Saturday, July 23, 2011

College bubble the next to burst?

When governments want to encourage what they believe is beneficial behavior, they subsidize it. Sounds like good public policy. But there can be problems. Behavior that is beneficial for most people may not be so for everybody. And government subsidies can go too far.

Subsidies create incentives for what economists call rent-seeking behavior. Providers of supposedly beneficial goods or services try to sop up as much of the subsidy money as they can by raising prices. After all, their customers are paying with money supplied by the government. Bubble money, as it turns out. And sooner or later, bubbles burst.

We are still suffering from the bursting of the housing bubble created by low interest rates, lowered mortgage standards, and subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those policies encouraged the granting of mortgages to people who should never have gotten them – and when they defaulted, the whole financial sector nearly collapsed.

Now some people see signs that another bubble is bursting. They call it the higher-education bubble.

For years, government has assumed it's a good thing to go to college. College graduates tend to earn more money than non-college graduates. Politicians of both parties have called for giving everybody a chance to go to college, just as they called for giving everybody a chance to buy a home.

So government has been subsidizing higher education with low-interest college loans, Pell grants, and cheap tuitions at state colleges and universities.

The predictable result is that higher education costs have risen much faster than inflation, much faster than personal incomes, much faster than the economy over the past 40 years.

Moreover, you can't get out of paying off those college loans, even by going through bankruptcy. At least with a home mortgage, you can walk away and let the bank foreclose and not owe any more money.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, is adept at spotting bubbles. He sold out for $500 million in March 2000, at the peak of the tech bubble, when his partners wanted to hold out for more. He refused to buy a house until the housing bubble burst. "A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed," he has said. "Education may still be the only thing people still believe in, in the United States."

But the combination of rising costs and dubious quality may be undermining that belief.

For what have institutions of higher learning done with their vast increases in revenues? The answer in all too many cases is administrative bloat. Take the California State University system, the second tier in that state's public higher education. Between 1975 and 2008, the number of faculty rose by 3 percent, to 12,019 positions. During those same years, the number of administrators rose 221 percent, to 12,183. That's right: There are more administrators than teachers at Cal State now.

These people get paid to "liaise" and "facilitate" and produce reports on diversity. How that benefits Cal State students or California taxpayers is unclear.

It is often said that American colleges and universities are the best in the world. That's undoubtedly true in the hard sciences. But in the humanities and to a lesser extent in the social sciences, there's a lot of garbage. Is a degree in religious and women's studies worth $100,000 in student loan debt? Probably not.

As economist Richard Vedder points out, 45 percent of those who enter four-year colleges don't get a degree within six years.

Given the low achievement level of most high school graduates, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that many of them shouldn't have bothered in the first place.

Now consumers seem to be reading the cues in the marketplace. An increasing number of students are spending their first two years after high school in low-cost community colleges and then transferring to four-year schools.

A recent New York Times story reported that out-of-staters are flocking to low-tuition North Dakota State in frigid Fargo.

Politicians, including Barack Obama, still give lip service to the notion that everyone should go to college and can profit from it. And many college and university administrators may assume that the gravy train will go on forever.

But that's what Las Vegas real estate developers and homebuilders thought in 2006. My sense is once again well-intentioned public policy and greedy providers have produced a bubble that is about to burst.


Tests of limited use

Every year when Indiana’s ISTEP testing scores are released, many people who support government schooling feel a rush of energy. They become excited and nervous, and expend that energy cheering for any data that can be defined as “success,” “improvement” or “progress.”

I usually feel a rush of energy too but it comes out in the form of a stretch and prolonged yawn. I can’t cheer because I don’t care about ISTEP test “success.” I care about education and learning.

I don’t cheer when success is defined by a government authorized and an approved standardized testing system. Pride at the state, district and individual school level over test scores only tells me one thing really: that those in the system are merely getting better and better at teaching to the test.

This measure of success is not something I would ever cheer about because I don’t cheer when I see young developing minds forced to suppress their natural curiosity to comply with arbitrary and subjective government mandates detailing exactly what they should be learning and when they should be learning it.

I don’t cheer when teachers feel they must teach to these specific standardized guidelines measured on the tests because I know it leaves very little, if any, time left to explore and learn about anything else.

A lot of energy is wasted on these misguided attempts to standardize a one size fits all education process while ignoring individual differences. The latest proof of this was in a recent story reporting on local results where a government school administrator pointed out how important it is to motivate kids to score higher and “learn what’s being taught.” He said it requires lots of energy to accomplish this.

But it’s not necessary to spend all that time and energy working to motivate kids to “learn what’s being taught.” All they need to do is stop thinking in terms of forced learning and flip the administrator’s comment. Instead of trying to motivate kids to “learn what is being taught,” turn this concept around and “teach them what they want to learn.”

Students are naturally self-motivated when they are already interested. Doesn’t it make much more sense for teachers and administrators to work with that natural energy rather than spending most of their days fighting against it?

If schools focused on individual student’s natural interests and real-life reasons to learn, there would be little need for elaborate standardized testing systems. People would realize that there are many ways to evaluate learning and the best ones focus on the student.

Imagine how different education would be and how much more everyone would learn if teachers and administrators actually collaborated with students to help them self-evaluate and assess for themselves whether they learned what they wanted to learn.

Since I don’t believe it actually accomplishes the goal, I’m not going to waste my energy cheering for standardized testing as a major method of forcing school accountability either. However, I do understand that this was bound to happen in a system based on compulsory funding, where individuals are not free to opt out.

As a result of government involvement in education, we have created institutions that are now almost completely focused on the continual testing and standardizing of students. This is producing young people whose main method of determining whether they should bother learning something or not is to robotically ask a single standardized question of their own: “Will this be on the test?”

And to me, this is nothing to cheer about.


Hindu teenagers in Britain 'twice as likely as Christians to go to university'

Teenagers from Hindu backgrounds are almost twice as likely to go to university than those of a Christian faith, Government research suggests.

More than three in four (77 per cent) youngsters who describe themselves as Hindu go into higher education, according to statistics gathered for the Department for Education (DfE).

In comparison, less than half (45 per cent) of those that consider themselves Christian go to university.

The figures are drawn from the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England, which questioned thousands of teenagers.

The findings also show that almost two thirds (63 per cent) of Sikh youngsters choose to take a degree, along with more than half of young Muslims (53 per cent). Just under a third (32 per cent) of those who give their religion as 'none' go to university.

Overall, young people with a religion at age 15 are more likely to be in higher education at age 19 than those without, regardless of their faith, the survey found.

The findings also show that 38 per cent of the white teenagers questioned went on to university, compared to 74 per cent of their Indian peers, 51 per cent of those from Pakistani backgrounds, 53 per cent of those of Bangladeshi origin, 66 per cent of those from Black African backgrounds, 41 per cent of those of Black Caribbean heritage and 40per cent of those from mixed backgrounds.

Professor Steve Strand of Warwick University suggested that religion is a 'proxy' for ethnicity.

He told the Times Educational Supplement that there were a number of factors why different proportions of teenagers from different backgrounds go to university.

Prof Strand said that generally, 'white working class children and their parents often do not see the relevance of the curriculum or of attending university'.

'Asian families, even if they are from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, see education as a way out.'


Friday, July 22, 2011

The Radical Education Elite and Agenda 21

"The overarching goal of Agenda 21 is to establish international norms of personal behavior that are dictated by a group of the world's so-called 'enlightened elite' who believe they know best how people ought to live therefore they should be allowed to tell the how they should live."

Americans and the American news media are all but ignoring the shenanigans by those who worship at the altar of the United Nations. The big story these days is the conflict between the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama over the proposed debt ceiling increase, cuts in spending and the Democrat Party's favorite activity: Raising taxes on the rich (anyone making more than $200,000 per year).

Far too many conservatives are failing to pay attention to the rise of global socialism at the hands of the United Nations through its Agenda 21. It is easy to overlook world governance schemes when Americans are inundated with information regarding local and national events.

Also, the problem with the media coverage of this United Nations labyrinth known as Agenda 21 is that it was created in 1992 and implemented in incremental actions by the U.N. and its supporters in the U.S., E.U., and other countries whose populations are eager to benefit from the work of others especially those enjoying success in the United States.

But make no mistake, even though Congress never approved the implementation of Agenda 21 programs in education, economics, the environment and other areas. Presidents as far back as George H.W. Bush have signed Executive Orders allowing implementation of Agenda 21's programs. In fact, the U.N. has ignored the federal government and through its Agenda 21 International Council of Local Environmental Initiative and made deals with local governments numbering upwards of 600 cities, towns and villages.

Compounding this is the fact that Agenda 21 is a dull topic, and it becomes understandable how it has been able to fly mostly under the radar since 1992, slowly working its way into our cities and counties. To understand how serious the left is about United Nations rule, look at some of the proponents of Agenda 21: billionaire George Soros has provided millions of dollars to ICLEI. Former Obama czar Van Jones' Green for All and the Tides Foundations' Apollo Alliance are also reportedly ICLEI contributors.

The truth is, Agenda 21 promotes European socialism that by its nature will infringe upon our freedoms and liberties. Most of its vague, lofty sounding phrases cause the average person's eyes to glaze over, making it easier to sneak into our communities.

Besides its radical environmental agenda, the U.N. wishes to change consumption patterns, including ownership of property and automobile ownership, and successfully promote social justice.

Part of this lofty goal -- possibly the most important part -- is the inclusion of indoctrination programs in U.S. government schools. Berit Kjos, author of Brave New Schools, warns that Agenda 21 will indoctrinate the very young to accept the outcome of its programs.

The Government Schools Indoctrination

In the United States, the Agenda 21 National Coordinating Body is the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD).

The U.S. Constitution requires that consensus on public policy be hammered out in public by elected officials, not by 28 appointed individuals, carefully selected because of their known support of the principles expressed in Agenda 21. This UN description of the PCSD is found in a section of the report entitled "Integrated Decision-making," also known as the "consensus" process.

All federal agencies have now adopted this "consensus" process to by-pass Congress and other elected bodies, to build consensus on Agenda 21 activities at the local, state, and national levels. The UN report describes America's progress in each of the activity areas in glowing terms.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the progressives laid the foundation for Agenda 21 in the 1960s when it became unlawful to pray in government schools. In place of prayer, schools began sex education classes with the rationale that such a curriculum would prevent unwanted pregnancies. Of course, the program was a failure and the progressives simply changed the objective of sex education programs to preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Now sex education includes children being exposed to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender sex. In addition, U.S. schools -- while prohibiting even a hint of Christianity in classrooms -- have actually directed children to play-act the part of Muslims, complete with Islamic texts, Muslim costumes and holiday festivities.

Sustainable Development in School Curriculum" is one of the 32 specific objectives of Agenda 21. This objective has been achieved in 63% of the participating nations, and in process in another 17%.

Education is a key ingredient in the transformation to a sustainable society. The UN Commission on Sustainable Development reports that in America, "the national strategy on education is prepared by the Department of Education and includes such programs as Goals 2000 and School to Work.

The National Environmental Education Advisory Council to the Department of Education consists of eleven individuals appointed by the EPA Administrator and includes representatives of women's groups, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and local authorities (visioning councils). The U.S. State Department reported to the UN that: "At the primary school level, school curricula have already been reviewed and revised, and at the secondary school level, the revision of school curricula is being undertaken currently to address environment and development as a cross cutting issue."

The State Department also told the UN: "The U.S. has been involved in several awareness raising programs and activities aimed at the population at large (Earth Day, industry supported campaigns, Ad Council, Program KAB, Arbor Day, GLOBE Program, Discovery Channel, National Geographic program, CNN, ZooQ, As it Happens, and water clean-up programs."

Agenda 21 embraces virtually every aspect of human life; it is being implemented aggressively in the United States. Congress has never examined the totality of the Agenda. Instead, Congress is fed only bits and pieces in the context of "protecting the environment." The ultimate objective of Agenda 21 is to establish "international norms" of personal behavior that are dictated by a handful of the world's enlightened elite who believe they know best how people ought to live therefore they should be allowed to tell people how they should live.


Colleges drop SAT req, but still make underhand use of it

Colleges from Bowdoin in Maine to Pitzer in California dropped the SAT entrance exam as a requirement, saying it favors the affluent, penalizes minorities, and doesn’t predict academic success. What they don’t advertise is that they find future students by buying names of those who do well on the test.

Pitzer buys as many as 100,000 names a year based on test scores from the College Board, owner of the SAT, to search for applicants, even after the school became “test-optional’’ in the 2003-2004 year. Wake Forest University, which stopped requiring the SAT or rival ACT test for students entering in 2009, also buys names, as does Bowdoin.

Students are being duped by some schools into thinking that test scores don’t matter, when they matter a great deal for marketing outreach and prestige, said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., which neither requires the tests nor buys names. Test-optional colleges that buy names of high-scoring students are hypocritical, he said. “They take a stance that looks principled but is strategic,’’ Botstein said in an interview.

The College Board and ACT Inc., both nonprofit, sell names for 33 cents apiece.

In 1969, Bowdoin became the first school to become test optional, according to FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy group in Boston. Since then, dozens of schools have followed suit, as more colleges questioned possible biases in the tests.

That hasn’t stopped universities from using the test in other ways. Smith College, the all-women’s school in Northampton, Mass., paid the College Board about $20,000 in the past academic year for names of students with “above-average’’ scores, according to Audrey Smith, the dean of enrollment.

“This is one of the very few ways to directly get at young women who we know are going to college next year,’’ Smith said. “This is a good way to introduce ourselves.’’

Almost all schools that used the College Board’s Student Search Service - with a database of some 6.5 million student names - before going test optional continue to use it to recruit applicants, said Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

Another benefit to test-optional colleges of recruiting students with high test results is that it can help raise their average entrance-exam scores, a metric used in determining some national rankings and a measure of prestige.

In 2002, Pitzer ranked 70th in the US News & World Report list of liberal arts colleges. That year, the school’s average SAT score for verbal and math combined was 1,234, according to Pitzer data. By 2010, it ranked 46th, while the score reached 1,293. “It helped certainly to improve our rankings,’’ Pitzer president Laura Trombley said. “That’s going to have a positive effect if our SAT scores improved.’’

The school doesn’t have the name recognition of some schools and needs to seek out qualified students, said Trombley, who sees no contradiction in buying the names. “We wanted to welcome more students and not eliminate a pool of students,’’ she said.


High-minded British school in attempted coverup

Steiner school faces £100,000 payout to whistle-blowing teacher

A Steiner school is facing a compensation payout of up to £100,000 to a whistle-blowing teacher after ignoring her complaint about an alleged assault on her daughter.

Jo Sawfoot, 42, was designated child protection officer at Norfolk Initiative Steiner Schools kindergarten in Norwich.

Ms Sawfoot, a Cambridge University graduate, complained that her six-year-old daughter - a pupil at the private school - had been hurt by colleague Anna Letts.

Ms Letts had seized Ms Sawfoot's daughter by the arm as she sat on the floor refusing to move, a tribunal heard. The school's policy was that physical restraint should only be used as a last resort.

But school managers - who rely on a laissez-faire teaching philosophy unique to Steiner schools - failed to investigate the incident. They instead gave a misleading report to social services about the girl biting Ms Letts.

They decided that Ms Sawfoot was an "irritant" and made damaging allegations about her teaching skills to social services, the tribunal found.

Ms Sawfoot felt she had no choice but to resign and remove her daughter from the school. Her departure triggered protests outside the school by parents who felt she had been bullied.

Norwich Employment Tribunal ruled that the girl was inappropriately restrained by Ms Letts. It upheld Ms Sawfoot's claims that she was constructively dismissed and mistreated by the school after making public interest disclosures as a whistleblower. Ms Sawfoot, of Norwich, is now set to receive substantial damages for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

Employment Judge Martin Warren highlighted the school's failure to investigate her grievance and misrepresentations to social services. He said: "The school had failed to recognise that there had been a child protection incident and failed to deal with it appropriately. "This was a matter for concern to Ms Sawfoot, not just as a parent but as the child protection officer".

Steiner schools are based on the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner, who founded his first school in Germany in 1919. There are now over 900 worldwide. While in some countries they are publicly funded, most of the 30-plus in the UK, including £5,300-a-year NISS are fee-paying.

Steiner schools do not follow the national curriculum and believe that tests like Sats are harmful for pupils. They give priority to educating the whole child through unconventional creative activities such as gardening. Former Steiner pupils include actress Jennifer Aniston, singer Annie Lennox and broadcaster Emma Freud.

Ms Sawfoot's solicitor Lawrence Davies, of law firm Equal Justice, is demanding that Ofsted now investigates practices at the school. He said: "There needs to be closer scrutiny of non-mainstream schools such as Steiner schools and faith schools. "We have seen honest, professional teachers who whistle-blow being victimised. "We are calling for Ofsted to investigate."

Speaking after the judgment, Ms Sawfoot said: "I am still passionately committed to the Steiner movement. But my grievance was swept under the carpet by the school. "Instead, I was subjected to a hostile working environment. They labelled me a bad parent and then a bad teacher."

Ms Sawfoot graduated from Cambridge University's Corpus Christi College in 1991 with a degree in English literature. She had 14 years teaching experience when she joined NISS in August 2007, two years after the school was founded.

In May 2009, Ms Sawfoot complained that her daughter had been hurt by Ms Letts alleged assault but the school failed to act. The next month, school administrator Sandie Tolhurst reported the incident to social services. She claimed that the girl was restrained after biting Ms Letts when she, in fact, bit her because she was being held.

Ms Tolhurst also cast doubt for the first time on Ms Sawfoot's professionalism and performance, saying she had been shouting in her classroom. Ms Sawfoot resigned the same month.

Judge Warren concluded: "We find that the misrepresentation was made because Ms Sawfoot had made a protected disclosure. "No action was taken against Ms Letts and from her own account of the incident taken from the incident book, her actions were inappropriate in terms of the schools own physical restraint policy. "We are satisfied that this difficult and obstructive line taken by the school is because they have come to regard Ms Sawfoot as an irritant because of the complaint."

He said that Ms Sawfoot could not reasonably be expected to continue in the schools employment. The tribunal is set to award Ms Sawfoot compensation at a hearing later this year.

In a statement, the school said that it was still studying the judgment. It said: "It is a long and complicated assessment and we will continue to consider it in detail and consult with our legal team at this stage of the process. "


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Education Is Worse Than We Thought

Walter E. Williams

Last December, I reported on Harvard University professor Stephan Thernstrom's essay "Minorities in College -- Good News, But...," on Minding the Campus, a website sponsored by the New York-based Manhattan Institute. He was commenting on the results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, saying that the scores "mean that black students aged 17 do not read with any greater facility than whites who are four years younger and still in junior high. ... Exactly the same glaring gaps appear in NAEP's tests of basic mathematics skills."

Thernstrom asked, "If we put a randomly-selected group of 100 eighth-graders and another of 100 twelfth-graders in a typical college, would we expect the first group to perform as well as the second?" In other words, is it reasonable to expect a college freshman of any race who has the equivalent of an eighth-grade education to compete successfully with those having a 12th-grade education?

Maybe this huge gap in black/white academic achievement was in the paternalistic minds of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals justices who recently struck down Michigan's ban on the use of race and sex as criteria for college admissions. The court said that it burdens minorities and violates the U.S. Constitution. Given the black education disaster, racial preferences in college admissions will become a permanent feature, because given the status quo, blacks as a group will never make it into top colleges based upon academic merit.

The situation is worse than we thought. U.S. News & World Report (7/7/2011) came out with a story titled "Educators Implicated in Atlanta Cheating Scandal," saying that "for 10 years, hundreds of Atlanta public school teachers and principals changed answers on state tests in one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S. history, according to a scathing 413-page investigative report released Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal."

The report says that more than three-quarters of the 56 Atlanta schools investigated cheated on the 2009 standardized National Assessment of Educational Progress. Eighty-two teachers have confessed to erasing students' answers. A total of 178 educators, including 38 principals, many of whom are black, systematically fabricated test scores of struggling black students to cover up academic failure. The governor's report says that cheating orders came from the top and that widespread cheating has occurred since at least 2001.

So far, no Atlanta educator has been criminally charged, even though some of the cheating was brazen, such as teachers pointing to correct answers while students were taking the tests, reading answers aloud during testing and seating low-achieving students next to high-achieving students to make cheating easier.

Teacher and principal exam cheating is not restricted to Atlanta; it's widespread. The Detroit Free Press and USA Today (3/8/2011) released an investigative report that found higher-than-average erasure rates on tests taken by students at 34 schools in and around Detroit in 2008 and 2009. Overall, their report "found 304 schools where experts say the gains on standardized tests in 2009-10 are so statistically improbable, they merit further investigation. Besides Michigan, the other states (where suspected cheating was found) were Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and California." A Dallas Morning News investigation reported finding high rates of test erasures in Texas. Six teachers and two principals were dismissed after cheating was uncovered.

In 2007, Baltimore's George Washington Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon School after the number of students who passed state reading tests shot from 32 percent to nearly 100 percent in just four years. Last year, The Baltimore Sun reported thousands of erasures on those tests. Susan Burgess, the school's principal, had her professional license revoked after an investigation by state and city school board officials.

Why is there widespread cheating by America's educators? According to Diane Ravitch, who is the research professor of education at New York University, it's not teachers and principals who are to blame; it's the mandates of the No Child Left Behind law, enacted during the George W. Bush administration. In other words, the devil made them do it.


The Internet Will Reduce Teachers Union Power

Online learning means fewer teachers (and union members) per student

This has been a horrible year for teachers unions. The latest stunner came in Michigan, where Republicans enacted sweeping reforms last month that require performance-based evaluations of teachers, make it easier to dismiss those who are ineffective, and dramatically limit the scope of collective bargaining. Similar reforms have been adopted in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Tennessee, Idaho and Florida.

But the unions' hegemony is not going to end soon. All of their big political losses have come at the hands of oversized Republican majorities. Eventually Democrats will regain control, and many of the recent reforms may be undone. The financial crisis will pass, too, taking pressure off states and giving Republicans less political cover.

The unions, meantime, are launching recall campaigns to remove offending Republicans, initiative campaigns to reverse legislation, court cases to have the bills annulled, and other efforts to reinstall the status quo ante—some of which are likely to succeed. As of today, they remain the pre-eminent power in American education.

Over the long haul, however, the unions are in grave trouble—for reasons that have little to do with the tribulations of this year.

The first is that they are losing their grip on the Democratic base. With many urban schools abysmally bad and staying that way, advocates for the disadvantaged are demanding real reform and aren't afraid to criticize unions for obstructing it. Moderates and liberals in the media and even in Hollywood regularly excoriate unions for putting job interests ahead of children. Then there's Race to the Top—initiated over union protests by a Democratic president who wants real reform. This ferment within the party will only grow in the future.

Then there's a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology. This tsunami is only now beginning to swell, and it will hit the American education system with full force over the next few decades. The teachers unions are trying to stop it, but it is much bigger than they are.

Online learning now allows schools to customize coursework to each child, with all kids working at their own pace, receiving instant remedial help, exploring a vast array of courses, and much more. The advantages are huge. Already some 39 states have set up virtual schools or learning initiatives that enroll students statewide, often providing advanced placement courses, remedial courses, and other offerings that students can't get in their local schools.

The national model is the Florida Virtual School, which offers a full academic curriculum, has more than 220,000 course enrollments per year, and is a beacon of innovation. Outside of government, tech entrepreneurs like K12 and Connections Academy are swarming all over the education sector. They are the innovative force behind the rise of virtual charters, which now operate in 27 states, enroll some 200,000 full-time students (who typically do their studying at home), and stand at the cutting edge of technology's advance.

This is just the opening salvo. Most American parents want their kids to actually go to school—to a physical place. So the favored virtual schools of the future will be hybrids of traditional and online learning. There are already impressive examples.

At the high-performing Rocketship schools in San Jose, Calif., for example, students take a portion of their academics online—generating $500,000 in savings per school annually. Schools use that money for higher teacher salaries and one-on-one tutoring.

As the cyber revolution comes to American education, it will bring about a massive and cost-saving substitution of technology for labor. That means far fewer teachers (and union members) per student. It also means teachers will be far less concentrated in geographic districts, as those who work online can be anywhere. It'll thus be far more difficult for unions to organize. There will also be much more diversity in educational offerings, and money and jobs will flow out of the (unionized) regular schools into new (nonunion) providers of online options.

The confluence of these forces—plus the shifting political tides among Democrats—will inexorably weaken the unions, sapping them of members, money and power. It will render them less and less able to block reform. The political doors will increasingly swing open to reforms that simply make good sense for children and for society.

So the unions can weather the Republican attacks of 2011. But the real threats to their power are more subtle, slowly developing—and potent.


4,500 British 'Mickey Mouse' courses to face the axe... including the 'GCSE' in claiming welfare payments

Michael Gove sounded the death knell for around 4,500 ‘Mickey Mouse’ qualifications yesterday. The Education Secretary plans to axe such vocational courses from school league tables where they serve as GCSE equivalents.

They have been used for years by schools as an easy way to boost their GCSE league table rankings. For example an NVQ level 2 in hairdressing is worth the equivalent of six GCSEs, but students never cut hair because health and safety regulations ban the use of scissors. In a major shake-up, pupils will still be allowed to take the qualifications but they will no longer count towards league tables.

There are more than 4,800 GCSEs, NVQs, BTECs and other qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds. Some 4,500 ‘soft courses’ are expected to be excluded. The number of ‘equivalent’ qualifications taken in schools ballooned by almost 4,000 per cent under Labour – from 15,000 a year in 2004 to 575,000 last year.

Mr Gove proposes that only a few ‘high quality’ vocational qualifications will be included in league tables. All GCSEs, iGCSEs and AS-levels will be retained. Under the new standards, qualifications will count in the league tables only if they have a proven track record. They must also give students the chance to go on and do a wide range of other courses.

Their content must be the size of a GCSE, or bigger, a ‘substantial’ amount of it must be externally assessed and they must be marked with A*-G grades.

BTECs are unlikely to be included because they do not include a large amount of external assessment and many are only graded pass or fail.

Ministers said they also plan to change the system so that every qualification counts equally in the tables. Under the current system, some vocational qualifications are worth multiple GCSEs.

In an attempt to encourage students to follow a ‘balanced’ curriculum, the Department for Education said only two non-GCSE courses per pupil will count towards the Government’s benchmark of each child gaining five A*-Cs at GCSE.

The proposals, which are open for consultation until the end of September, follow the Wolf review of vocational education. In her review, Professor Alison Wolf warned that thousands of 14 to 16-year-olds are taking vocational courses that are encouraged by league tables but do not help the pupils’ prospects.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘Reforming the league tables so they include only those qualifications that allow young people to maximise their potential is long overdue.’

But Nansi Ellis, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘A one-size-fits-all suite of qualifications will not develop the diverse range of skills and aptitudes of all young people. ‘If the Government insists on returning to a 1950s grammar school education and qualifications it will discriminate against the thousands of young people who will be more successful in other subjects and more practical qualifications.’


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

School Choice a Hot Topic at Legislators’ Conference

Tennessee lawmakers, who approved a slew of sweeping education reforms this spring, hinted this week at the Southern Legislative Conference that they’re not done yet. The next battle appears to be over school choice.

“It is blatantly unfair that just because a parent doesn’t have the means that another parent might have, that they’re stuck in a failing school,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told TNReport while attending the conference in Memphis, which has drawn lawmakers from 15 states. “I hope we’ll be able to pass that next year.”

The Senate passed a plan in April to offer low-income students in the state’s largest cities — Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — vouchers to put toward their education at another public school in the district, a charter school or private school.

But leadership in the House refused to advance the bill last session and instead parked the measure in a study committee over the summer. Legislators have yet to tackle that issue, also known as “equal opportunity scholarships.”

The reason for the holdup on the legislation was that House lawmakers weren’t entirely familiar or comfortable with the voucher concept, said Rep. Richard Montgomery, the chairman of the Education Committee. “We didn’t know the impact of what that type of legislation would be, and we need to know that before we start moving forward,” the Sevierville Republican said.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, who is leading the charge for school vouchers, contends that Republicans still have the political will to pass another wave of education reforms despite this year’s contentious debates over removing teachers unions’ collective bargaining leverage, lifting restrictions on charter schools and making teacher tenure harder to earn.

“This is not the time to sit on our laurels,” said Kelsey, R-Germantown. “I think once the House takes a look at equal opportunity scholarships in particular, they’re going to see how successful it’s been and how popular it is in other states.”

Kelsey’s been teaming up with Michelle Rhee, a controversial and vocal education reformer who won her claim to fame by putting in place a tougher evaluation system and firing dozens of teachers who didn’t meet standards while chancellor of the D.C. public schools. She’s the founder of Students First, a nonprofit seeking to mobilize a national movement to improve education by focusing on good teachers, school choice, smart spending and family involvement.

Rhee, a major proponent of school choice, recently moved to Nashville so her two children can be closer to their father, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

“I think the most important thing with any kind of choice, whether it be vouchers, whether it be charter schools, home schools, it has to be around accountability. We have to make sure that the kids are meeting a minimum threshold in terms of their learning gains,” she advised a room full of lawmakers at the legislative conference Sunday.

Vouchers are the most contentious aspects of the school choice debate, said Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University.

A lot of the disagreement is over whether taxpayer dollars should be used to support private schools, 80 percent of which nationally are religiously based, according to Raymond.

Another point of contention is giving families free rein to leave traditional public schools in favor of charter schools which will shift government funding from one part of the district to another.

After examining charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia, Raymond’s office found that 17 percent of them performed better than public schools. Another 46 percent reported the same academic achievement as their public school counterparts, while 37 percent were worse. States that kept failing charter schools open longer were worse off than those that closed schools faster, according to the study.

“You have to think about the fact that in states where the results are really bad, it’s because there are schools that are open for years and years and years that do not have high performance and are not being addressed,” Raymond said.

Raymond is running numbers on Tennessee schools, but that data won’t be available for another six months, she said.

Memphis Rep. Lois DeBerry, formerly the Tennessee House speaker pro tem before Republicans swept Democrats to the sidelines, says she’s in favor of school choice and charter schools, but she’s not ready for the state to pass out vouchers — especially once charter school enrollment is opened to all students under the bill the legislature passed.

“I don’t think we need to pass any more reform right now. I think we’ve over-reformed, so I think we just need to see if it’s working,” she said.


Even in Britain school discipline is possible -- and VERY beneficial

One of the most depressing programmes I’ve seen this year was last week’s BBC documentary that filmed a class of nine-year-olds at a Leicester primary school. The portrait of indiscipline and chaos that emerged left me in utter despair.

While a valiant few got on with their work, many children were loud and disruptive, wandering around the class, talking, singing, arguing, pulling faces - even right in front of the teacher.

One girl used her whiteboard to write down as many swear words as she could think of.

When the teacher watched the footage of her class, she said what she’d learned was that ‘where she placed herself in the classroom’ was of vital importance. At which point, I practically wept. Sadly, she was utterly oblivious to the fact that one of the fundamental causes of her pupils’ bad behaviour was not where she sat, but where her pupils sat.

Instead of having individual desks, they were grouped around tables scattered about the room. Most of the children faced each other, not the teacher. There was no structure and no discipline. Unsurprisingly, they were bored and disruptive.

The extraordinary thing was that this was no sink school. On the contrary, its rating from Ofsted is good. Nor were the children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They came from loving homes in the ‘squeezed middle’ bracket. Indeed, the chief purpose of filming was to show disbelieving parents footage of their unruly children so that steps could be taken at home to improve behaviour.

Now, I’m all for parental involvement, but what this programme proved was just how little chance even well-behaved children have when they are taught like this.

Children need boundaries and structures to teach them discipline. Even petty rules can be important. Witness, by way of contrast to the Leicester school, the traditional teaching methods that have been espoused by headmaster Sir Michael Wilshaw at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, East London.

At Mossbourne, pupils are sent home even for wearing the wrong colour shoes. If they arrive late or without their school planner, they have to stay in at break or lunch.

Mobile phones are banned, substantial homework is set, and any pupils who disrupt a lesson or are rude to staff have to stay behind until 6pm.

Teachers work 15-hour days because they recognise that many pupils are unlikely to be returning to a home where they’re encouraged to do their homework, so stay after hours to help them do it at school.

And when the children do go home, teachers and a few ‘heavies’ line the route to the bus-stop so no one gets beaten up for wearing a smart uniform.

The result is that, last year, ten pupils from Mossbourne were accepted into Cambridge. Meanwhile, there are 1,500 applicants for 180 places at the school.

Sir Michael is tipped to become the new head of Ofsted and I fervently hope he’s appointed.

As those of us who went to grammar schools know, what’s needed is not lessons in happiness and wellbeing but structure, discipline and dedicated teaching.


Many Canadian parents can't support their child through university

A survey conducted by TD Canada Trust shows that almost one-in-two parents (45 per cent) who have children eligible to attend post-secondary education this September have not started saving for their kids’ education costs.

As high school graduates pack up and head to university or college this fall, the reality is that many of them will have to find alternative ways to fund their education.

A survey conducted by TD Canada Trust shows that almost one-in-two parents (45 per cent) who have children eligible to attend post-secondary education this September have not started saving for their kids’ education costs.

“Next to saving for retirement, one of the biggest financial challenges the majority of Canadians will face is saving for their children’s education,” says Shahz Beig, Associate Vice President, Personal Lending, TD Canada Trust.

“For university and college students living away from home, the cost of pursuing an undergraduate degree is approximately $80,000, so it’s no surprise parents are struggling to make ends meet.”

The survey found that only 12 per cent of parents with children under the age of 18 plan to pay for 100 per cent of their kids’ university or college education.

Almost half (49 per cent) of parents surveyed say they plan to pay for most of their children’s education, but expect their kids to contribute using earnings from jobs. Thirty-two per cent say they will pay for essentials such as books and tuition, but expect their children to pay for all other expenses.

What to do if you haven’t saved

Students who have not saved enough money to cover the costs of post-secondary have a daunting task ahead of them.

Tuition fees have more than doubled in the past 20 years. In the 2010/2011 school year, the average undergraduate student in Canada paid $5,138 in tuition fees. Expenses on top of tuition include books, rent, food, and transportation costs.

Fortunately, there are some funding options available. Financial assistance can come from government loans, scholarships, bursaries and grants. Some students may also qualify for a student line of credit from their bank, which is often a smarter decision than raking up expenses on credit card or bank loans with high interest rates.

“Buyer beware” however, as student lines of credits and loans can leave university and college students with a significant debt load following graduation.

A StatsCan study of students in 2005 (the most recent year on record for relevant data) showed that 57 per cent of graduating students had loans to pay off. The average student debt at graduation had risen from $15,200 to $18,800 since 1995. The number of graduates with debt loads of $25,000 or more also increased, sitting at 27 per cent, compared to 17 per cent in 1995.

Today the average debt load ranges from $30,000 to $60,000 at graduation, with grads some specialized programs such as medicine or law carrying a debt load upwards of $100,000.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Canadians carry over $13.8-billion in student debt. The number of people defaulting on their loans is also on the rise.

“People are finding it more difficult to make payments, budgets are becoming more strained and we are seeing more reliance on food banks and the use of emergency bursaries offered by student unions,” says David Molenhuis, from the CFS.

The more debt a graduate carries, the less likely they to start saving and building their net worth.

A 2010 StatsCan study shows that, among post-secondary graduates aged 20 to 45, people who borrowed money in school were less likely to have investments or savings after graduation than non-borrowers.

Also, the likelihood of graduates owning a home after graduation was lower for borrowers (53 per cent) compared to non-borrowers (60 per cent).


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A teacher replies

The public, the politicians and the media should be ashamed of the hatchet job they have done on the teaching profession.

As a teacher I am appalled, particularly by the actions of Republican politicians such as Scott Walker. Teachers are the new scapegoats. They have implied teachers don't work that hard, and they use lower socio-economic schools' failing test scores as an example. Did you know that in Finland (The World's Most Literate Country) if you were to go to an area where there are poor people and you were to test their children, you would find America's poorest school is still better.

Finland, The World's Most Literate Country, has students performing lower in reading and writing than an American school. How is that possible? According to these politicians, America is in trouble.

Well, Finland only tests 60 percent of their students. So yes, Finland's top 60 percent score better on the average than the 95 percent of American students that take a similar test.

In China, only 4 percent of the population takes a similar test. Most countries start weeding out their students with a lower level of intelligence as early as elementary.

In America we do not believe in Leaving Children Behind, everybody gets an equal education. This is where the game of politics enters and everything gets spun.

The truth is we spend roughly $800 billion a year on education. We spend more per pupil than any other country. This is where they have a field day and ask the $800 billion question. Since we spend more $7,700 per pupil (on the average about $2,000 more than Finland and $4,000 more than Japan) shouldn't we have a higher literacy rate and smarter citizens.

These politicians point fingers at teachers. They point to low income areas and they say, "That school is failing. America is in trouble." Did you know there's a direct correlation between poverty and low test scores? Even in Finland. Did you know education is a four-legged chair? Student. Teacher. Parent. Administrator. Did you know it takes a village to raise a child?

This year Hawaii teachers will be taking another pay cut. Perhaps we deserve it. Perhaps it is a shared sacrifice of hard economic times. And perhaps the American Institution of Learning is not as poor as many of these politicians and the media would like you to believe.


Christian Group Attempts to Overturn California Gay Education Law

A California-based conservative group has filed documents in an attempt to overturn a law that adds gay history to the state's public school curriculum.

The controversial law, which California Governor Jerry Brown signed on July 14, states that beginning January 1, public schools in California must teach students about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans as part of the social sciences curriculum.

The group, the Capitol Resource Institute (CRI), is a socially conservative organization that has dedicated itself to fight against efforts by California officials to increase the rights of the homosexual community.

The group would have to collect 433,971 signatures to bring about a referendum, which would allow voters to decide whether or not to keep the law in place. The legislative director of the organization, Paulo Sibaja claims to already have the required number of signatures to allow a vote, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sibaja has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to further explain details of a referendum on the issue, and how the proposed change will be financed.

Many parents are furious that their children will subjected to lessons on gay and lesbian history, and have expressed concern that the gay agenda will continue to push for more influence in the state.

Blogger Mike Denny writes, “How long until they have Gay Sexual Education forced on our kids. How about a field trip to the Gay Pride Parade! Oh what the hell, how about we all take the kids to a Gay Bathhouse. Maybe the really good kids can spend the night in Barney Franks basement.”

A number of church groups and religious organizations have also expressed their discontent over the passing of the law.

Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman and founder of Traditional Values Coalition, an inter-denominational public policy organization, states, “It is an outrage that Governor Jerry Brown has opened the classroom door for homosexual activists to indoctrinate the minds of California’s youth, since no factual materials would be allowed to be presented.”

He continues, “By signing SB 48 ... California’s classrooms, textbooks and instructional materials will all become pro-homosexual promotion tools. If parents don’t already have their children out of public schools, this should cause them to remove them.”

Institutor of the bill, Senator Sen. Mark Leno, feels that CRI’s request for the bill change will fall on deaf ears.

"I think it will be a challenge for them to get the signatures… If they succeed in that, I bet Californians reject it,” Leno told the San Francisco Chronicle.


Top British students concentrated in just 12 elite universities

An English "Ivy League" consisting of just a handful of leading universities could develop as a result of Government plans to shake-up higher education, figures suggest.

Data published for the first time shows that more than half of students with the best A-level grades are currently concentrated in just 12 elite institutions.

Some 26,121 out of 50,712 students who gained at least two As and a B took up places at a dozen of the country’s top universities, including Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham.

The remainder of bright students living in the UK are shared between some 145 other universities, further education colleges and specialist art and music institutions, according to data published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The disclosure underlines the extent to which a small number of elite institutions dominate higher education in England.

It also suggests these universities will be best placed to expand even further as part of Government plans to allow institutions to admit unlimited numbers of the brightest undergraduates. Under the current system, universities have their total numbers of students capped by Government.

But proposals set out in last month's Higher Education White Paper will allow universities to recruit as many AAB students as they wish from 2012. The move comes as part of a plan to generate more competition between universities and give students a greater choice over where to study.

The reforms are expected to starve mid-ranking competitors of many top recruits – possibly forcing them to lower their fees from the maximum £9,000.

Today, a leading academic warned that the move also risked discriminating against students from deprived backgrounds who are considerably less likely to gain good grades.

Sir Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, said these institutions should be allowed to make use of “contextual admissions” – a system in which pupils from poor-performing schools are admitted with lower A-level grades to recognise the extra effort they make to get good results. "Proposals to create more places for students with at least AAB A-level grades must explicitly allow universities to use contextual data in the admissions process,” he said.

"In terms of the most selective courses, it remains the case that some under-represented students often do not have the grades required. It's critical therefore that the sector continues its outreach work."

Data from Hefce shows the number and proportion of top students admitted to each university in 2009/10. It shows that the highest number of AAB students attend Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Exeter, Bristol, Warwick, Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton. Figures also show 99 per cent of Oxford and Cambridge's UK students in 2009/10 achieved at least AAB – the highest rate in the country.

Imperial College in London admitted 944 students with AAB, equating to 96 per cent of their intake, while 93 per cent of students at the London School of Economics – 617 in total – had these grades.

Institutions with high proportions of AAB students are the most likely to benefit from the Coalition’s higher education reforms, although some may not take advantage of it.


Monday, July 18, 2011

College more affordable in Florida

With area high school graduations behind us, I suspect that many families in Northwest Florida are gathering around the kitchen table to discuss an important family issue: “How in the world are we going to be able to pay for college?”

In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans surveyed (57 percent) claimed that U.S. higher education fails to provide good value for the money they spend. A full 75 percent stated that college is too expensive for most Americans to afford.

At this same time, a number of critics are publishing opinions that a college education isn’t worth pursuing and are encouraging our nation’s youth to forgo furthering their education. It is ironic, of course, that the two leading critics happen to hold college degrees: one from Columbia and the other, Stanford.

This negative perception of the value of higher education is dangerous and runs the risk of leading recent high school graduates toward a life of economic struggle. In this same study, 86 percent of those holding a college degree said college was a good investment for them personally. The 2010 U.S. Census found that the average college graduate earned 38 percent, or $19,550, more per year than the average high school graduate.

Higher education is about much more than increased earnings, however. What’s the value of the non-economic benefits of an education — such as improved working conditions, increased community engagement and volunteerism, improved health, and a greater overall quality of life? As a major credit card advertisement states, it’s priceless.

Floridians are fortunate to live in a state that historically has valued higher education and invested in offsetting the personal cost of attendance. The figures below show the national average full-time student cost for tuition and fees, before financial aid and scholarships, in 2009-2010 at public and private colleges and universities in the United States:

* Private schools — $27,293.

* Public four-year universities — $7,605.

* Public two-year colleges — $ 2,713.

Locally, the University of West Florida’s undergraduate full-time tuition and fees were $4,155 last year, one of the lowest in Florida’s university system, while Northwest Florida State College charged $2,272, the lowest of any college in the state.

A report released June 30 by the U.S. Department of Education showed that NWFSC tuition and fees were also among the lowest in the entire country — with the college reported as the 25th lowest cost nationwide of all public four-year colleges and universities.

The primary reasons for the less expensive options in Northwest Florida are first, a level of public funding from the state that allows the colleges to charge students less, and second, local governing board expectations that costs be prudently controlled. The end result is that local residents have affordable options relative to the rest of the country.

In addition, the local tuition figures do not consider the availability of federal and state financial aid for those least likely to be able to afford college. Last year, 43 percent of NWFSC students received non-loan aid, that is, grants and scholarships, averaging over $2,900 per student and thus fully offsetting the out-of-pocket cost of tuition and fees.

Historically, public funding of public education has helped make the opportunities of higher education accessible for more students. However, recent state and federal budget pressures are forcing legislators to re-evaluate the public commitment to funding higher education.

In 2006, student tuition and fees covered 28 percent of the cost of attendance at a Florida public college, while state and federal funding covered the remainder of the cost. In 2011-12, student tuition and fees will account for 45 percent of the cost of attendance, with a corresponding decline in public support.

Simple math dictates that whatever the public coffers don’t cover, private checkbooks must. This privatization of what historically has been considered a public good — accessible, affordable higher education — is what will make these kitchen-table discussions more intense today than ever before.

The good news is that Panhandle residents have some of the most affordable educational options in the country and in the state of Florida. And the current cost of a college degree is well worth the investment. The bad news is that, both nationally and in Florida, public support of higher education is in rapid decline, and if the decline isn’t stemmed, more and more families will be forced to wrestle with how to afford higher tuition rates.


WA: New evaluations promise a ‘culture change’ in education

In some ways, the principal evaluation is more ground-breaking than the teacher’s. Until now, every school district evaluated principals on a different scale, with relatively little state regulation. “Ours was more wide open; it’s not defined anywhere,” said Jon DeJong, assistant superintendent for Wenatchee Schools.

That changes next year. For the first time, every principal statewide will be assessed on the same eight criteria. Wenatchee assigned a separate committee to build the principals’ evaluation system from scratch.

Like the teacher evaluation, the new pilot is even more specific, with descriptions of what good leadership looks like for each criteria. The evaluation also holds principals accountable for student performance like never before.

Two criteria are weighted above all: Maintaining a safe school environment, and meeting the deadline to evaluate teachers. If they rate “unsatisfactory” on either, they’re automatically given an “unsatisfactory” rating overall.

DeJong said he hopes once principals are more familiar with the evaluations, they won’t any take more time.

“It’s going to look different, but we’re hoping it’s not going to feel dramatically different in terms of how this plays out.
Setting it up

Wenatchee’s first step was deciding what separates the “unsatisfactory” teachers from the “distinguished.” It started with eight criteria, required by the state for all pilot districts:

• Set high expectations for student performance

• Use effective teaching practices to engage students

• Recognize individual needs

• Understand the subject, skillfully uses curriculum

• Manage a safe learning environment

• Use student performance data to guide instruction and help students set goals

• Communicate with parents, the rest of the school and the community

• Collaborate with colleagues, pursues professional development

The committee further defined those eight criteria with 25 indicators that spell out what’s expected of teachers. A “basic” teacher, for example, occasionally understands a student’s individual needs. A “distinguished” teacher would understand, design lessons to address those needs and help their colleagues do the same.

Principals will rate teachers on a 1-to-4 point system for each of the indicators. The points are added up to determine the teachers overall rating. The committee consulted a mathematician to help them work out the different point scenarios in which teachers would fall under “basic” versus a “proficient” or “distinguished.”

Two criteria are weighted more than others. If teachers can’t provide classroom safety or practice effective teaching, they receive an “unsatisfactory” overall.

Instead of “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory,” teachers will assessed on a four-tier system: Unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.

The new evaluations are designed to motivate teachers to keep improving. At first, some teachers may be surprised when they don’t make the “distinguished” category, said Lisa Turner, Human Resources Director for Wenatchee School. “When you’re going from two tiers to four, that’s going to be a huge culture shift for people,” Turner said.

A team of about 20 Wenatchee teachers, union reps, principals and administrators dealt with some of the toughest questions surrounding education reform today: How do you factor in student performance, what about skills that can’t be observed, and where do you draw the line when staff continually miss the mark?

The state legislature launched the evaluation overhaul last year in hopes of winning $250 million in federal Race to the Top grants. The state didn’t win, but pushed on with reform anyway, appointing eight school districts and one consortium of districts to develop new evaluations. Each one is trying to find a reliable formula that would recognize teaching skills backed by research and data, while rooting out incompetence and stagnation.

Next year, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will recommend a few of the pilots as the statewide model. Every school district must adopt one of the new models by the 2013-14 school year. For most school districts, it will be the first change to teacher evaluations in more than 25 years.


The latest flawed attempt to open British university doors to poor students

POLITICIANS of all stripes fulminate at the failure of posh universities to enroll a greater number of students from poor families. That more pupils from Eton, the prime minister’s alma mater, go to Oxford University than do boys from all over England who received free school meals because their family income was low is widely paraded as evidence of this failing. So the decision to raise the maximum tuition fee charged by universities to £9,000 a year from 2012 was tempered with policies designed to promote access: English universities were told they could charge high fees only if they did more to help the poor. On July 12th they unveiled plans to do both.

The government’s desire to create a market in which institutions compete for students on cost has been thwarted by the universities themselves: many students enrolled at middling redbricks will pay the same high fees as those who gaze at dreaming spires. To compensate for slashed state funding, all 130 English universities will substantially increase their tuition fees; two-thirds will charge the top rate for some subjects and a third will charge it for all their courses.

In order to gain permission to charge such prices, each university had to set itself targets for recruiting and retaining the sorts of students who do not enroll in massive numbers at present. Oxford, for example, says it will accept more state-school pupils; Imperial College, London, aims to ensure that fewer students from poor neighbourhoods drop out. If a university fails to meet its targets, it could be fined or have its permission to charge future students high fees revoked by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The watchdog will monitor progress with a beady eye.

Efforts to encourage poor youngsters to go to university will cost £600m overall, thanks to further targets set by OFFA. It has insisted that those institutions which take mostly middle-class students spend a third of the extra money raised through higher tuition fees on fee waivers and bursaries for needy students, as well as on efforts to entice them into lecture theatres and keep them at their books.

Alas, neither setting targets nor throwing money at bursaries is likely to be particularly effective at promoting social mobility. A study published on July 8th by the Sutton Trust, a charity, concluded (perhaps unsurprisingly) that better exam results mostly explained why pupils from a small number of schools dominate Oxbridge entry. Meanwhile the government’s most recent bid to introduce market reforms by removing the cap on the number of highly-qualified students each university can enroll directs interest away from the down-at-heel: applicants who gain two As and a B or better at A-level, the exams most pupils sit at 18, tend to come from well-to-do families.

Claire Callender of Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, points out that students start to think about university at secondary school, which is one reason why the recent rise in tuition fees provoked such anger among the young. Raising standards in state schools and providing adequate advice on which subjects selective universities think important would do more for social mobility than introducing fee waivers and bursaries, which many students don’t consider until they have already applied to university.

Yet forcing universities to shell out on fee waivers may have an unintended but happy consequence: it could ease the pressure on the public purse. The state must lend students money to pay their tuition fees, recouping only some of the cost many years later. Lower fees for students from poor families would mean a smaller outlay for the exchequer.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Federal website serves as tool to compare real college costs

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a website ranking colleges and universities by their cost of tuition and fees, and of the 64 schools in the cheapest 10 percent nationally, Florida has 12. All of them are former community colleges that now offer bachelor's degrees. The least expensive among them: Palm Beach State College, where annual tuition was $1,990 last year.

The College Affordability and Transparency site is part of the federal government's efforts to deal with the lofty cost of higher education. Congress required the U.S. Department of Education to create the site "to sort of shame institutions that have tuition and fees rising a lot faster than their peers'," said Brian Cook, of the American Council on Education. He noted, however, that some schools have had to increase tuition to make up for plummeting taxpayer support.

That's how Florida State University wound up in the top 5 percent of four-year, public institutions with the fastest-rising tuition. Between 2006-07 and 2008-09, FSU tuition and fees jumped by 36 percent, to $4,566 a year for a full-time student.

Tuition and fees climbed almost that much at the University of South Florida and several other public universities, but they still charge far less than their peers elsewhere.

State schools in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland and New Jersey took the top five spots, all costing more than $12,800 annually.

The government's site enables users to search the highest, lowest and fastest-rising costs at four- and two-year public and private schools. Private schools are divided into nonprofit and for-profit institutions. One list shows only tuition. Another shows average net costs, which includes tuition and other major costs minus the value of government student grants.

People considering a career college can search by their area of interest, such as culinary services or cosmetology. All the data come from information the schools regularly report to the federal government.

But the new site has limits. The four-year college list mixes traditional universities with community colleges that offer bachelor's degrees, even if most of their students are there for associate's degrees. The site also shows only the schools at the top and bottom of the cost spectrum.

But the department's College Navigator site, which has links from the Affordability and Transparency site, gives the details for all colleges and universities individually.

A comparison of Florida's 11 public universities shows wide variations. Florida Atlantic University, based in Boca Raton, reported the lowest average 2010-11 costs: $16,101 for tuition, room and board, books and expenses for in-state undergrads living on campus. The highest, $21,852, was at Miami's Florida International. USF reported $19,798.

It's good information for parents trying to get a rough idea of what they may have to pay, said Billie Jo Hamilton, USF's financial aid director. But a lot of it, including book costs, is based on estimates. USF reported $1,500 in average book and supply costs. The University of Central Florida in Orlando reported only $924. "We tried to be conservative but realistic," Hamilton said.

No matter how realistic colleges try to be, the federal cost information is so general it's almost useless, said Mary Fallon, of Student Aid Services in California. Fallon's company designs Web-based college price calculators. "These lists are just sticker prices," she said. "They don't apply to very many people because so many get some kind of grant money, federal or state or something."

That problem, however, should be solved by the end of October, she said, when another congressional mandate on college costs kicks in. It requires that all colleges and universities offer Web-based price calculators so students can find out how much they will owe based on their aid eligibility, family income and other circumstances.

In the past, students had to wait for a college's acceptance to know how much aid they would receive and how much tuition would cost. When the calculators are available, "you can know what your price will be before applying," Fallon said.

Hamilton agreed that the calculator will be more useful for parents and students than the cost lists. She warned, however, that it won't be much good until students know as much as possible about their aid eligibility.

"It's kind of a timing thing," she said. "The DOE website may be best early when you begin to look around, but then the calculator will help when you narrow your focus." Fallon added another warning. "These are estimates, not guarantees."


An insider view of a British school

Ceri Radford reviews a documentary about how children misbehave in school

The parents were a sight to behold. They were goggle-eyed, pucker-lipped, leaning back in their chairs, shaking their heads in disbelief. A mother chewed her tongue; a father looked as though he was about to burst into tears. What were they watching? Nothing more than the behaviour of their own children, caught on camera, in school.

For last night’s Classroom Secrets (BBC One), a camera crew spent a week filming the children of Class 4FF, a typical primary school in Leicester. It had once been failing, but the current head had turned things round, earning it a “good” rating from Ofsted. The programme showed a set of four parents watching the footage alongside their children’s teacher and headmistress.

The very ordinariness of the school was part of this programme’s compulsive appeal. No doubt more shocking, headline-generating images can be – and have been – captured at the sort of inner city hell-hole which makes Lord of the Flies look like a pleasant afternoon picnic.

This was no such place: it was located in an anodyne bit of suburbia, there was a nice playground for hopscotch and games, the school staff were nice, the children were (mostly) nice, the parents were nice. Everything was nice, and everything was tainted by persistent, nagging, low-level disruptive behaviour, something which swallows up, on average, three whole weeks of teaching time per year. This was a fascinating insight into what is going wrong, and why.

A case in point was nine-year-old Maisy. To put it kindly, she was a livewire; to put it in terms my mother would use, she was a little madam. She was shown, on camera in the classroom, pulling faces, dancing, blowing bubbles and doing quite a successful job of diverting the attention of her classmates away from their work and onto herself. Her parents, already visibly shocked, were in for worse when she was also seen writing out the F-word and showing it to her friends. Clearly, this was not the desired result of her literacy lessons.

What did they think had led to her “inappropriate behaviours”, the headmistress asked, mildly. It was astonishing that it took until this point for her parents – who both came across as caring and sensible – to realise that letting their young daughter stay up watching television until 10 or 11 o’clock at the weekend might not be conducive to good behaviour.

This documentary will naturally have appealed to parents of school-age children – but it was perhaps even more interesting for the childless. I had no idea how much school had changed. It’s not as if I was educated in the days of the inkwell and the slipper, but still; the classroom experience was almost unrecognisable. Children were free to get up and get a drink of water; if they were hungry, they would be taken out and given toast. Instead of facing the front, they worked – or not, as the case may be – in groups, facing one another. It gave them, in fact, all the freedom of an office, without the restraint of knowing that they would be fired if they spent all day chewing pencils and dithering at the photocopier.


Australia: Students 'brainwashed' over climate change in Queensland schools

(The LNP is Queensland's conservative party)

The Liberal National Party president has blasted the Queensland education system for "brainwashing" students about climate change.

Speaking to LNP members at the party's state conference today, Bruce McIver said he was discouraged about how children were being taught about climate change in schools. Mr McIver said he was shaken by the way issues were being taught when he and his wife visited their grandson's school. "We were shocked at the way the climate change debate on one side is being pushed in the classroom," he said. "And not balanced perspectively. Our kids are being brainwashed under this Labor education system."

Mr McIver's comments received loud applause from more than 700 delegates from throughout the state.

"Why aren't they being told that if you go to Quilpie and you drive to Windorah - [Liberal National Party MPs] Vaughan Johnson's country, Howard Hobbs' country - you will see these sand hills that have been blown up years ago," he said. "When the droughts were much bigger than the ones we have just had. "And why aren't we being told that Brisbane has had floods in the 1890s of over eight metres.

"[LNP leader] Campbell [Newman] tells me that back in the 1820s - even before white man even came here - there were floods that could have been over 12 metres at the post office at the bottom of Elizabeth Street. "So, things change. Climate is constantly changing. Is man having an effect? Well I will leave it for you to judge."

Queensland Education Minister Cameron Dick said Mr McIver’s comments were an “outrageous slur” on the professionalism of the state's 38,000 teachers. “The curriculum taught in Queensland state schools is developed and delivered by educational experts, not politicians, nor backroom political party operatives like Mr McIver," he said. "Quite simply, students studying science in Queensland state schools are taught scientific facts.

"We all know that Mr McIver and the LNP are climate-change deniers, and his comments are not only wrong and insulting, but an attempt to push the party’s ‘head-in-the-sand’ beliefs on Queenslanders."

Mr McIver described Labor's carbon tax as a "socialist" policy would have a devastating effect on Queensland business and on Queensland jobs. "It is a direct threat to our economy. I believe it is a redistribution of wealth," he said to cheers of "hear, hear" among delegates. "It is a direct threat to Queensland jobs."

Mr McIver also challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to install more Queenslanders onto his shadow front bench. The LNP won 21 of Queensland's 30 Federal seats at the August 2010 election.

Mr McIver said the LNP had added an extra 4000 members since it formed in July 2008.