Saturday, April 19, 2008

UC's research 'paradise' draws ire of lawmakers

The Leftist elite are very good at looking after themselves -- as in Soviet times. Amusing that they can't spell "Celsius", though. So much for the high intellectual standards allegedly involved

The University of California has created a little-known South Pacific station it calls a research "paradise" on what some travelers consider the most beautiful island in the world. Surrounded by clear waters white-sand beaches and covered by forests topped by jagged peaks, it's "UC Berkeley's best-kept secret," declares the Berkeley Science Review. Real estate agents call it "Fantasy Island." The problem is, critics say, UC has developed Gump Station on Moorea Island near Tahiti as a sweet deal for academic insiders while, at the same time, hiking already high tuition due to state budget deficits. UC officials dismissed criticism, saying study of the tropics is important to the fight against global warming and that the station is a bargain.

Students and professors pay a UC-subsidized price of about $40 per person nightly for a waterfront bungalow, according to a facility Internet site. Nearby five-star resorts on Moorea, which is a popular destination for honeymoons, charge up to about $900 a night for an over-water bungalow on poles. Sen. Jim Battin, a Palm Desert Republican who has long fought for retention of only essential state land, said "subsidizing resort life is not an appropriate use of public funds." Looking at an aerial picture of the station, Battin added sarcastically, "Look at all those research vessels down there — those little canoes." Battin, other GOP lawmakers and taxpayer groups have long fought for retention of only essential state land, saying cash-strapped California can't afford anything else.

California Taxpayers' Association spokesman David Kline said, "There should be serious scrutiny of this facility" by the Legislature to determine "if the research is benefiting taxpayers. "Most Californians would be shocked to find out they are subsidizing a South Pacific getaway for UC professors at a time when government should be economizing and scrutinizing every penny spent," Kline said. Critics cite the potential high value of the donated 35-acre island parcel. The seller of a small, nearby parcel with three thatched cottages, for example, wants $1.9 million.

Battin and other Republican lawmakers, who backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's push four years ago to sell unneeded state land to reduce the multibillion-dollar deficit, included Gump Station on their list. Follow-up legislation failed, due to lawmakers' opposition to sale of particular parcels in their own districts. But critics haven't changed their views of the South Pacific site. "This year, we're giving pink slips out to teachers while we have a piece of property in French Polynesia," said Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria. "It makes no sense."

Information about the station emerged during a MediaNews analysis of California's largely failed effort to sell surplus, under-used or unneeded land to lower persistent, multibillion-dollar state deficits.

University officials said the facility is funded mostly by user fees, along with grants from the federal government and private foundations. The Schwarzenegger administration said the station is receiving about $250,000 in UC support this year....

There is also a UC staff. The station has four full-timer workers and three part-timers. The property was donated to UC in 1981 by wealthy department store magnate Richard Gump of San Francisco. In recent years, grants have been used to expand it to the size appropriate for hosting conferences. It now includes labs, dorms, a library, waterfront and hillside bungalows with kitchens, several vehicles and boats. Food can be purchased from nearby stores or catered for $25 daily....

The station is open to professors, long-term researchers and graduate students from any university or research institution for field-based scientific projects in an array of academic fields, according to the station's Internet site. The station also hosts undergraduate courses, ranging from archeology field school to environmental economics within the tropical environment of French Polynesia. Professors and others must apply for access to the station and be accepted, then follow standardized rules and policies for research....

The university makes it clear, however, that the station isn't just about work. Its Internet site carries information about recreation: Station equipment, such as vehicles and boats, are available for trips. Student blogs carry advice for free time. One rates the "bests" — events not to miss, drives, views, "funnest" places to eat, pizza, ice cream. And the best party spot: Manhattan Club, in Papeete, on nearby Tahiti.

More here

Massive rise in unqualified foreign teachers in Britain

You would have to be desperate to teach in many of Britain's "sink" schools

The number of unqualified teachers taking classes in state schools has risen fivefold since Labour came to power, figures suggest. Two thirds of these teachers were hired from overseas, prompting fears that schools are being forced to look abroad to recruit staff as many British teachers quit the profession. Data released by ministers to the Conservatives yesterday shows that there were 16,710 staff teaching in England’s state schools without qualified teacher status (QTS) in 2007, up from 2,940 ten years earlier. This includes 10,970 teachers trained overseas, up from 2,480 in 1997. In addition 1,562 teachers from the European Economic Area are teaching in Britain after being awarded QTS last year, including 707 teachers from Poland.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, said that the fivefold rise in teachers without QTS was surprising as the Government’s advice was that everyone teaching in state schools “should have the official qualification”. He said that many qualified staff were “being put off teaching” by increasing problems with discipline and bureaucracy.

The figures follow data obtained by the Tories showing that there were more than 250,000 qualified teachers in England under 60 who are not currently teaching and 91,000 qualified teachers who have never taught.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the vast majority of teachers from overseas were qualified in their home countries. And he said that all teachers from overseas had to convert their qualifications to QTS within four years of arriving. “We are clear that schools should only employ teachers from overseas if they can demonstrate they have the skills, experience and qualifications relevant to the post,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Training and Development Agency for Schools said that there had been a small short-fall in the number of teacher training recruits this year. But she said: “It is worth noting that around 10,000 people return to teaching every year.”


Proposed Australian baby farms not great for kids

Little children need the security, understanding and tolerance of a loving home, not institutionalization

Kevin Rudd's big idea for this weekend's 2020 Summit is a plan to help working families by setting up a national chain of government-run parent-and-child centres. Let's call them PC centres, for with universal child care at its core, this is a very PC idea. The Community Child Care Association's national secretary Barbara Romeril could hardly contain herself when she heard the news: "It's very exciting to finally have a government that gets it," she told the ABC. "We know this is what parents want and we know this is what's good for children." This is classic PC rhetoric, based on shaky evidence but repeated so often that people now assume it must be true.

Rudd wants these PC centres up and running by 2020, although he has no idea how much they will cost. While their core business will be child care, they will offer an all-encompassing range of services to all parents with children under five. There will be health checks on babies, child vaccinations, advice for mothers, counselling for parents, long hours day care for infants, and preschool early learning programs for toddlers. All of this will be underpinned by national quality standards, so every centre will be run in the same way and will be staffed by experts with lots of certificates and diplomas to their name.

Rudd assures parents they won't be compelled to use these PC centres, although they will be compelled to pay for them through higher taxes. This extra spending is OK, though, because it is an investment. As Maxine McKew, the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care, explained to Sky News: "All the experts tell us this is the way to go. You provide that intervention early on, through the early years, and that's how you get healthy children and, I think, less stress for parents as well."

But is there no downside to this idea? Perhaps Rudd, his ministers and the childcare cheer squad should take time to reflect on some of the problems before they plough ahead. There are at least seven to consider.

* The core business of these centres will be long hours child care, but despite what McKew and the Community Child Care Association claim, it isn't true that this is necessarily good for children. McKew suggests parents' stress levels can be reduced by long hours care, but she ignores evidence that cortisol (stress hormone) levels among young children spending long periods in institutional care are often disturbingly high, and this is surely what should concern us more. It is true that older children from very disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from good quality formal care, but this is because the care they get at home is so appalling. Most very young children are better off raised by their parents, and the Government should look seriously at the evidence on this before spending billions of dollars herding them into government institutions.

* The new PC centres will destroy social capital (something the Rudd Government claims it wants to strengthen). At the moment, most of these services are already available to parents, but they are scattered rather than concentrated in one place, and they are unco-ordinated rather than being organised according to a single centralised formula. People get help from neighbours, family members, community clinics, churches, local play schools, and when they use these local resources it strengthens the social ties that create strong communities. Concentrating services in government centres may be more efficient, but it will erode local relationship networks.

* These centres will weaken the third sector and strengthen the power of government. There is a worrying trend for government to enlist voluntary organisations as its agents and then emasculate them. Welfare charities, for example, now depend on money from government contracts to run employment services, and the recently established Family Relationship Centres have effectively nationalised family counselling services previously run by groups such as Relationships Australia. The proposed new PC centres will likewise absorb existing community-based and commercial childcare providers. Open, democratic societies rely on a strong and vibrant third sector as a check and buffer against government power. In Australia, this is fast disappearing.

* These centres will further erode the autonomy of the states within our federal system. Many of the services they will provide are presently the responsibility of the states. As in health care (where the pressure is to nationalise hospitals), so too in child care, Canberra is shifting more power to itself in the name of efficiency.

* Rudd says these new centres will save money and avoid duplication. This is another way of saying they will be big, and there won't be many of them, in which case they will create more inconvenience for users. When your neighbourhood childcare centre has gone bust and you are strapping your toddler into the car for the daily commute across town to your nearest PC centre, remember this change was supposed to make life easier.

* The PC centres will redistribute income from poorer to richer parents by making the former contribute to the childcare costs of the latter. A couple sacrificing some of their joint income by having one parent stay home to look after the kids will now have to pay more tax to subsidise other couples who choose to keep working and earning while parking their kids in the PC centre. This violates the principle that government should remain neutral between parents who stay home and those who go out to work, as it represents an extensive intervention in favour of the latter at the cost of theformer.

* These centres are going to be expensive. Even Rudd doesn't know how much they are going to cost, but Crikey estimates a horrific annual bill of about $12 billion. Based on past experience, we can be sure they will get even more expensive over time as people's expectations and demands continue to rise. For a government that says it has inherited a budget blowout and needs to trim expenditure, this seems an odd way to cut costs. Before it commits to a huge expenditure such as this, the Government should take a deep breath and tell us the ultimate objective of its family strategy. Is it to get more mums back into work to ease the labour shortage? If so, government-run baby farms may be a good plan.

But if the objective is to give parents real choice about how to balance work and family, to support a vibrant community sector, or even to improve long-term child wellbeing, this PC proposal may not be the best way to achieve it.

Source. See here for how a similar Canadian scheme did a lot of harm.

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