Friday, August 08, 2014

Want your child to do well at school? Eat dinners as a family: Sitting together at meal times boosts concentration and social skills

It’s a cry that rings out in millions of British homes every evening.

But in the age of computer games and social media, ‘dinner’s ready’ rarely means families actually sit down and eat together.

Now new research suggests parents striving to bring up well-behaved children should insist that they gather round the table with the rest of the family.

Psychologists who studied children aged six to eleven found they concentrated more at school, acquired better social skills and got into much less trouble as teens if they regularly took part in family meals.

But it needs to happen at least four times a week to have any major benefit.  Research suggests less than a third of British families sit down to dinner together every night.

A 2012 survey found extended working hours, lengthy commutes for parents and children’s after-school commitments meant families rarely ate together.

Other factors include children wanting different types of food, or demanding to watch TV at the same time.

Although numerous studies have shown family meals can have a positive effect on adolescent behaviour, the latest research concentrated on the long-term effects on younger children.

Experts at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University analysed the eating habits of more than 24,000 young children who took part in a major health study in 2007.

The US National Survey of Children’s Health recorded youngsters’ dietary patterns but also looked at behaviour, school performance and social skills.

The results, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found more frequent family meals increased the odds of a child having positive social skills and being more engaged in school by around ten per cent.  At the same time, eating together reduced the risk of bad behaviour by about eight per cent.  Earlier studies showed shared family meals can also reduce the risk of drug abuse and depression among teenagers.

In a report on their findings the researchers said eating together provides stability and contact for vulnerable youngsters. ‘It is also possible that the organisational features of meals, as part of the family routine, may provide structure, order and predictability to the family and have an effect on health related outcomes.  ‘They provide a supportive family environment in which parents can connect with their children and monitor their activities.

‘Although there is no certainty in the number of weekly mealtimes needed to provide a protective child health outcome, previous research has indicated four or more as optimal.’

Dr Fiona Starr, psychologist at Middlesex University, said family meals give parents a vital opportunity to catch up on what’s going on in their children’s lives.  She said: ‘It’s also a time when young children acquire language skills and learn how to listen.

‘But it’s really important that parents impose a ‘no screens’ rule at the dinner table, so that there are no games, phones or iPads.  ‘It’s fine to have a TV dinner every now and again with the family but no screens at the table is essential.’


Traditional teaching: effective teaching

By Nevile Gwynne

The wildly unexpected success of my two books, Gwynne's Grammar and Gwynne's Latin, has produced a number of interesting side-effects.

One of these, the most startling of all, has been several invitations to visit schools – both fee-paying and state-funded – for the express purpose of teaching teachers how to teach. A few months ago I was even flown as far as Gibraltar for this purpose.

Just what formal qualifications have I, it may reasonably be asked, for a teacher-teaching role? As remarkable as anything, absolutely none, unless you count my having reached my seventies.

Indeed, I always argue that my most important qualification of all is the fact that I have never been exposed to anything like modern teacher-training.

The most recent of these invitations was from a large school - 1300 children - in Coventry called the Sidney Stringer Academy.

Back in March, Mrs Nicola Neto, a teacher and Latin-enthusiast, who had been allowed to start teaching Latin to the top class, saw an article about my teaching in this very newspaper.

She noticed in it my often-repeated claim that, because of modern teaching-methods and the Cambridge Latin Course used in most schools, I had been finding that that I could teach children more Latin in half an hour than they had learnt in several years at school.

She sent me an e-mail concluding: “Please, do come and give my class a half hour session. I would be eternally grateful.”

I was delighted to agree and, as it happened, Mrs Neto’s class, I am sure to her great pleasure, did markedly, and to me surprisingly, better than any other group of children that I had given lessons to.

For my part, I was content that the class - in fact an hour-long - was a great success, in both its immediate and its longer term effects.

But, possibly my uppermost reaction was to rejoice that the class had been recorded for all time - as it had been on the day. My reason is this; a crucially important teaching-principle, unknown today, is that “one can only teach as one was taught oneself.”

At any time previously, becoming a good teacher had nothing to do with attendance at any teacher-training establishment. And indeed, without exception, those establishments teach nothing that is useful and much that is pernicious.

It simply involved spending one’s dozen or so years at school being taught by a wide variety of people, and then imitating the best of them and adding one’s own individual style.

There is no other way to learn to teach really competently. Teaching is not something that one can learn out of a book.

Thus, unbelievably, the only means of teaching that actually teaches effectively and speedily, has been all but completely lost.

But no longer irreversibly. Thanks to Mrs Neto’s wonderful piece of initiative and that recording, anyone who goes to our website can see a completely representative example of teaching as it always used to be done, and the traditional techniques that can be witnessed there can be applied to the teaching of any subject.

What exactly is it about traditional teaching that makes it so superior to the teaching that has replaced it everywhere throughout the Western world?  It could really be summarised simply as: science first; art second.

In any human activity, the science of it consists of the technicalities and techniques that everyone needs to know before starting to practise it; acquired by careful study.

The art of it is the personal element for each individual; is changeable according to time and place; and is acquired chiefly by practice, gradually learning to put to good effect the science that has first been mastered.

In the case of languages, the beginning of the science consists of learning thoroughly by heart – preferably with a large group of people chanting together – a language’s grammar and some of its basic vocabulary.

At the same time, in the case of schoolchildren, this develops their powers of concentration, their ability to memorise, and their ability to analyse closely and exactly and thereby to solve problems. It also gets them into the habit of being diligent, conscientious and persevering.

There is no other way of learning anything really effectively and quickly. Try learning to play chess by just watching and imitating others, and without first having learnt the names of the pieces, the moves they can make, and what must be accomplished in order to win a game.

Try learning to play golf without being taught how to select a suitable club, how best to hold it and then swing it, and how to play the basic strokes.

You will get no enjoyment out of the learning-process; you will be lucky if you can ever play the game with any competence at all; and, worst of all, you will inevitably pick up bad habits which will be difficult if not impossible to get out of.

Learning a language is very much more difficult than learning chess or golf. Therefore, the notion that children are themselves the best judges of how they should be doing their learning is, without exaggeration, insane.

Yet this is the notion that is at the very root of the “child-centred education” that is now everywhere pervasive.

Will there ever be a sufficiently widespread urge to do away with the child-centred teaching that has now had its destructive way for the last 50 years or so?

If so, thanks to the Sidney Stringer Academy’s wonderful initiative, it has now become a practical proposition to restore effective education.


Nearly half of students will not pay back government loans, warn MPs

Almost half of students who take out a loan will not pay them back, MPs warned on Monday, as they described the lending system as at “tipping point”.

Government miscalculations and problems with collecting repayments has put the loans system under threat, and an urgent review is needed to address the issue, the cross-party Commons business select committee said.

Around 45 per cent of loans taken out will never be repaid, the Government has estimated. This is close to the 48.6 per cent threshold at which point experts say the Government will begin to lose more money than is gains.

Higher education funding was reformed after tuition fees at English universities were trebled to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2012. Students can get a loan from the Government to cover their fees, with the money paid back once they have graduated and are earning at least £21,000 a year. The debt is written off after 30 years.

Figures published earlier this year show that the Government’s latest estimate, known as the “RAB charge”, is that around 45 per cent of loans taken out under the new system will never be repaid. In its report, the select committee concludes that the Business Department has a “worrying record” of miscalculating its estimate of the RAB charge.

It adds: “More disturbing is the fact that independent forecasters have been recommending improvements to the Government’s methodology for some years, which the department has ignored. We recommend that it starts to listen now.”

The report goes on to suggest that the Government is already struggling to collect student loan debts.

Around 14,000 graduates living overseas are behind on their repayments, it says, arguing that a large proportion of debt from this group is due to such graduates “avoiding making payments”.

At the same time, the collection targets set by the department for the Student Loans Company, the government-funded body that provides and collects loans, are not fit for purpose, the report adds. The committee concludes that an urgent review of the sustainability of the student loans system is needed.

The report says: “We are concerned that Government is rapidly approaching a tipping point for the financial viability of the student loans system.”

Adrian Bailey, the committee chairman, said: “The Government’s estimates indicate the size of outstanding student debt will increase to more than £330 billion by 2044. With the prospect of a large potential black hole in the Government’s budget figures, Government needs to get its act together and properly calculate how much of these student debts are ever likely to be paid back.”

The report also says that proposals to sell off the student loan book could bring a “significant windfall” to the public purse, but warns that the department has yet to prove that it has enough evidence to decide whether selling the assets would be good value for money.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ban Government—Not Sweets—in Schools to Combat Bureaucratic Obesity

In recent weeks states have been grappling with a host of unintended consequences stemming from new USDA regulations affecting food and beverages available in schools. Chocolate milk was a near casualty in Connecticut. Earlier this month one Washington state school district threw in the towel and banned birthday cupcakes in classrooms. Instead of baked treats, students can share gifts of pencils with their classmates instead, according to school officials.

Just weeks after the new food rules went into effect on July 1, schools in 12 states are working their way around them. As the National Journal reports:

Twelve states have established their own policies to circumvent regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 [here] that apply to “competitive snacks,” or any foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the Agriculture Department’s school meal programs, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. Competitive snacks appear in vending machines, school stores, and food and beverages, including items sold at bake sales.

Georgia is the latest state to announce an exemption to the federal regulations, which became effective July 1 for thousands of public schools across the country. Its rule would allow 30 food-related fundraising days per school year that wouldn’t meet the new healthy nutritional standards. ...

Tennessee also plans to allow 30 food-fundraising days that don’t comply with federal standards per school year. Idaho will allow 10, while Illinois is slowly weaning schools off their bake sales, hoping to shrink them from an annual 36 days to nine days in the next three years. Florida and Alabama are considering creating their own exemption policies.

Under the new regulations, there are some exemptions for school fundraisers (p. 7), including allowing state education agencies to define what constitutes “a limited number “of school fundraisers (p. 39).

However, it’s worth considering why the USDA has any authority over foods offered outside of its school lunch and breakfast programs (p. 8), and why it has the power to ban fundraisers foods that compete with its meals to be sold during breakfast or lunch time (p. 41). As the school year approaches, expect more news reports about absurd policies resulting from this latest government intrusion into schools.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a goal we can all share, but burying schools, students, and parents in tons of red tape is no way to combat obesity. Perhaps the best way to shed some pounds at school is to shrink the federal government’s involvement back down to its constitutional size.


Is Education Policy Economic Policy?

The person precedes the State in school, work, and life

When the central administration claims to replace completely the free cooperation of those primarily interested, it deceives itself or wants to deceive you  -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

A member of the Indiana State Board of Education recently stated his belief that “education policy is economic policy.” 
“Without world-class schools,” writes Gordon Hendry in the Indianapolis Star, “we can’t attract top talent and jobs to Indiana.”

Hendry’s observation represents the predominant worldview among policymakers today. It may also suggest why education reform continues to cost more and achieve less.

It is largely undisputed that government education systems across America are failing. International comparisons suggest American students are falling behind students in other countries. National assessments suggest that socioeconomic as well as racial gaps in performance persist. Employers find that young people are unprepared to enter the workforce without additional training.

Colleges find that students are increasingly ill-equipped for higher education and in need of remedial coursework. Classroom teachers are buried under bureaucratic red tape and media scrutiny and find it hard to sustain their passion for education. Parents and students are unhappy for a variety of reasons, and in greater numbers they’re seeking schools that are peaceful, orderly, welcoming, and effective.

We live with a collective sigh of despair, punctuated by angry controversy over various proposals for reform ranging from school choice to the Common Core standards movement. Yet for all the tax dollars, political capital, and ink spilled on issues of education reform and school improvement, we have failed to ask a fundamental question: Who is education for?

Who is education for: the individual or the State?

Without clarity on this question, all reform efforts may prove to be mere fiddling while our republic burns.

If we want to sustain the freedom of self-government embodied in the American federal system, we must once again become a people capable of exercising and defending that freedom. The role of education is too important in the formation of a free people not to clarify the limits of State action on education at all levels.

To do so, we must inquire into numerous questions that elevate our attention from today’s policy battles and rekindle a broader, constitutional dialogue about who we are and whom we aspire to be.

The founding generation recognized the constitutional importance of education in shaping a people capable of self-government, but largely left the means and content of education up to local communities and states. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787—which laid the groundwork for government support of education and expressed the core interest that government has in education—did not address the importance of learning in economic terms but enjoined that “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Nineteenth-century Whigs, led by reformers such as Horace Mann, took a more controlling interest in education, specifically as compulsory schooling could serve to inculcate white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant mores and values among newer immigrants to American shores. By the end of the nineteenth century, the belief that public schools must continue to protect a moral and cultural center based on WASP values had led most states to pass a “Blaine Amendment” seeking to prohibit use of state educational funds for parochial, especially Catholic, schools.

Progressive reformers of the early twentieth century likewise assumed roles as their brothers’ keepers. Education and economic policy converged as they adapted American schools to an industrializing economy. Applying the new tools of “scientific” management to effect social control reflected the growing belief that centralized social engineering was necessary for a good society. As John Dewey put it, “Organized social planning, put into effect for the creation of an order in which industry and finance are socially directed in behalf of institutions that provide the material basis for the cultural liberation and growth of individuals, is now the sole method of social action by which liberalism can realize its professed aims (Liberalism and Social Action, 60).”

A society of free men and women cannot be one in which an administrative State supervises the details of our lives from cradle to grave. Despite protesting voices—such as those appearing in The Freeman since its inception—our public schools continue to be honed as tools of soft despotism.

Today, education reformers increasingly view our children as fodder for the engines of economic productivity. Leaders of global corporations, education “experts,” and political leaders, having lost sight of the true ends of education, promote uniformity of curricula across the nation, validated by high-stakes testing. The time has long passed for us to recognize that these would-be emperors of the mind—chasing a utopia in which all children can be college- or career-ready by age 18—wear no clothes.
Economic policy is not educational policy. American education has suffered from being made the maidservant of economic growth. Education policy cannot suffice for good economic policy, which should instead be focused on issues such as providing for sound and stable money, constraining government spending and public debt, ending crony capitalism, and repudiating the kind of regulatory and confiscatory despotism that crushes real entrepreneurship and job creation.

Can education promote a prospering economy? Yes, but only when it recognizes the limits of State action on personal moral development and allows schooling to pursue its true end: to help the child grow into a man or woman capable of directing his or her own life with responsibility.

Is education policy economic policy? Only if we believe the laborer or taxpayer is the father of the man. In Towards a Philosophy of Education, nineteenth-century English pedagogue Charlotte Mason observed that we are slow to learn because we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality. We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society.

As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live, —whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit.

We are not without guides in reexamining our belief that the end of education is mere economic prosperity. The great classical liberal author William von Humboldt, who helped develop education policy for the Prussian state, understood firsthand the dangers of seeing the child as merely an asset of the State. He clearly perceived the constitutional importance of education and the delicacy of the task of the State’s involvement in administering schooling. “The fruitful relationship between man and citizen would wholly cease if the man were sacrificed to the citizen,” cautioned Humboldt in The Limits of State Action.

He continued: "For although the consequences of disharmony would be avoided, still the very object would be sacrificed which the association of human beings in a community was designed to secure. From which I conclude that the freest development of human nature, directed as little as possible to citizenship, should always be regarded as of paramount importance. He who has been thus freely developed should then attach himself to the State; and the State should test itself by his measure. Only through such a struggle could I confidently hope for a real improvement of the national constitution, and banish all fear of the harmful influence of civil institutions on human nature.

The person, in other words, precedes the nation and the state. To get this backwards and make the State the tutor of the man is to forget the ends of both liberty and learning.

Out in the byways, Americans are exploring a variety of new ways to educate their children, from homeschooling to educational cooperatives, from new private schools to charter schools. Our educational leaders, on the other hand, carry on a conversation that is increasingly a stumbling block to the future of liberty. Treating education policy as economic policy has mired us in polarizing political contests. On the one side are those mired in the legacies of Progressive pedagogy and union politics; on the other side are those who see education primarily as a pipeline of employees and taxpayers. It may be worse when the two sides find some common ground or economic interest, such as that alliance that effected the bipartisan blitzkrieg of the Common Core State Standards.

For the rest of us, for those who retain some inkling of what it means to be free or those who remember the love of learning that inspired them to want to teach, we must recognize that this may be a Baptists and bootleggers moment.

To go forward, we must find common ground. Where better to begin than on the presumption that learning is for liberty, and that children who learn to love knowledge more than post high test scores and who find their schools to be sites of community and connection rather than battlefields will more readily exercise their liberty in ways that respect our constitutional order, promote human flourishing, and generate widespread prosperity?


Dear headmaster, there's much to be learnt from China

Academic success and a rounded education are not mutually exclusive, says Rachel De Souza, in response to comments made by Eton headmaster Tony Little

I visited China earlier this year as part of a large UK education delegation. I went with an open mind, ready to learn and embrace any practices or ideas that would improve our education.

We looked at maths teaching particularly and what I found was breathtaking. At every school I visited the children (rich or poor) were four years ahead of ours. Again and again, we saw the depth of the pupils’ mathematical learning built up over time and their impressive armoury of knowledge and skills. They knew their times tables inside out and their ability to use efficient methods of calculation was absolutely apparent.

In one school, six-year-olds worked on the link between addition and subtraction for two digit numbers. They were clear about the inverse relationship here and could use that to check their answers.

I am reluctant to take on such an august figure as the Eton headmaster Tony Little, but someone has to speak out for our children who need every possible opportunity and support to get into our best universities.

I did not see the ‘straitjacket’ referred to by Mr Little. Rather the essential knowledge that children should have to progress through their education.

I also enjoyed the attitude of teachers who met together most days to analyse what is going well in their classes, what needs to be tackled differently and what the frequent tests reveal as needing improvement.

The phrase commonly used in China “Maths Gets You Everywhere” sums it up – a can-do attitude where the pupils come first and the prime aim is to open up opportunities for children. Bringing Shanghai teachers here and having our teachers going to China can only improve our schools.

What about the criticism of an exams-only education versus a rounded education? It is self-evident that you must pass exams to get anywhere. Put another way, passing exams is a ticket out of deprivation, something that I hope we all support. But I too want our pupils to be well-rounded individuals, the leaders of their generation, contributing to their community and making a difference.

Our extra-curricular activity, the extended day if you will, allows more time for children to study English and Maths. But it also provides time for them to pursue their dreams, go horse-riding or sailing or take part in sport.

One of our pupils in a deprived area of Great Yarmouth began karate as an extra-curricular activity a couple of years ago. He is competing in Canada in September and he has a bright future ahead of him.

I’m sure it’s not what Mr Little was referring to but too often the phrase “all-round education” is an excuse for lack of academic achievement. The two should not be mutually exclusive.


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Germantown kindergarten teacher accused of political vandalism identified

Wisconsin Reporter has learned the identity of the suspect accused of politically motivated disorderly conduct at last month’s Jefferson County Fair.

April Kay Smith, 38, a kindergarten teacher in the Germantown School District, was issued a disorderly conduct citation for tearing up and stomping on several signs on July 9 at the Jefferson County Republican Party booth after the fair had shut down for the night, according to a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department report obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.

 There were many cases of politically charged vandalism during 2012′s historic recall attempt of Gov. Walker. But it appears those hostile days are back, according to an incident report obtained by Wisconsin Reporter that accuses Germantown teacher April Kay Smith of damaging Walker signs and those of other Republicans last month at the Jefferson County fair.

The incident report, filed by Jefferson County Deputy Heather Larson, states that Smith and her husband, Andrew Smith, 31, originally lied to the officer, despite the fact that a witness, Roxane Stillman, 62, of rural Madison, reported seeing Smith destroy the signs. Stillman, in a July 23 story, told Wisconsin Reporter she followed the suspect around the fairgrounds for more than a half hour, calling out for a police officer.

“… (April Smith) confessed to damaging and ripping out the signs. She stated her husband told her to lie and that she’s just so angry with (Gov) Scott Walker due to the fact that she was a school teacher,” the deputy wrote in the incident report.

Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, known as Act 10, checked the power of public employee labor unions and elicited the ire of many state and local government workers.

The Jefferson County GOP first made the matter public on conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna’s show a few days after the incident.

Stillman said she and her friend were enjoying some kettle corn on a bench across from the Jefferson County Republican Party booth when she said she saw a young woman who looked to be in her late 20s or early 30s at the booth. She said the woman squatted down, like she was relieving herself, and then began smashing up the signs.

Stillman called out to the woman, telling her to wait, that she was going to call the police. The woman started walking away — then she started running, Stillman said.

“I said, ‘Honey, I’m good for about five miles. If you want to run, that’s OK. I’ll stay with you,’” Stillman said. “When she realized she wasn’t going to outrun me she started walking fast all over the fairgrounds trying to ditch me. Everywhere we walked, I yelled out, “Someone get the police! This lady damaged property.”

Stillman claims that, at one point in the chase, the woman grabbed her arm, squeezed it hard and said, “You must like the Koch brothers!”

When Larson arrived at the scene, the deputy asked Smith about Stillman’s allegations, according to the incident report. Smith told the deputy she had “no idea” what the witness was talking about, the deputy reported.

“(Smith) did appear to have glassy and bloodshot eyes and slurred speech,” the deputy stated in her report.  The report states that Smith tested .06 in a preliminary breath test, under the legal limit of intoxication.

At that time, Smith told the deputy she was a kindergarten teacher from Germantown, the report states.

“I advised her again that I believe she was being untruthful and asked her how she would feel if one of her students lied to her,” Larson wrote in the report. “At this time, she confessed to damaging and ripping out the signs, She stated her husband told her to lie and that she’s just so angry with Scott Walker due to the fact that she was a school teacher.”

Larson told Andrew Smith that she could issue him a citation for obstructing an officer, but she would let the matter go at a warning.

The deputy then asked April Smith to “pick up the signs and together we placed them in a neat file.”

Smith is scheduled to appear in court at 9 a.m., Aug. 19, according to the incident report. She could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

Stillman told Wisconsin Reporter that she has pressed for the suspect’s identity because she is concerned that someone who seems to be carrying so much anger and partisan aggression would be teaching children.

The Germantown kindergarten website boasts this mantra: “Empower and Inspire Every Student to Success.”

An official from the Germantown School District told Wisconsin Reporter early Monday that the district will be conducting an internal investigation into the matter and will release a statement at a later time.


Elite schools fill Oxbridge places: Five top institutions including Eton send more pupils than 1,800 state schools combined

Five top schools send as many pupils to Oxford and Cambridge as 1,800 state schools put together, a new analysis has revealed.

A small group of elite schools is tightening its grip on the country’s most prestigious universities as wealthy families spend increasing sums on education.

Three well-known private schools and two elite sixth-form colleges supplied 260 Oxbridge entrants in 2011/12 - the same number as 1,800 state schools across England.  

Similar research relating to the previous three years found that the top five schools and colleges produced as many Oxbridge acceptances as about 1,500 state schools. 

The charity behind the research warned of a growing divide between Britain’s wealthiest families and ‘normal’ middle-income pupils. 

Rich families were devoting more of their resources than ever to education because they recognised its increasing importance in landing top jobs and ‘positions of power’, it was claimed.

The five top schools for producing Oxbridge entrants include Eton, which was David Cameron’s old school, Westminster, where Nick Clegg was an old boy, and St Paul’s, which educated George Osborne.

The remaining two schools are large state sixth-form colleges – Hills Road in Cambridge and Peter Symonds in Winchester - which have become the ‘choice destinations for professional parents wanting to maximise the chances of their children getting into Oxbridge’.

The analysis - produced by the Sutton Trust education charity - also shows that just 40 schools and colleges provided about a quarter of all Oxbridge entrants in 2011/12.

The only state comprehensive to make the list is Cherwell School, which is based in Oxford.

In a blog, Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s director of development and policy, said the figures were ‘powerful’ because they show the ‘extent to which a tiny minority of the country’s 2,750 schools and colleges dominate enrolment at prestigious universities’.

This was a ‘sombre message for the 100,000s of students waiting to receive their A-level results this August’.

He argued that despite ‘valiant efforts’ by universities, entry to elite campuses was increasingly dominated by children from the most privileged families.  ‘The concern is that a small cadre of schools and colleges is tightening its grip on elite university places,’ he said.

‘The figures indicate that students from the wealthiest families could be pulling further away in the race for prestigious academic degrees, and the positions of power they pave the way to.

‘This yawning gap is not just a problem for our poorest children but also those from “normal” middle income homes.’ 

Mr Elliot Major added: ‘The social mobility arms race is escalating with each academic year as the richest families increasingly devote more resources to ensure that their children excel at school and university.  ‘They recognise education’s increasing importance in who wins in the workplace.’  

The research is based on the latest available data from the Department for Education, published earlier this year.

Billions of pounds have been spent over the last 15 years on outreach schemes, bursaries and funding aimed at up opening up access to university.

But the analysis shows that the proportion of A-level students attending comprehensives and progressing to the country’s 30 most academically demanding universities fell from 23 per cent in 2008/09 to 19 per cent in 2011/12.

Mr Elliot Major warned that prominent positions in politics, law, the media and the civil service - where an Oxbridge degree ‘remains the passport to success’ - would continue to be dominated by graduates from a narrow range of backgrounds. 

But he also said the figures also highlighted some ‘exceptional’ comprehensives whose pupils are getting the grades and the know-how to get into Oxbridge and other top universities.

The list includes Mossbourne Community Academy, which was built up from scratch by Sir Michael Wilshaw, now head of Ofsted, and sent seven per cent of its pupils to Oxbridge in 2011/12.

‘We know that there are tens of thousands more academically talented children in schools across the country who could be real candidates for university, and even perhaps an Oxbridge degree,’ Mr Elliot Major added.


Exam system is 'outdated and archaic', says Eton headmaster Tony Little

An unlikely opponent of exam league tables emerged today, with the head of Britain’s top public school mounting an attack on the Government’s approach to measuring the success of education.

The exam system is “unimaginative” and “archaic.” And simply measuring exam results “can be misleading” according to Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, which counts Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry among its alumni.

He claims the education system is failing to prepare schoolchildren for adulthood, being based on an approach to exams “little changed from Victorian times, which obliges students to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.”

The comments come as millions of students wait for their GCSE or A-level exam results this month [Aug]. It is unlikely to be a particularly stressful time for Mr Little’s pupils, the vast majority of whom are expected to get A or A* grades.

Writing in the Radio Times today, Mr Little, who is due to retire next year, says: “A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table.”

And he argues: “Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.”

Mr Little quotes the 17th century poet John Milton, who cited being “skillful, just and magnanimous” as among the virtues of citizenship. “The skills we can, with ingenuity, find ways to measure and assess, but where would justice and magnanimity fit in an exam programme?”

And he concludes: “Let us stand up for robust academic rigour and applaud our young people for their achievements, but let us not confuse league table success with a good education.”

His view is supported by Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the NUT, who said that “Tony Little is right to warn of the dangers of reducing education to statistics”.

The Government’s “obsession with accountability and testing needs a fundamental rethink,” he added.

And Mr Little’s concerns are also shared by the exams regulator Ofqual. In a statement, an Ofqual spokesperson said: “We would echo Tony Little’s sentiments that there is much more to education than exams and exam results. And yes, there is too much emphasis on just what is likely to be tested, which can narrow learning.”

But they added: “exams and assessment do have a key role to play, and it is important that they provide valid and reliable results that people can trust as a proper record of the student’s knowledge, abilities and skills.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education responded robustly to Mr Little’s criticisms: “We make no apology for holding schools to account for the results their pupils achieve in national tests and public examinations. Parents deserve to know that their children are receiving the very best possible teaching. But all good schools know that there is no tension between academic success and an excellent all-round education.”

They added: “We know constant testing is unpopular and we are ending the exam treadmill by returning A-levels to linear exams at the end of two years. This will ensure students gain a deep understanding of their subjects and end the culture of constant assessment and resits. Our reforms will ensure we have an exam system which prepares young people to succeed in modern Britain.”


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

To keep grads solvent, take middleman out of student loans

The mounting student debt crisis could cause serious economic damage to the United States. Rising college costs and declining financial aid at both state and federal levels have significantly contributed to the problem. A good deal of responsibility, however, belongs to the financial institutions that service federal student loans, according to a new report.

Millions of students use loans underwritten by the Treasury Department and granted by the Department of Education to help make college a reality. Once the loan is approved, however, borrowers usually deal with third-party servicers — and that’s where the trouble often begins.

In 2010, the Education Department expanded its Direct Loan Program and contracted many for-profit financial institutions to service and administer the loans. Complaints to the department’s Office of Federal Student Aid jumped significantly.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has documented a wide range of complaints, including payments not showing up in payment histories; processing errors that maximize late fees and penalties; misinformation on how payments are applied to multiple loans; misplaced paperwork that results in missed deadlines, and poor customer service that denies borrowers vital information about flexible repayment options.

Borrowers also complain that servicers often make debt management more complicated instead of helping them manage their debt. Servicers, however, are at fault for far more, according to the new report by Eric Fink, associate professor of law at Elon University, and Roland Zullo, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan.

Thousands of college students and faculty march at the State Capitol in SacramentoTheir study shows that servicing firms are playing a major role in the huge increase in student-loan defaults and delinquencies — because the companies have neglected their responsibility to counsel borrowers with distressed loans. By complicating the process and providing misinformation about repayment options, many servicers make paying off student debt an incredibly difficult process.

Since Education Department contracts cap the total revenue a servicer can make on each account, many companies seek higher profits by trying to cut other costs. The result is often a reduced customer-service staff and overall decline in service.

Yet these financial institutions do not shoulder all the blame. The report also blames the Education Department for not providing appropriate oversight and allowing servicers to take on new loans they cannot manage efficiently. Though the department periodically reviews each contractor, the companies are all guaranteed to receive some proportion of new accounts — essentially undermining any demands for performance improvements.

Moreover, because contractors are assessed against each other — rather than against independent standards — the entire floor is lowered with no consequence or penalty for poor performance.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has recently agreed to conduct an internal investigation of his department’s servicers. But other government agencies have already looked into this — and the results were troubling. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Justice Department both investigated one of the largest student-loan servicers, Sallie Mae (as well as Navient, formerly a division of Sallie Mae). The companies were found to be overcharging active-duty soldiers  on their federal student loans. The investigation resulted in a large settlement from both companies.

This helps demonstrate the Education Department’s failure to oversee its contractors effectively. Several senators have also called on the Office of Federal Student Aid to address complaints about Sallie Mae. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), for example, charges that the servicers are being treated as though they’re “too big to fail.”

To rein in servicers, policymakers should move contract monitoring to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It has no stake in the servicers’ performance.

uspo-texasAnother way to overhaul the program is to cut out the middle man. Administration of the loans could be taken on fully by the federal government and moved to a government agency better equipped to handle it, with a mandate to insist on responsible servicing rather than revenue maximization. In their report, Fink and Zullo recommend moving oversight to the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service or the United States Postal Service.

Their suggestion dovetails with the Postal Service inspector general’s recent comments about expanding into nonbanking financial services, particularly for people underserved by existing banks and other financial institutions.

The agency is logistically well-positioned for loan servicing with its vast network of offices, many on college and university campuses. It has the personnel and infrastructure to assist borrowers with financial transactions.  Unlike current servicers, the Postal Service could offer face-to-face counselors. In addition, the Post Office is already more trusted than banks.

Combating student-loan debt will require reform on many fronts — including tackling college affordability. There are clear, actionable steps, however, that can be taken immediately to ease borrowers’ debt burdens and lessen the resulting drag on our economy.

One crucial missing ingredient, however, is the political will to stop this crisis from getting even worse.


College Sticker Price Still Matters. Here's Why

Sure, there are "coupons" like scholarships and grants, but sticker price still has a big impact on both the federal government and students.

Over on The Upshot at the New York Times, David Leonhardt throws a little cold (or maybe just “slightly cool”) water on the hysteria over rising tuition, noting (correctly) that the primary tuition inflation measure that the federal government used for years was based on the average sticker price of tuition, rather than the average price that students end up forking over to attend (which would include grants, scholarships, and the like). No one disputes that net prices are rising, and contrary to what Leonhardt infers, the federal government has been releasing net price figures for decades, but he’s right that the overall tuition inflation number is the one that gets cited by his media colleagues most often. The result—as in many things—has been a less-than-accurate read over how much the overall cost of college has been increasing for families.

Leonhardt likens the overall college business model to men's retailer Joseph A. Bank, where it would be silly to extrapolate the “affordability” of their product from the price of one suit (since the store has a constant buy-one-get-seven-suits-and-a-also-a-smartphone deal to entice consumers). If you’re less into menswear and fancy a home goods analogy instead, Ben Miller of the New America Foundation has also compared the college pricing model to ubiquitous 20 percent off coupons from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The problem is that while net price gives a more accurate picture there are several reasons why sticker price, and its overwhelming increase over the past several decades, still matters.

The first reason is that, willingly or unwillingly, neither colleges nor the federal government have been able to fully communicate the actual price that students will pay to attend a given institution. On one hand, financial aid—that is, grants and scholarships, not loans—reduce the overall cost to students and act like the “sale” at Joseph A. Bank.

On the other hand, looking at tuition and fees alone is pretty useless if you want to understand the total bill for which a student is on the hook while in school.
On the other hand, looking at tuition and fees alone is pretty useless if you want to understand the total bill for which a student is on the hook while in school. After all, students are also responsible for living expenses, food, books, transportation—not to mention the opportunity cost of not working (or not working full-time) while in school. Tuition and fees make up less than half of what it costs to attend college, even by the stingiest measures.

One can also make the case that the tuition sticker price underestimates the overall cost of college because students take on average longer than four years to graduate from four-year institutions (and longer than two years to graduate from two-year schools). Further, the “net price” after grant and scholarship aid almost never factors in interest rates on the loans that students are forced to depend upon—which can make it so a student borrows $10,000 but is really on the hook for well over twice that, depending on his or her payment schedule.

So the inability to communicate net cost of attendance makes students both overestimate and underestimate what it’s going to take to get through school.

This matters because it very much impacts students’ choices of whether and where to attend college. Many studies—including a 2012 poll conducted by the College Board—show that more than half of students are ruling out institutions, or basing their college decisions, on sticker price alone and not factoring in net cost. Either the “sale” has not been clearly communicated to them, or because it’s a lot more complicated than taking seven suits to the checkout counter, they have removed the possibility of attending a school whose tuition has doubled over a 20-year period. This phenomenon is the reason behind the Obama Administration’s myriad efforts at “consumer information,” from the College Scorecard to standardized financial aid award letters, and even to its idea to rate colleges based partially on affordability and value.

Basically, it’s likely that most families still make decisions based on sticker price, either when a student is college-age, or well before.

In other words, sticker price dictates how much the federal government has to play catch-up.
But the most important reason that sticker price matters is that sticker price inflation dictates how much the federal government spends to make it so there is a net price. In other words, sticker price dictates how much the federal government has to play catch-up. High sticker price is one of the main reasons the feds dole out almost $170 billion in grants, student loans, tax incentives, and work study money each year, or nearly $70 billion in non-student loan money—money that, unlike loans, actually reduces the net price.

Beyond all this, there are some reasons to be alarmed about even the net price figures that Leonhardt cites. Others have noted that the College Board controversially includes tax credits and deductions when factoring in the net price of college—basically the tax benefits that some students and families are eligible for 9 to 18 months after tuition bills are due (benefits whose take-up rates are staggeringly low). We also allow colleges themselves to determine and report the cost of living (or non-tuition costs of college), which can lead to some very wacky results as Robert Kelchen, Assistant Professor at Seton Hall, thoroughly noted here a few weeks ago.

But beyond methodology, net price—which again, everyone agrees is rising well beyond inflation—is actually increasing for low-income families faster than for higher-income families (see this tool from the Dallas Morning News and others that uses federal data for more). Others, including New America and Education Trust, have also noted that even net price for low-income students represents a far bigger percentage of family income than net price for higher-income students.

By all means, the federal government—and the media that reports on it—should try to as accurately as possible determine what students are actually paying to attend college. But price tags are relevant, too. They dictate what a student’s expectations are, and they also make it so the federal government needs to play catch-up just to discount the exorbitant sticker price. Even beyond that, we have plenty of evidence—from increased borrowing to some pretty regressive increases in net price as well—that college costs are less than manageable.


UK: Boys more likely to drop out of university than girls

Boys are still more likely to drop out of university than girls, according to figures published today.

Statistics released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveal that 7.6 per cent of male students dropped out after their first year in 2011/12, compared to 6.9 per cent of female students.

Earlier this month, Ucas figures revealed that there is a growing gender gap in applications to university, with the number of girls seeking a place more than a third larger than the number of boys.

The dropout rate for students from state schools was 6.5 per cent, while only 3.5 per cent of those who were privately educated quit their courses. 9.4 per cent of black students dropped out of university, which was the highest percentage of any other ethnic group.

Overall, however, fewer students are quitting university than before. Between 2004 and 2010 the dropout figure was around 8.4 per cent, whereas now the figure sits at 6.6 per cent.

Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), said: “This valuable data shows that more full-time students than ever are staying on in higher education, which is a positive and welcome finding.

“However, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and some other groups under-represented in higher education, are less likely to continue their studies than their more advantaged peers.”

“The data highlights why it’s so important that universities and colleges support students throughout their studies”.

The chief executive of HEFCE, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said: “This new HEFCE information confirms that non-continuation rates in England remain low, relative to other countries, and have improved despite the increase in participation during the last decade.

"There is, however, no room for complacency as we see very different rates for men, students with disabilities, students from certain ethnic minority groups and mature students, as well as variations by region and subject.”

The report shows large differences in dropout rates between subjects, with only 2 per cent of students quitting medicine and dentistry – the lowest figure – compared to 11 per cent for computer science.


Monday, August 04, 2014

College: Not the Be All, End All We’re Led to Believe

Ways to Skip the Years Lost, Crippling Debts

EspañolThe average starting salary for the class of 2013 was $45,259 a year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. While such earnings are certainly enough to get by, a graduating member of the class of 2013 also owed an average of US$35,200 in student loans. Meanwhile, salary growth is only at 2.4 percent and barely keeping up with annual inflation of 2.1 percent. With these deflating facts in mind, young people need to start looking at themselves in the mirror and asking if college is what’s truly right for them.

Parents have been preaching to their children for decades that college is the key to success. However, this truism is more nuanced in our new global economic order that rewards entrepreneurship and people who take risks. This new age of entrepreneurship has inspired many young people to become business owners. Some millennials are being offered billions for their businesses, such as 23-year-old Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom were college dropouts. Another terrifying fact to keep in mind is that half of college graduates end up working in jobs that don’t even require a college degree, wasting years and thousands of dollars in debt for nothing. There are better alternatives.

Organizations like Praxis, an alternative education program to a college degree that teaches young people entrepreneurial skills, has seen massive demand from young people and business partners alike. Praxis connects young, motivated, entrepreneurial millennials with businesses looking for young talent — not necessarily with a degree — for a 10-month apprenticeship. It should come as no surprise that this model works. Employers cite experience as being a far more valuable and important resume selling point than a degree, even from an elite school.

Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. But those less inclined need not be doomed to college and crippling debt. There are many careers that don’t require a college degree but still earn attractive salaries. Claims appraisers, examiners, and investigators, for example, don’t require a degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three occupations’ mean annual income is $59,850, and the top 10 percent can earn up to $89,810. These are not rare or unique jobs that only a handful of individuals without a college degree can get. Power plant operators earn a mean income of $67,230, while shift supervisors earn an average of $85,785 and up to $103,399 a year. There are dozens of examples of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree to earn more than $58,000 per year or more.

Debt can take years and even decades to pay off. Work experience only grows more lucrative and valuable with time. If a young person decides to go into the workforce immediately, instead of college, and is smart about investing his money, he can take advantage of several extra years of compound interest. Learning how to invest money and actually having money to invest at 20, instead of 30, can be a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meaning, even in the long run, not going to college can be the smarter decision.

The choice that millennials face is a tough one. On one hand, they can take the advice of their parents and be just another young person with a piece of paper in his hands, a hope for a job, and a stressful amount of debt. On the other, they can go against the social expectation of going to college and take those four or more years and instead actually earn money while gaining years of real job experience. A third option is to take a risk and become an entrepreneur or take advantage of alternative education programs like Praxis.

Parents of millennials need to understand that the modern economy is not what it used to be. Going to college promises little in today’s job market. If you want to standout, do as Robert Frost once penned and take the road less traveled. Because the main road is full of debt, stress, and empty promises.


What’s Obama’s Problem With School Choice?


Why would the federal Department of Justice cite the Civil Rights Act and the specter of segregation to try and block a school choice program where more than nine in 10 participants come from racial minority groups? Or use the Americans with Disabilities Act to claim another school voucher program discriminates against individuals with disabilities, without so much as a single complaint from a student or parent to prove their case?

Yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration’s Justice Department is doing—taking actions designed to stifle, and even block outright, programs that give children and parents more educational choices. Ironically enough, the DOJ even cited civil rights laws in attempting to deny parents the opportunity to move their children from failing schools—one of the foremost civil rights challenges of our time.

Legal arguments aside, the basic problem is this: Eric Holder, the Obama administration, and vast swathes of the left have forgotten the basic premise of education policy: It’s all about the children.

Or at least it should be. In both our states, we’ve maintained a relentless focus on making sure that children and parents have the best educational options they choose regardless of income. That’s why we support our states’ school choice initiatives.

In Wisconsin, more than 25,000 students took advantage of our choice initiative this past school year to study at a school of their choosing.

In Louisiana, we will offer spots to nearly 9,000 students in private school choice programs this coming academic year, roughly 7,000 more students than in 2011-12. Thirteen thousand applied this year, which shows how many parents in failing schools want an opportunity to explore other options for their children. They’re seeking out these opportunities because school choice works: More than nine in 10 parents are satisfied with the program—and they’re satisfied with their children’s academic progress because of it.

But in both states, Holder and the Justice Department have built roadblocks, undermining our efforts by attempting to sow dissension where none existed. The department’s attempted enforcement actions in Wisconsin violate past Supreme Court precedent and Education Department policy. In Louisiana, the Justice Department resurrected a nearly 40-year old de-segregation case, initially asking a federal court to block the choice program entirely.

The blind obeisance of President Obama and Attorney General Holder to the educational-industrial complex might seem like a game to federal bureaucrats in far-away Washington. But to a struggling single mother in inner-city Milwaukee, or a precocious young child in New Orleans, access to a good school means the difference between whether a child can live up to her full skills and potential—or will fall through the cracks to become another statistic.

It is our understanding the president and attorney general send their children to private schools. There is nothing wrong with doing that, just as there is nothing wrong with other children in families with less means having the same option and opportunities to learn.

And that’s really what this debate is about. It’s about putting parents and children ahead of government special interests. It’s about ensuring that all children have an opportunity to grow and learn—not those whose parents can afford to leave failing schools. And it’s about empowering parents to pick the school and method of learning that can best meet their child’s needs.

We hope that President Obama and Attorney General Holder will work with us to expand educational opportunities to students—particularly students in failing schools who desperately need other options. America’s future depends on it


Australia: Victoria bans religious groups from running prayer groups, handing out Bibles in state schools

Victoria has banned religious organisations from running prayer groups, handing out Bibles and delivering other unauthorised information sessions in state schools during school hours.

The directive has been issued by the Education Department under recent changes to the delivery of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) to students in public schools.

A government spokeswoman said the directive only affected religious activities that were run by unaccredited teachers or external groups.

But Dan Flynn from the Australian Christian Lobby said the guidelines appeared to cover all activities by students.

"In the SRI policy, the formal wording appears to ban prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, info sessions or workshops," Mr Flynn said.

"It says that those forums or the events constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside SRI and are not permitted.

"It's one thing to say that education in state schools should be secular - we agree with that - but it's quite another step to drive any religion out of schools, particularly at lunch time when the children are free to form their own clubs and do their own activities.

"This is a serious limitation on freedom of association, freedom of religion for high school students and state school students."

Parent Lara Wood from Fairness In Religions In Schools (FIRIS) said the claim that students' rights were being infringed was "absurd".

"It's not against any individual students of faith expressing their faith or bringing a Bible into school and praying," Ms Wood said.

"These new clarifications of the law are saying that religious groups and corporations can not use our schools as mission fields to come in and use the schools as an extension to operate their youth ministry.

"This is really no different then if the Minister of Education said to the Liberal or Labor Party that you can't go into schools at lunch time and hold political rallies."

Distributing Bibles to students banned in schools

The changes to the religious instruction policy were prompted by a report that found the state's key provider Access Ministries had breached its guidelines by handing out a so-called "Biblezine" containing homophobic material.

Under the guidelines, which came into effect this month, accredited instructors are permitted to teach a maximum of 30 minutes religious instruction per week, as part of the scheduled curriculum.

But the Government's School Policy Advisory Guide stated that religious instruction could not be taught in schools outside of these approved classes.

    SRI cannot and does not take the form of prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, information sessions, or workshops... Any other forums or activities as noted above, would constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside SRI, and are not permitted.

It would also be against the guidelines for anyone, including approved providers, to distribute "religious texts (e.g. Bibles)".

However the rules would not stop students from learning about religious celebrations, such as Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah.

    Students may be taught about a religious celebration, festival, special event etc., as part of the general religious education curriculum at a school by government school teachers.

    This may include recognition of and educational activities relating to key religious celebrations such as Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah and others.

And students would not be prevented from praying.

    For the avoidance of doubt, students engaging in prayer in observation of their religion at lunchtimes is not SRI as there is no element of "instruction".

    Such prayer cannot be led, conducted by or at the instruction of staff or parents/visitors/volunteers.

Ms Wood said under the new guidelines, parents must also now give their written consent for their children to attend SRI via a new government-approved form.

She said that while religious instruction had been opt-in in Victoria since 2011, the new forms would make it clear to parents the difference between religious education and instruction.

"Many parents have been under the false impression that it's education about many religions, and we've always believed that once parents know the facts they'll make an informed choice," Ms Wood said.

"It does give informed consent now to parents and lets them know that it is instruction in how to live according to that particular faith that they're learning about, not education."


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Guidance on Shutting Down "I-20 Mills"

How to spot questionable educational institutions

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has published a brief, informal guide to aid U.S. consular officers in properly assessing educational institutions when issuing visas for foreign students. These officers currently lack key information, such as on schools that are not accredited by any entity recognized by the U.S. Department of Education but which nonetheless are certified by the Department of Homeland Security to issue the I-20 form, which leads to the issuance of foreign student visas.

Thousands of such “educational” entities are permitted to cause the admission of foreign students. Admission to one of these marginal schools represents one of the easiest, safest, and cheapest ways to become an illegal alien: Come to the United States on a student visa, and then simply ignore the institution that made the trip possible. A large number of the students at these institutions drop into illegal status and are rarely deported unless they commit a major crime.

The paper shows ways to obtain information on such troubled U.S. schools. These institutions, termed more appropriately “I-20 mills,” can make millions of dollars by attracting students who will not receive an education, but will instead become illegal workers in this country.

View the entire report at:

“Foreign Service officers should have complete information on schools when deciding whether or not to issue a foreign student visa,” said CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian. “Better access to information would decrease the possibility of another entity like Tri-Valley University in California, which caused the entry of approximately 1,500 alien 'students' and earned the school’s law-breaking owner some $5.9 million.”

The Center also provides a “Think Thrice List of U.S. Schools in Conflict with Federal Agencies” as well as an annotated checklist on identifying the schools which have questionable educational credentials.

Email from CIS

Fishy Polls on Common Core

Never let it be said that Common Core (CC) entirely lacks educational value.

By exercising even a little of the critical thinking the pushers of these national standards claim to want mandated in all classrooms, consumers can learn a big, valuable lesson about polling that seeks to shape public opinion rather than honestly gauge it.

The one constant in the spate of polls being taken as CC heats up as a political issue is that a sizable portion of the population still knows little or nothing about how these curricular guidelines were developed or what they do. To some prominent pollsters, the knowledge gap is an opening to feed respondents an entirely positive portrayal and then ask them leading questions likely to elicit pro-CC responses.

A recent example was a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll done June 11–15, purporting to find support exceeds opposition to Common Core by almost a 2–1 margin. But first, the pollsters found almost half their participants said they had seen, read, or heard zilch about the national standards. So then WSJ/NBC “educated” them with the following description:

“The Common Core standards are a new set of education standards for English and math that have been set to internationally competitive levels and would be used in every state for students in grades K through 12.”

That is a grossly misleading description. It utterly ignores serious scholarly findings about weaknesses of the math and English standards and their lack of comparability to the best in the world. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge heavy Obama administration pressure to get states signed up, or the growing number of states now bailing on CC testing and CC itself.

In a June 18 Cato at Liberty blogpost, Cato Institute education analyst Neil McCluskey likened the WSJ/NBC approach to failing to tell people that pufferfish are poisonous, then telling them “pufferfish are delicious and nutritious,” then finally asking, “would you like to eat some pufferfish?”

The first week of May, a survey by Republican pollster John McLaughlin used similar pufferfishy questioning to convert an almost equal split of opinion on CC (35 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval, 32 percent don’t know) to a whopping two-thirds level of support, by feeding respondents what it called a “simple, neutral” description. Again, it was anything but objective. It was CC puffery.

The political takeaway from McLaughlin was that Republicans should beware of opposing Common Core, because national standards will have a big upside with swing voters in the general election. Scribes from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nominally conservative think tank, then sought to drive home that point with commentary warning Republican candidates that criticizing Common Core is a losing issue.

It would have been reasonable for media reporting on all this to have noted the McLaughlin Poll was commissioned by the Collaborative for Student Success, recipient of heavy funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars both creating Common Core and now purchasing support for it. And Fordham also does PR for the Gates people.

Someone might ask Oklahoma state school superintendent Janet Barresi how much being a red-hot supporter of Common Core in a deep-red state helped her. Despite reportedly putting more than $1 million of her own money into her campaign, she lost in a landslide to CC opponent Joy Hofmeister in the June 24 GOP primary. In fact, Barresi finished third with just 21 percent support.

Here and there, some polls are beginning to reflect the growing anger of citizens over undemocratically imposed nationalized standards they like less the more they find out about them. A little-noted University of Connecticut poll conducted the last week of April found just that: Opposition was highest among people who said they were most highly informed about CC.

Now, one of the polling heavyweights, Rasmussen Reports, has done a straightforward survey (June 21–22), using no leading or trick questions, and finds support for Common Core plummeting among parents with school-age children. Only 34 percent of those parents favor schools nationwide having to meet the so-called Common Core State Standards, a drop of 18 percentage points since a Rasmussen survey last November.

Citizens should closely scrutinize all public-opinion surveys for embedded bias. A critical assessment of the accumulating data indicates a growing proportion of parents who have brought themselves up to speed independently on Common Core—as opposed to being pollster-led—oppose this top-down imposition of shoddy, one-size-fits-all standards and subjective testing on their children.


Meet the headmistress who believes that Oxbridge can 'destroy' girls

We’ve all come across a 'Little Miss Perfect' at some point during our school days - some of us probably even were one. She’s recognisable from her immaculate school record, the A*s plastered all over her work - and the anxiety she feels when she gets a B.

It’s this pressure that has led one top headmistress to try and stamp out the desire for perfection at her school. Judith Carlisle, the headmistress of Oxford High School, tells me that perfectionism can leave girls feeling fearful and insecure – so much so that it starts to affect their performance. The problem in her school was so vast that it’s led her to launch an initiative named, ‘The death of Little Miss Perfect’, which aims to do just that.

“Perfectionism is only captured in a moment – it’s not achievable longer term,” explains Ms Carlisle. “We have done many different things to challenge perfectionism because of how it undermines self-esteem and then performance. Unhappy people can’t learn anything.”

The school has banned mobile phones on school trips – to teach pupils to “live in the moment”; put up signs in classrooms encouraging them not to give up ('I can’t do it… yet'); and brought in lecturers to teach the girls about the dangers of striving for perfection.

It has spread into lessons, too. During French classes, girls have written letters wishing ‘Mademoiselle Parfaite’ a firm goodbye. While in Chemistry class, there were demonstrations of how repeatedly trying to extract certain chemicals just won’t work. The message? You shouldn’t over-work your own work.

“Just give in and move on to the next thing,” cries Ms Carlisle.
Just hand it in

These phrases have now been adopted by her pupils. Mrs Carlisle tells me that whereas once they would repeat her traditional end-of-term messages such as ‘stay safe and see you next term’, the girls now say: ‘It’s good enough’, ‘let it go’, ‘nobody’s perfect’ and ‘have a go’.

“It’s a shared language,” she adds. “We’re stopping them from answering questions by saying ‘I expect this is wrong’.”

Some girls have even been given cognitive behavioural coaching to teach them how to stop the negative voices in their heads. Younger pupils are taught exercises, such as keeping ‘achievement logs,’ where they have to write down all the non-academic things they have achieved every day.

Her goal is to try and help pupils expand their characters and not just obsesses over their grades.

“It’s about the principles that every parent wants - that their children grows up as happy as they can be and as robust as we can get then to be. And they learn more by failing and not getting it right,” she explains.

The school has also encouraged pupils to look at themselves kindly and realistically.

“The way we did that with our younger girls is to ask: what makes a really good friend?! Mrs Carlisle explains. "They tell us all the positive qualities and then we look at whether you’re a good friend to yourself. Is the voice you have within yourself overly critical?”

She also says that grades are not the be-all and end-all for students. “In five years’ time, no one will give a damn which GCSE [grade] you got in French.”

And when it comes to applying to university, she says that pupils shouldn’t try for top institutes like Oxbridge if the know they'll be overly disappointed by rejection.

“Don’t aim for Oxford if not getting in will destroy you – or if going will destroy you,” she says. “It’s important [the girls are] not going for things that if they don’t get it, it will destroy them. Exams aren’t who they are – it’s what they did on that day.”

How do parents cope?

This view is pretty controversial and Mrs Carlisle admits that some parents have initially struggled to understand it. What would she say to them?

“There’s a direct response, which is it’s not about lowering the standards. It’s not that we’re aiming to undermine high standards – it will actually help you achieve higher standards.”

The drive to end perfectionism isn't something that would work at schools all over the country. But it works at Oxford High. Ms Carlisle says: "These are pretty motivated young women. These are problems which some schools would love to have.”

She tells me that the ‘death of Little Miss Perfect’ idea first came to her two years ago because of a conversation with a parent. “The moment it hit me between the eyes was when I had a parent and his delightful daughter sitting in my office deciding if this was the right school for her. He said, 'my daughter’s an absolutely perfectionist' and I said, 'don’t worry – we’ll soon get that out of her'.”

Is it working?

Ms Carlisle thinks that things are changing as a result of all her scheme (which includes an online test where it is impossible to get 100 per cent). “I think the processes are quite slow,” she says, but adds that visitors have noticed a difference.

“They have commented on there being a greater sense of self-awareness and relaxation,” she says. “There’s a greater openness and a greater willingness to try. It’s more normal to talk about [failures].”

Even the staff has been affected.  “It’s interesting among the staff, recognising our own perfectionism tendencies,” she says. One senior member of staff has since told pupils about how she failed her driving test seven times, while the former deputy head – who attended Oxford High herself – told the girls about how she’d initially been rejected by the school.

It just goes to show that we could all afford to take a lesson from Mrs Carlisle's anti-perfection drive. After all, as she says: “the real failing, is failing to have a go.”