Thursday, November 21, 2013

Common Core, Common Complaints

All but a few states have formally adopted Common Core, the state-driven campaign to improve educational outcomes for K-12 students by meeting common academic benchmarks, particularly in math and English. But the program has faced criticism across the spectrum. The basic flaw of Common Core, according to education policy expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger, is that its standards are “weak, costly, politicized, and unconstitutional.” In recent pieces in The Beacon, she has focused on two problems with Common Core: the political overtones of some of its reading recommendations, and the program’s threat to student and family privacy.

Common Core reading recommendations, Alger contends, include material that is pro-Obamacare and pro-union; an example of the latter was woven into the civics curriculum for third graders. But Common Core even politicizes math standards. Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram, who served as a member of the Common Core validation committee, complains that scholastic rigor was “compromised for the sake of political buy-in.” The academic content of Common Core is a major worry, but not the only cause for concern.

Alger notes that civil libertarians are increasingly anxious about Common Core’s threat to student and family privacy. Under a law called FERPA—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—private contractors, consultants, and other non-government personnel may become privy to data about a student’s family income, religion, student disciplinary records, and parents’ political affiliations. Last month, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) pressed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to explain why, in at least one state, student Social Security numbers were given to a private data collection company. But “as interesting as any official response would be, there is still no legitimate, much less Constitutional, reason for the federal government to be spying on American citizens or their children,” Alger concludes.


What is the point of going to university? Recession means half of British graduates are working in jobs which do not need a degree

Half of all young people who have graduated since the onset of the recession are now working in ‘non-graduate’ jobs, official figures revealed yesterday.

Many are working as secretaries, carers or factory workers because they cannot find better-paid work.

In a separate analysis also published yesterday, it emerged that those who have graduated since 2008 are earning less than their predecessors and owe more in student debt. Experts fear they have poor prospects of ever paying it off.

The figures on non-graduate jobs, from the Office for National Statistics, show that graduates now make up an extraordinary 38 per cent of the population, compared with 17 per cent in 1992.

But their employment prospects have never been worse.

Of those who graduated in the last five years and are now working, 47 per cent are doing ‘a non-graduate role’ – defined as a job for which ‘a higher educational background is not required’.

Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: ‘It used to be you went to university and you got a good job. That was the deal, wasn’t it? But it is not quite like that any more.’

With British undergraduates in England now paying up to £9,000 a year in fees, many suspect the degree they will end up with is no longer worth it.

On top of the fees, many take out heavy loans on credit cards to pay rent and living costs. Analysis of earnings and debt by the Financial Times newspaper found that recent graduates owe about 60 per cent more than those who graduated before the recession.

These graduates are also typically earning 12 per cent less than those who graduated just before the financial crisis began in 2008.

And these recent graduates are now more likely to be unemployed even than non-graduates in older age groups, the ONS figures show.   The unemployment rate among recent graduates is 9 per cent, whereas for graduates who left more than five years ago it is only 3 per cent.

Bill Little, a director of the online jobs website, said: ‘They spend three or four years getting a degree and are then forced to enter jobs that they could probably have secured without any further education.’

Some degrees, however, still provide a good chance of finding well-paid work, particularly those that are vocational or scientific in nature.

Medicine generally leads to the highest salaries and medics are less likely to be unemployed than people with any other type of degree.

A graduate with a degree in medicine typically earns £45,604 annually. Engineering is in second place with an average salary of £42,016, followed by physics and chemistry.

Those who lose out on salaries are graduates with a degree in arts or literature. Media and information studies come lowest, giving an average salary of only £21,008 a year.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said: ‘Graduates are more likely to be in work earning above the average wage.  ‘The lifetime earnings premium for graduates remains comfortably over £100,000.  ‘There are also proven health and social benefits from attending university.’

 Steve Radley, director of policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: ‘Today's figures show that graduates have not escaped the squeeze on pay but they also highlight the major impact that subject choices have on earnings.  'Graduates in engineering are the second highest earners and those in physical sciences earn far beyond average also.

‘We need a concerted effort to get more young people studying the science and engineering degrees that will drive our economy forward and more of them taking up well paid opportunities.’

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: ‘While university leavers are still better paid and more likely to have a job than non-graduates of the same age, their prospects are worsening, just as their debts are soaring.

‘Having got themselves tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, nearly half of all recent graduates are doing lower-skilled jobs. This is in turn pushing young people who don't have a degree out of work altogether.

‘The Government's approach of making young people pay more to get less from higher education is deeply unfair and makes no economic sense. Ministers should admit that 'any old job' is not good enough for heavily-indebted graduates and start prioritising high-quality job creation.’


British student loans to Bulgarians and Romanians frozen

It's perfectly legal free money to those who expect to stay poor.  As long as you stay poor, you are never obliged to pay it back

Student loans to Bulgarians and Romanians have been frozen after a “suspicious” surge in the number enrolling at British colleges.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said he had suspended loans to students from the two countries after an unusual increase in the number receiving support from the Student Loans Company (SLC). As many as three quarters of the students involved have so far failed to prove they are entitled to their loans, sources said.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 but restrictions were introduced to stop workers from both countries working in the UK. Those curbs will be lifted next year, leading some MPs to warn of a large influx of workers.

Under the current rules, the SLC offers two sorts of loan, one to pay for tuition fees, and another to cover living costs.

All European Union citizens are allowed to apply for a loan to cover their tuition fees. This means that while Bulgarians and Romanians are not allowed to work in the UK, they can study here.

However, only EU citizens who have lived in the UK for three years are entitled to student support grants to cover their living expenses while they study.

Mr Willetts told MPs: “We identified that there had been a significant increase in the number of Bulgarian and Romanian students applying for full student support in England this year.

“This support is usually only available to EU citizens resident in the UK for a minimum of three years. We have asked each of these students to supply additional information to support their applications for maintenance, before any further public funding is made available to them or to their institutions.”

It is understood that around 5,500 Romanians and Bulgarians have received the first instalment of cost-of-living loans this year, a big increase from last year.

Most of the students are registered at smaller “alternative providers” offering Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and other non-university qualifications. The applications are understood to be concentrated in a handful of institutions.

“Ministers got involved when the numbers for this year set off some warning lights,” a source said. “The increase aroused suspicions that not all of the applications were legitimate.”

Only around a quarter of those asked to prove their UK residency have so far done so, the source said.  Those who fail to provide evidence of their residency face having their maintenance loans clawed back.

Officials expect to recoup around £1 million in loans. In some cases the money will be taken back through tuition loans, to which the students are still entitled.

Mr Willetts said the Government had also stopped some private colleges taking on any more students for HNDs and Higher National Certificates (HNCs).

He said he had written to 23 colleges to tell them not to take any more students as there had been a rapid increase in the numbers applying for loans that cannot be afforded.


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