Monday, January 07, 2008

In Minn., federal NCLB education program to get more scrutiny

When legislators meet next month, some Republicans will again have their eye on the No Child Left Behind law. Republican senators plan to introduce a bill that would end Minnesota's participation in the federal program. The program is aimed at forcing schools to improve their students' test scores, and hands down penalties if they don't. "What we want is to make a real firm stand for local control," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who added that he represents Senate Republicans on the issue. "We've had five years of the No Child Left Behind regime, and I think it's safe to call it a failure now. We're giving it an F and trying to take back our schools."

Senators and representatives from both parties have tried to yank Minnesota out from under No Child Left Behind's requirements over the last few years, but to no avail. For one thing, thumbing their noses at the federal government has a price: The loss of federal school funds. According to the most recent estimates, Minnesota could forfeit $250 million a year if it decided to buck No Child Left Behind. Also, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been a supporter of the program, though his office was not available for comment on the current proposed legislation.

Many Minnesota educators oppose the program, saying it forces schools to devote too much time and money to testing and can result in tough penalties, such as the forced reorganization of entire schools if they fail to meet their goals for too many consecutive years.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville and the leader of a previous effort to get Minnesota out of NCLB, said she wouldn't necessarily support the Republican effort. "I think they're Johnny-come-latelies," she said. "To me, it's kind of cheap words right now when the president is sinking into the mud on so many issues, and now they can divorce themselves from him on this." Greiling said that her position on NCLB has evolved into an "amend-it-don't-end-it" stance and that she wants to wait for Congress to decide what to do before committing to state action. The law, signed by President Bush in 2002, is up for reauthorization.

Michel said the state can absorb the loss of federal funds because of all the money it would save by not having to adhere to the law. A legislative auditor's report released in 2004 said that Minnesota schools would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to meet No Child Left Behind's requirements. "My sense is that there is bipartisan agreement that (NCLB) is not working," he said. "There may be some who don't want to go quite as far as withdrawing from it. I think we're just negotiating the terms of the divorce here."


Leftist teachers again

The American Federation of Teachers reported spending almost $800,000 last month on mailings and radio advertisements in Iowa and New Hampshire in support of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. The teachers are the biggest spenders among labor unions and interest groups backing candidates in early-voting states. The groups spent more than $2.3 million last month, almost seven times the amount spent in December 2003 before the last presidential-election year, Federal Election Commission records show.

These efforts represent just some of the millions being poured into the early-voting states by outside groups. Also fueling the spending binge is a Supreme Court decision in June that gave companies, labor unions and interest groups the power to run broadcast ads before elections that specifically mention a federal candidate, overturning part of federal law on free-speech grounds.

“You have to look at this as an arms race,” said Steve Weissman, an associate director at the Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks independent spending. Clinton has been the biggest beneficiary - and the biggest target - of the independent expenditures.

On the Republican side, outside groups have been active as well. Log Cabin Republicans, a group that supports gay rights, ran radio ads against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. The Club for Growth, which supports lower taxes and spending, spent $547,963 against former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa, FEC records show.


Educational realism growing in Australia

The booming demand for tradesmen has accelerated a disturbing education trend, with the number of male school-leavers applying for university falling for the 10th year in a row. The latest tertiary admission figures reveal that just 38 per cent of university applicants are male, down from more than 42 per cent a decade ago. Pat Smith of the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre said the latest figures were worrying. "It's getting worse. It is a drain which is a concern for Queensland tertiary institutions," he said.

The overall number of applicants has also declined by about 1000, with 50,400 students applying for the 1400 courses on offer this year. The fall in male applications over the past few years averages 1355 students annually. Many of the male school-leavers not going on to uni have been lured by the big money on offer in the mining and building industries. Qualified tradesmen in some high-demand areas can earn more than $100,000 by the age of 21.

Gold Coast carpenter Kane Anderson, 18, who graduated from All Saints Anglican School, said he decided in Year 11 his best option was to take up an apprenticeship. "After three years' work, you can earn more than $100,000. Then you can start your own company and it just keeps growing and growing. "A lot of my friends are all doing different trades. Carpentry is one of the most popular. I'll be 21 when I finish, still young and earning good money."

But other young men who have decided against a degree in favour of a wage as an unskilled labourer have been urged by education authorities to reconsider and apply mid-year for university spots. The first round of university offers will be released on Thursday, with seven out of 10 applicants expected to get their first preference. The most popular courses this year are natural and physical sciences (up 16 per cent on last year), engineering (up 14 per cent) and architecture and building (up 8 per cent). Education (down 18 per cent) has experienced the biggest drop....

National Union of Students president Angus McFarland acknowledged school-leavers were faced with difficult decisions. University students could be left with a debt which ranged from $30,000 to $500,000, he said. "It's not surprising that a young man or woman who has the option of going to university and studying for four years or going into a trade and getting $100,000 will make that decision to work."


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