Saturday, 31 March 2018

Get rid of chaplains program

A group of humanist societies has demanded that the Australian Human Rights Commission review the $60m-a-year school chaplains program, claiming it harms freedom of religion.

The secular and atheist groups wrote to the AHRC president, Rosalind Croucher, requesting a review on the basis that only religious people can be hired for the roles despite the fact that pastoral care is non-religious.

The Rationalist Society of Australia president, Meredith Doig, told Guardian Australia the program is “blatantly discriminatory” and the group had mobilised after a push by Luke Howarth and dozens of other Coalition MPs to expand the program.

Public school lobby criticises Labor's 'arbitrary' $250m for Catholic schools

The chaplains program was introduced by John Howard, continued by Labor governments, and was granted $245m in the 2014 budget by the Abbott government.

Howarth wants the program at least extended in the 2018 budget but ideally expanded, citing the fact that chaplains only receive $20,000 a year compared with the minimum wage of $45,000. Chaplains generally work part-time or schools fundraise to extend their hours.

Howarth told Guardian Australia he has asked the treasurer and education minister for a 25% pay increase to $25,000 a year because the 800 chaplains in Queensland doing “a fantastic job” have not had a pay rise since the program’s inception.

The humanist societies have asked Croucher to set up an inquiry into the program on the basis it “may be inconsistent with or contrary to” a human right. The complaint argues the program “interferes with the right to religious freedom and involves religious discrimination in hiring decisions”.

It notes the criteria for the program include that a school chaplain be a person who “is recognised through formal ordination, commissioning, recognised religious qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution”.

“This selection criterion amounts to requiring a person be religious. It excludes non-religious people from working as school chaplains.”

Despite the religious affiliation implied by the name “chaplains”, the complaint argues their work is “entirely non-religious” and could equally be performed by people who are not religious.

In a 2015 consultation report the AHRC reported that at almost all the public meetings it held complaints were raised about the chaplains program.

It said while the program varied between schools many people raised the “implications of government paying religious organisations to provide chaplaincy services in public schools that would otherwise be provided free at a place of worship”.

“The chaplaincy program … restricts freedom FROM religion,” one survey respondent said. “A democratic government should be secular yet it has imposed a religious preference on all children regardless of their background.”

Doig said one non-religious couple had complained to the AHRC when they were not hired for the program, but this was the first time it had been asked to inquire into the “transparently discriminatory program”.

Howarth responded to the complaint by saying “these people are anti-religion, anti-God, anti-anything non-secular”.

“They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater; there is a lot of support for chaplains from people who aren’t people of faith due to the good works they do in schools.”

Howarth said chaplains “don’t go round preaching” or recruiting students, but were free to answer questions about their faith.

Asked why pastoral care could not be provided by non-religious people, he said that “we’ve already got counsellors and psychologists that do that role” and noted the program allowed people of different faiths to serve as chaplains.

Croucher is also a member of the review of religious freedom led by former the attorney general Philip Ruddock.

The Ruddock review was due to report by 31 March but the prime minister announced it would be extended to 18 May owing to an avalanche of more than 16,000 submissions.

Friday, 30 March 2018

US teachers fighting back

A teacher strike in Oklahoma looks like it could still happen after their union rejected a recent pay raise as an inadequate concession. The concession itself was a $6,100 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers approved by the state legislature and supported by Gov. Mary Fallin, who described it as a "historic moment," according to CNN. She also noted that it was "not easy" getting the measure, House Bill 1010XX, to be accepted by enough legislators to become policy. It would have paid for teacher pay by raising taxes on fuel, cigarettes and lodging, according to Time.

Fallin's proposal offered far less than the teachers were demanding. The Oklahoma Education Associated had called for a $10,000 pay raise for its teachers over the next three years and a $5,000 pay raise for full-time support professionals including bus drivers, food service workers and custodians. Even with the $10,000 pay increase, Oklahoma teachers would still be paid less than the national average (they rank 49th in the country on a list that includes the District of Colombia): The average Oklahoma teacher is paid between $41,150 and $42,460 each year — that's well below the national average of $59,020 to $61,420.

"While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms and that work will continue Monday when educators descend on the capitol," Alicia Priest, the OEA president, explained in a Facebook post 

Posted by Oklahoma Education Association

She added, "Educators across Oklahoma have said, 'Enough!' Their frustration is justified, but that frustration — because of years of broken promises — turned into courage, and that courage turned into energy, and that energy into momentum, and that momentum created this moment that forced that legislature to act."

That momentum did not begin in Oklahoma and does not seem likely to end there.

The trendsetters were teachers in West Virginia, whose longstanding strike eventually led to a 5 percent pay raise. In Arizona, teachers are threatening to strike unless they receive a 20 percent pay raise, an increase in school funding to the levels they'd been at before the Great Recession (in 2008) and a pledge to stop cutting taxes until Arizona has the same amount of per-student spending as the national average, according to The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, at least eight school districts were forced to close in Kentucky as a result of teachers' dissatisfaction with a new pension plan, according to CBS News. According to the plan passed by the state legislature (in a process that critics decry as having been rushed and snuck into an unrelated sewage services bill), newly hired teachers would see their pension benefits change from an "inviolable contract" to one that could be changed by the state government. There are also complaints that the bill will not adjust the annual cost of living adjustment and will limit the number of sick days that teachers can put toward their retirement plans, according to CNN.

One state senator, Republican Damon Thayer, tried to defend the bill by arguing that it "is good news for teachers, current, retired and future, because it puts Kentucky's pension systems on a path to sustainability."

Many teachers do not see things that way, as Jefferson County's Hallie Jones learned when she established a Facebook group "Sickout!" expressing her disgust with how Kentucky's teachers are being treated.

"I set up the Facebook group around 9:30 and then I was looking at it and I was really confused because it had only been 20 minutes and there were 300 or 400 members," Jones told Salon. "And then it jumped up to 700. And I thought, 'Oh, there's another group!' And maybe I just clicked the wrong one. But now I'm in this bigger group. But then I realized the group that I had started went viral. So I was a little freaked out and things just happened. Now I woke up this morning and there were 7,200 people in the group."

That number kept rising through Friday.

"The teachers do have some legitimate complaints about the pension bill and a lot of that stems from teaching as a calling," one assistant principal, who asked to remain anonymous, told Salon. "The teachers really go into education in order to make a difference in children's lives, and some of the complaints that educators have with this is they know this is not what is best for kids."

They added, "For myself, as an administrator, the main issue with this is, the educators that come into the pension system in the future are going to be put into a different pension system than the one we are currently in. This degrades our current pension system and leaves it less stable. It also is not as good of a system for the people who are coming into it in the future. We already are having difficulties finding teachers — there is a teacher shortage currently — and what I can say is, all of our kids in Jefferson County deserve the best teachers."

Lauren Dowell, a teacher in Jefferson County, reinforced this notion with her personal story.

"I have a daughter. She is currently teaching English overseas in South Korea. She has found her calling, I think," Dowell told Salon. "She loves the kids, she loves the profession, she loves everything about it. I cannot encourage my child to go into teaching here because I don't think she has a secure future as I was promised when I started."

What started out as a movement in West Virginia seems to have evolved into something more. On one level, it is a movement that could transform how education is carried out in this country; teachers are making it clear that, while they didn't enter this profession to make money, they refuse to allow that fact to be used as justification for economically exploiting them. In a deeper sense, however, this story is that of how a once-moribund institution — the American labor union — has suddenly and unexpectedly reemerged as a potent force in America's ongoing political and cultural narrative.

It remains to be seen whether the teachers in Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky will get what they want from their state governments, but it's unlikely that this particular genie will ever be put back in its bottle. Teachers are educated people by their very nature, and they're too smart — and, it seems, too organized — to take being underpaid laying down anymore.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

THREE...... That's fucking insane!

President Emmanuel Macron has announced compulsory schooling in France will begin at age three, instead of six, as part of new reforms set to shake up the country's education system.

"Kindergarten will be a founding moment in our school journey," Mr Macron said in his announcement on Tuesday.

"I decided to make kindergarten compulsory and thus to lower the age of schooling from six to three years," he said.

On paper, this ruling will only affect a small minority, with 2017 OECD figures showing at least 95 per cent of three-year-old children are already enrolled in pre-primary school education programs.

However, this percentage is not evenly spread across France and its territories. A higher percentage of three-year-old children attend pre-primary education programs compared to children in Corsica and France's overseas territories.

In announcing his reforms, Mr Macron said the change to make early education compulsory was intended to curb education inequality, as parents in poorer areas of France and in overseas territories were less likely to send their children to school at an early age.

Mr Macron also said the reform aimed to prevent school dropouts because it would eliminate inequality in learning the language.

HOORAY 150000 views.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Rhyming books that don’t rhyme for some.

Rhyming books, when done well, are an absolute magical concoction of wordplay, sound, and delight in children’s books. However, children’s rhyming books also require readers to use specific pronunciations. When you’re outside that pronunciation, it’s much less magical. Most of my experience has been between American and English books and accents, but I’d love to hear about other accent/rhymes struggles.

This was the first book that I remember reading regularly and fumbling through the rhyme that wouldn’t work. Kemp is a British author and I’m American. Pronunciations obviously vary and  But I just could not make “fear” and “idea” work as a rhyme, even a little bit. Short of putting on my best imitation of the Queen’s English for that couplet, i.e., changing everything about the way I speak, this rhyme just wouldn’t fit my accent. I mean, I see how it can work for certain accents, but I just ended up flattening the whole momentum of the cadence.

This book is everywhere. A young llama struggles with his emotions about worrying for his mother while he’s alone in bed. The rhythm is great and bouncy, perfect for read-alouds. However, I do not enjoy reading it, because as someone with a West Coast accent, “llama” and “pajama” aren’t really a good rhyme. I end up stuck between feeling like a fraud saying “puh-JAW-muh” to make the poem work, or ruining the rhyme by using my natural “puh-JAM-uh.”  I’ll just let Ludacris take it away—he’s got the right accent. (My guess is that he also says, “pee-can” rather than “puh-cahn.” I’ll keep an eye out for Ludacris talking about hickory fruit and report back.)

Counter to The Worst Princess is Dr. Seuss. No accent is better than another, but some are better suited to certain poetries. Seuss undoubtedly was playing to a nice flat, rhotic American accent. The tongue-twisting Fox in Socks is designed to twist up around Americans’ soft t’s and clear r’s. Those Brits hitting hard t’s slow right down at the “tweedle-beetle battle with a paddle in a bottle.”

What about you? Have you found any children’s rhyming books that clearly have someone else’s accent in mind? Can anyone other than the English make “fear” and “idea” rhyme? How does Ludacris pronounce “pecan?”

Selective schools

A leading academic says NSW's selective school system is harming both low and high-achieving students, as a new study finds that grouping pupils by "ability" can be especially detrimental to those at the bottom.

"From a social and cognitive point of view, students generally do better if they have a range of abilities and social groups that they're mixing with for their schooling," said Chris Davison, head of UNSW's school of education and deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education.

"One could argue that some of the reason the top 20 per cent is not performing as well as it used to in international assessments is that they're not being stretched.

"They're going into an environment where there are too many people just like them and they think that's normal. You need a flexible system so you're not branded as a star forever and told that you're a high achiever so you stop pushing yourself and get complacent, and you're not branded as a struggler and told you're never going to do well."

Grouping students by ability can also affect teaching practices, with a study of 600 teachers across 82 UK high schools published in the Cambridge Journal of Education on Friday finding that 74 per cent of the teachers said that "they expect high-attaining students to cover topics in more depth" and 60 per cent said "they do more repetition and rehearsal with low-attaining students".

Teachers also said they thought lower-achieving students were less able to learn independently without monitoring and support.

"'As [one teacher's] earlier quote suggests, 'if you get put into a [lower ability] class, you get treated like a [lower ability] pupil', and this then creates a cycle of restricted opportunity," the study's authors found.

"Students in some lower attainment attainment groups may be unintentionally directed towards a 'learned helplessness' that can hold back their active participation and engagement in learning over their school career and beyond."

They're going into an environment where there are too many people just like them and they think that's normal

Professor Davison said students put in lower-achievement groups tend to display similar negative behaviours, as she observed in Hong Kong, where all students are put into band 1, 2 or 3 schools based on their performance in tests at the end of primary school.

"Because streaming is so habitual, in each of those schools they have a top class and a remedial class and the remedial kids in the band 3 [highest-achieving] schools ended up behaving in all the ways you would expect of the bottom-achieving kids," Professor Davison said.

"They used to muck up, show disobedience, they gave up and lost engagement even in that kind of high-achieving environment because their norms were all perverted and they were comparing themselves to the top kids."

Professor Davison said this effect can also be seen among lower-achieving students in NSW selective schools.

"Even if you have children in a selective school, what happens is the kids who don't do as well academically, who have the underlying IQ but don't have things like resilience, motivation or maturity, those kids will tend to feel and do worse in that kind of environment than they would in a mixed-ability group," she said.

"It's clear that mixing students at a common level in particular subject areas is helpful for learning, but schools which have the greatest flexibility and ability to group students in different ways have the best outcomes."

Shifting around the cash in the Catholic system

Some of the neediest Catholic schools in Victoria are still being short-changed by administrators who are shuffling millions of taxpayers’ dollars to schools in wealthier areas, documents reveal.
While the federal government nominally allocates funding for each Catholic school, this is distributed to Catholic education authorities as a lump sum. They then use their own funding model to distribute the money as they see fit.

Previously secret records taking in 14 Victorian schools show that in 2016, several needy schools had up to 37 per cent of their allocated government funding diverted elsewhere.
St Thomas Aquinas School in Norlane, which has a low socio-economic status score of 73, received $600,000 less from head office than the $2.4 million allocated by the government.
That worked out to a loss of about $4000 per student.
The school was also deprived of 15 per cent of its funding in 2015, records from that year showed.

Students at St Patrick’s School in St Arnaud were short-changed by about $8500 each in 2016, which worked out to 36.3 per cent of its total federal funding. St Stephen’s School in Reservoir had $320,000 or 30 per cent of its government allocation sent elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Catholic schools in higher-SES areas received hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the federal government had allocated, including Our Holy Redeemer in Surrey Hills, which had an SES score of 122. It received $161,000 more than its share allocated by the government.
The records, provided to Fairfax Media after a week of fighting between Victorian Catholic educators and the Turnbull government, only account for a handful of the state’s nearly 500 Catholic schools.

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria refused to respond to questions about the funding discrepancies, instead releasing a press release attacking Fairfax Media.
Ray Collins, acting executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission, said it was a matter for Victoria.
“The NCEC does not determine the distribution formulas for respective states,” he said. “That’s a decision made by each individual [commission].” 
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the government “accepts the autonomy of school systems to work according to their own needs”, and conceded administrators had “a more granular knowledge of the students they enrol and the family circumstances they come from”.
But he also noted administrators were “ultimately accountable to their own families and school communities”.

“Our commitment is to ensure that across all areas of our school system, the amount allocated to school systems reflects the needs of the different schools in which they operate,” he said.
The Grattan Institute’s school education program director Peter Goss said any big discrepancies between what the government thought it was allocating schools, and the funding they actually received, need an explanation.
Dr Goss said Catholic education systems understood their schools better than the federal government and had the right to allocate money as they saw fit.
“The most important thing is the kids, but when any group receives government funding there is a requirement for transparency. And the explanation as to why funding is used in certain ways needs to stand up to public scrutiny,” he said.
Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals president Michael Gray said schools were confident that the funding was being fairly distributed.
said the Catholic sector’s funding model took into account factors which the federal government’s model ignored, like the number of students from refugee backgrounds at schools. The sector had also topped up government funding allocated for students with a disability, he said.
“A just fair, equitable and systemic approach has ensured that local principals firstly understand their funding and that each school has support for their local specific needs,” he said.
Mr Gray, who is also the principal of St Joseph's Primary School in Warrnambool, said Catholic education authorities provided schools with system-wide support, including speech therapists, psychologist, councillors and curriculum consultants.
“Without this ... schools would not be able to access this support,” he said.

British and American Children’s Literature

If Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn were each to represent British versus American children’s literature, a curious dynamic would emerge: In a literary duel for the hearts and minds of children, one is a wizard-in-training at a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands, while the other is a barefoot boy drifting down the Mississippi, beset by con artists, slave hunters, and thieves. One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong. Both orphans took over the world of English-language children’s literature, but their stories unfold in noticeably different ways.

The small island of Great Britain is an undisputed powerhouse of children’s bestsellers: The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Significantly, all are fantasies. Meanwhile, the United States, also a major player in the field of children’s classics, deals much less in magic. Stories like Little House in the Big Woods, The Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, The Yearling, Little Women, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are more notable for their realistic portraits of day-to-day life in the towns and farmlands on the growing frontier. If British children gathered in the glow of the kitchen hearth to hear stories about magic swords and talking bears, American children sat at their mother’s knee listening to tales larded with moral messages about a world where life was hard, obedience emphasized, and Christian morality valued. Each style has its virtues, but the British approach undoubtedly yields the kinds of stories that appeal to the furthest reaches of children’s imagination.

It all goes back to each country’s distinct cultural heritage. For one, the British have always been in touch with their pagan folklore, says Maria Tatar, a Harvard professor of children’s literature and folklore. After all, the country’s very origin story is about a young king tutored by a wizard. Legends have always been embraced as history, from Merlin to Macbeth. “Even as Brits were digging into these enchanted worlds, Americans, much more pragmatic, always viewed their soil as something to exploit,” says Tatar. Americans are defined by a Protestant work ethic that can still be heard in stories like Pollyanna or The Little Engine That Could.

Americans write fantasies too, but nothing like the British, says Jerry Griswold, a San Diego State University emeritus professor of children’s literature. “American stories are rooted in realism; even our fantasies are rooted in realism,” he said, pointing to Dorothy who unmasks the great and powerful Wizard of Oz as a charlatan.

American fantasies differ in another way: They usually end with a moral lesson learned—such as, surprisingly, in the zany works by Dr. Seuss who has Horton the elephant intoning: “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Even The Cat in the Hat restores order from chaos just before mother gets home. In Oz, Dorothy’s Technicolor quest ends with the realization: “There’s no place like home.” And Max in Where the Wild Things Are atones for the “wild rumpus” of his temper tantrum by calming down and sailing home.

Landscape matters: Britain’s antique countryside, strewn with moldering castles and cozy farms, lends itself to fairy-tale invention. As Tatar puts it, the British are tuned in to the charm of their pastoral fields: “Think about Beatrix Potter talking to bunnies in the hedgerows, or A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh wandering the Hundred Acre Wood.” Not for nothing, J.K. Rowling set Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the spooky wilds of the Scottish Highlands. Lewis Carroll drew on the ancient stonewalled gardens, sleepy rivers, and hidden hallways of Oxford University to breathe life into the whimsical prose of Alice in Wonderland.

America’s mighty vistas, by contrast, are less cozy, less human-scaled, and less haunted. The characters that populate its purple mountain majesties and fruited plains are decidedly real: There’s the burro Brighty of the Grand Canyon, the Boston cop who stops traffic in Make Way for Ducklings, and the mail-order bride in Sarah, Plain and Tall who brings love to lonely children on a Midwestern farm. No dragons, wands, or Mary Poppins umbrellas here.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women.
Britain’s pagan religions and the stories that form their liturgy never really disappeared, the literature professor Meg Bateman told me in an interview on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. Pagan Britain, Scotland in particular, survived the march of Christianity far longer than the rest of Europe. Monotheism had a harder time making inroads into Great Britain despite how quickly it swept away the continent’s nature religions, says Bateman, whose entire curriculum is taught in Gaelic. Isolated behind Hadrian’s Wall—built by the Romans to stem raids by the Northern barbarian hordes—Scotland endured as a place where pagan beliefs persisted; beliefs brewed from the religious cauldron of folklore donated by successive invasions of Picts, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings.

Even well into the 19th and even 20th centuries, many believed they could be whisked away to a parallel universe. Shape shifters have long haunted the castles of clans claiming seals and bears as ancestors. “Gaelic culture teaches we needn’t fear the dark side,” Bateman says. Death is neither “a portal to heaven nor hell, but instead a continued life on earth where spirits are released to shadow the living.” A tear in this fabric is all it takes for a story to begin. Think Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Dark Is Rising, Peter Pan, The Golden Compass—all of which feature parallel worlds.

These were beliefs the Puritans firmly rejected as they fled Great Britain and religious persecution for the New World’s rocky shores. America is peculiar in its lack of indigenous folklore, Harvard’s Tatar says. Though African slaves brought folktales to Southern plantations, and Native Americans had a long tradition of mythology, little remains today of these rich worlds other than in small collections of Native American stories or the devalued vernacular of Uncle Remus, Uncle Tom, and the slave Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, even a mule named Sal on the Erie Canal. Out of bragging contests in logging and mining camps came even greater exaggerations—Tall Tales—about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the twister-riding cowboy Pecos Bill, and that steel-driving man John Henry, who, born a slave, died with a hammer in his hand. All of these characters embodied the American promise: They earned their fame.

British children may read about royal destiny discovered when a young King Arthur pulls a sword from a stone. But immigrants to America who came to escape such unearned birthrights are much more interested in challenges to aristocracy, says Griswold. He points to Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, which reveals the two boys to be interchangeable: “We question castles here.”

In Scotland, Bateman in turn suggests the difference between the countries may be that Americans “lack the kind of ironic humor needed for questioning the reliability of reality”—very different from the wry, self-deprecating humor of the British. Which means American tales can come off a bit “preachy” to British ears. The award-winning Maurice Sendak-illustrated book of etiquette: What Do You Say, Dear? comes to mind. Even Little Women is described by Bateman as something of a Protestant “parable about doing your best in trying circumstances.”

Maybe a world not fixated on atonement and moral imperatives is more conducive to a rousing tale. In Edinburgh—an old town like Rome built on seven hills, where dark alleys drop from cobbled streets, dive under stone buildings, and descend crooked stairs to make their way to the sea—8-year-old Caleb Sansom is one kid who thinks so. Digging with his mum through the stacks of the downtown library, he said he likes stories with “naughty animals, doing people things.” Like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows “who drives fast, gets in accidents, sings, and goes to jail.” As for American books such as The Little House in the Big Woods: “There’s a bit too much following the rules. ‘Do this. Stop doing that.’ Can get boring.”

Pagan folktales are less about morality and more about characters like the trickster who triumphs through wit and skill: Bilbo Baggins outwits Gollum with a guessing game; the mouse in the The Gruffalo avoids being eaten by tricking a hungry owl and fox. Griswold calls tricksters the “Lords of Misrule” who appeal to a child’s natural desire to subvert authority and celebrate naughtiness: “Children embrace a logic more pagan than adult.” And yet Bateman says in pagan myth it’s the young who possess the qualities needed to confront evil. Further, each side has opposing views of naughtiness and children: Pagan babies are born innocent; Christian children are born in sin and need correcting. Like Jody in The Yearling who, forced to kill his pet deer, must understand life’s hard choices before he can forgive his mother and shoulder the responsibility of manhood.

It turns out that fantasy—the established domain of British children’s literature—is critical to childhood development.
Ever since Bruno Bettelheim wrote The Uses of Enchantment about the psychological meaning of fairy tales, child psychologists have looked at storytelling as an important tool children use to work through their anxieties about the adult world. Fairy-tale fantasies are now regarded as almost literal depictions of childhood fears about abandonment, powerlessness, and death.

Most successful children’s books address these common fears through visiting and revisiting the same emotional themes, says Griswold. In his book, Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature, he identifies five basic story mechanisms children find particularly compelling—snug spaces, small worlds, scary villains, lightness or flying, as well as animated toys and talking animals—all part of the serious business of make-believe.

“Kids think through their problems by creating fantasy worlds in ways adults don’t,” Griswold says. “Within these parallel universes, things can be solved, shaped and understood.” Just as children learn best through hands-on activities, they tend to process their feelings through metaphorical reenactments. “Stories,” Griswold noted, “serve a purpose beyond pleasure, a purpose encoded in analogies. Story arcs, like dreams, have an almost biological function.”

It turns out that fantasy—the established domain of British children’s literature—is critical to childhood development. With faeries as voices from the earth, from beyond human history, with a different take on the meaning of life and way of understanding death, Bateman says there’s wisdom in recognizing nature as a greater life force. “Pagan folklore keeps us humble by reminding us we are temporary guests on earth—a true parable for our time.”

Today there may be more reason than ever to find solace in fantasy. With post-9/11 terrorism fears and concern about a warming planet, Griswold says American authors are turning increasingly to fantasy of a darker kind—the dystopian fiction of The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. Like the collapse of the Twin Towers, these are sad and disturbing stories of post-apocalyptic worlds falling apart, of brains implanted with computer chips that reflect anxiety about the intrusion of a consumer society aided by social media. This is a future where hope is qualified, and whose deserted worlds are flat and impoverished. But maybe there’s purpose. If children use fairy tales to process their fears, such dystopian fantasies (and their heroes and heroines) may model the hope kids need today to address the scale of the problems ahead.

Catholic decline in Sydney

Catholic schools in Sydney’s northern suburbs have lost more than 320 students to neighbouring public schools — accounting for half the total decline in enrolments over the past year.

As many public schools buckle under the pressure of growing student numbers, the Catholic diocese of Broken Bay has blamed a rise in fees, brought about by the Turnbull government’s school funding changes, for enrolments slumping between 10 and 23 per cent in 31 of its 44 schools.

Interviews conducted with parents who had decided to withdraw their children revealed 50 per cent were moving to public schools, 20 per cent to Catholic schools elsewhere, and 12 per cent had opted for an independent school. Most of the 642 losses had ­occurred since August.

The trend has been supported by 2018 school enrolment figures provided to The Weekend Australian by the NSW Department of Education, adding weight to the warning of Broken Bay school ­director Peter Hamill of the ­“potential for flow-on impacts for the state government budget as families move students from low-fee systemic schools to already stretched public schools”.

From the Australian

Could also be that state schools offer a superior education.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Charter school blues

I was a teacher at a charter school for a year. Here’s why you shouldn’t believe the hype that Betsy DeVos is trying to sell.

I was an English teacher at a New York City public school from 2005 to 2009 — until I got burnt out and decided to quit.

The education reform movement had revved up, with its testing craze, useless paperwork, and disregard for teachers’ input. The school where I’d worked had started spiraling downhill, and so did my joy for teaching. I had loved being a teacher when I’d had the freedom to be creative and to engage with my students in a meaningful way. But this was no longer the case. To top it all off, the growing cultural contempt for teachers that blamed us for all of society’s ills only further pushed me out and soured me on the profession.

I didn’t think I’d ever teach again — but then, I started hearing the buzz about charter schools.

I signed a non-union contract on the spot.
Charters, which are publicly funded but privately managed, are booming across America because of bipartisan support for education reform and school choice. They’re considered the panacea for failing public schools, predominantly serving children of color and often popping up in lower income neighborhoods. They’re advertised as academically superior and physically safer than public schools because of their "no excuses" approach to schoolwork and discipline. Movies like "Waiting for Superman" tell us they’re thriving and have waitlists. Because most of them aren’t unionized, they argue that one major "appeal" is that they can also fire bad teachers — and due to their looser regulations, they can give good teachers the freedom to be innovative.

I was hooked, and even toyed with the idea of starting a charter school of my own. But first, I wanted to get into a classroom.

On August 2, 2016, in sunny Los Angeles, I interviewed with the amiable principal of a charter school. A former teacher herself, she founded the school with an attorney friend to give middle and high school kids a college preparatory program that offered AP courses, sports, and the arts. The teachers at her school had a voice, she said, and the close rapport between students and staff made it feel "like a family." I was inspired by her passion — and despite the fact that the school was moving for a third time in three years and had lost its co-founder and a few teachers (all of whom had resigned), I signed a non-union contract on the spot.

But I soon realized there was a gulf between charter school hype and reality. Every day brought shocking and disturbing revelations: high attrition rates of students and teachers, dangerous working conditions, widespread suspensions, harassment of teachers, violations against students with disabilities, nepotism, and fraud. By the end of the school year, I vowed never to step foot in a charter school again, and to fight for the protection of public schools like never before.

I soon realized there was a gulf between charter school hype and reality.
On August 15, my first day of work, I dashed into the school’s newest home, a crumbling building on the campus of a public middle school in South Los Angeles. Greeting my colleagues, who were coughing due to the dust in the air, I realized most of us were new. It wasn’t just several people who had quit over the summer, but more than half the faculty — 8 out of 15 teachers. Among the highly qualified new hires were a seasoned calculus teacher; an experienced sixth grade humanities teacher; a physics instructor who’d previously taught college; an actor turned biology teacher; and a young and exuberant special education teacher.

When the old-timers trickled in, they told us there’d been attrition among the students, too: 202 of 270 hadn’t returned, and not all their seats had been filled. Because funding was tied to enrollment, the school was struggling financially.

When I glimpsed at my schedule, my jaw dropped further. Like my colleagues, I was carrying a crushing course load — six distinct classes across grades 7, 9, and 12 — three more than I was told I’d teach when I was hired. But that paled in comparison to what was heaped onto the special education teacher. The law tops the caseload at 28 SPED students per teacher, but he was given all 43 at the school. SPED is a highly specialized and stressful field that requires individual attention between teacher and student — which is a big part of why this law is in place. (It has also always been litigious, but is becoming even more so as authorities crack down on charters’ violations against students with disabilities.) He was stunned.

The working conditions made it a test of endurance.
Though this wasn’t what us newbies had signed up for, we went full speed ahead, motivated by the old-timers who worked 60-hour weeks comprised of lesson planning, sports coaching, club running, and lunch monitoring, despite having spouses, toddlers, and ailing parents waiting for them at home.

The working conditions made it a test of endurance. The contract with the district that called for our school to get cleaned twice weekly wasn’t honored. The frazzled janitor only had time for us after he was done with the co-located middle school, which was almost never. I watched pieces of pepperoni decay on the stairs and globs of feces dry up on the bathroom wall over several weeks. During a lesson, my smart, sweet ninth graders were distracted by a roach striding across the floor, victoriously waving a cookie crumb in the air with its pincers. Needless to say, the lesson went to the insects.

When a heat wave scorched the city, temperatures in our classrooms topped 102 degrees. Two kids collapsed of heat exhaustion during the school day, but teachers were kept for an additional hour after class to plan "Spirit Day," where we’d perform cartwheels, electric slides, and chicken dances the next afternoon.

It was quickly becoming a climate of terror inside the school.
But the biggest threat was to our safety. We were in a gang-ridden, drug-infested area — but there was no security guard or emergency plan in place. And even without outside factors, it was quickly becoming a climate of terror inside the school, as well. When a senior grabbed a teacher’s ass, the principal didn’t expel him (she couldn’t afford to lose more students) — so he continued sexually harassing her, and it felt like there was nothing we could do to stop him.

Despite the safety issues, which plague charters nationwide, the principal kept recruiting students in order to stay afloat. A month into the school year, we got kids from a charter school that suddenly closed because of enrollment and facility issues, leaving kids scrambling for schools and teachers scrounging for jobs.

Last year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos quipped that picking a school should be as easy as choosing Lyft, Uber, or a taxi. In California — the Wild West of the charter sector because of the schools that pop up indiscriminately — it is that easy. The result is chaos: Schools struggle to establish themselves, teachers quit, and kids bounce around from school to school at a head-spinning rate. One of my seventh graders had attended seven schools over the course of seven years.

The loose regulations had emboldened administrators to cross legal and ethical lines.
Due to this school-hopping culture, only 16 seniors remained of the 43 freshmen who had enrolled at our charter in 2013. And though the school was advertised as "college preparatory," only eight seniors were heading to four-year colleges. LAUSD loses over $500 million a year because of students who enroll in charters, but even at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which send 95 percent of their kids to college, the vast majority eventually drop out. The stats are similarly dismal in DeVos’ home state of Michigan — which loses a billion dollars a year in funding to charter schools — and across the country: Only about 23 percent of charter students persist through college. When the goal of college attainment fails so miserably, it's hard not to wonder if the divestment from public schools is worth it.

We were given another reason to be anxious when the humanities teacher was laid off because sixth grade was under-enrolled — and that was just the tip of the iceberg. As she was packing her belongings into boxes, the physics teacher was having a nervous breakdown. The grading and lesson planning that kept him up until 3 AM — when he had to be awake at 6 AM — had sent him over the edge. Meanwhile, the special education teacher with the unlawfully large caseload was falling behind on students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The stress aggravated his colitis, which had been dormant for years.

Nepotism abounds at charters across the country.
It seemed to me that the loose regulations had emboldened administrators to cross legal and ethical lines in other ways, too. The assistant principal’s son was in my seventh grade class, where he bullied an autistic boy, even though bullying people with disabilities is illegal in California (and unacceptable everywhere). She never suspended him, despite the fact that she handed out suspensions to other kids like Halloween candy. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, either: Nepotism abounds at charters across the country. When I investigated her son’s behavior, the assistant principal filed a grievance against me. I wouldn’t back down, so in order to intimidate me, she sat in the back of my classroom for an entire period, shooting me dirty looks, texting on her phone, and laughing.

By January 2017, more kids had fled, so it looked like we may not make it to June, let alone next year. Now the goal was to save the school at all costs, and the lawlessness intensified.

The principal enrolled five kids who didn’t speak English and weren’t being properly taught, since only one of the three English teachers held the required certificate, and all three of us had ESL students in our classes. She also pressured us to pass the seniors — including the kid who’d grabbed his teacher’s ass — so they’d graduate, and pushed us to submit phony AP syllabi to the College Board for accreditation. When I refused, she said she’d override it.

But her efforts were in vain: In February, the senior who grabbed the teacher’s ass stalked into her classroom and pounced on her. She struggled to get away, but he blocked both doors. Thankfully, she managed to escape — and the student was arrested and, finally, expelled. In March, another senior dropped out, bringing the graduating students down to 14.

It looked like we may not make it to June, let alone next year.
Eventually, the principal managed to get a grant that ensured our survival until June, but it didn’t include money for a guard. One morning, there was a shooting outside a nearby school. The gunman was on the loose, but no measures were taken to lock us down. When I locked my classroom down anyway, I was reprimanded for stirring panic.

The laid-off humanities teacher never found a new job for the 2016-17 school year. The physics teacher had three nervous breakdowns in total. The special education teacher’s colitis landed him in the hospital, so he quit in January. After being publicly excoriated by the assistant principal for butting heads with her son — the umpteenth person to do so — the biology teacher resigned, too. In April, the calculus teacher quit, as well — the third newbie to go before the school year’s end.

By this point, I had insomnia and panic attacks, so coming to work was excruciating. I kept going for the kids, but, in desperation, I bared my soul to two sympathetic officials. They told me they’d been aware of the school’s violations and were considering rejecting its charter, which was up for renewal. I also learned that our teachers had tried unionizing in the past, part of a national trend among charter teachers. When their efforts were blocked, some quit, and one launched a nonprofit that fosters wellness in teachers.

On June 30th, our school was shut down, joining the 50 other charters that were shuttered in the 2016-17 fiscal year in California and the 200-300 charters that are closed each year across the nation because of poor performance, financial issues, low enrollment, nepotism, violations against students with disabilities and English language learners, and fraud.

During her disastrous interview on "60 Minutes" this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the false claim that charter schools make public schools better — but if my story is any indication, this is simply not the case.

While I never had strong feelings about unions before, I now understand that when teachers aren’t unionized, they’re exploited — and when teachers suffer, so do kids. Not only does teacher turnover harm student achievement, but according to a 2016 Penn State University research brief, "When teachers are highly stressed, children show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance."

When teachers aren’t unionized, they’re exploited.
My colleagues and I often lost our temper due to stress. This triggered kids misbehaving and getting rampantly suspended. One student was suspended 18 times in six months — something I’d never seen in public schools. Even more importantly, suspensions don’t actually help to improve behavior — but they have been proven to feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

Public schools aren’t perfect, but they’re a vital part of our democracy and worth saving. I attended public schools all my life; they’re the reason I went from Soviet refugee to Ivy League graduate. And as a public school teacher, I propelled my immigrant students to college. Even luminaries like Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, and Matt Damon have said that were it not for their public school teachers, they wouldn’t have achieved their American dreams.

If they are to continue, charter schools need to be better regulated so that they don’t become cesspools of corruption. Furthermore, it makes no sense to defund public schools, which 85-90% of kids attend, for the benefit of the 5 percent that attend charters, when only a handful perform better than public schools, while most do the same — or worse.

And there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of public schools. In July, the NAACP called for a moratorium on charters until they increase their oversight and accountability. And charters are losing support across the country even as President Donald Trump and DeVos push for more of them.

I’ve never felt more emboldened to fight for the protection of public schools and teachers than I do today. Americans aren’t ready to give up on public education just yet, nor should we be. This fight has never been more important, and we have to keep fighting — for our teachers, for our students, and for our kids.

Florina Rodov has written for The Atlantic, CNN, Electric Literature (Pushcart Prize nomination), and others. Follow her on Twitter @florinarodov.

Old Etonian bullshit

The "smart casual" rebellion at Kew’s Trinity Grammar had me pondering the question of "character," what it means and who gets to have one. Pondering, that is, as I guffawed and snorted, the scenario being so gloriously Pythonesque. An old-school deputy headmaster named Brown (yes Brown!) takes scissors to a boy’s hair in defence of Trinity’s grooming rules, and arguably civilisation itself. For this, the school sacks him after 30 years of service, with the council chairman spouting the corporate-speak to which we’re becoming accustomed about Brown’s actions being "inconsistent with community expectations in this day and age".

Then the Old Boys weigh in with what I suspect will be overwhelming fire — as in, donor — power, issuing ultimatums for Brown’s immediate reinstatement and the principal's and councillors' scalps (three have since resigned) and the airing of elegiac sentiments about the school’s changed direction in recent years, away from an emphasis on "holistic" development, towards one centred on "exceptional" ATAR scores, growth and profit.

On the substance of this dispute, I resent being cajoled into holding a view at all. Just as the society murder gets more clicks than a killing in struggle-town, so too the battles of public school parents in modest postcodes for basic educational infrastructure rate poorly against a dust-up in a bluestone establishment that charges nearly $30,000 in fees. I’m still grimacing over the feverish coverage six years ago of the Methodist Ladies’ College board sacking principal Rosa Storelli over her admittedly not insubstantial entitlements.

On the other hand, the $5 million-odd in recurrent government funding that Trinity collected in 2016 — the most recent accounting on the My School website, which I find useful only for what it reveals about government handouts to the nation’s wealthiest schools — arguably entitles me, and you, to have an opinion. So OK: Brown overstepped with the scissors, the school over-reacted with the sacking, over-reacting with sacking being the new way of things.

I’m more intrigued by the Old Boys’ claim that Brown represents the school’s "traditional values", which placed building character above harvesting high ATARs. While it’s easy, nay irresistible, to poke fun at the Etonian-style attachment to starched collars and regimented hair, in truth the 19th-century idea that fanatically-enforced uniform codes will tame wild youth into discipline, humility and self-abnegation prevails across the education sector, to ludicrous and sometimes depressing outcomes.

I’m thinking of the two Bentleigh Secondary students from South Sudan who were last year told to take out their braids so they would look like everyone else, namely white. In February, St Albans Secondary sent home 17 students for wearing the wrong socks. For sure, standards matter: I’m just not sure these standards matter. How do strict uniform codes, with their implied deference to institution and tradition, acclimatise our kids to an inside-out Trumpian world?

Back in Kew, MP Tim Smith, says Brown was sacrificed "on the altar of political correctness," characters like him bringing "a certain level of rigour and indeed discipline to school cultures". In an open letter from Trinity’s former student leaders to the school council chair and headmaster, Brown is described as "wholly dedicated to the wellbeing of the school’s students," unlike the new executive team that’s overseen this dramatic shift from "Trinity’s position as a non-elite, non-selective school to ATAR factory".

“In the eyes of many Old Boys,” say the former captains, “Rohan (Brown) stood in the face of that new direction as a champion of the school’s traditional values.”

The school is not one of the “top-drawer elites like Melbourne Grammar or Scotch”, explained a parent in the Herald Sun this week, “But what sets Trinity Grammar apart, and justifies the top-dollar price tag, is the emphasis on character and not just academic results.”

The Trinity men are inviting scrutiny of their character, so for this reason alone I’ll oblige. Fellas, Trinity was never “non-elite” and “non-selective”— schools charging astronomical fees are already elite and selective because rich kids have an academic advantage over poor kids. And for all the angst about the school’s “new direction,” in truth Trinity has become slightly, so very slightly, less elite in recent years. A decade ago 95 per cent of students came from the most advantaged sociological bracket, 1 per cent from the bottom middle quarter and none from the bottom quarter. Last year, by contrast, 76 per cent were rich — educationally speaking — 4 per cent poor and 1 per cent dirt poor. In 2009, 17 per cent of students came from a language background other than English; by last year more than a quarter of students fell into that category. Is this the problem? An influx of tiger mothers wanting the emphasis on academic results and not just character?

Only certain schools get to rhapsodise about forging “character”; the others, the public schools where a majority of Victorians educate their kids, get Tim Smith’s critical eye on their results, their "cluttered" curriculum and indeed their character, which his party thinks is too welcoming of sexual diversity and insufficiently "Australian".

hate talking this way, but if the buffed shoe fits: for the Trinity men and their like "character" is cover for white male privilege of a kind that can afford middling ATAR scores because, after all, there’s always the Old Boys’ network to fall back on.

Julie Szego is a Fairfax columnist.

Friday, 16 March 2018

US is literally becoming generationally less educated.

School districts staring down deep budget holes have turned to shorter weeks in desperation as a way to save a little bit of money and persuade increasingly hard-to-find teachers to take some of the nation’s lowest-paying jobs.

Of 513 school districts in Oklahoma, 96 have lopped Fridays or Mondays off their schedules — nearly triple the number in 2015 and four times as many as in 2013. An additional 44 are considering cutting instructional days by moving to a four-day week in the fall or by shortening the school year, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association found in a survey last month.
That was from April...there's now over 200 schools in that state on 4 day weeks.

Oklahoma is not the only state where more students are getting three-day weekends, a concept that dates to the 1930s. The number is climbing slowly across broad swaths of the rural big-sky West, driven by a combination of austere budgets, fuel-guzzling bus rides and teacher shortages

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

NAPLAN plods along.

A new report says that 10 years of data from the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and from international tests show Australia's students are not improving in literacy or numeracy.

Individual schools' NAPLAN results are published today on the My School website, but school principals are questioning the value of NAPLAN.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Formative Assessment

Classroom assessment is a chance for teachers to put their creative and evaluative skills to the test. The structure and content of classroom assessments are entirely up to you. However, if you’re unsure of where to start, there are some precedents you could follow. We’ve got articles on them all, but to start, we’ll take a look at formative assessments.

Formative assessment occurs during a learning situation. For example, while reading a short story, a teacher might want to check for understanding by asking questions focused on the topic of concern. Formative assessment implies ongoing communication between the teacher and students, in the form of observations, questioning, and discussions. These interactions provide valuable feedback about students’ communication skills, social skills, and level of achievement. Classroom interactions are rich sources of information, and certain techniques can help make the most of these opportunities for assessment.

Checking for understanding during the presentation of a topic will allow you to get an impression of your students’ grasp of the matter at hand and to avoid long explanations at the end of the session. Close monitoring during written activities, whether in individual, paired, or group work, will foster the students’ confidence in completing the task, and this will also be a helpful tool in assessing whether any changes or extra explanations need to be done. In addition to checking understanding and levels of knowledge, teachers should focus on students’ attitudes, feelings, and interests. Surveys can be an effective means of assessing student attitudes.

Monitoring provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. It helps teachers make informed decisions and become aware of the extent to which students are learning what is being taught and whether the methods they are using are fostering or discouraging learning.

Formative assessment is the assessment of students’ progress toward a goal, conducted at regular intervals, with the teacher issuing feedback to help to improve the students’ academic achievement. To carry out a formative assessment, you might want to ask open-ended questions and check your students’ understanding of the task. Some students will be eager to answer, while others will choose not to speak in front of their peers. This can result in the same students responding to every teacher query during class discussions. If this is the case, you might want to direct your questions to particular students to foster commitment. Remember that their reticence may be due to lack of understanding, or simply a lack of confidence in speaking in front of their peers. Rephrasing the question or asking another student for assistance can be helpful.

A different approach to formative assessment is giving anonymous written tests, such as quizzes, which give the teacher a notion of the group’s understanding of what is being taught. It is important to keep records of formative assessment and include them in planning; this will allow you to analyze student progress through a grading period. Assessments must have a clear focus and reflect the content and methods the teacher has been using. In other words, the assessment should respond to the questions what, why, and how. The first thing teachers must do is to properly answer the questions themselves. There is no point in assessing when the purpose and the content are not clearly defined from the very beginning, just as there would be no point in testing students on a topic they have never explored.

Some of the top formative assessment strategies that could be carried out in class are:

1. Sharing Goals and Criteria

As mentioned, the more teachers make students a part of their learning process, the more they will engage with class work, because they will consider it to be meaningful. To have a successful year and achieve your objectives for your students, you should share your evaluating criteria and goals for the year with other teachers. Using examples of what behaviors will and will not be tolerated can also prove highly effective.

2. Observation

Teachers use observation to determine whether students need clarification. Making yourself available for consultation by walking around the class will help avoid disruptive behavior and will provide all students—not just the ones who are confident enough to ask a question in class—with necessary information. Observation also helps teachers to make any necessary modifications in lesson plans. Instant feedback generates an environment of communication and trust, where students are allowed to ask for help and feel that the teacher is not bothered by their lack of understanding.

3. Questioning

Teachers can use questions, in the form of a quiz, in place of a verbal review, after introducing a new topic in class. This type of strategy elicits immediate information about what students know related to the material being presented. Questions also foster critical thinking and debating, which in turn serve as prompts for speaking in class and help with fluency.

4. Checks for Understanding

These actions are a chance to survey if students are following your explanations. Examples of this type of assessment include:

  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Asking students to provide examples, either oral or written
  • Asking students to identify the pattern that is being taught (signaling with thumbs up or 
down, saying yes or no, holding up response cards, etc.)

Asking one of the students to explain it to the rest of the class. 
Teachers can either monitor one student at a time or all students at once, depending on the traits of the group, the time available, and the size of the group. Bear in mind that, for the assessment to be effective, all students should have an opportunity to produce their own answers without being prompted by others. Only by giving their own answers will they experience the learning process.

5. Self-Assessment and Peer Assessment

This formative assessment strategy helps build bonds among students and provides individual students with an understanding of their learning process (metacognitive thinking).

6. Record Keeping

Making students keep a record of their grades gives them ownership of their learning process. They will be able to understand where they are and where they should be in relation to classroom goals.

7. Supervised and Extended Practice

Another way to carry out consistent monitoring is to prepare extended practice worksheets to reinforce what has been explained and checked. These activities could either be designed for completion in the classroom or given as homework.

Remember, each student is an individual. As you learn about each of your students, you can tailor your instruction. This will ensure that all students have opportunities to learn and to demonstrate what they know.