Friday, November 05, 2010

Arizona Civil Rights Initiative Passes; NAS Hails Victory

Yesterday Arizonans approved a ballot initiative that prohibits racial preferences in the state’s public institutions, including public colleges and universities. The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative (AzCRI), known as Proposition 107, passed with 60% of the vote.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) counts the passage of Proposition 107 as a significant victory in the fight for merit-based higher education.

“Once again,” noted Stephen H. Balch, chairman of the NAS, “the American people have demonstrated they understand that basic fairness and good education require individuals to be treated as individuals rather than as the representatives of artificially defined identity groups. Higher education in Arizona will be strengthened through the restoration of this principle.”

Earlier this year, NAS submitted an official argument in favor of Prop. 107 which all Arizona citizens received.

The argument called on voters to reaffirm the “basic ideal” that all men are created equal, pointing out that “It is as students that our young men and women come to full knowledge of America’s heritage of rights and freedoms. By making higher education a color- and gender-coded experience, this comprehension is undermined.”

Proposition 107 is the latest among similar initiatives which have already been approved in California, Washington, Michigan, and Nebraska.


Failing British schools to be turned into academies (charters) under new government plans aimed at tackling low attainment

Thousands of under-performing schools will be forcibly converted into independent academies in a crackdown unveiled by ministers today. Education Secretary Michael Gove urged town halls to relinquish control of persistently weak schools and hand them over to outside sponsors. Councils should identify hitlists of the worst schools in their area where 'students have been poorly served for years', he said.

If authorities fail to act, Mr Gove will use new powers to impose academy status on under-achieving schools himself.

In a speech to council chiefs today, Mr Gove revealed that schools judged 'satisfactory' by education watchdog Ofsted were in danger of being targeted - as well as those deemed to be failing. Thousands of primary and secondary schools could eventually be included in the crackdown.

The measures are certain to infuriate classroom unions who see the academies programme as an assault on state education.

The initiative, spelled out at a conference in Manchester, marks a dramatic acceleration of Mr Gove's academies revolution. The part-private schools, introduced by Labour and embraced by the Tories, are funded by the state but operate outside council control.

They are run by sponsors - private companies, church groups, charities, universities or philanthropists - who are granted powers to set the schools' curriculum, staff pay and academic calendar.

Mr Gove has already allowed schools judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted to convert into academies and benefit from the greater freedoms. They effectively sponsor themselves. And the Education Secretary has signalled that he wants all schools to eventually become academies, either through choice or coercion. Some 350 are already open in England.

Speaking to delegates at the National Conference of Directors of Children's and Adult Services in Manchester, Mr Gove said: 'I would like local authorities to consider more schools for academy status where both attainment and pupil progression are low and where schools lack the capacity to improve themselves.'

Councils should also target schools which Ofsted has branded inadequate or merely satisfactory, Mr Gove said. Ofsted considers 29 per cent of primaries to be satisfactory and three per cent inadequate, and 31 per cent of secondaries to be satisfactory, with six per cent inadequate. It means nearly a third of England's 20,000 schools are judged not to be providing a 'good' education.

Officials stressed yesterday the crackdown would only target satisfactory schools if their leadership was judged to be weak or they showed little capacity to improve.

A White Paper due to be published later this month will set out the measures that will be used to assess whether a school is under-performing. But Mr Gove said: 'These should be regarded as guidelines, not rigid criteria. 'Where schools fall outside these benchmarks but local authorities consider that schools would still benefit from the involvement of sponsors I would encourage local authorities to make proposals for the conversion of those schools [into academies].' Labour had defined under-performance too narrowly, according to Mr Gove.

The previous Government ran a similar scheme with intervention targeted at secondary schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gained five A* to C grades at GCSE, including the three Rs.

Mr Gove said primary schools should also be involved and added: 'Too many under-performing schools that were above the minimum threshold we inherited have not received sufficient attention and support.' Some achieved apparently respectable results but were failing to do well enough given the ability of their pupils, he warned.

Mr Gove said he would use his own powers to force academy status on weak schools if local authorities fail to intervene. Under the Coalition's Academies Act, he can make an Academy Order to force a failing school to become an academy under new leadership.

'I will be ready to use this power in the months ahead where I judge that academy status is in the best interests of an eligible school and its pupils, and where it has not been possible to reach agreement on a way ahead with the local authority or the school or both,' he told the conference.

'Of course, I would hope that I do not need to use these powers extensively as I fully expect local authorities to use their own extensive intervention powers to bring about change in poorly performing schools that are failing to improve.'


British middle class to be charged much more for their university degrees

Given the horror figures below, many families might seek loans from a non-government source. "Only dummies need apply" seems to be the weird message

The middle classes on moderate incomes will be hardest hit by the most radical shake-up of university funding for a generation, ministers admitted. Overall, three out of four university leavers will be worse off than at present following the move to allow institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year for courses.

Successful graduates will be penalised most by the introduction of variable interest rates on the loans they take out to pay the fees. A university leaver with debts of £30,000 and an annual salary of £45,000 will have to pay back about £2,160 a year for about 30 years. Someone earning £25,000 will have to pay £360 a year for the same debts because a lower interest rate will be applied.

"Middle earning graduates will pay a lot more for their degrees over their lifetimes, and that will worry people," said Ian Mulheirn of the Social Market Foundation think tank. "They will face significant debt for the first time."

The Government yesterday confirmed that middle earners would pay the price for a series of "progressive" measures to help youngsters from deprived backgrounds. To avert a rebellion by Liberal Democrat ministers over the rise in university fees, the Coalition agreed to pay for thousands of scholarships and bursaries for pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Under the new rules, maintenance grants will be available for students from low and middle-income families. For those with a household income of less than £25,000, the grant will be £3,250 a year. Smaller grants will be paid up to an income of £42,600, after which only loans will be available.

While well-off parents will be able to protect their children by paying fees up front, middle income families will suffer, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies. "It is hard to justify why students from households with incomes of £42,600 should face larger debts than all other students doing similar priced courses," said the IFS. Student groups have estimated that some graduates could be left with debts of up to £70,000 once loans for living costs are taken into account.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said: "The Government is committed to the progressive nature of the repayment system. "Our student support system is currently one of the most generous in the world. We will make it more progressive."

But critics pointed out that middle earners would pay the price for these "progressive" measures. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, admitted that the Government would not stop millionaire parents from protecting their children from paying off student loans altogether.

He even suggested that poorer students could "work on a building site for a year" in order to raise the funds to pay off their student loans up front. "In a free society you can't force people to take out a loan," he added.

Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister, asked Mr Willetts why the children of "teachers, police officers and engineers" were being hit when the wealthy could afford to pay off their fees up front.

"Does he recognise how unfair the system will seem to those on middle incomes who work just as hard to get their children to university," he said. "Isn't the real truth a tragedy for a whole generation of young people?"

The University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said that graduates on the national average salary would end up with tax bills nearly 20 per cent higher than those who did not go to university.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "The Coalition is introducing a learning tax that will saddle the next generation of professionals with years of lost revenue. The message this sends is that in the UK we now penalise aspiration rather than encourage it.

"Mums and dads who just want their children to have better opportunities than they did will see this for what it is – a stealth tax on learning and aspiration.”

Legislation will be put before Parliament within weeks to raise the top amount which universities can charge for tuition fees from its current level of £3,290.

In his recent review of higher education funding, Lord Browne of Madingley, the former head of BP, suggested that universities should be permitted to charge unlimited fees.

But the Government rejected this in favour of allowing universities to set a new top limit of £6,000, with elite institutions allowed to charge up to £9,000 in “exceptional circumstances”.

Following the announcement in last month’s spending review that higher education funding would be cut by nearly £3billion a year, university chiefs said that they would be put out of business unless they charge at least £7,000.


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