Friday, February 06, 2015

GOP Leaders: School Choice a ‘Civil Rights Issue’

In celebration of National School Choice Week at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, GOP leaders came together to tout the benefits of school choice, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who said that “education ought to be the civil right of the 21st century.”

National School Choice Week is an “annual celebration of all the options available to families and children nationwide.”

“Education ought to be the civil right of the 21st century – and you have the power to make it happen,” Boehner told students, teachers and parents in the audience. “Believe it. I have faith in you, and frankly, I’m counting on all of you.”

“The education establishment decided a long time ago that the answer to every problem was more money and more government control, and no matter how much money they poured into that hole, things just got worse,” Boehner said.

“So a few of us got together – including Anthony Williams, our mayor here in D.C. at the time. We said, ‘Let’s try something different,’ and we were shouted down. We said, ‘Let’s have parents make these decisions’ – we may as well have been talking about life on Mars. That’s how alien the idea of school choice was – and still is – to the people in power.”

“This struggle won’t be won by my generation, but it will be won by yours. Through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, you’ve shown that students thrive when parents are empowered to pick the best schools. You’ve shown how great charter schools are – and how we need more of them. Because of you, we know that school choice can make anything possible,” said Boehner.

“That knowledge is worth more than any power Washington has – and this is where your assignment comes in. If you share YOUR story, you can change hearts and minds, and if you can change hearts and minds, you can change the laws, and if you can change the laws, you can change the face of education in this country,” he added.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) echoed those statements at the event saying, “School choice is a civil rights issue.”

“Every child has an opportunity to receive an excellent education. It shouldn’t matter what your race, or ethnicity, or zip code is. Every single child deserves an opportunity,” said Cruz. “That’s what school choice is all about. The rich and middle class have had school choice from the beginning of time. This fight is about ensuring that every child has the same opportunities.”

“Over one million children are on waiting lists for charter schools all over this country. We shouldn’t put our future on a waiting list,” Cruz added.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who was the master of ceremonies at the event, formed the Congressional School Choice Caucus last January in celebration of National School Choice Week.

“No child should be forced to go to a school where they won’t have a meaningful chance to learn,” said Messer. “That’s why school choice matters. Whether that means open enrollment, expanding charter schools options or more access to virtual classrooms, empowering parents with a choice will give their children a greater chance for success.”


Grassroots Will Make School Choice a Reality!

After more than 20 years of experimentation and intense debate, Americans favor school choice. A national survey by Beck Research shows 69% of Americans support school choice, including 60% of Democrats.

Americans have come to realize what Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman, recently articulated:

“During my time on the D.C. council, I faced firsthand the results of our failing to educate all children. Educational choice has become a lifeline for far too many residents here in the District of Columbia who should be getting what they are entitled to with their neighborhood public school but frankly do not.”

Vermont’s experience with school choice has existed since 1869. Today, every child in 93 Vermont towns may receive a voucher – valued at approximately $14,000 – and is free to attend any public or private school. Similar to our national poll, Vermont's citizens favored school-choice by roughly 70%.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is also attempting to move his state toward school choice. Cuomo has championed increasing charter schools, tax credits for donors to private schools, and using vacant government buildings for charter schools.

Self-interested and harmful, the very powerful teacher-unions are fiercely opposed to school choice. Our teacher-unions donate millions of dollars into state and federal campaigns. Of the gigantic amounts of money raised, nearly the entire amount goes to the Democratic party, which have blocked most school reform efforts.

Again, in Human Events, Chavous claims the 2014 elections favored candidates supporting school choice.

“The 2014 midterm elections saw that nearly every pro-school-choice candidate around the country … who campaigned on that issue won. It sends a loud and clear message, particularly to the two largest teachers unions that invested $100 million in those races, only to fall short in the vast majority of them.”

Today, the politics are clearly favorable with 70% of Americans supporting school choice. Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman, and the Governor Cuomo of New York are actively supporting the concept of school choice. Vermont supports school choice. Now, it is time for parents and community leaders to demand school choice in their school district, state, and nation. If we stand together, a strong grassroots campaign will force politicians to vote for school choice.

As we all know, better educated students will benefit the future of America as well as themselves. As Kevin Chavous, currently executive of the American Federation for Children, claims, “school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”


William Kitchen vs education’s child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy

REVIEW of "Authority and the Teacher" by William Kitchen

After almost two decades working in the British education system, I’m still shocked when I meet teachers and lecturers who recoil at the prospect of actually imparting knowledge to their students. I cringed when the headteacher at my daughter’s junior school gathered all the new parents together to watch a sharply edited film showing that knowledge was now so easily accessible and so quickly outdated that there was little point in teaching children anything other than how to Google. When I find myself discussing the purpose of higher education, my proposal that the pursuit and transmission of knowledge should be the primary concern of the university is mostly met by looks of incomprehension that swiftly turn to barely concealed horror.

Teaching knowledge, as has been discussed before on spiked, has rarely been popular among the Rousseau-inspired, supposedly child-centred progressives of the educational world. It began to go more seriously out of fashion in the 1970s. Today, when every 10-year-old has a smart phone in their back pocket, actually teaching them stuff is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their individual creativity, serving no other end than future pub-quiz success. Working with children, rather than teaching knowledge, is considered altogether nicer; what’s more, it conveniently avoids the need for complex decisions to be made about what is most important in any particular subject. Rather than imposing their authority on children, teachers can be simply ‘guides on the side’, creating a learning environment through which children can determine their own path. What lies behind many of these entrenched ideas is a fundamental misunderstanding of what knowledge actually is.

Unfortunately, as a few voices in the educational world are beginning to make clear, left to their own devices children generally learn little and creativity is stifled rather than unleashed. Michael Young has been making the case for ‘bringing knowledge back in’ for many years now. More recently, people like Daisy Christodoulou, Toby Young and Tom Bennett have joined those chipping away at the child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy. This is definitely a trend to welcome. And when knowledge-centred teaching goes against everything the educational establishment stands for, it is important to get the arguments right.

William Kitchen’s book, Authority and the Teacher, is a useful addition to the debate. Kitchen makes a convincing case that ‘any education without knowledge transmission is not an education at all’. The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Kitchen draws upon the work of three philosophers – Karl Polanyi, Michael Oakeshott and Ludwig Wittgenstein – to make his case for the importance of authority to teachers. He takes Polanyi’s concepts of community, tradition and practice to show that ‘learning begins in submission to the authority of a master expert, with a view to [the student] becoming part of a practice and a way of working’. Then, he turns to Oakeshott to argue that the primary aim of education must be the inculcation of learners into the inheritance of human achievements, which incorporates both information and judgement; ‘neither can be dispensed with and both require the teacher to “teach” them’. Finally, Kitchen considers Wittgenstein’s understanding of the nature of knowledge and ‘the role that trust and training play in forming the bedrock certainties upon which learning and knowledge development are to be positioned’.

In appealing to philosophy to justify the importance of teachers’ authority, Kitchen differs from others attempting to revitalise the teaching of knowledge. For many of the new education authors and bloggers, the importance of teaching knowledge is premised upon what is proved by empirical evidence. So, for example, comparing the test results of children who have learnt about the Ancient Egyptians through engaging in self-directed creative projects against those who have been taught using more formal ‘chalk and talk’ methods will most likely show that the ‘chalk and talk’ group perform better. Therein lies the main argument for knowledge-based, rather than child-centred, education.

A recent drive to find this evidence has thrown up a number of changes that may improve the efficiency of children’s learning. Starting the school day an hour later is reported to be more in tune with the sleep rhythms of teenagers, and therefore more conducive to getting them to sit still and concentrate. Incentivising learning through incorporating an element of gambling into lessons apparently encourages children to learn more effectively. Those who trumpet such evidence as the solution to problems in our schools risk demonstrating as little understanding of knowledge as do the child-centred theorists they seek to challenge.

Determining practice by deferring to the evidence can further undermine the authority of the individual teacher. There’s little room for exercising professional judgement, experienced intuition, or taking into account the dynamics of the quite unique relationship that develops between any one teacher and a particular group of children, when teachers don’t trust their own instincts and rather need a weight of evidence to tell them what works best. Teaching is a social activity, not a medical procedure; it is based on interaction between children and adults, between one generation and the next. There may be times when evidence, however persuasive, is noted and rejected.

Making the argument for knowledge-based teaching through philosophy allows Kitchen to remind us that, whatever the evidence might suggest, it is the authority of the teacher that is of crucial importance to the success of education. Authority and the Teacher is a vital contribution to the key education debate of our time.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tragic School Stories

By Walter E. Williams

New York's schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away. That was Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch's message to New York's governor and Legislature. She said that minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success.

Simply calling for more school resources will produce disappointing results. There are several minimum requirements that must be met for any child to do well in school. Someone must make the youngster do his homework, ensure that he gets eight to nine hours of sleep, feed him breakfast and make sure that he behaves in school and respects the teachers. None of these requirements can be satisfied by larger education budgets. They must be accomplished by families, or all else is for naught.

Linda Ball, a public high-school history and government teacher in Cincinnati, has written an engaging book about her experiences, titled "185 Days: School Stories." Let's look at a few of her days.

On Day 167, Mrs. Ball ordered a student to the in-school discipline room for disruption and being in her class without permission. When the student finally decided to leave the room, he told her, "F—- you," and then he swatted her on the head with some papers. In her Day 10 section, there's a brief story about how respect is earned. Wesley, a student with an IQ of 140, did an outstanding job on a paper about the Enlightenment but completed only half his assignment and earned an F. Jake, a student repeating her class, told Wesley, "I have newfound respect for you today." Failure earns respect.

Here's one result of Mrs. Ball's assignment to propose a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, written by a high-school senior: "I think the 28th Amendment should be about a choice weather (sic) to join school or not. I think it should be a choice not something you have to do. Because school just ain't for someone like me. For example school just ain't for me."

Then there's "Day 44: The Graduate." David, a senior, hasn't learned much since the third grade, but he has been passed along and is about to graduate. Mrs. Ball says that not everyone needs to be able to analyze a literary character's motives or whether the U.S. motives in the Spanish-American War were justified. David should have been spared the torture and given suitable activities. He could surely wash cafeteria tables, run errands and change oil and tires. She asks why educators try to force square pegs into round holes year after year, kid after kid.

The grossly poor education that so many blacks receive exacerbates racial problems. During last year's disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, some people complained that of the city's 53 police officers, only four were black. Such an observation typically leads to suggestions of racial discrimination but never leads to a question about the ability of black high-school graduates to pass a civil service exam.

It's natural for a black man with a high-school diploma to see himself as equal to a white man with a high-school diploma. In his eyes, differences in employer treatment are ascribed to racial discrimination. It dawns on few that the average black high-school graduate has the level of academic achievement of a white seventh- or eighth-grader or lower. The black high-school graduates who have unearned diplomas have no knowledge of their being fraudulent. If black politicians and civil rights leaders know it, they refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

The bottom line is that if nothing is done to affect the home life and cultural values that produce the non-learning attitudes and climate that are the subject of Linda Ball's "185 Days: School Stories," there's little that can be done to improve black education. The best that politicians can do is to give parents and children who are serious about education a mechanism to opt out of rotten schools. That option is something the education establishment fights tooth and nail against.


Taxing College Savings

In less time than it takes to fill out a college application, Barack Obama dropped his plan to tax 529 college savings accounts in order to offer two "free" (ahem) years of community college. Just seven days after floating the idea in the State of the Union address, the White House deduced that it had become such a "distraction" as to warrant abandonment.

Given this administration's penchant for coming up with, and then bitterly clinging to, economically disastrous ideas (ObamaCare, anyone?), political resistance was quick and universal enough that even Obama couldn't ignore reality.

You see, 529s are education savings plans that help families set aside money for college. While contributions are not tax-deductible on federal tax returns, distributions from the funds to pay for college are tax-free, making 529 plans highly attractive for families wanting to save for their children's education. The problem -- well, one among many -- is that the president seemed to assume those who take advantage of these accounts are "rich," defined in his parallel universe as those who make $250,000 per year. So taxing these accounts would be the obvious choice in Obama's class-warfare utopia. Shared responsibility and all.

He grossly underestimated the backlash given how many middle-class people actually have college savings. As of last year, there were more than 12 million accounts, and the average balance was $19,774 -- far less than the $240,000 the Obamas put into college savings for their private-school-educated daughters in one year alone.

Furthermore, according to the College Savings Foundation, some 70% of 529 accounts are held by households earning less than $150,000 per year -- hardly "rich." Almost 10% are held by households making less than $50,000 per year, and nearly 95% of 529 plans are owned by households making less than $250,000 annually. The president can't pass this one off as trying to tax the One Percent.

Still, demonstrating his ever-present disconnect from reality, he actually pitched his proposal as part of his "middle-class economics" plan. He defines this campaign theme as "the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

In reality, Obamanomics means government calls the shots, fair share is forcibly relinquishing what you earn fair and square to those who do squat, and the rules are whatever the latest executive order says they are. It would be better known as middle-crush economics.

Far from helping the middle class, Obama's plan took direct aim at average Americans, as the truly "rich" often pay out of pocket for college and the poor are eligible for financial aid, something middle-class families are often deemed too well-off to receive.

The idea that anyone would propose such a middle-class-crushing tax seems ludicrous, but it's par for the course when you're trying to fund exponentially bigger government and running out of revenue sources.

The president must have realized things were bad when two of his top cheerleaders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), pleaded with him to drop the idea. They realized that nothing says "don't re-elect me" quite like "I want to scalp your college savings."

While some may call the plan a political blunder, at the end of the day it was simply a case of Obama exposing his true economic philosophy. As Robert Tracinski notes, "The truly committed leftist looks upon our private savings as a vast reserve of capital unfairly withheld from its proper function of servicing the needs of the state."

So don't think the president's money grab is over. Instead, be on the lookout for what he'll try to commandeer next.


Tories pledge leap in 'Three Rs' - with plans to push England from 26th to 5th in the world for maths and reading

The biggest ever leap in the standard of the 'three Rs' has been pledged by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Mrs Morgan will this week set out ambitious plans to rocket England to the top of the European league tables for reading and maths by 2020 – and become fifth best in the world.

Mrs Morgan says the dramatic rise in literacy and numeracy – which will be a cornerstone of the Tory manifesto – can be achieved by driving up standards in the 'three Rs' – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Under a future Conservative Government, all 11 year olds will be expected to:

*   Know their times tables up to 12 x 12 by heart.
*  Handle long division and complex multiplication.

*    Write a short story without errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation.

*   Read and understand a novel.

If Mrs Morgan fails to live up to her bold promise, she can expect to pay a heavy price.

Former Labour Education Secretary Estelle Morris was forced to resign in 2002 after she made a similarly bold declaration – and failed to deliver.

However, Mrs Morgan – one of the rising stars of the Government – has given herself some wriggle room by saying that she will be judged on whether she has met her target by tests in 2021, one year after the next Parliament if, as expected, it lasts until 2020.

At present Shanghai, China is top of the world league in maths, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and, in fifth place, Korea. The Netherlands are 10th, Germany 16th, Australia 19th with France one place ahead of England at 25th.

To leapfrog Korea into fifth place, the standard of maths in England would have to increase by a huge 12 per cent.

The pledge by Mrs Morgan amounts to her first major policy announcement since replacing Michael Gove as Education Secretary last July.

She will be keen to make her mark on the department after being called 'U-turn Nicky' for reversing some of Mr Gove's policies such as snap inspections of schools to root out Islamic extremism and relaxing rules on taking children out of school in term time.

Education is expected to be a key Election battleground, with polls indictaing that Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck on the issue.

As part of the new drive, Mrs Morgan will also toughen up existing tests in the 'three Rs' for all children when they leave primary school.

And there will be stiff sanctions for schools which do not meet Mrs Morgan's standards: those which fail to ensure all pupils master the basics of English and maths for two years in a row will be forced to become academies free of town hall control, or join up with local high-performing schools.

At present only one in four state schools are academies.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Would-Be Dhimmis Of Duke: Why Did They Cave?

The historic American nation won a victory at an unlikely place—a university campus. Of course, it didn’t take long for the Main Stream Media to blame it on “threats.” The truth is it came from the kind of political and cultural self-preservation reflex that America desperately needs.

Less than one week after the Islamic terrorist attacks in France, Duke University happily announced that the Duke Muslim Students Association would broadcast the call-to-prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower [Muslim Students at Duke to Begin Weekly Call-to-Prayer, Duke Today, January 13, 2015]. But after only two days, the school reversed itself, a victory for Americans who don’t want their communities resembling the Third World more than they already do. [Duke Announces Change to Friday’s Call-to-Prayer, Duke Today, January 15, 2015]

After the reversal, there were claims that “threats” were responsible for the decision. But like so many campus rape and noose hoaxes, the “threats” were probably imaginary. A close look reveals that there is something suspicious about the timing of the claims.

On the afternoon of Thursday January 15th, Duke’s “vice president for public affairs and government relations” Michael Schoenfeld (email him) announced, apparently with a straight face, “that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.” This announcement was repeated by WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio, at 3:58 p.m. The initial report mentioned no threats. [Muslim Duke Student: ‘I Hope We Can Be Visible, January 15, 2015]

Yet according to a report in the Washington Post, Schoenfeld was mentioning a “serious and credible” threat by “Thursday night.” The director of Duke’s “Islamic Studies Center,” one Omid Safi, was repeating this claim by “Thursday night.” [Duke University reverses decision, cancels weekly Muslim call to prayer, by Susan Svrluga and Michelle Boorstein, January 15, 2015]

The timing is a smoking gun. If threats were the real reason for the reversal, that would have been reported first.

The Charlotte News Observer noted this discrepancy without comment. As reporter Jane Stancill put it:

At the time [of the initial announcement], they [Duke officials] said the effort to unify was not having the intended effect. They later cited threats and serious concerns about safety.

[Duke religious leaders disagreed on Muslim call-to-prayer decision, January 23, 2015]
So why the time lag?

The answer may be the university simply decided it needed an excuse so it could pin the decision on something other than public outrage. The university provided no description of any actual threat, nor has the MSM reported an actual threat. According to an article from the Associated Press, Duke vice president Schoenfeld said there were “concerns about safety and security, but he declined to elaborate on whether any specific threats had been received” [Duke cancels Muslim call to prayer; cites opposition, safety, by Jonathan Drew, January 16, 2015].

It’s hard to avoid the possibility that the school fell back on the vague explanation of unverified “threats” to explain its retreat.

Of course, now the myth has taken over reality. Reporters are even trying to compare those who protested the Muslim call to prayer to religious terrorists. [For Whom the Muezzin Calls, by David A. Graham, The Atlantic, January 15, 2015]

But the reality is that Duke is an excellent example of how public pressure, especially from alumni, can force even Leftist universities to change course.

The key activist in this case: evangelist Franklin Graham, who wrote a Facebook post on January 14. And Graham knew how to get the school’s attention: threaten its funding:

Duke University announced today that they will have a Muslim call to prayer from their chapel bell tower every Friday. As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism. I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.
Evidently, some donors and alumni agreed.

Even the would-be dhimmis of Duke (dhimmi is Muslim for “second-class citizen” ) pointed to pressure from donors and alumni as the explanation. Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean for religious life and one of the organizers of the call-to-prayer idea, griped that the university administration is “answerable to a different level… the Trustees, relationships with the medical center, relationships with alumni, they have that to deal with in a way that we [activists] don’t.” [Duke reverses decision to hold Muslim call-to-prayer from Chapel bell tower, by Emma Baccellieri, The Chronicle, January 15, 2015].

One Duke graduate student in “religious studies” also blamed “donors who threatened to stop supporting the university” [Duke Muslims And Non-Muslims Join For Call To Prayer, by Yonat Shimron, Huffington Post, January 17, 2015].

Who thought up this idea anyway? As one Duke Muslim student wrote in the school paper, “The idea [to allow the Muslim call] was suggested by Christy Lohr Sapp, a Christian” [Adhan, by Abdul Latif, The Chronicle, January 22, 2015].

Sapp is associate dean for religious life at Duke, and teaches theology. The picture below tells you everything you need to know about her.

A Sapp in name and a sap in nature


CEOs with top college degrees no better at improving long-term firm performance than other CEOs

 Whether or not a company's CEO holds a college degree from a top school has no bearing on the firm's long-term performance. And when it comes to getting canned for poor performance, CEOs with degrees from the nation's most prestigious schools are no safer than the average CEO, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire.

Conducted by Brian Bolton, assistant professor of finance at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, the new research is presented in the working paper "CEO Education, CEO Turnover, and Firm Performance." The paper is co-authored by Sanjai Bhagat of the Leeds School of Business at University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ajay Subramanian of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

"These findings suggest that both boards and researchers should use caution in placing too much emphasis on an individual's education when trying to assess their ability to lead the company and maximize shareholder value," Bolton says.

The research analyzes the relationship between CEO education, CEO turnover, and firm performance. The researchers were primary interested in the role that CEO education plays in a firm's decision to replace its current CEO, the role that it plays in selecting a new CEO, and whether CEO education significantly affects performance.

The researchers used six main measures of CEO education: whether or not the CEO attended a top 20 undergraduate school, whether or not the CEO has an MBA, law or master's degree, and whether or not the MBA or law degree is from a top 20 program. The study includes nearly 15,000 years of CEO experience data and more than 2,600 cases of CEO turnover from 1992 to 2007.

The researchers found that CEO education does not play a large role in the decision by a firm to replace its current CEO; poorly performing CEOs are replaced, regardless of their education. Education, however, does play a significant role in the selection of the replacement CEO; there is a significantly positive correlation between the education levels of new CEOs and those of the CEOs they replace.

For example, even after a CEO with an MBA degree gets fired for poor performance, the board still looks to replace him or her with new CEO who also has an MBA. Hiring new CEOs with MBA degrees does lead to short-term improvements in operating performance.

However, the researchers did not find a significant systematic relationship between CEO education and long-term firm performance. CEO education does not seem to be an appropriate proxy for CEO ability.

"Even though CEO education does not lead to superior performance by firms, firms may rely on CEO education in hiring decisions because they have few other identifiable and measurable criteria to use. All else being equal, they rely on what they believe to be the observable pedigrees of the executive," Bolton says.

"Of course, all else is rarely equal, especially when dealing with something as nebulous and potentially unobservable as managerial talent. Interpersonal skills, leadership ability and strategic vision are among the traits that CEOs should possess; these can be difficult to identify and even more difficult to measure. As a result, boards rely on those characteristics which they may be able to observe: work experience, track record, and education," he says.


Labour 'has screwed up' education in Wales just as it did with NHS: Tory minister to attack decline of Welsh schools as 'woeful'

Labour's record on education in Wales is a ‘scandal’ and even worse than its performance on the NHS, the Tories will claim today.

In the opening salvo in a new Conservative attack on the Labour-run Welsh government, Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb will say the decline of schools has been ‘woeful’ and Labour has ‘screwed up’ education.

He will unveil a series of expert findings suggesting Wales is lagging behind England.

Applications from Welsh students to Oxbridge are at their lowest level in ten years, while only 4 per cent of schools are rated ‘excellent’ compared with 29 per cent in England, the Cabinet minister will say.

Wales lags behind other parts of the UK and countries including Poland, Slovenia and Estonia in international education rankings compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The principality performed worse than the OECD average and all other parts of the UK in all key measures, including maths, science and reading, Mr Crabb will say.

By age seven, the reading ability of children in Wales is behind that of children in England and Scotland, irrespective of whether they are from families with low or high incomes.

The A*-C GCSE pass rate in Wales is 70 per cent, compared to 77.8 per cent in England. While the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs exceeded that of England in 2000, this has now reversed.

A report by former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Milburn last year found that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50 per cent more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales.

A report last week by Ann Keane, Wales’ chief inspector of schools, said that four in ten primary schools were ranked only as ‘adequate’.

Mr Crabb, speaking today at the Sony UK headquarters in Bridgend, South Wales, will say: 'Young people who receive free school meals in Wales are 50 per cent less likely to get good GCSEs than those in England. That’s woeful.

‘When you screw up on education, the kids you fail are the ones from the most disadvantaged homes – that’s Labour’s legacy in Wales.

Saying “we took our eye off the ball” doesn’t even come close to the level of responsibility Welsh Labour should be accepting.

‘The Prime Minister is aiming to tackle mediocrity in England. In Wales, Welsh Labour are trying to silence that debate and it’s the parents, pupils and teachers who they are letting down.

‘Ed Miliband said himself there was “lots to learn” from what Labour are doing in Wales, so parents have every reason to be concerned about what a future Labour Government might do in England.’

Mr Crabb, who was raised by a single mother on a council estate and attended his local comprehensive, will suggest that in Wales there had been a ‘retreat from aspiration and excellence for kids from the most disadvantaged homes’.

Wales’ education minister Huw Lewis accused Mr Crabb of a ‘base attempt to secure votes in the general election’.

He said there was evidence that Wales was closing the gap with England, adding: ‘Our reforms are working, and our pupils are benefiting.

'How sad to see the Secretary of State for Wales – nominally our voice at the Cabinet table in Westminster – rubbish that achievement to please his London masters.’


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

UK: Tripling tuition fees has doubled student debt... but will still cost taxpayers more because half the loans will NEVER be repaid

The Government’s decision to triple tuition fees will end up costing students and taxpayers more money – because half the loans will never be repaid, new figures have revealed.

Ministers increased the cap on student fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year to fill the hole in university funding left by government cuts to the higher education budget.

But, because student debts are written off after 30 years, 49.5 per cent will never be recouped, meaning the scheme will cost the government £2.5billion a year more than ministers claimed, House of Commons library figures show.

At the same time average graduate debts have doubled from £20,000 in 2010 to £43,500.

It comes after Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, revealed Labour would introduce a 'graduate tax' on the earnings of those who go to university to replace tuition fees.

Mr Umunna said the system would be 'fairer' than tuition fees and would be introduced 'in the medium term' if Labour returns to power.

The National Union of Students proposed an extra tax of between 0.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent of their income above £15,000, for a period of 20 years, with the highest earners paying higher rates.

Labour is struggling to work out how to pay for a pledge it has already made to slash university tuition fees from the current maximum of £9,000 a year to £6,000.

In 2011, it announced the policy as it sought to win over disaffected former Liberal Democrat voters angered by Nick Clegg reneging on a pledge to scrap fees and signing up to Coalition plans to allow institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year – triple the amount students paid previously.

The £6,000 cap is expected to be included in Labour's general election manifesto, but it is not clear how the party intends to meet such an expensive commitment.

Previously, Labour has suggested that it might pay for the cut with a corporation tax increase on banks or with higher rates of interest for better-off students.

The party may also be forced to restrict the cut in fees to certain types of courses such as technical degrees, leaving other students to keep on paying the current cost.

Mr Umunna, who is responsible for higher education policy, said introducing a full-scale graduate tax 'as soon as possible is my priority'.

Ed Miliband’s campaign chief Lucy Powell attacked the decision to increase tuition fees.

She said: "Ed has long said that he thinks that the current system [of tuition fees] needs to change and a report out this morning, figures we’ve gained from the House of Commons library this morning show that the new funding arrangement, the increased tuition fees to £9,000 a year is actually costing the taxpayer more because half of those loans that people are having to take out won’t be repaid.

‘So we’ve got young people leaving university with £30,000, £40,000 worth of debt. Nearly half of them won’t actually repay those loans so it’s costing the taxpayer more anyway.’

The decision to hike tuition fees is one of the most controversial decisions of the Coalition.  Nick Clegg, appearing on the comedy show The Last Leg on Friday admitted it had given him sleepless nights.  However he also continued to defend the decision, adding: 'I'm not Prime Minister so I can't do what I want.'

The Lib Dems have pointed to figures showing the gap between the number of rich and poor students wanting to go on to higher education had fallen since 2010.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has described the new system as 'better, affordable and fair'.  He said: 'We have paid a price for this policy more than any other party. But the success of these reforms, with more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university than ever before, shows it was a price worth paying.

'Regardless of family circumstances, all students can now obtain university level education as long as they meet academic requirements. This is a good legacy.'

The figures, from university admissions service Ucas, show 21 per cent of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds in England applied this year.

Overall, the richest 18-year-olds in the UK are 2.4 times more likely to want to go to university than the poorest. But in 2006, when Labour was in power, the wealthiest were 3.7 times more likely to want to apply.


How stupid can school authorities get?

An elementary school suspended a boy who arrived at school last week with what he alleged was a powerful ring that appears in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' fantasy books.

Aiden Steward was suspended from Kermit Elementary School in Kermit, Texas, over a Thursday incident, The New York Daily News reported.

While speaking to another boy, 9-year-old Steward said he would able to use the One Ring and turn the fellow student invisible, according to the newspaper.

Speaking to The New York Daily News, father Jason Steward said 'It sounded unbelievable.'

The One Ring, as it is known, features in both Tolkien's prequel 'The Hobbit' as well as 'The Lord of the Rings.' At various points in the books, characters Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins put on the ring to make it seem as if they have vanished into thin air.

Steward told The New York Daily News 'Kids act out movies that they see. When I watched Superman as a kid, I went outside and tried to fly.'

The newspaper reported that the Steward family recently viewed 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.' Peter Jackson directed film adaptations for both 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit.'

Jason Steward told the newspaper 'I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence. If he did, I'm sure he'd bring him right back.'

Speaking to The Odessa American, he said the school considered his son's behavior to be a threat.

Principal Roxanne Greer did not comment to the website, and said 'All student stuff is confidential.'

The website reported 'The 9-year-old has been in in-school suspension for referring to another student’s skin color and got in trouble for bringing a kids’ book about pregnancy to school.'


An education theorist goes practical

 Education commentator Jennifer Buckingham is no ivory tower researcher. For five years, she’s worked closely with a school in Raymond Terrace, a low-income town near Newcastle NSW, in an effort to improve its students’ results.

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters?

Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW. More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes.

Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town "as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to".

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS).

From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents. Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? "I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,"she says.

Buckingham and her husband, Scott Chapman, both grew up in Raymond Terrace, which sits on the banks of the Hunter River half an hour north of Newcastle, and it’s where they now live. Chapman actually attended Raymond Terrace Public School, but both the school and the town were then quite di fferent. In the years since, there’s been an infl ux of public housing and the level of wealth has fallen.

"None of my old friends sent their children there," Buckingham says. For the first year or two after her eldest daughter started kindergarten in 2008, she didn’t dare reveal to school principal John Picton that she worked as a think tank expert in education policy. "Working with the CIS, you don’t necessarily know how sympathetic a school principal is going to be," says Buckingham now.

For his part, Picton says he had no idea that one of his school mothers was a well-known education policy specialist and was shocked when he found out. He knew Jennifer, at that time, not as Buckingham but by her married name. "At kindy orientation, I wasn’t introduced to this educational researcher," Picton says.


But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be in fluential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done. With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance.

In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 fi gures show it is signi ficantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and numeracy standards falling against comparable countries, and a sharp ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve. What were the secrets to lifting the school’s performance?

For Picton, the discovery that he had a school parent who was not only a respected education researcher but also wanted to be more involved with the school came at the right time. He had spent most of his teaching career in low-socio-economic-status schools, and when he arrived at Raymond Terrace nine years ago there were many problems. "The place didn’t have good results and the staff were negative about what the expectations could be of the kids," Picton says. "That was the pedagogy that they were introduced to and were using."

Once he knew Buckingham’s background, the pair started talking about how to improve things. "I realised that John was interested in what I had to say and vice-versa," she says. "My getting involved in the school didn’t necessarily send it on a di fferent path. It was already on that path. All I was able to do was, with my contacts and connections, provide some extra support and external guidance than might have been available otherwise."

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bell eld Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Fleming came to Raymond Terrace to o ffer his advice. It was a turning point in Picton’s willingness to engage with Buckingham. "Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to Jennifer today,"says Picton. It led to three "pillars" – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are encouraged to aim for the best.


Buckingham was also instrumental in bringing to the school an early-intervention reading program for children whose literacy was lagging. She had heard of the work that Macquarie University’s Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Beaman had done in developing a phonics-based instruction in which children systematically learn the sounds for each letter and how to join the sounds into words. They turned their work into two programs for schools to help struggling readers – MultiLit and MiniLit.

When Buckingham discovered that Wheldall was looking to do research in a school, she seized the opportunity. "I thought, that’s a way of tapping into this program which has been getting such great results," she says. The result was that MultiLit, MiniLit and a bevy of researchers came to Raymond Terrace to work with the children who were falling behind.

Buckingham joined in, deciding to do a PhD on literacy and social disadvantage with Macquarie University, drawing her research data from the school. She completed the doctorate last year.

At this point, there was another positive development for the school – more money. Five years ago, it was given $400,000 extra annual funding for four years under the federal government’s then national partnerships program. Picton says when he heard the news, he went straight to Buckingham and said: "We’ve got $400,000. What would you do with it?"

Drawing on Buckingham’s advice, Picton decided to spend half the money on a mentoring scheme. He employed two new teachers so that two of the school’s experienced teachers could become full-time mentors. It was a risk, says Picton. "We thought that sta ff might have been quite reluctant to open themselves up to observation and demonstration of lessons. But because of the credibility of these particular teachers, it was taken on board early," he says.

The intense mentoring of teachers was the key to embedding Picton’s "three pillars" across the school. When a child moves up a year, they are taught in the same way using the same terminology. "You can go into your next class and roll on with it using the same language,"says Picton.

Based on his experience, Picton fi rmly believes that low-income children are not condemned to perform poorly at school. It’s all about expectations, he says. "If you set high expectations, if you build relationships with your kids, if you trust in their ability to be able to learn, you will get the results from them. There’s no reason why they can’t."

"If you listen and observe the dialogue and interaction of the kids in our school compared to five years ago, it’s amazing," Picton says.

Naplan scores bear this out. In 2008, Raymond Terrace was in the middle of the pack of schools from similar socio-economic areas for numeracy, reading, writing, spelling and grammar plus punctuation.

In 2013, Raymond Terrace is either at the top or close to it for all five skills in both years three and five. Nationwide, more and more students are being withheld from Naplan, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools keep poorly performing students out of the tests in order to improve their results. But that’s not how it is at Raymond Terrace. "Every child is encouraged to participate,"says Buckingham. "It’s a really big thing not to game the scores. It’s important for every child who can do the test to do the test."

That includes children in the school’s classes that cater to special needs – Down syndrome, autism and hearing problems."It does have an in fluence on our scores,"says Picton. But he says Naplan is an important diagnostic instrument. It tells teachers how students are performing and whether they need special attention.


Monday, February 02, 2015

School choice week is freedom week

By Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana.

This week marks one of the most important weeks of the year — for reasons that have nothing to do with Sunday’s Super Bowl. For this week is National School Choice Week, in which parents, teachers, policymakers and legislators from both sides of the aisle rally to support the right of parents to choose the best education for their child. I couldn’t agree more with the important principles that National School Choice Week represents — namely, equal opportunity in education for millions of Americans.

On the most basic level, school choice represents the freedom to choose — empowering parents to select the best educational options for their sons and daughters. That could be a charter school, a private school, a religious school, home schooling, or even online learning. Governments should provide parents with the personalized and individualized tools they need to help their children excel academically.

That freedom to choose in turn will provide children with the freedom to succeed. With the right educational environment, teachers and academic training; students from all locations, income brackets and demographic groups will have better tools to compete in the global economy. We need to develop the talents of every American — no matter where he or she is from, and no matter the color of his or her skin — to maximize our country’s potential.

School choice also serves another important purpose — freeing low-income children from failing schools. No child should see his God-given talents go to waste because he is stuck in a failing school — and no parent should face the disempowerment that comes from knowing her son or daughter remains trapped in a poor school, and she lacks the financial means to move that child elsewhere. We can do better — and, by allowing parents dissatisfied with their school to move with their feet, school choice gives both high-performing and low-performing schools more incentive and motivation to improve their offerings.

Finally, school choice provides parents with freedom from the status quo — an educational-industrial complex that thinks bureaucrats, not parents, can best make decisions about the lives and futures of America’s children. It’s about pushing back when the then-head of Louisiana’s largest teachers’ union said low-income parents had “no clue” how to choose the right school for their children. And it’s even about standing up to the Attorney General of the United States, when the Department of Justice asked a court to block Louisiana’s school scholarship program on civil rights grounds — even though 90 percent of the program’s participants come from racial minority groups.

For here in Louisiana, we’ve put those principles to practice. Since we removed the cap on charters in 2009, we’ve authorized almost 200 charter schools throughout the state — that’s 70,000 kids who now have a choice about where they go to school. This last year, our Recovery School District became the nation’s first school district with 100 percent charter school enrollment. And the results are dramatic: The graduation rate in New Orleans has increased from 54.4 percent before Hurricane Katrina in 2004 to 72.8 percent; the percentage of New Orleans students scoring basic and above has increased from 35 percent to 63 percent; and the percentage of failing schools in New Orleans has dropped from 67 percent in 2005 to 17 percent.

We expanded our school choice scholarship program, which was initially confined to New Orleans, statewide. Parental satisfaction with the statewide scholarship program stands at a whopping 91.9 percent. We went even further though and created a dollar for dollar rebate for donations used to fund nonpublic school scholarships low-income students through our “school tuition organizations." Between 2008 and 2013, the percentage of students in the scholarship program who are proficient in third grade English language arts has grown by 20 percentage points and in math by 28 percentage points. Again and again, we’ve proven that giving more choice to parents is not only vital, but it gets results.

We also expanded access to online and dual enrollment courses for students across the state. This year, we’ve had over 19,000 students take advantage of our Course Choice program enrolling in advanced placement courses and career and technical courses that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Because of our work in Louisiana, and the work of many hard-working legislators, teachers, and parents across the country, literally millions of young Americans now have school choice options. But we should not stop until all Americans have the same opportunities available to them. That’s why I fully support National School Choice Week — to bring that educational and economic freedom to every student, and every parent, across this great land. For freedom is a lamp that should not be left under a bushel basket.


How to discredit official statistics in one easy lesson

Britain's most exclusive private schools have plummeted to the bottom of the performance league table after a change in the way GCSE scores are measured.

Not a single pupil at £30,000 a year boarding schools Eton, Harrow and Marlborough attained the Government's benchmark of five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including maths and English.

They schools fell foul of the Department for Education's decision not to measure the 'international GCSE' taught at Eton and other fee-paying institutions.

But Eton and other famous public schools were not the only ones to be caught by the Government's overhaul of the exams system.

Overall, the number of schools considered to be under-performing has doubled, figures published by the Department for Education revealed this morning.

The Department for Education insisted that the rise is down to two key reforms - a decision that only a teenager's first attempt at a GCSE would count in the annual performance tables, and a move to strip poor quality vocational qualifications out of the rankings.

But the increase is likely to cause concerns among school leaders, who have voiced fears that schools will be considered failing not just due to changes in the system but also 'volatility' in last summer's GCSE results.

The new league tables, published today, are based on data provided by the DfE and show how every school and college in England performed at GCSE, A-level and other academic and vocational qualifications in 2014.

They also indicate that dozens of secondaries, the majority of them private schools, have seen their results plummet to zero because some combinations of English GCSEs and some IGCSEs do not count in the rankings this year.

The IGCSE - or international GCSE - is sat by candidates overseas, but has long been favoured by many private schools and some leading state schools as a more rigorous assessment.

They were once heavily promoted by the coalition government as a way of increasing rigour in the exams system, but now it wants pupils to take the new 'more ambitious' GCSEs currently being phased into schools.

Many leading schools - such as Cheltenham Ladies' College, Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Oundle and Marlborough - are now reported as having 0 per cent of pupils attaining the government's benchmark of five GCSEs at grades A*-C including maths and English.

Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents many leading independent schools, said the decision to drop IGCSEs made a 'nonsense' of the tables.

'Several of the UK's most highly performing independent schools and others offering this excellent qualification will now appear to be bottom of the class in the government's rankings,' he said.

'This obviously absurd situation creates further confusion for parents as they cannot compare schools' performance accurately and transparently.

'Many HMC schools will continue to offer the IGCSE, as experience tells us it is rigorous and offers a good basis for sixth-form study.'

State secondaries are considered to be below the Government's floor target if fewer than 40 per cent of their pupils gain at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and students are not making good enough progress in these two core subjects.

In total, 330 schools fell below the benchmark this year, up from 154 last year.

Schools that fall below the threshold could face action, including being closed down and turned into an academy, or being taken over by a new sponsor.

However the DfE insisted that the floor standard is one of a number of factors that schools are judged on and falling below the benchmark does not automatically mean that a school will face intervention.

It also said that the two major changes to the exams system - which schools were told about around 18 months ago - do not affect pupils individual exam results.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: 'For too long pupils were offered courses of no value to them and schools felt pressured to enter young people for exams before they were ready.

'By stripping out thousands of poor quality qualifications and removing resits from tables some schools have seen changes in their standings.

'But fundamentally young people's achievement matters more than being able to trumpet ever higher grades. Now pupils are spending more time in the classroom, not constantly sitting exams, and 90,000 more children are taking core academic subjects that will help them succeed in work and further study.'

Mrs Morgan added that the Government has 'raised the bar' and that schools are already rising to the challenge.

Earlier this week the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) claimed that the Government floor targets are 'pretty much irrelevant' this year due to the upheaval in the exams system.

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman warned against judging the nation's schools on one set of exam results, saying too much has changed compared with 2013 to draw accurate comparisons from year to year.

Last summer's GCSE results showed a sharp drop in English grades, with 61.7 per cent of entries scoring A*-C, down 1.9 percentage points from last summer. This is believed to be the biggest drop in the qualification's history. Maths saw an opposite result, with 62.4 per cent of entries gaining an A*-C grade, up a massive 4.8 percentage points on 2013.

These are key subjects in the Government's floor target, and a lower-than-expected English result could push a school below the benchmark.

An analysis of the data indicates that this year's top school for GCSEs was King Edward VI Five Ways School, an academy in Birmingham. It entered 155 pupils for GCSEs and equivalent qualifications and all scored at least five C grades, including English and maths. It also had the highest average points score per pupil at 685.5.

The most improved school was the Charter Academy in Southsea which saw has seen its results rise from 39 per cent of students getting at least five Cs including the basics in 2011 to 83 per cent achieving this standard in 2014 - a 44 per cent rise.

Mr Lightman said: 'Performance tables should always be used with caution. They help parents to ask informed questions but they don't give the full picture.

'They highlight qualifications and aspects that the Government considers important, but which may not be relevant in a school's context.

'In addition, by only counting the first GCSE entry, for example, they may give a skewed picture of a school's performance.'

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said some schools appear to have been 'caught out' by the change in the way standards were measured, but believed they would quickly adapt to the new system.

He told LBC radio: 'When you change the measurement of school performance, you always get a dip and change in the relative standing of schools, and I think what happens is that some schools just aren't aware that the benchmark against which they are measured has changed, and then they adapt quickly and catch up.

'What we are seeing is partly a reflection not of schools slumping in the education they are providing kids, but that they are just not attuned yet to the new way in which they are being measured.'

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'As part of our plan for education we are making GCSEs more ambitious and putting them on a par with the best in the world, to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.

'We have made important changes to a system that rewarded the wrong outcomes. We have stripped out qualifications that were of little value and are making sure pupils take exams when they are ready, not before.

'The changes may result in some variation across all types of schools, ensuring they are held to account for the right outcomes. We issued guidance to all schools on this.

'Young people can only succeed in life, and fulfil their potential, if they are given the tools to do so.'


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Game Changer?

Comment from Australia

In 2013 the University of Queensland joined edX, the international consortium led by Harvard and MIT whose goal is to create and deliver learning through MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. UQx, the University of Queensland's title for its MOOCs, was born.

By the end of 2014 there were nearly a quarter of a million enrolments from more than 250 countries and regions in UQx courses. That is nearly five times the University's current regular enrolment.In MOOCs all content, exercises and assessment are delivered on-line on the Web. The courses are free and available to anyone anywhere. They provide a marvellous way to showcase the University's teaching, and to help the University reach of the implied goals in its name: a universal learning resource.

But MOOCs also constitute a challenge to existing teaching and learning practices. Around the world many leading university teachers are putting their current course content on-line in mini-MOOCs, exploiting the "flipped classroom" to secure contact time with the students for discussion and tutorial work.

There is a broad shift towards student-driven "active" learning. Some MOOCs are now available for university credit. And there are degree courses taught entirely through MOOCs.

These are potentially disruptive influences. The University of Queensland is among an elite international group of universities leading the exploration of the possibilities of edX and online courses. But what will our University look like if the lecture is effectively replaced by online learning, and if students can study from anywhere on the planet?


Sunday, February 01, 2015

School forced to apologise after hundreds of pupils were shown slide that listed Ukip alongside BNP and the National Front as a racist group

UKIP is a conservative British political party that wants to get the UK out of the EU.  They are also critical of existing British immigration policies

A school have been forced to apologise after an 'exemplar' slide which listed Ukip as a racist group alongside Neo Nazis and compared the party's beliefs to Hitler's was shown to hundreds of pupils.

The UK Independence Party was named alongside far-right groups the British National Party and English Defence League as part of a 'thought for the week' session surrounding the Holocaust.

Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol sent out the presentation to all tutor groups within the secondary school, which caters for 660 pupils aged 11 to 16, to form the basis for a discussion.

This comes days after headteacher Keziah Featherstone was accused of double standards after a pupil was allegedly expelled following a row about his hairstyle - despite having dyed hair herself.

The slide, headed The Rise of Racist Groups, said: 'You have the right to believe what you want - but if you have racist ideas and discriminate against a group of people – then you are a racist.'

It was written by one teacher who is currently being investigated and is said to be 'mortified' by the blunder.

The presentation which also claimed parties were trying to 'sound reasonable by hiding their racism' has prompted a furious response among Ukip representatives.

Michael Frost, who is Bristol's first Ukip councillor, representing Hengrove, said: 'At that young age, pupils have got knowledge-thirsty minds and something like this could give them a false impression of a legitimate mainstream party, showing them to be something they are not.

'The teacher has a serious responsibility in the education of our young people. Whether deliberate or naive, this is serious.'
Bristol chairman of UKIP Steve Wood on Bridge Learnig Campus

The slide, shown to pupils on Wednesday, said: 'Some group rise up and spout racist ideas – they want to discriminate against a group of people but want to sound respectable – they want to sound reasonable and hide their racism by trying to give reasons for their anger hate and violence.

'But listen carefully and you will hear they are not so different from Hitler – and that is what is scary.'

John Langley, UKIP's Bristol spokesman, said: 'This is outrageous and highly inflammatory given that some students may live in Hengrove where we have an elected councillor who is very much anti-racist.

'It is a dangerous attempt to defame UKIP as we head towards another election, and leaves Bridge Learning Campus in an untenable position of showing inappropriate political bias contrary to law.'

He said the teaching material was in breach of the 1996 Education Act, which states that bias should be avoided when teaching political issues.

The matter has been referred to HM Inspectorate of Education and Ofsted.

Keziah Featherstone, headteacher of the Bristol school, said the slide was a 'genuine error' from one individual who has been at the school for several years.

'It was sent out as part of 'thought for the week' which centered around the Holocaust. It was to be used to form a discussion at tutor time,' she said.

'One teacher usually produces an exemplar slide and it is then sent round to all the form group tutors who can use it to form the basis of a discussion.

'The nature of a school means there is not enough time for everything to be thoroughly checked.

'The teacher in question is currently being investigated. It was a genuine mistake and the teacher is mortified.' 

Ms Featherstone hit the headlines earlier this week after it was reported that a pupil was expelled after posting a picture of her with dyed hair on his Facebook with the caption: 'This is not an example to set to other students'.

Jordan Ford, 14, was upset after the headteacher told him his red Mohawk hair style was unacceptable.

So he found a picture of Ms Featherstone in which she also appears to have dyed purple hair and posted it on social media - attracting 50 comments which made reference to her looks and weight.

The school's 'racist groups' presentation has also sparked a furious response on social media.

Marilyn Laurence said: 'I would like to register a complaint that Bridge Learning Campus are teaching pupils that UKIP are racist - please explain.'

Danny Carroll tweeted saying: 'Hope @UKIP will reporting #bridgelearningcampus for slander.'

Mark Davies, chief executive of the school, said: 'The slide was used in a class discussion about community relationships and tolerance, and was designed to stimulate debate among our pupils.

'It was a mistake for UKIP to have been listed along with the other groups, and I have apologised to the party for its inclusion.

'The reference has been removed from the slide and the teacher concerned has apologised and we have taken steps to ensure it will not reappear in future.'

A school governors' chairman was forced to quit his post after joining Ukip because they political party's policies are 'against it's ethos' in November last year.

Mike Ward claims he was asked to step down from his role as Head of Governors at Eskdale School in Whitby, North Yorkshire after he became a member of Ukip.


South Dakota bill would allow teachers to question evolution and climate change

Lawmakers in South Dakota are pushing a bill that would allow teachers to address the supposed “weaknesses” in the scientific theories of evolution and global warming.

The bill, which is described as academic freedom legislation, would free up teachers from interference by state or local education officials, reported the Argus Leader.

Similar measures have been proposed in Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and Tennessee passed an academic freedom law in 2012.

The legislation is based on suggestions by the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design instead of evolution.

The measure proposed in South Dakota does not advance intelligent design or creationism, but it would allow teachers to question accepted scientific theories.

“It provides cover, for, as you might say, rogue teachers,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education. “We know most teachers won’t do this, but we know that there are some.”

Sen. Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre), who co-authored the bill, said teachers would be permitted to address intelligent design or creationism only if local officials approved those topics.

“It’s purely local control,” Monroe said. “It just offers the possibility that there will be complete, open discourse.”

A spokesman for the Discovery Institute denied the organization supported teaching or promoting intelligent design in public schools, and he said the bill would not protect teachers who present creationism to students.

He said the group’s model legislation simply offers a shield for teachers who question the science of evolution or climate change.

“Schools should teach the evidence for and against evolution,” Casey Luskin, research coordinator for the organization.

A science teacher from Mitchell, South Dakota, said she can’t imagine a debate on the basic principles of biological science.

“I don’t know what their arguments would be,” said Julie Olson, president of the South Dakota Science teachers Association. “What’s the proof?”


Australia: School funding mess no surprise

The key findings of the latest OECD report Education Policy Outlook 2015 - that school funding in Australia is a mess and school performance is stagnant or declining - will be surprising to precisely no-one.

The report says that school funding in Australia "lacks transparency and coherence", and it is difficult to determine how individual schools are funded. This is despite a "comprehensive and independent" review of school funding which led to the development of a new federal funding model embedded in a new education act, and detailed funding agreements with the states.

It is possible, at least, to now work out how schools are funded if you have sufficient time and interest - but it is not easy. And since the current federal government has decided it will not implement the funding model in full, things will change again from 2017.

A certain amount of complexity in school funding is the inevitable result of having two levels of government providing funding to three distinct school sectors in eight states and territories. It is difficult to envisage how it would be possible to make funding more uniform and consistent in any kind of incremental way that tries to appease all interests. A more coherent school funding system will come about only through a brave and radical change to a student-centred voucher system, in which all children are allocated an individual educational entitlement they can use at any school.

Fortunately, improving the literacy levels of Australian students does not depend on funding reform. It requires one thing only - for teachers to use proven, evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school and to provide effective interventions for struggling readers. Regular readers of ideas@thecentre will be familiar with this argument.

However, one of the most striking things about the OECD report is how strongly Australia features. Australian governments have been very busy with educational policy reform over the last eight years or so, and their efforts have largely been focused on the right things, from the OECD's perspective at least, things like increasing school autonomy, improving teacher quality and developing school leadership.

Whether or not Australia's initiatives to achieve these goals will be effective are, as yet, not known and possibly never will be,  since another key finding of the OECD report is that trillions of dollars have been spent internationally on education reform without rigorous evaluation to determine whether they have worked.  Australia is no exception.