Wednesday, July 09, 2014

British watchdog says universities should take pupils 'on potential' to help poorer students

But how do you judge potential?  Any objective test will just end up measuring IQ  -- and we can't have that.  Or can we?  We did once

A university watchdog has told campuses to help poorer pupils win more places by looking beyond would-be students’ qualifications when recruiting.

Professor Les Ebdon said they should admit undergraduates according to ‘academic potential’ rather than simply totting up their GCSEs and A-levels.

The head of the Office for Fair Access (Offa) also revealed he had intervened at 26 universities to insist they make targets for recruiting poorer pupils more ambitious.

He said the most privileged fifth of pupils were eight times more likely to be offered a place at a leading university than the most disadvantaged fifth.

Professor Ebdon added: ‘Fair access is about searching out academic potential wherever it is – in every type of neighbourhood, every type of school and every age group, ethnic group and gender.

‘It’s about acknowledging that a wide range of people have the potential to become the excellent graduates who will later run our businesses and lead our country – not just the privileged few.’

Labour will siphon public funding from elite universities towards those providing vocational education, it will announce today.

Ed Miliband wants to introduce ‘technical degrees’ and will put universities that offer them on the priority list for expansion.

The Labour leader believes the degrees will help the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ who do not go to university.


Obama's new plan to get better teachers in poor schools

But will great teachers be willing to teach in chaotic black schools?  Not for all the tea in China, I suspect

The US Department of Education launched a new initiative to ensure that poor and minority students have higher quality teachers.

More equitable teacher distribution – making sure that poor and minority students have teachers that are as qualified as those teaching their wealthier peers – has long been an outcome that federal education officials have held out as a goal.

On Monday, the US Department of Education released its latest strategy to ensure some movement, the Excellent Educators for All Initiative. The plan calls for states to submit new, comprehensive plans for improving equity and getting great teachers into classrooms with disadvantaged students, and creates several support structures to help states follow through.

“All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, ZIP code, or family income,” US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation's teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better.”

Ensuring that poor and minority students aren’t taught by less-qualified teachers has actually been a federal requirement for states since 2002, when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law, but few states have taken much action.

The last time the Department of Education asked states to create a plan to improve teacher equity was in 2006, and with no real accountability tied to the request, not much came of it, says Deborah Veney Robinson, vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust in Washington, which is dedicated to closing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color.

A 2010 Education Trust survey of teachers found that core classes in high poverty schools were twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as classes in low-poverty schools. And an analysis in the Los Angeles Unified School District showed that Latino and African-American students were two to three times more likely to have low-performing teachers than their white and Asian peers.

“We’re talking about millions of low-income student and students of color who are not getting their share of high performing teachers,” says Ms. Robinson, noting that she believes this is one of the most important – and unaddressed – issues in education today.

“It’s long overdue that this issue is being addressed again, but I think the proof is going to be in whether or not states actually do anything meaningfuI," she added. "I remain hopeful that with some accountability measures to put some teeth on this, we can actually begin to move the needle.”

In the plan Secretary Duncan announced, states will need to submit new “educator equity” plans by next April. The Education Department will also launch a $4.2 million technical assistance network to support states in developing those plans and begin publishing educator equity profiles in the fall to help states identify gaps, access data, and see promising practices.

At a press conference, Duncan refused to say whether tying states’ NCLB waivers to their teacher equity plan – the accountability measure many advocates, including Robinson, say may be necessary to have an impact – is an option he will pursue.

He said that the department won’t require that states pursue any one approach to improve equity but cited certain practices, such as improving pay and improving time for teacher collaboration, that can help.

Robinson also says there’s no silver bullet for the issue, but notes that Delaware conducted a rigorous analysis, took a serious look at the problem of teacher retention, and then created the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which works to attract and retain strong teachers in high-needs schools through improved compensation, recognition, professional development, and leadership opportunities.

North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg district has had similar success with its Strategic Staffing Initiative, which has worked to get the most effective teachers and principals into the highest poverty schools. And Florida took steps to prohibit districts from assigning poor performing or out-of-field teachers to the lowest performing schools.

Many educational equity advocates greeted Duncan’s announcement with cautious support, and the heads of the two biggest teachers unions also issued support for the initiative and its goals, while emphasizing that it’s just one step toward achieving a real solution.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, called attention to what he calls a loophole in current federal law that allows teachers still in training to be labeled “highly qualified.”

“We must create accountability for the whole system that drives greater equity in every school, and an important first step is that every new teacher be profession-ready before ever stepping foot into a classroom and becoming the teacher of record for students,” Van Roekel said in a statement.


'Trigger warnings' shackle free flow of ideas vital to higher education

Free-speech controversy is riveting higher education again. Major schools recently dis-invited graduation speakers whom activists deemed "improper" to their notions of justice. And many institutions have begun formally to institute - or consider instituting - "trigger warnings."

"Trigger warnings" are verbal or written warnings instructors provide about material that might trigger "trauma" in students who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events, including forms of assault and war, and are sensitive about such topics as race, gender, sexual orientation, colonialism and imperialism - to name a few.

The humane case for trigger warnings is that they allegedly help protect students from re-experiencing the past trauma, which can emotionally harm the student and interfere with his or her ability to learn.

What could be wrong with that? Warnings might make outright censorship less likely, much like the movie industry avoided government censorship by agreeing to use ratings labels for films. This could even enhance freedom of inquiry while protecting emotional wellbeing. And have not many instructors quietly and informally engaged in such practice in the past?

Alas, many substantial problems lurk just beneath the surface - especially when one considers the intellectual climate at many colleges and universities, of which the fate of recent graduation speakers is symptomatic. Let me touch on a few.

First, as critics from across the political spectrum have averred, it is impossible to determine in advance what material merits a warning. To avoid complaints, threats and possible lawsuits because they failed to warn of some potentially offensive material, many instructors, given the general pressures at play in higher education, would likely extend warnings to large amounts of material, sending the misguided message that learning is traumatic per se.

Or they could bowdlerize the course material in the name of sensitivity. If ever the concept of the slippery slope applied, it would apply here.

Already, trigger warnings have been applied to such works as "The Great Gatsby," "The Merchant of Venice" and other classics.

"Gatsby?" Really?! What's next? "Hamlet?" And what if a student refuses to read the flagged material, however important it is to the class? Do not trigger warnings imply the right of refusal, which would open yet another Pandora's Box?

Another danger waits: formalizing trigger warnings would further empower the higher-ed sensitivity bureaucracies that are often as voracious and omnipresent as they are ignorant of basic academic freedom principles.

Most important, the rationale for formal trigger warnings is inimical to the purposes of education.

Liberal education should expose students to the depths of the human condition, which unavoidably entails matters of good and evil, life and death - what the German philosopher Nietzsche called "uncomfortable truths."

And civic education must prepare students to be mentally strong enough to handle the rigors associated with the clash of ideas that is paramount to a free society. As the great educational philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn remarked, "To be afraid of ideas, any idea, is to be unfit for self-government."

Born from the tenets of the controversial "trauma movement" in psychology, trigger warnings assume that many students are not capable of handling the responsibilities of adult citizenship.

In the name of sensitivity, the movement undermines the very equal respect it ostensibly supports, while also fostering the mentality of in loco parentis that universities properly abandoned decades ago.

To deal with occasional cases of extreme material, leave the matter where it has always resided: at the considered informal discretion of instructors.

If a formal trigger warning must be had, place these words atop a university's main webpage: "Education necessarily exposes students to ideas and experiences that are new, challenging, and sometimes painful. To be properly educated, you must learn to handle and welcome such challenges."


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