Monday, May 02, 2011

Americans Discern Correctly Public Schools are Poor “Investment”

We continue to hear the rhetoric from teachers unions and others in the education establishment that we need to “invest” more in America’s public schools.

Want smarter, better-prepared kids, the teacher unions ask? Give us more money! (And get the “rich” to pay for it.) That’s been the nation’s approach to public education for, oh, the last 50 years.

But after decades of increased education spending, it’s time to ask the obvious question: What kind of return are American taxpayers getting for all this “investment”? The answer: not much.

According to a new survey by Rasmussen Reports, a whopping 72% of taxpayers say they “are not getting a good return on what they spend on public education, and just one-in-three voters think spending more will make a difference.”

Americans are correctly discerning that simply spending more money will not improve educational outcomes.

Sure, throwing more dollars at education helps shore up the teacher unions’ Cadillac health insurance and pension plans. The money also helps cover automatic step raises for teachers. The problem is, none of those things help children read better or compute a calculus equation. Not one iota.

Think of it this way: If you owned stock in a company that was producing a lousy, inferior product that the public was unhappy with, would you buy more stock in that company?

If you’re a savvy investor, you’d demand new leadership that has a clear plan for producing a better product before you gave them a single dollar more. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to public schools?

For years, the teachers union and their surrogates in elective office could get away with guilting Americans into spending more on public education. It was for the children, after all!

It was a cozy setup. More education dollars meant more union dues and more union political contributions for Democrats (and the occasional incompetent Republican who bought into the teacher union propaganda). Everyone benefitted. Except the students.

This Rasmussen poll indicates that Americans are catching onto this racket.

If the nation’s public schools were producing college-ready, workforce-ready graduates, there is little doubt that Americans would be willing to spend even more money on public education.

But our education system is graduating many students who are lacking in basic skills. The number of college freshmen who have to take remedial English and math classes just to get up to academic speed is an indictment of the entire system. “Kids Aren’t Cars” told the story of a graduate who couldn’t read his own diploma.

If leaders of the education establishment want more of our money, they must show a commitment to quality. That means holding teachers accountable (merit pay, ending tenure) and providing students with greater choices in education (charter schools, online learning). Do those things, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, and then we’ll talk about more spending.

Until that happens, 72% of Americans understand that more school spending is simply throwing good money after bad.


British education boss makes it 'faster and simpler' to sack bad teachers

Incompetent teachers who use ‘notorious dodges’ to keep their jobs will be ejected from the classroom under radical new plans, Michael Gove announced yesterday. Speaking at the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference the Education Secretary said he would make it ‘faster and simpler’ for heads to sack bad teachers.

And he pledged to curb the underhand tactics used by bad teachers to cling on to their jobs. The two main ‘notorious dodges’ were stated as getting signed off sick and launching legal action against heads for bullying and intimidation.

The ruses can extend the time it takes to sack bad staff by years. Mr Gove wants this to reduced to a few months. Mr Gove’s new measures to cull incompetent teachers are set to be announced within weeks.

Addressing delegates at the Brighton conference, he said: ‘There are some underperforming teachers and it’s your responsibility to pick up the pieces. ‘Some are not pulling their weight or performing how they should in the class room.

‘I will be outlining new measures to manage out of the profession those people who should not be teaching.’ Speaking after the conference he added: ‘We will make it faster and simpler and we will deal with some of the most notorious dodges used by poor teachers.’

The measures are the latest in a string of reforms to boost teaching standards. They include raising the bar on qualifications needed to enter the profession and a review of standards against which teachers can be judged.

Mr Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT, said elaborate ruses used by teachers to avoid the sack resulted in heads spending too much time managing bad staff. He added: ‘Where there is one underperforming teacher, there are too many.’ Mr Gove spoke after NAHT delegates overwhelming voted – with 99.6% in favour - for the first time in their history 100–year history, to ballot for strike action over pensions. The delegates represent the leaders of 28,000 primary and secondary schools in England.

Millions of children will be shut out of schools when the action takes place in the autumn term. And the walkouts are set to form part of a wave of strikes starting in action by the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in June.

The planned action puts teachers on a collision course with the Government over changes to public sector pensions. Amendments proposed by Lord Hutton call for final salary schemes to be replaced by average salary, a later retirement age of 68 and increased contributions for diminished returns.

Mr Gove, seeking to appease teachers, said they were in a unique position within the public sector and would not have to accept all changes. He said they had made an ‘unwritten compact’ with Government to work for low pay on the condition they receive generous pensions. And he pledged to negotiate and work with teachers to get a fair deal.

Delegates also voted for a boycott over Sats tests for 600,000 primary school pupils in 2012 if the Government review of exams does not lead to the scrapping of the tests.

In a scathing attack on Mr Gove, Mr Hobby said increasing mountains of Government targets and league tables are ruining children’s education and turning youngsters into ‘statistical fodder’.


Schools that cheat in Australia too

NEXT month the latest round of National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy tests will occur. Some students will not be attending. This is because schools have recommended the parents keep their children at home. The reason is these children are deemed a potential hindrance to overall school test scores.

It is not that these children are necessarily those allowed to be excused under the protocols for NAPLAN. Children who have a significant disability that renders them incapable of being tested under NAPLAN specifications, or children from a non-English speaking background who arrived in Australia less than one year before the tests, do not have to sit them.

Even while these conditions are clear, some students will be absent for no reason other than the tests are likely to cause "stress". This at least was one of the scenarios exposed in The Australian on April 11 concerning Queensland's Miami State High School.

The school has encouraged about a dozen parents to keep their children at home. Such school-sanctioned wagging is to enable supposedly low-performing students not to influence the NAPLAN results as quantified on the My School website.

Queensland has an unenviable track record where fudging NAPLAN results is concerned. Last year, there were 23 allegations of cheating on NAPLAN levelled against state schools and five against non-state schools. While the details were not released at the request of state Education Minister Geoff Wilson, "unethical" behaviour of some Queensland schools is a euphemism for non-attendance.

Cold comfort though it may be, Queensland does not lead the nation on schools asking children to stay home at NAPLAN time. Victoria has the lowest NAPLAN participation rates in the country.

In the Year 3 writing test 94 per cent of students in Victoria sat the tests in 2008 compared with 91 per cent last year. This represents a drop of 2000 students. For Year 9 numeracy, 1934 fewer sat the test last year than in 2008.

It's a reality that prompted state Liberal Education Minister Martin Dixon to say of the Education Department's assiduousness under Labor: "If it had been rigorous, we wouldn't have seen falling participation rates."

Having children who do not fit the exclusion conditions stay away and not sit the tests is simply cheating and an unsubtle attempt to skew the tests results published on My School. This was never the idea of the tests.

NAPLAN is part of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's commitment to the "transformative" nature of education. There is a good reason for NAPLAN to be a test for all. Without a full cohort of participants, the national data is rubbery.

Australia's performance on international education skill assessments is declining. The OECD's 2009 Program for International Student Assessment for 15 year olds showed Australia had declined 13 points in reading since 2000 and had slipped 10 points since 2006 in mathematics.

But according to Australian Education Union's national president, Angelo Gavrielatos, teacher unions are to be congratulated on their obdurate anti-NAPLAN stance. Gavrielatos paid tribute to unions stymieing the tests in the AEU's national conference in January, lauding those foot soldiers who "put their careers on the line and faced threats of disciplinary action or dismissal over the union's campaign against NAPLAN testing, the misuse of data and school league tables".

I am supervising NAPLAN tests next month. The reality is that NAPLAN has begun to take on its own momentum. It has morphed into something it was never intended to be. The tests were to be a moment in time, a core sample of basic skills, not a prepared examination.

Underperforming schools were to get an increase in support to assist in bringing the results up to speed. The intention was about identifying weakness and high performance and increasing achievement overall.

But the preparation for NAPLAN tests has increased significantly. As this newspaper pointed out on April 13, Gillard, when she was education minister, foresaw the dangers. She asked the Education Department to "consider limits on practice time".

This, it can be argued, is another kind of cheating. If you prepare children for NAPLAN, teach to the test in other words, you are cooking results.

I have seen practice papers. The curious thing about them is the suggested answers to the questions provide detailed annotations for the teacher, including basic grammar and spelling explanations. That says a lot about the quality of the teachers. It seems they are assumed to know nothing and understand less.

In principle NAPLAN is an imperative educational reform. In practice it's been hijacked by nervous schools wanting a better result on My School and unions not wanting to have bad teaching exposed. Strange bedfellows indeed.


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