Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steve Job's belief in school choice

The death of Steve Jobs last week captured the attention of people not only around the nation but around the globe. While Jobs and his products are known worldwide, less well known, as Lori Drummer of the Independent Women’s Forum writes, was this innovator’s “passion” for educational opportunity via school choice.

As Jobs noted in a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution: “Equal opportunity to me more than anything means a great education.” He added that “the customers of education” are ultimately “the parents” and that “what we need to do in education is go to the full voucher system.” He stated:
I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher…several things would happen. Number one[,] schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is…the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise.

Jobs reported that, if his own educational experience hadn’t been positive, “if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Hill in fourth grade and a few others, I would have absolutely ended up in jail.”

Unfortunately, far too many students today are not so lucky. Stuck in underperforming and all too frequently violent schools, students are left with little hope for a promising future.

And it isn’t just students in the inner cities who are affected by underperforming schools. A study released just two weeks ago by Jay P. Greene and Josh McGee reveals that many schools in even the most affluent districts perform at only an average level compared with students around the world.

However, school children who have had the opportunity to receive a voucher and leave their underperforming neighborhood schools say that school choice has made a big difference in their lives. For example, Ronald Holassie, a recipient of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship—a voucher program for low-income children in Washington, D.C.—testified in 2009:
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has changed my life and has made me the successful young man standing before you now.… The program gave me a chance to…be in a different high quality learning environment…. My study habits increased, I had better grades, I began to know my high expectations academically and I began to soar to success.

More state leaders are catching the school choice vision shared by not only Steve Jobs but education reformers and families around the country. These leaders understand that solving the nation’s education problems is not impossible, but as Jobs noted in 1995, although “we fall far short,” currently, “we do know how to provide a great education.”

Americans mourn the loss of a great innovator whose creativity and ingenuity impacted millions around the world. Let’s not be left to mourn the loss of the unfulfilled potentials and dreams of children around the nation who are so in need of educational opportunity.


Reading skills of English teens 'worse than the Chinese' as study finds they lag behind by a year-and-a-half

The reading standards of English teenagers have been condemned following a respected survey that found they lag a year-and-a-half behind their Chinese peers.

Ministers will warn today of a ‘stark gulf’ between the ability of 15-year-olds here and those from other leading countries.

Their concern follows the analysis of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study showing English teens are 18 months behind Chinese of the same age and one year behind those from South Korea and Finland.

They also languish at least six months behind their counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.

The analysis underlines the scale of improvements needed to put English teens on a parity in reading with teens from, for example, Shanghai.

At present, 55 per cent of state school pupils in England get at least five A* to C grades at GCSE – including English and maths. This would need to increase to 77 per cent. It follows a damning survey by the OECD, which showed that England has fallen in the international tables over the past nine years. In reading, we have gone from seventh to 25th, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science.

Schools minister Nick Gibb condemned the poor level of standards.

He blamed it on an education system and a society that has placed little importance on reading for pleasure. He said that nearly 40 per cent of English pupils never did so, adding those who read for fun for just 30 minutes a day are typically one year of schooling ahead.

‘The gulf between our 15-year-olds’ reading abilities and those from other countries is stark – a gap that starts to open in the very first few years of a child’s education,’ said Mr Gibb. ‘The Government’s focus on raising standards of reading in the early years of primary school is key to closing that gap.’

He added: ‘Our writers – Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, George Orwell and Ian McEwan – are the finest in the world. It is time we are also among the best readers in the world.’

Today’s figures are from a Department for Education analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment, conducted by OECD in 2009.

Entitled How Big is the Gap?, the DfE research highlights how far England slipped behind other nations in reading under Labour.

In reading, 20 countries scored significantly higher than England, with China top. England was also out-scored by Estonia, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia. In science, China again leads the rankings. Estonia and Australia are among the nine other countries significantly ahead of England’s 15-year-olds.

Mr Gibb said the Coalition has introduced a series of measures to raise standards. ‘We are bringing in a new spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary test for 11-year-olds and are re-introducing marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar in relevant GCSE exams. ‘We are introducing a phonics check for six-year-olds, so those with reading problems can be identified ... and given extra help they need to catch up.’


Australia: Hatred of non-government schools at work?

A lot of Leftists resent the fact that non-government schools get varying degrees of financial support from the Federal government

A GIPPSLAND Catholic school is questioning whether it is being discriminated against by being banned from a generations-old community campground. The St Kieran’s school community in Moe is gutted by a decision by government-run Somers School Camp to allow only state schools to access Woorabinda School Camp in Yallourn North from next year.

The camp said today its priority was for government schools programs, but hinted today that Catholic and Independent could still have access on weekends and school holidays.

St Kieran’s acting principal Lisa Broeren said children from the low-income area would have nowhere else to go if shut out from the local camp. “I guess why we’re so upset is it’s the kids’ parents and grandparents here who actually built it, and it’s their family members who ran it all those years and now they’re saying ‘bad luck’. And we’d like to say ‘bad luck’s just not good enough’,” Ms Broeren, who also attended the camp as a child, said.

She questioned Somers’ motive for shutting independent schools out of the facility. “We would just love to know what their justification is – is it discrimination against Catholic schools?,” she said.

A letter to the school from Somers School Camp Principal Denise Anthony says Woorabinda is now funded to provide educational programs for state government school students across Victoria. “You can see that Woorabinda has changed and although Catholic and independent schools, such as St Kieran’s, will not have access past the end ... ,” Ms Anthony says in the June letter.

Today, Ms Anthony rejected claims of discrimination, telling the the move to only allow public schools to use the site was not discriminatory, and stressed Catholic and independent schools had known of the move since the site was taken over by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in April last year.

“Since 2010 the landscape has completely changed – Woorabinda was once a quasi-private camp, who opened its doors to everybody because they needed to get support in the local area, and they also needed to raise funds to self-manage. “The Department of Education now owns and operates this site, which means we have a commitment to provide programs to government primary school students,” she said.

She said it may be possible for the independent and Catholic schools to use the site on weekends and during school holidays, “but with being a fully-funded government primary school, we can’t provide programs for the government sector and for the private sector at the same time.”

“I believe that we are doing our job as a government primary school by providing high quality education programs to the people that we are meant to be providing to. In other words: the Department of Education, the State Government is funding us to provide programs to State Government students,” she said.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development funded several infrastructure improvements to the camp in the past year.

Somers School Camp provides an outdoor education program for children in Years Five and Six, for nine days a year on the Mornington Peninsula. It includes activities like bush cooking, orienteering and ropes courses.

Children have written to state and federal ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard – as well as the media – in a plea to stop the shut out.

In a letter to the Herald Sun, Year 6 student Matthew Pearce said the Catholics were being discriminated against. “Are they destroying the dreams of the next generation? Well St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School Moe thinks they are,” the letter reads.

"Because Somers are not letting Catholic and private schools attend Woorabinda school camp. Would you like to know why? Just because they can and they want to, which is pure discrimination against Catholics. "We are not living in the 1800s, when people were judged by their religion or the colour of their skin."

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said the minister would be asking the Department of Education to look into the matter.

Parent Melissa Ballantine, who attended the camp as a child, said her youngest son, Jaxon, would miss out on the camp because of the ruling. “The kids are gutted, the parents are gutted, the whole school community - we just can’t see how it’s fair to these kids, should all kids have access to these things,” Ms Ballantine said.


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