Monday, January 18, 2010

Britain to discourage university study among those best qualified for it

It will have a disastrous effect on standards if only dummies and the very rich can afford to go to university

STUDENTS from middle-class families may be denied grants and cheap loans and be charged higher tuition fees under a “double whammy” to be considered by a government review of university funding. It could add nearly £7,000 a year to the cost of university for a student from a family with an income of £50,000 a year. The higher charges are being advocated after Lord Mandelson, the first secretary of state, announced £950m of cuts to higher education. Costs are expected to increase, whoever wins the general election.

Lord Browne, the chairman of the government review, has the task of producing more money for universities without extra cost to the taxpayer and is expected to look favourably on cuts to what critics claim are middle-class subsidies. The Conservatives are also expected to favour cutting grants and loans for those on higher incomes after George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said last week that the party would slash benefits for the better-off to tackle the public-sector deficit.

In addition, Browne, who will report after the election, has come under pressure to recommend raising annual tuition fees to at least £5,000 from the present ceiling of £3,225. Critics of the grants and loans system — which subsidises students on family incomes of up to £60,000 — believe some of the money should go to poorer students and some to university coffers to help recoup the Mandelson cuts.

Browne’s recommendations on grants and loans will have as much importance for family finances as increases in fees — more than half the average £23,000 student debt derives from living costs, and accommodation fees are rising at an estimated 10% a year. “That is the issue — that in the design of the student loans system, whether we lost sight of directing it at those families that were most in need,” said Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University and chairman of the 1994 Group of research institutions. “The subsidy falls virtually on everybody rather than being directed to the very poorest families.”

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, added: “[Universities] get what is left after students receive their support. “Pulling back support to those on higher incomes is an obvious area [to recoup money]. The current arrangements are a major subsidy to the middle class as it comes out of taxpayers’ receipts.”

The strongest opposition to cutting grants and loans has come from the Million+ group of new universities, which believes they should instead be extended to part-time students. Only those on full-time courses are currently covered.

Browne will also consider plans to claw more money back by ending subsidised interest rates, which reduce the amount graduates have to pay back. The taxpayer loses one third of all the money given out in student loans because of subsidised interest rates. This proposal will be presented to Browne by Professor Nicholas Barr of the London School of Economics, who designed the present funding system. Barr also supports restricting grants to families on incomes of less than about £25,000.

Much of the crisis in university funding was caused when Gordon Brown came to power in 2007 and increased the entitlements to student support of families on middle incomes. All students are entitled to loans to cover tuition fees. In addition, those on family incomes of £25,000 may now claim grants for living costs of £2,906 and loans of £3,497. Even those on incomes of £50,020-£60,000 are entitled to loans of at least £3,564 a year. These costs are now seen as increasingly unaffordable, taking 28% of all higher education funding.

However, Smith warned that the government should not rely on changes to grants, loans and fees to fill the gap caused by the slashing of higher education funding. “They think they can make the spending cuts because Lord Browne will come up with an answer,” said Smith. “I am not clear that he will.”

Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of Million+, said: “Students and the fees review cannot be expected to square the circle of spending cuts either through reductions in student support or increases in fees.”


Some hopeful changes in Michigan

And change is sure needed there

A one time federal government payout has paved the way for sweeping changes in public education. Governor Jennifer Granholm signed legislation Jan. 3 that puts Michigan in competition with other states for $400 million in federal recovery funds through the Obama Administration’s Race to The Top initiative. The education reform bill will address several issues, most related to improving academics in low-performing schools.

The legislation raises the dropout age from 16 to 18; allows the state to “intervene” in the lowest performing schools: permits the opening of “high-quality” charter schools and the closing of “low-performing” charter schools; creates alternative paths to teacher certification; and requires an annual evaluation of teachers and administrators using data on student progress.

The legislation also allows a statewide academic manager to oversee low performance schools, as appointed by the state Superintendent of Education.

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative in July. The plan directs federal stimulus money to states predicated on their pursuit of specific education reform programs. Race to the Top funds aren’t guaranteed but education reform is. In a gamble to receive federal money, states have instituted massive policy changes in many states including Michigan.

According to the Michigan State Department of Education, individual school districts would receive Race to the Top funds based on how many students in that district qualify for free or reduced lunches through the federal Title 1 program.

Detroit Public Schools stands to receive about $70 million if Michigan is one of the states chosen. The next highest recipient would be the Dearborn School District at $4.2 million. Over 700 school districts have endorsed the state’s run for the Race to the Top monies, which hinges partly on district participation. Several districts in Oakland County, who stand to gain the least financially, have refused to sign on to the legislation. Officials said they didn’t want their teachers teaching to the test and the believe many of the reforms would keep the district from attracting the best teaching talent.

Michigan Representative Tim Melton, Chair of the House Education Committee and a key sponsor of the education legislation, says that the Jan. 19 deadline to apply for the Race to the Top initiative expedited the process. But Melton adds that parts of the reform have been in discussion for years. Political observers say Race to the Top reform could have been Republican reform in the 1990s. “These are schools from across the state that have had problems for decades,” Melton told the Michigan Citizen. “I contend that these reforms should have been passed, with or without the Race to the Top.”

He says that education reform legislation will continue to concentrate on low performance statewide, including charter schools, and is not designed to focus on any particular district. The federal program will define “low-performing” schools. “If you’re a failing school, you are all going to be treated equally,” says Melton.

Representative Bert Johnson, another sponsor of the education bill, agrees that the effort to improve schools far outweighed the financial benefits provided by the federal stimulus package. “We didn’t pass these reforms for Race to the Top,” Johnson told the Michigan Citizen. “The money doesn’t matter—the $70 million isn’t a panacea for anything.”

Johnson says the legislation allows for charter school accountability. It allows for ten schools of excellence to be introduced over five years in areas where failing schools are located. Other states have lifted the cap on charter schools completely. “We made charter schools more accountable,” says Johnson. “Charters must adhere to all the stipulations as public schools—everyone on an equal playing field.”

His bill also includes community review teams, comprised of staff, parents and community activists, that will develop solutions. “The problems will be solved on a school-to-school basis,” Johnson says.

But Gary Miron, education professor at Western Michigan University and one of the nation’s leading researchers on charter school reform, worries that the charter school component of the legislation opens the door to increased private management of Michigan schools and its academic profile. He says that other states have used Race to the Top receipts to fund private education management companies. “We should be learning from what’s happening on Wall Street,” Miron told the Michigan Citizen. “Are we putting ourselves in the position of just throwing money at these companies with unproven track records?”

Miron is releasing another charter school report next month which shows the increasing lack of diversity in charter schools across the nation and their exclusion of students with special needs. Miron also warns about the danger of allowing the charter system to compete with public schools in the race to reform education and woo federal resources. “We’ll have two failing systems splitting limited resources,” Miron continues. “If there is corruption in public schools we at least can perform an open examination, whereas private companies are less prone to open their books.”


Australia: "Groundbreaking" study rediscovers the link between social class and IQ

Someone should tell Charles Murray

MORE than half of Adelaide's Year 7 students who score below-average numeracy results live in low socioeconomic suburbs, a groundbreaking report reveals. Commissioned by the Education Department, the study is the first of its kind to detail the gap in outcomes for students in disadvantaged areas and finds the "most marked" shortfall in remote areas of the state.

It finds 177 of the 318 metropolitan Year 7 students with below-average numeracy scores are from the northern region. This compares with only 12 in the eastern region, 44 in the west and 85 in the south. Report co-author John Glover said the study, which used 2008 national literacy and numeracy data, revealed "big challenges to the public education system". He said the report demonstrated "hard cold facts" children in low socioeconomic areas had the "lowest education outcomes and poorest achievement".

SA Council of Social Services executive director Ross Womersley said socioeconomic status was linked to poor educational performance, but the issue was "much more complicated". He said the poor education of some parents and their inability to aid their children's development also played a role. "Low income does correlate, at least in some part, with people having poor educational outcomes," Mr Womersley said. "There are still people within that survey group and areas of the state where there would be people on quite low incomes who are managing one way or another to help their children get reasonable educational outcomes."

The report Understanding Educational Opportunities and Outcomes is a project between the University of Adelaide's Public Health Information Development Unit and The Smith Family. It has found that disadvantaged suburbs where students failed in literacy and numeracy included Elizabeth, Onkaparinga, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and the APY Lands. Peers in inner-city areas including Burnside, Unley and Walkerville fared much better.

Other findings show:

YEAR 7 students from the northern suburbs are almost five times more likely to fail numeracy tests than peers in eastern Adelaide.

STUDENTS in parts of country SA were three times more likely to achieve lower literacy levels than the national minimum standard in Years 3 and 5.

ABORIGINAL children have the poorest educational outcomes but participation in literacy and numeracy testing has reached nearly 80 per cent.

MORE than three times the amount of Year 3 children living in outer suburbs including Elizabeth, Salisbury, Onkaparinga and Hackham are reading at levels below the national minimum standard

COUNTRY children in Years 5 and 7 are more likely to have scores below the national minimum standard than those in the city.

Professor Glover said the report provided a "lesson for the Government". "Overcoming the differentials in educational outcomes for children living in the most disadvantaged and most well-off areas is clearly a government priority, but it will require new thinking and a greater effort to address these inequalities," he said. [It will require a new set of genes too!]

SA Primary Principals Association president Steve Portlock said experienced teachers should be placed at schools with a low socioeconomic status. "Those students should have the most experienced teachers and the most experienced leaders," he said.

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the study would be used to help plan for educational improvement in disadvantaged communities. "This important, nation-leading work will help to ensure that resources and early intervention are directed to members of our community who most need help," she said. "Our 20 children's centres and Innovative Community Action Networks school retention program, currently being expanded across the state, are examples of government programs that target need."

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said areas of social disadvantage were the "worst places" for the Government to build super schools. "Overseas experiences show super schools have been detrimental to education and behaviour outcomes of children," he said.


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