Sunday, May 01, 2011

Corruption in the US Education Dept over "For profit" colleges?

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General has launched a probe into possible influence by short-sellers on the Education Department's recent rulemaking process, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The investigation may proceed for some time, and there is no guarantee the OIG will make any specific findings.

The Education Department has come under fire from a number of sources since it began issuing a package of new rules last summer that will affect for-profit college operators such as Apollo Group Inc. (APOL), ITT Educational Services Inc. (ESI) and Corinthian Colleges Inc. (COCO). The Education Department released 13 of 14 rules in October but has yet to release the most controversial, which would tie graduates' student-loan repayment rates to programs' access to federal financial aid. As student-loan default rates rise, that rule is intended to ensure programs are educating their students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.

In November, Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) sent a letter asking the OIG to look into possible ties between the department and investors who were selling short the stock of various for-profit education companies. Correspondence between the parties, which include FrontPoint Partners's Steve Eisman, had been released by the department after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group known as CREW, filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Enzi (R., Wyo.) on Thursday sent a letter to Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan asking the department to release "all Department of Education written correspondence, email or otherwise, regarding the development of the proposed gainful-employment regulation," including documents from the Office of the Secretary related to the allegations. Enzi is ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Burr is also a member.

Additionally, lobbying groups supporting the for-profit colleges have alleged the Education Department leaked early copies of the rules to outside organizations and people with financial interests in the industry.

The so-called "gainful-employment" rule has seen strong opposition from lobbyists and a number of members of Congress, as many schools fear they may face program closures if they lose access to the funds. The U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to de-fund the gainful-employment rule, but the measure was later dropped from the final budget bill.

The Education Department said earlier this month it was "very close" to issuing the final rule, which will be "much more thoughtful" than an early draft. The department has said it sought input from a number of parties, including the schools that could be affected by the rules.

FrontPoint Partners's Eisman, the hedge-fund portfolio manager famous for his bearish bet on the mortgage industry, likened for-profit schools to subprime mortgages at an investor conference in May. He sent a copy of that presentation to the Education Department, according to documents released by CREW, and repeated many of the criticisms in front of a Senate committee hearing in June.

A representative from the Education Department referred questions to the OIG. An OIG representative said it's the agency's policy to neither confirm nor deny investigative activity. The OIG investigation was first reported Thursday in the Daily Caller, also citing sources.


British teachers are well-paid but many do not deliver value for money

Katharine Birbalsingh

How much do you think a teacher earns? The more I talk to people, the more I realise that the public think teachers are really poor.

It has come as quite a surprise for them to learn that hundreds of head teachers earn more than £100,000 per year, which is partly why the NASUWT teaching union was yesterday calling for more transparency in their salaries.

Once upon a time, of course, teachers did earn a pittance. But the recent Labour government changed all that. While it was in power, spending on education doubled; it now costs more than £80 billion a year to educate (rather badly) our lovely children. An ordinary London teacher, if good, can become an advanced skills teacher and earn well over £50,000 a year. A head of department or head of year doesn't even have to be good, and they'll be paid between £40,000 and £50,000. Assistant and deputy heads earn between £50,000 and £75,000, and heads can make just over £100,000.

For those teachers outside the capital, pay is slightly lower and for those in primary a little lower still, but no one is complaining. In my entire career as a teacher, I never heard a colleague complain about their pay.

I was always baffled when people would say that my motivation in speaking out about the education system was to sell my book. The £10,000 or so that I will eventually earn from it cannot compare with what I have lost in salary after being forced to leave my job. The fact is that most teachers are far richer than most writers.

And that, in my opinion, is a good thing: teaching is among the most important of our professions. It's a shame the public, on the whole, doesn't feel the same way. Would anyone question a surgeon being paid well? No. And that's because we have respect for doctors. Teachers, however, get a far harsher deal.

But even I'm struck by the quantity – and quality – of executive heads who are earning far more than £100,000 per year. One primary school head is reported to be earning some £276,000. Now, while this may be the exception, there is a disturbing lack of transparency about how and why they earn so much. This is mainly because they are drawing several different salaries for doing a variety of jobs – often rather badly because, frankly, no one can be in many schools and many training institutions and many conferences, all at the same time, while maintaining high standards at them all.

There are a handful of heads and executive heads who are worth every penny. They are extraordinarily talented, run outstanding schools, and do what most ordinary teachers can only dream about. But there are others, and I include deputies and assistants, who aren't even worth that ordinary teacher's salary.

And it is from these examples that public dissatisfaction with the profession festers. If our schools were churning out well-read, numerate, polite and charming young men and women, the public might not be quite so put out to learn that teachers are being so handsomely paid.

But half of our country's children do not manage to get five GCSEs with English and Maths; 84 per cent of them do not manage to get five C grades (not As but Cs) in academic subjects such as Maths, English, Science, History or Geography and a foreign or ancient language. Should we really be rewarding their schools for inadequately educating them?

If the statistics are to be believed, then the vast majority of head teachers do not deserve their salaries. I would go even further and argue that a number do not deserve to be in a post at all.

But when the Education Select Committee at the Commons asked me what should be done about senior teams who do not do their jobs properly and I answered: "Well… we should fire them…", the MPs from all three parties twisted uncomfortably in their seats.

One could barely stutter a response. Others hung their heads to hide their embarrassment at how inappropriate my answer was. I caused such a scandal that my words ended up in several newspapers. "Katharine Birbalsingh says teachers should be fired!"

And I still don't understand what the problem is. If you don't do your job properly, and your organisation is failing because of your poor leadership, isn't it obvious that you should be fired?

Senior teachers should not be paid less. Their jobs are the most important, most challenging and most exhilarating on the planet. Our future as a nation depends on them.

Why on earth would we want to reduce the status and appeal of such positions by decreasing their salaries? It is already hard enough to find good head teachers. The point is that senior teachers should do their jobs well and be held to account. We should give them incentives to ensure our children and schools are top class.

The public are right to be outraged and question teachers' pay – because they aren't getting value for their money.


That evil "rote learning" is needed in Australian primary schools

There is no other way to learn your times tables and they in turn are a major source of numeracy

Jennifer Buckingham

In around two weeks, each school student in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia will sit the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests. The four tests over three days begin with language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and writing, followed by reading and numeracy.

My eldest child, who is in Year 3, will take the tests for the first time this year. My daughter’s school takes these tests very seriously. They have been preparing students for a good proportion of the first term.

Although my own area of interest is reading, I am more familiar with the numeracy test, simply because numeracy is where my daughter is weaker. To my mind, the tests are a fair representation of my daughter’s mathematical prowess at this time. Just by doing practice tests together, I have been able to see the gaps in her skills and knowledge.

Two things have become apparent. First, my daughter’s performance in the test will be impeded because she does not know the times tables well. I share responsibility for this because I was already aware of it. We made a few half-hearted attempts to work on this at home, but it was tedious for both of us and I did not persevere.

However, it has become glaringly obvious that knowing single digit multiples is critical. And I mean really knowing them, not just knowing the concept of multiplication and that if you spend enough time drawing circles with dots in them, you can eventually work out the answer.

I cannot say whether this is true for many schools, but I have seen little evidence of memorisation in my daughter’s maths instruction, and there is no other way to permanently instil this knowledge and provide automatic recall. Language and social studies are not the only areas of schooling that have been adversely affected by constructivism.

Second, the numeracy is a test of mathematical literacy, not mathematical aptitude. All the questions are problem-based. This example from the 2010 Year 3 numeracy test paper shows that it is almost impossible to do well if you are not competent in reading and comprehending written language.

These biscuits are sold in packets of 10. Shelley wants to give one biscuit to each of her 27 classmates. What is the least number of packets that Shelley needs? (©ACARA 2010)

Fortunately, my daughter is literate and able to understand this question, so the test will assess her ability to solve the problem using mathematics. Other children will not be in the same situation.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 29 April. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

1 comment:

revrev said...

"We made a few half-hearted attempts to work on this at home, but it was tedious for both of us and I did not persevere."

Says it all really. Get out what you put in.

Learning the times tables by rote is just about the easiest way to give a child a real head start in maths.