Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pressure applied in Chicago?

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel may have dodged an early fight with the teacher's unions.

Illinois is on track to pass a major set of education reforms -- without much of the drama that has dogged the effort in other jurisdictions like Washington D.C. -- and Wisconsin.

“The changes to Illinois’ education system agreed to by all parties will make Illinois a national model, and set a standard for other states to follow,” said Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children.

The bill under consideration is the result of negotiations between education groups Advance Illinois and Stand for Children, teachers' unions, and school administrators and it reforms tenure, establishes performance as a hiring standard and limits seniority and the right to strike. The Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association have all backed the measure.

On the campaign trail, Emanuel backed an early version of the bill that the unions originally opposed, using harsh rhetoric against the teachers unions.

"Chicago kids are being cheated out of four years' worth of education," Emanuel said in February signaling he backed reforms to tenure and curtailing the right to strike. Teachers, he said "are working very hard in adverse conditions in many places but they are not underpaid."


“We will sacrifice quality if necessary”

An unguarded comment by the new president of Britain's National Union of Students shows how denigrated university education has become

From Britain’s government officials right through to anti-cuts protesters, it seems everyone agrees about one thing in relation to Higher Education: universities should be engines of social mobility. They should give a boost to students from poorer backgrounds and help them to make their way up the career and social ladders.

The newly elected president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Liam Burns, spelt this out very clearly. Speaking to the Scottish Herald before his election, he said we should put aside the archaic idea that universities should encourage the advancement of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, and welcome the fact that unis are now training grounds for youngsters who want to have brighter career prospects.

‘I think we should be honest about our priorities’, he said. ‘At the end of the day, the point of the university has changed. If you look at when only five per cent of the population went, that was about knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries, people talked about the crème de la crème. [Now], it is about social mobility and people changing their lives. The reality is you need that bit of paper [a degree] to get into better jobs with greater earning potential and influence. So we want as many people to get one as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.’

‘At the expense of quality…’ It is a remarkably naked assertion of the denigration of education from being about quality (knowledge, reflection, truth) to being about quantity (getting as many young people through as possible in order to improve their ‘earning potential’).

This outlook has been widespread on recent student demonstrations against the Lib-Con government’s plans to cut HE funding and enforce student fees. If young people don’t get that ‘bit of paper’ that acts as a passport to a better job, the protesters have argued, then it’s all over, we’re doomed. Student commentators described the government’s plans as a ‘breathtaking attack on social mobility’ while protesters waved banners pleading ‘Don’t cut our futures’, ‘My dream for a better future will be over’ and ‘No degree = no hope’.

When students and their representatives see the primary role of Higher Education as providing a path towards ‘greater earning potential’, then it is clear that they have bought into the idea of themselves as consumers. Apparently they are simply the consumers of a product (education), whose time at uni is really just an investment that should eventually pay off in terms of increased social mobility. Indeed, many students have even started to demand refunds for ‘poor teaching’, when universities fail to deliver and provide those measurable outcomes that students expect as a return on their investment.

If the student movement has bought into the idea of Higher Education as a kind of investment, that begs a serious question: why shouldn’t students have to pay for this service? If HE really is just about improving prospects and lifestyles, then perhaps there should be fees, much like when adults take night classes because they want to move higher up in their firm of field of work? In this sense, it is not surprising that Liam Burns, who explicitly elevates ‘earning potential’ over ‘knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries’, reportedly believes that the idea of a free education is now ‘untenable’ outside of Scotland, and that a graduate tax, imposed upon graduates who earn above a certain threshold, is the way forward. (Burns played a key role in keeping Scotland itself fees-free.)

Once a university education is no longer treated as something that has an intrinsic value, regardless of the outcomes upon graduation, then the arguments for keeping it free, the idea of keeping it shielded from market forces, become increasingly spurious. In buying into the language of social mobility, anti-fees student campaigners are shooting themselves in the foot.

In fact, in arguing that ‘knowledge, discovery and pushing boundaries’ should be deprioritised in favour of boosting social mobility, student representatives undermine the very basis on which degrees were once seen as valuable. Degrees were traditionally a mark of academic excellence; having one made you stand out from the crowd. If, as Burns now seems to be suggesting, the quality of degrees should be compromised so that ‘the crowd’ can all be awarded one, then degrees will cease to have the cachet they once had. And organisations will have to find other ways of selecting the best employees.

Ironically, they might have to do that by falling back on older, quite problematic methods: the school-tie approach, perhaps, or the question of whether your degree is from a ‘good university’ or a ‘bad university’. The hollowing out of degrees, the elevation of quantity over quality, not only robs young people of the chance to stretch their minds and seek knowledge - it also implicitly invites organisations and institutions to develop various ways to separate people into ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ categories.

With their talk of social mobility, especially for poorer students, student representatives may think they are being radical. But in truth, they are buying into the very marketisation of HE that the coalition government itself is encouraging. Furthermore, in failing to defend the traditional role of a university, these new student consumers will find that their ‘investment’ is less likely to yield either a decent education or a passport to a brighter, more brilliant future.


One in six British schools bans conkers over "elf 'n' safety" fears - and leapfrog and marbles are also under threat

Traditional school games such as conkers and leapfrog are dying out because over-protective teachers have irrational fears about health and safety, a survey suggests.

Researchers found that conkers have been banned from nearly one sixth of playgrounds for fear that they could cause injury or trigger a nut allergy, even though they are not nuts.

British bulldog contests have been banned from more than a quarter of playgrounds and even innocuous games such as leapfrog and marbles are going the same way.

Of 653 heads, teachers and support staff questioned, 29 per cent said British bulldog has been banned in their school, 14 per cent said pupils are forbidden from playing conkers and 9 per cent said leapfrog had been banned. Some 5 per cent said children were prevented from playing marbles and the same percentage said chasing games, such as tag, had been stopped.

The trend has been blamed on the rise in bureaucracy and red tape in schools and an increase in the number of parents who sue. Education experts have accused ‘over-zealous’ teachers of ruining childhoods.

Tim Gill, former director of the Children’s Play Council at the National Children’s Bureau, said schools have ‘forgotten how to give children a good childhood’. He added: ‘Bumps and scrapes and dealing with life’s trials are part and parcel of growing into a confident and resilient person. ‘You can only learn through experience.’

He said teachers who insist they are hampered by red tape are ‘confused’ because ‘bureaucracy barriers are not as great as they think they are’.

The reluctance of teachers to let children play has been revealed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Its research has also shown that pupils are being taken on fewer school trips due to too much form filling, a lack of time and funding, and safety fears. One primary school teacher told researchers: ‘Apparently the main problem with conkers is that nut allergy sufferers are increasingly allergic to them.’
'Right, Perkins, I'm just going to check your pockets for any conkers'

A secondary school teacher said: ‘Bulldog is banned because of the number of broken bones it generates.’

In total, 15 per cent of those questioned said fewer playground games and sports are played at their school now than three years ago. More than half, 55 per cent, cited concerns over pupil safety as the reason. And 42 per cent said there was a fear of being sued if a child was hurt during a game. In total, 57 per cent of those questioned said there was a growing trend of ‘risk aversion’ in schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘Risk in any school trip or activity should be recognised, assessed and managed, rather than avoided. ‘Young people are often less safe when there is an adult saying “be careful” – they then don’t trust their own instincts.’

Peter Cornall of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said increasing numbers of children are allergic to conkers, which are the seed of the horse chestnut tree. This is not because the conker has known allergens, but because fewer children play outside and build immunity to germs that may be on conkers. But he added: ‘Teachers are taking matters too far.’


No comments: