Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The latest education talk from Obama

See below. Who knows what it means?

In an economy where jobs requiring at least an associate's degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience, it's never been more essential to continue education and training after high school. That's why we've set a goal of leading the world in college degrees by 2020. Part of this goal will be met by helping Americans better afford a college education. But part of it will also be strengthening our network of community colleges.

We believe it's time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future. Our community colleges can serve as 21st-century job training centers, working with local businesses to help workers learn the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future. We can reallocate funding to help them modernize their facilities, increase the quality of online courses and ultimately meet the goal of graduating 5 million more Americans from community colleges by 2020.

Providing all Americans with the skills they need to compete is a pillar of a stronger economic foundation, and, like health care or energy, we cannot wait to make the necessary changes. We must continue to clean up the wreckage of this recession, but it is time to rebuild something better in its place. It won't be easy, and there will continue to be those who argue that we have to put off hard decisions that we have already deferred for far too long. But earlier generations of Americans didn't build this great country by fearing the future and shrinking our dreams. This generation has to show that same courage and determination. I believe we will.


British Labour Party fails working class on education

The social mobility czar is to accuse ministers of doing too little to get poor pupils into top universities. Favours aptitude tests (like the American SAT?) as an alternative route to admission! Utter heresy to the modern British Left but it was advocated by the British Left of yesteryear

Gordon Brown's social mobility czar is set to brand Labour’s attempts to bring more working-class pupils into top universities a failure. In a report to be released next week, Alan Milburn, the Blairite former health secretary, is expected to warn that too few bright teenagers from poor families are winning places at leading universities.

The main reason he is likely to identify is the sub-standard education provided by too many state schools, meaning bright pupils are held back from winning good enough A-level grades. Others are deterred by negative advice from staff who guide pupils into low-skilled jobs, assuming they are unsuited to higher education. In addition, much of the £400m spent by the government on schemes to attract more students from deprived backgrounds has been wasted.

Milburn, who has announced he will retire from parliament at the next election, was commissioned by the prime minister in January to report on ways in which more young working-class adults could win jobs in professions such as the law, medicine and teaching. The panel he chairs is likely to conclude that one of the main brakes on social mobility into the professions is slow progress in increasing the number of students from deprived families. Figures released last month showed a slight fall in the proportion from these groups studying at university. The government spends hundreds of millions of pounds on university schemes to attract such candidates and help them through the admissions process. This costs about £10,000 per person, but it is thought many of those who apply would do so regardless of special initiatives.

The report is expected to condemn “positive discrimination” whereby some universities give preferential treatment to any applicant from a poorly performing school. At the same time, however, Milburn is understood to praise more targeted methods. One his panel favours is used by some medical schools - talented pupils from deprived backgrounds can be offered degree places if they achieve lower grades than other candidates, but only if they pass aptitude tests.

Lee Elliot Major, research director of the Sutton Trust, a charity promoting social mobility, said Britain was in the grip of an “education freeze”. “Even when the economy is doing well, children from poorer backgrounds are still only half as likely to attend university as those from more privileged families and even this could understate the problem,” he said.

Milburn’s panel - whose members range from Baroness Shephard, the former Tory education secretary, to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society - is expected to cite evidence that state school pupils perform at least as well at university as those from independent schools who have scored two grades higher at A-level. This implies that they have been held back by their schools from achieving their full potential.

The findings, which will be seen as an indictment of Labour’s education policies, are likely to anger senior figures such as Ed Balls, the schools secretary. Many in the Labour party have blamed ingrained snobbery at universities for shutting out working-class pupils.

Geoffrey Vos, chairman of the Social Mobility Foundation and a member of Milburn’s panel, said: “Raising the aspirations of pupils ought to be utterly uncontroversial, but it is not always happening.”

Milburn’s report, which has not yet been completed, will focus largely on what the professions themselves can do to widen the social mix of new recruits. It is likely to include steps to pick apart the networking advantages enjoyed by middle-class children. Posts for unpaid work experience and internships, for example, should be filled by formal selection processes rather than word of mouth.

Meanwhile, undergraduates studying for professional degrees should be recruited to a national mentoring network for comprehensive pupils. This would make them more likely to consider going into the professions in a way that those at private and grammar schools instinctively do.

One source said Milburn wants his recommendations to have cross-party support so they have a chance of surviving if the Tories come to power. He is anxious not to alienate middle-class parents worried that children at private and grammar schools will be edged out of leading universities. “Universities have to be carefully nuanced and not attack private schools,” said the source.


British Pupils need lessons in how to speak properly

Children should be taught to speak more formally in class to improve their written work, according to new research. Teachers need to do more work to improve children's vocabulary and make it clear when the use of slang and colloquialisms are not acceptable, academics have found.

The study from Exeter University, which analysed pupils' writing, discovered that whilst more able writers composed sentences in standard English, weaker writers tended to replicate patterns found in speech.

Researchers concluded that the more opportunities children had in class for developing their speech and distinguishing between styles of language, the better their writing would become. "This is less about correcting their English than making sure that they are aware of what they are saying and giving them access to different repertoires," said Professor Debra Myhill, author of the study. "They need to be aware of what they are saying and when, and be able to make choices about their speech, otherwise they will lose out in areas such as the job market."

The study comes in the wake of growing recognition that the school curriculum has neglected the development of children's speech. The Government's Rose Review, published in May, stressed the "central importance" of speaking and listening as part of literacy. Critics claim that in some schools very young children are being taught to read and write before they can string a sentence together. With older children, chief examiners have revealed a growing tendency for pupils to lapse into the vernacular in exams scripts, using slang and inappropriate expressions.

Pieces of writing from children aged 12 to 15 were analysed as part of the Exeter study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. It found that children understood that writing was not simply "talk written down". However, weaker writers used patterns familiar in speech, for instance consistently putting the subject first instead of varying their sentence structure. They also had a more restricted vocabulary reminiscent of the more limited selection of words used in speech.

"In order to develop children's writing more, we need to develop children's talking more," said Prof Myhill. "It is not just about using standard English, it is about having more opportunities in class for children to elaborate, justify their decisions, discuss their ideas and give them access to a broader and richer vocabulary, though reading widely and word searches. "We know that in classrooms that continually provide children with talk opportunities, there will almost certainly be a positive influence on their writing."

The professor said there was a general trend to be less formal in speech and writing. "If you look at the television or newspapers over the past 50 years, the language is less formal. Children's speech and writing is mirroring a much bigger cultural trend. "It is not so much about right and wrong, it is about children having repertoires and judgement. Children need to be able to consciously decide to speak or write in a particular way or not."


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