Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to Constitutional Basics in Education

In the mid 1960s, education policy took a wrong turn, away from America’s founding principles. That was when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a part of his War on Poverty, created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). It was the first major federal foray into local schools.

But the Constitution doesn’t provide for a federal role in education, and public schools had traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

What’s more, Washington’s intervention seemed to bring out the worst in education governance: State officials became the middlemen to administer federal funding and bureaucratic bloat followed. Staff at state education agencies doubled in the five years after ESEA became law.

In 1965, ESEA was about 30 pages long. Today ESEA is known as No Child Left Behind, and its prescriptions for American schools run on for almost 600 pages. After multiple reauthorizations, the law has accumulated program after program to intervene in everything from English as a second language to after-school care. Meanwhile, federal education spending has tripled, while student achievement has generally stagnated.

How can we steer a course back toward our founding principles in education? The first step is to send dollars and decision-making authority out of Washington and back to states, localities, and ultimately, parents.

That’s why Heritage analysts have developed an education policy proposal that would allow states to consolidate funding from dozens of federal education programs–cutting bureaucracy by eliminating multiple program applications–and direct the funding toward local education priorities. Members of Congress have adopted the plan as the conservative alternative to No Child Left Behind, known as “A-PLUS.”

A critical element of the plan is its shift in accountability. In most education policy discussions, accountability means answering up the bureaucratic chain of command to Washington. But real accountability answers to parents and other taxpayers. Real accountability provides transparency for expenditures and academic results, showing parents their children’s progress and taxpayers their return on investment.

To continue in this path of reform, state and local policy should allow money to follow students to the educational setting of their parents’ choice. Freeing parents to shape their children’s education according to their needs in a setting that supports the family’s character-forming role will not only take American education back to the Founders’ ideals. It will also equip us for the future far better than the centralized factory model of education of decades past.


Indians and Chinese do best in the British school system

Pupils from ethnic minorities match or outshine white British children in exams at age 16 despite lagging behind at five, a study shows today. School league tables may encourage teachers to pay greater attention to pupils from black and Asian backgrounds, the research found.

It also suggested that peer pressure may influence how well different groups work at their studies.

The researchers, from University College London, said the achievement of ethnic minority pupils was an ‘amazing success story’. Many struggle with English when they start school but they catch up with their white British counterparts or even overtake them as their language skills improve.

The study also found that league tables give teachers an incentive to focus on pupils on the borderline between D and C grades at GCSE, because the system rewards schools for ensuring pupils achieve at least five passes at grade C or above.

Black and Asian pupils are more likely than white British pupils to form part of this borderline group, and may therefore benefit from greater attention. For the study, published today in the Economic Journal, researchers analysed exam results for nearly 500,000 pupils.

They found that, at the ages of three and five, white British children outperformed their ethnic minority counterparts in tests of vocabulary and making patterns. At seven, in English and maths tests, all ethnic minority groups with the exception of Chinese pupils were behind white British youngsters.

But by the end of compulsory schooling, when youngsters take GCSEs, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black pupils from outside the Caribbean had caught up with their white British classmates, while Indian and Chinese pupils had overtaken them.

Only black Caribbean pupils remained slightly behind white British youngsters. The study found that improvements in language skills as ethnic minority pupils move through school was the biggest reason for closing the gap.

Among Indians, the share of native English speakers was just one in five, the study said.

But it also suggested that ethnic minority parents choose better secondary than primary schools, perhaps because they become more adept at negotiating the school admissions system.

Professor Christian Dustmann, one of the study’s authors and director of the Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, called for further research into the effects of pupil peer groups on attainment. ‘We don’t really understand the dynamics of peer groups within a school, and how within a school individuals sort into different groups,’ he said.


I knew my girl wasn't dyslexic - So I took her out of class and brought her up to speed myself, says British mother

A disrupted classroom environment was the problem

Lesha Chaplin-park, 36, a PR consultant from Stafford, refused to accept her daughter Georgia, now ten, was dyslexic when her school blamed the fact she had fallen behind on the condition. Lesha home-schooled Georgia instead, and after one year she was back at school and top of the class. Lesha says:

Teachers were all too quick to stick a label on my daughter and put her in a box. Was it for extra funding, or just so they didn't have to address the problem directly? all I know is that when I was told Georgia was dyslexic, I knew she wasn't - and I've been proved right.

Georgia was eight when her school decided she had dyslexia. she had never been great with her spelling, but her problems stemmed from the fact that she was in a class with a couple of naughty boys who demanded all the teacher's attention, and, being a quiet kid, she simply got left behind.

Her confidence took a knock and she got to the point where she'd rather not bother at all than get things wrong.

Towards the end of Year 2, the class teacher took me to one side and said Georgia wasn't quite up to speed and they would keep an eye on her. They assured me that if there was a problem they would pick it up the following year, and started talking about all the extra help available for her dyslexia. But as far as I was concerned, she didn't have dyslexia.

Then they sent home a glowing report at the end of Year 3, in which no problems were mentioned at all. I started to lose faith in the school and the mixed messages they were sending out.

As far as I was concerned, she didn't have dyslexia...I started to lose faith in the school and the mixed messages they were sending out. When I was at school, I remember children with learning difficulties being disruptive in class and doing anything they could to be thrown out of the classroom rather than have to read in front of other pupils and be shown up.

It seemed as if teachers were so anxious not to let that happen these days that they would stick labels on children - they were dyslexic, autistic or had aDhD - it felt like political correctness gone mad.

When they approached my ex-husband separately and spelled out Georgia's supposed problems again, that sealed for me. I decided I had three options: I could send Georgia back after the holidays and hope for the best, try to find her new school, or take her out of class for year and bring her up to speed myself. I went for the latter option and decided to go with the home tutoring.

It wasn't an easy decision, but I was four months pregnant with my son Luca, who's now 20 months old, and I work freelance from home, so I was in position at least to try.

I was assessed by my local home education division within the council and was surprised to discover I had to spend only 45 minutes a day teaching Georgia to give her the same level of attention as a full day in a class of 35 pupils.

I made sure she was up and ready for 9am every day, and I did everything could to make her education come alive.

For example, when we studied the Great Fire of London, I took her to Pudding Lane, where it had started, and then she had to write it up afterwards.

When she made a lot of spelling mistakes, I would put her work in the bin, send her away with a dictionary and tell her to bring it back to me only when it was her absolute best. I had time to do that rather than a teacher who would just tell her to do better next time. With my one-to-one tuition, I could drive it home that she had to do her best to succeed.

It worked, and Georgia regained her confidence. she's started at middle school now, having being out of the classroom for whole year. She's in all the top sets and it was realised she isn't dyslexic at all. I'm thrilled I had the opportunity to home-school my daughter, but I think schools have to look differently at children who are struggling and not be so quick to stick them in a box.


"Green" insanity over fruit-bat invasion of Australian school

There are millions of these creatures so there is no way that they are "endangered" -- and what is wrong with chasing them away?

Fed-up teachers at a northern NSW school claim they are being told to stop ringing the school bell, not hold sport days and plan different class times so they do not upset an influx of 20,000 flying foxes.

Staff at Maclean High School say their school has been taken over by the noisy animals and are so upset that they plan to hold a stop-work meeting on Friday. They say bat droppings, which students then spread throughout classrooms, have made the school a health and safety risk.

Maclean High teacher and NSW Teachers Federation representative John Ambrose said the foul smell and screeching by the bats forced teachers to close windows - making classrooms "unbearable" and learning difficult.

"The kids are put off ... and the smell is just repulsive," he said. "The smell is, particularly in wet weather, just foul and the car park and carpets are just splattered with droppings and, let me tell you, they are not steam cleaned every day; they are cleaned once a year."

But attempts to move the bats have so far been unsuccessful. The NSW Department of Education, which removed bats 10 years ago, needs a licence and federal government approval to remove them.

Mr Ambrose said the federal government had since spent about $30,000 to form a committee [How useless can you get?] to advise the school on how to approach the problem.

He said the initial recommendations, which are yet to be formally accepted, tell the school "to work around the bats". "They want us to timetable our classes differently, they don't want us to do sporting events, they don't want us to ring our bell, they want us to minimise our voices so we don't disturb the bats," he said.

"And I understand all DET [Department of Education and Training] can do, and they have been great, is put a sprinkler in a tree. "But this is the health and wellbeing of students at risk here." He said students previously walked out of classrooms in a stop-work organised by the school's parent committee.

An Education Department spokesman said it was "working hard to resolve the flying foxes issue". "We have installed air-conditioners in classrooms and built covered walkways to help protect students and staff," he said.

"We have made application to the state and Commonwealth agencies for the further removal of some trees and tree limbs which could harbour flying foxes near the school. We are awaiting the outcome of this application. "The department has been advised of the potential for a stop-work meeting. However, this is yet to be confirmed by staff at the school. We have not been formally advised of a stop-work meeting."


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