Sunday, March 24, 2013

Failing College: Why are we screwing up the world’s best higher education system?

The American higher education system is the envy of the world, or so the cliché goes. The sons and daughters of foreign potentates flock to our shores, while kids raised on apple pie and Sesame Street claw each others’ eyes out for the chance to attend a top university. With more than 18 million current undergraduates—who pay average annual tuition of $32,000 each—the market for higher education seems to be going gangbusters.

Expanding post-secondary education is a government priority, too. In his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared that “every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.” He sounded a similar note three years later, saying that “higher education can’t be a luxury, it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

But despite—or because of—this attention, there is trouble in paradise. Enrollment may be skyrocketing, but so are student debt levels and default rates. Tuition costs are increasing many times faster than income, or than prices in any other sector. This is in large part thanks to the gusher of federal money pouring into American colleges in the form of Pell Grants, subsidized loans, and research dollars, totaling nearly $200 billion a year. While the dream is to make college accessible to all, the reality is that subsidies contribute to skyrocketing prices, making college an increasingly expensive and risky undertaking.

Students arrive on campus underqualified, courtesy of an American public school system that has flatlined in quality while tripling its per-student cost. They do less academic work yet receive better grades than their parents did. And their post-college job prospects are dim, with unemployment rates for recent grads hovering at 12 percent.

These wounds are largely self-inflicted, and thus eminently correctable. A problem largely created by government’s distorting money and politics would improve rapidly with its withdrawal. Yet the lasting fix may come from outside competitors, in the form of for-profit schools, massively open online courses, and other specialty schools more responsive to students’ 21st century needs and lifestyles than ivy-covered institutions founded in the 17th.

Students will soon face a more complicated landscape with better, cheaper options for meeting their objectives, whether they are seeking a credential, a skill set, or just a social network.


Delia Smith? She was one of Henry VIII's wives! The shockingly inept answers to history questions given by British  secondary school pupils

Clueless teenagers believe Delia Smith, Jerry Hall and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall were among Henry VIII's wives, new research has revealed.

The shocking lack of knowledge emerged in a study carried out among 2,000 11 to 16 year olds, which also found many are unaware of the Gunpowder Plot or which countries were involved in WWII.

Other clangers included thinking TV builder Nick Knowles built the pyramids and William Shakespeare was the chairman of the BBC.
Henry VIII's wife? Teenagers thought Delia Smith was a wife of the historic monarch

The survey by hotel chain Premier Inn also found one in ten thought Arsenal's Emirates stadium was built before the likes of Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral.

A spokesman for Premier Inn said: 'We are a bit surprised by the fact youngsters don't know their Shakespeare from Sir Alan or where many of the major historical events took place in the UK.

'However it's something that can be rectified by visiting all the fantastic landmarks and places of interest the UK has to offer.

'A third of the school kids questioned said they love learning about history in school and with so much culture on our doorstep it's important to get kids out and about to experience things first hand.

'It's not surprising with families under financial pressure that days out and trips away may have suffered.'

The study showed some teenagers thought Anne Frank was an American chat show host, while others and identified the plague, which killed tens of thousands of people in 1665, as a heavy metal band.

When asked to explain who Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was, teenagers polled gave answers including the founder of the Body Shop, an X factor finalist and the owner of high street fashion chain Miss Selfridge.

The poll also touched on aspects of geography and teenagers didn't fare any better - a third did not know that the city of London was in the South-East.

And a quarter didn't realise Arsenal was a London football club.

Fortunately 91 per cent were aware that last year's Olympics were held in the capital, although a confused one in twenty thought Paris were the hosts.

A spokesman for Premier Inn said: 'The research found that more than half of British school kids have never visited UK landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and St Paul's Cathedral.'


Australia: Teachers told to fall into line and use the same teaching methods across a subject

HOW children are taught in the classroom is set to be transformed in state schools.  Principals have been told the same teaching method must be used across a subject schoolwide.

Education Queensland deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said the new "pedagogical framework" - a teacher practice plan - requires state schools to have a consistent teaching approach for the first time.

Ms McKenzie said the move, to be coupled with a push for parents to become more involved in their children's schoolwork, would help lift students' results and take schools from "good to great".

"The research is showing that there needs to be a consistent practice across the school when you are teaching the way you do multiplication, the way you do reading," Ms McKenzie said.

She said it wasn't beneficial for students "to have to learn a whole new way of doing something because that teacher teaches it slightly different".

"Teachers bring their personality and their energy and their professional ideas of how to re-explain something, but there needs to be a consistent approach," Ms McKenzie said.

She said teachers would then be able to work together better to help boost student results.

"We know from the research that if you get consistent teaching practice within the school and that teachers work collaboratively to learn the skills from each other, that students' results will lift," Ms McKenzie said.

"So this is the next piece of the puzzle to go from good to great. This, and working with parents, will take us to the absolute next step."

Schools have until the end of the year to have a pedagogical framework in place, with each state school able to use different methods across subjects.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus, Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller and Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said some schools already had this in place and agreed it could help results.

But Mrs Backus said it was important to remember teacher-student relationships were the most important element of teaching, while Mr Bates said the framework's success would depend on how it was implemented.

The framework has been launched alongside the parent and community engagement plan, following research showing teachers have less of an effect on students than parents.


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