Saturday, May 07, 2011

Study: 1/3 US students clueless about civics

Fewer than half of US eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics exam, and one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, according to test results released yesterday.

Three-quarters of high school seniors who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress were unable to identify the effect of foreign policy on other nations or name a power granted to Congress.

The results “confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,’’ said Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Supreme Court justice who last year founded, a nonprofit group that teaches civics through Web-based games.

The Department of Education administered the tests to 27,000 fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade students last year.

Average fourth-grade scores on the test’s 300-point scale rose slightly since the exam was last administered, in 2006, to 157 from 154. Average eighth-grade scores were virtually unchanged at 151. Scores of high school seniors — who are either eligible to vote or about to be — dropped to 148 from 151.

“The results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline,’’ said Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Civic Education.

One bright spot: Hispanic students, a growing proportion of the country’s population and student body, narrowed the gap between their scores and those of non-Hispanic white students. On average, Hispanic eighth-graders scored 137 and non-Hispanic whites 160. That 23-point gap was down from 29 in 2006.


British Government to crackdown on the 'Mickey Mouse' High School courses introduced by the Labour Party

Hundreds of worthless qualifications face the axe under a Government shake-up of vocational education. Ministers believe too many ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses are failing teenagers as they do not lead to higher education or stable jobs.

In a major crackdown, ministers are expected to implement the findings of a review which found that up to a third of the non-academic GCSE courses introduced under Labour were pointless. Many of these ‘soft’ courses will be banned from counting towards schools’ GCSE league table positions, while others will fail to be accredited in the first place.

The Government is set to urge regulator Ofqual to take a tougher stance and oversee a fall in the number of poor-quality, non-academic courses being accredited in schools and colleges. This will free more funding for work-based tuition, including apprenticeships.

The Government will announce plans to compile detailed guidance about which vocational qualifications will be allowed to count in school league tables. Many will no longer contribute towards the traditional five A* to C measure of GCSE performance – leading to their demise as schools start to shun them.

The overhaul comes amid an astonishing 3,800 per cent increase in uptake of non-academic GCSE-equivalent courses under Labour. Numbers soared to 575,000 last year – from just 15,000 in 2005.

This helped fuel a damaging collapse in the number of children taking academic courses, and enabled schools to ‘play the system’ by pushing pupils on to ‘soft’ courses that helped boost league rankings.

An independent review in March found up to a third of the soft, non-academic courses introduced under Labour and taken by up to 400,000 16 to 19-year-olds were pointless. They fail to lead directly to a job or other, more advanced courses at college or university, the report said.

One, the level two Certificate in Personal Effectiveness, worth a GCSE, was taken by 10,843 pupils last year. A sample paper asks students to ‘find out what benefits you are entitled to if you are unemployed’. It also asks students to ‘show you can obtain information on a topic you are interested in’ using telephones, the internet, radio or TV and newspapers.

Another, among the most popular highlighted in the report included a Certificate in Preparation for Working Life, worth half a GCSE and taken by almost 30,000 young people last year. Material includes a compulsory section on ‘hazard identification at home, on the roads and at work’, such as ‘storage, falling/ladders and the use of energy’. Students are also taught about emotions people experience including ‘happiness, grief and envy’.

Professor Alison Wolfe of King’s College London, who led the review, said the ‘depth and breadth’ of vocational courses as well as assessment arrangements should be considered when deciding should continue to contribute to Key Stage Four league tables.

Ofqual should also be ‘strongly encouraged to expand and improve the ways in which it regulates awarding bodies and examines standards in vocational education’.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is expected to endorse Professor Wolfe’s findings. A Coalition source said: ‘Under Labour millions of children were pushed into dead end qualifications. ‘The Wolfe Review gives us a blueprint for learning from the most successful countries and putting Labour’s failure behind us.’


The good ol' generous taxpayer again

Incredible salaries of Australian university bosses

THE salary of University of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield soared to $1,069,999 this week after he won a staggering $80,000 payrise. The rise alone is more than the Australian average wage of $66,200 and ahead of salaries paid to lecturers and tutors. Several other Queensland vice-chancellors are edging closer to the million-dollar mark, according to reports tabled in Parliament.

Are they worth it? While acknowledging their high-powered, high-stress jobs, many will conclude the salaries are excessive.

There is no doubt that university boffins who make it to the top in Australia climb aboard the ultimate gravy train. Perks include free cars and expense accounts and trips to exotic locations for "research" and important seminars and meetings.

University leaders become the chief executives of vast "companies". Unlike real-world companies, however, universities are topped up each year with billions in federal funding.

Peter Coaldrake, vice-chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, got a pay rise of $50,000, taking his salary to $759,999. Ian O'Connor, vice-chancellor of Griffith University, got a pay rise of $75,000, taking his salary to $714,999.

However, the academic world remains puzzled by the generous salaries paid to the heads of much smaller universities. The remuneration of Greg Hill, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunshine Coast, is believed to be on $489,999, with rises in the pipeline set to take his salary next year to $509,000. Hill succeeded vice-chancellor Paul Thomas, who left with a payout including superannuation of $859,999. Hill is also president of the university whose student numbers have jumped 15 per cent to 7276 since 2006.

In a note in the annual report Hill said: "Despite the rapid growth in student numbers the quality of learning and teaching has remained high. The university was the top-ranked public university in Queensland for teaching quality and graduate satisfaction in the most recent Good Universities Guide." He said the Australian Learning and Teaching Council awarded university staff six citations for excellence.

The remuneration of Scott Bowman, vice-chancellor of Central Queensland University, was listed as $479,999. The university has 12,733 full and part-time students. More than 8000 of them are international students. Sandra Harding, vice-chancellor of James Cook University, won a $60,000 pay rise, taking her salary to a high of $559,999. James Cook has 18,971 students.

By comparison, the University of Queensland has 44,000 full-time and part-time students including 10,465 international students. QUT has 40,563 enrolments, including 6000 from overseas and Griffith University said it has 43,000 students with 9007 from overseas.

A professor told me vice-chancellors of smaller universities had to be paid more to attract them to regional cities. Their pay had to compensate for a loss of prestige in accepting a job at a university of lower standing, he said.

Professor Bill Lovegrove, vice-chancellor at the University of Southern Queensland, accepted a more modest pay rise of $20,000, taking his salary to $509,999. USQ has 26,069 students, nearly 20,000 of them external or online students.

And salaries look set to soar as student numbers rise. Indeed, I was told some universities had already approved a fresh round of pay rises for their vice-chancellors for next year. The top 10 executives at the University of Queensland now earn in excess of $300,000 each. So do the top 10 at Griffith. The top seven executives at QUT earn $300,000 or better.

So why are vice-chancellors and executives paid like the CEOs of big companies?

No doubt universities have become big companies. International education is Australia's third-largest export industry, generating $18 billion in exports in 2009, the Australian Technology Network Universities reported. That amount is 50 per cent larger than tourism-related travel, and has grown by 94 per cent since 2004, according to Greenfield. Higher education generates about $9.3 billion or 57 per cent of this export income, he told the Canberra Press Club this week.

Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said recently that Melbourne's seven universities were the city's biggest employers and had been the largest contributor to state economic development during the past 25 years.

Greenfield said higher education's contribution to economic prosperity was rarely discussed, even though it was the largest service export industry in Australia. He said a total of 480,000 undergraduate places were being funded in 2011, which is 50,000 students more than in 2009. "Encouragingly offers to students from low socio-economic backgrounds have increased faster than for other groups."

The rise of an academic fat cat class comes at a time when Australia's 40,000 academics such as lecturers and tutors believe they are underpaid. It is estimated that an additional 40,000 academic staff will be needed in the next two decades to reduce student staff ratios from an average of 20:1 to 15:1. In addition, thousands of academics will be required to replace those who retire.

A dissenting professor told me there was no evidence academic workers were being underpaid. She pointed to an international comparison of academic salaries by Laura E. Rumbley and colleagues at Boston College's Centre for International Higher Education which found Australian wages for entry-level academic positions are the third highest in the world after Canada and the US.

They are more than three times those in India and more than five times those in China. Australian wages for senior academics are the fourth highest in the world.


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