Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perpetuating Federal Spending on Education

The tea partiers are demanding that Congress not raise the debt ceiling but instead avoid default by cutting spending dramatically. Federal spending on education emerges as the discretionary item in the federal budget most available for the knife, and a House bill is being introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that lists 43 education programs to be cut.

We've spent $2 trillion on education since federal aid began in 1965. The specified goals were to improve student achievement, eliminate or narrow the gap between upper-income and low-income students, and increase graduation rates from high school and college.

We have little or nothing to show for the taxpayers' generosity. Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan admitted that 82 percent of public schools should be ranked as failing.

So how will the army of educrats, whose jobs depend on billions of dollars of federal handouts, save their jobs? They've come up with an audacious plan that pretends to be useful in enabling them to discover what works and what doesn't, but it is so large and complicated that it would take years and require a huge computer-savvy payroll and billions of taxpayers' dollars.

And incidentally, it would be illegal because it's based on using executive branch regulations to override federal statutes.

This plan calls for a computerized system to track all Americans from cradle to grave by cross-linking all their school and college academic and extra-curricular records, including tests and appraisals by supervisors and peers, with health, welfare, employment and income data. The data gatherers used to talk about collecting K-12 data, and then they moved to Pre-K-16, and now their lingo is pre-birth to entry into the workforce.

States already collect a lot of data that have nothing to do with students' academic achievement, including Social Security numbers, family income, medical exams, and criminal and administrative penalties. Now the plan is to enter additional data on preschool experience, prenatal care, daycare, early childhood education and after-school activities.

This plan would computerize and combine information not only from the Department of Education, but also from the Department of Health and Human Services (which would include Head Start, WIC, Parents as Teachers and after-school programs) and from the Department of Labor. The goal is to give the government access to a giant computer data warehouse with personal information on all children.

This data-gathering plan is another example of the overreaching dictatorial bureaucracy trying to restrict parents' rights over the care and upbringing of their own children. The liberals really mean it when they say they want the village (i.e., the government) to raise and teach children, control their school curriculum and ultimately decide what adult job they can get.

The people who seek to control the lives and education of our children should be restrained from implementing this plan by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), formerly known as the Buckley Amendment, which passed in 1974. FERPA states that school and college records cannot be disclosed, or transferred to other agencies, without consent of the parents of kids under age 18 or the student if over 18, unless the information is not personally identifiable or other exceptions apply.

Both the No Child Left Behind law, which applies to elementary and secondary schools, and the Higher Education Act, which applies to colleges, reaffirmed FERPA's prohibition on the government developing a national or interagency database of personal information on students. But the Obama administration is now trying to get around FERPA by the subterfuge of having the states build the databases and assign each child a different ID number.

States are bribed to participate in this vast data collection by grants from a pot of federal money and by the threat of withholding other federal grants if states don't comply.

The Obama administration looks upon schools and colleges as giant reservoirs of young people who can be indoctrinated with "social justice" (i.e., America is somehow an oppressive, unjust society), multiculturalism instead of patriotism, and diversity in moral and immoral behaviors.

The people and groups working to achieve national control of education curriculum view the collection of enormous amounts of personal information about every student on a longitudinal basis, with tracking from "pre-birth" and preschool through postgraduate experience and into the labor force, as the essential path to achieve control of school curriculum and to guide kids' opinions about America.

This type of collection of personal information on all children is the mark of a totalitarian state, not a free America. It is reminiscent of the notorious "dangan" or dossier that Communist China maintains on every citizen (in folders stacked in giant warehouses in the pre-computer age), with complete information on every child through his years of school, which is then available to his employer when the kid goes into the labor force.


Teachers' children 'prioritised' in British school admissions overhaul

Schools will be able to prioritise places for the children of teachers, cooks, cleaners and caretakers under a Government reform of admissions rules, it emerged today. They will be given new powers to prioritise sons or daughters of staff members for the first time as part of a plan to give more power to individual schools. Ministers insisted the change would allow heads to attract the best candidates and ease the burden on parent teachers.

But the move is likely to raise fears it could lead to a further reduction in the number of places available for other families in local catchment areas.

The Coalition’s draft school admissions code also requires all schools to admit children from Armed Forces families before other pupils and gives flagship academies and free schools the power to prioritise poor youngsters eligible for free school meals.

In another new development, the document will allow twins and other multiple birth children to be admitted to infant classes – even if means pushing them above to 30-pupil legal limit – to stop brothers or sisters being separated at a young age.

Teaching unions warned that the move could also lead to a rise in class sizes, undermining children’s education.

But the Government insisted the new code meant more parents would be able to get their children into the best state schools. It was also revealed that all schools – including selective state grammars – would be able to expand to take in more pupils.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said: “The school system has rationed good schools. Some families can go private or move house. Many families cannot afford to do either.

“The system must change. Schools should be run by teachers who know the children’s names and they should be more accountable to parents, not politicians.

“Good schools should be able to grow and we need more of them.”

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the number of special interest groups awarded reserved places could lead to unsustainably large classes in some schools.

Since 1997, primary schools have been banned from squeezing more than 30 infants into the same lesson.

“The idea that primary class sizes could go beyond 30 for whatever reason is a backward step,” she said. “This is of no benefit to anyone, least of all children.

“Large class sizes will increase the dependency upon teaching assistants who, while providing very useful support and back up in the classroom, have been shown to have little effect on attainment.

“We need to see class sizes reduced to at least 20 to ensure pupils get the maximum support and attention from their teacher.”

The measures announced today form part of the Government's plans to slim down the admissions code, amid concerns that it had become too unwieldy.

The code - which will go out to consultation before being introduced for children starting school in 2013 - is around 50 pages long, compared to the old version which stretched to around 130 pages.

In one controversial development, schools can decide to prioritise staff during the admissions process. They must set out their own definition of "staff" - possibly widening it out beyond teachers to include all support workers, including cleaners and caretakers.

The new proposals also include:

* Increasing the number of places available in good schools by making it easier for popular establishments to take more pupils;

* Banning local authorities from using area-wide "lotteries";

* Giving parents more time to appeal after being rejected from the school of their choice, with the current 10-day deadline being extended to 30 days;

* Reducing bureaucracy by requiring schools and local councils to consult on admissions arrangements every seven years, rather than every three years, if no changes are proposed;

* Simplifying transitions from one school to another when families move to a new area during the school year.


Teaching assistants 'fail to improve British school results'

Hundreds of millions of pounds spent drafting teaching assistants into schools has failed to improve pupils’ performance, according to research. A rise in the number of support staff in the classroom has had “no impact” on standards, said a report published by the Sutton Trust charity.

The study suggests that assistants can “positively affect” pupils’ attitudes towards education but may undermine lessons when used as a substitute for proper teachers.

It comes despite a sharp hike in the number of classroom assistants hired under Labour, with 213,900 employed this year – almost three times the total a decade ago.

In the latest study, academics from Durham University analysed the different ways English schools could spend additional cash pledged by the Government to improve standards among poor pupils. The so-called “pupil premium” – worth an extra £430 per child each year – is being introduced in September.

The study found no benefit to hiring teaching assistants. Setting classes by ability and imposing a hard-line policy on school uniform could actually have a negative impact on pupils’ results, it was claimed.

Researchers found only minor benefits associated with the introduction of school uniforms, reducing class sizes, introducing performance-related pay for teachers and running after school clubs.

They said setting more homework had a “moderate impact” on standards, equivalent to a maximum of five months’ extra education over the course of a year.

But the study said the most effective techniques included providing pupils with feedback on their work and encouraging them to think about their own studies.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The key to improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is not necessarily how much money is spent in schools, but how much is spent on what is proven to work in the classroom.”

Labour encouraged a dramatic increase in the number of classroom assistants as part of a landmark deal to give teachers at a least one half-day a week to plan and prepare work. Under the move, teachers are no longer expected to do a series of administrative tasks, such as photocopying and putting up displays.

But unions have claimed that many schools are simply using support staff as cheap labour, often leaving them in full charge of lessons.

A Government-funded report in 2009 found that assistants were used as temporary cover in more than 80 per cent of schools.

One-in-10 state primaries and 40 per cent of secondaries admitted regularly turning to support staff to fill in for absent teachers for more than three days at a time. Some used assistants for a whole term.


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