Sunday, January 24, 2010

New York Races to the Bottom

Unconscionable. Shameful. Deplorable. Despicable. Those are just a few adjectives that come to mind to describe the New York State Legislature's failure to pass commonsense education reforms that would have qualified New York for a share of the federal government's $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative. As a result, New York taxpayers have probably lost out on some $700 million in federal education funding, and the state has missed a golden opportunity to improve the educational prospects of its neediest schoolchildren.

When the Obama administration announced the criteria for its Race to the Top grants competition last summer, it seemed that the education-reform movement had reached a tipping point. Here was a Democratic administration backing cutting-edge reforms like rigorous academic standards, data-driven instruction, performance pay for teachers, and the takeover of struggling schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made it clear that states that inhibited the growth of charter schools or prohibited the use of students' test scores when evaluating teachers would be deemed ineligible for Race to the Top grants.

Most states responded by embracing the tenets of Race to the Top. Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Massachusetts passed charter-friendly laws that lifted caps on the number of charters and allowed public money to be used for their construction. California, Indiana, and Wisconsin scrapped laws that barred the use of student test scores in teacher assessments. Just two states still have such data firewalls: Nevada and New York.

And late last year, it looked as though New York would join the wave of Race to the Top-inspired reform sweeping the country. In December, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the state's education commissioner, proposed a broad framework for Race to the Top reforms. Then Governor David Paterson initiated the legislative action needed to put those reforms into place. Paterson's proposed bill would have eliminated the state's cap on charter schools, presently set at 200; let the state finance charter-school capital funding; encouraged the Board of Regents to take control of persistently low-performing schools; and immediately rescinded the law, already set to expire on July 1, that prohibits using student performance as a criterion for evaluating teachers before they receive lifetime tenure.

Just days before the January 19 Race to the Top application deadline, however, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, doing the bidding of the state's powerful teachers' unions, submitted what must be one of the most cynical pieces of legislation in Albany's long history of deceitful and corrupt politics. Silver's bill, which mirrored proposals put forth earlier in the month by the New York State United Teachers and New York City's United Federation of Teachers, would have raised the charter cap from 200 to 400. But several "poison pills" inserted into the legislation would effectively kill the state's charter schools. The bill would have imposed some half a dozen onerous new restrictions on charter schools, including making it nearly impossible for them to share buildings with traditional public schools, as two-thirds of New York City's charters do now. It would also have removed the power to grant charters from the New York City schools chancellor and the board of trustees of! the State University of New York--which together granted 29 of last year's 31 charters--and instead given controlling authority to approve any future charters to the Board of Regents, whose members are appointed by the Legislature. And the bill would have subjected charters to a restrictive new request-for-proposals process that predetermined the schools' size and location. "This bill, masquerading as a charter cap lift, instead would have shackled chartering beyond recognition," said Peter Murphy of the New York Charter Schools Association. "The teachers' unions narrowly missed terminating charters, practically speaking."

The state senate's majority conference leader, John Sampson, introduced identical legislation there, and it looked as though this fraud of an education-reform bill might pass until two Democratic senators, Craig Johnson from Long Island and Ruben Diaz, Sr. from the Bronx, joined Senate Republicans led by Dean Skelos and blocked the bill from coming to the floor for a vote. In the end, Albany's dysfunction prevailed and nothing was done. So while New York was among the 40 states to submit Race to the Top applications by the deadline this past Tuesday (another round of funding will take place later this year), it's doubtful that the state will receive any funding. Indeed, it shouldn't, if Race to the Top is to live up to its name.

While it's clear that the teachers' unions fear competition from the mostly nonunionized charters, it was stunning nonetheless to see such a brazen power play--especially since New York's charters are unquestionably succeeding.

More here

British government hypocrite won't send his kid to one of his own government schools

Avowed atheist (of Jewish background) David Miliband sends son to Church of England school

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has secured a highly coveted place for his eldest child at a Church of England school – even though he is an avowed atheist. Mr Miliband’s wife, Louise, started attending a church attached to the school two years before their five-year-old son gained his place.

The school is nearly two miles from the couple’s home, but its grades and Ofsted reports are only marginally better than a primary school just 80 yards from their front door.

The Milibands’ adopted son won a place at the school despite his father’s public assertion that he does not believe in God. It is understood that Mrs Miliband was brought up a Lutheran in the United States. However, the couple are following a growing trend among the middle classes to choose faith schools over other local primaries. It is understood they considered, but rejected, the possibility of their son attending the non-faith Primrose Hill Primary just yards from their £1.5million house in Primrose Hill, North London.

The local school’s recent Ofsted inspection was only slightly less favourable than that of the school their child now attends, which was described as ‘exceptional’.

Father Graeme Rowlands, the chairman of governors at the CofE school, said Mrs Miliband had regularly attended his church over the past two years. He admitted that he rarely saw Mr Miliband, whose atheism stems from his Left-wing secular upbringing. He is the son of Ralph Miliband, a Jewish immigrant and celebrated Marxist sociologist.

There is no suggestion that the Milibands broke any rules in securing a place for their child. However, Mrs Miliband’s decision to attend the church came some five years after she moved into the area. Yesterday Father Rowlands was unable to name the church where Mrs Miliband, a concert violinist, previously worshipped. He said: ‘I am sure I did know, but I can’t remember.’

Last night, Cecile de Toro Arias, a parent-governor at Primrose Hill Primary, said: ‘I know Mr Miliband did consider Primrose Hill school. He attended a winter festival in 2008 and did a tour of the school. He was with his wife and child. ‘He was very nice. At the time we wanted him to come but it is probably for the best that he didn’t, what with all the security involved. ‘Perhaps he decided to go with the other school because it is smaller, with more discipline. We don’t feel snubbed. It is probably for the best.’

Faith schools dominated last month’s league table of the best primaries in England. About two-thirds of the schools with ‘perfect’ SATs results were Anglican, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools, despite their making up only a third of schools nationally.

Critics claim that faith schools perform better because they cherry-pick the best pupils from a wide area.

Mr Miliband’s son started attending the CofE school in September. In its ‘outstanding’ Ofsted report, inspectors found no areas in need of improvement and described the school as ‘exceptional’. Primrose Hill Primary also received an ‘outstanding’ grade in its most recent Ofsted report, but inspectors criticised its attendance record.

According to the Ofsted results, the CofE school fared better in English, with 100 per cent of students gaining level four or above. In comparison, 95 per cent of Primrose Hill pupils achieved the same level. In maths, 96 per cent of pupils at the Milibands’ chosen school gained level four or above, compared with an almost identical 95 per cent at Primrose Hill. But the latter has a higher percentage of pupils with learning difficulties.

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Jo Shaw, who is deputy chairman of the board of governors at Primrose Hill Primary, said: ‘It’s disappointing when parents don’t choose to send their children to our school, especially when they live so close. ‘It’s a very good school. It achieved an outstanding Ofsted report. It’s a microcosm of Camden because the kids are so diverse. They’re incredibly well behaved.’

A statement from the Church school said: ‘In line with all state schools, initial priority is given to all 'looked-after' children [children in care]. As a voluntary-aided school, priority is then given to children who, with their parents, are committed members of the Church and regular worshippers. 'Mrs Miliband had been a practising member of the congregation in this parish for over a year prior to her application for a place at the school and still attends regularly.’

The Milibands have adopted two sons, one in 2004 and one three years later. Both were adopted in the US, where Mrs Miliband enjoys dual citizenship. In a Mail on Sunday survey conducted when Tony Blair converted to Catholicism shortly after leaving Downing Street, Mr Miliband was one of just two Cabinet Ministers who said categorically that they did not believe in God. The other was Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

A Foreign Office spokesman refused to comment.


Australia: Obstructive teachers could face fines

National website My School will be launched this week, giving parents unprecedented access to student results for every school in the nation. Saying it was "a major tool for transforming education in this country", Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday said she was determined the site would succeed. She said it would help identify the most advantaged and disadvantaged students and the country's richest and poorest schools.

But - with teachers threatening to boycott the national literacy and numeracy tests, the results of which are posted on the site - Ms Gillard said she had sent a stern warning the Rudd Government would take whatever action necessary to ensure the site contained as much information as possible. "I've pointed out that, under our workplace relations laws, if you take unprotected industrial action our law provides for the complainant to be penalised," she said. "I've said I won't rule anything in or out to ensure that national testing is done and done well."

Parents logging on to the website - to be launched on Thursday - will access information on student-teacher ratios, attendance rates, reading, writing and maths results for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 for the past two years plus results for national literacy, numeracy tests as well as Year 12 exams. Every primary and secondary school will have its own page, showing the number of boys, girls and indigenous students enrolled.

Ms Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the site would also measure wealth, with a socio-economic rating system for comparisons. "If you compare schools that are teaching similar kids around the country and you see that kids from one school are doing twice as good as the others, it's not the kid's fault - it's what's going on in the school," she said. Ms Gillard said it would be the first time parents and teachers could access so much information about their school. "I think it will spark a lot of conversation between parents and teachers ... it's going to drive better engagement and interest in their children's education."


No comments: