Monday, October 14, 2013

'Genetics outweighs teaching': British government adviser says it is IQ, not education, which determines child's future

A brave truth-teller

Michael Gove's advisor has slammed England's schools, teachers and universities, arguing that children's 'genetics' decide how well a child does.

Influential adviser Dominic Cummings claims in a withering thesis that educationists instead need to focus on how genetics affect children, and adapt education to suit a child's IQ.

In a scathing attack, the adviser criticises most of the education available to children in England today - from pre-learning facilities, to GCSEs, to university study to how education is researched.

The political aide says the Department for Education should be cut down, with hundreds instead of thousands acting as accountants and inspectors, the Guardian reported.

He also demands that private and state education should be indistinguishable, and the department should work to reduce the differences.

Mr Cummings maintains that individual child performance is mainly based on genetics and a child's IQ rather than the quality of teaching.  He argues that not only IQ but self-control and a conscientious character will shape a child's future.

He says a scientific way needs to be developed to produce a more ambitious education and training system.

The Cummings manifesto claims that 'the education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre', and that the quality of maths education is especially poor.

He also says that 'real talent' is rare among the nation's teacher. 'In England, few are well trained in the basics of extended writing or mathematical and scientific modelling and problem-solving,' he wrote.

In the 250-page document, he claims that education standards have stagnated for the last 30 years and the actual research on education needs to be vastly improved.

It is not just teachers who are heavily criticised - Mr Cummings says university undergraduates should spend more time studying, and that the current demands are not taxing enough.

He also says that it is reasonable to believe that GCSE exams have become easier, which is why students have been earning top grades.

The Sure Start programme, aimed at providing early learning for pre-school children, is slammed by Cummings, who says there is little evidence for its practical impact.

The education adviser also claims that studies show children with little self-control are more likely to be poor, have serious health problems and be criminals.

Under Labour Sure Start Children's Centres were established to provide early learning and full daycare for children under five.

Sure Start Children's Centres are open to all parents and children and many of the services are free.  But the advisor argues that there is little evidence to prove that they make a strong difference to a child's educational development.

The adviser is leaving his role to reportedly become involved in free schools.

He told The Independent he was uncertain of what exactly his next position would be, but was interested in pursuing other educational developments 'outside politics', the newspaper reported.


British colleges hit by grade inflation row as EVERYONE gets a top degree on dozens of university courses

Top degrees have been awarded to every single student on dozens of British degree courses, a Mail on Sunday investigation into ‘rampant’ grade inflation has found.

On more than 50 courses at universities across the country, in subjects ranging from engineering to English, 100 per cent of students were awarded a First or a 2:1.

At some institutions, the proportion of students achieving at least a 2:1 - a key requirement for many employers - has leapt over the past five years.

Critics said universities were pushing up grades as a ‘marketing ploy’ to attract students paying up to £9,000 a year, and warned that degrees no longer reflect the true abilities of graduates.

However, universities said the rises reflected improvements in A-level grades.

Among the 40 universities that responded to freedom of information requests, 32 had degree courses where between 90 and 100 per cent of students were awarded a First or a 2:1. On some courses, more than half of the  students were awarded Firsts.

All 31 students on the music technology and popular music degree course at Huddersfield University were awarded a First or a 2:1 this year - compared with 33 per cent five years ago.

Similarly, all 25 students on the building services engineering course at Liverpool John Moores University were awarded a First or a 2:1 this year, compared with 61 per cent five years ago.

And everyone studying English language and linguistics at the University of the West of England achieved a First or a 2:1, up from 71 per cent five years ago.

As in previous years, elite institutions - including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London - had the highest number of courses recording between 90 and 100 per cent Firsts or 2:1s.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency warned that where student numbers on courses are very low, a few individual results could skew the outcome. But the agency’s own data showed a record two-thirds of all students got either a First or a 2:1 in 2012.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that grade inflation had become ‘rampant’ because there were no national standards for degrees, and it enabled institutions to boost their rankings in league tables.

Fellow Buckingham academic Professor Geoffrey Alderman said: ‘It is the “all must have prizes” approach.’

Birmingham University Professor John Thornes said grade inflation was a ‘marketing ploy’.

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: ‘There may be a range of factors behind these results. The number of students on many of the courses is small. The degrees in question also represent a fraction of the courses often available at individual universities.

‘The proportion of Firsts and 2:1s has increased marginally in recent years, reflecting increases in entry qualifications. A-level performance has improved, as have learning methods. However, the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument.’


More American schools opening Advanced Placement courses to all students

Some students may not be adequately prepared for the rigorous classes and high achievers may be shut out. But supporters see equal access as an educational right.  The bottom line is the gradual destruction of the classes concerned  -- through pressures to "dumb down"

Alex Wong, a junior at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, is working hard for admission to an elite college. His resume boasts nearly straight A's in rigorous classes, a summer program experience at Stanford University, an Eagle Scout project, club soccer, school choir.

But his steady progress hit an unexpected roadblock this year. Aiming to open access to college-level Advanced Placement courses, the school switched to a computer-based lottery to distribute spaces. Alex initially got shut out of all three courses he requested.

The new system caused an uproar among families whose children failed to get into AP courses, which many consider critical to develop advanced skills, boost grade-point averages and allow students to earn college credit, saving tuition dollars. They plied administrators with complaints, circulated a petition and launched a Facebook group to swap classes.

Long considered an elite track for the most talented and ambitious students, AP classes are now seen as beneficial for any students willing to push themselves — and schools are increasingly viewing access to them as a basic educational right. But that has come with challenges and controversy.

Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles has nearly doubled participation in AP classes over the last five years — publicizing their pros and cons through an annual, two-week informational campaign for students and parents. Those who enroll are not necessarily top students — but the school reports benefits for them nonetheless.

Miracle Vitangcol, a Downtown Magnets junior with average grades and test scores, is failing her AP U.S. history class; she said she is overwhelmed by the rapid pace and volume of material she needs to memorize. But she said she intends to stick it out because the class is teaching her to manage her time, take good notes and develop perseverance.

"I'm struggling to adjust," she said. "But I keep telling myself, 'It's OK. You can do it. Just push yourself.' "

Some critics worry that the open-access movement is pushing too many unprepared students into AP classes, as indicated by higher exam failure rates over the last decade and a persistent achievement gap among races. They also fear that open enrollment policies are prompting teachers to weaken courses and inflate grades.

"While expanding access is generally a good thing, we need to make sure we're not watering down the experience for the high achievers," said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based educational policy organization.

But the College Board, which runs the AP program and is encouraging open access, said the effort has generally been successful. Even though national participation has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million students last year, exam failure rates have increased only slightly, officials said. Passing scores have outpaced failing results by nearly 20% over the last decade.

At the same time, access to AP courses remains uneven. Low-income students are twice as likely as others to attend schools without a full array of AP courses, according to a June study by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools. Such disparities prompted a 2011 California law that encourages schools to offer AP courses in at least five subjects.

Downtown Magnets, whose students are overwhelmingly low-income, offers 15 different AP courses. And the school's 61% exam pass rate far outpaces L.A. Unified's average of 40%.

Teachers are one reason behind the school's success, said Lynda McGee, the school's college counselor and AP coordinator. In Daniel Jocz's AP U.S. history class, for instance, about 90% of students pass the exam compared with the national rate of about 54%.

During a recent visit, Jocz enlivened an otherwise dry lesson on Henry Clay's "American System" national economic plan with music clips from Bruce Springsteen and Queen, seemingly odd juxtapositions with TV characters Gumby and Pokey and amusing factoids about the Erie Canal. He flagged content likely to appear on the AP exam, such as the Tariff of 1816, and directed students to work in groups on an AP-type essay question about the contributions of Thomas Jefferson.

Jocz sees both pros and cons of open access. "The good thing is giving people the chance to challenge themselves ... but some kids are not ready, and are we setting them up for failure?" he said.

At Jordan High School in Watts, Evan Dvorak confronted that question head-on last year when he allowed any student to take his AP physics class. But he found that those who had not acquired the necessary calculus skills could not handle the work; all 20 students failed the exam.  "As a teacher, you want to think you can reach every student and perform miracles to get them where they need to be," he said. "But it proved to be too much for everyone."

This year, Dvorak made sure that students knew how difficult the course was; only six have enrolled and are doing much better, he said.

Overall, L.A. Unified has increased AP participation to 17.7% of high school students this year from 12.5% in 2009, when it adopted a districtwide open-enrollment policy. The exam pass rate has stayed about the same, at 40%, although it varies from 62.4% for whites to 25.7% for African Americans.


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