Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Flush With Union Cash, DC Mayoral Candidate Vincent Gray Looks to Roll Back DC School Reform

The fight for the Democratic mayoral nominee in Washington DC encapsulates the national struggle for education reform. On one side you have Mayor Adrian Fenty and his appointed School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, true reformers who took on the teachers unions in hopes of improving DC’s schools.

On the other side you have Fenty’s primary opponent, Vincent Gray. Gray is your typical big city politician. He ran a dirty campaign that mischaracterized and demonized Fenty’s term, he’s owned by special interest groups (see teachers unions), and will only pay lip service to reform, something DC desperately needs.

For decades, Washington DC’s public schools were the laughingstock of the country, consistently ranking near the bottom in every education metric. Fed-up with the status quo, Fenty appointed Michelle Rhee as Chancellor of Washington’s schools giving her free rein to battle the self-serving teachers unions and implement reforms she deemed essential. So, did it work? How does DC’s education system compare to other cities, now?

A new study by AEI’s Rick Hess examines “which of thirty major U.S. cities have cultivated a healthy environment for school reform to flourish.” Hess found that DC’s education environment now ranks second in a study of major US cities, largely due to Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee’s reforms.

Reform is painful; Fenty bruised some egos in the process making a lot of powerful enemies. Hess writes, “Survey respondents report that Mayor Adrian Fenty is the only municipal leader willing to expend extensive political capital to advance education reform.”

Gray has capitalized on union antipathy towards Fenty and formed alliances with DC’s biggest labor unions, receiving endorsements from:

AFSCME, AFGE, AFL-CIO Washington Labor Council, Carpenter's Union, Fraternal Order of Police, Fraternal Order of Police-Department of Corrections, Fraternal Order of Police District of Columbia Lodge #1, Firefighters Local 36, Gertrude Stein Club, , National Association of Government Employees, National Association of Social Workers, Nurses Union, Teamsters Local Union 639, Teamsters Local 689.”

No wonder Fenty is trailing in the polls, all of DC’s power players have united against the mayor. Most depressing is that Michelle Rhee announced she would leave if Gray is elected; their views are incompatible--Rhee is focused on giving DC’s poorest students chance to succeed, Gray is concerned with protecting teachers unions.

Carried across the finish line by union money, Gray’s election could well nullify the education gains Fenty and Rhee made over the past three years--the last thing DC needs.


British exams to be brought in line with world's toughest tests

Wake me up when it happens -- JR

Examinations will be toughened up to meet standards set in other countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China, according to the Coalition. Ofqual, the exams regulator, will be ordered to gather test papers from some of the world’s most respected education systems and benchmark domestic qualifications against them.

It is likely to lead to a dramatic rise in the standards teenagers will be expected to meet to gain good grades in A-levels and GCSEs.

The announcement comes amid fears that exams are becoming too easy and failing to keep pace with those in other countries. This summer almost three-in-10 A-levels were graded at least an A and the number of Cs awarded at GCSE increased for the 22nd year in a row.

Speaking on Monday, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said action would be taken to “restore confidence” to the examinations system. This includes an overhaul of Ofqual, the watchdog established by Labour to vet standards in school and college tests. It comes just weeks after the regulator admitted that this year’s GCSE science papers were too easy.

Mr Gove said: “Last month the exams regulator Ofqual acknowledged that the GCSE science exams were not set at a high enough standard. I’ve been saying this for years. “But the previous Government chose to ignore my warnings and they defended a status quo that was in their interest but was actively damaging the education of hundreds of thousands of children a year."

He said the creation of a “more assertive” qualifications regulator, with the power to order exam boards to toughen up their tests, was “critical to restoring confidence in our exams system”. “We will legislate to strengthen Ofqual and give a new regulator the powers they need to enforce rigorous standard," he said.

“We will ask Ofqual to report on how our exams compare with those in other countries so we can measure the questions our 11, 16 and 18 year olds sit against those sat by their contemporaries in India, China, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

“Our young people will increasingly be competing for jobs and university places on a global level and we can’t afford to have our young people sitting exams which aren’t competitive with the world’s best.”

The move forms part of a sweeping overhaul of the exams system. As revealed yesterday, the Coalition will also introduce a school leaving certificate to tackle a decline in the number of pupils studying subjects such as languages and science in secondary schools.

An English Baccalaureate will be awarded to pupils who gain five A* to C grade GCSEs in English, maths, a science, a foreign language and one humanities subject. At the same time, panels of academics, exam boards and learned societies will be asked to script A-level syllabuses and test papers to restore rigour to the education system.


Australia: Health Fascism in Victorian schools

There is nothing wrong with exercise and kids run around naturally if allowed -- which they often are not in schools today -- but trying to dictate to parents and take over the parental role sounds a bit too much like the Hitler Youth to me

VICTORIAN primary school students are standing up in class for half an hour a day in a radical plan to beat childhood obesity. And they're having "activity breaks" to get them moving between classes.

Students are also set homework tasks such as going for a walk with mum and dad, and are being urged to reduce their time in front of the TV.

The pilot plan, involving 30 grade 3 classes from state schools, gives some students tokens that will restrict their TV viewing. If they go beyond their allocated time, the TV automatically turns off.

The Transform-Us! program, involving 750 students aged eight and nine, started four weeks ago and is being run by the Education Department and Deakin University.

Behavioural scientist Professor Jo Salmon from the university said the goal was not just to get kids moving more at school, but at home as well. This means parents are given information about healthy living such as the location of local walking trails and sports tracks, and encouragement to help restrict TV and computer use at home. "It's not about being a TV Nazi, but resetting and changing some habits such as kids watching whatever is on TV rather than actively choosing programs they want to watch," Prof Salmon said.

Children are given four 30-minute TV tokens each day and if they attempt to watch more, the TV turns off using smart card technology.

It comes as a Victorian Parliament committee is investigating the role schools can play in helping children lead healthier lives.

Prof Salmon said the school-based program, involving standing-up lessons, "was not about kids running amok in class, but getting them moving instead of sitting during the day". "We're not taking away the three Rs and making kids do more PE. We are modifying academic lessons to get them moving more," she said. "Sitting all day long isn't normal for kids. "If you stand rather than sit, there's evidence your brain works better and evidence that kids have better short-term recall of lessons."

Prof Salmon said teachers had been "very supportive and enthusiastic" but the response from parents had been "varied".

Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, said schools needed a balance between activity and academic study. "The focus always seems to be on sedentary kids, but a lot of kids are very active, and sometimes parents worry their kids do too much activity, not too little," she said. "We have to be realistic about what teachers can achieve."

Angela Conway, policy consultant from Pro-family Perspectives, said she liked the idea of kids standing in some classes. But she warned that schools should not encroach too much on family time. "It's good to educate and encourage, but schools should not prescribe what families do in private," she said.


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