Friday, February 22, 2019

Federal Early Childhood Education, Care Don’t Benefit Kids. Here Are the Facts

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled Tuesday a proposal to subsidize universal early education and child care through federal subsidies.

According to The Huffington Post, “no family would have to spend more than 7 percent of its household income on child care, no matter the number of kids.” Providers would have to meet safety and curriculum standards, and the proposal would be financed through a “tax on wealth.”

But the fact is that a new large-scale federal subsidy day care is unlikely to improve educational outcomes for children. It will cost billions—according to one estimate, $700 billion over 10 years for the Warren plan—and furthermore, it may not reflect the preferences of families when it comes to their children’s care in their formative years.

Although the Warren plan talks about day care subsidies rather than “preschool” subsidies, the reference to “curriculum standards” suggests the effort will be about more than child care for parents.

Warren’s plan reportedly calls for “requiring child care providers that receive federal funds [to] meet standards similar to those that now apply to Head Start.”

Well, Head Start is far from a success story when it comes to participant outcomes.

The Department of Health and Human Services released the scientifically rigorous Head Start Impact Study in 2012, which tracked 5,000 3- and 4-year-old children through the end of third grade. The results? Head Start had little to no impact on the parenting practices or the cognitive, social-emotional, and health outcomes of participants. Notably, on a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on participating children.

Taxpayers have spent nearly $200 billion on Head Start since its inception in 1965. Yet, as the federal evaluation found, by the time the children finished third grade, there was no difference between those who attended Head Start and the control group of their peers who did not.

At the state level, proponents of government-funded early education and care programs have long held up Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program as a model state-based preschool program. They note the fact that the child-adult ratio is limited to 10-to-1, teachers must be licensed, and a structured “age appropriate” curriculum must be used in classrooms.

But a randomized control trial evaluation conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University reported no significant differences between the control group and the preschool group on any achievement measures by the end of kindergarten.

Government-funded preschool advocates also tend to draw on one of two studies that found benefits of preschool attendance. One is the Perry Preschool Project (conducted in 1962) and the other is the Abecedarian Preschool Study (conducted in 1972).

But there are significant issues with these two examples.

First, no study has replicated the findings of these two.

Second, these programs had small sample sizes (just 58 children were in the experiment group in the Perry project), and the programs were comprehensive, boutique programs that included social and nutritional programs and parent counseling.

These two half-century-old programs look quite different from current programs and proposals. Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution sums up looking to the Perry Preschool Project as instructive today this way, noting that the findings:

demonstrate the likely return on investment of widely deployed state pre-K programs for 4-year-olds in the 21st century to about the same degree that the svelte TV spokesperson providing a testimonial for Weight Watchers demonstrates the expected impact of joining a diet plan.

In addition to the lack of educational impacts and the cost to taxpayers, it’s also unclear whether parents want this federal “solution.”

For instance, a 2012 Pew Research Center study found that two-thirds of moms want to work part time or stay at home, not work full time. Among moms who currently work full time, over half would rather work part time or not at all.

Already, low-income families have access to the federal Head Start program for childcare—a program that should be reformed, at the very least, to allow participants to attend a private provider of choice.

Creating another benefit for universal child care merely establishes a new federal subsidy for middle-class and upper-income families.

At the same time, an expansion of federal early education and care is more likely to create new problems of its own, rather than address these deeper social issues, such as the crisis of unwed parenting.

Finally, as my former Heritage Foundation colleague Salim Furth and I explained in a 2016 paper, additional federal subsidies for early childhood education introduce a large distortion into the market and must be funded by higher tax rates.

Ultimately, a universal early education and care program is unlikely to boost educational outcomes, may not reflect the preferences of families, and will cost taxpayers billions over time. This is the wrong way to help America’s kids.


Stop Upper Arlington’s Discrimination Against Christian Schools

Citizens for Community Values filed a friend-of-the-court brief today with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to consider the Tree of Life Christian Schools v City of Upper Arlington case.

The “amicus brief” was written by W. Stuart Dornette and Phillip Williamson of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and asks the court to consider the case because since Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) nearly 20 years ago, courts have continued to undermine the purpose of the law, leading to many Christian ministries and schools to face unlawful discrimination:

“Suspicious that the actual text of the statute is too generous to religious land uses, the courts have added new language to the statute,” writes Dornette and Williamson. “The majority of courts have intentionally narrowed RLUIPA’s protections, despite Congress’s express mandate to construe RLUIPA ‘in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter and the Constitution.’”

In Tree of Life Christian Schools v City of Upper Arlington, the city is blocking Tree of Life from moving into the property the school has owned on Henderson Road in Upper Arlington since 2010 because the city claims that, as a nonprofit school, Tree of Life won’t generate the income tax revenue the city had planned to receive from that property.

“Upper Arlington’s actions are nothing less than discrimination,” said Aaron Baer, President of Citizens for Community Values. “The idea that a city could block a private organization from using their property in a lawful manner, merely because the city wants to milk more money out of the land, is terrifying and un-American. The Supreme Court must take up this case to end this injustice.”

CCV filed the brief with the U.S. Supreme Court after launching the Ohio Christian Education Network in 2018. Now 26 schools strong, the Ohio Christian Education Network advocates for the religious freedom rights of Christian schools throughout the Buckeye state.

If Upper Arlington is allowed to prevail in this case, there is little to stop other municipalities from using the same rationale to punish or eliminate these Christian schools, or other religious ministries.

Tree of Life is being represented by the premier First Amendment defense organization in the nation, Alliance Defending Freedom.

As Ohio’s Family Policy Council, Citizens for Community Values seeks the good of our neighbors throughout Ohio by advocating for public policy that reflects the truth of the Gospel. We endeavor to create an Ohio where God’s blessings of life, family, and religious freedom are treasured, respected, and protected.


Australian schools get pass mark from public...but plenty of suggestions for improvement
Most Australians don’t see their schools as being ‘in crisis’ or ‘failing’, which is often reported, but more attention should be given to developing students’ life skills in the classroom, according to findings in a new national survey by Monash University.

Despite ongoing media and political discussions of failing schools, crises in teacher quality and classroom behaviour, as well as controversy over initiatives such as the ‘Safe Schools’ Program, Australians are largely positive about the level of education provided to their children.

But many adults believe students should be taught ‘life skills’ as part of the curriculum. This includes knowledge in money management, job preparation, first-aid training and critical thinking, such as recognising fraudulent content online.

These were just some of the findings captured by Dr Deana Leahy and Professor Neil Selwyn from Monash University’s Faculty of Education in a nation-wide survey of 2052 Australian adults to gauge public opinion on the quality of schooling.

Published 21 February 2019, the report titled: ‘Public opinions on Australian schools & schooling’ is one of the first national accounts into public opinions of the state of classroom education.

The key findings of the report include:

·       56% of Australians rate the performance of Australian public schools as OK; 23% rate them as very good / excellent.

·       52% of Australians think the standard of education will remain the same in 10 years’ time.

·       An overwhelming number of Australians believe Mathematics (76%) and English (75%) should be given more priority in schools. Languages (7%) and The Arts (4%) were least valued.

·       The most important aspects of schools to a child’s education included: basic literacy and numeracy (69.8%), students being respectful to teachers and peers (54.6%) and teachers being of high quality (54.5%).

Dr Leahy said surprisingly few differences were found between voters of the main political parties, suggesting that politicians, policymakers and governments should collaborate to deliver the best possible student outcomes.

“While debates on education are understandably contentious and personal, our findings suggest that we can all be a little more positive in the overall quality of schooling Australia provides,” Dr Leahy said.

In a ringing endorsement of schools by younger Australians, 86% of people between the ages of 18-29 believed learning outcomes would stay either ‘roughly the same’ or be ‘better than they are now’ in the next 10 years.

But community views differed when it came to identifying the most important issues of children’s education, with the fundamentals of respect and honesty being at the top of the list for older Australians.

“Levels of concern for students being respectful to teachers and peers is almost double amongst respondents in the 60+ years’ age group (72.4%) in comparison to those aged 18-29 years (38.9%). Discrepancies were also found between the two age cohorts when it came to the importance of literacy and numeracy, as well as teacher quality,” Dr Leahy said.

The traditional subjects of mathematics and English were still regarded as priority learning areas across the board, but science (46.2%) and health and physical education (19.2%) were seen as less important.

Adults widely supported the introduction of ‘life skills’ as part of the school curriculum with a particular focus on money and money management, job preparation and domestic tasks, as well as dedicated courses to equip students with skills in technology, coding and artificial intelligence for future jobs.

Media release via email:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Home Is Where the Classroom Is...
Eighty percent of the Anaheim school district may be Spanish-speaking, but parents know how to say one thing, “Enough!” When classrooms started passing off transgender propaganda as part the “wellness” curriculum, one mom made sure every Latino family knew exactly what the district was up to. Pretty soon, the message from moms and dads needed no translation: drop your campaign — or spend the next year fighting the community.

It started harmlessly enough. A year and a half ago, district officials sent word home that two elementary students were “transitioning” to another gender. They said they wanted the kids to feel safe. What they didn’t say is that they were forking over $12,000 to the LGBT Center of Orange County to start a quiet campaign of transgender “accepting” across Anaheim’s elementary schools. Shandra, a local mom and trained social worker, realized the district was trying to take advantage of the situation and slip controversial new programs into classrooms without translating them into Spanish for parents to see.

Well, if Anaheim wouldn’t tell moms and dads what was happening, Shandra would. She organized a parents coalition and told them about the schools’ “safe zones,” required reading like “Jacob’s New Dress,” and some of the advice from the schools’ “LGBT Coordinator.” Like, for instance, “If a child is struggling with their gender identity, don’t tell the parents.” It didn’t take long before schools were flooded with complaints. In the end, there was such fierce uproar that the district threw up its hands and relented. Diversity Week was canceled, and other activities would be under review.

For Shandra and moms and dads across the district, it was a huge victory. But for parents across the country, it’s another head-shaking reminder of the kinds of outrageous campaigns taking place right under families’ noses. Is it any wonder that homeschooling is exploding? According to a new report, the percent of American students learning at home has almost doubled from 1999 — up to 3.3 percent in 2016 from 1.7. But here’s the interesting part. The biggest jump isn’t in religious homes — but secular ones. Today’s homeschooling parents, the Pacific Standard points out, “aren’t the Christian Right.” They’re also “parents who don’t believe that the current school model is best, or enough, for their children.”

In fact, the share of parents who say they’re homeschooling for “religious or moral reasons” is half of what it was in 2003. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The most important reason for homeschooling in 2016 was ‘concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,’ reported by 34 percent of parents of homeschooled students.”

If you want to know how popular homeschooling is, just look at how desperately some liberals are trying to regulate it. Public schools are, after all, the Left’s direct pipeline to American kids. It’s the one place where they’ve had almost unlimited access to the next generation for their extreme LGBT, environmental, anti-faith agenda. Now that more moms and dads have caught on, the other side is doing everything it can to keep its tentacles around our young people.

In places like California and Maryland, lawmakers have tried to police homeschooling families out of existence with ridiculous ideas like twice-annual home inspections or “fire” safety checks. Over in Iowa, State Rep. Mary Mascher (D) just introduced House File 272, which would mandate health visits — another stunt meant to spook parents out of home-educating. “There are constant attempts by school districts all over the country to require things of homeschool students and parents that are not required by law,” Steven Craig Policastro told the Christian Post. Our friends at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) keep tabs on a lot of the under-the-radar attacks in states. If you homeschool or have friends and family who do, make sure you check out HSLDA to get plugged in on legislation that affects you. Obviously, parents and community leaders need to be on their toes for Big Government liberals, who are worried they’re losing their grip on your children. The more moms and dads who get involved like Shandra, the sooner we can turn around this false notion that government knows better than parents!


England’s school system is in crisis – could Labour’s National Education Service be the solution?

Probably not.  More political interference is the last thing the schools need

England’s education system is reaching crisis point. A major problem is the teacher shortage – as schools struggle to recruit and retain staff. Maybe this isn’t surprising, though, given a recent survey found that many state school teachers say much of their work is meaningless – reduced to being merely about capturing metrics rather than real learning.

Teachers in England’s schools are under enormous pressure to get good test results for the all-important league tables. This has led to a widespread “teach to the test” culture. There is also growing evidence of “dodgy practices” in admissions – all in a bid to boost rankings. One way this happens is by informal or managed exclusions of poorly performing pupils – who are often children with special educational needs.

This competitiveness, which permeates much of the system, is also having a negative impact on pupils. Mental health problems affect about one in ten children – and partly to blame are the marathon of tests they have endured from a young age. Children in England are among the most tested and least happy in the world.

Educational inequality is chronic in the UK. And the combination of high-stakes testing and selective schooling makes matters worse. The effect of social class is most prominent at the age of 11 when grammar schools get the opportunity to select pupils – most of whom have had access to private tuition. It’s no accident, then, that high-performing selective schools continue to be dominated by the wealthiest pupils.

With so much competition between schools, you might expect there to be choice – but it seems choice depends on the depth of your pocket. Consider, for example, the price tag of £204,000 in basic fees alone for a five year education at Eton – this, the top school in the UK, is only a choice for the most affluent parents of 13 year olds.

Issues beyond the school gates

The state of higher education no better. With funding slashed, more than 40% of total university finance now comes from student fees. And with tuition fees being among the highest in the world, students are forced to take student loans carrying exorbitant interest rates of between 3.3% and 6.3%. Though these do not necessarily have the same impact on students from wealthier families who can pay off the debt immediately if they want.

Universities are now offering more places and increasingly more unconditional offers to students in a bid to lessen their own serious financial struggles – which has tended to turn students into customers. And, as the labour market prospects for young people diminish, universities are marketing themselves as the most attractive in terms of “employability”. With this has come claims that grade inflation is rife and that too many students are being awarded top grades.

Academics are also struggling. Primarily to blame are increased workloads, many academics in higher and further education work on average more than two unpaid days each week – working unpaid weekends and evenings and missing out on holiday to get the job done. Academics are also more easily dispensable than ever before, with cheaper replacements – such as hourly paid postgrads desperate for a foot in the door.

A National Education Service

Previous attempts to address the emerging crisis have actually created more competition — as was the case with previous education secretary Michael Gove, who reloaded a distinctly neoliberal rather than progressive education policy agenda.

There has never been a revolution of the whole education system in England, but this is the ambition for Jeremy Corbyn’s National Education Service (NES), that would mirror the NHS. The idea is to radically change the structure and ethos of education – which is currently stratified and differentiated mainly by social class – by creating a new system that is universal and free at every level: “cradle-to-grave”. Labour also pledges to introduce free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees.


Australia: Protesting kids ‘should be at school’

So far Question Time has progressed much as you would expect, with Labor asking about Michaelia Cash and Mathias Cormann, and pressuring the government to schedule more parliamentary sitting weeks.

One of the more interesting exchanges has come from Greens MP Adam Bandt and, of all people, Nationals leader Michael McCormack.

“Will you join me in congratulating the courageous school students going on strike on March 15, right around the country, calling for urgent climate action and the protection of Australia’s infrastructure?” Mr Bandt asked.

“Will you commend these young people and the 15,000 who went on strike last November, for taking time off school to show us what real leadership looks like?”

In short, no, Mr McCormack would not commend them.

“The children should be at school, that’s where they should be,” he said.

“They should be learning about Australian history, they should be learning about Australian geography, they should be learning about all the lessons that their teachers are willing to teach them.

“The member for Melbourne would do far better off advising those children to go to school and to stay at school.

“Who’s going to look after those kids when they’re out protesting? I know the Greens like to protest, because that’s all you ever bring to the national debate, protests and frivolous rallies.”

Mr Bandt eventually interrupted with a point of order.

“On relevance, perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister might also like to explain what the children should do with the science they’ve learned,” he said.

“Points of order aren't an opportunity to ask a supplementary question,” Speaker Tony Smith said, promptly shutting him down.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Can ‘privilege’ schools help the public good? Our history says yes

Privilege, whether associated with individuals or groups, is a popular topic now, and the word has taken on a new negative connotation. The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the video of Covington Catholic High School students interacting with Native Americans after the March for Life launched many discussions about privilege in connection with private high schools and colleges.

Societies grant privilege to individuals, either by custom or law, because society recognizes the benefits accruing to the general welfare when a privilege is extended to certain individuals in specific circumstances. For example, in the United States there is a privilege of privacy surrounding communication between spouses, between patients and physicians, between attorneys and clients, and between penitents and confessors. This privilege holds even against claims of urgent public necessity. The penitent may voluntarily confess to the police what he has told his priest, but unless the penitent waives his privilege, the priest must stay silent. Individuals benefit from such privilege, and so does our society at large.

But when we read about students enjoying privilege, usually in reference to their education at private high schools and colleges, some questions arise. If this is privilege, is it opposed to the public good or in furtherance of it?

The education of youth has long been recognized as in the public interest, irrespective of the personal benefits that the child or her future children may derive. Statesmen from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan have noted the importance of literacy and education to the functioning of democracy.

Our nation has long been committed to taxpayer-supported education. There is ample evidence that its results vary significantly across school districts and states. That is a serious problem for our democracy and a vast impediment to economic mobility. But our public good—our general level of literacy or educational achievement—would in no way benefit from eliminating our nation’s private high schools, colleges and universities. The frequent references to such institutions as “elite,” though intended to be pejorative, affirms their quality.

Private educational institutions have long been held to be in the public interest. Two centuries ago, the Supreme Court affirmed in Dartmouth College v. Woodward the right of individuals to associate themselves by forming private educational entities and to appoint trustees who own and direct the school. The court also acknowledged the public benefits accruing from an institution devoted to “the promotion of religion and education.” The court went further: “These eleemosynary institutions do not fill the place which would otherwise be occupied by government, but that which would otherwise be vacant.... They are donations to education, donations which any government must be disposed rather to encourage than to discountenance.”

Many of the institutions today considered to constitute “privilege,” among them Harvard, Princeton and Georgetown universities, were originally formed primarily to educate future clergy. Others were established to provide education to those excluded from mainstream or public schools—such as Native Americans (Dartmouth College), blacks (Oberlin College, Howard University), Catholics (St. Louis and Villanova universities), Jews (Yeshiva University) and women (Vassar College, Bryn Mawr College).

We might well hope that today the best private institutions are available to academically qualified students irrespective of their families’ financial condition. To that end, a growing number of private schools and colleges are substantially reducing or eliminating tuition and fees for students with limited financial means. This ensures that people of all social and economic backgrounds can, in their adult years, exercise a strong influence on our public policy choices, thus strengthening our democracy. To deliver that financial aid, private schools and colleges rely upon philanthropy from alumni and others. This, too, is consistent with the social principle of subsidiarity. Let every such student access the social and economic uplift often associated with graduation from these institutions. Today thousands of students from low-income families benefit from attending such schools.

Martin Luther King Jr. benefited from his matriculation at private Morehouse College, Crozier Theological Seminary and Boston University, which had its origins as Newbury Biblical Institute in 1839. His mother had acquired an excellent education at Spelman College, which was financially supported by the Rockefeller family. Booker T. Washington enjoyed the benefits of graduating from the philanthropist-supported Hampton Institute. W. E. B. Du Bois learned from his time at Fisk University, the founders of which were sponsored by the American Missionary Association. He went on to earn a Ph.D. degree from Harvard.

Condoleezza Rice attended St. Mary’s Academy, a private school founded by Catholic Sisters of Loretto in 1864. Madeleine Albright attended Wellesley College on scholarship. Sonia Sotomayor graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx and went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton. Barack Obama attended Punahou Academy, founded by missionaries in 1841, which he describes in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance as a “prestigious prep school” and “an incubator of island elites,” before attending Occidental University, which “filled me with the idea that my voice could make a difference.” Today the former president is funding the Obama Scholars Program at Occidental, completing that pattern of alumni giving back to help others.

Individuals no doubt benefit from the privilege of private schools. As these examples demonstrate, so does our nation.


What to do about Britain’s private school "problem"?

Amusing:  The author below, Miranda Green, is herself a product of a privileged education. The private schools can even capture their critics!  She offers only vague criticisms

Two books tackle the segregation of pupils at a young age — and its consequences

In 1948 George Orwell, the old Etonian socialist visionary, wrote that his alma mater represented “a form of education that is hardly likely to last much longer”. The UK’s private schools had at the time managed to swerve out of the line of fire of the great postwar social reformers. And having survived all major interferences from the state since its foundation in 1440, Eton College and the rest of the fee-paying sector have continued to prosper pretty much undisturbed to this day. It is now an internationally attractive service industry offering a golden ticket to a valuable university degree and a rewarding career to a fraction of British youth and the offspring of high-rollers from across the globe.

"Engines of Privilege" is a fresh dissection of what its authors deem “Britain’s private school problem”. But in this richly detailed account of Britain’s educational castes, insistent in its calls for change, the historian David Kynaston and education economist Francis Green lapse into a contagious weariness — why are we still discussing such egregious inequities when they might have been dealt with any number of times?

Partly, as the authors admit, this is because these enclaves for the affluent, attended by the children of only about 7 per cent of UK families, are a different, luxurious planet, far removed from the state sector experience of most British families. Their very otherness has allowed the gulf between how different parts of society are educated to endure and even deepen. But the persistent gross over-representation of privately educated pupils at top universities and in the professions makes the success of these institutions far from irrelevant in their effects on the rest of the nation.

It wasn’t always this way. As both Engines of Privilege and another new book on the top tier of private schools, "Gilded Youth" by James Brooke-Smith, explain, the origins of England’s famous boys’ “public schools” was as charitable foundations set up to educate the poor of their locality. As they became destinations for first young aristocrats and then the moneyed middle classes, eager for grandeur by association, the pursuit of learning fell back to a distant second place — the main objective was to turn out a certain type of gentleman, fit to conquer and administer an empire.

Sadism and conformity became the norm, only to give way, patchily, to the muscular Christianity that fetishised sport and “manliness”. The obsession with character and masculine virtue took over, as Brooke-Smith explains in his entertaining and rather racy history of subversiveness at the great public schools, after a rash of rioting and pitched battles in the late 1700s.

The details are glorious and told with relish; this book dwells on the “privations and idiosyncrasies” of public schools as stimulants to rebellion through the ages. At Marlborough they burnt the headmaster’s manuscript on Sophocles. At Winchester they took the warden hostage and flew the Phrygian cap, symbol of liberty, from the school roof. The rebels at Harrow nailed a copy of the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man to the noticeboard. At Eton they took a sledgehammer to the desk of “Flogger” Keate, a particularly unpleasant headmaster, and daubed Floreat Seditio (rather than Floreat Etona, the school motto) on the walls.

Ironically, the ringleaders often went on to high office, notes Brooke-Smith. These destinations were guaranteed even once the relative anarchy of this era gave way to “the Victorian mania for surveillance and control”. After the government-inspired Clarendon Commission had, in the 1860s, examined the role of the nine “great” public schools, their position and future was secured, as was that of several hundred endowed schools, which have ever since provided the next rungs down on the ladder of reputation and expense.

Green and Kynaston lament this and many subsequent lost opportunities for reform, speculating that they failed because so many of the public schools enjoyed — as they do to this day — loyalty in useful places. The sector also proved brilliantly adaptable to evolving aspirational tastes: both their public image and the reality on the ground went from “cruel, repressive, reactionary and generally antediluvian”, with “cleverness” positively frowned on, to “modern, caring, cultured and socially liberal — while at the same time, disciplined and ambitious”.

Where Brooke-Smith confines his study to investigating the “hex” that public schools cast over individuals, society and even popular culture, "Engines of Privilege" concludes with lengthy policy prescriptions. We can expect the manifesto-writers at the next general election to pass magpie-like over these chapters in search of eye-catching symbolic proposals. But the authors want more — action to break down the social strata laid down over centuries of segregated schooling: “It is surely time for the waves — of discussion, of regret, of outrage — to start pounding relentlessly . . . on Britain’s deeply embedded rocks.”

Many readers do not see private schools as a problem and will quarrel with the premise. Plenty remain enthralled by what Brooke-Smith calls their “mystique,” and there is no dearth of parents who want to buy the positional advantage they confer on pupils. I was bemused by my private school but it certainly has not hurt my career.

Others admire a model that, at its best (and most expensive), offers sports and arts facilities of a professional quality alongside specialist academic teaching to university standard — this is, after all, a successful export, with over a third of all private boarding school places now taken up by non-UK students. On the left, the bias is still towards building up state schools in the hope of marginalising the independent sector. Outright abolition comes up, as the authors admit, against freedom of choice.

But ignoring the distorting effects of such a socially selective elite looks increasingly perverse. The “profound and systemic unevenness of the great British playing field” as Green and Kynaston describe it, may not enhance the nation’s post-Brexit future.

Even if the ideas for rolling the pitch in "Engines of Privilege" vary in their political usefulness, the appeal to act is heartfelt. As the conclusion to such exhaustive histories of these peculiar institutions and their evolutionary genius, it’s a persuasive case.


Australia: Leftist fanatic victimizes kids he is supposed to be teaching

A teacher at one of Australia's most prestigious schools ripped up drawings made by his Year 4 students during a lesson on Aboriginal history.

The Knox Grammar School teacher was giving his nine-year-old students a drama lesson when he asked them to draw their background, heritage and families.

Once completed, he then collected the works and proceeded to tear them up in front of the class.

His aim was to put his students in the shoes of indigenous Australians, claiming they felt the same way when everything was taken from them, The Australian reported.

A spokesman for the well-regarded school, which charges students up to $45,000 a year, said they did not support the teacher's actions.

'When the school became aware of the matter, it was immediately investigated. The teacher was extensively counselled and disciplined. The teacher has apologised to the students.

The spokesman went on to say Knox supports the teaching of indigenous culture and heritage, and will continue to delve into these matters in the classroom.

The manner in which this is undertaken, however, will be further examined.

The school said they will continue to strive for these sensitive subjected to be explored in an appropriate manner.  

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes also weighed in on the matter, stating he believed the school handled the situation correctly.

'Those sorts of things are clearly not age-appropriate and can be very distressing for young kids,' he said.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A racist duchess

She is probably just being politically correct but her view that people should be judged by their race is undoubtedly racist

Different people have different abilities and members of different races have different abilities.  Blacks have a major presence in two major sectors of the economy: Sport and Entertainment.  Should we therefore have policies designed to get more whites into those sectors?  Should it be a law that at least 80% of the players in a football team must be whites? If not, why not? And if such policies would be wrong in sport, why are such policies right in academe?  Let people be judged by how good they are at what they do rather than their race

The Duchess of Sussex has shown her support for a campaign by black academics and students that aims to 'decolonise' university curriculum in the UK, it has emerged.

It is the 37-year-old's first apparently political intervention since she became part of the Royal Family, marrying Prince Harry last May.

The movement aims to 'confront the legacies of the empire' and racism on campuses and promotes black and female thinkers instead of 'male, pale and stale' ones.

It has now emerged that, during her January visit at City, University of London, in Islington Meghan encouraged scholars to 'open up the conversation' about curriculum in our universities and also reacted with shock at figures showing the misrepresentation of ethnicity in professor positions in universities.

The campaign she is backing has been a controversial movement since students took to the streets of Oxford in 2016 in an effort to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th Century colonialist and slave owner, removed from one of Oxford University's colleges.

It followed a similar #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, which succeeded in having a statue of Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town.

In January, in her new role as Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) international organisation, the duchess expressed her surprise at the shockingly low figures of diversity in UK professors.

Upon being handed a sheet of data showing that UK professors are overwhelmingly white men, the duchess reportedly said: 'Oh my God.'

Dr Rachel Cowan, who supports ethnic minority and female staff at Manchester University, said: 'She was really surprised, she was like 'oh my god, really, we need to get a photograph of this'.'

The duchess also reportedly turned to her private secretary Amy Pickering and asked her to take a picture of the data relating to 2016-17.

Meghan said universities should 'open a debate' in a bid to avoid 'continuing with the daily rote' because 'sometimes that approach can be really antiquated and needs an update.'

Research from Advance HE revealed 68% of UK professors were white males, 23% white female, 6.5% black and minority ethnic (BME) male and 2% BME female.

Meera Sabaratnam, leading the working party to decolonise the curriculum at SOAS, University of London and whose data inspired Meghan's 'Oh my God' comment, agreed that 'change is long overdue'.

She told The Sunday Times: 'Many of the issues around racial equality are similar and it is great to see her embrace this. Change is long overdue.'

The reaction of the duchess to the lack of diversity among scholars may be due in part to her upbringing and her 'impactful' and 'pivotal' experience in university in the US.

African-American authors are widely studied in US universities and statistics on the ethnic profiles of students and staff are published on university websites.

Meera Sabaratnam said US universities have 'a legacy of affirmative action.'

Meghan graduated from Northwestern University, Illinois, with a joint Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and international relations in 2003.

In October, the duchess was praised for giving a 'powerful' speech on feminism and women's suffrage in New Zealand on 125th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote in the country.

In her last display of political concern, Meghan spoke about economic and social development and the rights of women in developing countries.

She said: 'Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education they want, but more importantly the education they have the right to receive.

'And for women and girls in developing countries, this is vital.

'Providing them with access to education is the key to economic and social development.'


The rebirth of racial stereotypes in Britain

The campaign to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ is demeaning to ethnic-minority students.

Student campaigns to ‘decolonise’ higher education started to take off almost five years ago. Even back then, there was very little that was truly radical about them. From UCL’s ‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ project to the international ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, the rallying cry of ‘decolonise’ allowed privileged students to tilt at an entirely fictitious notion of universities as the last bastions of empire.

In reality, rather than providing a safe space for elbow-patched professors desperately clinging on to patriarchal, whites-only reading lists, universities were already busy internationalising and diversifying the curriculum. Academics unable or unwilling to defend a disciplinary canon were quite happy to point to inclusivity as the determiner of course content. Far from threatening the foundations of the university, protesting students pushed at an open door and inside found a seat at the departmental table.

So perhaps it is no surprise that the Office for Students, the national regulatory body for higher education, has commissioned and published research urging academics to consider how they ‘draw on “non-western” and non-white forms of knowledge’ in teaching. Lecturers are encouraged to ask themselves: ‘Are our curricular practices dominated by Eurocentric voices? How can we decolonise our teaching and learning practices so that we recognise and respect other voices?’ An example of an ‘inclusive intervention’ that can be used to target students from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds is ‘a review of a curriculum to specifically include black-Caribbean authors’.

What is remarkable about this guidance is just how old hat it is. The push to discover forgotten women authors and include them on reading lists took off decades ago. Universities have been internationalising the curriculum for several years. Not only are diverse reading lists often insisted upon, but some universities attach the proviso that all names be written out in full so that women can be clearly identified. On some courses, new modules covering issues of race and identity have been drawn up and new, more inclusive exam questions have been written.

Certainly, university lecturers and schoolteachers should keep under review what gets taught. Just because a particular book or author has had a place on a reading list for the past quarter of a century doesn’t mean it automatically deserves a place for the next 25 years. But the movement to decolonise education goes further than just calling for a review of course content. In promoting the notion that irredeemably racist universities play out a legacy of colonialism and can only be saved through the widespread adoption of simplistic solutions, the decolonise movement does more harm than good. It creates problems that should trouble anyone concerned not just with higher education, but with racial equality, too.

Too often, the decolonise movement draws upon patronising and racist stereotypes about black students. Kingston University changed its geography course on rural Britain following concern that it ‘normalised white experiences’. It was assumed that black and ethnic-minority students were less likely to visit the countryside and could therefore struggle ‘to grasp concepts such as the “rural idyll”’. So the course has been redesigned to encompass ‘rural areas globally, with an emphasis on Africa and Asia’. But why should black students struggle with the concept of a ‘rural idyll’ any more than other students? And why should a black kid born and bred in a British city be expected to feel more affinity for rural Africa than the English countryside? New life is being breathed into jaded old stereotypes.

The push to get black-Caribbean authors on to reading lists suggests that the most significant factor about an author is not their contribution to the discipline being studied, but their skin colour. The life and works of Toussaint L’Ouverture and CLR James are well worth studying — but I’m convinced neither man would welcome inclusion in the curriculum simply to fill a quota for black-Caribbeans. For years women and black writers fought against being labelled according to their gender and skin colour and to have their ideas recognised in their own right.

The decolonise movement assumes a key cause of underperformance by black students at university is a result of them not seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum. At Oxford University, history degrees are reported to have moved away from a ‘narrow focus on British and European history’ with a new compulsory module on ‘global history’. This will, apparently, allow students to study ‘black heroes such as Steve Biko, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Stuart Hall’. Robert Gildea, a professor of modern history at Oxford, told The Sunday Times: ‘Black and ethnic-minority students are being encouraged to apply to Oxford with the idea that, once they are here, they will recognise themselves and what interests them in the syllabus. If a student arrived to do a degree that was all about the Anglo-Saxons and the Tudors and Winston Churchill, they might think: what is in this for me?’

This assumes that the whole point of education is a narcissistic focus on the self. But education should take us beyond ourselves, it should open up new horizons and help us learn about the world and other people in it. If we only learn about people who look like us then we risk learning very little. I may be a white woman but I want to read novels by James Baldwin and I want to learn about Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the US Congress and author of the fabulously titled Unbought and Unbossed. By the same token, I want black students to be able to read white novelists and philosophers and, yes, to learn about the Anglo-Saxons and Winston Churchill.

The decolonise movement seeks to challenge racial biases in higher education that have long since been called into question. In constructing a racist academy and then proposing a project of tokenism in order to challenge it, it winds up not only degrading education, but also rehabilitating old stereotypes and prejudices.


School should open children’s minds or provide them with job skills?  There is room for both

Would another radical change to GCSEs and A-Levels benefit pupils in England? Robert Halfon MP, chair of the House of Commons education select committee, thinks so. He has proposed sweeping changes.

He thinks GCSEs should be scrapped and A-levels should be replaced by a mix of academic and vocational subjects. As with every proposed radical education policy, Halfon’s suggestions are unlikely to be taken forward as a whole, but they do raise serious questions about education in the 21st century.

Halfon has criticised GCSEs as ‘pointless’ and warns that skills shortages in the labour market are a consequence. He says the oncoming ‘march of the robots’ could remove a quarter of jobs, and so our education system needs to prepare children for this new reality. Behind his talk of knowledge engagement, providing children with skills for business and industry is Halfon’s real aim.

Haven’t we heard this all before? Successive governments since the Butler Education Act of 1944 have attempted to reform the curriculum to meet the changing needs of industry and the economy – and all have failed. No one knows what the jobs of tomorrow will be, what they will look like, and what specific skills they will require. While it’s important that we do something as educators and a society to equip children for life after school, this is not the answer.

What children need is an engaging curriculum, led by passionate subject specialists, that enables them to think deeply, independently and flexibly. The only way to achieve this is through a traditional education system that promotes knowledge, creativity and gives teachers the space to explore ideas with their pupils.

Our education system should be geared towards equipping children with the best that has been thought and said, so that they may go on to create, adapt, develop and transform the world around them. A focus on skills, acronyms, fads and buzzwords fails to do this. There’s a reason PPE graduates are the most sought after. They have a broad range of knowledge, the ability to think creatively and apply their knowledge to different areas. While not all children can go on to study PPE at Oxbridge, this is still something we can learn from.

The education system needs reform, but it is to the past that we should be looking, not an unknown future. We must equip children with the knowledge to transform the world, not the skills to fit into it.


Monday, February 18, 2019

In Harvard affirmative action case, judge appears skeptical

US District Judge Allison Burroughs appeared skeptical Wednesday that plaintiffs had offered enough proof that Harvard College intentionally discriminated against Asian-American applicants, given that no rejected students testified during a three-week trial.

Burroughs, speaking from the bench during the final oral arguments in the case, said the lack of Asian-American student witnesses was a “problem” in the lawsuit, brought against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions.

In a case that could overturn decades-old law on the use of affirmative action in higher education, Students for Fair Admissions has alleged that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants by giving them lower ratings on personal scores, which are crucial to admissions and measure such qualities as courage and kindness. The organization has argued that Harvard’s use of race to create a diverse undergraduate class hurts Asian-American applicants.

But during the trial, Students for Fair Admissions called no members of the organization to the stand and relied primarily on statistical analysis, its experts, and documents and testimony from Harvard officials.

Previous cases over the past 40 years that have challenged affirmative action in college admissions have traditionally centered around an individual student who was denied a seat on campus. Abigail Fisher, backed by Students for Fair Admissions, challenged the University of Texas system’s admissions policy a few years ago. Allan Bakke went up against the Regents of the University of California in the 1970s. Barbara Grutter sued the University of Michigan and its president more than 15 years ago. All those cases involved white students.

Students for Fair Admissions said its decision not to present student witnesses was based, in part, on its fear that in the current polarized climate they would be harassed. “Somebody would have done something horrible to one of our students,” said Adam Mortara, an attorney for the group.

The judge, who is likely to rule on the case in the coming months, also warned Harvard that it, too, had a weakness in its case.

In particular, Burroughs said, the statistical analysis that showed Harvard gave Asian-American applicants lower personal scores was a problem.

No matter what Burroughs decides, legal and higher education experts have said that they expect the ruling will be appealed and that the fate of the case and of affirmative action could eventually be determined by the Supreme Court.

While this case has focused on Harvard, it could have repercussions throughout higher education, since many elite universities use similar admissions practices to ensure diversity on their campuses.

This case, involving admissions by one of the most selective universities in the world, has drawn widespread attention.

On Wednesday, activists, law students, Asian-American families, and the media spilled into an overflow courtroom.

Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, sat in the audience, as did Edward Blum, the head of Students for Fair Admissions and the chief architect of the case against the university.

The trial has pulled back the curtain on Harvard’s secretive admissions process, revealing sometimes embarrassing details, particularly about the lengths to which it goes in order to cater to well-heeled and well-connected donors.

Harvard’s former president and its admissions gatekeepers were forced to take the stand, detailing how they select 2,000 undergraduates out of more than 40,000 applicants each year.

Harvard officials defended the admissions practices and insisted the university considers hundreds of factors, from grades and extracurriculars to where applicants live and what their parents do for a living.

Race is one of many factors and plays a significant and positive role only when students are on the bubble and officials are trying to figure out whether to admit them, said Seth Waxman, an attorney who represents Harvard.

Harvard has insisted that eliminating the use of race in admissions would create a far less diverse campus and significantly reduce the number of black and Hispanic students admitted every year.

At Harvard, 21 percent of students are Asian, nearly 12 percent are Hispanic, and 8 percent are black; the majority of the campus is white.

Harvard’s attorneys accused Student for Fair Admissions of using laws crafted to curb discrimination and expand opportunities for minorities to instead limit access.

The case relies heavily on dueling statistical analyses of six years of Harvard admissions data.

According to Students for Fair Admissions, only 22 percent of Asian-American applicants on the top 10th of the academic ladder received high personal ratings, compared to about 30 percent of white applicants. Harvard’s top black and Hispanic applicants were even more likely to get high personal ratings.

The organization pointed out that an internal analysis done by Harvard’s staff before the lawsuit was filed also raised questions about whether Asian-Americans were disadvantaged in these ratings.

Mortara said Wednesday that Harvard has failed to explain why Asian-Americans receive these lower scores on personal qualities.

He also pointed out that as the case was being prepared for trial, Harvard for the first time explicitly instructed admissions officials not to use race in the personal ratings. Harvard said the instructions simply formalized existing practice.

Burroughs on Wednesday also indicated she is weighing arguments about whether, in order to prove discrimination, Students for Fair Admissions must show that Harvard acted intentionally and out of some animosity toward Asian-Americans. “I’ll get to work on this,” Burroughs said before ending the session.


UK: Two state Steiner schools face possible closure or takeover

Two Steiner state schools in the west of England face possible closure or takeover after the Department for Education said it intended to cut off their funding later this year.

The trusts running the free schools in Bristol and Frome have been issued termination warning notices by the DfE after the schools were rated as inadequate and placed in special measures by Ofsted.

The inspections published in January reported a long list of serious safeguarding and teaching problems at the two schools, which subscribe to aspects of the unconventional educational philosophy created by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century.

“I am now issuing this termination warning notice because I do not have confidence that the trust is able to rapidly and sustainably improve the academy’s systems of governance and management and educational standards,” Lisa Mannall, the DfE’s regional schools commissioner for the south-west of England, said in the letters.

“I am therefore minded to terminate the funding agreement of the academy and transfer the school to a strong multi-academy trust that can provide the capacity for continued improvement.”

The letters are the latest step in a formal legal process that could result in the Steiner Academy Bristol and the Steiner Academy Frome being closed unless new sponsors can be found to step in and take them over.

Mannall’s letters told the schools that their safeguarding was not effective, with pupils “exposed to avoidable risk of harm”, including unnecessary physical intervention by staff. The Bristol school was told that bullying was “too frequent” and leaders had been too slow to take action.

“Governors have not held senior leaders to account effectively over time. As a result, teaching is weak and pupils are underachieving significantly across the school,” Mannell added.

Joss Hayes, the headteacher of the Steiner Academy Bristol, said: “External partners have already confirmed that safeguarding is effective at the school. We are committed to making improvements and have started implementing a number of new learning programmes.”

Three of the four Steiner state schools that have opened since 2011 have been rated as inadequate, including Bristol, Frome and a third school in Exeter. The Exeter Steiner Academy was sent a termination warning notice by the DfE last month.

The fourth school, in Hereford, was rated good by Ofsted and posted an encouraging performance in last summer’s GCSE exams.

The trusts in Bristol and Frome have until 20 February to persuade the DfE they have made significant improvements.

Roy Douglas, a governor at the Bristol school, said: “Our parents remains unfailingly supportive of our school and its ethos. We intend to challenge the Ofsted judgement in the courts.”

The governors have begun crowdfunding to pay for legal action, and said they had raised £17,000.

After the Ofsted inspections were published, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, said: “Safeguarding our children and young people throughout their education is paramount, regardless of the setting in which they are being taught.”

Campaigners including Humanists UK have called for the schools to be closed, alleging that the Steiner ethos promotes pseudoscience and homeopathy, including cases of hostility towards vaccinations.


Australian teachers to have their university debts waived if they work in remote indigenous communities

To bad if they get assaulted, burgled and raped.  It does happen

Teachers who work in remote indigenous communities will have their university debts waived under a new initiative to be announced today.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will launch a $200 million program to keep indigenous children in school and attract teachers as part of reform to the Closing the Gap process.

The latest report card on Closing the Gap will be made public today and is expected to confirm a decade-long failure in the program, with only two of the seven targets on health, education, employment and life expectancy being met.

Mr Morrison told The Australian he would unveil a new three-tiered education program after recommendations made by Tony Abbott, the government’s envoy on indigenous affairs.

It will include wiping the HECS/HELP debt for 3100 teachers who commit to working for four years in one of 292 remote schools.

Children would also be supported to enter secondary education including through mentoring.

The Closing the Gap report will show that while efforts to get more indigenous children into early education are on track, improvements to life expectancy, infant mortality and employment rates are not.

Mr Morrison will say the targets need to be revised to make states and territories more accountable and give indigenous Australians more say.

“The Closing the Gap targets have been well-intentioned but ‘top down’, so it was always doomed to fail in both its ambitions and also its process,” Mr Morrison will say in a speech today.

“It didn’t genuinely bring on board states and territories in making sure they have accountabilities and sharing the objective and process with indigenous Australians.”

Mr Morrison will say the current method of measuring targets actually masks progress, discouraging further efforts.

For example, child mortality among indigenous Australians has decreased 10 per cent since 2008. But the target is not on track because the non-indigenous figure has declined at a faster rate.

The “refresh” of the Closing the Gap targets, initially set out in 2016, will ask indigenous Australians to develop their own.

The changes will also hold different levels of government to account and include new priorities on housing, employment, family violence and land and water rights.

State governments will be obliged to make annual public statements on the areas they are responsible for, such as health and education.

“Ensuring that the states and territories are a part of this … I think, will significantly improve the process,” Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told ABC radio.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

The long road ahead for Boston’s schools

Every day, miracles are happening in the Boston Public Schools that should be celebrated. Thousands of dedicated teachers, incredible support staff, and talented school leaders pour their hearts and souls into preparing students to succeed. Students from diverse backgrounds, varying home situations, and disparate economic means work to achieve success. Every year, thousands of BPS students and alumni thrive with a strong foundation based in the education they received in our public schools.

We embrace these success stories, but we must also realize that many students are struggling. The Valedictorians Project, published in the Boston Globe Magazine in January, highlighted what data have shown us for years: Even our highest-performing students are not achieving the success for which BPS should have prepared them, and Boston’s schools are failing too many families. We need to improve practice and policy. Let’s get back to work to rewrite this story.

Stop wasting millions of dollars on a bloated bureaucracy in the BPS Central Office. Spend the money where the students are. Invest in real supports in our schools. Shrink class size so children can get the attention they need and explore their curriculum deeply. Stop asking teachers with multiple licenses to pretend they are more than one teacher. Give students the opportunity to study serious content seriously. Add more Advanced Placement and honors classes and allow students to double up on courses to strengthen their transcripts and prepare for college studies. Allow them the opportunity to extend their studies during the summer and create an opportunity for students to add a post-graduate year. Use this year 13 to improve grades, cover additional content, and better prepare students for college.

Make sure schools have full-time nurses, student support services, and libraries that function. We have overworked our teachers and underfunded our nurses.

We don’t provide the full spectrum of enrichments provided by our suburban counterparts for their students. Teach kids math, writing, languages, research, science, and history. And then teach them more of it. Give them a real opportunity to explore the arts. Help them explore vocational and technical education. Give them the tools they need to be successful in life. These are the same skills they need to be successful in college. We need to avoid just dumping curriculum on our kids, but instead make sure they have the tools to explore the content and to experience it.

Stop experimenting with our kids, and allow teachers to teach. We broke up many of our big traditional high schools that were oozing with pride, school spirit, and consistent teachers and staff ,and turned them into “small learning communities” for a few bucks from Bill and Melinda Gates. Take any generous donations and allow our teachers and guidance counselors, who know our kids best, to continue to support them post-graduation. Yes, allow them to hold their students’ hands a little longer.

Hire more guidance counselors who will help kids get into college and then support them into and through those early years when colleges most often fail our kids. We know many hit serious roadblocks in that first year.

Hold the colleges accountable. They need to step up. They are too quick to dump students who don’t make the mark. Even with a full scholarship for Boston’s best and brightest, we know the true cost extends far beyond the tuition bill. Let’s stop pushing our kids to the schools that we know won’t support them.

It is a bold willingness to act by the city, in partnership with the School Committee and BPS, that can make this happen. Our city holds the key to our kids finding the success they deserve. And if we agree change needs to happen, let’s get to it.


UK: A Desolation of Learning

When I was on a teacher training course during the mid 1980s, the education academics running the course were cock-a-hoop that the nasty old O level was about to be consigned to history and replaced by the all inclusive, all embracing GCSE, with its A to G grades, all of which were equally worth having. Some of us were suspicious. The establishment in question being an ancient seat of learning, our tutors were even more concerned to promote their Inner London Education Authority – worshipping political credentials.

Everything was about impressing upon us the importance of getting children working in groups, working in pairs, rearranging the furniture to this end, having lots of talk and movement, yes, noise if necessary. Was this drama for nine year olds? No, we’re talking secondary school English. Was this meant to be a classroom management and teaching style to be tried now and again? No, this was how it should be all the time.

There was to be no whole class teaching (or only in rare circumstances), no expectation that pupils (as they were called back then) should ever work quietly on individual endeavours. This was the era when teachers were starting to be thought of as learning facilitators, libraries became resource centres and child centred learning was the only show in town.  

Sir Chris Woodhead, the scourge of the teaching unions and the educationalist establishment, was a formidable personality throughout the six years up to 2000 that he was HM Chief Inspector of Schools and head of Ofsted. When he died three years ago, national newspapers on both the right and the left paid tribute. The Daily Telegraph obituary highlighted his belief that he was ‘paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency’, his resistance to the orthodoxy that smaller classes automatically led to better results, his unwavering conviction that phonics was the best way to teach reading and his visceral opposition to the control of schools by local authorities.

Even the obituary in The Guardian stated that he “never changed his belief that Labour, in its quest for equality, had betrayed children by denying them what he saw as a given: that children are destined for different things.” His assertion that there were 15000 incompetent teachers and 3000 heads, together with his targeting of methodology and thinking that were sacrosanct in the profession, caused fury within the teaching unions and they never forgave him. Indeed, the NUT campaigned for his removal. This was something that Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to do, to the wrath of his own party’s education establishment, headed up by Roy Hattersley. 

It is approaching the tenth anniversary of Woodhead’s “A Desolation of Learning – Is this The Education Our Children Deserve?” The Conservative Coalition had not yet happened so there are references to Ed Balls as Education Secretary, Michael Gove as the opposition’s spokesman on Education and a section that finds wanting Sir Jim Rose’s Interim review in 2008 of the primary school curriculum. That said, Woodhead’s arguments in a work whose chapters are titled Dumbing Down – the Proof; The Myth of the Knowledge Economy and the Death of Liberal Education; The Flight From Knowledge; The Thought World; and the Failure to Re-invent the Comprehensive School, carry as much weight today as they ever did.

Bear in mind that to attain a good pass now at GCSE in some subjects a mark of about 20 per cent is required. Bear in mind the move in some schools to get rid of intelligent, diagnostic marking and replace with`conferencing’ sessions with children. Bear in mind that many 13 to 16 year olds today cannot read a clock face in the examination hall. Oh and don’t forget that in some parts of the country (according to a 2018 report by the Education Policy Institute), more than three quarters of physics teachers have no relevant degree, let alone one in physics, and in maths some two thirds do not hold a degree for teaching the subject.

Key among Woodhead’s battlegrounds with what Gove would come to describe as “The Blob” is the matter of what it is children need to be taught. He relates the “considerable opposition” from primary school teachers who were antagonised by the idea of having to teach “subjects.”They would, he claims, assert “We teach children, not subjects.’He adds that at secondary school level there is the prevailing sense that if the “wretched curriculum had to be divided up into subjects, then every opportunity should be taken… for the teaching of (cross-curricular) themes and skills.” He observes that one leading emeritus professor of education is uninterested in “intellectual culture”, saying that in “his view, subject disciplines are middle class constructs that working class children find alien.”

Woodhead is clear that what should matter more than children’s enjoyment of learning, “is their actual attainment: what they have mastered.” He deplores the situation where, “knowledge has been marginalised to the point where ignorance is inevitable.”

The teacher as maverick genius is, Woodhead predicts, a thing of the past and we won’t see its like again. He remembers one such headmaster of a prep school that was damned by Ofsted for ignoring “just about every rule in the book and worse still, it was employing traditional teaching methods to achieve dangerously high academic standards.”This “legendary figure in the world of independent education” had an “independence of mind and spirit” and Woodhead states poignantly, “children are increasingly unlikely to be taught by men and women whose maverick genius inspires a real love of learning.”His despair is about a modern lobotomised teaching profession that has been “programmed into a robotic conformity.” Woodhead, it is important to say, does not blame teachers; he says their “promotion depends upon the enthusiasm with which they espouse the latest modern fad.”

Woodhead is clear in his thesis that there is a responsibility to initiate the young into the best that has been thought and written, and that this is not about a “skills-based, socially responsible, politicised curriculum.” This is the “road to freedom” and it goes beyond the utilitarian. He is also clear (and this is true, however much left wing educational orthodoxy refutes it) that not every child is capable of travelling “very far along this road.” He champions the idea of vocational courses and refers to the country’s skills shortages, but he has no truck with “educationalists and politicians, tortured by their egalitarian obsessions, who agonise over ‘parity of esteem.”

It is all about context, as we know if a pipe bursts in the middle of the night. Vocational courses, a good idea for anybody’s children he says, have been “sabotaged by woolly thinking, ministerial gullibility and white collar snobbery.” He is also firm in his conviction that there needs to be a democritisation of education, that state education has to be “less centralist” where schools are allowed “to develop their own particular identity and purpose to compete with one another in the marketplace.”

What comes through powerfully in the book is not simply the lucidity and intellectual force of Woodhead’s arguments, but also the resilience and character of the man who would become a rock climber as well as one able to square up to the damaging group think of pretty much the entire educational establishment.

At his grammar school there were “foul” dinners and several hours of homework a night, and his playing up landed him a few times in the headmaster’s study for the customary corporal punishment. He recalls, however: “I can remember standing in the rain waiting for the bus one November night after a detention thinking that I had one advantage over the teachers who were persecuting me: I was younger than they were, and the odds were they would die first.’’

His passion for his subject, English, is plain and it is significant that the title words “desolation of learning” comes from a poem by Geoffrey Hill, one of his favourite writers. That passion finds expression in another piercing, but this time joyful, recollection of youth, when he first arrived at Bristol University. “I was an 18 year old who wanted to spend three years of his life reading English literature. I had no idea where my studies would lead and I did not care…it was enough…to walk down from Clifton …to the University Library at the top of Park Street and to revel in the fact that there were so many books I had not read.” It  would go on to inform his unshakeable belief that education matters for its own sake.

He despairs of the dismissal by educationalists, employers and politicians as an “elitist and anachronistic embarrassment” the notion that an academic student might read for a degree because they want to study more about a subject they love. The “agenda”, he laments, is about increasing participation, widening access, making courses more relevant to the supposed needs of the economy, in short getting the “walls of the ivory tower torn down.”

His words are clear. “Nobody believes in universities as centres of liberal learning any more.’’ He says that while writing the book he flicked through the latest edition of his old university’s magazine and found it dedicated to “enterprise” and how to spot business opportunities, with articles like “How I Became a Pie Shop Owner”. He is dismayed by the Vice Chancellor’s trite summing up in the mission statement of the institution’s essential purposes as “learning, discovery and enterprise”. In his days as a student, the university did not feel it needed a mission statement “and its Vice Chancellor would not have dreamt of descending to this level of banality.”

Two decades into the twenty first century, it’s becoming clear that a generation of young people have been conned into taking degrees that lead them into £50,000 worth of debt and into jobs for which they don’t need a degree anyway. Vice chancellors, however, have done very well with their packages, thanks very much. Many of us, Woodhead among those with the highest profile, saw this coming and that it would end in tears. This is what happens when you lose sight of what something is actually for: what education is for, what university is for. It is to learn to think for oneself. On which note, it feels right to quote novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, to whom Woodhead refers in his conclusion: “Education is no longer seen as the road to freedom; it is seen as the road to a higher salary.’’

Freedom is the theme of this book, the freedom that education can and should bring: “A liberation from the tyranny of the majority view, a release from the monotony of the quotidian.” Ironic, then, that it was Woodhead’s vocal detractors all along, with all their received wisdom and dogma about “relevance,” “personalisation” and skills over knowledge, that would do most to usher in utilitarianism and conformity. Free speech in the staffroom anyone? Free speech on campus?


Australia: Misreading the data will not help the teachers

Outdated teaching methods based on disproved theories remain widespread despite the abundance of good and easily available information on effective, evidence-based instruction.

The gap between research and practice is an enduring and critical challenge in education — nowhere more so than in how to teach reading. Many children in developed countries with high levels of education spending have low literacy when almost all children can learn with good instruction.

What is preventing the uptake of proven teaching methods in classrooms? The Reading Recovery program gives an almost perfect illustration. It is arguably the most widely used intervention for children who need such support in the early years of school.

Developed in New Zealand by Dame Marie Clay in the 1970s based on her theories about how children learn to read, it is used in thousands of schools around the world. Its advocates are strongly committed to the belief that it helps the children who participate. Its critics say that there is no good evidence that the program works, and its teaching methods do not reflect what we now know about how children learn to read.

In this case, lack of evidence doesn’t mean lack of research. Reading Recovery has been the subject of dozens of studies over several decades.

Much of the research is low quality in terms of evidence standards. But some recent research is more rigorous, including longitudinal studies published in Australia, the US and England in recent years.

A large Australian study published by the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation in 2016 involved more than 20,000 students. It found that children who had participated in Reading Recovery in Year 1 performed worse on the Year 3 NAPLAN reading assessment than a matched sample of students who had not participated in the program. That’s right. Worse.

After up to 20 weeks of daily one-to-one 30-minute lessons with highly trained teachers, these children ended up with lower reading ability than peers who had similar reading ability at the start of the study.

As a result, after years of ignoring researchers in Australia and New Zealand who had been loudly and unswervingly warning that Reading Recovery was not effective for most students, the NSW government finally stopped providing dedicated funding for it.

Nevertheless, despite some of the clearest findings in educational research, public and non-government schools around Australia have continued to fund the program from discretionary budgets. They are convinced that it works, and any new piece of research that appears to confirm that belief is seized upon.

New findings published in Britain last year would appear to vindicate the loyalty of Reading Recovery acolytes. In reality, however, it only proves the lengths that Reading Recovery supporters will go to in order to defend it, even to the extent of obfuscating data.

The latest UK Every Child a Reader study, conducted by academics from University College London and funded and published by the KPMG Foundation, was launched with great fanfare at the House of Lords in December. The report claims to show that Reading Recovery in Year 1 was responsible for high scores in the General Certificate of School Education 10 years later.

The KPMG Foundation commissioned an economic analysis which estimated a £1.2 billion ($2.2bn) boost to the economy if all struggling readers were given Reading Recovery.

However, closer scrutiny of the latest report revealed a methodological mystery — a group of students present in the five-year follow-up study published in 2012 were missing from the 10-year study. The missing children comprised an entire group of more than 50 students (about 20 per cent of the sample) who had formed a second comparison group in the original study and in the
five-year follow-up. The omission of this second comparison group is neither acknowledged nor explained in the 10-year study report.

Why is this a big deal? Because the data from the missing second comparison group completely undermines the conclusions drawn in the published report.

To explain: In the original study, there were three groups of students. Two groups of students came from a set of Reading Recovery schools. Some of the students in the Reading Recovery schools did Reading Recovery in Year 1 (RR group) and some did not do Reading Recovery (RRC). A comparison group of students was drawn from a set of non-Reading Recovery schools (CC).

In the five-year follow-up study, the three groups were compared on their results in the Key Stage 2 (KS2) curriculum tests, taken in Year 6 of primary school. There was no statistically significant difference in the KS2 scores of the two groups of children in Reading Recovery schools (RR and RRC). Both of these groups had significantly higher KS2 scores than children in the non-Reading Recovery schools (CC).

That is, in Year 6, the children in Reading Recovery schools outperformed the comparison students irrespective of whether they actually participated in Reading Recovery.

This indicates that any advantage of the students in Reading Recovery schools was not attributable to participation in Reading Recovery — it must have been due to something else about those students, those schools, or both. In the published version of the 10-year follow-up study, only two groups are compared — the students who did Reading Recovery (RR) and the comparison group from non-Reading Recovery schools (CC).

The students in Reading Recovery schools who did not do Reading Recovery (RRC) are omitted. The RR group had markedly higher GCSE results than the CC group, allowing the authors to conclude that “the positive effect of Reading Recovery on qualifications at age 16 is marked in this study and suggests a sustained intervention effect.”

Having remembered that the five-year study was much less straightforward and conclusive, I wrote to the lead author of the study — Jane Hurry — and asked about the missing group. The professor replied with the explanation that she had written two versions of the 10-year follow-up study, one that included the second comparison group results and one that excluded them. KPMG Foundation chose to publish the latter.

Hurry readily provided me with the copy of the alternative unpublished version of the 10-year follow-up report. It shows that there was no difference in GCSE scores between students in the set of Reading Recovery schools who had done Reading Recovery and those that had not (the missing RRC group). Both of these groups had significantly higher scores than the children in comparison schools.

Again, this means that the higher GCSE scores of children in the set of Reading Recovery schools was not due to participation in Reading Recovery. Children from the same schools who had not done Reading Recovery had performed just as well.

Tolerance for poor evidence standards in education is not a victimless crime. The total cost of implementing ineffective reading programs is much larger than the budget allocated to teacher training and teacher time.

There are enormous and tragic opportunity costs for the children involved, with profound impacts on their educational achievement and wellbeing.