Sunday, July 01, 2012

Low confidence in U.S. public schools is warranted

Perhaps it was the rash of sexual-abuse cases on the part of public school teachers discovered during the 2011-2012 school year.

Or maybe it was the poor impression of educators left by Wisconsin teachers union members in the wake of protests against Gov. Scott Walker.

Or maybe parents finally took the time to go through their children’s backpacks and found the work product that passes for learning these days.

Whatever the reason, last week the Gallup Organization revealed a poll that indicates confidence in our nation’s public schools is at an all-time low.

According to the poll measuring Americans’ confidence in public institutions, confidence in schools is down 5 percentage points from 2011, with just 29 percent expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them.

“This is a new low from the 33 percent measured in Gallup’s 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls,” Gallup’s website says. “The high was 58 percent the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.”

Put another way — because it’s frankly more startling — roughly 70 percent of Americans have low or no confidence in our public schools. The vast majority of us seem to get that our system of public education simply is not getting the job done.

On the other hand, Americans are nothing if not loyal, sometimes blindly so. In 2010, Gallup found a significant gap between people’s confidence in public education generally, versus their high opinions of their own children’s schools.

In that poll, only 18 percent of respondents gave the nation’s schools as a whole a grade of “A” or “B,” but 49 percent gave high marks to their local public schools, and 77 percent gave those grades to their own children’s schools.

Makes you wonder if that data reflected a sort of broad application of the “Not My Kid” epidemic that seems to be plaguing our nation. (It’s “Not My Kid” who bullies, cheats, shoplifts, talks back to authority figures, spends seven-plus hours a day engaged with media, and can name all the Kardashian sisters, but no public officials other than President Obama.)

Perhaps parents who respond to polls don’t want to admit the truth: Even their own child’s schools — even the best public schools in America — are part of a crumbling educational infrastructure.

When it comes to our nation’s public schools, our collective lack of confidence is not unwarranted. Even as our nation’s children demonstrate their lack of educational progress through standardized tests, America’s schools of education continue to churn out teachers trained to pursue the status quo.

Consider that “progressive” activist Bill Ayers remains a guru of teacher education, despite his retirement from teaching two years ago. Throughout his long and illustrious career, he wrote and spoke to a generation of new teachers, and what he told them was that the purpose of education is the “doing of social justice.”

Not transmitting a body of knowledge and cultural competence. Not ensuring that young people are prepared with skills and abilities to earn a living for themselves and their families. Not to uphold the republic by internalizing the values and virtues upon which it was founded.

But rather, according to Mr. Ayers and most of America’s schools of education, teachers ought to be committed to cultivating “critical thinking” and preparing people to participate in a “democracy.”

I’m not sure how you can think critically about things you don’t know, or participate in a democracy when we live in a republic, but maybe that’s me being picky.

One positive outcome of the lack of confidence in public schools might be action on the part of parents and legislatures to do some critical thinking of their own about the purpose of education, and the conflicting goals of those who seek to prepare our children for the future, as opposed to those who use our schools for social engineering.

Perhaps we’d all have more confidence in our schools if the folks setting the educational agenda in America stopped using them for incubators of social change, and instead simply educated our children in a rigorous curriculum of core knowledge.

Progressive? No. But it would be progress, that’s for sure.


Higher Ed Bubble: Students Pay Just 43% Of Direct Cost

Students are paying less and less of direct college costs, relying more on government grants and loans. That has encouraged universities to jack up tuition expenses, fueling a vicious circle reminiscent of the housing bubble.

U.S. universities charged students $190 billion in 2001-02 for tuition, fees, room and board and more, according to data from Sallie Mae. By 2010-11 that had more than doubled to $410 billion. Even after adjusting for inflation, student charges shot up 72%.

During that time, paying directly for college has declined as a percentage of overall costs, while paying indirectly via government loans and grants has increased. In 2001-02, direct family contribution accounted for 52% of students' higher education bills, while indirect payments accounted for 42%. By 2010-11 that was reversed with grants and government loans accounting for 52% and family contributions amounting to 43%.

'Someone Else's Money'

"What these data show is people consuming higher education are increasingly paying for it with someone else's money," said Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute. "And that includes the loans, because students can get loans at a cheap rate because taxpayers are on the hook for all the risk."

Richard Vedder, an economics professor at the University of Ohio who has studied the economics of higher education at length, sees a link between the price of tuition and the change in how we pay for college.

"I look at the evidence, an explosion in tuition costs accompanied by an explosion in grants and student loans," Vedder said. "What else can explain it?"

When students and families pay for college indirectly, either someone else is paying, in the case of grants, or payments are deferred as with loans. This makes them far less sensitive to the price of tuition and other expenses than they would be if they were paying out of their own pocket. So colleges can hike charges far more than inflation.

Average annual tuition in 2010 for all colleges was about $17,464 based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That's a whopping 32% hike after inflation since 2000.

Not everyone agrees that the shift is responsible for the rise in tuition and overall college costs.

"If you look at the for-profit institutions, tuition is pretty much a function of grants and loans," said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at George Washington University and independent policy analyst for the College Board. "But where the vast majority of students go, (four-year non-profits, state institutions, community colleges) ... there is no evidence that loans and grants lead to higher tuition."

She claims that the share of students receiving federal and state grants is not that high. She blames tuition hikes at public universities on cuts in state aid.

Since 2008, inflation-adjusted state funding of higher education has fallen 1%, data from the State Fiscal Survey show. But real funding jumped 20% over the entire 2000-11 period, suggesting that other factors are behind rising tuition costs.

"To say that there is no evidence is wrong," McCluskey said. "There is a fair amount of empirical evidence that shows student aid leads to higher prices."

He points to articles in Economics of Education Review and Journal of Human Resources. The first one showed that Pell grants did cause higher tuition prices at private colleges but not public institutions. The second found student aid in Georgia — the HOPE scholarship — resulted in higher costs at four-year colleges in that state.

But nailing down the link is hard. One reason is that when tuition rises, students often automatically qualify for more aid. It can thus be hard to determine if tuition is rising due to increased aid or aid is increasing because of higher tuition prices.

"In addition to the empirical evidence, you have to use common sense," said McCluskey. "Basic economics says that when you subsidize something, like we have with higher education, you get more demand and higher prices."


Some British children are too naughty for normal school life and number of persistent offenders is rising, says Government’s behaviour tsar

Some children are simply too naughty to fit into everyday school life, the Government’s behaviour tsar suggested today.   There is a group of youngsters who behave in very difficult and violent ways and who need much more help and support, according to Charlie Taylor.

He indicated that there may be have been a rise in these types of pupils, many of whom display very bad behaviour from an early age.

Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee this morning, Mr Taylor - former headteacher of The Willows, a special school in west London for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties - said that while behaviour in general is improving, there remains a groups of children that persistently behave poorly.

He was asked by Neil Carmichael, Conservative MP for Stroud, why it was that increasing numbers of pupils are suspended from school for abuse or assault and, at the same time, Ofsted rates almost four-fifths of schools as good for behaviour.

Mr Taylor replied that the numbers of schools rated as good has fallen from around 87 per cent as the bar has been raised on standards of behaviour.

He told the committee: 'Though I would say generally, the trajectory of behaviour within schools is improving'  It is now rarer in schools to have 'no-go areas where teachers fear to tread at lunchtimes and break times', Mr Taylor said.  'So things have improved.

'But I do think there’s a group of children who show very extreme behaviour, very difficult, challenging, violent behaviour, often quite young children, and I would say possibly there has been an increase in those sorts of children.

'You can still be a school who is good on behaviour and still have pupils like that within your school because you’re doing a good job with them.

'But nevertheless there are certainly a group of children who need extra interventions, who need more help, who need more support and for whom the basic standards of just a really well-run school aren’t enough.'  He added: 'The trajectory is in the right direction, but there’s a huge amount to carry on doing.'

Mr Taylor has just been appointed the first chief executive of the Teaching Agency, which will oversee teacher training.

Mr Taylor said that he had concerns that some training courses are not teaching would-be teachers enough about behaviour and how to deal with it.

'Sometimes behaviour gets pigeon-holed as a one off lecture at the beginning of the year,' he said, with a lecturer handing out tips on how to deal with misbehaving pupils.

Mr Taylor has previously called for disruptive children to be identified before they start school to stop them going 'off the rails' later on.

Publishing his report into alternative provision earlier this year, Mr Taylor said that intervening to help naughty children when they are as young as two or three is better than 'waiting until they are throwing tables around'.

Teaching unions have previously raised concerns about misbehaving pupils, with a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) suggesting that poor parenting could be fuelling bad behaviour in schools.   It revealed that behaviour has worsened in the last five years, with pupils kicking, punching, pushing and shoving school staff.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said there is a minority of children who have a 'total disregard of school rules'.

These youngsters are just as likely to be 'over-indulged' middle-class children as those from poorer homes, she said.

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has also warned that schools are often forced to act as 'surrogate parents' in a sometimes self-obsessed culture that fails to instil good values in children.


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