Friday, September 05, 2014

Skool Daze: life as a teacher at a British  inner-city comprehensive school

The Telegraph is following one young teacher, Jack, who is brimming with energy and enthusiasm ahead of the new academic year – but for how long?

My name is Jack and I’m a 20-something teacher based in London. I’m not from London, which is quite important I think. Makes me seem a bit worldly to the children. I’m about to go into my third year of teaching (which so far I have loved) at Moosewood School. It’s a good school, the outcomes are great and the kids come from a range of backgrounds, but mostly poverty. There’s a very high free-school-meal percentage. I want to narrow that gap and make sure that their economic backgrounds are not to the detriment of their success in education and beyond.

I came into teaching on the Teach First graduate programme. I guess in reality I could have become a banker, consultant or a lawyer with my degree and that would’ve paid me a lot more and my trips to Westfield would be more John Lewis-focussed; but so far, I feel that I’ve made the right decision. Sure, I work 16 hours a day most of the time, which means my social life is basically non-existent (which is fine, I have Netflix) but when you see a kid sad one minute and happy the next, or when they get an A instead of a B and you see that look of elation on their face, it really does make it such an immeasurably rewarding profession.

Over the next year I’m going to diarise my weeks at Moosewood. I’ll tell you everything you need and want to know about what happens when the school bell rings: the gossip in the staff room, the reasons why the students didn’t do their homework, and many more memorable interactions I have with the 1,500-strong student body and 200 staff.

Speak soon – I’m sure week one will be a treat!


Devil's in the details of Campus Accountability and Safety Act

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), S. 2692, seeks to change how publicly funded universities investigate allegations of sexual assault. CASA and its House version, H.R. 5354, are currently in front of congressional committees. S. 2692 in particular has been widely hailed as a rare display of bipartisan support. Why, then, does the congressional watchdog give CASA only a 1 percent chance of being enacted?

The act contains some alarming provisions.

On Aug. 7, Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, reported on one. CASA regulates how universities must approach sexual assault, including producing an annual survey of students' experiences, which will be published online. The penalties for non-compliance are massive: an initial penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution's operating budget and a potential $150,000 fine for each additional violation or misrepresentation — $150,000 per month if surveys are not completed to the standard required. Bader observed, "that [initial offense] would be a whopping $42 million for Harvard alone, since its budget is $4.2 billion."

Even worse, "a provision ... lets the money be kept by the agency imposing the fine, the Education Department's (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR)." This creates a huge incentive for OCR to be aggressively punitive or to accuse innocent universities of misrepresentation or substandard compliance. Even an inability to comply would not exempt institutions from fines. For example, they are required to enter into a "memorandum of understanding" with local law enforcement. If the latter refuses, then "[t]he Secretary of Education will then have the discretion to grant the waiver." Not the obligation but the discretion.

The fines could also violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as various court decisions that guarantee due process. They address the administrative aspect of justice so as to guard against its arbitrary denial by the federal government. Due process protects the right of a defendant to be heard before an impartial judge, not before a judge or bureaucracy that pockets whatever monetary punishment he assesses.

Both the fines and the expense of compliance take money away from education and could significantly increase tuition and fees. College Board, which tracks the cost of higher education, recently stated that "Average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 19 [percent] beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from 2003-04 to 2008-09, and by another 27 [percent] between 2008-09 and 2013-14." The increase is higher than any other sector of the economy.

It is not possible to accurately ascertain how much of the jump is due to the non-education-related programs, administrators, staff and paperwork that government unrelentingly heaps upon academia. Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators, claimed there were thousands of regulations to govern the distribution of financial aid alone. In February, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting provided details of the best figures available. "The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty. ... [F]rom 1987 until 2011-12 ... universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators" even though enrollment has declined. The soaring overhead, along with a tsunami of regulations, are turning American universities into bankrupt social experiments rather centers of education.

Under CASA, each university would require more non-educational staff and spending. Among mandates in the act are "designated confidential advisors" for alleged victims, the preparation of an Annual Security Report as well as an online survey, training of all relevant staff on grievance management and forensic interviewing, and further coordination with the DOE and police departments.

Coordinating with the police raises another question with CASA and similar policies. Rape is a criminal act. Why is it being vetted by campus administrators who would never conduct a murder investigation? Both are the job of police. Why should university staff be forensically trained? The police already are, and they usually have years of experience. Yet CASA provides that universities must enter into "a memorandum of understanding [every two years] with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information ... about certain serious crimes that shall include, but not be limited to, sexual violence." Not limited to? Perhaps administrators will be conducting murder investigations soon.

A simple solution exists to what critics call an hysterical and politically motivated campaign about sexual violence on campus. Sexual assault is a crime. Leave it to the police. Unless, of course, the campaign is hysterical and politically motivated. Then the pile-on of regulations and federal power makes sense.


American education needs competition, not Common Core

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman championed individual liberty and free markets instead of bigger government. This included his belief that all parents - regardless of their incomes or addresses - should be free to choose their children's schools.

Yet too often expanding government instead of freedom is the default solution to ailing schools. The Common Core State Standards are a case in point.

Supporters claim that adopting Common Core, as California has done, will provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students should know to be prepared for college and careers. On the contrary, many experts serving on Common Core review committees warn that academic rigor was compromised for the sake of political buy-in from the various political interest groups involved - including teachers unions.

The curriculum is being used to advance a partisan political agenda, showcasing one-sided labor union, Obamacare and global-warming materials, along with more graphic, adult-themed books under the auspices of promoting diversity and toleration. But the politicization doesn't stop there.

Through federally funded Common Core testing consortia, non-academic, personal information is being collected about students and their parents, including family income, parents' political affiliations, their religion and students' disciplinary records - all without parental consent. That information, including Social Security numbers of students in at least one state, is being shared with third-party data collection firms, prompting a growing number of parents to opt their children out of Common Core.

They're not alone. Originally, 45 states signed on to Common Core, but so far four states have formally pulled out. Indiana was the first to reverse course and implement state standards instead. This decision earned a threatening letter from the U.S. Department of Education about withholding funds and revoking Indiana's waiver from onerous federal No Child Left Behind mandates.

Since then, South Carolina, Missouri and Oklahoma have also ditched Common Core standards. Seven additional states have pulled out of their federally subsidized testing consortia, and four more are considering doing the same - although one testing consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, still lists several withdrawn states as members.

Common Core is publicized as a state-led, voluntary initiative, but in reality it's an offer states can't refuse if they want their share of billions of federal dollars for education programs.

So much for Common Core being "voluntary" or "state-led." So much, too, for the notion that federal education aid, which historically has averaged around just 10 percent of all education funding, is "free."

Overpromising and under-delivering seems to be the legacy of the federal government's leadership in education. With virtually no exceptions, major programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, currently dubbed No Child Left Behind, have not worked after decades of tinkering. Case in point:

-- By 1984, illiteracy will be eliminated. That didn't work.

-- By 2000, high school graduation rates would reach 90 percent. Nope. Wrong again.

-- By 2000, American students were supposed to be global leaders in math and science. Well, not so much, based on recent results.

-- By 2014 all students will be proficient in reading and math. Not even close.

Friedman knew better. Twenty-five years before the U.S. Department of Education opened its doors in 1980, he argued that just because we fund schools through government, it doesn't follow that government should manage education. Letting parents choose their children's schools and have associated student funding follow them would give all schools powerful incentives to keep academic quality high and costs low.

Competition, not Common Core, is what American schools and students need.

Today, more than 6 million schoolchildren are benefiting from education options their parents - not politicians - think are best. These options include 51 private parental choice programs in 25 states, online education providers, homeschooling and public charter schools.

Parental choice programs educate students to high standards, without limiting education options. And, unlike accountability initiatives involving rigid federal mandates, all chosen education providers face immediate rewards for success or consequences for failure, because parents are empowered to enroll or transfer their children as they see fit.

Ultimately, Common Core rests on the faulty premise that a single, centralized entity knows what's best for all 55 million students nationwide. Raising the education bar starts with putting the real experts in charge: students' parents.


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