Saturday, September 10, 2011

Plans to strengthen education in Arizona

Gov. Jan Brewer announced new plans to improve Arizona’s education system in a press conference Thursday at the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix.

The governor unveiled a new initiative that will help the state achieve goals set in her education reform plan released in January.

The “Arizona Ready” initiative aims to increase high school graduation rates, increase the number of third grade reading standards, improve low performing schools and increase the number of eighth graders achieving at or above national assessment standards.

Key strategies of the plan were developed in partnership with educators across the state, Brewer said. “Improving education is why I entered politics in the first place,” Brewer said. “That’s why we created Arizona Ready.”

The governor also said the children who entered kindergarten this year would be the first group to be tested on more rigorous standards when they enter third grade. “In the 2013-14 school year, third graders with AIMS reading scores that fall far below the third grade level will not be promoted,” Brewer said.

Then, in the 2014-15 school year, new assessments for students in grades three to 11 will be introduced, she said. “Third to 11th graders will take their first diagnostic tests in the fall (of 2014) to determine what skills they must master to be on track for college and career readiness,” Brewer said.

Along with the Arizona Ready initiative, the governor said she was excited to launch a website in correlation with the plan — “This website provides tools like a timeline of important changes that parents need to know, daily messages about how to help your child succeed, and the opportunity to connect with other parents and teachers to learn from their experiences,” Brewer said.

Additionally, the Arizona Science Center, in partnership with the governor’s office, will be offering one free child general admission for every adult general admission purchased and will provide all credentialed educators with a free educator membership to the center, in order to develop their skills and extend their training, Brewer said.

At Thursday’s press conference, strong emphasis was put on improving students’ skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also referred to as STEM.

“STEM education is an education that truly enables you to do different things in your career … I think the importance of what we are doing today is going to prepare Arizonans for the future,” said Bill Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona. “Really, what we’re doing is going back to the old days of the Sputnik era; this was done by a high bar and a high expectation for performance. That’s the foundation for Arizona Ready. That’s the foundation for our future.”

To boost Arizona students’ STEM skills improvement, the governor announced the state’s participation in a national high school competition, The Real World Design Challenge. According to its website, The Real World Design Challenge is an annual competition that provides high school students the opportunity to work on real-world engineering challenges in a team environment.

“By participating in this initiative, teachers and students will have access to millions of dollars in state-of-the-art engineering software, training in the use of this software, and access to professional focusing on the 21st century focusing on STEM skills,” Brewer said.

Rebecca Gau, director of the Governor’s Office of Education Innovation, called Arizona’s participation in the competition “a wonderful opportunity that will bring fun and opportunity to STEM education.”

Shadow Ridge High School senior and architecture program student Darien Harp was invited along with his peers to participate in the competition. “I think we have a fair chance,” he said.

Harp said he hopes to pursue an architecture career one day and he believes the Real World Design Challenge will help him reach his goals.

Opponents to Brewer’s initiative include state Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, the House minority whip. In a statement released Thursday, Tovar said the governor continues to “build on empty promises” when it comes to funding education.

She pointed to Proposition 100, a temporary state sales tax increase passed by voters in May 2010. “She created a perception that she would use the sales tax hike for education but this year turned around and made another massive cut to education — $273 million to universities and $180 million to K-12,” Tovar said. “She then handed that money over to bail out, through tax cuts, big corporations and rich CEOs, not middle-class families.”

In the statement, Tovar questioned the governor’s actual support for education. “Gimmicks and websites don’t make up for cuts that increase class sizes, eliminate access to books and technology and limit access to full-day kindergarten,” she said.


Lessons are too easy, say most pupils at British primary and secondary school

Most children think their school work is easy, research has found.

Academic rigour at both primary and secondary school has been called into question as more than 50 per cent of youngsters admit they are not stretched in their studies.

The proportion of pupils who say they are not pushed has sharply increased during the last three years.

Today's figures follow evidence that England is slipping down the international education league tables and is now lagging behind countries such as Slovenia.

The findings have prompted accusations that Labour's education policies and obsession with targets led to a dumbing-down of standards despite a doubling of spending from an annual œ35.8billion in 2000 to œ71billion in 2009.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: `Under Labour, exam results were used to judge schools so it was imperative that children didn't fail. `So the examining boards have tended to make the examinations user-friendly and schools have pre-processed the information.

`The children are drilled and taught to the test, and coursework is given back to them with suggested improvements.

'This takes the fun and the challenge from education and makes it rather dull, as the pupils seem to be saying in response to this research.'

Dr Karina Halstead, who runs private tutor firm, London Home Tutors, has witnessed first-hand a `dramatic slump in standards' that has left pupils needing to do little more than `follow instructions' to pass exams.

She said: 'There has been a remarkable change in the level of difficulty.

'While more people are hiring private tutors today, they use them for far fewer sessions than a decade ago.

'This is because there is less need. Today, we mostly teach strategic exam passing technique, rather than give weekly tutorial so help students develop an in-depth knowledge and understanding of a subject.'

The three-year study of 8,334 children was conducted by the Centre of the Use of Research in Education.

It found that more than half of primary-age pupils, 52 per cent, disagreed or strongly disagreed that lessons were too difficult, as did 57 per cent of secondary pupils.

Amongst the older pupils, maths was considered the hardest subject, but also rated the most useful, after PE, for life outside school.

Religious education was seen as the least useful.

The findings also showed the number of children believing work is not too hard for them rose between the first year of the survey, in 2008, and the final round, in 2010.

Professor Philippa Cordingley, director of the project, said: `These findings seem to us to support the inference that even though the majority of learners report a reasonable level of difficulty, a small but significant proportion of learners are not being challenged sufficiently, and that, in the primary phase particularly, this is more true of higher achieving learners.'


Rise of the tutor as British parents lose faith in classroom teaching

More parents are hiring private tutors for their children as fears grow about slipping standards in the classroom. Almost a quarter of pupils aged 11 to 16 have received hired help to boost exam results, a sharp rise since 2005, a study has found. In London, this increases to almost four in ten children - a trend which reflects the scramble for places at leading schools in the capital.

In some secondary schools it is thought as many as 65 per cent of pupils will benefit from a tutor at some point.

The findings suggest successful schools are climbing exam league tables thanks partly to the work of private tutors. And with prices for such teaching sessions set at up to œ60 an hour, children from affluent families are more likely to get a boost than those from a disadvantaged background.

In the study, market research company Ipsos MORI polled 2,739 children between the ages of 11 and 16 in England and Welsh state schools and compared findings with a similar poll in 2005. It found the proportion sent to tutors had increased from 18 to 23 per cent.

It is believed the increase in tutoring among 16 to 18-year-olds was prompted by unprecedented competition for scarce university places this year, which is the final year before fees hike to œ9000.

The study follows recent evidence of a surge in the number of children as young as three receiving private tuition.

Asian and black families are the most likely to hire private tutors, with 42 per cent of Asian children and 38 per cent of black children getting extra help, compared to just 20 per cent of white families. And of today's figures, 25 per cent of tutored children are from affluent families, while 18 per cent come from poorer backgrounds.

Yesterday, educational charities warned the trend could widen the educational gap between the `haves and have-nots' with poorer parents unable to afford private tuition.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: `Private tuition appears to be booming despite the recession. `While it is natural that parents should want to do the best for their children, it does give well off families an advantage, particularly when money to help children from poorer homes is being cut.'

The Sutton Trust has funded a pilot scheme of 100 pupils from poor homes in London who will be given one-to-one tuition in a bid to boost GCSE maths scores.


Friday, September 09, 2011

Homeschooling is easy!

I was reading Lawrence Ludlow’s excellent series on Voluntarist schooling when I came upon this statement: “For many busy parents, home-schooling is not an option – despite the extraordinary success of home-schooled children. Many parents do not have the time, skills, and resources needed by their children to flourish.” I have a bit of perspective to add to this.

I have been a member of the ORSIG homeschooling email list for many years now. This has about a thousand members (mostly moms) in the state of Oregon.

A while back, I had noted that the Old Media constantly harped on this meme: “homeschooling is wonderful, in its way, but homeschooling parents are saints, and most of us are not capable of doing it.” Of course this was apparently a ruse for discouraging people from looking into homeschooling, while acknowledging that they were no longer able to get the homeschooling genie back into the bottle again.

Only problem was, that my experience with homeschooling moms did not jive with this meme. Rather than being saints, they were much like other parents I have known--no better, no worse. They were in fact quite usual, ordinary.

I decided to do a little experiment. I asked a question on the ORSIG homeschooling list, something to this effect: “I want to ask mothers who have had experience both with government schooling and with homeschooling, a very simple question. Which is easier? Please understand, I am not asking which is more uplifting or rewarding or anything of that nature. I simply want to know, which option do you consider the easier?” I did not coach anyone to give an expected “correct” answer; in fact I had no idea what the answer would be.

As I recall, I got about 10 to 15 responses to that question. The near unanimous response was that homeschooling was easier than government schooling. The sole response that differed was that one mom, with one of her children, said it was about a wash between the two options!

Needless to say, this brings into question the meme that only saintly parents can manage homeschooling. If homeschooling is not only better for your kids, but flat-out easier than the government schools, then what is stopping you from homeschooling, really?

This result struck me so strongly that I went out and bought (rented?) the domain name, intending to put together a website that would help remove this meme as an impediment to homeschooling. Alas, I never did anything with it. “The best-laid plans...”

How could it be that homeschooling is easy? A bit of reflection gives the answer, and this answer came out in the responses to my question, too. For one thing, kids are learning machines, if you just get out of their way. A little facilitating is all that is necessary, especially for the “unschooling" crowd.

No need to reproduce “school at home”-- the image that the Ministry of Propaganda wants everyone to have of homeschooling.

All of a sudden, a family does not have to live on the government school schedule. Vacations can be any time of the year (lower costs in the shoulder seasons, no need to fight with others at work for that vacation slot in the schedule, etc.). No need to shuttle kids here and there for school events (shuttling still goes on with homeschoolers, but only what they want to put up with). No need to help with pointless or stupid government school homework, or worry about your kid not fitting in or being drugged with Ritalin. No need to attempt to reverse the indoctrination your kids receive every day in the indoctrination camps. According to actual homeschooling moms with experience in both camps, it’s easier!

The facts are, some variation of homeschooling is available to almost every family. Many families have one parent or a grandparent at home. Of those that don’t, often work schedules for the parents can be juggled. And for the rest, we can simply look back in history to the “dame schools,” just elderly, more cultured ladies in the neighborhood willing to take in a few kids for a few hours for a little money. There are an infinite variety of strategies possible for those willing to escape the government school monopoly. All it takes is will and a bit of imagination.

One amusing aside: since the Ministry of Propaganda has taken this stance of “homeschooling parents are saints,” it has effectively shut off the coercive option of forcing parents back into government schools, or making homeschooling as difficult legally as possible. Saints aren’t to be beaten up, are they? California tried it a while back, failing spectacularly. Whenever a new regulation is imposed on homeschoolers, the response is for more homeschoolers to go “non-compliant”—indeed, Oregon has a large, feisty non-compliant population of homeschoolers. The trend, over the years, has been less regulation of homeschoolers as a result; this goes counter to the usual trend in our budding police state. Homeschooling is one place where many parents first encounter real freedom. It’s a heady feeling!


British PM: we need elitism in schools

David Cameron will signal a return to “elitism” in schools in an attempt to mend Britain’s “broken” society and secure the economic future.

The Prime Minister will attack the “prizes for all” culture in which competitiveness is frowned upon and winners are shunned.

In a significant speech, he will outline Coalition plans to ensure teaching is based on “excellence”, saying that controversial reforms are needed to “bring back the values of a good education”.

Failure to do so would be “fatal to prosperity”, he will say.

The comments mark the latest in a series of attempts to focus on education in response to the riots that shocked London and other English cities last month.

They follow the announcement by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, of back-to-basics discipline in state schools. He plans to give teachers more freedom to search pupils suspected of carrying banned items and to let them use reasonable force in removing the most disruptive children from the classroom.

Mr Cameron will seek to move the debate on to standards, saying that a rigorous focus on the basics is needed to give young people “the character to live a good life, to be good citizens”.

The Prime Minister will say: “For the future of our economy, and our society, we need a first-class education for every child. Of course, everyone’s agreed on that. “The trouble is that for years we’ve been bogged down in a great debate about how we get there. Standards or structures? Learning by rote or by play? Elitism or all winning prizes?”

Mr Cameron makes it clear that he is in favour of elitism and not prizes for all. He will add: “These debates are over – because it’s clear what works. Discipline works. Rigour works. Freedom for schools works. Having high expectations works. “Now we’ve got to get on with it – and we don’t have any time to lose.”

Ministers have already outlined plans to insist on at least a 2:2 degree before students join teacher training courses, and to hand generous bursaries to the brightest graduates who want to teach key subjects such as science and maths.

The Government has also introduced the English Baccalaureate, a new school leaving certificate that rewards pupils gaining good grades in academic subjects including maths, English, science, languages, history and geography.

In his speech, Mr Cameron will also champion the opening of the first free schools, state-funded institutions run by parents, charities and faith groups, independent of local council control. Some 24 have opened this month.

The measures have provoked fury among teaching unions who claim they smack of elitism and represent an attempt to dismantle the state education system.

But Mr Cameron will say that free schools will “have the power to change lives”. He will also seek to link improvements in education to mending “our broken society.”

“We’ve got to be ambitious if we want to compete in the world,” he will say. “When China is going through an educational renaissance, when India is churning out science graduates, any complacency now would be fatal.

“And we’ve got to be ambitious, too, if we want to mend our broken society. Because education doesn’t just give people the tools to make a good living – it gives them the character to live a good life, to be good citizens.”

The comments come days after Nick Clegg said that parents must take more responsibility. The Deputy Prime Minister insisted that teachers should be left to educate, and not be expected to act as “surrogate mothers and fathers”.


Britain even worse at maths than Albania as UK schools rank 43rd in the world

Britain is languishing behind Albania in a league table for maths and science education, according to an authoritative international study. A report by the World Economic Forum has ranked UK schools 43rd in the world – behind countries such as Iran, Trinidad and Tobago and Lithuania.

The findings are a damning indictment of Tony Blair’s pledge to prioritise ‘education, education, education’ and come after education spending doubled from £35.8billion to £71billion under Labour.

The WEF findings reveal British pupils are at a disadvantage compared to many others around the world, with the country at risk of developing a core skills shortage.

While the UK languishes in 43rd position in the table, Singapore tops the list, followed by Belgium and Finland.

New Zealand takes seventh place, Canada eighth, France 15th and Bosnia and Herzegovina 41st. Just below the UK sit Jordan and Romania.

And Britons do not only fare poorly when it comes to maths and science, as a recent OECD report showed a fifth of 15-year-olds are ‘functionally illiterate’.

The WEF annual study, carried out between January and July, is based on in-depth surveys of 142 countries and takes into account each nation’s economic and business standing.

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore said: ‘After 13 years in which Labour failed to grasp the importance of maths and science education to our future prosperity, this report shows how much ground we have to make up.’ ‘We should be competing with the likes of Singapore, not Iran and Albania.’

The UK’s ranking in 2008 was 47th, meaning there has been a slight improvement over the last three years. It is thought this is because during the recession, teenagers have heeded calls from employers for more graduates who have core skills in maths and science.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ohio to Retest Teachers Under New Law

As soon as next year, approximately 7,000 educators in Ohio's poorest-performing public schools may be required to retake teaching exams under a new law passed by the state.

Math and English teachers who work at schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of the state will be required to retake and pass Ohio's teacher licensure exams. If the teachers pass, they will be exempt from retaking the test for three years. Each district's school board will have the option to fire teachers who don't pass the test.

Patrick Galloway, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, says the earliest the changes will be implemented is prior to the 2012-2013 school year, and that the criteria for ranking schools is still being developed. Meanwhile, the state's education department is developing a new teacher evaluation system that will be piloted later this school year in certain districts.

Galloway says that by holding schools and teachers accountable for student achievement, underperforming schools will hopefully improve."The whole purpose here is to help our most persistently struggling schools by working to provide the best instructors possible," he says. "We're doing this to lift up those students."

The Ohio law is the most comprehensive state law requiring teacher retesting. The state has aggressively implemented teacher evaluation legislation over the past year, to the chagrin of some teaching groups in the state, who argue that teaching in poorer, urban schools is inherently a tough task.

Galloway says he understands why some educators are pushing back against the law, but that good teachers shouldn't have anything to worry about.

"If you're proud of your performance, you should be able to put it out there and show, 'This is what I'm capable of,'" he says. "We understand there's concern. This is educators' livelihood[s], their passion. But at the same time, we need to make sure we have the best teachers in the classroom."

Teaching advocates say that many of the poorest performing schools are in poverty-stricken areas, which can be the most difficult environments for teachers.

"It's punishing teachers for taking on the toughest job—and will actually discourage good teachers from taking on those jobs in those schools [that] need the best teachers," Mark Hill, president of the Worthington Education Association, a group representing 800 teachers in Ohio, told the Columbus NBC affiliate.


Britain: Free schools good, profit motive better

I went on the BBC News Channel yesterday afternoon defending free schools against the charge that they would lower standards and lead to social segregation.

First, it is worth re-capping what the ‘free schools agenda’ is all about. Essentially, it has two purposes. The main one is to increase the supply of good school places by letting independent providers set up new schools, and receive state funding on a per pupil basis. The idea is that this allows parents to exercise a meaningful choice over where their child is educated. That drives schools to compete for pupils, which increases accountability and drives up standards. The second purpose of the free schools agenda is to give schools greater freedom from bureaucratic interference: let them innovate, let them focus on teaching the child in front of them, and stop thinking the man in Whitehall always knows best.

School choice may be a radical idea, but it isn’t a new one, and it has worked where it’s been tried – most famously in Sweden, that well-known socialist nirvana. Moreover, it is hard to deny that the British education system is in need of serious reform: despite the fact that spending has practically doubled in real terms over the last decade, Britain has tumbled down the international league tables. Academic research has even suggested that 17 percent of British 16-19 year olds are illiterate, while 22 percent of them are functionally innumerate – a shocking indictment of a failing system.

Moreover, the claims made by the critics of free schools do not hold water. They suggest that free schools will promote inequality, but this has not been the experience in Sweden or the US. In fact, American evidence suggests the opposite: that privately operated schools can be better integrated, since attendance is not as closely linked to where one lives as it is in the state sector. Indeed, it is worth remembering that our current schools system is deeply unequal precisely on these grounds – in many cases it amounts to little more than segregation by house price. Live in a nice area, and chances are you’ll get to attend a fairly decent school; live on a sink estate, and you probably won’t be so lucky. Free schools offer an escape route.

At this stage, however, it is worth making a point about the profit motive – which Nick Clegg today ruled out of bounds vis-à-vis free schools. The trouble with not allowing for-profit companies to run free schools is that it dramatically narrows the pool of potential school operators. Fewer new schools will be set up, and those that are established are more likely to be concentrated in relatively affluent areas, where parents have the time and the ability to push for them. By contrast, if we were to allow profit-making free schools, we would get far more of them, and see more of them being set up in deprived areas – where both the demand and the need for them is greatest. Whatever Nick Clegg says, the profit motive in education could easily be a force for social mobility, not against it.

Finally, a point on standards: there simply isn’t any convincing evidence to suggest that free schools will provide a lower standard of education than state comprehensives, or that standards at those state comprehensives will suffer because of the existence of free schools. True, part of the rationale behind school choice is that irredeemably bad schools should go out of business. But that is surely as it should be: a system where good schools can grow and be replicated, and where bad schools are not kept interminably on life support, will lead to standards being driven up across the board.


Australia: Seven Queensland teachers still in classrooms despite sex, violence offences

SEVEN teachers who have committed serious offences are currently teaching in Queensland classrooms. Two committed robberies with violence, while the rest faced court for a range of sexual offences.

The teachers are set to be deregistered under proposed laws but because they weren't sentenced to imprisonment they will be able to reapply for registration. Six out of the seven did not have convictions recorded against them.

The State Opposition has questioned the appropriateness of some of the seven teachers potentially being allowed to teach. It follows legislation introduced into State Parliament which proposes a lifetime classroom ban for any teacher convicted of a serious offence and sentenced to jail.

Education Minister Cameron Dick said the proposed amended legislation would allow those convicted of serious offences but who were not sentenced to imprisonment to gain registration under exceptional circumstances. Their registration would be cancelled automatically and they would have to reapply to teach.

Mr Dick said they would be required to go through a two-stage process to reregister, including an eligibility test and a presumption against their registration when reapplying to the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT).

QCT director John Ryan said that of the seven teachers, four had been charged with carnal knowledge-type offences involving girls aged 10 to 16 years. Three of those offences involved 16 or 17-year-old boys dating back to the late 1960s.

Mr Ryan said six of the seven registered teachers did not have a conviction recorded against them and all of the cases had been reviewed by the QCT, with registration granted under exceptional circumstances.

But opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg raised concerns about those charged with robbery with violence, in particular, still being allowed to teach.

Dr Flegg agreed that if a teacher was not sentenced to jail the case should be decided on its merit. But he said the impressionable nature of children needed to be taken into account and the QCT should err on the side of caution. "I don't think that Queenslanders would be particularly keen to see violent robbers teaching children in a school," he said.

"And I think there is also the potential problem that information, particularly in the modern technological era, is likely to become public information if somebody is holding a position like a teacher, which therefore undermines the authority of that teacher anyway. "Therefore I think (those convicted of) serious violence offences of that nature ... should be looking for careers other than teaching in the classroom."


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Shooting the messenger

Education leaders believe the SAT is biased against minority students.

Some colleges have devalued or eliminated the SAT when it comes to their admissions process, saying it discriminates against minority students.

"In some technical sense, it's probably not a biased test," said Fairtest's Monty Neil. Fairtest is dedicated to ensuring fairness in standardized tests.

"The purpose of the SAT, why it got constructed, was to predict college grades, so what happens is that kids of color - black kids, Hispanic kids - are very often left out," Neil said. "They're predicted to not do well when, in fact, they could do well."

Laurence Bunin, from the College Board, the owners of SAT, disagrees. "Fairest is mistaken on this point. The SAT is absolutely predictive of how well students will do in college," Bunin said. "Every single question on the SAT is tested with real students from all races and all walks of life to ensure that every question is fair."

Bunin also believes the test is a fair test that helps mirror what is going on in the country. He also states students and parents should understand that colleges look at a variety of factors, not just the test.


Uneducated guesses: Reforming education by committee rather than evidence

Statistician Howard Wainer doubts the salvation of public education will come from blue-ribbon commissions, a popular strategy in Georgia in which dense reports on how to fix schools stack higher than the Gold Dome. (As we discussed recently, the state is taking another swipe at funding reform, assembling its sixth commission to tackle the challenge.)

“If you try to change a very complicated system — and a school system is very complicated — the worst way is to appoint a blue-ribbon panel with a name like ‘Education 2030’ and ask them to come up with a plan to improve things,” Wainer said. “That is not going to work because we are not that smart.”

In an interview last week and in his new book “Uneducated Guesses” (Princeton, $24.95), Wainer maintains that education ought to look to manufacturing. Using paper-making as an example, Wainer said, “You might vary temperature a bit or you vary acidity by a little bit to see if it improves the quality of the paper. If it does, vary it some more in the same direction. If it makes things worse, retrace your steps and try something else. You should be in a constant state of experimentation all the time, seeing what makes things better. But you must make incremental changes so if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t kill you.”

Too often, schools blunder into change by mistaking anecdote for evidence, Wainer said. Tired of yelling at the TV when he saw news accounts of policy changes based on flawed evidence, Wainer uses his book to present evidence to help assess 11 such trends, including the entrance-exam-optional policies in many colleges and teacher evaluations based on student performance.

Wainer, who holds a doctorate in psychometrics from Princeton and lives near the university in New Jersey, was principal research scientist at the Educational Testing Service for 21 years and is now Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and an adjunct professor of statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

To test the growing assumption that entrance exams are not a quality predictor of student performance, Wainer reviewed the SAT scores of students who opted not to submit their scores when they applied to Bowdoin, a premier liberal arts college in Maine that has made SAT scores optional.

Wainer found that Bowdoin students who took the SAT but chose not to submit scores posted lower scores than their peers who did submit them. The mean score of students who submitted their scores was 1,323 out of 1,600, while nonsubmitters had a mean of 1,201.

Wainer went a step further to see how well these students fared in college. His finding: Students who didn’t submit SAT scores earned grades 0.2 points lower (on a four-point scale) in their first year than classmates who did submit their scores. Their poorer performance at Bowdoin was well-predicted by their SAT scores.

Wainer understands that most people won’t see grave concern, for instance, in a 3.0 grade-point average vs. a 2.8 (although Georgia students know that it’s a critical distinction for the HOPE scholarship).

But he isn’t arguing that an SAT score ought to trump a high school transcript. “What impresses me is that a two-and-a-half-hour test predicts performance in college about as well as four years of high school grades,” he said.

(Because college rankings incorporate the SAT scores of admitted students, Wainer points out that an optional SAT policy can enable a campus to climb in the rankings because lower-scoring students are less apt to submit their scores.)

While he has played a key role in the testing industry, Wainer said he’s not trying to bolster the College Board, which administers the SAT. In fact, he concludes in another chapter of his book that the national push to get more students enrolled in demanding AP math and science courses, also overseen by the College Board, is misbegotten.

“Someone asked me which side am I on,” he said. “I am on the side of data. What I hope people will do, when confronted with policy, is ask what’s the evidence.”

And Wainer said the evidence isn’t there yet on one of the most controversial new policies in education, basing teacher evaluations and pay on how much “value” they add to student learning as reflected in test scores.

Acknowledging that he goes “deep in the weeds” on the defects of value-added models, Wainer said, “It appears, at least at the moment, that the more you know about value-added models, the less faith you have in the value of inferences drawn from them.” He urges caution in adopting such models.

Wainer applies more than statistical evidence to education policy; he also brings common sense to bear. He dismisses attempts to compare U.S. schools with the idealized country du jour, saying, “You can take a Swedish model but anything works for Sweden because Sweden is full of Swedes. There are very few countries that have our diversity, our serious diversity, not skin color or hair curl, but the diversity of opinion, of background, that is in effect here.”

What Americans have to accept is that education, not to be confused with schooling, is neither cheap nor easy. “Schooling is six hours a day, 30 weeks a year. Education takes places in the home, in the church, in the community, all the time,” he said.

When Wainer served on the Princeton school board, parents asked him how they could help their children do better in school. He told them, “Turn off the television and read with them.”


Two-thirds of British schools ignore legal requirement to provide daily act of worship

Most schools ignore the legal requirement to hold a daily act of worship for their pupils, a new study has found.

Almost two-thirds of parents told a survey that their children do not attend a daily act of collective worship at school.

And a majority of people thinks that the law on daily worship on schools should be no longer be enforced.

A Church of England spokesman pointed out that the BBC Local Radio poll did not differentiate between primary and secondary schools, and argued that most primary schools do have collective worship or a daily period of reflection.

'The law states that all maintained schools must provide a daily act of collective worship, with the exception of those withdrawn by their parents,' he said.

'The Church of England strongly supports this - although it is not its job to enforce it - as it provides an important chance for the school to focus on promoting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of its pupils.

'Collective worship is when pupils of all faiths and none come together to reflect - it should not be confused with corporate worship when everyone is of the same belief.'

However, 60 per cent of the public do not support enforcing the law which prescribes a daily act of worship in all state schools, with older people more favourable towards the law than the young.

A small majority (51 per cent) of those aged 65 or over believe it should be enforced, but only 29 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds agree.

Following the release of these findings, National Secular Society executive Keith Porteous Wood called for the law on collective daily worship to be repealed, saying it infringed pupils' human rights.

'As the BBC survey confirms, the law requiring daily collective worship is being widely flouted, and because the law should not be brought into disrepute in this way, it should be repealed,' he said.

'England is the only country in the western world to enforce participation in daily worship in community schools. 'To do so goes beyond the legitimate function of the state and is an abuse of children’s human rights, especially those who are old enough to make decisions for themselves.'

The survey was carried out by telephone in July and interviewed over 1,700 adults, including 500 parents with children at school in England.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Huge police presence needed for British kids to get to and from school safely

As a grade-school kid in the '50s I walked a mile to school in bare feet every day under NO supervision at all. And I never once had trouble. But there were no Muslims or Africans around then

Thousands of children returned to school yesterday under police guard. Scotland Yard is deploying 1,000 officers to stand at school gates and escort pupils on to buses to deter robbers.

The move follows a 20 per cent rise in street robberies in London to 13,254 this year, with a third of the victims aged ten to 19. Youngsters carrying expensive smartphones and MP3 players are increasingly being targeted, even though robbery rates overall are down since 2006. Blood-stained necklaces have been offered to pawnbrokers as jewellery theft has risen, driven by the high price of gold.

Assistant Met Commissioner Ian McPherson said: `Smartphones and media players are becoming must-have items for many people. Young people, especially secondary school-aged children, are targeted - usually after school by other young people.'

Hundreds of police and community support officers are taking part in the crackdown until half-term starts on October 21, a period when thefts from pupils surge.

Figures show 10 per cent of muggings take place around transport hubs and the Met is stationing officers outside schools, Tube stations and on buses.

Met Commander Maxine de Brunner said the end of the school day between 3pm and 6pm was when many thefts take place. She said: `It is a really busy time for us, especially at the start of the school term.

`Ten years ago the figures were much higher. But we have seen a spike in robbery in recent months which is down to the upward trend in the availability of really expensive phones and iPads.

`It is unprecedented to focus this amount of officers on just the journey to and from school and around transport hubs.' But she added: `I think it makes young people feel safe that we are there.'


Bring back danger: Councils should build old-fashioned playground as British children have been softened up

Old-fashioned playground equipment like climbing frames, sand pits and paddling pools are set to be re-introduced after research found a degree of risk helps children to develop.

For years councils have felt forced to remove older attractions from their sites fearing any potential injuries could result in costly legal battles.

But recent research has shown that children actually benefit from risk when they play as it helps them develop the judgement skills they need in later life.

In an article for the scientific Journal Evolutionary Psychology, Ellen Sandseter a professor at Queen Maud University in Norway said: 'Children must encounter risks and overcome playground fears - monkey bars and tall slides are great. 'They approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner. 'Let them encounter these challenges from an early age and they will master them through play over the years.'

In July, High Court judge Mr Justice Mackay ruled the National Trust could not be held responsible for the death of an 11-year-old boy who was killed when a branch fell from a tree at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk in 2007. He told the court that the Trust's tree inspectors had exercised a reasonable amount of caution saying 'even the most careful risk assessment can be proved wrong by events.'

This landmark ruling is believed to greatly reduce the prospect of legal action in the event of injuries in play areas.

Last year David Cameron commissioned the report Common Sense, Common Safety, to look into the problem of unnecessarily strict health and safety regulations being enforced.

Outlining the problem he wrote: 'A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.'

The report, written by Lord Young concluded: 'There is a widely held belief within the play sector that misinterpretations of the [Health and Safety] Act are leading to the creation of uninspiring play spaces that do not enable children to experience risk.

'Such play is vital for a child's development and should not be sacrificed to the cause of overzealous and disproportionate risk assessments. 'I believe that with regard to children's play we should shift from a system of risk assessment to a system of risk-benefit assessment, where potential positive impacts are weighed against potential risk.'

South Somerset Council has recently spent œ50,000 re-fitting two playgrounds in Chard and Yeovil, building sand pits, climbing equipment stepping logs and net swings.

Playlink, a national advisory body on outdoor activity, helped draw up the plans for the new playgrounds.

Chairman Bernard Spiegal told the Sunday Times he believed Britain had been obsessed with risk assessment which was having a negative effect on children. He said: 'We were crippling their confidence by not letting them learn through experience. 'We don't want children losing fingers in badly designed swings or getting their heads trapped under a roundabout. But there's nothing wrong with a bump, bruise and graze.'


Parents know best how to fix schools

As moms and dads across America enter the education reform arena by the thousands through parent unions, capitol demonstrations, and expanded school-choice measures, some defenders of the current system have piped up against "parent power."

Take Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. He recently excused the American Federation of Teachers' efforts to block Parent Trigger legislation in Connecticut to allow a majority of parents at a failing school to make the school district do something about the problem.

"Many parents, particularly loudmouths like me, think we know exactly how to fix our schools. In most cases we don't," he wrote. Instead, he recommends parents let experts and "imaginative educators" figure things out for us.

In a Reuters op-ed, author Peg Tyre similarly worries that newly empowered parents "don't have a clue what they are doing" when selecting education for their children.

She points out, correctly, that expanding school choice means a lot to learn for many parents who previously had no choice but to send their children to (often horrible) schools assigned by ZIP code. Yes, some parents may find the new options confusing.

Initial confusion, however, is no reason to avoid -- or to let government purloin -- an exciting and important responsibility. If it were, none of us would ever have children in the first place.

Parenthood, after all, means absolute greenhorns have an entire human being (or several human beings) to raise to maturity, with no previous practice or qualifications and very little preparation.

Certainly, no expert or researcher would design such a risky system, but it has been pushing civilization along at an extremely rapid pace since, well, human beings have existed.

Experts such as Matthews and Tyre have a variety of reasons for the positions they take, and teachers and administrators have varied motivations for remaining in their present positions.

Parents, by contrast, universally maintain a single motivation: their concern for their children. The same visceral concern that prompts Mommy to rise yet again for a squalling baby at 3 a.m. and pumps Dad's adrenaline when he races to lift his spluttering son out of the pool also incites parents to (rightly) demand teachers' heads when they find out Johnny can't read, write or calculate.

It's a positive motivation that's largely blunted in a nation where 90 percent of kids are stuck in a school assigned by geography and government fiat.

Just as parents have for decades found their way around the system by spending extra money to live in districts with what they perceive to be better schools and asking principals to place their child with the better fifth-grade teacher, so, too, can and will their deep motivation inspire them to seek the best possible education in a system of real choice. They will do this for the same reasons they do everything else for their children.

Tyre may not notice, but she's one reason more freedom for parents will be successful: She has written a book teaching parents how to decide wisely among their expanding school choices.

As more and more parents search for these answers, their very need will create the necessary supply of information and advice. It's the same, simple system we all depend on to put milk on supermarket shelves and provide us gas on unknown roads: the consumer-empowering nature of the market.

The best education system puts children first. No one places children first more naturally and effectively than their parents. Freeing parents to do what they know and accomplish best will only strengthen American education.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Australia: Foundation Studies Program "sells" entry to University of Adelaide for able students

All the whining below about money should not obscure the fact that this is probably a good way of getting kids into university who are more suitable for it. Public examinations are not terribly good predictors of success at university.

My son did something similar, though no payment was involved. The University of Qld. offered bright kids in their final High School year the chance of doing a university subject in that same year -- as well as their normal High school studies. Few apply as it sounds very challenging. My son was the only one in his school who took up the offer. But he did well in all his studies at both levels so was therefore of course a shoo-in to his preferred course at the State's most highly esteemed university

STUDENTS who pay $7800 can secure direct entry into all of the University of Adelaide's bachelor degrees based on their Year 11 results.

Students who complete the university's Foundation Studies Program, dubbed "uni without Year 12", offered through Eynesbury College, receive assured direct entry into all of its bachelor degrees.

Parent and student groups have questioned the program's fairness, criticising a system they say effectively allows students to buy their way into university. Entry into the program requires only successful completion of Year 11.

The flyer promoting the program states: "Students offered a place in the FSP will no longer have to compete with thousands of others as they are given a conditional offer of admission to their preferred Bachelor degree at the University. This means no SACE and no SATAC application."

Most South Australian Year 12 students who apply for university must complete their SA Certificate of Education and receive an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank that provides a comparison to students who have completed different subject combinations.

Using their ATAR, students apply for a place in their preferred undergraduate course through the SA Tertiary Admissions Centre, competing for a place based on merit.

Eynesbury College (International) director and principal Peter Millen said that upon application, students would be assessed on their ability to successfully complete the program, which would include the prerequisite subjects the student needed depending on their chosen degree.

Mr Millen said successful applicants would receive an offer from the University of Adelaide that would specify a mark out of 500 they must achieve to maintain their place. "It's a completely separate program, they are scored out of 500 so, if for example engineering was 380, they would have to complete the program, get 380 and have the right prerequisites," he said.

The university sets the score on a degree-by-degree basis with "similar relativities" as ATAR scores, a spokeswoman said, however, she was not able to provide examples.

University of Adelaide major projects and development director Lynne Broadbridge said offering the foundation program for domestic students was about the need to have flexible pathways and reduce the traditional barriers to university.

"Opening our foundation program offered through Eynesbury College, which has proven successful for international students since 1994, is a logical step to encourage local students to follow the aspirations to higher education," she said.

SA Association of School Parent Clubs president Jenice Zerna said it was not fair that some students would effectively be able to pay for their university place. "We are concerned that students are being provided with a university place based on how much money they or their parents have," she said.

National Union of Students president Jesse Marshall said the program appeared to be a way to get a down payment from students from wealthy backgrounds in return for guaranteed access to its programs. "The Federal Government levelled the playing field when it abolished full-fee paying places," he said.

"This program appears to take us back to the days where if you have more money you can pay your way into university."


Australian universities judged among world's best

There is a lot of arbitrariness in these rankings but it is encouraging that Australian universities do well in several ranking systems. From what I have seen of overseas universities,I myself think Australia's "sandstone" universities are as good as any -- but I hold degrees from two of them so maybe I am a bit biased. I am pleased to see that where my son is currently studying did very well in the rankings. He himself is pleased with his programme there

FIVE Australian universities have been rated among the world's top 50 but the latest global university rankings show dramatic falls by institutions outside the Group of Eight, prompting concerns over the methodology of the list.

Eight Australian institutions made it into the top 100 - 23 are in the top 500 - in the QS World University Rankings, released today.

The outstanding result has been welcomed by sector leaders, despite the big slumps among universities outside the Go8.

Top of the local league was the Australian National University, ranked 26 in the world, followed by the University of Melbourne at 31. The world league was led by the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University and the University of Oxford.

Australia's worst fall was registered by Flinders University, down 48 rankings to 299 globally. The University of Newcastle fell by 35, La Trobe University by 31 and Griffith University and the University of Tasmania by 23.

They were in a group of 13 whose rankings dropped, while nine institutions improved over past year.

The University of South Australia was up 25, Queensland University of Technology was up 22 and Curtin University and the University of Western Australia were both up 16.

Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said: "To have something like 60 per cent of Australian universities in the top 500 shows the strength of our system by world standards, given there are some 16,000 institutions. (But) we need to maintain that strength.

"We are looking for the base funding review and the way the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency are going to operate to help us maintain that strength in the system."

Griffith University's deputy director, research policy, and QS board member Tony Sheil, said the rankings were "capturing more up-and-coming universities, especially from the fast-growing economies like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea".

This was in contrast to one of its rivals, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, previously known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong, whose methodology is heavily weighted towards research performance and tends to favour older universities.

"The good news for Australia is that it performs very well on both rankings - our universities conform to what some call the global university model," Mr Sheil said.

"(However) QS does need to have a closer look at the data accuracy contained in several indicators."

He said it was not credible that several middle-ranked Australian universities outdid the California Institute of Technology for employer reputation.

The QS methodology allocates a 40 per cent weighting for academic reputation, gauged via a worldwide questionnaire, 10 per cent for reputation among employers, 20 per cent for student-to-staff ratio, 20 for citations per academic staff member, and 5 per cent each for international staff and international students.

The area of traditional weakness for Australia in the QS rankings is student-to-staff ratios. "Once again, it's disappointing to see Australia falling behind in some of the student-to-staff ratios," executive director of the leading Group of Eight universities, Michael Gallagher said.

QS singled Melbourne out for comment. "In whichever evaluations you refer to in recent times, the QS World University Rankings by Subject, The Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, or the Shanghai rankings, Melbourne keeps getting stronger," QS vice-president John Molony said.

Mr Gallagher agreed that while "there are different perspectives and flaws in all rankings systems, the consistent message is that they reinforce different groupings, especially the top tier".

The field of global rankings for universities is intensely competitive. QS claims to be the most extensive of its kind, evaluating more than 700 universities.


Zogby Back-to-School Poll: 57% Want National Standard for Advancement

54% Say Test Score Cheating by School Officials Is Widespread

A majority of adults nationwide (57%) say there should be a national standard level of learning in the nation’s public schools before students can move from one grade to another, and, 54% believe test score cheating by school officials to improve standardized test scores is widespread, a new IBOPE Zogby Interactive survey finds

In regard to the best way to evaluate teachers, 64% prefer an even mix of standardized test scores and classroom observation.