Saturday, July 18, 2009

Charter Schools Gain in Stimulus Scramble

Cash-Strapped States, Districts Signal Expansion of Public-Education Alternative Despite Some Teachers' Strong Opposition

Some cash-strapped states and school districts are signaling a major expansion of charter schools to tap $5 billion in federal stimulus funds, despite strong opposition from some teachers unions. Charter schools are typically non-unionized, publicly funded alternative schools that have been widely promoted by conservatives as a needed dose of competition in public education.

Last month, the Louisiana legislature voted to eliminate that state's cap on new charter schools. The Tennessee legislature recently passed a bill expanding charter schools after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally lobbied Democrats who had been blocking it. And the Rhode Island legislature reversed a plan to eliminate funding for new charters after Mr. Duncan warned such a move could hurt the state's chances for grant money.

The most striking example may be in Massachusetts. Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- both Democrats with histories of strong labor support -- are proposing new state laws that would give them broader power to overhaul troubled schools, open more charter schools and revamp collective-bargaining agreements. Gov. Patrick Thursday proposed increasing the number of available slots for students in state-sponsored charter schools to 37,000, from 10,000. He also wants to give state officials the explicit power to appoint outside receivers to run chronically underperforming schools. Mr. Duncan came to Boston to join Gov. Patrick and the mayor as they detailed their plans.

Charter schools receive public money but are free from many of the rules and restrictions that govern traditional public schools.

Mr. Menino, who oversees the Boston schools, wants Massachusetts communities to be able to transform traditional public schools into district-controlled charter schools and link teachers' pay to performance. Formerly a charter-school critic, Mr. Menino said he is fed up with opposition from the Boston Teachers Union. "I'm just tired of it," he said. "We're losing kids." Richard Stutman, the Boston Teachers Union president, declined to be interviewed.

Massachusetts public schools have regularly been among the nation's top performers. But officials have struggled to turn around the worst-performing schools and eliminate achievement gaps between white and minority students. "We have been talking about these gaps for years while children wait," Gov. Patrick said Thursday.

The Obama administration created the "Race to the Top Fund" earlier this year to dole out federal money for school innovation. States and school districts nationwide suffering from deep budget cuts are scrambling for a share of the funds.

Mr. Duncan has warned states in recent months that they are unlikely to qualify for the grants if they don't move toward changes such as merit pay for teachers and lifting caps on charter schools -- measures that unions have either opposed or tried to limit.

In a speech earlier this month to a convention of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union, Mr. Duncan urged teachers to embrace revamped pay and seniority rules to give schools greater flexibility. "When a Democratic secretary of education goes to the NEA and mentions merit pay explicitly as something that has to happen, the ground has shifted," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

Teachers are starting to adjust to the new landscape. They are "both feeling the pressure and willing to think about doing new things," said Jane Hannaway, director of education policy at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning research group. "It's a new world."

Some teachers unions have made moves to give administrators greater flexibility. In New York City, for instance, the United Federation of Teachers, which operates two charter schools, has accepted a form of merit pay.

Even so, Randi Weingarten, departing UFT chief and president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national union, said some states are moving too fast. The availability of the new federal grants "is pushing people to say and do things simply because everybody is desperate for resources," said Ms. Weingarten, whose union represents 1.4 million members.

School takeovers and overhauls have a mixed record. While test scores rose in cities like Boston, Chicago and New York after mayors took control of the schools, state takeovers have been less successful. Most state education departments aren't staffed to manage a school district or an individual school. Even bringing in a private school-management concern doesn't ensure improvement.

In 2004, long-troubled Cole Middle School in Denver became the first school to be taken over by the state of Colorado. Management was turned over to KIPP, a large San Francisco-based school-management concern. It ran Cole as a charter school and test scores rose. But KIPP had difficulty finding the right administrator for the long haul, and it eventually withdrew from the effort. The school was closed for several years. Reopened last fall as an arts and sciences academy serving students in preschool through eighth grade, Cole is seeking state approval to undergo yet another transformation and become a so-called "innovation" school, which would give it charter-like status under state law.

In Massachusetts, with its long history of local control of schools, the proposals of the mayor and the governor are likely to face opposition from school boards as well as teachers unions. But with the availability of the new federal funds at stake, some think legislators will have a tough time voting against them. "It would be a political disaster for anybody to be seen as reducing our ability to access that money," said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a right-leaning, Boston-based think tank.


Children’s authors outraged at British "Big brother" scheme for schools

A prominent group of children’s authors and illustrators have said that they will stop visiting schools in protest against a new vetting scheme which comes into place in the Autumn. Some of the top names in children’s publishing - including Philip Pullman, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake - have refused to register their names on a new government database.

Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, described the Home Office policy as “corrosive and poisonous to every kind of healthy social interaction.” He said: "I've been going into schools as an author for 20 years, and on no occasion have I ever been alone with a child. The idea that I have become more of a threat and I need to be vetted is both ludicrous and insulting. “Children have never been in any danger from visiting authors or illustrators, and the idea that they should be is preposterous.”

The Vetting and Barring Scheme is being managed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which was set up following the murder of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, who was a janitor at their school at the time. All individuals working with children in schools will need to sign on to the database, at a cost of £64 per person, from October 12.

Michael Morpurgo, a former children’s laureate and the author of War Horse, said that children would suffer as authors decided to stop visiting schools because of the regulations. “Writers don’t go into schools for the money, they do it because they want to bring their stories to children and make readers of them. “The notion that I should somehow have got myself tested or passed in order to do this is absurd.”

Quentin Blake, who has illustrated said: “You don’t go to the trouble of being the Children’s Laureate to pay £64 to have permission to talk to children. That is bizarre.”

The Home Office said: “The UK already has one of the most advanced systems in the world for carrying out checks [That's a fact] on all those who work in positions of trust with children and vulnerable adults. From October this year the new Vetting and Barring Scheme will ensure these regulations are even more rigorous.”


Shoddy marking of British grade-school exams again

Head teachers angered by the poor quality of marking in this year’s national curriculum tests are sending back thousands of test papers to be marked again. Hundreds of primary schools are expected to write to the government agency responsible for exams to protest about sloppy marking and inconsistent standards.

The most talented children at some schools were penalised because the formulaic marking did not recognise their flair. Other schools discovered that right answers had been given a zero, or that wrong answers were marked as correct. Some pupils were penalised for not dotting the letter i — others were not.

The tests, formerly known as SATs, are a source of contention in schools and many heads and teachers would like them to be abolished. Those taken by 14-year-old pupils were scrapped last year, after the results from millions of papers went missing or were delayed. ETS, the company responsible, had its £156 million, five-year contract terminated, and an investigation found a backlog of 10,000 unanswered e-mails from worried schools.

Ministers insisted that this year’s tests for 11-year-olds would run more smoothly. Government agencies boasted last week that 99.9 per cent of pupils had their results on time. However, two teaching unions, representing the majority of primary school teachers and heads, are planning to boycott the tests for 11-year-olds next year if Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, refuses to get rid of them.

Yesterday one of those unions, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which represents 85 per cent of primary heads, said that it was encouraging its members to write to Ofqual, the government agency responsible for exam standards. It said heads had complained of harsh and unfair marking, spellings being marked right when wrong and vice versa, little consistency in the marking of composition, clerical errors and mistakes in adding up marks. The marking scheme was time consuming and weighted to discourage schools from returning papers for review, the union said.

The importance of dotting every “i” was brought home to West Hill Primary in Cannock, Staffordshire, where some pupils were marked down for incorrect spelling if they failed to do so, but other children who had made the omission had dots added by the marker and were given a point. One 11-year-old pupil was given 0 out of a possible 2 marks for correctly spelling “stunning” but without dotting the i. Another child received 3 out of 12 in spelling for failing to dot the i in the words remain, various, scorching, distinctive, carrying and magical, all of which were spelt correctly.

Shaun Miles, the head teacher, has sent back eight papers out of 58. He said: “It’s bizarre and petty. The marker had used a red pen and put dots over some letters, and given some children the mark, but not others. Those who were marked as wrong were graded Level 4 instead of Level 5.”

Ian Foster, assistant secretary of the NAHT, said: “The bureaucracy and stress surrounding these outmoded tests, compounded by clear examples of inadequate marking, can be dispiriting for pupils and parents, and potentially put school leaders’ careers on the line . . . There have been comments that maybe the quality has been usurped because of the tight marking deadline.”


Friday, July 17, 2009

Pathetic science examinations in British High Schools: Some exam questions require no scientific knowledge!

Teenagers need only a grasp of grammar and no scientific knowledge to answer GCSE science questions correctly, a report suggests today. It says that the right answers to multiple-choice questions are obvious because they are often the only ones that make grammatical sense. The report is by Science Community Representing Education (Score), which speaks on behalf of organisations including the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Science Council.

A panel of experts reviewed recent changes to GCSE science examinations. It analysed 79 exam papers. The report said that some of the range of answers deemed allowable in marking schemes were not correct. It noted the widespread use of multiple-choice questions, saying: “There were substantial variations between awarding bodies, with some specifications having as few as 2 per cent or 9 per cent of marks available through extended response questions on structured papers. “This is of importance, as extended response questions provide an opportunity for pupils to demonstrate the full extent of their understanding and ability in a deeper sense than is possible in multiple choice or short-response questions.”

It added: “There were a few instances where knowledge of science was not needed to answer some parts of some questions. “Of particular concern were questions which appeared to be general knowledge. “A related finding was that some multiple-choice questions had poorly constructed, incorrect answers. In some cases, only the correct answer made grammatical sense and therefore the incorrect answers were unlikely to be selected by the student, simply on the basis of grammar.”

Sir Alan Wilson, chairman of Score, said: “Science is a quantitative subject yet the amount of maths in the exams varied widely and was generally woefully inadequate. While these general knowledge questions were not widespread, it is astonishing that there are any examples. “The failings outlined in the report must now be addressed as we cannot afford to fail the young people who are working so hard to get their science qualifications.”

Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, said: “Currently, it appears that there is insufficient use of mathematics, the language of science, and that some of the questions do not even require a knowledge of science at all.


Racial gap in U.S. education narrows a bit

Blacks, whites both improve in math, reading -- suggesting that the slight "improvement" is the product of dumbing down the whole system

Despite unprecedented efforts to improve minority achievement in the past decade, the gap between black and white students remains frustratingly wide, according to an Education Department report released yesterday. There is good news in the report: Reading and math scores improved for black students in public schools nationwide. But because white students also improved, the disparity between blacks and whites lessened only slightly. On average, the gap narrowed by about seven points from 1992 to 2007, so black students scored about 28 points behind white students on a 500-point scale.

The divide between minority and white students is considered one of the most pressing challenges in public education. Experts said it stems from entrenched factors that hinder learning. More black children live in poverty, which is linked to an array of problems – low birth weight, exposure to lead poisoning, hunger, too much TV watching, too little talking and reading at home, less involvement by parents and frequent school-changing.

The gap exists even before children start school. But schools don't mitigate the problem [Because it is inborn, as every IQ test ever given has shown], said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a children's advocacy group.

“African-American students are less likely than their white counterparts to be taught by teachers who know their subject matter,” Haycock said. “They are less likely to be exposed to a rich and challenging curriculum,” she said. “And the schools that educate them typically receive less state and local funding than the ones serving mainly white students.” [So that is the reason why the gap excists BEFORE they go to school??]

Scores in reading were especially discouraging. Only three states – New Jersey, Delaware and Florida – narrowed the divide in fourth grade, and no state did so in eighth grade. There was more progress in math among younger children.

Closing the achievement gap was a central element of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which holds schools accountable for progress among every group of children – including minorities, those who have disabilities and those who are learning English. The implications of the disparity reach far beyond school walls. Minority students are also much more likely to drop out of high school – half of minorities drop out, compared with about 30 percent of students overall. The future is bleak for dropouts; they are the only segment of the work force whose income levels shrank over the past 30 years, according to the children's advocacy group America's Promise Alliance.

The findings constitute the first major Education Department report since President Barack Obama took office, although it was done by the agency's nonpartisan research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. The report was based on test results from nationwide assessments from the early 1990s to 2007. A separate report comparing Hispanic and white children is due out next fall.

More here

Australia: Parents charged under seldom-used truanting law after kid constantly skips school

Most probably a black kid. I come from up that way and there were black kids in my school classes -- and they were often absent

POLICE have charged parents of a 15-year-old Queensland teenager who has skipped high school more than 300 times with failing to send their son to school.

The parents, who cannot legally be named, face a $450 fine in a landmark case under the state's new truancy laws. Police and Education Queensland allege the year 10 student has had more than 300 "unexplained absences" since starting at Tully High School two years ago.

Police yesterday described the charges as a "last resort" after the school allegedly made numerous attempts to reach out to the parents. "This is about putting the onus back on the parents and making them responsible for their kids attending school," Tully Detective-Sergeant Scott Moon said.

Yesterday the parents, aged 54 and 53, were issued with a notice to appear in Tully Magistrates Court on August 13. [Getting them to appear should be fun]


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Community (College) Organizer

In his Washington Post op-ed, President Obama announced his intention to graduate “5 million more Americans from community colleges by 2020.” If one sweeps past all the familiar Obama boilerplate, one sees that he is setting the stage for yet another massive government production, with all the aplomb of an early-20th-century Progressive rubbing his hands in glee at the number of youths to be processed. (The irony is that the costly, uneven, cumbersome systems of K-12 and higher education that Obama has pledged to reform are the legacy of those same Progressives.)

Yet absent from his column is any consideration of whether community colleges are generally effective or cost-efficient. Ah, well. Who has time to sort out such distractions? Obama is in a hurry to have the feds start “strengthening our network of community colleges” so that they can serve as “21st-century job training centers.” Is there evidence that most community colleges are equal to this task? Not really. Is there evidence that community colleges are especially well-run, or that they are a better option for prospective students than alternative vendors (such as private companies and distance-learning programs)? Not really. Do we know a lot about what good community colleges look like, or how to reduce waste and promote quality? Again, not really.

These are not picayune concerns. America’s 1,200 community colleges enroll more than 11 million students and account for more than 45 percent of all undergraduate enrollment nationwide. The sprawling enterprise is marked by some terrific institutions but also by broad pockets of mediocrity. Community-college systems were sometimes carefully crafted and sometimes jury-rigged to accommodate the explosion of college enrollment in the mid-20th century. One would think that an administration intent on building the educational infrastructure needed to support 21st-century adult learners might want to start by taking a hard look at what is already in place, rather than by rushing to supersize it. But such is not the Obama way.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has promised that his department’s policies will be guided by empirical evidence and hard data. Let’s hope he treats the community-college issue with far more care than President Obama did in his op-ed.


D.C. Council Wants Vouchers

It would rather help poor children than unions.

The life and death saga of the D.C. voucher program for low-income families continues. A majority of the members of the D.C. Council recently sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing solid support for continuing the program. "We strongly urge you to stand with us in supporting these children and continuing the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program," says the letter. "We believe we simply cannot turn our backs on these families because doing so will deny their children the quality education they deserve."

Earlier this year Illinois Senator Dick Durbin added language to a spending bill that phases out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program after next year. The program provides 1,700 kids $7,500 per year to use toward tuition at a private school of their parents' choosing. Mr. Durbin's amendment says no federal money can be spent on the program beyond 2010 unless Congress reauthorizes it and the D.C. Council approves.

The D.C. Council's letter shows that support for these vouchers is real at the local level and that the opposition exists mainly at the level of the national Democratic Party. Mr. Durbin has suggested that he included the D.C. Council provision in deference to local control. "The government of Washington, D.C., should decide whether they want it in their school district," he said in March. Well now we know where D.C. stands. We will now see if the national party stands for putting union power and money above the future of poor children.


VA: Coalition fights Islamic Saudi Academy expansion

A holy war is brewing in Virginia, where a controversial Islamic school is seeking permission to expand its campus and a group of residents is going all out to stop it.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Monday night to consider a proposal to expand the campus of the Islamic Saudi Academy, a Saudi-owned college preparatory school. Critics of the plan point to former students of the school who have been convicted in a plot to assassinate former President Bush, and more recently, arrested for trying to board an airplane with a seven-inch kitchen knife.

And others say they oppose the move to expand the school for one reason only: "We're opposed to the operation of the Islamic Saudi Academy because it teaches and practices Shariah law," said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force (VAST). "Shariah law is anti-constitutional and we feel that it is the ultimate improper land use here in the state where the Constitution was created."

Lafferty said his organization is a coalition with roughly 10 other groups that oppose the land-use expansion. By teaching Shariah law, Lafferty says, the school replaces the U.S. Constitution with a "very backward and barbaric" rule of law. "Shariah law advocates rights via gender and religion," Lafferty told "They allocate rights by gender and religion. If you are a male who is Islamic, you have rights. If you're not, you have no rights."

Founded in 1984, the Islamic Saudi Academy seeks to "enable students to excel academically while maintaining the values of Islam and proficiency with the Arabic language," according to its Web site.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the school's valedictorian in 1999, was convicted in November 2005 of joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush. He was later sentenced to 30 years in prison.

More recently, Raed Abdul-Rahman Al-Saif, who reportedly graduated from the school in 2003, was arrested last month at a Florida airport when he allegedly tried to board a plane while in possession of a seven-inch kitchen knife.

Details of the proposed expansion remained unclear, but the proposal seeks to expand the school's grounds from 20 acres to 34, county officials told Calls to the school were not immediately returned.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity announced at the beginning of Monday night's hearing that no vote would be taken and that the record would be kept open to allow comment from those not in attendance.

Any vote on the proposal will occur — at the earliest — during the scheduled next board meeting on Aug. 3, Merni Fitzgerald, director of public affairs for Fairfax County, told late Monday. A total of 46 people have indicated they plan to speak during Monday's hearing, Fitzgerald said.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chicago schools report contradicts Obama and Duncan

New research from a Chicago civic group takes direct aim at the city's "abysmal" public high school performance — and puts a new spin on the academic gains made during the seven years that Arne Duncan led the Chicago schools before he was named U.S. Education secretary. The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a supporter of Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's push for more control of city schools, issued the report June 30. It says city schools have made little progress since 2003. Its key findings stand in stark contrast to assertions President Obama made in December when he nominated Duncan as Education secretary.

And though the findings are by no means as explosive, they're reminiscent of revelations from Houston in 2003, when state investigators found that 15 high schools had underreported dropout rates under former superintendent Rod Paige, who by then was George W. Bush's Education secretary.

In December, Obama said that during a seven-year tenure, Duncan had boosted elementary school test scores "from 38% of students meeting the standards to 67%" — a gain of 29 percentage points. But the new report found that, adjusting for changes in tests and procedures, students' pass rates grew only about 8 percentage points.

Obama also said Chicago's dropout rate "has gone downevery year he's been in charge." Though that's technically true, the committee says it's still unacceptably high: About half of Chicago students drop out of the city's non-selective-enrollment high schools. And more than 70% of 11th-graders fail to meet state standards, a trend that "has remained essentially flat" over the past several years. Even among those who graduate, it says, skills are poor: An analysis of students entering the Chicago City Colleges in fall 2006 showed that 69% were not prepared for college-level reading, 79% were not prepared for writing, and 95% were not prepared for math. "Performance is very bad, very weak," says Civic Committee president Eden Martin.

Obama also said Chicago students' ACT test score gains "have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state." Again, technically true — ACT data show that Chicago students' composite score rose 0.9 points from 2002 to 2006, while Illinois' score rose 0.4 points. But Chicago students' composite score of 17.4 was lower than the statewide average of 20.5.

Timothy Knowles, who directs the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, says the report highlights "a highly irresponsible state reaction" to the federal No Child Left Behind law. "In essence," he says, "many states have lowered (passing) scores on standardized tests to create the public appearance they are meeting federal standards. This practice sells children short — and the states that engage in it are, ironically, leaving themselves behind." Knowles says Chicago schools are moving in the right direction, with "some extraordinary new schools" and promising performance from black and Latino students, for instance. "However, the Civic Committee report reminds us these successes are fragile … and there is unambiguous evidence that Chicago has miles to go before it sleeps."

Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham says Chicago schools "made significant gains across a range of indicators" under Duncan. "While we still have a long way to go, it is absolutely misleading and irresponsible to suggest that there has not been progress."

Blogger Alexander Russo, who writes about Chicago schools, says the findings show that nearly 15 years into mayoral control, the city school system "isn't nearly as improved as many have been led to believe." "What I find particularly appalling is that Duncan and Obama — supposed champions of transparency and using research rather than ideology — have cited Chicago's inflated test scores, even though they knew the increases were exaggerated."


British government forcing up the costs of private schooling

Hundreds of independent schools could lose their charitable status unless they increase fees for middle-class parents to fund more bursaries, a landmark ruling indicates today. Two of the first five schools to be investigated by the Charity Commission have failed the tough new requirement of providing “public benefit”. The long-awaited decision has ramifications for fee-charging schools with charitable status, which make up the majority of the independent sector. The tax breaks that they receive are worth a collective £100 million.

The independent sector reacted with anger and said it could take legal action against the commission. It said that parents, already struggling in the recession, were likely to end up paying higher school fees to subsidise poorer families. The commission had focused on the financial benefits, it said, while placing little weight on whether less wealthy schools shared their facilities with the community or had forged links with state schools.

The two schools that did not pass the charitable test are relatively small prep schools. Both failed because they did not offer enough bursaries, even though they were praised for running initiatives which helped local children and organisations. One, Highfield Priory School in Fulwood, Lancashire, does not provide bursaries because it keeps fees as low as possible, and does not accrue a surplus. The other, Saint Anselm’s School in Bakewell, Derbyshire, does offer bursaries worth up to 100 per cent of fees to poorer families, but the number was not deemed sufficient by the commission.

Simon Northcott, the head teacher, said: “As a stand-alone prep school, we just don’t have the pot that other schools have. We failed only because we’re not producing enough bursaries. But nowhere in the course of this process has the commission given us a clear idea of what we need to achieve. “It’s like being told you’ve failed a maths exam but without being told what the passmark is.”

A spokesman for Highfield Priory said: “The governors of Highfield Priory are disappointed at the Charity Commission’s conclusion on public benefit. However, the continued success and sustainability of the school is not in doubt. Highfield Priory has served the local community well for nearly 70 years and our aim remains to continue to provide a high-quality education for public benefit, affording pupils many opportunities to succeed academically, creatively, artistically, musically and in a wide range of sports both at local and regional level. “The governors will now consider fully the implications of the Charity Commission report and respond to it after taking professional advice.”

The 2006 Charities Act puts a new onus on charities to prove their public benefit, and the commission has assessed a dozen organisations, including the five schools. Independent schools have been waiting with trepidation for clarification on what constitutes “public benefit”, and were assured that schools would be judged individually.

David Lyscom, head of the Independent Schools Council, said that he was deeply disappointed by the commission’s findings and its focus on the amount of means-tested bursaries provided by each school. He said: “The implication of the commission’s findings appears to be that many schools must now aim to provide a significant — but still unspecified — proportion of their turnover in full bursaries. “This will inevitably lead to fee increases for the vast majority of parents, putting the benefits of an independent education beyond the reach of a greater number of children. “We will be expressing our concerns very loudly and will have to look very carefully at the legal basis of the Charity Commission judgments, and consider whether we need to take further action.” When asked if this could include legal action, Mr Lyscom said: “It is one of a range of options we could take.”

He added that, in focusing on bursaries, the commission had played down the significance of partnerships with state schools and ignored the £3 billion a year that the independent sector saved the public purse in educating children.

Schools which were concerned that they would be judged purely on the money spent on bursaries have been assured that this will not be the case. Dame Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the commission, had previously acknowledged that bursaries may not be an option for some smaller schools. However, the findings are likely to send shivers through low-cost schools that operate near the margins and may be struggling. The recession has already taken its toll on the independent sector, with several small independent schools closing or merging in the past year. The governors of Highfield and Saitn Anselm’s have three months to confirm their intention to address the issues raised by the commission, and a further nine months to provide a plan of how this will happen.

A spokesman for the commission said: “It is not correct to state that the Charity Commission’s initial public benefit assessments of charitable independent schools focused only on the provision of means-tested bursaries. “We have been very clear throughout this process that, although fee reductions are an obvious way of making the services of a fee-charging charity more widely accessible, that is not the only means of achieving this.”


Australia: NSW teachers dead-scared of their failings being exposed

Parents must not be told if their kid is going to a sink school or has dud teacher

TEACHERS in New South Wales have voted to support industrial action if school league tables are published using national assessment data. NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said he hoped that state ministers would scrap plans to publish league tables before teachers walked out. However, up to 70,000 federation members were prepared to strike next year if necessary.

Speaking in Sydney at the federation's annual conference, Mr Lipscombe launched a scathing attack on NSW Education Minister Verity Firth for her support of tables comparing schools' performances. He also criticised sections of the media, saying some newspapers stood to gain financially from their publication. "Verity Firth needs to have a bit of backbone. "The minister needs to stand up for the people of NSW. "She has been prepared to take a stand on other issues and she needs to take a stand on this. "Certain newspapers support league tables because they know parents will be curious about how schools are performing. "Politicians and some newspapers who stand to gain financially are the only ones who support this."

Federation executive member Michael de Wall added: "This is political karaoke - out of tune and disturbing for those of us who have to listen to it."

The conference passed a motion supporting "all appropriate measures, both political and industrial" if 2009 national assessment data was used to publish league tables. It heard from teachers from across NSW who said such tables would damage schools, children and communities and offer inaccurate assessments of educational performance.

Mr Lipscombe told reporters outside the conference he believed the NSW Government, which has not authorised school league tables for 12 years, was being "blackmailed" by the Federal Government over the issue. "The one thing that's changed is that the Federal Government is now saying that if the State Government withholds its data, it will withhold funding. It is essentially a type of blackmail." He said Premier Nathan Rees' support of league tables was "driven by money".

However, the conference voted against a motion calling for Ms Firth's resignation, after Mr Lipscombe said it would divert attention from the core issue.

NSW is pushing ahead with legislation to allow media outlets to publish comparisons of schools' performance, overturning last month's opposition amendment to the Education Act which prohibits their publication. The Education Act allows the State Government to provide detailed information about schools to the Federal Government, in return for increased federal funding.

Under the Opposition amendment, NSW media are not allowed to publish information comparing different schools.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The latest education talk from Obama

See below. Who knows what it means?

In an economy where jobs requiring at least an associate's degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience, it's never been more essential to continue education and training after high school. That's why we've set a goal of leading the world in college degrees by 2020. Part of this goal will be met by helping Americans better afford a college education. But part of it will also be strengthening our network of community colleges.

We believe it's time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future. Our community colleges can serve as 21st-century job training centers, working with local businesses to help workers learn the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future. We can reallocate funding to help them modernize their facilities, increase the quality of online courses and ultimately meet the goal of graduating 5 million more Americans from community colleges by 2020.

Providing all Americans with the skills they need to compete is a pillar of a stronger economic foundation, and, like health care or energy, we cannot wait to make the necessary changes. We must continue to clean up the wreckage of this recession, but it is time to rebuild something better in its place. It won't be easy, and there will continue to be those who argue that we have to put off hard decisions that we have already deferred for far too long. But earlier generations of Americans didn't build this great country by fearing the future and shrinking our dreams. This generation has to show that same courage and determination. I believe we will.


British Labour Party fails working class on education

The social mobility czar is to accuse ministers of doing too little to get poor pupils into top universities. Favours aptitude tests (like the American SAT?) as an alternative route to admission! Utter heresy to the modern British Left but it was advocated by the British Left of yesteryear

Gordon Brown's social mobility czar is set to brand Labour’s attempts to bring more working-class pupils into top universities a failure. In a report to be released next week, Alan Milburn, the Blairite former health secretary, is expected to warn that too few bright teenagers from poor families are winning places at leading universities.

The main reason he is likely to identify is the sub-standard education provided by too many state schools, meaning bright pupils are held back from winning good enough A-level grades. Others are deterred by negative advice from staff who guide pupils into low-skilled jobs, assuming they are unsuited to higher education. In addition, much of the £400m spent by the government on schemes to attract more students from deprived backgrounds has been wasted.

Milburn, who has announced he will retire from parliament at the next election, was commissioned by the prime minister in January to report on ways in which more young working-class adults could win jobs in professions such as the law, medicine and teaching. The panel he chairs is likely to conclude that one of the main brakes on social mobility into the professions is slow progress in increasing the number of students from deprived families. Figures released last month showed a slight fall in the proportion from these groups studying at university. The government spends hundreds of millions of pounds on university schemes to attract such candidates and help them through the admissions process. This costs about £10,000 per person, but it is thought many of those who apply would do so regardless of special initiatives.

The report is expected to condemn “positive discrimination” whereby some universities give preferential treatment to any applicant from a poorly performing school. At the same time, however, Milburn is understood to praise more targeted methods. One his panel favours is used by some medical schools - talented pupils from deprived backgrounds can be offered degree places if they achieve lower grades than other candidates, but only if they pass aptitude tests.

Lee Elliot Major, research director of the Sutton Trust, a charity promoting social mobility, said Britain was in the grip of an “education freeze”. “Even when the economy is doing well, children from poorer backgrounds are still only half as likely to attend university as those from more privileged families and even this could understate the problem,” he said.

Milburn’s panel - whose members range from Baroness Shephard, the former Tory education secretary, to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society - is expected to cite evidence that state school pupils perform at least as well at university as those from independent schools who have scored two grades higher at A-level. This implies that they have been held back by their schools from achieving their full potential.

The findings, which will be seen as an indictment of Labour’s education policies, are likely to anger senior figures such as Ed Balls, the schools secretary. Many in the Labour party have blamed ingrained snobbery at universities for shutting out working-class pupils.

Geoffrey Vos, chairman of the Social Mobility Foundation and a member of Milburn’s panel, said: “Raising the aspirations of pupils ought to be utterly uncontroversial, but it is not always happening.”

Milburn’s report, which has not yet been completed, will focus largely on what the professions themselves can do to widen the social mix of new recruits. It is likely to include steps to pick apart the networking advantages enjoyed by middle-class children. Posts for unpaid work experience and internships, for example, should be filled by formal selection processes rather than word of mouth.

Meanwhile, undergraduates studying for professional degrees should be recruited to a national mentoring network for comprehensive pupils. This would make them more likely to consider going into the professions in a way that those at private and grammar schools instinctively do.

One source said Milburn wants his recommendations to have cross-party support so they have a chance of surviving if the Tories come to power. He is anxious not to alienate middle-class parents worried that children at private and grammar schools will be edged out of leading universities. “Universities have to be carefully nuanced and not attack private schools,” said the source.


British Pupils need lessons in how to speak properly

Children should be taught to speak more formally in class to improve their written work, according to new research. Teachers need to do more work to improve children's vocabulary and make it clear when the use of slang and colloquialisms are not acceptable, academics have found.

The study from Exeter University, which analysed pupils' writing, discovered that whilst more able writers composed sentences in standard English, weaker writers tended to replicate patterns found in speech.

Researchers concluded that the more opportunities children had in class for developing their speech and distinguishing between styles of language, the better their writing would become. "This is less about correcting their English than making sure that they are aware of what they are saying and giving them access to different repertoires," said Professor Debra Myhill, author of the study. "They need to be aware of what they are saying and when, and be able to make choices about their speech, otherwise they will lose out in areas such as the job market."

The study comes in the wake of growing recognition that the school curriculum has neglected the development of children's speech. The Government's Rose Review, published in May, stressed the "central importance" of speaking and listening as part of literacy. Critics claim that in some schools very young children are being taught to read and write before they can string a sentence together. With older children, chief examiners have revealed a growing tendency for pupils to lapse into the vernacular in exams scripts, using slang and inappropriate expressions.

Pieces of writing from children aged 12 to 15 were analysed as part of the Exeter study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. It found that children understood that writing was not simply "talk written down". However, weaker writers used patterns familiar in speech, for instance consistently putting the subject first instead of varying their sentence structure. They also had a more restricted vocabulary reminiscent of the more limited selection of words used in speech.

"In order to develop children's writing more, we need to develop children's talking more," said Prof Myhill. "It is not just about using standard English, it is about having more opportunities in class for children to elaborate, justify their decisions, discuss their ideas and give them access to a broader and richer vocabulary, though reading widely and word searches. "We know that in classrooms that continually provide children with talk opportunities, there will almost certainly be a positive influence on their writing."

The professor said there was a general trend to be less formal in speech and writing. "If you look at the television or newspapers over the past 50 years, the language is less formal. Children's speech and writing is mirroring a much bigger cultural trend. "It is not so much about right and wrong, it is about children having repertoires and judgement. Children need to be able to consciously decide to speak or write in a particular way or not."


Monday, July 13, 2009

Ahmadinejiad's Academics

by Cinnamon Stillwell

What a difference a popular uprising makes.

It seems like just yesterday that the Middle East studies establishment was busy defending Iran's theocratic regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the alleged predations of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy. Yet in the wake of the unrest in response to the stolen election, suddenly American academics have succumbed to intellectual honesty and moral clarity. Despite the best efforts of the Iranian regime to drum up conspiracy theories blaming the West for the uprising, the Iranians themselves have taken center stage.

This signals quite a shift. When Ahmadinejad, the supposedly elected leader at the heart of the current crisis in Iran, spoke at Columbia University in September 2007, his appearance was applauded by many academic apologists as a means of "reaching out." Columbia University Islamic studies professor Richard Bulliet went so far as to act as an intermediary between the university and the Iranian regime in arranging the appearance. As reported by the New York Sun in September 2007:
In a meeting of the Columbia faculty senate on December 8, 2006, before the university extended and then rescinded an invitation to the Iranian president to speak on campus, Mr. Bulliet argued in favor of providing him a platform. Mr. Bulliet said he attended a breakfast meeting with the Iranian and found him to be a "very reasonable speaker, a very effective debater."

One would be hard pressed to describe Ahmadinejad's typically inflammatory and conspiratorial tirade at Columbia as reasonable. Yet it was university president Lee Bollinger's harsh introductory remarks that caused outrage. Over 100 faculty members, including a number from Columbia's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department (MEALAC), signed an open letter to Bollinger condemning his "disrespectful language." The standard accusations of racism, threats to free speech, and warmongering ensued.

Bulliet painted Ahmadinejad as the victim, describing him as "the slight, relaxed, well-mannered Iranian who sat stolidly through President Bollinger's blistering attack." He complained to the New York Sun that "in a culture where hospitality is venerated, audiences in the Middle East were shocked by Mr. Bollinger's rebuke." But what was truly shocking was Bulliet's blindness towards Ahmadinejad's true nature.

Today, Bulliet seems to have experienced an epiphany. In a recent New York Times op-ed, he likened the young Iranian protesters to America's Baby Boomer generation and used very different terms for Ahmadinejad. As he put it:
The boomers themselves, and particularly the women among them, chafe under the behavioral restrictions enforced by Ahmadinejad's regime. They long to connect with the world and hate seeing their country humiliated by Ahmadinejad's outrageous public pronouncements.

If only Bulliet had applied such insight when he helped broker Ahmadinejad's talk at Columbia.

Hamid Dabashi, Columbia's Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature and MEALAC Chair, took a similar route. Dabashi was one Bollinger's most strident critics, penning a lengthy screed in Al-Ahram Weekly in October 2007 in which he accused him of inhabiting "the self-righteous domain of a white man and his civilizing mission" and of acting like "the president of diehard Zionists at Columbia." He was particularly incensed that Bollinger called Ahmadinejad a "cruel and petty dictator," asserting that:
I am against Ahmadinejad and the system over which he presides, but he is an elected official, not a "dictator" in the technical sense of the term. The republic that he represents is a theocracy, but that theocracy works through a very complicated division of power in various official and unofficial, elected and unelected, democratic and despotic, centers of gravity, of which Bollinger seems to know next to nothing.

This was not Dabashi's first defense of Iran's allegedly democratic system. In a 2003 AsiaSource interview, he stated that "within the Islamic Republic, there is a democratically elected government." He also claimed that the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 counterterrorism measures had created "political conditions [in the U.S.] worse than those found in the Islamic Republic [of Iran]."

Yet Dabashi has since changed his tune. As he told CNN last month:
I am absolutely convinced that what we are witnessing is a turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic. We are seeing a rise of a new generation of Iranians who are not taking it anymore. This is no longer just about this election, this is full-fledged civil disobedience.

Now that the emperor is wearing no clothes and crowds in Tehran chanting "Death to the Dictator" have Ahmadinejad in mind, Dabashi isn't so eager to rally to his side.

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, who once implied that the Iranian-initiated confrontation between Iranian boats and U.S. Naval ships in the Straits of Hormuz in January 2007 was a GOP-fabricated conspiracy, has finally turned on Tehran. Writing at his blog last month, Cole offered up a compelling list of the "Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen." Summing it up, he noted: "The post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene."

In a rare reference to the Iranian regime's propensity for anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism, Cole, writing last month at, pointed out that opposition candidate "Mir-Hossein Moussavi complained that Ahmadinejad's bizarre downplaying of the Holocaust had made Iran a laughingstock." This is the same Juan Cole who steadfastly insisted that Ahmadinejad was mistranslated when he said that Israel should be "wiped off the map" at the World without Zionism conference in October 2005. Perhaps now that masses of Iranians are rejecting him, Ahmadinejad doesn't appear quite so credible.

While these examples provide a ray of hope, it's unlikely they foretell a new era of dispassionate analysis in the field of Middle East studies. In spite of the Iranian regime's blatant corruption and brutality, many of these same professors are urging President Obama to continue his administration's futile plans for negotiation with Ahmadinejad.

Juan Cole has contended that "the outcome of the election…changes little for the Obama administration," while Richard Bulliet told Bloomberg News that "the U.S. and foreign governments will have to resign themselves to dealing with the Ahmadinejad regime." Meanwhile, Columbia University international affairs professor Gary Sick, writing at his blog, fretted that "this election is an extraordinary gift to those who have been most skeptical about President Obama's plan to conduct negotiations with Iran."

In other words, it's back to business as usual.


British school pupils told: Sex every day keeps the GP away

And they wonder why Britain has a huge problem of teenage pregnancy and abortion

A National Health Service leaflet is advising school pupils that they have a “right” to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in guidance circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers, and is intended to update sex education by telling pupils about the benefits of sexual pleasure. For too long, say its authors, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment.

The document, called Pleasure, has been drawn up by NHS Sheffield, although it is also being circulated outside the city.

Alongside the slogan “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”, it says: “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”

Steve Slack, director of the Centre for HIV and Sexual Health at NHS Sheffield, who is one of the authors, argues that, far from promoting teenage sex, it could encourage young people to delay losing their virginity until they are sure they will enjoy the experience.

Slack believes that as long as teenagers are fully informed about sex and are making their decisions free of peer pressure and as part of a caring relationship, they have as much right as an adult to a good sex life.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, Berkshire, who introduced classes in emotional wellbeing, said the approach was “deplorable”.


Britain's young generation can now not add up

Huge decline in numeracy

When the Bamberger family opened a haberdashery 65 years ago, they insisted their staff use mental arithmetic to price up customers' purchases. Despite the arrival of calculators, that attitude has remained unchanged over the intervening years. But now the family finds itself facing an unexpected maths problem - most youngsters it would like to employ are incapable of working out sums in their heads.

Colin Bamberger, 82, whose parents founded the Remnant Shop in 1944, said that less than one in ten applicants are now able to solve basic maths problems without turning to a calculator or till. In the past, around eight in ten made the grade. Mr Bamberger, who stills runs one of the family's two stores, yesterday blamed the decline on falling education standards and over-reliance on the pocket calculator. He said: 'Most of the youngsters who come to us for jobs are unemployable because they are not numerate.

'It is a sorry situation and a poor reflection on the academic qualities of young people these days. I think it shows modern teaching methods are sadly lacking. 'It is all very well using calculators but if you have not got some idea what the answer is, how do you know if you have pushed the right button? It's so easy to make a mistake. Around eight out of ten people who came to us for work were capable of doing it in the 1950s and 1960s - but now it is less than one in ten. 'You ask them how much they would charge for nine metres of material at £9.90 a metre and they fiddle about for ages.'

He said that mental arithmetic was essential in his shops because, if customers queried the final bill, staff could scribble their calculations on a piece of paper to show them how they arrived at the sum. With calculators, all customers are presented with is the final figure. 'The problem is people are not taught multiplication tables in school any more,' Mr Bamberger added. 'Paper qualifications these days are just not important to us. 'It is reflected in the fact that many of our staff are a lot older. The modern generation just don't seem to have the skill.'

The Remnant Shop was founded in 1944 by Colin's mother Betty, who sold material and haberdashery from her first-floor flat in Felixstowe, Suffolk. It proved so successful that her husband Sydney soon gave up his job as a commercial traveller to help with the business. A year later, Mr Bamberger joined the family business after studying mathematics and chemistry at Bristol University. The business expanded when his son Robert opened a second shop in Colchester in 1996. The business, which employs 28 staff, stocks 5,500 items of haberdashery, including pins, needles, ribbons and wool as well as 5,000 rolls of fabric used for curtains, crafts and dressmaking.

Robert said that even if applicants were 'massive at marketing, super at sales or even Alan Sugar's next apprentice - if they can't add up quickly in their head we won't have them'. 'My grandfather could add up a column of 50 figures in old pounds, shillings and pennies - including ha'pennies and farthings - in a matter of seconds,' he added. 'He used to insist that any staff we took on could do the same and we have carried on that practice.'

Last year, it emerged more than half of trainee teachers needed multiple attempts to pass a basic numeracy test. Although the exam was originally introduced to drive up standards, it emerged that trainees could take it as many times as they like. One reportedly took the test 28 times before passing.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Georgia's cheating schools: Test scandal more widespread than first reported

A 3.5 SD criterion was indeed VERY lenient

Nearly 20 elementary schools across Georgia would be scrambling to cope with a cheating scandal had the state used a more common standard for spotting problems, according to the head of the investigation. Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement told members of the State Board of Education today that her office only looked at the most extreme instances of scores that were outside the range of statewide averages for improvement, a statistical tool called 3.5 points of standard deviation. Since this was the first cheating investigation, she said she decided to only look at cases where the evidence was overwhelming and that next time her staff would use 2 points of standard deviation.

Had she used the stricter standard in the current investigation, she said about 20 of the state’s 600-plus elementary schools offering the retest would have come under suspicion. As it was, only four did. “In subsequent investigations, I don’t anticipate that our starting point will be as generous,” she said.

State Board member Larry Winter, a forensic accountant by profession, said he often uses such statistical tools in rooting out fraud. “The evidence is extremely compelling,” he said.

Four Georgia elementary schools caught cheating on a 2008 standardized math test will be punished as the result of a decision today by the State Board of Education. The scores will be invalidated, parents will get letters detailing the incident, and educators will tailor a math-instruction plan for each of the students.


Report: 'White flight' causes growing school segregation in Britain

White parents are pulling their children out of schools where they are outnumbered by ethnic-minority pupils, according to a report that shows increasing segregation in Britain. The Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) studied 13 areas, including Bristol, Bolton, Sunderland and Blackburn, and questioned parents. Middle-class parents — who are usually white — were removing children from schools with growing populations of ethnic minorities because they didn’t want them to stand out, the authors of the report said. “We heard strong evidence of ‘white flight’ in some areas,” the report said.

It concluded: “Despite the fact that most people we spoke to in focus groups wanted their children to have a mixed education, parental choice tended to push people to what they saw as the safe option, where children with similar backgrounds went.” The report also found that in areas where schools were monocultural, parents sent their child to the school dominated by pupils from their own ethnic background.

Nick Johnston, one of the authors and a policy director at the iCoCo, said that parents did not want their child to be odd ones out. “People don’t mind a diverse school but what they do mind is their kid being in a visible minority. This trend has increased in the last few years,” he said.In one school in Blackburn, once the number of non-white pupils rose above 60 per cent, white parents started saying that they did not want their children to feel different.

At another unnamed school, 85 per cent of the pupils were white British at the end of 2005. During the next two terms pupils from 15 to 20 Somali families joined.

Johnston suggested that councils should consider using lotteries to increase school diversity. [i.e. the bastard wants to thwart attempts by the parents to keep their kids safe]


The dumbing down of British education never stops

Academics condemn the maths A-level made easy

A 'dumbed down' maths A-level which includes questions on personal finance and allows advanced calculators has been criticised by more than 60 leading academics. The new A-level in 'use of maths' could be introduced in schools from 2011 alongside traditional maths courses. Draft papers reveal that pupils will be allowed to use graphical calculators for the first time and have to answer questions about converting pounds to euros while on holiday.

Dozens of top mathematicians fear the exam will 'cannibalise' the existing qualification and end up replacing it in many schools. They are concerned that pupils will be steered towards the 'easier' qualification to help schools meet exam targets, only to find many universities do not accept it. The academics are calling for the Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to abandon the exam. Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove has also attacked it as a 'bluffer's guide' to A-level maths.

In a letter to the QCA, the group Educators for Reform warns that the compulsory units covering topics such as algebra and calculus are 'considerably less demanding' than the traditional exam. The optional units are a 'hotch potch' which will not give pupils a solid foundation in the subject, they say. Instead of sketching graphs, pupils will be able to copy them from the screen of a graphical calculator.

Academics say the course also provides pupils with data sheets that lead to a 'sat nav' approach to examining, rather than letting them think for themselves. There is also a greater emphasis on practical activities and personal finance, including, in draft papers, a question on the cost of hiring a car in France. Professor Nick Shepherd-Barron, of Cambridge University, said there was a danger that British youngsters would be less well educated than competitors abroad.

But Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'We cannot continue teaching an outdated 19th century curriculum. This is simply turning many children off education because it is completely not relevant to them at all.'