Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cash for Education Clunkers

Michelle Malkin

"We're going to have to out-educate other countries," President Obama urged this week. How? By out-spending them, of course! It's the same old quack cure for America's fat and failing government-run schools monopoly. The one-trick ponies at the White House call their academic improvement agenda "targeted investing" for "winning the future." Truth in advertising: Get ready to fork over more Cash for Education Clunkers.

Our government already spends more per capita on education than any other of the 34 wealthiest countries in the world except for Switzerland, according to recent analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Overall inflation-adjusted K-12 spending has tripled over the past 40 years, the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy points out. Yet American test scores and graduation rates are stagnant. One in 10 high schools is a dropout factory. And our students' performance in one of the most prestigious global math competitions has been so abysmal that the U.S. simply withdrew altogether.

Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget already represents "one of the largest increases" in federal education spending history, and hikes total discretionary spending to nearly $51 billion. Toss in another $35 billion for mandatory Pell grants. And add another $4 billion for the illusory "Race to the Top" charade to improve academic standards.

Then there's the $10 billion for the Education Jobs Fund signed into law last August -- a naked payoff to the public teachers union, which also includes $50 million for the Striving Readers comprehensive literacy development and education program; $82 million for Student Aid Administration; and $10.7 million for the Ready to Teach program.

Oh, and don't forget the $100 billion in federal stimulus funding for school programs and initiatives administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

As he extols the virtues of "innovation" and "accountability," the last thing Obama wants you to think about is the actual results of these profligate federal ed binges:

-- As education analyst Neal McCluskey accurately described the real impact of the $4 billion Race to the Top paperwork theater: "States must say how they would improve lots of things, but they actually have to do very little. It is decades of public schooling -- from the Great Society to No Child Left Behind -- in a nutshell." You need a chainsaw to cut through the bureaucratese of the winning state applications, but the bottom line is that the "race" is "won" only when school reformers get buy-in from the teachers unions -- the most stalwart enemies of introducing choice and competition to the atrophying system.

-- Despite massive multibillion-dollar "investments" in teacher training, America's educators are horrifyingly incompetent at even elementary math. Explaining why American grade-school students can't master simple fractions, one math professor confessed: "Part of the reason the kids don't know it is because the teachers aren't transmitting that." Instead, they've ditched "drill and kill" -- otherwise known as the basics -- for costly educational fads ranging from "Mayan Math" to "Everyday Math" that substitute art, self-esteem and multiculturalism for the fundamentals of computation.

-- Among the supposedly cutting-edge programs funded by Obama's federal stimulus program is the $49 million technology initiative for the Detroit Public Schools. The urban school system is overrun by corruption, violence and incompetence. The teachers union sabotaged classroom instruction and denied schoolchildren an education through an apparent illegal work stoppage. Yet, Washington went ahead and forked over a whopping $530 million in federal porkulus funds to reward yet more Detroit government school failure and bail out the reckless-spending boobs who mismanaged the DPS budget and engineered a fiscal crisis. The $49 million technology program distributed some 40,000 new (foreign-made) ASUS netbook computers, plus thousands of printers, scanners and desktop computers to teachers and kids from early childhood through 12th grade.

One teacher was caught late last year trying to pawn his shiny new booty. No doubt, he has company. Nationwide, in both urban and rural school districts, large and small, these technology infusions have turned out to be gesture-driven boondoggles and political payoffs that squander precious educational resources -- with little, if any, measurable academic benefits. Mark Lawson, school board president of one of New York state's first districts to put technology directly in students' hands, told The New York Times in 2007: "After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement -- none. The teachers were telling us when there's a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It's a distraction to the educational process."

That about sums up federal intervention in public schooling: It's a taxpayer-subsidized distraction to the local educational process that throttles true competition, rewards failure and mistakes blind government largesse for achievement.


New education bill will give protection for British teachers falsely accused by pupils

Teachers are to be granted anonymity when pupils make allegations against them, which will only be lifted if a charge is made. The proposals are set out in Michael Gove’s Education Bill, which also gives teachers new powers to search pupils. It will also be made easier for teachers to hand out detentions. They will no longer have to give parents 24 hours’ notice.

And heads will have the final say on expulsions – stopping independent appeals panels from forcing children back into school.

The Education Secretary said the moves are necessary to reverse the ‘out of control’ behaviour which has driven teachers from the profession. Every school day nearly 1,000 children are suspended from school for abuse and assault. Major assaults on staff have reached a five-year high. Last year, 44 teachers were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Unions praised the moves to protect teachers from false allegations but expressed concerns about extended search rights. Dr Mary Bousted, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘Teachers are worried that encouraging them to search pupils and confiscate items such as mobiles, weapons, drugs and cigarettes will damage their relationship with their pupils.

The Bill also sets down measures to free schools of bureaucracy by axing quangos and abolishing unnecessary form filling. Mr Gove said: ‘We’re taking action to restore discipline and reduce bureaucracy.

Teachers will be free to impose the penalties they need to keep order – and free from the red tape which swallows up teaching time. So they can get on with their first duty – raising standards.’

Today’s Bill also includes a clause that could see the middle classes bearing the brunt of the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year.


Australia: Class warriors prepare to ambush private schools

Janet Albrechtsen

SO far it's just shots across the bow in what will be this year's political sleeper issue: the Gonski review into federal funding of schools.

Soon enough we will get a barrage of rapid fire from the teachers unions as they do what they always do when it comes to any talk about funding schools: cast aside inconvenient facts, ignore parental choice and wage a misleading war against private education.

Last Sunday, Fairfax's Sun-Herald joined the side of union leaders, trying to shock parents about fee increases at private schools, giving the last word to the Greens to complain about "ever greater amounts of government money flooding into wealthy private schools".

Flooding is extreme imagery at the moment. And quite deliberate. Submissions to the Gonski review are due by March. After that, the teachers unions' carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the evils of funding private education and the virtues of funding public education will get into full swing.

That's a shame. Funding our schools raises important principles ripe for discussion, recommendation and determination.

As then education minister Julia Gillard said in April last year, when announcing a review of the complicated, hotchpotch approach to funding schools, funding principles "should be based on simplicity, flexibility, stability, equity, value for money, transparency and best practice".

All laudable principles that the review will consider over the course of this year. Alas, Gillard either forgot or deliberately ignored another principle that has long guided funding of schools in Australia. The principle of choice.

To be sure, the threshold issue of choice was settled long ago. Australia has a fine tradition that mixes public and private investment in education. Plenty of parents have followed P.J. O'Rourke's basic observation that when you spend your money on yourself, you spend it much more wisely than when the government spends your money on other people.

The real question, now critical to the Gonski review, is whether we encourage parents to spend their own money on their children's education, whether we merely tolerate it or whether we actively penalise it.

By failing to mention the principle of parental choice to privately educate their children in her discussion paper and draft terms of reference, Gillard seems to fall into the "tolerate choice but don't encourage it" camp.

That, too, is a shame. Logic would suggest that once the state has used taxpayers' money to provide acceptable minimum standards of education to every child, it should then actively encourage parents to lavish as much of their own money on their child's education as they can. But this most basic logic eludes the cheerleaders of public education entirely, most particularly the teachers unions. Many of them actually want to punish parents who spend their own money (over and above their taxes) on their child's education.

That's because unions don't really approve of allowing private choice when it comes to parents spending their money on their child's education. For the time being, their class warfare means they want a funding model that penalises parents who choose to educate their children privately.

And misinformation is at the heart of this campaign. Consider the Australian Education Union's submission to the Gonski review about its terms of reference, in which it demands a "comprehensive, evidence-based analysis of both the state and federal funding mechanisms for non-government schools". On its face, that seems appropriate. The entire funding pie for each sector is relevant to any meaningful review of funding. Except that when unions compare public schools with private schools, they invariably look only at federal funding. And the reason is simple. Although education is a state responsibility and the states and territories provide the largest slice of funding to public schools, the unions don't want you to recall this inconvenient fact.

Instead, critics of private education use misleading figures to suggest government-condoned inequity - the rich taking from the poor in our schools. Take Trevor Cobbold, convener of Save Our Schools, who likes to highlight average total expenditure. In government schools in 2007-08 it was $10,723 a student, compared with $15,147 in independent schools and $10,399 in Catholic schools. It's true that total expenditure in government schools is about $10,500 per student. But now add the relevant facts. State and territory governments provide about 88 per cent of funding to public schools, the federal government provides about 8 per cent and parents the remaining 4 per cent. Almost the reverse funding pie applies to independent schools. State and territory governments provide just 12 per cent of the funding per student, the federal government picks up the tab for 31 per cent and parents, and the school community provides 58 per cent of the funding per student.

In dollar amounts, if you compare state and federal funding to government and non-government schools, as any meaningful review of funding must, students at government schools receive about twice the government funding received by students at non-government schools.

Fair enough. Parents who choose to educate their children privately accept that the bulk of the funding is private: they choose to foot the largest part of the bill to educate their children, with estimated savings to governments of $3.1 billion each year.

Still, teachers unions are committed to first reducing, then obliterating, any public funding to private schools. Their message to parents: if you can pay anything at all towards a private education, you should pay for the lot.

Union leaders may talk about equality of opportunity but their aim is equality of outcome: each Australian student attending the same kind of school, receiving precisely the same kind of cookie-cutter education. Diversity, usually such a fashionable word in the teachers union world, is taboo when it comes to schools and choice. Being an advocate of public education is a fine vocation indeed, except when it means becoming a specialist in dishonest and illogical arguments aimed at bludgeoning the federal government into giving less and less to private schools. No strategem goes unused in their attempt to strangle private education.

Imagine how refreshing it might be to hear an advocate of public education talk about the importance, too, of private schools within our education system. Imagine if this public education advocate recognised the need to encourage - not just tolerate, and certainly not penalise - parents who can afford to privately educate their children, to do just that. Imagine if the Gonski review said just that. And just imagine if the Gillard government agreed.

After all, telling hardworking parents who sacrifice in order to fund their children's education that the more they invest, the more they will be punished by a withdrawal of federal funding is no way to build an education revolution.


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