Friday, May 28, 2010

Charter schools forging ahead in NYC

It's not just in math and reading that charter schools are dealing out aces. New data obtained by The Post shows that charter-school kids outperformed traditional public-school kids in three of the four grades tested in science and social studies last year -- often by leaps and bounds.

The results are sure to lend ammunition to those who support the state's raising of the charter schools cap, which has been at the center of heated debate among Albany lawmakers for weeks.

According to the city's Department of Education, charter-school eighth-graders bested their public-school peers by 19 percentage points in social studies and by nearly 18 percentage points in science.

Additionally, more than 90 percent of charter-school fourth-graders aced last year's state science exams, compared with 80.3 percent of fourth-graders at traditional public schools.

Only in fifth-grade social studies did traditional public schools score higher -- with 77.1 percent of kids reaching proficiency on the state exams compared to 72 percent at charter schools. "It's more evidence that charters are providing city kids a good education, and it particularly points to the fact that they're providing a well-rounded education," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The city's charter schools also outperformed the regular public schools by nearly 9 points in both math and reading last year -- which led some critics to charge that those were the only subjects they focused on.

Merriman said charter schools are able to devote more time to teaching math and reading than traditional public schools, but not because they narrow their focus. "Their longer school day and longer school year and flexibility allows [charters] to do that but to not neglect other important subjects like science and social studies," he said.

Among the highest-performing charter schools in science was the state's oldest -- Sisulu- Walker Charter School in Harlem -- where 100 percent of fourth-graders were proficient on last year's state exam.

In social studies, 94 percent of eighth- graders at KIPP Infinity in Harlem aced the state exams.

But United federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said the better scores stemmed from the type of students that charter schools serve. "It's nice to see charter students doing well, but hardly surprising, since compared to the average public school, charters have significantly fewer of the city's poorest children, English language learners, and special-ed students with the greatest needs.


British education bureaucracy trimmed

The quango responsible for managing exams and the curriculum in England will be scrapped, the government announced today

Ministers said the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency would be axed as part of a plan to cut bureaucracy and slash spending across Whitehall to service the national debt.

The announcement comes just days after the coalition government announced the abolition of Becta, the technology agency for schools, in a move designed to save £65m a year.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said work currently carried out by the QCDA would be handed to other organisations, including private exam boards.

The announcement follows widespread criticism of the quango two years ago when serious failings led to huge delays in the marking of Sats tests. Thousands of pupils were forced to wait months for results and some test papers were lost altogether.

In the wake of the fiasco, the National Assessment Agency – quango’s testing arm – was scrapped and then chief executive Ken Boston resigned.

In a letter to the organisation on Thursday, Mr Gove said legislation would be introduced in the autumn to “abolish the QCDA”. Ministers have already announced that £670m is being cut from the education budget.

But the latest move was condemned by teachers’ leaders. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The seemingly arbitrary way in which the QCDA and other bodies are being culled without any critical analysis of the impact of removing these functions is not acceptable.

“To put staff at the QCDA on notice of dismissal before the legislation to remove their function has been considered by Parliament is an arrogant and reckless way to conduct Government business.

“The decision is not supported by any detail of how core functions undertaken by the QCDA will be carried out in future and at what cost.”

The quango currently reviews exams such as A-levels, GCSE and diplomas, as well as controlling the administration of Sats tests for 11-year-olds. It is also responsible for updating the curriculum.

Mr Gove said the body would be expected to continue overseeing this year’s Sats, although this role is then likely to be taken over by the Department for Education itself.

He said the administration of GSCEs and A-levels should be left to England’s exam boards – privately run organisations already responsible for scripting tests and course syllabuses.

In a speech last summer, David Cameron said the QCDA "must go", and the body's chief executive, Andrew Hall, quit in March after less than a year in his post.

It is believed staff were told last week to stop work on "developmental projects" and to cut communication with anyone outside the agency


New British education boss will have biggest fight against the enemy within

The education establishment will oppose reform every inch of the way

For me, Michael Gove's free schools policy was the most persuasive reason for voting Conservative in the recent election. Yesterday was, therefore, a good day: the Queen's Speech announced the Education and Children's Bill, which will enable parents, businesses and charitable groups to set up state-funded independent schools. It is scheduled for introduction after the summer recess.

Today, the Education Secretary will outline his planned reforms in detail. But, much as I do not wish to rain on Mr Gove's parade, I am the bearer of bad tidings. Because, as someone who has been advocating the gist of his policy for nearly two decades, I have to tell him that passing the Act is almost the least important step on the road to genuine school reform.

The forces opposing reform within the educational establishment are deep-seated, ruthless and near universal, and unless Mr Gove and his team are on top of them from the start, they – and free schools – will disappear down the drain of the well-intentioned but vanquished.

In 1995, I was working for the Fabian Society, the Labour think tank. I was naive enough to think that it was – to use the current buzzword – a progressive idea for all parents to have the power to choose how their children are educated; not just those wealthy enough to pay school fees.

My proposal to write a paper to that effect was greeted with the only act of censorship I have encountered in 20 years in and around think tanks. I was banned from writing it.

I was, of course, threatening the education establishment – the educationalists, teaching unions, bureaucrats and local education authorities who control everything. With a level of dogmatism and cunning that puts the Jesuits to shame, they resist all opposition to so-called progressive education and the bog-standard comprehensive. So my idea was stamped on as a matter of course. I took my paper elsewhere, published, and was indeed damned. Unless Mr Gove outmanoeuvres – for which, read "destroys" – that educational establishment, he will fail, because it will fight him. Relentlessly.

The miserable example of Education Action Zones illustrates how it behaves. In 1997, the then bright new schools minister, Stephen Byers, was keen to see if private providers could be enticed into education, with a view to taking over the functions of LEAs. The action zones were intended as a trial run, with a small number piloting some new programmes and gaining experience.

A fine idea, but doomed to fail for two reasons which are of direct relevance to Mr Gove today. First, the bidding process was drawn up by the Department of Education, and was – deliberately – so complicated that all but a tiny number of companies gave up. Second, the information on schools in any given area, which companies needed as a prerequisite to bidding, was held by LEAs – the very bodies threatened by the programme. So they obfuscated, dissembled, and wrecked it from the start.

As the Secretary of State sets to work at his desk in Sanctuary Buildings, he needs to look around. Because far from being his servant, the department of which he is head will be one of his greatest problems. It is a bastion of the education establishment, and has fought in the trenches to resist all reforms.

Regular diktats pour forth from the department entrenching the latest dogma. From the Whitehall centre, down to the LEAs, ideological enforcers ensure that challengers to the worship of comprehensives and progressive dogma are undermined by supposedly neutral civil servants.

For a brief moment, there was an alternative voice within the department when, in 1997, David Blunkett established the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, designed to shake up the culture. But with his departure, even that minor irritant was removed. In 2004, Charles Clarke abolished the unit; under Ed Balls things were worse than ever. So Mr Gove needs first to realise that, however amenable his civil servants may seem, they want him to fail. What he stands for is anathema to them. Before he does anything else, he should make one of his team Minister for School Reform. Not to fight for his plans in the outside world, but to do so within his department.

But the problem is far worse than a wayward department. The grip of the education establishment affects every area of education. The Training and Development Agency and the National College of School Leadership, for instance, first indoctrinate trainee teachers and then subject them to continuing inspection lest they stray from the ideology. Remember Ofsted? Under Chris Woodhead, it fought as a lonely insurgent, holding schools to account and speaking up for parents. Today, it is just another arm of the establishment.

LEAs [Local Education Authorities], the teaching unions, educationalists: they will stop at nothing to defeat Mr Gove. If you think that is an overstatement, consider this: for years, they ruined children's education as they pushed their ideology. What kind of teacher goes on strike to protest against a test designed to measure a child's achievement level? What kind of teacher goes on strike?

LEAs will plot to undermine Mr Gove. Unions will strike. All hell will break loose. But pre-warned is pre-armed. Mr Gove has been examining the history of British education, and will know what to expect. Now he has to stand strong and defeat the educational establishment.


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