Saturday, September 26, 2009

Do Charters 'Cream' the Best?

A new study finds breakthrough evidence against Leftist excuses

'Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates.

Her new study, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.

Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. "On average," the report concludes, "a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English."

The New York results are not unique. In a separate study, Ms. Hoxby found Chicago's charters performing even better than the Big Apple's. Using the same methodology, other researchers have seen similar results in Boston.

Charters are also a bargain for taxpayers. Nationwide on average, per-pupil spending is 61% that of surrounding public schools. New York charters spend less than district schools but more than the national average because, unlike district schools, they generally have no capital budget and must pay rent from operating expenses.

Little wonder President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pressuring states to become more charter-friendly. Why the Administration can't connect the dots from the evidence to other effective school choice reforms, such as vouchers, can only be explained by union politics. Caroline Hoxby has performed a public service by finally making clear that "creaming" is a crock.


Paedophile fears are 'driving male teachers from British primary schools'

More than a quarter of state primary schools have no male teachers, partly because they have been deterred from working with young children for fear of being labelled paedophiles, an expert claims. The result is that thousands of boys are being taught solely by women and have no educational male role models. The trend is fuelling concerns that a generation of boys is growing up without an authoritative male figure in their lives.

Teaching remains a predominantly female profession, data published today by the General Teaching Council of England confirms. Only 123,827, or 25 per cent, of the 490,981 registered working teachers are men, with the majority in secondary schools and further education. Male teachers make up just 13 per cent of state primary teachers (25,491) and three per cent of state nursery school staff (43). Of 16,892 state primary schools in England, 4,550 have no male teachers - around 27 per cent.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the figures were concerning. 'It's a sad comment on society that more men aren't attracted into teaching in primary schools. In part, this is due to concerns in society about paedophilia. Men are receiving the signal that it's more appropriate for them to teach in secondary schools than primary schools.'

The 'feminisation' of the curriculum, which includes an emphasis on coursework rather than 'sudden death' exams, is already believed to be responsible for a widening gender gap at secondary level.

Professor Smithers said: 'There's a danger that boys could grow up thinking that education is sissy. 'When it comes to reading, they might be offered what appeals to the female teachers whereas male teachers often have different interests in reading. 'Similarly, in interpreting what's been read, there are distinct male and female points of view. Both these views need to be offered to boys.'

GTC chief executive Keith Bartley said: 'We should focus on attracting the best recruits to teaching, regardless of gender. 'If men do not believe that teaching is a worthwhile career option for them, or worse still, if their interest in teaching is viewed with suspicion, then children potentially miss out on a huge pool of talent.'

Only two men under the age of 25 work in state-run nurseries in England, according to the GTC register. One of them, 22-year-old Jamie Wilson, from Merseyside, insists that children need to be taught by male and female teachers. He said: 'I am firmly of the belief that gender should not be an issue when it comes to early years and primary teachers. Why should it matter? 'However, I have found that it has been an issue in my own experience. Even within my first week I encountered anxiety from a parent who was reluctant to leave their three-year-old in my care because I am a male in a female-dominated environment.'


Oxbridge: one student explodes the myths

Students have less than a month to get in their applications for Oxford and Cambridge . The fact that the two universities, generally seen as the "top" places to study in the UK, have a different application deadline from other universities, just adds to the aura around them.

Costas Pitas is studying History and French at Balliol College, Oxford. As someone from a grammar school, he says he didn't know what to expect when he applied, and is keen to help others to, as he says, "explode the myths". In fact, he says that Oxbridge should be "at the top of every working class child's UCAS form." Over to Costas....

"There are many misunderstandings surrounding Oxford and Cambridge. You don’t need to be a Lord, or the son or daughter of one, you don’t have to live in a gold-encrusted palace or have a double-barrelled name. In fact, in my view, Oxbridge should be at the top of every working class child’s UCAS form, and not at the bottom. It’s the best place to study if your worried about finances and fancy the shortest term times of any universities. If you’re predicted the necessary grades, or even just short, here are some myth-busting facts to prove why you shouldn’t think twice about applying.

Myth one: the fees are more expensive

FALSE: For most people Oxbridge is actually the best value-for-money choice you could make. On tuition fees, 99 per cent of courses across the country at every uni will charge £3,225 for this coming academic year. Oxford and Cambridge charge the same. When you consider that the pair continually top The Times Good University Guide, and are among the best-performing institutions in the world, it’s surely a bargain price for the best education money can buy.

Myth two: it’ll cost you more to study

FALSE: Oxford and Cambridge have the best libraries of any universities in the country. The Bodleian in Oxford, for example, is a copyright library which means that it has the right to every book published in the UK. With central libraries, faculty libraries and college libraries, Oxbridge has got to be the place where the need to buy your own reading materials is at its minimum. Plus, many of the colleges and faculties offer book-buying grants to students.

Myth three: it’ll cost more to live

FALSE: Research conducted by the National Union of Students shows that students in London will face living expenses of £8,375 per year, whilst those out of the capital save a cool £1,300 a year, down to £7,011. Furthermore, a combination of generous benefactors, rich alumni and a social guilty conscience means that Oxford and Cambridge offer the most generous financial support anywhere in the country. With a household income of up to £25,000, Cambridge will award a bursary of £3,250 per year, whilst Oxford will splash out the same each year plus a potential £875 in your first year to the poorest students. Any household income under £50,000 will entitle you to hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of non-repayable grant.

Myth four: all the students are snobby

FALSE: OK, of course you’ll find some people who believe God reports to them. However, that applies to all walks of life and my experience of Oxford has been entirely positive. Many people at my college come from schools such as Eton, which you might consider to be the crème de la crème of toff towers, but are anything but. In fact many worry that other students will have a whole truckload of preconceptions about them. Roughly 55 per cent of students at both universities come from state schools, so even if you consider snobby synonymous with independent schools that accusation doesn’t stand up either. My experience shows it to be untrue anyway. Ultimately, everyone’s in the same boat on day one of freshers’ week. It took me the week to find my friends, but the vast majority of people do fit in just fine.

Myth five: they’re all…boring

FALSE: There does seem to be a concern that Oxbridge types are, to quote My Big Fat Greek Wedding, ‘toast. No honey No jam just toast, dry toast’. (I wish I could convey the thick Greek accent in text). A small minority may prefer the lecture theatre to the dance floor but in general that is far from the truth. The parties are some of the most extravagant you’ll find anywhere in the world. College balls are renowned for their grandeur and almost every society, of which there are dozens, will throw in a free chocolate fountain here or free drinks there, as a matter of course. Not that I’ve done this with friends, but the sheer amount of corporate sponsorship, means you can pull up to some amazing events, feign interest in corporate law and enjoy a boat party or drinks event with no charge.

Myth six: they’re all right-wingers...or left-wingers

FALSE: Bizarrely, I’ve heard both stereotypes, which is probably the best proof that they’re wrong. Whether you’ve got a photo of Margaret Thatcher on your wall or in your furnace, Oxford is home to a wide range of political viewpoints. The major political parties have their own groups, the Oxford Union sustains debate, and gossip, uni-wide and the Student’s Union takes on welfare and pastoral issues. Each college’s students have their own committee and, in all, if you’re a lefty or a righty, there’s wide scope to get involved. Equally, if you decide that your free time is for fun and games and not more brain power, then you can easily avoid the whole lot of them!

With the most generous bursaries, the best value-for-money tuition fees and great parties, students shouldn’t be on the look out for largely unfounded stereotypes on why not to apply. Instead they should be fighting to print off the application form."


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