Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Acknowledging South Carolina’s deteriorating academic performance and the need to inject some real market-based accountability into the system, one of the nation’s largest, most influential advocacy groups is joining the push for expanded parental choice.

FreedomWorks – a national group of conservative activists with more than 20,000 Palmetto State members – has made South Carolina’s school choice legislation one of their top national priorities in 2012.

And not a minute too soon, based on the latest data …
According to the organization, South Carolina’s parental choice bill “would help empower parents with greater opportunity to choose their child’s school through education tax credits.”

“It would further enable children to escape failing schools and take meaningful steps towards curbing waste, fraud, and abuse that the state’s educational bureaucracy has perpetrated for so many years,” the organization’s call to action states.

The new legislation – sponsored by S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R-Greenville) – includes the same tax credit and scholarship provisions as previous parental choice bills – as well as an additional scholarship program for students of all income levels with learning disabilities. It also includes a $200 tax credit for public school teachers who are forced to purchase their own school supplies thanks to the rampant inefficiency of the state-run system.

There are now six states with parental tax credits for school choice, eight states with scholarships funded through tax credits and seven states with programs for special needs kids. These programs are all widely-popular with the only constituency whose opinions really matter as far as we’re concerned: parents.

The programs also save taxpayer money and raise student achievement, even among the kids who don’t participate.
Parental choice legislation – which failed by one vote in the S.C. House of Representatives a year ago – couldn’t be passed soon enough.

Last month, it was revealed that 76 percent of South Carolina public schools (831 out of 1,037) failed to make adequate yearly progress during the 2010-11 academic year (compared to 48 percent nationally). This abysmal performance is consistent with South Carolina’s plummeting SAT scores and atrocious graduation rate.

While the state’s educrat establishment blames so-called “budget cuts” for the deteriorating performance, taxpayers are actually shelling out a record $11,754 per child on public “education” during the current fiscal year – not counting income from local bond revenue, investments, and transfers between funds and government agencies.

This mountain of new money comes on top of back-to-back years of record education funding (click here and here for those totals).

Not only that, school districts are ripping off even more money from local businesses thanks to an ill-advised 2006 “tax swap …” even as they’ve squirreled away more than $760 million into their “reserve” accounts.

FreedomWorks – founded by Former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey– has one of the nation’s largest and most aggressive networks of activists and supporters. The group has spent years building contacts and relationships with local party chairs, precinct managers, Tea Party activists, college Republicans, grassroots regulars, and so on. This aggressive activist push has been complemented by an equally aggressive online and social media effort.

The fact that a group FreedomWorks has chosen to weigh in so aggressively in South Carolina is clearly due to the narrow defeat of last year’s legislation.


Oxford finalists are little better than High School, claim tutors

About a quarter of Freshers at Harvard are sent off to remedial English and mathematics classes so the blight of High Schools not preparing students well is not unique to Britain

They are supposed to be the brightest in Britain. But some Oxford University students show a “distressing” grasp of their subjects and the answers to their final exams are often little better than A-level standard, according to their tutors.

Some are unable to spell words such as ‘erupt’ or ‘across’ correctly and give answers that show a “worrying degree of inaccuracy,” according to examiners’ reports seen by the Daily Telegraph.

Academics said a culture of box-ticking at A-level had left students with poor general knowledge and unable to think for themselves.

One English examiner wrote: “We encountered a distinct sense of undeveloped critical thought, first year level work, or at the lower end of the run, A-level-style responses: information dumped but not tackled.”

A tutor marking Cold War history papers said: “The clotted residuum of A-level work was noticeable in a clutch of questions.

“Candidates would do well to abandon the assumption that they can use their schoolwork without significant addition to their reading and analysis. “The intellectual thinness and out-datedness on topics such as the Soviet Union was embarrassing.”

Examiners were delighted by some candidates, whose work was good enough to be published in academic journals. But they were scathing about large numbers whose answers were “dull” – or worse.

English papers carried “haphazard and random generalisations”, they wrote. Only seven candidates in a class of 80 studying Irish poetry could say which country the city of Derry is in, and "very few" could explain the significance of 1916, the year of the Easter Rising.

In answers on Jane Austen, tutors wrote: “There was too much simply bad writing, which was poorly thought out and critically inattentive”. Students’ knowledge of scholarship on Dickens was “plainly deficient”, they said.

Answers on Cicero were “tending towards the dreadfully banal” while Alexander the Great fell victim to “manifest guesswork”.

In answers on Old English, “names were badly mangled and often forgotten – the tendency was, if in doubt, to call everyone Aelfric.”

Modern languages tutors were no kinder. In German, some scripts were “depressingly poor”. Spanish words, including the names of authors and their works, were “consistently misspelled”. French translation was often “appalling”. Italian candidates were “undeniably of a mediocre level” and the worst Russian oral candidates were “embarrassingly weak”.

Tutors in many subjects complained that students had failed to revise properly, and instead memorised old class essays and regurgitated them regardless of the question asked.

Other candidates, meanwhile, were almost too clever for their own good. “Some tyro de-constructivists perversely feigned not to understand the simplest phrases and tortured their texts into contradiction and unintelligibility,” the examiner of a paper on modern poetry wrote.

But it was students’ “startling” abuse of English that shocked dons the most. Some could not spell ‘illuminate’ ‘bizarre’ ‘blur’ ‘buries’ or ‘possess’ correctly, with tutors blaming a dependence on computer spellcheckers.

Handwriting was so poor that “scripts from dyslexic candidates proved a welcome relief because they were typed,” one added.

“Examiners were once again concerned that students graduating from Oxford having studied foreign languages should have such a precarious command of their own,” one Spanish tutor wrote.

More than a quarter of Oxford students received a first class degree in 2010, with 63 per cent receiving an upper second and just 1 per cent getting a third. No candidates failed their degree.

David Palfreyman, Bursar of New College and director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said: “Kids are so constrained by being brought up thinking 'I only do for the exams at GCSE or A-level what the mark scheme says I should do, I never think out of the box because I don't get rewarded if I do'. What's missing is the cultural heritage.

"You can't assume that if you say to a kid 'this is a kind of Micawber personality' that the kid understands what that means because the historian may not have ever encountered somebody called Dickens at school.”

Professor Peter Oppenheimer, an emeritus professor at Christ Church college, said: "Any Oxford tutor will tell you that the standards nowadays forthcoming from schools are appallingly low, and certainly much lower than a generation ago.

"In modern languages part of the problem is they aren't taught English grammar, so how should they learn the grammar of foreign languages?”

A university spokesman declined to comment.


Australia: Insane NSW education bureaucracy

Teaching standards in the various Australian States are quite similar so moving from Victoria to the adjoining State of NSW should be no big deal. But it is ....

CROSSING the Murray felt significant. It was sunny and, after years, we were coming home to good ol' Newsouth, where it is always sunny and always Saturday morning, and the unimpeachable joys of childhood dwell in a never-to-be-disturbed bliss. The real significance hit later.

If I were a plumber, accountant or massage therapist, it would have been irrelevant: one could live in Melbourne one week then move to Sydney the next and simply front up to an employer and say: "Yep, I'm fully qualified, vastly experienced and I've just moved interstate." If the paperwork was up to scratch and they fitted the job description, it'd be: "No worries. Start on Monday."

Teachers, however, are different. We are what you might call the professional equivalent of refugees, fleeing the presumed disastrous condition of education of other Australian states.

Of course, before you can set foot inside a school, you're whipped off to the Institute of Teachers, where sniffer dogs investigate your deodorant status. That done, you front up to a corpse-like quasi KGB agent with perfect dentures and an interest in your credentials bordering on the pathological.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for caution; I'm cool with the fact that they need to see every piece of documentation I've received since I was 18, potentially even shopping dockets and bus tickets. This is standard bureaucratic fare.

After the interview, I go home and wait. And wait. Five weeks on, there's a letter: "Further documentation required." Nothing wrong with being thorough.

"Mother's birth certificate." Could be tricky. I google "Irish Embassy". Another six weeks and the necessaries are in the mail, with a note confessing how hard it is to feed a family without a job and could they maybe speed the process up a tad?

Ninety-seven days exactly after that fateful river crossing, I receive permission to teach in the state of NSW. My wife and children are too weak with hunger to join in the celebration. I ring the Institute and thank them warmly, but I still have one query concerning the 40 per cent cut in my rate of pay.

"A New Scheme teacher," the officer explains, "is a graduate teacher, or equivalent."

"Then there must be some mistake, because I've been a teacher for 20 …"

"Or equivalent," she repeats. "You haven't taught in NSW for the past five years." "Yes but," I begin. "In New South Wales."

And the articulation of that name is nothing less than the passing of a sentence. I break down and beg forgiveness. She's not sure what the policy is on that, but she'll get back to me.


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