims teachers 'depress' marks so they can hit improvement targets

Plans to reintroduce tests for seven-year-olds will stop teachers marking pupils down so that they can more easily hit improvement targets, a source has claimed.

Ministers are said to be considering national tests at Key Stage 1 which were abolished ten years ago because it was argued that they put too much pressure on pupils form a young age.

It's believed that Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, is thinking of re-introducing them to replace teachers assessments so they can better monitor progress through primary school.

The move has sparked fury among unions who have threatened more strikes if ministers do choose to go through with the proposals, reports the Times Educational Supplement.

The Department for Education wants to introduce the tests so it can better monitor progress of children who are supposed to improve by two levels between the end of year two - aged seven - and the end of primary school at 11, when they already have national exams.

A source told the TES that you can't measure progress accurately with teacher tests as there's an incentive to mark them down so they can more easily reach the levels of improvements they are judged on.

The source told the TES: 'The issue is that you can't measure progress accurately with teacher assessment, and there are incentives for schools to depress pupils' scores to show that progress is being made.'

They also want to publish the results and claim that the move would lighten the load for teachers, as they wouldn't have to do the individual assessments.

But unions say it would be a step too far and have claimed that the move would lead to more strikes after a number of walk-outs over controversial policies throughout the last parliament.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general of the NUT, told the TES that teachers have boycotted tests for children of that age before and re-introduction would lead to unions 'jointly taking steps to block these radical changes'.

Russell Hobby, general secretary for the NAHT, told Javier Espinoza from The Telegraph that pupils are already 'weighed down' by high stakes tests at increasingly young ages.

He said that children should have a broad education and not simply learn how to take tests as teachers strive to ready them from exams rather than concentrating on offering them a broad education.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: 'Tests have always been a part of assessment arrangements at Key Stage 1.

'We have already announced that tests to assess the new national curriculum are being developed, to be brought in from summer 2016, and schools will be informed of the arrangements for teacher assessment by September 2015.'


UK: Offensive to say Islamic dress is offensive

No sense of irony evident

A secondary school, where pupils are mainly Muslim, has called in police to investigate a ‘hate crime’ due to a Facebook posting criticising women publicly wearing Islamic veils.

A photo of three women in niqabs with the message ‘share if you find this offensive’ was seen on the Facebook page of a member of the school’s support staff and reported.

Headteacher Jen McIntosh immediately informed the police, who confirmed they are now making inquiries about the incident.

The head described the post as ‘tasteless and offensive,’ adding that the ‘appalling’ incident didn’t represent the ‘thoughts, feelings and actions’ of the school and its staff.

Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College in Bradford was last year linked to the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, where schools have allegedly been infiltrated by hard-line Muslims, and the head faced accusations today that she had overreacted.

The Facebook post originated from Britain First – the right wing political movement reportedly founded by a former member of the British Nationalist Party – and was allegedly shared by Angie Dunn, a non-teaching member of staff at the Bradford comprehensive.

However, police are also looking into a complaint from Ms Dunn that her Facebook account was maliciously hacked.

The secondary school has around 1,000 pupils aged from 11 to 18.   According to a recent Ofsted report the ‘vast majority of students are from minority ethnic backgrounds and speak English as an additional language.’

When news of the anti-Islamic social media photo spread through the school it clearly provoked anger amongst pupils and parents demanding action.

Mrs McIntosh, the headteacher, said: ‘We have dealt with this matter swiftly and informed the police right away. It will now be investigated in the proper way and will be dealt with accordingly.  We will not allow any isolated incident to distract from our focus on delivering a high quality education to all our students, as a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment for the whole community.’

In a letter to parents, she added: ‘You may be aware of the tasteless and offensive Facebook post regarding the hijab allegedly posted by a member of staff.

‘This appalling action in no way represents the thoughts, feelings or actions of Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College and the 207 other individuals who work here.  ‘Prejudice and racism in any form is not acceptable in or out of our college and any such behaviour is taken very seriously. That is why the matter has been reported to the police for investigation as a hate crime.’

A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said they were contacted on Wednesday morning by a member of staff at the school ‘about an inappropriate picture which had been shared on their social media page.’ He said: ‘Enquiries are continuing into this matter.’

Councillor Mohammed Shafiq said he had ten calls in an hour from worried parents.  He said: ‘I’m pleased that the school has launched a full investigation to look into this matter and the priority remains the education of our children.’

While Brian Morris, a local UKIP councillor, warned of an overreaction.  He said: ‘It's the times we live in unfortunately. No matter how the post was meant to be seen, people will take it as offensive even if that wasn't the intention.

‘There are people out there looking for problems and the slightest little thing they can get hold of they will. People will twist things and make a bigger issue out of it.’

Councillor Susan Hinchclifffe, Bradford Council’s executive member for schools, said the authority would ‘not tolerate any instance of prejudice, in any shape or form.’

It is not known if any action has been taken against Ms Dunn, a member of the learning support staff.

Laisterdyke hit the headlines in April last year when the governors were removed following a critical Ofsted report and concerns raised by the council. They were accused of undermining the head and interfering in the day-to-day running of the school.

It was revealed how teachers had previously been suspended after clashing with governors who wanted to model the school on the academy in Birmingham at the centre of the 'Trojan Horse' allegations.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oregon Governor Signs Testing Opt-Out Bill

Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has just signed a bill (HB 2655) that would allow parents to opt their children out of the standardized tests that have come as part of the Common Core education standards in the state. Parents can cite any reason they choose for their opt-out decision, and the state is required to inform them ahead of time of their options.

This is a big victory for school choice in Oregon, and shows considerable courage on Gov. Brown’s part. Although the bill handily passed the legislature last week, the federal government has threatened the state with the loss of $140 million in education funding for allowing opt-outs, and Brown faced heavy pressure from liberal groups to veto the bill.

Opting out of standardized testing is legal in many states, but since school districts often face participation quotas in order to receive funding, some school officials have been bullying or intimidating parents into waiving their legal rights on the issue. Increased knowledge and available of the option to refuse testing will empower parents to take greater control of their child’s education, as well as lend fuel to the anti-Common Core movement sweeping the nation.

The increased focus on standardized testing in recent years has led to dissatisfaction among teachers, who must spend less time engaging with children on an individual level, and more time on rote test preparation. One of the country’s top teachers actually resigned over this issue, and elsewhere we have seen massive cheating on the part of teachers in order to inflate test scores.

Unfortunately, the proposed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind still contains federal testing mandates, meaning that states will continue to feel pressure from the U.S Department of Education to force children to take unnecessary tests. Until we can end this requirement, it's going to take governors who are willing to turn their back on federal dollars to make real progress on education reform.

FreedomWorks congratulates Governor Brown for making the right decision and recognizing that education should come from parents and teachers, not in the form of blanket mandates from the federal government.


Third Grader Banned From School Party Because of Common Core Opt-Out

New Jersey parent Michele Thornton's 9-year old daughter, Cassidy, was recently banned from attending an end of the year party for students at her elementary school because Michele had previously opted her daughter out of New Jersey's version of Common Core testing, known as the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers exam (PARCC).

PARCC has been criticized by experts as being part of a wider plan to nationalize school curricula, the primary reason Michele had instructed her daughter not to participate in the test. According to Thornton during her Fox News interview, “They pressured me to make her take it,” she said. “I told them that it was against the law to force my daughter to participate."

Thornton was shocked last week when she discovered the repercussions of her choice to opt her daughter out of PARCC, a decision that would result in her daughter getting excluded from social activities for the other students, and in the form of consistent harassment from school counselors and other administrators. According to a weekly newsletter Cassidy brought home from school:

“Untest afternoon will take place Monday, June 15 beginning at 12:30 pm for children in grades 3-8 who participated in both PARCC assessment..."

Since Cassidy was the only child in her third grade class not to take the exam, school officials were going to place her alone in the school library for the rest of the day, a move which caused quite a stir with Michele, causing her to instead go and pick up Cassidy from school early while the other children went on to enjoy "...gaming trucks, an outdoor play area (soccer and volleyball), cupcakes, juice boxes, and buckets full of prizes for the kids."

The "Untest afternoon" was not the only attempt to guilt Michele and Cassidy over their refusal to take part in PARCC; Cassidy was pulled out of class and drilled with a series of questions as to why she refused to take the PARCC exam. Michele, increasingly frustrated with the administration's treatment of her daughter, launched a formal complaint, which resulted in an investigation showing that "findings indicate that harassment, intimidation and bullying did not occur."

Michele's story of school intimidation to implement Common Core testing is far from uncommon in America today. An Ohio family was at odds with their daughter's local school district when they asked for their daughter to opt out of Common Core testing, which resulted in the Superintendent "refusing to excuse her children from anything at school, then visited her kids’ school, demanding to have the children weighed and measured because their principal had allowed them to opt out from an earlier body-mass index screening."

More disturbing Common Core standards were detected and brought to attention by Wetumpka TEA Party President, Becky Gerritson, in a 2014 Alabama Senate Education Committee hearing. One portion of her testimony highlighted historical revisionism on the part of one Common Core history textbook's writer:

"Dr. Terrance Moore, professor of History from Hillsdale College, dedicated an entire chapter in his book called Story Killers to this very textbook. He does a superb job detailing the misrepresentation of America’s founding, its anti-American themes, and its obvious political bias, as well its mediocre methods of teaching literature."

Common Core is threatening not only parents' rights over their children's education, but is also undermining individual states who have to choose between opting out of Common Core and losing federal grants, or allowing the Department of Education to come in and take control over entire curricula.


States Without Charter Schools Are Falling Behind

All but seven states (Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia) allow for the public funding of charter schools. Charter schools are an alternative to traditional district public schools. Although charter schools are publicly funded, they are free to offer their own curriculum and have more flexibility in management structures. The demand from parents to enroll their children in charter schools is continuing to rise.

Many states limit the number of charter schools allowed or authorized to open in a certain year. Such caps are unnecessary, as the number of charter schools should be permitted to increase and decrease with demand. Charter schools must set high standards in order to attract parents to enroll their children, and they will close if they fail to meet those expectations. Traditional public schools, by contrast, are largely able to stay open no matter how poor their students’ academic achievements may be. According to the Center for Education Reform, the states with the most successful charter school programs do not cap the number of charter schools, allow for the most public funding, and give the schools’ independent administrators the freedom and authority to run their schools without interference from state school boards.

Regulations on the expansion of charter schools are preventing the supply from meeting demand, resulting in lotteries and long waiting lists. More than one million children are on waiting lists across the country in hopes of enrolling in a charter school.

The states without charter schools are largely rural. Charter schools are often seen as being beneficial only to urban areas with low-income families and dense populations. But those states should reconsider, given that nearly all states without charter schools rank in the bottom half of the state education rankings prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The only exception is Vermont, which offers a robust voucher-like system for the state’s rural areas.

School choice creates competition among schools, which drives academic success. In 2015, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) conducted a study of urban charter schools and found students gained an additional 40 days of learning in math and 28 days in reading compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools.

Laws hampering the innovation and expansion of charter schools restrict parents’ ability to enroll their children in schools that best suit their educational needs. Legislators should strive to remove funding barriers for charter schools and other education alternatives, allow unlimited expansion of qualified charter schools with no cap, and ensure a blanket waiver so schools have full control of their operations and remain independent of state school boards.