Saturday, February 06, 2010

So Much for the Evidence

Vouchers and the absurd but unkillable Headstart program again. 45 years of failure and Headstart is still lavishly funded! It has become a Leftist icon -- a fitting Leftist icon: An icon of folly and failure

In a major education address last March, President Obama declared that his administration would "use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: it's not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works." Unfortunately, the test that seems to guide the Obama administration's education priorities is not whether a policy works, but whether it serves a political constituency. Nothing illustrates this disregard for evidence better than the administration's treatment of two federally funded programs: the D.C. voucher program, which it is helping to kill, and Head Start, on which it has bestowed billions more dollars. If the administration actually made its funding decisions based on results, its positions would be just the opposite.

How do we know that the D.C. voucher program works? Take a look at the rigorously designed studies released by the Obama administration itself. Last April, the Department of Education put out its official evaluation of the voucher program. The evaluation, which used a gold-standard, random-assignment research design, found that after three years, D.C. students who won the lottery to attend a private school with a voucher significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery. The gap between voucher and control students was the equivalent of about five months of extra instruction in reading. Rather than embracing what manifestly worked, however, the administration stood by as Congress worked to phase out the D.C. voucher program. "Big picture, I don't see vouchers as being the answer," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the Washington Post. They're certainly not the answer that the pathologically anti-voucher teachers' unions wanted him to embrace.

Meanwhile, the administration fully supports the government-operated Head Start preschool program, despite excellent evidence that the program doesn't work. Obama has said that Head Start is "the first pillar of reforming our schools . . . [and] that's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that I signed into law invests $5 billion in growing Early Head Start and Head Start." He might have added that this would come on top of the more than $100 billion that taxpayers have spent on Head Start since 1965. But the Department of Health and Human Services' official evaluation of Head Start, released last week, confirms what several earlier studies have found: kids get no lasting benefits from participating in the program. By the end of kindergarten and first grade, students who had been in Head Start are no further ahead academically or behaviorally than students who lost the lottery to enter the program.

The way the administration released the two reports also spoke volumes. The D.C. voucher study was released after a key congressional vote that declined to reauthorize the program--and the study came out on a Friday, without an official press release to draw attention to it. The Head Start findings, on the other hand, were not released on a Friday and came with a press release--but the release contained false claims from administration officials about the program's effectiveness. It quoted Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Carmen Nazario saying that "Head Start has been changing lives for the better since its inception" and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declaring that "research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children"--even as the study showed that Head Start had done no such things. Again, the ideological priority to expand union-backed federal programs trumped an official eva! luation, conducted, as with the D.C. voucher study, using a gold-standard, random-assignment research design.

If the administration really wants to show that it's guided by evidence and not ideology, it might consider changing its policy positions when solid evidence contradicts them. Empirical evidence shows that D.C. vouchers work; that program should be expanded, not killed. The evidence also shows that Head Start is a long-running failure; that program should be wound down, not funded with new billions. Even diverting a few hundred million from Head Start into a reauthorized D.C. voucher program would go some way toward restoring the administration's credibility.


Pope says separate Catholic schools help combat sectarianism in Scotland

The old Protestant hatred of Catholics dies hard in Scotland. The Pope appears to think that keeping them apart is for the best. Scotland does have a substantial Catholic minority, mostly of Irish ancestry. Protestant “Orange Men” in Scotland still celebrate July 11 as a great patriotic holiday when “King Billy slew the Papish crew, at The Battle of Boyne Water.”

The Pope has launched an unprecedented defence of separate Catholic schooling in Scotland, claiming that the system helps to combat sectarianism and promote good community relations. His comments, which came in an address to Scotland’s bishops, will reignite the debate over Catholic schools. One former Scottish education minister last night took issue with the Pontiff, and said Catholic schools were the reason for the country’s deep-rooted problem of sectarianism.

Religious bigotry has long been recognised as a scar on Scottish society. In 1999, the composer James MacMillan gave a speech that described sectarianism as Scotland’s shame. His views were later repeated by Jack McConnell, then first minister, who hosted a summit in an attempt to form a national strategy on the issue.

In his speech, the Pope praised Scotland’s Catholic schools, and urged the country’s 11 Catholic bishops, in Rome on a five yearly ad limina visit, to protect Catholic education and promote it as a tool for tackling sectarianism. “You can be proud of the contribution made by Scotland’s Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities,” he said. “Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion, and when the occasion arises, you do well to underline this point.”

The Pope courted further controversy by suggesting that Catholic teachers should place special emphasis on religious education in order to produce “articulate and well-informed” followers capable of taking part in the highest levels of Scottish public life. “A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland’s national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question,” he said.

Opponents of separate Catholic schooling expressed dismay over the speech. Sam Galbraith, a former Scottish education minister and Labour MP, rejected the Pope’s argument that Catholic schools were helping to reduce sectarianism. “I don’t think Catholics get any skills different from anyone else,” he said. “My view of Catholic schools are that they are the basis of sectarianism in Scotland and as long as we continue to have them we will never get rid of the problem.”

In other remarks, the Pope called on the bishops to “grapple” with the challenges presented by “the increasing tide of secularism” in Scotland, including embryo experimentation and assisted suicide.

More here

Australia: The products of an "everyone wins" education are losers in the job market

EMPLOYERS are refusing to hire Generation Y workers because they lack a work ethic and spend too much time talking to friends in work hours. "Employers come to us about Gen Y, saying they're looking for a staff member but they don't want anyone in that 20s age bracket because they find they don't understand common courtesy in the workplace," Kristy-Lee Johnston, director of Footprint Recruitment told The Courier-Mail.

And the complaints don't only come from managers and bosses. Social researcher Mark McCrindle said: "They also come from other people in the team who are of another generation."

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland policy general manager Nick Behrens said the global financial crisis should act as a wake-up call. "The chamber is hoping Gen Y will learn from this, that they can no longer take for granted the good times and will no longer get away with the luxuries they have been given."


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