Sunday, May 16, 2010

Languages crisis is threatening a generation of British state school pupils

Only a narrow body of water separates Britain from many important countries that do not speak English -- so some familiarity with at least one of those languages would seem important -- both for business and for travel.

It was once important culturally too but, sadly, culture is "out" these days and there are very few English people who will ever have the pleasure of (say) enjoying Schubert Lieder in the original German.

"Wer reitet so spaet durch Nacht und Wind?/Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind./Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,/Er fasst ihn sicher, er haelt ihn warm". ....

A terrible loss

A generation of state school children risks being left monolingual because of a looming crisis in language teaching. Labour’s efforts to entice children into choosing to study languages by switching from compulsory GCSEs to primary school classes have failed, experts say.

The number of teenagers taking a modern language has fallen by a third since that was scrapped as a GCSE requirement in 2004. Three quarters of schools no longer require pupils to take exams at 16 in French, German or Spanish.

Instead the focus changed to fostering a love of languages in primary school, so pupils would supposedly choose to study them at secondary level. But because the teaching of languages at primary school is patchy and variable, secondary teachers have to start from scratch at 11.

Researchers have told The Times that children who already know the language are repeating basic work, becoming bored and resentful, and dropping languages at 14 when they make GCSE choices.

They blame incoherence in language teaching, and claim that none of the main political parties will address the problem.

Universities suggest that the issue is starting to have an impact on their recruitment of state school pupils, and they are trying to address the situation with summer schools and language masterclasses.

Employers have also voiced concerns, and the trend has worrying implications for the future production of enough language teachers, who will be in increasing demand when teaching a foreign language becomes compulsory at primary school next year.

Academics say that British children are getting the worst deal in Europe. Sylvia Jaworska, a lecturer in German at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “For foreign languages not to be obligatory is uniquely British. Every secondary school in Europe ensures that pupils study at least one foreign language up to 18 years old.

“Here in the UK, languages are viewed as difficult subjects. Worryingly, some secondary schools don’t push students to take them, because they think it might affect their league table results.”

This was echoed by the Sutton Trust, a charity that tackles educational inequality. Lee Elliot Major, its director of research and policy, said: “They [state schools] focus on English and maths and vocational subjects to get better results, but it’s not necessarily what’s best for children.”

Dr Jaworska’s students are working with a local primary school in East London to interest them in languages. She said that the number of German language teachers had decreased by 300 in the past five years. “If fewer modern foreign language GCSEs are taken, we worry that ultimately our student intake will drop,” she added. “Our hope is to encourage school pupils to take up languages and then, as graduates, to become language teachers.”

Some prestigious universities require candidates to have a language GCSE, no matter what degree they are taking. Others that are striving to widen participation to pupils from varied backgrounds say that the decline in languages at state schools could hamper this.

The independent schools sector accounted for 15 per cent of all A-level entries in 2008-09, but its pupils took 34 per cent of the modern foreign language exams, and made up almost half of those achieving an A grade.

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: “Knowledge of modern foreign languages is vital to the UK. The Russell Group and the wider higher education sector have been affected in recent years by changes in demand for language degrees and courses, resulting in part from changes to language provision in the school sector.

“In particular, we are concerned about the relatively low proportion of students who take modern foreign languages at A level within the state school sector.”

The CBI has said that more than a third of British businesses hire people for their language skills, but that they are increasingly forced to recruit from overseas to meet this need.


AA Shocker: More Blacks In College — But Fewer Graduate!

There are two basic problems with Affirmative action, the first is that people that shouldn’t be going to college are getting in, second, those that should be going are getting into higher ranked colleges than their grades would indicate, making them much more likely to drop out
More Blacks Go to College, But Graduation Lags

President Obama delivered the commencement address today at Virginia’s Hampton University—his first as president to a predominantly African-American school. Fifty-five percent of African-American high school seniors go on to college these days, compared to 45 percent in 1970.

But graduation day is another story, as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports. *snip*

Since 2004, American universities have used a six-year standard to measure graduation rates; but even with the extended time, African-Americans still lag in obtaining degrees. Only 43 percent of African-Americans who enter college graduate—20 percent lower than the rate for whites. And for black men its more alarming, with only 36 percent who enter finishing college. *snip*

Hampton currently graduates 55 percent of its students within six-years. That’s better than most universities, but significantly lower than schools like Harvard (95 percent) and Yale (94 percent.). *snip*

But at predominately black universities where the concentration of first generation and low-income students is high, the challenge can be daunting. Seventy percent of students who drop out cite lack of finances Twenty percent of incoming students have to take remedial classes But, historically black colleges still produce 25 percent of the nation’s black graduates.

This isn’t the first time we’ve run across this phenomenon

And sure enough, the enrollment and graduation data from the more than 6,700 postsecondary institutions that enroll just under 20 million students and that participate in Title IV student financial aid programs is indeed broken down by race, ethnicity, and sex, right there in plain view in Table 5 on p. 15. The data are not pretty. Graduation rates for both public and private 4-year institutions:

– Asians/Pacific Islander: 66.1%

– Whites: 59.3%

– Hispanic or Latino: 46.5%

– Black or African American: 38.9%

The numbers for black men were even more depressing, falling to 31% at public institutions.

More depressing reality
What place does affirmative action have in this system? In 2007–2008, 12,152 Blacks took the LSAT. Their average score was 142.15 and the standard deviation 8.4. In a normal distribution only one in a thousand scores three SDs above the mean. Three SDs over the Black average is 167.35. We’ll round up to 168. Only a little over one in a thousand Blacks who take the LSAT each year scores that high, or 16 of them in 2007–2008. *snip*

Since in 2007–2008 there were only 16 Blacks nationwide who scored at 168 or above, that’s the number of Blacks that should’ve entered the top six schools. *snip*

So there are about 10 undeserving Blacks at the top six law schools for every one deserving case. This puts things in perspective for people who say that they oppose affirmative action because it stigmatizes African-Americans. Is it more rational to care more about the feelings of one Black out of 11 who gets where he is based on merit than the 10 Whites and Asians who lose their spot to a beneficiary of the system? Only if the self-esteem of one Black is worth more than the livelihoods of 10 non-NAMs!

Affirmative action is the nearest thing to pure evil I’ve ever seen. Not only doesn’t it do what it purports to do but, it poisons the water in any direction you look.


Monopolies + Public Schools = Failing Students

Out of all American high school seniors, only 35 percent are proficient readers and only 23 percent are proficient in math. This is according to The Cartel, a movie released this year exposing how throwing money at America’s education system is not helping anyone — least of all the students.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that about $1.1 trillion is being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2009-2010. This amount includes federal, state and local funds as well as private donations.

Despite that dollar amount and the fact that spending on America’s education has increased 100 percent since 1971, graduation rates and test scores have flat-lined or even decreased over the years. Obviously money isn’t the cure.

How does a country that spends far more than an average of $9,000 per student, give rise to such a poor education system?

It is because the public school system in America is a monopoly. There is no competition and no incentive to better itself. Parents don’t often have a choice of which school their child attends unless they have an option of a charter school, can afford a private school or are able to enroll in a voucher program. And, depending on which state you live in, you may not have an option at all.

This is a bad deal for everyone involved — well, almost everyone. There is one group that greatly benefits from this monopoly, and that is the teachers unions. With competition between schools eliminated, some teachers that are members of a union enjoy a nice paying job, regardless of the performance of students and overall rating of the school depending on the school district and state laws.

In many states, it’s the teachers unions that rule over the majority, even swaying the votes of the politicians.

“Unions give a lot of money to candidates and teachers are politically active,” says Don Todd, who currently serves as Senior Research Director of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and was the chief union oversight officer at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2001-2009. “That’s why they get what they want.”

Not only do these unions have a voice as the majority, they also make it nearly impossible to get rid of a bad teacher.

In one particular situation in New York, it took six years of litigation before they were able to fire a teacher who sent a sexually-oriented email to a 16-year-old student. Maybe worse, this teacher still got paid more than $300,000 even though he wasn’t teaching anymore during the firing process. The payment was required. It was in the contract. How is this right on any level?

In this kind of environment, it is no wonder America’s students as a whole are suffering in public schools.

“In the long run they will lose,” says Todd about the teachers unions’ self-interest battles. “Everyone I know wants what’s best for their children and they aren’t going to give up on that.”

Every parent wants their child to succeed and do well. Unfortunately many students get lost in the system and fall behind.

In an evaluation conducted in 2006 by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-olds from 30 different countries were tested and measured by their understanding of basic science skills. The U.S. didn’t measure up very well — it ranked 21st, with a score well below average.

For a country that prides itself on innovation and technology, it is shameful that future generations may lack the skills needed to keep up with the rest of the world.

The aim of various state laws and teachers unions’ contracts is backwards. And it has been this way for too long.

Albert Shanker, once President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was quoted as saying, “When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Something is very wrong here. When asked to comment, the AFT and National Education Association (NEA) did not return phone calls.

It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their children receive the education they need and deserve. “People judge the system by personal experience,” says Todd. “It’s a minority population that gets the short shrift and as long as they continue to vote for people that give them this short shrift, they are going to keep getting it.”


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