Monday, September 16, 2013

Village Academic Curriculum: Racing to the Top of the Money Pile

Is our children learning?

In 2009, Barack Obama pushed a new educational initiative called Race to the Top as part of his stimulus program. Its goal was to improve educational outcomes for public school students by using federal money to entice states to meet certain standards. Three years later, a study by a group called Broader, Bolder Approach to Education – an offshoot of the union-backed Economic Policy Institute – conceded that the Race to the Top program has “fundamental flaws.” “Even in the best of circumstances,” the report notes, “Race to the Top could not achieve what it sets out to do.” And while that sounds like damning criticism from an Obama ally, it's only because their report argues that the federal government doesn't go far enough.

The study defines four “mismatches” between the goals of Race to the Top and hard reality, with the key one being the gap between what states promised for federal money and what can be delivered for the meager share of state educational dollars the Race to the Top grants provided. In all but one of the cases cited, the grant was less than 2% of the state's total educational budget. Very little can be accomplished with that proverbial drop in the bucket.

Given the study's source, it's no surprise that the solutions advocated reach far beyond the classroom, as they cite reams of statistics supposedly showing the relationship between various aspects of socioeconomic status and student achievement. “[U]nless an accompanying set of student, family, and school supports is rolled out with the Common Core,” they sniffle, “a policy agenda that again addresses only a minority of the drivers of race- and income-based achievement gaps will further widen those gaps.”

But is there any reason to believe states won't continue saying they'll do anything in order to keep the spigot of federal dollars flowing? It seems to us that those 30 pieces of silver aren't really worth the strings that are always attached to a check from Uncle Sam.


British School form offers choice of 80 languages including Igbo and Tagalog in an area that is 96 per cent white

When it comes to finding out the first language of children being raised in North Wales, most would assume that English and Welsh were the two obvious choices.

So parents were stunned when pupils were sent home from school with a form asking them to tick the dialect that applied to them from a list of more than 80.

Remarkably, the local authority in Conwy, where 96 per cent of the population is white, says it trimmed the list from one supplied by the Welsh Government, which contained around 300 different languages and races.

The baffling list still included obscure languages spoken by races in far-flung corners of the world, including Igbo, a dialect spoken by people native to south-eastern Nigeria, and Tagalog, which is spoken by just a quarter of Filipinos.

Other languages listed on the form were Kannada, the mother tongue of people living in the Indian state of Kannartaka, and Wolof, the dialect of the Wolof people living in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritius.

It was accompanied by an equally confusing form asking parents to detail their child’s ethnicity, which included seven categories for travellers and gypsies alone, plus around 85 other nationalities and races.

The ‘data collection’ documents were issued by schools in Conwy County Borough Council this week as children returned after the summer holidays.

The area has a predominantly white British population, with less than four per cent coming from an Asian, black or other ethnic background.

The council says the information is needed to help schools ‘provide a better education service’.

But one parent said yesterday: ‘This form was a baffling lesson in geography.  ‘It’s another example of councils trying to micro-manage and know everything about the people who live in their communities.

'While everyone understands the importance of giving every child a good education, this seems completely over the top.

‘This part of North Wales is predominantly white British, but some council bureaucrat, in their bid to be politically correct and not offend anyone of a particular race or ethnicity, has spent time putting this endless list of obscure languages together.

‘It would be interesting to find out what they do with this information and exactly how many children growing up here note down any language other than English or Welsh.  'This whole exercise could be a complete waste of time.’

Geraint James, head of education services at Conwy Council, said collecting data on the first language and ethnicity of pupils was a statutory requirement of the Welsh Government.

‘All maintained schools in Wales are required to complete a Pupil Level Annual School Census,’ he said.

‘The questions about National Identity, First Language, Ethnicity, Fluency in Welsh and Welsh at Home have been included in the data collection form to fulfil this requirement.’

A spokesman for the local authority said the lists had been abridged by the council from the Welsh Government’s own guidelines, which detail more than 300 different languages and races.


Is your child a rusher, a relisher or reluctant reader? Headmaster believes he can transform any youngster into a full-time bookworm

Children love computer games, but one school headmaster thinks he has found a way to turn any child into a full-time bookworm

Whether it’s Roald Dahl or Rowling, Blyton or Judy Blume, most parents try to get children reading and drag them away from computer screens.

But now one headmaster thinks he has found a way to turn any child into a full-time bookworm – by working out what type of readers they are.

English teacher Andrew Barnard has devised a set of categories to help families understand and support young people’s relationship with books.

He believes there are eight types of readers – ranging from ‘relishers’, who consume up to 40 books a year, to ‘regretters’, who want to read but find it difficult due to problems such as dyslexia.

Most worrying for parents is the ‘rechanneler’, a child who used to love books but has been diverted by devices and now spends more time online playing games and visiting social media sites.

Mr Barnard, head of Eagle House School in Sandhurst, Berkshire, said: ‘Children tend to fall into different categories when it comes to reading and identifying these can help parents encourage and support their children’s reading.’

The other categories are ‘regulars’ who read about ten to 15 books a year, ‘rushers’ who read in bursts, ‘reluctants’ who read five to six books a year, ‘realists’ who read only non-fiction and ‘rejecters’ who read only if they are forced to.

Mr Barnard has developed a separate strategy for each category, which teachers and parents can use to get children to rekindle their love of reading.

He said: ‘The longer children have been away from reading, the harder it can be to get them to enjoy it again. As a strategy, parents can consider trying to use online time as a reward for reading time. It may be that eBooks are an incentive.’

Whether it's by authors such as JK Rowling (left) or Roald Dahl (right), most parents want their children to read books rather than spend too much time in front of the computer

He also advises parents of voracious readers – or relishers – to ‘keep an eye’ on their internet use and encourage children to spend more time reading if their interest in books ‘appears to be threatened’.


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