Saturday, March 14, 2009

Obama's education push includes merit pay

President Barack Obama laid out a broad education vision Tuesday that includes expanded merit pay for teachers and more charter schools, ideas long troubling to teachers' unions. With his congressional agenda already packed, the president is not proposing a major new piece of legislation. Instead, he spelled out the goal of a "cradle to career" education system aimed at serving Americans better at every level. He said he would use the budget to expand programs that work and encourage voluntary action by states and individuals.

The president's plan, which largely implements promises from his campaign, includes new incentives for states to boost the quality of preschool programs and easier access to financial aid for higher education. Mr. Obama also called on states to raise standards for student achievement. Perhaps the most controversial step would increase the number of school districts that benefit from a federal program that supports performance pay for teachers.

Mr. Obama also called on states to remove caps on the number of public charter schools. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia now cap the total, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The president cast his proposals as an effort to move past the debates that have dominated education policy in the past. "Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom," he told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."

Mr. Obama's support for merit pay breaks with some in his party, who fear it can't be administered fairly. The Teacher Incentive Fund currently supports 34 grant recipients at a cost of $97 million this year and another $200 million was allocated through the economic-stimulus plan. Mr. Obama said he'd like to see as many as 150 districts added, but the administration did not say what its 2010 budget request will be.

"It's time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones," Mr. Obama said. "If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there's no excuse for that person to continue teaching." Mr. Obama said that teachers who are rewarded for excellence should help their schools improve.

Teacher unions said Tuesday that they welcomed Mr. Obama's overall approach and could support merit-pay plans as long as they are fair to teachers. The presidents of the two largest teachers' unions said they were confident Mr. Obama would only support proposals that meet that test. "This is a president who actually respects teachers for who they are and what they do. We can work many of these things out," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said that merit-pay plans should be negotiated to ensure they are not run in an arbitrary way, and he cautioned: "If you pay one teacher more you have to pay someone else less." Mr. Van Roekel rejected another Obama proposal to pay math and science teachers more in hopes of filling the recruitment gap. He said a small additional payment will not change the financial calculations of math and science graduates who have more lucrative options than teaching.

Mr. Obama also used his address to talk about parents' responsibility for the education of their children. "Government…cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do," he said. Other aspects of the Obama plan include:

--Early Learning Challenge Grants to help states improve the quality of child care, including improving the quality of teachers. Incentive grants will provide aid for states to better collect data about programs, push for standards and increase help for the most disadvantaged students.

--Challenging states to voluntarily raise their standards in reading and math. As it is, certain states give students high grades for scores that would rate low in other states. But the president did not say anything about changes to the landmark No Child Left Behind law, which imposes federal standards on schools.

--For higher education, an increase in Pell grants, including inflation adjustments. Mr. Obama also wants to simplify the application process for financial aid.


Bright schoolchildren take back seat to 'social misfits', says British head teacher

State schools are being forced to prioritise "social misfits" at the expense of the majority of pupils, according to a former academy head teacher.

The most disruptive children are being plied with "indulgence and sentimentality" instead of firm discipline, it was claimed. Steve Patriarca blamed Gordon Brown's decision to create a new "Orwellian" Government department with duel responsibility for schools and social services. It meant education for the most able often came second best to the needs of problem pupils, he said.

The comments will come as a huge embarrassment to the Government. Mr Patriarca led fee-paying William Hulme's Grammar School in Manchester when it was tempted out of the private sector by Labour in 2007. In a high-profile move, it axed parental fees and academic selection to become one of the Government's flagship city academies - semi-independent state schools sponsored and run by the private sector. A total of five independent schools have now converted.

Mr Patriarca, who retired last summer, said the school agreed to the move because academies offered the chance of "effective denationalisation" of state schools by taking education out of the hands of "overpaid, ill informed, over comfortable" civil servants. But talking openly about the move for the first time, he said the school struggled "to retain educational values" in the face of pressure from the Government. "The Department for Children, Schools and Families lives up to its Orwellian title," he said. "There are direct tensions between its responsibilities for social work, children and families and its commitment - if that is the word - to education. It seems to me to be a cumbersome hybrid which fulfils none of its roles very well.

"It is politicised in a way which seems to find achievement embarrassing. It is preoccupied with the less able and the social misfit - which would be fine if it actually achieved anything in dealing with such children. It doesn't because it panders to them - it prioritises their needs over the needs of the vast majority." The DCSF was created in 2007, replacing the old Department for Education and Skills.

In a speech at Wellington College, Berkshire, Mr Patriarca backed the principle of academies but insisted they were no longer "independent" of civil servants, despite Government claims. Academies are not allowed to put pupils on alternative exams, such as the International GCSE now favoured in private schools, he said. He also criticised the lack of freedom to control admissions, and he attacked the practice of forcing academies to share pupils expelled from other schools. "The more disruptive the child is the more attention it receives and the more benefits," Mr Patriarca said.

He added: "We have a chance to break free of this through the establishment of academies as genuinely independent schools with the DNA of the private sector operating within the state system. The present Government has lost its nerve on the academies programme."

It comes just days after a delegation of academy principals wrote to the Government, saying their attempts to improve education standards were being "increasingly hampered".

A DCSF spokesman said: "We make no apologies for the fact that the DCSF has broadened Government's focus beyond the school gates. Common sense and every teacher in every classroom tell us that what happens outside school hours and parents' involvement in children's education are both vital to their progress. "By strengthening family support during children's formative early years, getting parents more involved in their child's learning and making sure young people have more exciting things to do outside school, we hope to make this country the best place in the world to grow up."


Home tutoring option explored after kids from a good British grade school are sent to a sink High School

The parents of 25 pupils at an outstanding primary school plan to educate them en masse at home with a private tutor after a third of this year's 92 school leavers failed to secure a place at any of their preferred secondaries. Most were rejected by the local secondary school because they live just outside its 1.08-mile catchment area, even though it is their nearest one.

Catherine Roberts, whose son Alexander Lindfield was among them, was at a meeting of 25 families from Madginford Park Junior School, near Maidstone, Kent, at which home tutoring was discussed. Ms Roberts said: "We have been allocated, along with about 22 others, a place at the second-worst-performing school in the Kent league tables. "Unless you were selected for one of the grammar schools or had a sibling link to a non-selective school, virtually no one from Madginford Park Junior School gained a place at any of the schools on their selection list."

She added: "The children in my area have been failed in their desire for, and right to, a decent education at secondary level and after such a promising start at junior school are now being let down by the local authority. You wonder why there is a preference system if you are not able to gain a place at your nearest school which is also your first choice."


1 comment:

Robert said...

I had envisioned something like the parents banding together to teach their kinds in home schooling arrangements in which the parents would take turns teaching their own and their neighbors' kids the various subjects they will need to know to grow into well-adjusted adults. From the adults of 25 families, you would think there would be at least one expert in math, another in history, another in reading and literature, etc. The parents who are knowledgeable in the various subjects would teach those subjects, and if they work, could take paid leave from work for a few days a year to do that teaching. And the kids would be taught by those who care most about them learning the knowledge they will need when they are grown, rather than some faceless state that views them as subjects to exploit and tax.