Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Distorted Education Attack Ads Hide the Facts

Political campaigns across the country are heating up—thanks in no small part to all the hot air surrounding accusations about alleged “cuts” to education funding. As I explain in a recent USA Today column:

In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has been savaging her opponent, Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, for allegedly cutting $500 million from the state’s education budget.

In the Wisconsin governor’s race, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is being attacked by challenger Mary Burke for allegedly engineering “the largest cuts to K-12 education funding in the history of our state.” In other races, the story is the same: more money is better; cuts (usually reductions in proposed increases) are seen as bad.

The reality is, average per-pupil funding nationwide exceeds $12,000, but only about 54 percent of that amount funds what’s broadly considered instruction. The rest goes toward administration, food service, capital projects, and debt.

What’s more, spending varies widely from state to state. Per-pupil funding ranges between less than $8,000 in Utah and Idaho, yet skyrockets past $28,000 per pupil in top-spender DC.

If the rationale behind the political ad campaigns were true, students in top spending states would outperform those in cellar-dweller spending states—but that’s not the case:

Moreover, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average NAEP reading and math performance levels among low-income students (those who qualify for the national school lunch program) are virtually identical in the top- and bottom-spending states. In both cases they’re abysmal, with just one of five low-income students proficient in reading at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. In math, one in four low-income fourth-graders tests proficient (at both the highest and lowest spending levels), while even fewer eighth-graders are proficient—18% in the bottom-spending states, 20% in the top-spending states.

The question voters should be asking this election season isn’t which candidates promise to spend the most on education, but which ones will direct taxpayer funds to programs that actually improve student learning.

Parental choice programs empower parents to choose their children’s schools and have the best track records at improving student outcomes, including higher academic performance and graduation rates.

What’s more, because these programs cut out the hefty government middleman, they don’t have the biggest price tag, either.


Teachers are lazy, often turn up late and can't be bothered to set homework, says 'superhead' sent into failing British school

A headteacher appointed to save a failing school has accused teachers of bullying junior staff and being lazy, late and aggressive in a damning letter written to union representatives.

Dr Rory Fox took on the role at Ryde Academy on the Isle of Wight as a 'superhead' to turn around the school's standards which were rated inadequate by Ofsted last year.

The headteacher, who has previously taught at a prison, has made headlines in the past with his commitment to enforcing strict adherence to school uniform policies.

But in a leaked letter sent to union representatives, he claimed '50 per cent of the teaching at Ryde Academy is not good enough', with some teachers lazy, late to class, bullying junior staff and refusing to set homework, The Times reported.

It stated: 'We are finding practices in classrooms that could easily lead to disciplinary action, but I am choosing not to go down that route.'

According to the letter, one teacher told Dr Fox his day finished at 2.40pm and he couldn't mark students' work because he was going sailing, while others complained about setting homework.

MailOnline has requested comment from Ryde Academy regarding the contents of the letter.

In April last year an Ofsted report revealed the school was suffering from 'serious weaknesses'.

Inspectors said they did not witness any 'outstanding lessons' and about a third were were considered 'good'.

Other problems were that younger students didn't feel confident reporting bullying and teachers were failing to act when bad language was used towards staff or when there was homophobic language, swearing or name calling between students.

However, the watchdog reported four months ago that these problems appeared to be improving with senior leaders understanding new responsibilities, and improvements in students' safety were having a positive effect.

The school has made headlines before. It was in June that Dr Fox decision to pull more than 250 girls out of lessons at Ryde Academy for not adhering to the school's dress code.

As part of the crackdown, girls - aged between 11 and 18 - whose skirts were deemed too short, were either sent home or placed in an isolated hall.

Others were also sent home to change because their trousers were ‘too tight’ and did not fit with the school’s strict new policy.

Dr Rory Fox carries with him a reputation for an uncompromising and tough stance in his management of schools, earning him the label of a 'superhead'.

Previous to recent school roles, he worked as the Head of Learning at Edmunds Hill Prison in Suffolk, a no doubt challenging role which typically involves overseeing a prisons' teaching resources and increasing prisoner education rates.

He has also worked at Basildon Academy in Essex, with both parents and teachers saying the effects of his clamp down on ill-discipline were 'remarkable'.

It was there he sent home 151 pupils for wearing trainers with Velcro, the wrong trousers, an unsuitable school bag and in one case, a gold hairband.

This policy continued at Ryde Academy when he took 250 girls out of lessons in a massive uniform crackdown.

Recent Ofsted reports appear to justify his stance - despite a slow start, within the space of a year inspectors have noted the school's improvement in areas such as student safety and learning outcomes.

And boys were also reportedly turned away after arriving at lessons with non-leather shoes.

Dr Fox defended the decision to send the pupils home and claimed several girls were under peer pressure to wear inappropriate uniform.

He said: ‘We are preparing students for the world of work so it is important that we teach students about the importance of managing their appearance and working to a dress code.

‘Dealing with uniform issues helps us to improve general attitudes of co-operation and the skills of following instructions.  ‘This helps us to improve behaviour and learning in classrooms.

‘A significant number of teachers have already commented on how much better behaviour in lessons has become, as soon as we started dealing with uniform issues.’

It was not the first time he had taken drastic measures to fix ailing dress code. In 2011, on his first day at Basildon Academy in Essex, he sent home 109 pupils for wearing incorrect uniform.


UK: Education department's 'gay rights' tweet sparks row

Education department officials have been criticised after appearing to suggest that gay rights are not “British values”.

Labour MPs have queried a tweet, issued by the Department for Education, which drew a distinction between “teaching gay rights” and reforms to the curriculum that will make it obligatory for schools to teach “British values” of respect and tolerance for gay people.

The reforms are a response to the Trojan Horse plot in which extremist religious doctrines were taught in state schools. Under the new rules, faith schools must teach children to be tolerant of gay relationships and transgender people.

Schools that fail to follow the rules on “actively promoting” British values of tolerance will be judged inadequate by inspectors and face closure.

Teachers who disagree with gay marriage have a right to express their views in class, Department for Education sources said, but they must show “respect” for children who are gay or have gay parents and must not discriminate against them.

The tweet was issued in response to a Sunday newspaper headline covering the policy, and read: “Nonsense to say schools 'must teach gay rights'. We want schools to teach broad curric based on British values.” It is understood officials felt the headline “sensationalised” the policy.

However, Labour said the distinction between gay rights and "British values" was wrong.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, responded: “LGBT rights are British values. The Department for Education must back compulsory sex and relationship education, including LGBT rights.”

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, said the department should clarify whether it regards gay rights as “British values”. Shaun Dellenty, a gay rights activist, said the tweet was "appalling".

The tweet was subsequently deleted.


Indiana candidates shift from tax cuts to schools

The 2015 session is likely to be the first of Gov. Mike Pence's tenure to be punctuated more by talk of spending on schools and education than talk of tax cuts — his bailiwick of the last two years.

The focus on school funding, topped off by an official push from Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, is already evident in a series of contested state legislative races, with attack ads focused on the issue sprouting up in the past two weeks. It's with good reason: Internal polling from both sides, used to determine messaging, has put education and school funding at the top of concerns for voters.

Cuts to business taxes and the personal income tax are being phased in through 2021 — amid concerns about stability from state budget hawks — and have had only limited impact so far. (The biggest cut approved so far was the elimination of the state's inheritance tax, a measure sought by legislative Republicans.)

The pinch in schools with layoffs and cuts in services, meanwhile, has been felt throughout the state ever since the property tax cap overhaul in 2008 cut into local education spending and the recession cut into state spending. Elections this past May saw something shocking happen for a fairly conservative state: Voters in nine school districts approved paying more in property taxes to pay for schools.

Denny Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials and an expert on school financing, said that after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cut $300 million in school funding in 2009, that reduced amount became the new norm for school spending.

"No one liked it, of course, but it was understood because of how bad the recession was hitting us," Costerison said.

Between 2009 and 2013, the latest year for which total education spending data are available, the total spent across the state dropped from $11.51 billion to $11.49 billion. Lawmakers and Pence restored some school funding in the most recent budget, but not enough to keep pace with the cost of inflation.

According to the most recent information from the National Center for Education Statistics — a research arm of the U.S. Department of Education — Indiana was one of the states that spent the least overall per student. Between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011, the median amount spent per student dropped sharply, from $9,045 per student to $8,642. (By comparison, Arizona spent $7,968 per student and Alaska spent $25,132 per student.)

The debate in 2015 is likely to focus more on funding for suburban and rural schools, which receive less overall per student than urban school districts that have more low-income families. Costerison said lawmakers might try to find a way to get more money for all schools and give greater increases to the state's rural and suburban schools.

However, the boundaries will be set by the same forces that have limited school funding so far: Republican leaders' requirement that $2 billion be kept in cash reserves, an amount that could trigger Daniels' automatic tax refund, and tax collections that have come in below expectations.

But before lawmakers can get to the debate over school spending, they will have to get through Tuesday's elections. Democrats and teachers unions, looking to break the Republican supermajority in the House, have been hammering away at education, in particular. Bosma, for his part, helped shore up his caucus with the promise that school funding would be a priority next year.

That's why the candidates are spending their limited campaign dollars on attack ads about education, and not tax cuts.


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