Friday, April 30, 2010

Obama pushes 'second-chance' training

Plan to teach illiterate blacks "critical thinking"? Good luck with that!

With as many as 6 million youth under age 24 having failed to finish high school, the Obama administration wants to see its many "second-chance" work-training programs have a stronger impact on the lives of those youth, officials told a Washington briefing yesterday.

One major change is to have work-training programs stress critical thinking and other skills — like being versatile and nimble — that are essential in today's workplace, said Cecilia Rouse, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, to a Brookings Institution panel Tuesday morning.

The days of high-paying, routine-focused jobs like car assembly lines or steel-mill work are "not gone, but they're going," Ms. Rouse said. The strongest job growth is happening in professions in which employees have to "think on your feet" and "problem-solve on the job."

Work-training programs also need firmer exit goals, said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor.

Youth should leave a program with at least some community college credits, for instance, or have a certification as a union-ready pre-apprentice in a trade, or have a clear path into a chosen career field.

Nobody wants a bridge "from Jobs Corp to nowhere," Ms. Oates said. "We have to have a destination and commitment from both ends."

However, the problem of remediating disadvantaged and disaffected youth will likely vex the Obama administration as thoroughly as previous ones.

Jobs Corps has been around more than 40 years, and there are more than 100 federal programs — most of them with work and training components — aimed at at-risk and delinquent youth, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Unfortunately, the impact of those work-training programs has only been "mixed," said Dan Bloom, who oversees projects at the research firm MDRC, at the Brookings event.

Mixed results means that in the short term, a program might help its students get General Equivalency Degrees (GEDs) or achieve some other work-preparation goal, but none was associated with lasting improvements in students' living standards, he said.

Minority youth are particularly at risk for not finishing school — the dropout rates are 20 percent for Hispanics, 12 percent for blacks and 6 percent for whites, federal data show.

There also are mixed expectations about education in some Hispanic communities, said Juan Rangel, chief executive of United Neighborhood Organization, a major community group in Chicago.

Graduations are celebrated, even lavishly, he said. But "culturally, there's no shame in work — it is revered" and seen as equal to a high school diploma, he said. Getting a job at 16 is "just as good."

The U.S. dropout problem is one of the costliest in the nation, said a 2009 study from Northwestern University. Youth without high school diplomas are more likely to be incarcerated, be jobless or have poverty-level earnings (less than $9,000 a year) compared to peers who get college degrees, the study found.

The National Urban League, National Council of La Raza and Youth Build are among the groups calling for a new national re-enrollment program to help dropouts finish high school.


British Teacher who attacked pupil with dumbbell should never have been put on trial, says judge

A teacher who bludgeoned a disruptive pupil with a dumbbell walked free yesterday when a 'common sense' jury acquitted him in minutes. Peter Harvey was cleared of trying to kill a 14-year-old boy who told him to '**** off'.

His trial heard how he was targeted by teenagers who knew he had been off work with depression and stress.

The 'fundamentally decent' man snapped when the science class set out to upset him, with a girl - described as the pupils' ringleader - using a camcorder to film the incident so she could distribute it round the school.

Mr Harvey dragged the boy - a persistent troublemaker - into a cupboard and hit him about the head with a 3kg dumbbell shouting 'die, die, die'. The attack fractured the teenager's skull.

But yesterday a jury swiftly acquitted him of attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Judge Michael Stokes QC told the court 'common sense had prevailed'.

Mr Harvey, 50, had already admitted the lesser count of grievous bodily harm but the judge said he would not be sent to prison.

It was revealed that the judge had already said that the trial should never have been brought because of the teacher's 'previous good character' and his state of mind when he attacked the boy.

Astonishingly, the father-of-two had spent eight months on remand before the trial - despite his own mental state, his wife suffering severe depression and their daughter having Asperger's syndrome.

The judge told him at Nottingham Crown Court: 'You have already effectively served a sentence that is more than the appropriate sentence. 'I am already looking to a community order with a view to assisting you, in view of your recent problems.'

At a press conference called by his union, the teacher sat in silence alongside his wife Samantha, 44, as his solicitor Paula Porter read a statement on his behalf, saying the verdict was not 'received with any sense of joy or triumph'.

Mr Harvey said in the statement: 'I acknowledge, as I have from the outset, that my actions have caused damage and pain. For that reason, I again extend my deepest and sincere apologies and regret for that.'

The trial had heard how the veteran science master had gone from a 'great teacher' admired by all at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, into someone who was snappy and irritable when he returned to work after having four months off with stress and depression.

A group of disruptive pupils set out to 'wind up' the teacher and used mobile phones to circulate evidence of their misbehaviour. The court heard pupils had noticed Harvey muttering to himself when he became stressed in the three months since he returned to work.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said Mr Harvey had been the victim of an 'explosive combination' of a teacher in fragile health and a group of pupils hell-bent on exploiting it - and that questions had to be asked about how
he had been allowed to come back to work by his employers.

'Any teacher who has had to deal with challenging and disruptive pupils will recognise that given the combination of factors that applied in this case how such a situation can easily spiral out of control,' she said.

More here

Australia's new national curriculum looking fairly promising at this stage

The history part is predictably one-sided but Rudd comes out in favour of phonics and grammar. But what the teachers actually do could be another story. That phonics and grammar are evil is almost a religion to some of them

ENGLISH and maths classes will return to basics, history will explore Sorry Day alongside Anzac Day and science will be made more interesting.

The changes form the backbone of a radical overhaul of teaching in Australia that will bring all states and territories under a single curriculum.

An eight-page liftout inside The Courier-Mail print edition today provides a comprehensive guide to the drafts of the first four subjects that span Prep to Year 10 and will be taught in classrooms from next year.

Under the changes, Prep students will be taught to count to 20, learn what a scientist is, write in upper and lower case letters and talk about how families share their history.

Within three years children will learn to tell the time on analogue and digital clocks and research a famous astronomer and by the time they finish primary school, students will be using paragraphs to write well structured English texts.

When they reach Year 10, students will be working with trigonometric ratios and discussing the major economic and political debates in Australia during the 20th century, including workplace reforms.

Parents will be able to follow the curriculum online to get an unprecedented look at their child's learning at every stage of schooling.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the new national approach would end the "pretty patchy standards" in many classrooms and give parents confidence that their children will learn the essentials wherever they live.

"When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank – what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting. These essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids," he said.

Queensland has consistently trailed the nation in literacy and numeracy and the curriculum is a centrepiece of the Government's election promise to deliver an "education revolution". Premier Anna Bligh said a national curriculum would ensure Queensland students would not be disadvantaged.

The draft reveals Prep students will be expected to learn more and play less while Queensland's Year 7 students will face greater demands.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said the Year 7 and Prep curriculums would be a challenge, with "a significant jump" required from both students and teachers. Queensland is one of three states to currently have Year 7 in primary and not high school.

Mr Hart said the Year 7 science and history curriculum was closer to what was currently being taught in Year 8. "It's clear in the science curriculum that there is a significant jump in the expected achievement levels," he said.

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said it was a sad day for Queensland's play-based Prep. "Outdoor play will suffer because of this, I am very disappointed," she said.

The Opposition yesterday slammed the history and science components of the curriculum, saying it was left-wing and contained too much focus on indigenous Australians.

"If we get elected this year, we'll entirely review the national curriculum and if it doesn't measure up to what we expect then, the Coalition will scrap it and start again," education spokesman Christopher Pyne said.

Teachers in 155 schools will trial the subjects for the next three months.

Senior curriculum will be released next month for consultation and draft curriculum for geography, arts, and languages will follow next year.


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