Monday, December 01, 2008

Top British universities not impressed by students with soft A-levels

The stupid (but typical) epidemiological assumption below is that students who take soft subjects are just as bright as students taking harder subjects. But in fact, any reasonable system for selecting students on ability (even an IQ test or the American SAT) would result in students who had taken harder subjects being disproportionately selected

UNIVERSITIES are discriminating against pupils who take “soft” A-level subjects such as media studies and drama, without making the policy public, research has revealed. Top institutions, such as Oxford, Bristol and University College London, admit a far smaller proportion of applicants with qualifications in such subjects than the percentage who take them nationally. The proportion of successful candidates who have qualifications in traditional academic subjects, by contrast, is far higher than the national average. Publicly, universities claim that they give equal weight to each subject, unless specific A-levels are required by certain courses.

The research will be included in a report to be published tomorrow by the think tank Policy Exchange, which obtained data from universities under the Freedom of Information Act. Entitled The Hard Truth About Soft Subjects, the report argues that the policy affects state schools most because many have urged pupils to do softer subjects to boost A grades. Critics say universities should be open about which subjects are treated less favourably.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We need to know what the admissions criteria are two years in advance so youngsters know when they are choosing A-levels.” Anna Fazackerley, senior adviser on universities at Policy Exchange and the author of the report, said: “It is perfectly reasonable for universities to turn their noses up at certain subjects if they think the content isn’t up to scratch. What is not reasonable is that they should keep quiet about it.”

At University College London and Bristol University, biology, chemistry, physics, maths and further maths account for just under half of A-levels among entrants. Nationally, however, they constitute 24.1% of the exams sat. Just 0.8% of A-levels taken by students going to Nottingham and Warwick Universities are media, film or television studies - nationally the figure is 4%. At Oxford, more ancient Greek than media studies candidates were admitted this year.

John Denham, the universities secretary, said: “Universities are autonomous institutions responsible for their admissions policies. But each should be transparent about its policy.” Some universities, including Cambridge and the London School of Economics, publish “blacklists” of less academic subjects. All of the universities contacted by The Sunday Times this weekend denied any clandestine discrimination.


Which History?

There seems to be the idea that all the affirmative-action history we're feeding kids (black studies, women's studies, black women's studies, etc.) is a supplement to learning the basics, which they'll somehow absorb no matter what. Instead, the ISI civic literacy test suggests that such instruction is actually crowding out the fundmentals of history and civics. Other than the Declaration's reference to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the two highest scores - i.e., the ones the largest number of people got right - relate to Susan B. Anthony and to MLK's "I have a dream" speech.

The 80 percent who got those right compares to fully one-third who didn't know that Germany and Japan were our enemies in WWII, half who didn't know the three branches of government, and nearly 80 percent who didn't know that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" came from the Gettysburg Address. And elected officials scorced even lower than the general public. OK, I shouldn't be surprised, but it seems to me that students shouldn't even hear the words "Susan B. Anthony" until after they've recited the Gettysburg Address from memory and after they've proven they know who was on the losing side of the greatest war in human history.

Oh, and the obligatory immigration point: How can anyone support admitting a million-plus newcomers from abroad each year who need to be Americanized when our schools our doing this badly in teaching about America?


Australia: How to put smart people off teaching

Putting young, inexperienced teachers into sink schools is a sure way to cause them to think of another career. Some of them last only weeks in such a situation. You would think an education boss would know that but when you are a Leftist, you don't need facts. Sounding good is all that matters

Top teaching graduates will be offered extra money to fill difficult jobs and work at "challenging" state schools. State Education Minister Rod Welford will today unveil what he describes as an innovative plan to get elite teachers into tough classroom roles. Mr Welford told The Sunday Mail the graduates would be offered incentives in the form of scholarships to work in specialist subject areas, difficult schools or remote locations.

The minister said he was alarmed at the number of teachers quitting after just four or five years on the job. [So he wants them to quit even faster??] "Recruiting and retaining top teachers is the key to ensuring all Queensland students can access the best possible education, no matter where they live," Mr Welford said.

Mr Welford, who will quit politics after 20 years at the 2009 state election, said there was a shortage of teachers in manual arts and maths B and C. Bonded scholarships would be offered to high-calibre final year undergraduate students to teach in subjects where shortages had been identified. Queensland Health had introduced a similar program for doctors, a bonded medical scholarship to work in areas of "priority service" for six years after graduating from Griffith University.

Mr Welford said other positions that were difficult to fill included schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and in rural and remote locations. "Increasingly we need to recognise that to attract the right talent we need to have incentives and we need to apply our most talented people to the most challenging jobs," he said.

The minister said the State Government would also implement a sister program with universities to provide graduates with initial teaching experience in the location of their choice. "This would be followed by a placement in a difficult-to-staff location with a guaranteed return to their preferred location after an agreed time. "Boomerang transfers will also be offered, with staff supported to undertake short-term placements in challenging locations with a guaranteed return to their preferred location on completion."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan supported the plan but said the teachers must be fully qualified before taking the demanding roles. "We accept that there is a need for a variety of ways in which we can attract teachers to the profession . . . the best way is to make sure they are getting the right salaries," Mr Ryan said. The Government plans to introduce the scheme for 2009.


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