Saturday, July 10, 2010

Showdown at the Texas corral

Criss Cloudt understandably grew defensive last week as she tried to explain to a group of legislators how a student who got absolutely every question wrong on a TAKS writing test could be scored as passing it.

Cloudt was in the hot seat because she is the Texas Education Agency's associate commissioner in charge of the "accountability system" that administers the TAKS test and ranks schools and school districts on a four-tier scale from "unacceptable" to "exemplary."

She was also in the hot seat because the man presumably most responsible for instituting the controversial new "Texas Projection Measure" that is producing such absurd results, Education Commissioner Robert Scott, failed to show up. But that's another story. Today we look at the ways that Cloudt appeared to try to mislead Houston state Rep. Scott Hochberg and his Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and how Hochberg repeatedly called her on it.

It began with Hochberg asking what accounted for a huge jump last year in the number of schools and school districts rated as "recognized" and "exemplary." "Performance," said Cloudt.

But Hochberg got her to admit that 73 of the 74 additional "exemplary districts" that took us from 43 in 2008 to 117 in 2009 received that distinction only because the new Texas Projection Measure miraculously allowed nearly half the 1 million TAKS tests that had been failed to count as passing for the purpose of rating schools and districts.

Cloudt said the Texas Projection Measure is a "growth measure." To most of us, that would imply that it looked at how a child did this year compared to last.

Hochberg brought out that it doesn't. It looked only at last year's scores and, based on a formula devised from thousands of prior results, projected that children who pass reading or math were likely to pass other tests in future years.

Deciphering analysis

Cloudt claimed that based on analysis looking backward, the formulas used in the projections are "quite good, actually."

"Really?" said Hochberg. "What would you consider quite good?"

"They're on average in the 90s (percent) in terms of projection accurate," Cloudt said.

I assumed that she was referring to the cases in which failing children were counted as passing.

But Hochberg was on to her. He got her to admit that the predictions that were accurate more than 90 percent of the time included all children — those who did very well on all the TAKS tests (who can safely be predicted to pass) and those who did terribly an all the tests (who can safely be predicted to fail).

Hochberg revealed that TEA's own analysis showed that the accuracy rate for those whose performance was actually upgraded using the "projection measure" was in the range of 50 percent.

Failed projections

Cloudt continued to defend the projections, saying repeatedly that when a failing child was counted as passing it was because "hundreds and hundreds" of other children whose test scores fit the exact same pattern later passed.

But again, Hochberg was ready. He called as a witness an expert from Pearson, the national testing company that devised the Texas Projection Measure.

She explained that the formula used to "project" future success was not made by looking at the records of earlier kids with identical scoring patterns. It was based, again, on aggregate numbers that included the highest and lowest performing students as well as those in the middle.

Hochberg asked Cloudt if that was right. "That's different than what I said before," she admitted. "It's a better explanation."

The question is, was Cloudt deliberately trying to mislead Hochberg and the public throughout the hearing, or did she really not understand the bizarre system that can turn a test score of zero to a passing score? And which would be more disturbing?


Montana School Proposes Controversial Sex Education Program

A proposed plan to teach kindergartners sex education has come under fire in Helena, Montana.

The Helena Public School system is considering a comprehensive plan for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It includes teaching first graders that people can be attracted to the same gender. In second grade students are instructed to avoid gay slurs and by the time students turn 10 years old they are taught about various types of intercourse.

According to the draft proposal obtained by FOX News Radio, fifth graders should “understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.”

Jeff Laszloffy, of the Montana Family Foundation, is among those outraged that educators want to teach sex education to kindergarteners. “It’s absolutely insane,” Laszloffy told FOX News Radio. “This is not education. This has crossed the line and has gone from education to indoctrination and that’s the problem parents have.”


23,000 British university jobs 'threatened by cuts'

The class-size bugaboo again. I've stood in a university auditorium with 1,000 students in front of me and I saw no evidence in their essays that they learned any less well -- JR

British students face the largest university class sizes in the developed world as thousands of lecturers’ jobs are threatened by public sector cuts, ministers have been waned. Almost 23,000 posts could be lost in coming years because of a dramatic reduction in university budgets, it was claimed.

The University and College Union said the job losses would lead to a sharp increase in the size of lectures and tutorial groups, coupled with a loss of “contact time” with academics.

Ministers should reconsider the size of cuts earmarked for universities to prevent British higher education being “left behind” by other countries, said the union.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, warned last month that most Government departments would face average spending cuts of 25 per cent. This included the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for universities. An analysis by the UCU found that a cut of this size would lead to the loss of 22,584 jobs.

The union insisted its figures were “conservative” and the impact of funding cuts could be even worse.

Britain is currently the second most popular destination in the world for foreign students – after the United States – but larger class sizes and less tuition would make it a “far less attractive place to study”, it was claimed.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "The scale of the cuts that we are facing is unprecedented and will have an undeniable impact on the student experience. Student to staff ratios, which are already high, will become some of the highest in the developed world.

"Lecturers who survive the cull will have less time to give individual students as they pick up the workloads of former colleagues and there will be fewer support services for students.

"The Government will effectively be asking students to pay more for less at a time when our international competitors are investing in higher education.

"Do we really want to be left behind and risk being shunned by foreign students who will go to study elsewhere? We have a proud international reputation, but we realistically cannot expect to remain a major force in the global knowledge economy in the face of these cuts."

According to latest figures, there are already almost 18 students to every academic at British universities. This compares with 15 in the United States, 12 in Germany and 11 in Japan. It is feared that class sizes could rise further with the loss of more lecturers’ jobs.

The UCU claim 6,000 positions are already under threat at universities following cuts imposed earlier this year.


Friday, July 09, 2010

Student fluency woes rising in Boston. New testing finds 28% in Hub need help in English

Policies based on wrong theories will continue to get bad results

The number of Boston school students identified as lacking fluency in English surged dramatically over the past school year, presenting further challenges for a school district already under federal investigation for failing to provide adequate programs for students trying to learn the language.

Such students now number nearly 16,000, about 28 percent of the district’s total enrollment, according to new data released by the district. Last fall, the group consisted of more than 11,000 students.

Much of the increase emerged after school officials complied with a federal directive to retest thousands of students who were improperly evaluated over the last seven years for English fluency, causing them not to be identified for services. Those students were tested only on how well they speak and listen in English, but not their ability to read and write in the language.

The retesting effort, carried out over the past six months, identified 4,269 additional students in need of specialized instruction. The students, who have low MCAS scores, run the gamut: Some barely grasp English, while others are almost fluent.

“It’s a substantial increase, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime situation’’ said Eileen de los Reyes, Boston’s assistant superintendent for English-language learners. “One thing that is very clear to us is that students in this group need an academic intervention.’’

The failure of Boston schools to properly identify and provide services to the students could play a big factor in their poor academic performance. Students lacking fluency in English have among the lowest MCAS scores and graduation rates in Boston and statewide, potentially limiting their job options later in life.

School officials have begun meeting with parents of the newly identified students to explain educational options to them. They have created a special summer school program to serve approximately 3,300 of the newly identified students, who will require additional help when the school year begins.

The rapid increase is adding urgency to the district’s efforts to bring programs that serve English-language learners into compliance with state and federal civil rights laws.

A state review two years ago revealed numerous problems, such as school employees encouraging parents to decline services because programs were full or not properly testing students for English fluency. The district revealed that more than 4,000 students already identified as English-language learners were not receiving any services, but state education officials suspected the number was much higher because of inadequate testing and identification.

The US departments of education and justice, dissatisfied with Boston’s pace in fixing the problems, subsequently launched their own investigation, which has brought federal investigators into school district offices this week, their third such visit.

Boston’s retesting of students is a big step forward in bolstering the quality of education for English-language learners and for accepting the failures of the past, said Miren Uriarte, coauthor of a report that called attention to the problems in Boston schools.

“To me, it’s an indicator of a changing environment,’’ said Uriarte, who coauthored the report for the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Center for Collaborative Education. “The federal review has highlighted for a lot of people how serious the problem is and has made movement in an areas where people thought movement was not possible.’’

The growth in the number of English-language learners has challenged school districts statewide. Many programs were thrown into disarray, specialists say, after voters in 2002 abolished widespread use of bilingual education, which allows students to learn subjects in their native tongue until they master English.

The new law stresses teaching all subjects in English for nonnative speakers, using a student’s native language only sparingly. Instruction generally takes place in a separate setting or in a regular classroom amid native English-speaking students.

In making the switch, many districts, such as Boston, failed to provide appropriate staffing, training, and programs, either because of funding shortages or misunderstanding of the legal requirements, specialists say.

Over the last year, Boston has invested millions of dollars to revamp programs, hire dozens of additional teachers to work directly with English-language learners, and train traditional classroom teachers to work with the students. It is planning to spend another $10 million on such efforts this year.

Some advocates for English-language learners question Boston’s ability to properly serve all such students, especially in lean budget times.

“Clearly, it’s a significant number of kids, and our concern is now that they have identified these kids, what are they going to do with them?’’ said Roger Rice, executive director of Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy, a national organization that represents linguistic minorities and has an office in Somerville. “Are they going to design programs to meet their needs. . . . We are talking about kids who missed two, three, four, and five years of English-language learning programs.’’

De los Reyes said the district aims to ensure all English-language learners are receiving extra support this coming school year. She said the district and the federal investigators are working toward an agreement on what changes will be made to programs that serve the students.

“Now the question in the years to come is how do we make sure we keep the momentum and English-language learners front and center in the district,’’ de los Reyes said.


Success in New Orleans?

Before hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, New Orleans had one of the worst performing public school districts in the nation. Katrina forced nearly a million people to leave their homes and caused almost $100 billion in damages. To an already failing public school system, the storm seemed to provide the final deathblow. But then something amazing happened. In the wake of Katrina, education reformers decided to seize the opportunity and start fresh with a system based on choice.

Today, New Orleans has the most market-based school system in the US. Sixty percent of New Orleans students currently attend charter schools, test scores are up, and talented and passionate educators from around the country are flocking to New Orleans to be a part of the education revolution. It’s too early to tell if the New Orleans experiment in school choice will succeed over the long term, but for the first time in decades people are optimistic about the future of New Orleans schools.

The key attributes are competition, parental choice, investment, and an end to the union deathgrip on New Orleans schools that kept children locked into failing schools and failing classrooms. Parents in New Orleans have hope now that their children will get educated rather than baby-sat, and that will provide a renaissance of its own to a city struggling to get back on its feet.

Otherwise, we’ll end up with this, courtesy of Bob Ewing at the Daily Caller:

Everyone knew OSP [Opportunity Scholarship Program] would be a bargain. DC has among the highest spending per pupil in the nation. At a conservative estimate of $17,542, the public schools spend over $10,000 more per child than the $7,500 spent through the scholarship program.

But would OSP achieve measureable results? The answer is a resounding yes. Previous studies by Wolf showed an improvement in academic performance, to the point that a student participating in OSP from kindergarten through high school would likely be 2 ½ years ahead in reading. The key finding in this final round of research, Wolf told us, was the graduation rates. OSP dramatically increases prospects of high-school graduation.

Wolf pointed to research showing that high-school diplomas significantly improve the chance of getting a job. And dropouts that do find employment earn about $8,500 less per year than their counterpoints with diplomas. Further, each graduate reduces the cost of crime by a stunning $112,000. Cecelia Rouse, an economic advisor to President Obama, found that each additional high school graduate saves the country $260,000.

Simply put, OSP has a profoundly positive effect not just on students, but on the city and the country as a whole.

So when it came time for Congress to reauthorize OSP, it would seem to be a no-brainer: Expand the program. Instead, they killed it.

Of course. They haven’t had a Katrina to refocus Congress on what ails education; instead, they’re acting in thrall to the teachers union. Be sure to read it all; it’s as depressing as the Reason TV video is uplifting.


English spelling 'too difficult for children'

Odd that kids have been mastering it routinely for a couple of hundred years, then. This is just an excuse for lazy and wrongheaded teaching methods. I have seen Grade 1 kids producing legible words when taught via phonics. Vowel sounds in English are certainly erratic but if a kid knows how the consonants generally sound, he/she can usually interpret a word despite the erratic vowel spelling

The complexity of the English spelling system is to blame for soaring levels of illiteracy among teenagers, according to a researcher. A high number of “inconsistencies” in the way basic words are spelt makes it much harder for children to read and write at a young age, it is claimed.

Masha Bell, author and literacy researcher, will tell a conference of English teachers on Friday that sweeping reforms are needed to the spelling system to improve children’s linguistic skills.

She will say that English employs 185 “unreliable” spellings for just 44 speech sounds. Words such as too, true, who, flew, shoe and you all employ different letters to represent the same sound, she will say.

According to academics, children in Britain normally take three years to read to a decent standard. But in Finland – where words are more likely to be pronounced as they look – children can read fluently within three months.

Her comments will be made to the annual conference of the National Association for Teachers of English in Leicestershire.

Speaking before the conference, Mrs Bell, author of the books Learning to Read and Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling, said English was unique in the way in which “identical letters make different sounds”.

“It is difficult to learn any subject, or even to train for a trade nowadays, without learning to read and write first, but roughly 20 per cent of all speakers of English leave school with very poor literacy skills,” she said.

“The antique, inconsistent spelling system of English is probably the main reason why the UK has a far longer tail of educational underachievement than any other European country, why more of our young people are Neets (Not in Education Employment or Training), why many end up in jail, and why improving their chances of re-offending while in prison is much more difficult too.”

Mrs Bell’s views have been criticised in the past for advocating “dumbing down” of a spelling system that has naturally evolved over centuries.

She has previously claimed that children face 800 words by the age of 11 that hinder their reading ability because of the way they are spelt.

Words such as orange, foreign, rhinoceros, handkerchief, soldiers and stomach all contain letter combinations that are more commonly pronounced in a different way, she claimed.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conservative teachers challenge NEA on moral issues

There was drama at this year’s National Education Association meeting because of the courage and commitment of a relatively small group of Christian and conservative teachers who introduced amendments to overturn the union's liberal policies on several key issues.

The amendments were defeated in secret ballots by the 9,000-strong delegation.

First, teacher Christine Nowak from New York introduced an amendment to the by-laws that would prohibit the NEA from taking any position on the issue of abortion. This would include lobbying, filing amicus curiae briefs in support of pro-abortion court cases, and would mean revision of the NEA Resolution I-16 (Family Planning) to clarify that NEA's support for family planning does not include support for abortion.

The reason for the “no position” is the sentiment of many teachers that involvement in these issues is simply not appropriate use of teacher union dues. And many of the taxpayers who fund local teachers’ salaries agree.

The amendment vote by secret ballot was defeated with 30 percent in favor, 70 percent against. A similar measure at the 2009 meeting was also defeated.

Another amendment called for a similar stance by the NEA on the issue of homosexuality. This amendment, introduced by Ohio teacher Ruth Boyatt, would require that the NEA take no position on the issue of same-gender marriage. It too failed by a vote of 30 percent to 70 percent.

The influence of homosexual and “transgender” teachers was quite visible. Not only was there a booth by the NEA’s “GLBT” Caucus, but one sign announced a “Drag Queen” Caucus. A transvestite beauty contest is rumored to be on the schedule for next year’s meeting.

The Ohio delegation includes many homosexual activists, according to reports from a teacher who attended the Ohio caucus meeting. One teacher rose at the meeting to praise the high number of Ohio teacher delegates who voted against the measure seeking “no position” on same sex marriage, despite its having been introduced by one of the Ohio delegation. Plans are in the works for a separate Ohio “GLBT” caucus as well.

The state affiliate, the Ohio Education Association, threw its support in 2009 behind House Bill 176, a measure to add homosexuality and cross-gender behavior to Ohio’s civil rights laws, a so-called “non-discrimination” measure. The bill, which passed the Ohio House but has not been considered by the Ohio Senate, would apply to employment practices in schools. The OEA also opposed the statewide ballot measure affirming traditional marriage in 2004. The constitutional amendment was approved by Ohio voters.


Study: Later schoolday aids teens

Odd teen sleeping habits are certainly a fact

Giving teens 30 extra minutes to start their school day leads to more alertness in class, better moods, less tardiness, and healthier breakfasts, a small study found.

“The results were stunning. There’s no other word to use,’’ said Patricia Moss, academic dean at the Rhode Island boarding school where the study was done. “We didn’t think we’d get that much bang for the buck.’’

The results appear in July’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The results mirror those at a few schools that have delayed starting times more than half an hour.

Researchers say there’s a reason why even 30 minutes can make a big difference. Teens tend to be in their deepest sleep around dawn — when they typically need to rise for school. Interrupting that sleep can leave them groggy.


British private schools forced to offer more free places

Private schools have been forced to provide more free places for children from poor homes for the first time amid fears they could face state intervention. In an unprecedented move, two independent schools have become the first in England and Wales to increase the amount of money set aside for bursaries under pressure from the official charities regulator.

The move could have serious implications for a number of other fee-paying schools as they battle the threat of falling income in the economic downturn. Last night, private school leaders warned that the rules could “jeopardise the future” of some schools.

The Independent Schools Council is now seeking a judicial review of guidelines issued by the Charity Commission amid claims it is acting “illegally”. Under Labour's 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide "public benefit" to remain in business and retain tax breaks worth around £100m a year.

The commission has warned that it could intervene at schools struggling to meet the requirement to find "ways to fund free or subsidised access".

Last year, five schools were assessed by the commission as part of a test case before rules are extended to more than 2,000 across England. Two of the schools – St Anselm's in Derbyshire and Highfield Priory in Lancashire – failed the assessment. They are both small preparatory schools educating around 230 pupils each.

Commissioners praised them for staging events such as sports tournaments for nearby state schools, graded music exams for local children, public speaking events and leasing out school facilities. But both schools were effectively told they failed to provide enough free or subsidised places. Highfield provided no bursaries but used funds to keep fees low for all parents. St Anselm's gave 90 per cent subsides to two pupils.

Both schools have since increased – or pledged to increase – the size of bursary pots and have now passed the commission’s test. Formal reports on the two schools will be published on Thursday.

Simon Northcott, St Anselm's headmaster, insisted the school was planning to increase he amount of money set aside for bursaries before it was assessed. He added: “We are, of course, delighted that the commission has recognised the changes made since the assessment last year and considers that they are sufficient to meet the public benefit criteria.

“Given many of the particular issues that affect St Anselm's, including its rural location, child protection as a result of the age of young boarders, and it has no endowments, we feel that in the current economic climate it would make life difficult should we be required to do substantially more.”

Under plans, the maximum value of its bursary will rise from 90 per cent to 100 per cent of fees, the number of children benefiting will increase from one to three and it has pledged to advertise future awards more widely. It is now spending £33,000 on bursaries – around 1.1 per cent of gross fee income.

Other independent schools are supposed to meet the public benefit requirements in this year.

The ISC will petition the High Court later this month for a judicial review of the commission’s guidance. It claims that the commission’s focus on free places represents a “gross” misinterpretation of the rules, adding that it has ignored other public benefits, such as sharing facilities with local state schools.

Some schools fear they will be forced to raise fees for existing parents or cut building programmes to find more cash for means-tested bursaries.

David Lyscom, ISC chief executive, welcomed the latest ruling, but said it did “little to lift the uncertainty for charitable schools about what they need to do to meet the commission’s public benefit test”. He added: “Nor does it resolve our concern all along that the commission’s interpretation of public benefit is too narrow and deeply flawed.

“This is not just about individual schools. The entire sector is at the whim of the commission’s prevailing and subjective view as to what is ‘sufficient’ for a school to get the all-clear. “This is an appalling situation for schools to be in, and jeopardises the future of beacons of educational excellence educating almost half a million children annually.”

Sue Fieldman, regional editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: “The vast majority of schools have already upped their game on bursaries and will pass the test. The problems arise with the very small schools that have not got the money for bursaries.”

The Charity Commission refused to comment yesterday.


Survey: 26% flub question on US independence

A new poll gauging American knowledge on a basic question about the nation’s history — “From which country did the United States win its independence?’’ — is either good news or bad news, depending on your expectations:

Twenty-six percent of those surveyed did not know that the United States achieved its independence from Great Britain, according to the poll, conducted by the nonprofit Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Six percent named a different country, including France, China, Japan, Mexico, and Spain. Twenty percent said they weren’t sure.

The pollsters broke down the numbers and found gaps in knowledge according to region: 32 percent of Southerners weren’t sure or named the wrong country; 26 percent of Midwesterners were in the same category, as were 25 percent of Westerners and 16 percent of Northeasterners.

More depressing results — depending on your expectations — were found in a 2007 poll conducted by the US Mint.

It showed that only 7 percent of those surveyed could name the first four presidents in order: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Thirty percent knew that Jefferson was the third president, 57 percent identified Jefferson as the main author of the Declaration of Independence, and 57 percent knew that Washington led the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.


British teachers To Get Tough On Unruly Pupils

Teachers are to get tougher powers to deal with unruly pupils as part of a bid to improve school discipline, the Government will announce. Courts will be told to heed clearer guidance that force can be used to remove youngsters from classrooms or restrain them.

Search powers are to be beefed up too, allowing kids to be checked for mobile phones, fireworks, cigarettes and legal highs, as well as weapons and drugs.

Teachers will also be granted anonymity if complaints are made about them in a bid to prevent careers being ruined by "malicious" claims.

The raft of measures will be unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb in an effort to give schools "the powers and freedoms they need to maintain discipline".

Official figures show 2,230 pupils were permanently excluded last year for physical assaults on teachers or fellow pupils and tens of thousands more suspended. One in five secondary schools is rated "satisfactory" or worse by Ofsted for behaviour and two in five teachers have witnessed physical aggression - a quarter of them being the victims of it.

Anyone handling complaints about teachers will be "made aware that teachers can apply discipline in the classroom for the safety of all the pupils... and in the interests of maintaining order", the Department for Education said.

Under present search powers, authorised staff can only force pupils to be searched if they suspect them of carrying knives or other weapons, drugs or alcohol. Mr Gibb wants to extend the list to include electronic devices like mobile phones and music players, pornography, fireworks, tobacco products and so-called "legal highs". He will also say he wants to make the power even wider to cover any item which teachers believe could pose a threat to safety or order in the classroom.

The National Union of Teachers' Christine Blower said: "There are rare occasions when young people may be carrying and concealing dangerous materials. "In those situations, teachers have to make a judgment call on the spot. In doing so, they should not be subject to the potential for accusations that they are acting illegally."


Don't bother applying for job without 2:1 degree, say British bosses as 80% admit they turn down all graduates without such a qualification

The only consolation is that many British universities hand out top degrees like salted peanuts these days

A 2:1 degree is becoming the basic qualification for a graduate job as employers are swamped by applications for a diminishing number of posts. Eight in 10 bosses now demand at least an upper second-class degree and will refuse to interview applicants with a 2:2 or lower, according to a survey of 200 graduate recruiters.

Employers are increasingly relying on the 2:1 to narrow the field of candidates following a surge in applications driven by the recession. Just 66.7 per cent insisted on an upper second-class degree last year.

Firms say that the ranks of 2010 job-hunters have been swelled by rejected candidates from the past two years. Desperate graduates are also increasingly taking a 'scattergun' approach to sending out applications.

Employers are also more likely to insist that candidates achieved degrees from elite universities, according to a survey of members of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. A total of 6.8 per cent this year are seeking graduates from specific institutions, up from just 2.5 per cent last year. [As well they might. Lots of Britiash "universies" are just jumped-up technical colleges]

Launching the survey findings today, AGR leaders admitted employers' growing reliance on 2:1 degrees to filter candidates risked unfairness to applicants.

Seventy-eight per cent of bosses now cite it as a minimum job requirement yet universities vary wildly in the criteria used to award 2:1s, with some giving them out far more readily than others.

But reforms to the 200-year-old classification system are still at trial stage. A detailed record of achievement containing a breakdown of course marks and employability skills is being piloted by 18 universities for those graduating in 2012.

AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard said: 'Recruiters are under intense pressure this year dealing with a huge number of applications from graduates for a diminishing pool of jobs. Those of our members who took part in the survey reported a total of 686,660 applications since the beginning of the 2010 recruitment campaign. 'It is hardly surprising then that the number of employers asking for a 2:1 degree has shot up by 11 percentage points.

'However, while this approach does aid the sifting process it can rule out promising candidates with the right work skills unnecessarily. 'We are encouraging our members to look beyond the degree classification when narrowing down the field of candidates to manageable proportions.'

The AGR survey finds that employers in the survey are fielding a record 69 applications per vacancy - up from 49 last year and 35 in 2000. It comes as organisations offer seven per cent fewer jobs this year than last.

Despite the overall downturn in vacancies, some industry sectors are hiring significantly more graduates than last year, including banking and financial services, insurance, consulting and business services, construction, and accountancy. However investment banking, the public sector, law, engineering, retail, telecommunications and IT and large consumer firms will all have fewer positions.

Despite the surge in applications, not all employers expect to fill all their vacancies amid concerns over the quality of some candidates and lack of appropriate qualifications. One in three respondents to the survey - conducted in May - reported likely shortfalls in graduate recruitment. Just 66.8 per cent said they would fill all vacancies.

Meanwhile starting salaries have been frozen for two years' running for the first time since the AGR's surveys began. New graduates stand to earn £25,000 on average - the same as in 2008.

A separate study last week of 100 graduate employers, by High Fliers Research, found that the most over-subscribed sectors, such as consumer goods, are attracting 270 applications per vacancy.

Meanwhile official figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that one in three graduates is on the dole or working in stop-gap jobs such as stacking shelves and pouring pints. Nearly 20,000 of last year's graduates - one in 10 - were unemployed six months after leaving university - up from eight per cent in 2008.

A further 50,000 failed to land graduate-level posts and resorted to roles for which they are likely to be over-qualified, such as secretaries, waiters, bar staff and factory workers. In total, 34 per cent were jobless or in non-graduate roles.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Subsidizing More College Students Won’t Help the U.S. Economy

By George Leef

Governments in the United States subsidize college education heavily. State universities charge students very low tuition rates, and the federal government has a host of grant and loan programs designed to make college affordable to most families. (As politicians make those programs more generous, schools have spent more and raised tuitions, thus creating an upward cost spiral—but that’s another story.)

One of the simplest of all economic lessons is that when government subsidizes something, more of it is produced than otherwise. That’s because subsidies upset the natural calculation of costs and benefits that people make. The subsidized thing becomes artificially more attractive to consumers; as they buy more of it, resources are drawn away from nonsubsidized things. Subsidies cause inefficiency.

In higher education, subsidies have led to a great surplus of young people going to college and a deterioration in academic standards. As higher education has expanded—at the end of World War II less than one high school graduate in ten enrolled in postsecondary education; now about 70 percent do—schools have increasingly drawn in weak and disengaged students. Rather than risk losing such students (and the money they bring in), many colleges have relaxed their admission standards, allowed or encouraged grade inflation, and dumbed down their curricula.

Nevertheless, some politicians and education leaders claim that the nation badly needs to “produce” still more college graduates. In a speech to Congress in February 2009 President Obama declared a national goal of having the world’s highest percentage of workers with college degrees by 2020. One of the nation’s major educational foundations, Lumina Foundation, proclaims that its mission is to get more students through college and maintains that the United States is falling behind other countries in its level of “educational attainment.”

That was the subject of a debate I participated in on February 26. Arguing for the resolution that the United States needs more college graduates to remain an economic power were former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder and I opposed it. If you care to watch the debate, which took about an hour and a half, you’ll find it here.

For those who prefer a synopsis, read on.

The affirmative debaters contended that college education:

* raises people’s incomes substantially; graduates on average earn nearly a million dollars more over their careers than nongraduates;

* provides people with the skills they need to succeed in “the knowledge economy”;

* opens up opportunities for people to advance, especially those from poor backgrounds; and

* will help America remain competitive with other nations.

Professor Vedder and I took issue with these claims.

First, we contended that the “earnings premium” argument is fallacious. Even though it’s true on average that people with college degrees earn more, that isn’t necessarily true at the margin. That people with college degrees (many of them earned decades ago when standards were higher) have high earnings on average tells us nothing about the next student who gets a degree. Since many people who obtain college degrees today wind up working in low-skill, low-paying jobs, there is no basis for the assumption that college education raises incomes.

Second, we argued that college coursework doesn’t automatically improve an individual’s skills and knowledge. Although some students benefit greatly from their studies, many others enter college with very poor capabilities and graduate with little or no improvement. Most employers aren’t looking for in-depth knowledge that only a college-educated individual could have; rather they are looking for good basic skills and trainability—and they complain that many students are lacking in that respect.

Third, we argued that having a college degree doesn’t necessarily open up any opportunities because bachelor’s degrees are so common now that having one is no distinction. Moreover, there are other and often more effective ways for people to advance than going to college. Many vocational paths are less costly and offer better long-term prospects than a college degree.

Fourth, we argued that since we already have a glut of college graduates in the labor force, adding to it does nothing to make the United States more competitive. Furthermore, there is no causal link between increasing numbers of people holding college degrees and the creation of high-skill, high-paying jobs.

Finally, we argued that putting more and more people through college exacerbates the problem of credential inflation—that is, employers’ insisting that applicants have college degrees to be considered for jobs that don’t require any academic training. Credential inflation already shuts out individuals who don’t have college degrees from many jobs they could easily do.

In response to our case against the resolution, the affirmative side said nothing.

Perhaps I should just leave the matter there, but there is more to be said against the idea of trying to increase college attendance and graduation through government action.

For one thing, the notion that the country would be better off if it put more people through college is cut from the same bolt of cloth as the notion that the country would be better off if it increased the percentage of people who own their own home. That is another noble-sounding idea that politicians tried to achieve through subsidies and manipulations. Eventually, it proved to be harmful to many individuals who were persuaded to take out mortgages they couldn’t pay off. Similarly, numerous young Americans are today struggling to make the payments on their college loan debt out of incomes far below what they were all but promised. Government planning schemes always have a lot of collateral damage.

For another, if we are serious about improving the productivity of the economy, a marginal increase in the percentage of workers with college credentials is a diversion from policies that would actually matter. Like what? Well, governments channel resources away from productive, competitively determined uses and into wasteful, politically determined uses. Governments’ innumerable laws and regulations interfere with efficiency, the minimum wage and occupational licensing being examples. And governments drive away investors and entrepreneurs with high taxes.

Many policy changes would increase the vitality of our economy. Pushing a few more young people through college is not one of them.


Britain's toddler curriculum may be scrapped

A controversial Leftist “nappy curriculum” that requires children to hit a series of 69 targets by the age of five could be scrapped in its current form. "Nappy" is British for "diaper"

The Coalition will launch a review of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage today amid concerns it is too bureaucratic. It will consider whether to make the curriculum voluntary, giving some nurseries and childminders the freedom to opt-out altogether just two years after it was introduced.

The review – led by Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children – could also lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of targets children are expected to meet following claims they prevent toddlers from developing naturally.

Currently, the framework covers areas such as dressing independently, personal hygiene, using modern technology and understanding other cultures. This is on top of other “early learning goals” covering literacy, numeracy, communication skills and problem solving.

Last night, the review was welcomed by independent school leaders who said the curriculum – which is compulsory in the state and private sector – promoted a “tick-box” culture. David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: “It diverts teaching time from more constructive pursuits and has spawned an industry of local authority moderators. "The curriculum does not stretch higher achievers and restricts parental choice as to how they educate their children.”

Martin Bradley, chairman of the Montessori Schools Association, said: “The early years are now more regulated than any other area of the education system. This review is long overdue.”

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, has already described the framework as a “bureaucratic nightmare”. “We have to trust our professionals, not have these forms asking whether a child can tie its shoelaces [and] hold a rattle. Ludicrous,” he said.

The Early Years Foundation Stage has been a compulsory requirement for all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders since 2008. Currently, children must hit 69 targets before they start full-time education. This includes counting up to 10, reciting the alphabet, writing their own name and simple words and forming sentences using basic punctuation.

It also covers personal development, requiring children to “dress and undress independently and manage their own personal hygiene”, as well as understanding that “people have different needs, views cultures and beliefs that need to be treated with respect”.

The curriculum has been criticised for pushing children too far at a young age, undermining the amount of time they spend playing.

Today, Sarah Teather, the Children’s Minister, will set out a “root and branch” review of the framework. It will cover whether or not the curriculum should remain compulsory, as well as analysing the number of targets it covers.

The review will also assess whether it can be overhauled to focus more on children from the poorest backgrounds amid concerns they start school far behind those from middle-class families. Reforms are likely to lead to a reduction in paperwork surrounding the framework amid complaints that it is too bureaucratic.

It has already been blamed for fuelling a decline in the number of childminders in England. The number of registered childminders has dropped from 102,600 in the mid-90s to less than 57,000 this year.


Australia: Labor government trying to stop school building waste at last

Better late than never. Julia Gillard has chosen the right guy in Simon. He is a true moderate and no fool. Pity he wasn't in charge from the get-go

AFTER 240 complaints about projects in the BER program, the new Education Minister has warned that funding could be withheld. So far, $75 million has been withheld from Building the Education Revolution projects in NSW.

New minister Simon Crean told The Australian 140 complaints had been received by the taskforce set up to investigate complaints about the BER. Another 100 complaints were made directly to the department, he said. Of the complaints, 150 were about projects in NSW, and in her last days as education minister Julia Gillard announced that she was withholding $75m from that state until problems were sorted out.

Mr Crean said 55 complaints were about projects in Victoria. There were fewer than 20 complaints about projects in Queensland. Problems in other states and territories were in single digits.

After months of complaints about waste in the program, the chairman of the BER implementation taskforce, Brad Orgill, wrote to Ms Gillard last month urging her not to make the $75m payment to NSW, which would have been the next tranche of BER funding to that state.

Mr Crean said he hoped that had sent a powerful message to other states. "The $75m is important . . . leverage to drive this argument of value for money," he said. "It sends an important message but it also completely rejects the notion that (we need to) freeze the totality of funds."

Mr Crean rejected opposition calls to halt spending on the program until the Orgill investigation was complete. "What do you say to the contractors and the workers that you put on hold, quite apart from breach of contract, which would open us up, I think, to a bit of litigation," he said.

After meeting with Mr Orgill, Mr Crean said he was confident that progress had been made and he did not need more powers. He said Mr Orgill did not ask for wider powers. "I think the powers are wide enough -- there's a catch-all there," Mr Crean said. "He can initiate inquiries. He has. I'm very impressed with the way he has gone out and done site visits."

Mr Crean said the BER program had been overwhelmingly effective and had provided value for money. He said there was absolutely no reason to hold up all the projects. "Why should you deny schools their entitlement where they've done the right thing?" Mr Crean asked. "I'm not saying those problems aren't of concern. They are, and we've got to try and address those concerns."


Monday, July 05, 2010

Charter schools spread across Texas with goal of newer, better teaching

More than 120 charter schools in North Texas are part of a national explosion, fueled by a recent surge in political, philanthropic and parental support.

Fifteen years into the Texas charter school experiment, some charters have brought impressive innovation to public education, saved dropouts and posted enviable test scores. But on other campuses, kids have languished in poorly run classrooms and taxpayer money has been squandered on shady operations.

Despite the wildly varied results, the national charter school movement has gained serious steam over the past year. The forces include strong local political support, backing from philanthropic giants like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ambitious charter school management groups, private investors, fed-up urban parents – and even President Barack Obama.

"We're not an experiment anymore," said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. "We're a small but crucial piece of the overall public education system in this state."

Charter schools are public schools that are privately run and free of many state laws governing traditional schools. The theory is that, freed of red tape, charter schools can forge new and creative approaches to help kids learn. Sometimes that has happened; other times it hasn't.

Take two of Texas' earliest charter schools, Renaissance Charter Academy and North Hills School. Both opened in Irving, Renaissance in 1996 and North Hills a year later.

The group that operates North Hills, Uplift Education, now runs 15 charter schools in North Texas and plans to open two more this fall. North Hills has been rated mostly "exemplary" or "recognized" each year. Renaissance, meanwhile, shut down after about five years, owing the state nearly $3 million, mostly because it inflated attendance figures, which determine state funding. The school earned average to low state ratings.

"What we know is that charter schools vary tremendously. There are some charter schools that have very good results, and some that have very poor results," said Marisa Cannata, associate director of the National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University.

Texas limits charter school districts to 215, though a single district may operate multiple campuses. The State Board of Education has granted approval for 211 charter districts – and 28 groups have applied for the four remaining spots.

Texas has the third-highest number of charter schools, after California and Arizona. Despite the cap, the number of charter campuses grows every year. Five new campuses will open in the Dallas area this school year. About a third of the local charter schools are less than 3 years old.

Most of the recent arrivals are run by groups experienced in the business, such as Uplift. The charter operation will open two more schools in Dallas this fall – Heights Preparatory in West Dallas and Laureate Preparatory downtown.

Life School, a charter group that stresses character education at its five North Texas campuses, will open a sixth this fall in Cedar Hill. A postcard promoting the new campus declares it has "no tuition," presenting itself as an alternative to traditional schools without private school costs. And Responsive Education Solutions, based in Lewisville, opened its 35th campus this spring in McKinney and plans for several more around Texas this fall.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of charter schools shows that Texas charter schools are most popular in urban areas, such as Dallas and Houston. About 10 percent of children living in the Dallas Independent School District opt for a charter school.

Charters draw larger shares from some low-rated, high-poverty suburban school districts. For example, Lancaster ISD and North Forest ISD near Houston carry the state's lowest academic rating of "unacceptable." In both cases, more than 15 percent of students living in the district attend a charter school, The News found.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, estimates that more than 40,000 children across the state are on charter school waiting lists.

While demand is fueling the growth of charter schools, so is money. Obama has called for the expansion of good charter schools. His administration is awarding more than $4 billion in competitive grants to improve education, with priority given to states that relax or eliminate caps on the number of charter schools they allow.

Traditional school districts, which stand to lose students and money to charter schools, are following the new charter-friendly emphasis now placed on federal education dollars. DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa recently announced that the district would partner with Uplift Education and apply for a $5 million federal grant to create teacher training academies, an odd partnership that surprised many.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have given tens of millions of dollars to support charter schools. Last year, the Gates Foundation said it would guarantee $30 million in bonds to help Houston-based charter group KIPP expand.

Private investors are also taking interest. Unlike traditional schools, charter schools don't receive public funds to build schools. They often must pay higher interest rates on their loans because they lack lengthy financial track records.

Then there's parent demand. Dallas parent Shaniqua Childs chose Life School in east Oak Cliff for her son and daughter. "This school is phenomenal," she said. "The teachers really care about the students." She also likes that the school requires parents to earn "parenting points" by attending seminars and observing classrooms.

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said legislators should respond to parent demand and lift the "arbitrary" state cap.

"You've got 40,000 students waiting in line to go to a charter school. Tell me another school in the state of Texas that has that type of demand," said Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.


Poor British state schools should stop hiding behind excuses, says private school headmaster

A headmaster who left a grammar to lead a top independent school has spelled out what is wrong with state eduction

The news recently has been far from heartening for parents. Ofsted has revealed that half of state schools are struggling to provide a good education, new research has found that middle-class families are being priced out of the independent sector by fee hikes and the solution being touted by the new Government is for parents to take on the Herculean task of setting up their own schools.

But one headmaster with a unique perspective on the education landscape in England is optimistic that improvements can be made if councils are cut out of the equation and teaching and learning, not social engineering, become, once again the focus of schools.

Rod MacKinnon was the head teacher of Bexley Grammar School, in Kent, for 13 years before he made the move to the private sector. He has been at the helm of Bristol Grammar School, a £9,000 a year day school founded in 1532, since September 2008.

He knew it was the right time to make the change when the local education authority he operated under decided it needed to appoint a £60,000 a year "cluster coordinator" to help local schools work together. "I thought 'what on earth is going on here'. Just give me the money and I can get my class sizes down," said the head. "These advisors and bureaucrats - what are they doing? Local authorities watch schools flounder and fail and then get in the way of successful schools."

As well as the desire for a new challenge, it was this obvious frustration at the deadening hand of town hall officialdom that gave Mr MacKinnon the impetus to make the switch.

And the same driver is prompting hundreds of state schools to apply for the Government's extension of academy [charter] status to all outstanding secondaries and primaries. With academy status comes a more flexible curriculum, control over budgets, pay and appointments and the freedom to make decisions as and when. Mr MacKinnon thinks it just might work.

"Local authorities as a mechanism for improvement was never going to work," he said. "The academy movement is at least going in the right direction. Local authorities want you to get in your box. "Their response to good ideas is 'we don't do things that way'. They want heads who are going to do what they are told and that is disastrous, because you need leaders."

So, for outstanding schools which can make the move to academy status, the news is good. For parents with children in bog standard comprehensives, however, the path to improvement is less clear.

According to Mr MacKinnon, three elements would make a difference; the trend for ever bigger schools needs to be halted, poor schools need to stop making excuses for their failure and the Government must accept that schools can not solve the ills of society.

"The push for good schools and also some bad schools to get bigger and bigger is a serious mistake," he said. "It is militating against a sustainable quality of education. "You need a school where children are walking down the corridor and teachers are saying 'David, have you done that piece of work?'.

"A good response is not going to be forthcoming from 'Oy, you', especially from the average teenager. This is followed quickly by teachers thinking 'I won't say anything because I'll get abuse'. "Children need to belong to an identifiable community. In big schools the ethos is harder to maintain. Pupils and teachers can hide in the thicket of not being accountable."

Schools that are performing badly are often full of excuses, the headmaster claims, an attitude propagated by a Labour Government which encouraged them to focus on children's backgrounds and engage is social engineering.

"One of the biggest pitfalls in schools that are struggling is hiding behind excuses, a lack of ambition of how you can change these children's life chances," said the head. "We need to shine a light on success. I believe in prize giving. It means some children won't get prizes but I am sorry, achievement matters. We are kidding ourselves if we pretend it doesn't.

"We can educate children, help them grow in confidence, give them a sense of self-worth, reinforce moral values, teach them about Shakespeare and Boyle's law but we can't replace the family, or bring down teenage pregnancy or cut knife crime. "And the idea that we can is a hostage to fortune. It condemns schools to fail. It is disastrous.

"It might be well intentioned but if we really wanted that, we would not employ physics graduates to teach, we would employ highly skilled social workers.

"What you have to say is within these walls, we are going to focus on physics and maths and achievement and if you are successful in that, it will build your self-worth. "It may not solve all your problems, but it is something we can do that will make a difference."

He takes the change of title at the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the streamlined Department for Education - one of Michael Gove's first actions as education secretary - as a very good sign. The ambition for every head should be simple, and limited, to providing a good education.

Mr MacKinnon's forthright comments will infuriate teachers in the state sector, coming, as they do from the former head of a grammar school, which could cream off the brightest, who is now in the privileged position of leading one of the top 100 independent schools in the country.

Even more controversial is his take on the pay deal for teachers in the state sector. In 2008, the Government agreed a three year settlement which will see teachers salaries rise by 2.3 per cent this year, a deal that is unjustifiable in a recession, according to the head. "We have to look at, I'm afraid, at the 2.3 per cent pay rise for teachers," he said. "I am staggered that it was agreed two years in advance.

"We all know that teachers are not paid enough but in the current financial climate, the idea that we can set up a system that it is going to see a rise regardless, is staggering. In the commercial world, parents are losing jobs. "Pay is being cut. Yet teachers pay, in the state sector is automatically expected to go up.

"If it doesn't get changed it's a lot of money. For the country I would rather that we had some reductions in pay and keep the staff. The reality is that if schools have budget cuts they will have to lose staff."

In the light of a report published last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that private schools fees have rocketed three time faster than incomes, Mr MacKinnon's remarks might invite criticism.

He acknowledges that schools have to keep their fees down in the current climate - Bristol Grammar has held the rise at 2.5 per cent - and said that he has been surprised by the increase at some schools.

Ultimately though, independent school parents can vote with their feet. "The biggest difference moving from the state to the private sector was the genuine feeling of accountability," he said. "Parental choice is talked about a lot in the state sector but in reality there is very little choice. In the independent sector, if you don't like the service, you will walk away. That concentrates the mind."

One of the unfortunate similarities between the sectors has been the growing avalanche of regulation that has tied heads up in red tape.

Again, Mr MacKinnon is hopeful, along with other private school heads, that the Coalition Government will streamline the burdensome processes. "Inspectors now focus on legal requirements - right down to how many wash basins you should have," he said. "You don't' need a school inspector for that, you need a clerk with a clipboard. "These inspectors, with a wealth of experience, who should be focusing on what happens in the classroom, are counting the toilets. It's just nuts."

Despite this, independent schools still have the freedom to strive for success in the best way they see fit, a luxury not afforded to many state schools.

Unlike Vicky Tuck, the head of Cheltenham Ladies College, who last week decried the "hostility" she believes is directed at independent schools, Mr MacKinnon is bullish about what the sector has and can achieve.

"We don't need to adopt this defensive posture," he said. "I was proud of working in the state sector and I'm proud of working in the private sector. We don't need a siege mentality, we need to keep celebrating our success, which speaks for itself."


Leftists are criticizing academically selective schooling in Australia too

Bright children should be allowed to fulfil their potential without being dragged down by being placed among dummies -- but that's not how the envious Left see it. They want to drag everyone down to an "equal" low level. They don't give a damn about the individual gifted kid. It is only abstractions about groups that interest them

NSW is creating a "social and academic apartheid" in education with private and selective schools prospering at the expense of comprehensive public schools, says one of the state's top educators.

Chris Bonnor, a former president of the Secondary Principals Council and former principal of Asquith Boys High, said Australia had established a tiered education system that was segregating students by income level and academic performance.

"We are separating our schools for the academic elite," he said. "Schools which can do so are hunting out bright kids through tests, scholarships and interviews with parents and avoiding kids with learning difficulties," he said.

"There is also a worsening social class division with low-income children increasingly going to public schools and the richer kids going to private and selective schools. "There is an increasing separation of kids along academic and social lines and, to some extent, along religious and cultural lines and nobody in government departments or government wants to talk about it."

Richard Teese, a specialist in school systems at the University of Melbourne, said the expansion of selective schooling in NSW - there are now 17 fully and 28 partly selective high schools - was creating "engines of high academic success", but at a significant cost.

"It's a very inequitable policy because it takes away cultural and academic resources from many sites and concentrates them into a few," Professor Teese said. "By operating schools like these you drain talent from many other comprehensive schools, which need what the French call pilot students - that is, model students who provide a really good example.

"The aim should be high standards everywhere. It doesn't make sense to have half a system that works and half a system that doesn't," he said.

Mr Bonnor, co-author of the book The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education, said when two selective schools were established in the Hornsby area 15 years ago, surrounding schools were told this would provide more choice.

The schools made selective, Normanhurst Boys and Hornsby Girls, dramatically increased their share of high achievers, but the nine surrounding comprehensive schools and the low-fee private schools "lost out".

But the principals of those schools are in effect silenced about losing their best academic talent for fear of exacerbating the situation. "I didn't say it when I was principal at Asquith Boys High. It has the danger of increasing the loss of the remaining high achievers from the school," Mr Bonnor said.

"We also now have an outbreak of pseudo-selective schools - both private and public - each setting tests to gather a disproportionate share of the able, the engaged and the anxious. This is especially taking place across northern Sydney."

The principal of one selective high school, who did not want to be named, told the Herald that selective schools had been a disaster for comprehensive schools. "My own view is if I were to wave a wand and start again, I would not have any selective schools or independent schools or private schools or public schools. I think the model I'd like to go for is your local community school. But that's 150 years too late. We've moved on so that's no longer possible."

The government increased the number of selective school places by 600 to 4133 this year to help stem the drift from public to private schools.

The move will also increase the ranking achieved in the HSC results by the top selective high schools. James Ruse Agricultural High School has topped the Herald's HSC performance list for 14 consecutive years.

Last year, government selective high schools took out four of the top five positions. The first comprehensive government high schools to appear on the Herald's list were Killara High School in 54th position and Cherrybrook Technology High School in 59th.

Mr Bonnor said the Department of Education "pretends this problem does not exist". "The department is avoiding the issue and no one wants to know that by offering opportunities for some kids, this is reducing opportunities for others," he said.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

School District Sued for Banning Bibles on Religious Freedom Day

No freedom for Christians

For years, the Collier County School district allowed a local Christian organization, World Changers of Florida, to distribute free Bibles to interested students during off-school hours on January 16 for Religious Freedom Day.

Now the group is filing suit after being told by the school board that it can no longer distribute the Bibles on campus because they do not provide any educational benefit to the students.

The school board and superintendent “have denied World Changers access for no other reason than the religious content and viewpoint of the literature it wishes to distribute, specifically Bibles,” the lawsuit contends. “This unequal treatment, based upon the religious nature of the literature World Changers wishes to distribute, is unconstitutional content-based discrimination, because World Changers’ materials otherwise fit within the parameters Defendants set for the forum.”

The group goes on to say that the school allowed other secular organizations to distribute literature but prevented World Changers from doing so even though it complied with all of the school’s guidelines.

“We are compelled to sue to protect the right simply to make free Bibles available to students in public schools,” Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, the legal group representing World Changers said in a statement. “Many of our founding fathers were taught to read using the Bible.

If it had no educational value, then many of them would have been illiterate. The distribution of religious literature in a forum opened for secular literature is constitutionally protected.”

The lawsuit seeks to have the school district’s actions declared unconstitutional and requests legal fees and unspecified nominal damages.


Actors attack British girls' school that wanted homosexual scenes cut

Staff at a private all-girls' school asked a theatre company to cut scenes depicting homosexuality from its shows. St Margaret's School, a £10,000-a-year school in Hampstead, north London, made the request after asking the Black Cat Theatre Company to visit and put on performances as part of a sex education programme for 12- to 15-year-olds.

The first performance, on how drugs and alcohol could lead to a greater risk of being sexually attacked, culminated in one boy sexually assaulting another. During a break between shows actors were then asked to omit further references to homosexuality during the visit last month.

Barry Lillie, of Black Cat, told the Times Educational Supplement: "If you are going to broaden children's minds about sex you have got to talk to them about all different types of sex. It is no less important in a girls' school. There are girls that are gay as well as boys." Actors also described the request as "morally reprehensible".

However, Mark Webster, the head teacher of St Margaret's, said staff were merely being "cautious" because they were worried about what the actors might have planned for the remaining performances. He added: "Gay relationships and sex education are part of our school's personal, social and health education programme."

Mr Webster noted that the only homosexual character in the theatre company's storyline "was a rapist", which he said was a negative portrayal. Mr Lillie responded: "We are talking about how rape is about power and control."


Incompetent British teachers not fired

New concerns have been raised over the problem of incompetent teachers in British schools as official figures showed that hardly any have been dismissed. In the decade since the General Teaching Council (GTC) was created with the power to strike off those found to be incompetent, only 18 have been banned from the classroom. The figure contrasts with the estimate, made by Chris Woodhead when he was the head of Ofsted, that there are 15,000 incompetent teachers in service.

Under current rules, head teachers of state schools can identify underperforming teachers to their local authority. The individuals have their classroom competence reviewed, and they are advised on how they can improve their teaching. In cases where serious failings are identified, the teachers can be struck off by the General Teaching Council (GTC).

However, the investigation also found that as few as 300 teachers a year are entered into the first stage of this process, the competence review – equivalent to 0.07 per cent of Britain's 500,000 teachers.

Procedures vary widely between different council areas.

The programme raises concerns from anonymous head teachers who say they are aware of underperforming staff but feel unable to tackle the problem and fear it would bring unwanted attention on their school.

One of those 18 teachers, David Dobbie, who was struck off last year, was found during the investigation to be working as a classroom technician at Gedling School in Nottinghamshire where he had been given temporary employment through an agency. Anyone struck off may still work in schools in a "non-teaching role" according to GTC rules. They are also free to teach in private schools.

Michael Gove, the new education secretary, announced the abolition of the GTC last month, telling parliament that he wanted to "trust professionals" and give heads more power to improve the quality of teaching.

In a statement, the GTC said it did take action to prevent prohibited teachers from teaching and said it was concerned about "patchy" referrals by head teachers. It also admitted that it did not "seem credible" that the number of incompetent teachers was as low as the number actually struck off, but added: "We do believe that the incidence of true incompetence is low."

The Policy Exchange think-tank concluded in 2008 that it was likely that poor teachers are being 'recycled' around the system.

Susan Woodward, head teacher at Gedling School, said: "Mr Dobbie was working at the school on a part-time, temporary basis until a permanent appointment was made and was informed when he was no longer needed at the school."