Monday, August 24, 2015

British 'education' is a con

By Peter Hitchens

The giant fraud that is Britain’s education system strides ever onwards, messing up many more lives than it improves.

But so many of us –parents, children and teachers – are so deeply implicated in it that we dare not admit the length, breadth and height of the folly.

Like ‘National Offer Day’ each March, when our viciously selective state secondary schools deny so many children a good education (usually because their parents are poor), the second half of August is a time of bad news for many.

Not everyone is jumping about and simpering when A-level or GCSE results arrive. A lot of those who do, don’t yet know that they have been cheated or are about to be.

I’ll be chided for being ‘churlish’ for saying this. I don’t care. I think illusions which will later shrivel up into so much crumpled paper are far crueller than an unwelcome truth told in time.

Perhaps the greatest deception of all is the wild scheme to persuade nearly half of all our young people to go to university. Like that daft advertising slogan ‘exclusively for everyone’, the problem is obvious if you think about it. If it’s for everyone it’s not exclusive. Elites are small. If they’re big, they’re not elites.

All serious elite institutions, from the great London clubs to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, have always made sure that most people can’t get into them. That’s the point.

Last week we learned that the alleged universities which so many children strive to enter give them no benefits. Even the few genuinely elitist colleges cannot any longer guarantee a future for their products. Years later, many thousands of graduates are toiling away at jobs they could have got – and done – without spending three years getting into lifelong debt which will, in many cases, never be repaid.

Why do we do this? Why have we, in effect, raised the school-leaving age to 21 for a large chunk of the population? Why, come to that, do we annually import large numbers of qualified nurses and other professionals from poor countries which can’t afford to lose them? Why is almost every unskilled or semi-skilled job in this country now done by Eastern Europeans, when (at the most recent count) the UK has 922,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs)?

As always, there are two possible explanations. One is that our governments know what they are doing and consciously seek to turn this country into a third-world, low-wage economy.

In which case this stage is simply a transition towards that, designed to soften the blow of youth unemployment and manoeuvre its victims into paying for it by getting into debt. In that case many of the new ‘universities’ will be bulldozed for affordable housing within 20 years, and their degrees will be quaint souvenirs, like Russian Tsarist bonds.

The other explanation is that the people who run this country are so stupid that they believe their own propaganda.

I wish I could work out which of these was worse, and which was true.


Compound Education Waste

In recent years California has raised per-pupil education spending about 50 percent to $13,000 a year.

As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee shows, despite this increase, “national academic testing has found that California’s students rank near the bottom in achievement.” The response of the state’s education establishment is to attack the tests.

As Walters notes, governor Jerry Brown and other politicians “have strangled the test-based accountability system that California adopted in the late 1990s.” The California Teachers Association, “despised a system that not only graded schools on how well they were improving academic achievement, but provided the basis for ‘parent trigger’ actions to seize control of ill-performing schools.

Nor did the CTA like the potential for using the data to judge teachers’ competence.” But the CTA is getting what it wants. Brown is pushing a Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that gives extra money to districts with high numbers of English learners.

As Walters notes, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, “a close ally of the CTA, told school districts they could spend LCFF money on teacher salary increases, countermanding a directive from his own staff.”

In similar style, low academic performance is no barrier to pay increases for education bureaucrats, such as Steven Martinez of the Twin Rivers District in the Sacramento Area. His recent 8.3 percent increase boosted his pay to $260,000. The deputy superintendent and the two “associate superintendents” also get more than $200,000, plus generous benefits but salaries are not the only issue.

Diana Lambert of the Sacramento Bee writes that the Twin Rivers district and its allies have now paid off former deputy superintendent Siegrid “Ziggy” Robeson to the tune of $300,000.

 She had supervised the Twin Rivers police department, under fire for “police brutality, false arrest and towing an excessive number of cars for profit.” Twin Rivers has been shoveling out money in a series of legal settlements including $400,000 for former facilities director Jeff Doyle and $150,000 to former director of visual arts Sherilene Chycoski.

Deputy superintendent Bill Maguire, salary $239,000, explains that mistakes were made and the district needs to “hold firm in the interest of the children.” For taxpayers the lesson is simple. When tabulating the cost of government, always account for compound waste in the government monopoly education system.


Phonics call for Australian schools

Around this time last year, a review of the Australian curriculum commissioned by the federal government called for a revision of the primary school curriculum to place greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early years. It found that the curriculum did not adequately cover the essential components of effective reading instruction, especially phonics. The results of national and international testing show the consequences of less-than-exemplary instruction-unacceptably high numbers of children failing to achieve even minimal literacy and numeracy standards.

At the time, the review's recommendations were characterised as proposing a 'back to basics' curriculum, but this view is not commensurable with a closer reading of the report. Far from proposing a hollowed-out, skills-based curriculum, a large part of the review report is devoted to the importance of content - the facts, concepts and ideas that embody what it means to be well-educated.

This week, it has been reported that the draft version of the revised curriculum contains more detail about the scope and sequence of the building blocks of written language - phonemic awareness and phonics. This is a welcome development. While schools often claim to teach phonics, the existing Australian curriculum gave the impression that this was a minor aspect of early literacy teaching.

Again, this has been described as a back-to-basics approach. Or even worse, as 'drill and kill'. Yet phonics instruction is far from basic - it is highly specific and scientific, and for many children, essential. Even the most ardent phonics advocate would not suggest that phonics is all children need to be good readers. They also need a good vocabulary and good general knowledge. First you need to be able to work out what the word is, then you need to understand what it means.

At this stage it is not clear exactly how other areas of the primary curriculum might have changed.  New ACARA chair Professor Steven Schwartz has said that the revised curriculum will allow schools more 'creativity' in their teaching of subjects like history and geography. Ideally, that means that history, geography and social sciences are embedded in comprehensive literacy programs, and vice versa. Either way, it would be wrong to assume that phonics comes at the expense of knowledge


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