Saturday, August 20, 2011

We should be philosophical about university

The heartburn Americans feel is over WHICH university or college their kid will get into. Everyone can get into something but what does the something deliver?

In Britain there is a real chance that the kid will get into no university at all, which is a very visible and upsetting failure for many families.

So how to deal with such upsets? I myself cannot help with personal insight as my son's admission to the best university in the State was never in question. He completed a full university subject (in mathematics) during his final High School year and got good marks for it.

So I turn to two approaches by British writers that may help soothe upsets. The first below asks whether bloated modern universities still offer a practical benefit to youngsters and the second points to later success by those who have initially missed the boat

1). What is a university? There’s a discussion in one of A S Byatt’s Frederica novels on the subject. One of the characters gives a beautiful description of the aims of such institutions: in essence, there’s a clue in the word.

A university must be universal: open to support inquiries concerning human understanding of medicine, law, the sciences, mathematics, the humanities. Open, too, in that it should recruit anyone for study; anyone who has the ability to benefit both themselves and the subjects in which they wish to be immersed.

I had the great luck to attend such a place, the University of Glasgow. Remember your alma mater, shouted the dean as we took our degrees, and I always will; the time I spent there remains among the best in my life. You, the British taxpayer, paid me to study for a first degree in a subject I loved: I was allowed, by you, to sink into my discipline and learn how to swim through it. You then paid me to complete doctoral research in one abstruse area of that subject which I found technically fascinating. You never once asked me to prove that the research was “worthwhile”, either in terms of the nation’s GDP or my own future employability; or that, other than through academic aptitude, I deserved the funding.

Neither before nor since have I been so free to pursue inquiry into a topic solely because of the random coincidence that I had a vague talent for it. I don’t exaggerate: I will die grateful to the society that let me do that. There were around 10,000 students at Glasgow when I started in 1986 – hold on to that number.

These days, young people (and their parents) are less likely to ask the philosophical question we opened with. Not so much “What is a university?” as “How much will it cost me to go there?”, followed by (understandably) “How much money will I earn when I’ve got my degree?” These days, there are around 20,000 students at Glasgow: double the number in just over 20 years. There are two other universities in the rest of the city, one extra over the same period. Something has to give when “access” is expanded like this: the vast fees, the concerns over degree quality, the sad complaint (because of what it says about how we view the point of education) that some graduates don’t earn huge incomes.

I do understand that it’s right that people who benefit from a system, as I have, should be expected to pay towards it. But it’s equally undeniable that the path I had through life – bright boy from a good state school goes to a great university; flourishes – is less open to the less wealthy than it was to me in 1986. And yet, more children than ever want a degree.

My partner says something similar about his career. Keith is an electrician, which he became after four years’ apprenticeship in the Department of the Environment: one day a week in college learning theory, and four days a week learning his trade. He received his “deeds” after taking an examination which sounds remarkably like my finals. These days, most skilled trade isn’t managed directly by institutions such as the one which articled Keith. The work is outsourced to third-party contractors, and so there are fewer long-term practical apprenticeships; and the exam now consists of multiple choice questions, which can be taken by anyone, regardless of how much practical work they’ve done. As with the universities, it’s not wrong to worry about a diminution of quality. It’s as though we want more electricians, but we don’t want to pay for them.

Testing the theory, I wrote to a friend who is that living emblem of quality, a London cabbie. I asked Richard how the Knowledge worked and if he had any worries about the maintenance of standards. The good news is that he doesn’t think so – yet. But he does fear that as governance of the Knowledge has moved from the Public Carriage Office (“old-fashioned but effective”) to something called “Taxi & Private Hire” within Transport for London, then one day costs – and access issues – will lead TfL to lump cabbies in with private taxi drivers. We would have more London cabbies, but one of our most venerable institutions would be gone. (Are you reading, Boris?)

This morning a huge number of children, desperate to get into university, might not make it – because the institutions, expanded beyond recognition, still don’t have sufficient places for them. Do we want yet more, vast universities? Or should we wonder if all these children will benefit from attending, in either the intellectual or the financial sense? Compared with 1986 there are more (debt-ridden) graduates, more electricians, more cabbies. The question is: are they better? Or has the drive for volume caused the loss of something precious, something universal, in our training?


2). It’s the same every damn year. We are so busy totting up the A stars, that we forget about the flops with the D grades and less who’ve nothing to shout about. The newspapers are full of golden, jubilant boys and girls, whooping and crying as they rejoice in their brilliant results; hitting the road to adulthood like greyhounds after an electric hare. Forget the clogged-up clearing system, the desperate scrabble for a diminishing number of university and college places, the world is their oyster Rockefeller.

Good for them – and I mean it, although I’d argue for a legal limit on how many weeks their parents are permitted to bang on at dinner parties about their marvellous children. The mother who is doing her best to scoop Harry off the floor and dust him off into a semblance of employability can do without a running commentary on how Tabitha is getting on with her packing for Oxford.

There are two peaks in competitive parenting: When-will–he-walk? and the tougher, what’s-next-after-school? phase. Well, for those dealing with disappointment and despairing offspring, stay out of the game. The best way to get Harry et al back on track – and see some return on your investment in school fees and parenting time – is to boost their confidence so they can make something of their lives. First mantra: It really does not matter. No, it doesn’t. Somewhere inside that child is a seed of talent. School failed to help it germinate – that is the school’s failure, not yours or your child’s. Stick to this line. There are plenty who succeeded in the University of What Now?: Sir Michael Caine, David Beckham, Winston Churchill and John Major; Mary ''Queen of Shops’’ Portas; Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, and the Apprentice Master himself, Lord Sugar – all triumphed without a university or college education.

I remember a remark that radio presenter and screenwriter Danny Baker made on Desert Island Discs. A bright child growing up in London Docklands, he says he wasn’t tempted by grammar school. “If school made you clever, the Cabinet would be full of geniuses,” he said.

Even if you don’t believe it, pretend you do. My mother did. So abysmal were my results, so low my self-esteem, that I retreated into dead-end jobs with no prospects. But three years after leaving school, I began to read, read and read. I found ''it,’’ the thing I wanted (to do) when I was ready – and the chip fell from my shoulder.

So it will be for that boy or girl who now feels that all is lost. The truth is that flunking it will make an adult of your baby, faster than you can say tuition fees.


Australian school system hit by faith in computers

Many custom built computer systems never work

It COULD be the next health payroll debacle - but this time it involves Queensland state schools. Problems with the OneSchool computer system have left hundreds of schools complaining of mix-ups with contractors' pay and other bills, leaving their budgets in disarray and "dangerous workloads".

One school was threatened with having its electricity disconnected after a bill was wrongly recorded as paid. Some schools have not paid contractors in time.

Staff have been working weekends to fix the problems, with some allegedly on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

Alex Scott, secretary of Together (formerly known as the Queensland Public Sector Union), said the problems mirrored the health payroll disaster because the department appeared to be in denial about how bad the problems were. "The department must delay the expansion of the rollout of the system until they get it right," he said. "Queensland schools can't afford a health payroll-style disaster."

But late yesterday Education Queensland director-general Julie Grantham said they had decided to delay the final rollout to all state schools, to allow time to fix glitches and support administrators. It followed an order from Education Minister Cameron Dick for more staff training and support.

The OneSchool system is used universally by state schools to produce academic reports, create curriculum and record student details. But it has been the third phase - the rollout of a financial module which was implemented in 635 schools during the last school holidays - which has sparked the most concern.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said their biggest concern had been the delays in getting help for problems, which included bills and accounts payable, invoices and bank reconciliations.

But she said QASSP was satisfied the department was doing everything it could to deal with the problems and the system would be better in the long run, once these were sorted out.

Mr Scott said the union had received "hundreds of reports of excessive and dangerous workloads being created by this system". "We've had reports of electricity and maintenance bills not being paid by schools, despite the system showing otherwise," Mr Scott said. "Schools staff are being pushed to the limit to make sure schools can do business."

Problems identified by The Courier-Mail include:

* Supplier details either uploaded incorrectly or not at all, resulting in wrong suppliers being sent invoices. Suppliers that should have been paid within certain time frames were not.

* One school was sent an electricity disconnection notice despite their system telling them the bill had been paid.

* Daily problems with the way bank information was uploaded.

* A budget tool not working, leaving principals with no idea whether they were on, ahead or behind on their budget.

* Staff losing almost-completed work data because OneSchool was timing out with no visible warning.

* Departmental IT support staff taking longer than a week to get back to schools on OneSchool problems.

Ms Grantham said the problems had been a mixture of glitches - which they were fixing as they came up - and human error, which was natural as staff got used to the system. She said schools which took on the system in the June/July holidays had all applied to do so, and said they were ready.

While the State Opposition has compared OneSchool problems to the payroll disaster, Ms Grantham has vehemently denied it. She said OneSchool had nothing to do with the staff payroll. "The system itself as a whole is a very good system, but yes, there have been some processing functions that haven't gone as smoothly as they could."

Mr Dick said OneSchool was a good program that was well supported. "School staff want more support and training and that is what I have directed the director-general to do to."


Friday, August 19, 2011

A terrible puzzle: Black Scientists Less Likely to Win Federal Research Grants

It's no puzzle at all if you look at the facts. Blacks do markedly less well at every level of the educational system. Why should it be otherwise at the top of the tree? And when we account for affirmative action in university admissions and grading, even blacks who do get to the upper levels of the system are going to be less able

A research grant application from a black scientist to the National Institutes of Health is markedly less likely to win approval than one from a white scientist, a new study reported on Thursday.

Even when the researchers made statistical adjustments to ensure they were comparing apples to apples — that is, scientists at similar institutions with similar academic track records — the disparity persisted. A black scientist was one-third less likely than a white counterpart to get a research project financed, the study found.

“It is striking and very disconcerting,” said Donna K. Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas who led the study. “It was very unexpected to find this big of a gap that couldn’t be explained.”

The findings are being published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

At the N.I.H., which commissioned the study, top officials said they would follow up to figure out the causes of the disparity and take steps to fix it. “This situation is not acceptable,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the N.I.H., a federal medical research agency. “This is not one of those reports that we will look at and then put aside.”

The researchers said they did not know whether the panels that reviewed the grant applications were discriminating against black applicants, whether applications from black researchers were somehow weaker, or whether a combination of factors was at play.

In the study, Dr. Ginther and her colleagues looked at 83,000 grant applications from 2000 to 2006. For every 100 applications submitted by white scientists, 29 were awarded grants. For every 100 applications from black scientists, 16 were financed.

After the apples-to-apples statistical adjustments, the gap narrowed but still existed.

The medical research community has long struggled to recruit more minority scientists. For example, about 2.9 percent of full-time medical school faculty members are black, Dr. Collins said; according to census figures, blacks make up 12.6 percent of the population. But the study now shows that the few blacks who do enter research are not on an even playing field.

“It indicates to us that we have not only failed to recruit the best and brightest minds from all of the groups that need to come and join us,” Dr. Collins said, “but for those who have come and joined us, there is an inequity in their ability to achieve funding from the N.I.H.”

Members of other races and ethnic groups, including Hispanics, do not appear to run into the same difficulties. Asians were somewhat less successful, but the gap disappeared when foreign-born scientists — who may have difficulty with English in writing successful grants — were excluded.

Earlier studies have found that women have largely the same level of success as men in obtaining N.I.H. grants.

The grant applications are reviewed in a two-step process. In the first, an application is assigned to a committee consisting of 10 to 40 people, largely drawn from researchers outside the N.I.H. For each application, three committee members review it in detail and assign a tentative score, and then the full committee discusses the top 50 percent of the applications before assigning a final numerical score to each.

The study found that once final numerical scores were assigned, the second review treated scientists of all groups equally based on the scores.

On the grant applications, researchers are asked to identify their race and ethnicity, but that information is not passed along to the review committees. Still, because the applications are not judged anonymously, the reviewers may know the applicant, and often race is not difficult to infer from the name or academic details. For example, a person who attended a historically black university is likely to be black.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, who is the chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society and is black, said the cause was not overt racism. “It’s not that they’re out to deny blacks funding,” said Dr. Brawley, who worked as an administrator at the National Cancer Institute, part of the N.I.H., in the 1990s.

Rather, it is more likely an unconscious bias, he said, with the reviewers more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone they are familiar with, and with black researchers tending to keep a low profile in the scientific world.

Dr. Collins agreed. “Even today, in 2011, in our society, there is still an unconscious, insidious form of bias that subtly influences people’s opinions,” he said. “I think that may be very disturbing for people in the scientific community to contemplate, but I think we have to take that as one of the possibilities and investigate it and see if that is in fact still happening.”


11 Most Egregious Examples of Academic Dishonesty

Online colleges still lack acceptance among many people so the article from one of their organizations below shows that traditional colleges have their weaknesses too

Academic dishonesty is a serious concern on college campuses and secondary schools around the U.S., as it seriously undermines the entire purpose of education. Not only does it reflect poorly on students, but the institutions to which they are enrolled as well. While cheating and lying in the classroom is nothing new, in recent years the lengths to which many college kids (and their teachers) are willing to go has shocked and surprised many. This often leads to a call for stricter penalties levied on those violating academic honor codes.

No matter where you stand on cheating or how you feel it should be combated in a school setting, there is no doubt that these cases we’ve collected here are some of the most outrageous examples in recent history. We’d like to hope these eventually mark a turning point in student behavior, but as education becomes even more competitive and expensive, cheating isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

Southern University Grade Changing

This Baton Rouge college was rocked by a huge academic dishonesty scandal in 2003, when it was revealed that 541 grades had been purposefully changed. Students, both former and current, had been paying a registrar’s office worker for the past eight years to surreptitiously alter their transcripts. Estimates posit over 2,500 individual scores ended up affected. After the revelations, 10 guilty parties had their degrees from the school revoked, 27 more lost credits and the worker who helped them change their grades could be facing up to 10 years in jail. What tipped school officials off? One of the cheating students tried applying to a graduate program there with credentials stating she had previously attended as an undergrad– a degree for which there were no records.

United States Naval Academy Exam Copying

While you’d think all that structure and discipline would deter students from cheating, even military academies aren’t immune from such scandals. In spring of 1994, it was discovered that 134 USNA seniors were involved in a cheating ring. A student obtained a copy of an electrical engineering exam and distributed it to his classmates — for a cost, of course. Others were caught bringing formulas and other information into the exam room. After a two-year investigation, 26 students were expelled and 62 more were found guilty of honor violations and given other, lesser punishments. The matter is still under dispute, however, as many feel the school played favorites and unfairly punished those who came clean, while letting students who lied about their involvement off.

University of Virginia Physics Cheating

Thomas Jefferson would be ashamed to have these students attending the school he founded, especially since the enrolled are bound to a strict honor code barring cheating, stealing and lying. Unfortunately, over 122 students couldn’t stick to it, and in 2001 were discovered cheating on an introductory physics class’ term papers. A student in the course alerted the professor to the issue (though only because he was bitter about his grade being lower) and subsequent investigation of the past few years’ papers revealed 60 as exact duplicates. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only cheating scandal to affect the school, as it was also discovered that over 30 economic graduate students had shared an answer key for a summer course.

Indiana University Dental School Cheating

Nearly half the second-years at IU SChool of Dentistry, a whopping 46, were involved in a cheating scandal in 2007. Either a student or a group of students gained access to protected files via a university computer and got a sneak peak at the exam, which was then shared with others in the class. Another enrollee, presumably appalled by the cheating, tipped off the professor. As punishment for cheating, several were expelled, others were suspended and the rest received letters of reprimand. Nearly all students were reinstated to the school or received lesser punishments after appealing their case.

Los Angeles Charter Schools Cheating Scandal

Six Los Angeles area charter schools were almost shut down for their involvement in a 2010 cheating scandal. The founder, John Allen, has been accused of ordering principals to break the seal on state standardized tests so that students could be quizzed on actual test questions before the formal examinations — ostensibly raising their scores considerably. The governing board of the charter schools suspended Allen and the principals who participated, but declined to fire any of them until an L.A. Times article publicly exposed the scandal. It was this decision that prompted the board to allow the schools to stay open, much to the relief of many LA parents and students.

Atlanta Teachers Change Test Answers

This cheating scandal shocked the education community, as it is the largest one involving American teachers and principals to date. Over 178 education professionals in the Atlanta Public School district are accused of changing student answers on standardized tests to help raise their scores. Additionally, it is alleged that the schools punished whistle-blowers and worked to hide any wrongdoing over the past few years. The scandal has tarnished the reputation of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009 largely because of the improved testing scores now believed invalid. Sadly, the school is part of a growing trend, as teachers and administrators struggle to raise test scores and get additional school funding and support. Programs relying too heavily on test scores as an indicator of success frequently leave them feeling as if they have little choice.

Duke School of Business Students Lack Ethics

Apparently shady business dealings don’t just happen in back alleys and board rooms, but classrooms as well. In 2007, Duke discovered that 34 first-year MBA students were cheating on an open-book, take-home exam (the students decided to work on it collectively rather than individually, as was required by the course). The professor noted the similarities in test answers and similar inconsistencies earlier in the year, eventually uncovering the cheating. Nine students were expelled, another 15 were suspended and nine others failed the course. These students aren’t alone, however, as 56% of business school enrollees admitted to cheating one or more times in the past academic year — a troubling stat for any MBA program out there.

Revere High School Honors Cheating

Think the smartest kids in school don’t cheat? Think again. Those highly competitive students often feel even more driven to dishonesty, and that’s just what happened in a Massachusetts high school physics class. Students took pictures of the exam with a cell phone prior to the scheduled date, which were then forwarded to others in the class along with an answer key. About the only thing it helped was creating a disproportionate amount of good grades and assurance that the cheaters all made similar errors. The issue was discovered by an online grading system, and it was later revealed that the majority of the guilty were in the top 10% of their class. Of the 320 students who took the exam, 60 were found to have cheated. The guilty got a zero on the exam and will be barred from participating in any academic honors events during their senior year.

West Virginia University Fake Degree Scandal

Sometimes cheating goes beyond copying test answers and changing grades. That was the case with this 2008 scandal at WVU. The school’s dean and provost awarded a degree to the West Virginia governor’s daughter — apparently without checking (or caring) to see if she actually earned the requisite credits. Heather Bresch, then the COO of Mylan, Inc., was 22 credits shy of the required course hours for the MBA she was awarded. When a local paper called to verify the degree with the school and were told she never graduated, a massive cover-up ensued, with falsification of records and misleading public statements regarding her qualifications. The provost resigned due to his role in the scandal, and has since apologized for putting WVU in a negative light.

University of Minnesota Paper Writing for Athletes

This scandal wasn’t the first time student athletes and athletic departments have been accused of cheating, and it more than likely won’t be the last. The 1999 University of Minnesota basketball season was brought to a halt by the revelation that an academic counseling office manager wrote over 400 papers for 20 different students during the past six years. The incident grew even worse when three other tutors also revealed they had been coerced or pressured into writing papers for basketball players as well. Coach Clem Haskins originally denied the claims, stating he has no knowledge or involvement, but it was later discovered that he paid over $3,000 for the paper writing services. He resigned in the wake of the scandal (and additional revelations that he had committed mail fraud, covered up sexual harassment and put pressure on professors to inflate grades), and the players accused of using paper-writing services were suspended.

University of Central Florida Exam Cheating

Professor Richard Quinn knew something wasn’t right in his strategic management course after students’ test scores were a grade and a half higher than they had ever been before. His suspicions were confirmed when a student anonymously tipped him off. The cheating came as a surprise to many in the class as well as the professor, as the exam room was equipped with anti-cheating cameras — the type found in casinos, even — to help stop just this kind of thing. Apparently, students had gotten a hold of an answer key and circulated it quite widely before the exam. Professor Quinn was furious with students and told them via a videotaped lecture that the guilty could complete the course only if they confessed and took an ethics course. All others would face the consequences from the university, possibly including expulsion. Even worse for the honest members of the class, all were required to retake the midterm exam — even if no evidence against them had been found — as incentive for the cheaters to come forward. All in all, nearly 200 students — a full one third, in fact — were found to have cheated. Many claim they weren’t being dishonest at all and merely thought they were using legitimate study materials to prepare.


Record race for British university places ahead of £9,000 tuition fees means even pupils with new elite grades miss out

Hundreds of teenagers with straight A* grades were left without a university to go to last night in an unprecedented scramble for places. Despite picking up the elite A-level grade – introduced last year as a new ‘gold standard’ – they face a desperate battle through the clearing system. Only 40,000 places are available with 220,000 youngsters chasing them.

One star pupil from a leading private school learnt yesterday that she had achieved three straight A* grades yet has been rejected by the English departments of five universities. Four thousand students with straight As also had no offers. Unless they secure one through clearing, they face going to university next year when annual tuition fees treble to a maximum of £9,000.

One academic said the competition for places was the ‘fiercest in living memory’.Most of the leading universities did not even enter the clearing system, which allocates last-minute places.

Places are available only in lower-ranked institutions and in less sought-after disciplines such as computing, business studies and biological science. The scramble for places came as:

* Universities minister David Willetts claimed it would be ‘cheaper’ to start courses in 2012;

* Boys closed the gender gap with girls, getting the same number of top grades for the first time;

* Pass rates rose for the 29th consecutive year, with one in four awarded an A;

* Maths and science enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Maths entries have risen 40 per cent over five years;

* Exam boards were braced for a record number of complaints following marking blunders.

The shortage of places was caused by 682,367 candidates applying for 350,000 places. Around 100,000 of these candidates will have now decided not to go to university, to take a gap year or to study abroad.

This leaves an estimated 220,000 hopefuls – including mature and foreign students and students who failed to get in last year – chasing the 40,000 places. Among them are 62,500 candidates who got their results yesterday and either had not been offered a spot or missed their grades.

It is estimated around 50,000 in clearing had grades equivalent to BBB or above. Although 10,000 extra places were made available, there were 40,000 more applicants than usual, probably because of the fees hike.

The rush saw the University and College Admissions Service website close down for much of yesterday morning as those who had missed their grades tried to secure offers. It failed to cope with a fourfold increase in the number of visits and normal service was not resumed until midday.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, claimed the system was in chaos. ‘It always happens when the pressure on the system is greatest, the cracks begin to show,’ he said. ‘Not only have the students been in the fiercest competition for places in living memory, but the support system for those who have missed out on their grades hasn’t worked properly.

‘Ucas normally does these things very smoothly, but today, of all days, it hasn’t been able to cope. It’s the worst chaos in university admissions history.’

Those students forced to start university in 2012 will graduate with debts of around £57,000, compared with £29,000 for those starting their studies now.

Those who fail to get into university must now decide whether to reapply for next year or look for work.

Exam boards, some of which have had to admit over the summer that they set impossible questions and made errors in papers, are expecting a record number of complaints as desperate students seek to raise their grades.

One board, OCR, has, for the first time, put all papers affected by errors on a website so pupils can see the examiner’s markings. Defending the chaos, Mr Willetts said: ‘What we’ve tried to do, as our bit to easing the stress, is we have delivered again the 10,000 extra places we delivered last year, so there will be once again a record number of places at universities for young people.’

But TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Because of the rush to avoid next year’s fees hike, and the Government’s refusal to fund extra university places, record numbers of students will lose out on higher education altogether.’


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scores show American students aren’t ready for college

75% may need remedial classes

For many students, getting a high school diploma doesn’t mark the end of a high school education.

Three out of four graduates aren’t fully prepared for college and likely need to take at least one remedial class, according to the latest annual survey from the nonprofit testing organization ACT, which measured half of the nation’s high school seniors in English, math, reading and science proficiency.

Only 25 percent cleared all of ACT’s college preparedness benchmarks, while 75 percent likely will spend part of their freshman year brushing up on high-school-level course work. The 2011 class is best prepared for college-level English courses, with 73 percent clearing the bar in that subject. Students are most likely to need remedial classes in science and math, the report says.

Although the results are slightly better than last year — 24 percent of the 2010 graduating class met ACT’s four thresholds — the report highlights a glaring disconnect between finishing high school and being ready for the academic challenges of college.

These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

While often frustrating for professors who are forced to spend a semester teaching concepts their students should have learned by the end of 12th grade, remedial classes also carry more serious consequences.

Students are much more likely to drop out of college if they feel that they are simply repeating high school, said Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Taxpayers also suffer, Mr. Wise said, by “paying twice” for students to take high-school-level classes again, since most remedial work doesn’t count toward college graduation.

In the 2007-08 academic year, the alliance estimates, remedial courses cost about $5.6 billion — $3.6 billion in “direct educational costs” such as taxpayer contributions to state universities and another $2 billion in lost wages, a result of giving up on higher education and missing out on the bigger paychecks that tend to come with college degrees.

“There simply has not been alignment or coordination between the K-12 system and the higher education system about what students need to know,” Mr. Wise said Tuesday.

“What we know about remedial courses is the student and the taxpayer are paying twice. You’re paying a lot of money to get back” to the academic level students should be at on the day they graduate from high school.

Even those at the top of their high school classes are often ill-prepared for college.

A 2008 report by the education advocacy group Strong American Schools found that 80 percent of college students taking remedial classes had a high school GPA of 3.0 or better.

The ACT results fuel critics’ argument that federal education policy, with its heavy focus on standardized tests, does little to advance real-world goals such as college readiness and career preparation.

“Test-driven policies which claim to be improving U.S. public schools have, in fact, failed by their own standards,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “Proponents of No Child Left Behind and similar state-level high-stakes testing programs … made two promises: Their strategy would boost overall academic performance and it would narrow historic achievement gaps between ethnic groups. But academic gains, as measured by ACT, are stagnant and racial gaps are increasing.”


British pupils who take harder A-levels should be given priority for university places, says education minister

Pupils who have taken 'traditional' A-levels such as maths and foreign languages should take precedence in the race for university places, the higher education minister has said.

David Willetts said that more modern subjects such as dance and media studies should not be recognised as core academic subjects. His comments came as around 250,000 A-level students wait to discover their exam results tomorrow.

Mr Willetts told the Daily Telegraph that the points system used in university admissions 'sends a very bad message to young people by implying that all A-levels have an equal chance of helping them into university.'

Currently Ucas, which processes university applications, allocates points based on the grade achieved, regardless of the subject.

Mr Willetts added: '[Ucas] are operating a massive system with more than half a million applications, but they need to signal the importance of some A-levels more than others and that message is often hidden behind a tariff point model.'

He also said that work-based apprenticeships should be accepted as a way to get into university.

Concerns have been raised this year about students who fail to secure a university place and could face the daunting prospect of up to three times higher tuition fees in 2012.

Dr Wendy Piatt, of the Russell Group, which represents top universities, said that it was not realistic to expect every student who wants to go to university to get a place. She said: 'The costs to the taxpayer of a very generous system of student loans and grants make it unrealistic to think that the country could afford to offer a properly funded university place to everyone who would like one. 'In a tight fiscal climate, maintaining the quality of the student experience must be a greater priority than expanding the number of places.'

On Monday Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, expressed concern about the financial burden for those who miss out. She said: 'This year, more than ever, we fear for the thousands of students who miss out on a university place and face paying three times more next year or struggle to find careers advice following Government cuts.'

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, sought to play down the fears. She said: 'It must be very dispiriting for students who have worked hard for the results they're receiving to be faced with a barrage of gloom and apocalyptic predictions, that usually turn out to be incorrect. 'People making such unfounded forecasts, usually to score cheap political points, are quite irresponsible and they should consider the impact it has on applicants.

'I would advise people looking to secure a university place to speak directly to specialist advisers at Ucas and at universities.' She said that last year nearly 70 per cent of university applicants were accepted onto a course.

This summer's A-level and GCSE exam papers have been beset by errors. Around 100,000 students in total are thought to have been affected by mistakes found in 12 different exam papers this summer. The blunders ranged from wrong answers in a multiple choice paper to impossible questions and printing errors.

The five exams boards responsible for the errors have promised students that they will not be penalised, in what looks to be a record year in terms of top grades.

Education expert Professor Alan Smithers predicted earlier this week that one in 10 A-levels could be graded as A*, as this year teachers and students have a better understanding of what is required to gain the top result. However, he also suggested that the overall pass rate was likely to stay about the same, perhaps rising or falling by only 0.1 per cent.


Pay teachers on merit, OECD tells Australian government

TEACHERS' skills should be linked to career structure and pay, so that advancement is based on competency rather than years spent in the job.

An international report on Australia's school system, to be released today, endorses the direction of the Labor Government's education revolution, including national tests, reporting of school performance on the My School website, national curriculum and "commitment to transparency".

The OECD report also praises the introduction of national teaching standards, performance goals and the system's strong focus on students' results.

But it urges the Government to go further and identifies "a number of missing links", including that career structures for teachers are not tied to teaching standards.

"This translates into a detrimental separation between the definition of skills and competencies at different stages of the career, as reflected in teaching standards, and the roles and responsibilities of teachers in schools, as reflected in career structures," it says.

The report highlights the need to broaden the use of student assessment, including the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, and warns against using the results to identify problems in individual students.

It says government has focused on using assessments to hold schools accountable but is yet to look at how the data can be used to make improvements in the classroom.

"The national education agenda has placed considerable investment in establishing national standards, national testing and reporting requirements, while it provides considerably less direction and strategy on how to achieve the improvement function of evaluation and assessment," it says.

The report recommends the performance of non-government schools be scrutinised more closely, saying the reporting of outcomes in private schools is "still limited to a simple set of compliance statements and does not focus on performance".

It also calls for independent reports evaluating schools to be published on My School to provide more comprehensive information about the quality of teaching and warns teachers against using the national literacy and numeracy tests to identify problems in individual students.

The report into student assessment in Australia is part of a broader review by the OECD of the different systems around the world for assessing and evaluating students and schools, and the way they can improve outcomes.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Return of No Child Left Behind

School reform was one of the few prominent successes of former President George W. Bush -- and one that has actually been embraced by his successor, Barack Obama​. But you wouldn’t know it from last week's GOP presidential debate.

Certainly there was plenty of drama -- including the sparring match between Rep. Michele Bachmann and now-former candidate Tim Pawlenty​, and the cheers from attendees after Ron Paul​ declared that he would pull troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The debate and the straw poll that followed two days later have reshaped the race for the Republican nomination. But, interestingly, none of the candidates had anything to say about the steps they would take to follow up on Bush's efforts to address America's woeful public schools. Those schools are spurring a crisis of dropouts who will burden the nation's economy -- and weigh on the federal budget as welfare recipients -- for decades to come.

Save for Herman Cain, who passingly noted that "we need vouchers," none of the candidates offered any sort of coherent views on education policy. As for No Child Left Behind? They didn't even bother. Huntsman made it clear that he did not favor the law, while Mitt Romney -- the most prominent supporter of the law during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts -- couldn't even offer a thought on the Obama administration's announcement last week that it was essentially gutting No Child. The Administration is bypassing Congress and offering waivers to states that allow them to avoid scrutiny under No Child’s school accountability rules. And none of the GOP candidates said a word about it.

In fact, almost none of the candidates have taken strong positions on efforts to expand school choice or even how to overhaul the federal government's $100 billion a year in public-school allotments. The candidates who have some experience in this arena -- like Jon Huntsman -- are running away from their political records. As Utah governor, Huntsman vetoed one school voucher proposal and allegedly watered down another. This is why Huntsman's most prominent former backer, founder Patrick Byrne (one of the nation's best-known supporters of school choice), proclaimed last week in Politico that he would never support Huntsman for a presidential bid.

Newly announced candidate Rick Perry​ is the one most likely to be vocal on education. He already won over RedState's Erick Erickson for mouthing off against federal education policy and sparring with the Obama administration over its Race to the Top initiative. He also opposed efforts by Administration-aligned conservative school reformers to coax states into enacting new reading and math curricula standards. From where Perry sits, "Texas is on the right path toward improved education" and doesn't need Washington butting in on its work.

If only. Perry unfortunately takes federal school dollars where he sees fit (belying his conservative credentials) and most of the Lone Star State's gains in student progress occurred under predecessor Bush (who modeled No Child on his work as governor). During Perry's tenure, Texas has fallen behind more aggressive reform-minded states such as Florida in improving student progress, further undermining Perry's credibility on education.

But the silence on school reform among GOP candidates -- and their retreat from No Child itself -- is deafening. Even before Bush teamed up with Ted Kennedy and John Boehner in 2001 to pass No Child -- and despite pretensions that education should be a state and local responsibility -- Republicans (and conservatives) have been as aggressive as Democrats in expanding the federal role.

In 1958, President Dwight David Eisenhower successfully pushed for the passage of the first major expansion of federal education policy, the Cold War-prompted National Defense Education Act of 1958, which led to the first major wave of standardized testing. During the 1970s, Richard Nixon​ fought for further expansion, including the creation of what is now the Institute of Education Sciences, which administers NAEP, the federal test of student progress. And it was Ronald Reagan​ who ushered in the modern school reform movement in 1983 with the publication of A Nation at Risk. Besides spurring the creation of some 250 state and local panels focused on improving teaching and expanding school choice, it would also begin a series of federal efforts that would culminate in school reform moves by George W. Bush's father and Bill Clinton​, including efforts to get states to embrace an early form of national curriculum standards.

Even now, there are plenty of Republicans, including Sandy Kress (who wrote No Child) and former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who still support an expanded federal role in education. Congressional Republicans have also made sure to play their part in continuing a strong federal role, most recently in successfully reviving the D.C. Opportunity voucher program, which was launched a decade ago by another generation of congressional Republicans.

There are also suburban Republicans such as House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, who try to appeal to movement conservatives with talk of reducing the federal role even as they push for higher levels of spending. Even as Kline has pushed to gut No Child's accountability rules (while complaining about the Obama administration's effort to do the very same thing), he has enthusiastically backed increasing the $11 billion the federal government ladles out to special education programs. The fact that special ed has helped fuel the nation's education crisis by labeling illiterate but otherwise capable young men as "learning disabled" has never factored into Kline's thinking.

Meanwhile, Republicans -- especially movement conservatives -- are vocally rejecting anything that seems to increase the federal role in education. Remember the race for the Democratic nomination in 2004? Progressive activists, frustrated that Bill Clinton turned out to be the Republicans' favorite Democrat, rebelled against any candidate who dared embrace Clinton's legacy. The current GOP campaign is shaped by that same kind of rebellion, this time against the excesses of Dubya's presidency (and his legacy, on education, as the Democrats' favorite Republican). Movement conservatives may be generally supportive of expanding vouchers and charter schools, two of the most-prominent elements of Bush's education policy. But the very concept of No Child itself -- especially its accountability provisions -- has always been viewed as federal overreach. Add the very presence of the U.S. Department of Education (whose abolishment has long been sought by conservative reformers), and the Obama administration's effort to require states to adapt Common Core reading and math standards in exchange for federal funding, and No Child becomes a dirty word.

In reality, No Child did little to expand the federal role, or even increase Washington's nine percent contribution to the $591 billion spent annually on schools. If anything, No Child actually signaled the reality that states, not school districts, control the direction of education. Given that school districts, as local governments, are merely tools of state control, this has always been implied. But since the 1960s, successful efforts by teachers' unions to pass state laws forcing districts to bargain with them, along with school funding lawsuits and property tax reforms such as California's Proposition 13, have led to states taking a more prominent role in all aspects of education -- including picking up 48 cents of every dollar spent on schools.

No Child gives a lot of leeway to states when it comes to interpreting how to meet certain requirements, like the one assuring that all teachers be "highly qualified" for instruction. States may be required to improve graduation rates and test scores -- including the aspirational goal that all students are proficient in reading, math and science by 2014 -- but the federal government allows them to develop their own solutions in order to achieve them. The approach hasn't exactly worked out as Bush wanted, as states have figured out how to game the law's flexibility. But the law has shined a much-needed light on the abysmal quality of education throughout the country.

For reform-minded governors on both sides of the political aisle, No Child has proven to be the tool they need to beat back opposition from suburban districts and affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have long dominated education at the state level. No Child, along with Race to the Top, is the leading reason why 13 states this year expanded school choice, either in allowing for the expansion of charter schools and starting various forms of school voucher plans. This fact (along with the preoccupation with addressing the debt ceiling and healthcare reform) is why congressional Republicans haven't moved forward on revamping No Child.


Detroit: Raise education benchmarks now

Federal targets should be scrapped; state is on right track in hiking its own standards

Schools across the state are feeling the heat. Federal education requirements continue to increase while districts struggle to keep up, as recent data show. But parents and other stakeholders must brace themselves for additional poor scores as the Michigan Department of Education aims for higher testing standards on its own.

After comparatively good news last summer, this year's Adequate Yearly Progress numbers aren't sunny. Around 20 percent of Michigan's schools didn't make the objectives, which are key components of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state Education Department says more schools failed to meet the provisions this past school year, despite overall improvements in test scores.

No Child demands 100 percent proficiency in key subjects by 2014, so states must raise standards each year to reach its unrealistic goal.

This time, 79 percent of schools and 93 percent of districts made Adequate Yearly Progress, down from 86 percent of schools and 95 percent of districts the previous school year. Detroit Public Schools, which met AYP last year with half of its schools reaching benchmarks, saw only a third of its 152 schools make it this year. Around 300 schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties did not meet the goals. To achieve yearly progress, schools are measured on a variety of factors, including attendance, English language arts and math scores and graduation rates. Schools also have to test 95 percent of students.

Education department officials weren't surprised by the drop as No Child requirements rose significantly last school year. In the 2009-10 school year, for example, schools needed to have 70 percent of third-grade students proficient in reading and 67 percent in math. Both of those targets rose by 8 percent this year.

Since each state sets its own proficiency benchmarks, some states have kept them low. Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center, says the No Child targets have actually encouraged states to lower their standards — the opposite of its intent. But states that have practically ignored the federal goals, such as Florida, have excelled by setting their own high proficiency and accreditation standards.

Michigan seeks to join these ranks. The State Board of Education has approved strengthening the measure of proficiency, and the board is expected to finalize the new requirements soon. State education officials recently applied for a waiver to the No Child requirements so schools wouldn't be punished as they're adjusting to tougher standards. The U.S. Department of Education is expecting other states to seek respite from the rising targets and has announced waivers in exchange for not-yet-released reform guidelines.

The waivers are a symptom of a bigger problem — after 10 years and billions of dollars, the No Child law hasn't worked.

The federal law should be scrapped. Michigan has a better answer: Raise its own standards and hold schools accountable for meeting them.


British bosses condemn 'useless' degrees which leave graduates unemployable because they lack basic skills

Millions of school leavers and graduates with 'fairly useless' degrees are unemployable because they lack basic skills, a major business lobby group will warn today. The devastating report, from the British Chambers of Commerce, reveals small businesses are frustrated at the quality of applicants, who they say can barely concentrate or add up.

Nearly half of the 2,000 firms surveyed said they would be 'fairly or very nervous' about hiring someone who has just finished their A-levels.

The report warns: 'Too many people [are] coming out with fairly useless degrees in non-serious subjects.' Its findings raise serious questions about the type and standard of education and skills training in Britain.

The group questioned the owners of 'micro-businesses', those with fewer than ten employees. Many have vacancies which they are desperate to fill but were scathing about the quality of candidates.

The report states: 'In general, younger people lack numerical skills, research skills, ability to focus and read, plus written English.'

One unnamed entrepreneur told researchers: 'Plenty of unemployed, mostly without experience in my sector. The interpersonal skills of some interviewed in the past have been very poor.'

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the fault lies with the education system, not with the young people themselves. He said new courses spring up because there is demand from would-be students – but not necessarily from businesses.

Dr Marshall said: 'There may be a course in underwater basket weaving, but that does not mean anybody will actually want to employ you at the end of it.' He cited the American television crime drama CSI as a prime example. It sparked a huge growth in the popularity of forensic science courses, but Dr Marshall said demand for these graduates is low.

He said: 'Despite high levels of unemployment, many micro-firms are frustrated by the quality of applicants for vacant roles. 'There is a real mismatch between business needs and local skills supply. Many businesses are unable to find school leavers or even graduates with the right mix of skills.'

Dr Marshall said he is desperate for the country to listen to business and create the right courses to fit the jobs that are available.

More than half micro-firms want to employ new workers over the next four years, but fear they will not be able to find suitable candidates. When asked how they do hire workers, many said they rely on their own family, personal contacts and people who have been recommended.

The report comes amid the growing ranks of business leaders attack Labour’s record on education and skills.

The former boss of Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy, described school standards as ‘woeful’ in 2009. His comments were echoed in the same year by former Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose, who said many school leavers were not ‘fit for work.’

Despite a doubling of spending on education since 2000, from £35.8billion to £71billion, Britain has plummeted down world rankings, according to the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘We share the concerns of many businesses that too many of our young people leave school without the skills needed for work – in particular in the basics of English and maths. ‘It is good qualifications in these key subjects that employers demand before all others. That’s why we are prioritising them.’


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lawsuit Details Depth of Berkeley Jewish Student Harassment

A pattern of harassment and physical assaults by members of two Muslim student groups at the University of California, Berkeley crosses the line from allowing free speech into creating a hostile campus environment, an attorney representing two students argued in court papers filed this week.

Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy are suing the University of California and Berkeley President Mark Yudoff, along with Berkeley's chancellor, the Regents of the University of California, the Associated Students University of California and Berkeley's dean of students for failing to protect them from verbal and physical assaults.

"Defendants assert that this Court is powerless to stop this conduct, claiming that these student groups have 'First Amendment Rights,'" wrote attorney Joel Siegal in response to a defense motion to dismiss. "But these Defendants have an equal obligation to protect the health and safety of Jewish students under Title VI," which requires federally funded educational institutions protect students against discrimination.

The lawsuit claims Berkeley has tolerated years of programming by anti-Israel student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) despite reports of Jewish students being cursed at, threatened and assaulted.

SJP's stated goal is to promote a "just resolution of the plight of the Palestinians" and employs boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns as well as mock checkpoints and mock "apartheid walls" on campuses throughout the U.S. to promote that cause.

MSA also has a history of supporting radicalism on Berkeley's campus. In 1995, the MSA at UC Berkeley conducted a rally in support of Hamas. In April 2002 the MSA publication at UC Berkeley, Al-Kalima, voiced its support of Hamas and Hizballah. MSA was established by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1963 to serve as a platform to spread Islam and Islamic ideas to college campuses in the U.S.

By continuing to authorize and fund SJP and MSA as official student organizations, the lawsuit alleges, the university allowed itself to become a dangerous and threatening environment for Jewish students. SJP and MSA sponsored "Apartheid Week" events, specifically the mock checkpoints that they stage on campus, create an actionable hostile environment harassment.

Students at the checkpoints carry "realistic looking assault weapons—'imitation firearms'—as part of the event," Siegal wrote, citing a California statute prohibiting such reenactments unless they are authorized by the school.

Declarations by Felber, Maissy, and Berkeley Professor Mel Gordon detail examples of incidents that they felt crossed the line into intimidation and harassment. Each complains that school officials failed to discipline the people involved.

Felber, who graduated in December, said she was physically assaulted on campus by an SJP member in March 2010. Hussam Zakharia, then leader of SJP, rammed a shopping cart into her back during simultaneous "Israel Apartheid Week" and "Israel Peace and Diversity Week" events.

She was treated for her injuries and later received therapy as a result of the incident. After that, Felber said, she was so intimidated that she was afraid to leave home without an escort.
Felber said she already felt intimidated on campus by SJP before that incident. She described an SPJ speaker at an event singling her out and calling her a "terrorist supporter" in front of 100 people.

Brian Maissy, a current student, similarly described the fear created by the annual "Apartheid Week" events. Maissy, who wears a yarmulke, said the students with the fake assault rifles yelled, "Are you Jewish?" at him and other passersby. The event occurs at the entrance to campus and is difficult to avoid, Maissy said.
University officials did not act to protect the students, he said, and he fears for his safety on campus.

The situation dates back at least a decade, according to Mel Gordon, a tenured theater professor at Berkeley. He described being physically attacked by SJP members in 2001 as they protested outside a campus building. When Gordon tried to go inside the building to teach a class, a student beat, spit upon, and kicked Gordon in the stomach.

Gordon sued his attacker and said he was awarded restitution in the case and a member of SJP was convicted. But, to his knowledge, SJP was not suspended or disciplined by school officials. The university continued to sponsor SJP and MSA as student organizations.

He described a letter he sent to school officials in 2008 after an altercation between members of SJP and the Zionist Freedom Alliance. In it, he said he told the chancellor about his experiences with SJP and urged something be done. He did not receive a response.

Jewish students also complained to school officials in 2008, saying they did not feel that the UC police and faculty were doing anything to curb SJP's intimidation and harassment. The officials denied that there was an anti-Semitic crisis on campus and "actively and intentionally" allowed it to continue, lawyers for the students say.

The lawsuit seeks damages, a five-year ban on MSA and SJP on campus, and a loss of university funding for the groups. The plaintiffs also argue that UC Berkeley must create an independent fact-finding body to handle student complaints of hostile environment situations on campus. The case is scheduled for trial September 22.


North Carolina University Puts Out List of 'Gay Friendly' Churches

Will they be putting out a list of theologically conservative churches too?

A North Carolina state university has put out a list of approved "gay friendly" churches for faculty and students raising concerns by at least one professor that taxpayers are inadvertently involved in "telling people where to go to church."

An office with the University of North Carolina's Wilmington campus began circulating the list late last month. It was compiled as part of a broader guide to gay-friendly businesses, nonprofits, health centers and other services in the area.

The "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and allied students, faculty, staff, and alumni" office described the document as a "local resource guide" for "lgbt staff and faculty." The head of the sociology department later suggested professors share it with their students.

But Mike Adams, a criminology professor on campus who went from atheist to Christianity, said the university should not be in the business of recommending churches. "It's just amazing," he told "It appears to me to be the height of not just silliness, but government waste."

In the guide, the office listed five Wilmington churches as "gay-friendly religious organizations." Included on the list were a Presbyterian church, a Lutheran church and a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

The LGBT office on campus could not be reached for comment.

But the guide follows a manual put out several years ago by the Georgia Institute of Technology that included summaries of how certain religions and denominations viewed homosexuality. A federal judge in 2008 ordered the religious references to be stripped, declaring the guide implicitly favored some religions over others.

Travis Barham, who worked on the Georgia case as part of the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, which has defended Adams in a court battle with the university over a promotion he claims he was wrongly denied, said he's not sure whether the University of North Carolina Wilmington is in danger of a similar violation.
But Barham questioned whether it was appropriate for the university to put out such a guide.

"Whether they're promoting denominations or whether they're promoting individual churches ... that's not the business of a university," Barham said.

Adams, who wrote about the church guide in an online column Monday, has previously called for the abolition of the LGBT group as well as several other identity-related groups on campus. He said the university guide probably has not crossed the legal line, but the university should stop distributing it anyway.

"If I were to stand up and start recommending churches in the classroom, that would be a serious problem," Adams said, claiming a separate UNC campus took down a broader church guide a few years ago following his objections.


British universities crack down on resits of High School exams

Teenagers who attempt to resit their A-levels after failing to get decent grades this week face being shut out of top universities, it can be disclosed.

As applications hit a record high, growing numbers of institutions are cracking down on students who boost their scores by taking exams a second time.

Leading universities such as Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sheffield and University College London said students were often banned from retaking an entire A-level to get on to some of the most sought after degrees such as law and medicine.

Days before the publication of A-level results, other institutions said students taking exams twice would be expected to gain higher scores than the standard offer.

Some universities such as the London School of Economics, Imperial College and Cambridge insisted resits were not ruled out but academics “prefer students who achieve high grades at their first attempt”.

The disclosure is made as teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to receive their A-level results on Thursday.

With competition for higher education places at a record high, it is believed that as many as a third of the 707,000 university applicants this year will fail to secure a degree course.

It is believed that many will reapply next year, even though annual tuition fees will soar as high as £9,000 for students starting courses in 2012.

The Council for Independent Education, which represents colleges specialising in A-level resit courses, said the number of enquiries to its members had doubled in July compared with the same period in 2010.

At present, students can resit individual A-level modules or retake an entire year. It is believed that between 30 and 50 per cent of pupils retake some papers. But headteachers warned that the sheer complexity of universities’ rules on resits risked damaging the career prospects of thousands of students.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said: “The more complex it is to get into university, the more it is going to deter people from going at all, particularly if they have not got access to the kind of advice they need to negotiate the applications process.”

Neil Roskilly, from the Independent Schools Association, added: “There are often valid personal reasons why a student has taken resits and there are not always opportunities to make that known.”

The Daily Telegraph gained data from almost 70 universities across Britain on their applications policies. The majority said resits were judged in the same way as first-time exams. Others said they devolved decisions in the issue to individual subjects departments. But the most selective universities often exercised more control.

Aberdeen said it considered students resitting their A-levels but not those applying for medicine degrees. Full A-level resits are also ruled out for medicine courses at Sheffield.

Birmingham said resits were “not allowed for medicine or dentistry” but may be considered on a case-by-case basis for other subjects.

At Dundee, students who fail to meet entry requirements in the first sitting “may be asked for higher [grades] depending on their individual circumstances”, a spokesman said.

Edinburgh insisted students would be expected to complete three A-levels “in one examination diet”, adding: “Candidates retaking A-levels will not normally be considered for selection.”

Imperial prefers exams “to have been taken in one sitting”, said a spokesman. Where students take tests a second time, information on exceptional circumstances such as illness may be taken into consideration. UCL said a “limited number” of courses – notably medicine and law – expected A-levels to be sat in a standard two-year cycle.

But Steve Boyes, chairman of the Council for Independent Education and principal of Mander Portman Woodward College in west London, said: “Once again demand for retaking will be very high.

“This may seem surprising with some vice-chancellors preparing for a collapse in the number of applications next year, due to the higher university fees payable in 2012. “On the other hand, just like last August, there are going to be more than 200,000 disappointed applicants this year, and a good proportion of these will want to re-apply with better grades.”


Monday, August 15, 2011

A secret primer from the teachers union on how to thwart parents and stop charter schools

Almost without fail, teachers unions respond to school reform drives by declaring their commitment to improving education collaboratively with parents and community leaders.

In one example, the United Federation of Teachers used just such an argument in fighting in the courts of public opinion and law to block the city from closing 22 failing schools.

Now, though, an internal report produced by the political shop of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers reveals the cynical falsity of the labor leaders' claims to have the best interests of students at heart.

Posted briefly on an AFT website, the document celebrated the weakening of parent-trigger legislation in Connecticut. A blogger named RiShawn Biddle saved the post for all to read.

A trigger law lets parents of kids in a persistently failing school vote to turn it into a charter school. Such a measure, on the books in California, threatens the jobs of unionized teachers.

When the idea surfaced in Connecticut, the AFT swung into action by lobbying the legislature to bottle up the bill in committee. This was described as "Plan A: Kill Mode." It failed.

Then the AFT went to "Plan B: Engage the Opposition," or, in honest terms, pretend to seek common ground by talking while making sure that "parent-trigger advocates ... were not at the table" in key meetings.

Then, in a classic jiu jitsu move, the union helped to write legislation that would create "advisory groups" with parent representation, essentially claiming to embrace an idea it opposed.

The AFT document bluntly admitted: Connecticut's parent committees are "advisory only and have no governing authority." The bill passed.

The union learned lessons, according to the presentation: The "absence of charter school and parent groups from the table" during negotiations was very helpful. And "toxic dialogue from ... parent trigger advocates" was damaging.

AFT boss Randi Weingarten, a former UFT president, was aware of how, er, toxic pulling back the curtain could be. She told a schools blog: "We are proud of the work in Connecticut, but disagree with the wording and what the wording ... represented."

But the strategy stands revealed: Commit to getting stakeholder buy-in as a means to get the unions' way.



NYC: On Aug. 7, Stanley Bosworth, the irrepressible, inimitable - and, some would say, impossible - headmaster of St. Ann's, the school I attended for a decade of my formative years, left this world for the next.

St. Ann's, the school he fashioned in his image, was a culture with a rich and rigorous academic curriculum, a total lack of grades ("How do you give a grade on an oboe's sweet, beautiful sound?" Bosworth was often given to utter) and - at the very same time - a rock-ribbed belief in psychometrics, the testing and measurement of intelligence.

It's the last of these that became a magnet for controversy. Beginning in the late 1960s, IQ testing had come under fire from progressive educators concerned that it was incapable of predicting real-world success and biased by gender, class and race. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of IQ tests in employment to prevent their being used to screen out racial minorities.

By the 1980s, the very idea of intelligence as a single, measurable quantity was under attack, as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner successfully advanced the notion that there were at least seven discrete forms of intelligence.

Through all of this, Bosworth staunchly held to his belief in intelligence testing as a means to identify gifted potential. It wasn't the best or the most subtle tool, he acknowledged, but, like a wrench one might variously use as a hammer, a vise and a means of self-defense, in the absence of something better, it got things done.

To his credit, he was always open to challenge. I had the privilege of being accepted into his senior seminar, the one class he taught. In it, we argued about the abuse of testing and demanded that Bosworth define "intelligence" - something he was loath to do. His position seemed similar to the classic line about pornography: "I know it when I see it."

And now, in the decades since Stanley Bosworth built St. Ann's from what one fellow alum described as "an obscure school for bourgeois hippies" into a nationally celebrated institution, the use of IQ tests has gone mainstream.

Here in New York, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT, is administered to pre-K kids to determine eligibility for gifted and talented programs. It generates an annual frenzy of underground preparation, not to mention massive upwellings of anxiety and rage. In my neighborhood of Park Slope, the cult of the exceptional child is in full effect, with parents doing everything in their power to optimize their offspring's chances at "giftedness" through early education, coaxing and coercion.

The sad thing about this latter-day embrace of psychometrics is that Bosworth, one of its greatest evangelists, refused to allow IQ testing to restrict St. Ann's admissions - forcefully stating that IQ scores were just part of a "holistic assessment" of the candidate, modulated by an understanding of background, special talents and openness to the world beyond pure academics: Music, theater, literature, the arts.

In 2008, the city schools eliminated just such "holistic assessments" for G&T placement, using OLSAT results as the exclusive tool for screening candidates. If only they'd learned the real lesson of Bosworth's legacy: that measuring the gifts and talents of children - like any high-wire act - isn't a matter of brute force and cold calculation, but of exquisite flexibility and balance.


Bright British students seek jobs instead of university

Bright teenagers are preparing to shun university in favour of finding a job amid intense competition for degree courses and fears over rising graduate debt.

Research by The Daily Telegraph shows a sharp rise in the number of students aged 17 and 18 directly applying to leading companies after leaving school and college.

Employers such as Network Rail, Marks & Spencer, Laing O’Rourke, the engineering firm, and the accountancy firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton are reporting huge rises in applications for A-level entry jobs this summer.

The disclosure, which comes days before students throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results, casts doubt on claims that degrees are a prerequisite for careers at top companies.

The exam results are expected to trigger the most intense scramble for university places ever seen as record numbers of students compete for courses before the introduction of annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 in 2012. With those who missed out on places last year adding to demand, it is believed 220,000 out of 707,000 applicants in total may be rejected.

The demand for places has already prompted an estimated third of universities to declare themselves “full” a week before results are published. In a series of other developments yesterday, it emerged that:

A record one in 10 A-levels could be awarded an A* grade — a rise of around one percentage point on last year — which will make it even harder for universities to pick out the brightest students;

The head of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said that schools were wrecking teenagers’ degree ambitions by advising them to study the wrong A-levels — leaving them locked out of the most academically demanding institutions;

One of Britain’s biggest exam boards, Edexcel, apologised after wrongly posting thousands of A-level results on its website on Saturday — almost a week early.

University still remains the main aspiration for most schoolchildren. But the competition for places is prompting more sixth-formers to seek other options.

These include applying to European universities where tuition fees are often a fraction of the £3,290 being charged in England from September. Yesterday, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, which charges £1,526 a year, said it had seen a 15-fold rise in applications from Britain this summer.

But some teenagers are shunning university altogether to focus on apprenticeships and other school entry-level programmes. According to figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, more than a quarter of leading businesses employ staff directly from schools and colleges and a fifth of other companies are considering opening up recruitment schemes to this age group. For the first time, Boots, the chemist, is running an apprenticeship scheme for sixth-formers this year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has so far received 1,600 applications for just 100 places on its employment scheme for A-level students. Applications for the programme, which leads to a chartered accountant qualification in four years, have doubled in a year and increased almost fourfold since 2008.

Gaenor Bagley, the firm’s head of people, said: “Students are being forced to look at different options for their future and university may not be the right solution. Anyone who has a genuine interest in pursuing a career in business has options.”

Network Rail has received 8,000 applications for 200 places on its paid apprenticeship programme, up from just 4,000 in 2010. The firm said demand for positions was being caused by university leavers unable to find graduate jobs.

Marks & Spencer said applications for just 40 places on its management scheme had increased from 1,100 to 1,600 in a year. Laing O’Rourke said applications for its training scheme had increased by almost 10 per cent to 284 this summer, while Grant Thornton said it had 700 applications for school leaver-entry jobs.

The Government has created more than 100,000 extra apprenticeships for people aged 19 and over this year as an option for young people.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

State of Illinois deems future soldier unfit for football after basic training

The usual anti-military hatred that pervades the educational establishment

In a shocking decision, the Illinois High School Association board of directors has refused to issue a waiver to a high school football player seeking to play in his school's first game who missed the start of preseason training while away on Army basic training in Georgia.

According to the Paxton Record's Cody Westerlund, Paxton-Buckley-Loda star running back and linebacker Eddie Nuss, who is a rising senior at the school, has been forced to miss nearly all of PDL's preseason training because he is still in the midst of Army basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. He won't return until August 19, which is only one week before the school's football season opener.

That seven day preparatory period falls short of the 12 days of practice that the IHSA requires all student athletes to go through before participating in a varsity football contest. Knowing that Nuss' practice time could be an issue, the family had a lawyer draw up a signed liability waiver that would have cleared the IHSA and all affiliated groups from any responsibility if Nuss was hurt in the season's opening game, but the IHSA board rejected the waiver citing, "concern for the person's well-being."

"There's this overriding safety issue," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told the Record. "Our sports medicine committee continues to feel that being in shape and being in football shape are two different things. We've had this issue a number of times. It's been brought to the board's attention, and they've consistently said that they're not interested in modifying this policy.

"Maybe something more from the person [could offer further protection for the IHSA]. But really at the end of the day, it's a combination of that and concern for safety that led the board to believe our currently policy should be enforced."

Not surprisingly, Nuss' father thinks both the IHSA's final ruling -- and the reasons behind it -- shouldn't apply to his son, who is in the midst of intense physical training.

"Four days a week, [Eddie Nuss] runs five miles with his gear and pack on," Pat Nuss, Eddie's father, told the Record. "That's an extra 20-30 pounds in 100-plus degrees. He'll be in better shape than any kid on the football field when he's out of basic training."

That day will come soon, though there is little chance for the younger Nuss to compete on the opening weekend barring a dramatic turn of events, or a court injunction against the IHSA. That second option remains a possibility, and is one that the family may take advantage of, though Nuss' father told the Record that he can't afford to pay thousands of dollars in prospective legal fees.

The drive for additional review of the issue has even been pushed by the local state senator for Paxton, Shane Culta, who brought the issue to the IHSA board and expressed frustration with the sense of hypocrisy he drew from board's final decision.

In the meantime, the returning two-way starter -- Nuss was a star running back and linebacker in 2010 for PBL -- will continue training for his military future, a path in which he will continue to follow in his father's footsteps; the elder Nuss was also a high school football player and is now a military veteran.

"I'm disappointed in them," Nuss' father, Pat, said of the IHSA. "It's not like he's on vacation. He's not running around doing something illegal. He's doing something good for the country."


Sex Education is Mandatory for Children as Young as 11 in New York City

Sex education will become a mandatory part of learning for New York City middle and high school students for the first time in almost 20 years. One of the lessons: how to put on a condom. That’s according to a report from the New York Times, which says the teaching will also advise students on the appropriate age for sexual activity.

The mandate calls for schools to instruct a sex education class in either 6th or 7th grade, and then again in 9th or 10th grade. Students are required to take one semester of the classes. This teaching, of course, brings up the long-time national debate about what, if anything, school should teach their students about sex.

“We must be committed to ensuring that both middle school and high school students are exposed to this valuable information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex,” NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to principals and obtained by Fox News Radio.

This new requirement comes as a part of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to improve the lives of young minorities in the city, according to the New York Times. The outreach is especially focused on young men.

“We have a responsibility to provide a variety of options to support our students, and sex education is one of them,” the chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in an interview with the New York Times on Monday.

Officials say the intent of the lessons is to get young adults to wait longer before experimenting with sex, but didn’t shy away from admitting there would be indiscreet discussion about graphic topics such as anatomy, pregnancy and puberty with children as young as 11.

Parents do have the option to remove their children from certain talks about birth-control methods. Also, local principals will be able to tweak the cirriculum to a certain extent, keeping their specific students and families in mind.

That said, school administrators say they are expecting some backlash from the community. “We’re going to have to be the bridge between the chancellor’s requirements and the community,” said Casimiro Cibelli, the principal of a Bronx middle school, where many of the students come from immigrant, religious families with traditional views on sex. “Hopefully, we’ll allay their concerns because of their trust in us.”

Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church, called the news “disheartening.” “Children are being forced to learn about this away from home,” he told Fox News Radio. “There’s nothing wrong with learning about the human body, but when you start going into discourses on sexuality, I worry that we’re opening students up to other agendas.”

While some have taken up arms, New York officials say sex education classes have been a point of contention before. They also point out that high schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years.

The mandatory classes will begin in this coming school year for students in New York City.


Britain: Evangelical church application to set up new free school where it will teach creationism is approved

An evangelical church with creationism at the heart of its belief system has been given outline approval to run a free school. An application by the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, Nottinghamshire, has been accepted by the Department for Education. The church intends to teach the biblical belief that God created the world in six days, but evolution will only be taught as a 'theory'.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, had promised that creationism will not be taught in free schools. He is 'crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact', the Department of Education confirmed.

But in January he said he would consider applications from creationist groups on a case-by-case basis.

Now it has emerged that a panel of civil servants interviewed Everyday Champions Church leaders last week after their initial application was approved. It is not known if they agreed to drop plans to teach creationism. Officials told the Daily Telegraph they could not comment on the application but each one would be treated with 'due diligence.'

Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents. They are independent from local authorities and do not have to follow the national curriculum. However, lessons must be 'broad and balanced.' As with independent schools, free school teachers will not need formal teaching qualifications.

The church wants to open the new 625-pupil school in September next year and says there are currently not enough secondary places available in the area.

Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church's leader, told the Independent: 'Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory.'

The church's website says the new school, with will be 'multicultural in philosophy and will welcome children from all faiths or none'. However, it adds that the 'values of the Christian faith will be the foundation of the school philosophy'.

The website says: 'We believe that the Bible is God's Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives.'

Secular groups have criticised education officials for accepting the application and were 'astonished ' it was even considered. Richy Thompson, of the British Humanist Assocaition, said: 'Everyday Champions Church have been very clear that they intend to teach creationism as valid, and sideline evolution as just ‘a theory’.

'Given this, how can the Department for Education have now allowed this proposal to pass through to the interview stage? '‘The creep of creationism into the English education system remains a serious concern, and the Department have a lot more work to do if they want to stop extremist groups from opening free schools.’

The Government has approved 35 free school applications to move to the business case and plan stage, and eight of these have been given the go ahead to move into the pre-opening stage.