Monday, October 05, 2009

Extended School Year Would Have Dire Economic Effects, Critics Say

It's a brainless idea anyway. More exposure to failed methods is not going to achieve anything

President Obama's call to extend the academic calendar may bring with it a host of unintended consequences, including increased costs for schools and major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, critics say.

If the academic year gets pushed deeper into summer, as President Obama is advocating, the grumbling will not be limited just to students and teachers who will be forced to spend more days in school. Critics say the president's call for a longer academic calendar and a shorter summer vacation will bring on a host of unintended consequences -- including increased costs for school systems, major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, and a serious blow to summer camp operators.

Obama says kids in the U.S. spend too little time in the classroom, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with students in other countries. The president has suggested that making school days longer and extending the school year will increase learning, raise test scores and close the achievement gap. But while Obama's proposal is meant to improve education, critics say a curtailed summer vacation will have a dire economic impact on school systems, which could be forced to retrofit their schools for air conditioning, pay overtime to teachers and incur higher utility costs.

They also warn that the leisure industry, which relies on family vacation travel, could take a major hit. "Fewer vacation days will dry up the industry's labor source and lead to huge losses of revenue for American hotels and resorts," said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. "From Memorial Day to Labor day, we hire many high school and college students for summer employment to work," McInerney told "If we don't have those people, there will not be enough Americans out there available to fill those positions." "A lot of different people are affected by cutting out travel," he said. "This is not the right thing to do on a national basis."

In one popular East Coast resort area alone -- the New Jersey shore -- the average cost of a rental home is $1,500 to $2,000 a week, according to realtors. In the tourist town of Wildwood, N.J., approximately 7 million visitors flood the boardwalks, beaches, and restaurants from mid-June to September, spending over $185 million on hotels and prepared food and beverages alone, according to John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwood Tourism Authority. Siciliano said that figure does not include dollars spent in stores, on the resort's boardwalk and on its amusement rides, which he said could triple the $185 million -- totaling a whopping $555 million.

If the prime weeks of summer vacation are cut in half because kids have to stay in school, the effects on the industry could be devastating, critics said. The travel industry has already suffered from a dwindling economy, and a shortened summer vacation may only "add fuel to the fire," said Chris Russo, president of the American Association of Travel Agents. "We're not making as much money if people are going on a shorter stay," Russo said. But he added that a shorter summer vacation might have an upside: "If families are forced to take shorter breaks, they may book more two- to three-day stays, as opposed to just one seven-week vacation," he said.

And then there's the camp industry -- which for nearly 150 years has served as a summertime rite of passage for many American children. There are approximately 12,000 camps in the U.S., and 11.5 million children and adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association. The ACA estimates that the average "sleepaway" camp costs anywhere from $400 to $700 a week. Others go much higher. The cost for a 28-day session at a camp that is a member of ACANE, the American Camp Association New England, runs $5,654.

Scott Shaffer, who runs Shaffer's High Sierra Camp, a family-owned day camp in the Tahoe National Forest, says a cut in summer vacation would likely destroy his business. High Sierra Camp, which takes children from 8 to 17 and costs $1,100 per week, runs for eight weeks -- beginning the third week in June and ending the last week in August. Shaffer said the camp can operate only during that stretch because of the snow, which melts in May and covers the mountains again in October. A longer school year "would have a really, really negative impact on our business, especially on the heels of a poor economy," Shaffer said.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, said camps are not necessarily a carefree escape from school. They can be critical to child development, she said, and should be a vital part of the president's year-round education plan. "Physical, emotion, and social development provide fertile ground for academic learning," Smith said. "When people walk into a camp they may think, 'Oh, well these kids are just playing. But play is designed to provide teachable moments -- life lessons. And so what may look frivolous to the adult eye is really how children learn."

Obama has brought new attention to the notion of expanding the school year, but it is not a new concept. States have long experimented with year-round education -- with mixed results. Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida implemented an extended-year program in 2004, but they abandoned the initiative last year after it produced few results. The extended school year also increased teacher pay and energy costs.

But other education experts say Obama is on the right track. Most states set their minimum number of public school days at 180, though some require 175 to 179 days. And "increasing time is correlated with raising achievement," said researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. "The more time that kids have on being instructed on academic subjects, the more likely they'll score higher."

The details of Obama's school initiative have been kept close to the vest, and many educators say they'll withhold judgment until a more specific plan is unveiled.

In a statement sent to, the Florida Department of Education said, "For some time, longer school hours and/or an extended school year has been a heavily debated issue nationally due to the financial implications on individual states. While research shows that students in the United States don't spend as much time in the classroom as their global counterparts, we're interested in further elevating this discussion and all discussions that potentially improve our students' ability to successfully compete internationally."

Officials from the American Federation of Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association did not reply to requests for comment.


British High School students hit by 'rigged' exam grades

EXAM chiefs have been accused of systematically fixing the new A-levels to deny pupils the grades they deserved. Head teachers who discovered the downgrading believe it could affect the chances of thousands of pupils applying to university this winter. The concerns have surfaced over results in this year’s AS-levels, the exams pupils take in the first year of their A-levels. These students are the first to take reformed qualifications, which are intended to be tougher than the current A-levels. Evidence has emerged to suggest exam boards are under pressure from regulators to ensure that the proportion of pupils scoring top grades is kept down. They deny this.

Subjects over which there is the greatest concern include biology, chemistry, drama, economics, English and modern languages, where heads are complaining that pupils have been awarded far lower grades than those of similar ability last year. In biology, for example, 7.4% fewer pupils taking the Edexcel paper this year scored As than last year.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which holds its annual meeting this week, said there were likely to be thousands of requests for re-marks. Grant, headmaster of St Albans school, Hertfordshire, first noticed the marking problems among his pupils taking drama AS-levels. He then spoke to his fellow heads, analysed the results of other subjects and found discrepancies that showed signs of a dramatic reversal to the 27-year trend of rising A-level grades. “Other schools shared our initial assumption: a vague sense of underperformance and that the year group deserved a bit of a rocket,” Grant said. “But the fact that so many have had similar experiences is establishing a pattern.”

Grant added that the marking problems had “some of the makings of 2002”. Seven years ago, Sir William Stubbs, chairman of the QCA, then the regulator, had to resign when tens of thousands of papers were re-marked amid claims that the regulators had pushed exam boards to keep the numbers of A grades down. The fiasco contributed to the resignation of Lady Morris, then education secretary.

Further evidence of problems this year has emerged in postings on the internet. A contribution from one anonymous physics examiner to a discussion forum reads: “This year AS was targeted particularly and we have been informed that A2 [exams in the second year of A-levels] will be similarly monitored and scrutinised next year. “As a team of examiners we were not happy, but were told in no uncertain terms that if we tried to raise the pass rate, then our decisions would be overruled.”

Grant said: “It would be difficult to find more compelling circumstantial evidence of the interference of the regulator to depress the award of higher grades in the new AS, presumably to give themselves wriggle room next year, when they have to allocate final results.”

His concerns were shared by Richard Russell, headmaster of Colfe’s school, south London. Last year, all his economics and business studies pupils scored a grade A or B. This year, only 20% of the group scored the highest grades. Russell said he had initially been disappointed in the performance of the “academically very strong cohort”, but, as he spoke to other heads, the scale of the problem became clear. “It has all the hallmarks of high-level manipulation,” Russell said.

Suspicions have been further raised by a letter sent to them by Kathleen Tattersall, chairwoman of Ofqual, the exams regulator, in which she warned that marks would be modified with complex statistical formulae using data such as pupils’ GCSE results. She wrote: “The marking ... may indicate students have performed differently from their peers who took last year’s examinations ... in spite of evidence that the performance of both groups [was] similar.” One head said: “That letter read like gibberish until we saw the results and understood she was warning us.”

The A-level reforms were intended to make it easier for universities to identify the cream of candidates. Grades have been rising for 27 years in a row and 26.7% of all papers now receive an A. If the proportion of As continued to rise next year after the first cohort of pupils have been through the new A-levels, it would be highly embarrassing to the government.

Some schools have already had papers re-marked upwards. At Magdalen College school, Oxford, 10 re-marks were requested on an AS-level French oral exam. Every single one led to an improved mark, sometimes by as much as two grades, although Tim Hands, the head, said he had no reason to blame it on deliberate manipulation.

Exam boards denied claims that grades had been fixed and said the differences could have been caused by schools being under-prepared for the new exams. Mike Cresswell, chief executive of the AQA exam board, described claims of manipulation as “absolute nonsense” and said that if candidates were compared like-with-like, grades this year and last were “extraordinarily comparable”.

Tattersall said: “Ofqual worked closely with the awarding bodies this year and ... there has been no recalibration of the standard this year. “However, the changed structure of the specifications means that ... grade boundaries and outcomes on individual units will sometimes differ from [the previous syllabus].”


Australia: Overcoming socio-economic disadvantage in education

Jennifer Buckingham

Literacy and numeracy are not everything, but they are almost everything. Somewhere between one in five and one in six students are barely literate and numerate, according to recent national literacy and numeracy results. These children are concentrated in particular schools and in particular areas, especially where there are high levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

Although the relationship between socio-economic status and school performance is undeniable, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. As the late, great Australian education expert Professor Ken Rowe showed, family background may establish where children start in life, but it doesn’t have to determine where they end up.

Participants at the CIS’s annual conference Consilium in August this year heard the stories of two extraordinary schools that have defied the odds of socio-economic disadvantage. Bellfield Primary School is a public school in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in Australia. Yet in the space of 10 years, during which time social disadvantage intensified, Melbourne educator John Fleming transformed the school performance from chronic failure to one of the best in the state.

These extraordinary results were not achieved through increased spending. There was no increase in teacher pay. There were no major capital works or new technologies. Fleming attributes the success of the school to three changes in school policy: implementing a research-based pedagogy; introducing performance-based accountability for students and teachers; and changing the school culture to reflect traditional values and discipline.

The same ‘tough love’ strategy was applied at Djarragun College in Gordonvale in far north Queensland, once a crumbling school with low attendance. Educator Jean Illingworth oversaw its incredible transformation into a well-maintained, high functioning school where children from indigenous communities in Cape York and the Torres Strait are achieving outstanding results.

For many students across Australia, social disadvantage is being translated ineluctably into educational disadvantage year after year. The evidence from Australia and elsewhere is that this need not be the case.

The above is part of a press release dated October 2 from the Centre for Independent Studies. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

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