Sunday, August 26, 2012

Teaching Kids Resolve to be True Scholars

Charles Payne

Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and extremely difficult  -Samuel Johnson

Over the weekend, President Obama pitched his would-be jobs program under the guise of educational urgency, noting the loss of 300,000 school teachers as the reason America is slipping in the realm of education. While I'm all for a lot of great teachers teaching our children, I think there are issues that are actually more acutely responsible for the decline in America's educational prowess. Statistics used to prove the more teachers the greater the results are sketchy, and it's more of a touchy-feely kind of thing that sounds good, but in reality there are more important components. I think we are missing out on hitting that hot button that makes kids want to learn.

Moreover, for our economically disadvantaged students, we have given them so many excuses for failure that by the time they get out of the gate many expect to be subpar. This is why the direction of the country is problematic. People that make the least amount of effort are demanding to get a greater share of the end results. The so-called income inequality gap is being used to bludgeon the wallets and pride of achievers while excusing those that aren't living up to their own individual potential. Throwing money at problems alone never solves major issues. It hasn't solved poverty or education in the United States, but has helped to create another problem (debt) that has to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Apparently, the best student to teacher ratio of 15.3 was achieved in 2008, and now at 16.0 (2010), we are back to 2000 levels.

In  2009 PISA reported that there was a section of resilient students defined as those in the bottom quarter of an index of economic, social and cultural status within a country that perform in the top quarter of students from all countries. In other words, these kids were at the wrong end of an equality scale but busted their backsides to perform with the best. What is it that drove these kids to perform so well? There were 25 such nations where the children were more resolved than those in the United States when it came to science literacy (we barely edged out Greece). I don't think it's the money they throw at the problem in Estonia or Mexico.

I'm convinced handing out excuses from the start is hurting poorer students more than a lack of funds. In wealthier schools, the idea everyone should get a trophy is a farce as well. I was on the board of a charter school in the poorest congressional district in America and we had a principle that called all the students scholars. I had a problem with that because the kids that were truly scholars got there through amazing effort that didn't stop when the final bell of the day rang. How did those kids feel when everyone was given the same praise? It hurts motivation.

The dumbing down of America has been a work in progress for a long time, lead by teachers unions looking to protect their jobs more than promoting achievement. It has been aided by communities that fought for easier curriculums so the children feel good. This entire process has eroded the need for resolve. In  2009 PISA tests of black students in America scored 409 which ranked them behind 53 developed and under-developed nations. It cannot be blamed on money. It can't be blamed on teachers not caring; over 80% of American students say teachers care, but less than 30% agree with that statement in Japan where their students run circles around all American students.

The problem is selling the notion of victimhood rather the notion of resolve. We can get it done. If President Obama and others want to remake America, where underachievers are rewarded from the pockets of overachievers, it's only a matter of time before there are fewer of the latter. That means more poverty for all, less liberty for all and no virtue for anybody.

Using children, teachers, police and firefighters to justify runaway spending is shameful. Not finding creative ways to make children embrace learning while promoting the idea they shouldn't be the best is beneath everyone, including politicians.

By the way ... if it was all about a lot of teachers then 2008 would have been the pinnacle of educational achievement. It wasn't.

* From 1995 to 2008, America went from second in the world in college graduation rates to 13th.

* From 1995 to 2008, America tumbled to the ranking of 26th in the world with respect to high school graduation rates.

By the way, it should be noted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls this the New Normal and has argued that low student-teacher ratios are more for an education model of the past and shouldn't be an excuse not to take a business-like approach to teaching our children. Sadly, when it comes to this administration, the New Normal takes a backseat to the Old Normal - spend, spend and spend some more. To be able to spend, tax, tax and tax even more (of course, borrowing has also been an integral part of "paying" for all that spending). In the meantime, toss resolve out the window and replace it with a false pity and false hopes.



British junior high School results: furious backlash as pass rate slumps

It's going to be like getting addicts of drugs to wean some Britons off soft marking

GCSE results fell for the first time in the exam’s 24-year history on Thursday, prompting a furious backlash from teachers, who claimed that grades had been deliberately suppressed.

Up to 10,000 pupils are believed to have missed out on C grades in English — considered a good pass — as results registered their only annual decline since 1988.

Head teachers, local authorities and union leaders said grade boundaries had been “very substantially” raised at the last minute.

Many schools could now face closure or takeover for failing to hit key GCSE targets.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, moved to defuse the row yesterday, insisting that exam boards had operated “entirely free” from political pressure.

He also appeared to welcome the drop in grades, adding: “You cannot have a situation where exam passes continue rising forever and ever without … grades either falling or steadying.”

Business leaders also said results registered this summer were “now more reflective of the ability of those taking the exams”.

In all, it is believed that pass marks in English had been raised by as much as 10 per cent for some GCSE papers this summer compared with assessments taken in January.

Sources said this was because grade boundaries set at the start of the year were too lenient — risking grade inflation.

As more than 650,000 school­children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their results, it emerged that:

 *  The proportion of test papers marked at least A fell by 0.8 percentage points to 22.4 per cent — the first annual drop on record.

 *  Fewer GCSE papers were marked C for the first time, with marks down by 0.4 percentage points to 69.4 per cent.

 *  The proportion of C grades in science dropped sharply from 62.9 to 60.7 per cent after Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog, ordered a toughening up of test specifications.

 *  More pupils opted to study traditional academic subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, history and geography following a government attack on “Mickey Mouse” qualifications.

 *  The gender gap at the heart of the exams system widened, with almost three quarters of GCSEs sat by girls graded C or better, compared with less than two thirds of boys’ papers.

The drop in the number of pupils awarded good results in English proved controversial. Nationally, 669,534 sat GCSEs in English language or a joint language and literature paper, but the proportion of C grades dropped from 65.4 last year to 63.9 per cent. It equates to a fall of just over 10,000 on the number of pupils expected to gain good marks.

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his organisation had received complaints from “dozens and dozens” of schools.

“Students who were working at a C level throughout the year, who were told on their assessments that they were in line for a C, have found out today that this is worth a D,” he said. “This means they may not get their places at college and sixth form. It is morally wrong to manipulate exam grades in this way. You are playing with young people’s futures.”

The Welsh Assembly claimed that it raised concerns with Ofqual two weeks ago over the grading of English language GCSEs.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which represents local authority officials, called on the Department for Education to carry out an investigation into the marking of English papers.

Tory-controlled Westminster council claimed that the “goalposts had been moved” for pupils halfway through their GCSEs.

Mr Gove said grade inflation was finally being contained after decades of rising pass rates, but insisted that yesterday’s scores were a “result of the independent judgments made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”.

He said the decision to change grade boundaries was down to individual exam boards and was “fairly comparable” with previous years.

Between 1988 and 2011, A grades rose almost threefold, while the proportion of Cs increased by more than 60 per cent.

Mr Gove previously warned of the possible scrapping of GCSEs in favour of new qualifications modelled on the old O-level. Yesterday, he said the Government would bring forward proposals for GCSE reform in the autumn, adding: “We want to change them, to improve them.”

John Cridland, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “While the proportion of students attaining an A* to C grade in English and maths has dropped back a little, enhancing the rigour of our examination system will help to improve performance compared with our international competitors.”

Tim Thomas, from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Whilst employers will be disappointed at the fall in pass rates, businesses may find that grades are now more reflective of the ability of those taking the exams.

“Previous pass rate increases have not always translated into attainment ­levels seen by businesses and have led to suggestions of grade inflation.  “Employers often find that school-leavers lack the numeracy and literacy skills they require, as well as wider employability and communication skills.”

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said tougher standards were “good news for pupils and their parents”.  “The point of GCSEs is to give them an accurate assessment of their capabilities as a guide to future choices,” he said. “Over-generous results could easily give the impression that someone was suited to something when they weren’t.”

But Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “We need to understand why results have fallen in these subjects. Is it because of pressure from Ofqual to shift grade boundaries?

“Concerns have been raised regarding the English GCSE. As well as ensuring standards remain rigorous, we must ensure pupils are treated consistently and fairly.”


Australia:  NSW State Govt. takes control of teacher numbers and class sizes

A NEW staffing arrangement for teachers was imposed on the profession yesterday, giving the state government discretion to control teacher numbers and class sizes.

The Department of Education gave the NSW Teachers Federation an ultimatum to sign a new staffing agreement by 5.30pm on Wednesday, but the federation refused. So the agreement was introduced as government policy instead of a formal industrial agreement, which means it does not legally bind the government.

The Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, said he was committed to maintaining existing class sizes as "policy" and said the federation could still sign the agreement to make it formal until 2016.

"The principals wanted the flexibility to determine their mix of staff and we've given that to them," he said.  The existing staffing agreement is due to expire within weeks.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said he was not able to sign the agreement at "short notice" on Wednesday without first consulting his executive.

One of the sticking points in negotiations was the government's refusal to guarantee the number of senior teaching positions. It will be left to school principals to decide the number within a set budget.

Mr Mulheron said the staffing agreement would have formalised class sizes, but these were now at the minister's discretion.

He said the minister's action "confirms the fears of principals, teachers and parents that the government is intent on reducing the number of permanent classroom, executive and specialist teaching positions".  "Without a formal staffing agreement, the class size policy can be changed at any time from term 4, 2012, onwards."

In a letter to staff, the director- general of education, Michele Bruniges, said four months of negotiations with the Teachers Federation over new staffing arrangements arising from the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms had failed.

"Unfortunately these negotiations have not resulted in an agreement and as such the department will implement the new staffing procedures from day 1, term 4, 2012, by way of policy," Dr Bruniges said. "A key element of the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms is putting an end to the centrally determined one-size-fits-all staffing model.

"The Minister and I have been very clear that the Local Schools, Local Decisions staffing reforms will maintain a statewide staffing system, which has greater opportunities for teachers to be selected at the local level to better meet student needs; maintain the department's class size policies".

The opposition spokeswoman for education, Carmel Tebbutt, said the new arrangement meant there was no protection for the present number of teachers or class sizes. "These will now be at the whim of the minister," she said. The Greens MP John Kaye said: "Classroom sizes and important administrative positions in schools have now been completely deregulated."


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