Friday, January 19, 2018

Conn. Supreme Court Sides With State in Education Funding Fight

Court refuses to dictate level of funding for particular schools

The Connecticut Supreme Court has found families in an education funding lawsuit failed to show disparities in the classroom are tied to unequal state funding.

Wednesday’s decision reversed a Hartford Superior Court ruling that the state violated Articles 8, 1 and 20 of the state constitution by allegedly failing to provide minimally adequate and substantially equal opportunity to all students. The court remanded the case to Hartford Superior Court with direction to render judgment for the state.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2005 against the state by more than 50 parents and students.

While Chief Justice Chase Rogers, who wrote the majority opinion, said the court sympathized with the plight of students in rural communities, she also noted that the plaintiffs in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, did not make their case.

“Although the plaintiffs have convincingly demonstrated that in this state there is a gap in educational achievement between the poorest and neediest students and their more fortunate peers, disparities in educational achievement, standing alone, do not constitute proof that our state constitution’s equal protection provisions have been violated,” Rogers wrote. “The plaintiffs have not shown that this gap is the result of the state’s unlawful discrimination against poor and needy students in its provision of educational resources as opposed to the complex web of disadvantaging societal conditions over which the schools have no control. Indeed, the trial court found that the state is providing significantly more educational resources to schools with large numbers of poor and needy students than to other schools.”

Rogers said it’s up to the Legislature, not the courts, to create educational policy.

Rogers also noted that the trial court properly found the plaintiffs failed to establish that the state violated the equal protection provisions of the state constitution.

Justice Richard Palmer, who wrote the concurrence and dissent along with Justices Richard Robinson and Michael Sheldon, said he believed the families “were not afforded the opportunity to prove their case according to the correct legal standard. … I dissent from that portion of the majority opinion that directs judgment for the defendants. Instead, I would remand the case for a new trial.”

Joseph Moodhe, an attorney with Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, was lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Moodhe did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Other attorneys on the case referred questions to Moodhe.

Attorney General George Jepsen applauded the ruling.

“I am grateful to the Supreme Court for its careful and thoughtful consideration of this important case,” Jepsen said in a statement. “We argued in this appeal that the trial court exceeded its authority and that, therefore, the decision should be overturned. The court correctly determined that Connecticut’s public education system and its public education funding do not violate constitutional standards and that—absent such a constitutional deficiency—education policy decisions rest with the representative branches of government.”

Nicholas Mercier, vice chairman of the New Britain Board of Education, said he believes there’s a disparity between urban centers such as New Britain and their suburban counterparts.

“It’s a shame this has been dragging out for so long,” Mercier said. “The state clearly needs to do more to fund our poorest school districts, including New Britain. The evidence of that is not only in the state testing, but the fact that they [the Legislature] do not even follow their legislative formula in determining need.”


Chan Zuckerberg philanthropy taps UMass Amherst to create AI scientific research tool

This might actually be helpful.  The flood of new academic papers must be hard to navigate.  The methods I used to use to keep up would not work very well these days

A philanthropy started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan has awarded a $5.5 million grant to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Data Science to create a free tool that would make millions of published scientific and medical findings easily accessible to researchers worldwide.

The project, called Computable Knowledge, would use a branch of artificial intelligence known as knowledge representation and reasoning to create a navigable map of scientific findings from millions of new and historical research articles. The project aims to help scientists stay current on new research and to make it easier to find previously unknown connections between findings in genetics, diseases, drugs, and treatments.

Using AI, the initiative promises to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by removing the bottleneck created by the millions of peer review papers published every year. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is also building a team of AI scientists to collaborate on the project.

For UMass, it is a chance to showcase its work in artificial intelligence by “revolutionizing science,” said Andrew McCallum, director of the Center for Data Science, who will head the partnership.

“AI was getting to the point that it was ripe to help [by using] automated reasoning and making predictions about relations [in scientific findings] that are not directly observed, but for which we have peripheral evidence,” McCallum said, comparing the first-of-its-kind project to “how map apps are now indispensable tools for navigating the physical world.”

The service, which is expected to take several years to complete, will be accessible through Meta, an AI search tool acquired by the Chan Zuckerberg initiative a year ago. McCallum said that work has already begun and that the first version of the tool could be released within a year.

In a statement posted on her Facebook page, Chan said the tool will allow scientists “to explore research in a highly visual way.”

“If we hope to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases in our children’s lifetime, we must help scientists find new ways to explore, navigate, and reason across research,” she wrote.

The $5.5 million investment, the organization’s first donation and partnership with the university, is expected to result in the hiring of software engineers in Western Massachusetts to work on the project, as well as support the research of several graduate and PhD students, and postdoctoral researchers at the Center for Data Science, McCallum said.

In the statement Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker praised the selection of UMass Amherst to “play a major role in this groundbreaking initiative that will give scientists tremendous power to share their research around the world.”


More Australian graduates head into part-time jobs as economic chill persists

Economic chill my foot.  Employment grew markedly last year.  The economy delivered a near record 380,000 new jobs last year — most of them full-time.  The problem is useless degrees and the continual dumbing down of what is taught

Impact of global financial crisis and increased supply of university-educated candidates leaves 38% of graduates in part-time work

University leavers in Australia are increasingly settling for part-time employment after graduation as a flood of job seekers holding bachelor degrees dilute their own buying power.

On Friday the latest graduate outcomes survey revealed that the last decade has seen a rise of 17 percentage points increase in the number of university leavers in part-time employment, while the number of recent graduates in full-time work remains stubbornly below below the levels of the global financial crisis.

It’s what the survey authors say is part of a “pronounced trend towards part-time employment among graduates”. Between 2008 and 2017 the proportion of employed graduates working part-time increased by 17 percentage points to 38% of all graduates.

While the shift to part-time employment is part of a broader trend in the labour market, it’s particularly pronounced amongst university leavers.

For example in 2017 male graduates were far more likely to be employed part-time than the overall male workforce. Part-time employment was 32% for male graduates compared with 18.7% for employed men overall.

Phil Lewis, the director of the Centre for Labour Market Research at the University of Canberra, said the trend to part-time employment was down to supply and demand.

Between 2009 and 2016 domestic undergraduate enrolments grew by 33%, which Lewis said was have an impact on employer choice.

“There’s a certain number of people and a certain number of jobs,” he said. “When the economy is booming the queue becomes very short so employers take whoever they can get [but] the huge increase in graduates since the introduction of the demand-driven system just means the queue gets bigger.

“These people will get a job eventually but at the moment new graduates are right at the back because employers can pick whoever they want.”

The survey also found that since 2008 the full-time employment rate among bachelor degree holders has fallen from 85% to 71.8%.

Bruce Guthrie, a research manager from Graduate Careers Australia, said: “In a way it’s the unfortunate timing of an increase in graduate output coinciding with a reduced demand for new graduates.

“I used to hold out hopes that the situation would return to pre-GFC levels of strong employment outcomes for new graduates but it looks like the GFC has dislocated many industries and patterns of doing business world-wide and it might be that we’ll never get back to those levels of demand.”

The survey comes as the federal education minister Simon Birmingham engages in a war with universities over funding.

In its mid-year budget update the government announced it will cut $2.2bn from universities predominantly through a two-year freeze in commonwealth grants funding for teaching and learning – effectively the end of the demand-driven system.

The minister has signalled that he will seek to force universities to improve graduate outcomes by attaching performance-based measures including graduate outcomes to funding.

He said the survey demonstrated the benefits of “ensuring universities are more accountable and transparent about the job prospects of their graduates”.

“For example the results show that 82% of graduates with degrees in teaching secured full-time employment within four months of finishing, with the figure dipping to 60% for graduates in the creative arts and communications fields,” he said.

But Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia acting chief executive, pointed out the figures only accounted for graduate outcomes four months after graduating.

“The data shows that graduates, like everyone entering the labour market, need time to establish in their careers. But this immediate outlook can shift quickly – within three years of finishing their studies, nine in 10 graduates are employed full-time,” she said.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Toby Young: once more into the breach

Outspoken conservative, Toby Young, was appointed to the Office for Students, a regulatory body, by the British PM.  The Left erupted with rage, causing Toby to give up the job for the sake of peace. The sequel below:

I naively thought that if I resigned from the Office for Students, stepped down from the Fulbright Commission and apologised for the offensive things I’d said on Twitter the witch-hunt would end. In fact, it has reached a new, frenzied pitch. The mob’s blood lust is up and it won’t rest until it has completely destroyed me.

Things took an ugly turn yesterday when Private Eye published a story saying I had attended ‘a secretive conference’ at University College London last year organised by Dr James Thompson, an Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at UCL. This is an annual affair known as the London Conference on Intelligence. It then went on to summarise some of the more outlandish papers presented at this event in previous years – not in the year I attended, mind ­– such as a paper arguing that racial differences in penis length predict different levels of parental care. It pointed out that in 2015 and 2016 this conference had been attended by someone described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as a ‘white nationalist and extremist’. It even dug up a blog post by one of the attendees in which he tried to justify child rape. It described all these people as my ‘friends’.

Needless to say, this article has led to a deluge of grotesque smears, on everything from the Canary to Russia Today. (The Russia Today article is headlined: ‘Shamed Toby Young ‘attended secret eugenics conference with neo-Nazis and paedophiles’.) More alarmingly, seemingly respectable, mainstream newspapers have followed up these stories – slightly toned down, of course, but with the same implication: that I am a neo-Nazi, an apologist for paedophilia and God knows what else.

So here are the facts. Yes, I went to the 2017 London Conference on Intelligence – I popped in for a few hours on a Saturday and sat at the back. I did not present a paper or give a lecture or appear on a platform or anything remotely like that. I had not met any of the other people in the lecture room before, save for Dr Thompson, and was unfamiliar with their work. I was completely ignorant of what had been discussed at the same event in previous years. All I knew was that some of them occupied the weird and whacky outer fringe of the world of genetics.

My reason for attending was because I had been asked – as a journalist – to give a lecture by the International Society of Intelligence Researchers at the University of Montreal later in the year and I was planning to talk about the history of controversies provoked by intelligence researchers. I thought the UCL conference would provide me with some anecdotal material for the lecture – and it did. To repeat, I was there as a journalist researching a talk I had to give a few months later and which was subsequently published.

Yes, I heard some people express some pretty odd views. But I don’t accept that listening to someone putting forward an idea constitutes tacit acceptance or approval of that idea, however unpalatable. That’s the kind of reasoning that leads to people being no-platformed on university campuses.

In an article for the Guardian, the University of Montreal conference, where I did actually speak, is described as ‘similar’ to the UCL conference. Complete nonsense. It was a super-respectable, three-day affair held at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Numerous world-renowned academics spoke at it, including Steven Pinker, the famous Harvard professor, and James Flynn, the political scientist who has given his name to the ‘Flynn effect’. In 2015, the same lecture I gave – the Constance Holden Memorial Address — was given by Dr Alice Dreger, a well-regarded author and academic.

You can see the website for the Montreal conference, and the roster of speakers, here. Virtually every one is a tenured professor. To reiterate, that’s the conference I spoke at, not the one in London.

Polly Toynbee joined the lynch mob earlier today – or, rather, re-appeared in the lynch mob – in a column headlined: ‘With his views on eugenics, why does Toby Young still have a job in education?’ In the column, she repeats the smear in the headline, calling me a ‘eugenicist’ – again, the implication being that I’m some kind of neo-Nazi. In case you miss the point, she says I’m on the ‘far right’ and I think ‘the poor are inferior’. (Bit rich, considering Polly sent her children to expensive private schools and mine are all at state schools, but still.)

Polly’s ‘eugenicist’ slur – which has been thrown at me by virtually the entire Parliamentary Labour Party – is based on a deliberate misunderstanding of an article I wrote for an Australian periodical in 2015 called Quadrant and is then ‘backed up’ by Polly by selectively quoting from it. She also throws in the fact that I attended a ‘secretive eugenics conference’, etc., etc.

In that article for Quadrant – which you can read here – I discuss an idea first presented by Julian Savulescu, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, which he summarises as follows:

Imagine you are having in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and you produce four embryos. One is to be implanted. You are told that there is a genetic test for predisposition to scoring well on IQ tests (let’s call this intelligence). If an embryo has gene subtypes (alleles) A, B there is a greater than 50% chance it will score more than 140 if given an ordinary education and upbringing. If it has subtypes C, D there is a much lower chance it will score over 140. Would you test the four embryos for these gene subtypes and use this information in selecting which embryo to implant?

Now, we haven’t yet developed the ‘genetic test’ referred to by Savulescu, and it’s possible that we may never do so because: (a) intelligence may not be genetically-based; and (b) even if it is, we may never discover all the subs-sets and combinations of genes associated with it. But what if it is and we do? Science fiction today becomes science fact tomorrow. In my Quadrant article, I discuss an obvious risk associated with the technology described by Savulescu, namely, that if it is ever invented, the first people to take advantage of it will be the rich so they can give their children an even greater advantage than they currently enjoy. In short, it will make inequality even worse.

My solution to this problem, set out in the article, is that this technology, if it comes on stream, should be banned for everyone except the very poor. I wasn’t proposing sterilisation of the poor or some fiendish form of genetic engineering so they could have babies with ‘high IQ genes’ or anything like that. Just a form of IVF that would be available on the National Health to the least well off, should they wish to take advantage of it. Not mandatory, just an option, a way of giving their children a head start. I was thinking about how to reduce the risk that this new technology will exacerbate existing levels of inequality – how to use it to reduce inequality. I described my proposal as ‘a form of egalitarianism’.

It is for this that Polly Toynbee – who obviously hasn’t read the article – has labelled me a ‘eugenicist’.

You think I’m mischaracterising my article? Dressing it up to make it sound less like an extract from Mein Kampf? Don’t take my word for it. Read this summary of my argument by Iain Brassington, who writes a bioethics blog for the Journal of Medical Ethics. After marvelling at all the people who’ve called me a ‘eugenicist’ (including Vince Cable, no less), he points out that what I’m suggesting ‘is in many ways, fairly unremarkable’.

What’s notable from a bioethicist’s perspective is just how familiar the arguments being presented here are. It’s hard to read Young’s article without thinking of a good chunk of the work on genetic screening, and on enhancement, that’s been done over the past few years… it’s pretty standard stuff in seminar discussions about screening; and nor is there anything that is obviously morally beyond the pale.

Hear that Polly? Nothing that is obviously morally beyond the pale. He thinks I’m wrong about lots of stuff, by the way – just not a Nazi. Read his piece. It’s very good.

So that’s the long and the short of it. Because, as a journalist, I went and had a look at a strange conference being held at UCL – and because I discussed a familiar bio-ethics problem in an obscure Australian periodical – I’m some kind of ‘far right’ nut job who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near kids, let alone schools.

It has been suggested – in the Guardian and elsewhere – that the reason I stepped down from the Office for Students is because I knew the Private Eye article was coming out and my number was up. That’s balls. I said some stupid, puerile things on Twitter late at night of which I’m thoroughly ashamed and for which I’ve unreservedly apologised. It became clear that having said those things, I couldn’t serve on the Office for Students without causing an almighty stink that would render it unable to do its job. But I’m not remotely ashamed of having attended the London Conference on Intelligence.

I believe in free speech. That includes defending the right of researchers and academics, however beyond the pale, to present their findings to other researchers in their field at academic conferences so they can be scrutinised and debated. If you believe someone is putting forward a theory that is wrong, unsupported by the evidence, you should want their theories to be exposed to scrutiny, not swept under the carpet. No-platforming people whose ideas you disapprove of is self-defeating.

That’s been my lifelong credo – and I had hoped to bring it to bear in the Office for Students, which has been tasked with protecting academic freedom. That is not to be and I have accepted that. But enough already. Just because I sat at the back in a lecture room at UCL one afternoon, scribbling away in my reporter’s notepad, while some right-wing fruitcakes held forth about ‘dysgenics’ does not make me a Nazi. If it did, then the fact that Jeremy Corbyn regularly attended a conference run by Holocaust-denier Paul Eisen would make him an anti-Semite.


Teacher Labels Classroom Ban on Hats, Hoodies in Classroom a Microaggression

A Michigan public high school mathematics teacher challenged the ban on students wearing hats and hoodies in the classroom as a "microaggression," in an article for an "enlightened masculinity" blog.

Paul Hartzer, who teaches geometry at Hamtramck High School, according to his resume, argued that removing a hat indoors is "a European tradition, and many feel that expecting students of color to learn and follow this guideline is yet another way in which European ‘culture' is shown as superior to their own heritage."

A "common defense for hoodie bans is that we teachers are preparing students for the ‘real world,'" wrote Hartzer, but that insinuates "we're suggesting that the corporate America model is what they should be striving towards."

"This is a European model of success, tied to 1950s White Men. It implies there's something wrong with any other route to success … which is a microaggression," he wrote for The Good Men Project, where he is the lead editor of education.

Further, banning hooded clothing can also be a "socioeconomic microaggression," as money-strapped students may have to update their wardrobe to comply with the school guideline.

While school administrators have cited reasonable concerns about students hiding earbuds or weapons beneath their headwear, Hartzer contended that schools may be "using logical-sounding reasons to hide a more problematic reason for such classroom bans: To enforce respect through control and appearance."

"Another very Eurocentric value is that appearance is more important than reality," he wrote.

Hartzer argued that students wearing earbuds will likely continue to be inattentive even if he removed them, and it was not worth the risk disrupting the rest of the class by confronting him. "Power struggles become an issue of costs vs. benefits," he wrote.

Hoodies can denote gang membership, whose obvious risks can be mitigated by prohibiting such clothes, but Hartzer questioned if school safety is best served by "reminding students multiple times a day that they're seen as potential criminals."

"What does a student of color hear when a white authority figure enforces what they see as a trivial, arbitrary rule?" asked Hartzer.

"Microaggressions against anyone who isn't an affluent, able-bodied, white, cis Christian man are tragically widespread in our culture," he wrote.

Hoodie and hat bans are another one of the education system's "disingenuous policies that start with disrespectful implications about our students," he concluded.

Hartzer, who has taught English and mathematics in Michigan since 2012, was not immediately available for comment.


New Education Focus On Old-School CivicsIn era of strained public discourse, educators urged to teach civic engagement from a Jewish perspective

At last year’s Jewish Futures Conference, the theme of which was “Hacking Happiness,” psychologist Dan Ariely argued that “happiness comes from a sense of purpose, meaning and contribution to others.” It should come as no surprise, then, that this year’s conference shifted outward to look at how Jewish civics education can “elevate American democracy.”

“Clearly, the political climate, the social climate, the civil discourse climate all led us to think this was an important topic, and we also think it’s a topic that Jewish educators don’t often think about,” said David Bryfman, chief innovation officer at the Jewish Education Project, which puts on the annual one-day conference in partnership with Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.
“Often they [educators] are more concerned about how can we make us better off as a Jewish people, make the Jewish community stronger, and we thought it’s time for Jews to also begin to look outwardly and how can we make America or our civil society a stronger one as well,” he said.

The panels at the conference, held on Dec. 13 at New York University, focused on not just how to teach civics education in a Jewish context but also on how Jewish wisdom, tradition and values can contribute to improving the broader societies in which Jews live.

In the opening session, Tamara Tweel, who teaches civics at Columbia University and is director of strategic development at the Hillel Office of Innovation, pointed out that in Jewish tradition, freedom is not “simply a natural occurrence,” but one that must be secured through laws and institutions.

Rabbi Lee Moore, left, and musician Josh Nelson lead attendees in ‘Maoz Tzur’ and ‘This Land Is Your Land’ during lunch at the conference, which was held on the first day of Chanukah. Courtesy of The Jewish Education Project

As Jews, she said, “Our freedom was not secured when we left slavery, it was not secured when wandering in the desert. It was secured at Sinai. It was secured when we entered into a covenant that endowed us with a framework to live well together, to govern ourselves with self-restraint and communal obligations.”

Because “this kind of political freedom requires an extraordinary amount of self-discipline,” Tweel said, it’s vital that educators prepare students for that responsibility.

In America today, she argued, the basic confidence in and belief that government is designed for the people by the people has been eroded; currently only 20 percent of Americans believe they can trust the government. This trust has been eroded due to international forces including globalization and war and also due “to a history of policy decisions that have led to an almost universal disappearance of national service and civic education” as well as “an incarceration rate that presents our government as an entity that easily seizes freedom rather than seeks to preserve it.”

“Our current political system … does not promote a national commitment to political participation. The majority of Americans do not serve and do not vote. We have abandoned governing ourselves,” Tweel said.

Jewish tradition, however, has rituals built into it that can address this growing lack of a sense of communal responsibility, she said, including a ritualized focus on origin stories and on forgiveness.

“What would it look like if every family … celebrated “Constitution Day?” Tweel asked. “What would a national day of atonement and forgiveness look like?”

“It is up to you,” Tweel concluded, “to teach our children that we are uniquely blessed to be a people who were conceived in liberty, living in a country conceived in liberty and that it is our civic duty, and perhaps our sacred duty, to take responsibility for this fragile heritage and preserve it before it breaks.”

Joel Westheimer, research chair in democracy and education at the University of Ottawa, noted that in America, the whole reason public education was created was to allow people to participate in self-governance.

Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, he said, “If the people are not educated enough to govern their own affairs, the solution is not to take that power of governance away from them … but to educate them.” When the United States was born, democracy was a new idea to most people, he said. “Now we’re in a period where the very success of that experiment is being called into question,” he said, with the rise of “anti-democratic leaders” around the world. Civics education has been marginalized as the focus on standardized test preparation grows.

However, he said, while it’s a “very difficult time for democracy in America,” it’s also a “moment of opportunity.”

“Civic engagement is up, watching the news is up. Yes, we’re lost in our echo chambers of information but there are many, many young people engaged,” he said.

In an interview after his talk, Westheimer said educators can make a difference. “I’ve seen fantastic programs where educators completely transform kids … helping them to be the best kind of person they can be and strengthen democratic society simultaneously.”

Just as the political climate inspired the Jewish Education Project to make civic engagement the theme of the conference, it was the current political climate that inspired many of the more than 325 educators who came to the conference.

Rabbi Mick Fine, director of Hebrew-language curriculum and instruction at Beit Rabban Day School, said that for him “it was very important to consider” how the next generation of Jewish people “can effect change” and “create a world that reflects our values.”

Rabbi Daniel Gordon, associate national director of development at NCSY, called the topic of the conference “critical.”

“I think it’s an issue that if you deal with teenagers and if you deal with anybody in the con[tinuing] education space it’s a conversation that needs to be had. Is it complicated? Absolutely. Is it complex? Certainly. But all those things are reasons that we should have the conversation and not shy away from it.”

Matt Williams, managing director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, said that he came because, “A number of Jewish organizations that I work with are really invested in understanding what it means to be a Jew in America at this particular moment and the question of civic engagement is inescapably a part of what it is they care about.”

But, he said, “they’re not sure how to navigate it within what is a very fraught political context. … Everyone is looking for answers and this is a conference where we can begin to address some of these issues.”


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Special-Needs Program So Popular It Has Exhausted All Funding

The Gardiner Scholarship Program, Florida’s education savings account (ESA) program for students with special needs, is so popular it has exhausted all funding for the 2017­–18 school year. Already the largest ESA program in the country (based on enrollment), there are now roughly 10,150 students receiving a scholarship. The state legislature appropriated $107.4 million for the program in 2017–18.

According to Step Up For Students, the largest of the state-approved nonprofit organizations that helps administer the program, there are another 1,270 students who have been approved for a scholarship but will not be able to receive their money due to a lack of funding. These students will be placed on a waiting list and will have first priority for any increase in funding for the 2018–19 school year.

“We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” Step Up for Students’ Vice President of Operations, Gina Lynch, told redefinEd. “There is healthy demand for the program.”

The popularity of ESAs in the Sunshine State means the time has arrived for the state to expand on the success of the Gardiner Scholarship Program with the creation of a new universal ESA program that would be open to all K–12 students. William Mattox, director of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, has suggested this scholarship program be named after Mary McLeod Bethune, a child of slaves and civil rights icon.

“Adopting a Bethune Scholarship would give every Florida child a K-12 education tailored to meet his or her unique needs,” Mattox concluded in an article he wrote about the proposed scholarship program. “It would pay tribute to a courageous Florida educator and carry forward her faith-informed belief in each child’s unique worth and dignity. More than anything, adopting a Bethune Scholarship would ensure that every child in the state of Florida – every child – has the opportunity to receive a K-12 education tailored to his or her unique needs, interests, aptitudes, and learning style.”

The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and it does so at a lower cost while benefitting public school students and taxpayers. Just as important, education choice programs are broadly popular because they allow parents to exercise their fundamental right to direct the education of their children.

ESA programs are not a silver-bullet solution to every problem plaguing Florida’s school system, but they certainly allow families much greater opportunities to meet each child’s particular education needs. The goal of public education in the Sunshine State today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.


Public School Kids Get Assembly on Sex Changes

A Northern Virginia public school held a school-wide assembly before Christmas break featuring transgender crusader Amy Ellis Nutt.

George Mason High School in the City of Falls Church brought in Nutt, a Washington Post reporter, to lecture students on her book Becoming Nicole, about a boy who “identified” as a girl as a toddler, had his puberty suppressed as a child, and was castrated as a teenager.

Nutt’s lecture hit all the usual notes. Your gender is “assigned at birth” by people who might get it wrong. Toddlers can be transgender. Moray eels change sex and female reef fish produce sperm when there are no males. “Gender is a spectrum,” everyone must get “comfortable” with new gender language that is “changing every day.” Asking a biological boy to use the teachers’ rather than the girls’ restroom is “bullying.”

The full assembly can be viewed on YouTube.

The sponsor of the event was the Falls Church Education Foundation.

Did the school make plain to the students that they could decline to attend? That’s not clear. In her presentation, Nutt quipped: “Thank you for coming, although I know you’re probably required to be here.”

Nor is it clear whether parents were fully informed about the assembly in advance. At least one shocked George Mason teacher, who remains anonymous, says parents were not.

What does seem clear is that this public school will not hold another school-wide assembly featuring other views on the issue such as first-person accounts of the negative consequences of “transitioning,” health warnings from pediatricians and other medical experts, or condemnation from the feminist community, from which the term “female erasure” has sprung to describe the transgender program.

Transgender ideology in children is extremely controversial, not least because so many children who experience gender dysphoria later desist and accept their natal biology. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), as many as 98% of boys and 88% of girls will “grow out of” their gender dysphoria and accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.

There is no medical or psychological test to show which 2% of those boys will persist in their gender dysphoria as young adults. Protocols that encourage school-wide affirmation of every case of gender dysphoria could impede the overwhelming majority of children from accepting their natal biology as well as sow confusion in other vulnerable children.

There has been a spate of articles in recent weeks on the phenomenon of “rapid onset” gender dysphoria in teen girls, thought to be a “social contagion”-like anorexia 30 years ago. Details of these cases reported by therapists are heartbreaking.

At the end of the talk, Nutt was asked two student questions, written on index cards.

“What is gender dysphoria and how does the transgender community respond to the idea that they are glorifying the mental health condition known as gender dysphoria?”

That was a good question, and evidence that at least one student at George Mason has held on to his critical thinking skills.

Nutt’s answer was not good. “Gender dysphoria is not a mental health condition,” she said, continuing: “It is included in the DSM, which is the bible of mental illnesses, of psychiatrists, but only because gender dysphoria isn’t the inability or confusion of a transgender child to understand why they are the way they are, it’s the failure for [sic] other people to understand that. It’s the confusion that comes because of the cultural misconceptions and not being able to fit into that.”

So a person is diagnosed because other people are confused? It’s in “the bible of mental illnesses” because it’s a healthy condition that the culture doesn’t understand? Now I am confused.

The DSM defines gender dysphoria in children as “clinically significant distress” from “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender” manifested by, among other things, “a strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy.”

The ICD — the International Classification of Diseases — calls it a “childhood disorder” characterized by “persistent and intense distress.” Diagnosis requires “a profound disturbance of the normal gender identity.”

If Nutt is trying to dismiss their distress as a cultural condition, she’s freelancing.

The final question was also a good one: “Did Nicole undergo reassignment surgery and if so was there any risk to it?”

Nutt’s answer was bad and sort of creepy. “Yes. She was 17 at the time… I was there.”

“It was not the most important thing … but it was the last thing that she needed to do,” said Nutt. “What was important for her early on was to have her puberty suppressed as a child, so that she knew what she really wanted.”

Puberty-blockers are serious business. Puberty suppression and cross-sex hormones can stunt a person’s growth and render him completely infertile, never able to have genetically-related children, even by artificial means. You cannot walk back up this road.

What’s more, there are no scientific studies on their use by growing children. None.

Nutt’s cavalier treatment of puberty blockers was awfully reckless.

And isn’t her logic backwards? How does blocking your natural development tell you what you really want? Isn’t it, rather, tipping the scales toward an ideologically predetermined outcome?

Did Nicole even have the capacity to consent to this untested, irreversible medical treatment in the first place? “There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves,” cautions the American College of Pediatricians.

Nutt went on: “When the time for puberty came, she took estrogen, and she made the puberty that all girls do at the right time.”

Making the puberty that all girls do is strange phraseology. But of course this teen could not make the puberty that all girls do without ovaries and a uterus. Were the teen girls in the audience misled? Were the boys?

As to risk, Nutt brushed it aside: “You know, there’s always a risk to surgery, it’s actually not that complicated. She will be, for all purposes, physically and biologically a girl. A woman.”

Wrong. Biologically, Nicole will never be a girl. Every cell in Nicole’s body contains male sex chromosomes. A lifetime of male-suppressing hormones will never change that fact.

At one point in her lecture, Nutt said: “I’m not trying to be funny, I’m trying to be factual.”

She should have tried harder.

Children suffering from gender dysphoria deserve our compassion. Surely their suffering is genuine, and profound. But they also deserve an adult response: first and foremost, our recognition that the distress and confusion they are experiencing will give way to acceptance of their natal biology in the vast majority of cases.

The person with persistent dysphoria who ultimately chooses radical surgery and a lifetime of hormones deserves compassion, too. As well as great sympathy, in my opinion, for treating a healthy body as sick and a troubled mind as healthy.

Nutt obviously disagrees. There is great disagreement on this issue, especially among medical experts.

When a public school takes sides, nobody wins. But students, and taxpayers, lose.


Australia: Lunch box checks have kids too scared to eat

NUTRITIONISTS are calling for an easing of lunch box policing when school returns next week, claiming the inspections have some children too scared to eat.

With a number of schools around Queensland implementing so-called healthy eating policies to deal with allergies and fight childhood obesity, teachers have been turned into the “food police”, randomly inspecting lunch boxes for items such as lollies, cakes, sweets, chips, nuts and eggs and sending letters to parents who break the rules.

But nutritionists warn the practice has gone too far, with mums and dads stressed out about what to feed their child and children developing fears around food.

“People have been writing in to me on social media saying that their child is afraid to open their lunch box at school because they know the teacher is coming along to inspect the lunch box so they would rather just not eat,” Sunshine Coast nutritionist Tara Leong said.

“The parents are also afraid of what they’re sending to school because they might get a letter home.

“It’s definitely not the way to manage what parents are sending to school in lunch boxes and the health situation in Australia.”

Mrs Leong said labelling food “good” and “bad” could also be destructive to a child’s relationship with food in the long term.

“If the teacher comes along and says, ‘That’s a bad food’, then what this whole ‘bad food, good food’ situation sets up is that the child is then a ‘bad child’ for eating that ‘bad food’ or the mother is a ‘bad mother’ for sending that piece of food, so then there’s this moral link to the food and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

Brisbane nutritionist and dietitian Kate Di Prima said schools had gone “berserk” with their food policing, especially when it came to bans of allergy-causing foods.

“To simply fill the lunch box without making everything from scratch has become almost impossible,” she said.

“It’s getting silly because there’s six different allergic (groups), you’ve got nuts, eggs, shellfish, wheat, soy, dairy. Are we going to remove all of that because then we’re left with nothing? Everyone will have a gluten-free, paleo lunch box, which is not balanced for children,” she said.

What does a healthy school lunchbox look like?

The over-policing of lunch boxes and a general confusion among parents over what is healthy has also caused some parents to ditch entire food groups, such as dairy and carbohydrates, from their children’s diets, with potentially dangerous consequences, the experts warn.

“I’m frightened by the amount of children who aren’t being fed carbohydrates,” Mrs Leong said.

“It’s really scary because they need it to be able to think.

“Unless there’s a medical diagnosis that your child needs to maybe eliminate something then there’s no reason to cut it out and doing so can put children at risk of malnutrition.”

Both experts agreed that parents needed to take a simple back-to-basics approach with children’s lunches, opting for fruit and yoghurt for morning tea, and a main meal of healthy carbs, protein and good fats, like an avocado, chicken and salad sandwich.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Teaching in Britain is HARD

The writer below is right to condemn the blizzard of red tape that benights teachers but treads lightly on the biggest problem:  Pupil indiscipline.  That is extremely stressful and destructive of all that a teacher tries to do. That needs to be recognized and dealt with  -- but there's no sign of it.  It's "too hard" to do anything that might upset the little petals.

Britain’s teachers are overworked, underpaid and put under so much stress that a small army of them leave the profession every year for another job. Assuming, that is, they are well enough to secure alternative employment. Last year some 3,750 of them were signed off on long-term sick leave due to pressure, anxiety, and mental illness. That number came via a freedom of information request submitted by the Liberal Democrats.

The figures show that one in 83 members of the profession is now out of action for the long haul, which is up 5 per cent on last year. All told, 1.3 million sick days were taken for reasons relating to stress and mental health over the past four years, including 312,000 in 2016-17.

Numbers like that will come as a surprise only to people who have no experience of living with and/or around members of the teaching profession.

As someone who has that experience, I can testify that the average figure of a 55-hour working week for classroom teachers, 60 hours for school leaders, actually looks to be a little on the low side.

Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not knock off at 3.30, or shortly after whenever the gates at their particular schools shut. Nor do they start a few minutes before they open.

They spend many hours before and after their pupils have left engaged in meticulous and detailed lesson-planning, form-filling, data collection, marking, assessments and dealing with whatever crap Whitehall mandarins dream up to dangle under the nose of the latest Education Secretary so they can make it look like they’re doing their jobs before they knock off early.

Thanks to the desperate desire of a succession of Education Secretaries – from both major parties I’m sorry to say – to be seen as “reforming” and “dedicated to improving standards”, today’s children undergo a blizzard of assessments.

Schools frequently have one or another of their teachers spending half their time not teaching but collating and processing data. Every child is transformed into a mass of data points with a granularity that would surprise all but the most diligent of forensic accountants.

And those holidays that radio talk show hosts and callers find so bothersome? They’re mythical. No teacher I know gets anything like the 13 weeks per year during which schools don’t hold lessons. They’d never get everything done if they took all that time off.

All this comes on top of, you know, attempting to educate classes full of 30 kids or more, which is a challenge most Britons would find quite beyond them. I know I would. I know most cabinet ministers would, although I’d dearly love to see Boris Johnson trying to keep control of a class full of stroppy 15-year-olds at an inner city comp. It might inject a much needed dose of humility into the corpulent buffoon that masquerades as Britain’s Foreign Secretary.

Now imagine trying to teach a class of 30 kids when you’re knackered, having spent half the previous night filling in forms. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. More to the point, it’s not good for our children. It really isn’t.

I don’t know about you, but as a parent I want my kids’ teachers to be relaxed and rested when they hit the classroom because that’s when people typically do their best work.

I’m not against pushing people to give their best, and I’m not against high expectations, and I’m not even against a bit of stress, which can help guard against complacency and keep everyone’s eyes on the ball. But what we have now is people trying to do a demanding job under a pressure that has become so extreme it is driving them off a cliff.

This is not the first such set of data highlighting the issue. Stories like this periodically pop up and when they do, people go to the Department for Education for comment, which inevitably responds by ignoring the problem and saying something like “teaching is a great job and we’re hiring more teachers than ever”. The latter of course is because it is losing more teachers than ever.

The system is already creaking. Unfortunately, it might have to break before anything really changes and sadly a lot of people will get broken in the process. Our children will also pay a heavy price.


A citizen reply to a defender of the status quo in American schools

E. Scott Cracraft is a professor of history and social sciences at the New Hampshire Community College at Laconia.  He is a defender of American public schools and a critic of school reform.  His views are here

Scott Cracraft is no voice of reason in the debate that surrounds education. (That is) my first reaction after reading his commentary. His fiery rhetoric represents exactly what's wrong in society today. An opposing opinion isn't just a different view. It is a cause to suit up in full armor holding an axe.

It's no mystery why students act out defiantly and dangerously when others with a different view speak on campus. Last year, at Middlebury college a fist-throwing brawl erupted when an unwanted speaker took the podium. Several people required hospitalization including a professor. Intolerance and disrespect for opposing opinion is being taught on campus by teachers like Scott Cracraft. You can feel the pulse of this hate by simply reading Scott's commentary. It transcends intolerance immediately into bullying, outrage.

The person with the opposing view must be bad, mean, and a lower-class being. Scott's commentary was a full-throated, personal, axe wielding attack on those who disagree with him. This is the only method of engagement Scott Cracraft understands concerning opposing logic. That he is allowed to continually scream his public dividing, hate-spreading, divisiveness without being silenced by his superiors reveals the depth of the dysfunction in education top to bottom. It exposes the solidarity of the wall of obstruction in education to change. Change desperately needed to address what has been a thirty-year trail of failure by any macro measure as it concerns both the quality and price of education across America in all parts of it.

Education in America is under full, frontal attack with more than good reason. The in-your-face refusal by Scott and his peers to raise the quality of their product, and stop the cost spiral has brought "competition" to public education like it has never seen since its founding. The belligerent, bullying refusal to fix education by those running it has forced the public to embrace what I call the "work around." New Hampshire just passed education choice. Parents can now remove their kids from public schools. They can send them anywhere they believe their children can access a better education using public money. The less wealthy now access the same opportunities as the financially well heeled always have had. I cheer the equality! Charter schools, private schools, vouchers and alternatives to public schools are flourishing everywhere with good reason. Tens of millions of parents demand a far better product than public education often provides. Surely so in thousands of inner city schools in every big city in America.

Education's poor performance is not lack of money. Every study ever conducted reveals America spends more per student than any other country on earth while getting the most average results. We pay for a BMW education. We get a VW Beetle from Scott Cracraft and his peers, if we are lucky. Often we are not lucky. Education lacks a structure of compliance and accountability that assures both cost and quality will be achieved.

There is no commitment to academic excellence or cost control. In fact it's just the reverse. The first, and only concern of teacher unions is job security, increased wages and avoiding accountability. It has been that way since Eve bit the apple. Try telling a teachers' union we are only going to pay for success. They will laugh you silly. Their laughter has resulted in head-on competition for themselves. When teaching finally becomes about the kids' bests interests first, not teachers' best interests, it will be the best day for kids in America since the ink dried on the Constitution.

When education finally becomes a business, operated like one, with the same dedication to excellence in terms of best product for the best price will be the day competition with public education can stop. We will then — and only then — get the quality of product taxpayers want, pay for and kids must have to compete in the global economic world of today.


The hatred of selective government schools never stops

Instead of seeing such schools as a way to give bright kids from poor backgrounds the sort of education that private schools give, they are seen as offensive to the insane Leftist goal of "equality".  So reasons will always be found to downgrade them.  Report below from Australia

Education Minister Rob Stokes says opening up selective schools to local students would create a more equitable education system, as the NSW Department of Education reviews the decades-old system for teaching the state's brightest students.

Mr Stokes said the selective system should not "create a rigid, separated public education system".

"While recognising that selective schools have a history and are popular, is it correct that local kids must walk past a local public selective school that is closed to them?" he said.

"We need to have public schools that are inclusive of everyone rather than deliberately separate children on the basis that some are gifted and talented and others are not.

"There may be merit in opening up selective schools to local enrolments and providing more local opportunities to selective classes in comprehensive schools."

It is understood the idea involves introducing comprehensive streams to selective schools.

It comes as the department continues a wide-ranging review of its gifted and talented policy for NSW public schools, including an overhaul of the entry test for selective schools amid concerns that wealthy families are able to game the system by engaging expensive tutoring services.

NSW currently has 19 fully selective and 29 partially selective schools, the most of any state, and the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) shows that the state's top-performing selective schools such as James Ruse, Baulkham Hills and North Sydney Boys are significantly more advantaged than exclusive private schools such as The King's School and Knox Grammar.

ICSEA scores are used by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to assess the socio-educational background of a school's student cohort based on geographical location and parental education and occupation, with a higher score indicating a higher level of advantage.

The median ICSEA score in NSW is 1000.

James Ruse has an ICSEA score of 1240 and North Sydney Boys has a score of 1210, compared with King's score of 1160, and Knox's score of 1178.

Additionally, selective schools consistently outperform private and comprehensive schools in the Higher School Certificate, and comprised nine out of the top 10 schools by performance in last year's exams, including the privately selective Sydney Grammar.

Professor of education at the University of Sydney, Anthony Welch, said that a local intake to selective schools could ensure they better reflect the wider population.

"What we know about those schools is that they're increasingly selective not merely in academic terms but in social terms too," Professor Welch said. "Having a wider intake and more mixed classes would improve equity."

Professor Welch said selective schools also impact nearby comprehensive schools.  "They cream off all the high-achieving kids from the whole area, so the impact on neighbouring schools is quite the opposite," he said.

Mother-of-two Licia Heath, from Sydney's east, said having two selective schools, Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls, in the area has contributed to overcrowding at her local comprehensive school, Rose Bay Secondary College, which had 1132 students in 2017.

"We think the school's going to be in absolutely dire straits," said Ms Heath, who is a spokeswoman for the Community for Local Options for Secondary Education (CLOSE), which is calling for a new comprehensive co-educational high school for the area.

Ms Heath said she'd be happy to send her sons Jude and Leo Jungwirth, aged 9 and 6, respectively, to Sydney Boys if it was opened to local students. "I've had a look at the academic requirements and possibly one of our sons would get into it, but we want them to be at the same school," she said.

Labor's spokesman for education Jihad Dib said that he supports opening up selective schools but is also pushing for more selective streams in comprehensive schools. "Opening up selective schools to students who are otherwise excluded will ensure they've got the opportunity to go to a high-performing school," Mr Dib said.

"But what I'd really like to see are selective streams in every school so kids who want a selective school education can go to their local school."


Monday, January 15, 2018

Campuses Going Nuts: Why Civility and Truth Matter

How do you talk with someone who thinks talking itself is an attack? That’s a question that Americans need to ask of our institutions of higher learning.

One great way to worsen our already gaping political divisions is to engage in what Internet chatroom denizens call “nutpicking.” That is, the deliberate search for the “nuts” on either side of the political aisle to use as unflattering representations of opponents.

It should go without saying that nutpicking is unfair and dishonest. After all, we Christians don’t like it when those in the media portray Westboro Baptist members as typical churchgoers. Picking out “nuts” only reinforces false prejudices and makes us less likely to give those we disagree with a fair hearing.

But when it comes to many American college campuses, the nuts seem so plentiful, you practically need a bushel basket—even in the heartland. And they’re peddling ideas that directly contradict what education itself should be.

Take an example: the two professors from the University of Northern Iowa, who recently published an article attacking what they dub “whiteness-informed civility.” These professors claim that civility, as practiced and expected in American higher education, is “a racialized, rather than universal, norm,” and it represents a form of white privilege that “functions to erase racial identity” and exclude people of color.

In other words, treating others with decency and common courtesy is racist. To quote the inimitable Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.

Steve Salerno points out in the Wall Street Journal that this type of nuttery has become all-too-common, especially in the world of collegiate debate. Not just the rules of decorum, but the requirements that students use evidence and reason are increasingly coming “under siege as manifestations of white patriarchal thinking.”

He tells of a formal academic debate final at Towson University in 2014 in which students ignored the resolution on foreign policy to instead give a profanity-laden rant about racism in American society—and they won. Others have won by disregarding time limits, or even challenging the “format, goals and ground rules of debate itself…”

Now, lest we inflame our nut allergies, it’s important to note that a number of influential voices on the left are—thankfully—calling out this silliness. Writing in the New York Times, Frank Bruni, who is no one’s conservative and openly identifies as gay, urged “soul-searching” from his fellow liberals on this issue of civility:

“We’re in a dangerous place,” he wrote, “when it comes to how we view, treat and talk about people we disagree with.” “Madonna fantasizes about blowing up the White House, Kathy Griffin displays a likeness of Trump’s severed head”—and so-called “protests” at UC Berkeley, Evergreen State and Middlebury colleges erupt into violence and property destruction. Over and over during the last two years, places dedicated to civil debate and discourse have transformed into virtual bonfires.

Just last month, Bruni bemoaned an opinion piece that ran in Texas State University’s main newspaper, in which a student wrote to white people, “I hate you … you shouldn’t exist.”

“What has happened to our discourse,” Bruni asks, “and how do we make necessary progress—when hate is answered by hate, prejudice by prejudice, extremism begets extremism and ostensible liberalism practices illiberalism?”

These are all very fair questions. And the answer is clear: We can’t. And things will only get worse and our political divides only deepen until we learn to speak with each other again.

This means that Christians must give up our favorite partisan hobbies, especially nutpicking. It means committing to see those around us as fellow creations of God in need of reconciliation and restoration, not as enemy combatants. And it means that we must never stop proclaiming the truth and getting better ourselves at making the case for that which is true, good and beautiful.

And we ourselves have to demonstrate civility, the willingness to talk instead of fight, even if our ideological opponents disagree.


Swarthmore College Offers ‘Queering the Bible’ Course with ‘Trans Readings of Scripture’/b>

An elite liberal arts college is offering a class called “Queering the Bible” for the 2018 fall semester, in which it promises to “destabilize long held assumptions” about what the Bible says about gender.

According to the course description published in the Swarthmore College Catalog, the course will survey “queer and trans* readings of biblical texts,” while introducing students to “the complexity of constructions of sex, gender, and identity in one of the most influential literary works produced in ancient times.”

The one-credit course, taught by Dr. Gwynn Kessler, who has a PhD in Rabbinics from Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, promises to employ “the methods of queer and trans* theoretical approaches” to Bible reading, by which it will destabilize “long held assumptions about what the bible—and religion—says about gender and sexuality.”

Dr. Kessler says that her work “is situated within, and suffused with, postmodern, feminist, and queer theoretical approaches.”

On announcing the hiring of Dr. Kessler in 2009, Swarthmore said she would teach courses “on GLBTQ Jews and Judaism” and “a seminar on biblical and rabbinic constructions of God’s gender.”

Kessler’s marriage to Tamara Ruth Cohen in 2004 merited an announcement in the New York Times section on weddings and celebrations.

Along with “Queering the Bible,” Swarthmore’s religion department also offers “Queering God: Feminist and Queer Theology,” a course that “examines feminist and queer writings about God, explores the tensions between feminist and queer theology, and seeks to stretch the limits of gendering-and sexing-the divine.”

“If we can point out places in traditional writings where God is nurturing, forgiving, and loving,” the course description asks, “does that mean that God is feminine, or female?”

The Quaker-founded Swarthmore College, located outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, consistently receives top rankings across many indicators of excellence, according to the ever-attentive writers at The College Fix.

According to U.S. News and World Report, tuition and fees at Swarthmore run to $50,822 per year and only 13 percent of applicants are accepted.


Fixated with Finland

Comment from Australia

It may be a new year, but we’re still stuck with the old myth that Finland is an education utopia Australia must emulate.

Pasi Sahlberg from Finland, who has joined the new Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW, argued this week that his country’s school system has a lot to teach Australia. Basically, according to Sahlberg, Finland has more student play time and less standardised testing.

It is true Finland consistently outperformed Australia on all the international standardised tests in 2016, and of course we should be willing to learn lessons from the top-performing countries.

But Finland’s international test results have declined in recent years, and — as Steven Schwartz has pointed out — there are many reasons why Finland’s school system would be difficult, if not impossible, to emulate here. For example, Finland has little cultural or racial diversity, and has a much lower immigration rate than Australia.

Finnish is also a much simpler language than English, which means learning early literacy skills is relatively easier, boosting school results in later years.

Other countries like Singapore, which is the top-performing country in literacy and numeracy — not to mention collaborative problem-solving — potentially have many lessons to offer Australia as well.

Analysing high-achieving school systems is useful, but it is a fantasy to suggest Finland is the epitome of good education. This is part of a much broader myth that the Nordic countries are socialist paradises (ignoring the fact that most socialists wouldn’t be happy with Finland’s corporate tax rate of only 20%).

In any case, is more play time and less testing the key to boosting Australia’s school results?

No evidence has been presented to suggest Australian kids don’t have enough play time at school — recess and lunch are actually quite common practices in our schools, and there isn’t exactly a dearth of sports options for students.

And blaming NAPLAN for the lack of improvement in Australian schools is like blaming the thermometer for the fact that it was 42 degrees in Sydney last Sunday. NAPLAN identifies problems; it doesn’t solve them by itself.

Finally, it’s interesting that we’re told we should be like Finland and have fewer standardised tests, on the basis that Finland’s school system performs well — which, ironically, we only know because Finland performs well on international standardised tests.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

In British education, the central issue is class, not ethnicity

Kenan Malik below has a point -- that there are class and national differences between brown people too -- but his desire to avoid mentioning the white working class will go nowhere.  It's a very large elephant in the room

The arguments about white culture are dangerous because they legitimise racist attitudes and ignore social marginalisation

The white working class. It’s a phrase that has become so commonplace that few recognise the sheer oddness, and indeed odiousness, of the concept. It denotes both pity and contempt. On the one hand, it is a description of the “left behind”, sections of the population that have lost out through globalisation and deindustrialisation. On the other, it is shorthand for the uneducated and the bigoted, people who support Donald Trump or Brexit, and are hostile to immigration and foreigners.

The discussion reveals how differently we imagine white and non-white populations. Whites are seen as divided by class, non-whites as belonging to classless communities. It’s a perspective that ignores social divisions within minority groups while also racialising class distinctions.

All this can be seen in the debate that has sprung from an interview Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, gave to the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson last week. Rayner, writes Nelson, believes that “focusing on ethnic minorities and women’s agendas … has had a ‘negative impact’ for white working-class boys ... Culturally, we are not telling them that they need to learn and they need to aspire.”

The statistics seem to bear out Rayner’s argument. With the exception of Roma and Traveller children, white working-class boys perform the worst of any group in British schools. A multitude of organisations from the Centre Forum to the Sutton Trust have raised the alarm. We have, however, been here before. Before the panic about white working-class boys was the panic about black boys. “Available evidence suggests that the inequalities of attainment for African-Caribbean pupils become progressively greater as they move through the school system,” observed a 2000 Ofsted report, Mapping Race, Class and Gender. The reason for the failure of black boys was seen as a combination of a black culture that discouraged aspiration and a school system that did the same. Many prominent figures, including Trevor Phillips, who became head of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003, called for black boys to be educated in separate schools.

Then, as now, the picture was more complicated than the debate suggested. Black pupils were not alone in performing badly, nor did they all perform badly. Three ethnic groups lagged behind – African-Caribbeans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Three groups fared better than the average – Chinese, Indians and Africans. The differences were not simply ethnic. African-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants to Britain have come largely from working class and peasant backgrounds. Indians, Chinese and Africans tend to be more middle class.

Racism undoubtedly played a part in the poor performance of children from certain minority groups. So did class differences. So fixated, however, were academics and policymakers by ethnic categories, that they largely ignored the latter. The 2000 Ofsted report, for instance, demonstrated that the impact of social class on school performance was more than twice as great as that of ethnicity. Yet, it disregarded its own data and focused on the problems posed by ethnic differences.

Class differences persist. In secondary schools, children of Bangladeshi and Caribbean background are three times as likely to be receiving free school meals (a proxy for social disadvantage) as Indian and Chinese pupils, and twice as likely as white ones. The performance of disadvantaged minority pupils has, however, over the past two decades, improved dramatically. That of working-class white children, and especially of boys, has stagnated.

The reasons, again, are complex. Successive governments have given priority to raising the standards of London schools which, in the 1990s, were among the worst in the country. Minority groups are disproportionately concentrated in the capital. White children in London perform better than the national average. But the relative neglect of schools outside London has had a greater impact on disadvantaged white pupils.

Growing marginalisation has shaped the way that working-class children look upon themselves and are looked upon by teachers and others in authority. Where once labour movements could bring down governments, today the working class has become largely an object of contempt and derision – “chavs”. Social organisations that once gave working-class lives identity, solidarity, and dignity, have disappeared. The kinds of dislocation and marginalisation that have long affected black pupils now affect white pupils, too.

Yet, the debate about the white working class, far from seeing these common threads, poses the problem as a zero-sum game. It pitches the interests of working-class whites against those of minority ethnic groups and imagines that too great a focus on black and Asian children has undermined white working-class culture.

The arguments about white culture are dangerous. They legitimise racist attitudes – “our country is being swamped by other cultures”. At the same time, it is but a short step from claiming that working-class whites have lost their culture to insisting that they are disadvantaged because of their cultural deficiencies. The demonisation of working-class whites as racist shows how easily that step is made. If we are serious about tackling the problems facing both working-class whites and minority groups, it is time we started thinking of the relationship between race and class in a different way.


Religious Liberty in Public Schools: You're More Free Than You Thought

The increasing secularization of American culture owes its origins, in large part, to the sterilization of religious speech, prayer and opinions in public schools. Due to legal intimidation, schools and students have been made to believe that their prayers or religious opinions are “unconstitutional.”

Yet such claims not only violate the Constitution, which ensures religious freedom, but make a mockery of the great pain and suffering by which our country came to be. The Pilgrims, at the peril of their own lives, came not in search of gold, but rather in search of religious freedom.

This month, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA) made available a set of guidelines that answer 26 common questions about religious freedom in public schools. Some of the questions involve student-led prayer, religious jewelry and the religious rights of teachers and administrators. The guidelines answer such questions as, “Can students pray during lunch or recess?” “Can students wear religious clothing or jewelry?” and “Can public schools recognize Easter and Christmas?”

Clarifying some of the misunderstandings of religious expression rights, the guidelines show that students can pray during non-instructional time, such as before school or during lunch. Teachers can also pray during these non-instructional times and are free to discuss religion with students, outside of class, to the same extent that they would discuss any other concept, topic or idea. The key factor here is that the prayers and religious discussions take place during “non-instructional time.”

Additionally, students are permitted to wear religious clothing, jewelry and symbols (such as a rosary) because these items are considered an exercise of private (and protected) speech. The guidelines state: “Because schools are prohibited from discriminating against religious expression … a school may not regulate religious items or clothing any differently than it does other student clothing.”

Unfortunately, many public schools have stopped celebrating Christmas and Easter for fear of legal issues. However, the guidelines reveal that a public school can have Christmas and Easter music, art and dramatic performances if the intention is to teach students culture and history, rather than to single out, proselytize or promote a religion.

Other important facts mentioned in the guidelines include the following:

Students can freely share their faith with others and distribute religious materials on the same basis as non-religious materials.

Truly student-led, student-initiated prayers and private religious expression must be allowed at graduation ceremonies, and students may include religious content in their speeches.

Students can participate in religious clubs on the same basis as other clubs.

Schools cannot treat religious speech or activities differently than other activities.

Congressman Johnson and Attorney General Landry plan to send these guidelines to all school superintendents in Louisiana, so that their public school leadership can understand the religious rights of both the students and administrators. Attorney General Landry states, “Many people have unfortunately been misled into believing schools must be religion-free zones. The truth is our First Amendment rights are not surrendered at the schoolhouse door.”

In fact, the first sentence of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As Johnson states, “Religious liberty is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights and the next generation of Americans needs to be encouraged to preserve it.”

Louisiana’s set of guidelines will not only educate Louisiana schools about the religious rights of their students, but will hopefully serve as a model for other states desiring to understand the constitutionally protected religious rights of their students, teachers and administrators.


How the American Education System Suppresses Critical Thinking

One mother in a popular magazine once told a reporter about what she thought was happening in the schools. “It’s the brightest, the best and the most sensitive who are at risk,” she said. “We’re losing them, and we don’t know why.” Well, dear mother, you are wrong. We do know why. It’s because the children are bright and sensitive and the best! Social planners have no tolerance for such students, because they may revolt against an establishment that’s out to control them.

During my 18 years in public and private schools, I had never felt that I had enough good teachers. Only a few stand out as defenders of clear thinking. The majority, on the other hand, were intellectual robots who expected me to accept biased information, fed by rote and unprocessed critically. If I ever dared to challenge them, they would shoot me down with righteous and noisy disapproval before disgracefully dismissing me.

In an article entitled, “Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials,” the author, Adam MacLeod, an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law, summarized his observation of his students. “For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.”

It saddens me to agree with Professor MacLeod. It is very rare to find a student with a fresh point of view, derived from clear thinking, secured in place by sound knowledge. Too many of them utter popular catchphrases that lack in-depth understanding of the subject. Their minds float around in orbit on some stratospheric level, which is only casually connected to reality. Educators have carefully achieved this by systematically stripping students of their adventurous appetite for knowledge and loading them down with fake information. The good students, those striving for high-level professional careers, often end up like those in Professor MacLeod’s class—with limited knowledge and weak reasoning skills. Since both are needed for survival in the business world, any attempt to smother a student’s fire within for knowledge (as I identify it in my book of the same name) is, in my opinion, the act of an evil person out to cripple autonomous man.

How did our country slip so fast, so innocently (it seems) to this state, from a powerful nation with a great educational system to what we know today? Here are a few examples of how it was done during my teaching days in the public schools:

    Promoting students who haven’t first mastered primary skills;

    Deluding the value of important subjects that sharpen thinking skills and deepen understanding (like math, science, history, logic, and language);

    Rewarding students indiscriminately not by ability or achievement, but by race, gender, color or background;

    Teaching reading by the look-say, not the phonic method;

    Grouping students in a class heterogeneously, not homogeneously in order to make it harder for teachers to teach;

    Reducing learning to the common denominator with special-needs students as the benchmark;

    Favoring indoctrination and rote learning to the Socratic approach to teaching;

    Coddling students and stroking their self-esteem while ignoring their education;

    And giving students the power to compromise teachers who dare to challenge them.

The responsibility for this type of educational practice isn’t just limited to educators. Our U.S. presidents are also active contributors to the problems in education. Each one generously does this by setting the tone for education, when elected into office, by the programs he expects the Department of Education to implement. Lloyd Bentsen IV, senior research fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, in his report last year, identified in his report four federal education reform initiatives that have failed after billions of dollars were irresponsibly pumped into the school system.

    Goals 2000 (under Bill Clinton’s Administration): This program supported a framework for identifying academic standards for measuring student progress and for providing students with the support needed to meet these standards. Results: “Mandates hidden in the small print caused many states to scrap the program.”

    No Child Left Behind (under George Bush’s Administration): The primary goal of this program was to boost test scores. Results: “Education was damaged as students were coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum to prepare them for life in the 21st century.”

    Race to the Top (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program provided “robust plans to address four key areas of K-12 education reform.” Results: “By 2012, states were largely behind schedule in meeting goals for improving instruction and school and educational outcomes. Many states experienced substantial setbacks due to unrealistic promises and unexpected challenges.”

    Common Core (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program set standards for what students should learn on each grade level. Results: There is a backlash and a withdrawal of support because of the “growing concerns over the program, such as the cost and classroom time consumed by state tests.”

Although these costly programs all sounded noble in theory, each one, when implemented, brought some degree of instability to the teaching process. In each case, success was hindered by a lack of intelligent planning. To compound failure, many seasoned teachers, aware of the outcome, based on their experience, treated the programs for what they were—fads without any serious long-term educational value.

For many of them, they saw these programs as an irresponsible way to add another layer of confusion to the educational process. I once called government education a multi-billion-dollar racket. In truth, it is more than that. It has become a propaganda machine used by the establishment to strengthen its political base with the next generation of voters. By weakening learning with unsuitable programs and creating academic chaos in the process, it has widened the opportunity for teachers who may have a particular political bent to indoctrinate students without accountability and prepare their students for a new world order.

What do we do to bring this all to a halt? The answer is simple. We must free education of government intervention and give parents the autonomy to choose the type of education that best suits their child’s needs.