Friday, November 04, 2011

Education Vs. Bureaucracy

How can a 375% education spending increase over four decades result in flat-lined reading, math and science scores? Because all that largesse feeds a bureaucratic monster sheltered from competition.

According to Neal McCluskey, the associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, the education spending much of the American public believes to be a vital investment in the country's future, actually "gives money to a catatonic heap of warm bodies and says, 'Stay the way you are.'"

In touting his jobs bill, President Obama calls on audiences to "tell Congress to pass this bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong."

But speaking to a Cato policy conference in New York City last Friday, McCluskey made no bones about federal education spending being bad for kids and bad for the economy — a big reason being that much of the spending goes not to real teachers or principals but to those holding an array of bureaucratic "support" positions.

McCluskey, author of "Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education," praised the Senate for last month defeating the $35 billion education employee portion of Obama's so-called American Jobs Act (while warning that a $30 billion school infrastructure measure might still pass).

"How can it be good for students throughout the country to lose teachers, principals, secretaries," McCluskey asked, not to mention "periodic assessment associates (a real New York City job), labor support unit consultants, talent research and evaluation managers, and, employees for the Law and Order Administrative Trials Unit?"

Because those "jobs" are what the real federal spending per pupil of 375% since 1970 has largely gone toward — the invention and support of mysterious bureaucratic positions like "instructional aide" (of which there has been an almost 12-fold increase per-pupil) rather than to honest-to-goodness teaching.

Public school employment has increased at 10 times the rate of enrollment, with a massive expansion in administrative staff. All this dwarfs the much-bemoaned "cuts" achieved from time to time over the years.
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Beyond ever-expanding, militantly union-supported bureaucracy, McCluskey is quick to stress that "the main problem of public schools is not bureaucracy but lack of competition."

Contrarian education scholars like McCluskey have insisted for decades that vouchers and other forms of school choice made available to low- and middle-income parents would not only give pupils a way out of the disastrous shortcomings of so many public school systems in the nation, especially in the poorer urban areas, but would force the public schools themselves to improve.


Playgrounds scrapped and children to share unisex toilets as British schools look to accommodate 350,000 extra pupils

Unisex toilets will be introduced in schools to create more classroom places. Playing fields will also no longer be an obligation – potentially killing off team sports such as football, hockey and netball.

Grounds will be filled with portable buildings and every spare space – such as store cupboards and sheds – will be used for teaching.

The ‘pack ’em in and pile ’em up’ measures, published yesterday, form part of the Government’s new rules on standards of school buildings. They paint a bleak picture of education as Britain becomes increasingly overcrowded.

The measures are a desperate bid to find space for an additional 350,000 primary pupils by 2015. The surge is the result of an immigration-fuelled baby boom.

It would cost £4.8billion to build enough primaries to accommodate the influx, according to Department for Education figures. The ministry is allocating an additional £500million for new places this year.

It is hoping schools will expand, creating the need for fewer new buildings, and yesterday’s relaxation of building regulations gives schools the means to do so.

Previously schools were – with the exception of academies and free schools – legally obliged to provide separate toilet facilities but now both primary and secondary schools will allow unisex toilets with urinals.

The DfE’s new regulations state: ‘A number of schools have provided toilets for use by both male and female pupils over the age of eight, even though this is not currently allowed by the regulation.’

A DfE spokesman confirmed urinals will be allowed under the regulations, provided cubicles, with locking doors, are also provided.

The change means female pupils as young as four will share toilet facilities with 11-year-old boys. And 11-year-old girls reaching puberty, will have to share with 18-year-old males.

Previous attempts to introduce unisex toilets have met a furious reaction from parents. Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, a parent group, said: ‘This idea is absolutely crazy. Parents are horrified. Most do not think it should be allowed. It’s very important that young people are not allowed to be pressured by the opposite sex and can retain their modesty.

‘There needs to be a place they can go for privacy. It will be especially horrible for girls through puberty.’

On playing fields, the DfE is seeking to relax regulations so they meet the ‘requirements of the curriculum’ and ‘enable pupils to play outside safely’. At present, the regulations ‘require that team game playing fields shall be provided which satisfy specified minimum areas based on pupil numbers and ages’.

The new regulations are set to be introduced in 2012.


Australia: Principals' freedom is a winner with schools

THE push to give NSW public schools greater autonomy is gaining momentum, a trend which will be further advanced by near-unanimous support from 47 principals leading a two-year trial.

All principals told an independent review the freedoms allowed had led to concrete improvements at their schools. About 95 per cent said it had increased teacher capacity to deliver the curriculum and 83 per cent said they had been able to do more for their schools at a lower cost.

Some principals pointed to improved NAPLAN and HSC results as proof of success.
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The review found principals valued the flexibility to make decisions and to reallocate parts of their budgets to employ staff to suit their schools' needs.

Principals believed creating the right staffing mix for their schools to be essential. ''It's always about staffing,'' one said. ''Get this right and nothing else matters.''

Under the pilot program principals could choose staff on merit without being subject to priority transfer arrangements administered by the education department. Being able to choose staff was seen as critical if school leaders are to be held accountable for student performance.

''We are asking principals to achieve outcomes for students and be accountable for quality of teachers but we don't allow them to select staff so they don't control this,'' one said.

NSW, with more than 2200 schools, is among the most centrally controlled education systems in the Western world. Other Australian states have ceded significant power to the school level. Victorian principals are allowed to choose their own staff and in Western Australia schools can choose to operate independently with substantial freedoms.

The pilot program was established by the previous government and will continue under the new rules until the end of next year. The Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is leading a consultation program, ''Local Schools, Local Decisions'', also aiming to devolve power.

The minister hopes to announce new rules for greater school autonomy early next year, which would be implemented in 2013. Simultaneously, special federal government funding will be available next year for 162 schools under the Empowering Local Schools national partnership.

Schools varied widely in the way they used the staffing flexibility, with some hiring an extra deputy principal, one choosing a business manager and another a diversional therapist. Castle Hill High School appointed a head teacher to coach boys in year 12 to improve their HSC results.

''We appointed someone who specifically mentored boys who were close to the top but who were underperforming, disorganised, didn't have a study program and couldn't get their act together,'' the principal, Vicki Brewer, said.


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