Saturday, September 10, 2011

Plans to strengthen education in Arizona

Gov. Jan Brewer announced new plans to improve Arizona’s education system in a press conference Thursday at the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix.

The governor unveiled a new initiative that will help the state achieve goals set in her education reform plan released in January.

The “Arizona Ready” initiative aims to increase high school graduation rates, increase the number of third grade reading standards, improve low performing schools and increase the number of eighth graders achieving at or above national assessment standards.

Key strategies of the plan were developed in partnership with educators across the state, Brewer said. “Improving education is why I entered politics in the first place,” Brewer said. “That’s why we created Arizona Ready.”

The governor also said the children who entered kindergarten this year would be the first group to be tested on more rigorous standards when they enter third grade. “In the 2013-14 school year, third graders with AIMS reading scores that fall far below the third grade level will not be promoted,” Brewer said.

Then, in the 2014-15 school year, new assessments for students in grades three to 11 will be introduced, she said. “Third to 11th graders will take their first diagnostic tests in the fall (of 2014) to determine what skills they must master to be on track for college and career readiness,” Brewer said.

Along with the Arizona Ready initiative, the governor said she was excited to launch a website in correlation with the plan — “This website provides tools like a timeline of important changes that parents need to know, daily messages about how to help your child succeed, and the opportunity to connect with other parents and teachers to learn from their experiences,” Brewer said.

Additionally, the Arizona Science Center, in partnership with the governor’s office, will be offering one free child general admission for every adult general admission purchased and will provide all credentialed educators with a free educator membership to the center, in order to develop their skills and extend their training, Brewer said.

At Thursday’s press conference, strong emphasis was put on improving students’ skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also referred to as STEM.

“STEM education is an education that truly enables you to do different things in your career … I think the importance of what we are doing today is going to prepare Arizonans for the future,” said Bill Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona. “Really, what we’re doing is going back to the old days of the Sputnik era; this was done by a high bar and a high expectation for performance. That’s the foundation for Arizona Ready. That’s the foundation for our future.”

To boost Arizona students’ STEM skills improvement, the governor announced the state’s participation in a national high school competition, The Real World Design Challenge. According to its website, The Real World Design Challenge is an annual competition that provides high school students the opportunity to work on real-world engineering challenges in a team environment.

“By participating in this initiative, teachers and students will have access to millions of dollars in state-of-the-art engineering software, training in the use of this software, and access to professional focusing on the 21st century focusing on STEM skills,” Brewer said.

Rebecca Gau, director of the Governor’s Office of Education Innovation, called Arizona’s participation in the competition “a wonderful opportunity that will bring fun and opportunity to STEM education.”

Shadow Ridge High School senior and architecture program student Darien Harp was invited along with his peers to participate in the competition. “I think we have a fair chance,” he said.

Harp said he hopes to pursue an architecture career one day and he believes the Real World Design Challenge will help him reach his goals.

Opponents to Brewer’s initiative include state Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, the House minority whip. In a statement released Thursday, Tovar said the governor continues to “build on empty promises” when it comes to funding education.

She pointed to Proposition 100, a temporary state sales tax increase passed by voters in May 2010. “She created a perception that she would use the sales tax hike for education but this year turned around and made another massive cut to education — $273 million to universities and $180 million to K-12,” Tovar said. “She then handed that money over to bail out, through tax cuts, big corporations and rich CEOs, not middle-class families.”

In the statement, Tovar questioned the governor’s actual support for education. “Gimmicks and websites don’t make up for cuts that increase class sizes, eliminate access to books and technology and limit access to full-day kindergarten,” she said.


Lessons are too easy, say most pupils at British primary and secondary school

Most children think their school work is easy, research has found.

Academic rigour at both primary and secondary school has been called into question as more than 50 per cent of youngsters admit they are not stretched in their studies.

The proportion of pupils who say they are not pushed has sharply increased during the last three years.

Today's figures follow evidence that England is slipping down the international education league tables and is now lagging behind countries such as Slovenia.

The findings have prompted accusations that Labour's education policies and obsession with targets led to a dumbing-down of standards despite a doubling of spending from an annual œ35.8billion in 2000 to œ71billion in 2009.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: `Under Labour, exam results were used to judge schools so it was imperative that children didn't fail. `So the examining boards have tended to make the examinations user-friendly and schools have pre-processed the information.

`The children are drilled and taught to the test, and coursework is given back to them with suggested improvements.

'This takes the fun and the challenge from education and makes it rather dull, as the pupils seem to be saying in response to this research.'

Dr Karina Halstead, who runs private tutor firm, London Home Tutors, has witnessed first-hand a `dramatic slump in standards' that has left pupils needing to do little more than `follow instructions' to pass exams.

She said: 'There has been a remarkable change in the level of difficulty.

'While more people are hiring private tutors today, they use them for far fewer sessions than a decade ago.

'This is because there is less need. Today, we mostly teach strategic exam passing technique, rather than give weekly tutorial so help students develop an in-depth knowledge and understanding of a subject.'

The three-year study of 8,334 children was conducted by the Centre of the Use of Research in Education.

It found that more than half of primary-age pupils, 52 per cent, disagreed or strongly disagreed that lessons were too difficult, as did 57 per cent of secondary pupils.

Amongst the older pupils, maths was considered the hardest subject, but also rated the most useful, after PE, for life outside school.

Religious education was seen as the least useful.

The findings also showed the number of children believing work is not too hard for them rose between the first year of the survey, in 2008, and the final round, in 2010.

Professor Philippa Cordingley, director of the project, said: `These findings seem to us to support the inference that even though the majority of learners report a reasonable level of difficulty, a small but significant proportion of learners are not being challenged sufficiently, and that, in the primary phase particularly, this is more true of higher achieving learners.'


Rise of the tutor as British parents lose faith in classroom teaching

More parents are hiring private tutors for their children as fears grow about slipping standards in the classroom. Almost a quarter of pupils aged 11 to 16 have received hired help to boost exam results, a sharp rise since 2005, a study has found. In London, this increases to almost four in ten children - a trend which reflects the scramble for places at leading schools in the capital.

In some secondary schools it is thought as many as 65 per cent of pupils will benefit from a tutor at some point.

The findings suggest successful schools are climbing exam league tables thanks partly to the work of private tutors. And with prices for such teaching sessions set at up to œ60 an hour, children from affluent families are more likely to get a boost than those from a disadvantaged background.

In the study, market research company Ipsos MORI polled 2,739 children between the ages of 11 and 16 in England and Welsh state schools and compared findings with a similar poll in 2005. It found the proportion sent to tutors had increased from 18 to 23 per cent.

It is believed the increase in tutoring among 16 to 18-year-olds was prompted by unprecedented competition for scarce university places this year, which is the final year before fees hike to œ9000.

The study follows recent evidence of a surge in the number of children as young as three receiving private tuition.

Asian and black families are the most likely to hire private tutors, with 42 per cent of Asian children and 38 per cent of black children getting extra help, compared to just 20 per cent of white families. And of today's figures, 25 per cent of tutored children are from affluent families, while 18 per cent come from poorer backgrounds.

Yesterday, educational charities warned the trend could widen the educational gap between the `haves and have-nots' with poorer parents unable to afford private tuition.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: `Private tuition appears to be booming despite the recession. `While it is natural that parents should want to do the best for their children, it does give well off families an advantage, particularly when money to help children from poorer homes is being cut.'

The Sutton Trust has funded a pilot scheme of 100 pupils from poor homes in London who will be given one-to-one tuition in a bid to boost GCSE maths scores.


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