Thursday, August 27, 2009

Charter choices

On the surface, the Obama administration's threat to withhold federal "stimulus" dollars from states that refuse to lift their caps on charter schools looks like a victory for public school choice. Isn't an end to statist restrictions on innovative charters what supporters of school choice have been advocating for years? Well, yes, but those advocates would be well-advised to look below the surface at the likely conditions that will accompany massive federal aid, as Phil Brand's perceptive column advises ("Don't look for the union label," Opinion, Wednesday).

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have called repeatedly for imposing tight "accountability" on charter schools as part of the aid deal -- and closing those that fail to rise to their standards. They have issued these declarations while openly inviting teachers unions to be part of the chartering (or dechartering) process. Meanwhile, the unions are busily trying to unionize the teaching staffs of some of the nation's most successful charter schools.

Charter schools already have a far higher level of accountability than do conventional public schools. They are accountable to parents, who may pull their children out if they are dissatisfied. The second key to successful charter schools is the ability of strong principals to reward productive teachers and fire incompetent ones. Parental choice and "at will" employment are antithetical to the unionized model Mr. Obama is embracing. Let all buyers beware.


Why don't British High School students apply for university AFTER receiving their final exam results?

Nice to see that someone is questioning the idiotic British system. As far as I know, every other country in the world times admissions to occur AFTER final exam results are known. Can it be so hard in Britain?

Celebratingstudents An outsider looking at the British university system this summer would be shocked, and understandably. Hundreds of thousands of students are hoping to go to university this autumn, but because exam results aren't out until five or six weeks before term starts, it's chaos. UCAS reports today that 141,000 students are looking for a place through clearing. How stressful; how depressing.

In the past, A levels were for the elite, not for everyone. Now so many more people take them and then apply for university (the number of applicants is up from 405,000 in 1994 to 588,000 in 2008 and higher still this year), that the system appears to be creaking. There simply aren't enough places for everyone.

Wouldn't it take some of the stress away if students applied for university after they received their results? It would certainly get rid of the clearing chaos.Clearing was never meant to be as competitive as it is today.

Obviously there are problems, many logistical. Exams would probably have to be taken earlier and university terms started later, at least for freshers. But there have been so many changes to education in recent years (not least a whole raft of new qualifications) that surely, if a change is really worth doing, it could be made to work. Others worry that places would be offered solely on results, and not take extra-curricular activities into account. I'm sure this could be overcome if some thought were put into it.

All this isn't new. Back in 2004, the Schwartz report called for PQA (post qualifications applications) while just a few weeks ago, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), argued that "a sense of urgency" needed to be injected into the discussions'. This, he added, was especially because it is children from disadvantaged backgrounds who tend to under-estimate their grades.

One problem, of course is money, and the other is the will to do it. Many universities don't want to make changes - they're happy with things as they are, and, the top universities in particular, always get good students so feel no sense of urgency. For the students however, I think it does make sense, and could be a real help. Perhaps it's time to say farewell to the chaos of clearing.


Primary school maths failures on the rise in Britain

Leftist destruction never ceases

The number of seven-year-olds failing to master basic maths skills increased this year despite government efforts to drive up standards. The results of this year’s national tests also show that almost one in four boys is unable to write by seven and one fifth have a low reading age. The equivalent figures for girls show slightly more than one in ten (13 per cent) are falling below the standard in writing and one in ten have a low reading age.

The teacher assessments showed that 89 per cent of pupils reached Level 2 in maths — the minimum level expected of the age group — down from 90 per cent last year. Since 1948 the number of good readers in primary schools has nearly doubled

The statistics from the tests, formerly known as SATs, also showed that achievements in speaking and listening, reading and science have stalled for the second year in a row. Writing has improved by one percentage point this year to 81 per cent, according to figures published by the Department for Schools. The figures are based on assessments carried out by teachers in England’s primary schools, including results from tests in maths, English and science.

Over 100,000 pupils failed to reach Level 2 in writing and 55,400 did not make the grade in elementary maths.

Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said that high standards were being maintained, but admitted that the drop in maths results was “disappointing” “Almost nine out of ten of our children are hitting the expected level, but some are not quite there which is a concern because numeracy and literacy skills are so essential to learning,” she said.

Ministers have been attempting to raise standards in the early years amid fears children who fall behind at the beginning of their school career will continue to lag behind later on. Earlier this month the results of this year’s tests for 11-year-old showed that two in every five children are leaving primary school without reaching the required level in English, maths and science.

Ms Johnson said children who do not reach Level 2 “must not be left behind”. “We are ensuring additional support will be available for those who don’t hit the expected level including one-to-one tuition and increased support for children with special educational needs.” Maths programmes have been introduced to help those struggling with numeracy, she added.

She pointed out that the gender gap is an international phenomenon. “We are hopeful that the introduction of schemes such as ‘boys into books’ and ‘reading champions’, which encourage boys to read more, will address this.”

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said that the results reflected the “upward trend in standards”. “Sustained and continued hard work and commitment by pupils and teachers is being rewarded,” she said. “These results demonstrate that pupils are being given a good start on their educational journey.” [She must be the only one who thinks so. The idea that standards are rising is contrary to all the evidence]


No comments: