Friday, July 24, 2009

Vast fraud alleged in NYC education statistics

But Hey! It's NYC. What do you expect?

Calling it the "Enron of American education," Comptroller William Thompson Tuesday accused the Education Department of manipulating data to boost graduation rates. The transcripts of 10% of the students his office sampled in an audit showed the kids did not earn enough credits or pass enough courses to graduate. "The Department of Education has become the Enron of American education," said the mayoral candidate, "showing the gains and hiding the losses.

About 18% of the 197 students examined who graduated in 2007 got multiple credit for passing the same courses, the report asserts. About a quarter of the students had grades changed the same month they graduated or even after graduation, allowing them to meet graduation requirements. In one case, a student's failing grades from courses taken in 2005 and 2006 were changed in June of 2007, giving him the required 44 credits.

Thompson also charged that the drop-out rate may be higher than reported. Students who take five or six years to graduate are not considered drop-outs, according to the audit. The audit looked at a group of students who were supposed to graduate in 2007 but were classified as "still enrolled" in 2008. The report found that 15% had not attended school since June 2007. Half of those hadn't even been to class in the spring of June 2007.

The Education Department said in its response contained in the audit that some schools did not use inique codes for classes, giving the impression some were taken twice. They attributed changing transcripts in the month of graduation or afterwards to careful reviews taken without the time pressure that exists during the school year.

Mayor Bloomberg's campaign attacked the report. "Instead of politicizing the comptroller's office with phony attacks, Mr. Thompson should be explaining his own failed record on education," said spokesman Howard Wolfson. "The facts are clear: When Bill Thompson ran the old dysfunctional Board of Education, graduation rates were flat and dropout rates increased." The city's graduation rate has risen to 66% in 2008 from 51% in 2001, city officials say.

Thompson stopped short of accusing the mayor or Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of personally pushing for inflate graduation rates. He said there needed to be improved oversight of the Education Department and argued that the problems could not be chalked up to paperwork mistakes. "These results are disturbing and inexcusable," said Thompson "I don't think it's just sloppy book keeping."


British schools are the problem, not its elite universities

Alan Milburn's new report into social mobility is not entirely surprising. Those of us who write about education know that social position, the background you come from and what your parents do, all make a huge difference to what you will become when you grow up. And in today's Times, Mr Milburn writes about social mobility and education.

But the new report covers more than our children's schools - and has over 80 recommedations. Certain professions should have a much wider intake, says Mr Milburn, and so should universities.

But here's John O’Leary, author of the Good University Guide, with his take on the report: he's not completely impressed....

"There are many good ideas in Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility, Unleashing Aspiration – not least a proposed network of careers mentors and the extension of financial support beyond full-time undergraduates. But few of them involve universities, which the report considers the key to greater mobility.

Like most of the debates in this area, this one confuses widening participation in higher education as a whole with fair access to the most prestigious universities. Both are important, but they are not the same thing. So by encouraging more students to stay at home and go to their local FE college, for example, you may send out the message that it does not matter where people take a degree.

In fact, as the report acknowledges, it does matter both in terms of the quality of course and subsequent career prospects. What prospective students need - especially those from families and schools with little knowledge of universities – is the best possible advice on their options. These may involve highly selective universities, but the most suitable course might well be elsewhere.

The report assumes that the most highly-qualified students should go to the universities at the top of the league tables, quoting the 13 regarded by the Sutton Trust as the cream of the crop. The fact that there are 13, rather than ten or 20, shows what an arbitrary dividing line this is. Are the tens of thousands who apply to Manchester (the most popular university in terms of applications) or Exeter (which is in the current top ten in The Times Good University Guide) deluded?

Mr Milburn’s panel wants yet more information to be published on the socio-economic background of entrants to university. But there are statistics galore on students’ class, school and home area. A few more will not change anything.

Not surprisingly, there is no flash of inspiration in the report that will transform access to the most selective universities. Many of the proposals, such as partnerships with poor schools and extra leeway for applicants from schools and colleges with low average results, are well established already. If anything, the £392m spent on widening participation over the past five years to limited effect, suggests that there are too many initiatives, rather than too few.

Mr Milburn – and the Government, which commissioned the report – are right to be concerned about access to the professions and, by extension, to the top universities. Indeed, David Willetts, who leads for the Conservatives on universities, raised many of the same concerns in a speech to the Politeia think tank yesterday. But, while the charge of social elitism can still be levelled at a few universities, the focus should be on state schools if real progress is to be made on social mobility."


Fix Australia's school performance or poor won't get into university

We need to improve schooling in disadvantaged areas if less well-off children are going to get tertiary education

EARLIER this year federal Education Minister Julia Gillard challenged Australian universities to enrol more students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, setting an ambitious student enrolment target of 20 per cent from low SES groups by 2020.

Though more than willing, many universities will struggle to reach that target. An all-too-limited pool of prospective students from low SES backgrounds obtain the school results likely to make higher education a good option. The undergraduates who will enter universities in 2020 are at school now and many in the target groups already underperform. So while universities must engage, it also will require a substantial improvement in school results to meet the Education Minister's targets.

Two years ago, the Education Foundation report Crossing the Bridge described the challenges faced by government schools in low socioeconomic communities and the barriers confronting the young people who attend them.

The story is much the same today. New University of Melbourne research conducted for the Education Foundation confirms there are still too many young Australians missing out on the opportunities provided by a quality education.

Social justice requires an education system that encourages bright, creative and talented individuals, irrespective of the school they attend or their background. These goals -- quality, equity, consistency -- are at the core of a new proposal, A New Federalism in Australian Education, by Jack Keating for the Education Foundation. This proposal argues that the Australian school system faces a raft of challenges as a result of the narrow institutional structures of schooling.

To date, much educational reform policy has focused on teaching quality. This is critically important, yet young people's education outcomes are also shaped by factors beyond their teachers, including early childhood education, family income and occupation, geographical location and the wider community environment. These factors help explain why socioeconomic disadvantage persists in higher education and why students from low SES backgrounds remain substantially under-represented in universities.

Years ago, researchers Buly Cardak of La Trobe University and Chris Ryan of the Australian National University identified school performance as the missing piece of this puzzle. The currency of university admissions is school results, and Cardak and Ryan found that students from low SES families were lost to higher education in the final years of school. They do not convert academic potential evident at year 9 to year 12 results as effectively as students from high SES groups.

We surrender so much potential among students who do not make it to year 12, and are lost to the tertiary sector. Some will find other pathways, such as through vocational training. There are good arguments to consider additional new forms of education, including community colleges. But the key issue remains our schools.

In A New Federalism in Australian Education, Keating calls for widespread educational reform beginning with a multi-level, federalist approach to funding that prioritises schools with low completion rates and offers fee relief for low-income families.

He also calls for church-based schools to be incorporated into the public system and a national regulatory agency for all publicly funded schools, and recommends significant investment in early childhood education; an acceleration of programs in the middle years of secondary school to curb early school leaving; and a strengthening of upper secondary pathways to further education and training that do not rely solely on academic results.

Most important of all is the focus on countering socioeconomic disadvantage. For some time Australian education has been characterised as "high quality, low equity".

Too many students are performing below expectations, most coming from poorer families and communities. Poor results often have lifelong consequences, in fewer opportunities for further education and reduced job prospects. How to make Australia's schools "high quality, high equity" is one of the big policy questions of the coming decade.

The federal government's education reform agenda is already focused on disadvantage, targeting early childhood and inequalities in the quality of instruction across the states and territories, and identifying opportunities to cater better for students' different needs.

Not everyone will agree with Keating's proposals. Controversy over federalism is a constant of Australian politics. The inconsistencies and apparent anomalies of joint federal-state responsibility for education, and the differences between the states, also can be benefits in providing greater scope for experimentation, division of power and democratic options. Citizens dissatisfied with one level of government can appeal to the other for help.

But we also need to take seriously the costs of the present divided structures of regulating and funding education, costs well explained in thisproposal.

Our schooling system structures were not designed to produce the best education outcomes but represent the accumulation of incremental changes through decades. As students of public policy know, incrementalism encourages remarkable innovation but also can produce programmatic incoherence.

These are healthy debates on the means to achieve a high quality, high-equity education system, running from early childhood through to postgraduate university education. If we are going to meet those 2020 equity targets, it's a conversation we must have now.


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