Monday, January 17, 2011

Detroit and Decay

The city may abandon half its schools to pay union benefits

Detroit was once America's fourth largest city, though today large sections of its inner core are abandoned to the elements, and monuments like Michigan Central Station are returning to dust. Another emblem of civic decline is a plan to desert nearly half of Detroit's public schools so that it can afford to fulfill its teachers union contract.

The school district is facing a $327 million deficit and has already closed 59 schools over the last two years to avoid paying maintenance, utility and operating costs. Under a worst-case scenario released this week by Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by the state to resolve the Detroit education fisc, the district will close another 70 of its remaining 142 schools to save $31.3 million through 2013.

"Additional savings of approximately $12.4 million can be achieved from school closures if the District simply abandons the closed buildings," the proposal explains, purging costs like boarding up buildings, storage and security patrols.

Steven Wasko, a spokesman for Mr. Bobb, said that urban property sales have been difficult, in part because until recently the state board of education banned transactions with "competing educational institutions" like charter schools. Once buildings are deserted, even if the doors and windows are welded shut with protective metal covers, scavengers break in and dismantle them for copper wire, pipes and so on.


Long delay in marking British High school exams to end -- maybe

Sixth formers will no longer have to wait for their results before learning if they have secured a place at university under a shake-up of the examination system. Ministers want to move the timing of final school examinations and push the autumn university term back.

A government White Paper, to be published in the spring, will propose that university places would be granted based on actual results. [Revolutionary!] The deadline to the University and College Admissions Service, which falls tonight, would be moved back about six months.

Meanwhile the start of the university year would be delayed to until January under the reforms being drawn up by ministers. The reforms would not be introduced for at least two years to allow smooth transition.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said the current system needed to be “re-engineered”. “Instead of speculative applications based on possible A-Level grades everyone is dealing on how (a pupil) performs,” he told The Times. “It would involve some change in the time at which people do their exams. “Exam boards would have to move more rapidly and the process of people getting the application into Ucas would have to change.”

Under current systems, students receive conditional offers in the spring, which are not confirmed until A-Level grades are published in late August.

Mr Willetts said the proposals would be “floated” in the White Paper that would be published sometime in the spring.

Universities will likely be against the plans due to the high level of uncertainty they already face.


More British Students turning to two-year university degrees

More students are turning to two-year university degrees in the economic downturn, figures show. The number of undergraduates gaining “foundation” degrees soared by almost a third last year, it was revealed. Figures showed 24,865 students completed a short degree course in 2010 compared with 18,850 in 2009 and just 9,275 five years ago.

The disclosure suggests that students are increasingly seeing foundation degrees – which take two years to complete and combine academic study with work-based tuition – as a cheaper alternative to traditional undergraduate courses. Many students also favour them because they can often lead directly to a job.

It follows claims from David Willets, the Universities Minister, that growing numbers of young people should seek alternatives to traditional three-year degrees. Setting out a vision of higher education under the Coalition Government, he called for more part-time courses, foundation degrees and courses with business placements. In a speech, he said: “There is more to university than Club 18-30 – going away from home for three years when you are 18."

According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, foundation degrees increased far more quickly last year than any other mode of study.

The number of students graduating with a foundation degree soared by 32 per cent, while conventional undergraduate degrees increased by five per cent and taught postgraduates rose by 11 per cent.


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