Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Schools not making the grade, poll shows

Americans are pessimistic about education, a new NBC News/WSJ poll shows

A majority of Americans are pessimistic about the public education system with nearly six out of 10 saying schools need either major changes or a complete overhaul, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Only 5 percent of those surveyed thought the school system in the United States was working well, according to results of the telephone survey of 700 adults. The findings come as NBC News on Sunday kicked off a weeklong special conversation about the state of America's classrooms, called "Education Nation," to explore the challenges and opportunities facing students today.

National statistics show that 68 percent of 8th-graders in the United States cannot read at their grade level and American students rank 25th in math and 21st in science compared to 30 other industrialized countries.

The poll shows most Americans don't think enough is being done to close that achievement gap with 70 percent of those polled giving schools either a "C" (45 percent) or "D" (25 percent) grade.

Yet even as many people give the overall school system in the United States a poor grade, they were more optimistic about the state of education in their own communities, with 45 percent giving them either an "A" (13 percent) or "B" (32 percent.)
Video: Are teachers under attack?

In trying to determine the cause of the problems, most blamed elected officials (53 percent) or parents (50 percent). When asked who could most effectively improve the system, 48 percent said teachers.

Overall, when asked about the best ways to improve America's school system, 75 percent pointed to recruiting and retaining better teachers. Other strategies include reducing class sizes (64 percent) and requiring teachers to pass a competency test (54 percent).

And nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those polled said they would be willing to pay higher federal taxes to improve America's schools.


For-profit colleges often turned to by vets struggling to get degrees

Since the post-9/11 GI Bill with expanded education benefits for returning soldiers took effect Aug. 1, 2009, for-profit colleges have snared $618 million, or 35 percent, of the almost $1.8 billion in tuition and fees spent by US taxpayers, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The industry is now targeting the more than 1.2 million veterans deployed since 2001, and their college grants.

Five of the top 10 colleges with the most students funded by the GI bill in April 2010 were for-profit, mainly online institutions, including Apollo Group Inc.’s University of Phoenix and Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan University, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Of veterans receiving the benefits, 22 percent have enrolled in for-profit colleges. About 10 percent of all college students attend for-profit institutions.

Enrolling at online colleges hampers veterans’ reintegration into society and increases their risk of dropping out, said John Schupp, national director of the nonprofit group Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran. “They don’t transition sitting next to a computer in their room,’’ Schupp said.

While some veterans say online schools provide an opportunity for education that they otherwise couldn’t fit into their schedules, the swelling number of former soldiers at for-profit colleges is drawing scrutiny from the Senate education committee.

That’s because these colleges, which typically charge higher tuitions than public institutions, have been criticized for enrolling students who aren’t academically ready and are more likely to default on their federal loans.

An undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that recruiters at for-profit colleges encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms and misled them by exaggerating graduation rates and potential salaries.

Graduation rates are lower at for-profit colleges. Only 22 percent of first-time, full-time candidates at for profit-colleges get bachelors’ degrees, compared with 55 percent at public institutions and 65 percent at nonprofit schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


All-boy prep school boom in Britain as parents reject 'macho culture' of mixed primaries

All-boys schools are booming as parents shun mixed schools which put boys under pressure to act 'tough' and play the fool, it was claimed today. New figures show a surge in pupil numbers at single-sex prep schools which cater for boys up to the age of 13.

The trend is a reversal of the picture only a decade ago, when demand for girls' schools was growing strongly.

Head teachers' leaders revealed that parents are increasingly concerned about a macho culture at some mixed schools where boys consider it 'cool to be a fool'. They feel their sons are more likely to grow up 'fully rounded' at a single-sex school, instead of merely 'half a boy' at some co-educational schools.

It was also claimed that 'savvy' parents nowadays are increasingly splitting their families between different schools, rather than opting for the convenience of the same primary or secondary for all siblings. Some parents may be choosing mixed schools for their daughters but all-boys schools for their sons, it was suggested. This may result in them paying for private education, since there are significantly fewer single-sex primary schools in the state system than the independent sector.

Other experts suggest that, during a recession, parents are more likely to invest in private education for boys rather than girls. This is because they believe that daughters are more likely to succeed wherever they are educated, whereas boys may need extra support.

Figures issued by the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, representing 600 private prep schools, show that nearly a third of single-sex boys' schools - 29 per cent - showed strong growth in numbers this year. These schools registered an increase in September enrolments of three per cent or more, it emerged.

Girls' and mixed schools showed a more mixed picture.

David Hanson, chief executive of IAPS, highlighted TV's recent 'Britain's Youngest Boarders' programme, which followed the progress of three youngsters at an all-boys prep school. 'Those little boys could succeed academically and yet be fully-rounded, caring and have all the cuddly toys and so on, without anybody at any point saying "you're soft",' he said.

'It was great to see it from their perspective, that in an all-boys environment, they could be a fully rounded little boy, rather than half a boy, in some other environment where you have to pretend to be tough and act cool, and not want to learn, because it's cool to be a fool.'

He went on: 'In the past, the received wisdom was this, that parents want boys to be in co-ed schools because it's civilising, and parents want the girls to be in single-sex schools because then girls can achieve without boys slowing them down and being disruptive. 'This was received parental wisdom.

'What we see in the data now is the polar opposite - parents saying actually I think I want my boy to be in a single-sex school because I feel he will do better there, but I would probably like my daughter to be in a co-ed school. 'That seems to be a complete turnaround to where we were five, ten years ago, in terms of the messages we were getting.'

Mr Hanson added that a strong diet of sport was a 'big driver' of demand for boys' prep schools. 'We know that sport has a big part to play,' he said. 'A lot of parents will say that they worry that in maintained school their child is never off the floor or out of the chair.'

Andy Falconer, chairman of IAPS and head of St Olave's Prep School, in York, said some parents found their sons did better apart from girls at primary school because girls mature more quickly. Others felt it was important for children to taught in a mixed school because 'that's the real world'.

He added: 'Parents are now much more savvy about shopping around, and rightly, picking the right thing for their child, rather than the convenience element of having everybody in the one school, because there's the one school run.'

Figures were released on Monday as heads gathered in London for the IAPS annual conference suggested that prep school numbers are bearing up in most schools despite the recession.

Mr Hanson added: 'These figures support what we know anecdotally: even in difficult circumstances, parents are willing to sacrifice holidays, new cars and other material goods to continue to give their children a quality education.'


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