Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Great College-Degree Scam

With the help of a small army of researchers and associates (most importantly, Chris Matgouranis, Jonathan Robe, and Chris Denhart) and starting with help from Douglas Himes of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) has unearthed what I think is the single most scandalous statistic in higher education. It reveals many current problems and ones that will grow enormously as policymakers mindlessly push enrollment expansion amidst what must become greater public-sector resource limits.

Here it is: approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the BLS considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less. Only a minority of the increment in our nation’s stock of college graduates is filling jobs historically considered as requiring a bachelor’s degree or more. (We are working to integrate some earlier Edwin Rubenstein data on this topic to give us a more complete picture of this trend).

How did my crew of Whiz Kids arrive at this statistic? We found some obscure but highly useful BLS data for 1992 that provides occupational/educational attainment data for the entire labor force, and similar data for 2008 (reported, to much commentary, in this space and by CCAP earlier). We then took the ratio of the change in college graduates filling these less skilled jobs to the total increase in the number of college graduates. Note I use the word “increase.” Enrollment expansion/increased access policy relates to the margin—to changes in enrollments/college graduates over time.

To be sure, there are some issues of measurement, judgment, and data comparability. With this in mind, I had my associates calculate the incremental unskilled job to college graduate ratio using different assumptions about the data. Even with alternative assumptions, a majority of the increased college graduate population is doing jobs that historically have been filled by persons with lesser education.

The exact numbers in the initial calculation are broken down as follows: In 1992 the BLS reports that total college graduate employment was 28.9 million, of whom 5.1 million were in occupations which the BLS classified as “noncollege level jobs” while in 2008 the BLS data indicate that total college graduate employment was 49.35 million, with 17.4 million in occupations classified as requiring less than a bachelor’s degree.

An example or two from specific occupations is useful. In 1992 119,000 waiters and waitresses were college degree holders. By 2008, this number had more than doubled to 318,000. While the total number of waiters and waitresses grew by about 1 million during this period, 20% of all new jobs in this occupation were filled by college graduates. Take cashiers as well. While 132,000 cashiers possessed college degrees in 1992, by 2008, 365,000 cashiers were college graduates. As with waiters and waitresses, 20% of new cashiers since 1992 are college graduates. (The sources for all of these data are Table 1 of the Summer 1994 Occupational Outlook Quarterly and the Employment Projection Program “Occupations” tables on the BLS Web site)

Six quick observations on these numbers:

First, the push to increase the number of college graduates seems horribly misguided from a strict economic/vocational perspective. It is precisely that perspective that is emphasized by those, starting with President Obama, who insist that we need to have more college graduates.

Second, the data suggest a horrible decline in the productivity of American education in that the “inputs” used to achieve any given human capital (occupational) outcome have expanded enormously. More simply, it takes 18 years of schooling (including kindergarten and the typical fifth year of college to get a bachelor’s degree) for persons to get an education to do jobs that a generation or two ago people did with 12-13 years of education (graduating more often from college in four years and sometimes skipping kindergarten).

Third, a sharp rise in the dependency ratio—those too old or too young to work relative to the work age population is coming because of the aging of the American population. This means we need to increase employment participation in younger ages (e.g., 18 to 23) where participation is low today because of the rising college participation rate. The falling productivity of American education is aggravating a serious problem—a shortage of workers to sustain a growing population of those unable to care for themselves.

Fourth, all of this supports the notion that credential inflation arises from a perceived need by individuals to demonstrate potential employment competence through a piece of paper, i.e. a college diploma. Employers are using education as a screening and signaling device, at a low cost directly to them (although not costless because of the taxes they pay to sustain much of this), but at a high cost to the prospective employees and to society as a whole.

Fifth, this shows that the current problem of college student employability is not a new, and merely temporary, problem.

Lastly, I am saddened that this is happening. Many of those advocating more access are well meaning and have pure motives, but they are ignorant of the evidence. But higher education is all about facts, knowledge—learning how the world works and disseminating that information to others. Some in higher education KNOW about all of this and are keeping quiet about it because of their own self-interest. We are deceiving our young population to mindlessly pursue college degrees when very often that is advice that is increasingly questionable.


Education Reform in 2010

2010 was marked by

* The implementation of sweeping changes in teacher employment and pay in NYC and DC

* The release of three movies covering the need for broad education reform across the nation

* The first-time use of parent trigger to turn a failing school around in California

* A wider awareness of the positive role technology can play in raising academic achievement

* A growing public debate on the neglected role of parental choice and empowerment in the education of America's children.

Policy makers should build on this momentum in 2011 to further improve American education policy.

Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein put teacher performance and union barriers to education reform in the spotlight, and they showed how a fierce leader can do much to turn things around in failing schools. Their education manifestos tell that overcoming union barriers to holding teachers accountable and rewarding them for success is a win-win for students and teachers, and that poverty and supposed lack of funding are no excuses for low student achievement. DC and NYC schools have benefited tremendously from their reform efforts, and other state superintendents could learn much from their successes and failures.

Additionally, three movies changed the debate on education reform this year by highlighting how the entrenched web of special interests are ruling education policy in America to the detriment of students, parents, and good teachers. Waiting For Superman, which got by far the most attention, raised awareness for the plight of parents who lack the financial resources to rescue their children from failing schools. In the absence of wide-spread school choice, parents and teachers were at the mercy of a lottery for the few slots available in better-performing charter schools. The Cartel and The Lottery shed further light on the sad state of an education system that is set up to serve the interests of education professionals over those of students.

Together, the success stories of NYC and DC and the increased public awareness of the tragedies that take place in America's schools moved the education debate towards a better understanding of the importance of parental empowerment through school choice in reform efforts. California's parent trigger law which empowers parents to hold schools accountable, and Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott'sannouncement that he wants to implement school choice across the whole state, to enable parents to select their children's education among the broad offering of public, private and virtual schools, are the front-runners in this movement. Parents in other states should demand that their state legislatures follow these examples to put the power to choose the best education for their children in their own hands.

One thing becomes clear as part of a review of the diversity of reform approaches we experienced in 2010. There is no effective one-size-fits all solution to education reform. Attempts by the federal government to reform education on the national level, through Race to the Top and No-Child-Left-Behind for example, are the wrong approach to affecting real change in American education. Decisions over changes to education policy are best made on a local level in states and localities, and the most promising reform efforts are those that empower the main stakeholders to participate fully in the process: parents and children.


How a dog in class can make reading a pet subject

Children who don’t like books are being helped to read – by a friendly dog called Breeze who visits their school. One little boy who hadn’t spoken in school for two years has been happily sitting down reading aloud to the pet.

The trial of the Read2Dogs scheme, run by the charity Pets As Therapy, has been deemed so successful that it is to be offered to schools nationwide next year. It has been taking place at Westfields Junior School in Yateley, Hampshire, encouraged by head Karine George. Teacher Debbie Jones said: ‘I didn’t know what to think of the idea when I heard it but you just have to see the confidence the children gain when they read to the dog.’

The school found that all 20 of the pupils who took part in the scheme – all reluctant readers – felt more confident about reading afterwards. While only three of them had regularly read aloud to their parents before the trial, all of them did so afterwards.

Remarkably, 60 per cent of the children improved their reading age by three months or more in just six weeks, and all the pupils’ reading ages advanced by at least two months.

Nine-year-old Ellen Parker has been reading to golden retriever Breeze. She said: ‘I try to think about stories that Breeze might like, interesting ones. ‘I’m reading her a story about a rabbit and a badger who go on a picnic. I think she likes that because it’s about animals. ‘I can tell she’s listening because she wants to have a little stroke when you’re reading; she doesn’t wander around, she sits down.’


Friday, December 31, 2010

Teacher evaluations and superstition

Discipline in the classroom and the IQ of the kid are the main things that make a difference

Megan McArdle has a long post on the issue of measuring teacher quality. Meanwhile, The New York Times profiles James Heckman, whose careful research suggests that by the time a child reaches school age it is too late to make much difference.

If the best evidence is that it is almost impossible to make a long-term difference in education, then the statistical evidence on teacher quality is bound to be highly unreliable. What appears to be teacher quality is likely to be random variation. The low rate of replication of statistical teacher evaluations that Megan discusses is consistent with that.

There is a term that Daniel Klein alerted me to called "white hat bias." What it means is that findings that favor a popular political viewpoint will be published, while those that contradict that viewpoint will tend to be discarded. So many people have a vested interest in believing that teachers make a difference that one has to be very wary of white hat bias in studies that purport to show such differences.

Along these lines, I am afraid that I am skeptical of Rick Hanushek's claim that the best teachers are really effective and the worst are really ineffective. If that were true, then I think we would observe private schools dramatically outperforming public schools, holding student characteristics constant, and I do not think that is what the data say. Instead, when we see differences, those differences typically do not persist over time.

In education research, intensive efforts are made to find differences caused by teachers or other inputs. This is a worthwhile effort, but whenever studies are published showing such differences, they need to be discounted heavily for the biases induced by various filters in the research and publication process. The likelihood of any strong difference holding up in repeated study is quite low.


Plans to increase university fees leave British parents querying value of higher education

Controversial plans to raise university fees to £9,000 a year are leaving parents concerned about the cost and questioning the value of higher education. A survey reveals almost a third of the parents said they no longer expected to be able to afford to help pay their child's fees, which means they will be unlikely to be able to go to university.

The survey of more than 1,000 parents, conducted by parenting website Netmums, reveals their deep fears over higher fees. They worry that they will be unable to help their children with the cost of university, while others say they will have to start saving now.

The Government policy, which sparked riots in London and demonstrations around the country last month, means English universities will be able to charge students up to £6,000 per year in fees from 2012. In 'exceptional circumstances' fees could be as much as £9,000.

Almost one in five said they were unlikely to be able to help fund the cost of the fees, but were happy that their child could apply for a Government loan to cover the cost. And more than one in 10 (11.3 per cent) said they no longer wanted their child to go due to the fee rise and the debt they would leave with.

A third of those questioned said they planned to start saving now to help their child in the future, while half said they would make sacrifices in their own lives in order for their child to go to university.. Some 13 per cent said they would consider sending their child to university abroad rather than in the UK.

In total, just 11.2 per cent said they still expected to be able to fund a university education.

And many parents were concerned that the latest fee rise would not be the last. Almost nine in 10 said they were worried that fees would have increased again by the time their child was ready to go to university.

The poll also raised questions among parents about the value of higher education.

Just over four in 10 said a university degree was worth it, simply for its educational value, while only 14.6 per cent of parents believed you need a degree to get a good job.

A quarter of parents said it was possible to work your way up in a career without a degree, while 16.7 per cent said that unless a graduate was going into a specific profession, such as medicine or teaching, then a degree was 'a waste of money'.

Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: 'The proposed rise in tuition fees will have a huge impact on parents, ultimately leaving some unable to send their children to university.

'It's clear that many are beginning to question the value of a degree if it leaves children with crippling debts, and it's likely we will see a rise in school-leavers seeking work or apprenticeships straight after their A-levels.

'It's a shame that the cost will put many people off going to university, which a majority of mums believe can be a seminal part in someone's life in terms of experiences, not just education.'

The survey findings also show that nearly two-thirds (63.3 per cent) of parents questioned believed that university was a right, not a privilege, and despite the cost, the vast majority (93.3 per cent) still wanted their child to go to university.


Australia: Conservatives tip more problems for national syllabus, warning it may be delayed beyond 2013

THE national school curriculum may not be ready for implementation even by 2013 because of fundamental problems and glaring omissions, the Coalition has warned.

Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has also copped more criticism over his delivery of government initiatives, with opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne pointing to his management of the bungled home insulation scheme, green loans and solar panel programs.

The Australian reported today that Victoria was joining NSW and Western Australia in opting to delay implementation of the curriculum until 2013, despite the government's preferred timetable for the courses to be introduced next year.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority said in a memo that it would spend the next two tears trialling and training teachers and refining the curriculum before starting to implement it.

Mr Pyne seized on the development, telling The Australian Online the curriculum still had key flaws and was not ready for implementation. “We have been warning for 18 months that the national curriculum would not be ready in January 2011,” he said.

It is cumbersome, overly prescriptive and lacks the resources necessary for the training of teachers and as a consequence it could never begin in January 2011,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Pyne poured scorn on Mr Garrett who, following a meeting of the nation's education ministers earlier this month, claimed an historic victory after they endorsed the content of the first four subjects - English, mathematics, science and history - to be taught in classrooms. “I can only assume that Peter Garrett, in wanting to cover the back of his Prime Minister, pretended something had been achieved at the ministerial council that hadn't. “Because the real villain in the piece of the national curriculum is Julia Gillard, who of course was the minister responsible for its implementation.”

To ensure a smooth implementation of the curriculum, Mr Pyne said the government needed to listen to the “teaching profession and to the experts about what the curriculum should contain”. He warned its “fundamental basics” had not been bedded down and pointed out the history section didn't “acknowledge that the Vietnam War needs to be taught”. Mr Pyne said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2013 timeline “gets pushed out even further”.

Changes to the curriculum can be made until the deadline of October next year and this has the potential to affect teachers introducing courses in their classrooms next year.

Only the Australian Capital Territory will start teaching the new courses next year, with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory spending the year familiarising teachers with the new courses and running trials.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

British Universities staging admissions tests to identify the brightest students

Dumbed down school exams not much use. So we have a backdoor revival of IQ testing

Students are facing a battery of admissions tests to get into university next year amid record demand for degree courses. The Daily Telegraph has learnt that as many as one-in-five universities and higher education colleges are staging their own entrance exams to pick out the best candidates. In many cases, students are being asked to sit aptitude tests to get into the most sought-after institutions.

The disclosure will fuel fears that universities are struggling to identify the most able applicants from a huge rise in school-leavers with straight As at A-level. But other institutions are also staging more basic literacy and numeracy exams just to make sure teenagers have a decent grasp of the three-Rs before starting a degree.

It comes as record numbers of students chase higher education places next year. According to the latest figures, an unprecedented 181,814 candidates completed applications by the end of November – a rise of almost 12 per cent compared with the same point last year. If the trend continues into 2011, almost 240,000 applicants could be left without places. The scramble comes as students attempt to get into university before a sharp rise in tuition fees in 2012.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said growing numbers of admissions tutors no longer trusted A-level results. “It’s a great pity that universities are having to introduce their own entrance exams,” he said. “On the one hand it is comment on the ability of A-levels to distinguish between students at the top end. “On the other, it shows that universities don’t believe that students are literate or numerate enough to take some courses, even if they’ve passed their GCSEs and A-levels.”

In a report, researchers surveyed some 306 universities and higher education colleges. The study, by the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA), which advises universities on admissions policies, found that 21 per cent used tests to dictate entry to some subjects. It was up on around 16 per cent two years ago and the same as the number in 2009/10.

Researchers insisted it still only accounted for a small proportion - around one per cent - of the 43,360 courses on offer next year. But the disclosure will add to growing concerns that GCSE or A-level results alone are not enough to gauge a candidate’s suitability for courses.

Students taking medicine and law are normally required to sit entrance exams to get into the most selective universities. The National Admissions Test for Law must be passed to study the subject at Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Kings College London, Nottingham, Oxford and University College London. Other universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, set their own exams for some courses.

Cambridge’s thinking skills assessment – a 90 minute multiple choice aptitude test – is needed to study computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, natural sciences and politics, psychology and sociology (PPS). Students need to sit an admissions test or submit written work to get on to 29 courses at Oxford, the SPA survey said.

But candidates also have to pass entrance tests to get into less selective universities. According to the SPA, students attempting to take undergraduate teacher training degrees at Gloucestershire need to sit English and maths tests and some courses at Bournemouth University require a “maths and logic” exam.

Students must take a written English test to study journalism at Kent and those attempting to study occupational therapy at London South Bank have to complete a writing, grammar and problem-solving assessment.

Kingston University requires students applying to aircraft engineering to take a one-hour maths and physics paper, while those attempting to read social work must sit a literacy and “case study comprehension” test.

The rise of university entry tests coincides with an increase in A-level results. According to figures, a record 27 per cent of exams were awarded an A grade this year. Some one-in-12 papers scored an elite A* grade introduced for the first time this year to pick out the brightest candidates.

On its website, SPA said: “Some higher education institutions use admissions tests to aid differentiation between the most able applicants. “A test score in this context has become more significant because of concerns about the high numbers of candidates who achieve high grades in qualifications, eg. the increasing number of A grades at A level. “Tests may also focus upon skills and aptitudes that are not assessed through academic attainment.”


Sanity coming to the British university admissions system?

A dramatic shake-up of university admissions could see students waiting for their A-level results before applying for degrees. Teenagers currently apply for courses on the basis of the grades their teachers predict they will achieve – even though up to half of estimated grades turn out to be wrong. The new plan would mean prospective students could apply only after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.

The reform would require an overhaul of the current system, with speedier marking and A-level exams taken earlier in the academic year. It is designed to help state pupils who are often predicted lower grades than they go on to achieve.

It is one of a number of proposed changes – for inclusion in next spring’s education white paper – aimed at minimising the damage that the hike in tuition fees could have on social mobility. Universities minister David Willetts has given his provisional backing to the plan.

The changes have been prompted by Oxford University research commissioned by Mr Willetts’ department which shows that the most able candidates from comprehensive schools are disadvantaged by the current system. This is because their teachers underestimate the grades they go on to receive – often because they have less experience than those in independent and grammar schools of dealing with such high achievers.

As a result, many highly capable candidates do not apply for the country’s top universities.

Mary Curnock Cook, of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the most senior figure in the admissions system, has strongly backed the plans and believes they could be implemented within five years. She believes the chief hurdle is the time taken by exam boards to mark students’ papers.

For the reform to work, A-level results would need to be available by early summer to allow time for students to apply for courses starting in late September or early October. At present students receive their results in August, nine months after receiving their predicted grades.

Mrs Curnock Cook said: ‘I have come to the conclusion that probably the biggest single reform that we can do in the qualifications arena and higher education is to move to a post-qualifications admissions system. ‘This is something that’s been put in the “too difficult to handle box” for a very long time.’

Mrs Curnock Cook said she was ‘shocked’ by the time taken by exam boards to mark papers, asking: ‘What’s happened to technology?’ She added: ‘I cannot believe that in the next five years we cannot speed up the marking of exams.’

The proposal will be studied by exam watchdog Ofqual. Its chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, said: ‘We will actively consider the proposals with Ucas and with the awarding organisation we regulate.’

Mr Willetts stressed the need for the reform. He said: ‘The big argument in favour is that in terms of social mobility, there is some underestimation in the forecast of A-level grades of teenagers at mainstream, non-academic schools.

‘There are some people from tough backgrounds who do better at their A-level grades than predicted and might have got to a more competitive university if it had been possible to judge them on their actual performance, not their predicted performance.’

However, Simon Lebus, of exam board Cambridge Assessment, questioned the feasibility of the proposals. ‘If you wanted to have results at a certain time, I am sure awarding bodies could bring it forward a week or two weeks,’ he said. ‘The issue is about schools having the ability to receive the results earlier in the summer holidays and how set-up the universities would be to handle many thousands of applications over a shorter period.’


Australia: Federal government plan to liberate schools

Any decentralization of power should be good. A bit surprising from a Leftist government, though

SCHOOLS will become self-governing under a Labor plan that hands responsibility for budgets and hiring teachers to principals and school councils. The plan would also hold them accountable for student performance.

In a move that would comprehensively reshape the nation's education system, the federal government is proposing a model of school governance based on the way independent schools operate, turning government and Catholic schools into "autonomous" institutions.

In a briefing paper submitted to a meeting of state education ministers at the beginning of the month, the federal government outlined a plan for autonomous schools to become the standard by 2018 in the government and non-government sectors. "The aim of the initiative is to facilitate systemic national reform to establish autonomous school operation as the norm across all Australian education sectors, with schools predominantly being self-governing," it says.

The paper says increasing school autonomy will "improve student performance by providing principals, parents and school communities a greater input into the management of their local school".

The plan goes further than the model outlined by Julia Gillard in the election campaign that proposed "empowering local schools" by giving principals and parents a greater say over selecting and employing teachers, and identifying funding priorities.

The idea of self-governing schools resembles the charter school movement in the US of publicly funded, but privately run, schools open to all students.

The plan is yet to be considered by education ministers. A spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who is on leave, said the briefing paper was noted at the ministerial council meeting and a working group would be established in the new year, with members from states and territories, which would consult widely. "The government remains committed to delivering greater autonomy to school communities and won't pre-empt the work to be completed by the working party," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing public schools, yesterday accused the government of privatising the public education system.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said school autonomy was just a slogan and there was no evidence that increasing the control of principals and school boards improved student achievement. "Why is the government hell bent on taking the word public out of education?" he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a privatisation agenda. "When I hear the words 'local autonomy' uttered by governments, I can't help but think that what they are granting principals and teachers is nothing more than the freedom to obey. "They want to give us the autonomy to do the plumbing and fix faulty powerpoints while dictating that when reporting on student achievement, we can only use five letters of the alphabet, A to E."

The brief provided to the ministers outlines a two-phase implementation process, with 1000 schools to participate in an initial rollout in 2012 and 2013, with the selected schools to come from every state and territory and a third from regional areas.

In the second phase of the proposal, the rest of the nation's schools will be "offered the opportunity to increase their level of local independence" as part of a national rollout by 2018.

The proposal envisages a nationally agreed statement of criteria defining the "essential elements of autonomous school operation" and an assessment process by which schools are selected to participate.

A similar approach has been adopted by the West Australian government, which introduced independent public schools, with 34 starting this year and a further 64 to start next year. Boards are established to govern the schools, with principals having control over the hiring of staff and a one-line budget, allowing them to decide how to spend their money. The ACT is moving to a similar system and Victoria has operated a system of self-managed schools since the late 1990s.

Victoria's reforms, introduced by the Kennett Liberal government, were intended to go further and allow self-governing schools, which would have made them the employer - not just the selector - of teachers and responsible for industrial negotiations. But only 50 of about 1600 schools agreed to the proposal and it was dropped by the Bracks Labor government. Former premier Jeff Kennett said yesterday "the unions got to Bracks" and stopped the rollout of his original scheme.

Mr Kennett said he still believed it was the best way to run schools in the public system, by giving principals and school councils full control.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time for Big Cuts in Education Spending?

America spends far more on education than countries like Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Italy, both as a percentage of its economy, and in absolute terms. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing, reaching levels of $50,000 or more a year at some colleges, and colleges are effectively rewarded for increasing tuition by mushrooming federal financial-aid spending. Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more (half again more) on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

In light of this, it is easy to see why some education experts like Neal McCluskey are floating the idea of “draconian education cuts“ to shake up a rotten educational establishment.

Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds at Instapundit notes that “some spending on educational institutions” may actually have a “negative” effect on education. People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education elsewhere, through internships and work. One of Professor Reynolds’ readers suggests that competition from “independent scholars” via the “internet” and elsewhere may improve education by providing competition with established universities that offer “little real education.”

Unfortunately, the colleges are well aware of this threat, and rather than improve themselves in response to competition, they are urging the government to crack down on one form of competition, for-profit colleges. The Obama administration is now doing just that, waging a war on for-profit colleges, by subjecting them, but not traditional “non-profit” colleges, to so-called “gainful employment” rules that many non-profit liberal-arts colleges would flunk. To try to rationalize this discrimination, the administration trumpeted a GAO report that has now been thoroughly discredited.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including janitors with Ph.D’s), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09.)

In recent years, spending on college administrators has risen massively. One study found an average increase of 61 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, between 1993 and 2007; one leading university increased spending on administrators by 600 percent. Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, and “inflation-adjusted K-12 spending tripled over the last 40 years.”


British High school courses 'failing to prepare students for university'

British students face missing out on university places because A-levels fail to prepare them for degree courses, Michael Gove warns today. The Education Secretary says even the brightest students often lack the levels of knowledge boasted by undergraduates from abroad – putting them at a disadvantage in the race for the most sought-after institutions.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he pledges to allow universities to help script A-level questions and exam syllabuses to make sure they act as a better preparation for higher education.

His comments come after it emerged that one-in-five universities are being forced to set their own entrance tests because they can no longer rely on the results of school and college exams to pick out exceptional candidates. It is likely to make it even harder for students to get on to degree courses in 2011 following a dramatic 12 per cent surge in university applications for next year.

In an article today, Mr Gove says: “Colleges can no longer rely on the existing A level to identify the best candidates, so they have to set their own tests. And academics report that even the brightest of our students don’t have the level of knowledge which undergraduates from abroad can boast, so when they arrive at college they need remedial work, especially on subjects like maths, to compete. “We can’t afford to waste time while our students fall further behind in the race for the best university places and jobs, which is why we’re accelerating the pace of reform.”

The Education Secretary says a proposed overhaul of A-levels should restore faith in the so-called “gold standard" qualification, leading to a cut in the number of universities setting their own entrance tests.

An education Bill being published in the New Year will require exam boards to consult universities before setting A-levels and benchmark exams against tests set by some of the world’s best education systems.

A reform of school league tables will also be made to stop teachers pushing pupils on to “soft” courses used to inflate their position in official rankings.


Australia: Children can't get enough science lessons

ALMOST half of 12-year-olds have a science lesson less than once a week, even though most think the subject is interesting and would like to learn more.

A survey of Year 6 students conducted for the first time last year as part of the National Science Tests reveals 21 per cent of students reported having a science lesson "hardly ever" while 19 per cent said they were taught the subject less than once a week. Yet three-quarters said they would like to learn more science.

The survey of students' interests and experiences revealed generally positive attitudes towards science.

More than 80 per cent of students agreed science was "important for lots of jobs" and that learning science would be more important in high school.

About 67 per cent agreed it would be interesting to be a scientist and only 40 per cent agreed that "science is too difficult for most people to understand".

But when asked how often they had science lessons at school, only 6 per cent said every day and 54 per cent said once a week, while 48 per cent said lessons were mostly held in the afternoon, when students are typically less alert.

At the same time, the national test results show students' scientific understanding is falling, with the average score dropping during the past decade, primarily among the top students.

The tests, comprising a written exam and a practical task, have been conducted every three years since 2003 among a representative sample of Year 6 students, with about 5 per cent - or more than 13,000 - sitting the most recent tests last year. The results show the average score has dropped eight points since 2006 and while not statistically significant, it continues a trend of declining marks. Changes in the tests between 2003 and 2006 make the results not strictly comparable, but the trend is a drop in the national average of 17 points between 2003 and last year.

The average score of Year 6 students in Tasmania did fall significantly over the past three years, by 20 points.

Lower scores were recorded around the nation, except in Western Australia, where the average score rose 12 points, which is not statistically significant, and in the Northern Territory, where the average rose one point.

ACT students achieved the highest scores, followed by Victoria, which overtook NSW, and Western Australia, which rose from seventh to fourth over the past three years.

Students are also marked against five levels of proficiency, with almost 52 per cent deemed to have met the standard last year compared with 54.3 per cent in 2006. But while about 10 per cent of students scored in the top two levels in 2006, this proportion had dropped to 7.3 per cent last year. The proportion of students in the bottom level had increased from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

The difference between the scores achieved by girls and boys was negligible, but indigenous students scored about 100 points lower on average, and about two-thirds of students in remote and very remote areas did not meet the proficiency standard. The difference between metropolitan and provincial areas was small.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Angry Anti-Christmas at School

The metaphor "the War on Christmas" can be mocked -- as if Santa and his reindeer are dodging anti-aircraft fire. But many of our public schools have church-and-state sensitivity police with an alarming degree of Santaphobia. Anyone who's attended a school's "winter concert" in December with no traditional Christmas music -- not even "Frosty the Snowman" -- knows the drill. The vast Christian majority (that funds the public schools) is told that school is no place to celebrate one's religion, even in its most watered-down and secularized forms.

There are real-life stories of Scrooge-like school administrators, like the one at the appropriately named Battlefield High School in Haymarket, Va. A group of 10 boys calling themselves the Christmas Sweater Club were given detention and at least two hours of cleaning for tossing free 2-inch candy canes at students as they entered before classes started. They were "creating a disturbance." One of their mothers, Kathleen Flannery, told WUSA-TV that an administrator called her and explained, "(N)ot everyone wants Christmas cheer, that suicide rates are up over Christmas, and that they should keep their cheer to themselves, perhaps."

Of course, that level of sensitivity is not applied when it comes to slamming Christianity during the Christmas season. On Dec. 16, The Washington Post paid tribute to another suburban school in northern Virginia, McLean High School, for warming hearts during the season with "The Laramie Project." This play is a political assault, using transcripts of real-life interviews by gay activists out to blame America's religious people for the beating death of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

The Post championed how in the play, "there is a Baptist minister who says he hopes Shepard was thinking of his lifestyle as he was tied to the fence ... There is a young woman who grew up in the Muslim faith in Laramie and thinks the town and nation need to accept what the case has laid bare. 'We are like this,' she says."

This account actually underplayed what the character "lays bare" -- a guilt trip. In the script, she says "there are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this." (Emphasis by the playwright, Moises Kaufman.)

That attack keeps coming. A Catholic priest insists the killers "must be our teachers. What did we as a society do to teach you that?" A character also reads an e-mail from a college student: "You and the straight people of Laramie and Wyoming are guilty of the beating of Matthew Shepard just as the Germans who looked the other way are guilty of the deaths of the Jews, the gypsies, and the homosexuals. You have taught your straight children to hate their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters -- until and unless you acknowledge that Matt Shepard's beating is not just a random occurrence, not just the work of a couple of random crazies, you have Matthew's blood on your hands."

This is vicious anti-Christian propaganda, plain and simple. Any teaching that homosexuality is a sin is an invitation to murder? These mudslinging culture warriors are celebrated as compassionate by administrators, while just down the road, the Christmas Sweater Club is given detention for spreading Christmas cheer.

The McLean High students putting on this play are candid. They are trying to walk people away from the Bible. "I hope that this changes some people's perspectives on gay rights and maybe opens their minds a little bit," proclaimed Lauren Stewart, 17, the student-director. "I think the way to progress on issues is to talk about them."

Another student added, "If one person comes into the theater and is on the fence about ... any discrimination and leaves questioning their beliefs, I think we've done this play justice."

Making people "have conversations" is presented as glorious. But it wouldn't be a constructive conversation if students were trying to convert people to Christianity -- only when you try to convert people away from it.

A little research shows plenty of "socially conscious" public high schools have staged this propaganda bombing, aiming to crush biblical "discrimination." But it takes a really special school administrator to let it be scheduled in the last two weeks before Christmas. It's amazing that at Battlefield High School, the accusation was that Christmas cheer invited suicides, but plays about murderous "hate crimes" that America has collectively committed by our "fear and ignorance of the Other" somehow should make our spirits bright.


Scrapping School Religious Holidays Solves Nothing

In a recent column for USA Today, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero argues that public schools should do away with giving students’ days off for religious holidays because honoring Christian holidays in this manner is unfair to other religions.

“As I read the First Amendment,” writes Prothero, “using taxpayer dollars to prop up Christianity and Judaism at the expense of Hinduism is unconstitutional, whether the number of parents who won’t send their children to school on [the Hindu festival of] Diwali totals 80 or 800.”

Prothero suggests that those who agree with him should clamor to have every religious holiday under the sun celebrated in our public schools, in which schools would thereby be overwhelmed and forced to honor none of them as a matter of “fairness.”

One would hope that USA Today, which presented this article as a half-page, quasi editorial would let someone write a similarly placed piece reminding us of the need for renewing our moral values at Christmas, and to add their shock when Christmas parades, holidays and greetings come under fire from militant secularists.

Nevertheless, it is always amusing when folks, typically college professors, drape themselves in the Constitution when they want to do away with something they don’t like, and in the process, ignore the rest of the Constitution that, were it adhered to, would have prevented the very “problem” they’d like to solve.

Nowhere in our Constitution is there a mandate for a centralized public education system to begin with – a system where the Federal Government spends $70 billion per year dictating which attitudes, values and beliefs ought to be drilled into every American students’ mind. Perhaps our Founders realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education, whereby the ruling class was the final arbiter, was dangerous to all of our liberties and not just those laid out in the First Amendment.

Nor did our Founders establish a school system whereby American families are taxed into oblivion and essentially forced to enroll their children in government schools – schools they must pay for regardless of whether they use them or not, and regardless of whether they even have children or not. Schools, incidentally, where students are told to check their religion at the door under some bizarre interpretation of the First Amendment.

Constitution aside, Prothero’s suggestion that we should do away with school-sanctioned religious holidays is hardly a solution. It’s a false notion that we can respect everyone by respecting no one, as he suggests. Telling the 76 percent of Americans who are Christian that observance of their holy days must be scrapped in deference to the 0.4 percent of Americans who are Hindu might seem fair within the confines of the Boston University Religious Department. However, in the real world, this doesn’t hold up to anyone’s idea of fairness.

Those who wish to make a point by invoking the Constitution need to understand that they can’t pick and choose from the document like it’s a cafeteria line. The Constitution is only as strong, and as rational, as the sum of its parts. So while it’s true that our Founders never intended a government mandated religion, it’s equally true that they never intended a coerced government education system in which all children are prohibited from practicing or exhibiting any religious beliefs.


Christian assemblies in British schools face axe over claims they infringe children's human rights

Christian assemblies in schools could be scrapped if campaigning atheists and teachers get their way. According to the National Secular Society, a legal requirement for pupils to take part in a daily act of collective worship ‘of a broadly Christian character’ discriminates against young atheists and non-Christians, and infringes human rights.

And the campaign has support from headmasters who claim that many schools already ignore the requirement, despite it being set in stone since the passing of the 1944 Education Act. The Association of School and College Leaders has also suggested assemblies should end, and the British Humanist Association is campaigning on the subject.

But the most direct attack on religious assemblies, which represents yet another assault on Britain’s historic Christian culture, has come in a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove from Keith Porteous, executive director of the National Secular Society.

Mr Porteous wrote: ‘We believe that the mandatory daily acts of mainly Christian worship and, in particular, the imposition on children to take part in such acts, represent an infringement of rights. ‘We recognise that assemblies with an ethical framework have a vital contribution to make to school life. ‘We do, however, object to collective worship in principle, as not being a legitimate activity of a state-funded institution. ‘We are confident that you would not wish to perpetuate a law that is routinely disregarded. We hope that, under your leadership, the law will be changed so that it is brought out of disrepute.’

The letter goes on to urge the Education Secretary to scrap the requirement to stage Christian assemblies in an education bill due to be produced next year.

Although parents can withdraw their children from such assemblies simply by writing a letter to the headmaster or headmistress, the atheist campaigners claim many fear such letters could make their children targets for bullying.

The National Secular Society had already prompted outrage this year by launching legal action using the much-derided Human Rights Act to stop councils beginning meetings with prayers. If such action was taken through the appropriate courts, religious assemblies could ultimately be ruled illegal.

The campaigning atheists have willing supporters inside the school system, with many of them saying schools do not have big enough halls to accommodate all their pupils every morning.

Paul Kelley, the headmaster of Monkseaton High School, Tyne and Wear, has claimed that most schools ignore the requirement to stage a daily collective act of worship anyway. Five years ago he lobbied the Labour government to scrap the requirement, but was told the House of Lords would never approve such a move.

The Association of School and College Leaders has also backed calls for an end to the law on daily religious assemblies, saying that in reality they often simply did not happen. ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said: ‘Many schools aren’t doing the daily act of worship and theoretically they are breaking the law.’

The Church of England, however, is strongly opposed to changing the law. A spokesman said: ‘To deny children the entitlement to take part in worship at school is to deny them a learning experience that is increasingly important in the modern world.’

And the Department for Education said the Government was not planning to bring an end to compulsory Christian assemblies. A spokesman said: ‘The Government believes that the requirement for collective worship in schools encourages pupils to reflect on the concept of belief and the role it plays in the traditions and values of this country.

‘Schools have the flexibility to design provision that is appropriate to the age and background of their pupils. ‘If a headteacher feels it is inappropriate to have Christian collective worship, the school can apply to have this changed.’