Friday, March 07, 2008

Ending the Chaos in Education

By Dick McDonald

If you ever saw the "Blackboard Jungle" you know the problems teachers in inner-city schools have in teaching "dysfunctional" and disruptive students. Since that movie came out, things have gotten progressively worse. By eliminating spanking, allowing children the right to sue their parents and teachers, by advancing unworthy students to retain their self esteem, by lowering grading standards, by allowing students to use bad language and call their teachers names America has an educational nightmare on its hands - a chaos of massive proportions.

Last night I listened to a bright and articulate barrier-crashing teacher, Genevieve Peters, spell out a solution to this classroom management problem. It was so simple and so easy to understand and believe that the bright light descended from the sky and illuminated us all. She calls it "Peters Procedures" and its effectiveness has been proven in selected classes in the Southern California area. She has been asked and is presently directing her program at an entire school.

As in all great management strategies the responsibility for its success is pushed down to the lowest level in the organization - in this case the student. The procedures are guidelines of civility and cooperation necessary to establish a positive learning environment policed eventually by the students themselves. Inside the cocoon of easy to understand procedures, the classroom turns into a model of exemplary behavior. Students are not rewarded for good behavior - that is expected of them.

When the student gets the message that he or she is responsible for their own actions and accountable to other students under the procedures, the group dynamic kicks in and the character so missing in today's children begins to emerge - a character with the ability to think for themselves and operate successfully in society. It goes without saying that the time devoted to hard learning is substantially expanded by eliminating the chaos of today's classroom.

You must go to Ms Peter's website and ask your friends and associates to trumpet this program that could go along way to reducing crime and elevating the educational level of all American students.

Congress wants rich schools like UW to give students a break

Congress is inspecting the spending habits of wealthy universities across the country, and the University of Washington is on its watch list. The UW is one of 76 universities that reported endowments totaling more than $1 billion in 2007, a trend some members of Congress have labeled disturbing in the face of constant tuition increases. Now Washington, D.C., lawmakers are toying with the idea of requiring universities to spend 5 percent of the burgeoning endowments each year.

The UW has an endowment (money given to it for the purpose of investment) of more than $2 billion, bolstered by a long fundraising campaign, and has kept raising tuition. The cost of an undergraduate year at the UW last year would have paid for three years 20 years earlier. "Tuition has gone up, college presidents' salaries have gone up, and endowments continue to go up and up," Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, wrote in a recent letter to the colleges. "We need to start seeing tuition relief for families go up just as fast. It's fair to ask whether a college kid should have to wash dishes in the dining hall to pay his tuition when his college has a billion dollars in the bank."

Universities -- the UW included -- are fighting back against the assertion that they've become greedy. But if recent student-aid packages are any indication, they're not entirely resisting congressional demands. UW President Mark Emmert says Congress is reacting to the tens of billions of dollars stored away by Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale, and he points out that most universities can't come near to matching those numbers. He says the system isn't broken and thinks government mandates aren't needed. "The notion that most universities are sitting on massive endowments and not spending them is just not true," he said in an interview last week. "This is just not an area where congressional action is needed."

Other university leaders around the country are in line with that way of thinking, saying a one-size-fits-all approach to endowment spending could hurt schools with smaller bank accounts. Last week, 136 colleges across the country with endowments of $500 million or more were scheduled to respond to a congressional request for detailed information on their endowment and financial aid spending. A Senate committee sought the information last month after the release of a national survey that said the number of institutions surpassing the $1 billion mark had nearly doubled since 2003, when there were 39.

Harvard topped the endowment-totals list for 2007 with $35 billion, followed by Yale with $23 billion and Stanford with $17 billion. Princeton and the University of Texas system have the fourth- and fifth-largest endowments, each with about $16 billion. When the UW makes an appearance on the list, it's at number 29 with about $2 billion reported at the end of 2007. Washington State University is listed at 116 with $651 million, and the University of Oregon comes in at 150 with $456 million.

The UW is in the last leg of an eight-year fundraising campaign, which passed the $2.5 billion mark last month. With just a few months remaining in the campaign, UW officials announced they would be emphasizing the need for student scholarships to potential donors. Most donors make endowments to a specific part of a university, and that money can't be invested in other areas, Emmert said. He estimated that 95 percent of contributions to the UW come with a specific use attached.

Even without a government mandate, universities with an endowment greater than $1 billion tend to spend 4 percent to 5 percent of those assets annually, according to a study conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The UW's payout is consistent with those figures.

But critics aren't letting the increasingly profitable universities off the hook so easily. Some who want universities to spend more generously say the concentration of wealth runs counter to colleges' legal status as nonprofits. "They are allowed to collect and invest money tax-free, and that should be done toward a public good," said Lynne Munson, an adjunct research fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity who testified before Congress on endowments last fall. "Hoarding isn't a public good. If the Gates Foundation was allowed to do this, there would be a great deal of suspicion."

Washington, D.C.-based educational consultant Steven Goodman said university defenses are falling flat. He acknowledged that the UW's endowment is small compared with Harvard's or Yale's. But he added, "The growing movement toward encouraging universities to spend more of the endowment income is not about who is rich and who is poor. It's about are students maximally benefiting from the fundraising efforts that are taking place in their name?"

Whether or not Congress passes legislation mandating fixed endowment payouts, the attention they're giving student tuition has been widely credited for spurring some change already. Most recently, Stanford, following similar actions by Yale and Harvard, announced last month that families earning less than $100,000 will no longer pay tuition, and families earning less than $60,000 won't have to pay for room and board. That may make Stanford more affordable to middle-class families in Washington than their own state university.

The "high tuition, high financial aid" model isn't a new concept in Seattle. Shortly after Emmert assumed the UW presidency in 2004, he unsuccessfully championed a plan that would have doubled tuition over the space of a few years by using a sliding scale based on family income for rates. The cost of attending the UW (like many universities elsewhere in the country) has tripled during the past 20 years. In 1987, in-state tuition and fees for one year at the UW added up to $1,731. In 2007, the yearly cost was $6,385.

The university has increased student aid recently with a "Students First" matching fund connected to the $2.5 billion fundraising campaign. And over a year ago, the university announced tuition would be free for in-state students from families who are at or below 65 percent of the state's median income -- another example of the "high tuition, high financial aid" model. "It's sure working for us at the UW," said Emmert, noting that the UW ranks third among major universities with the highest percent of low-income students enrolled. But he acknowledged more needs to be done for middle-income students.

Some members of Congress don't think universities are doing enough, even going so far as to propose an annually updated "watch list" that would name schools where tuition costs outpaced their sector's average rate of increase. Jake Stillwell, a Central Washington University student and spokesman for the Washington Student Lobby, said he's suspicious of Congress' recent interest in university spending. Instead of mandating endowment payouts, he thinks the federal government should be expanding financial aid programs. "It's shifting the responsibility of lowering the cost of college away from the government and onto the individual schools. It's really Congress' responsibility to make college affordable."


Australia: Improving black education needs big rethink

JULIA Gillard's plan to fund 200 additional teachers with $100 million of support is a commendable response to the Northern Territory's crisis in indigenous education. But the Education Minister has been poorly advised. The proposed measures will not come close to delivering indigenous literacy and numeracy. It would be better to identify effective solutions now than have to make another apology in 20 years.

For the past two years, the NT's Department of Employment, Education and Training has reported years Three and Five literacy benchmark pass rates of about 90per cent for non-indigenous children. For indigenous children in Darwin and Alice Springs, the pass rate drops to 60 per cent. But for indigenous children in remote areas, the rate crashes to just 20 per cent. Even this pass rate is overstated: most of the children attending the 62 homeland learning centres have not even been tested for years Three and Five benchmarks.

Thirty years of welfare dependence with attendant alcoholism, drug abuse and violence in indigenous communities have played a role. Poor school attendance also has been blamed for poor results. But most indigenous parents are desperate for real education for their kids. NT school enrolments for 2008 appear to be higher than the 2006 census data (which admittedly probably undercounted the indigenous population) indicate.

The main reason for poor attendance is that many indigenous people are offered pretend education: the product of pseudo-curriculums and inadequate teaching. In the few schools where there are effective teachers who ignore the official curriculum for indigenous children, they attend school and pass the tests.

The separate curriculums followed by indigenous schools are a form of apartheid. When children of non-English-speaking immigrants enrol in Darwin schools, they follow the mainstream curriculum but take English as a second language programs. Indigenous parents in the Top End want their children taught the mainstream curriculum in English from kindergarten so they can get jobs and participate in society. They know that only literate communities can preserve traditional languages in the modern world. All commonwealth funding for education in the territory should depend on the condition that indigenous children are not intellectually segregated but taught the same curriculum as other children.

The absence of indigenous teachers in the NT is another indicator of educational failure. The NT's population is 28 per cent indigenous but, of 4572 registered teachers there, only 164 (3.6 per cent) identify as Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. Of these, only 63 (1.4 per cent of the total) have completed the normal four-year course of education required to qualify as a teacher. Most of the other 101 indigenous teachers have been registered (together with another 600 non-indigenous teachers) without such qualifications. These 700 underqualified teachers are concentrated in the 62 learning centres and in the community education centres that act as substitutes for schools in predominantly indigenous communities. These teachers have not been assisted to upgrade their qualifications to present standards and there is no provision in the new commonwealth legislation for them to do so.

The bill allocates $18.4 million for the creation of 190 education department jobs for former Community Development Employment Program participants, a change long overdue. In contrast to teacher aides in mainstream schools, who help children in classes taught by qualified teachers, indigenous teacher aides in learning centres are often the only people in front of the class. Many of the CDEP teacher aides would not pass the Year Seven literacy test. What steps are being taken to assist these teacher aides to become literate and numerate?

The planned funding does not include housing for additional teachers outside Darwin. At present NT housing costs, this would require another $22.5 million in 2008 and $67.5million by 2011. Such funding - $90million in total - would almost double the planned commitment.

Because of past policies, more than 5000 of the nearly 8000 indigenous teenagers in the NT cannot pass the national literacy benchmarks. Nor could another 5000 men and women in their 20s. The accumulated backlog of insufficiently literate indigenous young people is 10,000. They represent the future of indigenous communities.

No part of the present education system can accommodate teenagers with Year One literacy. They cannot sit side by side with six-year-olds or in a class of teenagers from the mainstream education system. To bring these indigenous teenagers to the stage where they could access mainstream jobs and further education would require one or two years of sheltered accommodation in an English-speaking environment, intensive tutoring and part-time employment. The minimum cost would be $50,000 a year for each student. The real cost of remedying past failed policies would therefore be $500 million to $1 billion.

There is clearly a lack of any remedial action on this scale. Even partial solutions will require more funds than have been committed. Parents of students who do not pass benchmark tests are entitled to vouchers worth $700 a year to have their children tutored. This program assumes literate parents and access to qualified tutors. Parents in one remote indigenous community have therefore asked the federal Government if they can aggregate these vouchers and use them together with foundation funds to pay for a remedial teacher for their children. They have not even received the courtesy of a reply.


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