Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Educational destruction in Connecticut

The stupid Leftist pursuit of "equality" is behind this. But in a typically destructive Leftist way, it will prevent students getting the attention appropriate to them. Either dull students won't be able to keep up or brighter students will be bored stiff and learn much less than they could or should

Sixth graders at Cloonan Middle School here are assigned numbers based on their previous year’s standardized test scores — zeros indicate the highest performers, ones the middle, twos the lowest — that determine their academic classes for the next three years.

But this longstanding system for tracking children by academic ability for more effective teaching evolved into an uncomfortable caste system in which students were largely segregated by race and socioeconomic background, both inside and outside classrooms. Black and Hispanic students, for example, make up 46 percent of this year’s sixth grade, but are 78 percent of the twos and 7 percent of the zeros.

So in an unusual experiment, Cloonan mixed up its sixth-grade science and social studies classes last month, combining zeros and ones with twos. These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.

The results illustrate the challenge facing this 15,000-student district just outside New York City, which is among the last bastions of rigid educational tracking more than a decade after most school districts abandoned the practice. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stamford sorted students into as many as 15 different levels; the current system of three to five levels at each of four middle schools will be replaced this fall by a two-tiered model, in which the top quarter of sixth graders will be enrolled in honors classes, the rest in college-prep classes. (A fifth middle school is a magnet school and has no tracking.)

More than 300 Stamford parents have signed a petition opposing the shift, and some say they are now considering moving or switching their children to private schools. “I think this is a terrible system for our community,” said Nicole Zussman, a mother of two. Ms. Zussman and others contend that Stamford’s diversity, with poor urban neighborhoods and wealthy suburban enclaves, demands multiple academic tracks, and suggest that the district could make the system fairer and more flexible by testing students more frequently for movement among the levels.

But Joshua P. Starr, the Stamford superintendent, said the tracking system has failed to prepare children in the lower levels for high school and college. “There are certainly people who want to maintain the status quo because some people have benefited from the status quo,” he said. “I know that we cannot afford that anymore. It’s not fair to too many kids.”

Educators have debated for decades how to best divide students into classes. Some school districts focus on providing extra instruction to low achievers or developing so-called gifted programs for the brightest students, but few maintain tracking like Stamford’s middle schools (tracking is less comprehensive and rigid at the town’s elementary and high schools).

Deborah Kasak, executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, said research is showing that all students benefit from mixed-ability classes. “We see improvements in student behavior, academic performance and teaching, and all that positively affects school culture,” she said.

Daria Hall, a director with Education Trust, an advocacy group, said that tracking has worsened the situation by funneling poor and minority students into “low-level and watered-down courses.” “If all we expect of students is for them to watch movies and fill out worksheets, then that’s what they will give us,” she said.

In Stamford, black and Hispanic student performance on state tests has lagged significantly behind that of Asians and whites [And based on all experience it always will]. In 2008, 98 percent of Asian students and 92 percent of white students in grades three to eight passed math, and 93 percent and 88 percent reading, respectively. Among black students, 63 percent passed math, and 56 percent reading; among Hispanic students, 74 percent passed math and 60 percent reading.

The district plans to keep a top honors level, but put the majority of students in mixed-ability classes, expanding the new system from sixth grade to seventh and eighth over three years. While the old system tracked students for all subjects based on math and English scores, the new one will allow students to be designated for honors in one subject but not necessarily another, making more students overall eligible for the upper track.


Britain: Capable students to miss out on university as clearing places cut

British universities have the rather weird system of accepting students on the basis of their "predicted" results in their final High School exams. Places left over after that process are later filled on the basis of actual exam results. Those places are called "clearing" places

Two thirds of A-level students who would normally get into university through the clearing system will be left without a place this year, according to research by The Times. In the biggest squeeze on higher education for 20 years, tens of thousands of capable students will miss out on higher education after a huge rise in applications and an effective freeze on university places.

Almost two thirds of clearing places have been cut at universities that accept large numbers of students looking for a place after A-level results in August. The figures from a survey by The Times indicate that some of the biggest recruiters will have to halve their clearing intake, while others say that they will have no clearing places at all.

Universities are also saying that they will be far less lenient this year on those who fall slightly below their predicted grades, as they have been told by the Government that they will face financial sanctions if they overrecruit.

Pam Tatlow, of Million+, which represents new universities, said: “It’s clear this could be a very sticky summer if the Government doesn’t think more carefully and positively about what it can do to prevent potential students from joining the dole queue.”

The Times contacted 60 universities that usually take the highest numbers through clearing. The ten that were able to confirm the number of spaces that they expect to have left this August have lost 2,300 places between them — 58 per cent down on last year.

Northumbria University, which has experienced an 11 per cent rise in applications this year, will have 60 per cent fewer spaces on offer in August compared with last year, when 500 students got last-minute places. Goldsmiths, University of London, the University of the West of England and the University of Surrey all predict a significant reduction in clearing places. If this drop is applied to the 44,000 places available through clearing last year, only 18,480 places will be available this summer.

By April there were 524,151 applications for full-time undergraduate courses compared with 481,784 at the same time last year. At least 58,000 more applications are expected before the end of the June deadline, Ucas, the university admissions service, said. The sector has experienced an 8.8 per cent rise in prospective students, but many of the 30 universities who responded to The Times survey — those that are most popular with clearing candidates — have seen far bigger increases. The Government has made provision for only 10,000 more places this year, including those taken by postgraduate and part-time students.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said that the Government’s cap on extra places would mean that at least 28,000 good candidates would be disappointed. “Applicants are clearly making the correct assessment that it is better to invest now in their education and training, and it is very disappointing that the Government is limiting their ability to do that,” he said. Vocational and business-orientated subjects are increasingly popular, with huge rises in the number of applications for nursing, economics, engineering and business-related degrees.

A spokesman for Ucas said: “If an applicant cannot find a suitable place through clearing, all is not lost. They can reapply again for the next year, take a gap year or do some voluntary work.” [How consoling!]


British school bans bananas because one teacher has life-threatening allergy to them

This sounds pretty cockeyed. How does somebody ELSE eating a banana affect the allergy sufferer?

Nutritious and delicious, bananas are a lunchbox favourite. But they have been banned from a primary school because a teacher is allergic to them. The school has forbidden pupils to eat bananas because a female staff member suffers from the rare and potentially lethal condition 'latex fruit syndrome'. Any contact with the fruit could result in anaphylactic shock - which in extreme cases can cause collapse or even death.

The ban, introduced two years ago at Stoke Damerel Primary School in Plymouth, has divided parents. 'When it was first brought in we couldn't believe it,' said Mary Williams, 54, as she dropped her grandchild at the school. 'Banning bananas because a member of staff - not even a pupil - is allergic is ridiculous. 'A lot of us feel this is a massive overreaction. But another parent said: 'It does seem a little silly, but then if it was my child who was allergic I would be relieved that they would not be in danger.'

Latex fruit syndrome is related to latex allergy. Experts say up to 50 per cent of those allergic to natural rubber latex are also sensitive to fruits, particularly bananas.

A spokesman for the school said the ban would be lifted in September when the affected teacher is leaving the school. She added: 'These are very unusual circumstances but the school community has been supportive and understanding over the last two years.'


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