Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Protests in Idaho

Many high school students throughout eastern Idaho weren't in class Monday morning, but instead, were outside protesting.

In response to Tom Luna's new Education Reform plan, and two of three bills passing the Senate on Thursday, high school students against the plan participated in a student walk-out.

Julia Donaldson, Senior at Highland High School: "We are protesting his plan and we are proposing that Luna publicly debate the American Falls counter plan which gives a lot more freedom to the schools as far as the technology bill goes."

If Luna's "Students Come First" proposal passes the Legislature, online education will be mandatory in the state, and laptops will given to every high school student. An online class would also be required.

Arizona Knight, Sophomore at Highland High School: "We need more one-on-one time. Not computers. Not technology, no. We need teachers."

Julia Donaldson, Senior at Highland High School: "His 'Pay for Performance' plan, which bases 50% of its evaluation on test scores, which is totally unfair, you know, you have the difference in socio-economic status's of the schools, teachers are going to start teaching us how to memorize instead of how to think."

In Boise, students walked a few blocks to the State Capitol, and several other Treasure Valley high schools participated.

Allison Westfall, Nampa School District Spokesperson: "We don't condone this during school hours. We do appreciate that students are passionate about this issue and want to express their opinion, but the appropriate form is to do that outside of the school day, or to contact their law makers."

Aliianna Kelemete, Highland High School, Pocatello: "We want to support our teachers the best way we can and we're out here and we know the consequences, but I think it's all for a good cause."

The bills that have passed the Senate last week will be discussed in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. In the meantime, emotions run high for those that oppose the bill, and those, like Governor Butch Otter, who support it.

Julia Donaldson, Senior at Highland High School: "It's just not good overall for the education of our students. And I'm a senior, but I care about my siblings future and the future of my teachers and friends."

The final bill, which funds the plan and has the technology elements was sent back to the Senate Education Committee for a reworking. That should be discussed this week as well.


An end to free higher education in Scotland?

Principals warn that universities in Scotland will be left with a £200m funding gap after tuition fees are raised in England

Scottish university principals have again called for an end to free higher education after a report warned of a £200m funding gap following the introduction of higher fees in England.

Universities Scotland, the umbrella body for higher education institutions, said the case for a "fair and modest" payment by Scottish graduates was now unanswerable if current levels of teaching and student numbers were to be maintained.

Its stance has increased pressure on the next Scottish government to scrap a longstanding tradition of free university education for domestic students, in the face of moves to allow English universities to charge between £6,000 and £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

But its conclusions were immediately challenged by the Scottish government, Universities Scotland's partner on the expert group that produced the report on funding, and by the National Union of Students Scotland.

Each side selected figures from the report that suited its policies. The universities used one of the highest figures based on the impact of inflation, while Scottish ministers chose figures that suited their current policy of funding universities entirely from general taxation.

The dispute – which has led to another rift on funding between the universities and Alex Salmond's nationalist government – follows weeks of speculation that Scottish universities faced a funding shortfall of up to £500m.

The country's leading colleges are now facing strikes, laying off staff and closing departments. Glasgow is planning to shut its modern languages and anthropology departments, while staff at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh are to take industrial action.

Salmond will campaign in this May's elections for the Scottish parliament by insisting that the shortfall is actually much smaller, and can be met by the taxpayer without fees or graduate taxes.

His officials believe Universities Scotland has been highly selective with the report's findings, by using a figure that included inflation and by ignoring the Scottish government's plans to charge English students up to £6,500 a year to study in Scotland.

If those fees were included and the baseline figure did not include inflation, the gap was actually £93m. And that, sources said, did not include another £35m in expected efficiency savings. Ministers are expected to promise this gap will be met by the government.

NUS Scotland accused Universities Scotland of "scaremongering" and misrepresenting the true scale of the funding gap in a deliberate attempt to bounce voters into accepting tuition fees.

The NUS will now be putting Labour, currently narrow favourites to win May's election, under pressure to pledge it would not charge students. Labour has said it believes some form of charge is now highly likely and refused to rule out a graduate tax or contribution.


Universities 'told to discriminate against independent school pupils'

Universities should not be asked to “repair the problems of 18 years of upbringing and education” by skewing admissions in favour of poor-performing pupils, according to a leading headmaster.

Making lower grade offers to students from state schools is like forcing an engineer to improve the design of an aircraft “after the plane has already crashed”, it is claimed.

In a speech on Monday, Philip Cottam, chairman of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools, says the number of children from deprived backgrounds failing to fulfil their potential is a “blot” on society.

But forcing admissions tutors to repair these problems by discriminating against privately-educated teenagers will fail to address key weaknesses in the education system, he claims.

Speaking at the society’s annual conference, he will criticise the decline of the state grammar school system which provided a decent academic education for pupils from the poorest families.

He will also attack the “culture of entitlement” at the heart of modern schooling “in which competition is seen as negative and all are expected to win prizes”.

The comments come just weeks after ministers insisted universities should hit targets to admit students from state schools and deprived backgrounds in return for charging more than £6,000 a year in tuition fees.

Institutions failing to do enough could be stripped of the power to levy fees as high as £9,000 under Coalition plans.

But Mr Cottam, head of fee-paying Halliford School in Shepperton, Middlesex, says more attention should be focused on repairing Britain’s broken education system than skewing university admissions.

“There is an argument to be made that our national failure to do the best by the 50 per cent or so of pupils who do not get five GCSEs at C or better, including mathematics and English, is in many ways more serious and more damaging than the under-representation of some in our selective universities,” he says.

Addressing headmasters, he adds: “Trying to force universities to repair, let alone make up for, the problems of 18 years of upbringing and education is certainly not the answer.

“It is approaching the issue from the wrong end and is like asking an aeronautical engineer to improve the design of an aircraft after the plane has already crashed.”

Private schools currently educate around seven per cent of children but privately-educated students make up more than four-in-10 of those attending Oxford and Cambridge.

But addressing headmasters at the society’s conference in Telford, Mr Cottam will say that "discriminating against independent school pupils using a mechanistic template" is unfair to the hundreds of thousands of young people in private education.

“It sometimes feels as though our critics believe that the academic success of our pupils has either been handed to them on a plate, or drilled into them, and does not reflect any real ability or potential, let alone hard, determined work by the individuals themselves,” he says.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Cottam says the modern education system has become too focused on “entitlement” and a culture in which “all are expected to win prizes”. This fails to promote true competition between young people or push pupils towards academic excellence, he says.

“An education system that emphasises entitlement at the expense of effort and commitment, and that tries to make everyone feel wonderful all of the time, will not develop the strength of character that we all need, in order to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life,” he says.

Mr Cottam also criticises the decline of academically-selective grammar schools. Only 164 remain in England and Labour introduced legislation in the late 90s banning the opening of any more. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat front benches also oppose the expansion of academic selection.

“The grammar school system, for all its many faults, was a real engine of social mobility, and nothing since has been as effective,” he says. “As every estate agent knows, the selection by ability of the grammar school system has been partly replaced by selection by mortgage.

“I am not suggesting that we should necessarily return to the grammar school system but that we should take note of its successes, see how we can learn from them and replicate them where we can, within the different circumstances that now exist.”

The modern education system, he says, is increasingly expected to “provide the answer to all the social ills of society, with the result that it is in danger of resembling a branch of psychotherapy”.


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