Friday, October 23, 2015

Racist Principal Holds Up Student Election Results Because Winners Not Diverse Enough

 Student Coucnil elections have been around for decades. Every year, popular kids at all grade levels get their election on, promising all sorts of things like more dances, better snacks in the cafeteria, and a soda machine. At the end of the day, they amount to a glorified popularity contest, and teach kids a valuable lesson about civic mindedness.  Overall, they're usually not that important.

But a nutty California principal doesn't think so: There’s a big election controversy at a California middle school after the principal discovered that not enough black or Latino students were elected to office.

Principal Lena Van Haren’s decision to withhold the results of the student government elections angered parents and students at Everett Middle School in San Francisco.

“It’s not okay for a school that is really, really diverse to have the student representatives majority white,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The easy thing would have been to announce the results and move on. I intentionally did not choose the easy way because this is so important.”

This is bizarre. As the piece notes, there's no allegations of fraud or duress. It is, after all, a popularity contest. What this election suggests, if the student body is as diverse as the principal suggests, then this is a sign that kids are looking beyond race and judging each other on the basis of character.

Isn't that what ending racism was all about in the first place?


New Jersey School Bans Halloween For ‘Diversity’ Reasons

Yet another elementary school, this time in New Jersey, is cancelling Halloween because it is offensive to the school’s diverse student body.

Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood held annual Halloween activities including a student parade, but now the pressures of diversity mean these activities are no longer appropriate, school officials say.

“One of the strengths of Seth Boyden is that we are such a diverse community, with many cultures represented, and that we truly value each one,” Seth Boyden principal Mark Quiles and two Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) leaders said in a joint message to parents. “In the past, in-school celebrations of Halloween have made many of our students feel left out … [and as] a result, after careful consultation and deliberation, we have decided not to hold in-school Halloween activities.”

The letter claims in 2014 about 20 percent of the student body either stayed home on Halloween or refused to participate in activities.

This is actually the second year in a row Seth Boyden is trying to eliminate Halloween. Last year, the school tried to call off festivities, but reinstated them a day later. At the time, Quiles described non-participating in Halloween celebrations as a kind of “segregation” he could not tolerate.

This time around, Quiles says Halloween festivities were simply never planned in the first place, which may be intended to ensure they can’t be easily put back in place.

Earlier this month, several schools in Connecticut upset parents by attempting to cancel Halloween activities, but then changed course following a major backlash.


London teacher banned from classroom ‘indefinitely’ after antisemitic Facebook post

A teacher has been banned from the classroom for life after he was convicted of posting an antisemitic message on social media.
Mahmudul Choudhury, 36, was banned from teaching last week by a panel ruling on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.

The decision came after Mr Choudhury was fined £465 for posting an image of Adolf Hitler on his Facebook page with the caption: “I could have killed all the Jews but I left some of them to let you know why I was killing them.”

The father-of-two from Tower Hamlets in east London, who taught at the Cumberland School in east London, posted the message with the hashtag #ProtectiveEdge, in reference to the Israel-Gaza war last summer.

He was arrested by police after his former student, who is Jewish, but who has not been named, saw the post on Facebook. The student had attended the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in south-east London, where Mr Choudhury once taught.

Mr Choudhury, who denied that he held antisemitic views, reportedly told police at the time that he had accidentally shared the image. Mr Choudhury claimed that he had been fasting for at least 17 hours a day when the Facebook post was uploaded.

However, last week, a panel ruled that they “[did] not accept that Mr Choudhury’s actions were not deliberate,” adding: “The panel noted that Mr Choudhury not only re-posted an image supporting the Holocaust; he added a comment in support of that message.

“Accordingly, the panel makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State that a prohibition order should be imposed with immediate effect.”

The panel took account of a message of apology sent by Mr Choudhury to the former student – as well as his attendance of inter-faith events, but added: “[the panel] has seen little evidence that Mr Choudhury has any insight or remorse for his actions.”

Panel decision-maker Paul Heathcote, who ruled on behalf of the Secretary of State, said Mr Choudhury “is prohibited from teaching indefinitely and cannot teach at any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England.”

As a result of his post, Mr Choudhury was ordered to pay a fine of £465, costs of £85 and compensation to the victim amounting to £47.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Conservatives Are Not Welcome at This College

At any given college campus, there are many extracurricular clubs for a variety of interests. Traditionally, this has included the political.

But now, a Maryland college student says she was banned from forming a conservative club on campus and she’s fighting back. Moriah DeMartino, a student at Hagerstown Community College in Maryland, was denied permission to form a chapter of Turning Point USA. TPUSA describes itself as a non-partisan organization that educates students about fiscal responsibility.

Their publication, Hypeline, has more on the story.

    When DeMartino’s attempts to create a Turning Point chapter were refused she approached one of the Political Science advisors on campus, only to be told that the group’s views were “too political.”  The professor went on suggest that a Young Republicans and a Young Democrats club should be created instead.

    The consistency of Hagerstown’s student organization policy is in question.

    Currently HCC student groups include clubs for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Spectrum Club, a club whose “primary goal is to create a safe environment for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, and straight allies.”

    DeMartino is calling the school’s policy inconsistent, “There is a lack of consistency on campus when it comes to student organizations.  There are clearly other overlapping mission statements from organizations at Hagerstown.”

This appears to be another example of a college being biased against conservatives. Across the country, conservative students have been punished for everything from passing out copies of the Constitution to challenging leftist professors. Conservative viewpoints are often unrepresented in official campus publications.

Colleges are supposed to be places where students are exposed to different ideas, but that’s often not the case. Leftist viewpoints are often promoted with no dissenting views often allowed. Kudos to DeMartino for fighting back.


ACLU Sues Missouri Colleges for Denying Illegal Immigrants In-State Tuition

The American Civil Liberties Union filed multiple lawsuits in Missouri last week on behalf of three college students who claim they were wrongfully barred from receiving in-state tuition because of their immigration status under President Barack Obama’s executive action.

The ACLU’s Missouri division sued three colleges in the state for “illegally” charging those students an international rate, arguing the state law requiring the tuition hike is invalid.

The students driving the lawsuits are part of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. under the age of 16 from deportation, but does not grant legal status.

The tuition increases hit those enrolled in DACA last summer after state legislators inserted language into the preamble of a budget bill requiring that colleges accepting state funds charge “any student with an unlawful immigration status” in the U.S. the same rate “charged to international students.”

Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of ACLU’s Missouri chapter, said the tuition raise violated state law because the language was placed in the preamble of the bill rather than passed as independent legislation.

“Unfortunately, even though clear legal analysis shows that it’s not binding, it’s not legal, it’s not a requirement—these universities then raise tuition rates,” Mittman said.

The students affected, he continued, are “lawfully present” in the U.S. and have lived, worked and “in many cases” paid taxes in the U.S. their entire lives. He said Missouri law permits students who have lived in the state and are lawfully in the U.S. to qualify for in-state tuition.

“Young people who strive to educate themselves, who work hard to get ahead, then have better jobs and contribute more to the economy,” he said. “All of those reasons combined show why it is just bad public policy, it’s wrong and it’s illegal to charge these young Missouri students inflated tuition rates.”

Cully Stimson, senior legal fellow and manager of The Heritage Foundation’s national security law program, said a federal statute signed under President Bill Clinton “prohibits public colleges from offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants based on their residence within the state unless that same rate is offered to all students across the U.S.”

Since Missouri has not passed a law giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, Stimson continued, the ACLU lawsuit “has no merit, despite President Obama’s executive action called DACA.”

“The fact is that they’re trying to exploit what they believe is a technical loophole in draftsmanship to force a court to enforce a misreading of the law because they can’t get the legislature to do what they want on a policy basis,” he said.

Stimson called the suit a “political maneuver” to further the group’s policy preferences.

“Setting aside the fact that it’s a violation of the law and the rule of law, it’s not fair to any student in any other state besides Missouri to have to pay out-of-state tuitions when illegal immigrants living in Missouri get in-state tuition,” he said.

Mittman claimed that while the principle marks an important public policy discussion, the ACLU’s lawsuits are focused explicitly on a specific question of Missouri law.

“Does this improper preamble language, which is not binding, is not legal and again, is bad policy, does that allow the tuition raise? It doesn’t.” he said.


Exam performance at mostly black Boston school queried

Eventually given the benefit of the doubt apparently. It seems possible that there were some genuine improvements

The state on Tuesday validated MCAS scores for English High School, drawing cheers and tears from the Jamaica Plain school nearly a month after the results were suppressed because of unspecified anomalies.

“Everybody was happy,” said Valentina Fernandes, 17, of Dorchester — one of the students whose scores in the math portion of the test had been withheld. “We were all jumping up and down, squealing, hugging each other. It was as if we won the Super Bowl or something.”

Officials from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have declined to say what kind of anomalies led them to withhold the scores, stirring frustration to build among some families and educators at the school, because passage of the MCAS is a requirement for high school graduation in Massachusetts.

Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said Tuesday that the state concluded its investigation last week and found the scores were justified.

“They are an accurate reflection of what these students have achieved,” Chester said. “I’m very pleased to see that.”

Officials mum on test inquiry

More than two weeks after officials withheld MCAS scores, students still have not been told why.

Chester said the state did not flag the math scores because they marked an unusual level of improvement from one year to the next, noting that the school’s scores in English were also much improved. He said he could not be specific about his concerns with the scores.

“We saw some anomalies in the students’ scores and their test booklets that were hard to reconcile with a test administration,” he said.

State officials said the scores would soon be posted online, and that individual score sheets had been sent to the school for distribution.

Tommy Chang, Boston’s schools superintendent, said he was deeply proud of the students’ accomplishments and satisfied that their scores truly demonstrated what they had learned.

“Based on my own knowledge and investigation, and my conversations with the [headmaster], it makes absolutely perfect sense,” he said.

After teetering for years on the edge of a state takeover, English High has undergone an abrupt turnaround under the guidance of Headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy, teachers and students said. It has also brought in Blueprint Schools Network, a Newton nonprofit, to assist with academic improvement, including providing intensive math tutoring.

“We had a teacher who was a great math teacher, who basically pushed us and motivated us to progress and do better,” said Carimar Melendez, 16, of Charlestown. “We worked basically throughout the whole year thinking toward the MCAS and . . . how proud we would feel to pass it.”

Melendez said that initially it was “annoying” to have an additional math class in their schedules, but students saw the value when the time came to take the test.

Jakayla Clark, 16, of Mattapan, said there was a noticeable difference when she took the test this spring, compared to previous times she had taken it.  “I felt like I was better prepared,” she said.

Belinda Ranstrom, a business technology teacher at English High, said Noriega-Murphy’s high standards have driven her to greater performance.  “It has upped my game as a teacher,” Ranstrom said. “It’s been very hard, but it’s also been very rewarding.”

A music teacher at the school, Eytan Wurman, said he sees how hard the students work.  “They love the English High School so much that they are here for hours after school, whether it be in a sport, in a music program, in the marching band, in the cheerleaders, in the dance guard,” he said.

The students said having their scores withheld had cast a shadow over the school, even Chester told reporters last month that he had no reason to suspect cheating had occurred.

“Everyone thought that we were accused of cheating,” said Cristina Delcarmen, 16, of Roslindale. “I think it was wrong to accuse someone without any evidence.”


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Islam in Tennessee Schools — Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Folks in Tennessee don’t just get vocal and energetic over football. The Volunteer State is now in the midst of a statewide review of its public school curricula after students of Maury County’s Spring Hill Middle School were taught the Five Pillars of Islam during a world religion study — with no balanced teaching about other faiths.

Fiery responses from parents focused on the mandatory assignment to write and memorize the declaration of faith of Islam. In requiring that sixth-, seventh- or eighth-graders write the First Pillar of Islam, or the shahada — “There is no other god other than Allah” and “Mohammed is his prophet” — teaching stretched well beyond the information generically provided in a history class.

Maury County Public Schools' middle school supervisor, Jan Hanvey, reported that Judaism and Christianity were topics of study at the end of the school calendar with the unit entitled, “Age of Exploration.”

Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak observed, “It is our job as a public school system to educate our students in order to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate.”

Let’s see. Students ranging from 11 to 15 years of age are instructed that they are “studying the history of world religions” with only one of the monotheistic faiths — Islam — discussed, even to the point of memorizing its profession of faith. The other two “world religions,” one of which in particular happened to have been observed and exercised by the explorers and Founders of America, are taught separately rather than in a side-by-side analysis.

If, indeed, a curriculum has as its stated goal to educate about the various world religions, the teaching structure would present data in a format demonstrating similarities, offering contrasts and broad application of those religions studied.

No one can say with any intellectual honesty that Islam was being taught in Maury County through a balanced curricula.

Has anyone heard from the Freedom From Religion Foundation on this situation in Spring Hill? Is there a budget-busting lawsuit in the wings against the county or state for teaching about Islam? Has the ACLU screeched its protests as vulnerable minds are reciting the profession/conversion statement to become Muslim?

No, and we won’t. It’s simple.

Tolerance, as defined and enforced by the “progressive” Left, including educrats driven by their labor unions, is only elastic enough to stretch to cover anything that is anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-traditional family, anti-personal responsibility and accountability, anti-American exceptionalism — and the list continues.

The current occupant of the White House enjoys using his most effective and, candidly, his only successful tool — marginalizing the fears of most Americans through public ridicule. By evoking terms that imply bigotry, racism and nativism when faced with any argument, Barack Obama and the Left avoid the necessities of facts and objective evidence.

Recall Obama’s absolutely shameless and disgusting display of his pathological narcissism and default to Saul Alinsky tactics at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Just days after the Islamic State burned alive the captured Jordanian pilot in its effort to establish a caliphate, Obama lectured Bible-believing Christians about the Crusades.

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this [barbarity] is unique to some other place,” bellowed the bloviator in chief, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

The previously insidious force of leftist indoctrination is thriving in every aspect of our civic life and culture and is now blatant, militant and malignant. Obama’s recent interview declaring those of a devout faith to be “suspicious of those not like them” is emblematic of his disdain for the average American, who is being told to comply with group-think or be silent.

And to those timid on the Right who refuse to address and defend against such tyranny, please ponder the quote of Winston Churchill: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities … because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

Our culture and America’s unique existence hangs in the balance in a battle of resolves. Will the Left be victorious in its ferocity, volume and intimidation? Or will America finally awaken to the internal threat that expands at the price of authentic Liberty and national greatness?


Illinois School: 9-11 Had Nothing to Do with Religion

Back when I was in school our English teacher would give us vocabulary words, things like "conundrum" or "extraordinary."

Well - the vocabulary list at High Mount School in Illinois is causing a bit of a controversy.  Their list included words like "jihad, Islam, Muhammad," and "Koran," according to the reporting of the Bellville News-Democrat.

One mom told the newspaper she flipped out, shocked that her 12-year-old daughter's public school history class was teaching Islam 101.  “She said, ‘What’s Koran mean?’ and I flipped out,” Rachel Seger said. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’ and I looked at them and I said oh my God.”

Superintendent Mark Halwachs said the lessons on Islamic vocabulary words was all about teaching tolerance. Get a load of what he told the newspaper about what happened on September 11th, 2001: "It wasn't a religion that did that. It was bad men that did that."

Well, I hate to break it to the superintendent, but the radical Islamic extremists were not hollering "Jesus Saves" when they flew the jetliners into those buildings.

The superintendent explained that it’s important to teach the difference between a “large group and a fanatical faction.”

“I think you have to take moments like that and use them as teachable moments,” he told the newspaper. “You have to look at the age group and your students, and to me you can talk about different things in the world and teach about tolerance.”

However, the school district’s definition of tolerance does not seem to include in-depth, theological discussions about Christianity.

“You can teach about religion, you just can’t…endorse or support a religion over another,” he told the newspaper. “You can’t say (Jesus) is the one and only, or he’s the best; you can explain about and teach about the religions of the world.”

Sounds to me like the folks at High Mount School need to add another word to their vocabulary list - indoctrination.


This woman is sending one of her sons to an ordinary English "comprehensive" school because the standards are LOW

An obsession with education defines the middle classes, often in a stupidly narrow way. I speak for myself in this regard, because I have found myself torn over my sons’ schooling.

My 13-year old son Oscar attends a grammar [selective school], while Conrad, his 11-year old brother, will soon start at our local comp.

The debate about the merits of selective state secondaries has been re-ignited following Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s announcement last week that the first new grammar school in 50 years has been approved by the government.

How neat and easy and pleasing it would have been had my second son obediently followed his brother into a selective education. But for various reasons, it wasn’t to be.

Friends are fascinated by what they see as our “predicament”. Won’t our boys now have wildly different experiences and unequal life chances? Don’t I feel anguish about having “fixed” their futures at 11 with different kinds of schooling?

"There’s no point a child achieving ten A*s if they’re depressed. I don’t define that as success"

Well, of course I haven’t fixed their futures. That would be impossible. They alone are in charge of their futures, regardless of which school they attend. And undoubtedly they’ll have different life chances: they are discrete characters, with dissimilar interests and talents.

My eldest son is driven, yet happy-go-lucky: he exerts himself, works hard, but without huge anxiety. He’s in his element at a grammar school. He loves science, maths, enjoys rugby, and cricket. The expectations on pupils are unremittingly high.

Conrad is easily as intelligent, but a different creature. He’s creative, a talented artist and a keen batsman. He is ice-cool under pressure, but prone to be hard on himself. I had long accepted that he’d flourish in a less high-pressure environment.

There’s no point a child achieving ten A*s if they’re depressed. I don’t define that as success.

Our middle son had long known he was expected to try for the grammar that his big brother attends. It was also clear to him that we were proud of Oscar. Before he sat the 11-plus, Conrad gamely learned algebra with Dad and read wonderful books with Mum.

But it was then that I realised that he didn’t yearn to go to this school like his brother had; nor did he want to let us down. It was difficult for my husband and I to admit that, as much as we wanted him to get into the grammar, the most important issue was that we didn’t let him down.

"It’s the child himself, the parents, their values, the family work ethic, the love, the atmosphere that matters more"

It took us a week to convince him that we were proud of him for who he was, not where he went to school. So, freed from the crushing weight of our expectation, Conrad told us he’d prefer the school at the end of our road.

We insisted he didn’t have to take the grammar entrance exam if he didn’t want to – but he took it anyway and, ultimately, didn’t achieve the required grades. When, grinning, we said, “You’re going to the comp with your mates!”, he bobbled off happy.

In my heart, I know that our local comp – where they seem to just let the kids drop litter (it’s not, as one staff member told me, “the foxes”) – would best suit my middle son’s temperament. As a society, we put too much on “the school” and what it will give our kids – or take away from them.

Yet it’s the child himself, the parents, their values, the family work ethic, the love, the atmosphere, the way children are spoken to, disciplined and encouraged that matters more.

This is not an easy conviction to stick to, because routes to traditional success are set in terms of educational achievements – the “fistful of A*s, PPE at Oxbridge, graduate post at JP Morgan” route.

We push our children to be impressive on paper, because we think that ultimately, this will make life easier – less chance of financial worries, more readily able to afford a flat and to support a family.

We fixate our kids on high achievement, when a fulfilling emotional life is, if you have enough money to get by, what sustains you. As a consequence, our eight-year-olds are fretting that if they “fail” to get into a “good school”, they’re going to end up flipping burgers, because we’ve put that thought in their heads – we’ve passed our churning anxiety and anger about the unfairness of society, onto them.

We forget that being personable, eloquent, empathic, kind, and amusing, also counts. I’d hate my sons to aspire to a career where these “soft skills” – because humanity is now reduced to a “skill”… – weren’t valued.

I worry, of course. You want your child to achieve their potential; a selective school is “safe” because it’s full of driven kids whose parents value education. I attended a grammar for girls where being a fat, square nerd with a crush on Hamlet was socially acceptable.

No one emptied my satchel down the toilet, or kicked my Hollie Hobbie lunch box. Although – note to self, and other ambitious-by-proxy parents – I did develop an eating disorder.

My husband, meanwhile, went to an east London comprehensive, a massive, American-style high school with thousands of kids, some from the roughest, under-parented homes, homes where parents were struggling, others the children of vicars and police officers.

Some alumni became terrorists and armed robbers, and others became nationally acclaimed actors and newspaper editors. It was a cross-section of society in one building – except for the rich.

He was bullied, describes it as “chaotic” – yet some teachers were brilliant. But, he says, ”with that mass of kids, it was easy to lose track of the smart ones. A friend placed in the bottom set for every subject later became a UN lawyer. I spent four years in the bottom maths group. I was told I had a problem with numbers. I’ve since re-taught myself maths beginning from primary level. It turns out that was just taught badly.”

The desire to send your child to a grammar is a response to the feeling that society is fixed, unless you are hugely wealthy, or connected. Inevitably, the affluent middle class ruthlessly play the system.

Yet a significant proportion of selective state pupils are from modest backgrounds, which is why they face such resentment from below and snobbery from above. We like people to know their place.

My son’s grammar is a meritocracy. Forty-six per cent of the children attending it do not have English as a first language. At the posh local comp (we’re outside the catchment, which adds 30 per cent to house prices), it’s 12 per cent.

Our fears about non-selective state school education are all-too often justified. In 2013, an Ofsted survey of non-selective secondary schools found that 40 per cent were failing to educate the brightest pupils. Sixty-five thousand children who achieved top grades in English and maths aged 11 failed to continue this success in their GCSEs with As or A*s.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Ofsted head, criticised non-selective schools for failing to imbue their students with confidence and high ambition – that is, the watermark of the private school system.

James Blunt has been criticised in the past as part of a public school educated elite "dominating" culture.

And yet, I’m not too concerned about Conrad. Some of our most successful, funniest, well-rounded, erudite friends (by which I mean successful as human beings, not just minted) attended bog-standard comps. One, the CEO of a vast company, is endlessly asked: “What school did you go to?” His stock response is: “I don’t have this conversation…”

Exactly. Your school does not define who you are. If it does, that’s a worry.

A friend’s daughter, shy and quiet, is at our local comp. I asked her how she was doing. “There’s not much homework,” she grumbled, “but her confidence has shot up. She’s like a different child.”

And there it is: there are some things that are more important than 10 A*s.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The latest iteration of "progressive" schooling

This is all pretty old-hat.  I taught in a similar school years ago.  And the wash-up of A.S. Neill's "Summerhill" should be instructive.  These days it has 172 rules.  In the end kids just don't learn much in such schools without adult pressure from somewhere -- usually the home

On a crisp autumn morning, Tsi-Ann Calixte furiously pounds on her Chromebook’s keyboard, hashing out details on a project she’s spearheading for her 14-person team.

As she sits at a collaborative table reflecting on a job well-done, half a dozen colleagues surround her, tapping on their own laptops.

It looks like a scene from the floor of an ambitious start-up, but the little worker bees are just 8 years old.

AltSchool, a new private Brooklyn Heights “micro-school,” is experimenting with a technology-driven approach to education.

Every pupil gets their own tablet or Chromebook; wall-mounted video cameras called “superpowers” record children’s learning moments and kiddie confessionals for teachers to review.

Every student gets a to-do list called a “playlist” where they focus on whatever interests them, from writing an opera about water exploration to creating vessels that protect an egg when it falls.

“Kids like being in a place better when they have agency,” says AltSchool founder Max Ventilla, a 35-year-old former Google exec based in San Francisco. “My 2-year-old orders lunch for himself, and he’s much happier having the lunch he ordered.”

Ventilla was inspired to create the school three years ago, after shopping for a preschool that fostered “self-knowledge” and “entrepreneurialism” for his older child, Sabine, now 4.

In 2013 Ventilla launched the first AltSchool in San Francisco’s formerly gritty, now hip Dogpatch neighbourhood. There are currently five locations throughout the Bay Area serving Silicon Valley offspring, each with just 25 to 100 students.

Now it’s come east. An AltSchool in Brooklyn Heights opened last month, serving kindergarten through third grade, but eventually going up to eighth grade. Next September, a Lower East Side location serving K through sixth will open — though AltSchool avoids such classifications as “grades.”

Instead kids are divided into three broadly defined classrooms: pre-K, “lower elementary” for younger kids and “upper elementary” for older kids.

“There’s no such thing as a third-grader,” says Ventilla. “There’s each child who has their own experience.”

Other terms AltSchool avoids are “teachers,” “schools” and “classrooms. Rather there are “educators,” “learning labs” and “studios.”

If it sounds like a dotcom start-up, that’s by design. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg led a $100 million financing round for the school last spring, and Ventilla has poached moguls from Apple, Uber, Zynga and, of course, Google for his expanding, for-profit education empire.

The new Brooklyn Heights outpost sits on the second floor of an art deco-style building on a cinematic, tree-lined street one block from the promenade and just a few minutes from DUMBO’s tech hub — and hundreds of start-ups.

The school day begins between 8 and 9am. — AltSchool has flexible start and end times to accommodate parents, some of whom haul their kiddies from as far away as Westchester and New Jersey to experience education 2.0.

There’s nothing so pedestrian as roll call — kids sign in via an app on an iPad at the entry. It’s connected to an online platform called My.AltSchool that tracks everything from a child’s Personalized Learning Plan to allergies.

The schedule changes daily, but midmorning on a recent Wednesday, some 6- to 8-year-olds studied Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” on their Chromebooks in one corner, while others engaged in writing lessons. There’s no bell to signal the end of a period or recess. Instead, “learning blocks” are meant to end organically.

“Bells feel too disconnected from the real world,” says Mara Pauker, the co-head of AltSchool Brooklyn.

For their daily recess, kids have free run of Pier 5 at Brooklyn Bridge Park and its impressive playground, sports fields and sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline. Physical Education happens at least three times a week, and includes trendy yoga and capoeira in a sprawling common area.

Tests are rare, but not entirely absent. As an alternative to standardised tests, individualised “Measures of Academic Progress” are administered quarterly.

“[It’s] not radical, just different,” says Pauker, who previously taught at the controversial Blue School in lower Manhattan.

AltSchool, which costs $27,500 a year, operates on the traditional school calendar, but parents are encouraged to take family vacations when it’s convenient for them — perfect for a jaunt to Kyota, Japan, in time for cherry-blossom season or a family trip to Austin for South by Southwest.

If it seems a bit out-there — that’s the point.  For Ventilla, the traditional school model is very broken.

“There’s a need for schools that are created this century. [Most] schools are terrifyingly similar to the schools I went to 30 years ago,” says the NYC-bred founder who went to the tony Buckley School on the Upper East Side and Andover, before earning two degrees from Yale.

Many parents seem to agree. AltSchool says 4,000 applications flooded in for 200 slots nationwide this year, but the school couldn’t provide NYC-specific numbers.

The application process isn’t the traditional private-school interview — here, prospective students gather in groups and are evaluated based on how they interact.

Vladimire and Benjamin Calixte of Kensington, Brooklyn, were eager to get their 8-year-old daughter Tsi-Ann into the school.

She was previously going to a Montessori school that was cheaper and closer to home, but the couple felt that AltSchool was superior.

“She’s a girl who needs to advocate for herself and we felt the school would bring that out in her,” says Vladimire, a therapist in private practice. She praises the school’s weekly “town hall meetings” in which students gather to demo projects and hold discussions. “The message they send is, ‘I hear you, I see you, you’re important to me, and you matter.’ ”

Benjamin, a stay-at-home dad, was initially sceptical, but now he’s a believer. “We questioned if [the kids are] just going to be on computers, but it’s phenomenal,” he says.

But not everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

“Utilizing a model that is centrally tech-focused and individualistic in nature will serve to diminish the interaction and overall social maturation of students,” says Jae Gardner, CEO of tutoring and educational consulting company the Ivy Key.

And the emphasis on self-directed learning puts some parents on edge.

“When they come out, are they going to be academically prepared?” asks Upper West Sider Rachel Fremmer, who has two daughters in New York City public schools and is active in the schoolsystem’s governing body. “No curriculum is fine if you have a really motivated kid, but [what] if you have a kid who just reads comic books or plays Minecraft all day?”

But AltSchool parents insist their kids are getting a good education.

“[They] learn to balance and prioritise,” says Benjamin Calixte, a born-and-bred Brooklynite. He recalls one of his daughter’s first days. “[She] smiled from ear to ear [and said], ‘This isn’t a classroom!’ and I said, ‘That’s right, it’s a learning space!’ ”


Common core and the perils of new math

What is this, you ask? A question from a fifth-grade PARCC exam that was given to Massachusetts students last spring. I read through the whole test recently — fractions, volume, perimeters — and when I reached this one, I went through a multistage process.

Stage one: Panic. “Area model what-huh?” Stage two: Frustration. Can’t a poor kid just do long division and be done? Stage three: Extrapolation. Is this the Common Core? The future of education? To the barricades!

In the pitched debates over whether to replace Massachusetts’ MCAS exams with the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests — and whether to keep the Common Core or blow up education, again — new math litters the landscape like spent ammunition. “Partial sums addition.” “Area models.” The “lattice method,” which turns a basic multiplication problem into what looks like a Sudoku puzzle from hell. Parental panic translates to political will.

One thing to remember about new math is that it predates the Common Core curriculum standards — and it probably won’t disappear if the Common Core falls. It’s part of a broader philosophy that the Common Core embraces: that kids should know not just the standard algorithms, but the concepts behind them. It’s not just whether you can do long division; it’s do you get long division? Can you explain it in words?

This can feel like a ridiculous task, like finding words to describe the color “blue.” But some people actually like this way of mathematical thinking. I showed the “area model” question to a colleague who sat down calmly, figured it out, and was impressed. To him, the old long-division algorithm had always felt like magic; this was breaking down the math into its component parts, the way I use blocks to help my first-grader with addition.

Teaching math this way has consequences. Richard Phelps, a critic of the Common Core and the author of several books about testing, notes that once you get to higher-order math, you can’t be reinventing the wheel with every problem. He compares the standard algorithm to learning to type with a QWERTY keyboard: Eventually, it becomes part of your muscle memory.

In fact, the Common Core says students should learn standard algorithms, too. So PARCC raises a different philosophical question: What should a test be testing? If you understand what division does, how much more do you need to know? When I use a calculator, after all, what matters is the inputs, not the code that the machine uses to get the right answer.

That’s one of Phelps’s critiques of PARCC: The questions tend to be more complicated, involving some wordy new formats — like presenting a math question that a fictional kid answers wrong, then asking students to explain why he’s incorrect.

“I think the fairest test questions,” Phelps said, “are the ones where the format is the most straightforward.”

Which brings us back to that “area model” question. I asked Jeff Nellhaus, PARCC’s chief of assessment, why it was on the test. Nellhaus, it should be noted, helped to develop MCAS back in the 1990s. He said this question is meant to measure one of the Common Core standards: how much students understand the connection between multiplication and area. A student who can do long division will get partial credit, he said. And he imagines that a question like this could provoke a big classroom discussion.

“Think about math and why it’s so boring: Students get worksheets where they have to solve 50 division problems,” he told me. “This kind of problem actually makes them think and gets them engaged.”

Well, yes, but so does a classic word problem, the kind that doesn’t require a whole new vocabulary. I’m all for encouraging students to think rather than simply regurgitate formulas. But the developers of PARCC need to be careful, and not just because a new-math zinger can scuttle political support for a test that’s largely quite good.

There’s a difference between teaching methods and testing skills — a difference that might mean everything to a stressed-out kid on a timed test. For that kid’s sake, PARCC ought to be tough. But it also should bend over backwards to be clear and fair.


Should school prayer be abolished?

Comment from Australia

Industry minister Christopher Pyne has come under pressure because of remarks he made about school prayer. Pyne’s critics want to see religion banished from Australian schools — and from society in general.

But religion doesn’t lead directly to radicalisation any more than a glass of red wine with dinner leads to rampant alcoholism.

So praying is not the problem. People should be free to speak to their gods and to listen to what they think their gods as saying to them. That’s not the problem.

The real issue is how people respond to what they think those gods want from them.

Far from driving prayer out of schools and away to the shadowy margins, religion needs to become a mainstream subject in the classroom.

But religion needs to be handled in our schools with great care. Many fine Australian Muslims deplore what a few extremists are doing to us in the name of Islam.

They and their families want to enjoy all the benefits of our free and open society, to enjoy our lifestyle, and to splash around in the surf on weekends like everyone else.

And they know this way of life is under threat when the deadly antics of fanatics fuel suspicion and fear. Teenage assassins are a scourge here and now.

So religion in schools can’t just be about prayer. Children also need to learn from responsible teachers about the historical, social and cultural elements of religion.

Our children need to learn about religion; what it is, why different religions appear to teach different things, and why some Aussie teenagers are prepared to kill in the name of their god.

Teaching about religion, teaching about prayer, and teaching about citizenship go hand in hand. Leaders of our churches, synagogues and mosques need to work with our teachers to open the minds of our kids, and to dispel the evil idea that a god commands murder.

Substituting ethics classes for religion is not going to hack this problem. Like it or not, religion is a hot topic in our society.

Pretending it’s not relevant, or dismissing it as meaningless bunk is to miss the point completely. No one is asking you to be a believer too; you are just being asked to open your eyes.


Monday, October 19, 2015

UK: Selective schools create real wonder our leaders hate  them

By Peter Hitchens

There aren’t enough public sector houses to go round. Would it then make sense to demolish all those houses and make everyone except the rich live in tower blocks?

Of course not. Yet this mad principle – that if everyone cannot have something, nobody can have it – governs our education policy, and no major party disagrees with it.

Half a century ago, everyone agreed that secondary modern schools were not working. Everybody knew that the technical schools, promised in 1944, had not been built.

The one good part of the system was the grammar [selective] schools. They were enabling a wonderful revolution in which the very best education was flung open to anyone who could pass an exam, and our obsolete class system was finally being overthrown by unfettered talent.

Alongside them, and based on the same kind of selection by ability, was a brilliant scheme known as the direct grant, by which scores of the finest private day schools in the world took in large numbers of state school pupils free of charge.

Girls and boys from grammar and direct grant schools were storming Oxford and Cambridge by the end of the 1960s, elbowing aside public school products without any special concessions or quotas.

The sane response to this would have been to build the technical schools (which we still badly need), improve the secondary moderns and encourage and expand the grammar schools and the direct grant schools.

The actual response of Tory and Labour governments was to destroy hundreds of superb grammar schools, some of them centuries old, and abolish the direct grant system. You could fill several books with these follies, and I have.

One of the many crazy results was the revival of the dying private schools, which held open their ornate gateways to paying refugees from the comprehensive madness. The comprehensives were so bad and so disorderly that basic competence and order could be sold as top quality for fees of £25,000 a year.

It was a typical example of our governing class’s habit of finding the things that are healthy, good and beneficial, and destroying them.

As it happens, this particular mistake is reversible, and has been corrected in recent times. When communism collapsed in East Germany, thousands of parents petitioned their new free state governments to restore the grammar schools which their Stalinist rulers had ruthlessly replaced with comprehensives.

Comprehensive schools, as too few understand, have never been designed to improve education. On the contrary, their inventor, Graham Savage, actually admitted that his plan would hold back bright children.

They are a revolutionary scheme designed to enforce equality of outcome. That is why it is against the law to open any new grammar schools, and why this week’s odd legal fiddle in Sevenoaks is causing so much fuss.

But a tiny rump of grammar schools continues to exist. They are so much better than the comprehensives which replaced them that even Labour politicians, such as Harriet Harman, have readily endured derision and career damage to send their children to them.

This is why the remaining few grammars are so besieged. Their enemies repeatedly lie about this. Because a tiny few oversubscribed schools are dominated by the middle class, they claim that a national system, available to all, would have the same problem. This obviously isn’t true, yet they keep on repeating the falsehood.

It is time for these lies to end. As things are, state schools are rigidly and cruelly selective, but their pupils are picked on the basis of their parents’ wealth and ability to live in the right catchment area, or their public piety – or both.

The rich and powerful (including many Tory and Labour politicians and some of the keenest campaigners against grammars) play a constant Game Of Homes to lever and wangle their offspring into the best postcodes and the best ‘comprehensives’. Many of these are so socially selective that they have hardly any poor pupils receiving free school meals, though you never hear this fact mentioned.

Why do we put up with it? Why can’t we restore the lost grammar schools when huge numbers of parents want them and they are proven to work?

How dare we laugh at the Germans for being subservient and obedient, when we tolerate this stupid, dishonest policy, which wrecks the hopes of thousands each year and madly wastes the talents of this country?


UK: No mixed tennis at Muslim-run school: Ban among extreme segregation imposed that also saw girls banned from taking part in a netball tournament

Girls at a school engulfed in the Trojan Horse scandal were not allowed to play tennis with boys, it has emerged.

The ban was one of many extreme measures imposed at Park View Academy in Birmingham, a teaching misconduct hearing was told yesterday.

Segregation of the sexes was part of everyday life at the state academy, with girls banned from taking part in a netball tournament because male teachers would be present, a former staff member said.

In assembly, boys filed in one side of the hall while girls were led through the other, it was claimed.

Another time, girls were called back while they were on their way to a tennis tournament after it transpired they would be playing against boys, a panel heard.

Giving evidence, Susan Packer, who was in charge of public relations at Park View, told the hearing: ‘There was always lots of displays encouraging the children to go to prayer.

'There was a call to prayer every day, which was a change. In 2012 tannoy speakers were put in and the call to prayer was put out every dinner time.

‘I ran a lunchtime club and I noticed the numbers declined, particularly the boys, as they would go off to pray.’

Mrs Packer added that there was a push to ‘Islamise’ the school in 2012 when it was granted academy status.

In classes, sex education flyers telling Muslim women to obey men were handed out, she claimed.

The leaflets read: ‘A woman could not refuse to obey her husband in marriage and that included that she could not say no to her husband having sex with her.’

Mrs Packer said that when she raised her concerns about the pamphlets to senior colleague Lindsey Clark ‘days went by’ and nothing was done.

She admitted that she had never seen any of the lessons being taught and had misplaced her copy of the worksheet.

Giving evidence to the National College for Teaching and Leadership panel in Coventry, Mrs Packer said that she noticed a rise in headscarves in the building from 2012.

The then-principal Monzoor Hussain had ‘no respect for women’, she said.  She added: ‘Girls did not have a choice of what they could take part in, they were forbidden from taking part in any type of sport where a male was present.’

Mrs Packer described the segregation as ‘stifling’ and said that parents and pupils alike became increasingly frustrated. She admitted she had felt ‘intimidated’ by the growing Muslim influence.

The school’s focus had shifted from providing a solid education to becoming ‘a good Muslim’, she believed.

Her evidence was heard as part of a hearing into the conduct of two sex education teachers, Inamulhaq Anwar, 34, and Akeel Ahmed, 41. The men are charged with unacceptable professional conduct, bringing teaching into disrepute.

The pair are alleged to have struck an agreement with others that heavy religious influence would be included in pupils’ education. Anwar is also accused of breaching proper recruiting policy.

Describing Anwar as a ‘General’ rather than a ‘foot soldier’, Mrs Packer, said: ‘He would be encouraging children to be a good Muslim and go to prayer five times a day.’

Mrs Packer resigned in October 2013 after raising concerns about the school. She told the panel: ‘People were worried about raising issues at the school because you were likely to be called Islamophobic. I found that out to my cost - I had allegations made against me.

‘I had to resign from the job I loved because I was raising concerns about how girls were being treated, how female staff were being treated.’

Giving evidence later, her husband Steve Packer told of how he had stood in to teach sex education when Mr Hussain was on sick leave.

In the classes, it emerged that women were told they had to engage in sex whenever their husbands wanted.

Mr Packer added: ‘I said this kind of thing is covered by law in this country and any woman that doesn’t want to have sex with a man and says “no” then if the sexual act carries on that is essentially rape.’

Park View School was allegedly one of a number of establishments targeted by Muslim hard-liners who wanted to take control of schools across Birmingham. The plot, revealed in March 2014 was called ‘Trojan Horse’.

Following the allegations and after an investigation by the Department for Education, the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted. Park View has since been renamed Rockwood Academy.

Anwar and Ahmed deny the allegations. The hearing continues. 


'This is not what a rapist looks like': Student causes outrage on Twitter after arguing sex consent workshops don't apply to him

A student at Warwick University has caused uproar after he rejected an invite to a workshop on the importance of consent because he 'didn't look like a rapist'.

George Lawson, 19, who lives in Rugby, posted an article titled 'Why I don't need consent lessons' along with a photograph of him holding a sign stating, 'This is not what a rapist looks like'.

Following a backlash on social media and from his fellow students, the 19-year-old told FEMAIL that he stands by his article but admitted the sign in the photo was a 'massive faux pas'.

George, originally from Cardiff, received an invite to an I Heart Consent workshop via Facebook. The sessions are being rolled out in students’ unions across the UK to enable young people to talk openly about the complexities surrounding sexual consent.

While Oxford and Cambridge have scheduled them into freshers’ introductory timetables, other universities have also started running them voluntarily.

George took to his keyboard to explain why he felt like the invite was 'a massive, painful, bitchy slap in the face'.

He wrote in the piece, which appeared on online student newspaper The Tab, 'It implies I have an insufficient understanding of what does and does not constitute consent and that's incredibly hurtful.

'I don't have to be taught to not be a rapist. 'That much comes naturally to me, as I am sure it does to the overwhelming majority of people you and I know.

'Brand me a bigot, a misogynist, a rape apologist, I don't care. I stand by that.'

Predicting the inevitable questions about 'blurred lines' George wrote, 'I already know what is and what isn't consent. 'I also know about those more nuanced situations where consent isn't immediately obvious as any decent, empathetic human being does.  'Yes means yes, no means no.'

He accused the Russel Group University consent teachers of not having a 'high regard' for their peers and added 'get off your f***ing high horse'.

His article has received backlash on social media and from his fellow students. Jane Casey tweeted, 'The irony is that this is exactly the sort of twit who needs to go on a consent course.'  While Ione Wells was 'Speechless at how someone can undermine such important education'.

Those who had fallen victim to sexual assault in the past also aired their views.

@erenfrey linked to the article on Twitter and posted, 'A year ago in March I was sexually assaulted at Warwick and articles like this make me sick.'

While Chris, who later specified he was male stressed that 'men are victims of sexual assault too'.

He commented beneath the article, 'The guy who sexually violated me didn't think he'd done anything wrong. He just thought he got carried away and I was making a big deal out of it.'

Fellow Warwick University student and volunteer at the I Heart Consent workshops Josie Throup was so incensed she wrote a retaliation piece for The Tab yesterday titled Why consent workshops are a necessity.

Holding a sign saying 'This is what a consent educator looks like' Josie wrote: 'I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth which people like this writer still seem to believe, that 'rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys'.

'He took a picture with a sign, proclaiming 'This is not what a rapist looks like', when the truth is, it is.'

Speaking to FEMAIL, George admitted that the sign in the picture was a 'bad move'. 'I know a rapist can look like me. A rapist can be white. A rapist can be attending a Russell Group University and a rapist can be young. 'But the photo was supposed to be satirical. It was me playing on the 'this is what x looks like' trend and people didn't get that. 'That was a massive faux pas.'

He said he tried to get some other people to have their photo taken with the sign but, unsurprisingly, they weren't 'comfortable' with it.

But aside from the photo, George said he stands by his article.  He said: 'The backlash was inevitable and I do stand by my comments.  'I was insulted because I took the invitation to mean I didn't already know what consent is and that therefore I'm a potential rapist - and that's a bit offensive.

'There is sexual assault and rape among students, but they're blaming the wrong people. It's a massive broadside against everybody.  'If you're going to commit rape you're not going to go to one of the lectures.

'They're trying to help, so I support that. I just don't think its the best way to help people. I think it's wasted efforts.'

Although when asked how sexual assault on campuses should be addressed, George was stumped.

'I didn't present an alternative - and honestly I don't know what that can be. But I was raised by decent parents and I know not everyone has that luxury... that privilege.'

George said that if people found themselves in a 'spot of trouble' it was probably because they hadn't been educated earlier in life.

'I think if there has to be education it has to come earlier - not at the age of 18 when you start university. It just feels like too little too late.

'People are dropped into this new world and some people might find themselves in a spot of trouble, but if they'd had the education earlier it might be better.

'But I don't think sitting people down and lecturing them is the way to do it.'

To those offended by his article, George said: 'We're probably on the same side'. 'No sane, empathetic human being would be in support of rape or opposed to any attempt to stop or minimise rape.

'But I would just say your efforts may be better directed elsewhere.'


Sunday, October 18, 2015

UK: Now there'll be dozens more selective State schools: Plans for more grammars already underway

Dozens of new ‘satellite’ grammars are set to open after the Government gave the green light to the first new selective state school in 50 years.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has approved the creation of a 450-pupil school in Sevenoaks, Kent – an extension of an existing grammar seven miles away.

Politicians yesterday said the move would set a precedent and ‘open the floodgates’ for more applications, with one already in the pipeline.

Plans are under way in Maidenhead – Theresa May’s constituency – to push ahead with a grammar school ‘annexe’. Buckinghamshire County Council has said it will welcome applications.

It is understood schools could also expand in Wiltshire, Reading, South London, Slough, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Salisbury and Torbay.

However, ‘annexe’ schools can only be built in areas where there are already grammars and government sources have stressed there are no plans to change these rules.

Yesterday’s landmark decision is a victory for campaigners in favour of selective education, who claim it is the best vehicle for social mobility.

And it represents a significant departure from Labour’s crackdown on grammar schools in 1998, when it banned the opening of any new selective school.

Michael Fallon, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks, said: ‘This is such good news as children have to travel up and down every day to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells and now we will have grammar school places of our own.’

And Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, added: ‘It’s a small but positive step towards parental choice but it is clearly limited to areas that have grammar schools and does nothing to widen choice for the many parents in other areas.

‘There should be freedom for communities to have selective schools if they would like them.’

The Sevenoaks school is not covered by Labour’s ban because it is an annexe of Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge.

Mrs Morgan last night insisted the decision was not a change in the Government’s position on selective education.

She said: ‘It reaffirms our view that all good schools should be able to expand, a policy which is vital to meet the significant increase in demand for pupil places in coming years.’ In theory, yesterday’s announcement could set a precedent for the expansion of any of the 164 grammars in the country.

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell told the BBC: ‘The legal precedent that this will set – and that is why the Government has spent so much time and resources on getting that legal advice – will open the floodgates to many other existing grammar schools opening so-called annexes several miles away from their current campuses.’

The new site in Sevenoaks, which will be for girls only like its parent school, is expected to open to pupils in September 2017. Local campaigner Andrew Shilling said: ‘This is a victory for parent power, local determination and persistence. ‘This will set a precedent. I would imagine in the future that it will be quite a lot quicker for other expansions to be approved.’

But the news was not welcomed by Sevenoaks secondary Knole Academy, which fears its brightest girls will transfer to the new school, affecting Knole’s gender balance.

Head teacher Mary Boyle said: ‘We have written many letters to education ministers as building a new grammar school is against the law. And I think there will be a legal challenge. ‘We don’t have the sort of money to do this ourselves but there will be one surrounding about whether or not it is an annexe.’


UK: The cult of equality has hurt education

Once a week or so, I travel home from London to East Sussex in the late afternoon. The train is fairly empty until we reach Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. There the platforms are pullulating with mostly teenage schoolchildren finishing their day. They pile on, laughing. I listen in on their conversations (one doesn’t have much choice, actually).

Generally, I am impressed. They are not, for the most part, obsessed with celebrity or possessions. As well as the usual school gossip, they discuss subjects that arise from, but go beyond, their studies. I have heard them debate Islam, Shakespeare, the environment, universities and the site of the battle of Hastings (a major controversy in these parts). Boys and girls converse easily, instead of either sticking with their own sex or making indecent suggestions to the opposite one.

I get a good chance to hear these conversations develop, for the simple reason that so many pupils are voyaging so far. Our village is nearly 40 minutes south of Tonbridge. When I get off, a lot of the children stay on, travelling even further.

Why these long journeys? Because Kent has grammar schools and Sussex doesn’t. Parents and pupils will go a long way to get to a grammar school. That is why Weald of Kent Grammar School has now been permitted to set up an annexe in Sevenoaks nine miles away.

Education is a good thing, most of us think. Normally, when young people and their parents go to considerable trouble to attain a good thing, we encourage it. We are delighted if they travel an hour to visit an art gallery, attend the theatre, walk in the countryside or assist a charity, but when they do it to be better educated, there is outcry.

In a letter to a newspaper yesterday about the Weald of Kent’s decision, the former education secretary David Blunkett deplored the “annexe”. He said it would prevent “parity of esteem” across the school system and was “capitulating to those who are rooted in a bygone era”.

He forgets that esteem must be won and cannot be imposed. I don’t think these able and pleasant young people (or their parents) are rooted in a bygone era. For them, their long daily commute is a journey to a better future. No one should presume they are wrong.

People like Mr Blunkett don’t ask themselves why the train journey is never crowded the other way. If comprehensives are more estimable and less bygone, why don’t Kent pupils flee their grammar schools and schlep south to the Sussex comprehensives?

The riposte from the sane opponents of grammar schools (who include Mr Blunkett) is that grammars are good, but are bought at too high a price for the rest of society. Phrases like “creaming off” are used. Grammars are “stuffed with middle-class kids”, it is said, as if that is as anti-social as being stuffed with drug dealers.

This attitude affects education policy even under the Conservatives. So far as I know, new grammar schools are the only sort of state educational establishment explicitly banned by law (hence Weald’s mere “annexe”). It’s like banning four-bedroom houses because not everyone can live in one, or new bookshops because they make the illiterate feel inferior.

Both sides of the argument speak of the importance of social mobility. But one of the chief causes and symptoms of social mobility is a strong and growing middle class. The middle class is the most successful way of making a family flourish in a post-industrial society, so it must and will grow. Part of that flourishing results from an interest in education. If you attack the middle classes and their preferences, you are attacking education itself.

Those obsessed with the idea that the middle class damages the poor hurl their energy into knocking down the good.

The incredible thing about the history of grammar schools is not that some people advocated comprehensives: there is no necessary reason why a comprehensive should not work. It is that they insisted existing grammar schools should be destroyed. Likewise, it is right to worry that children from poor backgrounds find it so hard to get in to good universities, but it is monstrous that some of those worriers wage a constant culture war against our best universities because their high standards lead them to admit more pupils from good schools than bad ones. If half the students at Oxford come from the independent sector, might that not have a teensy-weensy bit to do with the low standards of too many in the state system?

Such follies arise because of the cult of equality – a word which the Conservatives have now become too fond of using. The idea that all are equal in the eyes of God is a central to our understanding of humanity itself. That all should be equal before the law is the foundation of organised society. But the idea that it is automatically wrong that some people are significantly richer or better educated than others is a defiance of reality, of the power of incentives and of human freedom itself.

Even “equality of opportunity”, a phrase which David Cameron used prominently in his recent speech to his party conference is, when you think about it, somewhat insincere. Most of us who have children value the right to hand on to them what we accumulate in our lives and do not agonise that it is not redistributed round 60 million people.

All of us recognise that it is easier for a musical family to bring up a musical child, or of a footballing family to produce a player. (It’s a combination of nature, nurture and networks.) We do not believe that the existence of Glyndebourne or Manchester United means that a little village opera will shrivel up or that it is no fun playing for Yeovil Town. In fact, high examples provide inspiration, not discouragement.

Organised society gives itself a migraine if it tries to equalise opportunity. What it can do is maximise it. In the field of education, it is hard to imagine this happening without more grammar schools.

The one serious objection to grammar schools is that if they are the uniformly dominant form of good school, as once they were, they will tend to demoralise the other good schools that are now, at last, emerging. Unlike some supporters of grammar schools, I do not believe that they are The Answer. There is no one single answer: there are lots of them.

The weirdest thing about the way we look at schools is that we still expect a uniform national system. Why can’t we have free schools, comps, academies, grammar schools, grammar schools with a significant non-selective admission, schools with varying ages of entry, specialist schools, church schools, new charity schools, schools with no or little national curriculum, schools with fewer exams, state boarding schools and even some schools in which better-off parents pay fees but most places are free? Such multiple forms would certainly create administrative headaches for the government which ultimately pays, but often the best answer to that is to have less administration.


No Response From Local School Board, Months After FOIA Requests on New Transgender Policy

Concerned parents in a Washington, D.C. suburb say the local school board acted hastily in making “gender identity” part of its non-discrimination policy, but those same public officials are in no rush to release behind-the-scenes information leading up to their controversial decision.

The Fairfax County (Va.) School Board is taking months, not the legally required five days, to respond to multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for all communications between school board members and state and federal officials regarding the board’s decision to include gender identity in its non-discrimination policies.

The FOIA requests, filed through Judicial Watch five months ago, are an attempt by Fairfax parents and residents to understand the discussions leading up to the policy change last May.

“The Fairfax County school system and school board has refused to comply with the Freedom of Information Law as it pertains to the release of information regarding communications between current board members, the Virginia Attorney General, the state legislature and federal officials regarding the passage of changes to Policy 1450,” former Fairfax County School Board member Mychele Brickner said in a statement.

She suggested the upcoming November election may explain the delay in releasing the requested information.

Seven FOIA requests were submitted in April and May through Judicial Watch, one under Brickner’s name.

According to the Fairfax County web page, public agencies must provide requested records "within 5 working days after a (FOIA) request is received," or else explain why the records will not be disclosed.

“The administration charged $1,750 to compile the data that parents and taxpayers requested.  After getting the fee reduced to $560.32 and submitting the check, we still have no answers,” Brickner told on Thursday.

Brickner told that parents “became concerned” because of the “suspicious” timeline of events leading up to the school board’s quick decision.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion March 4, 2015 that school boards may change their non-discrimination policies to include gender identity without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly. Fairfax School Board Member at Large Ryan McElveen submitted a forum request to add gender identity to the board’s work calendar within hours of that opinion.

The policy change was adopted by the board in May despite heated objections from parents concerned over its implications. The change came just days after the circulation of a memo by Steven A. Lockard, the deputy superintendent, which claimed that if the board did not change the policy, the school system would fail to comply with federal law.

Brickner said the speed at which the changes occurred “leads you to believe that there must have been some communication going on between the attorney general and school board members who brought these things forward.”

Brickner also mentioned the difficulties she and other parents have had in their attempts to obtain a report on accommodations for transgender staff and students, which FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza promised to produce by the end of September.

“We still do not have the accommodations report that was supposed to be out by the end of September,” Brickner said. “I just believe they’re sitting on this information, waiting out till after the (November) election.”

Andrea Lafferty, head of the Traditional Family Values Coalition and a Fairfax resident who filed three of the FOIAs through Judicial Watch, told that the School Board’s noncompliance is indicative of their re-election fears and the unexpected backlash that the transgender policy caused among parents.

“They don’t want the voters, the taxpayers of Fairfax County to know any of this information until after November 3rd, and it’s interesting because they brought up this issue in an election year,” Lafferty said.

“They were quite bold about it, then they realized parents were concerned.  McElveen who brought this whole thing up, didn’t say a word,” she continued. “They are all afraid whether they’re running for re-election to the board or for supervisor.”