Sunday, February 20, 2011

U.S. House Votes to Slash Current-Year Education Funding

The U.S. Department of Education's current-year budget would be slashed by more than $5 billion under a bill approved early this morning by the U.S. House of Representatives on an almost strictly party line vote of 235-189.

That sets up a showdown as the legislation heads to the Democratically controlled Senate, where lawmakers are expected to reject the cuts. President Barack Obama has also threatened to veto the bill should it reach his desk with such deep cuts. The Education Department and other agencies are operating under a temporary funding resolution that expires March 4, and advocates already are bracing for the prospect of a government shutdown.

The House approved an amendment that would restore a cut to special education funding of $557.7 million, while instead slashing School Improvement Grants by $336.6 million and Teacher Quality State Grants by $500 million.

The lawmakers also approved language prohibiting the Education Department from enforcing new regulations that would affect for-profit colleges, a controversial issue in the higher education world. And they passed an amendment that would bar the department from enforcing special restrictions on how Texas can use funds under the education-jobs bill passed last year.

"We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed, " said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. "While these choices were difficult to make, we strived to spread the sacrifice fairly, weeding out waste and excess, with a razor-sharp focus on making the most out of every tax dollar."

But Democrats have blasted the bill.

"From crib to college, students will be at a disadvantage if the House proposal is enacted," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who oversee the Senate panel responsible for education funding, said earlier this week as the House debated the bill. "There is no question that the time has come for tough budget decisions, but the smart way to bring down the deficit is for Congress to pursue a balanced approach of major spending cuts and necessary revenue increases, while continuing to make investments in education."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, also criticized the bill, saying today that, "with cuts to Head Start, our most vulnerable students and to job training, the Republicans are showing their true colors."


Koob and Zort: the non-words in the new British reading test for six year olds

This sounds like an attempt to discredit phonics -- at the expense of struggling children

A new reading test for six year olds has been criticised after it emerged it is to include a number of made up words such as "koob" and "zort". The ten minute test, in which children will read out up to 40 words to a teacher, will include a series of real and made-up words. Nonsense words including zort, koob, dar, grint, pronk, gax and ploob are expected to feature in the test, which will be piloted in June before being rolled out in June 2012.

The idea has drawn criticism from literary and phonetics experts, however, who say the approach will confuse those beginning to read.

The UK Literacy Association described the plan was "bonkers" as the purpose of reading was to understand meaning.

The government said non-words were being included to check pupils' ability to decode words using phonics – the reading system by where words are sounded out using letter sounds. Non-words were being included to check that children were not just regurgitating memorised words, a spokesman for the Department for Education said.

But critics claim the test may mean that children who cannot read may still do well, while those who can read may be stumped.

President of the UK Literacy Association David Reedy said the inclusion of non-words would be counter productive since most six year olds expect to make sense of what they read. "The test is trying to control all the different variables so that things like meaning don't get in the way. "We think that seems a bit bonkers when the whole purpose of reading is to understand words," he said.

He added that the test itself was sending out the message that all words are decodable using phonics when they are not because the English language is not phonically regular like German or Finnish, he said. "There are many words with which you have to use a 'look and say' approach. This is the case with many common words such as 'the' and 'once'," he said.

"Children should be using a number of sources of information to be able to work out what a word is. There is the context, the sentence itself and whether they have that word in their spoken lexicon."

The Government announced plans for the reading tests in November last year stating that failure to master reading within the first few years of school can seriously undermine children's long term development. The tests will also asked children to identify simple words such as "cat", "dog", "mum" and "dad".

The plans have also drawn criticism from family literacy expert Professor Greg Brooks from Sheffield University and a member of an EU expert group on literacy.

Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, he said: "It is a vast waste of money. Even though I'm an advocate for synthetic phonics, I completely disagree with this test. It will inevitably cause teaching to the test, deflecting attention away from more valuable areas of the curriculum.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: "We are clear that synthetic phonics will not be compulsory in schools but we do believe more schools should teach synthetic phonics because it is shown to have a major and long-lasting effect on children's reading and spelling.

"We are supported in that view by high-quality academic evidence from across the world – from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the US – which points to synthetic phonics being the most effective method for teaching literacy for all children, especially those aged five to seven.

"Too many children leave primary school unable to read and write properly – we are determined to raise standards and the new phonics-based reading check for six-year-olds will ensure that children who need extra help are given it before it is too late, and then can enjoy a lifetime's love of reading."


Australian teachers reveal why they walked

PROBLEM students should face harsher penalties, including Saturday-morning detention and fines for their parents, say WA teachers who have walked away from the classroom.

A disproportionate number of public school teachers are also blaming increased workloads and stress for their decision to quit, new reports show.

The exit surveys of 260 teachers and other staff who resigned from the Education Department in the past year are outlined in two reports, which were released to The Sunday Times under Freedom of Information laws this week.

It is the first time such exit surveys have been publicly released and they give a rare insight into the challenges facing our state's 35,000 public school teachers and staff.

One teacher recommended "harsher penalties for disruptive students", including more frequent suspensions and exclusions for "lesser disruptive behaviour" to stem violent behaviour. The teacher also called for after-school and Saturday morning detentions.

Another said: "Start making parents accountable for the actions of their children. Financial penalties for disruptive students."

A third teacher said: "I feel this may be a sign of the times, but the students seem to have more control than the teachers. "I have been assaulted by a student in the past and due to inexperience I did not pursue it. The school at the time seemed to brush it under the carpet and the student went unpunished.

"It seems suspension or expulsion would look bad on their school record. Behaviour like that is a major concern for all teachers. Crowd control is used instead of teaching in some schools."The surveys, conducted by the Education Department between October 2009 and July 2010, reveal:

* About a third (87 people) of those who completed the survey said they would not consider returning to work for the Education Department in the future.

* More than one in 10 teachers and staff (30 people) identified family reasons as the main reason for leaving.

* Almost 8 per cent (20 people) of teachers and staff were retiring, while a further 8 per cent (20 people) quit to "pursue other interests".

* Eighteen people (7 per cent) said they walked away from teaching for a work-life balance.

* Ten people (almost 4 per cent) blamed their decision to quit on harassment, discrimination or workplace bullying.

* The number of teachers and staff who blamed workload and workplace pressure for their decision to quit was more than three times the benchmark average.

* The number of teachers and staff who cited work-life balance as their reason for leaving was up to seven times the benchmark average.


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