Thursday, June 21, 2012

NJ: School agrees to drop “pledge to teachers”

About time.  It sounds pretty obnoxious

After receiving complaints about a New Jersey elementary school's pledge of allegiance to teachers, the school district says it has opted to rewrite the pledge as a school song instead.

"Over the summer, a school spirit song will be created to replace the pledge, and will be put into effect for the 2012-13 school year," The Marlboro Board of Education said in a news release.

For the past decade, every Monday of the school year at Asher Holmes Elementary School in Morganville, N.J., has started with students reciting a pledge honoring the Marlboro Township School District and its teachers, who “help [students] learn” all they need to “know for the future.”

The pledge was written by a fourth-grade teacher and did not replace the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited every day and is also optional.

"I pledge allegiance to Asher Holmes and the Marlboro Township School District and to the teachers who help us learn all that we need to know for the future," the pledge states. "We promise to respect ourselves and others, to try our best and always be proud of our schools."

And until last week, not a single parent had complained about the pledge. But Valerie Kaufman, a mother of a student at the school, told the Marlboro Township Board of Education during a June 12 meeting that she found the pledge to be unconstitutional and suggested administrators “do away” with the practice.

Board member BonnieSue Rosenwald agreed with Kaufman, saying she found the practice to be “inappropriate” since students were likely saluting the flag while reciting the school pledge.

Superintendent David Abbott said Kaufman’s complaint was the first he had received pertaining to the optional pledge.


Huge High School shakeup in Britain

Leaked documents seen by the Mail reveal Education Secretary Michael Gove has drawn up a blueprint which would tear up the current exam system as well as abolishing the National Curriculum.

From September 2014, pupils will begin studying for ‘explicitly harder’ exams in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology.

Tough O-levels will also be drawn up in history, geography and modern languages. The new exams will ‘meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group’.

Mr Gove believes the creation of GCSEs by the Tories in the 1980s was a ‘historic mistake’ that has ‘failed pupils’ and led to the collapse of standards through grade inflation and a proliferation of ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses.

Under his revolutionary plans:

  *  GCSEs will ‘disappear’ from schools within the next few years
*  The National Curriculum in secondary schools will be abolished
*  The requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C will be scrapped

*   Less intelligent pupils will sit simpler exams, similar to the old CSEs

*    O-level pupils will sit the same gold standard paper nationwide from a single exam board

The extraordinary plans will set Mr Gove on a collision course with the teaching unions, local education authorities, the Liberal Democrats and even his own civil servants.

He is set to announce the plans formally in the next two weeks. In the autumn a public consultation will run for 12 weeks. That will clear the way for them to be implemented early next year. None of the plans require an Act of Parliament.

Mr Gove’s proposal is nothing less than an attempt to reverse three decades of academic decline and create a system that Labour could not reverse if its wins power in 2015.

A leaked document seen by the Mail reveals: ‘Those starting GCSEs in 2013 are the last pupils who will have to do them.’

This means they will sit their exams in 2015. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of pupils who begin in September 2014 will be expected to take O-levels in English, maths and the sciences in 2016.

There will be individual O-levels in physics, chemistry and biology, instead of a combined sciences qualification.

In a bid to end the slide in standards, pupils will have to study complex subjects like calculus to get an A grade in O-level maths. English literature pupils will be banned from taking set texts into exams and will be expected to write longer essays.

Questions like ‘Would you look at the Moon with a microscope or a telescope?’ from science GCSEs will be a thing of the past. As well as the return of O-levels, the Government will create a new exam for less able pupils.

When GCSEs were created they were supposed to help less-gifted students.   But Mr Gove believes those teenagers have been encouraged to think that a D, E, F or G grade at GCSE is a ‘pass’ when the real world treats those grades as a ‘fail’.

From 2014, the bottom 25 per cent of pupils will study more straightforward exams in English, maths and science, so they can get a worthwhile qualification.

Questions on these papers will emphasise real life situations like counting change in a shop or reading a railway timetable.

A return to an exam like the old CSE will be controversial, but ministers will point out that 42 per cent of pupils currently fail to get five good GCSEs, the measure by which schools are judged, meaning teachers have no incentive to help them at all.

This autumn, exam boards will enter a competition to win the right to set the first new O-levels. The Department for Education will announce before Christmas which boards will set the English, maths and science O-levels, with the same exam taken nationwide.

This is expected to lead to resistance from boards like Edexcel, who could lose business unless they land the contracts.

Exam boards will also be told to devise new O-levels in history, geography and modern languages. Mr Gove hopes they will also be ready for pupils beginning study in 2014 but their introduction may take until 2015.

GCSEs will not disappear immediately and schools will be able to continue teaching the English Baccalaureate.  But a document seen by the Mail says: ‘The Department for Education expects that existing GCSEs will disappear’.

In order to persuade schools to adopt the new exams in 2014, the Government will scrap the requirement that pupils should seek to obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C from 2016 – leaving them free to take on the new gold standard O-levels.

Mr Gove is concerned that the current system simply encourages pupils to study three ‘Mickey Mouse’ GCSE courses like food nutrition on top of English and maths in order to fulfil the requirement.

The plans will also spell the end for pupils racking up 13 or more GCSEs and ensure that they engage in rigorous study in a smaller number of subjects. Cambridge University currently sets O-levels for pupils in other countries.

In Singapore, between two-thirds and three-quarters of pupils take O-levels and the Government believes the same should be true of Britain.

Schools will now be encouraged to enter pupils for exams when they are ready. In Singapore, some pupils take O-levels at 15, while others take three years and sit them at 17.

Headteachers will also be given sweeping powers to teach what they like when they like. The leaked document says Mr Gove ‘will abolish the secondary National Curriculum and not replace it. All existing programmes of study will be withdrawn from September 2013’.

Academies, now more than half of secondary schools, can already roam off the National Curriculum. But by tearing it up, Mr Gove will prevent a future Labour government of changing the law to impose it on academies again.

A senior Whitehall source said the plans will put an end to politicians using grade inflation to make outlandish claims about rising standards. Last night a spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’


British exam boo-boo

Students furious with exam board for putting 'impossible' question in chemistry paper

An exam board apologised yesterday for a 'confusing' chemistry A-level question that students complain was impossible to answer.  The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance admitted that guidance given in an A2 paper sat by just under 16,000 teenagers was 'unhelpful'.

It has insisted that examiners will take into account 'the potential for confusion' when marking the question and ensure that students are not penalised.

Students have set up a Facebook page, Thechem5paperwasadisgrace, which is 'liked' by over 2,000 people, in protest over the AQA chemistry exam which was sat on Tuesday.

They argue that one question was 'impossible to answer using the data provided' while some claim there wasn't enough time to complete the difficult paper.

The contested question - worth five marks out of a potential 100 for the whole paper - asked students to make a calculation using a ratio they should have come up with in part one.

To help students who could not calculate the original ratio, the paper gave them another ratio to use to answer part two. However, it also told them in bold print that this was 'not the correct ratio'.

One student said: 'A question regarding the percentage of a certain compound required us to use a ratio from the previous question. However if one did not get that ratio, there was a 'wrong' ratio given for use to at least get method marks.  'However, the result using this ratio was more than 100 per cent which is chemically, mathematically and theoretically impossible.'

Another said: 'I know that a lot of students spent a long time trying to work out a rational answer and so ran out of time to answer other questions. I feel sorry for a lot of people who are now worried that they won't get into university because of this exam.'

A spokeswoman for AQA said: 'We expect that the majority of students will have answered part one of the question correctly, used the ratio that they have calculated and will therefore have had no problems.  'However, the alternative ratio given in A6(d) (ii) leads to an answer that is different to what students would normally expect to see.

'Although the question can still be answered, we recognise the alternative ratio given was unhelpful and it has clearly caused confusion for some students.  'We apologise to these students and accept it would have been better to use a different ratio.'

She added: 'We would like to reassure students that we have established procedures in place to deal with issues like this.  'Our examiners will take into account the potential for confusion when they mark the papers and will ensure the results of those students who used the alternative ratio are not affected.'


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