Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Standards and students thrive in a free market

Last night, I conducted an experiment to test the impact of the Common Core State Standards. When my kids were asleep, I placed a copy of the standards under their pillows. I was hopeful that they would be “college- and career-ready” when they woke up, but to my dismay, they had not learned anything from the standards.

You might not be too surprised about the results of my experiment because you know, as do I, that standards do not teach kids; parents and teachers teach kids. That is part of the reason that state and national standards have had very little effect in improving student achievement.

For standards to have any effect, they have to change the behavior of teachers. The only way to accomplish that is with heavy-handed government coercion and intrusion into school systems through test-based accountability. These accountability systems restrict the freedom of local schools and teachers to effectively meet the needs of their unique students.

It is not that we should not have standards, it is that one set of standards centrally imposed does more harm than good. Absent state or national standards, there would still be rigorous content standards for students. As Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute writes, “standards are ubiquitous in free markets.”

Proponents of state or national standards might say “math is math, it shouldn’t matter where you learn it.” That is true in the sense that 2 + 2 always equals 4. But it is not true in the sense that we have discovered the exact right sequence or method of teaching math. On this, there is considerable disagreement.

In a free market, schools would still have standards; officials would just have more latitude to choose the standards for their school. Parents would also have more options in a free market to choose the school that they believe is the best fit for them. Choice is the best method of accountability.

McCluskey sums up the argument very well: “Only a free market can produce the mix of high standards, accountability, and flexibility that is essential to achieving optimal educational outcomes.”

We need to stop trying to standardize education and start trying to personalize education.


Labour: make work experience compulsory and axe 'EBacc'

Compulsory work experience will be reintroduced in schools under a Labour plan to get teenagers ready for the jobs market, the Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The party is planning to reverse a Government decision to make two-week work placements an optional requirement before the end of school, it emerged.

Shadow ministers admitted that too many placements in the past involved “making tea and doing the photocopying” but insisted that high-quality work experience was vital.

It was also revealed that Labour is proposing to scrap the Coalition’s English Baccalaureate – a school league table measure that rewards pupils for gaining good GCSEs in a range of academic subjects – amid claims it “distorts” children's’ options and stops them studying the arts and engineering.

The disclosure is made before the publication on Tuesday of an interim report commissioned by the party into the future of 14-to-19 education, vocational qualifications and skills training.

Prof Chris Husbands, director of the University of London’s Institute of Education, is leading the review amid concerns over education for the “forgotten 50 per cent “ of schoolchildren who fail to go on to university.

Speaking before the publication, Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, said there was currently a “massive gap in this country between the world of education and the world of work” and a number of key reforms were being considered by the party in attempt to bridge the divide.

It will coincide with the raising of the education leaving age to 17 from this September and 18 in 2015. This includes:

 *  Requiring all teenagers to study English and maths up to the age of 18 through GCSEs, A-levels or other qualifications to raise standards in the three-Rs;

 *  Introducing a requirement for independent careers advice – reversing a Government decision to devolve the function directly to schools – because of fears schools with sixth-forms are steering pupils towards A-levels over other options such as apprenticeships and further education colleges;

 *  An overhaul of apprenticeships to tie them more accurately to specific careers sectors.

But some of the most high-profile reforms are being planned for the 14-to-16 phase where Labour claim the Coalition is failing to prepare children for the workplace.

Last year, the Government dropped a requirement for compulsory work experience placements as part of a review into vocational education by Prof Alison Wolf, from King's College London.

Mr Twigg said it should be reinstated in some form but insisted the length of placements had yet to be decided, adding: “The quality of it varied. Certainly there were cases where people were in a workplace just making a cup of tea and doing the photocopying, but actually there were also brilliant examples of workplaces that did it really, really well. Giving young people that chance to see a real workplace is really fantastic and if anything two weeks isn’t enough.”

But a Government source said Mr Twigg backed the Wolf report, adding: "Either he doesn't know what is in the Wolf report or he is being hypocritical for political gain."

Mr Twigg also said the so-called EBacc would be scrapped. It currently ranks schools by the proportion of pupils gaining at least a C grade GCSE in five disciplines – English, maths, science, foreign languages and either history or geography.

But he said it had a “negative effect in areas like creatively and engineering, which get put to the fringes”.

“[The EBacc] is at best an irrelevance and in some cases it is distorting young people’s choices so they are not doing things that are best for fulfilling their potential,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are giving young people the skills they need for further education and employment.

"Raising the participation age to 18 and expanding work experience post-16 will give all students the chance to complete high-quality, relevant work placements.

“We accepted Alison Wolf’s recommendation to remove the duty on schools to provide work experience for pupils under 16s. Schools continue to have the freedom to offer quality work experience.

“The EBacc is not the limit of what young people should study – it is a common core, to which each pupil can add the subjects and qualifications which are most suitable for them. There should be plenty of time in the timetable for arts subjects as well."


Australia:  Demand for private school places sees fees triple

40% of Australian teenagers now go to non-government schools

PRIVATE school fees have tripled in the past 20 years, as a surging demand for places has hit parents' hip pockets.

Education costs have also been blamed for skyrocketing fees at some of Victoria's elite private schools since the mid-1990s.

Independent Schools Victoria says the education CPI has increased 182 per cent in the past 20 years.

Chief executive Michelle Green said if parents stopped investing their own money in their children's schooling, taxpayers would have to foot a massive jump in the education bill.

The Herald Sun compared fees at 16 Victorian schools in 2013 with the cost of educating a student in 1995.

The fees, detailed in a 1996 Herald Sun article, increased by up to 222 per cent.

The average fee for Year 12 students is $24,081 this year; it was $8232 in 1995 - an average rise of 193 per cent.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows average weekly earnings have risen 119 per cent between 1995 and November 2012.

Australian Scholarships Group chief executive John Velegrinis said private schools did not fear the perception of being expensive.

He said they tried to invest more in modern, state-of-the-art facilities to protect their brand.

Mr Velegrinis said there was greater demand for private school spots, including from international students.

In January, the Herald Sun reported that since 2010 there had been a 1.6 per cent increase in enrolment at independent secondary schools while state high-school student numbers had fallen.

A University of Melbourne Department of Economics paper released last year concluded fees charged by independent schools were increasing at a very high rate, with more of the expense being borne by parents.

It found higher fees were charged at schools with more staff, better university entrance scores, more music and language offerings, were older, had more students from a higher socioeconomic background and fewer students from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The paper's researchers told the Herald Sun fees at low-socioeconomic status independent schools were not rising as fast as elite schools.

Victorian Parents Council executive officer Christine Delamore said the cost of providing schooling had risen at a much higher rate than CPI.


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