Friday, October 02, 2009

Dick Durbin and D.C. School Vouchers

Do you believe in political miracles?

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.

"I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be," said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that "many students are getting a good education from the program."

Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

Mr. Durbin says he still has concerns about how scholarship students are being evaluated. The Senator wants participating schools to administer the same tests to scholarship students that D.C. public school students take. But since the public school test is curriculum-based, and would have to be given in addition to the exams that private schools already administer, some wonder whether Mr. Durbin is simply trying to discourage private schools from accepting scholarship students.

We think Mr. Durbin deserves the benefit of the doubt. Assuming his arguments are in good faith, there's no reason he and his colleagues can't compromise on testing and reauthorize a popular program that extends hope and opportunity to kids whom the public education establishment has ill-served.


British university standards under official scrutiny

Universities face Ofsted-style inspections amid claims academic standards are being dumbed down. Grading schemes and procedures for tackling plagiarism are two areas that need scrutiny, an investigation has found. It also reported that many universities admit international students even though they have not met minimum standards in English.

Plans for an inspection shake-up are outlined today by a high-level panel asked to look into mounting concern over university admissions, standards and teaching. It recommended that auditors visit weaker universities more frequently than the current six years and launch inspections in response to student concerns.

Detailed performance reports will also be available for prospective students, parents and employers for the first time. Currently reports are 'very detailed and technical' and intended for use solely by universities and funding chiefs.

The investigation found that teaching hours and the effort required by students in their own time 'vary hugely by subject area and among institutions'. The report said this was not necessarily evidence of inconsistent standards, but added that more information was needed in an attempt to reverse perceptions of 'poor value for money'.

The panel, led by Professor Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Essex University, said institutions must not be 'complacent' when accused of 'serious failings'. Revealing his findings, he said: 'There was no evidence we could find that in the system there are fault lines, but we did find several areas of concern.' His review group made a series of recommendations for boosting public confidence in the system, including an overhaul of inspections.

The proposed new regime bears similarities to the Ofsted system for checking schools. Auditors would also be encouraged to make more focused judgments on institutions instead of the 'extremely broad' ratings currently used. And they would be able to adopt a more flexible approach to the timing of visits and respond to concerns raised by students or academics.

Professor Riordan's panel, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, warned the current system of six-yearly reviews means problems can escalate before they are addressed. Sir Alan Langlands, of the funding council, said a more public-facing system of audits by the Quality Assurance Agency was the 'next logical step'.

The group also raised concerns over the system for ensuring standards are comparable across universities. This relies on a network of external examiners who look at undergraduates' work and assessment procedures to check grades are fair. Today's report found the system is 'under strain' and needs to be strengthened. There had been allegations of examiners being 'leaned on' to boost grades or ignored completely, it emerged. There needs to be an independent body for whistle-blower examiners to turn to, the panel concluded.

The proposals may concern academics who are sensitive to any imposition of red tape. But they are likely to accept the proposals as part of a wider lobby campaign for higher tuition fees.

Universities Minister David Lammy said: 'Higher education continues to change and evolve, and our quality measures must change with it; we must never be complacent.'


Australia: Hatred of education donors who don't do what they are told

We see below a simple outpouring of hate against successful people. There is NOT A WORD about the reasons why they opposed what others sought. Could it be that conservative businessmen created an alternative to the Left-dominated Melbourne university and did not want to lose that?

A SMALL but powerful group of Melbourne establishment figures, including ANZ Bank chairman Charles Goode, has scuttled a proposal to create one of the world's top business schools. In a deeply embarrassing setback for the star-studded Melbourne Business School board, the donor members who helped establish an independent MBS in the 1980s spurned the directors' unanimous recommendation yesterday to merge with Melbourne University's faculty of economics and commerce.

With recrimination thick in the air, one observer commented: "This is a gigantic f**k-up; it's like the board of a blue-chip company unanimously agreeing to a takeover, only to have their own shareholders vote it down."

Three key players, all called John and listed in Who's Who as Melbourne Club members, lobbied heavily against the merger, which required a change to the MBS constitution that called for a 75 per cent voting majority, The Australian reports. Former ANZ chairman John Gough, 81, former Woolworths chairman and Corrs corporate lawyer John Dahlsen, 74, and MBS founding dean John Rose, 73, mobilised their longstanding business networks. But the critical individual, according to close observers, was Gough's protege, Goode, also a Melbourne Club member, who succeeded him as ANZ chairman.

The 79 MBS donor members, most of them large corporates, were allocated votes according to the size of their contributions. In a poll, 54 of them have a total of 16,512 votes and 25 individual donors retain one vote each. Goode, 71, was critical because he is chairman of both ANZ and the charitable Ian Potter Foundation, each a large MBS donor. No one ever had any doubt where the foundation's loyalties lay - Rose and Gough are also on its board of governors.

The three Johns, as they will be forever known, were said to have marshalled a blocking stake of more than 25 per cent, relying on ANZ, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Dahlsen holding and a couple of other like-minded organisations. The merger resolutions will now not be put to the planned MBS extraordinary meeting on October 7.

For this generation of the Melbourne establishment, the MBS battle was probably the last power play. Consistent with its signature style, there was no one to comment yesterday. Networks were activated, business was conducted behind closed doors, influence was wielded, an outcome was achieved and that was it. Dahlsen, Rose and Gough could not be reached for comment, and Goode is now overseas for two weeks.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am an American who just visited New York City. I met a group of Australians at our hotel who identified themselves as "educators observing U.S. schools". There were four men and two women. They had visited Cleveland, OH and Washington, D.C.
I met them in NYC on Oct. 4th. Do you know who they were or their mission? I would like to correspond with them.
Thank you,
Stephanie Gordon
North Carolina