Monday, July 14, 2014

Texas GOP Adds School Choice to Platform, Some Lawmakers Resistant

The Texas Republican Party added support for private school choice to its platform after several legislative sessions in which Republican leaders refused to advance school choice bills.

The new platform says the Texas Republican Party advocates policies that “allow maximum freedom of choice in public, private, or parochial education for all children.” The platform also denounces government regulation of private schools.

“Texas children can be forgotten in arguments over budgets and funding formulas, so it’s great to see that the Republican party chose to include school choice as a way to make sure that education policy is ‘child-centered,’” observed Michael Barba, an education researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Republican Leaders Kill Choice

The Texas legislature meets every two years. In its last session, in 2013, several GOP lawmakers thwarted several pieces of legislation that would have empowered parents to make educational decisions for their children.

Much of this legislation died at the hands of Rep. Jimmie Aycock (R-Killeen), chairman of the House Education Committee, and other rural Republicans. Aycock’s committee killed a Parent Trigger bill, which would give parents the power to demand reforms within poor-performing schools, although the bill had already passed by a wide margin in the Senate. The House Education Committee did not even allow a hearing for legislation creating a voucher program.

Aycock and other members of the Republican Party also supported legislation that limits the number of charter schools that can be created, an action which severely curtails school choice in the state.

Most of the 30 states that are controlled by Republicans, as Texas is in each legislative chamber and the governorship, have instituted private school choice programs. The only Republican-controlled states that have not are Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Michigan’s constitution forbids private school choice, and Alaska, Tennessee, and Idaho lawmakers have proposed such laws in recent sessions. Typically, rural lawmakers are less likely to support school choice because their constituents have closer community ties to local public schools.

“School choice is gaining momentum in several states around the nation, such a Louisiana, which now has school choice programs and a scholarship tax credit,” Barba said. “Both of these help shift the focus away from institutions to children. We hope that writing school choice into the party platform produces similar results in Texas.”

Future Looks Promising

One of the state’s strongest school-choice champions, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), is running for lieutenant governor, noted Allen Parker, president of the Justice Foundation. He is “campaigning on school choice at virtually every opportunity,” Parker said.

“I think enthusiasm is very strong,” he said.

Since Texas’s lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, he can influence legislation, Parker said. But some Republicans still oppose school choice, creating obstacles for future legislation, Parker said. The current Speaker of the House, Rep. Joe Strauss (R-San Antonio), “has been less enthusiastic,” he said.


UK: How a train ride with two foul-mouthed Waynetta Slobs taught me a very painful lesson about our failing schools

By Tom Utley

On the 22.45 home from London Victoria on Wednesday night, the thought occurred to me that I should record the altercation going on in the seats behind me and upload it to the internet, under the heading: ‘Two English ladies conversing on a train.’

With my iPad in my briefcase, I had the means to do so but, alas, I lacked the technological competence. I wish I’d known how to do it, because I have a strong feeling that the recording would have gone viral, offering innocent entertainment and food for thought to millions.

From the flow of their conversation — or shrieking match, to be more accurate — I gathered that the combatants were sisters, although when I risked a glance over my shoulder, I saw that they must have had different fathers, since one was white, the other of mixed race.

I’d say the white one, whose hair was pulled tightly back into a Croydon facelift bun, was in her mid-30s, while the other was in her late 20s. But I may be wildly wrong.

Enough to say that both faces bore the ravages of lives rough-lived, while their voices were indistinguishable, each sounding like Kathy Burke’s Waynetta Slob from Harry Enfield’s Television Programme.

It appeared that they’d been in town celebrating the birthday of one of them. Clearly, drink had been taken and the evening had not gone well.

By the time I settled into my seat, things had already got personal. I tried in vain to concentrate on Michael Frayn’s My Father’s Fortune — the novelist and playwright’s funny and profoundly touching memoir of his South London upbringing and grammar school education in the Forties and Fifties.

The pair were revisiting old grievances, as sisters sometimes do (though seldom so publicly or deafeningly), and the carriage was ringing with F-words, C-words, you-name-it words, that must have been audible throughout the Home Counties.

‘Member when I caught you shaggin’ my feller?’ yelled Sister A at Sister B. ‘Member vat, do yer, you effin’ c***, you feewfee animoo? Call yerself a sista? You’re a effin’ cow.’

Summoning all her dignity, Sister B denied that any impropriety had occurred, screeching back: ‘We wozzn’t effin’ shaggin’! We woz just lyin’ dan togevva. An ooze ve feewfee animoo, you dir’y effin’ c***, sharin’ awl our persnoo stuff wiv de owl effin’ trine?’

Sister A remarked that she didn’t give a f*** about the people on the train (we’d gathered that), challenging her tormentor to say whether she knew, or was likely to meet, any one of us.

And so the screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham . . .

By the time we reached my stop, everyone in the train — those who could understand English, anyway — was aware that one of the sisters had a ‘boo-i-foo, innocent little boy, wot you don’t deserve’, while the speaker who had questioned her sister’s worthiness to be a mother was to be permanently denied access to her angelic nephew, from that moment on.
And so the two ladies' screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham...

And so the two ladies' screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham...

I said that all this was entertaining, but of course it was excruciating at the time. I mean, what’s a chap supposed to do in these situations?

Clearly, intervening in such family cat-fight was out of the question. It would only have made matters ten times worse if this ageing ex-public schoolboy had turned round and said: ‘I say, ladies, would you mind awfully keeping your voices down a little? I’m actually trying to concentrate on Michael Frayn’s profoundly moving memoirs.’ World wars have been sparked by less.
Then again, slinking off to the far end of the train, where the noise might have been less oppressive, would have seemed cowardly. There were plenty of others staying put in the carriage, braving it out, including women. I felt I ought to be on hand to offer them what puny protection I could if the row turned violent, as it threatened to.

On these occasions (and this fracas was by no means unique on my late trains home from work), I also feel an old-fashioned sense of responsibility as an Englishman to show my fellow-passengers — most of them foreigners — that we’re not all like these warring Waynes and Waynettas of the Great British underclass. So I stayed put, smiling apologetically at those opposite me, who smiled back, shaking their heads.

As we rolled our eyes in mutual sympathy, two of the week’s news stories played over in my head. One was the advice offered to schoolgirls by the editor of the Tatler, Kate Reardon, that good manners are more important than good grades when it comes to forging a career.

The other was the warning from Professor David Metcalf, head of the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee, that the British school system’s betrayal of less academically inclined pupils is forcing employers to look overseas to fill low-skilled jobs.

Too many school-leavers, he said, lack not only the rudiments of literacy and numeracy, but even the most basic skills to ‘look people in the eye and get out of bed’. As I listened to those shrieking harridans, I could understand all too well what both he and Ms Reardon meant.

All right, the sisters had managed to get out of bed, and to put more than a few drinks away, before the 22.45 left for Tattenham Corner. But who would employ such people, even to sweep the streets?

What is so staggering — and surely baffling to my foreign fellow-passengers on the train — is that these creatures, and so many like them, are the products of at least ten years’ formal education in one of the most developed countries on Earth.

What were they taught during all those years in the classroom, apart from a great many coarse terms for genitalia and bodily functions? One thing they obviously weren’t taught is that it’s deeply improper and inconsiderate, even when we’re the worse for drink, to yell about each other's sex lives at the tops of our voices in a crowded railway carriage.

Of course, I don’t know these strangers’ backgrounds — and I suppose it’s possible that they have jobs. All I can say is that I doubt it. They had welfare claimant written all over them, and they just didn’t look or sound the type who are determined to get on in life and do their best for their young through honest toil.

I also doubt very much that the financial circumstances in which they were brought up were anything like as modest as those experienced by Michael Frayn during the war, when he was crammed into a small house with his parents, sister, grandmother and various uncles and aunts under a roof with a large hole in it, blasted by a doodlebug. Austerity of that kind simply doesn’t exist in welfare Britain today.

All right, I grant you that Frayn was blessed with a excellent brain, a hard-working father and a loving mother (before her tragically early death, when he was 12) — luxuries I suspect were denied to those sisters on the 22.45.

But apart from those enormous advantages, what must surely have helped him most in life was an old-fashioned, disciplined and rigorous education, in the days when such a thing was widely on offer to the children of the poor.

Now, you’ll tell me that, unlike Frayn, those warring sisters on the train would never have got into a grammar school. And I’m quite sure you’re right.

But what was so significant about Sir David Metcalf’s remarks was his suggestion that the present education system, designed to even out the differences between the social classes, actually betrays the poorest and least bright most of all.

Everyone accepts that grammar schools offer a brilliant start to clever children. But isn’t it also possible that separate schools, geared specifically to dinning the three Rs, basic manners and vocational skills into the unacademic, would serve the underclass far better than comprehensives?

I just hope the Tories would find the courage to re-introduce widespread selection if they win the election next year. Until they do, it won’t surprise me at all that most of the passengers on my train home from work come from overseas.


UK: Cheer up, children – seven out of eight parents would fail the 11-Plus too! Survey reveals huge support for grammar schools - and one small problem...

They are Britain’s most sought-after schools, where parents would be delighted for their children to have  a place.  But few parents would themselves make the grade in the exam that pupils must pass to be admitted to a grammar or public school.

Just 12 per cent of parents – about one in eight – who attempted a test modelled on the 11-Plus scored more than 80 per cent – the approximate pass mark.  Some scored as low as one out of 20 in the test, devised by The Mail on Sunday.

Education experts say while a mark of about 80 per cent would typically gain admission to the top schools,  in some areas where selective establishments see 12 or more pupils apply for each place, pupils may need to achieve closer to 100 per cent.

A survey among the parents – a  representative sample from a range of backgrounds – also found overwhelming support for grammar schools, with 72 per cent saying they supported their existence in the UK.

In total, 500 parents were asked to complete a briefer set of challenging 11-Plus-style questions taken from the popular Bond Ten-Minute Test books, the study guides many of their children use to hone their exam skills.

Parent David Bennetts, of Wigan, scored five out of 20 on the English test. The 53-year-old, a mature student at the Open University studying health and social sciences, said: ‘I expected to do better but I found the questions a little confusing.  ‘It was quite difficult. It is a long time since I did an exam.’

Another, who preferred not to be named, scored just three out of ten in the verbal reasoning paper.  He said: ‘It was a bit embarrassing.  I haven’t come across that type of question before.’

Overall, two per cent got full marks on the test, while five per cent scored above 90 per cent. Just 12 per cent got more than 80 per cent correct and almost a quarter – 24 per cent – got 75 per cent of the questions right.

Robert McCartney, chairman of the National Grammar School Association, said pupils taking the 11-Plus in the UK would normally need to achieve a pass mark of between 75 per cent and 90 per cent.

But he said that while some regions such as Northern Ireland, where nearly a quarter of pupils win grammar places, were still well provided with academically selective state schools, the required pass rate shoots up in areas such as parts of Kent, where a few schools are so oversubscribed that most of their successful applicants score 100 per cent.

He added: ‘Adults, however, are unlikely to do as well as their children in such tests, because they are not familiar with them or so practised in taking such tests.’

He added that large swathes of the country have no grammar schools, and the results of our survey showing they remained very popular – despite the decision of successive Governments not to reintroduce academic selection in secondary schools – shows politicians need to rethink the issue.

Overall last year, 30,000 pupils in England took the 11-Plus for places in just 164 grammar schools.

There is also huge pressure on places at independent selective schools that use similar entrance tests – especially day schools in the South East.

Though comprehensive state schools are no longer allowed to select by academic ability, a number do use such tests for a proportion of their applicants, either because they have retained historic rights to do so or because they promote an area of excellence such as languages.

In our experiment, carried out by polling company Survation, the 500 parents were split into four groups, each answering 10-minute English, maths, verbal reasoning or non-verbal reasoning papers, the last two of which are widely used IQ-style tests.

The maths test proved the easiest, with 11 per cent scoring more than  90 per cent, while the English test was the hardest, with nobody achieving above 90 per cent. Mr McCartney said this reflected the fact that adults tended to retain their mathematical ability better than other skills.

A spokesman for Bond books said: ‘Bond not only provides the relevant content and skills resources that grammar schools are looking for, but also the exam techniques and question styles associated with the 11-Plus test to best help your child to succeed.’


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