Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GOP Lawmaker Challenges Duncan on watering down No Child Left Behind

The Republican chair of the House education committee said Thursday he won't rush into a revamp of No Child Left Behind and challenged the Obama administration's suggestion that states be allowed to waive parts of the law.

In a news conference, Rep. John Kline responded to Education Secretary Arne Duncan's assertion last week that he would waive some requirements of the law for states that adopt changes he has championed, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement and overhauling the lowest-performing schools. Mr. Duncan wants the changes made before the new school year.

Mr. Kline said, "We can't be driven in the House or the Senate by [Mr. Duncan] or by the president's deadline." Mr. Kline questioned Mr. Duncan's legal authority to tie waivers to policy changes not authorized by Congress and sent him a letter Thursday seeking more clarity on the issue. "He is not the nation's superintendent," Mr. Kline told reporters.

Mr. Kline said he plans to break the law into five or six smaller legislative bills and try to pass them by the end of the calendar year. The bills would focus on charter school expansion, more flexibility for schools in spending federal money, stricter requirements for teachers and rewriting rules that punish schools for missing federal student achievement standards.

No Child Left Behind, one of President George W. Bush's key domestic achievements, requires that schools test students in math and reading and punishes schools when they fall short of score objectives set by the states. The law has been criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing school curricula and prodding states to water down standardized tests.

President Barack Obama and Mr. Duncan have pushed Congress to overhaul the law and, until recently, it was expected to be one of the few bipartisan accomplishments of 2011. But Republicans have begun to push back, especially tea-party Republicans who want to reduce the federal role in K-12 education.

A spokesman for Mr. Duncan said the waiver package the secretary is considering, which he wouldn't detail, complies with the existing law. "Congress may need more time to finish its work, but states working to implement reforms needed to prepare students for college and career need greater flexibility now—in real time, not Washington time," said the spokesman, Justin Hamilton.

Mr. Kline's education committee passed a measure earlier this week that encourages states to create more high-quality charter schools, which are public schools run by non-government entities. Next, he said, the committee will tackle funding flexibility.


Let us choose good schools

The basic principle of equal treatment by the law is not complicated. But while many current-day self-described civil rights activists agitate for "rights" of distinctly dubious provenance — universal health care, "affordable" housing, same-sex "marriage," etc. — they ignore an obvious unequal treatment by government affecting the most vulnerable in our society: the lack of educational options for millions of poor and minority children.

In standard school districts, children are enrolled in a school based on their home address. Getting out of that school requires their family to move to another district, make enough money to send them to a private school or alternative public school (if allowed), or have enough free time and ability to homeschool them. Poor families are severely limited, if not hopeless, on all three counts.

There is a severe disconnect in this regard between self-styled civil rights advocates and the people they profess to champion.

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 4 that the NAACP, which purports to care for the interests of black Americans, joined the United Federation of Teachers in a lawsuit against New York City to keep 22 of its worst schools from closing.

One of these, the Academy for Collaborative Education in Harlem, had only 3 percent of students performing at grade level for English last year, and 9 percent in math. Another, Columbus High School in the Bronx, has a graduation rate of 40 percent, a good deal worse than the abysmal citywide average of 63 percent.

When thousands of black parents held a rally to protest the lawsuit that would keep their kids trapped in these atrocious schools, the NAACP responded with indifference. Lawsuit critics "can march and have rallies all day long," said state NAACP President Hazel Dukes. "We will not respond."

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Similarly, a lawsuit in California is thwarting parents who used the state's new Parent Trigger law to demand the failing McKinley Elementary in Compton be converted to a charter school. Their kids remain stuck in a school where they can't learn.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education unanimously rejected the practice of public schools segregating children based on race. The Topeka NAACP recruited the 13 winning plaintiffs in the case that concluded "separate but equal" was not equal.

Today, poor families of all races are routinely slotted into separate, or minority-majority and failing, public schools, where they dwell in learning environments so unequal that 3 percent of students can test at grade level in English while teacher unions still insist their members deserve the jobs at which they've clearly failed. Instead, unions blame the children, their parents and every other possible scapegoat.

These children are not hopeless cases. Those given the chance to attend charter or private schools under voucher or scholarship programs do better than their equally qualified counterparts who apply but aren't lucky enough to get chosen in the lotteries these programs use. And the fact that these programs must use lotteries — because so many parents want their children to have a chance at a better education — tells all you need to know about whether parents are to blame for burdening their children with low expectations.

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Yes, public schools, administrators and teachers are not solely to blame for poor performance in urban and minority schools. They can work only with the students and cultures they are assigned. But the current structure of restriction and restraint — of government-mandated incompetence — is a disaster and must change. That means giving all parents and children the freedom to choose schools.

Public school funds should attach to each child, not a particular administrative structure. That would grant power to the powerless and force schools to compete for students by educating them successfully.

When public school quality varies so widely, equal access means not merely a chance to attend a local school, but that public funds follow the child to any accredited school a family may choose.


'I'll end culture of re-sits and toughen up GCSEs': British Govt. minister vows to bring back REAL exams

Pupils will be forced to sit their GCSEs as final exams instead of in bite-size chunks under radical plans to toughen up the tests. The Education Secretary has attacked the effect of modular GCSEs – where teenagers take several exams throughout the year, with the chance to retake them – saying they have dumbed down education.

Michael Gove said the system introduced under Labour had created a 'culture of re-sits' that has led to students retaking modules until they get better grades. And he said that while other countries had made their examination system more rigorous, England had gone backwards.

Mr Gove said pupils will now sit final exams at the end of their last GCSE year. They will be marked down for bad spelling, punctuation and grammar in all courses with a 'sustained section of writing' including geography and history.

Mr Gove also criticised exam boards for a series of blunders in GCSE and A-level papers sat by some 250,000 pupils in recent weeks. 'Exam boards have made big mistakes – this is heart-breaking for the students. So we need to change the way that GCSEs operate. Some GCSEs are broken into bite-size chunks. 'This means bits could be re-sat, so instead of concentrating on teaching and learning, more time was being spent on practice for exams.

'This meant that less time was being spent on developing a deep and rounded knowledge of the subject. 'I think the modular system was a mistake, and the culture of re-sits is wrong.'

And he added: 'Other countries have more rigorous exams and curricula more relevant to the 21st century. 'If you are looking at the way grades are awarded, the real question is whether our exams are keeping pace with other countries. 'Our children will be competing for jobs with children from across the world.'

Modular GSCEs were introduced in 2009 under reforms designed to make the exams less stressful. Pupils currently take modular GCSEs broken into units spread across two-year courses, rather than just sitting exams at the end.

The system mirrors A-levels which were made modular in 2000, with critics saying the change has made the qualifications easier to pass.

Mr Gove yesterday said he will now turn his attention to A-levels - having previously indicated he would like to scrap modules for them as well.

Education expert Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said Mr Gove's announcement was a 'move in the right direction'. He added: 'It has been true that schools have been game-playing modules and re-takes mean that the exams aren't a good comparison of what young people can do.'

Mr Gove will also announce today that trainee teachers who fail basic spelling and maths tests will be barred from the profession. Trainees will be allowed only three attempts to pass basic literacy and numeracy tests which, at present, they can retake an unlimited number of times. 'They will not be allowed to start trainee courses until they have passed.

Among the questions asked in the trainee tests are:

* Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?

* There were no [blank] remarks at the parents' evening. Is the correct word: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?

The plans, which will take effect from 2012, come as figures show a staggering 10 per cent of trainees had to retake basic numeracy tests more than three times.

Additional plans include a move to stop government funding for applicants who have not gained at least a 2:2 in their degree.


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