Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whoopee! Britain's leather lady to get the boot

A nasty Leftist hater who has pushed up the cost of private schooling

'Quango queen' Dame Suzi Leather has been warned her reign at the Charity Commission will be cut short unless she ends ‘politically motivated’ attacks on Coalition policy. The controversial Labour sympathiser has until the end of the year to drop her vendetta against independent schools and end her public opposition to spending cuts.

Dame Suzi has held 30 public sector posts over the last 15 years and has become one of the most notorious passengers on the quango gravy train. But she has been warned she will be replaced her in the £104,999-a-year three-day a week chair post early unless she falls into line, according to Cabinet Office sources.

The Charity Commission quango, which regulates the affairs of UK charities, is supposed to be politically impartial. But Dame Suzi, 54, has repeatedy angered ministers, using her position at as a platform to attack the £5billion of spending cuts planned for the voluntary sector. She said: ‘If you cut the charities, you are cutting our ability to help each other, you are cutting what structures our neighbourliness. That is what the Big Society is all about.’

Dame Suzi, who has run the commission since 2006, was handed a new three-year contract by the previous government last year. But senior sources say Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is set to fire her with a notice period if she does not change her attitude by the end of the year. A senior government source said: ‘The appointment is in the gift of the Secretary of State. He can terminate it. We want to see an end to the politically motivated statements.’

The move would delight many Tories for whom Dame Suzi is a byword for quango cronyism.

Her role is also in question because of the way she has used the quango’s powers over rules governing charities to attack independent schools. Dame Suzi, herself publicly educated, has used the rules to threaten independent schools with the loss of their charitable status unless they show they exist for the ‘wider public benefit’. This includes offering free places for children from poorer backgrounds.

The rules are blamed for driving up fees beyond the reach of already struggling parents and critics say they will lead to the closure of some of the best schools in the country. Two small prep schools – one in Derbyshire, the other in Lancashire – failed the ‘public benefit’ test in 2009.

Cabinet Office ministers believe the Charity Commission should allow independent schools to open up their sports pitches to local state schools or provide music lessons for local children. ‘There are many ways to show public benefit and the Charity Commission needs to take a broader view. That’s the second test,’ the source said.

The Independent Schools Council has been granted a judicial review hearing in May to challenge the commission’s implementation of the rules. A spokesman said: ‘We think the way they are interpreting the law is wrong.’ Attorney-General Dominic Grieve has also referred the quango to the Charity Tribunal over its rulings.

Last night a Charity Commission spokesman said: ‘We have always said we expect the majority of independent charitable schools will have no problem demonstrating the public benefit they provide.’


Schools Suffer Under Obama’s Land Grabs

There has not been a leader of this country that didn’t stress the importance of educating America’s youth.

Even Obama, very recently in his State of the Union address, acknowledged, “Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.”

It is clear that education in this country has always been a priority.

Troubling and a bit ironic then is the fact that some states are battling with the federal government over revenue sources for education. These states aren’t in a fight to receive any handouts from the federal government; instead they are struggling to keep a revenue source that belongs to them — their land.

It wasn’t always this way. The Founding Fathers designated special territories in each state that were purposed to support schools. A short video by CLASS, Children’s Land Alliance Supporting Schools, explains that states received these lands as they entered statehood and more than 134 million acres of land were granted by Congress to support schools. By 2005, about half of all the states, mainly eastern states, had lost their school lands and funds due to mismanagement, but the remaining states have grown their funds to a total of $35 billion, compared to $210 million in 1905. Only 45 million acres of school trust lands remain in the U.S.

Though each state with a remaining trust fund handles it differently, they are all dependent upon the profits of the land to help support education. Revenues off these lands are accumulated from permits that allow grazing, ranching, farming, mining and hunting and in some cases involve selling the land to a developer for the building of a residential area or mall.

These states have made wise investments over the past century to ensure future generations have a properly funded education, but it hasn’t been easy. Many of these school trust lands are located in prime real estate locations that the federal government labels wilderness areas — areas where the land cannot be touched, taxed or profited from.

“It is a terrible truth that the federal government has more control over the economy and lands of states than elected governors and legislatures do,” says Don Todd, senior research director at Americans for Limited Government (ALG).

The federal government as of late has had a heyday labeling land as wilderness areas. And though the federal government cannot take school trust land per se, they can take all the surrounding land, thus reducing the value of the school trust land.

“When the government takes land and ties it up, that money is not going to educate our children,” says Susan Edwards, School Community Council Member in Utah for Crescent View Middle School and Alta High School. “The federal government is taking money away from our school children.”

If land belonging to the trust fund becomes locked in by land labeled as a wilderness area or land that needs to remain untouched due to an endangered species ruling, it is much harder for schools to generate funds off that land. A farmer or developer would be hesitant to purchase and invest in a parcel of land that is surrounded by federal rules and regulations.

“When the federal government declares their land off limits for productive uses, the in-held school lands cannot support our schools, and Utah’s children statewide suffer,” Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert explains to ALG.

States cannot afford to receive dwindling profits from these land trust funds. These funds are critical for schools as they finance building repairs or new technology. In the state of Utah, trust land funds are used for student’s academic success. The money might be spent to hire more classroom aids, form mentorship programs, build a computer lab or pay teachers who stay after hours to help at-risk children.

Utah’s Gov. Herbert goes on to say, “These issues are not merely rural issues or land issues. They have a direct effect on public education throughout the State of Utah. If wells are not drilled in the Uintah Basin, there will be fewer textbooks, fewer library books, fewer computers, and fewer teachers’ aides in public schools everywhere in Utah, including in the heavily populated Salt Lake Valley. The effects of these harsh restrictive federal measures will be felt by Utah’s public school children for generations, because the school trust is a permanent trust.”

The state of Utah is already at a disadvantage when it comes to funding for its education system. About two-thirds of the state, roughly 70 percent, is owned by the federal government. Though the federal government said much of this land would be sold upon the state achieving statehood and that 5 percent of the proceeds would go directly to fund education, it has yet to happen.

With two-thirds of the land already swallowed by the federal government, Utah’s education revenue comes from the land it has left. Of that land that is left, about only about 7 percent is designated as school trust land, says Cody Stewart, legislative director for Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). The rest of land is at risk of falling into the hands of the federal government.

Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart stated on his blog, “Wilderness designation shuts down economic activity on federal and state lands. (Loss of royalties, severance tax, income tax, and sales tax). It stops motorized access to those areas, meaning most people stop going there to recreate, hunt, fish, picnic, etc. It stops oil and gas production. It stops timbering. It stops ranching. It stops most any activity that adds money to Utah’s coffers. We could be receiving serious revenues for education off those lands, but wilderness cuts that off.”

Why don’t states negotiate with the federal government and work out a land exchange? Because, Paula Plant, co-director of CLASS explains, “land exchanges are expensive and time intensive.”

She knows of a land exchange near the Colorado River corridor that has been underway for seven years. “If the federal government is going to create this many wilderness areas then it’s hard to find land to exchange,” she says. “You can’t trade land that has an endangered species; you won’t be able to do anything with it.”

Another disadvantage these school trust lands might soon face: “There is a tendency on the part of the legislators to want to use this money on other things, such as highways. There is always a fear of the state or federal government taking over the funds,” says Kirk Sitterud, Emery School District Superintendent, a rural school district in central Utah.

But for now, those Western states that retain their school trust lands hold on to them tightly — they depend on them as will future generations. But that isn’t to say they don’t feel the impact of actions already taken by the federal government.

“Education in the West is hurt, salaries for teachers in the West are hurt, the retirement system for educators in the West is hurt. The West is put at a decided disadvantage and very few people east of Denver comprehend that or understand that,” Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop told ALG. “This Administration’s policy to lock up lands and refuse to develop them to their potential, hurts kids, it hurts the education in the West, period.”

Taking a trip to Western states like Utah looks as if the federal government puts environmental policies ahead of the education system and the nation’s school children.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the school should be “the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” This doesn’t appear to be the thinking of the current Administration, and the nation’s school children of today and those of future generations will suffer for it.


Australia: Start the education revolution with basics of English

QUIS MAGISTROS IPSOS DOCEBIT? (Who will teach the teachers?)

Across Australia, schools are reopening for the start of the academic year. This year also heralds the start of the national curriculum, on a limited trial basis.

In May, students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will take the fourth round of national literacy and numeracy testing, known as NAPLAN. When those results are released, parents and others will again make judgments about schools and teachers, reigniting the controversy that has marked this component of Labor's education revolution.

In fairness to the children who attempt the NAPLAN tests, whose schooling is directly affected by every change made by federal and state curriculum authorities, and who are dependent on the teachers appointed to work with them each day, it is important to consider this stage of the revolution from their point of view. What is needed to deliver the promised transparency in educational practices and the improvements in teacher quality?

The NAPLAN tests are designed to provide a snapshot of student progress to inform teaching practices and to evaluate the performance of schools. But at least one test, of language conventions (grammar, spelling and punctuation), is demonstrably inadequate for both purposes.

There are three reasons for this. First, the tests are poorly designed. Second, no national curriculum is in place to which the tests can be clearly linked. Third, and most importantly, the longstanding failure to train teachers in these aspects of English means that not only is there no consensus on how language conventions should be taught, teachers themselves are not confident about their professional competence.

The major drawback of the language tests is that they lack order and coherence. The range of questions does not adequately address the common errors that characterise students' written work, and are most detrimental to fluency. Some items appear to be testing multiple points simultaneously. Other questions are written in ways that rely on native speaker intuition, or common sense and logic, rather than a solid grasp of how English works. The language used to frame the questions is inconsistent, sometimes referring to a part of speech by its appropriate name, and at other times asking simply for the correct "word/s". If students are expected to learn and to use the metalanguage in other subjects such as mathematics, music and geography, why is this not the case in English?

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which administers the tests, is developing a national curriculum that appears to place a strong emphasis on accurate written expression. ACARA's National Curriculum Framing Paper (English) states that: "Attention should be given to grammar across K-12, as part of the 'toolkit' that helps all students access the resources necessary to meet the demands of schooling and of their lives outside of school."

ACARA chairman Barry McGaw says: "We don't want to just nod in the direction of grammar and say it should be taught. We need to say what that means."

But as the Australian Association of Teachers of English points out, agreement is yet to be reached on how to teach grammar. The English Teachers Association of Western Australia claims "English teachers are concerned about their ability to teach grammar". The Queensland Department of Education concedes that: "Many of our teachers are young graduates with limited grammar, who realise that this deficit makes it difficult for them to discuss work with their students."

Students rely on their teachers to model best practice and to be able to identify and to explain all language errors. The sceptic will argue that language is dynamic and that those who insist on correct usage are pedants who place more emphasis on the mechanics than on the message. Our response is that students who master the mechanics of English gain the freedom to concentrate on the sophisticated expression of ideas.

As one teacher commented last year, "Every day we ask the students to produce pieces of written work -- narratives, reports, essays and so on -- and we say that they should edit and proofread their own work, but we don't give them the tools to actually do that, and so many of them just don't know where to start and they give up."

The Australian Primary Principals Association insists that "teaching about language is essential at all stages of schooling and is not confined to the primary school". In secondary schools, any focus on basic literacy skills is normally left to English teachers and literacy co-ordinators.

The sort of courses needed to enable teachers to teach correct English usage have been neglected in recent decades.

A language revolution is required. All teachers must develop the capacity to correct their students' work for language as well as subject content. This will create what the Australian Curriculum describes as "confident communicators who appreciate and use the English language creatively and critically in a range of contexts and for a range of purposes".

Australian educational jurisdictions face a significant, long-term dilemma. As is the case in every profession, there are those who resist change. Some are uncomfortable with the NAPLAN tests and the My School website. However, the new curriculum places a renewed focus on language as a foundation skill, and all teachers in all subjects are now official members of the revolution.


No comments: