Friday, December 17, 2004


A great school but the education establishment hates it. THEY want all the say in how kids are educated. Too bad about parents' rights

The newest public middle school in this mostly working-class town 11 miles north of Boston is a small six-room annex at the rear of a church. Its playground is an empty parking lot. There's no official gym, no theater, no science lab, no lockers, no room to spare. Yet for the 77 Lynn families who sent their fifth-graders to the brand new KIPP Academy charter school this past August -- a month before classes began at regular public schools -- this place is a godsend. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a national network of 38 public schools across the country, has been widely acclaimed for its success putting underserved students on the path to college. Started in 1994 by two former Teach for America teachers, KIPP's flagship schools in Houston and New York City continue to outperform their district counterparts, and in the last 10 years each has risen to become one of the top-performing schools in its district.

Five months into their first year at KIPP Lynn, students are at home in their new classrooms. The atmosphere is one of quiet concentration, thanks to KIPP's strict standards of behavior, but the lessons are engaging and even spirited. In one math class, the teacher leads a group of enthusiastic fifth-graders as they clap their hands and shout their way through the multiplication tables in unison: "Boom! KIPP, KIPP, good as gold, let me see your fingers roll: 8, 16, 32, 40!"

And yet these children are not exceptional learners. As an open-enrollment school, KIPP draws from the same population found in its neighboring district schools, and, says principal Josh Zoia, is more heavily minority and has a higher percentage of special education students than the district as a whole. So what's KIPP's secret? According to the 31-year-old Zoia, who also wrote KIPP Lynn's charter, success comes from placing education at the center of children's lives and teaching behavior expectations as systematically as their lessons.

School days begin at 7:30 a.m. and last until 5:00 p.m., plus two hours of homework, four hours of class every other Saturday, and three to four weeks in the summer. "If students need extra help, teachers are available by phone until 10 p.m. each night," says Zoia. "If a mom can't rouse her child out of bed, we go and pick the kid up." After four years, Zoia explains, KIPP students will have spent up to 60 percent more time in the classroom than their public school counterparts -- an extra 2- 1/2 years of school.

Aside from the intrinsic draw of KIPP's program, for many Lynn parents the school simply represents another choice. Most have had few educational options for their children; unlike wealthier families, few can afford private schools or just pick up and move to the suburbs. To them, charter schools -- publicly funded schools that operate outside the regulatory constraints of most public schools -- seem a great alternative to their district options, and they've pinned their hopes on KIPP, sight unseen.

But not everyone in Lynn shares this zeal for charter schools. Last fall, the mayor of Lynn, the school superintendent, the School Committee, the head of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, and several state representatives all fought to bar, or at least postpone, any new charter school in Lynn. For them, the issue was simple: The Lynn public school system could not afford to support a new charter school, no matter how good the program might be.

More here

Degrees of disillusion

There's a lot of useless education out there

A higher qualification doesn't guarantee you a job, reports Dylan Welch. Each year, from March, the big guns come to university campuses. They are representatives of law firms, management consultants, accountants and big business, and they want to attract the best and brightest to their firms. Over the course of their final year, candidates for graduate programs are whittled down. The ones who are rewarded with a job by November have usually gone through an application process involving group and individual interviews, a barrage of tests and quasi interviews, such as cocktail parties, which are used to gauge an applicant's social skills. Entry into graduate programs is highly prized. It's seen by many as a fast track to a stellar career: with on-the-job training and other perks such as mentoring and travel.

But what about those who miss out? Disappointment at rejection is intensified when classmates are boasting of three or four job offers. They see years ahead working with no career path and a wasted degree. Three months ago, Christine Neufeld graduated from the Law College of NSW after a three-year degree in psychology and a four-year degree in law. She had high hopes of getting a job after graduating but so far success has been elusive. According to Neufeld, she didn't expect the job market to be so competitive and she admits to being naive in thinking she would get a job straight away. "I probably should have started looking long before I graduated," she says. "It's been a big shock to me, definitely a big shock." She makes ends meet by working in administration at the University of Sydney two days a week and spends the rest of the week job hunting. She says it takes a full two days to prepare for an interview, which only compounds the disappointment when she misses out. But she says she remains upbeat and positive she'll find work.

The 2003 GradStats, a report on the employment activities of graduating classes in 2002, by the Graduate Careers Council of Australia, shows a levelling-off of jobs for new graduates. It states that 80.1 per cent of 2002's graduates were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degree, a fall of 1.9 per cent on the previous year. "The market has been flat," says the executive director of the council, Cindy Tilbrook. "We tend to reflect what overseas markets are doing and September 11 caused a dramatic downturn in the graduate market in the US and the same thing happened here."

Nathan Laird, the president of NSW Young Lawyers, says competition for jobs with the big law firms, such as Minter Ellison and Blake Dawson Waldron, is becoming increasingly intense among the 5000 law graduates each year in NSW.

But it's not just law students who are finding the competition fierce. Adam Antonio enrolled in a bachelor of computer science and technology at the University of Sydney in 1998, during the heady days of the dotcom boom. But by the time he graduated, in 2001, the bubble had burst and there were slim pickings in IT jobs. "I'd apply for a job and I'd never hear anything about it again," he says. He applied for more than one hundred jobs but got only six interviews. "In the first few months I would ring and ask whether I had progressed to the next stage and a typical response was, 'We had over 600 applicants for this position, we couldn't afford to contact them all, if you haven't been contacted by this stage you can safely assume that you haven't made it."'

In the field of multimedia, Nicole Frost, who graduated with a bachelor of arts from UTS in 2002 has also found the going tough. To date, she has applied for more than 200 jobs in multimedia, gone through 40 interviews and is becoming resigned to never getting a job in multimedia. She says by far the worst part of her experience has been the jobs she almost got. "If the interview went badly you knew why you didn't get it," she says. "But there was one job where I got down to the final four and I didn't get hired. That was worse than just getting knocked out in the first round."

Tilbrook says that many undergraduate students can be unprepared for the modern job market, failing to grasp that there is more to landing that dream job than just high distinctions and first-class honours. Academic results are really only the starting point. "We've been talking to graduate recruiters recently and some of the big graduate recruiters will get five or six thousand applications," she says. "They're looking for things like leadership, or teamwork, communication skills. If a graduate can say, 'I've either worked at McDonald's and I was a shift manager', or 'I was the captain of my netball team and have managed all the events for the team', then that will be held in good stead as a demonstration of some of those other skills." Graduates should look beyond the glamour of big firms to increase their chances of getting a job. Suburban and country firms take on graduates and can provide them with a strong start.

The manager of the UTS careers service, Malcolm McKenzie, says that despite big firms being the most visible recruiters of graduates, it doesn't mean they represent the wider employer market. "These big employers are only a small proportion of the whole field. We have maybe 100 firms come to campus but many, many more than that recruit our graduates. By all means try for these [large firms] but if you miss out, it's not the end of the world." McKenzie says students restrict their chances of work by not applying to lots of firms. "One of the things we've seen is students are becoming more selective in their choice of employers. Instead of applying for a wide number of jobs, they tend to restrict themselves to only the four or five that they want."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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