Saturday, May 29, 2010

Economic segregation rising in US public schools

The share of public schools with high concentrations of poor students jumped from 12 to 17 percent in eight years, a federal report shows. Economic segregation is tied to the persistent achievement gap

More than 16,000 public schools struggle in the shadows of concentrated poverty. The portion of schools where at least three-quarters of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals – a proxy for poverty – climbed from 12 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2008.

The federal government released a statistical portrait of these schools Thursday as part of its annual Condition of Education report. When it comes to educational opportunities and achievement, the report shows a stark contrast between students in high-poverty and low-poverty schools (those where 25 percent or less are poor).

Economic segregation is on the rise in American schools, and that “separation of rich and poor is the fountainhead of inequality,” says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a public policy research group in Washington. High-poverty schools “get worse teachers ... are more chaotic ... [have] lower levels of parental involvement ... and lower expectations than at middle-class schools – all of which translate into lower levels of achievement.”

Cities aren’t the only places facing this challenge: Forty percent of urban elementary schools have high poverty rates, but 13 percent of suburban and 10 percent of rural elementary schools do as well. In some states – Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico – concentrated poverty affects more than one-third of K-12 schools.

Hispanic and black children make up the majority of students in high-poverty schools – 46 percent and 34 percent, respectively, compared with just 14 percent white and 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.

In tests of reading, math, music, and art, students from high-poverty schools routinely score lower than their peers in low-poverty schools.

“There have been gains in achievement in high-poverty schools over the last decade or so ... but what we don’t see in most cases is a closing of the gap,” says Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at the Education Trust in Washington, which aims to eliminate such gaps.

In graduation rates, there’s actually been a backward slide. In 2008, high-poverty schools reported that 68 percent of seniors graduated the previous year, compared with 86 percent in 2000. For students in low-poverty schools, the rate remained about 91 percent.

Solutions have been hard to come by, but there are some hopeful signs, Ms. Hall says. The attention to the subgroup of low-income students is relatively new, and some schools and districts are showing success in bringing up their achievement. “The willingness of educators to learn from these schools is heartening,” she says.

To address the gaps, education reformers are trying to connect stronger teachers with the most disadvantaged students. In 2008, about 21 percent of teachers in high poverty schools had less than three years of experience, compared with 15 percent in low-poverty schools. And fewer teachers in high-poverty schools have master’s degrees and standard certifications.

Since 2006, the federal government’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) has been aimed at helping districts improve teacher quality, particularly in high-needs schools. The Department of Education will distribute an additional $437 million in TIF grants this fall.

While efforts to improve high-poverty schools are valiant, they’ve haven’t worked very well, Mr. Kahlenberg says. He advocates reducing the number of high-poverty schools altogether, by giving families more opportunities to choose schools outside of poor neighborhoods, for instance.

About 70 school districts have plans to draw a mix of income backgrounds to different schools, Kahlenberg says, and there are indications that low-income students achieve better in mixed-income settings.

Cambridge, Mass., for instance, strives for income balance in all its schools through a magnet school system. It has similar graduation rates for low-income students as for all students combined (about 85 percent), and outpaces the state average for low-income students (67 percent).


Australia: Black educational handicaps CAN be beaten

With disciplined instruction and enthusiasm -- NOT with currently conventional methods

If you want to see a real Education Revolution then you should go to the remote Cape York town of Aurukun, where Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has imported a radical teaching program into a school in which more than half of the students were barely reading at kindergarten level, if they could read at all. In terms of indigenous disadvantage, Aurukun was at rock bottom, with NAPLAN test results 70 per cent below the national benchmark, and every year the achievement gap widening.

The social dysfunction of the Cape's most violent town, driven by gambling, drugs and alcohol, was being played out in the schoolyard. But Pearson says the children's backgrounds has always been used by principals, teachers and education department bureaucrats as an "alibi for schooling failure". His philosophy is that if a student is at school and ready to learn, "a learning failure is a teaching failure".

Already, after just one-and-a-half terms, the American-designed Direct Instruction program in which teachers deliver scripted lessons, according to a strictly prescribed, methodical program in literacy and mathematics, has surpassed even Pearson's extraordinarily high hopes. It is a program on which he has staked his reputation, forced into being against the will of much of the educational establishment, and on which his legacy will be judged.

This week, the 17th week of the DI program, a year 4 girl named Imani Tamwoy became the first in the school to have caught up to her grade level in reading. The grade 5 to 7 students managed to master 76 per cent of the kindergarten program in the first 11 weeks, and the prep - or pre-kindy class of four-year olds - is already 40 per cent through the kindergarten language program.

"I'm surprised," Pearson said on Thursday, during a visit with his five-year-old son Ngulunhdhul, aka Charlie, to Aurukun school, two hours by charter flight from his Cairns home. "I thought in Aurukun we'd have a hell of a time with behaviour … I thought Aurukun would be special case, with the notoriety of the school and the community. But it hasn't been, and the great thing is we're doing it with your stock standard Education Queensland teacher. This is the biggest surprise and they're doing a bloody great job."

Pearson travelled to Oregon last year to meet the architect of DI, Professor Siegfried Engelmann, and after a series of bruising negotiations, and entrenched opposition from some teachers and bureaucrats, installed a $7 million three-year trial in Aurukun and Coen schools at the beginning of the year, with the cautious support of the Queensland Education department.

The new principal, Geoff Higham, 59, drafted early this year to replace his less than enthusiastic predecessor, remembers how students in years 8 and 9 used to bring iron bars to school. "The senior boys were out of control. They were reading at kindy level and they hated everything about school," he says. "It's hard to believe the transformation in just 15 or 16 weeks. "This is a wonderful system. All the children are put into ability groups so no one is failing. The teachers aren't failing. The children aren't failing … It's a magnificent successful educational experiment."

Having taught in hardscrabble schools from Kenya to Thursday Island, the former Victorian describes himself as an old-fashioned "chalk and talk" teacher. His previous schools have been described as places where "even the grass sits up straight". He says DI accords with his educational philosophy, that every child can learn, given a disciplined routine and effective instruction. But even in his wildest dreams he hadn't known how effective DI could be.

"I have no doubt the pupils will be at the national level in maths and English in three years' time, and many children will be one, two or three years above that level."

Walking through the collection of modest white buildings nestled among stringybark and palm trees at the school of 250 pupils, you see everywhere, on teachers' shirts, on banners and in classrooms, the motto Pearson has coined for his education revolution: "Get ready. Work Hard. Be Good."

In Sarah Travers's kindy class, she wears a microphone around her neck to amplify her voice for children with chronic ear infections. It seems to work, because her 10 five-year-old students sit attentively on the floor, calling out sounds as she points to phonetic symbols in a book. At 1.45 pm at the tail end of a busy school week, their concentration and focus is remarkable.

In another classroom, children are sounding out words as the teacher clicks her fingers rhythmically to speed up their voices so that the sounds soon join up to become a fluent word.

Colleen Page, a 24-year-old teacher from the Sunshine Coast, in her third year at Aurukun, says the change DI has had on her pupils is marked. "They thrive on it. It's really good to compare the last two years with this year … Previously the kids would be running around your classroom … not listening. Now they're confident about participation in class."

She tells the story of the eight-year-old boy who came to her one morning proudly telling her how he had applied his previous day's lesson. "Miss, I saw a frog, and I said, 'You are an amphibian. You are born in water and raised on land."'

An essential part of the DI program is weekly testing and data crunching. Every Thursday, 120 pages of detailed test scores and information about each student and class is faxed to a DI centre in North America to be analysed. The following Tuesday, the school leaders have a conference call with DI experts in Oregon, about any problems identified.

For example, the data may pinpoint a deficit in a particular child's understanding that came from a particular work sheet in a particular lesson that may have been taught six weeks earlier. The solution is prescribed and the process repeats itself.

The children seem to thrive on the organised routine. Even those difficult older children in years 9 and 10, who have not gone away to boarding school like most of their peers, and who were expected to be too far behind to reap many rewards from DI, have responded in a way that is heartening and heartbreaking, as you consider countless lost opportunities.

The next stage in Pearson's plan is to extend the school day to run from 8.30 am to 4.45 pm, with direct instruction of basic skills until 2.15 pm. Afternoons will be devoted to two crucial areas of learning: Club, which is physical activities such as Auskick, and Culture, which is devoted to learning their traditional Aboriginal culture and becoming literate in the first language of most Aurukun children, Wik-Mungkan.

With growing community delight in the new DI system at school, and the charismatic leadership of Pearson, there is a feeling of renewal in the air. Or, what Principal Higham calls a corner of light.


British university graduates 'preparing to take low-paid jobs'

Only a quarter of arts and humanities final-year students expect to start graduate jobs this summer, research has found

The majority of students leaving university in coming months do not expect to land decent jobs, it was revealed, as the recession continues to have a “profound effect” on the employment market.

Thousands of final-year degree students are preparing to accept low-paid work in bars, supermarkets and call centres, according to figures. As thousands of undergraduates take end-of-course exams this month, it emerged that only a quarter of those on arts and humanities courses were preparing to secure work in graduate professions.

The disclosure came in a survey of more than 16,000 final year students – a fifth of those nationally – by analysts High Fliers Research. It comes despite fears that graduates are facing record levels of debt this summer, with the average student being forced to repay £18,100 for a three year course. Debts rise to £25,700 in parts of London.

The jobs shortage was blamed on a “substantial backlog” in the number of jobless graduates from previous years – creating additional pressure on the employment market in 2010. Researchers said 8,000 extra job applications had been made to leading companies by the end of October as students attempted to steal a march on competitors.

It was also disclosed that thousands of students are preparing to take a postgraduate course as an alternative to finding a job. Some 26 per cent of students will remain in higher education after completing degrees this year, figures show.

Martin Birchall, High Fliers Research managing director, said students takings courses such as arts and humanities courses, such as fine art, drama, dance, music, history and geography, were likely to be hardest hit.

“The recession may be officially over, but with a record number of students due to complete degrees in the coming weeks and tens of thousands of last year’s graduates still looking for work, there is widespread concern on campus that competition for graduate jobs has never been fiercer,” he said. “The research highlights that students from arts and humanities courses and those who’ve had little or no work experience during their time at university are the least confident about the future.”

According to the study, 36 per cent of students believe they will start a graduate job – or start looking for one – when they leave university this summer. Numbers slump to 25 per cent among arts and humanities students.

Some 26 per cent of all students are preparing to move on to postgraduate courses, while a third will take “any job they are offered”, the study said.

This suggests large numbers of students will embark on low-paid jobs in shops, cafes, call centres and building sites – failing to use their degree for many years.

The disclosure comes despite mounting concerns over graduate debt. In 2010, the average debt being faced by students on a three-year degree was £18,100. Students preparing to leave Imperial College London were expecting to pay back as much as £25,700.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Charter schools forging ahead in NYC

It's not just in math and reading that charter schools are dealing out aces. New data obtained by The Post shows that charter-school kids outperformed traditional public-school kids in three of the four grades tested in science and social studies last year -- often by leaps and bounds.

The results are sure to lend ammunition to those who support the state's raising of the charter schools cap, which has been at the center of heated debate among Albany lawmakers for weeks.

According to the city's Department of Education, charter-school eighth-graders bested their public-school peers by 19 percentage points in social studies and by nearly 18 percentage points in science.

Additionally, more than 90 percent of charter-school fourth-graders aced last year's state science exams, compared with 80.3 percent of fourth-graders at traditional public schools.

Only in fifth-grade social studies did traditional public schools score higher -- with 77.1 percent of kids reaching proficiency on the state exams compared to 72 percent at charter schools. "It's more evidence that charters are providing city kids a good education, and it particularly points to the fact that they're providing a well-rounded education," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The city's charter schools also outperformed the regular public schools by nearly 9 points in both math and reading last year -- which led some critics to charge that those were the only subjects they focused on.

Merriman said charter schools are able to devote more time to teaching math and reading than traditional public schools, but not because they narrow their focus. "Their longer school day and longer school year and flexibility allows [charters] to do that but to not neglect other important subjects like science and social studies," he said.

Among the highest-performing charter schools in science was the state's oldest -- Sisulu- Walker Charter School in Harlem -- where 100 percent of fourth-graders were proficient on last year's state exam.

In social studies, 94 percent of eighth- graders at KIPP Infinity in Harlem aced the state exams.

But United federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said the better scores stemmed from the type of students that charter schools serve. "It's nice to see charter students doing well, but hardly surprising, since compared to the average public school, charters have significantly fewer of the city's poorest children, English language learners, and special-ed students with the greatest needs.


British education bureaucracy trimmed

The quango responsible for managing exams and the curriculum in England will be scrapped, the government announced today

Ministers said the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency would be axed as part of a plan to cut bureaucracy and slash spending across Whitehall to service the national debt.

The announcement comes just days after the coalition government announced the abolition of Becta, the technology agency for schools, in a move designed to save £65m a year.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said work currently carried out by the QCDA would be handed to other organisations, including private exam boards.

The announcement follows widespread criticism of the quango two years ago when serious failings led to huge delays in the marking of Sats tests. Thousands of pupils were forced to wait months for results and some test papers were lost altogether.

In the wake of the fiasco, the National Assessment Agency – quango’s testing arm – was scrapped and then chief executive Ken Boston resigned.

In a letter to the organisation on Thursday, Mr Gove said legislation would be introduced in the autumn to “abolish the QCDA”. Ministers have already announced that £670m is being cut from the education budget.

But the latest move was condemned by teachers’ leaders. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The seemingly arbitrary way in which the QCDA and other bodies are being culled without any critical analysis of the impact of removing these functions is not acceptable.

“To put staff at the QCDA on notice of dismissal before the legislation to remove their function has been considered by Parliament is an arrogant and reckless way to conduct Government business.

“The decision is not supported by any detail of how core functions undertaken by the QCDA will be carried out in future and at what cost.”

The quango currently reviews exams such as A-levels, GCSE and diplomas, as well as controlling the administration of Sats tests for 11-year-olds. It is also responsible for updating the curriculum.

Mr Gove said the body would be expected to continue overseeing this year’s Sats, although this role is then likely to be taken over by the Department for Education itself.

He said the administration of GSCEs and A-levels should be left to England’s exam boards – privately run organisations already responsible for scripting tests and course syllabuses.

In a speech last summer, David Cameron said the QCDA "must go", and the body's chief executive, Andrew Hall, quit in March after less than a year in his post.

It is believed staff were told last week to stop work on "developmental projects" and to cut communication with anyone outside the agency


New British education boss will have biggest fight against the enemy within

The education establishment will oppose reform every inch of the way

For me, Michael Gove's free schools policy was the most persuasive reason for voting Conservative in the recent election. Yesterday was, therefore, a good day: the Queen's Speech announced the Education and Children's Bill, which will enable parents, businesses and charitable groups to set up state-funded independent schools. It is scheduled for introduction after the summer recess.

Today, the Education Secretary will outline his planned reforms in detail. But, much as I do not wish to rain on Mr Gove's parade, I am the bearer of bad tidings. Because, as someone who has been advocating the gist of his policy for nearly two decades, I have to tell him that passing the Act is almost the least important step on the road to genuine school reform.

The forces opposing reform within the educational establishment are deep-seated, ruthless and near universal, and unless Mr Gove and his team are on top of them from the start, they – and free schools – will disappear down the drain of the well-intentioned but vanquished.

In 1995, I was working for the Fabian Society, the Labour think tank. I was naive enough to think that it was – to use the current buzzword – a progressive idea for all parents to have the power to choose how their children are educated; not just those wealthy enough to pay school fees.

My proposal to write a paper to that effect was greeted with the only act of censorship I have encountered in 20 years in and around think tanks. I was banned from writing it.

I was, of course, threatening the education establishment – the educationalists, teaching unions, bureaucrats and local education authorities who control everything. With a level of dogmatism and cunning that puts the Jesuits to shame, they resist all opposition to so-called progressive education and the bog-standard comprehensive. So my idea was stamped on as a matter of course. I took my paper elsewhere, published, and was indeed damned. Unless Mr Gove outmanoeuvres – for which, read "destroys" – that educational establishment, he will fail, because it will fight him. Relentlessly.

The miserable example of Education Action Zones illustrates how it behaves. In 1997, the then bright new schools minister, Stephen Byers, was keen to see if private providers could be enticed into education, with a view to taking over the functions of LEAs. The action zones were intended as a trial run, with a small number piloting some new programmes and gaining experience.

A fine idea, but doomed to fail for two reasons which are of direct relevance to Mr Gove today. First, the bidding process was drawn up by the Department of Education, and was – deliberately – so complicated that all but a tiny number of companies gave up. Second, the information on schools in any given area, which companies needed as a prerequisite to bidding, was held by LEAs – the very bodies threatened by the programme. So they obfuscated, dissembled, and wrecked it from the start.

As the Secretary of State sets to work at his desk in Sanctuary Buildings, he needs to look around. Because far from being his servant, the department of which he is head will be one of his greatest problems. It is a bastion of the education establishment, and has fought in the trenches to resist all reforms.

Regular diktats pour forth from the department entrenching the latest dogma. From the Whitehall centre, down to the LEAs, ideological enforcers ensure that challengers to the worship of comprehensives and progressive dogma are undermined by supposedly neutral civil servants.

For a brief moment, there was an alternative voice within the department when, in 1997, David Blunkett established the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, designed to shake up the culture. But with his departure, even that minor irritant was removed. In 2004, Charles Clarke abolished the unit; under Ed Balls things were worse than ever. So Mr Gove needs first to realise that, however amenable his civil servants may seem, they want him to fail. What he stands for is anathema to them. Before he does anything else, he should make one of his team Minister for School Reform. Not to fight for his plans in the outside world, but to do so within his department.

But the problem is far worse than a wayward department. The grip of the education establishment affects every area of education. The Training and Development Agency and the National College of School Leadership, for instance, first indoctrinate trainee teachers and then subject them to continuing inspection lest they stray from the ideology. Remember Ofsted? Under Chris Woodhead, it fought as a lonely insurgent, holding schools to account and speaking up for parents. Today, it is just another arm of the establishment.

LEAs [Local Education Authorities], the teaching unions, educationalists: they will stop at nothing to defeat Mr Gove. If you think that is an overstatement, consider this: for years, they ruined children's education as they pushed their ideology. What kind of teacher goes on strike to protest against a test designed to measure a child's achievement level? What kind of teacher goes on strike?

LEAs will plot to undermine Mr Gove. Unions will strike. All hell will break loose. But pre-warned is pre-armed. Mr Gove has been examining the history of British education, and will know what to expect. Now he has to stand strong and defeat the educational establishment.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Books in the home and academic success

What this study probably shows is not remotely surprising: That high IQ people read more books -- and high IQ people do of course tend to have high IQ children. But you will find no mention of IQ below, of course. Right-thinking people reject any notion that academic ability is inherited, despite mountains of evidence to that effect. The fact that I have a Ph.D. and my son is working on one is mere coincidence

HOUSES full of books are clear indicators of the scholarly culture that grounds academic progress and can compensate for social disadvantage in some families according to a new study.

Children from households with 500 books were 33 per cent likelier to finish year 9 compared with those with none; they were 36 per cent likelier to graduate from high school; and 19 per cent likelier to complete university.

The findings were published this week in a paper titled Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Books and Schooling in 27 Nations, in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

Researchers at the University of Nevada, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Australian National University crunched the numbers from a variety of studies, some more than 20 years old, covering 70,000 cases across 27 nations, allowed for discrepancies and variables, and came up with an emphatically pro-book conclusion.

Australia rated well. Only 3 per cent of households had no books, 42 per cent had about 75 and 21 per cent had 500 or more.

Other strong performers included New Zealand, Canada, Norway, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Israel.

The researchers, led by Mariah Evans, now at the University of Nevada, but formerly of the University of Melbourne, are arguing the standard model of educational attainment should be extended to include scholarly culture, as measured by the number of books in the parents' home.

ANU's contributor to the study, Joanna Sikora, stressed the data was retrospective. So in the 1984 study, some of the respondents were already 65, while in the latter studies, in say 2003, some were quite young. "Every respondent was asked how many books they had in their house when they were 14 years of age," Dr Sikora said.

But the study doesn't allow for easy solutions to educational disadvantage. "The answer is not to get every household 200 books each and dump them on the doorstep and say 'problem fixed' - availability is not enough - we are talking about home library size as a base indicator. "Certainly, it's about reading but it's also about parents being around kids and enjoying and valuing books.

"Our study gives some insight into how upward social mobility occurs. Children from modest backgrounds with the advantage of a scholarly culture manage to move forward. Schools do their job too, of course."

While there is some cross-country variation in the study, results show there is no discrimination in terms of affluence, so scholarly culture confers as much, if not more, advantage in poor households in, say, China as it does in the US and western Europe.

The paper argues a book-oriented home endows children with the tools to succeed at school, from vocabulary to familiarity with good writing, from information to comprehension skills.

The study concludes children who grow up in a household with 500 books achieve, on average, 3.2 years more education than those who grow up with none.

"The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate and having university-educated parents," the study concludes.

What is more, a book-filled home turns out to be twice as important as the father's occupation. The largest gains were below university, at the years 9 and 12 levels.

Dr Sikora said the advent of the digital age, with electronic books, was no threat to the concept of scholarly culture.

"There will be an omnivore concept of literacy: all kids will be able to text and some will also have rich vocabularies and master various forms of expression," she said.


British coalition pledge on 'slimmed down' national curriculum

The national curriculum will be overhauled under a government plan to restore vital “bodies of knowledge” to lessons

A major review of the curriculum will be launched this year setting out the subject content children will be expected to master at each stage of education.

It is likely to emphasise rigorous content such as more geometry and algebra in primary maths, a focus on biology, chemistry and physics as separate sciences and the study of classical authors in English.

History lessons are likely to be based around a narrative of the past, covering key periods, the kings and queens and the Empire.

The review forms part of the new Education and Children’s Bill announced as part of the coalition government’s legislative programme on Tuesday.

Government sources said that the “slimmer” curriculum would prescribe subject content but give schools more freedom to decide how to teach lessons.

The Bill will also introduce a new reading test for 600,000 six-year-olds in England every year – identifying those struggling the most. This follows research showing that children who fail to master reading at a young age fall much further behind by the end of secondary school.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said an overhaul of the curriculum was vital to restore subject knowledge.

It follows controversy over Labour's last major review of the secondary curriculum which removed key figures such as Sir Winston Churchill and Hitler from history lessons and promoted a "skills-based" approach to education.

Speaking before the election, Mr Gove said that most parents supported a “traditional education” in which children learned the “kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11 [and] modern foreign languages”. He said: “Our aim will be to define the knowledge that each child should master at each stage in their development before they can move confidently onto the next stage of learning.

“We will give teachers, parents and students an appreciation of the core knowledge that is required in ever year and make clear what knowledge children in other countries are mastering at the same sage. “The curriculum review, however, will focus on what should be taught. We will not return to detailed prescriptions of how things are taught.”

Under the Bill, Ofsted will also be cut back, with a new remit focusing on “core educational goals” such as raising achievement and closing the gap between rich and poor pupils.

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Schools don’t need a tougher Ofsted, and a more prescriptive but narrower curriculum. “I urge the Government to initiate a fundamental review of the way in which schools are accountable to ensure that support follows any inspection, rather than punishment."

A separate Academies Bill – also announced as part of the Queen’s Speech – will pave the way for all state schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted to break free from local council control.

Under plans, as many as 2,000 schools will be able to convert into independent academies by this September, giving them power over budgets, buildings, staff, admissions and the length of the school day. For the first time, primary schools will be able to convert into academies, representing a radical departure from Labour.

Grammar schools will also be able to become academies – retaining their right to select by ability – although the new government insisted there would be no further expansion of the 11-plus.

The move has been branded “irresponsible” by teaching unions. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “These proposals to turn more schools into academies are just irresponsible. They have not been properly thought through and could end up making a mess of education provision through their unintended consequences.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “There is simply no evidence that academy schools perform better than traditional community schools. “It is staggering that a government which is committed to community empowerment is now seeking to disenfranchise democratically elected local councils who represent local people and deny them any say when proposals come forward to open new academy schools.”


'Not acceptable:' Nearly one-third of Oregon high school students drop out

But no sign that anybody in the system is acknowledging where the problems are -- only talk about "shining a light" on schools that do better than average

Only two of every three students in Oregon's class of 2009 graduated from high school in four years, while more than 14,000 dropped out along the way, the state education department reported Tuesday.

State Superintendent Susan Castillo said she hopes the startlingly low success rate galvanizes Oregonians to provide -- and demand that schools provide -- more student support. She said she plans to shine a light on districts including Hillsboro and Tigard-Tualatin that, without extra funding, use systematic approaches to get standout results.

"As a state, this is not acceptable, absolutely not, and we have got to have a coordinated effort on this," she said. "Whether you have kids or not, this matters to you. When students are not getting the education they need, we all pay the price."

This year represented only the second time, and the first time that will count toward school performance ratings, that Oregon measured high school graduation rates in a new, more accurate way.

Under the old method, which allowed thousands of teens who didn't earn diplomas to slip away without being counted, Oregon would have posted an 85 percent graduation rate for the class of 2009.

Federal rules will require all states to use the new method for the class of 2011. Oregon is ahead in making the switch, so state-by-state comparisons can't be made yet.

High school dropout rates in Oregon are high. Portland Public Schools, graduated 53 percent of its students on time, one of the worst rates in the state. Nearly 100 students apiece dropped out from the class of 2009 at Wilson, Cleveland, Franklin, Marshall and Roosevelt high schools, and hundreds more quit alternative schools.

Among low-income students, the on-time graduation rate was 50 percent or so at Lincoln, Wilson, Cleveland and Grant, generally considered among the city's best high schools.

Low graduation rates are a primary reason that Portland Superintendent Carole Smith has called for redesigning the district's high schools.

"This is a sobering confirmation," said Zeke Smith, her chief of staff. "There isn't any (school) you can point to where we've got raging success. Seeing that low-income students, even in our highest-income school, are not meeting graduation rates anywhere near the levels we would want them to is a stark reminder of the inequities."

Getting a high school diploma matters, said Alex Madsen, a student in Oregon's class of 2009 who nearly dropped out of Portland's Benson High his junior year. He's completing a fifth year of high school at Alliance High, a district-run alternative school, and will get that diploma next month.

In Tigard-Tualatin, Oregon's 10th largest school district, 81 percent of students graduated in four years. That included 56 percent of students with disabilities, a sharply higher rate than in most districts


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

UC Islam, I See Anti-Semitism

by Mike Adams

It now seems that the good Muslim citizens of The University of California Irvine (UCI) Muslim Student Union (MSU) lied when they repeatedly denied orchestrating systematic interruptions of an invited guest. That guest was Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren who readers may remember from my February 16th column “Welcome to UC Islam.”

Someone recently leaked MSU minutes and many detailed internal planning emails. The documents were leaked to the UCI administration, local law enforcement, and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). They reveal a mountain of evidence showing Muslim intolerance and antipathy towards free expression.

The IPT online article with links to MSU emails is an example of investigative journalism at its finest. This link from their website is well worth reading.

Either because he is a) one very busy man, or b) suffering from Islamophobia, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake has yet to condemn the MSU for its years of virulent anti-Semitism. Nor has Drake or any other UCI official condemned the group for its efforts to destroy free speech at UCI.

The UCI chapter of MSU recently completed its annual two week - formerly one week – anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate fest. Throughout the entire fortnight, Chancellor Drake remained silent, despite his school’s feigned interest in ethnic and religious tolerance. The list of MSU speakers is worth examining. You can read about these speakers here. You may not want to do that if you suffer from high blood pressure.

It should go without saying that there was no effort by Jewish students to shut down the MSU anti-Semitic hate fest. But the MSU plans to disrupt Ambassador Oren demonstrate a considerable attention to detail, which reflects extensive experience in such matters. MSU leaders sent internal emails showing detailed planning, which included to-the-minute timing and contingency actions depending on what Campus Security and Ambassador Oren might do in response to the disruptions.

In order to "hijack" (this is official MSU terminology) the event, MSU leaders coordinated actions of the UCI MSU and UC-Riverside MSU members and MSU nonmembers. These students even knew to schedule the date, time and location of a debriefing meeting - and to lie after the fact about the MSU involvement in the disruptions.

Since my UC Islam column of February 16, California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has written Chancellor Drake. He urged that the MSU be banned from UCI – a measure which I do not support.

California Congressman John Campbell has both written and telephoned Chancellor Drake. He has called for strict discipline of the violators and requested an investigation into the MSU activities and statements and its leaders – a measure which I do support.

John Campbell is at least the second U.S. Congressman who has contacted Chancellor Drake about MSU. Congressman Brad Sherman wrote concerning MSU's apparent fundraising for Hamas, a violation of federal law. Hamas' charter calls for Israel's destruction and opposes any negotiated solution.

Thus far, Drake has taken no action against the illegal fundraising – even though UCI has been “investigating” for a year.

But the Associated Students of UCI have bravely stepped forward (sarcasm = on). By a vote of 13-1-1, they opposed academic sanctions against the 11 so called students arrested for disrupting Oren's talk. In what must be pure coincidence (sarcasm still = on), the resolution was authored by someone named Hamza Siddiqui.

It's probably just a coincidence that UCI's anti-Israel, two-week hate week falls around May 14. This is the date Israel declared independence in 1948 - immediately after which five surrounding Arab countries attacked it. The attackers wanted one Arab state, not the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which designated an Arab state and an adjoining Israeli state.

Unfortunately for the Muslims, they lost that war -- and a good amount of the land the UN had set aside for Palestine. No wonder Arabs call the first war “The Catastrophe.” They have lost every other war they started against Israel. Jehovah continues to kick Allah’s backside. And He always will.

After this most recent premeditated display of barbarism, racial (oops, I meant to say “radical”) Islam has lost another war – this time in the American court of public opinion. It could not have happened to a nicer bunch of students. And my sarcasm button is stuck in “on” position.


Some British charter schools ("academies") doing well

Free schools can bring discipline, courtesy and rigorous teaching to all children, not just the wealthy. The new Conservative coalition government is encouraging ALL schools to become charters

By David Ross (founder of Carphone Warehouse)

I am one of the lucky ones — not only did I enjoy a privileged education, but I have the means to help other people to get one too. That’s why it took no persuasion for me to get involved when Lord Adonis, then the Schools Minister, asked me to become a sponsor of an academy.

I decided to put my money and faith into a failing comprehensive in the rundown old docks area of Grimsby. I was born in the town where my grandfather built a successful commercial fishing business; so it seems right that a lot of the pupils that go to Havelock Academy will have relatives who worked for my father and grandfather. The academy opened two years ago with a new head from the private sector, and already is making great improvements.

Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech gives an opportunity to extend the revolution in schools that started under Lord Adonis. It is a chance to redefine the way that we approach state education, which for too long has failed the most disadvantaged children in our society.

It is simply not the case that as a country we do not invest in or know how to deliver world-class educational opportunities. The finest of our schools and universities are testament to the fact that we do; their success, however, needs to be replicated on a grander scale.

The essence of the academies movement until now has been to allow poorly performing schools to contract out of the state system and to become free, independent schools within it. This independence is reflected in many ways — the curriculum, the selection of specialisms, uniforms and disciplinary policy. But the key to their success has been the setting free of hugely talented head teachers and their colleagues to achieve their vocation of improving the lives of pupils, not to follow the directives and bureaucracy of their local education authority.

As a result of this, genuinely inspiring people are achieving genuinely inspiring results. The Harris Academy network is based exclusively in South London and serves some indisputably disadvantaged communities. Yet if it were a stand-alone local authority it would have the second-best Ofsted rankings after Rutland. At these academies many of the traditional benchmarks of excellent education — pupil courtesy, smart uniforms, rigorous tuition in hard subjects such as maths, science, modern languages and Latin — are clear to see. The average improvement among the Harris Academies over the past three years has been three or four times greater than the national average. Additionally four of the six academies inspected so far have been judged outstanding by Ofsted.

At Havelock Academy attendance has improved from 89.8 per cent to 94.8 per cent in the two years that it has been open and GCSE results of A* to C, including English and maths, have increased from 23 per cent to 41 per cent. I hope to replicate these results when Malcolm Arnold Academy opens on the site of Unity College, Northampton, in September.

I was fortunate to have had the chance at school to play sport, act and go to concerts. But in the pared-down, national-curriculum-driven school environment kids are out of the door by 3pm. Not in the academies. At Havelock, children from pretty deprived backgrounds are thriving on the discipline and structure of the combined cadet force (CCF). Hundreds of children a week are enjoying after-school activities ranging from archery to an allotment club.

Under Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, the opportunities to set schools free in this way will increase exponentially. In the future, successful schools will be allowed to opt out. Existing acadamies will welcome them with open arms — and I hope they will consider joining forces to help drive up standards across the country.Likewise, the opportunity for parent groups to set up free schools can also be a catalyst for greater choice. Of course, some schools will fail. That concept has not been accepted in the educational sector until now but, sadly, it is an unavoidable necessity in the drive for reform and improvement.

There is now much more openness in the way that people and organisations can get in involved in schools, whether they are business people, educational organisations, church groups, charities, livery companies, parent groups or the independent school sector. From a personal perspective, the contribution I have been able to make through the Havelock Academy is one of my greatest sources of pride and inspiration. I try to visit once or twice a term, and speak regularly to the principal. While it would not be right to get involved in the minutiae of teaching, I see it as part of my role to push extracurricular activities such as Outward Bound or sport — “extras” that are part and parcel of a private education.

I am supported in my work by the Uppingham Collegiate network, which helps those academies (now five) that have been sponsored by alumni of the school. Much of the DNA of the Havelock experience — the house system, house dining and pastoral care — has been directly modelled on the educational philosophy of Edward Thring, the headmaster of Uppingham in the mid-19th century.

Wellington College has gone one step farther and put its own name to an academy in Wiltshire. But, to be honest, we are just scratching the surface of the contribution that the independent system can make. Protected over generations by their fantastic architectural endowments and charitable status, the independent sector needs to stand up and show how it can use this legacy for the greater good. Private schools need to take initiatives that are both brave and counter-intuitive. That will help Mr Gove to go into bat on their behalf to protect the advantages they gain from their charitable status.


Condemnation of immigrants ruled not to be racist

Since immigrants are of many races. A major immigrant group in Britain is Polish people, who are VERY white

A prominent member of the British National Party who described some immigrants as “savage animals” and “filth” while working as a technology teacher has been cleared of racial and religious intolerance.

The General Teaching Council (GTC) yesterday said that it was “troubled” by some of Adam Walker’s comments but that they did not amount to intolerance. Mr Walker is unlikely to be struck off the teaching register although the GTC panel will consider sanctions against him for unacceptable professional conduct, after he made personal use of a school laptop during lesson.

Mr Walker, who is the first teacher to appear before the GTC accused of racial intolerance, used a school laptop to post comments on an online forum, in which he also claimed that parts of Britain were a “dumping ground for the filth of the Third World”.

He had been a teacher at Houghton Kepier Sports College in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, for more than six years but resigned in 2007 when the headteacher asked IT staff to investigate his use of the internet. Mr Walker, had used the pseudonym Corporal Fox to make the postings on the forum on Teessideonline.

Mr Walker, who has been a BNP candidate and is president of Solidarity, a trade union with strong links to the far-Right party, claimed in one posting that the BNP was popular because “they are the only party who are making a stand and are prepared to protect the rights of citizens against the savage animals New Labour and Bliar (sic) are filling our communities with”.

In another posting on the same day, he wrote: “By following recent media coverage of illegal animals and how they are allowed to stay here despite committing heinous crimes, I am, to say the very least, disgusted.”

In a statement to the GTC hearing yesterday Mr Walker stressed that he had not communicated his political thoughts and beliefs to staff or pupils. He said he should have expressed himself “more carefully and positively”.

The three-member GTC panel this morning said it was not satisfied that the “intemperate” views expressed by Mr Walker were suggestive of intolerance.

Delivering the committee’s verdict, its chairwoman, Angela Stones, said some of Mr Walker’s postings contained offensive terms and demonstrated views or an attitude that might be considered racist.

However she added: “The committee does not accept that references to ’immigrants’ are of themselves suggestive of any particular views on race.

“The committee accepts that immigrants to this country come all over the world. A negative comment about immigration to the UK of itself need not be indicative of racist views or racial intolerance since the race of immigrants is extremely varied.”


Australia: Teachers get no incentive to improve

GOOD teachers are not recognised and rewarded while poor teachers are not penalised because methods to evaluate their performance at school are meaningless and ineffective.

A report by the independent think tank the Grattan Institute, to be released today, calls for a radical overhaul of the nation's systems for evaluating teachers, saying the profession believes they are meaningless and undertaken only to satisfy administrative requirements.

"Although all Australian schools have systems of evaluation and development in place, they clearly aren't working. Teachers believe that the systems are broken," the report says.

It adds that 92 per cent of teachers work in schools where the principal never reduces the annual pay rise for underperforming teachers, and almost three-quarters, or 71 per cent, say teachers with sustained poor performance are not dismissed.

The report uses data from the first international survey of classroom teachers, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which found Australia was the fourth worst of 23 developed nations in recognising effective teachers.

Director of school education research at the Grattan Institute, Ben Jensen, said yesterday debate on the quality of teaching in Australia in recent years had been cast in terms of using student results in a merit pay scheme or in setting standards for teachers.

But Dr Jensen, who was involved in the OECD's survey, said almost all Australian teachers, 91 per cent, report the most effective teachers in their schools do not receive the greatest recognition, and they would not receive any recognition for improving their own teaching.

"When you consider the most important way to improve the school education system is to improve the quality of the teaching workforce, it's really a shocking finding that almost all teachers say under-performance is not addressed in their school," he said.

"Teachers are saying they want the most effective school education system we can have; teachers want school improvement, they want to improve themselves and they want to see their school improve."

The report notes that with an excellent teacher, a student can achieve in half a year what would take a full year with a less effective teacher, and the impact is cumulative.

Students with effective teachers for several years in a row outperform students with poor teachers by as much as 50 percentage points over three years.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said the government was committed to a better system of assessing and rewarding teachers, and was developing the first national professional standards for teachers, and funding programs paying the best teachers top salaries to work in struggling schools.

"Unlike the opposition, we are putting our money where our mouth is," she said. "All of this will go if Tony Abbott is elected. The opposition has said they will cut funding to these programs."

Opposition spokesman on education Christopher Pyne said a Coalition government would move quickly to give school principals the autonomy granted their peers in non-government schools, with the power to hire and fire and to pay staff based on performance.

"If you don't have these mechanisms at work, then the findings of the Grattan Institute are completely unsurprising," he said. "That disenchantment and disappointment teachers have in their profession will only get worse until there is a real revolution in education, which introduces competitive principles and gives principals in schools autonomy."

Federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the union supported systems that recognised and further rewarded teachers who demonstrate higher quality skills.

"Teachers prefer to work with peers or their grade group in a collaborative environment in evaluating and assessing their teaching programs, and what's lacking in schools is the space, time and respect for teachers to do so," he said.

The Grattan report says previous research in Australia has shown that nearly all teachers receive satisfactory ratings under existing evaluation schemes, and progress in their careers, making their salaries dependent on their tenure, not the quality of their work.

Dr Jensen said a meaningful system for evaluating teachers was required that identified strengths and weaknesses, providing recognition, and room to expand on their strengths and programs to address their weaknesses.

The system should pay effective teachers more and have them running professional development programs for colleagues, while underperforming teachers should have access to programs to help them improve.

Failing that, they should be moved out of the profession.


Australia: Streamline teacher firings, say parents

PARENTS want the state government to speed up the process of sacking underperforming teachers from schools, which they say is too long and needs to be reviewed.

The call follows the release of a report yesterday which said principals were failing to do anything about poor teachers and that the system for evaluating teachers was "broken".

The president of the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, Dianne Giblin, said yesterday the procedure to remove underperforming teachers was "too long and complex". "Every parent wants a quality teacher in front of a classroom," she said. "There needs to be a review and the process of removing ineffective teachers should be quicker and more succinct.

"There is a lengthy period … where teachers are monitored and reviewed and often transferred to another school where the process starts again."

The state government has backed away from its decision in early 2008 to give principals the autonomy to hire and fire teachers, in response to pressure from the NSW Teachers Federation.

A spokesman for the Education Minister, Verity Firth, said every teacher deserved "due process". Teachers deemed to be underperforming were placed on a 10-week improvement program. If, at the end of the program, the teacher has not satisfied "specific quality benchmarks" he or she is "referred for … disciplinary or … remedial action, which could include dismissal," the spokesman said.

This year the NSW Institute of Teachers will begin evaluating teachers who apply for accreditation at the higher levels of "accomplished teaching" and "teacher leadership".

The head of the institute, Patrick Lee, said 350 experienced teachers had applied for evaluation under the new standards, with 150 more expected to apply by the end of the year.

Public school teachers who receive accreditation would not qualify for higher pay in the same way as independent school teachers, who earn an extra $6862 for achieving the new standards.

The NSW Association of Independent Schools has negotiated a scale of performance pay for teachers at 120 private schools, and the highest rate is more than $100,000. Public school classroom teachers earn a maximum of about $79,000.

The Catholic Education Office in Sydney will appoint teacher educators to 20 primary and 11 secondary schools this year. The educators will be paid about $110,000 to improve standards.

Gary Zadkovich, deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation, said the government and Department of Education had failed to provide enough support and guidance for public school principals to implement teacher improvement programs.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What’s a Diploma Worth?

Americans have always loved college and real estate. So why do these assets need government support?

Every schoolboy knows that education leads to worldly success and material reward. “If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him,” Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard advised. “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” To the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, learning was “not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” As Emil Faber, founder of the college in Animal House, put it, “Knowledge is good.”

Yet there’s growing evidence that faith in the value of book-learning may be as ill-conceived as faith in the value of another asset inflated by public funding: real estate.

The overall cohort default rate on student loans has increased by more than 50 percent since 2003. The media have focused on the portion of this growth coming from students at for-profit colleges: According to the Department of Education, more than 40 percent of loans granted from 2003 to 2006 to students at such institutions will go bad over time. But students at nonprofit four-year colleges are also projected to default at rates between 10 and 20 percent. And the trend will worsen: Among 20 to 24-year-olds, college graduates are doing slightly better than non-graduates in the job market, but they still suffer an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent.

But if the worth of the asset is questionable, the price has been going through the roof. In the last 25 years, college tuition and fees have increased by 440 percent, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. That’s more than four times the rate of inflation.

Early this year, students in the University of California system responded to tuition hikes with some half-hearted campaigns of campus unrest. The bankrupt Golden State—which has shielded generations of customers from the actual costs of maintaining a tenure-rich, administration-heavy public university system, but which can no longer keep up this impossible mandate—is an especially painful case. But Alabama, Wisconsin, Illinois, and more than 30 other states have experienced similar protests against price hikes at their state school systems.

Time was that a top school was considered impervious to these kinds of market forces. As recently as 2006, the College Board estimated that the wealthiest 10 percent of private four-year colleges and universities had an endowment cushion of $454,100 per student. But these nest eggs were raided in the great credit unwind. Harvard’s endowment has lost $10 billion, about 30 percent of its value, most of that under the leadership of current White House economic advisor Larry Summers. Yale’s endowment has lost $5.6 billion.

You can begin to see why experts at Forbes and The Chronicle of Higher Education have been warning for several years about a “higher education bubble.” But do we have the crucial ingredient, excessive leverage?

We do. Student borrowing has more than doubled since the end of the 20th century, according to the College Board, with $85 billion in loans in 2008, up from $41 billion in 1998. And as the rising rate of defaults indicates, borrowers in aggregate are not making the kind of money—i.e. twice as much as a decade ago—they would need to pay those loans back.

The government’s response to this bubble has been to get itself more deeply involved in the inflation. The administration has kicked in various types of assistance, such as a $100 million college prep program. And in March, President Barack Obama signed a bill eliminating the 45-year-old Federal Family Education Loan Program (which guaranteed student loans made by private lenders) and replacing it with a system of direct Treasury Department loans to students. The first part of these efforts is a straightforward waste of money. The second has the potential to be a marginal improvement on a system that shouldn’t exist.

So we have too much money going into an asset, not enough value coming out, a massive increase in leverage, and a large taxpayer liability for the difference. “Inflation in higher education continues apace,” says Joseph Marr Cronin, a former secretary of educational affairs in Massachusetts and the author, with New England College of Business and Finance president Howard E. Horton, of an influential 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education article on the bubble.

But while Cronin warns about the potential for an education crash, he is bullish about higher ed’s area of fastest growth: for-profit colleges, many of them with a substantial or exclusive element of online and distance learning. For-profits have seen their enrollments triple over the last decade, to 1.4 million students.

For-profits have been on an accreditation buying spree lately. In March, Nebraska’s Dana University was bought by a specially created for-profit. Last year, ITT Educational Services bought Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire. The online for-profit Columbia Southern University bought Waldorf College of Forest City, Iowa. And San Francisco’s Heald College was acquired by Corinthian Colleges, Inc.

Accreditation buys access to your tax dollars, in the form of both subsidized loans and outright grants. That’s a danger for taxpayers, and it’s a liability for students who see tuitions ballooning as more free money flows in. A recent College Board survey found that a quarter of for-profit graduates had taken on $40,000 in debt to pay for their schooling—and the doors don’t exactly fly open when a job seeker flashes a University of Phoenix diploma.

But subsidies are distorting and inflating tuition costs across the board. At the for-profits, at least, the colleges’ no-frills approach is prompting a revolutionary shift in thinking about higher education. The traditional university of ivied walls, lecture halls, and full-dress balls is heading for a crisis. Non-traditional schools present an opportunity for millions of new scholars to consider what they want out of an education, and why. If diplomas are going to continue costing more and losing value, then at least the customers should have more choice when shopping around for them.


Educators push a college alternative

What’s the key to success in the United States? Short of becoming a reality-TV star, the answer is rote and, some would argue, rather knee-jerk: Earn a college degree.

The idea that four years of higher education will translate into a better job, higher earnings, and a happier life — a refrain sure to be repeated this month at graduation ceremonies across the country — has been pounded into the heads of schoolchildren, parents, and educators.

But there’s an underside to that conventional wisdom. Perhaps no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years, according to the latest projections from the Department of Education. (The figures don’t include transfer students, who aren’t tracked.)

For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even more stark: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree. That can be a lot of tuition to pay, without a degree to show for it.

A small but influential group of economists and educators is pushing another pathway: for some students, no college at all. It’s time, they say, to develop credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.

Whether everyone in college needs to be there is not a new question; the subject has been hashed out in books and dissertations for years. But the economic crisis has sharpened that focus, as financially struggling states cut aid to higher education.

Among those calling for such alternatives are the economists Richard Vedder of Ohio University and Robert Lerman of American University, political scientist Charles Murray, and James Rosenbaum, an education professor at Northwestern. They would steer some students toward intensive, short-term vocational and career training, through expanded high school programs and corporate apprenticeships.

“It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago,’’ said Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. “But the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’ aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the next decade.’’

And much of their training, he added, might be feasible outside the college setting.

College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives, and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

Vedder likes to ask why 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study. “Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education,’’ he said.

Lerman said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.


British children to debate 'rape myths' in lessons

Surely this is more likely to give the kids ideas

Children as young as 11 are being asked to debate myths surrounding rape – including claims that “women ask for it by wearing short skirts”.

A charity is distributing teaching materials to secondary schools as part of a campaign to end violence against women. The pack, which schools can buy for £100, covers subjects such as domestic violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, prostitution and human trafficking.

Rape Crisis said the lessons were intended to encourage mixed classes of boys and girls to discuss issues surrounding rape. In one class, pupils are asked to debate claims that “women enjoy rape”, while another lesson instructs children to discuss the myth that “women ask for it by wearing short skirts, drinking alcohol etc”.

Youngsters are also encouraged to act out a role play, including four-letter words, where a boy and girl recall a drunken encounter.

Resources have been produced by the charity’s Wycombe, Chiltern and South Buckinghamshire branch for use in secondary schools. Laura Colclough, the author, said teachers were expected to use their discretion over what was taught. “It’s not from an angle of supporting sexualisation or pornography but examining the link between those things and sexual violence,” she said.

She added: “Gone are the days when young people are not sexualised. Most if not all see the music videos, they see the culture, they surf the internet.”

But campaigners suggested that the lessons were “too explicit for schools”. Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "It is irresponsible because it is certainly not suitable for young children and probably not for older children either. "Just because these things happen does not mean that children need to have them rammed in their faces. “Sensible parents will be extremely perturbed that their children are being introduced to this sort of information at a young age.”


Monday, May 24, 2010

Bring Back the Competition

In America’s free-market system, people are encouraged to shop around to find the best deals on car insurance or a home loan, but when it comes to education, many Americans are stuck sending their children to the neighborhood school.

Many parents have very limited options of where their child will attend school. Depending on state laws, options other than public schools may include private and charter schools. Some states also implement voucher programs, to help less fortunate students get the education they deserve.

“Students should come first in the education system,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “Parents deserve options when deciding where their child should attend school.”

By providing more school options to choose from, more competition is introduced into the system. This means better education for all students.

Private Schools

There are a number of benefits to attending a private school, says Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). “One of them is the quality academics, and the second advantage of religious and independent schools is that they focus on the whole person, not just reading and math. They focus on physical education and reflect the student’s values,” he says.

In 2009, about six million students were enrolled in a private school, which is about 11 percent of all U.S. students.

Religion is the main reason parents enroll their child into a private school. Parents can know that the values and morals being taught to their child in school are the same as those taught to them at home.

Many parents are also concerned with the academic breakdown of some public schools.
“There is a concern about chronically underperforming public schools,” says Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations (CAPSO). “You can see it when parents are organizing for the passing of legislation for voucher programs.”

Cost is a big factor, and sometimes a hindrance, when deciding to send your child to a private school. Those parents who send their children to private schools know the benefits of the education the students are receiving. The Obama family would seemingly agree as their two daughters attend an elite private school in Washington, D.C.

Students enrolled in private schools consistently score well above the national average in every academic area. They are also more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor's or advanced degree by their mid-20s, according to research done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

“Private schools are able to provide parents, through choice, a school that best meets their child’s needs,” says McTighe. “Parents make the match of how their child learns to how the school teaches.”

Charter Schools

The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992. The charter school movement has grown to 4,600 schools serving more than 1.4 million students, according to a report by the Center for Education Reform.

What makes charter school different than public schools? For one, it gives parents more options of where to send their child. Also, charter schools have more freedom from the many regulations of public schools. Charter schools allow students and teachers more authority to make decisions. Instead of being accountable to rules and regulations like public schools are, charter schools are focused on the students and academic achievement and upholding their charter.

“About 95 percent of charter schools are non-union,” says Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA). This causes a lot of opposition from teachers unions.

“Unions lose members,” says Antonucci, whenever a new charter schools opens. “Every teacher in a charter school means one less union member and unions want more money. This can put a dent in union’s bottom line.”

Because of the opposition charter schools face, not all states allow them. According to Antonucci, 10 states do not have charter schools. “Unions keep them out,” he says. “The only reason you have them is because a democrat got them in in opposition to the unions or the unions got something in return—like putting caps on the number of schools allowed.”

Despite the opposition, many charter schools are doing very well and being renewed.

Voucher Programs

Maybe one of the most controversial programs of them all, education vouchers have recently been a topic dealt with by the Obama Administration. Nearly 2,000 students in the Washington, D.C., public school system have been recipients of the federally assisted voucher program. This program has allowed those students to attend a private school, which under normal circumstances would have been impossible. Now that program is coming to end after six years of a successful run.

“The D.C. voucher program benefitted disproportionately African American students and it was ended by our first African American president,” says Niger Innis, national spokesman for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

The opposition to voucher programs sees them as a threat to public schools. Innis sees the program as helping public schools. “Vouchers save public schools so they can compete,” he says.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has one of the oldest and most successful voucher programs. Milwaukee spends about $14,000 per public school student and roughly $6,400 per private student voucher. Those who have received vouchers are performing just as well if not better than their public school counterparts while causing more competition within public schools and saving taxpayer money.

With constant union opposition and a bureaucratic-run school system, vouchers have yet to be fully accepted into the education system, despite their proven success.

If the education system does not change, some parents may never have a choice when it comes to their child’s education. It is easy to see that all these education systems thrive when parents are given an option of where to send their children to school. Parents know their children best and should be allowed to pick the school best suited for them.

“The biggest solution is giving parents the opportunity to choose the best road for their children,” says Innis. “Who are we focusing on, the institutions or the children? Are these dollars that are earmarked for education going to the institutions or children? The dollars should follow the children.”


Home School, Sweet Home School

As I addressed a home school graduation exercise the other day, I thought -- more than once -- ah, good old human nature at work once more.

It's what happens when institutions fail or give the distinct impression they're about to. Customers head for the exits: not all of them, maybe just a handful. Yet those who do flee, taking their hopes and their children with them, tend to be people of sharp and quick perception; the kind you want around as much and as long as possible. Their departure evacuates the institution in considerable degree of priceless qualities -- sense of mission, dedication to task, willingness to work and to sacrifice.

The public schools can't hold such people? More shame for those schools. Once upon a time, the great majority of us attended them. In the 21st century, their widely advertised shortcomings and deficiencies are driving out, or keeping away altogether, people whose presence in the classroom every half-sensible educator should crave.

The ceremony at which I spoke featured two -- count 'em -- two young men, supported by scores of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, fellow church members and well-wishers in general. A public high school principal might shrug at the loss of a mere two students from his rolls. Too bad. C'est la vie.

The two in question, nevertheless -- Eagles Scouts soon to take flight, accomplished debaters, tireless readers, international lawyers in the making -- are the sort who clearly adorn whatever company they keep. The public schools want more such, not fewer. Yet fewer and fewer they get, as more and more Americans express their distrust of the public schools' ability to impart an education such as was fairly common up to the '60s.

With the '60s, a kind of sloth and indifference and arrogance and mendacity settled over public education like a blanket. General indictments never give general satisfaction. This one won't either, I confess. We all pretty much know, in any case, what happened. The quest for "social justice" -- busing for racial balance being one instance -- drew attention away from Bunsen burners and Wordsworth.

Late 20th-century demography hardly helped. Public institutions reflect public expectations. Expectations for the schools declined markedly. As divorce split up families and the job market siphoned off the achievement overseers generally addressed as Mom, families tended to see classrooms as holding pens for underfoot kids. Schools ventured into new terrain, such as sex education and the representation of the American story as a narrative of racist imperialism. God was advised rudely to get Himself off the school ground, fast. Teacher unions rated pay and benefits as more important to them than standards and teaching methods.

How fast did the customers catch on? Fast enough. Parents moved themselves and their broods to suburban districts. Private schools, especially religious ones, multiplied. Still other parents took on themselves the task of educating their children. By 2007, an estimated 1.5 million young people, 2.5 percent of all students, were learning at home. Networks arose to provide school opportunities and curricular materials.

To the charge that they were undermining public education, parents pled self-defense. What did the schools expect anyway -- that savvy parents were going to let their children's minds and prospects perish in second-rate settings or worse?

Home schooling isn't the answer for everybody. For one thing, it requires the oversight of highly motivated parents. The best thing to call it, I think, is an end-run around political and cultural obstacles to the flourishing of young people whose parents love them very much.

The two kids -- pardon me, young men -- I addressed on the occasion of their Going Forth into the World (by way of good universities) are individuals of high promise, imbued with ambition, drive, intelligence, sensibilities of various sorts and, not least important, religious instinct. The public schools might have had them but for the schools' perceived inability to maintain the right environment for success and the breeding of character.

Goes to show as a nation we may be smarter than our standardized test scores make us out to be.


New law will bring shake-up of English schools in time for summer

The biggest shake-up in English education for a generation will be heralded tomorrow with legislation making it simpler for parents to set up “free schools” and a new wave of academies.

A short Bill will be introduced this week removing local authority powers to veto new schools, allowing charities or education providers to get state funding for each pupil they attract. The legislation is intended to be rushed through Parliament by summer.

It will also allow other state schools to become academies, enjoying similar freedom from local authorities but with a proportion of their budget — typically about 10 per cent — retained by councils for services such as admissions, transport and special needs.

The school reforms, drawn up by the Conservatives, survived largely intact in coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats and are to be implemented as a priority by the new Government.

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledged to boost the role of local authorities, giving them powers over schools currently wielded from Whitehall and extending their remit to academies — but their plans were omitted from the coalition deal.

Separate legislation is likely to include provision to make it easier for community groups to aquire and convert public sector land and buildings as premises for “free schools”. Capital costs would be funded from money for a school rebuilding programme.

However, the most dramatic — and immediate — impact on state education may come from allowing existing state schools to convert to academy status, including primary schools for the first time.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has predicted that hundreds and even thousands of schools would do so, and pledged that any school rated “outstanding” by Ofsted would be approved automatically. He wants a first wave of schools to convert to academy status by September.

Head teachers and governors may be prompted to take up the offer to protect their budgets from future spending cuts, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said. An average secondary school with a budget of £5 million would gain £500,000 a year by doing so. Mr Dunford said: “The danger is that this could break up the system, with the better schools having more money and greater independence and the other schools finding life more difficult. We must avoid that polarisation of the system because the people who suffer in that situation tend to be the disadvantaged.”

A further piece of schools legislation, later in the parliamentary session, will include plans to slim down and re-write the national curriculum, overhaul Ofsted to focus inspections more tightly on the quality of teaching, and give heads greater disciplinary powers over disruptive pupils.

The Academies Bill on Wednesday will be followed by a Bill to repeal ID cards on Thursday as the coalition seeks to get off to a swift start in implementing its agreed programme. Parliamentary draftsmen have been working overtime to get the Bills ready.

The Bill will scrap identity cards and the national identity register, the database which was to hold biographical and biometric details on people applying for the card. Already 13,000 British citizens been issued with the cards, at £30 each.

The previous Government spent more than £257 million on preparatory work for the scheme, which was estimated to cost £4.5 billion over ten years. The Home Office has awarded four contracts together worth more than £1 billion, but compensation arrangements are likely to be complex because some also relate to improvements in producing passports.

The tenor of the Queen’s Speech will echo the “freedom, fairness and responsibility” mantra of the coalition programme unveiled by David Cameron and Nick Clegg last week. It will focus on tackling the deficit and reforming public services and politics. Mr Clegg has secured a slot in the speech for a Bill setting up a referendum on reform to the voting system, a major victory for the Lib Dems.

However, the Deputy Prime Minister made clear that he was ready to compromise over a fully elected House of Lords, another Lib Dem goal. Mr Clegg said that work on a new-look upper chamber would begin immediately.

There would be “lots or argument”, Mr Clegg told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One. He remained ambitious, he said, but did not want to let a chance of reform founder by being dogmatic.

“I don’t want to make the best the enemy of the good. I think it should be a wholly elected House. I think any chamber that decides on laws of the land should be wholly elected. But I’m not going to die in the trenches on that.

“The one thing I want to avoid is that this Government ends up like every government over the last century that has talked about House of Lords reform and not delivered it.”

There will be further discussion on the contents of the Freedom Bill, for which Mr Clegg invited people to nominate laws they wished to see replealed.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Texas board adopts new social studies curriculum

Texas schoolchildren will be required to learn that the words "separation of church and state" aren’t in the Constitution and evaluate whether the United Nations undermines U.S. sovereignty under new social studies curriculum.

In final votes late Friday, conservatives on the State Board of Education strengthened requirements on teaching the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers and required that the U.S. government be referred to as a "constitutional republic" rather than "democratic."

The board approved the new standards with two 9-5 votes along party lines after months of ideological haggling and debate that drew attention beyond Texas.

The guidelines will be used to teach some 4.8 million students for the next 10 years. They also will be used by textbook publishers who often develop materials for other states based on those approved in Texas, though Texas teachers ave latitude in deciding how to teach the material.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said after the votes Friday that such decisions should be made at the local level and school officials "should keep politics out" of curriculum debates. "Parents should be very wary of politicians designing curriculum," Duncan said in a statement.

But Republican board member David Bradley said the curriculum revision process has always been political but the ruling faction had changed since the last time social studies standards were adopted.

"We took our licks, we got outvoted," he said referring to the debate 10 years earlier. "Now it’s 10-5 in the other direction ... we’re an elected body, this is a political process. Outside that, go find yourself a benevolent dictator."

GOP board member Geraldine Miller was absent during the votes.

The board attempted to make more than 200 amendments this week, reshaping draft standards that had been prepared over the last year and a half by expert groups of teachers and professors.

As new amendments were being presented just moments before the vote, Democrats bristled that the changes had not been vetted. "I will not be part of the vote that’s going to support this kind of history," said Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat.

At least one state lawmaker vowed legislative action to "rein in" the board. "I am disturbed that a majority of the board decided their own political agendas were more important than the education of Texas children," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, a San Antonio Democrat.

In one of the most significant curriculum changes, the board diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class, noting that the words were not in the Constitution and requiring students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment’s wording.

Students also will be required to study the decline in the U.S. dollar’s value, including the abandonment of the gold standard.

The board rejected language to modernize the classification of historic periods to B.C.E. and C.E. from the traditional B.C. and A.D., and agreed to replace Thomas Jefferson as an example of an influential political philosopher in a world history class. They also required students to evaluate efforts by global organizations such as the United Nations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.

Former board chairman Don McLeroy, one of the board’s most outspoken conservatives, said the Texas history curriculum has been unfairly skewed to the left after years of Democrats controlling the board and he just wants to bring it back into balance.

Educators have blasted the curriculum proposals for politicizing education. Teachers also have said the document is too long and will force students to memorize lists of names rather than learning to critically think.


Toddlers’ bad behaviour is always mothers’ fault?

That is certainly not so. Much bad behaviour is evident from the earliest ages and is clearly genetic. He is however right that a loving home is better for kids than institutional care. There have been some big studies on that.

Mothers already wilting under a barrage of contradictory advice about child-rearing are told that nurseries will damage their children, the naughty step is counter-productive and that toddler misbehaviour is all their fault.

The psychologist and broadcaster Oliver James has stomped on to sensitive terrain with a book that suggests mothers of toddlers should avoid working outside the home. In a work that has already provoked howls of anger, he argues that children should not be left in the care of others for long periods, and lays into the strict disciplining of young children by comparing it to training them “like a dog in a laboratory”.

He writes: “As a parent of a child of this age, you need to realise that if things go pear-shaped it is actually always your fault, in the sense that if you keep a close enough eye on them you can prevent atrocities.”

The author claims that young children “need to be in the presence of a responsive, loving adult at all times”, warning mothers who go out to work that daycare is associated with more boastful, disobedient and aggressive children.

Naughty step methods, according to James, “often result in repetition of the undesired behaviour, rather than successful management. If you are not careful, you are just creating a guaranteed method for your children to wind you up.”

In an attack on the methods of the former maternity nurse Gina Ford, he writes: “There is a great deal of evidence that very strict routines do lead to more insecure, and to more irritable and fussy, babies.”

He argues that while babies that are left to cry may be more likely to sleep through the night, “it is the babies whose needs have been met who become the secure, calm and satisfied children and productive schoolchildren, and adults — and the ones you might say were spoilt and indulged babies.”

How Not to F*** Them Up is a sequel to his 2002 book They F*** You Up, which argued that it is parenting, not genes, that shapes character. Drawing on his own unhappy childhood, James writes in the new work that therapy made him realise:“Yes, of course I was a bad boy, but it wasn’t my f***ing fault! My parents were very muddled and had caused me to be like this.”

Despite his arguments in favour of one-on-one childcare, James argues that he is “not remotely anti working mothers”. He says: “I really don’t want to make life more difficult. I’m really trying to make it easier.”


Australia: DON'T expect students to learn about Australia's most important day in the new national history course

This is ridiculous. It proves that the curriculum has fallen into the hands of far-Left academics who hate all that Australia stands for. The Gallipoli landings are the foundation of Australia's most solemn day of remembrance: ANZAC day.

And in typical Leftist fashion, there is no consecutive history taught: Just disconnected episodes that Marxists like. They dread that students might get some idea of the broad sweep of Australia's history with its long record of positive achievement. We can't have kids being proud of their country, can we?

HISTORIANS say the new national modern history curriculum for schools reads like a Marxist manifesto that ignores popular aspects of our past and neglects Australia's role in world politics and war.

The course, designed for years 11 and 12, is heavily focused on revolutionary struggles, colonial oppression and women's struggle for equality.

It neglects Australia's British roots and institutions and its military history, with no mention of Gallipoli, Tobruk or Kokoda, the experts say.

The draft lists World War I as a potential case study in "investigating modern history". It lists "controversies surrounding ... memorial sites and commemorative events" as an area of study but does not mention Gallipoli or the battle of Fromelle.

In a topic headed "Australia 1880-1945", the draft lists "the formation of organised labour", "White Australia" and "wartime government controls, including conscription, control of the labour force, rationing, censorship and propaganda".

But it does not mention the settlement of Australia or the deeds of the first AIF in World War I.

The draft history course was released this week for public discussion, divided into five units: The nation state and national identity; Recognition and equality; International tensions and conflicts; Revolutions; and, Australia and Asia.

Historian Andrew Garvie said the course agenda should be altered to give a more balanced view of history. "This appears to be a very trendy, right-on curriculum. It looks heavily influenced by a Marxist view of history - there's lots about about revolution and struggles against oppression," Mr Garvie said. "But it lacks an appreciation of Australia's place in the world.

"There seems to be very little about our military history or our links with Britain. Gallipoli and Kokoda appear to be just footnotes to the whole thing."

He said the course also seemed to be organised as a "slice of life" approach to history. "It seems to me students will be given bits of history to study. They may not gain an appreciation of the whole of an era or century," Mr Garvie said.

Education consultant Russell Boyle said the history curriculum was too selective.

"The ancient history curriculum spans the period from pre-history to 500BC, while the period of investigation in the draft modern history curriculum is from the late 18th century through to the end of the 20th century," Mr Boyle said.

"There is much in the period in between that would deepen students' understanding of the events and issues that have shaped humanity and our contemporary world."