Thursday, October 01, 2015

CA schools to Pay Dearly for Underfunded Pension Plans

California school districts are heading for troubled times. According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) promised public school teachers generous pension benefits, but it is short the estimated $74 billion to $104 billion necessary to pay for them. Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of Assembly Bill 1469 last year will help cover the shortfall by requiring larger contributions from teachers (28 percent more) and especially from school districts (132 percent more). Teacher hiring, school maintenance, and classroom resources will suffer.

The pension tsunami will devastate voters. “When politicians and bureaucrats compromise education to bail out an obviously broken pension system, a moral tipping point is reached,” McQuillan writes in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle. “You can see the predictable results in Chicago, where the Chicago Public Schools system laid off 500 teachers and more than 1,000 support staff in August in response to out-of-control pension costs and a $10 billion unfunded liability. California is heading for a similar meltdown.”

The best way to reform California’s public pension system is to switch from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans, like the 401(k) retirement plans common in the private sector. “Because government wouldn’t be locked into long-term, uncertain funding commitments, California could cap its unfunded pension liability and produce significant budget savings, which should be used to pay off the CalSTRS debt quickly,” McQuillan writes. “This would spare our children and grandchildren from the pension pain that schools and parents are feeling today.”


Pupils at small £11,000-a-year British private school are banned from using TVs, smartphones and iPads even when they're at HOME

A private school has banned pupils from watching television and surfing the internet even when they are at home as part of a strict ‘no-tech’ policy.

London Acorn School prohibits all use of smartphones, computers and iPads for under 16s in a drive to encourage children to learn from the natural world.

The school, for pupils aged 3 to 18, has also banned all television for under-12s and only restricted programmes for older children.

Only documentaries vetted by parents can be watched by those over 12, and films may only be watched by those over 14.

Computers are allowed for those over 14 on a limited basis for educational purposes only.

Parents who enrol their children have to commit to the same strict regime at home, with no television, computers or films, either during term-time or holiday.

Teachers say the £11,000-a-year school is meeting a growing demand among parents who are tired of their children being immersed in technology at a young age.

In contrast to other schools, there are no ICT suites, interactive whiteboards or television screens in any classrooms.

Parents’ groups have voiced concern that children are growing up too quickly because they are accessing inappropriate material online and on the television.

The ban comes just a week after it was revealed schoolchildren could be banned from taking mobile phones into class to stop them being distracted by the technology.

They may also face restrictions on the use of iPads in the classroom.

It emerged that the Department for Education was launching an inquiry into the effect on pupils’ behaviour of smartphones and tablets.

The probe, announced by Schools Minister Nick Gibb, will look into the effect of technology on pupils’ behaviour amid worries they are accessing porn sites as well as abusing each other online.

According to a study last year, two-thirds of schools now use tablets, while one in ten supply them to all their pupils.

They also use text messages to remind pupils about homework.

But teachers have repeatedly raised concerns that the use of such devices may hinder teaching and add to classroom disruption.

The school charter reads: ‘We are against all forms of electronics for small children, and only gradual integration towards it in adolescence.

‘That includes the internet. In choosing this school, you have undertaken to support that view, no matter what you may feel personally.’

The school currently has 42 pupils up to the age of 14 who are housed in a picturesque listed building owned by the National Trust in Morden, South London.

The pupils make their own exercise books and in woodwork classes they make items for the school such as hooks for the younger children.

Earlier this month, a global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that investing heavily in computers and new technology in the classroom did not improve pupils’ performance, with frequent use of computers associated with lower results.

Kevin Burchell, whose daughter Carmen, 12, joined the school last year, said: ‘It’s a big ask for parents. But it’s worth it, because the results in terms of how the children are is very special.

‘Once she was using the screens less at home, it was also cutting down on some of the more pernicious effects of popular culture.

‘The pressure on her to be a certain way and behave in certain ways. And she has more time to do all sorts of other things.’

Janice Moore, who has two children at the school, told the Guardian: ‘My husband works in IT, we are huge advocates of technology but [only when it is] age-appropriate. It’s very detrimental if it’s too much too soon.’

The school was opened in 2013 by a group of founders including Andrew Thorne and his wife, Sarah, who wanted to create a more wholesome learning environment.

It shares its ethos with the more established Acorn School in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, and is heavily influenced by the controversial Steiner system, which also discourages screens until the age of 12.

The Thornes previously sent their two children to a Steiner school but were unhappy with the mystical ideas behind its education.

Rudolf Steiner, the intellectual father of Steiner schools, was an Austrian-born occultist who died in 1925 leaving a vast body of work on topics including biodynamic farming and alternative medicine.

The London Acorn School does not subscribe to Steiner teachings but borrows many of the natural world-focussed activities and lessons.

Last year, a glowing Ofsted report read: ‘Pupils’ outstanding achievement owes much to an approach to learning and personal development that is centred on their physical and emotional well-being and their moral and spiritual development.

‘Pupils’ outstanding personal development and behaviour are reflected in their very high attendance, love of learning, positive relationships with others and appreciation of the natural environment.’


New British Leftist leader backtracks on abolishing free schools

Labour will not abolish free schools under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership in what marks another significant backtracking for the new leader.

Mr Corbyn had described free schools and academies as "unaccountable" during his bid to become leader. It had been suggested that he could return them all under the control of local authorities.

Now, after a series of backtracking announcements in his first two weeks as leader, Mr Corbyn will no longer seek a takeover of the schools.

Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary, said that a Labour government would instead allow local education authorities to "intervene" when necessary.

When asked by BBC Radio 4's Today programme if she planned to bring free schools and academies back under local authority control, she said: "No, what I've said is that by 2020 nearly every secondary school and most primary schools will be a free school or an academy.

"I think the idea that the Secretary of State herself can manage and oversee and support all those schools directly is wrong-headed.

"We should have local oversight of those schools. It's not the same as how we used to have local government control. We will work through the exact detail of that. But, look, if you take things like supporting local schools, collaborating amongst communities of schools, place planning, which is a really critical issues that at the moment no one has an oversight of, which is why we have such chronic shortage of places.

"We need to have the ability for local authority and others to intervene in some failing academies as well, not just what we've seen under this government which has been a real focus on failure in maintaining schools.

"In a world where policy is being devolved back to communities, I live in Manchester and part of the devo-Manc agenda where we've got a real opportunity to tackle the root causes of low attainment in our community, to have schools outside of that remit is absolutely wrong-headed, so local oversight is where we are going."

Ms Powell, who ran Ed Miliband's leadership campaign in 2010 and backed Andy Burnham in this summer's contest, defended Mr Corbyn's policy making decisions.

She said: "I think he's got a direction of travel in the way he wants to do things and I think that is refreshing and something the public want to hear."

Responding to speculation that Labour’s position towards free schools is changing, Nick Timothy, Director of New Schools Network, said: "We very much hope this is a sign that Labour will consult before determining their position on free schools.

"It is not true, as Ms Powell once again seemed to imply today, that free schools and academies are less accountable than their locally maintained counterparts. On the contrary, free schools and academies are more accountable than maintained schools. They are scrutinised by the Education Funding Agency, Regional Schools Commissioners and parents directly, while ministers still retain the power, in extremis, to close down a free school.

“By contrast, of the ten local authorities with the poorest GCSE results that held council elections this year, the largest party retained or even gained seats in every single one.

“Free schools are better placed to give parents what they want and drive up standards because they give more control to headteachers, teachers and governors, rather than politicians and bureaucrats. We very much hope Labour will accept that free schools are here to stay and support the creation of more of desperately needed schools.”

David Cameron and the Conservatives have pledged to open up to 500 extra free schools by the end of this parliament.

Previous analysis from the think tank Policy Exchange appeared to disprove the claim from critics that free schools suck talent from competitors and undermine standards.

It suggested that free schools – set up by parents, teachers or third parties outside council control – have had a wider positive effect on education standards in areas where they are created.

Mr Corbyn announced during his leadership campaign, however, that he would set up a new National Education Service which would give greater opportunities for "lifelong learning" from nursery to adult education.


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