Saturday, August 15, 2009

U.S. homeschoolers score 37 points higher

Costs also average $500, compared to $10,000 at public school

A newly released study from the Home School Legal Defense Association shows that not only do homeschoolers incur expenses only 5 percent of what public schools spend on each student, they score nearly 40 points higher on standardized achievement tests. "These results validate the dedication of thousands of homeschool parents who are giving their children the best education possible," said Michael Smith, president of the advocacy organization.

The HSLDA said homeschooling in the United States already includes about 4 percent of the school-aged population and is growing at about 7 percent a year, now involving some two million children. If you ever wondered why you should yank your kids from government schools, read "The Little Book of Big Reasons to Homeschool"

The report, "Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics," was conducted by Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. The survey included 11,739 homeschool students in all 50 states for the 2007-2009 academic year, and the HSLDA said the results were consistent with previous studies on homeschoolers' achievements.

Drawing on the results from 15 independent testing services, the Progress Report 2009, the most comprehensive homeschool academic study ever completed, showed homeschoolers who participated in the California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Stanford Achievement Test scored 37 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests. The study also showed that achievement gaps common in public schools and linked to income levels and other factors mostly were absent or minimal in the homeschool community.

The study showed homeschooled boys scored at the 87th percentile and girls were at the 88th percentile. Students where the household income was under $35,000 scored at the 85th percentile and students in homes with a household income over $70,000 were at the 89th percentile. There was only slightly more variance linked to parental education, too. Children whose parents did not have college degrees were at the 83rd percentile and children in homes where both parents held college degrees were at the 90th percentile.

"Because of the one-on-one instruction homeschoolers receive, we are prepared academically to be productive and contributing members of today's society," Smith said. "Homeschooling is a rapidly growing, thriving education movement that is challenging the conventional wisdom about the best way to raise and educate the next generation," said Smith.

Regarding costs, the average public school spends nearly $10,000 per child per year, but the Progress Report said the average homeschool parent spends about $500 per child per year.

Ian Slatter, director of media relations for the HSLDA, cited the 100,000 students graduated each year from homeschools as a reason the activity is getting more and more attention. "Despite much resistance from outside the homeschool movement, whether from teachers unions, politicians, school administrators, judges, social service workers, or even family members, over the past few decades homeschoolers have slowly but surely won acceptance as a mainstream education alternative. This has been due in part to the commissioning of research which demonstrates the academic success of the average homeschooler," the HSLDA report said.

Homeschoolers achieved the 89th percentile in reading, 84th in language, 84th in math, 86th in science and 84th in social studies. The 37-point margin was significantly higher than the 30-point margin reported in a 1998 study on the issue, the HSLDA said.

"This particular study is the most comprehensive ever undertaken. It attempts to build upon and improve on the previous research. One criticism of the Rudner [1998] study was that it only drew students from one large testing service. Although there was no reason to believe that homeschoolers participating with that service were automatically non-representative of the broader homeschool community, HSLDA decided to answer this criticism by using 15 independent testing services for this new study. There can be no doubt that homeschoolers from all walks of life and backgrounds participated in the "Progress Report."

WND had reported only weeks earlier on an HSLDA assessment that determined moms and dads can teach their own children as effectively as any "certified" teacher. The report by Chris Klicka, senior counsel for the HSLDA, is titled, "The Myth of Teacher Qualifications." He revealed that having "certified" teachers actually has a negative impact in some situations.

He reported, "Educational research does not indicate any positive correlation between teacher qualifications and student performance. Many courts have found teacher qualification requirements on homeschoolers to be too excessive or not appropriate. The trend in state legislatures across the country indicates an abandonment of teacher qualification requirements for homeschool teachers. In fact, Americans, in general, are realizing that the necessity of teacher qualifications is a myth. The teachers' unions and other members of the educational establishment make up the small minority still lobbying for teacher certification in order to protect their disintegrating monopoly on education."

The assessment said, "One of the most significant studies in this area was performed by Dr. Eric Hanushek of the University of Rochester, who surveyed the results of 113 studies on the impact of teachers' qualifications on their students' academic achievement. Eighty-five percent of the studies found no positive correlation between the educational performance of the students and the teacher's educational background. "Although 7 percent of the studies did find a positive correlation, 5 percent found a negative impact," the report said.

More here

Leftist Britain to make the best universities accessible only to the well-off!

The left-hand clearly does not know what the right-hand is doing

Imagine that all the children in this country went to state schools. There would be good schools, bad schools, but no schools that charged fees. Pushy parents would still try to wangle their kids into the best schools, but simply buying a better education wouldn’t be an option.

And then imagine if the top schools asked the Government for permission to charge fees on top of their state funding. Of course this would mean losing pupils from poor backgrounds. But that couldn’t be helped if they were to maintain their high standards.

I presume that any British government would turn them down flat. Even the right wing of the Tory party would balk at state schools being allowed to price themselves out of the reach of the poor.

Yet this is exactly what is about to happen to the British university system. Whichever party wins the next election, it will clamp down hard on state support for universities. In return it will allow the leading universities to charge top-up fees of £7,000 to £8,000 a year.

At present university funding is a hybrid system. In most of Britain (the Scots are, of course, different) the government gives universities an annual sum for each undergraduate of between £3,000 and £15,000, depending on subject. Students themselves are asked for about £3,000 on top. The government doesn’t allow universities to ask for more, although they can, in principle, charge less. And because this cap on fees is so low, nearly all universities ask for the full £3,000, with the result that doing a degree at Oxford costs no more than at Hull.

But if the limit on top-up fees is raised in line with all the noises currently emanating from Peter Mandelson’s ├╝berdepartment, the market will start to bite for real. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College and the other top dogs will promptly charge the maximum. But the Hulls of this world won’t be able to fill their seats at those prices, and will ask far less. At which point the best universities will become the preserve of the rich.

Political leaders on both sides are rightly keen to increase the proportion of state school children in the top universities. About half of the undergraduates at Oxbridge come from fee-paying schools, although the private sector educates less than one tenth of the age group. But there will be no hope of fixing this once universities can charge commercial rates. The people who can afford top university fees will be those who can afford school fees, and the government will have connived in turning our university sector into a state-subsidised version of our miserable school system.

No doubt there will be a system of means-tested bursaries to help families on low incomes. But this won’t solve the problem, any more that Margaret Thatcher’s misbegotten assisted places scheme turned the public schools into havens of social equality. A bursary scheme will assist the few children from very poor families who fight their way to a top university. But in a country where most households manage on less than £25,000 a year after tax, there will be a lot of families above the means-test line who can’t afford the extra fees.

The high-end British universities argue that their inability to charge higher fees is making them slide down the international league tables. But the facts do not bear this out. Most of these tables rank up to 20 British universities in the top 100 worldwide, and about 4 in the top 10. Only the US does better and even it is behind on a per capita basis. Britain is streets ahead of its European competitors. Any country in the world would give its right arm to have universities like ours.

Indeed there is good evidence that universities that rely on fees from rich parents are rarely academic heavy-hitters. There are plenty of “rich kids’ colleges” in the US, and some are academically substantial. But the vast majority of leading US universities are not like this. They are either hugely endowed, such as Harvard and Yale, so able to admit students without even asking if they can pay. Or they are highly subsidised state institutions, such as the Universities of Michigan and Texas, where local pride ensures that residents receive a fine education at nominal rates.

Neither of these options is on the cards in Britain. The kind of money commanded by Harvard and Yale lies far beyond the dreams of British university bursars. And you only have to imagine asking Hull’s taxpayers to fund its university to see the problem. Which leaves only one alternative. Once the cap comes off top-up fees, our proudest universities will quickly turn into rich kids’ colleges, and academic excellence is more likely to suffer than gain.

We all know that public money will be tight over the next decade. But the government must find some alternative to free-market university fees. It is no accident that admission to one of our world-leading universities is one of the few things in modern Britain that money can’t buy. Once it is restricted to those children lucky enough to have rich parents we really will start to slide down the international scale.


Dumbed down Britain again

Boy, 15, gets an exam pass - just for using the bus

Eagerly awaiting his GCSE results, Bobby McHale was surprised to receive an early letter from an examination board. The 15-year-old was not expecting his results until later this month, so he was understandably nervous as he opened the mystery envelope. But what he saw left him astonished, for Bobby had indeed been awarded a certificate - for getting the bus.

It came from the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, the largest of the three English exam boards, and was headed Using Public Transport (Unit 1). The certificate recognised, among other skills, his ability to walk to the local bus stop, enter the bus 'in a calm and safe manner', and wait until the bus has stopped before trying to get off.

Bobby, who wasn't even aware he had taken the test, received the AQA certificate after attending a three-week holiday scheme for teenagers run by Bury Youth Services in Greater Manchester. Some of his friends who attended the scheme also received the qualification although others, including his younger brother Joe, 13, did not. 'Maybe he wasn't up to it,' said Bobby, who is hoping for A grades at GCSE. 'At first I thought I'd got some sort of GCSE early. When I read out the details to the family we all fell about laughing. 'The Bury Youth Scheme is excellent and we get the chance to do a lot of activities but I can't see the point of the certificate at all.'

His father Andy, 44, who runs a marketing company, said: 'Bobby's face was a picture when he saw the certificate. 'The Bury Youth Scheme is excellent and I can only suppose this comes from some box they have to tick in order to get funding. 'As part of it Bobby certainly travelled by bus. Maybe it's boosted his confidence because he was nominated as head boy. We think he may go far - so long as he gets the 135.' Bobby, who attended the course last year, said he won't be boasting of his achievement. 'I haven't bothered framing it,' he said.

More than 920 young people had signed up for the BRAG (Bury and Rochdale Active Generation) course last year and around 300 would have been awarded some sort of accreditation - either for sporting prowess or through an AQA qualification. The annual cost of running BRAG events is £20,000, paid for through a Government grant.

Barbara Lewis, of Youth Support Services in Bury, said: 'This certificate isn't just about getting on the bus, it's about time management, working out bus routes and for some people, travelling alone for the first time. 'We encourage people to make their own way to the range of activities on offer and work with parents by asking them not to drop them off in the car. For some it may be the only qualification they get. 'The idea is that it's about teaching young people self reliance and emotional well-being through fun and challenging activities. We try to reward young people for their achievements and their social and personal development.

AQA awards 49 per cent of full course GCSEs and 42 per cent of Alevels in England. Pupils sit more than 3.5million exams with it each year. A spokesman said: 'We expect centres to ensure that candidates are entered for units that are appropriate to their needs and abilities.'


Friday, August 14, 2009

Better female educational results mainly come from their choosing useless subjects to study

Subjects like sociology and psychology. Spare us! I have taught both at major universities so know how useless most of it is. And as for literary studies .... ! So when women finally go into the workforce, they don't get the good jobs a lot of the time

These are great days for female undergraduates, who with their greater numbers are excelling in higher education, leaving their male counterparts in the dust. That's the increasingly common view, at least, leading to calls in some quarters to focus more on male students.

But what if the enrollment totals are obscuring a major equity issue that may not favor women at all? That was the idea behind research presented here Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. The research links women's and men's college majors with earning gaps by gender, after graduation. And even as the earning gaps nationally have declined, the study says, the share of the gap attributable to college major has grown.

The author of the paper, Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, a sociologist at Ohio State University, used the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, combining data sets to compare men and women who graduated from high school in 1972 and 1992, and to compare their salaries seven years after high school graduation. (Only those employed full time, following a college degree, were compared.)

The good news for women is that during the time period studied, their average salary increased from 78 cents for every male dollar earned to 83 cents. But when Bobbitt-Zeher controlled for various factors, she found that the share of that gap attributable to selection of major had increased. She controlled for a variety of factors that may result in some people, on average, earning more than others: industries that employ them, socioeconomic status, SAT scores, the competitiveness of the colleges students attended, and whether students subsequently earned a graduate degree.

When controlling for all available factors, Bobbitt-Zeher found that the choice of major explained 19 percent of the income gap between college-educated men and women for the high school class of 1999, nearly twice as much of an impact as could be documented for the class that graduated 20 years earlier.

For comparison purposes, Bobbitt-Zeher divided majors into four categories: business; math, natural sciences, and engineering; education; and the social sciences, arts and humanities. Men are more likely than women to major in the first two categories and women more likely than men to major in the latter two. What Bobbitt-Zeher then noticed was that both men and women are increasingly majoring with more women, but that while men are headed toward parity, majors that are more popular with women are becoming increasingly dominated by women.

In the 1970s, men were majoring in programs in which women made up 23 percent of the students, and women were majoring in fields that were 49 percent female. By the 1990s, men were on average majoring in programs that were 45 percent female, while women were majoring in programs that were 60 percent female, and were becoming "feminized," according to the paper.

In her presentation, Bobbitt-Zeher acknowledged that it is not possible to know the extent to which women are making a completely free choice about their majors, or whether there are encouragements (or discouragements) that are sending more women in certain directions and more men in others.

But the paper argues that these patterns -- especially given that choice of major is increasingly responsible for economic differences among men and women -- need more attention. And the paper notes that these findings challenge the idea that women's issues in undergraduate education have somehow all been addressed.

"While general patterns in women’s educational accomplishments are often interpreted as an end point for gender equality -- that gender is no longer an impediment for women in education and/or in society at large -- the findings show that even though women may be advantaged in some areas of education and have reduced gender differences in other schooling areas, education still contributes in a meaningful way to social disadvantage for women. Indeed, it contributes more than it did in the past. Of particular concern is the importance of gender segregation in fields of study, which is shown here to increasingly contribute to the gender income gap."

After her talk, Bobbitt-Zeher said that one difficulty of analyzing these issues is that "there's a lot going on here." She noted that efforts by many in higher education to recruit more female students into science programs should help, but she said that these efforts may also need a push by, for example, increasing efforts to hire more women as faculty members in these departments. But she also noted the "complexity" of the situation, and suggested that promoting economic equity for men and women may require changes in attitudes across the board. "As women go into men's majors, that's part of it, but men need to go into other majors, too, and as women go into some majors, men sometimes don't want those majors anymore," she said.


British class consciousness is still overpowering for most

Teachers 'prevent' comprehensive pupils from applying to Oxford and Cambridge

Bright pupils from comprehensives are being put off applying to Oxbridge because of fears over "elitism", according to researchers for the Sutton Trust. Teachers often promote the view that Oxford and Cambridge are "not for the likes of us", it was claimed. The Sutton Trust charity said that pupils from state schools needed better guidance to help them apply to leading universities.

Last month, Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, said more needed to be done to widen access to higher education. More than four in 10 students currently admitted to Oxford and Cambridge are from independent schools, even though they educate just seven per cent of children in the United Kingdom.

The Government is now considering introducing new guidance urging universities to give pupils from poor families a two-grade "head start" in the admissions process. But the Sutton Trust suggested that schools - not universities - were often to blame. Dr Lee Elliot Major, the charity's research director, said teachers often confused excellence with elitism.

"What we've found is that independent school pupils with similar grades to state school pupils are far more likely to apply to leading research universities," he said. "One of our concerns is that there is a confusion between excellence and elitism in many state schools - that often the prestigious universities are perceived to be 'not for the likes of us'."

The Sutton Trust is due to publish research later this week which will demand an overhaul of careers advice in schools. Around half the guidance pupils currently received in state schools was poor, Dr Elliot Major said. "We're also concerned about teachers - that half of state school pupils, even if they had the brightest pupils in their class, they wouldn't advise them to consider Oxbridge," he said.


Labour's 1.3m words of advice for British schools: Volume of annual guidance swamps teachers

Heads were swamped with nearly 1.3million words of Government guidance last year - one and a half times as many as in the Bible. They were sent more than 250 documents including a 'simplification plan' detailing how officials had reduced bureaucracy. It ran to 90 pages. If all the 3,982 pages of guidance emailed to schools between April 2008 and April 2009 were printed, the stack of paper would be 16inches thick.

Other information included a document on 'reducing data burdens', as well as advice on what to look for when buying a musical instrument and a guide to the EU member states.

The stream of paperwork was revealed by the Conservatives, who analysed documents sent in a fortnightly email from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove accused ministers of inundating schools with rules and guidance instead of letting teachers get on with their jobs. 'Instead of giving teachers the powers they need over discipline or fixing the devaluation of the exam system, [Schools Secretary] Ed Balls is swamping schools with such a tide of paper that it is obvious heads cannot read more than a fraction,' Mr Gove said. 'We will give teachers much more freedom, but we will make them more accountable to parents instead of bureaucrats.'

The guidance notes run to 1,269,000 words. This compares with 788,000 in the King James Bible and 885,000 in the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Several of the missives cover data collection, while a guide for school governors published in April lists 37 policies schools are legally required to draw up, including rules on target-setting, community cohesion, accessibility and collective worship.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: 'Unless over-regulation is reduced schools will continue to sink under its weight. 'Heads are forced to make a judgment as to what they can implement and what they can't but the inspection system assumes it all should have been implemented.'

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was not Government policy to email full documents to schools, and that hard copies were sent only in 'exceptional circumstances'. She added: 'We make no apology for alerting schools to the information they need to deal with important issues like child protection, bullying and race equality.'


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bloomberg Plans to Stop Promoting Low-Performing Fourth and Sixth Graders

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Monday that he planned to make it harder this year for fourth and sixth graders who score poorly on standardized tests to move on to the next grade, extending a policy that his re-election team hopes will help him curry favor with voters. Under the requirements, which are already in place for grades three, five, seven and eight, students who perform at the lowest level on state tests in English and math will have to repeat the grade unless they can master the material in summer school.

Previously, under a policy known as social promotion, school officials gave a pass to low-performing students under the belief that they would be more likely to drop out if they were held back and separated from children their own age.

Mr. Bloomberg won approval for the stricter requirements in 2004, beginning with the third grade, after a bruising battle that involved the firing of three members of an education oversight board and criticism from elected officials, educators and good-government groups.

Over all, fewer students are being held back in the city, even with the tougher promotion requirements — a trend that education officials attribute to rises in test scores across the city since the mayor took over in 2002. In the third grade, for instance, 864 students were held back in the 2007-8 school year, compared with 3,105 in 2002-3, the year before the policy went into effect. In addition, enrollment at summer school has decreased in recent years (it was 105,531 this year, down from 119,954 last year).

Now, as Mr. Bloomberg seeks a third term, he is trying to play down divisions over the policy and portray the end of social promotion as a major reason for the city’s large gains in test scores and graduation rates, even though it is difficult to definitively prove that relationship. At an East Harlem elementary school on Monday, Mr. Bloomberg said social promotion was “as cruel and mean a thing as we could possibly do for any student.” “All we’re doing is setting those students up for failure,” he said. “We are not going to do that.”

Asked what evidence he had to show that stricter requirements had bolstered student achievement, Mr. Bloomberg was defensive. “I’m speechless,” he said. “If you don’t believe ending social promotion is one of the real keys to doing this, I don’t know quite how to answer the question.”

The city’s Department of Education said that 94 percent of low-performing students who were held back in the seventh grade earned a Level 2 (out of 4) or higher on their eighth-grade English tests. By contrast, 59 percent of those low-performing students who were promoted to the next grade reached that level.

Aaron M. Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia, said the city should have waited for more conclusive evidence on the effects of its stricter promotion policy before extending it. He noted that similar efforts in other cities had shown mixed results. “Politically, the public is comfortable with hearing, ‘We don’t want just to pass kids along,’ ” he said. “The challenge is figuring out what is a good alternative.”

The city expects a longitudinal study of third- and fifth-grade policies conducted by the RAND Corporation to be released this fall. Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign team seized on the announcement to promote the mayor’s educational record. In response, the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., Mr. Bloomberg’s likely Democratic challenger in the mayoral race, released a statement noting the high numbers of public school graduates who require remediation upon entering city colleges.

The teachers’ union said the move was a “step in the right direction,” but called for better support of struggling students. The new policy will require the approval of the 13-member oversight board, the Panel for Educational Policy, which is expected to vote on the matter after soliciting public comments.


British Conservative education policy - a brave new world of great schools, no national curriculum and real choice for parents?

It sounds great, doesn't it? But is it really going to happen? According to the Conservative party, the answer is very much "yes."

"I don't think", one Tory adviser said to me today, "that people realise how radically education is going to be changed under a Conservative government." It's a very interesting point. While there is much talk of "the Swedish model" (which can conjure up thoughts of something quite different to newly built schools), Tory plans for education go much further than the specifics which they have taken from Sweden.

Today George Osborne will make a speech claiming that the Tories are now the "progressive party", and promising a "revolutionary" delivery of front line services such as health and education. Education is definitely one area where the Conservatives have a wealth of ideas; whether they will now have the money to put them into practice is a moot point.

The most well-known Conservative education policy is probably the concept of independent providers setting up their own state (i.e. non-fee paying) schools, as has happened in Sweden. But England is a quite different country from its Scandinavian counterpart - it's far less homogeneous, both financially and multiculturally - and that's why the Tories are keen to point out that their plans contain much more than new schools. And of course, the Swedish model of education also has far more to it than the introduction of these new schools.

As visitors to School Gate will know, I am often disheartened by education in this country. So surely these plans should appeal to me. For one thing, I'm unhappy that parents often can't get their children into the school of their choice. Do the Tory plans - which also include an extension of academies - address this? I'm not sure. They're certainly meant to, but they also rely hugely on parent power, giving parents the chance to move their children to a new school, set up by concerned mothers and fathers, organisations or charities. What of the children with less pushy parents or the parents who care about their children's education, but wouldn't want to set up their own school to sort it out?

There's also a lot of concern that these policies benefit only the middle class. Interestingly Michael Gove addressed this point in a recent interview with former adviser to David Blunkett, Conor Ryan. "Critics say that these opportunities will be taken up most by the articulate middle classes,’ he said. "But I find that those who are most unhappy with the existing choices are articulate working-class parents."

In any case, if you were worried (as I am) about less privileged children with less pushy parents, the argument is that charities will fill the gap. Disadvantaged pupils will also receive more funding, via the pupil premium. This should guard against any damage to "social cohesion" - a concern of Christine Blower from the NUT.

The plans for new schools apply to both primary and secondaries, with primaries probably first to get the go-ahead. Having cleverly moved Key Stage 2 SATS to secondary school, schools will, apparently, be allowed so much more freedom - to be creative and flexible, something which teachers and parents have been demanding for a long, long time. There will also be no requirement that the national curriculum be followed.

It all sounds exciting, if a little scary. After all, these schools can teach what they want - who will be responsible for them? But if we do want change, perhaps it's time to go for something genuinely different.


Australian Leftist revolution in education is destined to fail

Kevin Donnelly

IF imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Tony Blair's head must be spinning. When it comes to the federal government's education revolution, the reality is that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are simply copying policies implemented by Blair when he was British prime minister. Initiatives such as early childhood education, a national curriculum and national testing, identifying under-performing schools and holding them accountable and investing in computers and information and communication technology, are all copied from British Labour.

Even the rhetoric is the same. Just compare Blair's exhortation, "Our goal: to make Britain the best-educated and skilled country in the world education, education, education", to Kevin Rudd's statement: "We need to lift our vision and start to imagine an Australia where we turn ourselves into the most educated economy, the most educated society in the Western world."

Education Minister Gillard, late last year, called on business to become more involved with schools, when she said, "I am certain that we will not achieve world-class education in every Australian school without the active support and involvement of the business community." It should not surprise that Blair expressed the same sentiment in 1999 when he said, "When people say keep business out of schools I say: the more support and involvement of the wider community, including business, in our schools the better."

That Australia's education revolution copies what has been tried in Britain over the past 12 years should not surprise. The ALP's links with Britain include one-time schools minister David Miliband advising the then opposition in the lead-up to the 2007 election. One of the most influential sources of policy advice during the Blair years was the left-wing think tank Demos. The director of Demos, Tom Bentley, after working as a senior adviser to the Victorian ALP government, now advises Gillard. Tony Mackay, the deputy chairman of Australia's National Curriculum Board, also has close ties with the British Labour, having worked with Demos and other British education bodies such as the London Leadership Centre during the Blair years.

Given that Rudd's education revolution mirrors events in Britain, the question needs to be asked: have the Blair policies succeeded in raising standards and strengthening schools? Based on the results of the most recent national tests for 11-year-olds, where two in every five children are leaving primary school under-performing in mathematics, science and English, the answer is "no".

Where there is evidence of test results improving, as noted by Alan Smithers in his report Blair's Education: an international perspective, such results are illusory. Not only have tests been made easier, but schools have also inflated results by narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test and excluding weaker students.

Such are the flaws in Britain's national testing system, one that Australia has followed with national tests at years 3, 5, 7 and 9, that key stage three tests have been abolished and a recent report evaluating the primary curriculum argues that high-risk, one-off tests need to be wound back in favour of more teacher-directed classroom assessment.

In relation to the national curriculum, Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools originally appointed by Margaret Thatcher and reappointed by Blair, argues that subjects lack academic rigour as they are prone to politically correct fads such as personalised learning and teaching wellbeing. In his recent book Class War: The State of British Education, Woodhead also suggests the reason so many students achieve excellent examination results is because, over time, questions have been made easier and standards watered down.

Such are the concerns about the senior-school curriculum being dumbed down that a group of Britain's most prestigious independent schools has decided to abandon A-levels in favour of more academically rigorous and reliable alternatives.

As to why Blair's reforms have been ineffective and why Rudd's education revolution is also destined to fail, the answer lies in the overly bureaucratic, centralised and top-down nature of the reforms. As suggested by Woodhead: "The lesson for this failure is simple, the top-down imposition of politically inspired education reform does not work." Micro-managing schools and enforcing a one-size-fits all approach stifles creativity, innovation and denies schools the freedom and flexibility needed to achieve strong outcomes.

There is an alternative. Research into the characteristics of stronger performing education systems and schools identifies autonomy, diversity, choice and competition as central, the very things ignored by Rudd's and Gillard's education revolution.

Evidence that school choice and a more market-driven approach works is easy to find: just look at Australia's Catholic and independent schools that, even after adjusting for students' socioeconomic background, outperform government-controlled schools in areas such as literacy, numeracy and year 12 results, as well as school retention rates and success at tertiary entry.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Extensive teacher layoffs across America

But I'm betting that not a single education bureaucrat or any of the "administrators" who now infest schools have been laid off. A strange idea of who the important people are

Widespread layoffs caused by tight school budgets are forcing thousands of teachers out of the classroom, in some cases, permanently. Many are taking other jobs or considering changing careers, even as they anxiously hope to be recalled. When school begins this month, as many as 100,000 of last year’s teachers won’t have jobs, resulting in an overall drop in education jobs in the U.S., estimates Carmen Quesada, director of field operations for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

That’s a jolt to people drawn to teaching in part for its recession-proof reputation. The number of people working in local education has increased every year since 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That streak is now in jeopardy: Local schools employed fewer people overall, including nonteachers, in July, the latest month available, than in July 2008. The majority of the layoffs have involved nontenure teaching positions, with cuts determined by seniority.

Judith Franco is among those affected. She taught typing and business technology at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla., for two years before being laid off in June—one of 394 teachers laid off by the Broward County Public Schools. Now, the 45-year-old single mother is plotting how to pay her daughter’s college tuition, while supporting her 13-year-old son and a brother with lymphoma. She is considering resuming the alterations business she ran for 20 years before teaching. She recently reconnected with former clients and has lined up a few jobs working on weddings. “I’m in wait-and-see mode,” she says. “I’m looking everywhere.”

Historically, many teachers laid off during tough times quit the profession. New York City laid off 15,000 teachers during its fiscal crisis in the 1970s. It later recalled 10,000, but only 3,000 returned, according to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “You’ll lose teachers to other professions. They certainly didn’t come to education to become rich,” says Ms. Weingarten.

Some teachers given pink slips last spring have been recalled. Eighth-grade English teacher Samantha Terrasas, 28 years old, was notified of her impending layoff in March, a few months before she was named the “Outstanding New Teacher” in San Lorenzo, Calif. In late July, she was offered her job back and accepted.

Even when teachers are recalled, job security is never certain, and that can take a toll. Audrey Day, 30, taught fourth and fifth grades for three years in San Diego. During that time, she was told five times that she might have to change schools; and she was formally notified she might be laid off only once. Ms. Day never lost her job, but says the process was extremely stressful and made her wary of bonding with her students. “Ultimately I worked far too hard through an undergrad degree, credential [program] and master’s not to know month to month if I’ll have a position,” she says. In 2007, Ms. Day quit to prepare for law school. She starts Seton Hall University law school later this month.

Lauren Sikorski, 25, recently laid off after two years teaching special-education math at Carteret Middle School in Carteret, N.J., plans to pursue a degree in occupational therapy, beginning next spring. “The plan my whole life was to be a teacher,” she says. “Now I’ll still work with children, just in a different setting.”

Many others are biding their time, scrambling to craft back-up plans while hoping to be recalled. Tony Whitesel, 39, left a branch-manager job at Hertz in 2001 to return to college to become a teacher. In 2006, he started work as a fifth-grade teacher at Great Valley Elementary School in Manteca, Calif. He was laid off in June. Mr. Whitesel says he went into teaching thinking he would have job security. “Ironically, I’m the only one in my family to graduate high school, let alone college, yet I’m the only one not working,” he says.

He spent the summer struggling to pay rent, a total of $40,000 in student loans and other living expenses on unemployment benefits and his wife’s salary as an aide for children with learning disabilities; she makes about a third of his old salary. His health insurance will run out at the end of the month, and he says he won’t be able to extend it.

Last week, Mr. Whitesel was told he could fill in for several months in the coming school year for a teacher on sick leave from a different Manteca school. But the substitute post doesn’t offer benefits, so Mr. Whitesel is still looking for nonteaching jobs, hindered by the 15.5% unemployment rate in San Joaquin County, among the nation’s highest. If he finds a job and sees potential for growth, he says he would leave teaching. “I won’t be terribly picky as long as the income is high enough and I have benefits,” he says.

Aside from losing current teachers, some school officials worry the mounting layoffs could deter students from entering the field. Jack O’Connell, California’s superintendent of public instruction, says generally fewer people apply for teacher credentials when school funding declines. The California Teachers Association estimates 17,000 teachers in the state received pink slips last school year.

This fall’s class in the teacher-credential program at the University of Redlands School of Education in Redlands, Calif., has about 50 students, about 20 fewer than normal. Dean Robert Denham says prospective students are having a hard time justifying the $15,810 expense for another year of education when they may not find a job after completing the program.

Enrollment in the elementary program at California Lutheran University’s School of Education in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is down by one-third from two years ago, says Carol Bartell, the school’s dean.

Applications for the master’s-degree-in-teaching program at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education in Charlottesville, Va., fell more than 15% this year, the largest one-year drop in school history, says Sandi Cohen, director of teacher education. Graduates also are finding it tougher to find a job. Ms. Cohen says slightly more than 15% of this year’s graduates don’t have jobs, a rare occurrence in other years.

So far Teach for America Inc., a nonprofit that places recent college graduates in low-income public schools, has yet to see any impact from the school cuts or interest from laid-off teachers, says Kerci Marcello Stroud, national communications director. The group saw a 42% increase in applications this year and expects to place its largest corps ever this school year: more than 4,000 new teachers, up from 3,700 last year.

But the recent news of budget cuts and layoffs on a local basis across the country may eventually limit the pool of new teachers. “Students who are very competitive in the work force are smart enough to realize that there aren’t going to be jobs if the school districts around them are cutting back,” says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “They will pursue a different career.”


New 'totalitarian' home education rules in England drive families north to Scotland

Home schooling advisers say they are being swamped by inquiries from parents who want to move to Scotland

The housing market may still be gloomy but one group of people could offer estate agents a glimmer of hope, as home education support groups report a huge increase in the number of inquiries from parents thinking of moving to Scotland. "People are serious about leaving England," says Barbara Stark, chair of Action for Home Education. The surge in interest follows the government's planned shake-up of home education in England – described by Stark as "totalitarian".

Schoolhouse, a Scottish home education charity, has received four times the normal numbers of inquiries from English parents considering a move north, with nearly 100 in the two weeks following the publication in June of Graham Badman's review of home education in England. The review's key recommendations would force families who opt out of schooling to register annually with their local authorities, submit learning plans and undergo regular inspections. The report was accepted by the government.

Schoolhouse spokesperson Alison Preuss says: "The Badman report came out in the middle of June and we started getting swamped with calls from English families who were asking about how 'safe' Scotland was by comparison. "We are not only being asked about the home education law, but also about the political climate, transport links, housing, employment and business opportunities by parents who are making plans to move to Scotland." Scottish educational policy recommends that LEAs should be in contact with home-schooling families annually, but this is a recommendation, not an obligation.

The Badman proposals are causing Techla and David Wood to "reluctantly" move north from Hellifield, North Yorkshire, to North Ayrshire with their four children. Techla Wood says if the family remained in England, they could not continue with their "child-led learning" because of the requirement that teaching plans must be submitted to local authorities. "My eldest children, twins Daisy and Chloe, are 13 and have never been to school, but the Badman report turns everything that we have being doing on its head. If we stay in England, Ben and Ariana, who are six and one, won't have the same options to explore their education or have the freedom to learn as the older kids have," she says.

The Woods are looking at houses in the Largs, West Kilbride and Fairlie area. "It's a difficult time to do this with the financial crisis, but if it came to it we would put the house on the market below the market price just to get a quick sale and then go and stay with friends."

Lisa Amphlett and partner Gareth Jenkins from Stafford have been looking at houses in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where property is expensive. The couple run a web design company, making them reasonably mobile, but they need good transport links and have altered their business plans to finance the move, even though their daughter, Millie, is only 20 months old. They fully intend to home educate Millie.

Lisa Amphlett explains: "We are prepared to go as quickly as possible but we have set a deadline when Millie turns five. Being judged on our educational or parental quality is not a road we want to take."


Australian teacher wants justice for 'nude sacking'

I have some sympathy for this woman. Teachers are entitled to a private life too. And bureaucrats sure have ways of getting nasty. On being ordered to reinstate her, they gave her a difficult job for which she is not trained. What does it say about a bureaucracy that fills positions with unqualified people? Someone needs to crack down on these petulant sulkers. Pic concerned below -- JR

A TEACHER sacked for posing nude in a women's magazine is fighting for an apology and compensation. Lynne Tziolas was sacked from Narraweena Public School, in Sydney's northern suburbs, after she posed nude with her husband Antonios also a casual teacher in the sealed section of Cleo magazine last year.

After finalising legal documents Mrs Tziolas plans to file her claim against the the New South Wales Education Department with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in the next two weeks. She is seeking answers and compensation for the "irrevocable damage’’ done to her career, The Manly Daily reports.

Her initial sacking divided the school community and caused a public uproar with both parents and students campaigning to have the popular year one teacher back in the classroom. After an investigation, the Education Department overturned the decision and reinstated her.

However, she was offered a position at a school for students with behavioural and learning difficulties, one she says she is not qualified for. The second offer was for an interview, not a position, for a school in the northern Sydney school of Ryde about "an hour and a half away in peak hour traffic’’.

Mrs Tziolas said there were many double standards within the Education Department. "Antonios is a teacher and nothing happened to him. He was in the same picture.’’

Mr Tziolas said there was also a gender inequality with other public servants, such as firefighters, who pose for nude calendars. "We’re going to argue not only has Lynne’s career been irrevocably damaged, but her health has suffered directly as a result,’’ he said. "It’s not the same as in the corporate world where you can look for another job outside of the company. We won’t deny compensation is something we’re seeking but also the acknowledgment that they (department) have stuffed up.’’


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teachers' unions still obstructing reform in California

They opposed GWB and now they are opposing Obama too. Teacher performance must be kept secret. They are dead scared of accountability because they know how poorly many teachers perform. They are right to say that some classes are much more difficult to teach and that performance should not be based simply on student achievement but that is a poor excuse as there is nothing stopping legislators from making allowances for that. The information has to be gathered in the first place, however, and that is what the unionists oppose. A very simple and generally just index of teacher performance would be, for instance, to multiply exam results by the percentage of students receiving free lunches

In California's public school classrooms, students may soon not be the only ones worrying about their grades. Faced with a dire choice over being loyal to the state's powerful teachers union or claiming their share of billions of dollars in new federal funding, Sacramento legislators are re-evaluating a law that prevents the state from tying student test scores to teacher performance.

At stake is California's ability to compete with Florida, Texas and other states for $4.35 billion in education stimulus dollars. The 2006 law is a sticking point in a political feud between the Obama administration and state educators. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has strongly signaled that California will probably be disqualified from the new "Race to the Top" funds if the law remains on the books.

Advocates have long argued that data linking student achievement data directly to teachers is a critical piece of serious education reform. But teachers unions have long fought off attempts to tie the two together, saying it will unfairly lead to teachers being paid and promoted based on test scores.

"States around the country are constructing data warehouses, and they should be," said Terry Moe, a political-science professor at Stanford University. "But the unions are doing everything they can to make it illegal to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. It's a power play."

The competitive federal grants, announced last month, are designed to spur certain education reforms. Key among them is urging states to improve what is often a patchwork system of different student and teacher databases into one integrated, statewide system. "In California, they have 300,000 teachers. If you took the top 10 percent, they have 30,000 of the best teachers in the world," Duncan said in a June speech. "If you took the bottom 10 percent, they have 30,000 teachers that should probably find another profession, yet no one in California can tell you which teacher is in which category. Something is wrong with that picture."

The proposed "Race to the Top" guidelines stress that states wanting to compete for a piece of the pie must not have any laws or "firewalls" in place that prevent the use of student achievement for evaluating teachers. Unless California changes its current law, it will be out of the running.

California has been building separate student and teacher data system for years. Eventually, the state will be able to follow student progress over time, as well as find out if, say, smaller class sizes really make a difference, or if teachers with master's degrees are more effective. But language in the law prohibits the state from linking student data to teacher data "for the purposes of pay, promotion, sanction or personnel evaluation." While the state doesn't currently hire or fire teachers, teachers wanted the language included as a safeguard against the state using such information in the future.

"CTA believes that pay and evaluation decisions should be made at the local level," said Becky Zoglman, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. "That's where they are made now, and that's where they should remain. In the end, this is a political fight that is going to cost California's students. Is that really what Secretary Duncan and President Obama want?"

Teachers have little control over which students sit in their classrooms; one teacher may have several students who are struggling to learn English or have learning disabilities. Teachers worry that merit pay or other salary issues will ultimately be tied to test scores, punishing those who were assigned challenging classes.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and others have said the federal government simply misunderstands the intent of the state law. "This is simply a matter of local control that appropriately ensures school districts handle their own personnel decisions," he said. But the federal government has taken exception to the caveat. And if a compromise can't be reached, California may have no choice but to change the law. With education dollars scarce, there's enormous pressure for the Golden State to be seen as a player on the national stage.

"California will fight to be competitive for each and every possible Recovery Act dollar — and this instance is no different," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. "We will seek any reforms or changes to the law deemed necessary."

Last week, state Sen. Gloria Romero, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called for a public hearing. "The tempest in the teapot is over one paragraph of the bill," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto school board member who wrote the bill that ultimately became law. "But it could be a very expensive teapot. If we're not eligible for Race to the Top funds — the potential cost to California is millions and millions of dollars."


Britain's Leftist education ideas are disastrous for troubled children

The number of pupils excluded from school is rising. In the latest in our series on fixing Broken Britain, Paul Kendall visits an academy tackling some of the toughest troublemakers - with boxing skills.

Chavez Campbell skips around the ring, shoulders hunched, long arms bent up towards his head. Stepping forward, his opponent feints to the left, then fires a combination of hooks and upper cuts. Phumpf, phumpf! They slam into Chavez's temple. "Long range, long range. Move him away, move him away," shouts his coach from the safe side of the ropes. Chavez narrows his eyes and bends his head to the task. This time he stays back, keeping the other boxer at arm's length. At 16, Chavez is already 6ft 2in. He looks too skinny to be a fighter, but what he lacks in muscle he makes up for in aggression, technique and bloody intent. Thump! He lands a solid jab. Then another. And then an upper cut, first left then right. "That's it! Good!" shouts the coach. "Move, move."

When it comes to boxing, Chavez is a fast learner. But it's a different story in the classroom. At 12, he was expelled from school and sent to a Pupil Referral Unit, an education centre for children who cannot be controlled by mainstream schools. But PRUs are no more than holding-pens for our most unsettled children, and often they are not even that. Chavez was so disruptive in class and so violent towards his fellow pupils that he had to leave.

In many parts of the country, that would have been that. Deemed "unteachable", his school career would have been at an end and he would have begun his "adult" life with no qualifications and the reading age of a 10-year-old. Depressingly, one in 10 students entitled to free school meals currently leaves school in this way.

Figures published last week also show that two in every five children leave primary school without reaching the required level in English and maths. And all this, despite Labour pumping billions of extra pounds into the education system (investment rose from £29.7 billion in 1997-98 to £60.8 billion in 2006-07) and David Blunkett, then the Education Secretary, instigating daily literacy and numeracy lessons.

Boys with Chavez's sort of profile, perhaps no more than 20,000 across Britain, are responsible for the vast majority of anti-social behaviour – muggings, burglaries and stabbings – and research shows that almost all children involved in gangs have been excluded from mainstream schooling.

Fortunately for Chavez, another door opened for him. At the same time that he was causing mayhem in school, a project was starting in Tottenham, north London, that aimed to turn around the lives of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach youngsters. It was called the London Boxing Academy, and Chavez was its first pupil.

On a bright morning its co-founder Simon Marcus shows me around. "We're trying to reverse brainwashing here," he tells me as we stand in the sky-blue common room, next to a pool table and a table football game. "These kids think they're victims, they can't do anything, the world's against them, they deserve something. You'll destroy anyone if you teach that to them from the age of zero. "We're saying you can achieve whatever you want, your horizons are as broad as anyone's, but you have to live by certain values – responsibility, respect, discipline, a work ethic – and sacrifice for the future. You have to think long-term, not short-term, be a leader not a follower."

The academy teaches them that, primarily, through boxing. There are lessons as well, but each one of the 36 pupils (including three girls) does up to four hours of boxing training per week. There is no contact boxing during school hours (anyone who wants to fight properly does so in their spare time through the police boxing club at the academy's gym), but they all work with punch bags and mitts, learn technique and keep fit through skipping and running.

Marcus, a former boxer himself is evangelical about the sport's benefits. "Boxing is 20 to 30 per cent of what we do. As soon as those kids come through that door they are not top dog, they are not the bully, and that is a lot of our job done. "They are subliminally accepting authority, and that opens up a world of opportunity for them because they can accept an order in life. They can accept boundaries, discipline, and from that comes learning and a future. In fact, that is a form of love. All these people who talk about children's rights, no one talks about the right of a child to receive authority and that's something that's vital. The word 'no' has disappeared from bringing up children."

There is no doubt in my mind that Marcus does indeed love these children. Every time a pupil passes us, he makes a conscious effort to catch their eye and greet them by name: "All right, Ashley", "You OK, Walker?", "Hello, Rasheda." And when he spots someone breaking the rules, his response suggests a calm authority. The pupils still have a certain swagger – a third of them have been permanently excluded from school and many have served time in youth offender institutions for violent crime – but they listen to him and keep their tempers in check.

"These kids eating fried chicken for their lunch, they just drop things," he says after speaking to a boy who has just tossed a burger carton on to the floor. "They have absolutely no awareness that they should pick things up. If you say, 'Oi! Pick it up', there will be trouble. Whereas if you say, 'Now, you know you shouldn't drop things on the floor; you know you should pick it up', nine times out of 10 they'll do it."

At mainstream schools, where teachers are under so much pressure, this approach is much more difficult. "I feel sorry for teachers in mainstream schools," says Marcus. "They're just going to go, 'Hey! Pick it up', and then there could be a problem" – he means verbal abuse at the very least, possibly violence – "and the kid might end up being kicked out of school. So, it's very systemic. The system isn't geared to work with these kids who have so many problems on so many levels."

In the school year 2006-07, 65,390 children were excluded, the vast majority on a temporary basis. Almost half of these were barred for violent, threatening or aggressive behaviour. A survey, published in 2008, said 29 per cent of teachers had been punched, kicked or bitten by pupils. Ofsted, the school inspection service, insists pupil behaviour is satisfactory in 94 per cent of schools, but Terry Haydn, a former comprehensive teacher who now studies classroom disruption at East Anglia university, says that is not his experience. "Deficits in classroom climate are more widespread than Ofsted assumes. Quite a lot of kids simply don't want to be in school and don't want to learn. Even very good and experienced teachers have said to me, 'I struggle.' "

The right of the majority of pupils to get on with their lessons should be paramount, but Haydn says that too often violent and difficult troublemakers are allowed back into the classroom. This is not helped by rules that allow pupils to appeal against permanent exclusions. Of the 8,680 pupils who were permanently excluded in 2007, about 970 appealed and 250 were successful, a rise of 20 per cent in 10 years.

Twelve years ago, Labour came to power promising to champion children from the poorest sections of society. It acknowledged that the problems started in infancy, when children develop both emotionally and psychologically and learn basic relationship skills. The Government promised nursery education for all three- and four-year-olds and established the Sure Start programme to provide education and childcare to pre-school children from poor families.

A recent Ofsted report found that Sure Start centres are having a positive impact on the life chances of children and providing much-needed support to parents. But Sure Start has strayed from its initial goals and become much more a part of the Government's drive to get parents back to work. "It predominantly delivers child care now," says Charlotte Pickles, a senior policy adviser at the think tank, the Centre for Social Justice. "That early-years development is no longer the priority, and many parents are not being taught parenting skills. So, by the time they go on to a primary school, these children don't have the social ability to engage with their peers.

"They're likely to be behind other children in educational terms, and, especially if they're at a failing school, they're then likely to fall even further behind. By the time they turn up at secondary school, they have little hope of catching up with their contemporaries who have had that investment and support."

Of course, the failure of early-years education doesn't mean primary and secondary schools and other educationists shouldn't shoulder much of the blame for the violent children on our streets. For Simon Marcus, the situation is critical. "I feel like I'm in a living nightmare," he says. "Everywhere I look, I see catastrophically bad judgment from people who have been to Oxford and Cambridge who should know better.

"We know what works. Kids need discipline, they need boundaries, they need love, they need stability. They don't need a bunch of crazy liberal experiments where they are told, 'Do what you want, make your own decisions; male role models aren't that important; there is no such thing as right and wrong; it's everybody else's fault.'

"A quarter of a million kids a year carry knives. I speak to idiots who say it's no different from the mods and rockers or punks. No! It is. You are dealing with people – the equality brigade – for whom politics has become a religion. "Many of them are highly motivated individuals who do a lot of good work in poor areas, but unless your larger framework acknowledges the basics – simple, self-evident truths – then these children, nine times out of 10, are not going to turn out very well."

Marcus's hard-line approach has transformed the prospects of Chavez Campbell. He is waiting for the results of seven GCSEs, he has a place in college, and he doesn't get into trouble any more. "Boxing just agreed with me," he says. "My ambition is to box for England. Then I want to go to the Olympics, and, after the Olympics, I want to go pro." He grins. "I'm serious. I've got a future now."


West Australian sex education site shunned

CATHOLIC schools will shun a new sex-education website created by the WA Government. Concerned parents of Catholic students contacted The Sunday Times complaining that the website would encourage indecent behaviour.

The Health Department website says sexual activity can be ``awesome'', but also warns about the risks involved. It includes information on a variety of sexual acts and contraceptive devices, including the morning after pill. One section of the website reads: ``Exploring your own body through masturbation can be a good way to find out about your sexual feelings and your body.''

The director of Catholic Education in WA, Ron Dullard, said his schools would not even mention the website to students for fear of encouraging its use. He said the website did not promote the values taught in Catholic schools. ``We wouldn't even raise the website because all that does is create curiosity,'' Mr Dullard said. ``The Health Department puts out various materials on sex education and we use the material we think is appropriate and don't use the other material.''

The website, called ``Get the Facts'', claims 35 per cent of high school students are having sex.

Mr Dullard said the premature sexualisation of teenagers was a concern for society.

One parent told The Sunday Times she was concerned that the website encouraged flirting. A section of the website reads: ``Just because you flirt with someone, it doesn't mean you owe them anything.''

Health Minister Kim Hames said the website had appropriate information for people aged 14-17. ``The internet is a major source of information for young people but the quality of information it provides can be poor,'' Dr Hames said. ``As a result of the consultations by the Department of Health, young West Australians identified the need for a trustworthy and authoritative information source on sexual health and relationships.''

The website averages 75 visitors a day and has received 7936 unique visits from 127 countries since it was created.

Mr Dullard said worried parents should let the Health Department know about their concerns. ``Parents in a democracy should be speaking up,'' he said. "Governments have an obligation to be listening to the majority. "I would be encouraging people to speak up against things that go against their value and beliefs.''


Monday, August 10, 2009

Britain's class war still roaring

Leftist government to favour poor pupils in university admissions. Admissions to be based on parental income rather than on academic achievement!

Lord Mandelson is drawing up plans to overhaul university entry that could see applicants from poor families awarded a two-grade “head start” over better-off candidates. One of the effects would be to “bump out” many middle-class candidates at high-performing independent and grammar schools from popular courses at leading universities.

Mandelson, the first secretary of state, has told his officials to report back to him on schemes run by Leeds University and two London medical schools that give lower A-level offers to candidates from disadvantaged families. He sees such changes not as positive discrimination but as a policy at the heart of Labour’s drive to improve social mobility in Britain.

He does not have the power to force the universities to change their admissions policies, but official guidance would raise the pressure on them to widen access.

Mandelson’s spokesman said officials had approached universities in response to the first secretary’s “impatient instructions”. Mandelson has told them to report back ahead of this autumn’s “framework” for higher education, which may include the schemes as models of best practice.

Independent schools are wary. Tim Hands, master of Magdalen college school, Oxford, and co-chairman of the main independent schools’ universities committee, said education should be an “engine of social mobility”, but warned: “If Mandelson is proposing to exert political pressure on university admissions and if he is going to be discriminating by type generically, everyone should be opposed.”

As pupils await their A-level results on August 20, the gulf between independent and state schools will be highlighted this week by a report from Mandelson’s department and the Sutton Trust social mobility charity. It will show that privately educated pupils are far more likely to apply to leading universities than equally qualified comprehensive school pupils.

Mandelson is acting on the recent report by Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, to weaken the middle-class grip on professional jobs. In a speech two weeks ago, Mandelson warned that he was going to “turn up the spotlight” on university admissions, particularly at Cambridge, Oxford and other highly ranked institutions. “Why are we still making only limited progress in widening access to young people from poorer backgrounds?” he asked. [Because of your own "sink" secondary schools, buster!]

Kenton Lewis, head of widening participation at St George’s medical school, London, said: “We are involved in discussions with the Department for Business. [National] guidance on how differential grades could be employed would be extremely positive. It is my understanding they [are favourable to it].” St George’s programme has helped it to raise the proportion of its students coming from state schools from 48% to 71.2% since 1997. “St George’s can do it. Why can’t everyone else?” said one official involved in the discussions.

The standard offer for medicine courses is three As at A-level, but candidates can receive offers of two Bs and a C if they outperform their school average by 60%. This favours bright pupils at low-performing schools. “Treating everyone the same way is not appropriate and not equitable,” said Lewis. “It is far more important to consider the context in which someone has achieved their qualifications.”

A scheme at King’s College London adds a catch-up year to its medicine programme for 50 low-income comprehensive pupils admitted annually from London and Kent on reduced A-level offers.

At Leeds, the third scheme, application forms will be automatically flagged from this autumn if they come from postcodes where few people go to university or from schools where fewer than 45% of pupils score five good GCSEs. Under the scheme, which is already in operation for comprehensive applicants from Yorkshire, successful candidates whose forms have been flagged up will be eligible for offers of two grades below the standard — for example, ABB rather than AAA — as long as they pass an introductory course at the university.

Leeds, where about 27% of students were privately educated, aims ultimately to recruit about 300 undergraduates a year through its special access programme, 5% of the university’s British intake. It said: “We are proud of our access scheme, which has helped to identify bright youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds who have successfully completed their studies — doing as well as, if not better than, their peers.”

King’s and St George’s also said that candidates entering through these routes did at least as well as those admitted by traditional methods.


British Universities close courses to British pupils

Up to 40,000 Britons will not get places but overseas students are still welcome

LEADING universities have closed their doors to well-qualified British applicants while recruiting heavily from overseas candidates paying up to £15,000 a year. Institutions including Bristol, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Surrey are exploiting a government policy which puts no restrictions on the lucrative international student market, while imposing strict caps on British numbers.

The situation will be exacerbated by clearing, the last-minute scramble for degree places that follows next week’s A-level results. There has been a surge of 9.7% in university applications, partly from school-leavers wanting to delay going into the labour market during the recession. But despite Labour falling about 7% short of Tony Blair’s target of half of young people going to university by 2010, the government has refused to fund enough places to take the extra applicants. Even after clearing, some 20,000-40,000 are expected to be left with no place at all this autumn. Meanwhile, universities will be allowed to advertise places in clearing as being available only to non-European Union students, compounding the frustration for British applicants.

“The brutal fact is that foreign students bring in much more money than British ones — that is exactly why the government needs to reform the system,” said David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary. “We are going to have large numbers of British students with good A-levels who can’t get a place even while they are recruiting more from abroad than ever.”

In addition to recruiting foreign students in clearing, universities court those who contact them directly for advice. Last week, Sunday Times reporters posing as foreign applicants or teachers at overseas schools phoned admissions staff at dozens of institutions in the Russell Group and 1994 Group of top research-based universities. Admissions staff at nine said they were closed to applications from Britain but would welcome those from abroad.

A staff member at Bristol’s chemistry department, where non-EU students pay £14,750 a year compared with the £3,225 charged to British and EU undergraduates, told a reporter posing as a representative of a foreign school: “Let’s be perfectly frank about it. For overseas students, the university will bend over backwards because they are paying astronomical fees.”

At Nottingham, an official in biology said the course would be entering clearing “potentially for international”, but for home or EU students — “no places for those, unfortunately”. At Cardiff, a member of the maths staff said: “There’s a cap for home students and we’re full up ... but we’d be interested in international for sure.” Staff on other courses said they were in a similar position, including English and physics at Bristol; law and management at Leeds; nine different subjects at Edinburgh; history at Sheffield; English at Newcastle; economics at Manchester and psychology at Surrey.

While many universities created since 1992 are growing, older ones are freezing or cutting numbers of British students. University College London has completed this year’s recruitment, but plans by 2012 to cut UK undergraduates by about 600 and replace them with undergraduates and postgraduates from outside the EU. This is to improve its finances and become more international. Surrey has introduced a similar policy on a smaller scale.

Divya Pathak, 18, daughter of a teacher and an accountant from Hounslow, west London, is among British students frustrated by the system. Pathak, a former pupil at Heston community school, is planning a gap year after rejection by all her chosen universities — King’s College London, Queen Mary, Cardiff and Sheffield — to study dentistry. This was despite being predicted three As and a B at A-level. “My form tutor tried to discourage me and said it was difficult to get in, but I’ve wanted to be a dentist pretty much all my life.” Pathak said it was “pretty unfair” overseas students were still able to find places while those for British applicants were so squeezed.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: “I understand it is frustrating, but overseas students make up only around 10% of total numbers.”

Universities contacted this weekend said while they understood some applicants were frustrated, they were acting in accordance with rules that impose penalties for exceeding quotas on UK students but place no curbs on overseas numbers. Several, including Bristol, said they had not finalised this year’s clearing policy.


Texas: Advocates for gifted students want teachers to have more specialized training

High IQ kids need high IQ teachers so finding the right teacher is not in principle difficult but is no doubt politically difficult

Identifying teachers who are best qualified to teach our brightest children is not an easy task. And, advocates for gifted students say, it's getting harder. Enrollments are dwindling in graduate education programs that focus on training teachers to work with gifted students. The state doesn't require the programs, few school districts pay teachers to take them, and teachers who get the training generally are not paid higher salaries.

That leaves gifted students – those with higher-than-normal intelligence who are particularly motivated – in classes with teachers who may have little training in their special needs. "Gifted students are the only special population in the state that doesn't require a special certification to teach," said Kathy Hargrove, director of the Gifted Students Institute at SMU. Teachers must be specially certified to teach disabled students or bilingual education, but no special credentials are needed to teach gifted students, Hargrove said.

The Texas Education Agency is working on a new plan for gifted education, said Kelly Callaway, who oversees gifted education for the TEA. But it will not change certification requirements as many advocates for gifted students had hoped. The state requires teachers of gifted students to have 30 hours of classroom instruction, which amounts to fewer total hours than one college class. They also must have six hours of additional training each year.

Hargrove argues that's insufficient for teachers to learn how to educate gifted students. Gifted students need to move at a faster pace than others and need more in-depth information, she said. Many also have special emotional needs as well.

Many graduate programs specializing in gifted student teaching require four to six college classes and, in some cases, an internship. "The biggest argument for graduate classes is it's over time," Hargrove said. "With classes, there is time for interaction. Time for teachers to talk to each other and with the instructor. Time to exchange ideas and practices." Hargrove said it is getting harder to find students for the graduate programs. Similar programs in the state have reported the same.

At the University of North Texas, however, enrollment in graduate gifted classes is picking up, said Michael Sayler, who oversees the program. Applications there are up 50 percent over last year. But most of the students take the classes online, so teachers are from around the state, the country and even other countries. Sayler said the graduate classes are important not only in providing practical teaching methods but in explaining the special needs of gifted students.

He said there is a myth that gifted students can take care of themselves and that they will thrive no matter what. But there is a difference between "gifted and talented" and "gifted and thriving." It's like a child who has slightly bad eyesight and then gets glasses, Sayler said: "They may have done OK, but they missed a lot."

Ann Poore, principal at Garland's Austin Academy for Excellence, the district's magnet school for gifted seventh- and eighth-graders, said she values training and education, but really is looking for great teachers no matter the certification. Given two teachers, one with graduate hours and the other with the standard training, she said she would hire "the one who was most engaging and most dynamic. The one who had the ideas to best present science or math."

The state has little involvement with the gifted programs, Callaway of the TEA said. Districts evaluate their own programs so there is little comparable data for research.

While it was not required, until 2005 teachers were only considered "certified" to teach gifted students if they had the graduate hours. Some districts required the graduate endorsement. Then the state started offering certification by a multiple-choice test, as they do in most areas.

Gifted certification is as muddy in other parts of the country as it is in Texas, said Jane Clarenbach with the National Association for Gifted Children. The organization surveyed the states two years ago and 42 responded. A little over half of the survey respondents said they do not require certification. Texas said it considers the 30 hours of continuing education as certification.

Hargrove said she hates to see gifted students being taught by less than highly trained teachers. "These kids need as much expertise as they can get," she said.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

America's Best College

How West Point beats the Ivy League

College senior Raymond Vetter gets up at dawn to fit in a run or a workout. Then, hair shorn neatly and pants pressed, he marches into breakfast, where he sits in an assigned seat. After six hours of instruction in such subjects as Japanese literature and systems engineering, two hours of intramural sports and another family-style meal with underclassmen, Vetter rushes to return to his room by the 11:30 p.m. curfew.

Most college students, we think, do not march to meals. A goodly number of them drink into the wee hours, duck morning classes and fail to hit the gym with any regularity. But Vetter, 21, is a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., where college life is a bit different.

According to students, alumni, faculty and higher education experts, the undergraduate experience at West Point and the other service academies is defined by an intense work ethic and a drive to succeed on all fronts. "We face challenges and obstacles that not every college student has to face, but we are able to be competitive in all the different areas, from sports to academics," Vetter says.

No alcohol is allowed in the dorms and freshmen are given only one weekend leave per semester. That rigor, combined with the virtue of a free education, has made West Point tops in FORBES' list of the best colleges in the country, up from sixth place last year. The rankings are compiled in conjunction with Ohio University economist Richard Vedder and his Center for College Affordability & Productivity.

West Point excels in most measures. It graduates 80% of its students in four years. It is fourth in winners of Rhodes scholarships since 1923 (ahead of Stanford), sixth in Marshalls since 1982 (ahead of Columbia and Cornell) and fourth in Trumans since 1992 (ahead of Princeton and Duke). This year 4 out of 37 Gates scholars, who earn a full ride to study at the University of Cambridge in England, graduated from the service academies. The Gates roster includes four Yale grads, one from Harvard and none from Princeton.

"I think I got a lot out of it," says Joseph M. DePinto, USMA class of '86 and chief executive of 7-Eleven. "Just the discipline, the approach I take to leadership, the understanding of the importance of teamwork. All of that stuff I learned at West Point, and I think that's what helped me be successful."

Classes are small, with no more than 18 students. Cadets work their way through a core curriculum in which an English major has to take calculus and a chemist has to take a philosophy course. Since there are no graduate programs, faculty and administrators can focus on the undergraduates.

"If you really look at Brown University or Boston College or Stanford, their number one mission is likely not to teach. It's to bring research dollars to the campus … to write the next book that will get them on CNN," says James Forest, an associate professor at West Point who is the director of terrorism studies. "Pressure to be that kind of new academic star isn't there [at West Point]."

A big factor in its top rank is that grads leave without a penny of tuition loans to repay. The Army picks up all costs and pays the cadets a stipend of $895 a month. On graduation, they start as second lieutenants, earning $69,000 a year. They have to serve in the armed forces for five years plus three more years of inactive reserve duty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have pulled 15% of reservists into active duty.

West Point has plenty of critics. In April Thomas E. Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered the military, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on the government to shut the military academies. West Point doesn't produce officers of any higher caliber, he argues, than a graduate from another elite school who has participated in an ROTC program. "It's not better than Harvard," he says, citing the fact that the majority of West Point professors don't have Ph.D.s and the school's traditionally weak treatment of crucial subjects like anthropology, history and foreign languages.

It also produces young people more prone to groupthink than to groundbreaking ideas. W. Patrick Lang, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a professor of Arabic at West Point in the 1970s, says the service academies "haven't been very good at producing people who were very good at humanistic, open-ended problems." [And Harvard isn't very good at producing good marksmen]

Bruce Fleming, who has been teaching English for 22 years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., faults the service academies for their rigidity. "I really love my students. I just do. It's an institution that grinds students down," he says.

But the cadets know the drill: job security. Leadership training. Lifelong friendships. "A West Point diploma is at least as impressive as a Harvard diploma for a lot of things," says Robert Farley, an assistant professor of national security at the University of Kentucky. "Were I an employer, I'd have utter faith in a graduate of the service academies."

"We are giving up what may be the quintessential college experience. But we're getting a job where we're immediately in a leadership position, not a back-room job where who knows what your chances of promotion are," says Elizabeth Betterbed, 20, of Fox Island, Wash., one of the 699 female cadets at West Point. "Like any other school you incur a debt, and for us it only takes five years to pay off. It's really nothing."

Behind the Numbers

Our college rankings are based on five criteria: graduation rate (how good a college is at helping its students finish on time); the number of national and global awards won by students and faculty; students' satisfaction with their instructors; average debt upon graduation; and postgraduate vocational success as measured by a recent graduate's average salary and alumni achievement. We prize the undergraduate experience and how well prepared students are for the real world rather than focusing on inputs such as acceptance rates and test scores. Our data are from publicly available sources rather than surveys filled out by the schools themselves. Special thanks to Richard Vedder and his research team at Ohio University.


In education, elitism is not a dirty word

Britain has an education policy predicated upon the same prejudices as the Hunting Act

"Education, education, education" was the priority defined by Tony Blair at the outset of New Labour government. Today, 12 years into that experience, the state of British education testifies to the consequences of the politicisation of the learning process, and the imposition of an ideology that regards schools and universities primarily as instruments of social engineering and only secondarily as diffusers of knowledge. Yet this destructive campaign, so far from retreating in the face of its demonstrable failure, is accelerating.

Last week, several developments highlighted the state's continuing assault on academic standards, and the opposition it is provoking. First, Ofqual, the examinations regulator, confirmed that it will defer to the Government's breakneck timetable and press on with the introduction of the new "fourth phase" academic diplomas, despite the fact – as revealed by this newspaper last April – that every exam board in the country has urged that this half-baked project be delayed. This was a virility test for Ofqual: it failed. It now seems likely that OCR, the exam board owned by Cambridge University, will withdraw from the diploma system, which it has described as "nothing more than a poor man's A-level or GCSE".

Also last week, Lord Mandelson made a speech in which he returned to the tired old mantra of "widening access" to Britain's leading universities. This coincides with a report today from the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee that went further than ever before in demanding the social engineering of university admissions. This agenda was first set by Gordon Brown in 2000, with his ill-informed intrusion into the Laura Spence affair. It is a recipe for disaster. Vice chancellors have strained every sinew to recruit disadvantaged students, providing remedial education to help them, to no avail.

This, of course, is because the problem lies not in the universities, but in the state-school system. Because of the failure of the "bog-standard comprehensives", to use a phrase coined by Alastair Campbell, the percentage of state-school students at Cambridge is lower than in 1980. Within the high-flying Russell Group of universities, the intake from independent schools is hugely disproportionate and, among state-school students, England's 164 surviving grammar [selective] schools are similarly over-represented.

What, then, to do? Yes, we could pack the universities with poorly performing students in the name of "fairness". Yet Britain's leading universities have evolved over centuries to world-class standards. To vandalise that national asset would be a mortal blow, leaving us hopelessly uncompetitive. Elitism is not a dirty word: it is the precondition for meritocracy. Lord Mandelson knows that; but he is playing pre-election politics.

The Government's overriding concern should not be those few institutions that are succeeding, but the many that are not. Instead, we have an education policy predicated upon the same prejudices as the Hunting Act. A future Tory government must not be inhibited by self-consciousness about its leaders' Bullingdon [Oxford club] background. It must implement reforms that rebuild the ladder of opportunity for gifted students from poor backgrounds, and so secure Britain's place in a globalised, highly skilled and meritocratic world.


Australia: Private schools top the class as results compared

Surprise! Note that these results are for Queensland only. NSW has made it illegal to release such information about their schools

STATE high schools were trounced by their private counterparts in last year's national numeracy and literacy tests, with only one in the 40 highest-scoring schools. The revelation is just one contained in today's inaugural release of NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) data by the Queensland Government, with students' results from years 3, 5, 7 and 9 chronicled "in a single statewide compilation". Analysis of the list reveals:

• State schools, particularly high schools and those in lower socio-economic areas, were outperformed by their private school counterparts.

• Only five state high schools appeared in the top 100 list for average school results.

• Brisbane State High School [a selective school] performed particularly well in academic scores – ranking fifth statewide – while Kenmore, Indooroopilly, Mansfield and The Gap state high schools also made the top 100.

• State primary schools did much better than their senior counterparts, with Indooroopilly, Ironside and Norman Park in the top 10.

• Of the schools which had all their results published, only six had 100 per cent of students above the National Minimum Standard in every year and every category. Four were too small to include in the top 10 – the Agnew schools at Wakerley and Nambour, the Samford Valley Steiner School and the School of Total Distance Education at Warwick.

• Schools with large numbers of indigenous students continued to perform poorly.

Controversy continues to surround the release of NAPLAN data, with NSW banning the publication of any list that ranks schools by results. Meanwhile, education stakeholders yesterday urged parents not to judge schools by the latest list alone.

Author of the NSW amendment which banned league tables, Greens MP John Kaye, said although the Queensland list would not be outlawed in his state, it was misleading. "Reducing the complexities of schools down to a single number or even a set of numbers is not only misleading, it will undermine educational outcomes as teachers are forced to teach to the tests at the expense of the remainder of the curriculum," Dr Kaye said.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said making comparisons with the list could malign some excellent schools that were doing extremely well given their resources.

State Education Minister Geoff Wilson said the information alone was not enough to judge a school. "It is a snapshot and a snapshot only. It is one part of the total picture of information that parents should take into account," he said. [Any suggestion about what else parents should take into account?]