Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time for Big Cuts in Education Spending?

America spends far more on education than countries like Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Italy, both as a percentage of its economy, and in absolute terms. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing, reaching levels of $50,000 or more a year at some colleges, and colleges are effectively rewarded for increasing tuition by mushrooming federal financial-aid spending. Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more (half again more) on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

In light of this, it is easy to see why some education experts like Neal McCluskey are floating the idea of “draconian education cuts“ to shake up a rotten educational establishment.

Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds at Instapundit notes that “some spending on educational institutions” may actually have a “negative” effect on education. People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education elsewhere, through internships and work. One of Professor Reynolds’ readers suggests that competition from “independent scholars” via the “internet” and elsewhere may improve education by providing competition with established universities that offer “little real education.”

Unfortunately, the colleges are well aware of this threat, and rather than improve themselves in response to competition, they are urging the government to crack down on one form of competition, for-profit colleges. The Obama administration is now doing just that, waging a war on for-profit colleges, by subjecting them, but not traditional “non-profit” colleges, to so-called “gainful employment” rules that many non-profit liberal-arts colleges would flunk. To try to rationalize this discrimination, the administration trumpeted a GAO report that has now been thoroughly discredited.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including janitors with Ph.D’s), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09.)

In recent years, spending on college administrators has risen massively. One study found an average increase of 61 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, between 1993 and 2007; one leading university increased spending on administrators by 600 percent. Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, and “inflation-adjusted K-12 spending tripled over the last 40 years.”


British High school courses 'failing to prepare students for university'

British students face missing out on university places because A-levels fail to prepare them for degree courses, Michael Gove warns today. The Education Secretary says even the brightest students often lack the levels of knowledge boasted by undergraduates from abroad – putting them at a disadvantage in the race for the most sought-after institutions.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he pledges to allow universities to help script A-level questions and exam syllabuses to make sure they act as a better preparation for higher education.

His comments come after it emerged that one-in-five universities are being forced to set their own entrance tests because they can no longer rely on the results of school and college exams to pick out exceptional candidates. It is likely to make it even harder for students to get on to degree courses in 2011 following a dramatic 12 per cent surge in university applications for next year.

In an article today, Mr Gove says: “Colleges can no longer rely on the existing A level to identify the best candidates, so they have to set their own tests. And academics report that even the brightest of our students don’t have the level of knowledge which undergraduates from abroad can boast, so when they arrive at college they need remedial work, especially on subjects like maths, to compete. “We can’t afford to waste time while our students fall further behind in the race for the best university places and jobs, which is why we’re accelerating the pace of reform.”

The Education Secretary says a proposed overhaul of A-levels should restore faith in the so-called “gold standard" qualification, leading to a cut in the number of universities setting their own entrance tests.

An education Bill being published in the New Year will require exam boards to consult universities before setting A-levels and benchmark exams against tests set by some of the world’s best education systems.

A reform of school league tables will also be made to stop teachers pushing pupils on to “soft” courses used to inflate their position in official rankings.


Australia: Children can't get enough science lessons

ALMOST half of 12-year-olds have a science lesson less than once a week, even though most think the subject is interesting and would like to learn more.

A survey of Year 6 students conducted for the first time last year as part of the National Science Tests reveals 21 per cent of students reported having a science lesson "hardly ever" while 19 per cent said they were taught the subject less than once a week. Yet three-quarters said they would like to learn more science.

The survey of students' interests and experiences revealed generally positive attitudes towards science.

More than 80 per cent of students agreed science was "important for lots of jobs" and that learning science would be more important in high school.

About 67 per cent agreed it would be interesting to be a scientist and only 40 per cent agreed that "science is too difficult for most people to understand".

But when asked how often they had science lessons at school, only 6 per cent said every day and 54 per cent said once a week, while 48 per cent said lessons were mostly held in the afternoon, when students are typically less alert.

At the same time, the national test results show students' scientific understanding is falling, with the average score dropping during the past decade, primarily among the top students.

The tests, comprising a written exam and a practical task, have been conducted every three years since 2003 among a representative sample of Year 6 students, with about 5 per cent - or more than 13,000 - sitting the most recent tests last year. The results show the average score has dropped eight points since 2006 and while not statistically significant, it continues a trend of declining marks. Changes in the tests between 2003 and 2006 make the results not strictly comparable, but the trend is a drop in the national average of 17 points between 2003 and last year.

The average score of Year 6 students in Tasmania did fall significantly over the past three years, by 20 points.

Lower scores were recorded around the nation, except in Western Australia, where the average score rose 12 points, which is not statistically significant, and in the Northern Territory, where the average rose one point.

ACT students achieved the highest scores, followed by Victoria, which overtook NSW, and Western Australia, which rose from seventh to fourth over the past three years.

Students are also marked against five levels of proficiency, with almost 52 per cent deemed to have met the standard last year compared with 54.3 per cent in 2006. But while about 10 per cent of students scored in the top two levels in 2006, this proportion had dropped to 7.3 per cent last year. The proportion of students in the bottom level had increased from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

The difference between the scores achieved by girls and boys was negligible, but indigenous students scored about 100 points lower on average, and about two-thirds of students in remote and very remote areas did not meet the proficiency standard. The difference between metropolitan and provincial areas was small.


No comments: