Monday, March 05, 2012

California college students protest education cuts

But they are too dumb to agitate for something that might produce the needed funds -- such as firing half the "administrators" on college payrolls

Students, educators and Occupy Wall Street activists held demonstrations Thursday across California to protest state budget cuts to education, partially shutting down at least one college campus.

Hundreds of students blocked entrances to the University of California, Santa Cruz, and prevented cars and buses from entering the coastal campus, school officials said.

"The campus has been effectively closed to vehicles," said campus spokesman Jim Burns. "Clearly it's had an access impact for many students, staff and faculty."

School administrators had warned the campus about the protest. Many classes were canceled or rescheduled, and administrative offices were not fully staffed, Burns said.

The Santa Cruz blockade was among the demonstrations held on about 30 college campuses across California to protest rising tuition and call on lawmakers to restore funding to higher education. Rallies, marches, teach-ins and walkouts were scheduled to coincide with state budget negotiations, organizers said.

In San Francisco, about 200 demonstrators holding signs that read "Tax the Rich" and "Refund Education" held a teach-in in the lobby of the California State Building before attending an afternoon rally outside City Hall. College students and Occupy activists around the country held demonstrations as part of a "National Day of Action for Education."

About 15 of the demonstrators were taken into custody when they refused an order to disperse around 6:30 p.m., said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Diana McDermott. The 15 were cited on suspicion of trespassing and released.

At California State University, Los Angeles, about 300 students marched through campus blowing whistles and chanting, "No cuts, no fees, education should be free," according to the Los Angeles Times. At a rally in front of the campus bookstore, the group held signs that read "Stop Privatization" and "Defend Public Education."

The California protests are a prelude to a major "Occupy the Capitol" rally in Sacramento on Monday. Students and faculty members planned a "99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice" from Oakland to the state capital over the next few days.

The protesters are calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to reject any budget deal that includes higher education cuts or tuition increases. They also want the governor to support a ballot measure that would raise taxes on millionaires to pay for education and social services.

"We've destroyed our tax base and we stopped funding the most important parts of our society," said Josh Brahinsky, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student and union representative who helped organize the action. "We're calling on the state to tax the wealthy and use that money to build services for all of us."

The campus demonstrations were coordinated by ReFund California, a coalition of student groups and labor unions that organized a series of sometimes rowdy campus protests during the fall.


British education boss scraps homework rules

Schools have been given the go-ahead to reduce the amount of homework they set for pupils after complaints from parents that studies are cutting in to family time.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has scrapped national guidelines which set out how much time children should spend doing homework each night. Instead, head teachers will decide how much extra study, if any, their pupils require. Officials said that the aim was to cut bureaucracy, and insisted that homework would remain an important part of education.

However, the move was welcomed by parents who have called for less homework to be handed out. Kirstie Allsopp, the television presenter who has campaigned against homework in primary schools, last night welcomed Mr Gove’s move and said: “Getting rid of the guidelines might free up teachers to think a bit more creatively about it”.

Under the old guidelines, introduced by Labour in 1998, primary schools were told to set an hour of homework a week for children aged five to seven, rising to half an hour a night for seven-to-11-year-olds. Secondary schools were told to set 45 to 90 minutes a night for pupils aged 11 to 14, and one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours a night for those aged 14 to 16.

While the rules were not statutory, teachers came under pressure to follow them as they were said to give “a clear idea of what is reasonable to expect at different ages”. They also allowed parents to challenge teachers who set more, or less, than the recommended level. Many schools reproduced the guidelines in their own homework policies.

Supporters of homework warned scrapping the guidelines could lead to some schools abandoning it altogether, to spare teachers the trouble of extra marking.

Opposition has grown towards the guidelines, fuelled by an anti-homework movement in the United States and research questioning the efficacy of such assignments, particularly in primary schools.

Teachers complain about chasing up missing work and argue that it causes upset among the youngest pupils, while parents have claimed that too much study is making children anxious and reducing the time available for sports and play.

Some primaries have already abandoned traditional homework. Since September Frittenden Church of England Primary, in Kent, has replaced it with an optional weekly 45-minute homework club.

Elizabeth Bradshaw, the head teacher, said: “We had feedback from parents, or notes to the teachers, saying 'my child is very worried that they haven’t completed it on time’, or the child would come in to the classroom in tears because they had left it in the car. We simply wanted to remove that stress and focus on the learning for that week in a homework club where it is done, marked, and informs the learning of the next week.”

Ryde School, a primary in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, regards activities such as a walk in the countryside, playing board games and cooking as “homework”.

Its policy states: “Children are not little adults and therefore cannot be expected to study at home as adults do. Children spend six hours a day at school and are usually tired or 'filled’ with school learning by the end of the day. Homework must be kept to a minimum and be of a light, relaxed nature.”

The Department for Education said yesterday that the shake-up formed part of the Government’s plan to give more autonomy to schools.

Allsopp, who has two children and two stepchildren, said: “If you have three children, what happens to the other children while the parent is settled in the corner helping each one with their half an hour of homework? Eating a pizza alone. It ends up separating families at that key time.

“Learning at home should be about people doing things together as a family – reading a book, eating, watching an interesting documentary, attending an exhibition that ties in with what the child has been doing at school. These things are incredibly important. What I am 'anti’ is the silly task set by a teacher to tick a box.

“Sometimes homework can set child against parent. I remember someone I’m very close to was in Sainsbury’s and the child was in tears saying 'We’ve got to go, mummy – if I don’t do my homework I won’t be allowed in the playground tomorrow’. It is very important that parents back up what goes on in school, that is paramount. But some homework is almost adversarial.”

But Chris McGovern, a former head teacher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, warned that scrapping the guidelines could send the 'wrong message’ to schools. He said: “The danger is that schools will use this as an excuse to dilute the amount of homework. Middle-class children will do their homework anyway. Guidance for children who are coming from more deprived backgrounds is probably more important.”

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, said: “I’m all in favour of trusting schools but I hope that Ofsted will check that appropriate amounts of homework are being set. “There’s a risk in abandoning the guidelines that some schools and some teachers will see it as the green light to get rid of the unwelcome burden of marking lots of homework.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Homework is part and parcel of a good education, along with high quality teaching and strong discipline. “We trust head teachers to set the homework policy for their school. They know their pupils best and should be free to make these decisions without having to adhere to unnecessary bureaucratic guidance.”

The shake-up comes as a new study by London’s Institute of Education reveals that homework, even in small amounts, boosts the academic attainment and social skills of secondary school pupils.

The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project showed that homework was linked to improvements in 14-year-olds’ academic prowess and social skills as well as reductions in levels of aggression and impulsiveness.


Australia: Means-test selective school parents

Smart people will always tend to get rich and will pass on their smarts to their children so this is how it always will be. But rich people already pay more tax. Why penalize them again?

THE families of children attending selective public high schools are among the most affluent, prompting questions about the equity of the system and whether parents should face a means-tested levy.

Entry to a selective school is based on academic performance, but data from the federal government's My School website shows that children whose parents are from higher social and educational backgrounds are over-represented, while those from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly under-represented.

Educators call it apartheid within the public school system, and a leading private school principal, Timothy Hawkes, has suggested wealthy families with children in selective public schools should make an extra financial contribution to the education system through a means-tested levy.

My School publishes every school's distribution of students across the different quarters of socio-educational advantage from top to bottom. For example, At James Ruse Agricultural High School, the state's top performer academically, almost 60 per cent of its students come from the top quarter while only 4 per cent come from the bottom.

Hornsby Girls High School has the highest proportion of students from affluent backgrounds in the selective system with 68 per cent. Just 1 per cent of students come from the lowest quarter.

Normanhurst Boys High School has a similar profile with just 2 per cent of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and 66 per cent in the most advantaged.

Selective schools in less affluent areas of the state are not immune from the pattern. Penrith High School takes 5 per cent of its students from the bottom quarter while 56 per cent come from the top.

A strong supporter of public education, former principal of Asquith Boys High School Chris Bonnor, now fellow of the think tank Centre for Policy Development, said equal access to the selective system based on academic merit was a fallacy.

"There is a bit of an urban myth which has been peddled that selective schools take students from a wide range of social backgrounds but in reality they don't," he said.

"There is a disproportionate number of children from high socio-educational families in selective schools and that doesn't change when you look at selective schools in middle- to lower-class suburbs."

The social status of children attending selective schools is similar to those attending some of the state's most exclusive private schools.

Mr Bonnor called for a review of the selective school system.

The headmaster at The King's School in Parramatta, Dr Hawkes, said the wealthy parents of children attending selective schools should make a fairer financial contribution through a payment that would work in a similar way to the Medicare levy.

"There is an imperative for parents who send their children to selective schools to make a contribution if, and only if, they have the financial means to do so," he said.

"There is no question that there will be a number of families who are doing it tough and have children in selective state schools.

"These examples will invariably be trotted out and presented as a reason why this idea is inappropriate but these sorts of parents are often in the minority."

NSW has the highest number of selective schools in Australia with 17 fully selective schools, 25 partially selective schools, four selective agricultural schools and an online selective program.

A specialist in school systems at the University of Melbourne, Professor Richard Teese, believes the high number of selective schools in NSW has led to a two-tier public system.

"It's a form of social segregation based on academic selection," he said. "Selective high schools are a way of multiplying social advantage."

"There is an intensification of disadvantage at the other end."

The deputy chairman of the Public Schools Principals Forum, Brian Chudleigh, said David Gonski's federal school funding review, which recommended a student-based, rather than school-based, funding model would help close the gap between the haves and have-nots.

"In theory, enrolment at a selective school is based on academic merit," he said.

"Unfortunately, that nexus between socio-economic status and enrolment in selective schools is plain for all to see. The Gonski approach to funding would go a long way to helping that situation.

"It's clearly an equity issue. Children from less fortunate backgrounds, while they may be just as intelligent as children from more affluent homes, struggle to compete right from the word go."


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