Saturday, July 31, 2010

Obama defends education policies to critics

Challenging civil rights organizations and teachers' unions that have criticized his education policies, President Barack Obama said Thursday that minority students have the most to gain from overhauling the nation's schools.

"We have an obligation to lift up every child in every school in this country, especially those who are starting out furthest behind," Obama told the centennial convention of the National Urban League.

The Urban League has been a vocal critic of Obama's education policies, most notably the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program that awards grants to states based on their plans for innovative education reforms. A report released earlier this week by eight civil rights groups, including the Urban League, says federal data shows that just 3 percent of the nation's black students and less than 1 percent of Latino students are affected by the first round of the administration's "Race to the Top" competition.

Obama pushed back Thursday, arguing that minority students are the ones who have been hurt the most by the status quo.

Obama's reforms have also drawn criticism from education advocates, including prominent teachers' unions like the American Federation of Teachers, who have argued that the reforms set unfair standards for teacher performance.

Obama said the goal isn't to fire or admonish teachers, but to create a culture of accountability. He pinned some of the criticism on a resistance to change.

"We get comfortable with the status quo even when the status quo isn't good," he said. "When you try to shake things up, sometimes people aren't happy."

Seeking to ease his strained relationship with the powerful teacher's unions, Obama hailed teachers as "the single most important factor in a classroom," calling for higher pay, better training and additional resources to help teachers succeed.

"Instead of a culture where we're always idolizing sports stars or celebrities, I want us to build a culture where we idolize the people who shape our children's future," Obama said.

The president laid the groundwork for what he called "an honest conversation" about education with comments on several recent developments that were designed as sweeteners for his mostly minority audience.

For instance, he said his goal with his domestic agenda, including the economy, health care and other priorities, is to create "an economy that lifts all Americans _ not just some, but all." That comment earned him significant applause and pleased murmurs in the room.


Why more spending doesn’t produce better schools

A new study from Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute has exposed the fraud continually perpetuated upon the taxpaying public—and visited upon the poor families trapped in criminally failed government schools—that if the state (in this case, California) just had more money it could deliver a good education.
The study concludes that, notwithstanding all the talk of “education budget cuts,” while school spending steadily increased between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 budget years, overall, direct classroom expenditures declined.

Indeed, California spending on education has not been “cut” at all—but, rather, radically increased during the period:
During the five year period, total school spending per capita (not including capital spending) increased by 25.8 percent, which was far greater than the growth in per capita personal income or inflation. During the same period, direct classroom expenditures statewide went from 59 percent of total expenditures to 57.8 percent. These statewide totals reflect a very wide range of variance among individual school districts, whose classroom expenditure ratios ranged from more than 70 percent to less than 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the 2009 National Report Card, produced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, shows California public school students ranking almost last in the country: the average 4th grader’s math score in California ranked 47th, higher only than those in Mississippi, Alabama and Washington D.C., while the average 8th grader’s score ranked even lower—48th—higher only than those in Mississippi and Washington D.C.

The failed Oakland school district is a case study example of the public school system’s top-loaded cost structure, with 152 students per administrator, versus a statewide average of 250. In a district with a budget of nearly $13,000 annually per student, doesn’t anyone wonder why the Oakland school board is considering placing a $195 per parcel tax on the November ballot to raise $20 million a year to raise teachers and staff salaries?

Unfortunately, it’s very rare for such ballot measures to fail. Time and again, voters are extorted for more and more taxes on themselves in the name of the children. And, time and again, every “budget crisis” is visited only upon students, with class sizes increased while the number of school hours, and arts, sports, and library programs are cut.

Meanwhile, while families across California have tightened their own belts in response to economic hard times:
Certificated supervisors and administrators enjoyed a 28% pay hike per student over the five-year span. Pay for classified supervisors and administrators shot up 44% over that time.

It’s time to learn the lesson once and for all: competitive, private enterprise results in the efficient provision of products and services for consumers—even poor, disenfranchised, politically powerless consumers. Government monopolies produce ever-worse services for which they extort ever-greater payola.


Some hopeless Leftist floundering over education spending in the Australian State of NSW

School maintenance canned so Kristina Keneally can pay for heaters -- but schools typically have high maintenance requirements so this just cannot be done without further public outcry. That dangerous heaters continued to be installed after many warnings is also amazing. There is no doubt about the need for a fix of them

TEACHERS are up in arms over a decision by the NSW Government to defer or drop critical public school maintenance to pay for a minister's promise to replace all unflued heaters.

Last week, education bureaucrats were told funds used to fix broken pipes and holes in fences would be put on hold to cover the new heaters.

The latest embarrassment for the Government comes with Premier Kristina Keneally calling an emergency Cabinet meeting on Tuesday where she has asked all ministers to come up with five new ideas each to fix the state.

The NSW caucus is believed to be not happy with Ms Keneally and Treasurer Eric Roozendaal's performances.

Several ministers are complaining behind the scenes about alleged abusive behaviour by Mr Roozendaal towards other ministers and concern he has too great a role in running the government.

Some senior Labor sources say the Education Minister Verity Firth should resign and concentrate on winning her seat of Balmain after she was publicly humiliated over the heaters issue by Ms Keneally and Mr Roozendaal.

Ms Firth was reprimanded by the Premier and Treasurer after saying on Tuesday the Government was going to replace 50,000 heaters at a $400 million possible cost, without Cabinet approval.

Ms Keneally's handling of the Firth issue caused anger in caucus, with some MPs considering installing John Robertson in the Lower House before the election, possibly even to become leader.

A senior federal source argued the Gillard Government could not announce a major NSW transport project during the election campaign because "no one would believe" any promise involving the State Government.

Powerbroker Graham Richardson said yesterday: "The [Keneally] Government obviously isn't doing enough, you don't get a 25 per cent swing in [the Penrith] by-election, the biggest swing in history, if you are doing enough."

Principals were told this week urgent repairs for problems like broken pipes and holes in fences would be put off.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Verity Firth said some maintenance funding would be "reprioritised", resulting in delays of up to six months.

School asset managers were told on Wednesday afternoon the money would be redirected to pay to replace unflued "low-NOx" gas heaters in 100 schools.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Chicago School Refuses to Host Rove, Welcomes Obama Appointee

A private university in Chicago that refuses to host former senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, arguing that welcoming a "political" speaker ahead of the midterm elections could threaten its tax-exempt status, has added an Obama administration appointee to address the student body.

Loyola University Chicago is hosting Eboo Patel, an Obama appointee to the White House interfaith council, next month, calling into question the school's rationale for rejecting Rove's appearance.

"The news that Eboo Patel, an appointee of the Obama administration, will be allowed to speak at Loyola University Chicago, while Karl Rove was essentially barred, is further proof that the (university) administration either has zero understanding of tax law or is unabashedly biased," said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for Young America's Foundation, a conservative outreach group that was sponsoring the Rove speech.

University spokesman Steve Christensen told that the topic of Patel's speech does not have a political motive, which would violate current speaker policy.

"Our university considers its on-campus speakers on a case-by-case basis, and very carefully," he said. "Dr. Patel's speech on Aug. 27 will focus on the importance of interfaith leadership and transformative education, two topics that are directly associated with the university's mission. This is a very different lecture than what was proposed by our College Republicans, who informed the university in their proposal that they are inviting Karl Rove 'to speak in October 2010 to speak about the upcoming elections and their impact on public policy.'"

The university previously argued that the timing of Rove's appearance for the upcoming school year could imperil its 501(c )(3) tax status.

"The timing of this event is problematic given the campaign cycle," Kimberly A. Moore, director of student affairs and Greek affairs, told students in an e-mail. "Loyola has to maintain impartiality in order to protect our tax-exempt status."

Adam Kissel of the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told that the school appears to be applying a "double standard."

"We often see rules applied strangely as a proxy for the real issue that a particular administrator or the whole institution doesn't want the lecture to happen and a pretext is developed to keep the speaker off of campus," Kissel said. "We see that time after time."

Rove, a Fox News contributor who gained prominence as the architect of former President George W. Bush's successful campaign strategies in 2000 and 2004, is not working on any campaign this season.

The school has offered to host Rove after the midterm election on Nov. 2, but the conservative group said Rove would not be able to speak then because of his busy schedule.

Conservative students point out that the school has hosted partisan speakers on election years before. In September 2004, the school hosted Howard Dean, who ran for president that year. A couple of weeks after his speech, political activist Ralph Nader, who also ran for president that year, spoke on campus -- a speech that was advertised as a campaign event in which donations were solicited.

Patel, whom Obama appointed last year to his advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will discuss interfaith leadership and transformative education, according to the school's provost who is sponsoring the speech. Patel was named by Harvard's Kennedy School Review as one of five future policy leaders to watch.

"It is very disconcerting to see Loyola not live up to the standards of academic freedom that they frequently preach about," said Sean Vera, the student who tried to bring Rove to the campus.

"I never expected Loyola would prevent the free exchange of ideas and they would do so in such a partisan manner," he said.

But the university said times have changed. "In recent years, the IRS has become increasingly more scrutinizing over not-for-profit universities and their tax-exempt status as it relates to political or potentially political speakers invited to come on campus," Christensen said. "With that in mind, our university has become more cautious in its decision-making."

Kissel, of FIRE, called that a "false argument." "It does not threaten the school's 501(c )(3) status to permit a student group to bring even a politician to campus while the politician is in office," he said.


Overhaul of British High School exams 'could damage maths'

Major reforms of A-levels will lead to a “collapse” in the number of children studying mathematics to a high standard, according to teachers. Coalition plans to toughen up courses could turn teenagers off the subject, it was claimed, leading to the closure of university maths departments.

The comments by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, which represents teachers and academics, is the latest criticism of the Government's proposed overhaul of A-levels.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, wants to phase out AS level exams taken half-way through the traditional two year course, as well as "bite-sized" modules that students can re-sit to boost their grades. He plans to place a greater emphasis on end-of-course exams.

But ACME warned that making maths A-levels harder would “mean fewer students choose to take the qualification”.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Prof Dame Julia Higgins, ACME’s chairman, warns that toughening up maths A-level “will mean fewer students choose to take the qualification”.

The letter – revealed in the Times Education Supplement today – says: “There is a real danger in making A-level mathematics significantly harder than it is currently. It would make it impossible to retain appropriate provision for the full range of students.”

The last major overhaul of A-levels – in 2002 – led to a 19 per cent drop in the number of pupils studying maths in the sixth-form. Maths is already seen as one of the toughest subjects.

She adds: “We feel it is very important that we warn you that implementing such a policy runs a genuine risk of repeating the collapse in the numbers studying A-level mathematics witnessed in 2002.

“We believe that it is very likely that we would again see university mathematics departments closing as a result of this fall in numbers.”

Last week, Cambridge University also criticised proposed changes to A-levels, claiming it could lead to a drop in the number of students from state schools admitted to top institutions.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “It’s clear that we need to restore confidence in public exams. We’re listening carefully to universities, employers and academic subject bodies’ views to ensure A-levels are rigorous and equip young people for higher education.

“We will look in detail at exam structure, including whether schools and colleges should be able to offer traditional two-year A-levels alongside or instead of modular A-levels. We will set out detailed next steps later this year.”


Ancient Greek 'to be taught in British state schools'

Ancient Greek will be taught in state primary schools to boost children’s language skills, it emerged today. Some 160 pupils in three schools will be given lessons in the native tongue of Archimedes and Herodotus from September. The move follows the successful introduction of Latin to dozens of state primaries in England.

The Iris Project, a charity campaigning for the teaching of the Classics, which is leading the latest drive, said the subject had substantial knock-on benefits across the curriculum.

Lorna Robinson, charity director, who will be teaching the one-hour lessons every two weeks, told the Times Education Supplement: “People can be daunted at the idea of learning a language that has a different alphabet as it may feel like an additional challenge.

“Actually, though, we¹ve found that while it does add an extra dimension to the learning it¹s one that people take to quite quickly and really enjoy once they get going. “Ancient Greek is just a wonderful language, full of beautiful words and fascinating concepts.”

Pupils will be taught the alphabet, basic grammar and vocabulary, as well as learning about ancient Greek culture, such as the development of the Olympic Games and the comedies of Aristophanes.

Latin is currently more widely taught than ancient Greek, although it is still mainly confined to private schools. Advocates include Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who recently gave a Latin lesson to teenagers at a London secondary.

Under new plans, three Oxford primary schools will be given Greek lessons from September. A further 10 will get one-off taster sessions.

Sue Widgery, head of East Oxford primary in Cowley, where children speak 26 different languages, said: We were sufficiently enthused by Latin to give it a go with ancient Greek. It heightens children’s sense of language, they can see the connections between languages and it is fun.”


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Employment School

Disastrous dropout rate and token qualifications leave many unemployable

If you want to know one reason why the nation's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high -- and why President Barack Obama is tackling the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers on reforming public schools -- just stop at the D.C. Department of Employment Services' dreary Naylor Road One-Stop Career Center on the District's Southeast Side.

On any given day, out-of-work residents step off buses and walk past shuttered stores into the unemployment office to attend mandatory employment counseling sessions or prepare résumés for their latest job hunt. While there are more white-collar workers -- many from the surrounding suburbs in Virginia and Maryland -- than in previous years, the vast majority used to work in old-school blue-collar work, office jobs such as executive assistants, and service sector positions such as hospital cooks and hotel maids. Many of them came through here before, looking for work before the recession began three years ago -- and will likely be back here again because they are high school unqualified for all but the most-menial of labor.

Those are just the D.C. residents actually looking for work. There are at least 38,491 residents in D.C. -- more than a tenth of the workforce -- who are either chronically underemployed (or haven't had a steady full-time job) or have gone a year or more without a job. Many of them are either high school dropouts or barely graduated from D.C.'s woeful public schools. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, their lack of education and skills would have meant nothing; they would have easily found some kind of gainful middle-class employment. But in an age in which many blue-collar jobs require an apprenticeship or tech school degree, most dropouts are shut out altogether. And no amount of federal stimulus package will do more than keep them on the dole.

For all the sparring between Capitol Hill Democrats and Republicans this past month about extending federal unemployment subsidies beyond the current allotment of 99 weeks (that's a year and eleven months, if you're counting), little has been said about the long-term jobless -- who will likely be a drain on taxpayers for decades to come -- and one of the most-persistent underlying causes of this problem: The nation's woeful public school systems. With some 1.3 million teens dropping out of high school every year (and millions more graduating with inadequate reading and math skills), even more will either land in prison, on welfare, or engaged in some less-than-legal pursuits. This will further fuel the growth of big government that is draining the nation's long-term economic prospects.

Almost none of this has been solved with the $600 billion in unemployment subsidies and federal stimulus dollars -- including subsidies for job-training programs that cannot solve the problems of illiteracy and poor math skills plaguing the permanently underemployed -- nor will it be addressed through future entitlements. The best solution in the long run is the one part of President Barack Obama's agenda that has wide bipartisan support: The array of charter school expansion and school reform efforts -- including the $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative -- now fiercely-opposed by the NEA, the AFT, and their allies among traditional public education and old-school civil rights groups. It will take an array of school choice measures, new curricula standards, an end of the system of seniority- and degree-based benefits and pensions, and a more-entrepreneurial culture within education to stir the future growth needed to overcome a $300 billion anchor on the nation's economy.

FOURTEEN PERCENT OF HIGH SCHOOL dropouts age 25 and over are unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, double the jobless rate for college graduates and four points higher than high school graduates. But that rate obscures the true level of unemployment. The employment participation rate for dropouts is a mere 45 percent versus 62 percent for high school grads and 70 percent for college grads; most dropouts aren't even working in the first place.

The problem is even worse for the newest generation of dropouts, who, unlike earlier generations, are coming into the workforce in an age in which old-school manufacturing jobs such as those in the auto industry are no longer plentiful. Fifty-five percent of high school dropouts age 16-to-24 are unemployed, according to the BLS' 2009 survey (the most-recent data available); this is double the unemployment rate for collegians and high school grads not attending college. Even worse, 52 percent of all dropouts aren't even working or seeking employment of any kind; since they aren't likely to be sitting in classrooms studying for a degree (and may not even be seeking a General Educational Development certificate), most are unlikely to be involved in any productive activity.

What kind of jobs can any of these dropouts get? Well, not many. They can't get any of the positions listed by Forbes last month as the top-paying blue-collar careers. This includes elevator installers-repairmen (average annual income of $67,950), who must spend four years gaining training for a job that combines electrical, structural and mechanical engineering skills; and electrical and electronics installers -- who work in power plants -- who earn an average income of $67,700 after earning an associate's degree and years of apprenticing with veterans. Save for commercial drivers (who must also attend technical school in order to drive big rigs), most of the jobs need the very kind of strong math and science skills required for high-tech white-collar gigs.

What else can't a dropout do? Well, there's welding in auto factories; gaining entry into an apprenticeship program requires strong knowledge of trigonometry (for bending metal into the right angles). Same for machine tool and die makers -- who craft the tools needed for every area of manufacturing -- who must also understand how to use computer-aided design software in their work. Since most dropouts struggled with basic reading and math while in school, it isn't as if they would get a handle on anything more complicated. The prospects are even dimmer outside of blue collar work.

Sixty-three percent of all jobs require some form of higher education (a wider array of learning than one traditionally thinks, since it includes colleges, technical schools, and even apprenticeship programs). This includes working in the auto industry, where 60 credit hours at a community college is the minimum requirement for gaining employment. Some will argue that the degree requirements are certainly just ways to screen out unqualified applicants (and note that they are waived for high school grads with years of experience). And that is the point. Save for the few who land in entertainment or bootstrap their way to entrepreneurial success, most dropouts are essentially out of luck.

For decades, federal and state officials have funded an array of job retraining programs to help get dropouts into gainful employment. In 1998, those programs were assembled under one roof through the Workforce Investment Act. Although this has made it easier for unemployed workers to seek out programs, it is unclear that this has helped make dropouts more employable.

The GED -- or "Good Enough Diploma," as comedian Chris Rock once called it -- was only marginally useful for dropouts of previous eras, as they earned less than either high school grads or collegians over time; it is even less-useful now. In June, a team led by Nobel Laureate James Heckman concluded that it has "minimal value of the certificate in terms of labor market outcomes." The most-recent effort at workforce retraining involves community colleges, the single-biggest destination for all college-bound students. But community colleges graduate just a fifth of freshmen in three years -- and most high school dropouts wouldn't even qualify to attend.

THE LONG-TERM PROBLEMS FOR DROPOUTS points out the single-biggest problem for the American economy -- and the single-biggest threat to the concept of small government most conservatives hold dear: A public education system that is hardly doing the job. Thirty-three percent of American third-graders -- and a quarter of all eighth-grade students -- read Below Basic proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Based on the high numbers of freshmen forced to take remedial math and English, it is clear that K-12 isn't doing much better with high school graduates either.

The fact that America's public schools were never really intended for actually providing an education, but for inculcating civic values (and to prevent the expansion of Catholic schools), is certainly part of the problem. But the other problems -- the low quality of instruction among America's teaching corps; the lack of high-quality school options for all but the wealthiest parents; and English and math curricula that would hardly match up to (often low) 19th-century standards -- can and should be fixed before more dropouts add stress to taxpayer's pockets.

Oddly enough, education reform is the one area where Obama may be on track. The $4.3 billion Race to the Top program has managed to spur states such as California and New York to eliminate (or modify) caps on charter schools -- the most-successful form of school choice -- and force efforts to bring private-sector performance management to evaluating the work of teachers (just 2.1 percent of them are ever dismissed currently). Although a clever form of unfunded mandate, it is at least one that can force education in the right direction. In D.C., for example, schools boss Michelle Rhee took a step in the right direction by sacking 241 teachers deemed unable to improve student achievement.

Some federal school reform money would be a lot better in the long run than another $750 million a week in federal spending that will only triple even if the Republicans take control of Congress next year.


Atheists 'could set up free schools' in Britain

Atheist state schools could be established under the Government’s education reforms, Michael Gove has said. The Education Secretary said he would be "interested" to look at proposals for non-religious schools from figures such Professor Richard Dawkins. Prof Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said last month that he approved of the idea of setting up a "free-thinking” school.

The comments follow the publication of Coalition plans to give parents' groups, teachers and charities powers to open their own schools at taxpayers' expense.

Addressing the Commons education select committee, Mr Gove said parents opposed to faith-based schools should be properly catered for in the state education system.

"One of the most striking things that I read recently was a thought from Richard Dawkins that he might want to take advantage of our education legislation to open a new school which was set up on an explicitly atheist basis,” he said. "It wouldn't be my choice of school, but the whole point about our education reforms is that they are, in the broad sense of the word, small "l", liberal. That they exist to provide that greater degree of choice."

Around a third of the 21,000 state primaries and secondaries in England are currently faith schools. The majority are Anglican or Roman Catholic, with small numbers of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu schools.

By law, all other schools must provide religious education and stage a compulsory Christian assembly every day, although parents have the power to withdraw children.

Last month, Prof Dawkins, a former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, said he approved of the idea of atheist schools. “I would prefer to call it a free-thinking free school,” he said. "I would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion. “Instead, children should be taught to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded."

Mr Gove, whose two children attend primary faith schools, told the cross-party group of MPs that he "recognised that there are some people who explicitly do not want their children educated in a faith-based setting".

He said: "One of the principles behind our education reforms is to give people the maximum amount of choice so that those people, and they may not themselves necessarily have a very strong religious faith, but who believe that the ethos and values of faith-based education are right for their child, have that choice but others who want a different approach can take it as well."

Speaking afterwards, Mr Gove said: "If Prof Dawkins wants to set up a school we would be very interested to look at an application."


Privately-educated British Conservative politician says 'rich, thick kids' do better than 'poor, clever children'

He may be a bit thick himself -- as he seems to ignore the importance of home background. Families who pay for their kid's education are probably more involved in it and make sure their kid does the hard yards

'Rich thick kids' end up overtaking 'poor clever children' at school, Michael Gove said yesterday. The Education Secretary complained that success at school is still too closely linked to children's family background. Privately educated Mr Gove said a ' yawning gap' had opened up between the attainment of poorer youngsters and their wealthier peers.

But last night head teachers' leaders protested at the use of the word 'thick' by a cabinet minister. Mick Brookes, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'Thick is not a word that is currently in use in schools. It is demeaning to children.'

Mr Gove cited research showing that wealthy youngsters at the bottom of the ability range pull ahead of brighter but poorer children around the age of six, and the gulf continues to widen as they move through school. His warning came as the Government launched a review of educational under-achievement in England's poorest areas.

Giving evidence to MPs yesterday, Mr Gove said he had been 'very struck' by research by the Institute of Education. 'Children from wealthy backgrounds of low cognitive ability overtake children from poor backgrounds and high cognitive ability before they even arrive at school,' he said. 'So in effect, rich thick kids do better than poor clever children, and when they arrive at school the situation as they go through gets worse.'

The Institute of Education research analysed data relating to 17,000 children born in 1970. Their educational development was tested at 22 months and at intervals during their schooling. Their qualifications at 26 were also checked.

Children from affluent families who were in the bottom 25 per cent of the ability range at 22 months went on to overtake youngsters from the poorest backgrounds who started out in the top 25 per cent. They began to overtake around age six or seven, and the gap widened as they progressed through school.

Mr Gove said the Coalition's school reforms would help close the attainment gap.

Under measures which passed into law this week, state primary and secondary schools will be able to opt out of local authority control and operate as state-funded but independent academies. The policy is intended to boost academic standards by giving schools greater freedom to decide the curriculum, teachers' pay and school year.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teachers lose out in latest Obama funding bill

The House is sending to President Barack Obama a bill to fund the troop surge in Afghanistan after accepting the reality that adding money for domestic programs was unfeasible.

House Democrats reluctantly voted for the $59 billion measure Tuesday that will pay for Obama's 30,000-troop surge and other programs such as replenishing disaster funds. But the bill was stripped of money to keep teachers on the job or boost student aid. The vote comes a week after the Senate soundly rejected the larger House-favored bill.

The bill contains $33 billion to pay for the new troops in Afghanistan and other Pentagon programs.

Obama requested the war money in February, but the bill became a staging ground for a battle over adding money for domestic needs.

Mr. Obama said today there's not much new in the tens of thousands of leaked Afghanistan war documents. He made clear he's still full a committed to his troop surge strategy, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.

In the House Tuesday, the Mr. Obama's own party was split down the middle on a crucial war funding vote. Liberal war critics used the leaked documents as a weapon. Mr. Obama found himself in the unusual position of relying on Republicans to pass his bill, reports Reid.


The Eunuch Horn

By Mike Adams (I don't know how Mike has the stomach to read all the trash he dissects below but I guess somebody has got to do it)

In recent years, the rise of postmodernism in our culture and in our system of education has been undeniable. That it has been accompanied by an increase in the desire of some discontented souls to “redefine” themselves along the lines of certain variables has been equally undeniable. The most prominent of these variables is gender.

When your son or daughter takes “Sociology of Gender” classes it is likely that he or (more likely) she will encounter the works of Kate Bornstein, a transgender performance artist and writer. She (?) proclaims that she (?) doesn’t “personally identify as a man or a woman” although she (?) concedes that she (?) passes for a woman in the eyes of most.

But things are more complicated than that for Kate. She (?) says that when she (?) was growing up she (?) was a boy. If you’re wondering how a person can be two different genders in a lifetime – even without the surgery – here’s a revealing quote: “I would even go so far as to say Jewish men are a different gender than Christian men, and that’s the way I see it, but it’s not a bad thing! It’s just a fact.”

It’s hard to know where to begin to dissect this kind of stupidity, which passes for scholarship in sociology classes. I’m tempted to begin with her idea that there is a multiplicity of genders, which vary by race. But there is a much more basic flaw in evidence. Notice that Bornstein believes (or pretends to believe) that something can be “the way she sees it” and “just a fact” simultaneously.

Regrettably, this is not the only time Bornstein attempts (simultaneously) to be both a postmodernist and a proponent of absolute truth. She attempts to do no less than to discard the law of non-contradiction, which says that something cannot be both “A” and “not A” simultaneously. This is all just laying the groundwork for saying that one can be both man and woman simultaneously.

Of course, according to Bornstein, one can find some comfortable middle ground along an endlessly nuanced gender continuum: “What I’m thinking is that different kinds of men might as well be tagged as different genders, different ways of expressing oneself within some sort of male middle range, none of which measures up to the cultural ideal.”

What bothers Bornstein is that gender is “a hierarchical dynamic masquerading behind and playing itself out through each of only two socially privileged mono-gendered identities.” She goes on to say that “the power of this kind of gender perfection would be in direct proportion to the power of those who can stake legitimate claims to those identities.”

It is not at all surprising that Bornstein employs Marxist terminology in her (?) “scholarly” analysis of gender. Her (?) assertion that there is a gender pyramid, the height of which “measures the amount of power a person wields in the world,” is old hat. Nor is there anything novel in her enumeration of the factors that help one climb to the top of the hierarchy. Among those factors are:

Being white, being a citizen of the USA, being a Protestant-defined Christian, being heterosexual, being monogamous, being politically conservative, being a capitalist, being physically healthy with access to health care, possessing all rights available under the law, being logical, possessing a well-formed, above-average-length penis, a pair of reasonably-matched testicles, and at least an average sperm count …

Bornstein concludes that all of these factors, which make for a “perfect identity,” are an oppressive force against which there must be some sort of rebellion. Feminists must rebel against “man” as a perfect classification. African-Americans must rebel against “white” as a perfect classification. Jews must rebel against “gentile” as a perfect classification. Bisexuals, lesbians, and gays must rebel against “straight” as a perfect classification.

Finally, transgendered folks must rebel against “gendered” as a perfect classification. In a world without classifications, there can be no contradictions.

Sociology students who read Kate Bornstein are urged to resist moving selfishly upward in the so-called gender pyramid. Instead, they are asked to simply dismantle the pyramid altogether. But before they are asked to rebel against the gender pyramid, Bornstein asks students this pointed question: “What does simply being the gender you were assigned at birth give you?”

It’s not at all surprising that Bornstein’s readers are asked to contemplate what their God-given gender assignment does for them. In higher education, the focus is always on them. It is certainly never on God.

In the past, I have offended some transgendered persons by asking these two questions: 1) Does the act of removing a man’s penis make him into a woman? 2) If your answer to #1 is “yes,” does re-attaching it to his forehead make him a unicorn?

Those two questions are my little way of asking the transgendered community whether there is any limit to their delusional belief that they can simply be whatever they perceive themselves to be. Their “reassignment” of mental illness – saying that others who oppose them suffer from “trans-phobia” – supplies the answer.

Clearly, today’s “intellectual” is unwilling to admit that a man who thinks he is a woman is mentally ill. But what about the man who thinks he is God?

Before long, “intellectuals” will side-step the issue. There will be no contradiction between being human and not-human. We will have rebelled against “God” as a perfect classification.


"Special needs" is a fad that harms British children

Pupils are being subjected to all manner of crank treatments in the name of helping them, says Francis Gilbert

Twenty years ago, when I started teaching in a tough, inner-city comprehensive, only three of my pupils were labelled as having "special educational needs". All three were extreme cases: one girl liked to throw chairs at her teachers, another had severe hearing problems, and another didn't have a working stomach.

Today, things have swung to the other extreme: classrooms are swamped by pupils classified as "SEN", or having learning difficulties. All told, one in three of those aged between six and 16, or more than two million children, are identified as having some sort of learning difficulty. And it's getting worse: in the past two years, the number of under-fives with learning difficulties has risen by almost 20 per cent, and the number of teenagers being diagnosed has also increased exponentially.

Why is this? Is it that our children have got a lot thicker? Are teachers getting better at identifying problems? Or is some kind of chronic "SEN" inflation going on?

Partly, the explanation is medical. A recent survey by Glasgow University showed that babies born even a week early have a greater propensity to develop special needs. Overall, eight out of 10 severely premature babies go on to have learning difficulties, with two out of 10 having a severe disability. Even a decade ago, many such children would have died; with today's improved survival rates, they will grow up to enter the education system.

At the same time, teachers are undoubtedly getting better at spotting SEN. There are, of course, huge variations from school to school, with some, particularly in more deprived areas, identifying as many as 70 per cent of their pupils as such. To my mind, they are justified in doing so, because there is a clear link between social deprivation and what we call SEN: poverty breeds students who really struggle to read and write. In that inner-city classroom I mentioned, alongside the three children labelled as having special needs there were many others who struggled to read even simple picture books. Nowadays, most would be diagnosed as having SEN. And with good reason – they needed a lot of extra help.

It's a moot point, however, as to whether they have genuine difficulties, or are just the victims of parents who don't value education. These parents usually hate their child being labelled in this way, and cause more problems by making their children feel ashamed of their diagnosis. At the other end of the social scale, I've found that many middle-class parents are chomping at the bit to have their child dubbed SEN. In fact, increasing numbers of pupils don't seem to have any learning difficulties whatsoever. What they do have are pushy parents who know that a SEN diagnosis means that their kids will get preferential treatment: extra time in exams, more attention from teachers, and even special equipment like laptops and MP3 players.

That said, many teachers, myself included, like to "work the system", too. We realise that having a child diagnosed as SEN is greatly to our benefit because it means that we get extra resources – and it also lets us off the hook if they fail their exams.

In other words, pupils categorised as having special needs have been wrongly labelled: a government survey of teenagers classed as having SEN in 2009 showed that almost half had no such diagnosis six years earlier. A particularly worrying trend is the increasing numbers of children who are being identified as having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a phrase which in the teaching profession is a politically correct euphemism for "being completely out of control".

According to data released under Freedom of Information legislation, there has been a 65 per cent increase in spending on drugs to treat ADHD over the last four years. Such treatments now cost the taxpayer more than £31 million a year. In the US, the use of prescription drugs to "cure" learning difficulties has become a billion-dollar industry.

This "medicalisation" of SEN is deeply worrying; it promotes the lie that a child's learning difficulties can be solved by drugs rather than good teaching. It's meant that all sorts of self-help quacks are grabbing money from schools and gullible parents by promising to "cure" children with herbal remedies, head massages, visualisation techniques, brainwave measurement, or the chanting of mantras.

All of which makes me think that perhaps it's time to junk the term "Special Educational Needs" altogether, along with much of the jargon that goes with it. Sadly, these terms have become excuses to hide behind rather than steps towards solutions. Instead bandying around vague pseudo-scientific terms like "dyslexia" and "ADHD", we need to demand that learning difficulties are identified simply and specifically. If a pupil has a problem with reading books aimed at their age range, let's call it precisely that, rather than saying he's "dyslexic" – a notorious word that seems to mean something different every time it's used.

It's time we all realised no amount of jargon, drugs or massages can solve our children's problems. The only real solution, as it always has been, is hard graft.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

California could adopt national English, math standards

The moves below are all well and good but the fallacy is the "one size fits all" approach. Less bright students probably need a more drill-oriented approach while others do not. The deplorable final standards achieved by many students could probably be significantly remediated by a more drill-oriented approach. It worked in the past

Think of what you've read in recent days, and the list might include a Facebook post about a friend's Grand Tetons vacation, an online review of the Droid X phone and an explanation of why your insurance isn't covering your latest doctor's visit.

Yet children in school read mostly fiction, from "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to "Macbeth."

In a few years, K-12 students' reading lists may expand to include more of that other stuff: more multimedia texts, scientific and technical articles, persuasive arguments and other nonfiction — and fewer storybooks and novels.

On Aug. 2, the state Board of Education will consider this major shift in how California's public schools teach reading when it votes on a controversial set of national Common Core Standards. If proponents prevail, California will join the majority of states in adopting the first nationwide standards for public education.

The goal in adding informational texts to the English-language standards is to prepare students for real-world reading, to use other courses such as science to teach reading, and to improve literacy and comprehension.

Although California standards currently include nonfiction — by 10th grade, for example, students are supposed to be able to analyze some workplace documents — the proposed standards progressively shift the focus.

"By grade 12, it's closer to 50-50" literature and information, said Gregory Geeting, a Sacramento County school board member and chairman of the state's 21-member California State Academic Content Standards Commission that this month recommended the standards.

If the state Board of Education approves the Common Core Standards, it likely will be several years before new curriculum will appear in classrooms and on state tests.

But particularly at a time of budget distress, why would California rewrite its 1997 standards and embark on an expensive venture to redo curriculum? For one, meeting next month's deadline will strengthen the state's résumé to compete for federal stimulus funds known as Race to the Top.

Still, some say California's current standards are just fine. A new study by the Thomas Fordham Institute said California standards already deserve an "A," ranking among the most rigorous in the nation.

But those stellar standards have failed to produce stellar students. California pupils languish near the bottom on national comparison tests.

One theory is that "California standards seem to be a mile wide and an inch deep," said Kathy Harris, a Santa Rosa teacher and member of the state commission that reviewed them.

California children are adept at learning grade-by-grade skills but don't master them, she said. In reading, for example, they focus on phonics, word recognition and other discrete skills, but not on comprehension. "They start to falter pretty much as soon as comprehension is addressed" in higher grades, she said.

And it's the same in math, as kids power through fractions and then decimals, but too often arrive in middle school without a solid footing in either. The Common Core Standards simplify standards and deepen learning at each grade level so students have more time to nail and to apply other new concepts.

Studies have shown that teaching reading through subjects such as science or social studies can be more effective partly because they reinforce words.

"In a book about electricity, you're going to see the word 'electricity' 15 times. Informational texts are a terrific way for kids to learn reading and vocabulary," said Jacqueline Barber, associate director of the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley and codirector of a science-literacy project.

The Common Core Standards will likely involve science and social studies teachers at all levels in teaching literacy rather than just content. Experts believe this will help address a problem reflected in another dismal statistic: about 60 percent of California State University freshmen last year needed either remedial English or math or both. As Harris put it, "They know what mitosis is, but they get into college and can't read the text."

While perhaps the most visible shift in the curriculum will come in English, the most heated debate on the commission focused on math. The commission ended up tacking on California's requirement for eighth-grade algebra to the Common Core's regimen that allows students to take the course in the ninth grade.

That means that the K-7 curriculum will prepare students for eighth-grade algebra, but those students who still aren't ready may take some pre-algebra in eighth grade. In effect, the state will no longer insist that every California student take algebra by eighth grade.

Williamson Evers, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a commission member, voted against the math standards. "This will have the effect of destroying the algebra in eighth grade program as we have known it," he said.

Literature advocates were less vociferous. But those concerned about the Great Books losing out to iPhone diagrams in the high school curriculum shouldn't worry, commission members said.

The standards still are more focused on preparation for college rather than the workplace, said Kenji Hakuta, a member of the national committee reviewing the proposal. "There's a very thin representation of auto-repair manuals in the Common Core."


More private universities for Britain

The pronouncement by David Willetts, the Universities Minister, that the UK should have more private universities is very welcome.

He has also confirmed that BPP, the business and law college, has been granted ‘university college’ status, the first such award for 34 years. Of course, BPP is very different from a conventional redbrick university but it shows that new thinking is afoot in higher education.

Currently, the UK’s only private university is at Buckingham, which first admitted a small student body – less than 70 – in 1976. Ironically, given today’s severe financial constrains, it was also set up during a period of real economic stringency – 1976 was the year of Britain’s infamous loan from the IMF. Moreover, at that time, there was genuine hostility, especially within the higher education system, towards a new private university.

In the subsequent 34 years, the University of Buckingham has prospered, with a student base almost 1,000 strong, recruited mostly from overseas.

The Buckingham experience provides three crucial lessons for any putative investor in a new public university.

First, Buckingham has specialised in offering the cheaper undergraduate courses – law, economics, politics, history, languages etc. Until relatively recently, there were few courses in the more expensive science-based subjects.

Secondly, the attraction of two-year courses is compelling. Most university courses elsewhere are longer, albeit with extended holidays – hence, a major cost for taxpayers.

Thirdly, the availability of substantial rental accommodation is key to boosting financial returns, since it markedly reduces the marginal cost per student. New universities generally need either expensive on-site accommodation or rely on rental properties in nearby suburbs.

Willetts is hoping interested parties will come forward. But will they?


One in five British grade-school exam results is incorrect, say exam watchdogs

Exam results could soon come with warnings that the grades may not be accurate. The move is being considered after exam watchdogs said as many as one in five children is given incorrect SATs marks.

A report from Ofqual revealed that 17.4 per cent of grades awarded in English reading tests could be wrong because of inconsistencies in marking and flaws in the test design.

But the findings will shake confidence in SATs in the week before national results are issued. Pupils received their grades this month. Ofqual is considering issuing cigarette packet-style health warnings alongside results in SATs, GCSEs and A-levels to serve as a reminder that grades cannot be totally accurate.

Meanwhile, teaching unions called on ministers to consign SATs ‘to the dustbin of history’ because it was ‘highly dangerous’ to rely on the results. The findings will strengthen their resolve to stage a repeat of the testing boycott that saw 25 per cent fewer pupils take SATs this summer. The tests are supposed to be taken by all 11-year-olds in maths and English.

According to a report issued yesterday, 1,387 pupils who sat a sample reading test in 2007 had only an 82.6 per cent chance of being graded correctly.

The accuracy of the grading was measured by analysing the given result using a series of statistical formulae.

The chances of receiving an incorrect grade were substantially higher for pupils on the borderline between grades.

Pupils on the line between levels two and three, for example, had only a 37 per cent chance of being given the right level, it emerged. If these pupils were to have taken another similar but completely reliable test, 63 per cent would have been given a higher level.

Further analysis showed that only 70 per cent of the 1,387 pupils who took the English reading test achieved the same grade when they took a separate but similar test. Reading test results are combined with writing to give an overall English mark.

Teachers fear that the results for writing are even more variable than reading. Maths is less vulnerable to marker error.

Ofqual suggested that, in future, grades in public exams could be accompanied by figures giving an idea of the likely inaccuracies involved.

This practice was already widespread in the U.S, it said. The watchdog is looking at grade accuracy in GCSEs and A-levels as part of an ongoing study into the robustness of exams.

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘The Government would be incredibly foolish to continue to keep its head in the sand and ignore this.’


Monday, July 26, 2010

Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools

Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.

Their support has surprised many in education circles, given states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum.

The quick adoption of common standards for what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school is attributable in part to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. “This has been the third rail of education, and the fact that you’re now seeing half the nation decide that it’s the right thing to do is a game-changer.”

Even Massachusetts, which many regard as having the nation’s best education system — and where the proposed standards have been a subject of bitter debate — is expected to adopt the standards on Wednesday morning. New York signed up on Monday, joining Connecticut, New Jersey and other states that have adopted the standards, though the timetable for actual implementation is uncertain.

Some supporters of the standards, like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, worry that the rush of states to sign up — what Ms. Weingarten calls the “Race to Adopt” — could backfire if states do not have the money to put the standards in effect.

“I’m already watching the ravages of the recession cutting the muscle out of efforts to implement standards,” she said. “If states adopt these thoughtful new standards and don’t implement them, teachers won’t know how to meet them, yet they will be the basis on which kids are judged.”

The effort has been helped by financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to most of the organizations involved in drafting, evaluating and winning support for the standards. The common core standards, two years in the making and first released in draft form in March, are an effort to replace the current hodgepodge of state policies.

They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level. Second graders, for example, should be able to read two-syllable words with long vowels, while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.

Adoption of the standards does not bring immediate change in the classroom. Implementation will be a long-term process, as states rethink their teacher training, textbooks and testing.

Those states that are not winners in the Race to the Top competition may also have less incentive to follow through in carrying out the standards.

“The heavy lifting is still ahead, and the cynic in me says that when 20 states don’t get Race to the Top money, we’ll see how sincere they are,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of an education research group in Washington, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a longtime advocate of national standards. “They could just sit on their hands, chill out and say, ‘Well, we don’t really have the money right now to retrain our teachers.’ ”

Yet even promises of support for national standards are a noteworthy shift. Many previous efforts to set national standards have made little headway. In 1995, for example, the Senate rejected proposed history standards by a vote of 99 to 1.

The problem of wide variations in state standards has become more serious in recent years, as some states weakened their standards to avoid being penalized under the federal No Child Left Behind law. This time, the standards were developed by the states themselves, not the federal government. Last year, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers convened English and math experts to put together benchmarks for each grade.

Texas and Alaska said they did not want to participate in developing the standards. And Virginia has made it known that it does not plan to adopt the standards.

Increasingly, national standards are seen as a way to ensure that children in all states will have access to a similar education — and that financially strapped state governments do not have to spend limited resources on developing their own standards and tests. “We’ll have states working together for the first time on curriculum, textbooks, assessment,” said Mr. Duncan. “This will save the country billions of dollars.”

An analysis by Mr. Finn’s institute, to be released Wednesday, determined that the new common core standards are stronger than the English standards in 37 states and the math standards in 39 states.

In most others, the report found that the existing standards are similar enough to the proposed common core standards that it was impossible to say which were better.

States that adopt the standards are allowed to have additional standards, as long as the common core represents at least 85 percent of their English and mathematics standards.

In closely watched Massachusetts, even those who see the common core standards as a comedown for a state whose students score highly on national assessment tests say they have lost the battle. “They’re definitely going to be adopted,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization.

Mr. Stergios’ group found the common standards less rigorous than Massachusetts’ existing ones. “Vocabulary-building in the common core is slower,” he said, citing one example. “And on the math side, they don’t prepare eighth-grade students for algebra one, which is the gateway to higher math.”

Others analyzing the two sets of standards disagreed. Achieve Inc., a Washington-based education reform group, found the common core standards “more rigorous and coherent.” WestEd, a research group that evaluated the standards for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, found them comparable. And Mr. Finn’s group said the Massachusetts standards and the common core standards were “too close to call.”

But Mr. Stergios pointed out that the other groups had either funding from the Gates Foundation or connections to those who developed the standards. “We’re really the only ones who had no dog in this fight,” he said.


Just When You Thought New Orleans Schools Were Improving…

…you see something like this piece in the Huffington Post and you lose all your optimism.

It’s an article about a group of left-wing propagandists hard at work in the public schools in Orleans Parish who are using the middle-schoolers in their charge as fodder to spread sheer insanity. And of course, the adults responsible for managing those schools think it’s actually a good idea.
But when these 12- to 14-year-old judges delivered their verdict, the party they held chiefly responsible was the American people. And as members of a student-based school reform group called the Rethinkers, these young people now have a recommendation for New Orleans schools: Move toward becoming oil-free by 2015, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

“If we want to prevent another oil spill, we need to start weaning ourselves off this product and begin searching for new ideas,” says ninth-grader Danny Do, whose father is a shrimper. “Now is the perfect time to get moving, and schools are a great place to start!”

This may sound about as plausible as “the dog ate my homework,” and the Rethinkers acknowledge that their vision is an ambitious one. But they have both the track record and the supporters to suggest that they are not a bunch of naïve kids who can be easily dismissed.

The press conference they held last week to announce this and other recommendations for school reform in New Orleans attracted The Times-Picayune, ABC News, and other media outlets as well as community and education leaders–notably, Paul Vallas, whose work as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was praised by President Clinton and is now superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, which is focused on transforming underperforming schools into successful ones.

“Paul is obsessed with the Rethinkers and wants Rethinkers clubs in all schools,” says Siona LaFrance, Vallas’s chief of staff. “He likes that the kids are thinking and challenging authority, and that all of their suggestions are based on a lot of consideration. And he likes that this is a continuing effort.”

The article goes on to describe a withering array of psychobabble and lunacy being foisted on Orleans school kids by these “Rethinkers,” including a campaign to do away with sporks in school cafeterias, replacing metal detectors with “mood detectors,” namely, student hall monitors who assess kids as they come to school to see if they’re dangerous and getting more toilet paper into schools (as though kids can’t come up with all kinds of uses for toilet paper beyond what schools buy it for).

There’s even a quote from the founder of this movement which might cause an aneurism among our more susceptible readers…
“I say to the kids, ‘You live in a country where people don’t respect kids. If we’re trying to give dignity to your voice, we have to give you something to talk about where you are the stone-cold expert. There is no one on Earth who can say you’re not an expert on schools.’”

So it’s hardly a surprise when one of these child abusers, who learned her craft at Middlebury College in Vermont and describes herself as a “community organizer,” decides to leverage the oil spill into an assault on the industry in South Louisiana which offers perhaps the most lucrative employment opportunities available to kids in Orleans schools. Meet Mallory Falk…
“We know “oil-free schools” sounds easy to dismiss because it’s such a big vision,” notes Mallory Falk, a recent Middlebury College graduate and community organizer who came to New Orleans to work with the Rethinkers. “That is why our focus over the coming year is to come up with realistic, practical ways for schools to move toward being oil-free.”

This year, for example, they have offered four simple suggestions: Start measuring energy waste (including air conditioners set too high and lights left on unnecessarily), form student green teams to identify ways to reduce waste and convince other kids to get with the program, eliminate the use of incandescent light bulbs, and recycle.

A simple beginning, but stay tuned. The Rethinkers plan to meet throughout the new school year to develop more specifics. And they have already received a grant from the U.S. Green Building Council to film a documentary about their experience.

It’s bad enough that these people are sinking their hooks into school kids in the first place. What’s worse – unforgiveably so – is that the brains they’re poisoning with the ridiculous and poisonous ideas they’re pushing are Orleans public school kids. These are overwhelmingly at-risk students; Orleans is beginning to see a renaissance in education thanks to the advent of school choice and competition since Katrina, but dropout rates are still high and test scores are still low. And Orleans public school kids are still very economically disadvantaged, still in desperate need of marketable skills and still disproportionately lacking in strong parental guidance.

In other words, while it would be bad enough if kids in Montgomery County, Maryland or Beverly Hills were subjected to left-wing pablum like the Rethinkers push, they’re doing this to some of the most vulnerable children in America.

These kids are 12, 13 and 14 years old. Before attempting to turn them into environmentalist freaks, has this cabal insured that they read at grade level? Can they certify their charges in basic math? Can these kids find Omaha on a map? Do they know the difference between a federalist and an anti-federalist?

Didn’t think so.


Many British school buildings not fit for purpose, say teachers

More than one in four teachers says their school buildings are not fit for learning, according to a new survey. A quarter of teachers said the design of their classrooms was "poor" and did not provide an environment suitable for lessons, with bad ventilation, lighting and layout.

More than nine in ten agreed that pupils' behaviour is influenced by the school environment, according to the poll of 503 teachers, with more than half saying their surroundings had a negative impact.

The poll came days after hundreds of teachers, parents and pupils staged a protest at Parliament against the government's decision to axe a £55 billion school rebuilding programme.

The decision has infuriated schools, with more than 700 told they will be denied funding for building projects promised by the previous government.

Teachers surveyed by the Teachers Support Network and the British Council for School Environments (BCSE), with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said many school buildings lacked space for students to relax and criticised classrooms for being too small and uninspiring.

One teacher told researchers: "We currently have 250 more students in our school than we were designed to accommodate."

Others raised concerns about lavatory facilities, with one teacher commenting: "Students are very vocal about inadequate toilet facilities, which makes them feel unrespected."

BCSE chief executive Ty Goddard said: "The survey shows school environments matter. Money invested in school buildings is an investment in teachers and children, not a wasted luxury. We need professional environments which support our teachers to do their jobs."

Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, added: "Continued long-term investment to improve many of the dilapidated school premises that still exist across the UK must surely be a wise use of tax payers' money, benefiting communities for generations to come."


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Federal attack on for-profit colleges lighter than expected

Somebody has to cater for the generally low-income students who have few other options. New rule: Programs would lose their eligibility if more than 65 percent of former students failed to pay the principal on federal loans, and if their graduates' debt was more than 30 percent of discretionary income and 12 percent of total income. Investors think that most for-profit schools can live with that

For-profit colleges are booming as the unemployed turn to education, but some members of Congress and Obama administration officials say they are growing at the expense of taxpayers and that students are often exploited.

The average profit among such publicly traded higher education companies soared to $229 million in 2009, up from $150 million the year before, with the lion's share of their revenue coming from federal student aid. For example, federal dollars accounted for 86% of revenue at the University of Phoenix, which has more than 458,000 students.

But according to a recent report issued by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the public's money is often not well spent on the schools. The colleges cater to low-income and minority students often working online with little supervision, yet they charge on average twice as much as public universities charge in-state students.

Investigators believe a high proportion of students drop out, and those who do graduate find their money wasted because their programs are not accredited. Students at for-profit colleges borrow more and are more likely to default on their loans, furthering taxpayer losses.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 30% of students who borrowed from the federal government to attend four-year for-profit institutions have defaulted since 1995. Roughly 15% of students at public four-year colleges and 13.6% at private nonprofit four-year colleges have defaulted since then, the Chronicle reported.

The Department of Education on Friday moved to rein in some for-profit firms with a proposal that would cut off federal student aid to individual programs within colleges that have a high proportion of students who cannot repay their loans after leaving.

"Some proprietary schools have profited and prospered, but their students haven't," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "These schools — and their investors — benefit from billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers, and in return taxpayers have a right to know that these programs are providing solid preparation for a job."

The proposed regulation, less stringent than originally expected, could put out of business 5% of for-profit programs, a number that critics of the colleges said was not high enough.

"At first glance, the regulation appears to set a low bar," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate panel that issued the report, said in a statement Friday. "I will be looking closely at this rule to ensure that it goes far enough to protect the $23 billion in federal aid to for-profit schools each year."

Harkin and a chorus of Senate Democrats are leading the call for government to step up regulation of for-profit colleges, saying it must ensure that tax dollars are not wasted and students are not cheated.

But Harris Miller, president of the Career College Assn., which represents for-profit schools, said the schools have a special challenge. "We have millions of students who are not even in the educational system who have been told, 'You're not college material,' " Miller said. "Somebody has to reach out to those people."

Corinthian Colleges spokesman Kent Jenkins said the disproportionate default rate was a consequence of the large number of low-income students in the programs. Reaching low-income students requires the schools to run high advertising budgets, he added. The Senate panel report noted that the schools devote about a third of their budgets to advertising.

The report acknowledges that President Obama's goal of doubling the number of U.S. college graduates by 2020 may hinge on for-profit colleges, which are able to expand faster than public colleges and universities. After a series of painful cuts to the University of California and California State University systems last summer, enrollment at for-profit colleges in California shot up 20%.

Stephen Burd, an education policy expert at the New America Foundation, said the scrutiny is long overdue, but lawmakers will have to contend with the industry's "Teflon lobby." Many concerns have been raised about for-profit colleges, but nothing has stuck, he said. "For-profit college lobbyists are accustomed to flexing their muscles on Capitol Hill and getting their way — no matter how much controversy is swirling around their schools," he said.

Although for-profit colleges were once mom-and-pop operations, the 14 publicly traded institutions enroll 1.4 million students, up from fewer than 200,000 in 1998, according to the Senate committee report. Kathleen Tighe, inspector general for the Department of Education, testified at the panel's June 24 hearing that 70% of the department's investigations involve for-profit colleges, many of which have been found guilty of falsifying student information to obtain more federal funds.

Tighe also testified that she is concerned about the rapid expansion of online programs in recent years because students are eligible for the same amount of federal aid but it is more difficult to track their progress — a potential recipe for fraud.


Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.

“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.”

While access to college has been the major concern in recent decades, over the last year, college completion, too, has become a leading item on the national agenda. Last July, President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative, calling for five million more college graduates by 2020, to help the United States again lead the world in educational attainment.

This month, on becoming chairman of the National Governors Association, Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia announced that he would lead a college-completion initiative.

In May, Grantmakers for Education, an organization for those who make gifts to educational programs, convened a group of philanthropists and policy experts to talk about how to bolster college-completion rates.

“We spend a fortune recruiting freshmen but forget to recruit sophomores,” Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, said at the meeting.

In April, Melinda Gates gave a speech at the American Association of Community Colleges convention, urging community college officials to lead the way on college completion and pledging that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would contribute up to $110 million to improve remedial programs, in an effort to increase graduation rates.

“The stars are aligning in a way that gives me some hope,” said William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who hosted the Washington discussion along with Mr. Caperton. “This is a problem that’s been around for too long. But now there’s beginning to emerge a focus of attention and activity that quite frankly we haven’t had till now.”

Mr. Kirwan said that the United States had fallen behind other countries over several decades.

“We led the world in the 1980s, but we didn’t build from there,” he said. “If you look at people 60 and over, about 39-40 percent have college degrees, and if you look at young people, too, about 39-40 percent have college degrees. Meanwhile, other countries have passed us by.”

Canada now leads the world in educational attainment, with about 56 percent of its young adults having earned at least associate’s degrees in 2007, compared with only 40 percent of those in the United States. (The United States’ rate has since risen slightly.)

While almost 70 percent of high school graduates in the United States enroll in college within two years of graduating, only about 57 percent of students who enroll in a bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who begin at a community college graduate with an associate’s degree within three years.

The problem is even worse for low-income students and minorities: only 30 percent of African-Americans ages 25-34, and less than 20 percent of Latinos in that age group, have an associate’s degree or higher. And students from the highest income families are almost eight times as likely as those from the lowest income families to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24.

The problem begins long before college, according to the report released Thursday.

“You can’t address college completion if you don’t do something about K-12 education,” Mr. Kirwan said.

The group’s first five recommendations all concern K-12 education, calling for more state-financed preschool programs, better high school and middle school college counseling, dropout prevention programs, an alignment with international curricular standards and improved teacher quality. College costs were also implicated, with recommendations for more need-based financial aid, and further efforts to keep college affordable.


Cutting British education quangos 'could save £500m'

Cutting funding to education quangos could save the government more than £500 million a year, a report has claimed. Many quangos – quasi non-governmental organisations – waste taxpayers' money because their services are widely available in the private sector while others spend millions on programmes of questionable value, the study said.

Savings of £520 million could be made by cutting funding for the government-funded bodies, which are designed to support the education system, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The report comes after 700 schools were told that building projects promised to them by the previous government would have to be scrapped due to a lack of funding.

Among the potential savings identified by the CIPD was the £146 million annual budget for the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), a body offering free consultancy to course providers such as colleges.

Analysts said the spending of £6.5 million on delivering awards for "outstanding providers and practitioners" and £1 million on promoting healthy life styles within further education "bring into doubt how effectively their resources are being used."

The LSIS was also guilty of "crowding out" private companies which could offer the same service, and was "merely using public funds to boost the performance of colleges", the report added.

Other annual savings included: £51 million from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), which the government has pledged to close down; £19 million from Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK), a representative body for the skills sector; £7 million from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), which promotes adult learning; and £89 million from Regional Development Agencies, which are to be scrapped and replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships under government proposals.

The report concluded: "Even though they are responsible for substantial budgets, the quangos have seldom, if ever, been asked to justify their budgets or outline their contribution to the economy and society as a whole.

"This absence of an accountability mechanism appears to have allowed many quangos to continue their work without being expected to justify their existence and performance."

Tom Richmond, Policy Adviser on Skills, CIPD, said: "With so much money at stake and with imminent spending reductions across many government departments, the role, purpose and operations of each individual quango must therefore be revisited as a matter of urgency."