Saturday, June 05, 2010

Kids v. Unionists …Who’s Going to Win?

The refrain “do it for the kids” will be heard once again across Michigan, as the MEA plans a June 24th rally at the state capitol to make an impassioned plea for more money to prop up a self-serving education system that protects the adults at the expense of our children. Ironically, the teachers’ union bills this rally as their “Enough Is Enough” campaign…a perfect slogan, but misdirected.

Michigan taxpayers and students should adopt the phrase and demand an end to the MEA’s entitlement syndrome that is hurting our students and bleeding taxpayers dry, during an economic downturn that challenges Michigan’s very survival. If Michigan is to survive and prosper, it must re-invent the educational system, which can only be done if our legislators display the courage and independence to do what’s right for our kids. If we fail our students, we fail the entire state…forever.

Enough IS Enough…tell the Governor and legislature to stand up to the greed of the teacher unions and enact substantive and meaningful reforms to pensions and health care. Some steps have been made, but we need much more than that, if we are going to create a SUSTAINABLE educational system for the State of Michigan.

Follow the money. The tax dollars meant to educate your kids…aren’t (at least enough of them aren’t). Dollars that should be flowing into Michigan’s classrooms flow instead to the coffers of the insurance arm (MESSA) of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). In addition to being the most expensive insurer around, MESSA uses its profits to hire top-notch lobbyists and channel campaign donations to the governor and legislators, who subsequently find it difficult, if not impossible, to bring themselves to support the dramatic educational reforms necessary for Michigan to prosper and excel as a national educational leader.

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins hit the nail on the head, way back in 2004, and lost his job for doing so. He correctly pointed out that, “escalating labor costs…exacerbate the financial situation of local schools…almost two-thirds of every new dollar provided is consumed by health care and pension costs.”

If we fall for the old trick of “raise taxes for our children”, then we will accomplish NOTHING toward inventing and investing in a quality 21st century education that will help prepare our students for the global knowledge economy they will inherit. Instead, those tax increases will do nothing more than fatten paychecks and retirement plans without adding any value to the education our kids receive. If you look at Michigan’s performance on the national NAEP test and compare the results with the rest of the nation, you’ll also see that there is plenty of room for improvement.

School boards are facing the financial crisis by having to make new decisions about where diminishing dollars are spent. Unfortunately, the kids are the losers once again. Some school districts have traded off instructional time in order to get less expensive teacher contract settlements (which they still cannot afford). Some districts are now down to a pitiful 160 days of instruction, while their teachers continue to enjoy salary increases AND the luxuries of MESSA insurance with minimal employee contributions through co-pays and deductibles.

Trading days for dollars equates to your children losing learning time at the expense of adult should not be the ones paying the price here. The same MEA that places picket lines in districts considering privatization is the same MEA that not only privatizes services used at their headquarters, but ultimately turns a blind eye when districts privatize services (thereby putting non-teacher MEA members like you child’s bus driver or school custodian out of work) for the “right” reason—to preserve pay increases and maintain MESSA insurance for teachers.

The poor local school boards truly live between a rock and a hard place, and face MEA supported recall action if they have the audacity to oppose the MEA. In addition, leadership salaries of the MEA make most local school superintendent’s wages look pitiful by comparison. It’s very typical for a superintendent to sit across the negotiating table from an MEA Uniserv Director (“hired gun”) who makes more money, drives a better car, and has much less educational experience…in essence, they’re well-paid strong-arms, hell-bent on a juicy settlement, whether or not it might bankrupt a district. The typical refrain is, “we don’t care…we deserve it.”

Well, they’re “deserving” their non-teaching union colleagues (as well as low-seniority teachers) out of jobs, and they’re hurting our kids by forcing larger class sizes (which they bemoan, and blame school administrators for implementing) and shorter school years to help offset the burgeoning costs of health care, built in “step” increases, and expected pay raises for all, all the while expecting to maintain their insurance-paid massages. The union tactics are repugnant enough that many, many teachers (either courageously, or much more often quietly) distance themselves from their own organization.

Encouragingly, some teachers have made attempts to have their local union contract “opened” for renegotiation, so they could offer concessions and creative solutions to help keep some of their colleagues working, and help keep their school district solvent. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the very union that claims to REPRESENT these teachers REFUSED to hear of it.

It’s time that Michigan teachers took control of their own union. Many thousands of great teachers are putting their total effort into teaching their students. This is laudable, but their political inaction also allows the MEA to continue to give teachers a bad name. Our teachers need to feel valued, and local superintendents and school boards want to work WITH their teachers, but the MEA often stands firmly in the way.

Great teachers are also true professionals. The MEA consistently exhibits and encourages anything but professionalism. Frankly, they need to change their name to represent what they’re about…and it’s certainly NOT about education. Perhaps the Michigan Organization for Bankrupting Schools (MOBS) might be a better descriptor.

If I was still teaching, I would be ashamed of the MEA’s obstructionist tactics, which most certainly helped keep Michigan from having any chance at the Federal “Reach to the Top” funding in Round One. I know I’m ashamed of them now. If they wanted to live up to their chosen name, the MEA would be first in line to offer realistic and creative solutions to help Michigan solve its educational problems. Instead, the MEA works myopically and tirelessly to obstruct reform and ignore reality…much like a spoiled child.

“It’s About the Children!”---NOT!


Texas rejects second round of Race to the Top money

Gov. Rick Perry said 'no thanks' to federal stimulus money for education, saying the state's application would probably be penalized for its unwillingness to buy into national curriculum standards.

Perry has argued that Texas' curriculum, made for and by Texans, is superior than what federal bureaucrats would produce. The state standards are set by the elected State Board of Education, which just earned national attention for setting social studies curriculum that has been criticized by educators and others as being politically driven. The state board decided, for example, that high school students will learn about leading U.S. conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s but not about liberal or minority rights groups and they should question the division between church and state.

Perry has rejected the potentially hundreds of millions in federal dollars, saying he was rejecting federal encroachment on state decision-making.

But some state decisions are getting harder. The state faces an $18 billion budget deficit next year. Perry and other state leaders have called for a combined 15 percent cut from agencies across the state.

Perry and state leaders have accepted $16 billion in other federal stimulus money.


TV programs in curriculum for British High School exams in English

Teenagers will be encouraged to study reality TV programmes such as The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den and Britain's Got Talent as part of a new English GCSE. Pupils will be being asked to assess the delivery style and features of contestants’ language in a course designed to boost speaking and listening skills.

In one specimen paper, students are ordered to study the use of language in the Apprentice boardroom – the culmination of the BBC1 programme where Lord Sugar “fires” the weakest candidate.

Another task involves “presenting a product” based on Dragons’ Den, in which would be entrepreneurs attempt to sell ideas to successful businessmen.

And in another unit, pupils are encouraged to assess the different interviewing skills of Jeremy Paxman and Michael Parkinson.

The questions form part of a GCSE in English language created by the OCR examination board. It is designed to teach children how language can be adapted for the workplace and different social situations.

OCR said pupils taking the course would “become more conscious of which registers are more appropriate in which scenarios, making them more likely to succeed when it comes to influencing and negotiating in everyday life, their education and the world of work”.

The new English language GCSE will be available for teaching alongside an English literature GCSE from September. Under plans, teachers will be encouraged use reality TV, stand-up comedy routines, political speeches and chat shows to develop pupils’ language skills. As part of the GCSE, pupils will write a 1,000 word essay under teachers’ supervision.

A specimen question paper suggests that The Apprentice could be used as the basis of the work.

Pupils are asked to assess the “use/misuse/uncomfortable nature of certain registers (eg. the language of the professional discussion) and how this compares to candidates’ more natural speech styles”. Teenagers should also analyse the “language of self-promotion” and the pre-prepared or formulaic language used in the boardroom.

In one task, pupils are asked to create a presentation of their personal skills, based on Britain’s Got Talent.

Another question asks students to study a particular interviewer, such as Jeremy Paxman or Michael Parkinson.

The paper says pupils should consider “how rapport is established between interviewer and interviewee”, the use of pre-planned and follow-up questions, the impact of open and closed questions, how the interviewer challenges or supports a guest and the use of pauses and body language.

Another section encourages pupils to study speakers – listing Barack Obama, Eddie Izzard and Ronnie Corbett as possible subjects. Pupils are asked to consider how diction, register and rhetorical devices are used to create an impact, as well as the relevance of timing, pace, pauses and movement.

Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English at King’s College London, told the Times Educational Supplement said there was a risk that the syllabus would ignore the literary perspective of speech, but added: “Looking at spoken English and developing pupils’ consciousness of the spoken form is a very good thing.”

However, spokesman for the Plain English Campaign said: “I'm struggling to see the relevance of this. “Kids need a strong foundation for communicating in a useful way. This just confuses the issue.”


Friday, June 04, 2010

Head Start: Corrupt and useless

Just a pretentious child-minding service

Head Start, which provides child development services primarily to low-income families and their children, is one of the few popular programs that came out of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But following up on hotline tips alleging fraud and abuse, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) began an undercover investigation of Head Start centers in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Heritage Senior Policy Analyst David Muhlhausen details what the GAO found:

* In eight of the 13 eligibility tests, the fictitious families were told by Head Start staff that they were eligible for the program and encouraged to attend class;

* In all of these eight cases, Head Start staff instructed the fictitious families to misrepresent their eligibility for the program;

* In seven of these cases, Head Start staff deliberately disregarded part of the fictitious families’ income to make these families eligible for participation;

* In at least four of the cases, the GAO later received doctored documents that excluded income information originally provided to the Head Start staff;

* In two cases, Head Start staff designated on application forms that one parent was unemployed, even though the GAO presented documentation of both parents’ income; and

* In one case, Head Start staff assured the fictitious family that no one would validate that the income information submitted was correct.

Fraud is just the latest of Head Start’s problems. Earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services released the first scientifically rigorous experimental evaluation of Head Start. And contrary to Head Start’s usually great press clippings, the study found that Head Start has had little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of participating children. [There has been plenty of previous evidence to that effect -- going back many years]


CA: Blatant political propaganda in the classroom

LA students to be taught that Arizona immigration law “un-American”. Hate speech against Arizona?

The Los Angeles Unified School District school board wants all public school students in the city to be taught that Arizona's new immigration law is un-American.

The school board president made the announcement Tuesday night after the district's Board of Education passed a resolution to oppose the controversial law, which gives law enforcement officials in Arizona the power to question and detain people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally when they are stopped in relation to a crime or infraction.

Critics of the law say it will result in racial profiling.

The school board voted unanimously on Tuesday to “express outrage” and “condemnation” of the law, and it called on the school superintendent to look into curtailing economic support to the Grand Canyon State. About 73 percent of the students in the school district are Latino.

But supporters of the law say the school board is way out of bounds and that the measure will just distract from the children's education.

“This is ridiculous, it’s ridiculous for us to be involved in Arizona law,” said Jane Barnett, Chairman, Los Angeles County Republican Party. “There is a 50 percent dropout rate in some parts of the school district—is this going to keep kids in school?”

According to its press release, "The Los Angeles Board of Education also requested that Superintendent Ramon Cortines ensure that civics and history classes discuss the recent laws with students in the context of the American values of unity, diversity and equal protection for all people.”

"America must stand for tolerance, inclusiveness and equality,” said Board President Monica García, according to the release. “In our civics classes and in our hallways, we must give life to these values by teaching our students to value themselves; to respect others; and to demand fairness and justice for all who live within our borders. Any law which violates civil rights is un-American."

In an e-mail to, school district spokesman Robert Alaniz elaborated:

“The Board of Education directed the Superintendent to ensure that LAUSD civics and history classes discuss the recent laws enacted in Arizona in the context of the American values of unity, diversity, and Equal Protection for all. Much like a number of controversial periods and laws that are part of our history and are currently taught including:

-- Slavery

-- Jim Crowe laws and segregation

-- Native American reservations

-- Residential schools (for Native Americans)

-- The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

-- Anti-Irish racism in the 19th century

-- Racism against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the 20th century

-- Anti-Semitism

-- Internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II

-- The Mexican Repatriation Program (1929-1939)."

The school district resolution also opposed another new Arizona law that bans schools from teaching classes that promote the overthrow of the government or advocate ethnic solidarity.

The school board called on Arizona's leaders to reverse both of these “misguided” new laws, the press release said.

The board said the laws “effectively sanction and promote unconstitutional racial profiling and harassment,” and “blatantly violate the civil rights of both Arizona residents and all visitors to the State.”

They said Arizona’s new laws also “severely restrict the education of all children in Arizona by refusing to incorporate vital sections of history that incorporate the contributions of this country’s many diverse groups.”

The superintendent was also asked to investigate ways to curtail contracts with Arizona-based businesses and district travel to the state.

"We need to do everything in our power to help our students be global citizens, develop appreciation for the diversity in our midst, and reject any forms of racism or bias," said Board Vice President Yolie Flores. "This resolution highlights our commitment to ensuring that our students understand the ideals and constitutional rights that this great country is founded on, while also gaining an appreciation of the histories and cultural contributions of those who have helped build this nation."

“It is a sad day in America when the rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution are trampled upon under the color of law and authority,” said LAUSD Board Member Martinez. “Everyone, regardless of their status in the United States, has the right to equal protection under our laws. These Arizona laws are nothing but a knee-jerk backlash resulting from the lack of a comprehensive and well thought out immigration reform policy.”

The LA County Republican chairwoman said she’s been inundated with phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages from people all over Los Angeles who say their school district has no business meddling in another state’s laws when they’ve got so many problems of their own to deal with.

“This is really crazy,” she said. “Everybody is upset about this.”

Barnett called the school board resolution a “pathetic stunt” that distracts educators from what they should be focusing on: educating the students.

“This is nothing we should be involved in. Let the courts deal with this,” she said. “We need to keep out of other people’s states’ business.”

Nathan Mintz, the founder of the South Bay Tea Party and the Republican nominee for the 53rd State Assembly seat.

“This is just another example of these embedded bureaucrats in California doing anything they can to deflect and distract from the poor job their doing of educating our children,” said Nathan Mintz, the founder of the South Bay Tea Party and the Republican nominee for the 53rd State Assembly seat.

He said attacking Arizona’s immigration law is just “a distraction from the key issue of educating the kids in our schools.”

“We support Arizona,” Barnett said. “In fact, I think we ought to go there right now for vacation.”


British University degrees now mean a lot less than they used to

Traditional university degree grades have been rendered meaningless by the mass expansion of higher education, say researchers. A sharp rise in the number of people admitted to university since the mid-80s makes it impossible to compare degrees awarded by different institutions in different subjects, it was claimed.

Researchers said the 200-year-old system of first, second and third-class degrees is also threatened by increased competition between universities - with lecturers under pressure to mark up work to justify higher fees.

The study, by the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, said there was evidence of “management intervention in academic judgments on standards." Some institutions have also been better at weeding out cheating by students than other universities, the report said.

The comments come amid growing criticism of the existing degree classification system. Figures show the number of students achieving a first has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and two years ago the Quality Assurance Agency, the university watchdog, said grades were based on "arbitrary and unreliable measures".

Last year, a number of universities introduced detailed report cards as an alternative to old-fashioned degree grades. Some 18 universities are piloting the so-called Higher Education Achievement Record, which lists detailed scores in individual modules alongside a breakdown of students’ membership of sports clubs and debating societies, before being expanded nationwide.

The report's author, Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, said all students graduating from university should reach a minimum standard. This could be done by appointing academics to scrutinise degrees to check they are worthwhile, he said.

The report said: “At a time when only a very small proportion of the population went to university, and the student population was broadly equivalent in terms of background and ability…it may have been a reasonable expectation that the outcomes of degree courses should be broadly comparable.

“Today, the environment is radically different. “Nearly half of the young population now participate in higher education, the range of ability of those students is much wider, and the purpose, nature and intended outcomes of programmes all vary considerably. “It makes little sense to seek comparability of outcomes, and indeed it would actually be wrong to do so.”

It said degrees from Oxford and Cambridge could not be compared with those from other universities because of the “extraordinarily high” standard of students' previous exam results, combined with the quality of lecturers and intensity of the Oxbridge tutorial system.

The comments follow claims last year by Prof Rick Trainor, principal of King’s College London, that a first-class degree in tourism and management from a former polytechnic could not be compared with a first in ancient history from a top institution.

Under Labour, growing numbers of school-leaver have been encouraged to strive for university. Almost 400,000 more students are now in higher education than in 1997. The number of people applying for courses this year is already up by more than a fifth.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

35 states, DC vie for education funding

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second phase of the Race to the Top federal education competition as the application deadline passed Tuesday night. The states are hoping to win a piece of the $3.4 billion available under President Barack Obama's signature education initiative.

Race to the Top aims to spur innovation by rewarding states that promote charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and intervene in low-performing schools. Forty states and D.C. applied in the first round, but only Delaware and Tennessee won. They received a total of $600 million.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said applying for the money required elected officials and teacher unions to work together. "This took a lot of hard work and political courage," he said in a news release. "Every state that applied now has a blueprint for raising educational quality across America."

Since the competition kicked off last year, at least 23 states passed laws that strengthen their applications. In other states, such as Minnesota and Indiana, battles between elected officials and teacher's unions scuttled plans to apply.

Idaho, West Virginia and Minnesota, applied the first time around, but not this time. Texas and Alaska didn't apply in either round.

Federal officials expect to name finalists on or around July 26, with winners to be announced by the end of September. They said 10-15 states could win grants.


Teaching disciplinary body scrapped by Britain's Tories

The teachers’ regulator was scrapped yesterday in a surprise announcement by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. The General Teaching Council for England did not earn its keep and was a “bureaucratic siphon” of money away from teaching, he said.

Teachers had long complained about the compulsory £36.50 that they had to pay each year to the council, which held professional conduct hearings. Last week Mr Gove abolished two other quangos: Becta, which advised schools on buying computer equipment, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority.

He told the Commons: “It [the teaching council] doesn’t improve classroom practice, it doesn’t help children, it doesn’t earn its keep, so it must go. Teachers say it gives them nothing.” He referred to the case of Adam Walker, a teacher who belonged to the British National Party, who described immigrants as animals and filth on a website. “The GTCE concluded his description wasn’t racist so he couldn’t be struck off,” he said.

Mr Gove also revealed that more than 1,000 schools — including hundreds of primaries — had applied to become academies in the past week. The semi-independent state schools are free from local authority control.

He said a week ago that the coalition wanted to expand the programme extensively. Any school rated outstanding by Ofsted would automatically qualify for academy status, he said, and yesterday revealed that more than half of outstanding schools had applied. He announced that 1,114 schools had sought to become academies, of which 626 were outstanding schools. Of the top-rated schools, 273 were primaries, which did not qualify to become academies under the previous regime.

Mr Gove said: “I believe that head teachers and teachers know best how to run schools, not local bureaucrats or politicians. That’s why last week I wrote to every school in the country inviting them to take up academy freedoms if they wished to do so. The response has been overwhelming.”

Academies were created by Tony Blair, and the first of the schools opened in September 2002, replacing failing institutions in deprived areas.

Their leaders were given freedoms from local authorities, including being able to vary the pay and conditions of teachers, and the length of the school day. But some academy heads complained that their powers were constrained under the last Government.

Before the election the Tories attracted much attention for their “free” schools policy, based on the Swedish model. This will make it easier for parents concerned about the lack of good schools in their areas to set up their own education establishments, run by not-for-profit organisations.

Mr Gove paid tribute to David Laws, who was the Liberal Democrat education spokesman when he was in opposition, describing him as unfailingly honest, fair, decent and principled.

He also praised his predecessor, Ed Balls, for his work on child protection, and for staying firm in the face of lobbying from teachers for the abolition of Key Stage 2 tests. These are taken at the end of primary school and were formerly known as SATs.

Some teachers are opposed to the tests, which they claim dominate Year 6 and squeeze any spontaneity from the curriculum. The tests are used to produce data for school league tables. Mr Gove said that the tests were a vital accountability measure.

He was criticised by the Opposition for failing to guarantee that Building Schools for the Future, a £55 billion programme, would proceed in full. But Mr Gove said that the scheme was not necessarily allocating resources to the front line in the most effective way.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: “I have absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State’s decision will be warmly welcomed by teachers across the country. I frequently said if the GTCE was abolished tomorrow few would notice and even less would care.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Any replacement for the GTCE needs to distance itself from the belief that a watchdog can also reserve the right to make intrusive judgments on teachers’ personal lives.”


Australia: A university that can't balance its books

I'm not surprised. I taught there for 12 years and most of my colleagues were mediocrities, to be polite about it. One can hardly therefore expect better of its administrators

THE University of NSW has written off $5.35 million in debts owed by students, reflecting a history of poor financial control. The 2009 annual report, tabled in NSW Parliament yesterday, shows a $2.9m write-off, following a $2.45m write-off the previous year.

The problem goes back to the 1990s when the university could not reconcile two key financial systems and nobody had clear, ultimate responsibility for student debt, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A university spokeswoman said: "We now have very effective checks and balances in place and student debt provisions are being steadily reduced. "Our priority had to be to ensure students were not disadvantaged by our administrative problems. "So where there was inconsistency we preferred to write off the debt."

UNSW started 2008 with $7.68m owed by students and $6.67m of this was classified as "impaired" or unlikely to be recovered, according to notes to the financial statements. "Students were allowed to enrol, sit exams and even graduate without paying their fees," the HES source said.

"The [student debt hole in UNSW finances] means that the money needs to come from somewhere else and that means the taxpayers are funding it."

The 2009 report shows student debt reduced to $1.49m and that $621,000 of this was judged unlikely to be paid. UNSW recovered $221,000 in 2009 and $473,000 in 2008.

The source said UNSW had a problematic history of student creditors as well as debtors. By the middle of the 1990s, UNSW owed some 10,000 people about $2m in total, most being students mistakenly charged GST on a $35 fee in 2000, he said. He said the Australian Taxation Office had told UNSW to return the money.

The NSW Auditor-General raised concerns about the student money issue in five consecutive annual reports, the most recent being last year's.

The UNSW spokeswoman said a review of money owing to students was finished in 2009. She said $1.6m was refunded to students over an 18-month period from late 2008. In early 2009, UNSW handed over $468,000 to the NSW Office of State Revenue, the home for ownerless money.

The source said that between 1999 and 2006, the UNSW student and financial systems were giving inconsistent figures for student fees. Human error was the cause.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Early-age gender Gap for the Gifted in NYC Schools

Girls mature earlier so this is no surprise. The usual "penalty" for early maturation, however, is a lower final level of achievement -- something we have long seen in most walks of life.

IQ peaks in the late teens however and it is at that stage we should see the final distribution of intellectual ability. Among adults, females have a slightly lower final IQ but a smaller range. Both very bright and very dumb people tend to be male.

Interestingly, that narrower range has just been observed in final high school marks among Australian students.

Because the final IQ gap between males and females is quite small, however, other factors -- such as the greater docility of girls -- can come into play to determine the final overall level of achievement

Girls also seem to be more heavily affected by hormones. High-achieving girls in grade school will sometimes drop way back in High School because their attention is heavily diverted to "boys" -- which is another reason for the male "catchup" in High Schools noted below

At New York City schools for the gifted, like the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, 56 percent of kindergartners are girls. Though the school system over all is 51 percent male, its gifted classrooms generally have more girls.

When the kindergartners at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, one of New York City’s schools for gifted students, form neat boy-girl rows for the start of recess, the lines of girls reach well beyond the lines of boys.

A similar imbalance exists at gifted schools in East Harlem, where almost three-fifths of the students at TAG Young Scholars are girls, and the Lower East Side, where Alec Kulakowski, a seventh grader at New Explorations in Science and Technology and Math, considered his status as part of the school’s second sex and remarked, “It’s kind of weird and stuff.”

Weird or not, the disparity at the three schools is not all that different from the gender makeup at similar programs across the city: though the school system over all is 51 percent male, its gifted classrooms generally have more girls.

Around the city, the current crop of gifted kindergartners, for example, is 56 percent girls, and in the 2008-9 year, 55 percent were girls.

Educators and experts have long known that boys lag behind girls in measures like high school graduation rates and college enrollment, but they are concerned that the disparity is also turning up at the very beginning of the school experience.

Why more girls than boys enter the programs is unclear, though there are some theories. Among the most popular is the idea that young girls are favored by the standardized tests the city uses to determine admission to gifted programs, because they tend to be more verbal and socially mature at ages 4 and 5 when they sit for the hourlong exam.

“Girls at that age tend to study more, and the boys kind of play more,” said Linda Gratta, a parent at the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, one of the most selective. “But it’s a mixed bag. The day of the test, you could be the smartest boy in the world and just have a bad day.” She said that Timothy, her first-grade son, had approximately 10 boys and 18 girls in his class.

Biases and expectations among adults are often in play when determining which children count as gifted, and fewer boys appear to end up in gifted programs nationally. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences reported that boys were “overrepresented in programs for learning disabilities, mental retardation and emotional disturbance, and slightly underrepresented in gifted programs,” said Bruce A. Bracken, a professor at the College of William & Mary who wrote one of the two exams that the city uses to test gifted children. He said the implications of the study were “disturbing.”

Dr. Bracken’s assessment, which makes up 25 percent of a child’s gifted score in the city, has been field tested for gender bias, and during a recent round of testing in Virginia, no gender differences in the score were recorded. But the longer Otis-Lennon Ability Test, the other 75 percent of the gifted exam, is “more verbal than some of the other tests,” which could play to girls’ strengths, said David F. Lohman, a professor and testing expert at the University of Iowa.

The city’s Department of Education mandated the use of the two tests for admission to gifted programs beginning in 2008; before that, individual schools and districts each devised its own criteria. These typically included a mix of standardized intelligence tests, interviews, observation and, for later grades, class work. The additional leeway in admissions sometimes led to an effort to create gender balance in classes.

“Up until about five years ago, there was more of a conscious effort to balance by gender,” said Estelle Schmones, who retired last year as a gifted teacher at Public School 110 in Manhattan. Like other educators and parents, Ms. Schmones noted that the number of girls in some gifted programs had been creeping up over the past several years.

David Cantor, the press secretary for the Education Department, said that any role the tests might play in contributing to the gender gap was not known, because the city did not tally the gender of those who took or passed the test, only those who enrolled in gifted classes. Still, Mr. Cantor said, “A good test for giftedness should be able to control for differences in what children have been exposed to, and for the early verbal development we see more often in girls.”

The imbalance stands in contrast with the gender makeup of the eight high schools, including Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School, that use the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test to select students. All have more boys than girls, in keeping with research that shows that boys tend to catch up with girls, especially in mathematics, through middle school and, at the high end of the achievement spectrum, surpass them.

Whatever might be keeping young boys from entering gifted programs at equal rates might also be what can cause stumbles once they get in. For some of the boys, “their social and emotional development is not at the same level as their intellectual development,” said Donna Taylor, the principal of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry. She estimated that she spent about half her day helping her kindergarten and first-grade boys as they ran into trouble with issues like collaboration, self-control and sharing.

More here

"For profit" charter schools now OK in Britain

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has said the Government has no "ideological objection" to firms making profits from his new academies and free schools. However, he said teachers should be the ones who decide how schools are run.

Speaking at the Hay Festival on Monday, Mr Gove said: "I am a Conservative, I do not have an ideological to businesses being involved but the professionals should make that decision. "My view is that school improvement will be driven by professionals not profit makers."

Companies can already make profits from schools under existing legislation that allows governing bodies to contract out services, under an arrangement known as the management fee model. However, this approach was not encouraged by the last government.

The Conservatives are keen to emulate the Swedish "free schools" system, in which the ability to make a profit is seen as a key way of drawing providers into the state system.

But this is the first time as Education Secretary that Mr Gove has publicly stated that firms would be free to make money from schools – including from teaching itself.

Mr Gove also sketched out the Government's plan to increase the number of academies, by allowing those judged "outstanding" by Ofsted to attain academy status sooner. And he said that new academies would help raise standards across the board by twinning them with failing schools. Each new academy will "be asked and expected to take under their wing an underperforming school", he said.

He added: "We believe that the academy movement has been successful because improvement in education is driven by heads and teachers."

Nonetheless, there are many critics of his strategy to concentrate on academies – which some believe can only have a detrimental effect on poorer schools.


Dumbing down English teaching in Australia

UNDER the new national schools curriculum students studying English as a Second Language will apparently study more literature than those studying Essential English.

The bulk of our students will encounter only a smattering of literature texts in something described as "functional English", while the true enjoyment of reading literature will be the preserve of just an elite few. This is hardly in line with true educational principles or Australia's egalitarian foundations.

It simply reveals how Barry McGaw, chairman of the curriculum developers, and his misguided team have botched such an important exercise. Every other civilised nation in the world ensures its future generations have the opportunity to study and appreciate the nation's key prose, poetry and drama. Literature as taught through text is the central feature of a nation's culture and enlightenment, as well as its knowledge and awareness.

Australia will now be the only developed country which places little importance on literature in the education of its young.

After an interminable waiting time, it has now become clear that these curriculum developers have been mugged as they conducted their task. They have dumbed down the English curriculum as they have been progressively captured by a number of forces.

They have fallen prey to the propaganda of the Left that literature is too hard for most students to understand, whereas the fact is that any good teacher can instill a love of all literature in all students no matter what their social background or capacity. Throughout history the study of literature has been a key element of social progression for young people who might otherwise have been trapped in the travails of their socio-economic circumstances.

The curriculum talks of analysing and dissecting authors' motives in literature, with little mention of enjoying, appreciating, and learning from literature: its vocabulary, flow, style, characterisation, and richness of language and expression. The authors have clearly fallen prey to the loony nihilistic deconstructionists.

They also make the dangerous and erroneous assertion that film, digital, and video modalities are equal to the written text, and so McGaw and his colleagues have surrendered to the current cohort of teachers and their union bosses, most of whom have never read a good novel themselves and would rather push a button or click a mouse than turn a page.

They have no appreciation of the significance and richness of literature text and the proper means of teaching it. It is not possible to curl up in bed with a good modem. Film makers are never true to the literature which they plunder, manipulate, and exploit.

How does the Rudd government square all of this with its controversial decision earlier this year to act contrary to the findings of the Productivity Commission on the importation of books? The government says it acted to protect the interests of Australian authors but what is the point if no schoolchildren will be reading them? All our Australian authors churning out all those books for a population incapable of reading and enjoying them.

There is also an extremely dangerous indication in these documents that in English, and other subjects of the proposed national curriculum, state governments will be able to determine assessment methods. Thus there will be no truly "national" curriculum and we are headed for continued lack of uniformity and consistency in school education systems across Australia. Another Rudd government promise broken.

The blame game will continue and any families moving interstate will face all the strangling complexities on their children's education which they suffer at the moment. McGaw has certainly been mugged by vested interests in state Labor governments.

As recently revealed in The Australian the nation's history scholars are already demolishing the curriculum development process for its lack of balance, despite all the promises from McGaw after his release of the earlier, biased, original discussion papers which he commissioned from so-called "experts".

The so-called national schools curriculum is shaping up as another Rudd-Gillard policy bungle and waste of public money, morphing into a broken election promise. The only solution seems to be to start again and cobble together the best of the NSW and Victorian curriculums as an interim measure, while a proper professional process is established. This issue is far more important than mining, taxation, infrastructure, emissions, or any of the matters that dominate our daily lives: the whole wellbeing of our youth is at stake; in other words the future of our nation.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

No, we don’t need a teacher bailout

From the recent apocalyptic pronouncements of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others, you may think our schools are selling their last bits of chalk and playground sand to employ mere skeleton crews of teachers and staff. The truth is "apocalypse not."

Yes, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten last week warned that, without a huge infusion of federal cash, public schools face "draconian cuts." And the American Association of School Administrators declared a few weeks ago that without a bailout, job losses "would deal a devastating blow to public education."

Then there's Duncan's warning, while making the TV-news rounds last week, of educational "catastrophe" if a federal rescue isn't forthcoming. And now the National Education Association has launched something called "Speak Up for Education & Kids" — a campaign to get people to call their congressmen and demand a handout for education.

The scaremongering is producing results. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) is planning to put $23 billion to save education jobs in a supplemental spending package. The move appears to have widespread Democratic support.

But let's look beyond the hysteria. Duncan estimates that, absent a federal windfall, budget cuts will force layoffs of 100,000 to 300,000 public-school staff and teachers. The American Association of School Administrators has projected 275,000 layoffs under current conditions.

Sounds pretty terrible: Six-digit job losses are certainly nothing to sneeze at, and no one wants to see people unemployed. But these numbers — and the prophesying of Duncan & Co. — ignore some critical context.

The federal Digest of Education Statistics tells us that in the 2007-08 school year (the latest with available data), US public schools employed more than 6.2 million teachers and other staff. Losing 300,000 of those jobs would only be a 4.8 percent cut — unfortunate, perhaps, but hardly catastrophic.

And 300,000 is the worst-case scenario. The AASA figure of 275,000 would be just a 4.4 percent cut. The low end of Duncan's prediction, 100,000 positions, would constitute only a 1.6 percent trim. That's less than one out of every 60 public-school jobs.

Moreover, the projected cuts would be but a tiny step back after decades of spending and staffing leaps.

Between the 1970-71 school year and 2006-07, inflation-adjusted US public-school spending more than doubled, from $5,593 to $12,463 per pupil. The number of staff per pupil ballooned about 70 percent.

This might have been a fine investment — had it produced anything approaching commensurate improvements in achievement. But it didn't, according to scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the so-called Nation's Report Card.

Indeed, while resources were blasted into the schools with a fire hose, test scores for 17-year-olds — essentially, our schools' "final products" — remained almost completely unchanged.

So the supposedly huge cuts we're facing are actually pretty small, and we've been pouring money and people into schools for decades without producing any improvements. Those are reasons enough to say "no way" to any federal bailout.

But that's not all the context that taxpayers deserve before Congress and the Obama administration stick them for another $23 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the "stimulus" — already included about $100 billion for education, most of which was intended solely to keep educators employed.

So there is indeed a looming education catastrophe — but it's not funding or job cuts. It is the bailout now moving through Congress that ignores the reality of inefficient public schooling, and adds to the already crushing burden of our federal debt.

Unfortunately, none of that seems to matter to Duncan & Co., who no doubt know the truth yet continue their Chicken Little act. All that matters to them, apparently, is that the unionized public-schooling establishment stays fat and happy


British academics resist two year degrees

The normal British bachelor's degree is 3 years. Bond University in Australia offers 2 years degrees that seem well-accepted

University staff today attacked any move to introduce two-year degrees, warning they would lead to "academic sweatshops" and hit the quality of education to students.

The University and College Union warned that plans for two-year 'fast-track' degrees would damage the reputation of UK degrees and would lead to education being delivered "on the cheap."

The union's annual conference in Manchester voted against the introduction of the degrees, saying they would massively increase the workload of staff and reduce the amount of time they could spend carrying out research.

Delegates said squeezing three-year degrees into two years could not be achieved on the back of "swingeing cuts" to higher education and would have a "devastating impact" on the quality of students' experiences.

A handfull of universities already offer the shortened courses, which involve students working over their traditional holidays. In December, Lord Mandelson wrote to chancellors urging them to consider offering more of the courses as part of a more "flexible" approach to studying.

Karen Evans, from the University of Liverpool, said: "Accelerated degrees have no educational value and will stop students from having a well-rounded education. As well as placing a huge strain on staff it will also mean an additional burden on students, many of whom have to work through the summer to pay back the debts of tuition fees."

The union's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "Two-year degrees may sound great on paper but are in effect education on the cheap. They would be incredibly teacher-intensive and would stop staff from carrying out vital research and pastoral duties. Our universities are places of learning not academic sweatshops and we need to get away from the idea that more can be delivered for less.

"Cuts, such as the savage ones currently planned, will have consequences. I fail to see the logic of piling 'em high and teaching 'em cheap in a two-tier system designed purely to mask the failings of the Government to properly fund higher education."


Australia: Wadalba Community School is literally a place of hard knocks

This report comes after a particularly vicious bashing reported yesterday

DISTRESSED mum Rachelle Mawbey pulled her daughter out of Wadalba Community School amid fears she wouldn't survive, let alone graduate.

Appalled by the bullying and violence, Ms Mawbey decided to withdraw daughter Taylor Clarke-Pepper halfway through Year 8 three years ago.

"It was not uncommon for there to be lock-downs at least once a month, [playground] fights and stories coming home that a student had brought knives or guns to school," she said, claiming that teachers also openly admitted "giving up" on students and that 20-day suspensions "were the norm".

"They said they'd just keep suspending them until they left," Ms Mawbey said. "The school says it has an anti-bullying policy but it is just lip service: Violence is ongoing."

Another mother also pulled her then 12-year-old son out of Year 7 in 2005 after he was badly bullied. At the time she said he'd been pushed down stairs and beaten with sticks. The last straw was when she claimed teachers warned they couldn't guarantee his safety.

But an education department spokesman said: "Since 2007 there has been a significant fall in the suspension rate, [now] putting the school well within the regional average."


Australian Federal government sees no problems with wasteful school spending

Extraordinary complacency about well-documented waste of taxpayer funds. This is a refusal to stop an ongoing disaster. But Leftists always are destructive. It seems to be in their DNA

JULIA Gillard will push ahead with the troubled $16.2 billion schools stimulus scheme after claiming an investigative taskforce had not yet uncovered any evidence of problems.

The Education Minister said the government expected to commit the final $5.5bn of Building the Education Revolution funds next month as planned, because the taskforce, headed by former merchant banker Brad Orgill, had not recommended otherwise. "I have met with Mr Orgill (and) I will continue to meet with him regularly," she said. "At this stage, I am not in possession of any recommendations from Mr Orgill that would relate to the third tranche of funds. We are obviously all ears for his recommendations."

The BER taskforce is set to deliver its first report in August, but Ms Gillard has said it can provide recommendations earlier.

Ms Gillard's statements yesterday appear to be a move by the government to shift greater responsibility for the remaining $5.5bn yet to be spent on to Mr Orgill, whose $14 million taskforce has just ended its first month of investigations. Mr Orgill did not return calls from The Australian yesterday.

As revealed by The Australian, the BER scheme has been beset by widespread waste of taxpayer money, with overdesigned building templates, onerous documentation requirements and enormous fees, causing public schools to pay up to double the amount they should for buildings.

In NSW, Catholic schools are paying $2541 per square metre for school halls and $2451 per square metre for libraries under the BER - which is in line with industry standards. By contrast, the NSW Education Department is paying $6135/sq m for the standard "7 Core" school hall and $4005/sq m for the standard "14 Core" school library.

In NSW, seven managing contractors - who are receiving fees of more than $400 million to manage the scheme - are charging $850,000-plus for 189 prefabricated classrooms, which are manufactured and delivered to schools by other companies at a cost of up to $339,000.

If the federal government commits the $5.5bn of BER funds next month as planned, a further $1bn-plus will be wasted in overcharging for the delivery of public school buildings. The federal and NSW governments have been unable to explain why public schools are paying double industry rates and double the rates being paid by non-government schools.

A spokeswoman for NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said the government would push ahead and spend the remaining 40 per cent of BER funds under the current model, despite the revelations of public schools receiving poor value for money.

The NSW government also admitted it had no mechanism for ensuring public schools received value for money other than a "benchmark" test, whereby the government approves all buildings that are within 105 per cent of values it has set. As revealed by The Australian, those benchmark values are vastly inflated and average about double industry standard rates.

Ms Gillard said yesterday the government was "all ears" to hear Mr Orgill's recommendations and that there was still time to implement those recommendations. "This is a program that will run for almost two years from where we are now so there is time to implement recommendations from Mr Orgill's implementation taskforce," Ms Gillard said.

However, once contracts are signed between state governments and managing contractors, it becomes extremely difficult to recover funds.


Monday, May 31, 2010

The Public Education Spending Binge Must Stop

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to publicly shore-up support for the $23 billion “Education Jobs Fund” being considered by Congress. Flanked by union heads Dennis Van Roekel (President, National Education Association) and Randi Weingarten (President, American Federation of Teachers) and Representatives Dave Obey (D-WI) and George Miller (D-CA), Secretary Duncan pleaded for additional taxpayers dollars:
School boards and state legislatures are finalizing their education budgets for the upcoming school year and many face tough choices about whether to retain teachers and continue programs that are vital to their ability to provide a world-class education for their students. We must act quickly and responsibly to provide schools the resources they need so they don’t have to make choices that would not be in the best interests of their students and teachers.

But the Washington Post today editorializes against Congress’ plans for another public education bailout, suggesting that the doom-and-gloom picture painted by the administration is overblown:
The unions predict layoffs could go as high as 300,000. It’s hard to imagine losing that many teachers without some damage to learning.

But that many teachers almost certainly are not going to lose their jobs. For technical reasons, school districts must send notices in the spring to more teachers than they actually expect to let go in the fall. What’s more, the unions’ 300,000 estimate includes not only classroom teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade but also support staff and college professors. The bill would distribute money to states according to their population, not expected layoffs; states where no layoffs are imminent would get checks anyway, and the majority of states would receive more than they could possibly need to avoid layoffs. The Senate version of the bill permits them to spend the excess on other things.

The Post hits the nail on the head. For the past several decades, states have acted like a hungry child at an all-you-can-eat buffet. When the economy was good and state revenues were plush, school districts increased staff roles. And more recently, with eyes bigger than their stomachs, a seemingly endless buffet of federal funding has enabled states to continue bloating their staff roles even when state budgets needed trimming. In particular, states piled up on non-teaching staff positions. In the mid-20th century for example, public schools employed about 2 teachers for every non-teacher on their rolls; today, only half of those people employed by public school districts are teachers.

But the billions in additional taxpayer dollars the administration seeks will continue to support a decades-long hiring binge by states. From the 1997–98 school year to the 2006–07 school year, student enrollment in public schools increased 6.8 percent. Over the same time period, the number of teachers in the classroom increased 15.8 percent.

The Post suggests that, if intent on spending another $23 billion of taxpayer dollars on public education, Congress should press for long-term education reforms.
If the goal were to preserve the maximum number of good K-12 teachers at minimum cost, the bill would encourage states to lay off teachers according to ability, rather than seniority — as current rules, sacrosanct to unions, dictate… Many jobs could be saved if more teachers accepted wage and benefits restraint, as workers in other hard-pressed industries have done.

Last year, the Department of Education received an unprecedented $98 billion through the so-called stimulus. Although that money was supposed to span a two-year period, Congress and the Obama administration are already asking taxpayers for billions more to support unsustainable public education spending. Instead of coming back to taxpayers for another public sector bailout, states should work on cutting costs in areas that are long overdue for reform: age-old tenure practices, teacher compensation and pension reform. Not only would this prevent already overburdened taxpayers from incurring more debt, but it would put states on a path toward meaningful education reform.


Give peace a chance with government-free schools

by Jeff Jacoby

THE TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION made headlines this month when it approved new curriculum standards for US history and social studies. The standards -- which dictate what will be taught in Texas public schools and incorporated in textbooks and achievement tests -- include teaching students about the "unintended consequences" of the Great Society, the link between McCarthyism and "Soviet agent infiltration of the US government," and how government regulations and taxes affect consumer prices. Critics (mostly liberal) blasted the new standards as a politicized travesty; supporters (mostly conservative) praised them as a long-overdue rebalancing. After months of debate, during which more than 20,000 people submitted comments, they were adopted on a party-line vote.

A new Arizona law, meanwhile, restricts what can be taught in ethnic studies classes in the state's public schools. The measure bars any courses that "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." The legislation was a pet project of state school chief Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general and a vocal opponent of the Mexican-American Studies Program in the Tucson public schools. The new law was greeted with indignation from Hispanic activists and a protest outside the headquarters of the Tucson school district.

Such skirmishing over textbooks and classroom instruction is anything but new. It was 85 years ago last Tuesday -- May 25, 1925 -- that John Scopes was indicted in Dayton, Tenn., for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Scopes, a high school science teacher, was charged with violating a law passed by the Tennessee legislature and signed by the governor just two months earlier. His "monkey trial" that summer drew thousands of spectators and made front-page headlines nationwide. More than 80 years before that, a controversy over Bible reading in the Philadelphia public schools led to deadly riots, in which 25 residents were killed, more than 100 were wounded, and dozens of homes and churches were burned down.

"Throughout American history," writes Neal McCluskey, a scholar at the Cato Institute, "public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people." Political fighting is neither rare nor anomalous: In the course of just one school year, 2005-06, McCluskey tallied almost 150 reported cases of public-school conflicts.

There were bitter battles that year over Darwinism-vs.-intelligent-design in Pennsylvania and Kansas, heated fights over books about Cuba in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and an emotional dispute in California over the portrayal of Hindus in history texts. In at least 13 states, controversies flared over what should be taught in sex-education classes. And in Lexington, Mass., a teacher's decision to read a story celebrating gay marriage to her second-grade class without notifying parents first triggered a fight that ultimately wound up in federal court.

Again and again, Americans find themselves at war with each other over public schooling. Yet furious conflict over religion in this country is almost unheard-of. Why? Why don't American Catholics and Protestants angrily attack each other's views of clerical celibacy or papal infallibility? Why is there no bitter struggle between Orthodox and Reform Jews to control the content of the Sabbath liturgy? Why don't American atheists clash with American believers over whether children should be taught to pray before going to sleep?

Americans presumably feel as strongly about religion as they do about education. So why does the endless variety of religious life in the United States lead to so little strife, while the strife over public schooling never seems to end?

The answer is no mystery. America is a land of religious freedom, in which people decide for themselves what to believe and how to worship. No religion is funded by government. No church or synagogue has a state-supported monopoly. Elected officials have no say in the doctrines of any faith or the content of any religious service. Religion flourishes in America because church and state are separate. And it flourishes so peacefully because no one is forced to support anyone else's faith, or to attend a church he isn't happy with, or to bring up children according to the religious views of whichever faction has the most votes.

Religion is peaceful because it is government-free. Liberate the schools, and they too would be at peace. Taxpayer-funded, one-curriculum-fits-all schooling makes conflict inevitable. There would be far less animosity if parents were as free to choose how and where their children learn as they are to choose how and where they worship. Separation of church and state has made America an exemplar of religious pluralism and tolerance. Imagine what separation of school and state could do for education.


Companies ignoring British graduates for jobs that need good language skills

British students let down by their educational system again -- but they all know how to "save the planet"

British employers are ignoring graduates from the UK, assuming that they cannot speak foreign languages. Managers of some leading companies, in research seen by The Times, admitted that they do not consider British candidates for jobs that need another language.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has received complaints from overseas businesses setting up in Britain about the lack of language skills among British graduates.

Research for Cilt, the government-funded National Centre for Languages, has uncovered the extent of the problem. Personnel managers from Boots, McDonald’s, Google, RBS and the law firm Slaughter and May, and medium-size businesses across a range of sectors, were among those interviewed. Cilt found: “Employers view the pool of those with high-level language skills as a global one, with the UK a relatively weak player. Candidates were more likely to come from outside the UK. Indeed, some employers feel our young people are falling behind, or at a disadvantage, in comparison to those from other countries.”

One respondent from a large company said: “We would look abroad if we wanted applicants with strong language skills.” There is growing demand for applicants who can speak another language, because more companies are international, the research suggested.

Businesses bringing investment to Britain, particularly those from Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands, have complained to the Foreign Office about having to recruit engineers from their home countries or elsewhere. A source said they expected people in technical or management jobs to have a good grasp of the parent company’s home language, but that was missing among British applicants.

The number of teenagers taking a foreign language GCSE has dropped by a third since studying one stopped being compulsory in 2004, a trend reflected at universities.

Employers have noticed the difference. Keith Herrmann, deputy chief executive of the Council for Industry and Higher Education, said: “Increasingly, many of our member companies recruit globally and are looking for people who have a global perspective.

“Crucial to that is an expertise in languages. Graduates who have international experience are highly employable because they can demonstrate that they have drive, resilience and intracultural sensitivities, as well as language skills. Young people need to understand that they are not competing against their neighbour, but in a global marketplace.”


Sunday, May 30, 2010

NY pols lift charter cap in big day for reform

The state Legislature yesterday passed a landmark measure to more than double the number of charter schools after a day of round-the-clock drama that included a powerful behind-the-scenes confrontation and a printing snafu that nearly derailed the effort.

Gov. Paterson will soon sign into law the measure -- lifting the cap from 260 to 460 charter schools -- along with related school reforms that will boost the state's chances of qualifying for up to $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" funding. The flurry of action will enable the state to file its application by Tuesday's deadline.

Approval of the bill comes on the heels of The Post's six-month campaign urging the state to authorize more charter schools.

In addition to raising the cap, the law requires charters to enroll more needy students and be subject to auditing. It also bans for-profit firms from running charters and creates committees to resolve space problems when charter schools share facilities with traditional public schools.

Mayor Bloomberg called the charter-school expansion "great news for the 40,000-plus children currently on waiting lists," as well as for all 1.1 million public-school students who benefit from the competition.

The pro-charter-school campaign also garnered crucial backing from President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan; former President Bill Clinton; and state Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo.

Passage of the legislation came after intense negotiations involving Mayor Bloomberg's office, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the United Federation of Teachers.

UFT president Mike Mulgrew said the bill incorporates reforms sought by the union bolstering oversight, banning for-profits, making charters more "open to the neediest children" and ensuring "a real voice for parents" in traditional public schools.

More here

British exam regulator to 'fix' High School exam results

This controversy is largely an effect of the absurd British practice of basing university entrance on predicted exam results rather than actual exam results. That in turn results from the misalignment of the university and school years.

In Australia, pupils do their final high school exams in early December and the university teaching year begins early in the following March -- which allows ample time for university admissions to be based on actual high school exam results. Why the Brits cannot arrange something similarly rational remains an abiding mystery

Exam chiefs have been accused of "fixing" this summer's A-level results to restrict the number of pupils who are awarded the new A* supergrade. Examination boards have been told to make secret predictions for the number of candidates who will get the top grade when it is handed out for the first time this summer.

In documents obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Ofqual, the exam regulator, warns the boards that the percentage of A* grades actually awarded must be within two per cent of those predictions.

If, once this summer's tests have been marked, the results show that pupils have done better or worse than expected, then the boards may be told to change grade boundaries in order to bring the proportion of A* grades into line with what was predicted.

Critics have claimed that the instruction from the regulator amounted to "grade fixing". Academics called it an attempt to "preset" the results while head teachers accused Ofqual of manipulating the grades to stop too many A* grades being awarded.

The row broke out as 300,000 sixth formers across the country begin to sit new, harder A-level papers.

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: "This is presetting the results. "It almost obviates the need for taking A-levels if results are based mostly on predictions using data such as GCSE scores.

"There is a desperate and futile desire to claim consistency in exam results from your to year but when you change the nature of the assessment, such as make papers harder, you should get changes in the results. "Otherwise you lose any authenticity in the system.

"Ofqual is fooling itself by fixing the results like this. A-levels are essentially used for distinguishing within a group. It should not be about shoving the raw scores in to a mould so they fit in with results last year or in previous years."

Andrew Grant, headmaster of St Albans School and chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, which represents independent schools, said: "Ofqual is basically trying to depress any tendency for a high proportion of higher grades. They just don't want too many A*s to be given out. "It is manipulation of the marking and grade boundaries to ensure candidates results are within narrow tolerance bands.

"Ofqual have learned from what happened in the 2002 grading scandal when they attempted to fix results after the event. Now they are stacking the cards in favour of control downwards before the results."

The document, entitled Awarding the new A level A* grade in Summer 2010, was written by Dennis Opposs, Ofqual's head of standards, and presented to the Ofqual committee meeting in January. It reveals that exam boards have provided Ofqual with estimates of how many pupils will achieve A*s and other grades at A-level, based on achievement in GCSEs taken two years ago.

If, after A-level papers are marked and grade boundaries are set, the proportion of pupils gaining the real grade is 2 per cent below or above the prediction, exam boards will have to justify the results. If the proportion of A* grades on a particular paper looks too high, Ofqual can ask for grade boundaries to be raised. If average ability pupils find the new, harder papers too difficult, grade boundaries at the lower end can be reduced so more candidates pass.

The document said: "In summer 2010 we will require awarding bodies (exam boards) to report A* outcomes against predictions for A*, in addition to reporting at grades A and E.

"We have agreed a 'reporting threshold' of +/- 2 per cent from the predictions. If awarding bodies outcomes at each grade are within 2 per cent of the predictions, it is likely that the regulators will take no action.

"If outcomes are 2 per cent or more from the predictions, we require an explanation of the reasons for this ... We will consider these 'out of tolerance' outcomes in advance of the results and we may ask an awarding body to reconsider a particular decision."

The reliance on statistics showing pupils' prior achievement when deciding how exams should be graded has been criticised by exam experts. Tim Oates, the head of research at Cambridge Assessment, said: "If you are a young person and you are working really hard and you think that what happens on that exam paper really counts, it is quite wrong that the system behind the scenes doesn't actually pay much attention to what you have done."

Ofqual is keen to avoid a replay of the 2002 grading scandal. In that year, the exam boards were threatened by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority with an inquiry if the proportion of A grades resulting from the introduction of new modular A-levels was too high.

Under pressure from the watchdog, the boards deflated grades in some subjects by making unprecedented changes to the grade boundaries on some papers. It meant that some straight-A grade students received U grades.

Independent head teachers have warned that changes to this year's A-level, including the A* and a cut in number of modules making up the qualification from six to four, risks a repeat of the 2002 scandal.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: "During the summer we will be monitoring the awarding process and the outcomes so that people can be confident that results are a fair record of the candidates' achievements, are in line with those of previous years and have been awarded fairly across awarding organisations.

"Where the difference between the statistical indicators and the outcomes exceeds the agreed thresholds, we will obtain an explanation and may then ask the awarding organisation to reconsider the grade boundaries. "Any such requests will be based on the evidence and made in the interests of fairness to learners."


Australia: More criticism of proposed national history curriculum

Since the curriculum was designed by a well-known Marxist and former member of the Communist party, this was all foreordained. Macintyre's extreme Leftism has of course given him a charmed life in academe but the Leftist Federal government knew all that when he was appointed by them

THE new draft national history curriculum has been attacked by leading historians and educators as "politicised", "dumbed down" and pushing an agenda. The Opposition said it was a Labor-designed manifesto in the latest salvo in what has become a fresh break-out of "history wars". Its creators said the curriculum reflected changing values in society.

Prof Geoffrey Blainey said the draft curriculum appeared to represent a "left-wing view of Australian history". Prof Blainey said he was uneasy about the curriculum's treatment of Aboriginal Australians. He said it did not address the failures of pre-settlement Aboriginal society.

Education consultant and former history teacher Dr Kevin Donnelly said the new curriculum had put indigenous and Asian content and perspectives ahead of Australia's Anglo-Celtic tradition, the debt we owe to Western civilisation and the importance of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Dr Donnelly said the curriculum contained 118 references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and history - with grade 5s studying White Australia and grade 9s Aboriginal massacres and displacement. There is just one reference to Parliament and none to Westminster or the Magna Carta.

Curriculum chief Prof Stuart Macintyre said the new course was not politically motivated.

Last week, this newspaper quoted a historian by the name of Andrew Garvie about the history curriculum. Andrew Garvie is a pen name used by senior Australian academic Dr Ian Pringle, who now works in sensitive parts of Asia as a teacher and consultant and is an economic history expert.


Australia: Creationism to be taught in Queensland classrooms

Well, Queensland IS bigger than Texas

CREATIONISM and intelligent design will be taught in Queensland state schools for the first time as part of the new national curriculum.

Creationists dismiss the science of evolution, instead believing that living things are best explained by an intelligent being or God, rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.

The issue of creationism being taught in schools has caused huge controversy in the US, where some fundamentalist religious schools teach it as a science subject instead of Darwin's theory of evolution.

In Queensland schools, creationism will be offered for discussion in the subject of ancient history, under the topic of "controversies".

Teachers are still formulating a response to the draft national curriculum, scheduled to be introduced next year.

Queensland History Teachers' Association head Kay Bishop said the curriculum asked students to develop their historical skills in an "investigation of a controversial issue" such as "human origins (eg, Darwin's theory of evolution and its critics"). "It's opening up opportunities for debate and discussion, not to push a particular view," Ms Bishop said. Classroom debate about issues encouraged critical thinking – an important tool, she said.

Associated Christian Schools executive officer Lynne Doneley welcomed the draft curriculum, saying it cemented the position of a faith-based approach to teaching. "We talk to students from a faith science basis, but we're not biased in the delivery of curriculum," Mrs Doneley said. "We say, 'This is where we're coming from' but allow students to make up their own minds."

But Griffith University humanities lecturer Paul Williams said it was important to be cautious about such content. "It's important that education authorities are vigilant that this is not a blank cheque to push theological barrows," Mr Williams said. "I would be loath to see it taught as theory. "It's up there with the world being occupied by aliens since Roswell."

Ms Bishop said there were bigger problems with the national curriculum.

History teachers are planning to object to repetitive subject matter, such as World War I being a major part of the Year 10 course and repeated in Year 11.