Friday, December 02, 2005


Test scores of students enrolled at least two years in city charter schools improved at a faster rate than their peers in traditional public schools statewide, according to a report being released today. The report, which analyzed state test data and other information, shows students in city charter schools bucking a national charter school trend of mediocre achievement. At four Indianapolis charters -- 21st Century Charter School, Christel House Academy, Flanner House Elementary and Andrew J. Brown Academy -- the percentage of students in all grades tested who passed the ISTEP-Plus test increased 22 percentage points from 2002 to 2004.

In contrast, the statewide overall ISTEP-Plus passing rate improved by just 1 percentage point during the same period, according to the report. The findings are in an 88-page accountability report issued by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, an annual document touting the successes -- and acknowledging some shortcomings -- of these nontraditional public school alternatives. There are 13 mayor-approved charter programs in Indianapolis serving nearly 2,000 students with about 500 on waiting lists to enroll.

But charter school critics remain unconvinced the schools help children learn more. "In all of this charter school stuff, it's almost like a boutique, with one school trying this and another school trying that," said Marilyn Haring, a Purdue University education professor and former dean of the School of Education. "They're tinkering with education -- and they're not educators, they're politicians."

The mayor's system for monitoring charter schools drew attention this fall when his staff ordered Flanner House Higher Learning Center to shut down after spotting irregularities in financial oversight and attendance records. Scheduled to shutter for good on Dec. 23, the school could close sooner, said Thomas Major Jr., the trustee appointed by the city to oversee student transfers to other schools and adult education programs, and to recoup any assets. "We're knee-deep in transition and now getting more focused on the business end of things," Major said Tuesday.

The report provides other details on mayor-approved charters such as parent and staff satisfaction with the schools and expert reviews of the schools' academic programs, management and financial operations. Aside from Flanner House Higher Learning Center, the report found no serious problems. Some issues were noted, however, such as the need to involve teachers more in decisions at Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence (SENSE). Teachers who have cell phones so students can reach them around the clock at KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory School risk burnout, the report also cautioned.

Peterson and the city's charter schools staff admit they're not education experts, which is why they contract with those who are to assist in evaluating strengths and weaknesses of the programs. Ruth Green, with the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis, has been in many of the mayor-approved charter schools to see how they're doing and says the schools for the most part are high-performing and give families a range of educational options.

For the first time, the mayor's report emphasizes Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus scores, the mandatory assessment for Grades 3-10 public school students


An Australian reformer who's in a class of his own

Four years after he took over the portfolio, Education Minister Brendan Nelson has a message for academics and teachers suffering reform fatigue: It's not over yet. The changes the Howard Government is preparing to deliver will continue to blur the traditional divide between public and private funding. This week, Nelson flagged a new push to introduce a US-style graduate school approach in the nation's universities that would encourage students to complete a generalist degree in arts or science before obtaining professional qualifications in law or medicine at sandstone graduate schools.

Nelson is also proposing to introduce significant teacher training reforms to tackle children's literacy skills and considering a new national Year 12 certificate with common curriculum in key areas including physics, maths, English and chemistry. Urging the states to put away their "understandably parochial interests", he argues the reforms are in the national interest. "You can't say to people they should learn the same thing, on the same day, on the same week of the year and have the same test," he says. "But in some areas, surely, elements of mathematics, physics and chemistry are common to everyone; [it] doesn't matter where you are."

But the great paradox of the deregulation agenda the Howard Government has pursued remains the demand to exercise even greater centralised power over curriculum, research and course content from Canberra. The system is confronting a future where the divide between the public and private system has collapsed. The old barriers are dissolving as the future of the education system emerges from the class war approach to private school funding and the death of a free university education. It's a trend that predates Nelson's appointment but has accelerated under his tenure. Last year, taxpayer funding from the commonwealth for private schools outstripped that delivered to publicly funded universities.

While the states retain responsibility for the lion's share of public school funding through GST revenues, the growth of funding to private schools has been significant. The states fund about 88 per cent of public school budgets, while the commonwealth provides about $7.6 billion to independent and Catholic schools and $4.8 billion to state schools. Commonwealth funding to independent schools has increased at twice the rate as to state schools.

After pledging to "take the heat" out of the divisive schools debate, Nelson can claim authorship of the devastating line that the ALP had a "private school hit list" in the lead-up to last year's election, an attack that successfully diverted attention away from claims he should have invested more in the nation's public schools. Racing between appointments at universities and a conference on the Year 12 certificate this week, there's more. Nelson wants five-year-olds tested for their basic reading skills when they start school and even the state-controlled early childhood education system is in his sights. "I think that early childhood education is a mess. It's a question of luck in many parts of Australia as to whether your child will get access to early childhood education and, if so, what the quality will be," he says. "I think that is one of the major frontiers for further reform that is a product of federalism at its worst. "

After a call for action from the University of Melbourne's vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, he is also prepared to debate even greater deregulation of universities' ability to generate fee income, including debate on lifting the 35 per cent cap on the proportion of full-fee degree places that can be offered to students who miss out on marks. "Volume, too often, has been at the expense of quality," Nelson says. "As far as the future is concerned, I think we need to move towards an environment where there is much less regulation that applied to our research-intensive universities. "They should have a smaller undergraduate load. They have to ask themselves whether world-class quality is compatible with very large undergraduate enrolments."

Marking his fourth anniversary in the education portfolio - he was appointed to the ministry and straight into cabinet on November 23, 2001 and was sworn in four years ago today, November 26 - Nelson doesn't seem to have run out of ideas.....

From publishing attendance records of teachers employed by the states to demanding workplace agreements are offered to TAFE teachers, commonwealth funding has come with a price. The Government has preached the choice mantra over schools but demanded the right to determine curriculum and reporting standards for parents or starve the states of funding. The failure of the Howard Government to confront this contradiction is not lost on critics of the intellectual rigour of the reform agenda. Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam, one of the authors of a 2003 education paper that called for the introduction of a voucher scheme, argues the theme of greater government control over curriculum is at odds with Liberal Party tradition. "It is ironic that the Liberal Party appears to advocating a national curriculum given that it fought against the idea when Labor proposed it in the 1980s and 1990s," he says. "There is no reason school curriculum should be uniform across the country. A single nationwide curriculum would eliminate the ability of the states to compete against each other to improve standards. Whether we like or not, the best curriculum is developed through trial and error and this would be impossible under a national curriculum.

"The best argument against a national curriculum comes by looking at what Joan Kirner tried to do to school education in Victoria in the 1990s; she lowered standards, reduced course content and removed competitive assessment. If Kirner had been the federal education minister and if there had been a national curriculum, the consequences for the entire country would have been horrendous. Different curriculum systems are the only safeguard we have against this happening." Yet the concept remains a popular one among parents, particularly those who must confront the different state systems when moving interstate.

More here


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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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