Sunday, August 02, 2009

That desperate Leftist faith in money again

You begin to wonder who the capitalists are when it comes to education

The Obama Administration unveiled its new “Race to the Top” initiative late last week, in which it will use the lure of $4.35 billion in federal cash to induce states to improve their K-12 schools. This is going to be interesting to watch, because if nothing else the public school establishment is no longer going to be able to say that lack of money is its big problem.

Four billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s a tiny percentage of what the U.S. spends on education. The Department of Education estimates that the U.S. as a whole spent $667 billion on K-12 education in the 2008-09 school year alone, up from $553 billion in 2006-07. The stimulus bill from earlier this year includes some $100 billion more in federal education spending—an unprecedented amount. The tragedy is that nearly all of this $100 billion is being dispensed to the states by formula, which allows school districts to continue resisting reform while risking very little in overall federal funding.

All of this is on top of the education spending boom during the Bush years to pay for the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Democrats liked to claim that law was “underfunded,” but the reality is that inflation-adjusted Education Department elementary and secondary spending under President Bush grew to $37.9 billion from $28.3 billion, or 34%. NCLB-specific funding rose by more than 40% between 2001 and 2008.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has been trying without much success to spend its way to education excellence for decades. Between 1970 and 2004, per-pupil outlays more than doubled in real terms, and the federal portion of that spending nearly tripled. Yet reading scores on national standardized tests have remained relatively flat. Black and Hispanic students are doing better, but they continue to lag far behind white students in both test scores and graduation rates.

So now comes “Race to the Top,” which the Obama Administration claims will reward only those states that raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and expand the reach of charter schools. “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,” said President Obama on Friday. “Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant.”

Sounds great, though this White House is, at the behest of the unions, also shuttering a popular school voucher program that its own evaluation shows is improving test scores for low-income minorities in Washington, D.C. The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first. The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012.

Race to the Top is bound to have some impact, and lawmakers in several states—including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Massachusetts—already have passed charter-friendly legislation in hopes of tapping the fund. But the exercise will fail if it is merely a one-off trade of cash for this or that new law. The key is whether the money can be used to promote enough school choice and other reforms that induce school districts to change how the other $800 billion or so is spent.

Charter schools and voucher programs regularly produce better educational outcomes with less money. But as long as most education spending goes to support the status quo, Race to the Top will be mostly a case of political show and tell.


A Portrait of STEM Majors

That science students tend to be Asian I have remarked before in connection with my son's recent graduation. I am pleased that my son is helping in a small way to keep alive the Anglo presence in STEM. He is a mathematician

From new federal grant programs to angst-ridden reports to Congressional scrutiny, concern has accelerated without pause in recent years about whether the United States is drawing enough young people to study science and technology fields in college. Policy makers have paid comparatively little attention, however, to how the students who enter those disciplines fare, and whether they stay in those fields once they enter them.

A new federal study aims to remedy that. The report, "Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education," from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, examines three federal databases to follow students who enter those high-demand fields through the higher education pipeline.

In addition to largely reaffirming the demographic profile of the 23 percent of students who chose to major in science and technology fields during their undergraduate careers -- disproportionately male, Asian and of foreign citizenship, and more likely to be of traditional age than older -- the study puts the outcomes of those students side by side with their peers who do not major in science fields, and finds that they compare favorably.

Students who entered college in 1995-96 and majored in a STEM field some time between then and 2001 earned a degree or certificate at a rate of 54.9 percent, compared to 50.6 percent for students who did not choose a science or technology major. Within science fields, the rates were highest for those in the physical sciences (68.4 percent), natural sciences (63.5), and mathematics (61.4 percent), and lowest for those in computer or information sciences (46.4). Fifty-three percent of engineering students earned a credential, but they were least likely among their STEM peers to earn a bachelor's degree (as opposed to an associate degree or certificate).

But while the general outcomes of science and technology students were stronger than their peers, the degrees they earned were not necessarily in STEM fields. Of the 1995-96 entering students who majored in a STEM field at some point during their undergraduate careers, 40.7 percent got a degree or certificate in a science, math or technology field and another 12 percent were still enrolled in one of those fields, but 20.6 percent had left STEM disciplines entirely and 26.7 percent had left postsecondary education.

White students in STEM majors were likelier than their peers of other races to have earned a degree (43.9 percent vs. 39.9 percent for Asian, 33.1 percent for Hispanic, and 31.7 percent for black), and those whose parents had at least a bachelor's degree were far likelier than STEM majors whose parents had less education to get a degree.


Australian government school wins battle with bureaucratic bullies over wasted "stimulus" money

Wow! They actually now get to do something useful with the money -- but only after big publicity

A DISSIDENT primary school principal who blew the whistle on bungling within the government's $14.7 billion Building the Education Revolution program has won his way. The school, in Melbourne's outer southeast, was originally offered a $3 million gym, even though it already had a gym. It was told to accept the gym or lose its share of money in the first funding round in March.

But now, after spilling the beans in The Australian, Berwick Lodge Primary School principal Henry Grossek says Victorian education authorities have caved in to his demands for a library and new classrooms instead. Mr Grossek has urged other schools to resist bureaucratic bullying. "In speaking out we haven't been penalised," he told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "It's a tick for the federal government. Some principals are now ruing the decision to keep quiet."

The veteran principal was pictured on the front page of The Australian last month after he wrote a scathing open letter detailing claims of bullying, incompetence and dubious accounting in his school's upgrade. When his school was allocated $3m to build a second gym it did not want or need, Mr Grossek obtained an independent valuation that put its cost at $1.65m. He then told state officials the school wanted a library and some classrooms to the full value of the grant.

"If you stand up and make a stand in a professional manner, and you are supported by the community, you give other people confidence in doing that," he said yesterday. "After I spoke out, other principals came out in our region and spoke out. "It had an impact on others who would have (otherwise) been a bit fearful to speak out. "We were also taking a stand against bullying and harassment. You don't stop bullying by pretending it is not there or giving in to that kind of behaviour."

Mr Grossek said Victorian officials had since been instructed that his school be given the library and six classrooms it had originally sought. And it could spend any leftover funds on a "companion project", up to the total value of $3m. The Victorian Department of Education confirmed yesterday that Berwick Lodge would be given the library and six classrooms, although it made no mention in its response to The Weekend Australian about a "companion project".

A spokesman said the department had worked closely with schools to "ensure that the best results for the school and local community" could be achieved within the BER guidelines. "In some cases this working relationship has resulted in solutions being negotiated and proposals being modified," he said. "In all cases the best interests of the school community and their future needs has been paramount." [Blah, blah, blah!]

The Queensland Education Department this week gagged its school principals from speaking to the media. "If your school is contacted by a journalist to request information held by the school ... it will have to be referred to the (department's) media manager," says a letter circulated to schools this week. The ban flies in the face of calls by federal Education Minister Julia Gillard this week for a "raging debate" about education, when she urged the media to interview teachers and school leaders.

"Let's fill the newspapers with a raging debate, a passionate debate about the future of our education system," she said in a speech on Wednesday. "I'd like to see our newspapers speak to every one of Australia's 9500 school principals and report every word they say. "I'd like to see our newspapers surveying teachers and parents on what is happening at their local school." [She knows how hopeless the bureaucrats are too]

The Queensland's Education Department's media unit yesterday refused to give a reason for the gag. [Reason? Who needs a reason? Secrecy is just a normal reflex for them. If people knew all that went on there would be no end of trouble]


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