Sunday, March 18, 2007

CALIFORNIA: Deep flaws found in school system

Study says allocation of funds and teacher quality are key problems among many

A yearlong, $3 million evaluation of California public schools by more than 30 education experts reveals a "deeply flawed" system that misdirects school money, emphasizes paperwork over progress, and fails to send the best teachers into the neediest schools. "Getting Down to Facts" -- a collection of 22 studies -- begins with the sobering reminder that despite years of academic reform, California students of all ethnicities still score among the worst in the nation on tests of basic reading and math.

A year ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bipartisan group of state educators and lawmakers asked the researchers to find out what was wrong with the public school system. All agreed that once the report came out, they would together try to fix the problems. On Wednesday, the Republican governor joined Assembly Speaker Fabian N£¤ez, D-Los Angeles, and state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell in presenting Part 1 of the two-part research package and vowed to pass laws that will fix the systemic problems -- but next year. "We'll definitely make next year the year of education reform," Schwarzenegger said, noting that this year he is busy dealing with prisons, health care and campaign finance.

Yet, it may take the full year just to understand what the thick study contains, much less determine what new laws will make sense, and identify funding sources for any additional money recommended in Part 2 of the study, to be released today. The "findings may make many of us uncomfortable," said O'Connell, because they are intended to upend financial and employment practices that have been in place for 30 years. Among the many revelations offered up about the 6.3 million-student system are these key points:

-- California's education data systems are so bad that it's impossible for schools to share information about what's working and what isn't, such as how many students are dropping out.

-- The state imposes too many one-size-fits-all rules -- "regulationitis," says the report -- ensuring that principals and other administrators spend more time filling out paperwork than overseeing instruction.

-- California has no coherent way of identifying and keeping quality teachers, or removing ineffective ones.

-- The state hands out education dollars "irrationally," then largely prohibits principals from deciding how best to spend them.

"Solely directing more money into the current system will not dramatically improve student achievement and will meet neither expectations nor needs," according to the report, led by Stanford economist Susanna Loeb and paid for by private foundations. Though it gives no specific solutions, the study highlights such troubling realities as the "complex and irrational" system by which the state finances school districts. The result is that two school districts with a lot in common -- say, many English learners -- often get different amounts of money from the state. That seemingly arbitrary approach stems from arcane rules dating from the 1970s, the study says.

Assembly Education Committee Chairman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said he intends to propose laws to correct such systemic quirks. The study also faults California's "multitude of teacher policies" for undermining the state's own efforts to get a qualified teacher into every classroom. For one thing, the study (relying on existing research) found that even though "teacher quality matters a lot," the state seems unable to answer the basic question of what a good teacher is. Simply choosing people who have more years of schooling, higher test scores, or better certification is a poor way to predict who will be an effective teacher, the study says.

Children whose teachers have five years of experience generally score higher than children whose teachers have only been on the job for a year or two, the study adds. But it also found that children do just as well with five-year teachers as they do with those that have 10 or 15 years of experience. Nor does scoring well on verbal or general knowledge tests indicate who will be an effective teacher. "Many lower-scoring teachers are much more effective than their higher-scoring colleagues," the study found.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, all but rolled her eyes at that news. "We've been saying for years that teaching is an art," she said, adding that the best way to see if teachers have potential is to watch them teach for about two years.

More controversial is the report's emphasis on principals' frustration with state regulations that make it hard to fire ineffective teachers. Although Nunez said Wednesday that Democrats are willing to work with that issue, his colleague Mullin indicated otherwise. Mullin is a former San Mateo County teacher of the year. "If that becomes the focus, you'll get into a pitched battle," he said.

Meanwhile, the school system suffers from "regulationitis," meaning that principals are buried under paperwork. As a result, district employees often "focus more on following the letter of the law rather than achieving district (academic) goals," said the report.


Britain: Gifted grade school children to be offered extra activities

A poor substitute for accelerated progession. The kids concerned will still be bored stiff in class

The most gifted 10 per cent of primary school children are to be offered extra classes under plans to track the brightest 400,000 through school and into university. Under the scheme, to be announced by Tony Blair on Monday, children as young as 4 will qualify for summer schools at universities, as well as online tuition, Saturday morning classes and joint activities with bright children from other schools. The scheme will extend the reach of the National Gifted and Talented Youth Agency, which is aimed at 150,000 pupils in state secondary schools. It was set up in 2002 after concerns that middle-class parents were abandoning the state sector for private schools because mixed-ability teaching failed to challenge the brightest pupils.

The initiative coincides with the release of figures from the Independent Schools Council suggesting that the growth in admissions to private schools is being driven by the primary sector. Pupil numbers in state primaries have fallen by almost 300,000, to 4.1 million, since 1997, and prep school numbers have increased by more than 14,000, to 159,000.

Downing Street emphasised, however, that the scheme aimed to ensure that more bright children were identified early on. A source said: "This is about helping each child to reach their full potential. That means identifying and developing the talents of children from an early age, and at the same time giving extra support to children who are struggling."

Under the scheme, each school will be required to appoint a teacher to select the 10 per cent most gifted and talented children. Assessments will be based on teacher assessments and the results of national Key Stage 1 tests that children sit at the age of 7. The term "gifted" is taken generally to apply to children of high intelligence, while "talented" refers to those with outstanding ability in a specific area, such as art, music or sport.

Bethan Marshall, a lecturer in education at King's College London, said: "Some children who are not labelled gifted and talented might feel like failures if they are not selected, particularly if they come from a competitive home. Children who are selected may feel it is an expectation that they have to live up to."

Peter Congdon, an educational psychologist and director of the Gifted Children's Information Centre, said that research had shown that teachers had insufficient training properly to identify gifted and talented pupils. "Teachers tend to choose children who produce good work on paper and who behave themselves. What are known as `gifted disabled' children, who may be very intelligent, but also dyslexic, may be missed, as may the ones who are very bright, but who are misfits," he said.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said: "If it is intended to buy off the middle classes it won't work because what they want is a good all-round education," he said. Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the driving force behind the National Talent Register, the existing table of the 5 per cent of pupils with the best scores for maths and English, has not been consulted over the plan to extend the programme to primary children. Sir Cyril cautioned against diverting attention and funding from the gifted and talented programme for secondary schools and said that neither scheme would work unless those running it knew exactly what they were aiming to achieve. The announcement will coincide with the release of the names of the ten local authorities that are to pilot a scheme to measure pupil progress


Australia: Poor teacher training recognized

State Education Minister Rod Welford has called a meeting of the heads of university teacher training departments to plan an overhaul of teacher training in Queensland. The meeting follows the release of a joint survey by the principals of state, Catholic and independent schools showing that teaching graduates wanted courses overhauled to give them the skills to teach and manage students. Almost a quarter of beginning teachers plan to leave the profession within five years because of the pressures they face.

Mr Welford met with 70 principals in the Cairns area yesterday, and said they were deeply concerned about the levels of practical training given to students. "It's far too little," he said. Some students undertaking four-year degree courses spent less time prac teaching than those undertaking 12-month postgraduate teaching courses, which had struck a better balance.

Mr Welford said as well as discussing the report, the meeting with the deans of education was essential as new national guidelines for teacher training were being drawn up and the Queensland College of Teachers was reviewing teacher training in Queensland. Mr Welford said the report had shown that Queensland schools and principals were the best in Australia at inducting new teachers into schools. "They deserve a big tick for this," he said.

The Minister's view was supported by first and second year teachers at St Rita's College Clayfield, Monya Duplessis, 23, Anna Sayers, 36, John Mundell, 29. The three beginning teachers said they were being mentored and supported by their department heads and were guided in how to handle issues such as parent-teacher interviews. Even with strong support, however, they find their 7.30am to 5pm days a challenge. "You have to be constantly on the ball and there is very little down time," Mr Mundell, a University of Queensland graduate said. He spent 26 weeks of his 18 month Bachelor of Education degree prac teaching and found the experience invaluable.

Ms Duplessis, a QUT graduate, said her lecturers prepared her well for the challenges of prac teaching in schools at Shailer Park and Woodridge. "If you are equipped with the skills and if you are prepared it is not too much of a problem."

Ms Sayers, a former marketing and business executive who completed her teacher training part-time at the Australian Catholic University said life would be much harder for teachers in smaller rural and remote schools with fewer resources. Principal Sister Elvera was concerned by the report's revelation that 27 per cent of beginning teachers are asked to teach subjects in which they are not trained. "I think it would be very very difficult and the students would soon be aware of the fact," she said.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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