Monday, May 28, 2018

Unions ramp up attack on private schools for poor

In his extraordinary 2009 book The Beautiful Tree, James Tooley revealed how low-cost private schools were providing education to the poorest people in the world and changing their lives for the better.

This remains the case, but not everyone is happy about it — including the local teacher unions. Recently and inexplicably, teachers unions in the UK and Australia have also started protesting against private schools for the poor in Africa, claiming they entrench inequality.

Private schools in developing countries are almost all small family businesses, located in city slums where public schools are crowded and inadequate, or in isolated villages where there is no public school. Very poor families willingly pay a small but significant proportion of their income so their children can have a decent education.

Some private education in developing countries is delivered in school chains run by corporations. The largest of these is Bridge International Academies, which gives teachers centrally-developed lesson plans and resources based on the national curriculum. This is a huge advantage in places where state-accredited teachers are difficult to come by, or are restricted from teaching in private schools. Thanks to funding from private investors and governments in developed countries, these schools are also affordably priced.

It sounds like an efficient way to provide education to the estimated 600 million children in developing countries who would otherwise miss out, doesn’t it?

Not according to organisations ideologically opposed to private schools — even if it means children go without an education. Education International, an international federation of teachers unions, is backing the claims of Kenyan teachers’ unions that Bridge schools provide substandard education in unsafe conditions, despite there being no proof of this, even in EI’s commissioned report. In solidarity, the UK National Union of Teachers has held protest rallies against foreign aid supporting Bridge schools.

Bridge International Academies opened its first school in Kenya 10 years ago and now has 600 schools in five countries. Like most low-cost private schools, its students achieve academic results higher than the national average (with lower per-pupil expenditure).

But the most convincing evidence that the unions are wrong is that Bridge schools are schools of choice. Why would so many parents intentionally waste the little money they have? As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia said, “this distinction between public and private shouldn’t matter; a school’s outcomes should.”


Preschool Teachers and Unintended Consequences

Many states mandate that individuals obtain a two-year college degree—or more—in order to be eligible to teach preschool. This requirement sounds eminently sensible, at least on the surface. After all, children are delicate flowers who have specific needs that are neither always obvious nor always easily met, and childcare may have long-lasting consequences, especially if its quality is very poor. But first impressions are not always reliable. Those habituated in the economic way of thinking know it is essential to ask: a two-year degree requirement...compared to what? What are the costs (broadly construed), the alternatives, and their second- and third-order consequences? Analysis posed in this way encourages insights that otherwise might not arise, explains Independent Institute Research Fellow Art Carden.

“For a lot of people, the relevant substitute for low-quality childcare isn’t high-quality childcare. It’s no childcare—and therefore, most likely, no job—at all,” Carden writes at Forbes. “It’s by no means clear that a kid who would have been in a low-quality daycare would be safer or better cared for, on net, by his or her (unlicensed!) parent in his or her (unregulated!) home.” Trade-offs are always and everywhere present when human beings make choices—and regulations for teaching pre-school are no exception.

Social scientists and philosophers may never have formalized what some call the “law of unintended consequences,” but in 1759 Adam Smith expressed it well. The proponent of active government interference in an otherwise unfettered social order of natural liberty—what Smith called the “man of system”—“seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board,” Smith wrote. “He does not consider the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse [sic] to impress upon it.” More than two and a half centuries ago, Smith articulated a timeless principle that doesn’t require a college degree to understand, but ignoring it is still one of the most common and most socially destructive of all mental vices.


Australia: Western civilisation course at the ANU sparks uproar

An unprecedented scholarship program to encourage the study of Western civilisation is facing a backlash from within the first university selected to participate, with staff and students accusing the philanthropic group behind it of pushing a “racist” and “radically conservative agenda”.

The National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian National University Student ­Association have intervened in negotiations between the university and the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation over a proposal to establish an undergraduate degree that could see up to 40 students offered scholarships in the first two years worth $25,000 a year each.

In a letter to vice-­chancellor Brian Schmidt this week, NTEU ANU branch president Matthew King expressed “grave concerns” and warned of a potential backlash if the finalised agreement were perceived to compromise the university’s core principles.

Mr King singled out a Quadrant article written by Ramsay Centre director and former prime minister Tony Abbott in which he “implies that the Ramsay Centre would wield considerable influence over staffing and curriculum decisions”.

“If this is true, we are very concerned that this would violate the core principles of academic freedom, integrity and independence, and reflects an ignorance of, or disregard for, the role of the academic board as final arbiter of academic standards,” Mr King wrote.

“If the Ramsay Centre agreement is perceived to compromise on these principles, it will be ­rejected by staff, students and other stakeholders and could lead to significant anger, protest and ­division.”

Mr King, who is employed as a technical officer, told The Australian academic staff and non-academic staff, and students, had raised concerns around the proposal. The union has been backed by the student association, which has also written to the vice-chancellor, while a separate student petition has been established ­opposing the deal.

ANUSA president Eleanor Kay told the campus newspaper, ANU Observer, that Western civilisation was often used as “a rhetorical tool to continue the racist prioritisation of Western history over other cultures”. She said there was “value to learning from Western civilisation” without prioritising it over others.

Ms Kay was not available for comment yesterday. ANUSA education officer Harry Needham said students had multiple concerns, including lack of consultation around what was “more than a philanthropic donation” involving an organisation with a “politically loaded board”.

The Ramsay Centre, based in Sydney, is chaired by former Liberal prime minister John Howard. As well as Mr Abbott, its directors include former Labor leader Kim Beazley, who is now governor of Western Australia.

The proposed Bachelor of Western Civilisation, due to commence next year, is understood to be the first course of its kind in Australia and is the brainchild of late healthcare mogul Paul Ramsay, who bequeathed part of his $3.3 billion fortune to revive the neglected study of the liberal arts.

After its launch March last year, the Ramsay Centre sought expressions of interest from universities seeking to establish undergraduate degrees in Western civilisation based on the great books courses taught at top liberal arts colleges in the US.

ANU was the first university invited to enter detailed negotiations after the centre opened in March last year. It is understood the centre is hoping to announce a conditional agreement with a second university within months. Up to 100 scholarships could be established under deals with two or three universities over time.

While Mr Abbott in his Quadrant article ­published last month stressed Ramsay was not “oblivious to the deficiencies” of Western civilisation, his comment about the Ramsay Centre being “not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it”, has ruffled some feathers.

Ramsay Centre chief executive Simon Haines yesterday defended the process. “The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is completely committed to academic freedom, integrity and independence,” he said. “University autonomy itself is a bastion of Western civilisation.”

Professor Haines declined to comment on the ANU negotiations or internal university ­matters.

An ANU spokeswoman said the university was not in a position to make an announcement on the outcome of negotiations. “The university has a long history of managing donations and gifts from a range of private and public donors,” the spokeswoman said.


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