Saturday, March 22, 2008

British politician glimpses the reality of class sizes

And teachers refuse to acknowledge what the evidence has long shown -- that LARGER classes are fine

A schools minister was yesterday heckled by teachers after he backed larger class sizes and suggested that it could be "perfectly acceptable" to teach maths to pupils in classes of up to 70. Jim Knight, was jeered at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Torquay after using his speech to advocate teaching classes of up to 38. He went on to say he had seen successful maths classes of up to 70 children with the aid of teaching assistants. The government is planning a national scheme of one-to-one tutoring for primary pupils struggling in reading and maths and promising greater "personalisation" of teaching. Opposition MPs accused Knight of undermining his government's own policy with his comments.

Questioned by one delegate yesterday about how teachers could be expected to teach classes of 38 pupils well, Knight replied that classroom assistants could help make large classes "manageable". "Class sizes are obviously something we take seriously. If they are growing to the extent that the delegate talks about then there are some concerns attached to that," he said. "Teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants working alongside teachers are very important to ensuring that class sizes of 38 are manageable."

The audience responded with jeers and shouts of "no!" Knight said he had seen a "perfectly acceptable" maths class in Telford of 70 pupils working well in a large room with three or four teaching assistants. "There was good learning going on," he said. Phil Jacques, ATL's executive member for Dorset, said: "Class sizes of 38 should not be made to be manageable. They just simply shouldn't exist."

In what was supposed to be a vote of thanks for the minister, Jacques called the government's national curriculum dismal, tedious, inflexible and of very little value to the majority of children. "No wonder we have large numbers of disaffected children in those schools - in schools where the disaffection results in violence," Jacques said. Knight described the reception he received as "a sort of friendly disagreement".

The government has met commitments to cut class sizes in English primary schools by 2002, though some evidence suggests numbers have crept back up again in some areas. The Scottish parliament has committed to cutting class sizes for the youngest primary children to 18. However, recent research by the Institute of Education suggests that cutting class sizes is a relatively expensive way to improve results, and only a significant benefit when there are a number of unruly children in the class. Instead teachers' assessment methods can have a cheaper positive effect on children's achievement.

Knight's comments came as a government backed review of maths in primary schools reported that teaching is being undermined because it has become "socially acceptable" to brag about being bad with numbers. Every primary school should have a specialist maths teacher and the government should revisit the requirement that new primary teachers need only a grade C in maths GCSE, Sir Peter Williams, chancellor of Leicester University, said. "The UK remains one of the few advanced nations where it is socially acceptable - fashionable, even - to profess an inability to cope with mathematics. That is hardly conducive to a home environment in which mathematics is seen by children as an essential and rewarding part of their everyday lives," he said. "The principal focus of this review is the role of teachers and practitioners, their education and training, and how society values and rewards them."

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "The government cannot simultaneously say it is going to deliver personalised learning and then support class sizes at the level Jim Knight is talking about. "We have seen a trend over the last few years towards bigger classes and bigger schools. That runs directly counter to parents' priorities and is not the right direction for education in this country."


States to Get Leeway on School Sanctions

The Bush administration is trying to address one of the most common complaints about the No Child Left Behind education law: It treats schools the same, regardless of whether they fail to meet annual benchmarks by a little or a lot. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings plans to announce Tuesday that she wants states to submit proposals for assigning different consequences to schools based on the degree to which they miss annual progress goals.

Those goals are largely based on reading and math tests given in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools are judged not just on average scores but according to how groups of students perform _ such as those with disabilities, limited English skills or minorities. Educators have complained that the consequences for failing to hit yearly progress goals are the same for schools in which one group of students misses the mark as it is for schools in which many groups or many grades fail to hit targets.

The law spells out specific steps schools have to take for failing to make "adequate yearly progress," a category about 30 percent of schools fall into. For example, the law says students in such schools _ at certain points _ must first be given the chance to transfer out and then must receive tutoring. The new initiative will allow states to distinguish between "on-fire schools and those with a smolder," Spellings said in an interview Monday. States will be able to tailor consequences toward specific problem areas. Spellings likened it to diagnosing an illness and then prescribing a cure. She also said it would lead to more efficient use of resources.

Spellings plans to outline the proposal during a visit to St. Paul, Minn. Only a limited number of states _ 10 in all _ will be able to participate at first. Spellings said states must submit proposals by May and that only carefully thought-out plans would get a green light. "Not every state will meet the core principles that are required," she said. "This is complicated stuff that requires sound data systems, good reporting systems." The administration recently expanded to all states a similar pilot plan that gives states flexibility in tracking student progress over time.

No Child Left Behind calls for student progress to be measured with an eye toward getting all kids doing math and reading on grade level by 2014. Spellings said that goal remains unchanged, though many have called it unrealistic. The six-year-old education law is up for renewal in Congress, but lawmakers trying to advance it haven't gained much traction. Without congressional action, the existing law remains in place.

Spellings said she didn't think her efforts to improve the law through administrative action would further stymie efforts on Capitol Hill. "Plan A continues to be getting a good law done as soon as possible," she said.


Australian Leftist wants to thwart white flight

How these animals hate ordinary people who are just trying to keep their kids safe!

Refugees should be settled in a wider spread of locations to avoid large-scale withdrawal of Anglo-European children from government schools, a senior government MP says. In a phenomenon known as "white flight", some parents send their children to private schools rather to state schools with a high proportion of pupils of other racial backgrounds, parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs Laurie Ferguson said.

He told Fairfax white flight had become a big challenge for multicultural Australia. "People fear there is a monoculture in some suburbs. They believe there is an over-dominance of some cultures in schools which is denigrating the quality of education," Mr Ferguson said. "So they are withdrawing their kids from government schools and sending them to religious or selective high schools. "This leads to further concentration of marginalised communities in government schools and the further stigmatisation of these schools.''

The term white flight was first coined in the US in the 1960s, when white parents sent their children to private schools instead of keeping them at newly-desegregated public schools.

White flight was a big challenge, especially in western Sydney and parts of Melbourne, Mr Ferguson said. "Deliberate policy decisions" needed to be made to diversify the location of housing for refugees and humanitarian entrants, including many settlers from Africa whose children grew up in refugee camps and had limited education, Mr Ferguson said.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said that in Victoria, the phenomenon was "more like a middle-class flight" than a white flight. But teachers at "radically diverse" schools said white flight was alive and well in Melbourne.


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