Friday, July 31, 2015

Freedom of Choice In Public Education and Housing Values

We recently saw an academic research paper that was published by 2 NC State Ph.Ds and a Texas Tech researcher that caught our eye.

Simply titled School Choice: The Impacts on Housing Values* this paper examines various places where school choice has been implemented and comes to the conclusion that school choice leads to an equalization of housing values between poor and rich neighborhoods, mostly by lifting the property values of the poorer neighborhoods since they are no longer locked into low-performing assigned public schools.

The research paper is written as a research paper after all but it is worth reading and noting some important things about how school choice affects local housing values as well as noting some of the differences between public education in many states versus others where school choice is more widely spread than say in North Carolina.

Know how Vermont is always cited as one of the top, if not the top, public school education systems in the nation?

Well, for one thing, Vermont is a very tiny state with not a whole lot of diversity and the challenges larger populations present. If the entire state of Vermont was a congressional district, it would be about the size of the 9th Congressional District in North Carolina around Charlotte. Without the challenges that Charlotte faces today with their growth and wide economic disparities along economic and racial lines.

Did you know that Vermont was one of the first states to adopt school choice and vouchers, mostly as a way to get students from very rural remote areas to a school of any kind so they could get educated? 1869 to be exact. 146 years ago today. That is when Vermont started their school choice options and apparently, have never looked back.

'Vermont operates one of the longest running tuition voucher programs in the United States. Dating back to 1869, the state legislators passed a bill granting residents living in an area without a public school system a way to provide their children with an education. Using tuition vouchers, parents can send their children to any public school at no cost, or to non-religious private schools for a significant discount, with the subsidy coming from the sending town. In the case of an independent (private) school, the amount of the tuition voucher equals the average tuition for the (public) primary (grades: K-6) or secondary schools (grades: 7-12) within Vermont. Unlike many other state tuition voucher programs, Vermont's system was not established to address a failing inner-city school system.

Instead, it was developed to ensure that the residents had access to an education.

The tuition voucher program has several unique characteristics. First, the opportunity set of schools is not constrained to the state. Parents can choose a state school, an out-of-state school, and even a school outside the country (notably in Canada!).

However, this school choice option only applies to areas (including cities, towns, unincorporated areas and gores) that do not operate traditional public schools. Each district can have either the tuition voucher system or locally operated public schools, but not both. For this reason, the vast majority of towns participating in the voucher system are in rural areas, and subsequently titled "tuition towns." Lastly, the tuition voucher program does not restrict enrollment based on the resident's income. The only requirement is that the family lives in a district without an assigned public school.'

Talk about 'freedom of choice' when it comes to public education! A Vermont schoolkid can go to a school in Canada and get public assistance for it. We have trouble in America talking about a schoolkid getting public assistance to go to a private school across the street from where they live!

Any state that can elect a self-avowed socialist as their Senator, and now Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, and allow a robust voucher and school choice plan in their state as Vermont has done, certainly paves the way for the rest of the United States to adopt school choice and voucher programs in their state.

The authors go on to cite places such as Paris, France which we visited last year and came to find out that we were staying right next to one of the most elite 'magnet' or preparatory schools in the Paris public education system where virtually all of their elected and business leaders were trained and educated from the 8th grade on through high school. Paris has a large public education system to be sure, BUT they also provide a strong element of choice and selective placement throughout their system of public and private, mostly religious Catholic, schools.

'The French education system is predominantly administered through public schools, with some private schools. This system is based on a 12-year curriculum where children attend primary school from ages six to ten, middle school from eleven to fourteen, and high school from fifteen to seventeen.

At the primary (secondary) level, public schools educate 86% (79%) of the populace, whereas private schools educate 14% (21%) of the students. For public schools, France utilizes school catchment areas, based on the student's home address, to allocate both students and resources efficiently.

Municipalities establish the school district boundaries for the primary schools, and the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) determine the boundaries for the secondary schools. For many years, each municipality or LEA would publish a booklet describing the school catchment areas. Beginning in 2000, the information became publicly available online.

While public schools adhere to strict zoning restrictions, private schools follow a geographically open enrollment system. The private schools in France exhibit several interesting characteristics that are not common in the United States. First, the vast majority of the private schools are religious (predominantly Catholic). While religious in nature, admission to the private schools does not necessarily depend on the pupil's faith or that of the attended primary school.

Next, private schools can either be state-supervised or independent. State-supervised private schools deliver the same curriculum as the public schools, whereas the independent schools are permitted to develop their own program of study. Similar to the public schools, the state supervised private schools are publicly funded by the central government, ...The state also regulates the private school market by limiting the number of new teacher positions offered each year, and by restricting the number of new private schools that open each year.

Last, and most important of all, the admission guidelines for public middle schools and private middle schools are significantly different. Middle school may be one of the important periods in a student's educational development, especially, in France. At the end of the third year of middle school, students that underperform are directed toward vocational studies, while the remaining pupils continue on the path toward graduation.

More importantly, in Paris, France the admission to a specific high school can depend on the specific middle school the student attended, as well as their academic performance. Paris has slightly different admission rules for entering high school. While middle schools have strict catchment areas, parents have more options when it comes to sending their children to high school.

The LEA allows parents to submit applications to a broad set of high schools within a much wider catchment area. Ultimately the admittance into a "good" high school depends on the pupil's academic performance, as well as the quality of the middle school. Thus, the choice of a middle school is extremely important because the quality of middle school may improve the chances of admission into a "good" high school.

Parents have two outlets for getting around the strict middle school zoning restrictions. First, they can ask the LEA for an exemption to attend a school located outside the current zone.

This workaround has a high rejection rate, and only about 8% of the requests are granted each year. A more viable alternative would be to exercise the option to send the pupil to a subsidized private middle school. In France, the subsidies work very similarly to U.S. tuition vouchers. The vast majority of the expenses are paid by the government, and parents will only incur negligible costs.

Because private schools are not constrained geographically, the option to send the child to an outside private school offers parents a relatively cheaper alternative compared to having to relocate to a better school district. Not surprisingly, the number of students attending private middle schools is higher than the number of students attending private primary schools and private high schools.

The core of this research paper is focused on identifying the connection between having school choice and rising property values in poor neighborhoods. Here's what they found:

'...(W)hat is striking is the comparison between the "no vouchers" case and the "full vouchers" case within districts. When vouchers are introduced, on average home values appreciate in the bad district (from 0.5859 to 0.7595), but depreciate in both other districts.

Consistent with the decline in home values in the two higher-priced districts, Exhibit 2 shows that once universal vouchers are introduced, the average income in poor district increases. Incomes are shown in tens of thousands of 1990's dollars, and they rise from $32,973 to $47,000 in the poor area.

However, income levels in the other two districts decline. Taken together, the evidence suggests that as private schools begin to open in low-income districts, average income increases in the district due to the migration of middle- and high-income families, who move to the district to take advantage of the relatively cheap housing prices (due to the poor quality of their public school system). As a result, home prices in poor districts are bid up.

These migrating families move from the better school districts where house values capitalize the public school quality to the poorer school district to make se of the voucher system

Did you notice that? Not only did they find that housing values AND average income increases in the district around the new private or choice school, but housing values AND average income decreases in the more affluent neighborhoods.

Bet that is something you have never heard on the evening news.

That doesn't mean that every poor family all of a sudden experiences a financial windfall in their annual income simply because someone of more means moves in right next to them. But it does mean that their home, if they own it, does increase in value thereby increasing overall family wealth which provides them a means of support to finance further education for themselves or their children or whatever they want to do with their new-found wealth.

Why are so many affluent people so eager to expand school choice and voucher options if it means that their home values will diminish vis-a-vis these other less affluent neighborhoods? Aren't they the ones who should be most offended by such an outcome, as tangential as it might be to the whole serious and emotional issue of public education?

It might have something to do with this core basic American value: We all want everyone to be able to get as great of an education as possible, wherever it may come from and however it may be delivered.

If we were convinced by the data and factual empirical evidence that making kids stand on their heads for 15 minutes every day while reciting the periodic tables and the Gettysburg Address would increase their reading comprehension and math and science retention by 5%, we would be all for it. Whatever it takes to help our next generations get better educated, we should all support.

The fact that housing values and relative incomes tend to equalize out over time in areas with school choice and vouchers is incidental to the critical issue of helping the student receive a better educational experience along their life journey.

But it is one more favorable argument in favor of school choice and voucher reforms that you may not have heard before, yes?   


Father Forced to Quit His Job Says School Voucher ‘Got Me My Son Back’

For years, Kirk and Tanya White thought New Orleans public schools didn’t work for their two sons.  They got their eldest son, Geno, into a private school under a city education initiative, but his father says it turned out the new school also was failing by Louisiana’s own standards.

Then Geno hit a low point when he was robbed of his cell phone after he got off the bus one day in his school uniform. After that, he no longer was excited about school.  “He didn’t want to get on that bus anymore,” Kirk White recalls.

“He’s a tough kid,” White adds. “But when it comes down to that type of lifestyle, that really bothered him. He didn’t want to get in conflict.”

But the education initiative turned the page for Geno when, entering high school, he was able to find another school that met his needs.  Although Geno, now 16, got off to a rocky start in the program, it gave the family the money—and power—to find a school that worked for him.

It now is going so well that the Whites enrolled their younger son, Kole, now 10.  The program, Kirk White says simply,  “got me my son back.”

The Louisiana Scholarship Program

At first called the Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program, the initiative launched seven years ago in New Orleans.

Its goal was to provide the city’s low-income families with the same opportunity more affluent parents already had: the ability to send their children to a school of their choosing—and not be trapped by their ZIP code.

In 2012, the program expanded statewide as the Louisiana Scholarship Program.

Many residents of the state, which had become infamous for having some of the worst-performing schools in the country, embraced the new attempt at education reform.

Others were skeptical or outright hostile, viewing it as an attack on public schools and teacher unions.

Today, nearly 7,400 students are enrolled in the Louisiana Scholarship Program and have chosen to attend one of 131 participating non-public schools.

To be eligible, a student must come from a family whose income is no more than two and a half times the federal poverty line—which means it does not exceed $59,625 for a family of four.

The student also must be entering kindergarten or enrolled in a public school that has been graded C, D or F. (Since 1999, schools in Louisiana have been given letter grades designed to communicate the quality of performance to parents and the public.)

Kirk and Tanya White, lifelong residents of New Orleans, were only two of thousands of parents whose children qualified.

“Before, we were being cheated of a lot of things we see now,” Kirk White says. “One of those things was education.”

Geno and Kole

Until he was accepted by the scholarship program—also known as a voucher system—Geno was struggling academically and socially. His parents were worried.

White, a truck driver, says he had planned on making enough money to send his sons to private school. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, or MS, got in the way.

In 2010, when he was diagnosed with the disease, White was forced to quit his job. That left the family dependent on his wife’s modest salary as a nurse at a local hospital.

“It put a damper on our whole world,” he says of the MS. “I thought I was going to be a great provider.”

Through word of mouth, the Whites also heard about the city’s new school voucher program in 2010. They put in an application for Geno that same year.

Geno picked Life of Christ Christian Academy, where annual tuition normally is around $8,500. The scholarship program covered it in full.

When the Whites first toured the school, Geno’s father says, they “saw a different side to him.”  When talking about his first day at Life of Christ, Geno’s eyes light up.  “I finally had a locker,” he says.

At his old school, Geno had a cubby that he says could “barely” hold his books.

But after the robbery, the Whites decided their son had outgrown that school. Under the voucher program, Geno began his freshman year at Lutheran High School in Metairie, La., where he has been happy ever since.

The Hurdles

Although the Whites and other families quickly embraced the scholarship initiative, the program at first faced an upward battle with state and federal officials.

Teacher unions and their political allies regarded voucher programs as “taking money” from public schools and directing it to private schools. Proponents noted that per-student spending in public schools did not decrease as a result.

In 2013, the U.S. Justice Department brought a legal challenge to Louisiana’s voucher program. If the agency prevailed, the Obama administration would force thousands of low-income children–including Geno and Kole—to return to public schools.

Fully 90 percent of the children enrolled at the time were minorities who came from schools that had been graded D or F. If these children permanently left the public school system, the Obama administration argued, it would upset racial balance.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is now seeking the Republican nomination for president, fiercely defended the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Jindal invited President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder to meet families such as the Whites.

“I believe if you and the attorney general are able to hear firsthand from parents about the experiences their children are having in the program, then you will reconsider the suit,” Jindal wrote in a letter to Obama. “I think it is only right that you and Attorney General Holder join me and come visit a scholarship school in Louisiana to look into the faces of the parents and kids and try to explain to them why you want to force them back into failing schools.”

The Justice Department’s argument soon was debunked by a state analysis of the program, which found it did not affect, and actually improved, desegregation efforts.

In November 2013, the Obama administration abandoned its lawsuit.

Looking Ahead

In the case of his sons, Kirk White believes that the Louisiana Scholarship Program more than pays for itself.  “If you don’t pay for school, somewhere down the line crime will come up…you will pay for jail,” he says.  “It’s a win-win situation.”

As for its success?

“The proof is in the pudding,” White says, referring to his sons’ grades and athletic achievements. “They’re excelling in all areas.”

The Whites, like 91.9 percent of the 1,731 parents who responded to a recent survey, say they’re “very satisfied” with the program.  “It’s literally saving lives,” White says.

The Whites attribute some of that success to the demands the voucher program puts on parents. Every year, Kirk and Tanya must complete 50 hours of community service, which they say they actually enjoy.  “I love that these schools demand parent involvement,” Kirk White, 46, says. “I don’t want nothing for free. If the opportunity comes where I can give, I enjoy it.”

Tanya White, 44, who volunteers for her sons’ Parent Teacher Organizations, says the voucher program has helped their family grow closer—and even in size.  “Putting in those service hours, you really become family,” she says of other parents of children enrolled in the voucher program.

Already, more than a dozen states and Washington, D.C., have incorporated scholarship programs into their education offerings. Most of those, however, limit eligibility to students with disabilities.

If school choice advocates have their way, vouchers ultimately will be available to everyone.

In the meantime, Geno and Kole plan to continue their success on the voucher program and have their sights set on college. One day, Geno says, he wants to use his smarts to give back to other kids like himself, who are in need of a better education. Kole has his eyes set on a career in basketball.

To reach their goals, they’ll have to keep in mind the number-one lesson taught by their parents.  “School comes first,” the brothers both say with a smile.


Australia: Student guild angered as University of Western Australia axes three arts majors

The University is trying to ease out "Studies" courses, which are notoriously lightweight and propagandistic

The University of Western Australia has been criticised by its student guild over the proposed dismantling of three arts majors.

UWA plans to abolish its Gender Studies, European Studies and Medieval & Early Modern Studies majors from next year.

The university will instead teach the subjects as units within broader, more popular majors, such as English and History, in an effort to increase the number of students enrolled in those courses.

But the change has angered the UWA Student Guild Council, with a petition so far amassing 300 signatures against the proposals.

The guild's Emma Boogaerdt said two of the subjects had previously been abolished before being re-introduced.

"Students are feeling that they are continually unfairly targeting these majors," Ms Boogaerdt said. "Students are going to be less likely to take them up because they're not sure if they're going to be continued.

"Having majors that are brought back and cut is a really unsustainable way to run a faculty, and a really unsustainable way to keep the constant student cohort going."

Ms Boogaerdt said cutting Gender Studies as a major in its own right also sent the wrong message to students.  "It sends the message that learning about the history of women's oppression is not valued, it shows they think it's a niche issue and the university doesn't think it deserves its own place," she said.

In a statement, a spokesman for UWA said it remained committed to teaching the three subjects, and it was planning the changes because only a relatively small number of students enrolled to study the existing degrees.

The spokesman said students had been consulted throughout the process, and those currently studying the subjects would be able to complete their majors as planned. UWA said there would not be any staffing changes as a result of the process.

The guild is expected to raise the issue with the UWA Academic Council next week.

Ms Boogaedt said she was open to a compromise.  "I think an acceptable medium would be if the university said, 'all right, so far we haven't had adequate student consultation on this issue, let's take it off the chopping block for the moment and take it back to the drawing board'."


Thursday, July 30, 2015

What We Learn From Football

In the coming days, a million or more teenage boys will eagerly show up at their high school campuses weeks before regular classes start. They will plan to spend their whole day at school, pay close attention to their instructors, and work as hard as they can.

They will spend time in the classroom and time in the field, and they will all be focused on a single, venerable all-American goal: becoming part of a winning football team.

Football is America's greatest game for boys, not only because of the lessons it teaches but also because of the broad range of young men who can play the game and learn those lessons.

In track and field, one athlete faces off against another -- perhaps a teammate. Even the relay teams have only four runners.

In basketball, each team puts just five men on the court at a time.  In baseball, it is nine -- and perhaps a designated hitter.

But, in football, there are 11 players on the field for every play -- and many different types of plays needing different types of players. There is an offensive team, a defensive team, and multiple special teams to handle punts, kickoffs, field goals and extra points.

And there are variations on all these. A shrewd coach might put different men on the field when his team faces a desperation onside kick rather than an opening kickoff -- or when it is fourth and one, not third and 30.

In the 2013-2014 school year, according to the National Federation of High School Sports Associations, 1,093,234 boys played high school football in the United States.

No other sport came close. Only 580,321 high school boys participated in track and field that year, and only 541,054 were on a high school basketball team. 482,629 played baseball and 417,419 played soccer.

When you add together all the boys and girls who played high school basketball (974,398) or all the boys and girls who played high school soccer (791,983), they do not equal the more-than-a-million high school boys who played good, old American tackle football.

The first great lesson boys learn playing football is that great things are only achieved after long hours of hard work. Great high school football teams do not just show up on game day and play. Nor do its players first show up in August when it is time for double sessions. Players on great teams work all year round to develop the strength, endurance and skills they need to win in the fall.

A second great lesson boys learn playing football is that they must play as a team to win. The greatest of quarterbacks cannot save his team if the line cannot block. A powerful offense cannot lead a team to victory if the defense cannot stop the opposition. When teammates work diligently together to prefect their skills in practice and then put them to test on the field, they learn to respect each other, trust each other and rely on each other.

More than any other team sport American boys play, football requires and develops physical courage at the same time it encourages fair play. Opposing football players are supposed to hit each other -- airly, safely and according to the rules -- but, nonetheless, with ferocity. Yet they cannot fail to appreciate the difference between a fair hit and a dirty one, nor fail to respect the former and revile the latter.

A fourth great lesson football players learn is that wit matters. You can study another team's offense and defense and sometimes discover a way to outsmart them.

But the greatest lesson football teaches is really a combination of all its other lessons. It is that football -- like a free society -- functions as a true meritocracy.

The team with the greatest natural athletes does not always triumph. Sometimes the team given less at the start wins more in the end.

If they put in the long hours of work, if they trust their teammates and merit their teammates' trust in return, if they are tough and fair, and if they play smart, they just might beat a team that is bigger and faster and stronger than them, but never mastered the underlying virtues of the game.

That is why football is not just a uniquely American game, but also one that reflects the American Dream.


Healing the Urban Educational Gap

Shante had a lot of things going for her as she finished middle school. She was bright, attractive and talented. Her parents, Glenn and Sheri, had worked hard to ensure she could have a better life than they had had growing up. But both were uneasy with the public high school that Shante was zoned for in Prince George’s County. Although it’s the highest income majority-black county in the United States, it had a high school dropout rate more than 10 points higher than neighboring Montgomery County.

Glenn and Sheri both understood that high school would make or break Shante’s future. These strategic years are when good kids could go bad. They had seen it happen too often to children of friends and relatives: a studious, ambitious kid fell in with the wrong crowd and caved into peer pressure with bad decisions. Shante had a bright future, but like other kids in her neighborhood, her margin for error was slim.

A turning point came when her family attended the Riverdale Baptist High School graduation ceremony for the college-bound daughter of some family friends. As they listened to the commencement speeches, they learned that 100 percent of the senior class had graduated on time, 98 percent were headed to four-year colleges and the other 2 percent to military service. They looked at the students receiving their diplomas: neatly dressed, respectful, and enthusiastic about their futures.

That night, Glenn and Sheri agreed that even if they had to eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day for the next four years, they were going to send Shante to Riverdale Baptist. And while they did end up getting a break from PBJ now and then, it was a sacrifice. They put off buying new furniture, and drove used cars that sometimes didn’t have heat, all while reminding Shante to make the most of her education.

Cell phone video gave their family and the nation a real window into the chaos that reigns in many of our failing public schools. In May, a video surfaced of a substitute teacher in Prince George’s County beating unruly students with his belt. The same month, an unnamed female teacher was fired from her Detroit high school for trying to break up a violent brawl that threatened to turn deadly. In another widely circulated video, a student in a Chicago high school shouted at her teacher above the deafening commotion: “I want an education! You get paid, don’t you?”

As I have written before, my father made a very similar decision to Glen and Sheri when he decided to send me to the most rigorous private school in our area instead of the public school I was zoned for. In that spirit, my wife and I sacrificed considerably to send our daughters to private high school as well. For us, the quality of the education our children received was always more important than the kind of car we drove or the square footage of our house. But many other parents don’t have that option.

The important things kids learn in school go far beyond academic markers. They refine their vocabulary, learn to relate to authority figures and subconsciously absorb a multitude of behavioral norms. These skills are not only vital to succeeding in college, but also to obtaining and holding down a job.

In fact, a study published in the journal Education reveals that ninth grade may be the most important year in determining a student’s future. As psychoanalyst Dr. Linda Stern told The Atlantic:

“Students entering high school—just at the time brains are in flux—still have the propensity to be impulsive and are prone to making mistakes. They are therefore experimental and trying to separate and might try substances that interfere with the normal developmental process. Put all that together with raging hormones the normal academic pressures, and meeting a whole new group to be judged by.”

Shante not only graduated sixth in her class at Riverdale Baptist, but was offered full-tuition scholarships to seven different universities. After earning her degree in psychology, she was accepted to a fellowship at George Washington University where she obtained a master’s in special education. After marrying and having children, she obtained her second master’s degree in applied psychology.

How can we ensure that all parents can make the choice that Glenn and Sheri did for Shante? This summer, Nevada became the first state to offer universal school choice: it allows every single public school student in the state an education savings account so that parents can customize their children’s education as they see fit. I hope other states will follow Nevada’s example and put all parents—regardless of income—in control of their children’s future.


A politicized public school in Australia

A poster mocking Obama would never even have been thought of

A POSTER erected on the streets of a small Victorian goldfields town has sparked a war of words about democracy, censorship and public art.  The poster was plastered on hoardings opposite the public library in Castlemaine, not far from Bendigo, in March. The artwork was commissioned by the local council.

It features a black and white photograph of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the words “Australia Needs an Abbott Proof Fence”.

It was put there by art students from Castlemaine Secondary College who had been studying the film Rabbit Proof Fence, the Bendigo Advertiser reports.  The students expected it to create some discussion, but never expected it to lead to calls for teachers to be dismissed.

“Education needs to be apolitical,” Mark Jackaman wrote on a petition labelling the artwork “disgusting” and demanding a formal apology.  “Shame on your teacher and your school!” Kat Molnar wrote.

“It’s a disgraceful act and any teacher that has allowed this should be dismissed immediately. This is the leader of our country,” David Hawkins wrote.

“Schools are not for POLITICS ... Teachers need to keep their own views to themselves. It’s no wonder that we have hordes of young people leave school still not knowing proper history and correct spelling. Shame,” Shirley Cameron wrote.

Joshua Thom used the phrase "leftist scum” to drive home his opposition.

But the school has been quick to defend its students and its reputation.  Principal Mary McPherson told she was shocked and surprised by the level of vocal opposition. She said the school encouraged students to think critically.

“We want our students to have opinions and be critical thinkers and to understand about the world. We want students to be prepared to make a difference. We don’t want them to come out compliant, but to challenge and question.”

Ms McPherson said the Abbott Proof Fence poster will not be coming down any time soon.

“In a democratic society, it’s important to question the (government’s) policies,” she said.  “It’s part of our school culture. It’s about having your opinions and listening to other opinions.”


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coalition Partners Implore Governor, Speaker to Back Private Schools

Roman Catholic Church leaders are pushing a proposal to expand the state education tax credit to $1000 from the current $500 in Illinois, according to a report in the Catholic New World, the newsweekly of the archdiocese of Chicago.

Archbishop Blaise Cupich wrote a letter in recent weeks which urged Catholics in Northern Illinois to contact their legislators in support of the tax credit, which applies to children enrolled in a private school for grades K-12. The credit would also be expanded to those who create scholarships for up to $1000 for children.

Private schools, the archbishop said, are a place “of hope and learning and a beacon of safety in our communities.”

The church has organized a coalition to pursue the legislative reform that would create the improved tax credit regime, called the Illinois Kids Campaign.

Even though the state is currently operating without an approved budget, the new fiscal year started on July 1 without agreement from Speaker Madigan or Governor Rauner on budget terms, the church is going to continue lobbying on the matter, the newspaper reported.


UK: Private schools freeze fees to aid the 'squeezed' middle class

Independent schools are slashing or freezing fees from next term as middle-class parents struggle to pay for their children’s education.

A rising number of fee-paying schools are looking at ways to lure back their traditional customers who have been pushed out by soaring fees, The Telegraph has learnt. It follows calls for public schools to behave more like grocery discounters such as Aldi and offer a budget option.

Earlier this month, Robin Fletcher, the head of the Boarding Schools Association, said private schools needed to focus on offering a premium product at a more affordable price.

There are only a small number of schools that can support pupils with the level of scholarships and bursaries now required – as such the level of fees is paramount

Westonbirt School, an independent day and boarding school in Gloucestershire for girls aged 11-18, is freezing its £29,550-a-year fees for the next academic year.

The school’s headteacher, Natasha Dangerfield, said: “There are only a small number of schools that can support pupils with the level of scholarships and bursaries now required – as such the level of fees is paramount.”

St John’s International School, a day and boarding school in Devon, is following suit by freezing fees from September. Simon Larter, headteacher at the £12,000-a-year school, said he decided to freeze fees to “make them more affordable for our local parents”.  He said: “I am well aware that parents make huge sacrifices for their children. It is our way to ease the burden.”

Other schools freezing fees include Wrekin College in Shropshire, West Buckland School in Devon and Moyles Court School in the New Forest.

King’s College School in London is actually raising fees by 1.9 per cent – but this is the lowest rise in recent memory. Andrew Halls, the headmaster, said: “This low fee rise comes despite the fact we are, like almost all independent schools, affected by the rise in employer pension and National Insurance contributions.”

Earlier this year, Tony Little, the outgoing head of Eton College, said school fees have become too pricey for “squeezed” families.


Ancient tongue that forged the modern mind

The last state school to teach classical Greek at A-level has announced it will no longer do so. That’s not just a shame, argues Harry Mount – it’s a mistake

One afternoon last autumn, I had a revelation that took me back 25 years, to my school days.

I was on the Sacred Way in Ephesus, one of the great cities of the ancient world, on Turkey’s western coast. One marble column had the jolly line “Agathe tuche” – “Good luck”. Suddenly, all those years spent learning Greek vocabulary at Westminster School clicked into super-sharp focus.

Those two words are simple enough – but what a lot of useful baggage they carried. I remembered my old Greek teacher telling me that agathos (“good”) is behind the name Agatha – literally “good girl”. I remember, too, him teaching that agathos meant “brave”.

The equation between bravery and goodness in ancient Greece wasn’t accidental. And I remember, also, learning about the power of tuche in ancient Greece, where luck was seen as an elemental, near-divine force.

In that snap second, I realised how crammed with information those Greek lessons had been; how ideas that seemed unrelated, and irrelevant to my Eighties teenage life, were bound together in an intricate web that spread across the millennia and bound the present to the distant past.

Again and again, as I travelled in Odysseus’s wake around Homer’s Greece over the past three years researching my new book, I thanked the gods for a rigorous education in the fundamental language of western European civilisation.

In Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, Hector, the inspirational gay teacher with the Trojan hero’s name, talks about the power of great books: when a writer stretches his hand out from the pages and you reach out to take it in recognition.

Homer’s is the oldest, grizzliest hand of all. Time after time, he stretches it out and you think, “Yes, that’s what the sea looks like; that’s how a deep sleep feels; that’s the horror of loneliness.”

I never knew I’d stumble upon these magical connections when I was slogging through the present passive of luo at school. I wasn’t wrong to find Greek difficult as a child; there’s a reason that people say, “It’s all Greek to me.” The language just is tricky, principally because it’s in a different script from English, unlike Latin.

Greek also has more inflections, or changing word endings, than Latin. The average Latin verb has more than 200 endings; English verbs rarely have more than five. Greek ones can have well over a thousand.

Greek has lots of forms not used in English, among them the optative: a type of verb used to express wish or desire. It also has the dual: a word used only of two people or objects. Useless in modern English – although the writer Stanley Johnson, father of Boris, told me he longed for a dual to argue against his wife and one of his daughters when they ganged up on him.

Greek has the same Indo-European origin as Latin – and, indeed, Sanskrit, Teutonic and Celtic. But, even though it came before Latin, it is more flexible in expression and meaning. It has more participles – 10 to Latin’s three – allowing for more subordinate clauses. And it has a whole pack of conjunctions that flip sentences on their head and alter their meaning.

Ancient Greek also had different pitches – marked from the third century BC with circumflex, grave and acute accents – making the language extremely musical. Sappho’s poetry had the devilish Mixolydian mode, with note pitches at quarter-tone intervals – as early as the seventh century BC.

All this was a little impenetrable to me at Westminster; even more so at my north London prep school, North Bridge House, where I started learning Greek at 11. But oh, how much joy Greek has generated in me in later life. It was hard-won joy, admittedly. There were years – decades – in the dogged accumulation of the seeds of knowledge, before the appreciation of the fully grown plants could develop.

Now I’m so grateful I wasn’t fed a dumbed-down, supposedly accessible version of classics. Watered-down Greek is the opposite of accessible – it provides access to nothing. Without those long, slow hours, forcing down the vocab and the verb endings, I would never have punctured that hard skin wrapped around the core of Greek, and discovered the beauty within.

How tragic it is that earlier this year Camden School for Girls, the last British comprehensive offering Greek A-level, announced it could no longer afford to do so.

It was only through understanding Greek, and Latin that I also understood the relation between Greece and Rome. Back at Ephesus, Latin inscriptions were rarer than Greek ones. Even though Ephesus became a Roman city in 129BC, under the Romans the Ephesians spoke a mixture of Latin, Phrygian, Lydian, Old Anatolian and Greek.

Greek dominates the inscriptions on Ephesus’s houses, statues and temples. Latin was largely confined to official imperial buildings, such as the grand gate of Mazeus and Mithridates, built by two freed slaves in AD 40 in honour of the emperor Augustus.

The inscription on the gate reads, “Mazeus and Mithridates dedicate this to the son of the divine Julius Caesar, to the greatest priest, Augustus, who was consul 12 times, and tribune 20 times; and to Livia, wife of Augustus; and to Marcus Agrippa, consul three times, and tribune six times; and to Julia, daughter of Caesar Augustus.”

I got the picture: formal, highfalutin inscriptions were written in Latin; easy-going, good-luck messages were in Greek. If you know Greek, you don’t just know the fundamental western European language, you also know the language in which so many firsts were written – the first tragedy; the first comedy; even, as Milan Kundera said, the first novel, the Odyssey.

Greek is often the first Рor at least the earliest surviving Рlanguage in which so many emotions and thoughts are framed. Because Greek got there first, you get ultra-pure, inherently original descriptions, free of cliché or imitation.

Soon after I finished my odyssey, I read an interview with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the best classicist in the Vatican. “You don’t study Latin or Greek to speak them,” he said. “You do so to come in direct contact with the civilisation of two peoples who were the bedrock of modern society; that is, you study them to be yourself and to know yourself.”

I used to scoff at the overblown claims for a dead language. Now I appreciate the resounding truth: the Greeks created the modern European world – and mind.

Modern Greece has come down in the world since it was the cockpit of Western art, architecture, literature and politics. But on my travels, the colossal ghosts of the greatest civilisation, and language, of them all flickered into real, tangible life.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Australia: Christian lobby groups claim ‘radical sexual experimentation’ is being promoted in schools

IT WAS devised to stop bullying and create wider acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students but Christian lobby groups claim all it does is promote “radical sexual experimentation”.

Since Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) was launched, more than 360 Australian schools have signed up to the program, which provides training and resources for teachers and staff to build a more inclusive and safe environment within their schools.

Some of those resources are available to students, such as the “OMG I’m Queer” information pack, which lobby groups claim is not only inappropriate but corrupts young minds.

Under the section “Doing It”, activist Alice Chesworth talks about sex and includes this description.

“It may come as a surprise, but there is no strict definition for virginity, especially if you’re queer,” she writes. “Penis-in-vagina sex is not the only sex, and certainly not the ultimate sex. If you ask me, virginity is whatever you think it is.”

In another section, Scott, 17, who is bisexual, writes about the first time he realised he was attracted to men and how his dad reacted when he was caught cuddling his friend in his room: “Scott, you like boys and girls, I like Asian women. Neither of us can help that, it’s just who we are.”

Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) spokeswoman Wendy Francis said while she agreed that bullying of children who were struggling with their sexual identity was wrong, she did not think teaching children about “queer sex” and “cross-dressing” was right.

“Our society is already over-sexualised without extreme sexual material and gender theory being promoted in schools,” she said. “Children have the right to their innocence. The political ideology carried by this program denies children this right.”

She claims schools that have signed up to this program teach students that it is OK to “change gender, for boys to wear girls’ school uniforms and that they should be allowed into girls’ toilets”.

“Girls’ toilets should always be a safe place for them and should be off limits to a boy who might be transitioning into a girl,” Ms Francis said. “No one should be bullied at school, including children grappling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion. But promoting radical sexual and gender theories to children without parental consent is not the role of the federal or state governments.”

ACL and Family Voice Australia have called for Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to withdraw $8 million in funding that was allocated to SSCA to administer the program throughout Australia.

The groups claim that instead of stopping homophobia, the SSCA program teaches students that heterosexuality is not the norm, and encouraged them to explore sexual and gender diversity.

They also say the program material includes graphic descriptions and tips for gay and lesbian sex.

The recent push comes after former National Party senator Bill O’Chee penned an opinion piece for Fairfax Media this week claiming children were at risk from online predators as a result of the SSCA program.

In his column, he says young people are encouraged to sign up to Minus 18, a website for young LGBTI Australians.

The site provides information on support networks, activities and interests for the LGBTI youth. It also acts as a social networking and dating site, which Mr O’Chee claims exposes them to sexual predators.

He claims that, despite Minus 18 having a rule that users over the age of 25 are not permitted to use forums “without direct permission from Minus 18”, when he inspected the site he found a number of users who were older.

“Minus 18 does not enforce its own rules,” he wrote. “When this was put to Tim Christadoulou, the relationships manager at Minus 18, he stated that ‘rather than actively refuse registrations for certain age groups, we respond to individual profiles and users on a case-by-case basis’.

“Minus 18 management was unable to answer how many users were refused registration in the past 12 months. That is particularly disturbing given some of the profiles from men aged 30 and over who seem to have an interest in underage users.”

A SSCA spokeswoman said research shows that 75 per cent of LGBTI youth experienced homophobic or transphobic abuse and discrimination and that 80 per cent of that abuse will happen in school.

“Safe Schools Coalition Australia uses a whole-of-school approach to support schools across the country to challenge bullying and discrimination,” she said. “Our approach draws on research and evidence on how we can best promote a focus on safety and the protection of young people in schools while at the same time promoting inclusion and acceptance.

“Research shows that students at safe and supportive schools have better educational outcomes and are less likely to have poor mental health.”

Since the program was launched last year, the organisation has trained more than 7500 school staff members and next week it is set to host the National Safe Schools Symposium, which will discuss the outcome of the program so far.


Huge Win For School Vouchers In North Carolina

Backers of private school vouchers won a huge victory Thursday as the North Carolina Supreme Court narrowly endorsed a program that allows public school money to be spent providing vouchers to attend private schools.

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program, created in 2013, allows for up to $4,200 per family to help pay for private school tuition. The scholarships are only available to low-income families, with the threshold pegged to 133 percent of the income required to qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches.

Demand for the program has been high, as only 2,400 scholarships are available and more than twice that number have applied, necessitating the use of a lottery system.

Shortly after the program’s creation, a coalition of public school teachers, parents, and school administrators sued, claiming the voucher law unconstitutionally supported religious schools and failed to spend public money on an exclusively public purpose, as required by the Constitution.

Writing for a 4-3 majority, Chief Justice Mark Martin said otherwise, overruling a lower court that had struck down the program.

“Our review is limited to a determination of whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that the program legislation plainly and clearly violates our constitution,” Martin wrote. “Plaintiffs have made no such showing in this case.”

The decision means that students will be able to receive vouchers in the upcoming school year.

National advocates for school choice have been quick to praise the ruling.

“With more than double the applications for scholarships in the first year of the program – approximately 5,500 applications for 2,400 scholarships – parents are making it abundantly clear that they want and demand more power over their children’s education,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the pro-voucher Center for Education Reform, in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This is a giant step in the right direction for parent empowerment in North Carolina.”

The ruling is a big win for voucher supporters, especially as it helps make up for a ruling in Colorado in June which struck down a major voucher program in that state.


UK: New 'tougher' high-school history exam is a joke

Exam boards came under fire last night for making GCSE history questions too easy – after it emerged students are being asked ‘spot the difference’ questions.

One sample question allows pupils to get marks for history without having any historical knowledge.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said sample papers submitted by the exam boards were ‘far below’ the standard he expects. He attacked the boards for failing to raise standards and making questions too easy.

And he warned that ministers are drawing up plans for ‘long-term and fundamental reform’ of the exam boards. A sample history question published by the Mail today shows how easy they have become.

The question, part of a paper published by the AQA exam board, shows two pictures of Parliament, one from the 18th Century and one from last year.

The first is Karl Anton Hickel’s painting of William Pitt the Younger addressing the House of Commons on the outbreak of war with France in 1793.

The second is a photograph of the government benches in the House of Commons featuring David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May.

The marking scheme shows how little historical knowledge is required to achieve full marks.  The paper asks 15 and 16-year-olds for the differences between the two pictures, and in particular the membership of Parliament.

The marking scheme shows that for 1-2 points students can say ‘the people all look the same’ in the older picture, but different in the modern era.

For 3-4 points the student can say that in the painting the people are all upper class men whereas in the contemporary picture there are ‘women and ordinary people and racial minorities’, and that ‘more people’ feature in the recent photograph.

Only in the second part of the question are pupils actually required to use any historical knowledge, of the suffragette movement and the extension of the franchise.

Mr Gibb said: ‘The sample history GCSE exam papers published by the exam boards that I have seen are so far below the standard that both this Government and the last administration had asked for that I am now more convinced than ever that we need long-term and fundamental reform of the exam boards.

‘With the expertise and help of the exams regulator, Ofqual, I am confident we will deliver a very high quality History GCSE ready for first teaching in 2016.  ‘My frustration is the poor quality of the sample exam papers that the exam boards thought they could get away.’

Education experts warn that the system of multiple exam boards creates a ‘race to the bottom’. Boards are accused of making questions easier, so more pupils pass – making them more appealing to schools.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is determined to reverse years of grade inflation under the last Labour government and ensure GCSE papers are of sufficient rigour.

Since the Coalition came to power in 2010, the proportion of pupils studying core academic subjects at GCSE has gone up by 60 per cent.

In January it emerged twice as many state secondary schools are considered to be underperforming because of a crackdown on the exams system.

League tables showed 330 schools fell below the Government’s ‘floor target’ for GCSE results in 2014, up from 154 in 2013.  In those schools, fewer than 40 per cent of pupils achieved at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Pupils were also judged to have made poor progress in these two subjects.

Schools below the standard could face action, including being closed down and turned into an academy, or being taken over by a new sponsor.

Mrs Morgan is also determined to challenge ‘coasting’ schools in middle class areas which are not doing enough to challenge their pupils to achieve high standards.

Launching the plans last month she warned hundreds of coasting schools could be turned into academies if they fail to raise achievement.

Strict new rules are designed to ‘shine a spotlight on complacency’ at under-performing schools which focus on getting pupils a C pass but don’t push more able pupils.

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


Monday, July 27, 2015

How High School Nearly Destroyed Me, and Why School Choice Matters

Many say school choice is a dangerous idea because it turns parents and students into customers and teachers into something like service providers. In my experience, the absence of school choice turns parents and students into captives with no ability to make decisions that would improve educational opportunities.

My time at Dover High School (DHS), located in a small city in southern New Hampshire, was not what most people would call normal. What started as a simple medical annoyance when I was in junior high school slowly transformed into a painful and undiagnosed stomach illness that progressively got worse with each passing day. It seemed as though every time I ate something, my gut would burst into flames, preventing me from spending time with friends, attending school, and even getting my driver’s license.

With each passing year, the number of days I missed school grew. By the time I was in my third year of high school, I was absent well over 100 times in a 180-day school year, and I often came to school late on many of the remaining days.

Being sick all the time was hard enough, but it was nearly unbearable to be sick in a school where the vast majority of the teachers and school administrators thought I was fabricating the illness because it was officially undiagnosed. My parents had followed all the proper guidelines for ensuring the school would continue to make reasonable accommodations for my education. They took me to countless doctors and received documentation from each indicating there was a real medical problem. They also ensured I was signed up for the 504 Plan, a set of policies established by federal law mandating public schools continue to offer sick and disabled students an education, and they met with school officials constantly to try and keep them on-track.

No matter what my parents or I did, my teachers wouldn’t budge. They were convinced my illness was a big lie I orchestrated to get myself out of going to class. As one of my history teachers wrote in a letter, he was unwilling to comply with the mandates of the 504 Plan because he refused to support “Justin’s vacation.” Teachers would fail me in courses even when I received A grades on tests and class assignments. One of my English teachers said it wouldn’t be fair to give me a passing grade when other students “actually came to class.”

School administrators were even worse. They suspended me for missing too many days of school—an absurd irony—and one official in a meeting flatly insisted I was “a liar” who had managed to trick his parents into believing an elaborate fiction.

There was no one willing to hold these teachers and administrators accountable for breaking federal law, and there were no other public school options available. I was trapped in what seemed like a hopeless situation.

Toward the end of my junior year, a doctor affiliated with Harvard Medical School diagnosed and treated what at the time was a relatively unknown bacterial infection that, when given the opportunity to build for several years, can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. After five years of being sick, I was cured in a little over a month.

The public school officials were baffled by this turn of events and went into full panic mode. After months of giving me virtually none of the required assignments from my teachers, a school official provided me with hundreds of assignments from all of my courses in one day. Soon the teachers and administrators began to spread an elaborate story claiming I had actually been treated fairly the whole time and was now lying about the various educational problems I had cited in the previous years.

It wasn’t until the school became aware of the meticulous record-keeping my parents had used to keep track of all the run-ins with teachers and school officials that the school district finally forced the school to resolve the crisis.

Faced with the potential of a costly lawsuit, the school’s teachers and administrators gathered in a room with my parents one afternoon to discuss options for resolving the dispute. The solution they came to was to completely fabricate three years of school records, making up grades out of thin air in order to get out of a very sticky situation. Grades were haggled and bartered over like a business transaction; providing an education was not evidently an item on the school’s priority list.

My transition into life after high school ended was difficult at times, but I eventually went on to graduate at the top of my class at the University of Richmond and obtain two graduate degrees, one in government and another in journalism. I’ve been published in some of the world’s most prominent publications, and I have the honor of working for The Heartland Institute, a leading free-market think tank.

When people ask me how I found my way into the pro-liberty movement, the honest answer is that I was pushed into it. I didn’t learn much about calculus or physics in high school, but I received a priceless lesson in how bureaucracies work, how teachers unions protect their own at the expense of schoolchildren, and why giving parents and students the freedom to make educational choices should be a universal right, not a privilege reserved for the few.


Some British Universities accused of running 'racket' which lets thousands of students in with just three grade Es

Universities have been accused of running an education ‘racket’ by giving places to thousands of students with A-level grades as low as three Es.

Official figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that more than a tenth of one university’s teenage intake last year had only scraped through their A-levels.

At Bolton University, 12.1 per cent of its 17- to 19-year-olds beginning courses last September were in this category, compared to the national average of 1.3 per cent, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Other universities with high intakes included London South Bank (8.1 per cent), Southampton Solent (6.9 per cent) and Anglia Ruskin (5.6 per cent).

In total, 3,685 students across the country were admitted to courses from computing science to the arts with qualifications equivalent to three Es or below. Education experts described the trend as ‘madness’.

The findings come a few weeks before the publication of this year’s A-level results, which will trigger the annual scramble by universities to attract students to fill up their less popular courses. Experts warn that many students, who pay up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees, will be short-changed because they are not academically equipped for degree-level work – even though many start on a ‘foundation’ year to boost their academic skills before embarking on three-year courses.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘It’s a racket. It’s incredibly misleading and damaging to youngsters because most of those getting poor A-level grades would be much better off getting a job. They are persuaded that university is their best option but of course the universities concerned are making a lot of money out of this.’

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘There’s a kind of madness affecting universities. A lot of money in our cash-strapped system is being spent for social purposes when it should go on providing opportunities for those most able to benefit.’

Bolton University, whose vice-chancellor Professor George Holmes earns £200,000 a year, said it was ‘proud of its tradition of giving opportunities to students from widening participation backgrounds and with non-traditional qualifications’.

A spokesman added that students were admitted to foundation courses if their qualifications at 18 ‘were lower than the standards we normally expect’ to give them the best possible opportunities. London South Bank University, Southampton Solent and Anglia Ruskin said they encouraged ‘diversity’.


Douglas County School-Choice Decision Highlights Need to Re-Examine Blaine Amendments

The recent Colorado court decision to stop a school-choice pilot program is more disappointing than shocking.

On June 29, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the Douglas County Choice Scholarship program by overturning a February 2013 Court of Appeals decision upholding the voucher program as constitutional. According to CSC’s decision, the Douglas County program violates Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution, which prohibits the state from giving appropriations “in aid of any church or sectarian society… or to help support or sustain any school… controlled by any church or sectarian denomination.”

Douglas County, Colorado began the school voucher program in 2011. The program offered scholarships for 500 students to attend the school of their family’s choice, including religious and secular private schools.

This decision ignores the fact the voucher program exists to aid families, not schools. The money is not “appropriated” to any school, religious or secular. Parents who choose to join the voucher program select the school.

The decision references the state’s Blaine Amendments, sparking extensive debate regarding such provisions since the 4-3 ruling. Blaine Amendments are add-ons to many state constitutions that prohibit the government from giving direct assistance to religious organizations. Ironically, they originated in the 1800s as a way to keep schools Protestant by preventing funding of Catholic schools. In the 1800s, schools were largely Protestant institutions, and the Protestants prevailed in public schools for many years thereafter.

Today, Blaine Amendments are a constant cause for concern for anyone who sees the value in school choice. Cases such as this, filed continuously across the country, often result in the school-choice program remaining intact, but sometimes courts make rulings as upsetting as the recent Colorado decision.

The fear for teachers unions and others who wave the Blaine Amendments around like a medieval shield is this: If given a choice of whether to use the traditional public schools assigned to students based only on their zip code, parents, students and families will flee to other schools, religious or otherwise. The education establishment’s real fear is empty classrooms and a loss of funding that follows the students to other schools through choice programs.

Religion is thus just another excuse for stopping choice. A New York Times story reported the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado claimed the ruling “drew a clear border between public money and private faith.”

“Parents are free to send their children to private religious schools if they wish, but the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed today that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for it,” read a statement in the Times story by Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, which represented some of the challengers in this case.

Such a statement blatantly disregards the fact the Douglas County choice program would provide taxpayers a greater say over how their tax dollars are spent. The public is already ponying up for these students’ education, and denying families any choice means the court is limiting taxpayers to only one option: to foot the bill for traditional public schools, a large percentage of which are underserving their children.

The voucher program would not force any parents to send their children to a religious school. It’s important to bear in mind many parents make such a decision not because the school is religious but because it is better — often far better — than the local public school. Many students who attend Catholic or other religious schools do not practice the religion of the school they are attending. They choose to go there because the schools offer a better education.

Blaine Amendments enable the education establishment to use religion as a convenient means of blocking choice for parents and students. School voucher programs are not “state appropriations,” and with traditional public schools failing to educate students, courts shouldn’t grant those responsible for the failures another place to hide.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Some reflections about education


I guess lots of people have heard old fogies like me complaining  that education "ain't what it used to be". And of course it is not.  The world of today is different from the past and education must reflect that to some extent.

A century ago, a "Greekless" person was regarded as not fully educated, for instance.  Even if you were not fluent in ancient Greek, you were expected to know the more famous quotations and be able to at least figure out the bits that you did not know.  These days a knowledge of html is much more important and helpful.  It certainly makes blogging easier.

But good stuff has undoubtedly been lost in today's schools and replaced with blah. Important areas of cultural awareness have been supplanted by lessons about fluid sexual identities and the importance of saving the planet! Not to mention the evils of patriarchy and lies about Hitler being a conservative.

And it takes us old guys to be aware of that.  If you have never been exposed to something you cannot know what you have missed. And to have missed exposure to our great cultural heritage is a great loss indeed.  There is, of course, culture of all sorts. But what I am talking about is areas of enjoyment that have stood the test of time.  And poetry, literature and music are such areas.

Contrary to what Leftists seem to believe, the world did not begin yesterday.  It's possible that half of all the great minds that have ever existed are alive today -- but what about the other half?  And the traditional role of education was to tell us about that other half

And it is particularly in the area of culture that the other half is important.  Scientists, engineers and philosophers of the past have now mostly been completely superseded.  Isaac Newton, for instance, was brilliant in his day but physics has long gone beyond him in its understanding of the universe.  But cultural contributions are really never superseded.  Monteverdi might have written the Vespro della Beata Vergine 400 years ago but  it is still performed and enjoyed to this day.  And, for religious music, no-one has surpassed J.S. Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750.

And its the same in poetry.  Poets like Coleridge and Tennyson just simply cannot be replaced.  They are sui generis and give particular pleasures that no-one else does.  There are other good poets but to miss out of Tennyson and Coleridge is to miss out on much of the pleasure that poetry can bring.  Tennyson died in 1892. Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834.  And if you like poetry but know nothing of either of those dead white men, you have simply missed out on a great experience.

So I am glad that I went to school when the importance of the culture of the past was still recognized.  In the '50s I went to a totally undistinguished Australian country school but came away from it not only with some knowledge of mathematics, chemistry  and physics but also a knowledge of the great poets, a basic grasp of Latin and Italian -- and a good introduction to the language and literature of Germany.  At age 15 I was even learning to recite and sing Schubert Lieder  in the original German.  And I knew English language poems by Tennyson and others by heart.  And it was also courtesy of my school that, at age 13 or thereabouts, I first heard Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

But most of that will be Greek to young readers today.  They have no idea of how much enjoyment and satisfaction has been hidden from them.

So how come I learnt all that highbrow stuff in a country school half a world away from where it originated?  It was basically because Britain's very prestigious "public" (meaning private!) schools taught that sort of thing.  And because of the acknowledged excellence of such schools, they became a model that everyone wanted to emulate.  I was, in short, taught a curriculum not too different from what I would have got at Eton.

But nowadays everything from the past is wrong in our Left-dominated educational system so Eton traditions are the last thing that a "modern" educator would respect.

And yet the past can be so helpful.  Readers of novels, for instance, always have the problem that you usually have to read a fair bit of a novel before you know whether it is any good.  Without guidance of some sort you cannot know in advance whether a novel is worth reading and you can waste a lot of time on something that in the end gives you nothing.

But classic novels are classics because lots of people have found them good over a long period of time and recommended them to others.  They are the sort of book of which people have long said:  "You MUST read ...".   So knowing which are the classic novels can greatly upgrade the pleasure you get out of reading.

For instance, I greatly enjoyed reading many years ago what some say is only the second novel ever written in English --  "Joseph Andrews" by Fielding. Can anybody who has read that book forget "Madam Slipslop"?  I cannot.  Sometimes a classic novel has great insights but it is always entertaining. And fortunately, you can get a reading list of great novels and enjoy them.

It's not so simple with poetry.  The great pleasure of poetry is not to read it just once but to KNOW it.  And that means to know at least some of it by heart. If you do, you will often recite it, either out loud or just in your head.  And you will enjoy doing that.  But there's the difficulty:  The older you get the harder it is to memorize things.  Anything that needs memorizing basically has to be done when you are young -- preferably at school.  So if you were never taught any of the great classic poems at school, the pleasure of poetry has basically been ripped away from you.  Sorry.  But that's it.  If you want to try yourself out, here is a famous but short poem by Tennyson. It's a lament over the death of his homosexual lover.  The Left seem to think they have invented homosexuality recently.  They have not.

Break, Break, Break


Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
         That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
         That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
         To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
         And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
         At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
         Will never come back to me.

It's a wonderful and heartfelt poem by a master of the English language.  I learnt it at school.

And then there is music.  Fortunately, the simpler music from the past has been  much revived by the folk music movement -- so remains accessible regardless of your education. It was the folkies who introduced to "Cutty Wren", written over 200 years ago. If you know that song can you ever forget "John the red nose"?  I cannot.

But some of the slightly more complex songs from the past should also be enjoyable to many.  I think particularly of madrigals. They were once taught as part of a good education. In some private schools they still are.  Take Monteverdi's Chiome d' Oro ("Tresses of gold").  It's a love song to a lady with blonde hair! A not unfamiliar idea, though probably politically incorrect these days.  The many ladies who blond their hair these days would sympathize.  A good performance here. It's wonderful.  Monteverdi wrote it around 400 years ago.  Words translated from the Italian  here.

And that brings me to another important cultural element:  languages.  If you learn (say) German at school you will almost certainly never get to the point of being able to have a reasonable conversation in it.  That is not the point.  It is much more likely that you WILL get to the point where you  can make  some fist of reading texts in that language.  And that IS useful.

Translating plain text into English from another language is difficult enough but translating a work of art into English is just about impossible.  The translation will never be as gracious as the original. That came home forcefully to me when I was reading the translation of Chiome d' Oro.  Italian was one of the languages I studied in my schooldays and the translation of Chiome d' Oro is nowhere as magical as the original Italian.  Every Italian would agree with me on that!  You just miss so much if your cultural awareness is limited to English.

All that came back to me recently when Anne asked me "Who is this Goethe fella?".  Johann  Wolfgang von Goethe is of course Germany's most famous and beloved poet.  And seeing that he wrote in the land of music, it is no surprise that his poems have been set to music -- by Hugo Wolf, Franz Schubert and others.  Some of Schubert's most famous Lieder are to texts written by Goethe. So I was able to introduce Anne to Goethe via the Schubert Lieder.

So, for the benefit of anybody reading this who might have an interest in classical music let me link to just two of the songs I found. Let me revisit some things that it has been my great good fortune to enjoy for nearly 60 years.

There is for instance here a good rendition of Gretchen am Spinnrade set by Schubert.  It is a love song.  It is from the legend of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the Devil.  Faust wanted Gretchen so the Devil made her fall frantically and hopelessly  in love with him.  The song tells of her feelings.  A translation from the German:

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.
Where I do not have him,
That is the grave,
The whole world
Is bitter to me.

My poor head
Is crazy to me,
My poor mind
Is torn apart.

For him only, I look
Out the window
Only for him do I go
Out of the house.

His tall walk,
His noble figure,
His mouth's smile,
His eyes' power,

And his mouth's
Magic flow,
His handclasp,
and ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.

My bosom urges itself
toward him.
Ah, might I grasp
And hold him!

And kiss him,
As I would wish,
At his kisses
I should die!

And if the song is good, just the music Schubert wrote for it is great too.  There is an incredibly sensitive performance of it for solo piano by a Chinese lady -- Yuja Wang -- here.  What a treasure it is that the East Asians seem to like our classical music even more than we do! If, as seems likely, the Leftists achieve the destruction of our civilization, China will preserve our great cultural treasures.

And, getting back to Goethe, there is Erlkoenig set by Schubert -- one of the most famous of the Schubert Lieder. A version sung by the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (a famous German baritone) is here -- with English subtitles.  The story is of an ill child who is having hallucinations while his father is riding frantically to get the child home.  It is very dramatic.

Will the screed above benefit anyone?  Probably not. But I still think it concerns things that should be noted down.

Black Market for Salt Arises in Indiana School Cafeterias

A black market for salt packets has developed among schoolchildren at a district in Indiana to help the students flavor their bland, unappetizing lunches.

The salt reduction is the result of a federal mandate initiated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HFKA), legislation that was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. The guidelines are designed to force children to eat healthier by forbidding them from consuming items they enjoy, but it has not achieved the desired results.

A school administrator from Hartford City, Indiana told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee a “contraband economy” in food flavoring packets had arisen in response to HFKA. He says the kids have been caught bringing and even selling salt, pepper, and sugar in school to add taste to bland and tasteless cafeteria food.

Julie Kelly, a cooking teacher, writer, and policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, humorously says this phenomenon should be counted as a win for the district because the new federal school lunch program has kids smuggling in salt and pepper instead of other illegal substances.

“In all seriousness, the new nutrition guidelines are not just unrealistic but could have the effect of repelling kids from healthy foods for a lifetime,” Kelly said. “The goals are admirable, but the approach is questionable. The truth is that you can still eat healthy food that contains reasonable levels of salt, sugar, and fat. Removing these ingredients from food not only strips flavor from every meal but denies children the vital nutrients that are crucial to their development.”

Kelly says the salt smuggling will only get worse over the next several years as the program require schools to cut sodium levels in half by 2022, when meals for grade-schoolers will be limited to only about a one-fourth teaspoon of sodium.

“There is no evidence to suggest this is a healthy approach to feeding kids,” Kelly said.

At a congressional hearing in June, one lawmaker told Tom Vilsack, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, a teacher at a local school had to ration pickles during lunchtime. The students were allowed only three pickles instead of four because the extra pickle would exceed salt limits, Kelly says.

“Is this really how educators should be spending their time, protecting 3rd graders from pickles?” Kelly asked.

Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says the problems result from a nanny-state mentality in which government doesn’t trust citizens to make sensible decisions. Stier says the premise behind HFKA is scientifically unsound, as it falsely assumes if something is unhealthy at high levels it is proportionately unhealthy at lower levels, and if something is unhealthy for some people it is harmful to all.

“Just because very high levels of salt are a problem for some, does not mean bringing levels down from moderate to low will add any gains,” Stier said.

‘Tastes Like Prison Food’

“I’ve heard critics of the school lunch program say it tastes like prison food,” Stier said.

“We’re creating a prison-like environment of trading contraband ingredients in school,” Stier said. “Look what we’re doing to our children. I think the best way is to give kids access to salty foods, sugary foods, and all the foods they want to ban. Give kids access to these products and, under supervision, let them learn how to consume them appropriately.”

Right now schools are teaching the exact opposite lesson, he says.

“I don’t want kids to grow up that way,” Stier said. “I want them to say, ‘Salt and sugar, I learned in school, it’s ok to eat in moderation.’ Otherwise it’s going to be, ‘Salt and sugar, oh my gosh, I can’t wait to get my hands on it when there are no adults looking.’

“By criticizing these government regulatory programs, I’m not saying kids should have unlimited, unfettered access to [these foods],” Stier said. “Instead, I’m saying this is a learning opportunity.”


IQ rediscovered in Britain

Across Britain, teenagers are awaiting nervously for their GCSE results to arrive next month.  But however they fare, they can put some of their grades down to their parents, scientists suggest.

In what is likely to further fuel the endless nature versus nurture debate, researchers found between 54-65 per cent of GCSE results are down to nature – the genes we inherit.

Genes were more important than the role played by the home and school combined. Home was responsible for 14 per cent of GCSE results and school quality 21 per cent.

The new research showed the same genes affect performance across a much wider spectrum of subjects than just English, Maths and Science, which earlier research found to be about 60 per cent down genetically decided.

Genetic factors also affected results in history and geography, second languages, business studies, computing, art and drama, the researchers found.

Scientists from King's College London analysed genetic data from 12,500 identical and non-identical twins to assess the importance of genetic factors in academic achievement.

The new research showed the same genes affect performance across a much wider spectrum of subjects than just English, Maths and Science, which earlier research found to be about 60 per cent down genetically decided.

Genetic factors also affected results in history and geography, second languages, business studies, computing, art and drama, the researchers found.

Scientists from King's College London analysed genetic data from 12,500 identical and non-identical twins to assess the importance of genetic factors in academic achievement.

Surprisingly, when the data was analysed and intelligence was stripped out of the results, genetics still played a major role in GCSE performance – accounting for a lower percentage, but still between 45 per cent and 58 per cent of exam results.

Each twin pair grew up in the same home and attended the same schools, so the researchers could take environmental impact to be constant.

They then compared the GCSE results of the identical twins - who share 100 per cent of their genes - with those of the non-identical twins - who share only 50 per cent of their genes.

By comparing the two sets and subtracting the impact of environment, the scientists disentangled the comparative weight of nature and nurture on the GCSE scores.

The twins were also tested for intelligence to see what role it played in GCSE results. Intelligence is highly heritable – if our parents are bright sparks, we are likely to be as well.

Surprisingly, when the data was analysed and intelligence was stripped out of the results, genetics still played a major role in GCSE performance – accounting for a lower percentage, but still between 45 per cent and 58 per cent of exam results.

The researchers suggest this is because other factors – which also have a high genetic component – such as personality and motivation may be playing a role in exam scores.

Dr Rimfeld said: 'Our findings suggest that many of the same genes influence achievement across a broad range of disciplines, moving beyond core subjects such as English and maths to include humanities, business, art and languages.

'For the first time, we found that these general genetic effects on academic achievement remained even when the effects of general intelligence were removed.'
Scientists from King’s College London analysed genetic data from 12,500 identical and non-identical twins to assess the importance of genetic factors in academic achievement (file image)

Scientists from King's College London analysed genetic data from 12,500 identical and non-identical twins to assess the importance of genetic factors in academic achievement (file image)

She added: 'What does it all mean? These results don't have specific implications for teachers in the classroom right now but they do add to the knowledge of why children do differ so widely in their educational achievement.'

The researchers say in the future, educational techniques could take into account genetic factors.

Robert Plomin, another of the study's authors said understanding which genetic factors influence education could lead to 'educationalists develop effective personalised learning programmes, to help every child reach their potential by the end of compulsory education.'

Teachers, however, greeted the study with caution.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'Teachers remain committed to the idea that all students are capable of success, and that low expectations – easily derived from research like this – are a major obstacle to such success.'

Prof John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, UCL, said: 'Twin studies are a mainstay of behavioural genetics, but they make a simple assumption that is unlikely to be true: that is that we treat identical twins the same as we treat non-identical twins (who look much more different from each other).

'These results are interesting, therefore, but by no means definitive and it would be unwise to make educational decisions based on these data.'

Professor Timothy Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, said: 'Studies showing exam achievements (like IQ) have a strong genetic influence are not new. Unfortunately they are usually over-interpreted as presenting falsely a notion of fixed destiny.'