Thursday, October 12, 2006

School vouchers can be a solution to segregation, analysis finds

Private schools participating in voucher programs in the Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., districts are much less segregated than public schools, according to an eye-opening new analysis that also finds that segregation levels in private schools generally are not substantially different from those in public schools.

With one of the goals of the U.S. education system to increase integration in public schools, the report provides powerful ammunition against attacks by opponents of school choice who maintain that voucher programs are camouflaged attempts to promote segregation in education. "Private schools have more potential to desegregate students because they break down geographic barriers, drawing students together across neighborhood boundaries," according to the report's author, Dr. Greg Forster, director of research at the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. "But this potential for desegregation in private schools is hindered because many students can't afford private school. School vouchers overcome the monetary barrier, enabling private schools to make desegregation a reality."

The Friedman Foundation, declared "the nation's leading voucher advocates" by the Wall Street Journal, was founded in 1996 on the belief that the best way to improve the quality of education is to give all parents the freedom to choose the schools that their children attend. This report follows two recent, original studies released by the Foundation, which found private schools participating in the Cleveland and Milwaukee voucher programs to be 18 and 13 points less segregated than their public school counterparts. Forster analysed the results of all available studies using valid empirical methods to compare segregation in public and private schools, both in general and in the context of school voucher programs.

The best way to measure segregation is by a "segregation index" comparing schools to the racial composition of the larger metropolitan area in which they are located, rather than looking at a particular unit such as a school district, Forster says. The "second-best way" employed by some studies is measuring racial homogeneity, such as measuring the percentage of schools that are more than 90 percent white or more than 90 percent minority. "The public's primary concern regarding school segregation is the continued existence of large numbers of schools that are very heavily white or very heavily non-white," Forster noted. "To test for the presence of these schools, measuring percent white versus percent minority is appropriate."

Forster reports that all seven valid empirical studies that have been conducted on voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington find that participating private schools are much less segregated than public schools. Three valid empirical studies have also compared public and private schools in general; they show that private schools are actually less segregated than public schools when examined at the classroom level, and that segregation levels in private schools are not substantially different from those in public schools when examined at the school level.

For example, two studies by Marquette University researchers looked at the Milwaukee voucher program. One compared public elementary schools to Catholic elementary schools participating in the voucher program, and found that 58 percent of public elementary students and 38 percent of Catholic elementary students attended schools that were racially homogeneous (more than 90 percent white or 90 percent minority.)

Another compared public schools to all private schools participating in the voucher program and found that 54 percent of public elementary students and 37 percent of public secondary students attended racially homogenous schools. Of the private schools participating in the voucher program, 50 percent of elementary students and 16 percent of secondary students were in racially homogeneous schools.

When Forster calculated the "segregation index" of Milwaukee, he found that voucher-participating private schools were 13 points less segregated than public schools - equal to the difference between a school being 60 percent and a school being 73 percent white in a city that was 50 percent white.

"Private schools have a much greater potential to desegregate students because they break down geographic barriers, drawing students together across neighborhood boundaries in a way the government school monopoly cannot match even when it tries to do so," Forster concludes. "The evidence shows that vouchers are in fact moving children from more segregated public schools into less segregated private schools."



A new science GCSE [junior High School course] that replaces traditional physics, chemistry and biology with discussions about topical issues such as GM crops and the MMR vaccine is attacked today by leading academics as "more suitable to the pub than the schoolroom". The reformed curriculum will not inspire more children to study science at a higher level, while also failing in its main goal of breeding a more scientifically literate public, senior researchers, educationists and ethicists said. The critics, who include Baroness Warnock, the philosopher who framed the embryo research laws, and Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London and a former chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, say that the new course teaches too little about basic concepts to be of much use either to the next generation of scientists, doctors and engineers, or to those who will drop science at 16.

The "Twenty-First Century Science" GCSE, introduced nationally last month, is being taken by pupils at a third of England's secondary schools. Experts say that its replacement of practical experiments and understanding of fundamental principles with debate about the "impact of science and technology on modern life" will leave students poorly prepared to pursue all sciences at A level and university. They argue that it will also encourage pupils to develop opinions before they understand the underlying research, potentially undermining the scientific literacy that the course seeks to build.

The new syllabus is designed to make science more relevant to teenagers by engaging them with issues of public concern, such as nuclear power or bird flu, rather than teaching traditional physics, chemistry and biology. Pupils also have the option to take a second GCSE that teaches the basics required if they wish to pursue one of these subjects in the sixth form. It is one of two new GCSEs that are replacing the double science award, which used to be taken by most state school pupils. Another alternative is a multiple-choice-based option that has also been severely criticsed for failing to stretch students. Fears have been raised that many hundreds of schools will be attracted to the new exams, after it emerged that from next year their success at GCSE level in the national league tables would also be measured on the percentage of pupils achieving two or more passes in science.

Sir Richard said that it was impossible to have meaningful and informed debate about science and society without first understanding how science works, which is best learnt by practical experiment and mastering fundamental principles. "A science curriculum based on encouraging pupils to debate science in the news is taking a back-to-front approach," he said. "Science should inform the news agenda, not the other way around. "Before we can engage the public in an informed debate we need the scientists to do the science. And before the future citizen can contribute to the decision-making process, they need to have a good grounding in the fundamentals of science and technology, rather than the soundbite science that state school curriculums are increasingly moving towards."

Lady Warnock said: "The present policy has two incompatible aims: to give all pupils some understanding of the subject matter of the sciences, and to so fire the imagination of a substantial minority of them that they want to pursue their interest into the sixth form and beyond. "The new syllabus encourages a postmodern view that science is just one of many ways of finding out about the world, and that its claims are as open to challenge as those of any interested pressure group," she said. The agenda is set by the press, creating debates that are "more suitable for the pub than the school room".

Their criticisms are voiced in What is Science Education For?, published today by the Institute of Ideas, an independent think-tank. In its lead essay, David Perks, head of physics at Graveney School in Wandsworth, southwest London, said that a better way of improving science education would be to return to teaching physics, chemistry and biology as separate disciplines.

Maths and physics A levels will no longer be mandatory for students wishing to study physics at the University of East Anglia, London South Bank University, University of Leicester and University of Surrey. The new "integrated sciences" degree follows the University of Reading's decision to close its physics department last week.


Australia: Curriculum choice would force reform

A middle way between continued State government negligence and a Federal takeover of education

If a high quality, teachable curriculum were drafted by Australia's best minds and most outstanding teachers, it would no doubt be highly attractive to most Australian parents. Julie Bishop is leading a crucial national debate about curriculum standards. Her determination to improve curriculum is to be applauded, and hopefully the federal Government will oversee the development of new high quality curriculum available for adoption around Australia.

The Australian Government is probably the only government that can bring together the necessary elements to achieve this. Its greatest challenge, however, will be to have such a curriculum actually taught in schools run by the states. The temptation, which brought former education minister John Dawkins unstuck in the early 1990s, is to negotiate the curriculum with the same people used by the states. This would sink the enterprise from the start. There will be no high quality national curriculum if it has to be negotiated with the states and territories, and there will be no purpose in developing such a curriculum unless schools are allowed to offer it.

The answer is to end each state's insistence on a monopolistic position in its schools for its own curriculum. The concept of one curriculum imposed on every school is outdated. Bishop is right to say a national interest in curriculum is not a matter of replacing the states' monopoly with a national monopoly. This will prove to be the key policy point. In developing its curriculum the Australian Government may well need to use its power to require the states and territories to permit schools to choose any accredited curriculum, including one developed by the national government. In doing so, Canberra will gain the freedom to develop the curriculum it wants, using its own preferred people and processes, the best it can find, and avoiding reliance on the states being willing to have the national curriculum replace their own.

By requiring the states to abolish the privileged position of their own curriculums - developed by people the community has never heard of - the federal Government will be free to develop the curriculum it believes will gain the respect of most parents (and teachers) and have that curriculum adopted by schools. Giving schools the choice will also sidestep the risk that a future national government will simply replace one national curriculum with another, perhaps with one that shares the flaws evident in present state offerings. If schools have the right to choose the curriculum they will offer, the choices of parents will determine the issue, not the decisions of one political level or one bureaucracy.

More important still, allowing schools to choose their curriculum will end the capacity of any fad or ideology to gain control of the mechanisms for developing curriculum, thereby imposing itself on every school and student. The prospect of having a monopoly over the school curriculum is surely one of the great motivating forces that attracts the faddists and the ideologues.

Ending the monopoly of state curriculums will establish accountability by schools to parents for the curriculum they teach, an accountability parents would welcome, and one very much in harmony with the federal Government's philosophy of choice in education. Schools will no longer be able to blame a curriculum imposed on them for student and parent dissatisfaction.

Enabling schools to choose a national curriculum if they wish also goes a considerable way to solving the problem, identified by the Prime Minister, of families moving interstate and finding a substantial lack of continuity in what their children are being taught. If schools in each state are free to choose the national curriculum, parents moving interstate will be able to choose a national curriculum school whose curriculum will be the same as that of many schools in other states. Ending the monopolistic position of state curriculums is not quite as radical as may appear. The principle of parent choice of curriculum has already been accepted.

Instead of the state curriculum, schools can now use the International Baccalaureate, and that curriculum has not been negotiated with the unions or the states. It is an internationally accepted curriculum with high academic standards that some students prefer to do because its assessment is recognised internationally. It is not a big jump to allow schools to choose a national curriculum as well. The states would resist giving parents the option of a high quality national curriculum at their peril, and the Australian Government would doubtless welcome a political battle on the point.

The case of the IB is instructive, because it shows it is possible for schools to offer more than one curriculum. It also shows that schools can use curriculum to attract parents and establish a reputation for quality. Choice of curriculum by schools does not mean that we have to accept lack of comparability across the country. The issue here is not curriculum, but standards and assessment. The other element in the package of reform in this area needs to be national standards and national assessment. We already have national literacy and numeracy standards. National assessments can provide key mechanisms of accountability, and can be designed to cope with curriculum diversity. There are good international examples that make the point.

For decades, Australian students wanting to study in the US have sat something called the Graduate Record Examination that has tested their general abilities and their learning in areas such as maths and science and the humanities. The tests have had enough credibility to be significant in admission to the best universities in the world. These are assessments. They are not curriculums, and they assume that students have not studied the same curriculum. They are designed to find out what students have learned against common standards from the enormous variety of curriculums they have actually studied.

We could have national assessments of that kind in Australia, and the same assessment could be administered in every state and territory. Curriculum choice is therefore entirely compatible with assessment systems that enable parents and the community to determine what and how well students have learned, and to compare the performances of schools and school systems.

There are real possibilities for the production of new high quality curriculums outside the historic institutional battles between school systems, teacher unions and universities, drawing on the best minds in each subject area, and the best evidence-based teaching experience. In principle this can be done by private think tanks and organisations as well as (or better than) by government authorities. It is most likely to happen if the principle of choice is further extended in relation to curriculum.



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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