Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gates Foundation puts its stamp on education

Across the country, public education is in the midst of a quiet revolution. States are embracing voluntary national standards for English and math, while schools are paying teachers based on student performance.

It's an agenda propelled, in part, by a flood of money from a Seattle billionaire prep-school graduate best known for his software empire: Bill Gates.

In the past 2 1/2 years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged more than $650 million to schools, public agencies and other groups that buy into its main education priorities. The largest awards are powering experiments in teacher evaluation and performance pay.

The Pittsburgh, Pa., school district landed $40 million; Los Angeles charter schools, $60 million; and Memphis, Tenn., schools, $90 million.

The Hillsborough County district, which includes Tampa, won the biggest grant: $100 million. That has set the nation's eighth-largest school system on a quest to reshape its 15,000-member teaching corps by rewarding student achievement instead of seniority.

Shift in strategy

The focus on teaching marks a significant shift for the foundation. In the past decade, it spent $2 billion to improve high schools, with a major emphasis on creating smaller schools.

But Bill Gates said Saturday that new approaches are needed because the pace of improvement has been too slow. In many cities, a third or more of students fail to graduate from high school on time. Those who earn a diploma are often ill equipped for college.

"It's disappointing to everyone who looks at the facts," Gates told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. He said he is willing to do whatever it takes to help raise achievement. "There's a risk that we might not succeed," Gates said, "but I can tell you we'll keep trying."

It is unclear whether philanthropy — even a charity led by one of the world's richest men — can find large-scale solutions to problems that have beset schools for generations. But what is certain is that Gates grants have become a leading currency for a particular kind of education change.

That agenda has won praise from the Obama administration and others, while prompting questions from some about the foundation's pervasive presence and its emphasis on performance measures.


British Prime Minister doubts that he can find a good State school for his children in London

David Cameron has admitted that he is "terrified" by the prospect of trying to find a good state secondary school for his children in London. Mr Cameron said that, living in central London, he sympathised with parents in areas across Britain where there was no choice of decent schools.

"I've got a six-year-old and a four-year-old and I'm terrified living in central London,” he said in an interview with a Sunday newspaper. "Am I going to find a good secondary school for my children? I feel it as a parent, let alone as a politician."

Mr Cameron, who was educated at Eton, said he remained determined to send his children to state schools despite rejecting 15 primary schools for his six-year-old daughter Nancy, before sending her to St Mary Abbots, Church of England primary in Kensington.

Good schools in central London are hugely over subscribed, with six parents chasing every place in one near Downing Street, and Mr Cameron said the dilemma has strengthened his resolve to drive up standards so there are “really good state schools available for all”.

People are forced to “break the bank” to send their children to private school because “in some parts of the country, there isn’t a choice of good state schools”.

Mr Cameron and his wife, Samantha, also have a four-year-old son, Elwen, and are expecting another child in September.

He said the coalition Government was trying to ensure there were more good schools with their plans for "free" schools set up by parents and others.

In their general election manifesto, the Conservative pledged to restore discipline and raise standards in the classroom, vowing to bridge the gap between rich and poor by giving “every child the kind of education that is currently available only to the well-off”.

One method they are studying is addressing the financial shortfall in the education budget by allowing private firms to fund and run state schools in London.

One school, Turin Grove, in Edmonton, already has private company involvement. Edison Learning won a £300,000-a-year contract from Enfield council to provide a headteacher and two deputies. A Swedish schools group, Kunskapsskolan, is to open two non-profit making, state-funded academies in Richmond in September.

According to London Councils, a lobbying group for the capital’s 33 local authorities, around 50,000 extra school places need to be created between now and 2016 to cope with demand, costing approximately £880 million.

Westminster City Council, Mr Cameron's local education authority, insisted its schools were providing "first-rate education".

It invited him to send his children to one of its primaries. St Mary Abbots is in the neighbouring borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where he lived before becoming PM.

Nickie Aiken, Westminster's cabinet member for children and young people, said: "We welcome the Prime Minister's interest in improving central London education. We can assure him that our schools are delivering first-rate education every day.

"We are proud that several of our secondary schools are considered outstanding by Ofsted and that our nearest primary schools to Downing Street are also both rated outstanding. "We acknowledge that there is still room for improvement and will continue to strive to build on our success to date.

"We would be delighted if the current Prime Minister followed in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors and sent his children to Westminster state primaries. We would welcome the opportunity to show the Prime Minister our schools in action."


Australia: Why schoolyard bullies should be stopped in their tracks

SCHOOL bullies are three times more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour in their early 20s, while victims experience higher levels of depression and anxiety, according to a study revealed in The Sunday Telegraph.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has uncovered, for the first time, the damaging and ongoing effects bullying can have on children in their adult life.

Researchers tracked 1000 Australian children over three different stages of their lives - when they were 12 years old, 13 and again at 23 - and discovered tragic results.

Children who were bullied showed signs of depression when they grew older. "What we found with the victims is that once they were established in this role, abuse was likely to continue," Dr. Jodie Lodge said.

Dr Lodge found that one in four children were bullied at schools - and that 95 percent of students were bullied more than once. “They also experienced a number of social adjustment problems during adolescence and by their early 20s, were more likely to have higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress.”

Dr. Lodge, who presented the ground- breaking findings at a conference last week, said bullies tended to perform poorly academically and were more likely to drop-out of school.

They were also more likely to use drugs, be involved in physical fights and engage in other criminal activity in adult life. “Those who bullied in adolescence were three to four times more likely to be involved in anti-social behavior and physical violence by their early 20s," Dr. Lodge said. “It seems that once they're on this trajectory or pathway, it's something that stays with them into adulthood."

Verbal abuse and insults were the most common forms of bullying reported by both boys and girls. Physical violence was more prevalent among boys, while girls tended to bully by socially excluding others.

Dr Lodge said children who were both bullies and victims were particularly at risk as they suffered greater degrees of social and academic problems, were generally unpopular and had fewer friends.

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said the results showed we needed to act urgently. “We know bullying has been linked with self-harm and attempts at suicide so it's a very, very serious issue and we need to address it," he said.


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