Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Obama's Higher Education Reforms Doomed to Fail

Usually low-tier, last week President Obama signaled in both the State of the Union and a University of Michigan speech that higher education will loom large in Campaign 2012.

With Americans outraged over skyrocketing prices and student debt, it makes sense. Unfortunately, Obama's proposed solutions aren't similarly sensible.

In his speeches, the president talked tough about reining in colleges that raise prices at breakneck speeds, casting much needed attention to a decades-old problem.

But decrying symptoms doesn't cure a disease. That requires attacking root causes, which is where Obama fails: Rather than assault ever-expanding student aid, which practically begs colleges to inflate prices, the president wants to increase aid while imposing weak price controls on schools and states.

Obama isn't totally off, of course, in reasoning that colleges largely set their own tuition, so one way to control prices is to pressure schools. And he's right that states tend to slow funding for public colleges during bad economic times.

But how is it colleges can raise their prices at incredible rates and still get people to pay?

Because students use lots of money belonging to other people, and Washington ensures that the funding meets ever-ballooning bills.

Indeed, in 2010 the federal government disbursed roughly $140 billion in financial aid to students, a staggering amount that has exploded from roughly $30 billion, adjusted for inflation, in 1985.

And those tightfisted states?

According to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, inflation-adjusted state and local allocations to public institutions actually rose from $69.2 billion in 2000 to $74.9 billion in 2010.

Gov't Spending Up

In that same time, however, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees at public four-year colleges increased from $4,586 to $7,889.

Schools hiked their prices despite state and local appropriations rising.

Corroborating that cheap states aren't the primary drivers of college costs are private institutions. They haven't lost big state and local subsidies because they've never gotten them, yet they increased real prices from $21,013 in 2000 to $28,254 in 2010.

Still, on a per-student basis state and local funding has been decreasing, because enrollment has significantly grown.

Such losses might be regrettable were students graduating and moving on to high-paying jobs. But they aren't.

According to the federal Digest of Education Statistics, the latest six-year graduation rate for public four-year programs is a dismal 55 percent. In addition, about one-third of bachelor's holders are in jobs that don't require degrees. Finally, real earnings for people whose top attainment is a bachelor's have dropped over the decade.

Simply put, there are too many people in college. Unfortunately, to deal with these realities the president is proposing to increase aid, to which he'd couple a few soft price controls.

Too Many Students?

He proposes, for instance, increasing spending on Perkins Loans, Work Study, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants to $10 billion, but giving less money through those programs to colleges that, according to the White House, "show poor value, or... don't act responsibly in setting tuition."

The president would also create a $1 billion "Race to the Top" that would "incentivize" states to, among other things, "maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education."

The White House doesn't define "adequate," but the implication is clear: Spend more taxpayer money, get more taxpayer money.

Ultimately the plan is a stinker, with the disaster-exacerbating aid increase the most likely part to pass. Few in Washington can resist doling out "free" money.

And the price controls?

Such controls are almost always bad, distorting supply and demand. But given the government-fueled Ivory Tower excess, perhaps weak controls would be helpful, at least in the short term.

But the ones proposed would have little power. Even plussed-up to $10 billion, the programs the president would employ for leverage would be dwarfed by Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and tax incentives, which tally in the hundreds of billions. Most colleges could more than make up for slight Perkins or Work Study losses with other aid.

And Race to the Top? If it's at all like its K-12 cousin, it'll be a dud. Lots of states made huge fusses to get the money, but since it's been awarded the winners have shown little urgency to implement their promised reforms.

It's good that the president is focusing on higher education. But his remedies would do nothing to cure the disease.


Why lack of male teachers could be the reason boys fail in British classrooms

Schools need more male teachers because boys make less effort in women’s classes, a new study claimed today. The shortage of men in school staffrooms could be one reason for the under-achievement of boys, researchers found.

Female teachers tend to give boys lower marks than they deserve - and boys are less likely to work hard in their classes.

Men appear to be better at motivating boys but are vastly outnumbered in the nation’s schools, taking just a quarter of teaching jobs, and 15 per cent in primaries.

‘Boys often disengage in the educational process, and this is likely to be due in part to their perceptions of their teachers,’ said the study’s authors. ‘There is an under-representation of male teachers in both primary and secondary education in England.’

Girls also made more effort when they were graded by male teachers, according to research by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

But teachers were found to be more lenient with students of their own sex. Girls actually received higher grades from female teachers than male. Male teachers, in turn, gave boys higher marks.

For the study, 1,200 pupils aged 12 and 13 in 29 schools across England were given £4 and asked to place bets on their performance in an exam. One group of pupils was marked by their class teacher - some male and some female - and another by an anonymous external examiner.

‘The results of the experiment show that male pupils tended to lower their investment when a female teacher marked their exams,’ said the study.

‘Further analysis confirmed that female teachers in the experiment did tend to award lower marks to male pupils than external examiners. ‘So male pupils’ perceptions seem to be roughly in line with female teachers’ marking practices.’

Girls placed substantially bigger bets when they knew they were being marked by a male teacher instead of an anonymous examiner. But male teachers did not mark them more leniently, and in fact tended to discriminate in favour of boys.

Campaigns staged over recent years to increase recruitment of male teachers have failed to change significantly the make-up of staffrooms. A quarter of primary schools do not have a single male teacher, according to figures released last year. Staffrooms in 4,278 of the 16,971 primaries in England are solely populated by women. And there are just 25,500 men teaching young children, compared with 139,500 women.

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has raised the issue in the House of Commons. ‘This is especially a problem because there are more and more families where children are growing up without a father,’ he said. ‘The teachers in primary school are overwhelmingly women, and they do a great job. ‘But it would be even better if there were more male teachers to act as role models, particularly to young boys.’


Report on Australian education

A rather silly report that sets out impossible ideals. One might have hoped for something more realistic but what we got was an ivory tower fantasy.

It ignores a couple of elephants in the room: The fact that the large black population pulls down standards in the USA and UK and that China will always be ahead of Australia because of their higher average IQs -- particularly when it comes to mathematical ability

No wonder even an ALP government is kicking it into the long grass. Below is the klutz behind the report

A DETAILED report today will condemn education funding as illogical and inconsistent but the Government will only offer lots of consultation in its immediate response.

The report by David Gonski will sound the alarm on Australian school performances and urge that education become more competitive internationally.

"Australian schools need to lift the performance of students at all levels of achievement, particularly the lower performers," the report, started 18 months ago, will say.

"Australia must also improve its international standing by arresting the decline that has been witnessed over the past decade."

Mr Gonski is expected to condemn the current funding system by pointing to an absence of a "logical, consistent and publicly transparent approach to funding schools".

"Every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend," the report will say.

The Gonski review comes with a forecast that jobs for skilled workers will grow at 2.5 times the demand for unskilled labour, underlining the need for students to complete a high level of schooling if they want to be employed.

Official figures will show that while we are ahead of standards in Britain and the United States, our international rating in key education areas has been dropping when compared to our closer neighbours, particularly China.

Over the decade Australia has gone from equal 2nd to equal 7th in reading; the average 15-year-old Australian maths student is two years behind his Shanghai counterpart.

Four of the finest top school systems in the world are nearby – in Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore. The report will say we have to match them.

Meanwhile, there are inequalities within the Australian education system, with the literacy gap between disadvantaged pupils and those from higher income homes growing to the equivalent of three years of schooling.

Some 89 per cent of Year 3 students from disadvantaged backgrounds are below average in reading, compared to 13 per cent of advantaged pupils.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Schools Minister Peter Garrett have vowed there will be no hit-list of wealthy private schools, a policy which helped destroy Mark Latham's attempt to win government for Labor in 2004.

The Government also has pledged no school will lose a dollar in funding per student and that indexation will be included in any new funding scheme.

The Prime Minister and Mr Garrett plan a wide ranging national consultation on the report's findings, a move which could push out any new funding commitments past the May Budget.

The Government will be limited in the fresh funding round, to start next year, by its determination to get a Budget surplus in 2012-13.

Ms Gillard and her minister will "kick start a a grass roots, nation-wide discussion" with visits to schools and discussions with teachers and parents.

"We will discuss the proposals outlined in the report with the community and talk about what we think our education system needs to drive better and better outcomes for every child in every school," said Ms Gillard in a statement.

Mr Garrett said the inquiry, the first into the fundamentals of the education system for 40 years, was vital because "our future prospects as a country literally depend on having a highly-skilled, well-educated workforce".


Australian Catholic schools fear heavy hit from funding review

That's a lot of voters to alienate

CATHOLIC schools face fee increases of up to 131 per cent, forcing a potential exodus from primary and secondary facilities and campus closures, according to confidential modelling ahead of the Gonski review.

The church is preparing for the Gillard government to radically overhaul funding, amid concerns of a collapse in real-terms of payments to the sector.

The Australian has obtained a confidential briefing note, which contains three modelling scenarios, all of which point to big fee increases in Catholic primary and secondary fees by 2016 and a potential flight of pupils to the government sector.

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria modelling warns that primary school fees could rise between 92 per cent and 131 per cent by 2016, inevitably forcing out lower socio-economic status students from the system.

The modelling was conducted before School Education Minister Peter Garrett attempted to assuage fears at the weekend of a backlash against the private sector under the Gonski review. His comments yesterday have failed to convince the Catholic sector.

The CECV investigated funding scenarios on the assumption of substantial reform flowing from the Gonski review, with specific analysis of funding maintenance provisions and the removal of any indexation mechanism that went beyond inflation.

The CECV working party reported on February 9, questioning the Gillard government's assertion that no school would lose a dollar. "This assurance does not indicate whether an indexation mechanism will be applied under the new funding model," the CECV says.

The commission, which oversees one of the nation's biggest school systems, warns that any downgrading of funding would have a big impact on fees.

The commission's Gonski working party warns that by 2016 primary school fees could rise by an average of $1197 per student or 92 per cent on the estimated fee for 2013. Secondary school fees could rise by an average of $1903 or 39 per cent.

The dynamic would worsen if the government were to tie funding indexation merely to inflation and remove other provisions.

If this were to occur, funding would effectively stagnate from next year until 2018, with the federal cash injection diving by $828 million.

By 2016, primary school fees would rise an average of $1706 per student or 131 per cent on the estimated 2013 fee, while secondary fees would rise by $2019 a student or 42 per cent based on the 2013 numbers.

"If any of these three scenarios were adopted there will be significant and widespread consequences for Catholic education in Victoria," the commission's Gonski working party warns. "The magnitude of these fee increases would be very likely to lead to an exodus from Catholic schools to the government sector," the working party said.


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