Thursday, January 22, 2015

Education’s No Dollar Left Behind Competition

One of education’s most important annual rituals began last week, when Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report, which grades states based on a variety of criteria, including spending. On cue came the predictable hand-wringing over K-12 education funding.

On Thursday Florida’s Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the Florida Times-Union that underfunding is undermining student achievement. “[I]magine how much stronger our students would perform if the policy commitments were maintained and balanced with an increase in per pupil funding,” he said.

In the school spending category, the states at the bottom include North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Idaho, which ranked the lowest at 49th. (No rankings were available for Hawaii and Washington, D.C.) But school funding in isolation is misleading. In the past year alone at least a dozen states have been ranked 49th in K-12 spending, depending on the source and its methodology. Among the states earning this distinction were Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas.

California’s 49th place ranking was cited in a 2014 UCLA Undergraduate Students Association resolution, based on per pupil spending adjusted for regional cost-of-living differences. Florida ranked 49th according to the National Education Association. And based on Wallet Hub rankings of per capita school spending, Tennessee deserved 49th place. Still other 2014 studies by the Missouri Public School Advocates and the Open Sky Policy Institute gave 49th to Missouri and Nebraska, respectively.

What these identical rankings prove is that you can aggregate data and sift statistics to prove almost anything you want. And what teachers unions and politicians want is more money. Too bad there’s no direct correlation between dollars spent and what matters most: student achievement.

Consider the Education Department’s data on “instructional” spending, which across the U.S. averaged more than $6,500 a student during the 2010-11 school year (the latest data available). Among the dozen states that supposedly ranked 49th in funding last year, Idaho’s instructional spending was reported to be the lowest, around $4,100 a student, followed by Arizona and Oklahoma, which spent about $4,200 and $4,300, respectively. Illinois and Nebraska spent the most, around $7,000 and $7,700, respectively.

How did these states do in terms of student performance? The best answer is to look at the performance of low-income students, those who qualify for the national school-lunch program. Based on public-school results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the average nationwide reading and math performance among low-income eighth grade students was pitiful, with a 48% proficiency rate in both subjects.

The big spenders paid more for worse results. In Nebraska, which spent nearly $8,000 per student, a mere 39% of disadvantaged eighth-graders scored proficient or better in reading and math. For the approximately $7,000 a year Illinois spent on instruction, its low-income eighth-graders did no better than the national averages in reading and math.

States that spent less per pupil tended to have better educational outcomes. More than 45% of low-income students in Idaho—with its relatively puny $4,100 per pupil spending—tested proficient in reading and math. Low-income students in stingy Arizona, which spent $4,200 per pupil on instruction, had 51% proficiency rates in both subjects. And students in penny-pinching Oklahoma, which spent around $4,300 per pupil, achieved a 53% proficiency rate in reading and 52% in math.

One of the most striking differences between these two sets of states is the availability of parental-choice programs. Unlike Nebraska or Illinois, both higher-scoring Arizona and Oklahoma have parental-choice scholarship programs that enable parents of disadvantaged students to choose the schools they think are best, including private schools. Schools have to compete for students, which forces them to improve their performance.

Instead of obsessing over who is at the bottom in spending, it would be better to focus on which states are producing the best results for every education dollar spent—and replicate what they’re doing. Student achievement is the only measure that counts.


UK: Christian faith school once graded 'best-performing' now placed in special measures by Ofsted inspectors because it does not promote "British values"

According to some aggressive Leftist inspectors, British values are Muslim and homosexual values

A Christian school that was once rated the best-performing state school in Sunderland has been placed in special measures because it does not promote British values.

The headmaster of Grindon Hall Christian School said the critical inspection by Ofsted, which was published on the school's website today, came as a 'huge shock' to staff, parents and pupils.

It comes a week after it emerged the school made a formal complaint over an 'intrusive' inspection conducted in the wake of the Trojan Horse controversy over Islamist attempts to infiltrate schools.

Inspectors were said to have asked pupils a number of inappropriate inspections during the visit in November, including quizzing them over what lesbians 'did'.

They are also said to have questioned pupils about transsexuality and asked if any of their friends felt trapped in the 'wrong body'.  

Ofsted will publish the report in the coming days, but it has been sent to the school and uploaded to their website.

Officials identified 'serious weaknesses in teaching and behaviour' and said that 'discrimination through racist or homophobic language persists'.

It also stated that the curriculum did not adequately prepare its 590 pupils for life in modern Britain.

Sixth-form pupils 'do not have a good enough understanding of British values', according to the report, and teaching did not enable pupils to 'reflect about fundamental British values'.

Grindon Hall, which teaches pupils aged four to 18, has a Christian ethos but no faith-based selection criteria, resulting in an intake that includes pupils from various religions.

Principal Chris Gray was a supporter of the British values initiative when details were published last year but inspectors' unannounced visit to the school last November led him to complain to Ofsted that the 'tenor of the inspection was negative and hostile'.

It was 'as if the data collected had to fit a pre-determined outcome', he said, and many of the questions 'seem to betray an underlying disrespect for the Christian faith'.

Speaking today, Mr Gray said he strongly disputed the negative findings.  He said: 'We are grateful for the many messages of support that we have received from our pupils and parents, and from people around the country.

'The Ofsted report issued to us today will come as a huge shock to our parents, pupils and staff because they - along with anyone who knows us - will not recognise the school portrayed there.

'It is now well known that the manner in which inspectors questioned our pupils in November was hostile, inappropriate and raises serious safeguarding issues.  'Despite raising these concerns more than a month ago we have yet to receive any response from Ofsted.'

Mr Gray said grading the best-performing secondary state school in Sunderland as the worst 'defies all common sense'.

He claimed schools were getting caught in the cross-fire between the Department for Education and Ofsted.

And the controversial issue of regulations on British Values was not helping children 'prepare for life or achieve good exam results', he said.

He added: 'We are proud of our school and its staff. We have a Christian ethos which our parents love.  'We have happy, high achieving pupils, and we are oversubscribed - we always have a lot more applications than we have places.

'Yet Ofsted's approach to us was negative at every stage, as if the data collected had to fit a predetermined outcome.

'We take any criticism seriously and aspire to the highest standards for our pupils.

'We continually strive to be better, but this report, prompted by the new British Values rules, lacks any sense of proportion.'

Mr Gray said anyone comparing the latest report with one published only in May last year would think two different schools had been inspected.  'There have been no major changes of staffing, pupils or policy to account for the difference,' he said.

'The difference was the introduction of the widely discredited 'British Values' rules and the aggressive attitude of the inspection team.

'We are a Christian school. Under our funding agreement and the law, we have a duty to prioritise the teaching of the Christian faith.  'At the same time, we make sure our children respect people of all faiths and none.'

The latest Ofsted inspection rated school leadership, pupil behaviour and sixth form provision as 'inadequate'.

Teaching, early years provision and achievement were rated as requiring improvement.

It said: 'The curriculum does not adequately prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.  'Pupils show a lack of respect and tolerance towards those who belong to different faiths, cultures or communities.'

And it also said: 'Prejudice-based bullying, while reported on, is not tackled effectively enough.  'Discrimination through racist or homophobic language persists.'

Ofsted found the school offered good music and sport provision and said pupils were polite to adults and visitors. It also said they were willing to learn.

Guidelines, introduced by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last year, require schools actively to promote 'British values' including democracy, liberty and tolerance.'

The new rules were introduced in the wake of investigations into the Trojan Horse takeover scandal in Birmingham.

Other institutions said to have unfairly fallen foul of the rules include a Christian school in Reading, Berkshire, that says it was warned it could face closure for failing to invite imams and other religious leaders to take assemblies.

In another case, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said Durham Free School, which is also a Christian school just 11 miles away, will close because of serious failings.


Education Venture to Offer ‘Freshman Year for Free’ Online

Modern States Education Alliance announced a $1 million program to reduce the cost of attending college by providing a year of free college courses online to anyone wishing to enroll.

Last Thursday's announcement came just weeks after President Obama announced that he plans to offer a “free” community college education to qualifying students at a cost to taxpayers of $60 billion over ten years, according to White House estimates.

Modern States is seeking to enable students to participate in Massively Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs. Created by Stanford Computer Science Professor Sebastian Thrun in 2011, MOOCs enable students to take courses from prominent universities online.

Modern States will work with nonprofit educational provider edX, which partners with institutions such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to provide the program’s coursework.

Modern States describes itself as a “nonprofit whose goal is to create a path to a tuition-free, high-quality and universally-accessible college education for any motivated students who seek one.”

“We live at an exceptional moment where the world’s most elite universities are offering their finest courses free of charge to everyone around the world,” the group stated on its website.

Since their inception just over three years ago, the popularity of MOOCs has grown rapidly. In its Report Card on American Education last October, the American Legislative Exchange Council gave 17 states an “A” grade for offering the highest possible level of access to online learning opportunities - including MOOCs - to their K-12 students.

Dhawal Shah, the founder of MOOC-provider Class Central, estimated in 2013 that students could choose from some 1,200 courses taught by more than 1,300 instructors from 200 universities worldwide. He estimated the number of students taking advantage of such opportunities at the time at 10 million.

The donation from Modern States will enable edX to create new online courses, including calculus, U.S. history, and Chinese language. Modern States and edX have set a goal of offering every subject covered by a high school Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam within the next 18 months. Students would be able to take the courses both during and after high school.

The courses will include online discussion, quizzes, tests, and assignments. Unlike traditional classrooms, course texts will be offered for free. Modern States says it intends to add other online services such as tutoring and counseling over time.

MOOCs offer students greater flexibility than traditional classrooms because they can choose from a greater selection of instructors and course offerings and work on their own schedule. Unlike traditional colleges, MOOCs also allow students to take college-level courses irrespective of of their age or educational status.

Modern States spokesman David Vise told that such flexibility was something that could help students from all walks of life pursue higher education.

“This is a path forward for all students to get started with college and a road back for students who may have started college, left for whatever reason, and are looking for a way to get back on the higher education track,” Vise said.

Financier Steven Klinsky, the founder of Modern States, has engaged in various philanthropic educational ventures for several decades. He also founded Victory Education Partners, an advisory firm for charter schools, and contributes financially to after-school centers in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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