Saturday, January 28, 2012

How my child went from home school to Harvard and yours can, too

America is in shambles from sea to shining sea. Unemployment is nearly at Great Depression levels. The real estate is still week and near collapse. And, of course, our U.S. Triple A credit rating is gone for the first time in history.

But this is National School Choice Week and all of that terrible economic news is child’s play (excuse the pun) compared to our failing government-run education system.

The accelerating and dramatic decline of our public school system is the shame of this once great country. I call our public school system "Every Child Left Behind."

The failure of our public school system condemns millions of young Americans to a future with no hope, no advancement, no good jobs, perhaps no jobs at all.

The American Dream of automatically doing better than the past generation has been relegated to the dust-bin of history because of our education crisis. This is our national disgrace.

Nationally SAT scores in critical reading reached their lowest levels ever in 2011. “Ever” as in the history of America. Combined math and reading SAT scores were the lowest since 1995. This despite our country spending the most money ever.

When President Bush took office in 2000 Education Department spending was $30 billion. Today it is over $70 billion annually, plus another $175 billion extra in education spending from Obama’s stimulus program. Add up the numbers. We’ve gone from $30 billion annually to almost $200 billion in just over a decade. That’s about a 7-times increase in total education spending. Does anyone think education is 7 times better? Actually it’s more likely 7 times worse.

It’s no surprise that President Obama and Education Secretary Arnie Duncan are in panic mode. They are now offering waivers to all 50 states to opt out of “No Child Left Behind” because so many children are failing the tests. Amazingly their response to the dumbing-down-of- America is to reduce the standards even further, so that even more children are left behind by the system.

Locally, Las Vegas is in even worse shape than the rest of America. Drop out rates now exceed 60% in Las Vegas public schools, even higher among boys. And the 40% that do manage to graduate often achieve that feat as a result of social promotion and grade inflation. Proof? Freshman at UNLV require “remedial reading and math” to begin their college careers. Do the words fraud and national disgrace come to mind?

Yet through all this gloom and doom, there is a ray of hope. A story of remarkable educational success. A story I call “Homeschool to Harvard.” My daughter Dakota Root was home-schooled by her small businessman dad and devoted Christian homemaker mom right here in Las Vegas. And the results are nothing short of amazing. Dakota scored perfect SAT scores of 800 in reading and writing. She was a National Merit Scholar and Presidential Scholar nominee.

She was accepted by many of this nation’s finest universities including Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Penn, Brown, Chicago, Virginia, and Cal-Berkeley -- the list goes on and on.

She actually had the confidence to turn down an offer from the Yale fencing coach before she had gotten any of her other acceptances. The kid turned down Yale!

You can watch Dakota on Fox News Channel after finding out she was accepted by Harvard

Today she is a sophomore at Harvard University. She is a straight A student and earned Second Team All Ivy League honors in Fencing for the elite Harvard team.

Dakota Root is one of this country’s finest scholar/athletes. She is among the best and brightest ever produced by the great state of Nevada. Well, okay, I'm being modest, but after all, I am her dad.

By the way, she is also beautiful (like her mother) and nice. She is actually respectful to her parents and appreciative of all we've sacrificed for her. She represents what all of us hope and pray for our children.

Yet Dakota spent her formative years being educated in the same place- Las Vegas- that produces some of the worst education results in America. So how did it happen? What was in the water at the Root household? Can others learn from Dakota’s story? Can others replicate her remarkable Homeschool to Harvard story? YES they can!

The key is the same as achieving success in all other areas of life: being relentless, taking action, and taking charge. Taking back the power from government.

Dakota Root’s story is a testament to the power of the individual. Understanding that when it comes to educating our children, government is too big to succeed.


Betrayal of bright pupils: Two thirds of British pupils who shine at age of 11 are steered into soft subjects at High School

Two thirds of bright teenagers are missing out on key academic GCSEs, school league tables reveal. More than 111,000 of the 177,000 children who shone in tests at the age of 11 have gone on to study the softer subjects often shunned by employers.

While all pupils must study English, maths and science, the tables suggest schools are steering youngsters toward drama, sociology and vocational qualifications – which are seen as easier to do well in – for their remaining subjects.
Students sitting their GCSE examinations

Less than four in ten pupils across the state sector sit a GCSE in foreign languages, while just under half opt for geography or history.

The Coalition has introduced a new measure to check how many pupils score grades A* to C in English, maths and science, as well as a language and a humanities subject such as history or geography.

Before the introduction of this ‘English Baccalaureate’, the measure was five good grades in maths and English and in any three other subjects.

The tables published yesterday show the success rate for thousands of state schools plunged when the EBacc was taken into account. One school scored 92 per cent on the old measure but just 6 per cent on the new. The tables also revealed how low, medium and high achievers performed in their GCSEs last year.

Among the pupils who had surpassed expectations in national curriculum tests at 11, 62.8 per cent – 111,437 – failed to achieve the EBacc. Less than half of this 177,447-strong cohort had been entered for all the EBacc subjects in the first place.

In 285 schools, not a single high achiever gained the award.

Thousands of bright pupils are also effectively going backward in English and maths at secondary school. Some 22,713 – 12.8 per cent – are not making the progress expected of them in English and 26,262 – 14.8 per cent – are not improving sufficiently in maths.

Chris McGovern, a former headmaster and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said bright children were ‘clearly being failed’. He added: ‘This is a betrayal of a generation of children who are not being prepared for the 21st century and they’re not being prepared to help sustain this country with the economic challenges it faces.

‘It’s failing children and damaging the country. The consequences will be found out in five, ten years’ time when we’re not producing the engineers and the scientists but we are producing the media studies students.’

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘The emphasis in recent years has been getting as many children as possible up to the floor targets and we haven’t been giving enough attention to our brightest pupils.

‘It’s important that young people study the core subjects because that keeps their options open. ‘Within our system, where schools have been judged in terms of GCSE points, it’s been too easy and too tempting for young people to drift away from the subjects that would be in their best interests.’

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘Children only have one chance at education. These tables show which schools are letting children down. Heads should be striving to make improvements year on year, and we will not let schools coast with mediocre performance. ‘We are driving up standards right across the board.’

The figures showed that 45.6 per cent of ‘medium’ achievers – almost 120,000 – who reached the standard expected of their age in national curriculum tests aged 11 failed to get five good grades in subjects including English and maths. More than 2,800 of the nation’s 3,000 schools had fewer than half their pupils gaining the EBacc standard as well.

Teenagers at selective schools were almost five times as likely to achieve the EBacc than pupils in comprehensives. The figures were 68.1 per cent and 13.7 per cent respectively, according to data released by the Department for Education.


The private sector is ushering in a university revolution in Britain

Delays to the Higher Education Bill will not stop the rise of privately-funded universities.

For the higher education sector, these are interesting times. This September, fees will rise by more than 200 per cent at most universities; a new loan scheme will be in place; the quota system for allocating places will be relaxed to enable greater competition; and an auction process for 20,000 places will be introduced. This is hardly a Government that can be accused of ducking the difficult issues.

At the same time, however, ministers have not had it all their own way. Earlier this week, it was reported that David Willetts’s plans for private universities had been put on hold. Certainly, the Government’s Higher Education Bill – which was expected to introduce a host of reforms that would enable the expansion of provision by private institutions, as outlined in the Coalition’s White Paper – has been delayed. It is unlikely to be published before 2015, for lack of parliamentary time, although the Government insists that nothing has yet been decided.

On the surface, this might seem strange. If ministers encourage new “free schools” to increase competition and offer greater choice and diversity, surely it makes sense to do the same with universities? Across the world, private higher education is growing, since governments cannot afford to continue to fund the old system, under which only a tiny elite of the population attended university.

Critics of such institutions, who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, point to the situation in America, and warn that the same might happen here. But the US has some of the world’s best private universities: Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, MIT. Embracing a private model does not mean that standards have to be compromised.

In 2004, Labour “modernised the criteria for the granting of degree-awarding powers in the UK”. Since then, some of Britain’s most prestigious private providers in specialist fields have earned the right to issue their own degrees: Ashridge Business School, the College of Law, IFS School of Finance, and BPP University College, where I am principal. The route to obtaining this power is an exacting one. It rightly requires us to demonstrate the very highest standards over time, with our efforts reviewed by our public-sector peers. Because such standards are expected, it has not damaged the reputation of Britain as a higher education community.

At BPP University College, we work with employers to offer degree programmes in business, law, accounting and finance that are closely tailored to the needs of those professions. We operate in 14 cities, training almost a third of new entrants to the legal profession and two thirds of all accountants at some point in their careers.

One of the advantages of private provision – which could be emulated by traditional institutions – is that we offer students choice. Undergraduates can study through the long summer holidays, completing a degree in two years and avoiding the costs of a third year out of the workforce. Alternatively, they can opt for the traditional schedule. We employ a full-time faculty who have been practitioners of their discipline: lawyers and accountants who understand the latest developments, and are not just confined to academic research. This model does not suit everyone, but the CBI’s survey of employers last year indicated that private providers are best at meeting the needs of employers.

The Higher Education Bill was expected to make it easier to set up more institutions such as ours, and to integrate them more closely into the university system. It would also have given students greater access to information about universities and courses, empowering them to make informed choices in a more competitive environment.

There is no doubt that higher education in Britain is in need of modernisation – and there is room for a high-quality private sector that challenges the educational status quo. Delaying the Higher Education Bill will not stop it from developing.


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