Monday, August 15, 2011

A secret primer from the teachers union on how to thwart parents and stop charter schools

Almost without fail, teachers unions respond to school reform drives by declaring their commitment to improving education collaboratively with parents and community leaders.

In one example, the United Federation of Teachers used just such an argument in fighting in the courts of public opinion and law to block the city from closing 22 failing schools.

Now, though, an internal report produced by the political shop of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers reveals the cynical falsity of the labor leaders' claims to have the best interests of students at heart.

Posted briefly on an AFT website, the document celebrated the weakening of parent-trigger legislation in Connecticut. A blogger named RiShawn Biddle saved the post for all to read.

A trigger law lets parents of kids in a persistently failing school vote to turn it into a charter school. Such a measure, on the books in California, threatens the jobs of unionized teachers.

When the idea surfaced in Connecticut, the AFT swung into action by lobbying the legislature to bottle up the bill in committee. This was described as "Plan A: Kill Mode." It failed.

Then the AFT went to "Plan B: Engage the Opposition," or, in honest terms, pretend to seek common ground by talking while making sure that "parent-trigger advocates ... were not at the table" in key meetings.

Then, in a classic jiu jitsu move, the union helped to write legislation that would create "advisory groups" with parent representation, essentially claiming to embrace an idea it opposed.

The AFT document bluntly admitted: Connecticut's parent committees are "advisory only and have no governing authority." The bill passed.

The union learned lessons, according to the presentation: The "absence of charter school and parent groups from the table" during negotiations was very helpful. And "toxic dialogue from ... parent trigger advocates" was damaging.

AFT boss Randi Weingarten, a former UFT president, was aware of how, er, toxic pulling back the curtain could be. She told a schools blog: "We are proud of the work in Connecticut, but disagree with the wording and what the wording ... represented."

But the strategy stands revealed: Commit to getting stakeholder buy-in as a means to get the unions' way.



NYC: On Aug. 7, Stanley Bosworth, the irrepressible, inimitable - and, some would say, impossible - headmaster of St. Ann's, the school I attended for a decade of my formative years, left this world for the next.

St. Ann's, the school he fashioned in his image, was a culture with a rich and rigorous academic curriculum, a total lack of grades ("How do you give a grade on an oboe's sweet, beautiful sound?" Bosworth was often given to utter) and - at the very same time - a rock-ribbed belief in psychometrics, the testing and measurement of intelligence.

It's the last of these that became a magnet for controversy. Beginning in the late 1960s, IQ testing had come under fire from progressive educators concerned that it was incapable of predicting real-world success and biased by gender, class and race. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of IQ tests in employment to prevent their being used to screen out racial minorities.

By the 1980s, the very idea of intelligence as a single, measurable quantity was under attack, as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner successfully advanced the notion that there were at least seven discrete forms of intelligence.

Through all of this, Bosworth staunchly held to his belief in intelligence testing as a means to identify gifted potential. It wasn't the best or the most subtle tool, he acknowledged, but, like a wrench one might variously use as a hammer, a vise and a means of self-defense, in the absence of something better, it got things done.

To his credit, he was always open to challenge. I had the privilege of being accepted into his senior seminar, the one class he taught. In it, we argued about the abuse of testing and demanded that Bosworth define "intelligence" - something he was loath to do. His position seemed similar to the classic line about pornography: "I know it when I see it."

And now, in the decades since Stanley Bosworth built St. Ann's from what one fellow alum described as "an obscure school for bourgeois hippies" into a nationally celebrated institution, the use of IQ tests has gone mainstream.

Here in New York, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT, is administered to pre-K kids to determine eligibility for gifted and talented programs. It generates an annual frenzy of underground preparation, not to mention massive upwellings of anxiety and rage. In my neighborhood of Park Slope, the cult of the exceptional child is in full effect, with parents doing everything in their power to optimize their offspring's chances at "giftedness" through early education, coaxing and coercion.

The sad thing about this latter-day embrace of psychometrics is that Bosworth, one of its greatest evangelists, refused to allow IQ testing to restrict St. Ann's admissions - forcefully stating that IQ scores were just part of a "holistic assessment" of the candidate, modulated by an understanding of background, special talents and openness to the world beyond pure academics: Music, theater, literature, the arts.

In 2008, the city schools eliminated just such "holistic assessments" for G&T placement, using OLSAT results as the exclusive tool for screening candidates. If only they'd learned the real lesson of Bosworth's legacy: that measuring the gifts and talents of children - like any high-wire act - isn't a matter of brute force and cold calculation, but of exquisite flexibility and balance.


Bright British students seek jobs instead of university

Bright teenagers are preparing to shun university in favour of finding a job amid intense competition for degree courses and fears over rising graduate debt.

Research by The Daily Telegraph shows a sharp rise in the number of students aged 17 and 18 directly applying to leading companies after leaving school and college.

Employers such as Network Rail, Marks & Spencer, Laing O’Rourke, the engineering firm, and the accountancy firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton are reporting huge rises in applications for A-level entry jobs this summer.

The disclosure, which comes days before students throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results, casts doubt on claims that degrees are a prerequisite for careers at top companies.

The exam results are expected to trigger the most intense scramble for university places ever seen as record numbers of students compete for courses before the introduction of annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 in 2012. With those who missed out on places last year adding to demand, it is believed 220,000 out of 707,000 applicants in total may be rejected.

The demand for places has already prompted an estimated third of universities to declare themselves “full” a week before results are published. In a series of other developments yesterday, it emerged that:

A record one in 10 A-levels could be awarded an A* grade — a rise of around one percentage point on last year — which will make it even harder for universities to pick out the brightest students;

The head of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said that schools were wrecking teenagers’ degree ambitions by advising them to study the wrong A-levels — leaving them locked out of the most academically demanding institutions;

One of Britain’s biggest exam boards, Edexcel, apologised after wrongly posting thousands of A-level results on its website on Saturday — almost a week early.

University still remains the main aspiration for most schoolchildren. But the competition for places is prompting more sixth-formers to seek other options.

These include applying to European universities where tuition fees are often a fraction of the £3,290 being charged in England from September. Yesterday, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, which charges £1,526 a year, said it had seen a 15-fold rise in applications from Britain this summer.

But some teenagers are shunning university altogether to focus on apprenticeships and other school entry-level programmes. According to figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, more than a quarter of leading businesses employ staff directly from schools and colleges and a fifth of other companies are considering opening up recruitment schemes to this age group. For the first time, Boots, the chemist, is running an apprenticeship scheme for sixth-formers this year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has so far received 1,600 applications for just 100 places on its employment scheme for A-level students. Applications for the programme, which leads to a chartered accountant qualification in four years, have doubled in a year and increased almost fourfold since 2008.

Gaenor Bagley, the firm’s head of people, said: “Students are being forced to look at different options for their future and university may not be the right solution. Anyone who has a genuine interest in pursuing a career in business has options.”

Network Rail has received 8,000 applications for 200 places on its paid apprenticeship programme, up from just 4,000 in 2010. The firm said demand for positions was being caused by university leavers unable to find graduate jobs.

Marks & Spencer said applications for just 40 places on its management scheme had increased from 1,100 to 1,600 in a year. Laing O’Rourke said applications for its training scheme had increased by almost 10 per cent to 284 this summer, while Grant Thornton said it had 700 applications for school leaver-entry jobs.

The Government has created more than 100,000 extra apprenticeships for people aged 19 and over this year as an option for young people.


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