Thursday, June 03, 2010

35 states, DC vie for education funding

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second phase of the Race to the Top federal education competition as the application deadline passed Tuesday night. The states are hoping to win a piece of the $3.4 billion available under President Barack Obama's signature education initiative.

Race to the Top aims to spur innovation by rewarding states that promote charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and intervene in low-performing schools. Forty states and D.C. applied in the first round, but only Delaware and Tennessee won. They received a total of $600 million.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said applying for the money required elected officials and teacher unions to work together. "This took a lot of hard work and political courage," he said in a news release. "Every state that applied now has a blueprint for raising educational quality across America."

Since the competition kicked off last year, at least 23 states passed laws that strengthen their applications. In other states, such as Minnesota and Indiana, battles between elected officials and teacher's unions scuttled plans to apply.

Idaho, West Virginia and Minnesota, applied the first time around, but not this time. Texas and Alaska didn't apply in either round.

Federal officials expect to name finalists on or around July 26, with winners to be announced by the end of September. They said 10-15 states could win grants.


Teaching disciplinary body scrapped by Britain's Tories

The teachers’ regulator was scrapped yesterday in a surprise announcement by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. The General Teaching Council for England did not earn its keep and was a “bureaucratic siphon” of money away from teaching, he said.

Teachers had long complained about the compulsory £36.50 that they had to pay each year to the council, which held professional conduct hearings. Last week Mr Gove abolished two other quangos: Becta, which advised schools on buying computer equipment, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority.

He told the Commons: “It [the teaching council] doesn’t improve classroom practice, it doesn’t help children, it doesn’t earn its keep, so it must go. Teachers say it gives them nothing.” He referred to the case of Adam Walker, a teacher who belonged to the British National Party, who described immigrants as animals and filth on a website. “The GTCE concluded his description wasn’t racist so he couldn’t be struck off,” he said.

Mr Gove also revealed that more than 1,000 schools — including hundreds of primaries — had applied to become academies in the past week. The semi-independent state schools are free from local authority control.

He said a week ago that the coalition wanted to expand the programme extensively. Any school rated outstanding by Ofsted would automatically qualify for academy status, he said, and yesterday revealed that more than half of outstanding schools had applied. He announced that 1,114 schools had sought to become academies, of which 626 were outstanding schools. Of the top-rated schools, 273 were primaries, which did not qualify to become academies under the previous regime.

Mr Gove said: “I believe that head teachers and teachers know best how to run schools, not local bureaucrats or politicians. That’s why last week I wrote to every school in the country inviting them to take up academy freedoms if they wished to do so. The response has been overwhelming.”

Academies were created by Tony Blair, and the first of the schools opened in September 2002, replacing failing institutions in deprived areas.

Their leaders were given freedoms from local authorities, including being able to vary the pay and conditions of teachers, and the length of the school day. But some academy heads complained that their powers were constrained under the last Government.

Before the election the Tories attracted much attention for their “free” schools policy, based on the Swedish model. This will make it easier for parents concerned about the lack of good schools in their areas to set up their own education establishments, run by not-for-profit organisations.

Mr Gove paid tribute to David Laws, who was the Liberal Democrat education spokesman when he was in opposition, describing him as unfailingly honest, fair, decent and principled.

He also praised his predecessor, Ed Balls, for his work on child protection, and for staying firm in the face of lobbying from teachers for the abolition of Key Stage 2 tests. These are taken at the end of primary school and were formerly known as SATs.

Some teachers are opposed to the tests, which they claim dominate Year 6 and squeeze any spontaneity from the curriculum. The tests are used to produce data for school league tables. Mr Gove said that the tests were a vital accountability measure.

He was criticised by the Opposition for failing to guarantee that Building Schools for the Future, a £55 billion programme, would proceed in full. But Mr Gove said that the scheme was not necessarily allocating resources to the front line in the most effective way.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: “I have absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State’s decision will be warmly welcomed by teachers across the country. I frequently said if the GTCE was abolished tomorrow few would notice and even less would care.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Any replacement for the GTCE needs to distance itself from the belief that a watchdog can also reserve the right to make intrusive judgments on teachers’ personal lives.”


Australia: A university that can't balance its books

I'm not surprised. I taught there for 12 years and most of my colleagues were mediocrities, to be polite about it. One can hardly therefore expect better of its administrators

THE University of NSW has written off $5.35 million in debts owed by students, reflecting a history of poor financial control. The 2009 annual report, tabled in NSW Parliament yesterday, shows a $2.9m write-off, following a $2.45m write-off the previous year.

The problem goes back to the 1990s when the university could not reconcile two key financial systems and nobody had clear, ultimate responsibility for student debt, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A university spokeswoman said: "We now have very effective checks and balances in place and student debt provisions are being steadily reduced. "Our priority had to be to ensure students were not disadvantaged by our administrative problems. "So where there was inconsistency we preferred to write off the debt."

UNSW started 2008 with $7.68m owed by students and $6.67m of this was classified as "impaired" or unlikely to be recovered, according to notes to the financial statements. "Students were allowed to enrol, sit exams and even graduate without paying their fees," the HES source said.

"The [student debt hole in UNSW finances] means that the money needs to come from somewhere else and that means the taxpayers are funding it."

The 2009 report shows student debt reduced to $1.49m and that $621,000 of this was judged unlikely to be paid. UNSW recovered $221,000 in 2009 and $473,000 in 2008.

The source said UNSW had a problematic history of student creditors as well as debtors. By the middle of the 1990s, UNSW owed some 10,000 people about $2m in total, most being students mistakenly charged GST on a $35 fee in 2000, he said. He said the Australian Taxation Office had told UNSW to return the money.

The NSW Auditor-General raised concerns about the student money issue in five consecutive annual reports, the most recent being last year's.

The UNSW spokeswoman said a review of money owing to students was finished in 2009. She said $1.6m was refunded to students over an 18-month period from late 2008. In early 2009, UNSW handed over $468,000 to the NSW Office of State Revenue, the home for ownerless money.

The source said that between 1999 and 2006, the UNSW student and financial systems were giving inconsistent figures for student fees. Human error was the cause.


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