Saturday, November 29, 2008

More British state teachers quitting jobs for better working life in independant schools

State school teachers are fleeing to the independent sector in record numbers to escape big classes and Government targets, it emerged yesterday. Staff who moved over from state primaries and secondaries now make up one in four teachers in private schools following a surge in recruitment over the past decade. Private schools employ more than 14 per cent of all teachers despite educating just eight per cent of pupils, according to research presented to an education conference yesterday. The National Union of Teachers accused the Government of driving teachers out of state schools by failing to clamp down on large classes and persisting with a testing and target-setting regime.

Academics who conducted the study said the 'poaching' of experienced teachers by independent schools had 'negative' effects on the state system. Figures from the universities of Kent and London School of Economics showed that the number of teachers transferring from state to fee-paying schools outstripped the numbers moving in the opposite direction by 1,500 last year. In 1994, the figure was just 400. In total, some 2,000 teachers transferred to independent schools last year - up from 600 in 1994. Out of 45,000 to 50,000 private school teachers, 12,000 - around a quarter - previously worked in the state sector.

The sharp upturn in little more than a decade is partly down to the expansion of the independent sector over the past 10 years due to rising pupil numbers. But they have also invested heavily in staffing, enabling them to reduce class sizes while raising recruitment of pupils.

Research co-authored by Francis Green, professor of economics at Kent University, found that independent schools tend to employ better-qualified teachers. They are also able to attract a significantly greater share of teachers in shortage subjects such as the sciences than the state system. 'There is no doubt that the rising resources flowing to independent schools have raised the quality of the education input in these schools,' the study concluded.

John Bangs, the NUT's head of education, criticised levels of 'poaching' by the independent sector. He said the Government must learn a 'massive lesson'. Mr Bangs said: 'Many teachers go into the independent sector because they feel the professional freedom and smaller class sizes are something they want, and they want to escape from the heavy duty accountability culture in the state sector. 'There's a massive lesson for the Government. 'The Government needs to ask itself what is driving some of our most talented teachers into independent schools.'

Presenting the figures at the Westminster Education Forum yesterday, Professor Green urged independent schools that 'attract an experienced teacher away from the maintained sector' to ensure that top staff are shared with local state schools.

However David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council said fee-paying schools were willing to forge links with state schools and share teaching expertise but warned that it 'takes two to tango', implying some comprehensive heads are reluctant to work with their fee-paying counterparts.

Mr Lyscom also sounded a warning that new laws requiring fee-paying schools to pass a public benefit test in order to retain their charitable status could lead to perverse consequences. It raised the prospect of a boys' school failing the test if charitable activities involved girls from neighbouring state schools. 'What I am worried about is a narrow legislative approach to decide what can count and can't count by looking at the articles of individual charities and trying to interpret what they do within the legal terms of their status. 'For example, I worry that if a boys' school does an activity with a girls' school, it won't be counted because it is not part of the purpose of their charity.'

Mr Lyscom said it will be unfortunate when 'hard-pressed heads have to look at what they are doing and if it's not regarded as being positive have to look for other opportunities'.


Student testing 'gets best results' says New Yorker visiting Australia

TESTING literacy and numeracy is vital to helping students complete high school and continue their education into adulthood, says the head of New York's education department, Joel Klein. In Australia at the invitation of the federal Government, Mr Klein yesterday dismissed concerns that publicly reporting test results between peer groups of schools meant students only mastered what was in the tests.

"What we've found is that kind of mastery is significant, and has the most significant impact on students' achievement," he told The Australian. "We're finding right now with student progress that you can seea direct correlation with likelihood of a student graduating and making it to post-secondary education." Mr Klein is a leading proponent of using tests to measure the improvement of students and school performance, and publicly reporting the results to share expertise and hold schools to account. Even among high-performing schools in New York, Mr Klein said lifting students' test scores by 0.2 points increased their chances of graduating by 15 points.

Punchbowl Boys High School principal Jihad Dib said increased literacy and numeracy testing had been a key part of a remarkable turnaround in student performance at his school. "We put literacy and numeracy in every activity and I always ask teachers where that component is," Mr Dib said.

During Mr Klein's week-long visit in Australia, sponsored by global financial firm UBS, he will promote the tools underpinning the accountability system adopted in in New York. He addressed a forum in Melbourne yesterday on leading transformational change in schools, will address the National Press Club in Canberra today, and tomorrow will speak at a corporate dinner hosted by UBS on strengthening the links between business and schools.

Mr Klein's visit comes ahead of a looming showdown between the commonwealth and states and territories at the meeting of the Council of Australian Governments on Saturday over the reporting of school performance.

Addressing the forum yesterday, Mr Klein was effusive in his praise for Education Minister Julia Gillard, and described her speech outlining the Government's commitment to transparency in schools as one of the "greatest" on education reform he had heard. "The level of courage in a public official isn't as rare as I sometimes thought," he said. He warned that any changes depended on political will.

Ms Gillard said yesterday the Government was still working on the final form of school reports, but she envisaged a paper report for parents on their child, and a website on schools. Ms Gillard made it clear the Government would not bow to pressure from the states and teaching unions over reporting school results. "We want a new era of transparency so that parents and taxpayers know what is happening in Australian schools," she said. "I want to see a system where parents can get full information about schools in their local community which (they) can compare with similar schools around the nation."

In her speech, Ms Gillard acknowledged concerns over reporting school results, saying publishing test performances "out of context can be misleading". But she said Australia had failed to grasp that it was not appropriate for information on students' learning to be held by schools and government but not made available to the community. "I absolutely reject the proposition that somehow I am smart enough to understand information and parents and community members are somehow too dumb," she said. Ms Gillard said boosting teacher quality was key to improving standards, especially at schools in disadvantaged areas that did not attract their share of good teachers.

Mr Klein received a mixed response from the 100-strong group of educators and policymakers at the Melbourne forum. While teachers generally supported boosting accountability and empowering parents, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association Andrew Blair was concerned that tests for ranking schools were simplistic. Mr Blair said measurements of performance should cover multiple methodologies, beyond "raw grabs" of test data.

Mr Klein said multiple measurements risked covering up underperformance. "The more we have multiple measures the risk is we dilute the power of accountability," he said. "What matters isn't finding the perfect indicator, but settling on a consistent intelligent method of assessing outputs and tracking them."

Mr Klein trumpeted the importance of mathematics and literature, and defended tests as being effective in teaching higher order thinking beyond the test itself.

It was important to empower parents with information. "Don't believe for a second that when you provide them with the information and the transparency, that parents won't become the greatest advocates for their kids. Sure, it will make you uncomfortable to think your kid isn't in a great school, but it will make you much more uncomfortable not to know that."

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Klein said the key was to measure progress in groups of like schools, to give information to parents and identify the most effective teaching practices.

An analysis of middle schools in New York found that almost regardless of the level of achievement at which students started, students in 90per cent of schools lost ground in their results from year to year. But in 10 per cent of schools, student results improved. "We learn by studying that 10per cent and particularly wondering why students in one out of 10 schools are moving forward," he said. "We analyse different results from different teachers, and how some are getting steady progress of students, and use that information to support teachers and improve their work. That's the power of accountability systems; to shine a spotlight right on the best practice. There is no question about it."

Mr Klein said three basic tools of accountability underlined his system: a progress report measuring student improvement; a quality review of schools; and surveys of parents, students and teachers.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Public school teachers go wild on social networks

Students see instructors in explicit photos, drinking alcohol, discussing sex online

As part of a disturbing new trend, America's public-school teachers are increasingly posting questionable and even sexually explicit information on video-sharing websites and social networks frequented by youth. According to several nationwide reports, students often search for their teachers on MySpace and Facebook, and some find more information about their instructors than they ever expected. The National Education Association listed a number of cases, while news outlets have been consistently reporting similar incidents, including the following:

Virginia - Monacan High School art teacher Stephen Murmer posted pictures of what he called "butt art" on YouTube in January 2007. He painted his buttocks and genitals and pressed them onto canvas. Many students saw his painting before the school fired him. He then contacted the ACLU and sued the district, saying it violated his First Amendment rights. Murmer reached a $65,000 settlement with the district.

A kindergarten teacher from Prince William County, Va., posted a video of a half-nude man having an orgasm in the shower, the Washington Post reported. Another Prince William County substitute teacher used MySpace to post photos of a woman lifting her dress, showing lingerie and flashing breasts.

Florida - Band director Scott Davis of Broward County posted explicit material about sex and drugs on his MySpace profile. He was later dismissed by the school.

Also Florida middle-school teacher John Bush was fired from his position after officials discovered "offensive" and "unacceptable" photos on MySpace.

Palm Beach County, Fla., kindergarten teacher Meghan Buckley posted photos on Facebook of herself drinking and having a friend spank her buttocks, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Special-education teacher Andrew Summerlin, also of Palm Beach County, described himself as "super horny" and an "A++" in bed.

Colorado - An English teacher was fired for posting explicit sexual poetry on MySpace.

Tennessee - Nashville teacher Margaret Thompson posted "racy pictures" on her MySpace profile.

Massachusetts - Teacher Keath Driscoll referred to women as "whores" and posted photographs of alcohol consumption and "sexually suggestive" pictures. He was originally fired, but the Massachusetts Teachers Association sued. Driscoll received his job back, with back pay, seniority and benefits.

Georgia - Atlanta high school football coach Donald Shockley used his school computer to store pictures of an assistant principal wearing lingerie and posing provocatively. Shockley asked a student to use his computer for work, and the teen posted the pictures on the Internet and distributed them to his peers. The coach was later fired.

Ohio - According to the Columbus Dispatch, one teacher described herself as "an aggressive freak in bed," "sexy" and "an outstanding kisser," while another instructor said she had "gotten drunk," "taken drugs" and "gone skinny-dipping" in October last year. Both teachers posted their accounts on MySpace.

Maryland - In April, Montgomery County special education teacher posted a picture of talking sperm on her Facebook profile and used a slang term for oral sex, the Washington Post reported. Another teacher, Alina Espinosa of Clopper Mill Elementary School, included the following in her "about me" section: "I only have two feelings: hunger and lust. Also, I slept with a hooker. Be jealous. I like to go onto Jdate [an online dating service for Jewish people] and get straight guys to agree to sleep with me."

North Carolina - In the latest case, the Charlotte Observer reports a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher may be fired for "posting derogatory comments about students on Facebook." According to the report, four other instructors have been disciplined for using the social network for posts showing "poor judgment and bad taste." One teacher listed drinking as a favorite hobby and described her job as "teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte."

Another special-education teacher reportedly used Facebook to write, "I'm feeling p---ed because I hate my students!"

Teachers in several states have been fired or suspended for their postings on social networks, and some challenge their termination in court, citing exercise of free speech. Now teachers' unions are now warning instructors about displaying questionable material.

Michael Simpson, assistant general counsel for the National Education Association, told the Washington Post teachers should think twice before claiming free speech protection under the First Amendment, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governments may terminate employees if their speech harms workplace function.

"I hate to think of what's out there," Ken Blackstone, a Prince William, Va., schools spokesman, told the Post. "But as public employees, we all understand the importance of living a public life above reproach."


Don't outlaw boisterous banter in the playground

As Britain launches another Anti-Bullying Week, the author of Reclaiming Childhood says demonising teasing can do more harm than good

This year's anti-bullying week in the UK - with its theme of `Being different, belonging together' - kicks off today. And it provides a powerful reminder that official fretting over children's wellbeing, over the supposedly terrible dangers of bullying in the playground, can do more harm than good, stunting children's developmental growth and harming their social interaction with others.

The annual anti-bullying week is an initiative launched by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), founded in 2002 by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Children's Bureau. The ABA brings together 60 organisations `with the aim of reducing bullying and creating safer environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn'.

At the launch event for anti-bullying week, in the Globe Theatre in London, the secretary of state for children, families and schools, Ed Balls, said: `When I talk to mums and dads, when I talk to children in primary school and secondary school to ask what is really important about school, often they will say that the most important thing is to make sure there isn't bullying.' (1)

In last month's Ofsted survey of more than 150,000 10- to 15-year-olds in England, 39 per cent said they had been bullied at school and over a quarter said bullying was a `significant' concern (2).

In preparation for this year's anti-bullying week, ABA sent every school in England a resource pack to help prepare them for a stream of anti-bullying initiatives and activities. These include an `Ideas for pupils' section, with suggestions such as: `Get everyone in your school to wear blue for the day', and `Get all the people wearing blue into the playground to form different shapes or words - for example "Say No", "No", "Stop", "Stop Bullying", "Be Unique"' (3). The packs also include a `Briefing for school leaders' explaining that the theme `Being different, belonging together' will encourage schools to `open up the central issue of difference in their communities to further scrutiny, and to use Anti-Bullying Week as an opportunity to ask what it is that makes people unique and different, whilst retaining a key focus on what unites and unifies them' (4).

As an aside, surely this slogan sits rather uneasily with the government's anti-obesity drive, and its plan to weigh all children in Reception and Year 6, to see if they are an `acceptable' size? If anything will make children feel different from the `norm', and cut off from their classmates, it will be something like the government's top-down shaming of chubby children and its celebration of slim children. This government measure is likely to encourage overweight and obese children to obsess unnecessarily about their bodies, to feel like failures in comparison to other children and as a drain on the nation's resources. It is striking, and very worrying, that almost a third (32 per cent) of the children in the Ofsted survey said they were concerned `about their body' when asked what worried them most.

However, setting aside government hypocrisy over `differences' between kids, surely it is a laudable aim to try to reduce bullying and create a safer environment for children?

For a small minority of children, bullying is undoubtedly a profound problem. Every year we read tragic news stories about children taking their own lives after years of incessant bullying. In 2004, 13-year-old Laura Rhodes from Neath, South Wales, took a fatal overdose. Her parents said she had been terrified by the bullying and taunts she endured at school every day. That same year, 12-year-old Aaron Armstrong was found hanged in a hayshed at his family farm in County Antrim in Ireland after being bullied at school.

Such stories are heartbreaking - and they are precisely why we need to put the discussion about bullying in some proper perspective. Unlike these tragic cases, much that is defined as bullying today is not bullying at all. It is boisterous banter or everyday playground disputes that could - and should - be resolved without adult intervention. Treating all playground disputes as serious acts of abuse does not help victims of terrible bullying, like Laura or Aaron. Indeed, as I argue in my forthcoming book Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, it discourages a proper sense of vigilance about real brutality perpetrated by a handful of children in favour of seeing all relationships between all children as somehow problematic.

Today's obsession with bullying is not good for children and it is not good for teachers, either. Teachers are increasingly lumbered with the task of looking after children's health and wellbeing, rather than being allowed to get on with the task of educating them. And children are encouraged to assume that their relationships with other children are damaging, and are tacitly encouraged to look upon their peers with trepidation and suspicion.

As more and more forms of behaviour are labelled as `bullying' - from arguments to group-creation, from name-calling to actual violence - so more and more children come to be labelled as `bullies' or `victims'. Professor Dennis Hayes, co-author of the 2008 book The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, believes anti-bullying policies are making mattes worse. `The more you talk about bullying, the more it sensitises people to every social slight, and the more it becomes a problem', he argues.

In the ABA's school resource pack teachers are told that they need to `keep the signs of bullying in the forefront of their minds' (5). But if teachers become involved in every playground spat or squabble, they will both blow incidents out of proportion and, more worryingly still, undermine children's ability to manage uncomfortable situations.

Some childhood experiences are of course hurtful; and for children, a nasty taunt or a fallout with your best friend can genuinely feel like the end of the world. That does not mean, however, that these experiences actually are harmful. Being left out of a playground game may make a child cry for a week, but by the following week he or she is likely to be involved again and earlier antagonisms will have been forgotten. Children are not emotionally scarred by these experiences: they get over them and move on. Once the experience is labelled as `bullying', however, and a teacher becomes involved and makes it an Official Issue, then it becomes an issue of much greater significance, driving a more permanent wedge between the putative victim and that week's bullies, and making it far harder for the spontaneous dynamics of playground life to resolve themselves.

There is a real danger that by focusing on bullying we can end up denying children the experiences they need to develop. American sociologist William Corsaro shows that conflict, especially arguments and teasing, can `help bring children together and help organise activities': `Recent research on peer conflict among elementary school children shows how disputes are a basic means for construction of social order, cultivating, testing and maintaining friendships, and developing and displaying social identity. Disputes, teasing and conflict can add a creative tension that increases [play's] enjoyment.' (5)

If we treat children as if they cannot possibly cope with hurtful experiences, then we will likely undermine their confidence and make them less likely to cope with difficult events in the future. In effect, we will prevent them from growing up.

The UK government document Building Brighter Futures, which outlines a 10-year `Children's Plan', states: `Bullying can destroy lives and have an immeasurable impact on young people's confidence, self-esteem, mental health and social and emotional development.' This obsession with the long-term effects of bullying leads to a situation where children might become unwilling, and even incapable of, resolving their own problems with their peers - and that could damage children's development, and their relationships with each other, far more than the odd stone thrown or insult shouted.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rhee-Forming D.C. Schools

A Democrat shakes up Washington's failed public schools

Guess who recently said the following: "Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but it has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults." A right-wing blogger? No, those are the words of Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools, who is speaking truth to teacher-union power to shake up one of the nation's worst education systems.

In going after tenure, Ms. Rhee is taking on the holiest citadel of the education establishment. This summer she offered a new teacher contract proposal with two options. Teachers could choose a plan under which their pay would rise spectacularly -- nearly doubling by 2010 -- in exchange for giving up tenure. Or they could opt for a smaller pay bump and still lose some seniority rights.

Ms. Rhee's proposal has caused a meltdown among leaders of the Washington Teachers' Union, and negotiations have collapsed. The Chancellor has raised the stakes, announcing the district would seek to dismiss tenured teachers who are ineffective. She has also hinted she'll go around the union by creating more nonunionized charter schools, or getting the federal government to deem her district in a "state of emergency."

Plucked from a nonprofit by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Ms. Rhee (a Democrat) has spent the past 18 months puncturing other education taboos. She closed 23 failing schools and restructured 27 more. She fired nearly one-third of the district's principals and reduced a bloated bureaucracy. She dismisses as "complete crap" the argument that students can't learn because of disadvantaged backgrounds.

It's about time. Washington is the lowest-performing school district in the nation. Only 12% of D.C. eighth graders are proficient readers, 8% in math. A mere 60% of high schoolers finish in four years with a diploma. The problem can't be money; Washington's per-pupil spending is the third-highest in the nation, at $13,000 a head.

In part, the problem is unqualified teachers with lifetime job security. Contracts provide ways to fire incompetents, but unions make the process burdensome. In New York City, it costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher; the city last year dismissed 10 out of 55,000. New Jersey fired precisely 47 (of 100,000) in the 10 years ending in 2005.

The beauty of Ms. Rhee's tenure reform is that it would use financial incentives to help the best teachers. Unions love to say they are underpaid professionals. Ms. Rhee agrees. Under her reform, teachers willing to be judged on their worth could earn up to $130,000 a year. Her price: Disburse money as is in the real world -- on merit.

The union leadership claims its members oppose to the plan, but the WTU has refused to allow a vote. The local is getting heat from its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, which is petrified that Ms. Rhee's plan will set a national precedent. These bosses know that smaller pay-for-performance experiments across the country have received strong teacher support.

Ms. Rhee was recently thrust into the middle of a Presidential debate, when Barack Obama and John McCain debated whether she supports school vouchers. (She says she doesn't have an official view but doesn't view them as the solution for public-school woes.) The key point is she's willing to tackle the hidebound practices that have made our worst public schools unreformable. Here's hoping she succeeds, and that her method becomes a movement.


America the Popular

A lesson from students about foreign exchange.

In the media telling, America during the Bush years has been an unpopular and insular country. But one group would seem to differ: young people. The U.S. remains the top destination for students from around the world, while Americans are studying abroad in record numbers too.

The New York-based Institute of International Education's "Open Doors" report, published this week, shows that more foreign students than ever are flocking to American colleges and universities. International student enrollment increased by 7% to 623,805 in the 2007-08 academic year -- the largest annual increase since 1980. The survey, funded by the State Department's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, accumulates data from 3,000 institutions of higher education.

The report also notes that more American students are choosing to study abroad. In 2006-07, 241,791 Americans studied in foreign universities, a 150% increase from a decade ago. Students are also looking further afield than long-popular Europe, heading instead to places like Tsinghua University in Beijing.

More good news is lurking in the explanations for these trends. American universities continue to enjoy a world-wide reputation for academic excellence and cutting-edge research, even if there's room for improvement. And hosting these students gives the U.S. an opportunity to show them American life and values in action, a useful myth-dispelling exercise. On the other side of the equation, many young Americans are interested in, and engaged with, the world beyond their borders -- which says something about the kind of business and political leaders they'll be after graduation.

If there's a darker note here, it's that Congress remains uninterested in keeping those foreign students in the country once we've invested in their training -- witness the annual cap of H-1B work visas at 65,000. Higher education is a case study in the benefits of free movement of people across borders.


British pupils are 'too spoon-fed to cope with tough degrees'

Students are being sold short by a culture of 'spoon-feeding' at school which leaves them ill-equipped for traditional degrees, a report has warned. The UK produces a bigger percentage of graduates in 'soft' subjects than any other developed nation, according to a study by the Reform think-tank. It also generates the lowest percentage of graduates in engineering, manufacturing, construction, medicine and law - and the second lowest in science and maths. British students are losing out because these courses offer the best salary prospects and are highly valued by employers, Reform said.

The think-tank claims that a culture of 'teaching to the test' has left pupils incapable of thinking independently. 'One result is the growth of a spoon-fed generation that wants to receive education passively and without effort,' the report said. 'This generation prefers the X Factor to A grades.'

The report cited figures showing that only 6.2 per cent of UK graduates have studied engineering - against 15 per cent in continental Europe and 12.9 per cent in Eastern Europe. In contrast, 12.1 per cent of British students graduated in social and behavioural sciences, which include subjects such as media studies. In Asia and continental Europe, the figure is just 6.7 per cent.

The report concluded that UK students are 'poor at following high-value degree options' such as medicine, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering. The think-tank also said that further education colleges had 'lost their sense of purpose' and some had a drop-out rate of 71 per cent.

The report came on the day Ofsted warned that some business qualifications are treated as equivalent to A-levels despite being tested almost entirely through coursework. It said students needed only a 'weak grasp of key concepts' to pass the course.

Reform advocates giving each student an 'education account' worth 13,000 pounds to spend as they wish. It also believes that university tuition fees should not be limited. Elizabeth Truss, deputy director of Reform, said: 'We're already in recession. We urgently need to replace a bureaucratic skills maze with a system that puts individuals in charge of their own learning.'


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SAT usage improves results

For some years now, many elite American colleges have been downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT in deciding which applicants are admitted, or have even discarded their use altogether. While some institutions justify this move primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students, an increasing number claim that the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college, especially compared with high school grade-point averages.

Are they correct? To get an answer, we need to first decide on a good measure of "academic success." Given inconsistent grading standards for college courses, the most easily comparable metric is the graduation rate. Students' families and society both want college entrants to graduate, and we all know that having a college degree translates into higher income. Further, graduation rates among students and institutions vary much more widely than do college grades, making them a clearer indicator of how students are faring.

So, here is the question: do SATs predict graduation rates more accurately than high school grade-point averages? If we look merely at studies that statistically correlate SAT scores and high school grades with graduation rates, we find that, indeed, the two standards are roughly equivalent, meaning that the better that applicants do on either of these indicators the more likely they are to graduate from college. However, since students with high SAT scores tend to have better high school grade-point averages, this data doesn't tell us which of the indicators - independent of the other - is a better predictor of college success.

Instead, we need to look at the two factors separately. And we can, thanks to the recent experience of the State University of New York, America's largest comprehensive university system, where I was provost from 1997 to 2006. SUNY is blessed with many different types of campuses, mirroring most of the collegiate options (other than small elite private institutions) that characterize contemporary higher education. The university also collects a gold mine of student data, including statistics on pre-admission academic profiles and graduation rates.

In the 1990s, several SUNY campuses chose to raise their admissions standards by requiring higher SAT scores, while others opted to keep them unchanged. With respect to high school grades, all SUNY campuses consider applicants' grade-point averages in decisions, but among the total pool of applicants across the state system, those averages have remained fairly consistent over time.

Thus, by comparing graduation rates at SUNY campuses that raised the SAT admissions bar with those that didn't, we have a controlled experiment of sorts that can fairly conclusively tell us whether SAT scores were accurate predictors of whether a student would get a degree.

The short answer is: yes, they were. Consider the changes in admissions profiles and six-year graduation rates of the classes entering in 1997 and 2001 at SUNY's 16 baccalaureate institutions. Among this group, nine campuses raised the emphasis they put on the SAT after 1997. This group included two prestigious research universities (Buffalo and Stony Brook) and seven smaller, regional colleges (Brockport, Cortland, New Paltz, Old Westbury, Oneonta, Potsdam and Purchase).

Among the campuses that raised selectivity, the average incoming student's SAT score increased 4.5 percent (at Cortland) to 13.3 percent (Old Westbury), while high school grade-point averages increased only 2.4 percent to 3.7 percent - a gain in grades almost identical to that at campuses that did not raise their SAT cutoff.

Yet when we look at the graduation rates of those incoming classes, we find remarkable improvements at the increasingly selective campuses. These ranged from 10 percent (at Stony Brook, where the six-year graduation rate went to 59.2 percent from 53.8 percent) to 95 percent (at Old Westbury, which went to 35.9 percent from 18.4 percent).

Most revealingly, graduation rates actually declined at the seven SUNY campuses that did not raise their cutoffs and whose entering students' SAT scores from 1997 to 2001 were stable or rose only modestly. Even at Binghamton, always the most selective of SUNY's research universities, the graduation rate declined by 2.8 percent.

The change is even more striking if we compare experiences of three pairs of similar SUNY campuses that, from 1997 to 2001, took sharply divergent paths. First, Stony Brook and Albany, both research universities: over four years, at Stony Brook the average entering freshman SAT score went up 7.9 percent, to 1164, and the graduation rate rose by 10 percent; meanwhile, Albany's average freshman SAT score increased by only 1.3 percent and its graduation rate fell by 2.7 percent, to 64 percent.

Next, Brockport and Oswego, two urban colleges with about 8,000 students each: Brockport's average freshman SAT score rose 5.7 percent to 1080, and its graduation rate increased by 18.7 percent, to 58.5 percent. At the same time, Oswego's freshman SAT average rose by only 3 percent and its graduation rate fell by 1.9 percent, to 52.6 percent.

Finally, Oneonta and Plattsburgh, two small liberal arts colleges with 5,000 students each: Oneonta's freshman SAT score increased by 6.2 percent, to 1069, and its graduation rate rose 25.3 percent, to 58.9 percent. Plattsburgh's average freshman SAT score increased by 1.3 percent and its graduation rate fell sharply, by 6.3 percent, to 55.1 percent.

Clearly, we find that among a group of SUNY campuses with very different missions and admissions standards, and at which the high school grade-point averages of enrolling freshmen improved by the same modest amount (about 2 percent to 4 percent), only those campuses whose incoming students' SAT scores improved substantially saw gains in graduation rates.

Demeaning the SAT has become fashionable at campuses across the country. But college administrators who really seek to understand the value of the test based on good empirical evidence would do well to learn from the varied experiences of New York's state university campuses.


More than a third of schools failing pupils, British regulator warns

More than a third of schools are not giving pupils a good education, inspectors warned today. One in ten 11-year-olds are still leaving primary school without reaching the level expected of their age group in English and maths, Ofsted's annual report found. And more than half of England's teenagers are still leaving school without five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

In her third annual report, Chief Inspector of Schools Christine Gilbert said England must do better if it is to compare favourably with the rest of the world. She said she was concerned that there was still too much variation in achievement between different areas of the country. Poor quality services existed across the education and care sectors, for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Poorer children, such as those who qualify for free schools meals, were still less likely to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, than their peers. In 2007, only 21 per cent of children on free school meals achieved this benchmark, compared with 49 per cent of other pupils.

Ms Gilbert said there was a strong link across every sector between deprivation and poor quality services. She said: "This means that children and families already experiencing relative deprivation face further inequity in the quality of care and support for their welfare, learning and development. "In short, if you are poor you are more likely to receive poor services: disadvantage compounds disadvantage." But Ms Gilbert added it was possible to "buck this trend" and there were examples of places that were outstanding. She said: "Typically the provision that really makes a difference is ambitious. It does not believe that anyone's past or present circumstances should define their future."

Today's report covers the first full year of Ofsted's new wider remit - they now inspect and regulate social care, children's services, adult learning and skills, as well as schools and childcare. It found improvements in school standards, with 15 per cent of schools judged to be outstanding, up slightly from 14 per cent last year. In primaries that figure was 13 per cent while in secondaries it was 17 per cent. But more than a third of schools (37 per cent) were found to be not good enough - given a rating of "satisfactory" or "inadequate". More than four in ten (43 per cent) secondary schools were rated no better than satisfactory, although this was down from 49 per cent in 2006/07. In primaries this figure was 37 per cent. Nursery schools had some of the best ratings, with 39 per cent judged to be outstanding and 58 per cent rated good. Just 3 per cent were rated satisfactory and there were none that were inadequate.

A higher proportion of childcare and early education was good or outstanding this year. But the quality of provision varies, and it is not as good in areas with high deprivation. The report said that teaching literacy and numeracy skills must "remain a priority" and while there was evidence of improvements in these areas, in some progress was still too slow. And it warned that more needed to be done to raise standards at GCSE level. "A decade ago, two-thirds of secondary age pupils left compulsory education with five good GCSEs, including English and maths - it is still more than half."


Australia: Lazy teachers "forget" toddler

An 18-month-old toddler has been left abandoned inside a locked childcare centre in Sydney's west - the second such case in just months. Uriah Vollmer, son of Daily Telegraph reporter Tim Vollmer, was left sleeping in a cot inside Penrith's Nepean Pre-School when staff went home early. His mother Michelle arrived 10 minutes before closing time to find the centre already locked and empty - apart from baby Uriah. It was only when a centre staff member drove by and spotted a distraught Mrs Vollmer that Uriah was discovered asleep inside.

The two incidents have prompted calls for a State Government review of centre lock-up procedures. "(This) is proof that a serious overhaul of the procedures is urgently needed," Mrs Vollmer said. The first case, in May, resulted in the baby being left alone for more than an hour before police broke in.

Mrs Vollmers' concerns have been backed by the body that represents childcare centres around the country. Childcare Associations Australia conceded yesterday that it was timely for the State Government to re-examine centre training programs in the wake of two incidents in just six months. "The fact that it has happened twice might mean there needs to be a training program and a review of lock-up procedures," executive director Helen Kenneally said. "It does astound me people have these things happen."

A spokeswoman for Community Services Minister Linda Burney said yesterday a total review of the regulations was under way but changes, if any, would not come into effect until 2010. The current regulation states that two primary contact staff must inspect the premises to ensure no children are left behind.

Mrs Vollmer said the delay was "completely unacceptable and it is putting the safety of kids at risk". She also criticised the fact she was still yet to be contacted by DOCS investigators despite making a complaint on Friday. Ms Burney's spokeswoman said investigators had already interviewed staff at the centre and checked its records and would move on to the family.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Schools failing the children of the poor, says Rupert Murdoch

Below is a large excerpt from his latest Boyer lecture. It has been accepted for centuries that education is the high-road to advancement for the able children of the poor but far-Leftists hate that. They want everyone ground down to a uniform low level. And they have been doing that in the schools with considerable success. Murdoch is reasserting the more compassionate traditional message of opportunity

As a child, I attended boarding school outside Melbourne. Bucolic and idyllic it wasn't. So I made myself a promise. I swore that I would never become one of those fogeys who goes on and on about how his schooldays were the best days of his life. Today I intend to keep that promise. But I do want to talk about schools. In particular, I would like to talk about why you hear so many business leaders talking about the problems with public education. Far from reminiscing about some glorious and largely mythical past, I want to focus on the challenges we face today - and what they mean for our future.

Let me say at the outset: it is not a pretty picture. The unvarnished truth is that in countries such as Australia, Britain, and particularly the United States, our public education systems are a disgrace. Despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less -especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society.

In my view, things will not really improve until we begin setting much higher expectations - for our students, for our teachers, and for our schools. At the very least, we ought to demand as much quality and performance from those who run our schools as we do from those who provide us with our morning cup of coffee. And then we ought to hold these schools accountable when they fail.

In Australia, we pride ourselves on our passion for equality - we have popularised the word "egalitarian". That passion is an attractive part of the Australian personality. But it is getting harder and harder to square Australian pride in equality with the realities of the Australian system of public education.

Like me, most of you probably went to a decent school. Your children will probably do the same. This means that your family will probably thrive no matter what happens, because you are no doubt primed to succeed. But too many children are socialised to fail.

We can argue over whether our better schools are as focused as they should be on mathematics and science. But it is inarguable that our lesser schools are leaving far too many children innumerate, illiterate, and ignorant of our history. These are the people whose future I am most concerned about. For these boys and girls to rise in society - and have a fair go at the opportunities you and I take for granted- a basic education is essential.

The tragedy today is that in many nations like Australia, the people who need a solid education to lift them out of deprived circumstances are the people who are falling further and further behind. That is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to all of us.

So I will talk about three things. First, I will discuss how the dividing point between the haves and the have-nots is no longer how much money they have. Increasingly, your life chances and your life choices will be defined by your skills and knowledge.

Second, I will talk about why we need to stop making excuses for schools and school systems that are failing the very children they are meant to serve.

Finally, I will talk about the need for corporations to get more involved - especially at the lower school levels. Corporate leaders know better than government officials the skills that people need to get ahead in the 21st century. And businessmen and businesswomen need to take this knowledge and help build school systems that will ensure that all children get at least a basic education.

Let me begin with the growing importance of education in our new economy. At first glance, it might look as though advances in technology are making education less important. After all, thanks to computers and calculators, even people without a good education now have the ability to have their sums done for them by a cheap calculator . to have their faulty spelling corrected by a word processing program . and to have even complex tasks completed for them by a specialised software program.

For example, if you go to a McDonald's or the milk bar the person behind the counter no longer has to calculate the change. The cash register is now a mini-computer and the barcode does the work. In industry, computers and automation have reduced much of the need for calculation and repetitive labour. And, as unions in Europe have been quick to notice, that means many enterprises can be more productive with fewer workers. This in turn is one big reason that so many unions - like the Luddites before them - are so opposed to new technology.

But ultimately, fighting the new and better technology is a fool's errand. History clearly demonstrates that a technology that shows itself to be more productive will win out in the end. The reason is simple. Over the long haul, no one is going to pay more than he has to for something that can be done far more cheaply. Even if an individual businessman or two were willing to forgo such an improvement, in the end they will be forced to adopt the more productive approach just to keep up with their competitors.

That's where a good education comes in. New technology is replacing many tedious tasks. That means that there will be fewer and fewer satisfying jobs for people without skills. In the new economy, the people that companies are craving - and are willing to pay for - are people who add value to their enterprises. That means people with talent and skills and judgment.

Talent and skills and judgment are part of what economists call human capital. Human capital is a broad term. It includes formal skills - for example, a degree in computer science or the ability to speak a foreign language. But human capital is much more than this. It also includes such things as good work habits . the judgment that comes from experience . a sense of creativity . a curiosity about the world ... And the ability to think for oneself. Free societies succeed because the people who have these skills are free to use them to advance themselves, their enterprises, and society.

It's true that some people manage to develop these skills on their own. For the most part, these people are highly driven self-starters. They exist in every society. They are also very rare. For every Steve Jobs who drops out of college and founds a company like Apple . for every Jim Clark who leaves high school and starts up Netscape . for every Peter Allen who drops out and becomes a successful entertainer, there are tens of thousands of others for whom leaving school early means shutting the door forever on opportunity - and permanent condemnation to an underclass.

For most of us, the best path to success is through an education that will allow us to fulfill our potential. That begins by setting high expectations, adhering to real standards, and ensuring that when you do leave school, you leave with the tools that will help you get ahead in life. These tools begin with the basics of any education: the ability to read and write . to add, subtract, multiply and divide ... And to use these basics to acquire other, more advanced skills.

For those who doubt me, the relationship between education and opportunity is most obvious in the pay cheque. As a general rule, the more education you have, the more you are going to earn over your working career. That differential can be very large. Two Australian economists found that for each additional year of education a person has, he can expect about 10 per cent a year in increased income. That's true even after taking into account the lost earnings from starting work later. And though that figure is for Australia, it roughly tracks with similar findings in the United States....

Another way of putting it is this: it's not that the poor are getting poorer. It's that the economic rewards to the skilled are making them much richer. This is clearly understood by the leaders of developing countries. But it seems beyond the comprehension of much of the developed world.

That leads me to my second point: what we ought to do about it. As the world economy grows more competitive, it is will become even more difficult for people without skills to keep up. Billions of people are now entering the global workforce. And a recent study by Goldman Sachs suggested that 70 million people are joining the new global middle class each year. These people are talented . they are confident . and they are increasingly well-educated. That means the competition is getting keener. And unless we stop making excuses for our failures, a good many of our own young people will be left behind and bereft of opportunity.

Most of you are well aware of the public debate about education. And you will be well aware that there is a whole industry of pedagogues devoted to explaining why some schools and some students are failing. Some say classrooms are too large. Others complain that not enough public funding is devoted to this or that program. Still others will tell you that the students who come from certain backgrounds just can1t learn.

The bad schools do not pay for these fundamental failings. Their students pay the price, because they are the victims when our schools fail. And the more people we graduate without basic skills, the more likely Australian society will pay the price in social dysfunction - in welfare, in healthcare, in crime. We must help ourselves by holding schools accountable - and ensuring that they put students on the right track.

As a rule, we spend too much time on avoiding failure. The real answer is to start pursuing success. Developing countries seem to understand this. When I travel to places like India and China, I do not hear people making lame excuses for mediocre schools. Instead of suggesting that their students cannot learn, they set high standards and expect they will be met. And they have crash programs for more and better schools.

The obstacles they have to overcome are as difficult and challenging as any we face here. Recently, for example, American public television ran a special called Chinese Prep - which followed five students through their final year at an elite high school. These students are competing for slots at the top universities in a system based almost entirely on merit. The pressure is intense, and most Australians watching would probably think that the time and effort these boys and girls put into their studies is inhumane.

Now, the high school in this film is elite, and it is far from representative of the schools that most Chinese attend. But the interesting thing about this show is the emphasis on competition, on merit, on doing well on standardised tests. Some of the children who do end up doing well come from very poor backgrounds. The television cameras showed that one of them lived in essentially a hut in the countryside.

But no one makes allowances for them. They compete with the children of high officials. And they succeed. In a sense, the entire school system is taking a lesson from Confucius, who observed sagely, as a sage does: "If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself."

I am not saying that Chinese education is perfect. It certainly is not. But it is clear that in a system where you are expected to perform, there is less slacking off. Maybe that1s because poor people in China know that doing well on tests and getting a good education is the ticket to personal progress. Or maybe they know that the consequences for failure are much more severe than they are in, say, the more comfortable societies that are America and Australia.

My point is this: the children of poor people always have fewer options than the elite. That's true whether you live in Sydney or Shanghai or San Francisco. For these people, a solid education is the one hope for rising in society and levelling the playing field. If we have any real sense of fairness, we owe these children school systems that hold them to high standards.

However tough their schools may be, the world is going to be tougher and less forgiving. That is one reason I have two key criteria for education programs that News Corporation supports: schools must be focused on achievement. And they cannot make excuses for why some students are supposedly poor scholars.

It's amazing the results that you get when you actually expect your students to learn regardless of race, background, or income. In Manhattan, for example, my wife and I have been involved with a local public school called Shuang Wen. Shuang Wen is unique. It is the only public school in America offering a mandated bilingual program in Chinese and English for all students. Two-thirds of its students live below the poverty line. Despite this, Shuang Wen is one of New York's top-ranked schools in terms of performance. It also has the highest daily attendance rate - 98 per cent.

What's the secret? In the morning, its students study in English. Then they stay until 5:30 pm to study Chinese. They come in on weekends too. Not many American children have a school day or school week that goes as long as Shuang Wen. But instead of repelling students, the school is attracting them. African-American parents are clamouring to get their children into this school. They know that the hard work and sacrifice Shuang Wen demands of its students is their children's ticket out of poverty and hopelessness.

Another school we support in New York is the Eagle Academy for Young Men. This is a charter school. Although charters are public schools, charters have more freedom than traditional American public schools. They are also directly accountable to the people who run it. The Eagle Academy for Young Men is boys-only. And it was started up by a group of concerned African-American men who are simply unwilling to allow the next generation of African-American boys to be written off by the country's public schools.

Let me put this in context. The Eagle Academy has a student body of almost all Latino or African-American boys. It also operates in a part of New York City where three out of four young black men drop out before they receive a high school diploma. So failure is all around them. But inside the Eagle Academy doors, they don't talk about failure. The students have long days, often until 6pm. They come in on Saturdays. And they are paired with mentors. It's tough. But the results are impressive.

The fact is, the boys at Eagle Academy are getting the education they would never get from soft-hearted, supposedly well-meaning people who would just make excuses for them. And, like Shuang Wen, the Eagle Academy has a waiting list of parents who are ambitious for their children.

In Australia, our problem is a little different. In America, the children whose futures are being sacrificed tend to be those who are stuck in rotten schools in the inner cities. In Australia, by contrast, the children who suffer the most tend to be those in our rural areas and outer suburbs. But whether urban or rural, no government of any decent society should be effectively writing off whole segments of the population by refusing to confront a failing education bureaucracy.

More here

Australian Federal education boss pledges transparency of school performance

Rupert has an influential convert already

JULIA Gillard has marked the first anniversary of the Rudd Government by pledging a new era of transparency in Australian schools, allowing parents to compare student performance across the nation. The Acting Prime Minister and Education Minister outlined her goals for a revolution in transparency at a conference in Melbourne today, warning schools that withholding information from parents on national tests and performance in literacy and numeracy was not an option. "We need a revolution in transparency," Ms Gillard said.

"I absolutely reject the proposition that somehow I am smart enough to understand information, and parents and community members are somehow too dumb. "I therefore absolutely reject the idea that rich performance information about schools should be confidential to government and denied to the parents of children in schools and the taxpayers who fund schools."

Accusing unions of running a fear campaign about transparency on funding, she said this approach should be viewed for what it is - the last gasp of those who think education policy in this country is a sterile debate between school systems about who wins and who loses. "Transparency about resources isn't about the politics of envy. Rather, transparency about resources is the tool which will better able us to understand what difference resources make to educational outcomes," she said.

Ms Gillard also said News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch was making a "hell of a lot of sense" when he described Australia's school system as a disgrace. Mr Murdoch said yesterday that schools and school systems must stop making excuses for failing the children they are meant to serve, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Australian-born Mr Murdoch, now a US citizen, used the fourth of his six Boyer Lectures for the ABC to focus on the state of public education, saying the school system in Australia, along with the US and Britain, is a "disgrace".

"I certainly think Rupert Murdoch is making a hell of a lot of sense," Ms Gillard, who is also federal education minister, told ABC Radio. High-achieving students in Australia were not doing well enough against their counterparts in other countries, she said. There were too many students - overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds - who don't reach minimum standards.

Ms Gillard agreed with Mr Murdoch's suggestion Australian businesses must take an active role in the reform process, saying she would like to see all major corporations enter a relationship with schools.

Ms Gillard is hailing the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Joel Klein, who is touring Australia as the example Australian schools should follow. "You have to admire the dedication of someone who deliberately located a school in his education department building so that every bureaucrat every day heard the sound of kid's voices," he said. "And you have to admire the relentless reform dedication of someone who is prepared to say that putting a bright light on a problem is the best way to get it fixed."

In Australia, Ms Gillard said too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds were clustered in a small number of schools, with low expectations and low rates of achievement. "Let's be honest. Current achievement levels are simply not good enough in too many schools," she said. "Australia still performs well in international studies. But we do not achieve as highly as we should or could. Our performance at the higher levels of achievement is static or declining. And our persistent tail of low achievement, associated as it is with socioeconomic disadvantage, is too long." "Our participation and attainment rates at Year 12 have plateaued for the last decade or more at around 75 per cent," she said. "And as a result, a child from a working class family is only half as likely as a child from a high income family to go on to tertiary study. "This level of failure is not acceptable."

She named Cherbourg State School in Queensland, where principal Chris Sarra pioneered his "strong and smart" philosophy of educational leadership and Punchbowl High School in Sydney as examples to follow in Australia.

Ms Gillard said a major government survey of parents' attitudes about the information they want from schools revealed 96.9 per cent of parents in all school systems agreed that important information relating to school activities and performance should be made available to parents. "What this shows is that parents are hungry for information about how they can help their own children to learn better, both at home and at school. And that they understand the importance of information for producing systematic school improvement," she said. "I know that national testing is controversial. And I know that publishing information about student test performance out of context can be misleading."

The Council of Australian Government meets on Saturday to finalise the new National Education Agreement and the new National Partnerships on teacher quality, improving disadvantaged school and literacy and numeracy and the Schools Assistance Bill, that will provide $28 billion to non-government schools over the next four years must also pass the Australian Parliament by the end of the fortnight.

"Together the new agreements and the Bill will mean every jurisdiction will sign up to transparency and accountability for the same measures of achievement, from the readiness to learn of our youngest children to attainment at year 12 and its equivalent. A comprehensive framework of this kind is unprecedented in Australia," she said. "To those who oppose transparency the message is clear. The Rudd Government is absolutely determined to achieve this reform for Australia's children."

Ms Gillard said future reforms may include rewarding accomplished teachers to work in the most difficult schools or "developing an extended or full service school offer, where breakfast clubs and after-school activities combine to offer children from chaotic homes or homes without a focus on achievement, extra learning opportunities and encouragement to pursue their studies in a structured and supportive environment."

"As a nation we have to say we will no longer tolerate an education system that under-achieves," Ms Gillard said. "We will no longer turn a blind eye to results that say in our nation if you are a poor kid you are likely to fail at school."


Jocks as sociologists

An unlikely concept. One would think that any bullsh*t at all passes muster in Sociology. I taught in a sociology school for 12 years and I can warrant that it does

National Collegiate Athletic Association officials have taken pride in the rising rates at which Division I athletes are graduating, and they often credit the association's five-year-old academic eligibility rules as a driving factor. But the rules, which for the first time penalize college teams whose athletes do not make adequate progress toward a degree, were also widely seen as increasing the pressure on institutions and coaches to ensure that they do.

The hope was that this goal would be accomplished through a positive change in the culture - recruiting more academically qualified athletes, perhaps, or putting more emphasis on players' classroom success. But the fear among others was that those gains might be achieved through less noble means - encouraging students to take the academic path of least resistance, or, in the worst case, cheating.

Figuring out whether the recent gains in graduation rates of NCAA athletes have been achieved through good means or bad is next to impossible, as the factors are many and evidence about such things as the academic qualifications of incoming athletes is hard to come by. But USA Today on Wednesday published a special report that provides significant evidence that athletes on many high-profile teams "cluster" in certain majors.

About a third of all football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball teams at the 142 colleges examined had at least 25 percent of their juniors and seniors in the same major field of study, and on more than half of those teams - 125 of 235 - at least 40 percent of the upperclassmen were in the same major.

A few examples: Twenty-two, or 58 percent, of the junior and senior football players at the University of Southern California in 2007 majored in sociology, representing one-fifth of all junior and senior sociology majors at USC. Sixteen of 25 junior and senior football players at Vanderbilt University majored in human and organizational development, and 31 of 41 football players at the University of Michigan majored in general studies. (A chart published as part of USA Today's package lists all of the teams that have at least 25 percent of their junior and senior members in a particular major.)

Such clustering, many college sports officials argue, is not in and of itself a problem. Every college has majors that are more and less popular, and they fluctuate over time for a wide range of reasons. Students also tend to make choices about their studies based in part on what their peers are doing, so given the significant amount of time that athletes spend together, it's hardly surprising that teammates would end up in the same majors. And athletes may end up in certain majors more than other students because of their interests (particularly explaining overrepresentation in sports-related fields) or because the time demands of their sports discourage, if not rule out, disciplines that require lots of afternoon labs or the equivalent.

"There's been an exponential growth in how much we demand of student-athletes, by day, week, semester and across the whole calendar year," said Chris Kennedy, deputy director of athletics at Duke University. "There's a sense that coaches want their kids available all the time, and that makes it harder to choose some majors."

But having significant numbers of athletes at a college in a particular major does raise concerns that the NCAA's academic policies, well-intentioned as they are, may be driving athletes - or, worse yet, prompting colleges to push athletes - into majors that are perceived as being easier.

In addition to injecting significant new data into the discussion, which has been raised by several recent controversies involving independent study at Auburn University and the University of Michigan, the USA Today report highlights athletes at several institutions who said they had been "steered" into certain "friendly" majors by academic advisers or coaches intent on keeping the players eligible to compete. "This is what everybody is doing. It's the easiest major," one former athlete recalls being told by an academic adviser from the athletics department.

The idea that big-time college athletes might seek out the academic path of least resistance is hardly a new concept. But what makes the issue of clustering particularly relevant now, for some observers, is that the whole design of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate system is to increase the stakes on colleges to ensure that athletes stay on track to a degree. The worry has been that by taking away scholarships from teams whose athletes become ineligible to compete or leave college in poor academic standing, the NCAA - in addition to encouraging more emphasis on academic performance - may well have increased the incentives on athletes and colleges to take the easy route.

More here

Monday, November 24, 2008

Even The Washington Post Sneers At Barry's School Choice

Hope! Change! A New way of...ah, forget it
Continuing a tradition among Washington's power elite, President-elect Barack Obama and his wife have decided to send their kids to Sidwell Friends School. Michelle Obama confirmed yesterday that Malia and Sasha, the incoming first daughters, will enroll at the pricey private school when the family moves into the White House in January.

Although Mrs. Obama has said that public schools were under consideration and consulted with D.C. school officials, the decision narrowed this week after she and the girls visited Sidwell and the private Georgetown Day School. Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, visited classes and met with students while their mother talked with administration officials and parents. Mrs. Obama also visited both schools last week when she came to Washington with her husband to tour the White House and meet with President and Mrs. Bush.

Despite the early tone, the Post talks about it being an elitist school, about the school having "long been the choice of politically powerful and moneyed families," and the cost of the school, which is $28,442 for elementary school and $29,442 for the middle school. Hmm, sounds middle class to me, how 'bout you?

I wonder if they even have a teachers union at Sidwell? Most private schools don't. So, yet another group of Barry supporters thrown under the ever growing bus. But, hey, public school is good for YOUR kids, ya know!
"Mrs. Obama is the product of public education on the South Side of Chicago and she believes strongly in the importance of good public schools for all kids," Lelyveld said. "The Obama administration intends to work closely with the school systems in the years to come to ensure quality public education is available to all kids."

As long as her elitist kids don't have to go there.


British schools fined for expelling violent pupils

Secondary schools are being fined millions of pounds a year for expelling violent and abusive pupils. An investigation has revealed that at least 4.4 million pounds in financial penalties have been imposed on schools this year. Nearly a third of local authorities in England are issuing the fines, ranging from 1,500 to 10,000 pounds per expelled pupil. Some councils, including Essex, Nottinghamshire, Oldham and Somerset, have collected in excess of a quarter of a million pounds from their schools this year. The penalties are in addition to the "per pupil funding" - the money a school gets for each pupil it teaches - that councils automatically claw back when a pupil is permanently excluded.

Critics claim the fines put unacceptable pressure on head teachers to avoid permanently excluding pupils, undermining their authority and robbing them of the ultimate sanction in the battle against unruly behaviour in the classroom. The high level of fines in some authorities help to explain the big rise in temporary exclusions, where pupils are sent home for a matter of days rather than being kicked out. It also plays a part in the big growth in "managed moves", revealed by this newspaper in June, through which children escape expulsion and are simply transferred to another school, even for offences such as threatening classmates with knives and attacking teachers. These children do not count in official figures, which showed a seven per cent fall in permanent exclusions last year.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Clawing back per pupil funding is understandable, as this funding should follow the child. "What is totally unacceptable is this removal of additional money, without any clear criteria. It undermines the Government's stated view that head teacher and governing bodies should be free to exclude pupils when it is necessary. "Stopping schools from permanently excluding pupils not only puts the education of that child at risk but puts the education of other pupils at risk. "More and more teachers are telling us that they are coming under pressure not to exclude pupils. Fining schools distorts the system and should be outlawed. "The Government needs to launch its own inquiry, as it did with admissions, to look at which authorities are setting these arbitrary penalties."

Tony Wells, the head teacher at Farnborough School Technology College, in Nottingham, an authority which fines schools up to 6,000 for permanent exclusions, said: "The removal of significant funds from school budgets is a concern to head teachers. "When the permanent exclusion of three pupils can equate to the salary of a member of staff it can seem excessively punitive and could work to limit the degree to which heads feel able to resort to that final sanction."

Of the 100 councils that responded to the Freedom of Information request, 31 imposed financial penalties. Some argued that much of the money they recover is "pupil retention" funding, allocated to schools by the Government to improve exclusion rates and behaviour. They also claim that most of the money is passed on to the schools or pupil referral units that have to find places for troublesome youngsters.

While councils are not required to fine schools, the Government supports the move. A Department for Children, Schools and Families, spokesman said: "We back heads in taking the tough decision to exclude pupils and we have given them the powers they have asked for to deal with unruly behaviour. "Of course excluded pupils still need to be educated, we cannot simply give up on them. It is right that if a school excludes a pupil, the money that would have been used to teach that pupil is reallocated and moves with them as they move on into alternative provision. "Schools have multi-million pound budgets and we do not believe that this would be a disincentive to exclusion, especially when unruly pupils use such large amounts of resources."


Teacher quality the 'focus of education revolution' -- says Australia's Leftist government

What a lot of bosh. Good teachers are born, not made. But Leftists can never accept that anything is inborn, of course (homosexuality excepted). But if the four-year courses that teachers now undergo (one year used to be enough in the past) still turn out lots of ineffective teachers, more of the same will not do any good.

While teaching is a bottom-of-the barrel choice for smart people, teacher quality will always be low. Better discipline among the kids is the main thing that would improve teaching -- if only by restoring teaching to the attractive profession that it once was. Another improvement would be larger class sizes, so that the dud teachers can be fired and the abilities of good teachers put to wider use. Heresy! But there are in fact decades of research showing that large class sizes work well. See here and here and here and here and here

The so-called education revolution will have a new focus on improving teacher quality, Education Minister Julia Gillard says. The federal government will use next Saturday's Council of Australian Government's (COAG) meeting in Canberra to push its education reform agenda. Improving teacher quality and lifting investment in disadvantaged schools will be key to the discussions, Ms Gillard said on Sunday.

"I'd like to see us next Saturday at the Council of Australian Governments put new investment into teacher quality, new investment into disadvantaged schools," Ms Gillard told ABC Television. "Quality teaching is the thing that makes the biggest difference to a child's learning outcomes," she said. "If you want to lift quality, you need to lift teacher quality."

Labor had already made a significant investment in education via its computers in schools program, the introduction of new trades training centres and steps to introduce a national curricula.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kansas City Student Could Face Charges for Hugging School Social Worker

A whining social worker. How unsurprising

An Olathe junior high school student could face sexual battery charges after allegedly giving a school social worker an "inappropriate" hug, police said on Tuesday. According to Olathe Police, a school social worker at Chisholm Trail Junior High School told an assistant principal that the boy, 13, hugged her in a way that she thought was inappropriate. The student was contacted by the school resource officer, then released to his parents.

"The report has been taken and the incident was documented and it has been forwarded to the district attorney's office," said Sgt. Johnnie Rowland of the Olathe Police Department. "They will review it and decide from that point what action should be taken."

Nicole Littler from MOCSA, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault says some teens don't understand sexual harassment, and she urges parents to talk to their children about it. "Sexual harassment is the No. 1 topic that we are asked to go out and talk about especially in middle schools," said Littler. "Hugging someone can be sexual harassment, but it also depends on who it is and how they feel about the situation."

The Olathe School District would not comment on the case. The Johnson County District Attorney's office is reviewing the case.


Debate on Pledge of Allegiance in Vt. town

No one's sure when daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance fell by the wayside at Woodbury Elementary School. But efforts to restore them have erupted into a bitter dispute in this tiny (pop. 810) Vermont town, with school officials blocking the exercise from classrooms amid concerns that it holds nonparticipating children up to scorn. Supporters say the classroom is the place for it, and the disagreement has fueled an increasingly acrimonious debate.

"The whole thing is tearing our community apart," said Heather Lanphear, 39, the mother of a first-grade student. Unlike other Pledge controversies, this one centers on how and where schoolchildren say it, not whether they should be allowed to.

In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schoolchildren can opt out of reciting the pledge for religious reasons. Sixty-one years later, the court said a California father couldn't challenge the Pledge of Allegiance, reversing a lower-court decision saying teacher-led Pledge recitals in public schools were unconstitutional. That case involved an atheist who didn't want his third-grader to have to listen to the phrase "under God." But it didn't rule on the constitutionality of compulsory recitation.

The brouhaha in the Vermont school began in September, when parent Ted Tedesco began circulating petitions calling for its return as a daily practice in the 19th-century schoolhouse, which has 55 children in grades kindergarten through six. School officials agreed to resume the pledge as a daily exercise, but not in the classroom. "We don't want to isolate children every day in their own classroom, or make them feel they're different," said Principal Michaela Martin.

Instead, starting last week, a sixth grade student was assigned to go around to the four classrooms before classes started, gathering up anyone who wanted to say it and then walking them up creaky wooden steps to a second-floor gymnasium, where he led them in the pledge. About half the students chose to participate, according to Martin.

Tedesco, 55, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major, and others who signed his petitions didn't like that solution, calling it disruptive to routine and inappropriate because it put young children in the position of having to decide between pre-class play time and leaving the classroom to say the Pledge. "Saying the Pledge in the classroom is legal, convenient and traditional," said Tedesco. "Asking kindergarten through sixth graders who want to say the Pledge to leave their classrooms to do so is neither convenient nor traditional."

Martin and School Board Chair Retta Dunlap defended the practice, saying it restored the Pledge to the school as requested, preserved the rights of students who - for political or religious reasons - didn't want to participate and gave others the opportunity to pledge their allegiance. "I was happy to have it upstairs. I think it's important that all the kids share in it together," said parent Ellen Demers, 42.

On Friday, the routine changed again. Just before 8 a.m., Martin herded all the school's students - and a handful of adults - into a cramped foyer that adjoins the first-floor classrooms and told sixth-grader Nathan Gilbert, 12, to lead them in the Pledge. Most recited it; some didn't. Afterward, 10 adults streamed down the steps and outside, forming a circle around Dunlap for a heated discussion in which they pressed for an explanation of why it couldn't be said in the classrooms.

The format is up to teachers, not administrators or parents, Dunlap said. "The children will get used to it, and they'll know what's expected of them," she said.

In an interview, Martin said the point of having the whole school gather for the Pledge was to protect children who don't participate in it. "If you're in a classroom with 15 students and you choose not to say the Pledge, it's much more obvious than a group setting. When they're saying it in a group of 55, it's may not be so obvious. We don't want to isolate children," she said.

Tedesco pulled his two children out of the school last week, but he says the reason was the school's declining scores on standardized tests, not the Pledge issue. He plans to continue lobbying for classroom recitation. "There's no way a heckler's veto should abridge the constitutional rights of the majority," he said.


Delaware Indoctrination: You Haven't Heard It All

The Foundation For Individual Rights in Education is set to release (mid-day Friday) a compendious report by Adam Kissel on the Delaware Residential Life Program. If you haven't followed this rank system of indoctrination (now happily suspended) the FIRE report is a comprehensive and sobering account of the roots and influences of the Delaware system.

Most importantly, and disquietingly, the FIRE report exposes the extent to which the Delaware program was by no mean isolated - it was simply the most forceful implementation of explicitly political "educational outcomes" encouraged by the American College Personnel Association for all colleges. Once instituted, the Res Life system became, most egregiously, a model for the ACPA and other "res life" professionals. Here's Kissel on the topic:
ResLife was so proud of its achievements that the University of Delaware began to hold annual Residential Curriculum Institutes for trusted counterparts from around the United States and Canada. Over 70 people from more than 35 schools registered for the first one in January 2007, which focused on the university's cutting-edge "curricular approach." The institute was cosponsored by the ACPA, which sent its president, Jeanne S. Steffes, to be the opening speaker. Then---University of Delaware President David Roselle was on hand to welcome the participants, and the keynote address by Marcia Baxter Magolda of Miami University of Ohio was sponsored by Delaware's Office of the Provost and its Academic and Student Affairs Council.

Residence Life staff, some of them sporting Ed.D. degrees from the university's own School of Education, also began publishing articles about the cutting-edge methods of the curriculum---without quite revealing the sustainability agenda. For instance, in the November--December 2006 issue of About Campus, a magazine for college and university educators, Kerr and Associate Director of Residence Life James Tweedy published "Beyond Seat Time and Student Satisfaction: A Curricular Approach to Residential Education." In that article, Kerr and Tweedy discuss their desired "learning goals," which include requiring each student to, among other things, "explore societal privilege and the experiences of those disadvantaged in our democracy," "explore social identity privilege," and "explore class privilege." They also---creepy as it sounds---discuss potential improvements to the program, such as "the possibility of identifying behavioral factors that can be observed and recorded by hall staff members."

The Delaware program may be gone, but its advocates are still legion. The report is essential reading on an impulse to indoctrinate still far from dormant.