Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Teachers Unions Won't Tell You About School Layoffs

The media and education establishment’s hair has been on fire over the thousands of layoffs that are occurring in American public schools. They’ve bought into the union line that school funding is in crisis, when in reality, spending is unsustainable.

Because of collective bargaining agreements, many school districts’ hands are tied and layoffs are the only option. They can’t save money by changing employee health insurance policies, or obtaining salary freezes or wage concessions, because the unions won’t allow it.

This all supposedly leads to what the unions denigrate the most (besides Republicans): larger class sizes.

The Obama education stimulus package accomplished two things: it temporarily maintained artificially large school employment levels and created the layoff “crisis” that school boards are now grappling with. You see, the stimulus lasted for two years and provided money to keep unnecessary staff on the job. But then the money was cut off and schools could no longer afford to keep extra teachers on the payroll.

So school districts are now laying teachers off, some by the thousands. And the layoffs may be justified.

Census figures, first dissected by the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci, show that government school employment rates have been increasing as student enrollment has been decreasing.

“The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession. That year, 48,238,962 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 81,426 teachers from the previous year.”

No wonder there’s a “crisis” – so many people and so little work, and a lack of tax dollars to keep everyone employed.

But that’s strange, because, as Antonucci points out, per pupil spending has continued to rise across the nation.

“Per-pupil spending rose 2.6 percent, and spending on employee compensation (salaries and benefits) rose 2.3 percent. The United States average for per-pupil spending was $10,499, with 25 states spending more than $10,000 per student.”

Those facts are such stubborn things. Unions would have us believe that the resources taxpayers invest in education are not sufficient to maintain quality schools. But their arguments must be taken with a grain of salt. If we need fewer teachers, the role and power of teachers unions will suffer. As Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said, “the greatest resistance (to school reform and budget cuts) comes from the guardians of the status quo who still guard the status quo long after the status quo has lost its status.”

Society should be focused on maintaining the necessary number of teachers for today’s student population, instead of keeping a bunch of educators on the public payroll for no particular reason.


Working class pupils 'perform better in Slovenia than UK'

Poor children in Britain are more likely to be condemned to educational failure than in most other developed nations, new figures show. In a damning indictment of Labour’s legacy, it emerged that deprived pupils in countries such as Estonia, Indonesia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Mexico and Slovenia perform better than those from Britain.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows some 31 per cent of poor children internationally manage to exceed expectations for their social class in school tests. But in Britain, the proportion slumps to just a quarter – placing the country below the global average and 39th out of 65 countries.

It suggests disadvantaged children in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have less chance of climbing the social ladder than in the majority of developed nations.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said achievement among the poorest pupils was a “scandal” and suggested a £30billion rise in the schools budget under Labour failed to improve results.

The comments came as the Government threatened to convert hundreds of the poorest-performing primary and secondary schools into independent academies under the leadership of private sponsors in an attempt to drive up standards. Some 200 of the worst primaries will be pulled out of local council control as early as 2012, it emerged.

Addressing head teachers in Birmingham, Mr Gove said: “The scandal which haunts my conscience is the plight of those students from the poorest backgrounds, in the poorest neighbourhoods, in our poorest-performing schools who need us to act if their right to a decent future is to be guaranteed. “We still have one of the most segregated schools systems in the world, with the gap between the best and the worst wider than in almost any other developed nation.”

He added: “Just over half of students get a C pass in GCSE maths and English. And the half which fail are drawn overwhelmingly from poorer backgrounds and are educated in poorer-performing schools.”

In the latest study, the OECD analysed the number of students who “overcome their socio-economic background” to perform well at school. The data – based on independent maths, reading and science tests sat by 15-year-olds in 2009 – shows the proportion of pupils drawn from the poorest 25 per cent in each country who go on to perform above the international average for their social class.

According to figures published this week, more than 70 per cent of poor pupils in parts of China and Hong Kong exceeded the standard expected of them. Korea, Singapore and Japan were also named among the top-performing nations.

Britain was ranked 39th out of 65 countries, below other European competitors such as Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Ireland and Sweden. It was also rated lower than the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but it outperformed Germany, Austria and Russia.

The Government has already pledged to bring exams into line with rigorous tests sat in the Far East amid fears school standards are slipping behind other nations.


Only a specialist US school can help autistic Australian boy, say family

A MELBOURNE family is moving to the US for "emergency education" because it believes the Victorian school system has failed their 11-year-old son. The autistic boy is from one of at least nine families suing the Education Department through the Federal Court for discrimination and what they claim is inadequate education.

Some families say they have spent up to $100,000 on therapy, tutoring and legal fees in their bids to get their "left behind" disabled children up to speed.

While experts warn parents their court battles could come with big financial and psychological costs, the desperate mums and dads say legal action has become a last resort.

The mother moving her family to the US next month said she sent her "severely autistic" son to three Melbourne schools before researching overseas options.

The family will continue Federal Court action against the Education Department after settling in a US school that specialises in teaching autistic children. "It's very hard going to court, but it's also very hard not to. We're hoping to avoid a ghastly outcome for our son," the mother said.

"It's a pretty lonely life for him at the moment. He does not have grade-five language and he doesn't have much confidence around his peers. But he's a learner, so we're excited about him making progress."

Documents lodged with the Federal Court show the family's claims include expenses for "emergency education" in the US. Other students with discrimination cases in the Federal Court include:

A GIRL, 13, with several diagnosed learning disabilities who, according to her mother, has been denied funding for an aide despite "having the reading and writing skills of a grade one (student)".

A BOY, 16, allegedly suffering low self-esteem, anxiety, bullying and victimisation because his learning difficulties were not properly addressed by a Melbourne high school.

Bendigo mother Anne Maree Stewart is also considering legal action against the state education system. She claims her son Matthew, 9, who has a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, has at times been "treated like a piece of dirt" because of his disability.

Children with a Disability Australia executive officer Stephanie Gotlib said education standards were the chief concern for parents of disabled children.

But child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg urged parents to think carefully about legal action. "I can certainly understand their frustration. But the psychological impact of having your shortcomings paraded in the public arena may not be in the best interests of these kids."

An Education Department spokeswoman said its $550 million Program for Students with Disabilities supported 20,000 students.


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