Friday, July 24, 2015

Secondary school crisis looms as pupil numbers soar by 20% in the next decade fuelled by immigration and baby boom

England's secondary schools risked being overwhelmed according to government predications that the number of pupils will soar by 20 per cent in a decade.

The Department for Education expects there to be half a million more pupils by 2024 compared today, push the figure to almost 3.3million.

Unions said schools are already 'stretched to their limits' and will struggle to cope with more children as triggered by a rising population and immigration.

The number of children in secondary schools has been falling since 2005 as a result of a drop in birth rates a decade ago.

But official forecasts drawn up for Education Secretary Nicky Morgan show that from this year the trend will be reversed, and numbers will start to rise from the 2.74million enrolled in 2015.

Over the next 10 years it will rise every year, according to the projections, reaching 3.287million, up 20 per cent in 2015.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: 'We want every parent to have access to a good school place for their child.

'Despite rising pupil numbers, 95 per cent of parents received an offer at one of their three preferred schools.

'But we recognise that as the population grows, the demand for new school places increases.

'That is why we doubled the funding for school places to £5bn in the last Parliament, which has helped create almost 500,000 new school places.

'A further £7bn has already been committed to create even more places over the next six years.'

The numbers are rising faster than expected. A year ago the projected number of pupils in state-funded secondary schools in 2024 was 20,000 lower than the latest data.

Under various scenarios used by the government, if net migration is at its highest it would add an extra 35,000 students to secondary schools.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT said: 'The number of children in education is still rising but the government lacks a coherent plan. Some schools are already stretched to their limits.

'The current system is fragmented and free schools are an inefficient and insufficient way of meeting the numbers. NAHT believes that some local agency should have the strategic role in the planning of places, able to commission new schools and places in both the academy and maintained sectors.

'Schools are also running low on money. The government is not taking account of pensions, national insurance, cost of living, increments, living wages and – crucially – the cost to schools of picking up on cuts to other public services. An increase in pupil numbers is an added pressure on schools at a very difficult time.'

The data also shows that the number of primary school pupils will rise by 6 per cent to 4.376million.

'The peak annual rate of increase is expected to be seen in 2016, with a projected 2.4 per cent increase in the population at state-funded primary schools,' the DfE said.

'The increase is then expected to reduce, as the population is affected by the lower birth numbers in 2013 and other factors.

'By 2023, the rate of increase is projected to have dropped to 0.1 per cent, followed by a small decrease of -0.1 per cent in 2024.'


We Must Break Teachers Unions, Get School Choice

By now, a good portion of America knows that Planned Parenthood engages in trafficking of organs obtained from the unborn infants they destroy in their abortion industry.

Planned Parenthood’s director of medical research, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, was captured on tape describing, in a most matter-of-fact way, these gruesome activities as she sipped wine and forked salad at a fancy Los Angeles restaurant. She discussed how doctors use ultrasound to guide their deadly hand such that valuable tissue is not destroyed as they kill the unborn child.

It is sad commentary on the dismal state of the American soul that we need revelations like this to wake up the nation to what so many now accept as part of American life – the butchery and dehumanization of legal abortion-on-demand.

But the issue is not where we are, but understanding how we got here, and deciding where we are going.

And here we must talk about education.

In my travels I hear so many people express disbelief that this nation, which they still see as free and under God, is willing to allow hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to flow annually to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. They are in disbelief that so many accept Planned Parenthood calling what it does “reproductive health” and that its president can, in the same breath, talk about ethics while referring to her organization’s trafficking in body parts of destroyed children.

So many are incredulous that fellow citizens are comfortable with the shattering of traditional values that sustained us for so many generations. They wonder how a large percentage of our population see no moral problem with redefining marriage; the collapse of the American family; the fact that almost half our babies are now born to unmarried women.

Many Americans are asking, “What happened?”

One answer to that question is that attitudes so prevalent today, particularly among young Americans, reflect what recent generations have been learning in school.

Most teachers in our public schools belong to the large teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Looking over the websites of both these organizations, it is readily apparent that their idea of education goes well beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. They view “values” as part of education, but not what many churchgoing, God-fearing, Christian Americans call values.

Both these big teachers unions promote abortion and same-sex marriage, support Planned Parenthood politically and financially and engage actively in legal proceedings supporting these “values.”

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, is an open lesbian. She, of course, is free to live as she chooses. But Ms. Weingarten doesn’t support the same freedom of choice for parents who don’t share her values – parents whose children attend schools where her union members teach.

Her organization fights, and has fought, bringing education choice and charter schools to low-income minority communities where her union has a stranglehold on public schools.

With today’s obsession regarding race and crime and violence in poor minority communities, most do agree that this is traceable to the collapse of black families. And the collapse of black families is traceable to the massive intrusion of government into the lives of these communities.

Minority children, 70 percent of whom are born into single-parent homes, must have the choice to go to schools where traditional values are taught. But the teachers unions do everything to make sure this cannot happen.

No Child Left Behind is now being re-authorized, but without a provision to allow parents to choose to send their child to any public or private school they want. This is an enormous mistake.

America’s future, and restoration of the morality and decency on which freedom depends, requires school choice and ending the power of teachers unions over our children.


Universities wasting public money on 'pointless' research, says think tank

British universities are wasting time and public money carrying out ‘pointless’ research projects to get funding and push themselves up the rankings, a think tank has said.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) argues government funding to higher education institutions, representing 4 per cent of the total universities receive, should be scrapped because it generates “perverse incentives”.

Instead, it is calling for this funding to be given to local education councils, so that they can manage the money and allocate it where they see fit.

The IEA’s research highlights “serious shortfalls” in the so-called Research Excellence Framework (REF), which represents £1.5 billion of funding or roughly one fifth of the total amount the government hands to universities.

Despite being a comparatively small amount, the think tank argues the funding “seriously distorts the behaviour of universities and leads universities to try to game the system in very damaging ways”.

The report argues the government funding is a misallocated resource, that comes with high bureaucratic costs as well as distorting academic priorities.

Len Shackleton, one of the authors of the report, told the Daily Telegraph: “The REF determines the allocation of a relatively small amount of money – less than £1.5 billion – and yet it involves huge costs for universities and distorts priorities.

“The REF leads to the dog of university teaching, scholarship and research to be wagged by the tail of particular types of research activity.

“Academics focus on getting papers in specific journals rather than genuine scholarship. At the institutional level, universities spend disproportionate amounts of resources trying to raise their REF ranking very often trying to game the system.”

The IEA also made a strong point for reducing funding for universities in general.

The report added: “More generally, there is a strong case for reducing the total amount of government subsidy for research and expecting universities to generate their own support for research and scholarship or support it by reducing overhead costs.

“In many disciplines research has a value largely in developing academic understanding which should feed primarily into teaching. The current system leads far too many academics to focus on research as a substitute for teaching, to the detriment of students.”

Universities in the past have come under criticism for funding research that some argue is “pointless”. Previous research has included why cookies crumble, why don’t woodpeckers get headaches and how to make the perfect toast.

University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "The IEA are not alone in criticising what we also consider a flawed process when it comes to the REF, and we have outlined the need for a fundamental overhaul of the research system.

"However, we want to see better funding that expands our research base, covering more institutions and more diverse areas of research. History has taught us that some of the biggest breakthroughs have come from speculative research and it would be foolish to try and measure projects purely on their economic potential."


Thursday, July 23, 2015

68 Dems Ask Education Dep't to ‘Protect LGBT Students From Discriminatory School Environments’

Sixty-eight congressional Democrats have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking the Education Department to “use every avenue at its disposal to protect LGBT students from discriminatory school environments.”

This follows failed attempts in both the House and Senate to advance legislation mandating federal LGBT non-discrimination protections in schools.  

The letter-signers, headed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), praised “the unprecedented efforts” Education Department has made recently to address “the many challenges that LGBT students face in our nation’s schools.”

They specifically referred to the guidance issued by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in April 2014, saying that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Polis and his colleagues called this a “promising step,” but they urged Secretary Duncan to “build on these initial steps by developing, finalizing, and issuing guidance that clearly outlines schools’ obligations to protect LGBT students from discrimination under Title IX.”

The Democrats said the guidance should cover “what steps schools must take to cover issues such as access to curricular and extracurricular activities, protecting student privacy, and the application of dress standards.” And it should also help schools understand their “obligation to prevent bullying and harassment against LGBT students under current law.”

The letter cited statistics from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2013 School Climate Survey showing that nearly three quarters of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; 55 percent reported being verbally harassed because of their gender expression; 49 percent said they had been bullied over the Internet; and more than a third had been physically harassed or assaulted.

The letter came last Tuesday, after the Senate rejected an amendment (The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2015) introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would have mandated a “comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Senator Franken told Buzzfeed News that his amendment would have settled questions about which restrooms transgender students could use. “Transgender students under Franken’s policy would be able use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity ‘without harassment,’” Buzzfeed reported.

“There’s no doubt bullying or harassment of children based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is a terrible problem,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday evening.  “The question is, is this an argument that is best addressed to the local school board or to the State Board of Education or to a national school board in Washington, D.C.?

“This substitutes the judgment of the people closest to the children who cherish them, substitutes the judgment of Washington bureaucrats for them,” Alexander said. “It allows the federal government to regulate and dictate local school gender identity policies such as those related to restrooms, sports teams, locker rooms, and dress codes. It will lead to costly lawsuits.”

Last week, as reported, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidance to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual employees – stepping in because Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Current law does not include sexual orientation as a protected class in the workplace. But it does forbid workplace discrimination based on “sex.”

So the EEOC administratively expanded the definition of sex discrimination to cover lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

In 2012, the EEOC ruled that discrimination against transgenders (also known as gender identity discrimination) is also the kind of “sex” discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Senators Cruz and Paul Push for Common Core Opt-Out Surge

Senate Republicans and GOP presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky jumped in on a congressional effort to strike against Common Core by advocating on behalf of a recent House bill that would increase the opportunity for students to opt-out of Common Core based PARCC testing which has been a force of frustration and unwarranted obstacles to both parents, students, and teachers alike; while additionally criticizing a version of the Senate education bill which did not go far enough.

The two senators joined forces during a meeting originally to discuss amending to the wildly hated No Child Left Behind law, by rejecting standardized tests mandated by the George W. Bush-era law. Cruz and Paul aim at empowering students by keeping government out of the right for parents to have their students to opt-out of the mandatory testing and exams.

In the past six months, students across the country have opted-out of intrusive PARCC exams (individual state devised Common Core curricula). School boards however have tried to fight back against the massive number of opt-outs by finding creative ways to either humiliate or harass students and their families. Long Island alone caught media attention when they saw some of the highest number of opt-outs in the country this past April.

The bill known as the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 has the following key components:

This bill reauthorizes and amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The bill addresses issues such as accountability and testing requirements, distribution and requirements for grants, fiscal accountability requirements, and the evaluation of teachers...

The bill provides states with increased flexibility and responsibility for developing accountability systems, deciding how federally required tests should be weighed, selecting additional measures of student and school performance, and implementing teacher evaluation systems.

Opponents on left have criticized the opportunity for the opt-out function, saying that:

Opting out of standardized tests destroys the ability to get an accurate read on how students are performing in school and where achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers lie.

Amendments to the No Child Left Behind bill passed in the House of Representatives last week, which included the opt-out clause, yet the two Republicans and presidential rivals felt that though the House bill was a good model to continue off of, the Senate bill did not go far enough and was substantially weaker in protecting the educational rights of students and their parents.

Popular conservatives Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been a longtime advocates for a complete repeal of Common Core. Senator Rand Paul commented on the companion bill currently in the Senate chamber and how it “retains some of No Child Left Behind’s biggest flaws,” which "lack of adequate parental choice, a federal testing mandate and continued support for Common Core.” The flaws in the Senate's version of the bill were ultimately enough for 2016 contenders Senators Cruz, Paul, and even Marco Rubio to vote against it. Despite their vocal resistance to urge fellow Republicans to vote "nay", the bill ultimately passed in the Senate (the only 2016 GOP contender to vote for the bill was Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).

While many teachers unions and other organizations against the opt-outs, even Obama appointed Education Secretary Arne Duncan has recently called for "states to evaluate how many tests students take and eliminate what they can." As of now Cruz and Paul are the only 2016 contenders to have a stable stance against Common Core, while other Republicans such as Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush have had a strange, off again-on again relationship with the education program which has upset so many Americans.


Campus freedom of speech in Britain

Spiked has done a very interesting survey of freedom of speech on UK university campuses, rating each one on how good it is at protecting individuals' right to speak their mind and hear different views.

Needless to say the London School of Economics is right down among the worst. I wasn't surprised to see UCL or Birkbeck with a red flag either. More surprising were the red flags for Oxford and Edinburgh. My own alma mater - St Andrews - was at the other end of the scale and it was interesting to see that the UK's only private university - Buckingham - was also top-rated.

But the really striking thing is just how few universities received a green flag and how many got a red. This really does make the Spiked survey very important and I hope a few universities are now going to take a long hard look at themselves.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Education correlates with longevity

A new study offers yet more evidence that higher levels of education are linked to living longer.

Researchers looked at data on more than a million people from 1986 to 2006 to estimate the number of deaths in the US that could be attributed to low levels of education. They studied people born in 1925, 1935, and 1945 to understand how education levels affected mortality over time, and noted the causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

They found that 145,243 deaths could be saved in the 2010 population if adults who had not completed high school went on to finish, which is comparable to the estimated number of deaths that could be averted if all current smokers had the mortality rates of former smokers.

In addition, 110,068 deaths could be saved if adults who had some college went on to complete their bachelor’s degree. The findings appear in the journal PROS ONE.

“In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviours such as diet, smoking, and drinking,” says Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health, and associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine.

“Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviours and disparities — should also be a key element of US health policy.”

More than 10 per cent of US adults ages 25 to 34 do not have a high school degree, while more than a quarter have some college but no bachelor’s degree. Yet studies show that a higher level of education is a strong predictor of longevity due to many factors, including higher income and social status, healthier behaviours, and improved social and psychological well being. Evidence from studies including natural experiments consistently show a strong association between education level and mortality.

The disparities in mortality across different levels of education widened substantially over time. For example, mortality rates fell modestly among those with high school degrees, but mortality rates fell much more rapidly among those with college degrees.

As a result, encouraging high school completion among adults who have not finished high school could save twice as many lives among those born in 1945 as compared to those born in 1925.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease played a greater role than deaths from cancer in these growing gaps in mortality and improvements in survival for well-educated people, likely due to advances in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease among those with more education.

“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” Chang says. “In addition to education policy’s obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.


Former CNN anchor turns her journalism into education

 “The public school system in this country is broken,” says Campbell Brown, education-reform advocate and former NBC and CNN news anchor.

It’s this sentiment that led Campbell to create The Seventy Four, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational news site that launched Monday. The name refers to the 74 million school-age children in the United States.

In January, New York magazine dubbed Brown “the Most Controversial Woman in School Reform.” Through her nonprofit, Partnership for Educational Justice, she has helped parents file lawsuits against New York State challenging teacher tenure. She has been critical of the teachers’ union and vocal about her rejection of the status quo.

“Every education law should be based around the question, ‘Is this good for children?’ And it’s not,” she tells JTA.

Brown sees herself as both a journalist and an advocate for the powerless. Critics describe her as a union-busting, pro-charter school mouthpiece for the 1 percent.

“The critics are going to say what they want,” she says. “But I’ll let our journalism speak.”

‘Every education law should be based around the question, “Is this good for children?” And it’s not’

The site launches with an inspirational profile on Chris Bonner, a search-and-rescue pilot for the Coast Guard who traded military life to become a second-grade teacher at a charter school in Newark, New Jersey.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Cynthia Tucker’s debut column is about how presidential candidates should address the relationship between educational inequality and income inequality.

Campbell says that most of her detractors “are part of the education system and the status quo.”

“They have vested interests and don’t want us calling them out — but that’s our jobs as journalists,” she says.

Her opponents — pointing to the fact that her two children attend private school, a Jewish day school in Manhattan — say she is disconnected and not qualified to argue on behalf of the country’s public school students.

“On the contrary,” she says. “I’ve had opportunities that many others don’t have and was able to choose my children’s school. I’m fully aware that many people are stuck with their failing neighborhood school.”

‘Every mother should have a choice when it comes to education’
“I care deeply about Jewish education and Jewish values, and chose a school with those values,” she says, but declined to name the school. “But every mother should have a choice when it comes to education.”


3 Reasons Christian Education Should Be As Christian As Possible

As Christian as possible? (A phrase borrowed from my friend and former colleague at the Stony Brook School, Dr. Peter K. Haile.) That's Right! "As Christian as possible."

How often have you viewed promotional material from a Christian school or college which stressed, "Learning from a Christian Perspective?" For years Christian educators spoke of this as the, "Integration of Faith and Learning." More recently, since many felt the "faith and learning" phrase was ready for a "nervous breakdown" or perhaps a "traumatic stress disorder," educational commentators have been looking for fresh language. Now you're likely to hear or read, "faith influenced education," "incarnational learning," or more commonly "worldview learning manifestation." But, in the end, "the more things change the more they stay the same!"

In 1952 Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein at the "Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures" at Dallas Theological Seminary delivered a series on Christian education. Subsequently in 1954 The Pattern of God's Truth was published and discussed the "inner workings of education" with the "external meaning of God's truth," the "living union between Christianity and learning." For many years Dr. Gaebelein maintained oversight for the summer educators' seminars at Wheaton (IL) College dealing with this very subject of faith and learning integration. And also we can't forget the importance of another proponent of faith and learning practice, Wheaton College Professor and Chair of Philosophy and author of All Truth is God's Truth and The Idea of a Christian College, Dr. Arthur F. Holmes.

Dr. Holmes was so committed to the practice of the integration of Christian faith and learning that he offered to mentor new faculty hires for me at a yet to be established C. S. Lewis School in New York City. Why would this be needed?

Here is Reason #1 to be "as Christian as possible:

Dr. Holmes said, "You will be hiring Christians to teach won't you?" "Yes," I replied, "only Christians." He continued, "These Christians will have been graduated from: NYU, Penn State, Rutgers, and other non-Christian colleges and universities where Christian education philosophy was not of importance."

For that matter, educators coming from Christian colleges would also need mentoring as well since their professors weren't "integrating," but teaching their courses as they had experienced at their college. This you see creates a vicious cycle in need of conscious interruption.

This "call to arms" generally falls flat! The practice of this "living union" doesn't simply mean adding a Bible verse here and there, or using God as a reference, and certainly not adding a prayer to begin class. Since it demands "refashioning" a syllabus, including extensive research, most are unwilling to "take the plunge."

I was floored when, in conversation with a noted Christian professor at a respected Christian college, was told, "I don't get involved with the integration thing. I just teach the subject." I was speechless and my thoughts clouded for the moment. Hiring a teacher who is a Christian isn't enough!

Reason #2: Simply educating within a Christian academic community, where Christian practice is emphasized, does not mean that a "living union" will naturally follow. The reality of this context does not assure our desired result.

Some years before the experience mentioned above I had established, in New York City, The Annual Colloquy on Christian Education and Culture. This shocking statement from a seasoned Christian professor fell upon my ears about seven years into the project and ultimately reinforced my commitment to encouraging Christian education which would transform and last. An authentic Christian education will prepare students to "… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15).

Some who have encountered the concept of the "integration of faith and learning" think it involves not teaching some of the subject matter. It doesn't!

Reason #3: We need to teach it all, go where it leads. This means teaching the "Theory of Evolution," "Freud and Jung," "Concepts of Aleatoric Music," "American Abstract Art," and the "Theater of the Absurd." The study, however, must establish a "biblical basis" for understanding and forming in support of or divergence from Christian thinking. Years ago, for instance, I taught a high school course on the "biblical basis" for Pascal's Pensées using Dr. Peter Kreeft's book Christianity for Modern Pagans.

It is my opinion that a Christian education is a truly "liberal education." Christian educators shouldn't avoid diverse views, but establish the milieu from which to reach and establish an educated position, a Christian educated opinion, which is "as Christian as possible!"


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

We’re not mentally ill – we’re teenagers

A 14-year-old British girl tells teachers to stop pathologising pupils.  She writes with great clarity and undoubted truth

It has recently been claimed that the number of girls in the UK aged 11 to 13 who are suffering from emotional problems increased by 55 per cent between 2009 and 2014.

Some might think that this problem stems from a lack of support for kids at school, or from the ‘fact’ that young girls’ lives are becoming more difficult. But is this the case? I for one have to disagree. I am a 14-year-old pupil at secondary school, and can tell you that there is definitely no lack of ‘help’ for girls. In fact, if anything, there’s too much of it.

Almost everyone in my group of friends has been labelled as having some sort of ‘problem’ since starting secondary school, and has been told by teachers that they need some sort of special help.

One of my friends – let’s just call her Lucy – has been taken out of school completely. It started with her being taken out of class to have talks about her ‘serious anxiety issues’ (she didn’t like doing public speaking and was generally a shy person). Then she was ‘diagnosed’ with chronic depression and she hasn’t attended school for at least three months. She now only comes in for three periods a week, and she gets to pick which ones she attends (you guessed it, she usually skips maths).

Another one of my friends – let’s call her Alex – has been taken out of class frequently since Year 1 to talk about her ‘personal problems’. Her teachers have often told her and her family that they should go to see a specialist, but her mother (a social worker) has refused (rightly, in my opinion), claiming that her daughter doesn’t need any emotional help. She has also asked the school to stop making Alex talk about personal topics. Despite this, teachers continue to encourage Alex to talk about her personal and emotional life.

While the ‘wellbeing’ professionals at our school are telling us that we have serious personal problems, in the past I imagine teachers would have told us that it was basic teenage worry.

Another friend of mine is now taking depression pills after being sent to the doctor by her father – she’s still upset about a death in her family in her younger years. She will soon be seeing a shrink. I can’t directly blame the school for this, but I do think it has helped to create an environment in which young girls, in particular, are encouraged to think of themselves as having emotional and mental problems. Often it feels like, after having their pretty normal teenage worries and concerns labelled as serious anxieties, my friends eventually come to think of themselves as being emotionally broken.

This is not my friends’ fault. Nor is it the fault of their parents and the environment they have at home. The professionals in our schools are to blame – they are claiming to be solving problems, when really they are creating them. 


Walker v. Common Core: The Core Issue

With Election 2016 underway, and the cadre of Republican candidates prepped for initial debates, the attacks against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) have not abated, and, from the right, opponents have faulted Walker for his stance on Common Core.

Breitbart’s Dr. Susan Berry reported in a heavily slanted (perhaps overly-long piece):

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a history of shifting his stated positions on the controversial Common Core standards and inviting the federal government into his state’s education policy plans. Experts say his current position, of allowing school districts to “opt-out” of Common Core, would not rid his state of the nationalized initiative. . ."

Then left-leaning Huffington Post commented:

"Walker has been a critic of the Common Core Standards, and in late September, he told reporters he would like “Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established.” However, according to the Associated Press, Walker has not committed to actually rescinding the standards."

To her credit, Berry identifies that his Democratic predecessor, Jim Doyle, adopted Common Core and initially sought the funding. Somewhat misleading, her statement “shifting” implies a lack of character, or an overdose of political calculation. For Walker, it was a recognition of facts. (For further history on Walker’s shift on Common Core, read here.) As for HuffPo’s argument that Walker did not want to remove the standards: that is patently untrue.

Granted, Walker signed onto Common Core’s implementation in his first budget. Critics forget his pressing political battles during his first two years in office: budget crises, collective bargaining reforms, unprecedented Democratic-Labor Union opposition, plus a recall effort in 2012. Clearly, he had other issues on his mind besides Common Core. After those victories, he announced his intentions to repeal Common Core.

Still that has not been enough for some critics. Before Walker’s Presidential campaign kick-off, Berry commented an open letter from Common Core opponents to Walker. Specific indictments included the following:

"On April 20th of this year, you were directly asked during a major media interview if you would repeal Common Core . . . You replied affirmatively, adding, “Absolutely! I proposed it in my budget.”

Yet, contrary to claims you stand against the Common Core standards, you are effectively entrenching those standards in Wisconsin via Common Core-aligned, high-stakes assessments.

For months, you have justified taking no definitive action against Common Core, insisting that local school districts have the power to decide for themselves what standards they will use."

For the facts, consider his veto statement for the latest budget.

The governor presented a budget which “[i]ncreases local control by affirming the authority of school districts to choose their own academic standards, provides a pathway to offering multiple student assessment options and prevents the mandatory application of the national Common Core Standards.”

Regarding a key veto, Walker explained:

"This provision is unnecessary and would have codified assessment criteria in state law that are closely aligned with national standards I oppose and which local school districts should not be mandated to adopt. Ultimately, local school boards across Wisconsin should be able to determine what test they administer and what standards they adopt."

In Wisconsin, the governor can adjust or remove funding regarding standards, but he has no control over district decisions on the matter. The Governor does not have ultimate authority over the educational standards in local-control Wisconsin. Conservatives have excoriated President Obama for his unconstitutional executive overreach. Walker respects school districts and constitutional rule, and yet partisans cry “Walker the RINO!” In Wisconsin’s statutes and the state Constitution, partisans will find plenty to affirm Walker’s limited power on dealing with Common Core implementation in local schools. Legal precedent established this in Thompson v. Craney:

"Since Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848, the administration at the state level of public education in Wisconsin has been the duty of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected in a non-partisan statewide election pursuant to Article X, § 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution."

Wisconsin state law clearly outlines the state superintendent’s final authority on curriculum. Despite legal realities, Common Core critics expect Walker to stand before the cameras every day and preach the evils of the curriculum (and indeed, there are plenty). However, even if he talked about it at speaking engagements every day, and removed all statewide testing aligned with the nationalized standards, Wisconsin schools districts must adopt the responsibility and adapt their own standards.

As a dedicated constitutional conservative, Walker expanded school choice, vouchers, welfare-to-work programs, froze state college tuition, and removed tenure for college faculty: an impressive array of accomplishments for a red-state governor in a blue state.

 With his limited, legal resources, Walker pushed for the repeal of Common Core, has affirmed the power of local control in school districts, and vetoed provisions in his budget which would upend his opposition to the unpopular curriculum. Walker made the right decision, opposing its implementation respecting local control.

Conservatives have blasted Obama for his executive overreach at the federal level, yet his critics want him to do the same regarding education? Frankly, opponents of Common Core in Wisconsin, as well as around the country, need to stop “Waiting for Superman” and take the fight to their school boards.

Besides, even if one wants to believe the snide, worst-case scenario about Walker and Common Core, National Review’s Ian Tuttle presented the following pithy and positive political appraisal:

"If Walker has a Common Core problem, he also has (for the moment, at least) this small advantage over his opponents: A large swath of likely Republican primary voters view him as the strongest alternative to Jeb Bush and the Republican “establishment.” He has a grassroots brand (as opposed to Christie), national viability (as opposed to Huckabee), gubernatorial experience (as opposed to Rand Paul and Marco Rubio), and electoral success in a purple state (as opposed to Rick Perry). And that may be enough for voters to give his conversion the benefit of the doubt."

The analysis above should lend further benefit to these doubts.


Author drops UCL from £1m will over Sir Tim Hunt's treatment

Former student union president Jeremy Hornsby says University College London’s treatment of Sir Tim Hunt, the Nobel-prize winning scientist was the 'last straw’

A former president of University College London’s student union has written the institution out of his will in protest at its treatment of Sir Tim Hunt.

Sir Tim, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, was forced to resign as an honorary professor at UCL in a row over sexist comments he made in a speech.

Jeremy Hornsby, 79, an author and journalist, has now cut his alma mater out of his £1 million legacy. Mr Hornsby had planned to leave each of the two establishments that educated him – Winchester College and UCL – a tenth of his estate as a sign of his gratitude. He will now write UCL out of his will leaving it about £100,000 worse off.

Mr Hornsby wrote to Prof Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost, warning him of his intention to cut off UCL. His threat became a reality after the provost failed to even acknowledge his letter.

In his letter, Mr Hornsby explained that his exasperation with UCL over its seemingly soft stance on Islamist extremists, including the allegation that the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had become radicalised there during his studies, had been compounded by the Tim Hunt debacle.

Mr Hornsby wrote: “I have always been a loyal apologist and enthusiast for UCL, where I was president of the students’ union 1958-59, the year we moved to the old Seaman’s Hospital on Gordon Street. I have managed to ignore the various decisions over the years which appear to have enabled the radicalisation of Muslim students at UCL, but the case of Sir Tim Hunt is the last straw.

“Suffice to say that if I do not read that Prof Hunt has been reinstated within the next week, or, should he decline to return, that an apology has been issued to him, I shall sadly feel I must alter my will to remove the benefaction to UCL.”

Sir Tim, a biochemist who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2001, caused a storm of protest after reports of his speech in South Korea were tweeted. Sir Tim reportedly said: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”

Sir Tim said the comments were a joke. A recording released yesterday shows his audience laughing after he calls himself a “monster”.

Mr Hornsby, who graduated from UCL in 1959 after studying philosophy, said: “I wrote my will many many years ago and there was no question UCL would get ten per cent. But I just feel very strongly about the treatment of Sir Tim and have decided to change it.

“When I wrote to the provost I was astonished not even to receive an acknowledgement.”

UCL issued a statement last week saying it was right not to reinstate Sir Tim as honorary professor of the faculty of life sciences.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Trajectory Analysis of the Campus Serial Rapist Assumption

I am not sure the issue addressed below is a major one but it is worth exploring -- JR

Kevin M. Swartout et al.


Importance:  Rape on college campuses has been addressed recently by a presidential proclamation, federal legislation, advocacy groups, and popular media. Many initiatives assume that most college men who perpetrate rape are serial rapists. The scientific foundation for this perspective is surprisingly limited.

Objective:  To determine whether a group of serial rapists exists by identifying cohesive groups of young men, indicated by their trajectories of rape likelihood across high school and college.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  Latent class growth analysis of the 2 largest longitudinal data sets of adolescent sexual violence on college campuses using 2 distinct groups of male college students. The first group was used for derivation modeling (n = 850; data collected from August 1990 through April 1995) and the second for validation modeling (n = 795; data collected from March 2008 through May 2011). Final data analyses were conducted from February 16, 2015, through February 20, 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Rape perpetration assessed using the Sexual Experiences Survey.

Results:  Across samples, 177 of 1645 participants (10.8%) reported having perpetrated at least 1 rape from 14 years of age through the end of college. A 3-trajectory model best fit both the derivation and validation data sets. Trajectories reflected low or time-limited (91.7% of participants), decreasing (5.6%), and increasing (2.7%) rape patterns. No consistently high trajectory was found. Most men who perpetrated a rape before college were classified in the decreasing trajectory. During college, the increasing trajectory included 19 men (20.9%) who reported having perpetrated a rape, the decreasing trajectory included 25 men (27.5%), and the low or time-limited included 47 men (51.6%). No participant in the low or time-limited trajectory reported perpetrating a rape during more than 1 period. Most men (68 [74.7%]) who committed college rape only perpetrated rape during 1 academic year.

Conclusions and Relevance:  Although a small group of men perpetrated rape across multiple college years, they constituted a significant minority of those who committed college rape and did not compose the group at highest risk of perpetrating rape when entering college. Exclusive emphasis on serial predation to guide risk identification, judicial response, and rape-prevention programs is misguided. To deter college rape, prevention should be initiated before, and continue during, college. Child and adolescent health care professionals are well positioned to intervene during the early teenage years by informing parents about the early onset of nonconsensual sexual behavior.


Many researchers, policymakers, journalists, and campus administrators have assumed that 1 small subgroup of men accounts for most rapes committed on college campuses. Our findings are inconsistent with that perspective. Analyses of the 2 largest existing longitudinal data sets on sexual violence from 14 years of age through college revealed 3 trajectories: (1) consistently low or time-limited, (2) decreasing, and (3) increasing rape likelihood across the high school and college years. Neither data set supported a cohesive group of men who consistently committed rape across emerging adulthood. The men most likely to commit rape before college were not the men most likely to do so during college. Those who arrived on campus seemingly at greatest risk to commit rape decreased their perpetration likelihood across the early college years. A small group of men who were unlikely to perpetrate before college drastically increased their perpetration likelihood after matriculation.

The results lead to 3 additional observations: (1) 177 male college students (10.8%) surveyed across studies reported committing an act of completed rape since they were 14 years of age, indicating that there are approximately twice as many men on campuses who have committed rape than previously reported;10 (2) most college men who perpetrate rape do so during relatively limited time frames; and (3) the term serial rapist should be used with more caution. Although a substantial number of men report committing more than 1 act of rape,39,40 more research is needed regarding assault timing, tactics, and location in addition to victim characteristics12,13 to establish whether it is appropriate to broadly apply this label to campus offenders.

This study is the first, to our knowledge, to specifically model trajectories of rape likelihood across time. These findings add to the growing number of publications regarding trajectories of sexual aggression in both collegiate and community populations.19,41- 43 Much of the previous research in this area has considered a wider range of acts (eg, unwanted sexual contact, verbally coerced sex, and attempted rape), suggesting that more than 30% of male college students commit at least 1 sexually aggressive act during adolescence (since 14 years of age).39,40 In contrast with previous studies,19,43 these more specific analyses did not uncover a consistently elevated trajectory. Young men who commit rape but have a low or time-limited, decreasing, or increasing likelihood of perpetration across adolescence might have different risk and protective factors present in their lives. The patterns of rape likelihood observed in the decreasing and increasing trajectories, in particular, may be due to social learning44 and social control45 processes—especially given that the changes in rape likelihood coincide with men’s transition to the college environment. These processes might be facilitated via childhood experiences,38 peer network evolution,19,46 alcohol use,19,41 or hostile attitudes toward women.19,46 Future research determining predictors across and within trajectories would further inform prevention programs tailored to men with differing patterns of rape likelihood across time, to bring prevention efforts closer in line with men’s sexually violent behavioral patterns.47

Standard self-report measures ask participants to respond affirmatively to each tactic used (eg, force or victim incapacitation) but do not ascertain whether these tactics were used in a single incident or different incidents. Thus, a limitation of this study and others is an inability to state whether multiple rape acts reported at a single assessment were perpetrated within 1 or more assaults. Both data sets analyzed were collected in the southeastern United States, which strengthens comparability but possibly limits generalizability. Different versions of the SES were used across the 2 studies; the updated version21 measures a wider range of behavior, which is likely why the rape incidence rates differed by approximately 5% across the 2 studies.


Sexual violence is detrimental to young women’s well-being, reduces equal access to education, and creates an unwelcoming campus climate. These findings inform current policy discussions by cautioning against a uniform approach to high school and college rape response and prevention. Most men in college who commit rape do so during limited time frames. Although some men perpetrate rape across multiple college years, these men are not at high risk entering college and account for a small percentage of campus perpetrators—at least 4 of 5 men on campus who have committed rape will be missed by focusing solely on these men. The different eras represented by the data sets and use of a derivation-validation approach increase our confidence in and the generalizability of the findings. Outcomes of this study reinforce the need to (1) recognize the heterogeneity of rapists and avoid “one-size-fits-all” institutional responses to misconduct resolution or sexual violence prevention48 and (2) promote sexual and relationship health before high school, when men in the decreasing group begin to commit rape, and throughout the college years, when men in the increasing group begin to perpetrate rape.


Why Your State Should Copy Nevada’s School Choice Plan

With new research showing widespread underperformance among middle class students in states across the country, Nevada’s recently enacted nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program could not have come at a better time.

Under Nevada’s new program, for parents earning above the low-income level, the state will deposit funds totaling 90 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, or roughly $5,100, into an individual education savings account for each child. For parents earning below the low-income level, or who have children with special needs, the state will deposit 100 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, around $5,700, into the child’s ESA. Parents can withdraw funds from their ESAs to pay for a variety of educational services, such as private school tuition, distance-learning online programs, and tutoring.

Failing Middle Class Students

Giving all parents, regardless of their income level, the opportunity to choose the best education for their children makes sense. Not only because many middle class parents, struggling from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, don’t have the resources to afford private school tuition or tutoring services, but also because many public schools are failing to raise the performance of middle class students. Nevada is a perfect example.

On the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation’s report card, 59 percent of non-low-income Nevada 8th graders failed to score at the proficient level on both the 2013 NAEP reading and math exams.

Students at many predominantly middle class Nevada public schools also fail to achieve proficiency on the state’s own math and reading tests.

For example, Incline Village, located on the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe in northern Nevada, is a popular vacation destination for skiers and golfers. At Incline Middle School, only one of every four students is classified as low-income. Yet, on the state’s 2013 math exam, half of Incline Middle School’s 8th graders failed to score at or above the proficient level.

A National Problem

New research shows such underperformance among middle class students is not limited to Nevada.

A series of recent studies by the Pacific Research Institute found large percentages of middle class students in states as different as Michigan and Texas are failing to achieve proficiency in reading and math.

In Michigan, 55 percent of non-low-income eighth graders failed to reach the proficient mark on the 2013 NAEP reading exam, and 58 percent of these mostly middle class students failed to reach proficiency on the NAEP 8th grade math exam.

In addition, out of the 677 Michigan traditional public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations—what many would call “middle class” schools—316, or 47 percent, had half or more of their students in at least one grade level fail to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 Michigan reading or math exams.

At Scott Elementary School in the Lansing suburb of DeWitt, which CNN Money once named to its list of 100 best places to live in the United States, only 13 percent of the school’s students were categorized as “low income” in 2013, but 60 percent of Scott Elementary 3rd graders failed to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 Michigan math exam.

Travails in Texas

In Texas, 54 percent of non-low-income 8th graders failed to achieve proficiency on the 2013 NAEP reading exam, and 47 percent failed to reach proficiency on the 8th grade math exam.

Out of the 1,115 Texas traditional public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations, 672, or 60 percent, had half or more of their students in at least one grade level failing to meet or exceed the state’s recommended benchmark of proficiency on Texas’ reading or math tests in 2013.

At Cottonwood Creek Elementary School in Coppell, a well-to-do suburb of Dallas, only 4 percent of students were classified as “low income” in 2013. On the Texas reading exam, 52 percent of the school’s 3rd graders failed to hit the state’s final recommended benchmark of proficiency, and 68 percent of third graders failed to achieve the recommended proficiency level on the state math exam.

The bottom line is many of the public schools in this country that serve middle class students are not as good as people think they are. It is therefore critical for states to enact programs, such as Nevada’s groundbreaking education savings accounts, to give all parents the ability to choose the best educational options for their children. Choice is a right for all, not just for some.


Australia: NSW State government ignores 'unschooling' warning

The Premier Mike Baird has ruled out investigating a radical method of home schooling gaining popularity in NSW despite the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry that warned it could be a form of "educational neglect".

The home schooling teaching method, called unschooling, is seen as a natural learning approach, in which children decide what they learn and when and parents give them freedom to pursue their interests.

But a NSW upper house inquiry was highly critical of the method, doubting it could "achieve quality educational outcomes for the child".

A report from the state's parliamentary inquiry into home schooling, prompted by revelations that there could be as many as 10,000 children in NSW being taught at home even though only 3200 are formally registered, urged the NSW Board of Studies to commission research into unschooling.

"The committee is concerned that taken to its extreme, children who are unschooled may not achieve even basic levels of literacy and numeracy. The application of unschooling may constitute educational neglect," the inquiry's report said.

But the government's response to the report, tabled last week in state parliament and signed off by Mr Baird, said it did not support the inquiry's recommendation for independent research into unschooling. The Home Education Association would be better placed to investigate the method, the government said.

The Home Education Association told the inquiry that a survey of home schooling parents showed they used a variety of approaches to educate their children, with about 15 per cent unschooling, 31 per cent using natural learning methods and 27 per cent were "eclectic home schoolers" using a mix of teaching styles.

In its response, the state government agreed to explore allowing home-schooled children to attend public schools part-time but would also not agree to further research into the outcomes of home schooling, arguing only 10 per cent of registered home schoolers choose to participate in NAPLAN.

​"The results of this self-selected group could not be generalised across the population of home schooled children, making further research into the outcomes of home schooling difficult," the response said.

The deputy chairman of the committee, Greens MP John Kaye, said "subjecting children to unschooling raises serious educational and welfare issues" yet Mr Baird did not want any further independent research into its consequences.

"It appears that just asking the questions is too perilous for the Premier and the extreme end of the home-schooling constituency he seems to be protecting," Dr Kaye said.

Dr Kaye said the committee felt there was a lack of objective research on home schooling in Australia and wanted the NSW government to fill that void.

"It is highly unusual for the Premier to sign a government response to an inquiry. This time it looks like he is meddling in a policy area that is increasingly of interest to his conservative Christian power base," Dr Kaye said.

A spokesman for the Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, who is responsible for home schooling, said the Premier signed off on the government's response because it was a "whole of government response".


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Leave the Department of Education Behind

Two weeks before the 1980 presidential election, the Associated Press published a story explaining that the two major-party candidates were "poles apart on education issues."

Carter, the story reminded readers, was the Founding Father of the federal Department of Education.

"The fate of the Department of Education, the $14-billion federal agency elevated to Cabinet status less than six months ago, may hang in the balance on Election Day," said the story.

"Republican Ronald Reagan," it said, "hopes to dismantle the agency, which was created following a promise that Jimmy Carter made to the National Education Association in seeking and winning the union's support four years ago."

The story ended with a direct quote from Reagan.

"I think that this Department of Education is hoping to make come true the dream of the National Education Association, which for many years has been that we should have a federal school system, a nationalized school system," said Reagan.

The Washington Post published a similar story in September 1980.

"And only Reagan speaks and writes about ending the public school 'monopoly,' a theme that fits in with his broad philosophical belief that the private sector can do most jobs better than the government," said the Post.

The paper then cited a passage from Reagan's book, "Call to Action."

"Right now in public education we are very close to a monopoly," wrote Reagan. "Every year thousands of parochial and private schools close down because they can't compete against the public schools, which drain off more and more in taxes. Most of us are left with no choice but the public schools, good or bad."

In addition to terminating the federal Department of Education, were there any affirmative education policies Reagan wanted America to pursue?

"Reagan favors tuition tax credits, amount unspecified, for parents of parochial and other private school students," reported the Associated Press.

"Reagan also supports experimentation with a controversial plan to issue vouchers entitling children to attend private or public schools of their choice," said the Post.

During his entire presidency, Reagan faced a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, which would not have enacted legislation to abolish the Department of Education.

In 2001, a Republican-controlled House passed the No Child Left Behind Act, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. John Boehner and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. Republican President George W. Bush signed it into law — putting a "bipartisan" seal-of-approval on federal involvement in public schools.

Today, Republicans control both houses of Congress — and what are they doing?

They are trying to craft yet another law to reauthorize federal programs aimed at local public schools that President Barack Obama will find acceptable.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

"If we should succeed next week, as I believe we will, why then we will have a conference with the House of Representatives, and we will develop a bill we hope the president will be comfortable signing," Alexander said on the Senate floor last week.

Alexander calls his bill the "Every Child Achieves Act."

But what has happened in the public schools since Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education?

In the 1979-1980 school year, according to the department itself, public primary and secondary schools spent an average of $6,876 per pupil (in constant 2013-2014 dollars) on their "current expenses." By the 2011-2012, they were spending an average of $11,732 per pupil (in constant 2013-2014 dollars).

Real per pupil spending increased by $4,856, or almost 71 percent.

Did public-school students get a better education as a result? No.

In 1980, according to the National Center for Education Statistics' "Trends in Academic Progress 2012" report, 17-year-old public school students scored an average of 284 out of a possible 500 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. That rose to a peak of 289 in 1988 and 1990, then dropped back to 285 by 2012.

By contrast, the average NAEP reading score for 17-year-olds in Catholic schools rose from 300 in 1980 to 309 in 2012 — the highest it has ever been.

In 1980, Catholic school 17-year-olds scored an average of 16 points higher in reading than their public school counterparts. By 2012, they scored 24 points higher.

In 2013, only 38 percent of American 12th graders were grade-level "proficient" or better in reading, according to the NAEP test.

In math, the average NAEP score for 17-year-olds in public schools in 1978 was 300 out of 500. That rose to a peak of 307 in 1999 and dropped to 305 by 2012. By contrast, the average score for 17-year-olds in Catholic schools rose from 309 in 1978 to an all-time high of 325 in 2012.

Only 26 percent of American 12th graders were grade-level "proficient" or better in Math in 2013, according to the NAEP test.

Was Ronald Reagan right in 1980 that America should move away from the Department of Education and toward school choice? Absolutely.


Cafeteria Capitalism in public schools - Black market candy, childhood hunger and obesity in America


I was sorely tempted to take a serious bit of literary license when I first learned that some enterprising youngsters were selling salt, sugar, and pepper packets in schools to counter the apparently bland taste of food provided by public school lunch programs that have become standard faire courtesy of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK). This law represents some significant changes in school meals, as well as likely influencing what vending machines can sell on school property. Promoted by Mrs. Obama and signed by her husband President Obama, I was tempted to quip "finally the Obama's have created a new industry (cafeteria condiment capitalism) to employ Americans."  But in a spirit of bipartisanship to foster collaboration, I'll avoid such comments.

And, at first blush it really is funny to think children are adding to their allowances, or creating an outright revenue stream meeting a large, unmet demand - providing seasonings for the non-tasty, but healthy food served to school kids. But think about it - children prescribed medicinal marijuana may soon be able to use it in Colorado schools, but they still won't be able to get a sugar cookie! In reading the USDA regulations, in fact they couldn't get a hash brownie even if it was infused with medicinal grade relaxants - not because of the drug, but because of the sugar content. The HHFK Act means well. But prohibiting sugar is???

In lemonade stand fashion, such cafeteria capitalism - elementary school entrepreneurialism is to be applauded - it is truly reflective of a largely American practice (lemonade stands) and rite of passage where kids learn the basics of business - location, inventory control, management, and profit margins.

I can just imagine a growing underground industry of teens being the regional distributors -purchasing bulk quantities of caffeine water, soda, even chocolate milk, as well as beloved snack foods, supplying local kids in supply chain fashion.  Only these godfather's of the sugar set - Drakes Cakes Don Corleone wannabees are too young to vote, or drive, let alone buy flash cars with their profits on such things as salt, or snack foods and Hershey syrup to flavor up milk. Which is part of the don't vote, yet they are important constituents. The contraband capitalists are sending us a message. But do we actually engage kids or listen to them, balanced against what we think they need?

As part of a nationwide health policy fellowship, we encountered a rare politician who, though passionate about nutrition, banning vending machines and soda in his district, took the time to ask students what healthy foods they would be willing to eat consistently, and what schools need to do to make milk appealing ("serve it cold, and allow chocolate milk" was the consensus). He, like the students learned about balance - in terms of diet and politics.

Interestingly the cafeteria contraband is not new; kids in the UK were noted to do this in 2006 as a response to their school cuisine.

But while black market candy bars may be funny, childhood obesity and hunger are no laughing matter.

For several years I ran an adolescent health practice, and lectured extensively on critical issues that impact the health of young adults. Behaviors, not diseases, are the leading risks for adolescents. Among them, and there are many, one cannot overlook the medical implications of both obesity and hunger. Children suffer adverse psychosocial, cognitive, and medical effects from being fat or hungry. The causes and solutions are complicated, neither being zero sum, or one size fits all, or catchy band aids more amenable to sound bites than solution, nor amenable simply to the stroke of a legislative pen.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act - flawed though it may be- was one attempt to address these issues, and I won't impugn motivation that was well intended.

Some partisans may be tempted to protect or criticize the first lady and POTUS for putting forth such legislation, changing the food kids eat at school cafeterias that set the stage for the cafeteria contraband industry. Don't! This is a big problem needing lots of ideas. I still have flashbacks to the cuisine (term used loosely) served when I went to public school and recognize it would take Gordon Ramsey or Robert Irvine to fix the flavor problem as it stands today, cafeteria capitalists notwithstanding. Maybe that's part of the solution - hire some ‘Iron Chefs' accustomed to creating flavor from challenging ingredients.

Moreover, the tug of war across the aisle between the Left and Right on virtually every policy issue in America will invariably enter the discussion. Folks on the left may be tempted to suggest it is a good use of government influence to try and help decrease childhood obesity, or increase food security - both significant problems in our nation - while folks on the right may counter that the USDA is doing a political overreach to control yet another aspect of society, or overpowering common sense. The left and right are fighting the wrong battle.  For once it truly is "about the children."

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) national survey - an important epidemiology tool, there was an increase from 1999 to 2013 in the prevalence of students nationwide who were obese (10.6 percent to 13.7 percent) and who were overweight (14.2 percent to 16.6 percent).  Obese children often become obese adults. Based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies, adult obesity in the US is an epidemic! Over 30% of adults living in the US are obese, with people who identify as Blacks having the highest levels at 47.8%, Latinos 42.5%, and Whites 32.6%. Many of these people are parents; parents of obese children.

There is no getting away from the fact that while much of the world starves, or is food insecure, America looks the part of a glutton. Perhaps it is a problem of being too blessed. I am not suggesting we FedEx our leftovers to Africa. But I am suggesting we look for solutions together - Blue and Red, Left and Right - because we are way beyond the blame game.

When over 30% of the adult population is obese, is it any wonder we have a problem with weight challenged kids in the US. Consider these CDC data - Childhood obesity more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents since the 1980's. The percentage of obese children aged 6-11 years is nearly 18% in 2012 and 21 % aged 12-19 years.

Contrast this with a sizeable proportion of kids living in food insecure homes, and going to school hungry. The nation's girth casts a wide shadow that hides another sad reality - while many children go to school as supersized kids, in their classrooms you can also find hungry kids. With increasingly impoverished children comprising a larger percentage of public schools nationwide, filled with both hungry and overfed, under exercised children, is it any wonder outcomes - the competitiveness of public school attendees is declining? Nutrition is a contributor to function.

Beyond the cliché that children are our future, is the harsh reality that we are failing this generation, and no amount of political bickering will change that. This is not the time to vilify or sanctify people with whom we disagree/agree on policy issues - talking over each other instead of engaging in dialogue with each other on the substantial challenges facing children today.

The threats facing young people in contemporary America are more challenging than in prior generations.  For starters, if you are over 30, you can probably agree - your contemporaries were like mine - very few friends or classmates suffered from hunger or obesity, let alone violence, smoking, binge drinking or drug use, let alone drive by shootings -from public school to prep school to college, even med school.

Times have changed. Many today are born into single parent homes - a significant risk for poverty. Inner cities are increasingly dangerous for children - as the homicide, drive by shooting, gang violence and drug related injury data reveal from LA to Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and well you get the idea.

Kids are often unsupervised, or parented by checkbook, leaving children to their own devices, including high tech babysitting from TV to hand held electronics.  And with it comes the expected decline in exercise, discipline and focus.  Schools can't do it alone. They are under fiscal pressures as communities wrestle with revenue shortfalls, and deciding whether sports and arts are going to be paid for, or will children and their families have to pay a fee - sometimes beyond house hold budgets even when sliding scales are applied. Playing in sports was the great equalizer - now in some school districts it is the great divider. As an aside, you don't need fancy uniforms or expensive gear to get adequate exercise; walking a couple miles with a can of soup in each hand may look goofy, but is low cost, and burns off calories.

Health is influenced by multiple factors - family, community, school, medical care, faith-based, enterprises, government agencies, the media, and entertainment industries. Are we exposing our children to the Proverbial "it takes a village" or village idiots - not as surrogate parents, but in support of good role modeling and behaviors or just the opposite?

The CDC rightly suggests "schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors." But they are not a substitute for concerned parents, and the home. Nevertheless, failing a stable home life, we will continue relying upon schools to provide a wider range of services that attempt to fill the void.

With the increase in school based health clinics, one could argue greater effort at screening, counseling and support for overweight children be provided. The black market entrepreneurs have reminded us there is more to obesity than legislating bad food away. Prohibition rarely works - on food, prostitution, liquor or drugs. Oh were it that easy! But behaviors - cause, effect and remedy - require more than the stroke of a pen, no matter how well intentioned.  My local congressman took the time to visit schools, and talk with the stakeholders - kids and adults, and made a dent in the hunger issue. 

The clock is ticking. If we want our children to be competitive in the 21st century, and healthy, we need to pay attention at the local level, because therein rests ideas, innovations, and community solutions to community problems. Federal efforts - well intentioned though they may be - are often a one size fits all approach to a complex problem requiring multiple approaches - allowances for exemptions and alterations to the food law notwithstanding. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue - it is a US issue, requiring federal, state, and local collaboration. Moreover, each of us - mentors, physicians, teachers, and parents must be more committed to act as good role models, taking a more proactive interest in our own health, as well as that of our young people, which may result in kids following suit. Hunger and Obesity - we can make a difference in the lives of our local kids, if we work together. 


Australian maths students do well in 56th International Mathematical Olympiad

Aussie team comes 6th and achieves Australia's highest global ranking ever.  Amusing and unsurprising that 3 out of 5 top scorers were East Asian

Australia won two Gold and four Silver medals coming sixth (out of 104 teams) at the 2015 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), which concluded this week in Thailand.  In our best result in 35 years of competing, our team improved Australia’s ranking from 11th last year to 6th position surpassing such highly rated teams as Taiwan, the Russian Federation, Japan, Ukraine and Singapore.

Competing with 577 contestants from 104 countries, multi-medallist Alex Gunning scored Gold and was ranked fourth in the world.  After tying for first place with a perfect score last year, he has a total of three Gold medals and a Bronze and now appears on the IMO Hall of Fame leader board.

In his third IMO, 16 year-old Seyoon Ragavan was awarded Gold this year for his 19th place, adding this to his two Bronze medals. All four other team members scored Silver: Yang Song at his second Olympiad, and Jeremy Yip, Kevin Xian and Ilia Kucherov on their first attempt.  More results can be seen at

Team members are first identified by the annual Australian Mathematics Competition (AMC) sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank. This year’s AMC will be held on 30 July. Success in AMC leads talented students like these into the Australian Mathematics Trust’s Olympiad training program.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Australian Mathematics Trust said, ‘At a time when maths education in particular is a concern in Australia, the outstanding achievements of these students are inspirational. They are indicative of the enormous talent and capabilities of our young people. They have repeated and exceeded last year’s extraordinary results’.

Hosted by a different country each year, the annual UNESCO-sanctioned IMO is the pinnacle of competition between students of pre-university level around the world and the premier international competition in mathematics for secondary school students. It began in 1959 and is the oldest, largest and most prestigious of the International Science Olympiads.

Press release