Sunday, May 09, 2010

The North Dakota degree factory

Not the best way to gain respect for your degrees

North Dakota State University will set another record this spring for the number of doctoral degrees awarded. NDSU anticipates presenting 46 doctoral degrees this week, a 53 percent increase over the 30 degrees awarded at last spring’s graduation.

A recent survey shows that North Dakota leads the nation for growth in graduate degree production. North Dakota increased doctoral degree production by 226 percent between 1998 and 2008, compared to 25 percent nationally, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

Dave Wittrock, dean of NDSU’s Graduate School, said the large increase is in part due to the limited number of doctoral programs available in North Dakota in 1998. Since that time, NDSU has added 26 doctoral programs. “We did not have as many opportunities within the state for students to get doctoral degrees,” Wittrock said.

However, the survey also affirms that universities in North Dakota have been successful in enhancing their missions. In all, NDSU will award about 252 graduate and professional degrees this spring.

Wittrock anticipates that graduate education will continue to increase at NDSU. “Graduate education needs to be an important part of where we move in the future,” he said.

The University of North Dakota estimates it will award 104 doctoral degrees for this academic year.

UND family medicine

The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences tops a list of medical schools that have a high percentage of students entering family medicine.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recognized UND and nine other schools that graduated the greatest percentage of students who choose family medicine during a three-year period. UND had 20.4 percent of graduates entering family medicine.

The University of South Dakota ranked third with 16.9 percent, and the University of Minnesota ranked sixth with 16.3 percent.


The End of a Good Run for Chicago School Choice Bill

In a disappointing turn of events, the Illinois House has rejected a school voucher bill that would have enabled up to 30,000 children to escape the underperforming Chicago public schools to attend a private school of their choice. But the story here – that a monumental school choice program was introduced by a Democratic Senator, passed through the Democrat-controlled Senate, out of the House Education Committee on a 10-1 vote, and seriously considered in the Democrat-controlled House, is something the Democrats who currently control the House and Senate in Washington should take note of.

The Chicago Tribune reports this morning: "A measure to let students in Chicago’s worst-performing and most-overcrowded elementary schools use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools was defeated in the Illinois House on Wednesday, giving teachers unions a major victory."

The landmark legislation would have made Chicago Public Schools the site of what experts said would be the nation’s largest voucher program. Up to 30,000 of the district’s 400,000 students could have left the weak schools they now attend, setting up competition for public schools.

For school choice advocates nationally, the prospect of a voucher program in Illinois was electrifying, made all the more so by the fact that it is home to national office-holders who have blocked the door for educational opportunity in the Nation’s Capitol: President Obama, Senator Durbin, and Secretary Duncan. The irony was palpable.

The school choice proposal was introduced in the Senate by Rev. Senator James Meeks, a Democrat. The proposal passed the Senate back in March, and proceeded through the House education committee with 10 committee members to 1 voting in favor of the bill.

Yesterday’s vote in the House was the last stop before heading to Governor Pat Quinn’s desk for approval. The voucher program would have enabled up to 30,000 elementary children in Chicago’s worst performing public schools to escape to a private school of their choice.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 37 out of the 48 schools that make up the lowest 10 percent of performers (those schools in which children would be eligible for vouchers) have been under federal and state sanctions for at least 9 successive years. Students in severely overcrowded schools (numbering approximately 20) would have also been eligible to receive a voucher under the new school choice program. Like similarly-structured programs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., parents would have received a voucher (for approximately $4,000 in Chicago) and would have been responsible for the balance of what remains in private school tuition.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized favorably about the school choice bill, writing: "One argument is that vouchers siphon off better students from public schools, leaving the educational environment poorer. This is truly a bankrupt notion — the idea that the kids are there to service the schools. No, the schools are supposed to serve the children and when they fail to do that, Meeks rightly demands the state afford parents the opportunity of choice — something the middle class enjoys by virtue of moving to suburbs with good schools or reaching into their pockets for private education."

It is indeed a “bankrupt notion” to believe that children are at the mercy of the public school system. Unfortunately, it still seems to have currency with the Obama administration. That school choice should not just be available to those who can afford to pay private school tuition on top of the taxes they pay for public school, as Obama did in choosing to send his children to private school. Or as Senator Durbin – who crafted the original language to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – did when he enrolled his children in parochial school. Or as Education Secretary Duncan did when he purchased a home in Northern Virginia to avoid sending his child to D.C. Public Schools.

When asked in an interview with Science about where his daughter attends school and how that decision was made, Duncan stated: "She goes to Arlington [Virginia] public schools. That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor. That was the most important thing to me. My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education."

Yet, the Education Secretary, certain members of Congress, and President Obama – despite exercising school choice for their own children – have allowed the lights to dim on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. A program that has improved academic achievement, kept children safe and has the support of more than 70 percent of District residents. A program that at $7,500 per scholarship is half the per-pupil expenditures in the D.C. Public School System.

Who would have imagined that the land of Durbin, Duncan and Obama would have been on the threshold of enacting one of the largest voucher programs in the country? While yesterday’s decision in Illinois delivers a blow to the hopes of families trapped in underperforming public schools, it sends a strong signal to school choice proponents that the fight is well worth it and gaining ground – in the Windy City and across the country.


British government price controls and regulations driving childcare centres out of business at a great rate

The number of childcare places has plummeted since the start of the year, according to official figures. Some 11,000 places have been lost as hundreds of nurseries and registered childminders are forced out of business.

Data from Ofsted suggested that a sharp drop in numbers over the last two years has continued into 2010, raising doubts over a Labour pledge to expand free childcare and offer parents greater flexibility.

Critics have blamed the recession combined with a rise in the number of regulations aimed at early years care.

A new funding formula to address the concerns of private, voluntary and independent sector nurseries – caring for the majority of children – was due to be introduced last month. But it was delayed for a year after state-run nurseries warned it could divert funds away, leaving them facing budget cuts or closure.

The Conservatives have pledged to allow private nurseries to charge top-up fees amid claims they are already being shut at the rate of almost 1,000 a year, but this has been heavily criticised by Gordon Brown who claimed it would hit low-income families.

According to new figures, the number of nurseries registered with Ofsted dropped by 248 in the three months to the end of March. Some 2,603 childminders have also been forced out of business.

In all, 11,288 childcare places have been removed, although it represents a small proportion of the 1.3m total nationally. Some 56,881 childminders remain in England and numbers have been falling year on year since the late 90s. Government figures show the number of registered childminders in England has now dropped from 102,600 in 1996.

Critics have blamed the Government’s Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory “curriculum” taught by all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.

Under rules, which were introduced in September 2008, children are expected to meet a series of 69 targets focusing on literacy, numeracy, social development and problem-solving by their fifth birthday.

Childminders, who look after very young children in their own homes for as little as £3 an hour, must now draw up plans of what activities they will carry out with those in their care, monitor their progress in meeting the goals and write reports when they go on to nursery.


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