Sunday, May 04, 2014

Obama Requests Plan to Teach the Teachers: Wants to Regulate Teacher Prep

Having a "great teacher" in every classroom is critical for the nation's success, the White House said on Friday, as it announced that President Obama has directed the Education Department to come up with a plan to strengthen America's teacher preparation programs.

Among other things, the Obama administration will use taxpayer money to pressure states to improve their teacher-prep programs, including those taught at colleges and universities.

For example, the administration will hand out TEACH grants only to students who attend "high-quality" teacher education programs. (The TEACH Grant Program provides up to $4000 a year to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income area.)

In addition, the administration says it will "encourage" all states to develop "meaningful" ways of identifying high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs.

It wants to see "bold new standards" for teacher prep programs, including "higher entry and exit standards" (tougher exams, in other words); and it wants states to collect data about where new teachers get jobs, how long they stay, and how well their students do.

The administration wants that information to be available to potential teachers and the public; and it wants more teachers to learn in "real schools with the help of master teachers."

"These critical changes will help to increase recognition for high-performing teacher preparation programs, and create a much-needed feedback loop to provide information to prospective teachers, schools and districts, and the general public, and drive improvement across programs," a White House fact sheet said.

The White House also notes that strengthened teacher preparation and support "will help to make teaching an increasingly desirable and rewarding career."

Diversity appears to be a factor as well.

An image on the Education Department's webpage says the nation's teaching force "does not reflect the increasing diversity of America's students." It also says 72 percent of students "are not prepared to address the needs of students with diverse cultural backgrounds."

According to the Education Department, almost two-thirds of new teachers say their teacher-prep program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.

The White House anticipates that its teacher-prep plan will be ready for "public discussion" by this summer, and it expects to issue regulations next year.

As previously reported, the Obama administration also plans to exert tighter control over the nation's colleges and universities by tying federal student aid to colleges that meet certain criteria, including access, affordability and how well students do in school and beyond.


Oxbridge 'fails poor graduates': New league finds universities are among worse for social mobility

You usually need a good social background as well as the "right" education to get to the top in Britain

Oxford is the second worst university for social mobility, a new league table claims.

It is among elite universities judged to be poor at propelling underprivileged students into top graduate jobs.

Michael Brown, former vice-chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, who compiled the list, said that ‘brand value’ was not everything. He called for all students to be taught job skills such as project management.

The rankings were labelled ‘strange’ by the Russell Group of 24 top universities, most of which came in the bottom half of the table. Oxford came 152nd out of 153 and Cambridge was 135th, while the School of Pharmacy in London came top.

Professor Brown said top universities had done badly mainly because most of their students are already from wealthy backgrounds.

Many less selective institutions are ‘doing a remarkable and better job’, he said, and Government policy should focus on careers as well as admissions for poorer children.

A Russell Group spokesman said the table put a lower value on students who chose to do a PhD and only looked at professional success six months after graduating.

In a report for the CentreForum liberal think-tank, Professor Brown devised a ranking which shows how well universities help poorer students land top jobs after graduating.

Professor Brown said Russell Group universities ‘do not fare well’, mainly because most of their students are drawn from the wealthiest social groups. [Only about half are]

But he also found that ‘many “less-selective” universities with wider ranges of student backgrounds’ are ‘doing a remarkable and better job of developing their graduates into professional employment’.

Professor Brown said Government policy had focused too narrowly on increasing the number of disadvantaged pupils getting to university in the first place, without considering how well they fare after leaving.

These students often lacked the contacts and know-how of their middle-class peers which helped them land professional jobs.

‘In terms of graduation performance and employment outcomes students from areas of high disadvantage have a lower success rate than those from more advantaged backgrounds,’ said Professor Brown.

‘And despite the political focus on access to Russell Group universities, the most selective institutions do not necessarily deliver the best professional graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students either. It is time to raise the game.’

He called on the Government to rank universities officially using a table similar to his own.

But Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said it rejected the findings of the report, branding its methods ‘strange’.  ‘For example, it puts a lower value on graduates who decide to carry on their studies - thereby suggesting that doing a masters or getting a PhD does not represent a step up the social ladder.

‘It fails, too, to recognise that those students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to complete their degree at a Russell Group university than they are at other institutions.’

‘Finally, it takes only a snapshot of graduates’ jobs six months after they’ve left university. What graduates are doing six months after graduation is not a very good indicator of how much upward mobility they will achieve over a lifetime.

‘In fact, graduates from Russell Group universities go on to earn more than other graduates, are more likely to be in high-skilled jobs and earn 24 per cent more per hour than their peers from other universities.’


Head teachers raise 'serious concerns' over Islamic school take-over

Schools across Britain are likely to have been targeted in an alleged Islamist plot to take over classrooms, head teachers have warned.

The National Association of Head Teachers said it had found “concerted efforts” to infiltrate at least six schools in Birmingham.

But the union also said that the scandal had “connections” to other large cities.

The Telegraph understands that there are growing concerns about the possible infiltration of schools in Bradford, Manchester and parts of east London.

The acknowledgement from the professional body follows a series of exposés by The Telegraph which disclosed how a “Trojan Horse” plot in Birmingham had put schools under pressure illegally to segregate classrooms and change teaching to reflect radical Islamic beliefs.

On Friday, Ofsted confirmed that its investigation had spread from 18 to 21 schools in the city. The three additional schools are primaries.

In a statement, the head teachers’ association said attempts had been made to “alter their character in line with the Islamic faith”, including sidelining parts of the curriculum and attempting to influence the appointment of Muslim staff.

Russell Hobby, its general secretary, warned that the action was unlikely to be “limited to Birmingham”, adding: “I think it is connected into the large cities around the country.”

It is the first time a major teachers’ organisation has confirmed that such concerns exist. The plot involves the alleged takeover of secular state schools and the removal of secular head teachers by radical Muslim staff and governors.

Five non-Muslim heads have left their posts in a tiny area of the city over the past six months. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has ordered an inquiry into Birmingham schools.

An inspection report by the Department for Education, leaked to The Telegraph, found that girls at Park View school were made to sit at the back of the class, GCSE syllabuses were “restricted to comply with a conservative Islamic teaching” and an extremist preacher was invited to speak to children.

Last week it emerged that Tahir Alam, the alleged ringleader of the plot and chairman of governors at Park View, wrote a detailed blueprint for the “Islamisation” of state schools in 2007.

Speaking at the NAHT annual conference in Birmingham on Friday, Mr Hobby said that there was no “cause for panic” and insisted few conclusions could be drawn until the completion of separate inquiries by Ofsted, the Department for Education, Birmingham council and West Midland Police.

Addressing a press briefing, Mr Hobby said the union had been supporting about 30 members in the city in around a dozen schools.

He said there were “serious concerns in half that”, confirming that the six schools involved are among those being investigated by Ofsted.

Areas of “collective concern” included “pressure” on heads to adopt “certain philosophies and approaches” and over the appointment of teachers, he said.

In a few cases, schools risked “eroding the basic entitlement of children to a rounded education”, he added.

Mr Hobby will cover the issue in a keynote speech to the conference on Saturday.

He will say: “Schools should not be places for indoctrination in any creed or ideology, political or religious.”

In a statement, Ofsted said Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, had visited Birmingham last week to help lead the inquiry and that Ofsted had inspected additional primary schools this week.


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