Saturday, August 07, 2010

Texas at war with the Federal Democrats

Led by Sen. John Cornyn , 20 members of the Texas GOP congressional delegation have sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging her to strip a Texas-specific provision out of an upcoming spending bill.

The amendment, inserted by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, requires Texas to preserve current education funding levels through 2013 in order to receive $820 million in federal funds to protect teacher jobs. Texas is the only state to face specific requirements.

Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry, say the provision violates Texas' state Constitution. "By adding the additional two-year requirement, the House language only punishes Texas students and teachers," the letter says. "Therefore, we urge you to strike the previous House-passed provision in the bill."

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, is among the eight North Texas representatives to sign onto the letter. "This ridiculous education funding provision, which some have even called 'wacky,' was written to only impact Texas and has got to go, so that Texas teachers and students are provided the same opportunities as teachers and students in every other state," Burgess said.

In an interview Thursday, Doggett said Republicans were concocting "phony legalistic arguments," and that the amendment is intended to ensure that the federal funds were not diverted elsewhere.

The amendment is included in a $26 billion state aid bill passed by the Senate on Thursday. The House will vote on the bill next Tuesday.


Coalition pledge on three-Rs as third of British pupils fail basic grade-school test

More than a third of pupils left primary school after 13 years of Labour without a proper grasp of the basics, it has emerged. Sats results published today showed 35 per cent of 11-year-olds in England failed to reach the standard expected for their age in reading, writing and mathematics. Scores in reading actually slipped for the second year in a row, despite the launch of a multi-million pound programme designed to help the worst performers catch up.

It means hundreds of thousands of children will start secondary education without "getting the point" from passages they read, using proper spelling and punctuation in writing and being able to employ the 10 times table.

Today the Coalition pledged a renewed focus on the core subjects amid claims too many children were failing to get the “fundamentals right”. Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said the Government would emphasise mental arithmetic in maths and prioritise back-to-basics methods of reading in English lessons.

A new reading test will also be introduced for all six-year-olds to pick out those struggling the most at the start of primary school.

Sats results soared when Labour first came to power but progress has practically stalled in recent years.

Mr Gibb said: “Despite pupils’ and teachers’ hard work one-in-five pupils are still not reaching the expected level in either English or maths and over a third are not achieving this level in reading, writing and maths combined. “We need to ensure government gives teachers the support they need to get the basics right.

"Getting the fundamentals right – being able to read and write and having a solid foundation in Maths – is crucial to a child’s success in secondary education and throughout their adult life.”

He added: "The Coalition Government is committed to promoting the use of systematic synthetic phonics in primary schools and to ensuring that pupils are fluent in arithmetic and basic maths by the time they move to secondary school. We will provide the help teachers need to do their job even better."

But the publication of today’s results also prompted renewed controversy over the use of Sats tests to measure education standards. In an unprecedented wave of industrial action, more than a quarter of state schools in England – 4,005 – boycotted the exams this year amid claims they narrow the curriculum and force schools to “teach to the test”. Unions also said the high-stakes tests jeopardised teachers’ jobs. Figures show 155,000 out of 575,000 children failed to sit tests this year.

But the Coalition insisted the sample was large enough to proceed with the publication of national results.

For the first time this year, the Government published the results of teachers' own assessments of pupils in the classroom alongside official Sats scores. Under the less formal system, 81 per cent of children made the grade in English and a futher 81 in maths – almost mirroring the Sats results.

Labour welcomed the publication which they said proved major reforms of primary education over the last 13 years had worked. When Labour came to power, only half of children gained good scores in English and maths.

Vernon Coaker, shadow schools minister, criticised the Coalition for failing to support Labour’s flagship policy of more one-to-one tuition for children falling behind in reading and writing between the age of seven and 14. “Around 100,000 more children now leave primary school secure in the basics than in 1997,” he said. “But there is obviously more to do, particularly in reading where the results are disappointing.

“These results show why the coalition’s cuts to the budgets of successful catch-up programmes like Every Child a Reader, which we were rolling out across the country, are so short-sighted and disastrous for educational opportunity.”

The Coalition insisted one-to-one tuition and the intensive reading scheme would continue for another full year, while more money was being earmarked for the poorest schools to run other similar programmes in the future.

According to Government guidance, to achieve Level 4 in reading children must display an understanding of ideas, themes, events and characters in texts and use inference and deduction.

In writing, pupils should be starting to use grammatically complex sentences. Spelling should be accurate, pupils should use joined up handwriting and sentences should contain full-stops, capital letters and other punctuation in the correct place.

Guidelines on maths say children should be able to multiply numbers up to 10 x 10 in their heads and add or subtract numbers to two decimal places.


Huge waste of money in putting up new Australian school buildings -- the evidence spreads

No spending discipline or attempt to get value for money -- so everything costs twice as much as it needs to. Good for builders but bad for everyone else

FOR the past 18 months, the federal government has dismissed reports of problems with its $16 billion school building program. This is despite a litany of concerns revealed in The Australian. But the government's refrain that the Building the Education Revolution is a success was erased yesterday by the release of the price paid by the Victorian government to build a school hall.

Like NSW, Victoria is paying twice as much as the Catholic school system and well above standard industry costs. Of necessity, The Australian's series of reports documenting concerns about the BER has focused on NSW; until yesterday, it was the only state to have made public its building costs.

The federal government has dismissed reports of inflated costs as being confined to NSW but the story is similar in Victoria and, presumably, around the nation. The onus is now on the other states and territories to reveal the figures. The lack of information about BER construction costs is unnecessary and unacceptable.

The biggest spend on schools in the nation's history requires a commensurate level of scrutiny. Yet The Australian is the only newspaper to have consistently asked where the money was going.

The BER stimulated the economy, helped Australia through the financial crisis and gave schools new buildings. But schools, parents, principals, teachers and other taxpayers have a right to expect value for money.


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