Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A wonderful story from  Thomas Sowell

But also a very sad story because the last sentence rings so true

Although we all know that death is inevitable, we are still seldom fully prepared for the death of someone who has been important in our lives. So it was with the recent death of Dr. Marie D. Gadsden, at the age of 92.

Mrs. Gadsden's only official connection with me was that she taught me freshman English at Howard University, more than half a century ago. But she and Professor Sterling Brown were my two idols when I was a student there -- and both remained so for the rest of my life.

Mrs. G, as I came to call her in later years, was not only a good teacher, and a demanding teacher, but also one with kindness toward her students. I can still remember one very rainy night when a young lady from her class and I were walking up the street together from Howard University, when a car suddenly pulled over to the curb, a door was flung open and we were invited to get in. It was Mrs. Gadsden.

When I decided that I wanted to transfer to Harvard, both Mrs. G and Sterling Brown wrote strong letters of recommendation for me -- letters that may have had more to do with my getting admitted than my mediocre grades, as a night student who was carrying too many courses for someone who worked full time during the day.

Mrs. G put me in touch with a lady she knew in Cambridge, who rented me a room, and also put me in touch with a lovely young woman who was a student at Radcliffe. Mr. Gadsden, her husband whom I had come to know by this time, said to me: "Oh, Tom, now she is picking out your women for you!" He had a great sense of humor.

In the decades that followed, Mrs. Gadsden and I remained in touch, usually by mail, even after we were both long gone from Howard University. Since she had many sojourns overseas, her letters often came from exotic places, principally in Africa.

She was my most important confidante, and her wise words helped me through many tough times in my personal life, as well as in my professional career. She encouraged my work, celebrated my advancement and, where necessary, criticized my shortcomings. All of it helped me.

At one point, I returned to Howard University to teach for a year. Among my students was a young African woman who had studied under Mrs. Gadsden in Guinea. This young lady, just recently arrived in the United States, seemed almost frightened by it -- and by my economics class, which met two hours every night during the six weeks of summer school.

The class was moving ahead at a rapid pace and, when this young African woman fell behind, I knew it would be very hard for her to catch up. She failed the first two weekly tests and, when I spoke with her about it after class, she was thoroughly embarrassed and quietly began to cry.

I then went to see Mrs. Gadsden, who was back in Washington at this time, and who knew this girl and her family back in Guinea.

"So you think she's going to fail the course?" Mrs. G asked.

"Well, she's not going to learn the material. Whether I can bring myself to give her an F is something else. That's really hitting somebody who's down."

"You're thinking of passing her, even if she does not do passing work?" Mrs. G said sharply. She reminded me that I had long criticized paternalistic white teachers who passed black students who should have been failed -- and she let me have it.

"I'm ashamed of you, Tom. You know better!"

Now it seemed as if I could neither pass nor fail this young African woman. In desperation, I began to meet with her in the office for an hour before every class to try to bring her up to speed. At first, it didn't look like these private lessons were doing any good, but one night she finally began to grasp what economics was all about, and she even smiled, for the first time.

The young woman from Guinea did B work from there on out -- and I was tempted to give her a B. But her earlier failing grades could not be ignored, and averaging them in made her grade a C.

When I saw Mrs. Gadsden later, she said, "Our friend was overjoyed at getting a C in your course! She was proud because she knew she earned every bit of it."

That was the Mrs. G I knew. And I never expect to see anyone like her again.


Three-quarters of British universities 'to cut student places'

Growing numbers of bright students face missing out on their first choice university, academics warned today, as figures showed three-quarters of institutions are being forced to slash places.

Almost 100 out of 130 universities in England could be forced to take fewer undergraduates this year numbers following the introduction of Coalition reforms designed to drive down tuition fees, it emerged.

Many members of the elite Russell Group are among those facing reductions, with Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton being particularly hit.

Data from the Government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England suggests some newer universities such as Bedfordshire and East London are expecting to lose around one-in-eight places.

The cuts are being imposed following the introduction of new rules that effectively penalise universities charging more than £7,500 in student fees from this autumn.

It means large numbers of places are being shifted towards cheap further education colleges.

Ministers are also lifting controls on the number of bright students gaining at least two A grades and a B at A-level that universities can recruit – leading to an inevitable scramble towards a small number of top institutions.

Sir Alan Langlands, the funding council’s chief executive, denied the loss of student places would tip any institution into "significant financial trouble".

But Prof Michael Farthing, vice-chancellor of Sussex University and chairman of the 1994 Group, which represents many small research institutions, said the figures show that “many excellent students will be denied places at their first choice universities.”

“The number of students universities are allowed to recruit has been cut across the sector, with 20,000 places auctioned off to institutions with lower than average fees,” he said.

“Far from giving the best universities freedom to take on more students this represents a push to a cut-price education."

Today, HEFCE announced funding and estimated student places for universities and colleges in 2012/13.  It emerged that teaching funds had been cut by £1.1 billion – to £3.2bn – while cash for research has been frozen at £1.6bn.

Under Coalition reforms, funding gaps are expected to be plugged by a rise in annual student tuition fees – from £3,290 to £9,000.

But to keep the student loans bill down, some 20,000 places are being taken from all institutions and redistributed to universities and colleges charging less than £7,500.

At the same time, 10,000 places – offered in previous years to cope with a sudden surge in applications – are not being made available in 2012.

In a report published today, the funding council outlined how places would be distributed this year. Some 98 out of 129 universities – 76 per cent – are estimated to see some drop in their student numbers. A quarter could see cuts of at least 10 per cent.

Fourteen out of 20 English members of the Russell Group also face cuts, with Liverpool losing as many as 6.4 per cent of places and Leeds 5.1 per cent.

All 12 English members of the 1994 Group are also facing reductions, including 11 per cent at Essex and 10.5 per cent at Goldsmith’s College, London.

But newer universities are being hit hardest, figures suggest. Cuts of at least 12 per cent will be seen at Bedfordshire, East London, Liverpool Hope, Middlesex and Northampton.

The funding council insist figures are estimates based on recruitment in previous years and final allocations could be higher as universities compete against each other to recruit students gaining two As and a B at A-level. This is likely to benefit the top universities the most.

But the biggest year-on-year rises in student numbers are likely to be seen at further education colleges, which can often run degree courses at a fraction of the price of universities.  Kingston College in West London is seeing a 1,115 per cent rise in places – from 20 to 223 students.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said: “We want a student-focused higher education sector, more choice over where to study and a renewed focus on the quality of the student experience.

“That’s why we’re freeing up centralised number controls, improving information for prospective students and driving a new focus on the academic experience.”

But Libby Hackett, director of University Alliance, said: “Despite continued demand for university places we are seeing significant drops in student places across the sector with some institutions subject to cuts of 12 per cent in just one year.

“The places which are being taken out of the system in 2012-13, or transferring to further education, means that there will be 20,000 fewer young people able to go to university compared to last year.”


British teachers bend rules to boost exam scores: Survey finds test marks are fiddled and pupils bribed

Just like Georgia

Teachers are bribing pupils with pizza nights and fiddling test results to help their schools secure exam success, a survey has found.  Almost 40 per cent admitted the ‘overwhelming pressure’ to ensure that pupils achieve good grades ‘could compromise their professionalism’.

The poll, by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, reveals the lengths that schools are prepared to go to in order to climb league tables.  A quarter of respondents said they gave pupils ‘rewards and incentives’ to work harder. One teacher cited organising ‘pizza nights’.

In addition, 28 per cent said they felt obliged to attend controversial exam board seminars.

The admission follows an undercover newspaper investigation that found some teachers paid up to £230 a day to attend seminars with chief examiners, during which they were advised on exam questions and even the wording pupils should use to get higher marks.

One state secondary school teacher told ATL: ‘I know of an exam meeting where it was strongly hinted which topics would come up in the exam. I was glad my school was there but I felt sorry for those that were not.’

Another said: ‘We don’t go to many exam seminars because we can’t afford it. We probably lose out to those who can.’

The union surveyed 512 teachers, lecturers and headteachers working in state-funded and independent primary and secondary schools, academies and colleges in England ahead of its annual conference, which begins in Manchester today.

Some admitted fiddling exam scores. A primary school teacher said: ‘I have been forced to manipulate results so that levels of progress stay up.’  A secondary school teacher added: ‘The school I work at definitely pushes the boundaries of exam integrity. Maintaining their “gold-plated” status takes precedence over developing the abilities of the pupils.  ‘Controlled assessments and aspects of coursework are problem areas for cheating, with senior leadership driving the agenda.’

A grammar school teacher said: ‘In some cases I end up virtually re-writing my students’ homework to match the marking criteria, rather than teach them my subject, French. I do this because there is simply not time to do both.’

Eighty-eight per cent of those polled said the pressure to get pupils through exams prevented the teaching of a broad and balanced curriculum, while 73 per cent claimed it had a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching. Seventy-one per cent said it affected the standard of learning.

In addition, one teacher warned that pupils are ‘close to breakdown’ with the demands being put on them during out-of-school hours and the Easter holidays.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, said: ‘With the Government’s persistent focus on tests, exam results and league tables, many teachers and lecturers also feel under enormous pressure – often to the detriment of high-quality teaching, learning and development of pupils.

‘School league tables, school banding and Ofsted inspections undermine the curriculum and do nothing to support pupils and their hard-working teachers, lecturers and leaders.’


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