Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rethinking the teacher quality challenge

"Human capital" is quickly becoming the new "site-based management." While few are sure what it means, everyone craves it, has a model to deliver it, and is quick to tout its restorative powers. It's trendy and impressive sounding, but too often settles for recycling familiar nostrums or half-baked ideas in the guise of new jargon. Ensuring that "human capital" amounts to more than one more glorified fad requires confronting the full extent of the challenge with honesty and imagination.

Our schools are in a constant, unending race to recruit and then retain some 300,000 teachers annually. Given that U.S. colleges issue a grand total of perhaps 1.5 million four-year diplomas a year across all majors and disciplines, even non-mathematicians can see that our K-12 schools are seeking to recruit about one in five new college graduates into the teaching profession. No wonder shortages are endemic and quality a persistent concern.

It does not have to be this hard. Our massive, three-decade national experiment in class-size reduction has exacerbated the challenge of finding enough effective teachers. There are other options. Researchers Martin West and Ludger Woessmann have pointed out that several nations that perform impressively on international assessments, including South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan, boast average middle-school class sizes of more than 35 students per teacher. That compares to a national student-teacher ratio in the U.S. of less than 16 to 1, and average class sizes in the low to mid-twenties (our class sizes are so much larger than our student-teacher ratio because of how we deploy staff and the amount of non-instructional time built into teacher contracts).


'Savvy' parents will abuse new admissions rules, head warns

Which shows how hard it is for Brits to get their kids into a good State school

New-style admissions rules face being abused by “savvy” middle-class parents to force children into the most sought-after comprehensives, MPs were warned today.

An overhaul of the national admissions code could turn into a “huge bureaucratic monster” for schools as families use greater powers to flood head teachers with complaints, it was claimed.

The Commons education select committee was told that some parents already hired “QCs and barristers” to help them fight appeals after children failed to gain places.

But Rob McDonough, head of West Bridgford School, Notts, said that Coalition reforms – that allow families to make formal referrals directly to the national admissions watchdog – could lead to schools being inundated with large numbers of spurious grievances.

The comments come weeks before the publication of a new national admissions code dictating entry to thousands of state primary and secondary schools across England.

Under changes being proposed by the Government, schools will be able to effectively reserve places for the children of teachers and give priority to pupils from the poorest backgrounds.

In a key development, parents will also gain greater rights, including more time to lodge appeals. For the first time, families will also be able to shop a school directly to the Office for the Schools Adjudicator – the official admissions regulator – if they suspect head teachers of flouting national rules and selecting pupils “by the back door”.

But Mr McDonough warned that the move could lead to a flood of complaints from pushy parents. Giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday, he said: “Permitting everyone to go to the adjudicator will mean the system will grind to a halt.

“I can well envisage that a lot of parents out there – and particularly the savvy parents – are going to avail themselves of this new opportunity and see if it’s a means of actually another admissions route.”

Currently, parents can appeal against an admissions ruling if they believe children have been unfairly rejected. The appeal is normally heard by an independent panel of between three and five members of the public.

Mr McDonough – whose school is in a leafy suburb to the south of Nottingham – said he already had to “deal with a lot of very savvy parents” who turn up at appeals “with their QC and their barrister… to argue the prejudicial case”.

Under the revised, parents will also be able to complain directly to the official adjudicator, which has the power to force schools to rewrite their own admissions rules if they are unfair or lack clarity.

But Mr McDonough told MPs that parents "will make all sorts of referrals when actually our oversubscriptions criteria are perfectly legal and I can just see a huge bureaucratic monster coming into play”.

The proposed admissions code also allows academies and free schools to prioritise the poorest pupils. Children eligible for new “pupil premium” payments – those from families earning £16,000 or less – will be able to jump to the front of the queue for places.

But Mr McDonough said this system could also be abused by some parents.

“A lot of successful schools face, on a regular basis, fraudulent applications,” he told MPs. “And you could well have a situation of parents being eligible at one point in a child’s time for the pupil premium but then actually becoming no longer eligible but failing to inform appropriate authorities… because now there’s an incentive potentially of gaining a school place. “So there’s another means by which some parents can actually use the system for their advantage.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Under the new draft admissions code, ministers intend that to make it possible that anyone who considers a school’s admissions arrangements to be unfair or unlawful will be able to refer it to the Schools Adjudicator. "The fact is the adjudicator has always has the power to dismiss complaints about specific issues upon which he has already ruled.

“We have held an extensive consultation on the draft code and listened careful to the responses. The new code will be brought into force in February 2012, subject to the approval of Parliament.”


Some State education authorities raise concerns about the common Australian Curriculum prior to roll out

HUNDREDS of issues and concerns have been raised by Queensland education authorities about the Australian Curriculum just months before it rolls out in classrooms.

Concerns include how to teach numeracy across all areas of the curriculum, literacy primarily promoting formal grammar, an inappropriate expectation on Year 2 students to talk about conflict at home, and India and China being unnecessarily "preferentially identified".

The "issues and concerns" are cited in two reports written jointly by Education Queensland, the Queensland Catholic Education Commission, Independent Schools Queensland and the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA).

The reports respond to an Australian Curriculum general capabilities draft and a request for feedback on the nature of the cross-curriculum priorities.

The general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities are part of every curriculum learning area.

A revised version of the general capabilities draft is expected to be released next month and state education authorities say they are confident the concerns won't affect the curriculum's delivery next year.

Concerns raised in the general capabilities report include: "It is not clear how to support numeracy as a general capability and teach numeracy within the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics."

Under literacy it states: "The structure primarily promotes formal grammar. Being literate requires more than the ability to correctly use formal grammar; being literate requires proficiency in the full range of literacy competencies."

Authorities also warn: "It is not appropriate for students by the end of Year 2 to be '. . . describing possible causes of conflict at home . . .' as this may be a highly sensitive area for some children."

In the cross-curriculum response, under "Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia", it states: "The preferential identification of China and India are unnecessary. By only highlighting two relationships we are sending inappropriate messages that favour growth over other factors."

A QSA spokesman said the general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities were designed to provide additional support for teachers and their considerations should not delay implementation of the Australian Curriculum.

"Queensland schools are still on track to successfully implement the Australian Curriculum from 2012," he said.

Education ministers from around Australia will meet on Friday to consider the curriculum's achievement standards. Education Minister Cameron Dick said Queensland supported the Australian Curriculum.


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