Friday, December 05, 2014

Ferguson Schools Let Students Leave to Protest in Streets--Without Notifying Parents

Hundreds of students were allowed to leave several high schools in Ferguson, Mo., Tuesday morning to protest in the city’s streets--a decision the school district made without notifying the children’s parents before or during the protest.
Teachers and administrators also walked with the students as they blocked traffic and clogged congested intersections.

The students, primarily from McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkley high schools, crowded into the streets of Ferguson in the early morning hours and stretching into the afternoon, an extenuation of months of protests that have taken place in the St. Louis suburb following the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on August 9.

With chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “pissed off, fight back,” the young protesters marched past rows of buildings boarded up with hand-painted plywood, the scars from riots and looting that occurred after a grand jury last Monday decided not to bring any charges against Wilson in Brown’s death.

Ferguson police walked and drove SUVs beside the teenagers, trying to keep the group from spilling into the street and obstructing traffic. At several points, traffic was halted as groups of students weaved through cars or stood in intersections to block the passage of vehicles.

Jana Shortt, the communications director for Ferguson Public Schools, said the protests were “entirely student-led,” and parents were not notified beforehand.

“It was not that they were released, necessarily, it’s more that the district didn’t prevent the students from leaving the campus,” she said.

In a phone interview, asked Shortt: “At no point were parents notified that their kids were out and about, protesting?”

“No…they, well, no. I mean, as the student protest kind of went on, we were responding to that and sending administrators to stay with them,” Shortt responded.

“So the information for parents is going out,” Shortt said. “We, uh, we talked to anybody as they called in, you know, we were sharing that with them. But yeah.”

One mother, who stood by as teenagers marched down the road near her house, said she had just gotten a call from her daughter, who attends one of the participating high schools.

“She called me and said, ‘Mommy, the teachers are letting us out to protest!” the mother recalled. “And I was just thinking, I hadn’t heard anything about that.”

The school district released a letter to students’ families well after the protests had wrapped up, letting them know that their child may have participated. According to the letter, the protests began around 8:15 a.m. when between as many as 600 students walked out of two area high schools.

At around 11:15 a.m., another group of nearly 200 students left a third school.

Although parents were not notified that their children were protesting, the letter did state that local police were notified and “stood by as the students demonstrated.”

“Once we could see that there were, you know, hundreds of students and each school that were leaving the building, our staff, instead of physically trying to stop that large group of students, what we did was school staff, administrators and teachers, accompanied the students on the walk. And then we dispatched transportation, school busses, to go and get those students from where they had ended up,” said Shortt.

Shortt said students were picked up from various places, including a nearby Walgreens, and brought back to school.

Another group of students could be seen leaving a local Dollar General, some with shopping bags in hand.

The letter also stated that “the majority of students who participated in the demonstration re-entered the school” after the protesting.

Despite allowing students to leave campus, sending school officials to accompany the students as they protested, and not notifying parents as demonstrations were taking place, the school district’s letter to Ferguson parents admonishes families to “discuss with your children the risks associated with leaving school grounds where we cannot assure their safety or know their whereabouts.”

"We understand our students’ desire to speak out on the issues raised by recent events in the city of Ferguson, and have prepared our principals and teachers to facilitate productive classroom discussions on these topics if needed," the letter continued.  "However, students are not permitted to leave school grounds during the day."


'Revolutionary' £10,000 student loans for 'young' postgraduates announced by Britain's Treasurer

Student loans worth up to £10,000 a year will be offered to "young" postgraduates for first time ever, George Osborne has announced.  People under 30 pursuing masters degrees will be able to apply for financial support from the Government for the 2016/17 academic year onwards.

Around 40,000 students are expected to benefit from the move, while a further 10,000 people who struggled to afford the fees will now be able to take up courses.

While the loans will have to be paid back in full once the recipient begins earning they will be offered at significant lower interest rates than banks.

The Chancellor said poor students will be able to enter the professions thanks to the new state loans, saying the measure will "change lots of people’s lives".

The move was hailed as a "great step forward" in bringing down the financial barriers to further study by education experts but triggered new calls for Government action in other areas of higher education.

"A year ago, I abolished the arbitrary cap on the total number of undergraduates at our universities. Today, I am going to revolutionise the support for our postgraduate students too," Mr Osborne told the Commons.

"Until now there has been almost no financial support available, and the upfront costs of postgraduate degrees deters bright students from poorer backgrounds."

"So today, across all disciplines, we will make government-backed student loans of up to £10,000 available, for the first time ever, to all young people undertaking postgraduate masters degrees."

He later added: "In almost all the reports one reads on social mobility, including the one from Alan Milburn, this has been identified as a barrier to entry for people from low income backgrounds into the professions. It's a really important step forward."

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: "The new postgraduate loans deserve two-and-a-half cheers, which is as good as it gets in austere times."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: "Postgraduates are critically important to the economy and society as a whole and the Chancellor is right to help ensure there are no barriers to participation in postgraduate taught study.

"We welcome the government’s reassurance that this significant investment in postgraduate support will not create additional regulation, restrictions or costs in the future or divert funds from existing budgets for research and teaching. We are also pleased that the loans are not restricted to certain subjects and that the system is clear and simple to understand so that most students considering postgraduate study can be sure they will receive financial help."


International Baccalaureate becoming popular in Britain

Exam reforms seem to come along with alarming frequency, but throughout decades of upheaval one qualification has remained the same. While A-level students will be grappling with a dual system of old and new courses over the next few years, their peers taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma can remain confident that theirs will stay constant.

“I can’t tell you how relieved we are at not having to adapt to these changes,” says Pauline Bullen, deputy head at Tonbridge Grammar School in Kent. “There is a lot of stability in the diploma and it has not been subject to the grade inflation that we have seen happening with A-levels.”

The average A-level score has been climbing over the past three decades, with the number of students getting the top grade increasing apart from a brief reversal in 2012 and 2013. But over the same period the average IB diploma score has remained broadly the same.

Two years ago, Tonbridge Grammar became exclusively an IB school. “We felt that the diploma had so many additional advantages,” says Bullen, who is chairman of the IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA).

“It has a far broader subject space and we felt very strongly that for 16-year-olds to be narrowing to three subjects was not going to equip them for the kinds of flexible career and life pathways they’re going to be having.”

While students take three or four subjects at A-level, on the IB they take six, three at standard level and three at higher. These must include maths, English, a foreign language, a science and a humanities subject.

This was another of the reasons behind Tonbridge Grammar’s decision to focus on the IB. “We felt that any young person not doing maths after 16 was at a particular disadvantage,” says Bullen.

Differences between the A-level and IB will be enhanced by the A-level reforms, says David Shaw, IB coordinator at Bilborough Sixth Form in Nottingham. For students enrolling on the new A-levels from September, their AS result will no longer contribute towards their final grade. Students will be less likely to take AS levels if they do not count, so narrowing their subject choices even more.

“There is going to be a much starker contrast between the A-level and IB,” says Shaw. “We think it will make the IB more appealing for students who think three subjects are not enough.”

Bilborough offers both pathways and Shaw says the IB is ideal for students who want to retain some breadth in their studies and for those who have not yet made up their mind what to study at university.

IB subjects also have some advantages over their A-level counterparts, he says. While the new English A-level will be assessed through a written exam, for example, the IB English course involves a presentation and an interview with the teacher.

“There is a lot of emphasis on speaking and listening skills, which we know employers and students want,” Shaw says.

If students are not taking AS‑levels, they will no longer get a grade at the end of their first year of sixth form. This puts A-level students back on level terms with their IB counterparts, says Guy Essex, programme team leader for IB at Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall.

“One of the things universities sometimes say about the IB is that halfway through the course they don’t have an externally awarded grade, which is what AS provided,” he says. “Now nobody is going to have that.”

While A-level students can expect a number of free periods, the different elements of the IB mean those taking it can expect a full timetable. As well as their six subjects, IB students also complete a 4,000-word extended essay, take a course in theory of knowledge, and complete a creativity, action, service (CAS) programme, involving artistic, sporting and voluntary endeavours.

“It is attractive for people who enjoy the busyness of the course,” says Essex. “They’re never short of anything to put on their university applications.”

But more teaching time means the IB diploma is more expensive for schools. With budgets getting tighter, state schools in particular are finding it difficult to deliver the IB, according to Sandra Morton, IBSCA chief executive.

“Where schools have had to abandon the diploma it is not because they don’t value the programme, it is because they don’t have the funding,” she says.

A minimum of four staff at schools wanting to switch to the diploma – including the head teacher – are required to undergo training in the IB, adding to the cost.

“Schools wanting to deliver the diploma are doing so on the understanding that it is more costly,” says Morton. IBSCA is lobbying the Government to increase the funding provided to schools that offer the IB, she adds. But some private schools, such as Marlborough College, have joined state schools in dropping the IB.

One of the aims of the A-level reforms is to make them harder, but lack of rigour is not an accusation that can be levelled at the IB, says Stephen Elphick, head of Bexley Grammar in south-east London.

Bexley Grammar offers both A-levels and IB, but from 2017 will switch to all-IB. “What we’re getting with A-levels is a mimicking of the stretch of the IB but if that’s the case why not have the original?” he says.

The IB may be a lagoon of calm compared with the choppy seas of A-levels, but he says there is plenty more to recommend it, including the fact that the CAS programme is an integral part of the diploma.

“So many students are doing these things but to get credit for it and a recognition that it is part of learning is fantastic,” he says. “This way you are saying 'We value the fact that you’re going swimming’ or whatever it happens to be, and it fits what good students are doing as a matter of course.”

The past few years have also seen a greater awareness of the strengths of the IB among university admission tutors, says Peter Gray, IB coordinator at Malvern College in Worcestershire.

“We have seen a big change and it is a lot more familiar to universities now,” he says. “They’re well up on what it involves and we find the offers our students get are very reasonable.”

Admissions tutors look favourably on IB students after seeing how they handle the step up to higher education, says Peter Fidczuk, UK development and recognition officer for the International Baccalaureate Organisation. “When it comes to the things universities look for, a range of broad and balanced skills, IB students are well equipped,” he says.

Malvern also offers A-levels, with about half of its sixth-formers on each programme, and there may be some students more suited to A-levels, says head Antony Clark.

“They tend to fall into two categories: those who are very set on a particular course, and those who perceive themselves to be absolutely hopeless at maths or whatever,” he says. “But the IB keeps your options open and prepares you very well for handling the step up for university. It gives you a roundedness, which you don’t get with A-level.”


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