Wednesday, June 14, 2006


On some days, as few as three of 25 registered students show up for Bonnie Campbell's art class at Buffalo's Lafayette High School. And in Rhonda Mathiebe's health class, attendance dips as low as eight of 32 students. Teachers place much of the blame on a new grading system that allows many students to pass their courses even if they don't show up for the second half of the school year. Many students have learned that, if they earn an 80 average through the first half of the school year, they can skip the rest of year and still pass. The lowest grade the district gives is 50, so that grade averaged with the 80 results in a passing grade of 65.

Teachers said the new policy - which involves the elimination of district-generated final exams - has caused low attendance rates at Buffalo public high schools to get even worse. "It [absenteeism] is just rampant," said Campbell, a teacher for 30 years. "The students know they don't have to be here [to pass], and there's no way of keeping them in the building."

The problem is hardly confined to Lafayette. For the attendance period that ended March 31, 12 of 13 city high schools had lower attendance rates than they did during the corresponding period last school year. In many cases, the drop was severe. Riverside's rate fell from 78.5 to 67 percent; Seneca's from 82.2 to 74.5 percent; East's from 81.1 to 77.3 percent; and Lafayette's from 83.8 to 78.6 percent. School officials say attendance rates of less than 90 percent are unacceptable.

The grading system in effect since December is a significant factor, Lafayette Principal Jacquelyn Baldwin said. "There are students who are smart enough to find the out," she said. "The kids looking for the out took it." District officials plan to meet with teachers to hear and address their concerns, said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for Superintendent James A. Williams. "There are a lot of variables that can contribute to attendance numbers," she said. The grading quirk dates to December, when Williams announced that district-generated final exams were being eliminated. "They are not scientifically based and, in my view, are not aligned with state standards," he said of the exams.

Under the new policy, students will pass courses if they receive a final average of 65 on their course work or a grade of at least 65 on a corresponding Regents exam. A student's final grade is determined by averaging report card grades for the school year's four marking periods. So a student who gets 80 in both the first and second marking period is assured of a year-end average of at least 65, since the minimum allowable report card grade is 50. (Two 80s and two 50s average out to 65.) When district-generated final exams were given, they often counted for as much as 25 percent of a student's grade. As a result, they played a pivotal role in the marking system and gave reluctant students a compelling reason to continue attending classes.

Teachers still can give final exams, but can only use the results to help determine grades for the fourth marking period. Long before then, students may have already secured passing grades. "They figure it out," Mathiebe said. "They know. Some of them actually come up and say: "You won't see me again until graduation.' " The wave of absenteeism is evident even in Regents classes, where students are still required to pass an exam to get credit.

Flora Osmani, a Lafayette teacher, considers it "a good day" when 15 of 25 enrolled students show up for her Regents biology class. "This attitude that exists in other classes has been transferred to my class," she said. "Kids are not coming to school."

Cat-and-mouse games with grading and attendance policies at Buffalo schools are nothing new. Until this year, students were disqualified from final exams if they were absent more than 28 times. As a result, teachers and administrators said, some students took 26 or 27 days off, then started coming to school regularly. The Board of Education is now considering a proposed attendance policy that would base 10 percent of a student's grade on classroom attendance during each 10-week marking period. Board members tabled that proposal for further discussion after learning that the policy did not distinguish between a student who skips school and one who is home with the flu.


Australian Leftists embrace elite universities

Labor is abandoning the centrepiece of its university funding policy under a radical rethink that will return the party to a system of rewarding high-achieving institutions. In a shift to the Centre that Opposition Deputy Leader Jenny Macklin said should have occurred years ago, Labor will dismantle the 1980s' "one-size-fits-all" funding model that treated all universities, including converted colleges of advanced education, as equal. Labor will abandon the system it introduced through the Dawkins reforms of funding all universities on the same basis per student and instead allow institutions to focus on specialised areas and let other areas lapse.

While Ms Macklin declined to provide details of the new policy, it raises the possibility that law and neurosurgery might become the specialist domain of sandstone universities, while regional universities might be encouraged to focus on agriculture or teaching. Ms Macklin, who holds the Opposition education portfolio, said Labor would fund student places differentially between universities to "allow them to do what they do best". "We want to fund (each university) according to mission, and have differentiated missions," Ms Macklin said. "It is time to end the one-size-fits-all approach. We must embrace diversity."

The move, alongside Labor's recent dumping of its rich-schools hit list, represents a shift to the Centre for education policy under Kim Beazley. Labor is ditching the shibboleth of the Dawkins reforms of 1987, named for Hawke government education minister John Dawkins. His "unified national system" turned CAEs into universities overnight. All public universities - there are now 37 in the country - have been funded at the same level per student place ever since. Governments have stuck with the model for fear that weaker universities might collapse if they are forced to compete for public funding. Ms Macklin yesterday would not guarantee there would be no failures under Labor's proposal.

Her colleague, federal Labor MP Craig Emerson, went further, saying universities should be allowed to fail and be taken over by more successful competitors. But Ms Macklin said no university would be worse off because Labor would put "serious additional public investment" into the system. She said change was needed to ensure Australian universities, where funding per student has been in long-term decline, keep pace with international competitors.

The move was welcomed by individual universities. Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Chubb said the proposal was "necessary". He said the idea that "we should all do the same thing, achieve the same standards and therefore get funded at the same rate per student by discipline" was "a relic of the distant past". "If we are going to get better at what we do, and build on the stage that is suitable for the different institutions, then you have to get differential funding per student."

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis called Labor's shift an "important development" alongside this week's approval by Education Minister Julie Bishop for his university to reshape itself as an US-style graduate school. It showed that both sides of politics now believe "it is time to move on", he said. He said the rapid growth of private higher education providers in recent years could only mean that public universities "are not offering the sort of courses many students are looking for", and the funding system prevented them from doing so.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


No comments: