Friday, September 11, 2015

UK: Summer-born children MUST be allowed to delay starting school, says minister in attack on councils' treatment of parents

Summer-born children must be allowed to delay starting school for a year without having to catch up later, the government has announced.

In a victory for campaigners who accused councils of over-riding the wishes of parents, schools minister Nick Gibb vowed to rewrite the rules to make clear that youngsters must be allowed to join reception classes even after they turn five.

He also insisted that headteachers cannot force a child to miss a year of school later to catch up with the year group they should have joined.

Legally children must be in school from the term after their fifth birthday. However, the vast majority start in reception class in the September after they turn four.

Most cope well with the demands of school life, but some parents of young children born in the summer feel they are not ready to start lessons in some cases just weeks after turning four.

Officially, a summer-born child is defined as someone born between April 1 and August 31.

The government changed the rules last year to make it clear that decisions had to be taken in the best interests of the child.

Parents had the right to request that their child delay starting school by a year, and if it was rejected councils had to make clear why.

However, there have been repeated complaints that requests were still being rejected by councils.

And those who were successful found their child was then forced to start in year one - missing the reception year entirely when most children first learn to read, write and add up.

Mr Gibb told MPs that he was 'concerned' about the number of cases in which children were being admitted to year 1 'against their parents’ wishes and are, as a consequence, missing out on that important reception year at school'.

He added: 'I am also concerned that some children who are admitted outside of their normal year group are later expected to miss a year and move up against their wishes to join the other children of the same age range.'

Councils are supposed to allow parents to do this, but many are denying them the right.

In some cases, they are forcing children who delayed their entry to go into year one – with the older children they would have been with anyway – rather than into reception class.

Mr Gibb announced that the admissions code will be rewritten again to make clear that children can join reception classes after turning five if that is what their parents want.

The child would then stay with the same year group throughout their school life, and would not be forced to miss a year later.

A consultation will be launched later and parliament will have to approve the changes, but Mr Gibb put councils on notice that they should do more to observe the wishes of parents immediately.

Speaking in a debate in Parliament late last night, Mr Gibb said: 'Admission authorities may have been reluctant to agree to parental requests because they felt it would open the floodgates...and that, as a consequence, the admission system would become impossible to manage. 'I do not believe this to be true.'

He added: 'The reception year of school is the final part of the early years foundation stage, and we know that most parents are happy for their child to go to school at this point, confident that they are ready for the challenge.

'We believe that only a small proportion of parents of summer-born children wish them to be admitted to reception at the age of five - for example, children born in the late summer months or born prematurely.'

The government will also examine whether the rules should be changed to take into account severely premature children.

It follows concern that children born weeks before their due date are not ready to join school aged four.

Tory MP Stephen Hammond called for the due date, rather than the birth date, of premature children to be used in the definition or interpretation of compulsory school age.

He told the Commons: 'It is well documented that summer-born children can suffer from long-term development issues and a lag in educational standards.

'A study from last year showed that at the end of their first year children defined as summer-born were at a significant disadvantage in comparison with older children.

'The study shows that two thirds of those born between May and August fail to meet minimum expected standards in reading, writing, speaking, maths and other development skills, compared with slightly less than a third for those born between September and December.'


Feds Spend Millions to Increase Participation in School Nutrition Programs: Giving Vegetables ‘Cool Names’ Can Help

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday that the federal government is giving $8 million in grants to selected public schools and daycare centers across the country to train school nutrition employees and to develop ways to get more children to participate, which could including giving vegetables “cool names.”

“Sometimes by naming the particular vegetables with cool names you can actually encourage young people to participate and take more of carrots than they would otherwise take, if you tell them that it’s X-Ray carrots that they’ll have X-Ray vision by eating carrots,” Vilsack said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Vilsack announced that $8 million in grants is being given to selected schools and daycare centers in the United States, with $2.4 million going to train food service workers and $5.6 million to come up with ways to market the food to the children in those schools.

“It may be the way in which [food] is displayed,” Vilsack said of the latter funding. “It may be who is serving it.

“There may be opportunities for contests and so forth that can encourage more participation,” Vilsack said.

In a press release announcing the grants the agency explained how it planned to encourage participation in its school and daycare breakfast and lunch and “summer feeding” programs, including using “principles from behavioral economics to encourage health choices” and “interactive nutrition education activities.”

As for the training of employees who work in school or daycare kitchens, in July the federal regulation on the hiring, training and education of food service workers was finalized as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, putting in place national standards for these workers.

The act also put in place national standards for nutrition in public schools and daycare centers that receive federal funding across the country.

Tuesday’s press conference is the latest in a series of recent appearances by Vilsack to urge Congress to reauthorize the Act, which expires on Sept. 30.

"For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years,” Vilsack said in a press release issued on the grant funding. “Nearly all schools are successfully meeting the standards, and these grants part of our ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources they need.”

Vilsack said criticism of the law – too much waste, excessive cost and low participation – is not sufficient reason to oppose reauthorization and that “now is not the time to roll back these standards. Now is the time for continued forward movement” on national standards for nutrition and food service workers.


Education Department Harms Innocent Colleges and Students through Illegal Title IX Mandates

The Education Department, where I used to work, is becoming more and more extreme in how it interprets and applies federal law. Sometimes this comes at the expense of colleges: as a task force of college presidents recently noted in a report to the U.S. Senate, the Education Department frequently makes up new legal mandates out of thin air under the bogus pretense that they are required by some statute, and then imposes them on colleges, without even going through the notice and comment required by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Sometimes, its overreaching comes at the expense of individual people. The Education Department has thumbed its nose at court rulings by creating entitlements for people who make false discrimination and harassment complaints—even though such baseless complaints can make life miserable for the victims of such false allegations (and cause serious problems for the institution they work for or attend).

Federal judges have ruled that people who lie and file sexual harassment charges over conduct they falsely claim was unwelcome can be disciplined, in cases such as Vasconcelos v. Meese (1990). But in a recent Title IX investigation of Michigan State University, the Education Department required university officials to offer “remedies” to “Student A,” whom both it and the University found had made a false allegation of sexual assault against two students.

The Education Department’s strange logic was that the university did not begin proceedings against the accused students fast enough (even though it immediately kicked them out of their dorm and ordered them to stay away from the accuser).

But the university’s brief delay in investigating was not because it was indifferent to sexual abuse. Instead, it was due to the fact that the complainant decided not to file formal college charges against the accused (the criminal justice system found her complaint so unsupported by evidence that the accused were never charged, and she declined to pursue formal charges at the college level). It is absurd to demand swift college prosecution of innocent people when the accuser herself does not demand it.

The accused students, whose lives were transformed for the worse by the charges, were innocent, under the Education Department’s own admission. The university investigator ultimately found their conduct was welcome, and thus not sexual harassment or assault. Moreover, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) itself noted in pages 30-31 of its investigative report that “OCR’s review of the investigator’s report and his supporting documentation led OCR to conclude that the preponderance of the evidence did not support a finding that Student A was subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct that created a sexually hostile environment.”

Yet, the Education Department argued that the college should “remedy” the imaginary harm caused by its failure not to process her false complaint faster. On pages 40-41 of its report, it mandated that “under the terms of” its agreement with the university, the university will contact Student A and “offer” her “remedies to address any harm incurred as a result of the University’s delay in processing [her] complaints,” which might involve things like paying for counseling, providing academic assistance, or letting her retake a class she was enrolled in during that period.

This curious demand by the Education Department raised eyebrows even at left-leaning publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, which noted that “the department’s 42-page letter outlining its findings is an illustration of just how difficult it can be for colleges to comply with the [administration’s] beefed-up interpretation of . . . Title IX.”

As a Chronicle reporter observed, after Student A complained to police and the university hospital of being assaulted, the university took immediate action to protect her, by kicking the accused students out of her dorm the very next day, moving them “into a different dormitory,” and by “telling them to avoid social gatherings and not to contact Student A.” 

Such actions against people accused of harassment or assault are known as an “interim measure,” since they are temporary measures imposed on people even before they are found guilty, and even though they later may be found innocent. Such measures can raise serious due-process issues when they last for a long time; are based on very dubious charges; or inflict serious financial or educational harm on the accused. Yet the Education Department has told some colleges to impose such measures as a matter of course whenever assault or harassment are alleged.

The university did not ignore any complaint from the accuser. Indeed, as the Chronicle noted, Student A herself did not even “file a sexual-harassment complaint with the university”:

Days after Student A reported the assault, the county prosecutor’s office announced it would not press charges against the accused students. Student A then told Michigan State she had decided not to file a sexual-harassment complaint with the university, saying she was mainly concerned about running into the men in their residence hall (they’d been reassigned by this point). She got . . . personal-protection orders forbidding the two male students to follow her or to communicate with her, among other things. University staff members met with the male students to make sure they understood what they were allowed to do.

After all that, university officials considered the matter closed.

But when the Office for Civil Rights got wind of media reports about the alleged assault, it reached out to Michigan State and “offered technical assistance.” Soon after, the university began an outside Title IX investigation to determine if the alleged assault had violated its sexual-harassment policies, even though the student had still not filed a formal complaint. . .

The outside investigator finished work at the end of 2010, and determined that there was not enough evidence to suggest the university’s harassment policy had been violated. The Office for Civil Rights agreed, saying in Tuesday’s letter that the investigation was “thorough and adequate” and that evidence did not support the claim that Student A had been subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct.

Since Student A’s complaint was untrue, and the college immediately shielded her from exposure to the accused (protecting her from any potential retaliation), it is hard to fathom what possible harm the Education Department thinks she could she have experienced from the university not investigating her charges faster. Presumably, she would not have benefited from the university deciding even sooner that she was not telling the truth. Indeed, its discovery that her charges were unfounded may have undermined any basis she might otherwise have had for extending the no-contact orders she obtained against the men falsely accused, and for excluding them from shared areas on campus. Indeed, this might have been the very reason she didn’t ask for, and apparently didn’t even want, the formal investigation that the Education Department wanted the college to bring even faster.

In short, contrary to what Education Department suggested in its investigative report, there is no reason to think there was any harm to Student A from the university’s “delay” in formally “processing” her accusation. And there is logically no way to “remedy” a non-existent harm. Yet, its investigative report requires MSU to contact Student A to offer her “remedies” for that “delay.”

Troublingly, this is not the first time that the Education Department required remedies for a student who apparently made a false accusation. In a 2014 letter announcing the results of its investigation of Tufts University, it complained that the university allowed in certain evidence of an accused student’s innocence, leading to Tufts finding him not guilty of sexual assault, rather than excluding it as untimely or inadmissible. For example, it criticized Tufts for “allowing the Accused to submit an Addendum” responding to the charges after the deadline, and letting him show the complainant lied about her medical history, which he obtained by pretending to be a medical student. To resolve the investigation, Tufts had to pay the complainant “monetary compensation,” even though the agency never stated that she was sexually assaulted, and even though it lacked the legal authority to award monetary damages.

The Education Department also found Tufts in violation of Title IX because it took over a month before “requiring the Accused to move out of the residence hall,” and left her to attending a class “together with the Accused” rather than barring him from that class, which “thus exposed” her “to close physical proximity to the Accused.” But if the accused was not guilty of sexual assault, then he was not dangerous, and the complainant had no right to demand that he be excluded from his classes and dorm.

The Education Department’s demands are impossible to square with well-established case law. No court has ever found an institution in violation of Title IX, or any federal law against sexual harassment, for failure to remove an accused person from proximity to the complainant when the accused was not actually guilty of sexual harassment. Indeed, courts often rule for institutions sued for harassment even when the accused individual was guilty, and the institution either never removed the accused from proximity to the complainant (even after disciplining him) or only removed him after he was found guilty.

The Education Department’s position is illogical, and puts institutions in a difficult bind. Forcing an institution to tolerate false charges could theoretically subject it to a risk of liability in a lawsuit brought by the defamed individuals: Courts have recognized that sexual slander and smears can sometimes create a sexually hostile environment in violation of federal law in cases such as Jew v. University of Iowa (1990) and Spain v. Gallegos (1994), at least where the slander is based on sexual animus.

The Education Department has discouraged colleges from allowing cross-examination by the accused, even though the Supreme Court described cross-examination as the “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth” in Lilly v. Virginia (1999), and even though a few court rulings have required colleges to allow cross-examination, such as Donohue v. Baker (1997).

Education Department officials have also sought to gut the presumption of innocence. The Yale Law Journal noted in 1987 that “courts, universities, and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.” But in an April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department ordered colleges not to use that longstanding standard.

In a fashion reminiscent of double jeopardy, the Education Department has also forced colleges like Southern Methodist University to review all past complaints they dismissed in prior years (even when those dismissals were not challenged by any complainant), and resolve them to the agency’s liking—potentially resulting in expulsion of a student previously found not guilty.

Its Office for Civil Rights has also sought to redefine constitutionally-protected speech as verbal “sexual harassment.” For example, it has told schools to regulate off-campus conduct (apparently including speech on the “internet“), which are beyond Title IX’s reach under decisions like Roe v. St. Louis University (2014); and it pressured Tufts University to regulate academic speech not even “directed at” the complainant (creating serious First Amendment problems under the 2010 Rodriguez decision).


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Idiocy of the ACLU’s Lawsuit Against a New School Choice Option

Another school year is underway, and more parents than ever are using school choice to ensure the best education for their children. Or should I say trying to use it? Some groups, after all, are trying to thwart them.

Who, you ask? Just ask parents in Nevada. The Silver State is one of five nationwide (along with Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, and Tennessee) to have Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) that enable families to deposit their children’s state per-pupil funding in an account that can be used for a variety of education options.

No longer will students there have to put up with one-size-fits-all education. If the neighborhood public school provides the best fit for a child, fine. But if parents want to use the money that would’ve been spent at their child’s “assigned” school for a different education option, they can do that instead.

Unless the American Civil Liberties Union gets its way. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit to stop Nevada’s ESAs from taking effect.

This despite the fact that Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the program into law this spring and that it began accepting applications a few weeks ago. More than 2,200 parents have applied, and who can blame them? They know they’ll be able to use ESAs to pay for a host of education-related services, including private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, textbooks, and curricula.

“As the name implies,” writes education expert Lindsey Burke, “parents can also save unused funds, rolling dollars over from year-to-year to pay for future education costs.”

In short, they have high hopes for their children. They want the best possible future for them, and they know that a good education is key to that. ESAs can help them get there.

So why does the ALCU object? Its lawsuit alleges that Nevada’s ESA program “violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against the use of public money for sectarian (religious) purposes.” Yet the ESA funds go from the state to parents, not from the state to religious schools. The parents are the ones who can then use the funds to choose the right education option for their children, which may or may not include a religious school.

As the Foundation for Excellence in Education told the Arizona Court of Appeals in a similar case in 2013:

    "The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or non-religious schools or programs."

That’s been a godsend to students such as Max Ashton. Max is legally blind and used an ESA prior to finishing high school. According to Max’s father, Marc, a blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 a year, which represents what the state spends to educate a student such as Max in the public school system.

“We took our 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona, plus all of his Braille, all of his technology, and then there was still money left over to put toward his college education,” Marc explains. “So he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University, because we were able to save money, even while sending him to the best school in Arizona, out of what the state would normally pay for him.”

So on top of everything else, ESAs save taxpayer money, even as they expand opportunity for children. And opponents of school choice want to stop this?

That completely defies logic. Somebody is truly blind here, all right, and it’s not Max Ashton. We need more school choice, not less. You don’t need a diploma to see that.


American kids Are Tossing Out the Government’s Healthy Lunch Program

The government’s push to mandate kids to eat healthier is finding its efforts at the bottom of a waste bin.

A study published last week in Public Health Reports found that while kids may be piling more fruits and vegetables onto their plates as federal guidelines require, most are just tossing the healthy additions into the trash.

Researcher Sarah Amin found waste more common after the Department of Agriculture implemented guidelines—championed by first lady Michelle Obama—that require children participating in the federal school lunch program to accompany their meals with either a fruit or veggie.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to access the policy change and ask a really important question, which was, ‘Does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable under the updated national school lunch program guidelines that came into effect in 2012 correspond with increased fruit and vegetable consumption?’” Amin, who led the study, told CBS. “The answer was clearly no.”

Researchers from the University of Vermont visited two elementary schools and took photographs of students’ lunch trays before and after they ate. They repeated the experiment twice: once in the spring of 2012 before the USDA requirement was in place and then again the following year when it was in full effect.

Unsurprisingly, they found that when mandated to do so, students put 29 percent more fruits and vegetables on their plates. But kids were not actually eating the healthy adornments: consumption dropped 13 percent and food waste increased by 56 percent after the USDA requirement.

The findings come one month before Congress is set to vote on whether to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which in part provides funding for federal school lunches.

Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, said while the study is limited in scope, it confirms reports from school officials and students that “there’s tons of plate waste.”

“Congress only needs to pay attention to what school officials and students are saying to know that the new standards are a disaster,” he said. “This is really an issue of whether the federal government and its prescriptive one size fits all approach is better than respecting local government and parents.”

Despite the study’s findings, Amin said she believes the guidelines will ultimately improve children’s nutrition.

“Change takes time. This really rocks the school nutrition world. We have to have patience with this and not give up hope yet,” she said.


Federal Government Looking to Feed Public School Students 3 Meals Per Day Year Round

Is this to ensure that black kids get fed? -- JR

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday that his agency is looking for “creative ways” to give public school students access to more meals, including a way to provide them breakfast, lunch and dinner year round.

“We have focused on efforts to try to figure out ways in which we can expand in those time periods when youngsters may not have access to school meals,” Vilsack said in remarks at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. That includes giving students access to meals “across the school day, across the school year and across the calendar year,” he said.

“We’ve looked for creative ways to potentially here in the D.C. area and the state of Virginia an opportunity to take a look at what would happen if all three meals were available for young people,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack spoke ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration date for federally funding the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010, which pays for USDA’s school meal and child nutrition programs —including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The programs are generally reauthorized for five-year periods, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

In April, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced that the number of summer meals provided to children increased by millions between 2012 and 2014.

“In 2013, FNS targeted efforts in five States to improve access to summer meals and, as a result, FNS served seven million more meals than in summer 2012,” the announcement stated. “An additional six States were targeted in summer 2014 and FNS met its goal of serving an additional 10 million meals over summer 2013.”


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Over 1 in 10 With Student Loans Don’t Even Know They Have Them

A postsecondary credential is almost universally viewed as important. As student debt levels continue to rise, however, Americans are losing confidence in the quality and affordability of their higher education. A clear majority of Americans think that the quality of higher education in the United States has stagnated or declined, and almost three-quarters think that higher education is not affordable for everyone who needs it.

At the same time, in spite of rising costs and debt levels, investments in postsecondary education continue to pay significant dividends to individuals who persevere through graduation. For the typical household with student loan debt, monthly payments are no more burdensome than they were a generation ago. The average household with debt devotes only 7 percent of its income to making student loan payments—just slightly more than what it spends on entertainment.

The average bachelor’s degree holder who borrows leaves college with $27,300 in student loan debt. A major concern is that students often have little idea what they are getting themselves into. A majority of college freshmen are not aware of how much debt they are taking on, and some do not even know that they have borrowed to attend college. This is consistent with a college search process in which potential students choose a college based on reputation or a campus tour rather than on good measures of quality and price. As a result, colleges face no strong incentives to rein in rising prices and debt.

Recent nationally representative data detail how woefully uninformed college students are about their borrowing. About half of all first-year students in the U.S. seriously underestimate how much federal student debt they have, and less than one-third provide an accurate estimate within a reasonable margin of error. The remaining quarter of students overestimate their level of federal debt. Among all first-year students with federal loans, 28 percent reported having no federal debt, and 14 percent said they did not have any student debt at all.

Students who underestimate their borrowing may end up borrowing too much and then find themselves struggling when the payments come due, potentially leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

Ninety-three percent of student loans are made directly by the federal government. As the Federal Reserve Bank of New York notes, after mortgages, student loan debt is the largest type of debt. Like any single indicator, rising student debt levels cannot tell the whole story, but they should continue to raise an alarm that all is not well in American higher education.


As few as one in three school children have taken up Britain's  free meals... because pupils don't like the food

Only a third of children in some schools have taken up free meals because many ‘don’t like them’, head teachers have revealed.

The scheme to provide all primary pupils with free lunches during their first three years in education was championed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg under the last government.

But officials are understood to be considering scrapping the project, which would save around £600million a year.

And it has emerged that many schools are struggling to provide meals that children want to eat, with members of the National Association of Head Teachers saying some still do not have the necessary facilities.

One said the hot meals were ‘no more nutritious’ than packed lunches made by parents, while some schools – particularly in rural areas – are still having to import food from other towns.

Valentine Mulholland, policy adviser at the NAHT, said the take-up of meals was as low as 30 or 40 per cent in some areas.

She added: ‘There are still schools that are struggling with free meals. Economies of scale aren’t going to suddenly appear at the end of the first year.

‘We have members who feel their cooking facilities are not ideal so what they are seeing is quite a low take-up because children don’t like the food.

‘In cases where schools have had to bring food in, it can be quite challenging. In some cases there is still quality to be improved.

‘In Somerset, there is one satellite kitchen for the area. That’s quite a big county to deliver food throughout.’

However she added that some local authorities had seen nearly all pupils opt for free meals. ‘There are some areas where [take-up] is nearly 100 per cent and some where it is significantly lower,’ she said.

Anne Lyons, head teacher at St John Fisher Catholic Primary School in Middlesex, said of the hot meals to her pupils: ‘It’s no more nutritious than packed lunches that children had before.’  However, she added: ‘It’s driven down the M40 to North West London and it works, they are hot.’

At the weekend, it emerged that a major review had been launched into the scheme amid fears that costs were ‘spiralling’.


Time to reclaim the classroom

Forget celebrities in the jungle or random wannabes in the Big Brother house. In 2015 reality TV does schools. From the Channel 4 series Educating Essex, Educating Yorkshire and now Educating Cardiff (spoiler alert: Welsh kids are lovable rogues and their teachers really care about them), to variations on themes such as Chinese School and School Swap, there can hardly be a school in the land that doesn’t have a camera crew lurking in the staffroom. It’s easy to see why such programmes make for compelling viewing: there’s drama by the bucketload as hormonal teens, hamming it up for the cameras, run rings around their stressed-out teachers.

But there’s more to the popularity of these shows than contrived plotlines. Education has become a national obsession. It’s not that we’ve become a country of autodidacts – far from it. Rather, there is a sense that school is, if not the happiest days of people’s lives, then definitely the most important. Those few years spent in uniform, and, more specifically, the handful of letters printed on a certificate collected at the end of it all, are considered crucial to individual health, wealth and happiness. If that wasn’t pressure enough, exam results are also held responsible for determining the fate of the nation. With education seen as so important, it is little surprise there is such widespread interest in what goes on in schools. We want to know whether the Chinese do it better than us, and if money really can buy the lifelong advantage that begins with exam success.

Television companies are responding to, rather than creating, this interest in education. At one point, what went on in school tended to stay in school. Teachers were left to do their jobs behind closed doors. This began to change in the 1960s, an era in which prime minister-elect Harold Wilson urged schools and colleges to prepare young people for work in the ‘white heat of technology’; the Plowden Report noted that ‘good primary education will help to equip children to live and work in a rapidly changing economy’; and the Robbins Report argued that universities should expand to capitalise on scientific advance. In the minds of government ministers, education and national economic advance became firmly wedded; what happened in schools was too important to leave to teachers alone.

In more recent decades, the popular perception of education changed. It went from being seen as crucial to the national economy to something which enables personal prosperity. Today, politicians of all persuasions share in a widely held conviction that education determines individual life chances in a way that goes beyond future earnings and social mobility, increasingly encompassing health, happiness and wellbeing. It can seem as if the solution to every social problem in the adult world lies in the education of children in schools. Not only are teachers expected to ensure their charges gain the exam successes deemed necessary for university, careers and social mobility - they are also expected to act as state-sanctioned surrogate parents, nurturing children through lessons in mindfulness, citizenship, sex and relationships, healthy eating and personal finance. The teaching of subject knowledge is relegated behind a plethora of instrumental objectives that teachers and schools are expected to meet first.

It was once acknowledged that education could not compensate for society. This view seems to have gone out of fashion today. But it is worth remembering that teachers are not social workers and schools are not responsible for solving social ills any more than they are for turning around our unproductive national economy. Too many discussions about education nowadays start from the assumption that schools can and should compensate for society. Reality TV shows, commentators and policymakers antagonise over the relationship between social class, qualifications and children’s wellbeing. All too often, actually teaching children is considered, at best, secondary to ensuring they pass exams and schools pass Ofsted inspections.

Ironically, at the same time as teachers are held increasingly responsible for what happens in society and more people are taking an interest in schools, the scope for genuine debate about education has narrowed. The view that schooldays determine children’s future life chances and teachers need to compensate for parental inadequacies is becoming evermore firmly entrenched.

Recently, an explosion of teacher bloggers has led to increased sharing of ideas, practice and experiences in the profession. Such discussions are empowering, as they allow teachers to regain responsibility for their profession and challenge some of the education psychobabble that has emerged from companies with a product to sell or university educationalists desperately looking to justify their existence. However, there is still relatively little public dissent from rapidly coalescing orthodoxies. A new danger is that a tendency to over-interpret and over-rely on a holy grail of semi-scientific evidence will further undermine the personal authority of teachers to decide for themselves what, when and how to teach, based on their unique knowledge of their subject and their pupils. Blindly adhering to evidence can further shut down debate.

This week, spiked features articles from teachers and writers who refuse to shy away from the big questions. They tackle head-on the complex issues surrounding what knowledge children should be taught at school, and what is preventing this from happening at the moment. Michael Young makes the case for all children, irrespective of their social circumstances, having access to powerful knowledge that will take them beyond their daily lives. Greg Ashman looks at why the educational establishment has been so quick to refute the authority of the teacher and the act of teaching. Martin Robinson argues children should be expected to acquire knowledge before they are asked to pass judgement. Carl Hendrick argues a love of knowledge is lost in the weight of bureaucratic accountability mechanisms which teachers are subjected to. And Kevin Rooney illustrates how exam success can come at the expense of teaching children a deeper understanding of subject knowledge.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Student Privacy Is in Danger, but Arizona Is Fighting Back

Logan Albright is the Research Analyst at FreedomWorks, and is responsible for producing a wide variety of written content for print and the web, as well as conducting research for staff media appearances and special projects.

He received his Master’s degree in economics from Georgia State University in 2011, before promptly setting out for D.C. to fight for liberty. He is a firm believer in the Austrian School of economics and the rights of individuals to live their lives as they see fit without government interference.

One of the most pernicious aspects of Common Core is the data collection that has come hand-in-hand with the standards.

The Department of Education has been extremely tight-lipped about what kind of information schools are actually collecting, but we know from anecdotal evidence that students are being asked to surrender all sorts of personal details without parental knowledge, much less parental consent.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated that he wants to be able to track students from preschool all the way to their careers using personally identifiable information (PII), and a report from the Department of Education presented a wish list of data collection, including the terrifying concept of monitoring facial expressions and eye movements for diagnostic purposes.

Once this data is collected, it is sent to the federal government, where it can be shared across agencies, and any number of bureaucrats can learn sensitive information about your children.

In response to this, a state representative from Arizona is spearheading an effort to stop this unconstitutional practice.

Rep. Mark Finchem is working on a project called “It’s My PII,” which is seeking an injunction against the federal government’s ability to collect PII without parental consent, and challenging executive action from the Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is supposed to protect student-data privacy and parental rights, but in 2012, the Department of Education issued regulations greatly loosening those protections.

While the executive branch has the authority to direct the actions of Cabinet agencies, it cannot unilaterally alter existing laws without Congress writing new legislation. In spite of this, educational authorities are using the president’s order as a justification for collecting data in violation of FERPA as written.

“It’s My PII” contends that this is illegal, and is collecting resources to launch litigation against the government, as well as preparing legislation to stop the further collection and distribution of PII in the state.

The idea that the government can track everything about students should be frightening to anyone who values the right of self-determination. The data collected through standardized testing can be used to create a profile on children that follows them throughout their whole lives, especially given that the data is able to be shared across many governmental agencies.

What’s worse, the Arizona attorney general determined in 2014 that parents cannot opt their children out of state-mandated tests. So not only is data being collected without parental consent, but it is actually illegal for parents to refuse the tests where that data originates.

The opt-out movement is one that has been sweeping the nation in response to Common Core’s onerous testing requirements and the gross violations of student privacy. The issue has gained such attention that federal education bills currently working their way through Congress have been peppered with amendments intended to stop the government from bullying students over opt-outs, authored by pro-liberty lawmakers Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.

The effort to stop this kind of federal meddling in education — for which the Constitution grants no authorization whatsoever — has implications far broader than Arizona. A successful challenge could greatly restrict the government’s ability to violate your privacy in general, and reduce the Department of Education’s regulatory power considerably.

The federal government has shown itself incapable of restraining its own power on issues of regulations and data collection. If meaningful reforms are going to be made, they are going to have to originate in the states. Once successful, they can then serve as a springboard to national change.

The Arizona effort to protect parents’ rights and student privacy is a great first step towards a freer education system for us all.


‘Scandalous’ number of schools in England are demanding illegal financial contributions from parents

Parents are being unlawfully milked for cash by schools which pester them for ‘voluntary contributions’, it was claimed yesterday.

An investigation by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has found at least 100 schools now ask families for payments, in a potential breach of the rules.

While the problem was found in a wide range of different types of school, 90 per cent of those flagged up were run by faith groups.

Under government guidelines, state-funded schools must not ask for compulsory payments or pressurise parents into making ‘voluntary payments’.

However, the BHA research found that some schools are using questionable tactics to get parents to contribute towards school buildings, equipment and activities.

One school even sent out a letter claiming it was parents’ ‘responsibility’ to pay 10 per cent of the costs of building works.

Many faith schools are ‘voluntary aided’, meaning extra funding is provided by a church or other charitable organisation, but parents are not obliged to contribute.

Critics have warned that pressuring parents into handing over money may cause stress for those on low incomes and even discourage them from sending their children to a school.

Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, said: ‘It is scandalous that the 10 per cent of capital costs which religious groups running state schools are obliged to pay is actually being demanded unlawfully from parents and even that money is being demanded at all.

‘The fact that these abuses occur so widely, and that it is only down to our investigation that they have been exposed, should call into question the whole system of regulation surrounding state-funded faith schools.’

As things stand, schools are allowed to seek voluntary donations from parents, but must not pressurise them and must make it clear that there is no obligation to pay up.

They are also not permitted to accept any kind of payment in relation to admissions.

The BHA said it found a large number of schools asking parents for money whilst either putting undue pressure on them to contribute or not making it clear that contributions were voluntary.

As an example it highlighted one Church of England primary school asking parents for an annual payment of £30 for its ‘building fund/capitation for parents’.

Its website states: ‘This is not a voluntary contribution but it is a payment all Church of England schools require to maintain the school buildings and classrooms.’

A Catholic primary school’s website asks parents for £100 per family towards ‘building works’, saying: ‘As a voluntary aided school, parents of the pupils attending the school are responsible for contributing 10 per cent towards all building works.’

The BHA claims that a number of schools also stressed that the requested contribution, far from being voluntary, was a minimum amount, encouraging families that could afford to pay more to do so.

One school was even found to have suggested that parents should contribute to the fund by using the money they were saving as a result of receiving free school meals.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The School Admissions Code is clear that schools must not request financial contributions - whether voluntary or compulsory - as any part of the admissions process, including when offering a place.

‘Any claim that the School Admissions Code has been breached will be investigated.’


San Francisco Elementary School Adopts 'Gender-Neutral' Bathrooms

Miraloma Elementary, a grade school in San Francisco, has instituted a policy of gender-neutral bathrooms. The school is changing restroom door symbols accordingly.

“There’s no need to make them gender-specific anymore,” Miraloma Principal Sam Bass told the website “One parent said, ‘So, you’re just making it like it is at home.’”

A 2013 California law requires schools to allow students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, and San Francisco has had a similar policy on the books since 2003. While many schools in the country have separate restroom accommodations for students claiming to be transgender - a condition in which a person identifies with a gender different from the one they are born as - Miraloma is rare in its order to change all of its facilities to be free of any gender signifiers.

As the school year started, workers at Miraloma removed circles, triangles, and other traditional symbols of male and female from bathroom doors. The kindergarten and first grade bathrooms are the first facilities to have been altered; the rest of the school will be transformed over the next few years.


Monday, September 07, 2015

Church in Hot Water Over Football Field Baptism

Asking a Baptist preacher to baptize is like asking Colonel Sanders if he wants a bucket of chicken. Somebody’s going to get dunked.

So when a football coach in Villa Rica, Georgia asked to be baptized on the high school football field, the local First Baptist Church obliged.

At the end of the school day somebody hauled out an old feeding trough, plopped it in the end zone near the field house and filled it with water.

A crowd of about 75 folks, black and white, young and old, gathered in the sweltering August heat to watch the coach take the Baptist plunge.

Perhaps inspired by their coach’s public display of his faith, some of the players also asked to be baptized. One by one the teenage boys stepped into the trough as onlookers prayed and rejoiced and applauded.

Oh, it was quite a moment in Villa Rica — all captured on video by a staff member of the First Baptist Church. Little did anyone know a rite of Christian passage would soon spark national outrage.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a group of perpetually offended atheists and free-thinkers from Wisconsin, saw the video and fired off a nasty letter to the Carroll County School superintendent.

“It is illegal for coaches to participate in religious activities with students, including prayer and baptisms,” attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote. “Nor can coaches allow religious leaders to gain unique access to students during school-sponsored activities.”

They called the full emersion baptisms an “egregious constitutional violation.”

In hindsight, perhaps an Episcopal priest should’ve handled the baptisms. He could’ve just turned on the sprinklers and had the players run down the field. The Freedom From Religion folks would never have known the difference.

The godless bullies demanded the school district launch an immediate investigation “and take full action to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events, including team baptisms and prayer, during school-sponsored activities.”

Kevin Williams, the pastor of First Baptist Church, told me the football field baptisms were held after school and were completely voluntary.

“We never meant to cause any problems for the school and we never thought we would get this much media attention for baptizing kids,” the pastor said.

First Baptist Church has a long history of ministering to the community — including the football team. Just this past summer they provided financial assistance so the team could attend a football camp.

And the church recently held a football themed worship service called “Gridiron Day.” It was at that event one of the coaches asked if he could be baptized on the football field. Several players, who had recently converted to Christianity, also asked to be baptized.

“It was their choice to do that,” Pastor Williams told me. “We live in a free nation. People choose what they want. These people that got baptized — freely chose at a church service to accept Christ and this was a follow up to that.”

Times have been tough in Villa Rica — especially for young people. Over the past few years several teenagers have committed suicide.

“We’re trying our best as a community to reach out to these kids and love on them and show them there’s a better way — there’s hope,” Pastor Williams said. “That’s what we are providing through Jesus Christ to these kids.”

The question is whether the atheist carpetbaggers will bully the school district into silencing people of faith.

“I believe we live in a free country,” the pastor said. “These people that are trying to say you can’t do that, well, they’re taking away freedom. When did it become illegal to bow your head and pray? When did it become illegal to say I’m a Christian?”

You need to watch the video to truly understand and to truly appreciate what happened on the football field that warm Southern afternoon — the day a group of young black men and young white men decided to take a public stand for our Lord.

They emerged from the waters no longer just teammates, but rather, brothers.


In an info age, we need knowledge more than ever

Pupils must be taught before they are asked what they think

Knowledge is vital in an information age. We are surrounded by information – some of it true, but all of it presented as if it were of equal value. Those who think that the internet has changed education forever misunderstand the significance of knowledge. They argue for a collapsed curriculum that is no longer reliant on subjects, with teachers who simply guide pupils through project-based work in which they can pick up the transferable, soft skills that will guarantee them future jobs. But this is a complete misreading of the situation in which we find ourselves. Rather than no longer needing subjects and teachers, we need them more than ever.

In a morass of information and infotainment, knowledge is often lost. Where pornography is given equal billing to the work of the great masters, the great masturbators are lost in the World Wide Wank. What is great art? What is truth? What is love? At the touch of a button, all these questions are immediately lost in millions of answers. So people resort to Wikipedia, which is not a bad place to start. But it is a bad place to start and finish, if your desire is to know.

This is where teachers and subject knowledge come in. A good teacher has expertise, understands the evolving tradition of their subject, and can tell stories that make connections and open up the essential knowledge for their pupils. They can communicate and react to the pupils in their classroom, ensuring that they, too, can become able to know – can become knowledgeable.

When I talk to teachers, I often say to them: ‘I don’t want to hear a child’s opinions until they know what they’re talking about.’ This shocks some teachers who are used to asking pupils what they think about something very early on – despite the fact that this rarely produces an enlightened discussion. For example, they would read out a sonnet, ask what the children thought and they would grunt back, saying ‘it’s crap’. Until children know something about the form, the rules and conventions and the tradition of critique, it is too early to ask them what they think.

This is important. A teacher should teach not only a text or a topic, but also the learned opinions others have had about it. Teachers should initiate pupils into a conversation about the subject, highlighting the discussions and disagreements that surround it, and help them find out what their own opinions might be. As they do this, teachers can challenge pupils’ thinking. Debate and dialogue are a vital part of this approach, but giving pupils a voice is not about asking them what they think - it is about teaching them and developing their ability to debate and to think.

As well as acquiring knowledge about the subject they are learning, pupils need to learn to express what they have learned in their own words, expand on their own understanding, explain what they think, create arguments defending their views, and develop an understanding of other people’s views. They also should be given opportunities to create work, whether it is an essay, a piece of art or some athletic pursuit, where they are responsible for the quality of the work, ensuring that it conforms to or knowingly challenges the rules of the subject that they are learning. This process is essential not only to developing knowledge, but also to developing wisdom. Though it might take years after they have left school to develop, teachers can set them on their way.

Developing pupils’ knowledge, helping them cultivate and challenge their opinions, and making them put what they have learned into practice, are the three essential parts of great teaching. For this, no great bureaucracy is needed and no box-ticking need take place. Whether one calls it ‘transmission teaching’ or ‘dynamic whole-class teaching’, the effect is the same. This harks back to the trivium of the liberal arts: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Or, in other words: knowing, questioning and debating.

The job of the teacher is not just to teach the greatest that has been thought, said and done; it is also to get children to add to the greatest that has been thought, said and done. It is this that is at the core of the great tradition of the liberal arts, as expressed by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott:

‘As civilised human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves.’

For many children, this conversation can only begin when they are taught properly by a great teacher.


Educationalists: teaching bad ideas

Teachers are starting to fight back against the biases of educationalists

Back in 2012, I attended a conference in Sydney about school improvement. Although the speakers were there to talk about a diverse range of topics, many took the chance to disparage ‘transmission teaching’, where the teacher stands at the front and talks to the class. They knew that their audience would welcome this view.

Such a scene encapsulates much of what is wrong in the strange bubble of education conferences. Educators often talk to themselves. They give a nod and a wink to each other to signal their alignment with values that are not necessarily shared by members of the general public or even other teachers. While real policy decisions are made by government ministers outside of the education establishment, this does nothing to puncture the groupthink; educationalists merely characterise such decisions as coming from know-nothing, philistine politicians who impose their views on experienced professionals.

It might make sense for educationalists to be so dismissive of policymakers if the processes of education were grounded in strong evidence, as they are in medical practice. However, a lot of what is pursued by educationalists actually flies in the face of the evidence. For instance, on the issue of using phonics to teach children to read, there are three national reports from the UK, US and Australia which all support the largely common-sense view that learning to read by sounding-out words works. Yet influential educationalists still express scepticism, and it seems that teachers are still not trained effectively in phonics.

Transmission teaching, to which the education establishment is so opposed, is basically what most people think of as ‘teaching’. A teacher will stand at the front of a class, explain some concept or new bit of terminology, and then ask the students some questions about the new concept or term to see if they have understood it. This offends the sensibilities of those who don’t like the idea of teachers being sources of authority and would prefer pupils to ‘construct’ their own knowledge.

Countless studies comparing transmission teaching with constructivist approaches find in favour of transmission teaching. Again, this is simply common sense. Instead of letting children flounder and make the same mistakes generations of children have made before them, a skilled teacher can pre-empt these problems, focus students on more fruitful avenues and explain why in the process.

But this is not what teachers are encouraged to do. In an influential book for the National Academies Press in the US, the constructivist position is explained in terms of the children’s book Fish is Fish. In the story, a frog visits the land, and then returns to the water to explain to his fish friend what the land is like. You can see the thought bubbles emanating from the fish as the frog talks. When the frog describes birds, the fish imagines fish with wings, and so on. The implication is that we cannot understand anything that we have not seen for ourselves; each individual has to discover the world anew.

If this were true then there would be no point in books, because it would not be possible to communicate ideas through words. There would be no point in magazines or the internet, and no point in education conferences. A large part of what many educationalists believe to be best practice can be easily falsified by everyday experience.

Educationalists’ fondness for therapeutic approaches to education is also undermining good teaching methods. Yes, teaching pupils directly – giving them strong and clear instructions and guidance – might be a more effective way of getting them to pass exams, so the argument goes, but what of developing students’ character? If we allow students to work out how to solve problems on their own, they say, then we will help them build their resilience. In short, we are asked to accept the logic that we should teach children badly in order to prepare them for life’s frustrations. Sadly, it seems that UK education secretary Nicky Morgan has bought into the idea that schools should help build children’s characters.

However, the education world is changing. Teachers are starting to ask questions using social media, blogs and even through their own conferences. One notable success has already been chalked-up by the blogger Andrew Old, who forced a change of tack from the Ofsted, the English schools inspectorate. Ofsted had been effectively enforcing constructivist methods on teachers by criticising them for talking to their students or for not organising enough group work. Old assiduously collected the evidence of this on his blog, forcing Ofsted to issue new guidance to inspectors.

Frustrated politicians of all stripes are unleashing unprecedented disruption on education systems by creating new kinds of schools and new ways for teachers to qualify. It is sad that it has come to this, but educationalists who have ignored evidence in favour of ideology for such a long time will finally have to reckon with the unleashing of teacher-led critique.


Sunday, September 06, 2015

Just ONE HOUR of TV or internet use each night can damage a child's High School exam results (?)  

As both a psychologist and a former teacher, the effects reported below seemed implausibly large to me so I looked at the source journal article:  "Revising on the run or studying on the sofa: prospective associations between physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and exam results in British adolescents" by Corder et al.  It is a carefully done study but has major lacunae.  The interesting question is WHY some families allow more TV viewing.  Who are those families? I am not drawing a very long bow in assuming that they are in general less intelligent, lower class people. 

But that very statement is of course anathema to most social science researchers these days.  The association between educational attainment and IQ may be the best attested finding in the whole of social science.  It has been shown repeatedly for over 100 years -- going back in fact to the 19th century work of Alfred Binet.  Despite that, lip-service must be given in our demented age to the absurd claim that all men are equal. So, as a measure of INequality, IQ is rarely examined in modern-day social and medical research.  To do so would usually expose the researcher to dangerous opprobrium  -- and certainly make his findings less interesting.

And social class is not far behind IQ for its pervasive and well-attested negative effects on health, achievement and much else.

So the authors of this study ignored IQ and made only the most half-hearted attempt to measure socio-economic status.  They assessed your status by the locality you lived in  -- with an average of 1500 people in each locality.  But a major component of socio-economic status is income and, for a number of reasons, people of quite different income levels can be living side-by-side.  Tradesmen can be living beside welfare clients, for instance.  So the authors can be commended for making some attempt at controlling for social class but the level of control achieved was undoubtedly poor.

In short, the results obtained were entirely predictable on the basis of IQ and social class alone.  No certain effect of TV watching was demonstrated

A single hour’s TV or internet use each night will worsen a pupil’s GCSE results, research suggests.

In fact, teenagers should not watch any TV at all if they want to do well, according to a leading academic.

For every daily hour of TV, internet or computer game use, students dropped 9.3 points overall across their GCSE subjects. That is the equivalent of two grades – for example, the difference between a B and a D.

Cambridge University researchers also found that physical activity – while not harming educational attainment – doesn’t improve it either.

Reading and homework unsurprisingly radically improved performance – with an hour spent on homework each night boosting performance by 23.1 points – about four grades. But a cut-off point was found – more than four and a half hours did not make any further improvement.

The researchers, led by Dr Kirsten Corder, studied 845 pupils from different social classes in a variety of urban and rural areas across Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Dr Corder said: ‘Television, computer games and internet use were all harmful to academic performance, but TV viewing was the most detrimental. We can cautiously infer that increased screen time may lead to poorer academic performance for GCSEs.

‘If teenagers or parents are concerned about GCSE results, one thing might be to look at the amount of TV viewing that they’re doing and maybe just try to be sensible about it.’

Co-author Esther van Sluijs put it more bluntly: ‘Our results suggest if you don’t watch television you will achieve the best GCSE results to your best potential regardless of what other activities you do.’

The research was part of a study looking at factors affecting the mental health, well-being and academic achievement of teenagers as they make the journey to adulthood.

Between 2005 and 2007, the scientists measured activity levels of the participants using heart-rate and movement sensors attached to their bodies. They also asked the pupils how much time they spent in front of TV or computer screens, doing homework, or reading for pleasure. GCSE performance was assessed at 16, by adding together all the points students obtained across different subjects.

According to the TV watchdog Ofcom, the UK’s 11 to 15-year-olds spend three hours a day on average in front of TVs or computer screens.

For participants in the study, the typical amount of screen time per day was four hours.

Dr Corder added: ‘Even if you do sufficient homework, television viewing would still potentially lower your GCSE results.’

The results, which were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, also showed that levels of physical exercise and sport had no impact on GCSEs. This was important, said the authors, because there was a wide misconception that being good at sport detracted from academic achievement.

Dr van Sluijs said: ‘It is encouraging that our results show that greater physical activity does not negatively affect exam results.

‘As physical activity has many other benefits, efforts to promote physical activity throughout the day should still be a public health priority.’


Superheroes out of bounds at school

Ridiculous stories about political correctness float around the Internet like so much ocean garbage. Occasionally, one washes up on “Good Morning America” with a larger story to tell.

A little girl named Laura was sent home with a note because she had brought a Wonder Woman lunchbox to school. (The website The Mary Sue first reported the story, from a post on the social media site Imgur.) In the letter addressed to Laura’s parents, the school explained:

“The dress code we have established requests that the children not bring violent images into the building in any fashion — on their clothing (including shoes and socks), backpacks and lunchboxes. We have defined ‘violent characters’ as those who solve problems using violence. Superheroes certainly fall into that category.”

That’s true. You know who else falls into that category? George Washington and all the Founding Fathers. It also includes Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and every other U.S. president, including Barack Obama. (He solved the problem of Osama bin Laden with SEAL Team 6.) One needn’t get too provocative, but the Hebrew and Muslim prophets and even Jesus saw violence as a solution to at least some problems. (Just ask the money-changers in the temple.)

I have no idea if the school in question has a security guard or police officer on the premises, but I am sure that the parents would very much like someone equipped to solve some violent problems with violence should the need arise.

That’s because violence is a tool. It’s not a good tool — in the moral sense — nor is it a bad tool. Surgery to save a life is laudable. Surgery to inflict pain is torture. A hammer can smash in someone’s skull, or it can build a house. To say that all kinds of violence are equally bad isn’t high-minded morality; it is amoral nihilism wrapped in a kind of gauzy, brain dead sanctimony.

Barely two weeks ago, three American passengers — two of them servicemen — heard gunfire on their train from Amsterdam to Paris. When everyone else was running from the would-be mass murderer, they ran toward danger. They didn’t ask the alleged terrorist, a Moroccan named Ayoub El-Khazzani, what his grievances were or try to debate the finer points of Islamic law. They used force to subdue him. They don’t have Wonder Woman’s powers, which makes them more, not less, heroic.

A little over a month earlier on a train in Washington, D.C., on the Fourth of July — the day we Americans celebrate our collective decision to use violence to solve the problem of British tyranny — 24-year-old Kevin Joseph Sutherland was brutally slaughtered. The killer punched, kicked, stomped and ultimately stabbed Sutherland 30 to 40 times. Almost a dozen passengers watched the 125-pound assailant while doing absolutely nothing.

One needn’t second-guess their decision too harshly to at least concede the obvious fact that the onlookers were in no way heroes.

If you know anything about superheroes, the underlying morality is pretty much everything. Supervillains use their powers for evil ends. Superheroes use theirs to protect the vulnerable and uphold the good. Teaching kids that there’s no difference between the two is the very opposite of moral education.

It reminds me of William F. Buckley’s famous retort to those who claimed there was no moral distinction between the United States and the Soviet Union. If you have one man who pushes old ladies in front of oncoming buses, Buckley explained, and you have another man who pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, it simply will not do to describe them both as the sorts of men who push old ladies around.

A country, and a civilization, that actively chooses to render such distinctions meaningless has lost the confidence to sustain itself.

There’s an added irony here. Around the time little Laura’s school was cracking down on Wonder Woman lunchboxes, two women, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, passed the Army Ranger training course for the first time. The news was hailed across the country as a huge step forward for women.

Are these women role models or not? Are they heroes? Or should they be condemned for their willingness to use violence when necessary? Maybe Laura should get a Griest and Haver lunchbox and find out.


Student Nazis in Britain again

The National Union of Students came under fire last night after inviting a leading figure from the Islamist group Cage to speak at a series of protest rallies.

Moazzam Begg, the outreach director for Cage, is scheduled to appear at several events next month as part of a campaign against government anti-terrorism programmes.

That is despite the NUS leadership admitting only months ago that Cage’s leaders had ‘sympathised’ with violent extremism and insisting that it would not work with the group.

Last night critics accused the NUS of lying and distorting its own record.

Details of Begg’s role were uncovered by the Student Rights group which campaigns against extremism on university campuses.

Rupert Sutton, director of the Student Rights said: ‘Given this comes just months after the NUS angrily condemned suggestions they would work with CAGE, this is rank hypocrisy.’

‘Until the NUS stops working with groups like CAGE, or parroting extremist narratives on Prevent, it will continue to be part of the problem on campuses.’

Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society said: ‘The NUS is on the wrong side of this whole matter, and every time it’s caught out it lies and distorts its own record.

‘It believes it would be wrong to criticise ISIS but always right to condemn the British government and British security policy.’

Begg, who has admitted attending terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, is due to appear at three ‘Students Not Suspects’ events in October.

Jointly organised by the NUS, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and other groups, they target the government’s Prevent programme which is designed to stop vulnerable youngsters being turned into terrorists.

An NUS spokesman said: ‘The events are being run as a coalitions with a number of other organisations, we are a large organisation and represent a wide diversity of views, some of our officers with different views have chosen to work with the coalition.’

Cage first hit the headlines in February when a senior figure described Islamic State beheader Jihadi John as a ‘beautiful, kind man’.

Cage spokesman Asim Qureshi was condemned for claiming Mi5 were responsible for radicalising Mohammed Emwazi who he claimed 'wouldn't hurt a fly'.

In May it was reported that the NUS had agreed to lobby with Cage against government counter terrorism laws.

At the time NUS leaders said the claims were ‘highly misleading’ and declared the NUS ‘will not work with CAGE in any capacity’.

It also accepted that Cage was a ‘deeply problematic’ organisation. ‘It is clear that its leaders have sympathised with violent extremism, and violence against women, and people associated with the group have sympathised with anti-Semitism’, it said.

David Cameron condemned the NUS for its links with Cage in a speech in July. He told its leaders they brought ‘shame’ on their organisation by allying with Cage.

Begg joined Cage in 2006 as its ‘outreach director’. He had been arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and spent three years at Guantanamo Bay where he claimed to have been interrogated 300 times.

He admitted having visited terror training camps in Afghanistan but was awarded £1million compensation by the British Government.

Through Begg, Cage developed links with the radical preacher and Al Qaeda cheerleader Anwar al-Awlaki and campaigned for his release from detention in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki was later killed in an American drone strike. In 2010, Begg also spoke of his desire for a Caliphate-style regime in Britain.

Last year Begg was arrested over alleged links to terrorism training and funding in Syria, to which he had previously travelled. As a result, Cage’s bank accounts were frozen after intervention from the Treasury.

The charges against Begg were later dropped.


Charter schools in Australia?

This week rang with howls of indignation from the usual suspects (unions and public education lobbies) railing against Dr Jennifer Buckingham and me for attempting to destroy public education as harbingers of the neoliberal apocalypse.

Our crime was having released a research report on charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately managed schools. The report makes the case, with evidence, for why charter schools should be introduced by government as a fourth school sector under the public school umbrella.

It was a little bewildering to hear that, for some people, schools that are public in every way that matters are supposedly Trojan horses for privatisation.

For me, what matters is that public schools are open to everyone and they are fully-funded, with no tuition fees paid. This is to ensure that all children can access a quality education, regardless of their circumstances. In keeping with this notion, as well as the evidence, the report supports the creation of charter schools with these enrolment principles.

Nobody has ever successfully argued that universal access to education means centralised and uniform provision, managed by bureaucrats. Under the charter school model, schools would be managed by organisations which have the capacity to respond to the challenges of unique school communities. Teachers who worked well with their students could be paid more, rather than the reward for their success consisting of being assigned to a less challenging school. Where there is a desire for a vocationally-focused education alongside the traditional core subjects, schools could deliver that.

What could be more in keeping with the spirit of public schooling – schooling for all – than schools that are able to better serve their students, parents, and communities?

It seems that equity in education provision isn’t really what the self-styled defenders of public schools are concerned about. If the nature of the criticism is anything to go by, it’s more about protecting the vested interests of unions and bureaucrats alike. Our public school system, and the students who have no choice but to attend, are worse off for it.