Monday, April 04, 2011

Florida Education Reforms Succeed, Spread to Other States

Florida is widely recognized as the state leader in education reform. Students in the Sunshine State have made the strongest academic achievement gains in the nation since 2003, and they are one of the only states that have been able to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority students. Yesterday, the Washington Post highlighted the Florida model, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s role in its creation:
“The president who turned No Child Left Behind from slogan into statute is gone from Washington, and the influence of his signature education law is fading. But another brand of Bush school reform is on the rise.

“The salesman is not the 43rd president, George W. Bush, but the 43rd governor of Florida, his brother Jeb.

“At the core of the Jeb Bush agenda are ideas drawn from his Florida playbook: Give every public school a grade from A to F. Offer students vouchers to help pay for private school. Don’t let them move into fourth grade unless they know how to read.”

State leaders seem to know a good reform strategy when they see it, and many across the country are beginning to embrace the Florida reform model.

Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Governor Gary Herbert of Utah just signed the Florida-style A-F grading system into law in their respective states. The scale grades schools and school districts on a straightforward, transparent scale designed to inform parents and taxpayers about achievement results. The move will arm parents with more information about school performance – a necessary step to improving education. State leaders in Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana also recently implemented the A-F grading scale.

While transparency about school performance is essential to results-based education reform, providing parents with opportunities to act on that information is crucial. Many states are now working to enact that most important piece of the Florida reform model – school choice.

In Indiana, a school choice bill – what could become the largest in the country – is under consideration that would provide significant new education options for families. According to the Foundation for Educational Choice, the House bill under consideration would create a new voucher program that would allow children to attend a private school of their choice. Scholarship amounts will be determined on a sliding scale based on income, and after three years, the cap on the number of eligible students would be lifted.

Moves to embrace the Florida reform model – in whole or in part – illustrate the great capacity of state leaders to look toward what works in education and modify it to meet the needs of local communities.

By contrast, Washington has been trying for nearly a half century to push education reform from the top down, despite being far from the students and schools their policies impact.

The Washington Post goes on to say that “[Jeb] Bush left office in 2007, and his legacy is much debated.” While some may like to debate which of the reform elements of his plan were most effective, there’s little room to debate the results.

Florida students have demonstrated the strongest gains on the NAEP in the nation since 2003, when all 50 states began taking NAEP exams. Moreover, between 1998 and 2008, the average score for black students increased by 12 points in reading from 192 to 204. In Florida, it increased by 25 points—twice the gains of the national average. If African American students nationwide had made the same amount of progress as African American students in Florida, the fourth-grade reading gap between black and white would be approximately half the size it is today.

If federal policymakers truly wanted to help education reform flourish, they would relieve states of the bureaucratic red tape and heavy handed mandates, and allow state leaders to have more control over how education dollars are spent. As the recent replications of the highly successful Florida reform model show, state leaders are eager to do what works and what’s in the best interest of students.


Pupils could face police action as British government announces surprise raids on schools to tackle bad behaviour

Britain's worst schools will face surprise raids by inspectors and heads will be able to press charges against pupils under moves to stamp out discipline problems in the classroom.

Teachers will also be given powers to confiscate pupils’ mobile phones in a package of measures designed to end years of politically correct official guidance that gave disruptive children the upper hand.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who will unveil the plans today, is determined to reverse the collapse in classroom discipline that has resulted in 1,000 children a day being suspended from school for abuse and assault.

As well as confiscating mobiles, which are banned in many classrooms, teachers will be allowed to search the phones for evidence of cyber-bullying and inappropriate material.

And they will be allowed to break up fights and manhandle unruly pupils out of the classroom. They will also automatically be given the benefit of the doubt when facing malicious allegations from children or parents – and given anonymity while the claims are investigated.

Under the new rules they will then be allowed to launch criminal action against their own pupils who have made false allegations about them. The youngsters will also face expulsion over the claims.

Teachers will also be allowed to hand out automatic detentions to misbehaving students, without having to give parents 24 hours’ notice.

The 50-page document replaces more than 600 pages of complex guidance on discipline.

Mr Gove will also press the schools inspection body, Ofsted, to carry out more unannounced raids at the worst schools. At present most schools receive many months’ notice before an Ofsted inspection – giving them time to cover up the worst problems. New powers to carry out so-called ‘no-notice inspections’ have been used only five times in 18 months.

A government source said Mr Gove expected the powers to be used more widely, adding: ‘In the small number of schools with very bad behaviour problems we need more no-notice inspections. It must become unacceptable for schools to tolerate persistent serious problems.’

Mr Gove said the new measures would hand power in the classroom back to teachers. He added: ‘Improving discipline is a big priority. Teachers can’t teach effectively and pupils can’t learn if schools can’t keep order.

The new regime will remove the controversial ‘no touch’ rules, which banned teachers from any physical contact with pupils.

The guidance also gives teachers far greater protection against malicious complaints from pupils and their parents. One in four teachers has faced false allegations from a pupil, while one in six has had unfounded allegations made by parents.

Chris Yeates, the leader of teachers’ union NASUWT, yesterday criticised the ‘disproportionate’ powers allowing teachers to search for mobile phones – despite having previously branded mobiles ‘offensive weapons’ used by bullies.

Charlie Taylor, head of a tough inner-city school for excluded pupils, has been appointed as a school discipline tsar to drive through the reforms. He said: ‘For far too long, teachers have been buried under guidance and reports on how to tackle bad behaviour. I am determined to make sure I help schools put policy into practice.’


Millions of Australians behind on basic skills; threatens Australia's international competitiveness

Not as bad as the USA but getting there

AUSTRALIA'S international competitiveness is under threat because up to eight million Australian workers don't have the reading, writing or numeracy skills to undertake training for trade or professional jobs.

The nation's 11 Industry Skills Councils will today call for a new campaign to tackle endemic numbers of workers with poor reading and writing skills, launching a report detailing the problems being faced by industry training bodies.

The bodies say they are confronting inadequately prepared school leavers, an ageing workforce struggling to cope with technological advances and overseas-born workers with English as a second language.

The report, No More Excuses, calls for the Council of Australian Governments to develop a national "overarching blueprint for action on language, literacy and numeracy".

The report will reignite the skills debate at a time when industry is warning of the re-emergence of shortages of trained workers and Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have thrust workforce participation and getting the long-term unemployed into work to the front of the political debate.

The report says "the situation looks as if it could be getting worse, not better" in terms of the language, literature and numeracy skills of workers.

"International studies have shown that over the past two decades, Australia's literacy and numeracy skill levels have stagnated while those of other countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, have improved.

"By continuing to accept the current levels, we are limiting the future success of individuals, businesses and our economy," the Industry Skills Councils say in a joint statement to be released today.

The report calls for industry training programs to be provided with specific funding to tackle language, literacy and numeracy gaps faced by students and overseas-born workers with English as a second language.

It also calls for recruits to be given better advice about the language and maths requirements of training courses.

Forest Works chief executive Michael Hartman, who runs training programs for the forest, wood, paper and timber products industry, said literacy and numeracy were the "foundation of productivity".

A failure to improve skills among both school leavers and experienced workers would see Australian businesses fall behind international competitors.

Electrocomms and Energy Utilities Industry Skills Council chief executive Bob Taylor told The Australian a decade of calls for skill-ready school leavers had failed to achieve any tangible improvements.

And the resources and infrastructure industry skills council, SkillsDMC, writes in the report that some indigenous recruits on resources projects have learning levels as low as primary school grade four.

This means that providing them with literacy and numeracy skills "is costly and time-consuming, and often results in the employee spending more time at training than at work".

Mr Taylor said industry had been complaining about the poor quality of literacy and numeracy among school leavers looking to enter the trades for more than 10 years and there had been no improvement.

He said the report was aimed at ending the "blame game" and incorporating basic reading, writing and numeracy skills into preliminary training courses.

He said lack of skills in this area was a "real issue" in terms of drop-out rates of apprentices and schools needed to become more focused on providing the relevant skills to the 70 per cent of students who would not attend university and seek work in a trade.

Mr Taylor said preliminary training courses to allow regional workers access to jobs on the National Broadband Network included facets of basic literacy and numeracy training.

He said it was "quite frustrating" that basic maths and physics of the 15- to 16-year-olds seeking trades in the 1960s was superior to today's 18-year-olds seeking trades.

Mr Hartman said his industry was confronting literacy and numeracy problems among older workers who had been long-term employees in industries that were suddenly facing technological change.

He said under current training arrangements, there was not a lot of money available to enable trainers to help students struggling with basic literacy and numeracy skills and this needed to be addressed: "It is a major problem in our society; unless we tackle it, we'll fall further behind in terms of international competitiveness and the skills of our people."


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