Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education cuts needed; excessive spending has spawned waste, fueled deficits

Education expert Neal McCluskey earlier lamented the failure of House Republicans to propose meaningful cuts in education spending:

“despite the fact that the ivory tower is soaking in putrid, taxpayer-funded waste. Quite simply, the federal government pours hundreds of billions of dollars into our ivy-ensconced institutions every year, but what that has largely produced is atrociously low graduation rates; at-best dubious amounts of learning for those who do graduate; ever-fancier facilities; and rampant tuition inflation that renders a higher education no more affordable to students but keeps colleges fat and happy.”

Shortly thereafter, in an effort to trim the deficit, House Republicans came out with some additional cuts, proposing the elimination of some wasteful education programs.

If the GOP is reluctant to make cuts, Obama is a lot worse: he earlier sought to double education spending, and Obama’s recent State of the Union called for more increases in education spending (and other wasteful boondoggles at taxpayer expense), even though students often learn little in college.

Half “the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college,” according to a study cited in USA Today. “36% showed little change” even after four years.

Although education spending has exploded, students “spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.” “32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that are worthless diploma mills, yet manage to graduate almost no one – like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.”

College degrees are delivering less and less, even as students graduate massively in debt. Law schools deceptively claim that virtually all their graduates get jobs. But they inflate their jobs figures by treating as success stories even students who end up working in low-paying non-legal jobs like “waiting tables at Applebees,” “stocking aisles at Home Depot,” or babysitting — or in part-time temporary jobs. And they sometimes hide joblessness by “losing track” of easy-to-locate nearby graduates who are jobless.

“’Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,’ says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves.”

America already produces so many more liberal-arts graduates than it needs that 5,057 janitors have Ph.D’s or other advanced degrees. People who went to college due to rising college attendance rates mostly ended up in low-skilled jobs, even as their tuitions soared to pay for growing educational bureaucracies. Education spending in America is huge compared to most countries.


The quirks of Oxford and Cambridge

Oxford and Cambridge are unlike any other university in the country, with a number of rituals, traditions and quirks that stretch back centuries

One on one tutorials

No other universities in the country are able to provide one-on-one teaching in the way that Oxbridge does. Students' individual sessions in tutors' (Oxford) and supervisors' (Cambridge) studies are regarded by academics as the most important type of teaching.

Collegiate system

Oxford and Cambridge are not unique in their division into colleges -Durham is among the others - but they are the only ones where teaching is centred in the college. Each college has its own independent academic staff and depending on their subjects students receive a significant amount of their teaching in-house.

Boat race

Yes, other universities have boat races – No, none of them is on the same scale. The annual event between the two universities is known across the world, attracts thousands of viewers and is screened live on television.


"Blues" are awarded to students who play for the university at the highest level in any sport, the term coming from the colours the teams wear. Other universities have similar awards, such as Palatinates at Durham and Purples at the University of London, but it was Oxford and Cambridge who started the tradition in the 19th century.


Subfusc is a mode of full academic dress worn by students to sit exams and attend university ceremonies such as matriculation at Oxford. Generally it consists of a suit, white shirt and bow tie for men, and a black skirt or trousers with a white blouse for women.

Graduation in Latin

Parts of the graduation ceremony take place in Latin, including statements where degrees are officially conferred on graduates. This tradition has remained despite the majority of students no longer speaking the dead language.

University police

Until 2003, both Oxford and Cambridge had their own private police forces, who were responsible for discipline within the university. The force at Oxford was abolished in 2003 but the Cambridge University Constabulary remains.

Strange interview questions

While many universities now interview applicants, none has a reputation quite like Oxford or Cambridge for intimidating prospective students by asking bizarre and seemingly irrelevant questions such as "tell me about a banana".

Unusual sports

Oxford and Cambridge are some of the only universities in Britain that offer students the opportunity to take part in virtually-extinct sports such as fives, which was developed at public schools such as Eton, and real tennis.


Australian teachers tied up in red tape

THE just-released National Professional Standards for Teachers, detailing the characteristics of successful teachers and what constitutes quality teaching, apparently, is at the "leading edge of international practice" and is "fundamental to improving educational outcomes for young people".

How do we know? Because Tony Mackay, the chairman of the body responsible for the teaching standards, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, told us so (The Australian, February 10).

In the cliches much loved by Australia's educrats, Mackay boasts that the standards "make explicit the elements of high-quality, effective teaching in 21st century schools", will ensure that "good teachers" become "great teachers" and that the new standards will "enable teachers to constantly strive for excellence".

Mackay also claims the new standards are not about "simple measurement or ticking a box" and that the "standards unambiguously define what is expected of the new teacher and a more experienced teacher".

Not so. The seven standards and accompanying 37 focus areas and 148 descriptors, much like a corporate-inspired, performance management model for staff appraisal, impose a bureaucratic, time consuming and checklist mentality.

The result? Teachers wanting certification or promotion, instead of focusing their time and energy on being effective and inspirational classroom teachers, will have to spend most of their time collecting reams of evidence, attending fruitless in-service programs and genuflecting to education fads such as personalised learning, open classrooms and treating children as knowledge navigators.

Descriptors requiring graduate teachers to "include a range of teaching strategies in teaching", and "Demonstrate the capacity to organise classroom activities and provide clear directions" and "Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers" are also vague and generalised.

Most of the descriptors in the AITSL document are motherhood statements reinforcing progressive educational orthodoxy, and the reader searches in vain for any mention of the need for teachers to be judged on how effective they are in raising standards and improving students' results. While testing and examinations should never be the sole measure to judge teachers, students, parents and the wider community have every right to expect that an important aspect of any teacher's employment is to get students to succeed in their studies.

Worse still, the new national standards document, approved by all Australian education ministers last December, fails to detail what evidence will be used to prove that teachers have met the various standards or to ensure that the assessment regime for teachers is rigorous and credible.

The fact that little thought has been given to what evidence will be used to demonstrate whether teachers are effective or not is made worse by the reality that teacher promotion, at least for the first eight to nine years across the different states and territories, appears to be automatic.

Under the present situation, as noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research paper titled Research on Performance Pay for Teachers, "it is rare for increments to be withheld" and it "is difficult to find systematically gathered evidence about underperforming teachers in most school systems".

Much of the Rudd/Gillard inspired education revolution is imported from Britain and the underlying rationale is for increased government intervention and control via bureaucracies and quangos. Copying Britain is understandable given Tony Mackay's involvement with prime minister Tony Blair's favourite think tank Demos and the fact that Tom Bentley, now a senior adviser to Julia Gillard and also with her when she was minister for education, was also involved with Demos as director.

State and territory schools, both government and non-government, are being forced to abide by the dictates of Canberra and ALP-appointed education apparatchiks whether we are talking about the Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program, the national curriculum, national testing or the My School website.

The establishment of AITSL and publication of the National Professional Standards for Teachers are no exception.

Yet there is an alternative. Instead of enforcing a one size-fits-all command and control model, give schools the autonomy and flexibility to design and implement their own approaches to teacher certification and evaluation.

While the Australian Education Union, given its self-interest, opposes giving schools the power to hire, fire and reward teachers, there is increasing evidence that such policies lead to stronger outcomes.

Such freedom explains why Catholic and independent schools, even after adjusting for the socioeconomic profile of students, do so well academically.

Significantly, the British Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, is adopting such an approach in order to rectify the mistakes of the Blair years.

In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, Gove repeated his promise to abolish quangos such as the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the basis that: "There are too many quangos that take up a school's time without leading to any real benefits to standards.

"Teachers tell us that they have to spend hours outside the classroom going to meetings and filling in forms because of bureaucratic requirements. It takes time away from the core purpose of improving learning".


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