Sunday, June 08, 2008

Availability of welfare encourages kids to leave school: Canadian report

Teens as young as 13 are more likely to stay in school and proceed to the next grade when access to welfare is restricted, says a University of B.C. researcher. Bill Warburton had observed that the dropout rate for children at risk of receiving income assistance rose with B.C.'s welfare caseload through the early 1990s and fell when a substantial package of welfare reforms was introduced Jan. 1, 1996, which removed about 100,000 people from the welfare rolls. "We wondered if that was a coincidence," wrote Warburton, executive director of the Child and Youth Development Trajectories Research Unit at UBC.

Using data from the B.C. ministries of education and employment and income assistance, Warburton found that when the New Democrats began a program of welfare reform in the mid-1990s, high school dropout rates began to fall and continued to fall for several years. Dropout rates had been rising through the early 1990s as access to welfare expanded and was liberally extended to minors, but the change in policy quickly reversed that trend, he explained in an interview and a written response to a query from The Vancouver Sun. The effect was stronger the older the student and the closer the student was to being eligible for welfare, he said. But it was also significant in students as young as 13. "I was surprised at how young the kids were that responded [to the change]," said Warburton. "We found strong evidence that it wasn't a coincidence."

Warburton worked for the B.C. income security renewal secretariat in the mid-1990s and for the research branch of the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance through 2004. He was aware that some regions of the province were "more on board" with welfare reform during the late 1990s. By comparing data between regions, he was able to determine that the effect was strongest - that is, kids tended to do better in school - in areas that put the tightest controls on income assistance for people under 25.

The teens' expectations about the availability of welfare is at the heart of the effect, according to Warburton. "I would have guessed that their decisions would be influenced more subliminally than consciously," he said. But the data showed that teens who left school and went on to collect welfare tended to come from the same schools, suggesting that localized welfare cultures had developed.

The kids talk to each other about how to apply, they see their older friends getting welfare. The data suggests that kids are communicating with each other about the system and how it works, he said. "When you hear the anecdotes about kids walking out of school and into the welfare office it seems pretty clear," Warburton said. The study employed all B.C. educational records for Grades 6 through 12 linked to all welfare records for the province for the years 1991 to 1999.

Warburton will speak about his findings todayat the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Hundreds of lectures and academic papers are being presented this week to more than 9,000 academics at the congress, which is hosted by UBC. "I think the paper is important because it shows how tricky social policy can be," wrote Warburton. "When we try to help some people by providing them with financial support, we can unintentionally hurt others by inducing them to drop out of school."

The welfare expectations study and his research on the antecedents of income assistance have led Warburton to the conclusion that early intervention is essential to reducing the likelihood that a young person will end up collecting welfare. Identifying the factors that push people down that path is the very work that Warburton and fellow researcher Clyde Hertsman do at the Trajectories unit at UBC. "I found it depressingly easy to predict which Grade 8 students would end up on welfare: those who came from [income assistance] families, those who had contact with child protection services and those who were already having trouble academically," he wrote. "We have to intervene even younger."


Australia: Muslim school fakes it

They send their dumber kids to Technical college so that their results do not show up as attributable to the school

YEAR 12 students at a private school in Sydney are forced to complete HSC subjects at TAFE if it appears they will not score high marks. Malek Fahd Islamic School, in Greenacre, joined the top 10 HSC performers in the Herald's league table for the first time last year, ranking ninth - a jump from 15th position the previous year. Malek Fahd students, who pay fees to attend the school, make up close to half the free HSC chemistry class at Bankstown TAFE this year.

Ken Enderby, who co-ordinates the Bankstown TAFE HSC program, said in recent years students had told him they had to take HSC subjects at TAFE because they could not sit them at Malek Fahd. He said one Malek Fahd student who was asked to leave the school achieved a lowest score of 60 per cent and a highest score of 72 per cent at TAFE. "I have had parents in tears because their children have not been allowed to sit subjects at the school," he said. "I'm happy to have those kids here. These are very good students - well behaved and a pleasure to teach."

Twenty-one year 12 students from Malek Fahd enrolled at Bankstown TAFE this year to complete studies in subjects including physics, mathematics and chemistry, all offered at the school. Of the 24 students enrolled in the Bankstown TAFE HSC chemistry class, 11 are from Malek Fahd. Mr Enderby said eight students from Malek Fahd were taking legal studies at the TAFE.

The principal of Malek Fahd, Intaj Ali, said yesterday his school offered 11 HSC subjects, including advanced English and mathematics, biology, business studies, chemistry, physics, studies of religion, and legal studies. Dr Ali denied that he had encouraged poorer performing students to study at TAFE. "No, no, no," he said. "There is no such thing. It is only when they want to change a subject." The 71 students who completed the HSC at the school last year achieved 126 results in band six, which are marks of 90 per cent or more.

Dr Ali said the school had gradually increased its subjects and its student numbers. Since the school was established by Australian Federation of Islamic Councils in October 1989, the student population has grown from 87 children from kindergarten to year 3 to more than 1700 children from kindergarten to year 12.

The school has rapidly improved its performance in the Herald's HSC results league table, which is based on the number of student scores of 90 per cent and above divided by the number of examinations attempted. Malek Fahd only receives credit for the subjects that are completed at the school. TAFE colleges receive credit for Malek Fahd students who sit their examinations at TAFE.

Mr Enderby said 13 Malek Fahd students were at Bankstown TAFE last year. The HSC co-ordinator at Granville TAFE, Dougal Patey, said some Malek Fahd students also studied at his institution.

Year 12 students at Malek Fahd pay about $1600 in fees for the year. The school received $3.6 million in state funding and $9.3 million in federal funding in the 2006-07. The funding had increased 14 per cent over four years. It earned $2.4 million from fees and recorded a surplus of $3.4 million for the year ending in December 2006, $500,000 more than the previous year.


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