Saturday, May 01, 2010

MA: State considers watering down MCAS

Officials push back timeline to 2020 for higher scores

In an effort to boost the achievement of all students, Massachusetts education officials are considering a new benchmark that they hope will be more attainable than a nearly decade-old federal requirement that has fallen out of favor with President

Yesterday, a task force of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended setting a goal that 85 percent of students score proficient or advanced on the MCAS test by 2020. That would represent a notable departure from a goal established under President George W. Bush that called for 100 percent of students to be proficient by 2014.

The new benchmark and longer timeline, state education officials say, reflect the enormous task the state confronts in raising achievement levels for all students, as well as specific categories of students, based on such factors as race and ethnicity, income levels, and learning disabilities.

Officials say more work needs to be done to overhaul underperforming schools and expand programs for English-language learners, two areas where test achievement lags. They also want to beef up, among other things, literacy programs for all elementary school students.

The task force on the “proficiency gap’’ believes that the proposed goal is more appropriate and reachable, said board member Jeff Howard, who chairs the task force.

“We were looking for something challenging but realistic that would mobilize people’s attention and resources to get it done,’’ said Howard, who is president and founder of the Efficacy Institute in Waltham, a national nonprofit that works with school districts on programs to boost the achievement of economically disadvantaged students. “A goal that is unrealistic has no mobilizing effect on anyone.’’

While some groups of students are somewhat near the proposed goal, others are far behind, according to the report by the task force on the “proficiency gap.’’

The federal goal, created about eight years ago under the No Child Left Behind Act, has been losing credibility with many educators, researchers, and education advocates across Massachusetts, as the state has targeted more than half of all its schools for improvement or radical overhauls because of a failure to make adequate annual progress in reaching the 2014 deadline. It is a sentiment that is prevalent in other states as well, prompting some to lower standards for proficiency.

It’s not entirely clear how Obama might replace the Bush-era goal. Obama has said he wants a more nuanced method of judging schools that would probably go beyond test scores. Ultimately, he wants school systems to graduate students who are ready for college or the workforce. Any changes would have to be approved by Congress.

The proposed goal in Massachusetts drew a mix of praise and skepticism. Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, welcomed the change. “It’s a reasonable goal,’’ Scott said. “I think it has a more realistic chance of success than the federal objective had.’’

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, called the new goal ambitious, but was somewhat skeptical about the state’s motives in establishing the new benchmark.

“Is this just another attempt to regulate and punish, or is it a sincere effort to get kids to proficiency and help districts get there?’’ said Koocher, who had not read the report. “This being Massachusetts, we have to read carefully into the fine details of the proposal, before drawing final conclusions.’’

It’s not clear whether the proposed goal would carry any sanctions against schools that fail to meet it.

The state board is scheduled to discuss the report at its next meeting.

Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said he thought the new goal had a lot of merit but was not sure about the 85 percent mark. “I’m a believer of setting goals,’’ Chester said. “I like conceptually what’s been recommended.’’


“Free schools” won’t save British education

A Swede tells the Tories that they are wrong to get so overexcited about the Swedish free-school model

Traditionally it was left-leaning Brits who pined after Swedish models, but in this year’s General Election campaign it’s the Conservatives who are taking inspiration from the north. Party leader David Cameron, as part of his plan to build a Big Society, wants to allow parents, charities, churches and other groups to set up their own so-called ‘free schools’ - a hybrid of Sweden’s friskolor and American charter schools. It is time, Cameron says, to end ‘education bureaucracy’, give parents more choice, and infuse the school system with healthy competition in order to drive up standards.

New Labour says such reforms would threaten local education budgets as old state schools are likely to lose pupils, and therefore funding, to the new free schools (which would receive state-funding but would operate independently). Critics also say that the reforms will entrench inequalities, as children with parents who are willing to put in the time and effort needed to set up or ‘shop around’ for schools will benefit, while others will be left behind. For the Conservatives, however, competition is key. They believe that, as associations and interest groups set up schools according to certain children’s needs, all schools will have to up their game in order to attract pupils and funding.

But what has been missed out in the budget- and competition-centred debate around free schools is how this survival-of-the-fittest version of education devalues authority – the authority of teachers, of learning and of knowledge – and how it encourages young people to accept their lot rather than to challenge it.

Parent power vs teacher power

Like New Labour’s existing academies, free schools will also be out of local authority control and will promote parent choice. Already, by the end of last year, hundreds of parents had expressed interest in the Tories’ Swedish/American-style scheme, suggesting that there is, indeed, a lot of disgruntlement about the state of British education.

It is understandable that parents want to ensure their children get the best schooling possible and that they are willing to do everything they can to sort out the failings of the education system. The annual scramble for school places in the UK has revealed parents lying about where they live in order to pass the residency test for a particular school, or suddenly attending church each Sunday in order to fulfil the pupil entry requirements of faith schools. But while groups of parents with shared interests and visions could certainly come up with some good solutions for their children, such pockets of inspiring education will not address the failing quality of mainstream education.

Moreover, pushy parents intervening in the minutiae of everyday life at school can undermine the authority of teachers, who become duty-bound primarily to parents’ demands. A Swedish state-school headmistress interviewed for a BBC Newsnight report earlier this year indicated that parents don’t always know best when it comes to judging how children should relate to knowledge and their peers. In her view, parents sometimes cause disruption in schools, because following the extension of school choice in Sweden it has become easier for children to change schools. She related anecdotally how, when children encounter problems in lessons or with their mates – something every child goes through – parents now more readily pull their children out of the school. This, she said, prevents children from learning a crucial lesson: that ‘if there is a problem, you need to solve it’.

The devaluation of knowledge

The Tories’ free schools would, in reality, be a continuation of the specialist academies introduced under Tony Blair. Blair’s education tsar, Andrew Adonis, made study visits to Sweden long before the Tory shadow education minister, Michael Gove, went there for his Swedish lessons. The Blairite academies are shiny, funky, high-tech monuments to the devaluation of subject-based academic learning, which under New Labour has been dismissed as ‘elitist’ and ‘unnecessary’.

Young people are no longer encouraged to view education as edifying so much as necessary for strengthening their CVs. And judging from the Swedish experience, British free schools are likely to perpetuate the abandonment of the principle of learning for its own sake in favour of the acquisition of particular skills or attitudes. Swedish free schools offer programmes in everything from arts and media studies to agriculture, handicrafts and finance. The Tories are celebrating this kind of individualised learning, where parents and young people pursue their private interests in relation to schooling.

Yes, the bureaucratisation of education under New Labour – the much-maligned ‘targets culture’ – has weighed down education. But the move towards the privatisation of schooling is a sign that the political class has given up on the idea of the school as an institution that transmits universal knowledge to the whole of the next generation.

Inequality and segregation

The left in Britain and in Sweden have criticised free schools for putting children from educated, middle-class families at an advantage, solidifying rather than blurring the lines of segregation. There is choice in theory, but in practice the market has not reduced inequalities, critics say.

There are conflicting studies on the results of free schools and the extent to which their introduction has raised standards of education overall. As for individual students, Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education, told Newsnight that while Swedish pupils studying in new schools have higher results on average, this is probably a result of the fact that they are mostly from well-educated, middle-class families and are more likely to do better in school anyway. The fact that a majority of Swedish free schools can be found in Stockholm and Gothenburg, the two major cities, also suggests that they are a metropolitan phenomenon.

Others warn that, if Britain goes down the Swedish route, education will be tainted by business and will have to submit to the profit motive, so that pupils in new schools will become pawns of the market. A prime difference – for the moment – between the Tories’ vision for educational reform and the Swedish ‘education revolution’ (in social democratic Sweden, scaling back the state in favour of granting individual choice is still quite a novelty), is that the Tories will not allow British free schools to be profit-making. Three quarters of the 1,000-odd Swedish free schools are owned by private businesses.

But the primary way in which free schools can lead to segregation and social division is in how they encourage children to be educated in the manner deemed acceptable to that particular section of society to which their parents belong. Michael Gove has said that, in Sweden, young people from poor areas have been able to escape failing state schools. Certainly, reducing or scrapping residency requirements is a good thing – though in Sweden proximity, along with sibling attendance and application timing, is one of the entrance criteria for free schools, too. For upper secondary free schools, grades determine admission.

Yes, free schools offer certain opportunities to attend a school in another council area from the one you live in (a good thing), but in the end the free school system, rather than creating a more equal school system, will further separate people along the lines of school background. It offers liberal parents the chance to send their children to the same school, it allows religious children the chance to be educated in religious schools, working-class children to receive vocational training, and so on.

Creating a culture that values learning

There is nothing wrong with communities of interest, but neither is there any point in pretending that free schools are the answer to segregation. As Frank Furedi pointed out in a recent essay on spiked, in principle there’s nothing wrong with private education, but it is not the private status itself which guarantees success. Many of the institutions in Britain’s independent education sector, Furedi said, ‘are built on a legacy of significant cultural and intellectual capital. Their achievements are organically linked to a tradition of excellence, which is supported by generations of influential and privileged parents. Such schools cannot be cobbled together through parental ambition or the workings of the market.’

It would indeed be a great relief if, after New Labour’s constant tinkering with the curriculum and its devaluation of subject-based learning, the British school system could be freed from bureaucratic demands and philistinism. But while politicians should cut back on their meddling in everyday school affairs, they should also accept responsibility for providing a public school system that adheres to high standards for all.


Constant British government meddling in High School courses 'has made exams easier'

Constant meddling by ministers in GCSEs and A-levels is compromising standards and fuelling grade inflation, an exams chief warned yesterday.

Tim Oates, a senior figure in Cambridge University's exam board, said reforms to the content and structure of public tests has made it difficult to ensure quality is being maintained.

He claimed a series of changes could also be fuelling grade inflation, including the splitting of traditional two-year A-level and GCSE courses into bite-sized 'modules'.

Some pupils could be gaining higher grades 'without an improvement in the underlying standard of attainment', he warned.

Put to the test? Exams chief Tim Oates has warned that some pupils are gaining higher grades in GCSEs and A-levels 'without any improvement'. (Posed by models)

Mr Oates's intervention at a seminar in London called into question ministers' claims that education standards have risen since Labour came to power 13 years ago.

Although the Government has claimed a rise in the number of pupils gaining higher grades is down to children working harder and better teaching, Mr Oates, head of research at Cambridge Assessment, told delegates there was enough evidence of grade inflation to 'stimulate anxiety'.

His comments came a week after he said talking about grade inflation could be seen as a 'Ratner moment', a reference to the hapless jeweller boss Gerald Ratner, who in 1991 sent the value of his stores plummeting by calling one of his products 'crap'.

But Mr Oates insisted it was important to tell the public about the 'many and varied mechanisms' that could be behind rising grades.

'Frequent and contrary change' ordered by the Government was 'threatening standards', he warned.

'We have had a period of constant change in the structure and content of qualifications. If you effect continual, unnecessary and inappropriate change in qualifications, it makes holding any standard extremely difficult.

'Maintaining standards is one of the most challenging things an awarding body has to confront. We have to reduce the frequency and scope of change in qualifications. Arbitrary change is not helpful. Frequent arbitrary change is extremely unhelpful in terms of maintaining standards.

'Of course exams have to be updated, but unnecessary change threatens standards.'

And he claimed the exam system gave borderline pupils 'the benefit of the doubt', possibly leading to an increase in grades over time. Modules also had an 'impact'.

'It encourages boys who might perhaps leave everything until the last moment in terms of an examination to have to work right from the first few weeks of the course,' he said. 'They attain more and a higher number of higher grades will be the result.'

Mr Oates said schools, universities, employers and exam boards should devise exams - not the Government. The Mail revealed yesterday how Cambridge rejected 5,800 applicants with three-As last year. Just over a quarter of A-levels taken in the UK are graded A.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Obama pushes 'second-chance' training

Plan to teach illiterate blacks "critical thinking"? Good luck with that!

With as many as 6 million youth under age 24 having failed to finish high school, the Obama administration wants to see its many "second-chance" work-training programs have a stronger impact on the lives of those youth, officials told a Washington briefing yesterday.

One major change is to have work-training programs stress critical thinking and other skills — like being versatile and nimble — that are essential in today's workplace, said Cecilia Rouse, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, to a Brookings Institution panel Tuesday morning.

The days of high-paying, routine-focused jobs like car assembly lines or steel-mill work are "not gone, but they're going," Ms. Rouse said. The strongest job growth is happening in professions in which employees have to "think on your feet" and "problem-solve on the job."

Work-training programs also need firmer exit goals, said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor.

Youth should leave a program with at least some community college credits, for instance, or have a certification as a union-ready pre-apprentice in a trade, or have a clear path into a chosen career field.

Nobody wants a bridge "from Jobs Corp to nowhere," Ms. Oates said. "We have to have a destination and commitment from both ends."

However, the problem of remediating disadvantaged and disaffected youth will likely vex the Obama administration as thoroughly as previous ones.

Jobs Corps has been around more than 40 years, and there are more than 100 federal programs — most of them with work and training components — aimed at at-risk and delinquent youth, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Unfortunately, the impact of those work-training programs has only been "mixed," said Dan Bloom, who oversees projects at the research firm MDRC, at the Brookings event.

Mixed results means that in the short term, a program might help its students get General Equivalency Degrees (GEDs) or achieve some other work-preparation goal, but none was associated with lasting improvements in students' living standards, he said.

Minority youth are particularly at risk for not finishing school — the dropout rates are 20 percent for Hispanics, 12 percent for blacks and 6 percent for whites, federal data show.

There also are mixed expectations about education in some Hispanic communities, said Juan Rangel, chief executive of United Neighborhood Organization, a major community group in Chicago.

Graduations are celebrated, even lavishly, he said. But "culturally, there's no shame in work — it is revered" and seen as equal to a high school diploma, he said. Getting a job at 16 is "just as good."

The U.S. dropout problem is one of the costliest in the nation, said a 2009 study from Northwestern University. Youth without high school diplomas are more likely to be incarcerated, be jobless or have poverty-level earnings (less than $9,000 a year) compared to peers who get college degrees, the study found.

The National Urban League, National Council of La Raza and Youth Build are among the groups calling for a new national re-enrollment program to help dropouts finish high school.


British Teacher who attacked pupil with dumbbell should never have been put on trial, says judge

A teacher who bludgeoned a disruptive pupil with a dumbbell walked free yesterday when a 'common sense' jury acquitted him in minutes. Peter Harvey was cleared of trying to kill a 14-year-old boy who told him to '**** off'.

His trial heard how he was targeted by teenagers who knew he had been off work with depression and stress.

The 'fundamentally decent' man snapped when the science class set out to upset him, with a girl - described as the pupils' ringleader - using a camcorder to film the incident so she could distribute it round the school.

Mr Harvey dragged the boy - a persistent troublemaker - into a cupboard and hit him about the head with a 3kg dumbbell shouting 'die, die, die'. The attack fractured the teenager's skull.

But yesterday a jury swiftly acquitted him of attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Judge Michael Stokes QC told the court 'common sense had prevailed'.

Mr Harvey, 50, had already admitted the lesser count of grievous bodily harm but the judge said he would not be sent to prison.

It was revealed that the judge had already said that the trial should never have been brought because of the teacher's 'previous good character' and his state of mind when he attacked the boy.

Astonishingly, the father-of-two had spent eight months on remand before the trial - despite his own mental state, his wife suffering severe depression and their daughter having Asperger's syndrome.

The judge told him at Nottingham Crown Court: 'You have already effectively served a sentence that is more than the appropriate sentence. 'I am already looking to a community order with a view to assisting you, in view of your recent problems.'

At a press conference called by his union, the teacher sat in silence alongside his wife Samantha, 44, as his solicitor Paula Porter read a statement on his behalf, saying the verdict was not 'received with any sense of joy or triumph'.

Mr Harvey said in the statement: 'I acknowledge, as I have from the outset, that my actions have caused damage and pain. For that reason, I again extend my deepest and sincere apologies and regret for that.'

The trial had heard how the veteran science master had gone from a 'great teacher' admired by all at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, into someone who was snappy and irritable when he returned to work after having four months off with stress and depression.

A group of disruptive pupils set out to 'wind up' the teacher and used mobile phones to circulate evidence of their misbehaviour. The court heard pupils had noticed Harvey muttering to himself when he became stressed in the three months since he returned to work.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said Mr Harvey had been the victim of an 'explosive combination' of a teacher in fragile health and a group of pupils hell-bent on exploiting it - and that questions had to be asked about how
he had been allowed to come back to work by his employers.

'Any teacher who has had to deal with challenging and disruptive pupils will recognise that given the combination of factors that applied in this case how such a situation can easily spiral out of control,' she said.

More here

Australia's new national curriculum looking fairly promising at this stage

The history part is predictably one-sided but Rudd comes out in favour of phonics and grammar. But what the teachers actually do could be another story. That phonics and grammar are evil is almost a religion to some of them

ENGLISH and maths classes will return to basics, history will explore Sorry Day alongside Anzac Day and science will be made more interesting.

The changes form the backbone of a radical overhaul of teaching in Australia that will bring all states and territories under a single curriculum.

An eight-page liftout inside The Courier-Mail print edition today provides a comprehensive guide to the drafts of the first four subjects that span Prep to Year 10 and will be taught in classrooms from next year.

Under the changes, Prep students will be taught to count to 20, learn what a scientist is, write in upper and lower case letters and talk about how families share their history.

Within three years children will learn to tell the time on analogue and digital clocks and research a famous astronomer and by the time they finish primary school, students will be using paragraphs to write well structured English texts.

When they reach Year 10, students will be working with trigonometric ratios and discussing the major economic and political debates in Australia during the 20th century, including workplace reforms.

Parents will be able to follow the curriculum online to get an unprecedented look at their child's learning at every stage of schooling.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the new national approach would end the "pretty patchy standards" in many classrooms and give parents confidence that their children will learn the essentials wherever they live.

"When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank – what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting. These essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids," he said.

Queensland has consistently trailed the nation in literacy and numeracy and the curriculum is a centrepiece of the Government's election promise to deliver an "education revolution". Premier Anna Bligh said a national curriculum would ensure Queensland students would not be disadvantaged.

The draft reveals Prep students will be expected to learn more and play less while Queensland's Year 7 students will face greater demands.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said the Year 7 and Prep curriculums would be a challenge, with "a significant jump" required from both students and teachers. Queensland is one of three states to currently have Year 7 in primary and not high school.

Mr Hart said the Year 7 science and history curriculum was closer to what was currently being taught in Year 8. "It's clear in the science curriculum that there is a significant jump in the expected achievement levels," he said.

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said it was a sad day for Queensland's play-based Prep. "Outdoor play will suffer because of this, I am very disappointed," she said.

The Opposition yesterday slammed the history and science components of the curriculum, saying it was left-wing and contained too much focus on indigenous Australians.

"If we get elected this year, we'll entirely review the national curriculum and if it doesn't measure up to what we expect then, the Coalition will scrap it and start again," education spokesman Christopher Pyne said.

Teachers in 155 schools will trial the subjects for the next three months.

Senior curriculum will be released next month for consultation and draft curriculum for geography, arts, and languages will follow next year.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quality of British school books hit by changes

Constant tweaking of math syllabus mean textbooks are 'less coherent' than in Asia. Far be it from me to defend ANYTHING about British government schools but IQ tests do show greater mathematical aptitude among East Asians so not all the fault for British pupils falling behind can be placed at the door of their schools. The Asian advantage is inborn.

Pupils of East Asian origin do extraordinarily well in Australian schools too. Some Asian first graders have more literacy in English than do some American High School graduates. That is a bold statement to make but I have seen it with my own eyes

Constant changes to the national curriculum have left school textbooks floundering in their wake, according to a major international study of maths performance published today.

The authors of the report single out a deterioration in the quality of textbooks as the key factor for England lagging behind the top performers in international league tables.

"Countries that perform consistently well in maths use carefully constructed textbooks as the primary means of teaching," says the study by academics at King's College London.

"By comparison, use of textbooks in English schools is relatively low and English textbooks use routine examples and are less mathematically coherent than those in other countries. Pupils in high-performing countries (such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore) are also more likely to use textbooks at home than their English counterparts."

The authors, Professor Mike Askew and Dr Jeremy Hogden, argue: "Over the past 20 years the educational system in England has been subject to frequent reform and review. One consequence of this has been to limit the time available for the development and trialling of textbooks with publishers competing to produce textbooks quickly. This has led to a reduction in the quality of textbooks." In a separate study of books used in English, French and German schools, the English textbooks were found to be "less coherent".

The report also comes to the conclusion that children do not have to enjoy maths to do well at it."There is no link between achievement and enjoyment in maths education," it says. "High-performing countries are as concerned over pupils' dislike of mathematics as we are in England." One factor in the success of eastern countries could be the fact that in China, for instance, parents have to buy their children's textbooks. "That may influence expectations," the report's authors argue. "Colleagues in China have expressed surprise that in England textbooks are provided by the state and the lack of expectation that pupils would do extra work from textbooks at home."

One of the most respected international studies into maths standards, known as Timms, places England seventh in the world in the tests for 14-year-olds. In the other respected international maths standards study, Pisa, 18 countries outperformed England.

It explains the Asian pupils' success in maths by concluding: "Pupils in these countries may be less interested in the mathematics itself and more in the status afforded by exam success. Success within such exam-oriented systems requires effort and any pleasure is as a result of the success attained rather than derived through the processes of learning per se."


British grade inflation as Cambridge rejects record 5,800 straight-A pupils

Fears over A-level grade inflation were revived last night after Cambridge revealed it rejected a record 5,817 straight-A applicants last year. The university said the figure was up 323 from 5,494 in the previous year.

The figures highlight the difficulties faced by admissions tutors in sorting between well-qualified applicants. Cambridge is introducing an A* grade to conditional offers this year but most other universities will shun the new grade for the first years of its operation.

Pupils from independent and grammar schools were significantly more likely to be accepted by the elite university last year, despite a multi-million pound drive to recruit talented comprehensive pupils.

Cambridge said that in 2008, state school pupils had claimed their biggest share of places since 1981 - a sign their efforts were paying off. But 2009 figures show that state school numbers slipped back, falling 5 per cent to 1,675.

At the same time, the numbers admitted from private schools rose 3 per cent. It meant that 58 per cent of British students accepted were from state schools, compared with 42 per cent from the independent sector. This compares with a 59/41 split the year before.

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said the fact nearly three quarters of rejects went on to achieve three As - once regarded as an elite achievement and a likely passport to a top university place - reflected the 'highly competitive' nature of Cambridge admissions.

But critics say grade inflation is to blame. In 2009, one in eight students gained a hat-trick of As. Cambridge has set conditional offers of one A* and two As for many students this year, and some for two A*s.

Mr Parks said: 'We hope that will seem to be a fairer system because students who get into Cambridge will by and large have higher grades than those who don't.' He said ministers had been 'bending his ear' over the decision.

There are fears that the proportion of state school pupils will fall further if A* grades are used to discriminate, amid claims independent schools will be better geared to prepare candidates for questions linked to the new grade.

Mr Parks said the university was hopeful of progress in widening access to state school students. He said: 'The proportion of home students from state schools admitted in the 08/09 admissions cycle is 58 per cent. 'While this represents a small decrease, minor fluctuations in the figures are common, and a one percentage point change is not statistically significant.

'Cambridge is pleased that the gains made in this area last year, when we reported an increase of four percentage points, have to a large extent been retained.

'While the figures remain reasonably stable, we are also very conscious of the need to keep reinforcing the message that Cambridge is a welcoming and inclusive place.'


British Fee-paying schools hit by recession as pupil numbers drop

Independent schools have had their first fall in pupil numbers for five years as the recession hits admissions.

The overall figure in Britain fell by 2,645 to 511,886 at the start of this year, down 0.6 per cent. Were it not for a big rise in admissions of overseas students it would have been greater — the number of British children fell by 1 per cent.

Fees rose to an average of £12,558 a year, up by 4 per cent, although this increase was limited by schools deferring building projects.

The independent sector said that given the recession, the drop in pupil numbers had been modest.

In the recession of 1990-91, admissions to independent schools held up — but they fell for the next three years and were flat for a further year before recovering from 1996. Pupil numbers have risen continuously since, bar a fall in 2005 that heads attribute to demographics, and reached a peak last year.

Independent schools continued to be increasingly popular with parents from across the world. Numbers of overseas pupils from non-British families rose by 7.4 per cent to 23,307.

Hong Kong sent the largest number of children to British schools, 5,308, followed by the rest of China, with 3,109. Between them they accounted for more than a third of non-British overseas pupils. There were 2,265 German children, the next largest group, 1,197 Russians and 1,006 Americans.

Schools reported demand to be growing most strongly in Europe and Asia — with the exception of Japan where there had been a significant drop.

More than one in three children at British boarding schools are from abroad, compared with fewer than a quarter six years ago.

Having competed by offering ever-improving facilities during their boom years, independent schools slashed spending on new buildings last year by £42.6 million, or 11.3 per cent, as they sought to keep fee increases down, although in some cases tougher bank lending played a part.

The proportion of children who received help with their fees dropped slightly from 33.1 per cent last year to 32.5 per cent. Of those, only 7.2 per cent were children from families on modest or low incomes on means-tested bursaries. The largest proportion of subsidies was for pupils with siblings at the school or parents on the staff, in the Armed Forces or the clergy, followed by merit-based scholarships.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Groundbreaking School Choice Movement in Illinois

School choice is on the march in Illinois. And if the Rev. Senator James Meeks (D-15) has his way, 22,000 children stand to gain a lifeline out of failing public schools in the Prairie State. Senator Meeks introduced the school choice bill, which passed out of the Senate in March. Last Thursday, the Illinois House Executive Committee approved the measure, and the legislation now awaits action any day in the full House. A press release from the Illinois Policy Institute lauded the school choice bill:
“‘The highest-quality research is clear on two points’, said Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy for the Illinois Policy Institute. ‘School vouchers improve education for students who use them, and the resulting competition improves the performance of surrounding public schools. This is bold policy, but it can change the course of education in Chicago. If the Illinois House passes this legislation, families will have a better choice of schools, public schools will compete for students and improve. This can all be accomplished at no additional cost to taxpayers or public education’.”

The Chicago Sun-Times also came out in favor of the bi-partisan measure.
“Studies in Milwaukee, Charlotte, New York and Washington, D.C., documented gains for voucher students. Reading and math scores improved for African-American pupils on vouchers in New York, Washington and Dayton, research showed.

”What’s more, competition produced by voucher programs prompts improvement in public schools, according to research on programs in Florida, Milwaukee and San Antonio… Meeks’ bill is a modest one. It would offer a lifeboat to 22,000 kids drowning in Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools, 37 of them under state or federal sanctions for at least nine years. If government can’t provide good schools for these kids, politicians, unions and educrats shouldn’t block the private school door offering them hope of a better life.”

In cities where voucher programs have been in operation, children have benefited significantly. Students in the now embattled D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP) have made statistically significant gains in reading achievement equivalent to 3.7 months in additional learning. Extrapolate that out over the lifetime of a child’s educational career, and that’s nearly two full years in additional reading achievement. And while children are making tremendous academic gains, they are also safer and their parents are happier.

Ironically perhaps, Illinois’ landmark school choice language is making its way through the state represented in the U.S. Senate by Richard Durbin (D-IL), author of language now in law that could spell the end the successful D.C. OSP. While Senator Durbin may have been able to thwart the chance for a promising educational future for low-income District children for the time being, the horizon has the potential to get much brighter for children in his home state.

We know what works in education: empowering parents with the ability to choose the best school for their child. School choice puts families in the driver’s seat and holds schools accountable to parents. For 22,000 low-income families in Illinois, they could soon hold the key to their children’s educational future.


Elite colleges thawing on ROTC

Administrators at Harvard, Brown, and other elite universities are softening their resistance to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps more than four decades after the military scholarship programs were driven from campus in the face of fierce antiwar sentiment.

Many professors, students, and administrators say the more welcoming climate is a result of growing support for the military since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But they contend it has become pronounced since February, when Pentagon leaders for the first time advocated overturning the law that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the ranks.

Some college administrators consider the ban on gays in the military discriminatory and have cited it as a reason to keep full ROTC programs off campus long after the Vietnam War ignited the controversy.

“The declaration of military leaders regarding abolition of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy means the fig leaf that university administrators and professors have been hiding behind is about to be withdrawn,’’ said Army National Guard Captain Marc Lindemann, a Harvard Law School graduate who completed an analysis of the issue for the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Harvard, which has not fully recognized ROTC since the antiwar protests of the early 1970s, now allows the small number of its students who participate in the program at nearby MIT to be commissioned as officers in Harvard Yard upon graduation. And in a highly symbolic show of support, the president of the university, Drew Faust, has attended the ceremonies the past two years and is expected to attend again next month. Harvard also now allows cadets to include their ROTC affiliation in yearbooks.

“They have been far more receptive,’’ said retired Navy Captain Paul E. Mawn, a 1966 Navy ROTC graduate who runs the group Advocates for Harvard

ROTC, which he said has 2,300 members. Last year, he said, Harvard “even invited General David Petraeus,’’ the top US commander in the Middle East, to the commissioning ceremony.

At Brown University in Providence, where Army ROTC students must commute to Providence College for drills and military science classes, a top dean has pledged to do more to support students in ROTC, including finding ways to award them academic credit for their military courses.

Last month, the Faculty Senate at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., established a committee to study whether to overturn its ban.

And in another sign of a thaw, the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, predicted after an April 10 meeting with Admiral Mike Mullen, the nation’s top military officer, that “the campus will be much more receptive — this and other universities, if not almost all of them — to rebuilding that relationship.’’

“I think the policy has been anachronistic for a long time,’’ said David Kennedy, a history professor at Stanford who, along with William J. Perry, the former secretary of defense, proposed the university’s committee that’s studying the issue. “We are developing a separate military caste that the [nation’s] founders never intended.’’Continued...

The policy reviews come at an opportune time; ROTC scholarship applications nationwide are increasing between 12 and 15 percent each year, according to officials.

The ROTC program dates to 1862, when the federal government established land-grant colleges and required them to offer military instruction as part of their curriculum. In recent decades, it has provided cadets college tuition in return for a commitment to serve at least four years as an officer in the Army, Navy, or Air Force.

ROTC cadets first studied at Norwich University in Vermont, and the program had deep roots in the Ivy League until the turmoil of the Vietnam War, when the cadets were the most visible sign of the military on campus.

The Army ROTC unit at Harvard abandoned the campus in 1970, followed a year later by the Air Force and Navy units. Other universities did not renew their contracts with the Department of Defense.

While the number of ROTC units rebounded around the country in subsequent years, the program remained exiled from some of the nation’s most selective universities, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Brown, and the University of Chicago.

In the 1990s, these universities maintained that the military’s stance on gays conflicted with their own antidiscrimination policies, justifying a continued refusal to recognize ROTC.

Some universities, including Harvard, also took steps to bar military recruiters from campus, but a 1996 law and a 2006 Supreme Court ruling stipulated they must provide access to recruiters and allow their students to participate in ROTC programs. Still, for ROTC students at universities that do not fully recognize the program, this means not only commuting to another school for military instruction — which is commonplace for other universities that have consolidated ROTC programs — but also not receiving credit for their military science courses.

This year, Harvard has 20 undergraduates enrolled in ROTC at MIT. But it does not credit their ROTC courses or share program costs. Instead, private funds from Harvard graduates cover the estimated $400,000 to provide the students with classroom space, instructor salaries, and other support, according to Mawn.

“We want to get official recognition and create a long Crimson line of ROTC graduates,’’ he said.

Other influential alumni voices say a policy change is long overdue, especially now that the military leadership has changed its view of the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy on gays and lesbians serving in the military.

“The emperor has no clothes,’’ said Theodore Roosevelt IV, a Navy ROTC graduate of Harvard who served two tours in Vietnam. “If the Harvard faculty thinks it’s inappropriate [to embrace ROTC], then they are being intellectually dishonest. Harvard has a long, distinguished history of creating future leaders, including military leaders.’’

A Harvard spokesman, John Longbrake, said there are no plans to significantly change its stance on ROTC, but indicated that the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the policy on gay military service could change that. The university administration, he said, will “follow any federal policy changes with interest.’’

Other schools are doing more. At Brown, which has only one student enrolled in the ROTC program at Providence College, a new student group called Students for ROTC at Brown is circulating a petition calling for Navy or Air Force ROTC departments to be reinstated and urging the university to award credit for Army ROTC cadets at Providence College.

“Our main goal is to reinvigorate the program and increase the population,’’ said Keith DellaGrotta, a senior who started the group but is not in the ROTC.

The university administration, for its part, says it is highly receptive. “We have had some very good conversations about how we can better support students in the program,’’ said Katherine Bergeron, the undergraduate dean of the university. “We are looking forward to, or anticipating, a day when more students are interested in participating.’’

While she said the issue of awarding credit would have to be voted on by the faculty, “I think it would be a very worthwhile thing to do.’’ But she acknowledged there are practical challenges. For example, official recognition might require Brown to have its own department of military science, staffed by members of the Brown faculty.

As for the military, leaders are eager to see the program fully embraced.

After his meeting with Columbia’s president this month, Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he sees a “transformative moment’’ for the ROTC debate. “I think representation . . . in particular [at] universities in the Northeast would be of great benefit to both the universities as well as the military, as well as the country,’’ Mullen said.


Shakespeare vanishing from British classrooms

On the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death, Anthony Seldon asks why we are allowing the world's foremost playwright and England's cultural figurehead to disappear from the classroom

Forget the election, the Clegg bounces and the Brown gyrations. Blank out Icelandic volcanoes and flight disruptions. For today is the happy conjunction of St George's Day and Shakespeare's possible birthday, his 446th no less, as well as the day he died. It is as good a day as any to be celebrating all that is English, and the world's greatest playwright.

Whichever party wins on May 6 must champion a renaissance of Shakespeare in our schools and restore him to his rightful place across the nation. Shakespeare should make us proud to be British.

Familiarity with Shakespeare must begin early, because it is there that the roots are laid for the rest of life. Yet the Bard has been on the retreat in schools. The dropping in October 2008 of tests for all pupils at 14 may have had much to recommend it in our exam-drunk country, but it has damaged the study of Shakespeare, as his plays were a compulsory element. The numbers of pupils in this 11-to-14 age group who have seen one of his plays in the theatre has halved since then.

The new English Language and Literature GCSEs, beginning this autumn, downgrade the importance of studying Shakespeare through live performance in favour of Shakespeare on film. Schools increasingly are turning to "International" GCSEs, which are more rigorous than traditional GCSEs, but do not require pupils to focus on Shakespeare.

He remains central to English Literature at A-level, but a declining percentage of students are now opting for the subject, while media and film studies are growing apace. Increasingly, there are teachers joining the profession who hardly studied Shakespeare at school, and lack the same passion of older colleagues who were reared on him.

Why does this matter? If our aim is to turn out, not civilised and sensitive young men and women, but unthinking automatons, then the dwindling of Shakespeare does not matter. But few Telegraph readers will agree with the new philistinism.

On St George's Day, thanks to Shakespeare, we can feel proud of our English heritage. No writer has contributed more to our national identity. In times of crisis, we turn to him. Churchill's government did so during the Second World War, funding Laurence Olivier's Henry V as morale-boosting propaganda. How many of today's young can quote Hal's Saint Crispin's Day speech: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother"? Most who revelled in the television miniseries Band of Brothers would never have known the origin of the phrase.

Shakespeare has given us so many of them – "more in sorrow than in anger"; "in my mind's eye"; "old men forget"; "a sea change"; "all that glisters is not gold"; "all the world's a stage"; "as dead as a doornail"; "vanished into thin air"; "fight fire with fire"; "wild goose chase"; "foul play"; "good riddance"; "in a pickle"; "more fool you", "mum's the word", "my journey's end", "sent him packing", "the game is up"; "the truth will out". Studying Shakespeare opens the young to a world of language that will enrich their lives for ever.

His plays give unparalleled insights into human nature. He is the greatest psychologist of all time. I have just returned from directing my sixth formers in Othello in the Far East. In Beijing and Ho Chi Minh City, many in the young audience did not understand a word uttered; but they were engrossed. No spinmaster in this, or any other, election has ever approached the manipulative subtlety of Iago.

As with the Greek playwrights, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, the dramas move deeply into the human psyche. They portray all the seven archetypal plots described by Christopher Booker: Henry V thus typifies "the quest"; The Tempest "voyage and return"; Richard III "killing the monster"; Twelfth Night "rags to riches"; As You Like It "comedy"; The Winter's Tale "rebirth and redemption", while Hamlet gives us true "tragedy", with the perceptive young recognising the same story as The Lion King.

Shakespeare is the best representative of the English renaissance, the age of our greatest artistic and intellectual flowering. Our young need to know about it so that they can gain a better understanding of how English culture – their culture – has developed, with Shakespeare its finest example.

The British obsession with exams is a principal factor in the decline. The imperative of drilling students to learn the dross that examiners expect risks killing our best literature. Instead of being a delight to the imagination and spirit, classes can become a dull drudge of learning "correct" quotations and answers.

Teachers increasingly find that they lack the time to bring Shakespeare to life by allowing the students to read the whole play and act out scenes. Instead they do extracts. "I'd like to be more creative, but playing with the text will not attain the school's academic targets," said one teacher, responding to a survey commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Unsurprisingly, less than one fifth of the students agreed with the proposition that "Shakespeare is fun".

Seeing Shakespeare in the theatre is much profounder for students even than watching wonderful films such as Franco Zeffirelli's (1968) or Baz Luhrmann's (1996) Romeo and Juliet, or Kenneth Branagh's (1993) Much Ado. But many professional productions are too long and worthy, even for adults. It is little fun for the students, their teachers or parents, when the coach arrives back at the school gates at 1am.

The RSC, with its special abridged school versions, has it right, and its productions for schools are proving justly popular. You do not need much more than two hours to appreciate a Shakespeare production. The excellent 2007 production of Othello at the Globe Theatre on London's South Bank was marred by its length; the first Act lasted nearly 40 minutes. It could have been cut to 20.

None of the political parties has produced a manifesto on Shakespeare. Let me propose one. All children at primary level should know the stories and see simplified forms of all the major Shakespeare plays. They should learn passages from Shakespeare. At eight, I had to learn "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" from Henry V, and have always been grateful for that (memorising poetry is the entitlement of every child).

Those in their first two years of secondary school should be offered opportunities to act in a Shakespeare, and should study "easier" plays such as Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Thirteen to 16-year-olds should all study a tragedy – Hamlet or Macbeth would be ideal, a comedy such as Twelfth Night, and a history, perhaps Richard III. Lessons should involve acting key scenes, because that helps to create a deeper understanding, and brings character and plot to life. The RSC and other bodies should hold annual conferences and festivals to encourage a love for Shakespeare, and implant passion lost.

On St George's Day, let us remind ourselves that England is a "precious jewel set in a silver sea". Readers will recognise this line from Richard II. How many of our young will continue to do so unless we act now?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Model School Flops

And yet it was so "progressive"! How to understand that? "Progressive" assumptions wouldn't be wrong would they? If your theory is wrong, you certainly won't get the results you expect

It sounded like a great idea: Stanford education professors would create a model school to show how to educate low-income Hispanic and black students. Or, as it’s turned out, how not to.

In March, Stanford New Schools (aka East Palo Alto Academy) — a charter high school started in 2001 and elementary grades added in 2006 – made California’s list of schools in the lowest-achieving five percent in the state.

This month, the Ravenswood school board denied a new five-year charter. The elementary school — now with K-4 and eighth grade — will close in June. Another year or two wouldn’t be enough to improve poor student performance and weak behavior management, Superintendent Maria De La Vega told the board.

The high school will get two years to find a new sponsor: the local high school district has said “no,” but there are other options.

How did it happen? Stanford New Schools, run by the university’s school of education, seems to stress social and emotional support over academics.

Stanford New Schools hires well-trained teachers who use state-of-the-art progressive teaching methods; Stanford’s student teachers provide extra help. With an extra $3,000 per student raised privately, students enjoy small classes, mentoring, counseling and tutoring, technology access, field trips, summer enrichment, health van visits, community college classes on campus, and community service opportunities. The goal is to send graduates to college as critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and “global citizens.”

The school provides students a web of support, reports the New York Times: "High school students have one teacher/adviser who checks that homework is done, and when it is not, the teacher calls home. Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover."

EPA Academy enrolls very disadvantaged students: Most are the children of poor and poorly educated Spanish-speaking immigrant families; the rest are black or Pacific Islanders. Their English skills are poor. Those who come in ninth grade are years behind in reading and math.

In comments on the news stories that have run, I see a common refrain: It’s impossible to teach these kids. Not even Stanford can do it. But other schools with demographically identical students are doing much better. The top-scoring school in the district is East Palo Alto Charter School (EPAC), a K-8 run by Aspire Public Schools, Stanford’s original partner. An all-minority school, EPAC outperforms the state average.

Rather than send EPAC graduates to Stanford’s high school, Aspire started its own high school, Phoenix, which outperforms the state average for all high schools. All students in the first 12th grade class have applied to four-year colleges.

Aspire co-founded East Palo Alto Academy High with Stanford, but bowed out five years ago. There was a culture clash, Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey told the New York Times. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, he said.

Deborah Stipek, Stanford’s dean of education, says the elementary school is too new — in its fourth year, but with only two years of scores — to be judged. Stanford considers the high school a success.

In an email to Alexander Russo, Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who helped create the high school, defended the high school’s “strong, highly personalized college-going program.” The graduation rate of 86 percent exceeds the state average. “In addition, 96 percent of graduates are admitted to college (including 53 percent to four-year colleges) — twice the rate of African American and Latino students in the state as a whole.” Half the students enroll in Early College classes on campus.

More here

Achieve educational freedom, excellence and harmony: Eliminate the public schools

As resistance to ever-bigger government increases, with a commensurate greater appreciation for individual liberty, state constitutions will be re-examined, perhaps even amended. What follows is not a prediction, only an exploration which in turn may lead to better ideas. Finally, readers should bear in mind that eliminating public schooling is not the elimination of education, but rather the expansion of both freedom and education.

Freedom for Taxpayers. Property taxpayers would no longer support a system which even its supporters readily admit must be “structurally improved” [Statist-ese for, “Give us more money”]. Anything in constant need of major improvements, not just routine adjustment, which produces uneducated “graduates” year after year (JayWalking anyone?), for decades on end, is irredeemable, netting very poor investment returns for taxpayers despite huge outlays. Since a sizable percentage of local municipal budgets (usually well over 50%, typically with supplemental “help” from state capitols) is dedicated to school funding, the elimination of this line item will give meaningful property tax relief.

Freedom for Municipalities. In the view of some – though at this point in time not nearly enough – all education is intrinsically coupled with morality, religion, and the reason of life itself. Necessarily it cannot then lawfully be a proper function of government if we’re to be serious about individual liberty and separating church and state. Governmental involvement in matters with religious overtones and nuances including differing worldviews conflicts with the Establishment Clause and state constitutional counterparts. Freed of school budgets, cities and towns will confine themselves to matters within their appropriate purview, generally subjects associated with public safety.

Freedom for Parents. Parents, relieved of a portion of their property tax burden, will have greater disposable income with which they may choose a private school appropriate for their child. Including a home school. Today, families wanting alternative schooling for their child/ren pay two tuitions, one to the chosen school directly, another to the municipality to support the public schools.

Freedom for Students. Relief to students who simply do not want to spend time in school for whatever reason (e.g., attitude, disinterest, safety concerns). Relief from One-Size-Fits-All-ism. How these now-emancipated students will choose to spend their newly-acquired time and freedom will be left to them and their parents. For the student willing to learn there will be choices galore as a thousand points of light evolve following the demise of the public schools. Throughout their history Americans have shown themselves to be both generous and ingenious. From scholarships and tuition assistance (remember, property tax relief will enable all citizens to spend their property tax relief as they see fit, not as government sees fit) to an array of different school types, all manner of ideas will come forth on “what to do with all those children.” To believe otherwise is to concede that we have lost our way as well as our senses of freedom and personal responsibility, and that only overseeing superintendent-esque nannies can save us.

Repealing the truancy and compulsory attendance laws frees students enabling but also requiring them to become personally responsible for usefully filling their time, simultaneously serving as a sobering means of correcting immature attitudes via a dose of reality. Students and parents will of necessity become discerning consumers of those educational services which they desire. Consider this example. A parent/s believes that comprehensive sex education, including awareness of all different perspectives of human sexuality, is an important educational value and that such information should be taught, at all grade levels, to his/her/their child. These parents will choose, through free association and without compulsion, schools accommodating their expressed wishes. While acknowledging the rights of those parents to choose as they may, other parents might avoid those choices, preferring instead other educational values which for them may include emphasis on math & science, fine arts, building trades, mechanics, religious instruction, and so forth. They too will decide through free association and without compulsion. Open choice aka freedom aka liberty will enable each educational consumer to receive the specific educational values which he/she/they seek/s without the application of governmental force upon others who do not share or want those educational choices.

Freedom for Teachers. To those who tsk-tsk the viable idea of doing away with the public schools, they should know that eliminating the public schools will not be the end of education. To the contrary it will encourage genuine learning. In an atmosphere of non-compulsion students who want to learn a chosen curriculum will present themselves before teachers who want to teach. The discipline problems of which teachers complain, including bullying, will largely disappear. Teaching to willing students is a joy unto itself. Having been a teacher in several venues – as seminar instructor on tax law matters to other accounting, tax & legal professionals; as host of numerous client seminars; as a homeschooling parent – I am keenly aware of how fulfilling it is to teach receptive students.

Freedom from Incompetence or Indifference. Every large public school system has its “rubber rooms” (search, “rubber rooms Stossel”) to which incompetent, insubordinate, or dangerous teachers are assigned, at full pay, while their cases for dismissal wend their way through a labyrinth of union contract provisions. Why such rooms? Because in the perverse world of public schools it is next to impossible to get rid of bad teachers. Despite the overriding concern, stated endlessly by politicians, bureaucrats and unions, of how much they all want to “educate the children,” the game is really about protecting government and its employees. Big government types, invariably “led” by Democrats and lapdog teachers’ unions, are the biggest offenders. Bureaucrats and union members have little concern whether children learn or not; their principal worry is their own paycheck. And please, let’s not hear about the many fine, dedicated teachers, blah, blah, blah. Even if true, these teachers are like students and parents: trapped in the grip of the union–big government vise. The fine intentions of these teachers will never loosen this grip; only an adherence to limited government and a commitment to personal responsibility will do that.

Freedom for the Uninvolved. Elimination corrects an inequity visited upon those who have no current direct stake in the educational system. Why should those who have no school-aged children be burdened with the schooling costs of those who do? If you choose to raise children, your obligations include clothing, sustenance, housing, and education. Before setting out, the cost is to be counted. The decision to start a family was yours, not that of your elderly, childless, or empty-nest neighbors. It doesn’t take a village to raise a family: it takes a responsible mom and a responsible dad. As matters now stand your neighbors, not exercising any influence in your family-raising decision, are sent the bill for educating your children. All sorts of rationales are given for continuing this unfairness. They reduce to one: We benefit when all citizens are educated, or in bumper sticker language, If you think public education is expensive, try ignorance. This slogan’s encapsulated arrogance assumes that people are incapable of acting in their own best interests and would forever remain inert until the Nanny State intercedes and affects a rescue, all for their own good you must understand. Who else but leftists sell people for such short money? If those who are inadequately prepared understand that the principal difference between themselves and others who have better prospects, employment, or social standing, is education, common sense says that the former will know what to do.

Freedom to Choose. Each of us has different driving wants and needs; we choose cars accordingly, based on factors which include cost, safety, options, color, type (sedans, wagons, SUVs, minivans, pickups, light & heavy duty trucks, et alia). Yet the choice of schooling, also subject to a variety of factors, is far more determinative of an individual’s life direction than the choice of a car whose life span is a matter of mere years. Freedom prevails when parents and students, acting as consumers, make thoughtful choices for their purposes among competing alternatives with funds that would otherwise have been taken from them and wasted on a scheme that has failed for decades. Even leftists endorse educational choice, but only for themselves. When given the chance, leftists never choose the public option. Obama's daughters go to private schools, as did Chelsea Clinton, as did Ted Kennedy's kids. If this is leadership by example, then the people too should be able to choose. “Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.”

What is more, genuine educational choice (without a public option) will defuse, at least in the school setting, many of society's divisive issues, issues brought into the public schools through raw political power imposed on students, a captive, generally powerless audience. Without forced public schooling there would be no more of the seemingly endless battles on church-state separation and courses on human sexuality. Gone and unmissed will be battles over religious songs and symbols, whether religious days special to a particular faith should be recognized as school holidays, refusals to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, prayers at games or graduations. Mandatory sex education and associated hot-button topics such as abortion counseling, creationism, evolution, environ-ism, and countless other subjects which at best are only marginally tangential to core academic subjects, will be dealt with in a manner agreeable to students and parents since they as consumers will be freely choosing schools compatible with their wishes and expectations in these areas.

Tuition will be reasonable as schools will no longer be forced by law to deal with the selfish demands of public employee unions. Rather than serving the interests of their employees and administrators, schools will compete as every other successful consumer service competes, by placing the customer, here parents and students, not employees, as Priority #1. Sometime in the 1980s I heard Lane Kirkland, a then important union leader, speak at an American Federation of Teachers function. After his prepared remarks he took some questions one of which touched on the declining academic achievements of students. His blunt and forceful answer remains with me to this day. Paraphrased, “When children become union members paying union dues, then I'll care about children's education.”

Ending educational compulsion will bring freedom and freedom will bring responsibility and accountability. Schools in the post–public school era will be burdened to please their customers, parents and students, if they wish to succeed. Today, failing public schools are neither punished nor eliminated; rather, in the eccentric world that defines the “public domain,” they're rewarded by being allowed to continue, often with increased funding, in order to “self-correct.” Bailouts may be new to Wall Street & Detroit carmakers, but bailouts have long been a part of failed public school systems.


Social mobility in England 'lags behind other countries'

And useless schools are a big part of the reason

Parental background has a bigger impact on children’s education achievement in England than in many other developed nations, according to a major report.

Pupils with poorly educated mothers and fathers were more likely to fail at school in England than in countries such as Australia, Germany and the United States, the study suggested.

Researchers also found that the link between pupils and their parents was almost as strong now as it was in previous generations, despite billions of pounds spent by Labour to boost standards among the poorest children.

The study – commissioned by the Sutton Trust – suggested that pupils born into families with a history of underachievement were still much more likely to be resigned to low-paid jobs when they grew up.

Sir Peter Lampl, the charity’s chairman, said failure to improve social mobility risked pushing the UK to the “bottom of the class in education’s world order”. "Education mobility points the way to the level of future social mobility in this country,” he said.

“While there are some signs of progress, we are still not serving the needs of the current crop of school pupils as well as we should and parental background remains a much more significant determiner of children's life chances in the UK than elsewhere.”

The findings suggested that the divisions were down to the fact that well educated parents were more likely to play the system to get sons and daughters into the best secondary schools.

“The achievement gap widens during the teenage years, almost entirely because children with degree educated parents are far more likely to attend higher performing secondary schools, benefiting from a combination of better resources, teaching, advice and positive peer effects,” the report said.

“A major obstacle to education, and consequently social mobility, is therefore the high levels of social segregation in English secondary schools.”

Researchers at Essex University analysed the test scores of thousands of children born in 1989/90 – and educated almost entirely under Labour – and compared them with results of equivalent exams by children born at a similar time in other nations.

The findings show that in England, 56 per cent of children of degree educated parents were in the top quarter of test results at the age of 14, compared with just nine per cent of youngsters whose parents left school without any O-levels – a gap of 47 percentage points.

This was twice the equivalent gap seen in Australia – 23 percentage points – and bigger than the 37 point gap in Germany and 43 point gap in the US.

Researchers also looked at a separate measure – the number of books a child has access to in the home – which is seen as another indicator of parental education.

The study found that in England, children with access to more than 100 books were 4.7 times more likely to be among the top performers in maths at the age of 13 compared with pupils who had access to less than 100 books.

In Australia, children were three times more likely to do well, in the Netherlands they were 3.1 times more likely, while in Ontario, Canada, teenagers with access to a large numbers of books were 2.9 times more likely to succeed.

The gap was also bigger than in countries including Turkey, the Slovak Republic, Korea, Italy and Belgium.

In a further analysis, researchers looked at GCSE and test results in England and compared them with previous generations.

The findings show that in 2006, the odds of obtaining at least five good GCSEs were four times higher for children with degree educated parents than those whose mothers and fathers did not go to university.

This was only slightly better than for previous generations of children, the study said. For children born in 1970, the odds of obtaining good O-level results were 4.6 times higher if their parents were degree educated, while for those born in 1958 the odds were 6.5 times higher.

The report said that the gulf had closed slightly over time but "stark achievement gaps between children of degree educated parents and those of uneducated parents remain".


Monday, April 26, 2010

American Federation of Teachers Funded ACORN After Video Scandals Hit

Union officers who are "shocked and angered" over proposed budget cuts in N.J. that will supposedly harm young students have thus far failed to find their voice where the spending habits of their respective national organizations are concerned.

A good starting point would be with the $352,510 The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) funneled to ACORN in 2009 just as the organization's employees were caught on videotape describing to uncover investigators how they can arrange for legal loans, set up brothels, advance child prostitution and human trafficking.

"It looks like the AFT essentially outsourced ACORN to do the union organizing work," Nathan Mehrens, a counsel to Americans for Limited Government (ALG). "This is incredibly ironic given that many unions consider outsourcing evil and almost criminal. It might also be worth asking a rhetorical question of why does the union need to outsource work to shady operatives? If the union's services were so desirable then the teachers would be beating a path to their door and not the other way around."

The AFT, which is part of the AFL-CIO, is not alone here in its support for ACORN.

In fact, U.S. Labor Department financial disclosure forms show that the teachers unions as whole have contributed over $1.3 million to ACORN and its affiliates for political activities and representational activities, since 2005. Some of the larger donations include $100,000 from the National Education Association in 2008 and $200,000 in 2007 for political activities. The Teachers AFL-CIO Local Union 2 contributed $406,730 in 2008, $457,778 in 2007, and $346,300 in 2006 for representational activities.

The mission statements and public pronouncement of the AFT and NEA are instructive here in that both organizations posture as strong advocates for school children, teenagers and their families.

“Since its beginning, the National Education Association (NEA) has been ahead of its time, crusading for the rights of all educators and children,” the union declares on its web site. Not to be outdone in children caring department, the AFT’s vision for community betterment transcends national boundaries.

“The mission of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, is to improve the lives of our members and their families; to give voice to their legitimate professional, economic and social aspirations; to strengthen the institutions in which we work; to improve the quality of the services we provide; to bring together all members to assist and support one another; and to promote democracy, human rights and freedom in our union, in our nation and throughout the world.”

As it turns out, ACORN has its own international vision.

ACORN staffers in Baltimore were caught on video instructing James O’Keefe, the undercover filmmaker, and his partner Hannah Giles how they could falsify documents and obtain benefits for 13 “very young girls” from El Salvador.

Former ACORN insiders who have formed their own alternative whistleblower group in response to financial scandals claim that funds are misappropriated and that there is no guarantee a particular donation will actually be used for its stated purpose.

Corporations and foundations that have funded ACORN in the past have said that they are longer supporting the organization as a result of the on-going scandals. House and Senate members also moved to cut off funding albeit temporarily.

Up until 2009, it was plausible for supporters and financial backers to claim that they were unaware of criminal activities. But the 2009 LM-2 form available through the Department of Labor shows that the AFT’s support for ACORN continued even as the videotapes were being released.

Meanwhile the teachers unions have turned their ire on N.J. Gov. Chris Christie for imposing spending restraints they claim are “irresponsible” and damaging to the future of education. Here is a statement from Barbara Keshishian, president of the NEA’s N.J. affiliate:

“We are shocked and angered that Gov. Christie has taken his attack on public schools to an irresponsible new low,” she said. “After cutting $1.5 billion from education in the first three months of his administration, he is now calling on local residents to make his cuts even deeper and more harmful to students by voting down their local school budgets.”

“Gov. Christie apparently has no qualms about robbing New Jersey's 1.4 million students of their chance at a quality public education,” she continued. “But to do so while insisting on a significant tax cut to New Jersey residents who earn over $400,000 per year is an inexplicable and unconscionable position to take.”

Whatever the merits or defects of Gov. Christie’s budget proposal, union officials who are genuinely concerned about the young people they claim to champion should re-evaluate their own internal financial transactions.

Although ACORN announced that it has officially dissolved as of April 1, an internal memo from Bertha Lewis, the CEO and Chief Organizer, made it clear the organization and its national apparatus still exists under new names and are soliciting continued support. Moreover, Brooklyn prosecutors have also cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing after a four month investigation that has come under criticism. But it’s evident the organization has thus far managed to sidestep serious investigations.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that said it was unconstitutional for Congress to cut off funding for ACORN. But even allowing for this setback, the renamed affiliates remain well positioned to receive continued support from foundations, corporations and individual donors. In fact, public funding is only a small percentage of its financial base.

The lead ACORN organization registered in Arkansas and New Orleans has received $3 million from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, $821,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation, $595,000 from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and $65,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, according to the Capital Research Center (CRC). That’s not an exhaustive list.

Apparently, the organization formerly known as ACORN could remain a potent force through the 2010 elections and beyond. But should self-described child advocates be part of this coalition?

Unfortunately, the disclosure requirements that have made it possible to connect ACORN with its labor benefactors are being rolled back under President Obama; a byproduct of lobbying efforts by union bosses.

Even if the teachers unions publicly distance themselves from ACORN, verification could be problematic. Why not call for greater transparency, openness and accountable “for the children” so concerned citizens can keep taps on the financial support for organizations that wink and nod in the direction of criminal enterprises?


More than 7,000 British parents hit by truancy convictions as courts punish soaring levels of school absenteeism

More than 7,000 parents a year are being convicted over their children’s truancy, figures show. The Government’s own statistics have revealed absenteeism is reaching record levels. They show the number of parents prosecuted and sentenced for their children skipping school has soared fivefold in just seven years.

But critics have accused Labour of failing to get a grip on the underlying causes of truancy, including low levels of academic achievement and poor behaviour.

Since tough truancy sanctions were introduced in 2001, more than 32,500 parents have been convicted, with nearly 100 jailed for up to three months. Yet figures show that truancy is still rising, with it hitting a record high during the last school year when 67,000 children skipped lessons every day – an increase of nearly 2,000 on 2007-08.

The most recent figures, released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal 9,506 parents were taken to court in 2008 for failing to ensure their children go to school. Of these, 7,291 were found guilty. The most common penalty was a fine of up to £2,500. A total of 391 were made to undertake community service, while 11 were immediately imprisoned. This compares with 2001, when just 1,961 were prosecuted and 1,595 found guilty.

Between 2001 and 2008, a total of 32,567 parents have been convicted. Figures for 2009, available in the autumn, are expected to show a continuation of the rising trend.

Figures released earlier this year by the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that in 2008-09, the truancy rate – the percentage of school registration sessions missed without permission from parents – rose to 1.05 per cent. This was up 4 per cent from 1.01 per cent in 2007/08.

It marks a 44 per cent rise since 1996-97, when the truancy rate was 0.73 per cent. Nick Gibb, Tory schools spokesman, said: ‘We need to address underlying causes of truancy – the fact that so many children still struggle with reading and poor discipline in schools fuels bullying.’

Ming Zhang, an education welfare officer from Kingston Council in Surrey, said: ‘What seems to be happening is councils are setting targets for the number of children they prosecute,’ he said. ‘I think this is dangerous. Performance should be based on the number of children in school and not the number of parents in court.’

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said a tougher approach had brought about the ‘slight rise’ in those punished for unauthorised absences.


Australia: One Victorian State high school enforces standards

NOT many people would figure that as school girls' skirts rise, education standards fall. Last week Ms Wade made headline news when it was revealed her state high school regularly checks the length of its girls' skirts.

Yes, that's right, headline news. This "back to basics" stuff sure did cause a fuss. This was a revolt against the slackness of the post-'60s decades and so was news.

And I was relieved to hear it. Until I checked what else the school is doing to warrant such gasps of shock. In fact, Bentleigh shows that our social pendulum may still have a long way to go before it's swung back to anywhere near where it was.

The school won praise for also insisting students line up in an orderly fashion before class and sign good behaviour contracts in the senior years. What's more, they risk failing subjects if they wag school too often. Talk about revolutionary. Or, as Ms Wade put it more demurely: "We are raising expectations".

I so don't have a problem with any of this. It's all the little things - the skirt lengths, the nose rings, the coloured beanies, the hooded jackets - that give a school an identity, or, rather, an oh-dear reputation.

Sometimes such fashion statements can be refreshing - or surly - assertions of individuality outside school. But in a school they can be signs the school is failing to teach the kids that individuality often has to be balanced with a sense of community if we're all going to get on with each other and thrive.

Such sloppiness also signals that the school doesn't dare to impose any expectations on children, who signal back that they owe the school no duty.

Same story with lining up, which is a basic acknowledgment that life can't be a me-first free-for-all if we want a civil, well-run school or any other form of society. Cracking down on wagging and bad behaviour is also basic stuff in socialising children, teaching them that some kinds of discipline are actually going to make their lives better, not worse.

I most certainly am not hankering for a shut-up-or-smack kind of teaching, but the fact that Ms Wade's very modest changes have made such news makes you realise many other schools must have given up insisting on anything at all.

No wonder there's been such a drift away from state schools to private schools, which for some years have insisted on the kind of things that in a state school seem so brave.

But I'm still worried, and not just because Bentleigh's new rules are not so much back to basics as plain basic, yet are seen as so new. Why do Bentleigh's students now need to sign "contracts" to behave well, when it should be a school's unchallenged right to insist they must?

Why are students under this "tough" policy allowed as many as seven unexcused absences a semester before they fail a subject? Why does the school make a boast of having just two assemblies a term at which the national anthem is played?

When all this is hailed as "tough rules", I'm reminded again how soft the rest must be.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

California Dumbs Down Tests

When it comes to education trends, as California goes, so goes the nation. Which is all the more reason to be concerned about the latest effort in California to dumb down standards. The University of California's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) has launched another salvo in its long-running war against the SAT, the test used by many colleges and universities to assess academic achievement among high school seniors. This is only the latest in a series of moves by BOARS against the SAT, but this one may be a stalking horse to eliminate standardized tests in general, especially if they conflict with the goal of promoting racial and ethnic diversity.

BOARS has already eliminated a requirement that University of California applicants take at least two subject-matter tests in addition to the SAT Reasoning Test. Now BOARS is taking aim at the SAT directly. What makes the action more suspicious is that BOARS' own report notes that the SAT-R was developed specifically in response to testing principles it promulgated and that the new test "adds significant gains in predictive power of first year grades at UC." Nonetheless, BOARS is now recommending that students forgo the SAT in favor of the less-popular ACT.

Both tests have been accepted for more than 30 years and do a good job of predicting first-year grades. So why is BOARS now signaling preference for one test over another? After reading the report, it's hard to come away without feeling that the real target is standardized testing in general.

As numerous studies and the raw data on test scores have shown, performance on standardized tests varies not just between individuals but also between different racial and ethnic groups. In general, black and Latino students perform less well as a group than do white and Asian students. Since BOARS is committed to boosting the number of black and Latino students admitted to the UC system, standardized tests that do not produce politically correct results are a problem. It's not too far-fetched to wonder whether BOARS' effort to discourage students from taking the SAT may be the first step in getting rid of standardized tests altogether.

But getting rid of standardized tests is not the way to solve the problem of underperforming black and Latino students. Standardized tests, whether they be the SAT or state tests taken to assess elementary and secondary school performance required by the No Child Left Behind Act, merely document the skills gap that exists between whites and Asians on the one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. The answer isn't fixing the tests to produce more even results between racial groups but improving the skills of those students who lag behind.

In 1996, voters in California did away with racial preferences in college admissions to state schools by enacting Proposition 209. Since then, many administrators in the UC system have tried to figure out a backdoor way to boost admissions of blacks and Latinos to the university's flagship schools, UC Berkley and UCLA. What they've failed to notice is that black and Latino enrollment system-wide is up over the levels when racial preferences were common. The students now enrolled under more race-neutral standards are doing just fine, graduating in higher percentages than they were when racial preferences admitted many students to campuses where they couldn't compete with their peers because their grades and test scores were substantially lower.

Eliminating standardized tests or dumbing down their contents doesn't help anyone. It simply sweeps evidence of academic disparities under the rug, where they can't be dealt with. If California really wants to improve education for all its students, it will work to keep high standards in place and encourage students to test what they have learned. California students prefer the SAT to other standardized tests, judging by the numbers who take this test now. BOARS' job should be to encourage students to make their own choices about which test they prefer, not to pick one test over another -- but most of all not to discourage the use of standardized tests altogether in the hopes of promoting greater diversity.


Texas corrects Leftist bias in history textbooks

Textbook publishers long ago learned that publishing textbooks for Texas was an opportunity to hit a gusher, like Jett Rink's gusher of oil in the movie "Giant." With more than 4.7 million students and a school board that adopts textbooks for the whole state, Texas attracts publishers from all over to make pilgrimages to Texas to get drafts of their books approved according to Texas standards. It follows that this one-size-fits-all cuts the cost of textbooks for schools in the rest of the nation.

This year, the Texas Board of Education landed itself in the middle of the culture wars when it rewrote the social studies curriculum, inviting a debate that mirrors the values conflict between traditionalists and multiculturalists. With partisans on the right and on the left, it's the 21st century's "battle of the books." The argument is tilted a bit to the right, with 10 Republicans and five Democrats deciding on changes in the books.

"We are adding balance," Dr. Don McLeroy, the conservative leader on the board, told The New York Times. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left. "

Counters Mary Beth Berlanga, a longtime Texas board member and Hispanic activist, "They are rewriting history." She complains that conservatives ignore Hispanics and want to portray a white America. She and her liberal friends accuse the board of "racist ideology" and spreading "capitalism propaganda."

Calmer observers suggest the changes are a necessary correction of liberal bias. Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the New York-based American Textbook Council, an independent research organization that reviews history and social studies textbooks used in the nation's schools, argues that "for two decades, multiculturalists have tried to supplant the older view of Americans as religious dissenters, pioneers and immigrants intent on making a freer and better life, a force for good in the world, a nation that regulated reform and advanced civil rights to all."

He describes American parents as shocked and dismayed to discover their children are reading history as "a setting for power struggles between groups, or as an unjust and patriarchal society whose rapacity -- from Jamestown to Vietnam -- needs exposure and explication." Columbus isn't a discoverer and explorer, he's an invader and exploiter. Harriet Tubman is a saint. Thomas Jefferson is a sinner.

Although the more than 100 changes recently adopted by the selection board tilt rightward, they are mostly only mildly corrective. The American experience of moving westward is to be described as "expansionism," not "imperialism." The "free enterprise system" replaces the negative connotations that have come to adhere to the word "capitalism" (as in "capitalist pig"). The goals of the Great Society will be broadened to include discussions of its "unintended consequences."

Students will actually learn about "the conservative resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s," including the way Phyllis Schlafly led the successful fight against the Equal Rights Amendment and Newt Gingrich succeeded with the Contract With America and the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994.

These textbook controversies may soon become moot, as more schools rely on electronic books. Students would do a lot better to read different works of actual historians than the rehashed, reinterpreted history often written by hacks. Herodotus and Thucydides such hacks are not.

History, as the cliche goes, is always written by the victors, but a strange thing has happened to American education since the 1960s. Our triumphs have been trivialized and twisted, demonizing America with no celebration of what America stands for in the hearts and minds of the millions across the world.

Instead of emphasizing the abolition of slavery, the educationists encourage our children to wallow in the horrors of that "moral, social and political evil" before Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves, along with an enormous expenditure of blood in the Civil War. Instead of focusing on the courage of our ancestors, educationists obsess on what went wrong. They indulge the mindset that sneers at the tea parties as "rabble and racist," ignoring the growing aspiration to return to the smaller government as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

Lord Byron scoffed that history was the "devil's Scripture." Arnold Toynbee defined history as "a vision of God's creation on the move." The textbook wars will continue, because they're too big even for Texas.


Australia: Too-hot topics out of secular ethics course

THE state government made a last-minute decision to remove a hypothetical scenario involving designer babies from secular ethics classes being trialled in public schools as an alternative to scripture classes.

A hypothetical terrorist hijacking has also been removed from ethical scenarios put to students.

The baby scenario was removed some time between late last week and early this week after the Herald reported the Anglican and Catholic churches had lobbied the Keneally government over the ethics trial as a threat to the future of religious education.

Phil Cam, an associate professor of history and philosophy at the University of NSW, who developed the ethics curriculum, confirmed the two scenarios had been omitted, saying they were considered "age inappropriate".

The Catholic Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, the spokesman for the NSW and ACT bishops on the ethics trial, said he was not aware that the designer baby and terrorist scenarios had been part of the original draft and their inclusion was not something the Catholic church had lobbied against.

A spokesman for the Anglican church also said the Anglican church had not been aware of these topics in the curriculum.

A spokesman for the NSW Education Minister, Verity Firth, confirmed that the controversial topics had been removed.

The NSW Greens MP and spokesman on education, John Kaye, said: 'There are no reasons why these issues should not be discussed in primary school classrooms as students are exposed to them through news reports and television."

Bishop Ingham said he did not oppose the teaching of ethics in schools but did not want children enrolled in scripture classes to be excluded from them. He said he would call on parishioners of the Catholic diocese to sign petitions asserting the importance of scripture classes.