Tuesday, June 01, 2010

No, we don’t need a teacher bailout

From the recent apocalyptic pronouncements of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others, you may think our schools are selling their last bits of chalk and playground sand to employ mere skeleton crews of teachers and staff. The truth is "apocalypse not."

Yes, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten last week warned that, without a huge infusion of federal cash, public schools face "draconian cuts." And the American Association of School Administrators declared a few weeks ago that without a bailout, job losses "would deal a devastating blow to public education."

Then there's Duncan's warning, while making the TV-news rounds last week, of educational "catastrophe" if a federal rescue isn't forthcoming. And now the National Education Association has launched something called "Speak Up for Education & Kids" — a campaign to get people to call their congressmen and demand a handout for education.

The scaremongering is producing results. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) is planning to put $23 billion to save education jobs in a supplemental spending package. The move appears to have widespread Democratic support.

But let's look beyond the hysteria. Duncan estimates that, absent a federal windfall, budget cuts will force layoffs of 100,000 to 300,000 public-school staff and teachers. The American Association of School Administrators has projected 275,000 layoffs under current conditions.

Sounds pretty terrible: Six-digit job losses are certainly nothing to sneeze at, and no one wants to see people unemployed. But these numbers — and the prophesying of Duncan & Co. — ignore some critical context.

The federal Digest of Education Statistics tells us that in the 2007-08 school year (the latest with available data), US public schools employed more than 6.2 million teachers and other staff. Losing 300,000 of those jobs would only be a 4.8 percent cut — unfortunate, perhaps, but hardly catastrophic.

And 300,000 is the worst-case scenario. The AASA figure of 275,000 would be just a 4.4 percent cut. The low end of Duncan's prediction, 100,000 positions, would constitute only a 1.6 percent trim. That's less than one out of every 60 public-school jobs.

Moreover, the projected cuts would be but a tiny step back after decades of spending and staffing leaps.

Between the 1970-71 school year and 2006-07, inflation-adjusted US public-school spending more than doubled, from $5,593 to $12,463 per pupil. The number of staff per pupil ballooned about 70 percent.

This might have been a fine investment — had it produced anything approaching commensurate improvements in achievement. But it didn't, according to scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the so-called Nation's Report Card.

Indeed, while resources were blasted into the schools with a fire hose, test scores for 17-year-olds — essentially, our schools' "final products" — remained almost completely unchanged.

So the supposedly huge cuts we're facing are actually pretty small, and we've been pouring money and people into schools for decades without producing any improvements. Those are reasons enough to say "no way" to any federal bailout.

But that's not all the context that taxpayers deserve before Congress and the Obama administration stick them for another $23 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the "stimulus" — already included about $100 billion for education, most of which was intended solely to keep educators employed.

So there is indeed a looming education catastrophe — but it's not funding or job cuts. It is the bailout now moving through Congress that ignores the reality of inefficient public schooling, and adds to the already crushing burden of our federal debt.

Unfortunately, none of that seems to matter to Duncan & Co., who no doubt know the truth yet continue their Chicken Little act. All that matters to them, apparently, is that the unionized public-schooling establishment stays fat and happy


British academics resist two year degrees

The normal British bachelor's degree is 3 years. Bond University in Australia offers 2 years degrees that seem well-accepted

University staff today attacked any move to introduce two-year degrees, warning they would lead to "academic sweatshops" and hit the quality of education to students.

The University and College Union warned that plans for two-year 'fast-track' degrees would damage the reputation of UK degrees and would lead to education being delivered "on the cheap."

The union's annual conference in Manchester voted against the introduction of the degrees, saying they would massively increase the workload of staff and reduce the amount of time they could spend carrying out research.

Delegates said squeezing three-year degrees into two years could not be achieved on the back of "swingeing cuts" to higher education and would have a "devastating impact" on the quality of students' experiences.

A handfull of universities already offer the shortened courses, which involve students working over their traditional holidays. In December, Lord Mandelson wrote to chancellors urging them to consider offering more of the courses as part of a more "flexible" approach to studying.

Karen Evans, from the University of Liverpool, said: "Accelerated degrees have no educational value and will stop students from having a well-rounded education. As well as placing a huge strain on staff it will also mean an additional burden on students, many of whom have to work through the summer to pay back the debts of tuition fees."

The union's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "Two-year degrees may sound great on paper but are in effect education on the cheap. They would be incredibly teacher-intensive and would stop staff from carrying out vital research and pastoral duties. Our universities are places of learning not academic sweatshops and we need to get away from the idea that more can be delivered for less.

"Cuts, such as the savage ones currently planned, will have consequences. I fail to see the logic of piling 'em high and teaching 'em cheap in a two-tier system designed purely to mask the failings of the Government to properly fund higher education."


Australia: Wadalba Community School is literally a place of hard knocks

This report comes after a particularly vicious bashing reported yesterday

DISTRESSED mum Rachelle Mawbey pulled her daughter out of Wadalba Community School amid fears she wouldn't survive, let alone graduate.

Appalled by the bullying and violence, Ms Mawbey decided to withdraw daughter Taylor Clarke-Pepper halfway through Year 8 three years ago.

"It was not uncommon for there to be lock-downs at least once a month, [playground] fights and stories coming home that a student had brought knives or guns to school," she said, claiming that teachers also openly admitted "giving up" on students and that 20-day suspensions "were the norm".

"They said they'd just keep suspending them until they left," Ms Mawbey said. "The school says it has an anti-bullying policy but it is just lip service: Violence is ongoing."

Another mother also pulled her then 12-year-old son out of Year 7 in 2005 after he was badly bullied. At the time she said he'd been pushed down stairs and beaten with sticks. The last straw was when she claimed teachers warned they couldn't guarantee his safety.

But an education department spokesman said: "Since 2007 there has been a significant fall in the suspension rate, [now] putting the school well within the regional average."


Australian Federal government sees no problems with wasteful school spending

Extraordinary complacency about well-documented waste of taxpayer funds. This is a refusal to stop an ongoing disaster. But Leftists always are destructive. It seems to be in their DNA

JULIA Gillard will push ahead with the troubled $16.2 billion schools stimulus scheme after claiming an investigative taskforce had not yet uncovered any evidence of problems.

The Education Minister said the government expected to commit the final $5.5bn of Building the Education Revolution funds next month as planned, because the taskforce, headed by former merchant banker Brad Orgill, had not recommended otherwise. "I have met with Mr Orgill (and) I will continue to meet with him regularly," she said. "At this stage, I am not in possession of any recommendations from Mr Orgill that would relate to the third tranche of funds. We are obviously all ears for his recommendations."

The BER taskforce is set to deliver its first report in August, but Ms Gillard has said it can provide recommendations earlier.

Ms Gillard's statements yesterday appear to be a move by the government to shift greater responsibility for the remaining $5.5bn yet to be spent on to Mr Orgill, whose $14 million taskforce has just ended its first month of investigations. Mr Orgill did not return calls from The Australian yesterday.

As revealed by The Australian, the BER scheme has been beset by widespread waste of taxpayer money, with overdesigned building templates, onerous documentation requirements and enormous fees, causing public schools to pay up to double the amount they should for buildings.

In NSW, Catholic schools are paying $2541 per square metre for school halls and $2451 per square metre for libraries under the BER - which is in line with industry standards. By contrast, the NSW Education Department is paying $6135/sq m for the standard "7 Core" school hall and $4005/sq m for the standard "14 Core" school library.

In NSW, seven managing contractors - who are receiving fees of more than $400 million to manage the scheme - are charging $850,000-plus for 189 prefabricated classrooms, which are manufactured and delivered to schools by other companies at a cost of up to $339,000.

If the federal government commits the $5.5bn of BER funds next month as planned, a further $1bn-plus will be wasted in overcharging for the delivery of public school buildings. The federal and NSW governments have been unable to explain why public schools are paying double industry rates and double the rates being paid by non-government schools.

A spokeswoman for NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said the government would push ahead and spend the remaining 40 per cent of BER funds under the current model, despite the revelations of public schools receiving poor value for money.

The NSW government also admitted it had no mechanism for ensuring public schools received value for money other than a "benchmark" test, whereby the government approves all buildings that are within 105 per cent of values it has set. As revealed by The Australian, those benchmark values are vastly inflated and average about double industry standard rates.

Ms Gillard said yesterday the government was "all ears" to hear Mr Orgill's recommendations and that there was still time to implement those recommendations. "This is a program that will run for almost two years from where we are now so there is time to implement recommendations from Mr Orgill's implementation taskforce," Ms Gillard said.

However, once contracts are signed between state governments and managing contractors, it becomes extremely difficult to recover funds.


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