Wednesday, September 22, 2010

California Schools: Monuments to Mediocrity

On Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) opened the most expensive school in American history: the $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the 24-acre complex costs roughly $140,000 per student. Parts of the school were designed to replicate historic buildings on the grounds where the school was built, including the Cocoanut Grove nightclub. In the warped logic that justifies so many government decisions, somehow a nightclub seemed the perfect environment for a student to learn mathematics and history.

The shocking sticker price for the Los Angeles school grabbed headlines across the nation. But in Southern California, at least some teachers weren’t expressing outrage about such wasteful spending on buildings at the expense of students. Less than 48 hours after the opening of LAUSD’s extravagant school structure, members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union were outside the Los Angeles Times building, protesting the newspaper’s recent publication of a database which evaluated teacher performance in the school district.

According to the Times, the online database ranked 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers “by their effectiveness in improving students' scores on standardized math and English tests during a seven-year period.” The paper also explained that the “value-added method looks at previous student test performance and estimates how much a teacher added to or subtracted from a student's progress.” Teachers howled that this was unfair, since teachers are “more than test scores.”

The United Teachers Los Angeles pronounced it “the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher's effectiveness."

Since when is it flawed or irresponsible to demand accountability? When taxpayers pour billions into the public education system every year, doesn’t it make sense to determine whether that money is being spent effectively and efficiently?

One teacher even vented, "The Times has reneged on its mission of telling the truth." Really? It seems like the LA Times is finally living up to its journalistic responsibilities by offering the facts and letting readers decide. Another teacher claimed that some of her peers were “despondent over the rankings.” Is there any consideration of the feelings of students trapped in the classrooms of these “despondent” teachers—the students not being equipped with the skills necessary for a prosperous future?

The teachers shouldn’t be too worried about the Times’ expos√© since their union is now defending their shameful ineptness at instructing students.Union protection of its bloated, inefficient bureaucracy has reached ghastly levels in the Golden State. The same unions that are protesting a newspaper reporting on the quality of their members are among the biggest political players in California. One of their key focuses this election year is Proposition 25.

Proposition 25, which will appear on the November ballot, would remove the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for passing a budget—and passing tax increases. Instead, a simple majority of the legislature, or the controlling political party, could pass whatever budget they want without any input from the minority party.

California’s budget is often passed long after its constitutional deadline. In just a few days, the legislature will set a new record for failing to pass a state budget on time. Proposition 25 backers claim that a simple majority vote would ensure the budget is passed on time. But in a legislature dominated by Democrats, Proposition 25 would give the controlling party carte blanche when it comes to feeding the unions and expanding bureaucracy—all at taxpayer expense.

Always eager to guard their more-than-fair-share of the government budget, teachers unions are among the biggest donors to the Yes on Proposition 25 campaign. The California Federation of Teachers donated $1.25 million, California Teachers Association donated $250,000, the California Faculty Association donated $100,000, and the California School Employees Association donated $450,000.

It’s common for teachers unions to throw around huge dollars in political campaigns just to safeguard their interests. But ridding the state constitution of the added taxpayer protections in a two-thirds budget vote would clear the way for unions to get whatever they want—including the kind of wasteful spending found in LAUSD. Keep in mind LAUSD is currently grappling with deficit of $640 million. The $578 million school could have covered almost the entire deficit. Although bond measures financed the school’s construction, such wasteful spending is not uncommon throughout the school system.

Big unions are the biggest hindrance to the education reforms so desperately needed. Bankrupt school districts and the union leeches can keep building their monuments to mediocrity. But eventually, their work product won’t have the education or skills necessary to keep financing such vapid opulence.


Useless degrees: One in three British call centre workers is a graduate

A third of call centre workers are graduates, say researchers. A survey of UK-based call centres showed that 35 per cent of their agents are now educated to degree level - up from 25 per cent last year.

Two in five call centre bosses reported seeing a surge in applications from graduates, particularly over the past 12 months.

The survey, by Hays Contact Centres in conjunction with the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service initiative, found that many graduates intend to develop a long-term career in the industry.

The soaring numbers of graduates seeking work in call centres shows the impact of the recession on the graduate jobs market. Many firms are squeezing graduate training programmes while universities are turning out unprecedented numbers.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters, representing leading employers, suggests that nearly 70 graduates are chasing every vacancy.

Call centre starting salaries are usually £12,000 to £18,000. Some graduates can expect to move up to senior marketing or sales roles but others see it as a stop-gap.

Figures issued earlier this year by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that nearly 20,000 of last year's graduates - 10 per cent - were unemployed six months after leaving university - up from 8 per cent in 2008.


Australia: Preferential treatment for "alternative" school?

The government giving the preferential treatment is a Leftist one. You know: The "equality" preachers

Rose Park Primary School parents want the Education Minister to investigate if the department deliberately altered a report on a smaller learning facility on the premises that has divided the school community.

The Family Unit, established in 1980, is a Reception to Year 7 "school within a school" that has about 50 students, offering an alternative approach to education based on the Reggio Emilia method.

An independent report last year was supposed to address growing animosity between parents at both schools, the Education Department and principals.

Supporters say the unit provides more space and a better teacher-student ratio than the mainstream school, while its opponents say the unit receives preferential treatment, taking up the two largest teaching spaces, resulting in overcrowding in the rest of the school.

The original report, released under Freedom of Information laws, shows parts of the report - including tables showing the difference in classroom space per student and issues around school zoning - were removed from the versions given to parents. After an uproar from parents, the Ombudsman's office determined the department was required to release the original report.

Parent Terina Verrall said the department had been "dishonest" about withholding information in the report. "We didn't get an independent report, we got a DECS tampered report and we knew that right from the word go," she said. "The real report would have allowed for real discussion."

The issue escalated over the past two years, with the mainstream school's governing council members voting to have the unit moved to another school.

Following consultation with Parkside Primary School in June, that school's governing council formally rejected a bid to relocate the Family Unit to their site.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill admitted the situation "wasn't handled well".

Earlier this month, he announced the unit would remain at Rose Park Primary. However, contact between the two facilities would be minimised and they would be administered separately, with a long-term view to relocating the unit in the future. "I met all of the parent and school groups involved and my decision takes into account all of the concerns raised, including concerns about what was excluded from the report," he said. "I have made my decision and that decision stands."


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