Thursday, July 24, 2014

Common Core Set to be a Defining Issue for 2016

In this age of political polarization, it’s increasingly rare to find an issue that can bridge party lines and unite people of all ideological stripes.

When such an issue does come along, it sets the stage for the kind of meaningful political change that would otherwise, in different times, be impossible. Common Core education standards have emerged from the shadows of obscurity and have become such an issue.

Common Core standards originated in the same way that all government regulations come about: out of fear. For decades we have been told that our children are lagging behind those in other countries, that they cannot compete globally, and that their very futures are in danger unless government steps in and fixes the broken school system.

Parents were understandably rattled by this kind of fear-mongering, and the resulting response has led to such conclusively failed programs as Head Start and No Child Left Behind. When these programs failed to yield the promised results, Common Core was proffered as a solution. Desperation and a feeling of helplessness led many parents to agree – at least until they saw the actual results.

Once the education standards began actually affecting local schools, realization began to set in, followed by dismay, and then anger.

The kinds of curricula resulting from Common Core’s one-size-fits-all mandates were counterintuitive, confusing, and upsetting to children. Recognition of these problems led moderate Republicans – such as Govs. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal – who initially agreed with the aim of the standards to recant their support.

Even progressives, who tend to support the federal government’s involvement in education, began to recoil as they saw the distress caused to their children. Comedian Louis C.K. made headlines when he used his Twitter feed to denounce the standards for making his kids cry.

Common Core has affected not just parents and students. Teachers are increasingly discovering that Common Core negatively impacts their ability to do their jobs. As a result, several of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions have now come out against the standards, calling their implementation “completely botched.” The American Federation of Teachers is also proposing a resolution to reject Common Core standards altogether.

In the face of widespread opposition, even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has walked back his support of the program.

“I’m just a big proponent of high standards,” he said, admitting that he would not object to states withdrawing from Common Core. “Whether they’re common or not is kind of secondary.”

It has even been pointed out that the tests aligned with Common Core standards are so difficult that schools have starting curving the results to such a degree that random guessing will result in a passing grade, defeating the whole point of stricter standards.

There’s nothing like an abject policy failure that harms children to unite Americans.

As such, the role of the federal government in education policy is certain to be a key issue in upcoming elections, both in November of this year, and especially in the presidential election in 2016. Are we going to commit to a top-down, out of touch bureaucracy to manage the lives of our children, or are we going to give parents the right to decide what is best, whether it be public, private, charter, or home schools?

Does it really, as Hillary Clinton has written, “take a village” to raise our children, or does it just take individual empowerment and freedom of choice?

It’s a national conversation we need to have, which is why FreedomWorks has partnered with Glenn Beck to present “We Will Not Conform,” a strategy session to educate parents and activists on how to defeat Common Core standards, to be held in Dallas, Texas, and broadcast in theaters nationwide on July 22 and July 29.

The future of Common Core has broad implications for the direction of American education. Do we let parents decide, or does government know better? The answer may very well determine the next president of the United States.


Britain's toughest school-run: Mother takes four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter to school after being turned down for place at primary 10 minutes away

For many mothers, the school run can be one of the most stressful parts of their day.

Spare a thought then for Melissa Stowe, who faces a four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter Olivia to and from school after the little girl was turned down by primary ten minutes from their home.

When the four-year-old starts school in September, Miss Stowe, 22, will have to take three buses from their home in Methley, Leeds, West Yorkshire to drop her off in Allerton Bywater, and three buses back.

Miss Stowe will then have to repeat the exhausting two-hour round trip - along with eight-month-old baby Daisy and her pram - when she collects Olivia at the end of the day.

Miss Stowe had applied to get Olivia into the reception class at her nearest school in Methley, which is just 10 minutes walk from the family’s home.

However, the school, which has been rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted is massively oversubscribed and she lost an appeal.

Olivia cannot get in, even though she is already at the nursery there.

Olivia has now been placed on the waiting list, and at an appeal hearing Miss Stowe was told there is nothing she can do but wait for a place, if one becomes available.

The school where Olivia has been offered a place is 4.7 miles away by road, but school places are allocated 'as the crow flies' - with that distance being 1.78 miles away.

Neither Miss Stowe, nor her partner James Sheard, 24, drive.

Miss Stowe also cares for her disabled mother, which makes her situation even more difficult.

'We did two test runs of the journey and Olivia was completely exhausted,' Miss Stowe said.

'We will be setting off just after my partner leaves for work every morning, but he will actually get home before us. It’s crazy.'

The full-time mother says she will have to set off at 6.40am for the 6.50am bus to be able to get Olivia to school for 8.40am - meaning in total she will spend almost eight hours a day on buses.

'We are having to rely on three buses,' she said.

'Those buses run at half-hourly intervals so if one of those buses doesn’t turn up we are going to be late.

'I feel so sorry for Olivia having to make that journey. I took her on the bus for a couple of taster sessions and she was so tired at the end of it'

'The schools are now talking about fining for lateness so that is another worry. I am so stressed about it.'

Because the crow flying distance is relatively low the family do not even qualify for any help with bus fares - it will cost them £35 a week.

'James is looking into passing his test and if he did he would have the possibility of a work’s van, but he still wouldn’t be able to take us because he sets off at different times to us,' said Miss Stowe.

Miss Stowe said she will have to wake at about 5.30am to get ready and feed Daisy before waking up Olivia at 6am to get ready for school, and would not get home until after 5pm each evening.

She said: 'When I went for the appeal I took Daisy with me for them to see how difficult it would be for me but they did not seem to consider it would be a problem.

'There was even a suggestion for me to walk across a canal towpath but that journey would be no good with children in tow and in dark, damp mornings and evenings.'

There are other schools that are closer to Miss Stowe but, because they are also oversubscribed she has been placed on their waiting lists, and because she is further away from those, she is further down the lists.

Miss Stowe is the latest among a string of parents who have failed to be allocated slots in their nearest or chosen schools for the new school year starting this September.

While education bosses insist every child in Leeds does have an allocated school place, they admit they are 'acutely aware of the pressure' on spaces.

Paul Brennan, Leeds City Council’s deputy director of children’s services, said: 'We are aware that a number of parents in Methley have expressed concerns about securing places at local schools and we are working hard to address this.

'This year has seen us managing an unusually high demand for places in the area which we anticipate will fall next year.

'We will continue to talk to local schools about possible expansion and will do all we can to support parents to get places in a good school as close as possible to their home.

'National legislation, which limits early years class sizes to no more than 30 pupils, also means that school place appeals can only be granted under exceptional circumstances.'

He stressed the importance of parents completing their applications on time as this is 'vital' in helping secure places at preferred schools.

Miss Stowe also expressed concern that a major new 180-house development planned for Methley will add additional strain to school places in the area.

However, the council said no decision has yet been made regarding planning permission for the new scheme and discussions are ongoing with the developers to ensure full community contributions from the developer regarding education provision are secured.

Leeds faces a potential shortfall of more than 4,000 primary school places within three years.


Australian kids on top of the world at International Olympiad in Informatics

Mostly Han Chinese, I'm guessing, though Ishraq Huda sounds Indian.  About 5% of the Australian population is Han and they tend to top everything educational

Our team brings home two Gold and two Silver medals with Australia's 1st perfect score and 1st and 5th place in the world for computer programming.‏

Australia’s four-member secondary school student team achieved our best ever result at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) held in Taipei, Chinese Taipei, from 13 to 20 July. The top performer in the Australian team was 16-year-old Ishraq Huda, who was one of only three in the world to attain a perfect score, Australia’s first IOI perfect score and best individual ranking result.

Ishraq shared first place with students from China and the United States. Ishraq won a bronze medal in 2013 on his first attempt.

First-time team member, Oliver Fisher, solved 5 out of 6 questions perfectly and also won Gold. Oliver ranked 5th which made Australia the only country in the world to have two students in the top five.

Competing against more than 311 contestants from over 82 countries, the 2014 Australian team brings home 2 gold and 2 silver medals, compared to 3 Silver and 1 Bronze last year.

Countries represented in the top ten include Australia, China, United States, Russian Federation and Bulgaria. This is Australia’s highest ranking since Australia commenced participating in 1999.

Informatics is the science of computer programming and information processing, requiring mathematics skills and creative solving. Hosted by a different country each year, the IOI is part of the UNESCO-sanctioned International Science and Mathematics Olympiads, which are annual worldwide competitions for exceptionally talented secondary school students and represent the pinnacle of achievement in each discipline.  It is the most recently established and now the second largest of the Olympiads.

 The cut-off scores for a Gold medal was 449 and Silver was 323 marks.

The not-for-profit Australian Mathematics Trust, under the Trusteeship of the University of Canberra, runs the training and selection for Australia’s International Mathematical and Informatics Olympiad teams.

The first stage in selection for the Australian IOI team is the Australian Informatics Olympiad (AIO), a 3-hour annual computer programming competition held in high schools. The next AIO will be on Thursday, 4 September and is open to all high school students who can program. For more information contact the Australian Mathemetics Trust on 6201 5137.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Trust, said, ‘We are extremely excited about these excellent results and where they might lead us for future participation. This is the best outcome for Australia to date’.

The Trust’s best-known activity is the annual Australian Mathematics Competition sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank which, together with other competitions, helps to identify students for participation and development in the Olympiad programs.  The Mathematics and Science Olympiads are supported by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Mathematics and Science Participation Program.

 The Trust also offers students the opportunity to explore whether they have an aptitude for programming through the Australian Informatics Competition (AIC), which is a non-programming competition designed to promote logical and algorithmic thinking.  In 2015, the AIC will be available on-line and there will be a new division for Upper Primary students.                                                



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