Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teachers' unions still obstructing reform in California

They opposed GWB and now they are opposing Obama too. Teacher performance must be kept secret. They are dead scared of accountability because they know how poorly many teachers perform. They are right to say that some classes are much more difficult to teach and that performance should not be based simply on student achievement but that is a poor excuse as there is nothing stopping legislators from making allowances for that. The information has to be gathered in the first place, however, and that is what the unionists oppose. A very simple and generally just index of teacher performance would be, for instance, to multiply exam results by the percentage of students receiving free lunches

In California's public school classrooms, students may soon not be the only ones worrying about their grades. Faced with a dire choice over being loyal to the state's powerful teachers union or claiming their share of billions of dollars in new federal funding, Sacramento legislators are re-evaluating a law that prevents the state from tying student test scores to teacher performance.

At stake is California's ability to compete with Florida, Texas and other states for $4.35 billion in education stimulus dollars. The 2006 law is a sticking point in a political feud between the Obama administration and state educators. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has strongly signaled that California will probably be disqualified from the new "Race to the Top" funds if the law remains on the books.

Advocates have long argued that data linking student achievement data directly to teachers is a critical piece of serious education reform. But teachers unions have long fought off attempts to tie the two together, saying it will unfairly lead to teachers being paid and promoted based on test scores.

"States around the country are constructing data warehouses, and they should be," said Terry Moe, a political-science professor at Stanford University. "But the unions are doing everything they can to make it illegal to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. It's a power play."

The competitive federal grants, announced last month, are designed to spur certain education reforms. Key among them is urging states to improve what is often a patchwork system of different student and teacher databases into one integrated, statewide system. "In California, they have 300,000 teachers. If you took the top 10 percent, they have 30,000 of the best teachers in the world," Duncan said in a June speech. "If you took the bottom 10 percent, they have 30,000 teachers that should probably find another profession, yet no one in California can tell you which teacher is in which category. Something is wrong with that picture."

The proposed "Race to the Top" guidelines stress that states wanting to compete for a piece of the pie must not have any laws or "firewalls" in place that prevent the use of student achievement for evaluating teachers. Unless California changes its current law, it will be out of the running.

California has been building separate student and teacher data system for years. Eventually, the state will be able to follow student progress over time, as well as find out if, say, smaller class sizes really make a difference, or if teachers with master's degrees are more effective. But language in the law prohibits the state from linking student data to teacher data "for the purposes of pay, promotion, sanction or personnel evaluation." While the state doesn't currently hire or fire teachers, teachers wanted the language included as a safeguard against the state using such information in the future.

"CTA believes that pay and evaluation decisions should be made at the local level," said Becky Zoglman, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. "That's where they are made now, and that's where they should remain. In the end, this is a political fight that is going to cost California's students. Is that really what Secretary Duncan and President Obama want?"

Teachers have little control over which students sit in their classrooms; one teacher may have several students who are struggling to learn English or have learning disabilities. Teachers worry that merit pay or other salary issues will ultimately be tied to test scores, punishing those who were assigned challenging classes.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and others have said the federal government simply misunderstands the intent of the state law. "This is simply a matter of local control that appropriately ensures school districts handle their own personnel decisions," he said. But the federal government has taken exception to the caveat. And if a compromise can't be reached, California may have no choice but to change the law. With education dollars scarce, there's enormous pressure for the Golden State to be seen as a player on the national stage.

"California will fight to be competitive for each and every possible Recovery Act dollar — and this instance is no different," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. "We will seek any reforms or changes to the law deemed necessary."

Last week, state Sen. Gloria Romero, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called for a public hearing. "The tempest in the teapot is over one paragraph of the bill," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto school board member who wrote the bill that ultimately became law. "But it could be a very expensive teapot. If we're not eligible for Race to the Top funds — the potential cost to California is millions and millions of dollars."


Britain's Leftist education ideas are disastrous for troubled children

The number of pupils excluded from school is rising. In the latest in our series on fixing Broken Britain, Paul Kendall visits an academy tackling some of the toughest troublemakers - with boxing skills.

Chavez Campbell skips around the ring, shoulders hunched, long arms bent up towards his head. Stepping forward, his opponent feints to the left, then fires a combination of hooks and upper cuts. Phumpf, phumpf! They slam into Chavez's temple. "Long range, long range. Move him away, move him away," shouts his coach from the safe side of the ropes. Chavez narrows his eyes and bends his head to the task. This time he stays back, keeping the other boxer at arm's length. At 16, Chavez is already 6ft 2in. He looks too skinny to be a fighter, but what he lacks in muscle he makes up for in aggression, technique and bloody intent. Thump! He lands a solid jab. Then another. And then an upper cut, first left then right. "That's it! Good!" shouts the coach. "Move, move."

When it comes to boxing, Chavez is a fast learner. But it's a different story in the classroom. At 12, he was expelled from school and sent to a Pupil Referral Unit, an education centre for children who cannot be controlled by mainstream schools. But PRUs are no more than holding-pens for our most unsettled children, and often they are not even that. Chavez was so disruptive in class and so violent towards his fellow pupils that he had to leave.

In many parts of the country, that would have been that. Deemed "unteachable", his school career would have been at an end and he would have begun his "adult" life with no qualifications and the reading age of a 10-year-old. Depressingly, one in 10 students entitled to free school meals currently leaves school in this way.

Figures published last week also show that two in every five children leave primary school without reaching the required level in English and maths. And all this, despite Labour pumping billions of extra pounds into the education system (investment rose from £29.7 billion in 1997-98 to £60.8 billion in 2006-07) and David Blunkett, then the Education Secretary, instigating daily literacy and numeracy lessons.

Boys with Chavez's sort of profile, perhaps no more than 20,000 across Britain, are responsible for the vast majority of anti-social behaviour – muggings, burglaries and stabbings – and research shows that almost all children involved in gangs have been excluded from mainstream schooling.

Fortunately for Chavez, another door opened for him. At the same time that he was causing mayhem in school, a project was starting in Tottenham, north London, that aimed to turn around the lives of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach youngsters. It was called the London Boxing Academy, and Chavez was its first pupil.

On a bright morning its co-founder Simon Marcus shows me around. "We're trying to reverse brainwashing here," he tells me as we stand in the sky-blue common room, next to a pool table and a table football game. "These kids think they're victims, they can't do anything, the world's against them, they deserve something. You'll destroy anyone if you teach that to them from the age of zero. "We're saying you can achieve whatever you want, your horizons are as broad as anyone's, but you have to live by certain values – responsibility, respect, discipline, a work ethic – and sacrifice for the future. You have to think long-term, not short-term, be a leader not a follower."

The academy teaches them that, primarily, through boxing. There are lessons as well, but each one of the 36 pupils (including three girls) does up to four hours of boxing training per week. There is no contact boxing during school hours (anyone who wants to fight properly does so in their spare time through the police boxing club at the academy's gym), but they all work with punch bags and mitts, learn technique and keep fit through skipping and running.

Marcus, a former boxer himself is evangelical about the sport's benefits. "Boxing is 20 to 30 per cent of what we do. As soon as those kids come through that door they are not top dog, they are not the bully, and that is a lot of our job done. "They are subliminally accepting authority, and that opens up a world of opportunity for them because they can accept an order in life. They can accept boundaries, discipline, and from that comes learning and a future. In fact, that is a form of love. All these people who talk about children's rights, no one talks about the right of a child to receive authority and that's something that's vital. The word 'no' has disappeared from bringing up children."

There is no doubt in my mind that Marcus does indeed love these children. Every time a pupil passes us, he makes a conscious effort to catch their eye and greet them by name: "All right, Ashley", "You OK, Walker?", "Hello, Rasheda." And when he spots someone breaking the rules, his response suggests a calm authority. The pupils still have a certain swagger – a third of them have been permanently excluded from school and many have served time in youth offender institutions for violent crime – but they listen to him and keep their tempers in check.

"These kids eating fried chicken for their lunch, they just drop things," he says after speaking to a boy who has just tossed a burger carton on to the floor. "They have absolutely no awareness that they should pick things up. If you say, 'Oi! Pick it up', there will be trouble. Whereas if you say, 'Now, you know you shouldn't drop things on the floor; you know you should pick it up', nine times out of 10 they'll do it."

At mainstream schools, where teachers are under so much pressure, this approach is much more difficult. "I feel sorry for teachers in mainstream schools," says Marcus. "They're just going to go, 'Hey! Pick it up', and then there could be a problem" – he means verbal abuse at the very least, possibly violence – "and the kid might end up being kicked out of school. So, it's very systemic. The system isn't geared to work with these kids who have so many problems on so many levels."

In the school year 2006-07, 65,390 children were excluded, the vast majority on a temporary basis. Almost half of these were barred for violent, threatening or aggressive behaviour. A survey, published in 2008, said 29 per cent of teachers had been punched, kicked or bitten by pupils. Ofsted, the school inspection service, insists pupil behaviour is satisfactory in 94 per cent of schools, but Terry Haydn, a former comprehensive teacher who now studies classroom disruption at East Anglia university, says that is not his experience. "Deficits in classroom climate are more widespread than Ofsted assumes. Quite a lot of kids simply don't want to be in school and don't want to learn. Even very good and experienced teachers have said to me, 'I struggle.' "

The right of the majority of pupils to get on with their lessons should be paramount, but Haydn says that too often violent and difficult troublemakers are allowed back into the classroom. This is not helped by rules that allow pupils to appeal against permanent exclusions. Of the 8,680 pupils who were permanently excluded in 2007, about 970 appealed and 250 were successful, a rise of 20 per cent in 10 years.

Twelve years ago, Labour came to power promising to champion children from the poorest sections of society. It acknowledged that the problems started in infancy, when children develop both emotionally and psychologically and learn basic relationship skills. The Government promised nursery education for all three- and four-year-olds and established the Sure Start programme to provide education and childcare to pre-school children from poor families.

A recent Ofsted report found that Sure Start centres are having a positive impact on the life chances of children and providing much-needed support to parents. But Sure Start has strayed from its initial goals and become much more a part of the Government's drive to get parents back to work. "It predominantly delivers child care now," says Charlotte Pickles, a senior policy adviser at the think tank, the Centre for Social Justice. "That early-years development is no longer the priority, and many parents are not being taught parenting skills. So, by the time they go on to a primary school, these children don't have the social ability to engage with their peers.

"They're likely to be behind other children in educational terms, and, especially if they're at a failing school, they're then likely to fall even further behind. By the time they turn up at secondary school, they have little hope of catching up with their contemporaries who have had that investment and support."

Of course, the failure of early-years education doesn't mean primary and secondary schools and other educationists shouldn't shoulder much of the blame for the violent children on our streets. For Simon Marcus, the situation is critical. "I feel like I'm in a living nightmare," he says. "Everywhere I look, I see catastrophically bad judgment from people who have been to Oxford and Cambridge who should know better.

"We know what works. Kids need discipline, they need boundaries, they need love, they need stability. They don't need a bunch of crazy liberal experiments where they are told, 'Do what you want, make your own decisions; male role models aren't that important; there is no such thing as right and wrong; it's everybody else's fault.'

"A quarter of a million kids a year carry knives. I speak to idiots who say it's no different from the mods and rockers or punks. No! It is. You are dealing with people – the equality brigade – for whom politics has become a religion. "Many of them are highly motivated individuals who do a lot of good work in poor areas, but unless your larger framework acknowledges the basics – simple, self-evident truths – then these children, nine times out of 10, are not going to turn out very well."

Marcus's hard-line approach has transformed the prospects of Chavez Campbell. He is waiting for the results of seven GCSEs, he has a place in college, and he doesn't get into trouble any more. "Boxing just agreed with me," he says. "My ambition is to box for England. Then I want to go to the Olympics, and, after the Olympics, I want to go pro." He grins. "I'm serious. I've got a future now."


West Australian sex education site shunned

CATHOLIC schools will shun a new sex-education website created by the WA Government. Concerned parents of Catholic students contacted The Sunday Times complaining that the website would encourage indecent behaviour.

The Health Department website says sexual activity can be ``awesome'', but also warns about the risks involved. It includes information on a variety of sexual acts and contraceptive devices, including the morning after pill. One section of the website reads: ``Exploring your own body through masturbation can be a good way to find out about your sexual feelings and your body.''

The director of Catholic Education in WA, Ron Dullard, said his schools would not even mention the website to students for fear of encouraging its use. He said the website did not promote the values taught in Catholic schools. ``We wouldn't even raise the website because all that does is create curiosity,'' Mr Dullard said. ``The Health Department puts out various materials on sex education and we use the material we think is appropriate and don't use the other material.''

The website, called ``Get the Facts'', claims 35 per cent of high school students are having sex.

Mr Dullard said the premature sexualisation of teenagers was a concern for society.

One parent told The Sunday Times she was concerned that the website encouraged flirting. A section of the website reads: ``Just because you flirt with someone, it doesn't mean you owe them anything.''

Health Minister Kim Hames said the website had appropriate information for people aged 14-17. ``The internet is a major source of information for young people but the quality of information it provides can be poor,'' Dr Hames said. ``As a result of the consultations by the Department of Health, young West Australians identified the need for a trustworthy and authoritative information source on sexual health and relationships.''

The website averages 75 visitors a day and has received 7936 unique visits from 127 countries since it was created.

Mr Dullard said worried parents should let the Health Department know about their concerns. ``Parents in a democracy should be speaking up,'' he said. "Governments have an obligation to be listening to the majority. "I would be encouraging people to speak up against things that go against their value and beliefs.''


No comments: