Sunday, May 30, 2010

NY pols lift charter cap in big day for reform

The state Legislature yesterday passed a landmark measure to more than double the number of charter schools after a day of round-the-clock drama that included a powerful behind-the-scenes confrontation and a printing snafu that nearly derailed the effort.

Gov. Paterson will soon sign into law the measure -- lifting the cap from 260 to 460 charter schools -- along with related school reforms that will boost the state's chances of qualifying for up to $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" funding. The flurry of action will enable the state to file its application by Tuesday's deadline.

Approval of the bill comes on the heels of The Post's six-month campaign urging the state to authorize more charter schools.

In addition to raising the cap, the law requires charters to enroll more needy students and be subject to auditing. It also bans for-profit firms from running charters and creates committees to resolve space problems when charter schools share facilities with traditional public schools.

Mayor Bloomberg called the charter-school expansion "great news for the 40,000-plus children currently on waiting lists," as well as for all 1.1 million public-school students who benefit from the competition.

The pro-charter-school campaign also garnered crucial backing from President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan; former President Bill Clinton; and state Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo.

Passage of the legislation came after intense negotiations involving Mayor Bloomberg's office, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the United Federation of Teachers.

UFT president Mike Mulgrew said the bill incorporates reforms sought by the union bolstering oversight, banning for-profits, making charters more "open to the neediest children" and ensuring "a real voice for parents" in traditional public schools.

More here

British exam regulator to 'fix' High School exam results

This controversy is largely an effect of the absurd British practice of basing university entrance on predicted exam results rather than actual exam results. That in turn results from the misalignment of the university and school years.

In Australia, pupils do their final high school exams in early December and the university teaching year begins early in the following March -- which allows ample time for university admissions to be based on actual high school exam results. Why the Brits cannot arrange something similarly rational remains an abiding mystery

Exam chiefs have been accused of "fixing" this summer's A-level results to restrict the number of pupils who are awarded the new A* supergrade. Examination boards have been told to make secret predictions for the number of candidates who will get the top grade when it is handed out for the first time this summer.

In documents obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Ofqual, the exam regulator, warns the boards that the percentage of A* grades actually awarded must be within two per cent of those predictions.

If, once this summer's tests have been marked, the results show that pupils have done better or worse than expected, then the boards may be told to change grade boundaries in order to bring the proportion of A* grades into line with what was predicted.

Critics have claimed that the instruction from the regulator amounted to "grade fixing". Academics called it an attempt to "preset" the results while head teachers accused Ofqual of manipulating the grades to stop too many A* grades being awarded.

The row broke out as 300,000 sixth formers across the country begin to sit new, harder A-level papers.

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: "This is presetting the results. "It almost obviates the need for taking A-levels if results are based mostly on predictions using data such as GCSE scores.

"There is a desperate and futile desire to claim consistency in exam results from your to year but when you change the nature of the assessment, such as make papers harder, you should get changes in the results. "Otherwise you lose any authenticity in the system.

"Ofqual is fooling itself by fixing the results like this. A-levels are essentially used for distinguishing within a group. It should not be about shoving the raw scores in to a mould so they fit in with results last year or in previous years."

Andrew Grant, headmaster of St Albans School and chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, which represents independent schools, said: "Ofqual is basically trying to depress any tendency for a high proportion of higher grades. They just don't want too many A*s to be given out. "It is manipulation of the marking and grade boundaries to ensure candidates results are within narrow tolerance bands.

"Ofqual have learned from what happened in the 2002 grading scandal when they attempted to fix results after the event. Now they are stacking the cards in favour of control downwards before the results."

The document, entitled Awarding the new A level A* grade in Summer 2010, was written by Dennis Opposs, Ofqual's head of standards, and presented to the Ofqual committee meeting in January. It reveals that exam boards have provided Ofqual with estimates of how many pupils will achieve A*s and other grades at A-level, based on achievement in GCSEs taken two years ago.

If, after A-level papers are marked and grade boundaries are set, the proportion of pupils gaining the real grade is 2 per cent below or above the prediction, exam boards will have to justify the results. If the proportion of A* grades on a particular paper looks too high, Ofqual can ask for grade boundaries to be raised. If average ability pupils find the new, harder papers too difficult, grade boundaries at the lower end can be reduced so more candidates pass.

The document said: "In summer 2010 we will require awarding bodies (exam boards) to report A* outcomes against predictions for A*, in addition to reporting at grades A and E.

"We have agreed a 'reporting threshold' of +/- 2 per cent from the predictions. If awarding bodies outcomes at each grade are within 2 per cent of the predictions, it is likely that the regulators will take no action.

"If outcomes are 2 per cent or more from the predictions, we require an explanation of the reasons for this ... We will consider these 'out of tolerance' outcomes in advance of the results and we may ask an awarding body to reconsider a particular decision."

The reliance on statistics showing pupils' prior achievement when deciding how exams should be graded has been criticised by exam experts. Tim Oates, the head of research at Cambridge Assessment, said: "If you are a young person and you are working really hard and you think that what happens on that exam paper really counts, it is quite wrong that the system behind the scenes doesn't actually pay much attention to what you have done."

Ofqual is keen to avoid a replay of the 2002 grading scandal. In that year, the exam boards were threatened by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority with an inquiry if the proportion of A grades resulting from the introduction of new modular A-levels was too high.

Under pressure from the watchdog, the boards deflated grades in some subjects by making unprecedented changes to the grade boundaries on some papers. It meant that some straight-A grade students received U grades.

Independent head teachers have warned that changes to this year's A-level, including the A* and a cut in number of modules making up the qualification from six to four, risks a repeat of the 2002 scandal.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: "During the summer we will be monitoring the awarding process and the outcomes so that people can be confident that results are a fair record of the candidates' achievements, are in line with those of previous years and have been awarded fairly across awarding organisations.

"Where the difference between the statistical indicators and the outcomes exceeds the agreed thresholds, we will obtain an explanation and may then ask the awarding organisation to reconsider the grade boundaries. "Any such requests will be based on the evidence and made in the interests of fairness to learners."


Australia: More criticism of proposed national history curriculum

Since the curriculum was designed by a well-known Marxist and former member of the Communist party, this was all foreordained. Macintyre's extreme Leftism has of course given him a charmed life in academe but the Leftist Federal government knew all that when he was appointed by them

THE new draft national history curriculum has been attacked by leading historians and educators as "politicised", "dumbed down" and pushing an agenda. The Opposition said it was a Labor-designed manifesto in the latest salvo in what has become a fresh break-out of "history wars". Its creators said the curriculum reflected changing values in society.

Prof Geoffrey Blainey said the draft curriculum appeared to represent a "left-wing view of Australian history". Prof Blainey said he was uneasy about the curriculum's treatment of Aboriginal Australians. He said it did not address the failures of pre-settlement Aboriginal society.

Education consultant and former history teacher Dr Kevin Donnelly said the new curriculum had put indigenous and Asian content and perspectives ahead of Australia's Anglo-Celtic tradition, the debt we owe to Western civilisation and the importance of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Dr Donnelly said the curriculum contained 118 references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and history - with grade 5s studying White Australia and grade 9s Aboriginal massacres and displacement. There is just one reference to Parliament and none to Westminster or the Magna Carta.

Curriculum chief Prof Stuart Macintyre said the new course was not politically motivated.

Last week, this newspaper quoted a historian by the name of Andrew Garvie about the history curriculum. Andrew Garvie is a pen name used by senior Australian academic Dr Ian Pringle, who now works in sensitive parts of Asia as a teacher and consultant and is an economic history expert.


Australia: Creationism to be taught in Queensland classrooms

Well, Queensland IS bigger than Texas

CREATIONISM and intelligent design will be taught in Queensland state schools for the first time as part of the new national curriculum.

Creationists dismiss the science of evolution, instead believing that living things are best explained by an intelligent being or God, rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.

The issue of creationism being taught in schools has caused huge controversy in the US, where some fundamentalist religious schools teach it as a science subject instead of Darwin's theory of evolution.

In Queensland schools, creationism will be offered for discussion in the subject of ancient history, under the topic of "controversies".

Teachers are still formulating a response to the draft national curriculum, scheduled to be introduced next year.

Queensland History Teachers' Association head Kay Bishop said the curriculum asked students to develop their historical skills in an "investigation of a controversial issue" such as "human origins (eg, Darwin's theory of evolution and its critics"). "It's opening up opportunities for debate and discussion, not to push a particular view," Ms Bishop said. Classroom debate about issues encouraged critical thinking – an important tool, she said.

Associated Christian Schools executive officer Lynne Doneley welcomed the draft curriculum, saying it cemented the position of a faith-based approach to teaching. "We talk to students from a faith science basis, but we're not biased in the delivery of curriculum," Mrs Doneley said. "We say, 'This is where we're coming from' but allow students to make up their own minds."

But Griffith University humanities lecturer Paul Williams said it was important to be cautious about such content. "It's important that education authorities are vigilant that this is not a blank cheque to push theological barrows," Mr Williams said. "I would be loath to see it taught as theory. "It's up there with the world being occupied by aliens since Roswell."

Ms Bishop said there were bigger problems with the national curriculum.

History teachers are planning to object to repetitive subject matter, such as World War I being a major part of the Year 10 course and repeated in Year 11.


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