Saturday, November 05, 2011

Denver’s School Board battles

The article below is written from a Leftist viewpoint but the facts of it are interesting

School boards typically control massive amounts of money and assets that can be dished out through contracts for services, purchases of land, and diverted into charter schools and voucher programs. Despite school boards’ power, however, until now board elections around the country have typically been fueled by door-to-door canvassing rather than high dollar fundraising. But increasingly, large donations from wealthy individuals and corporations are pouring into schools board races around the country to enact an agenda that attacks collective bargaining rights of teachers unions and increases the privatization of public education through charter schools and vouchers.

The Denver Public School Board race, which took place yesterday, is a prime example of outside money from wealthy individuals and corporate funded groups flooding elections. That money proved to have a significant effect on last night’s election for the union-back candidates opposed to the so-called “reform slate.”

After being out-fundraised more than two to one, union-backed candidate Emily Sirota lost to investment banker Anne Rowe by 30 percentage points. Another union-backed candidate, incumbent school board member Arturo Jimenez narrowly won re-election to the school board by a margin of only 73 votes over reform candidate Draper Carson. Finally, “reform” challenger candidate Allegra Haynes easily won election to the board’s at-large seat, taking 59 percent of the vote. (Full disclosure: Emily’s husband David Sirota is an In These Times senior editor and participated in interviews for this story.)

The Denver board election was seen as a pivotal battle for those seeking to privatize education as well as crack down on teachers’ unions. In addition to increasing the number of charter schools in Denver, the school board has already implemented the controversial “innovation schools” program, in which public schools can receive outside funding from groups like the Walton Foundation (funded by the heirs of Walmart) if teachers approve votes for certain changes to be made to the school.

“They first dangle the bottle of innovation and reform by promising money for schools, but the innovation they are talking has nothing to do with instruction. It has to do with waivers from unions contracts,” says Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman. “The teachers basically have no rights now. They are union members in name only.”

Now, so-called “reformers” in the Denver Public School are talking about expanding charter schools and the privatization of public education through vouchers. The president of the Denver School Board was recently spotted at a fundraiser for vouchers in a nearby county and the Democratic Mayor of Denver has signaled an openness to vouchers.

Those kind of educational changes can happen easily because last night’s election results mean the “reform slate” continues to enjoy a 4-3 margin on the Board. This has led to a massive influx of money from an unusual alliance of wealthy individuals and corporate executives.

More here

Sir Michael Wilshaw takes over at Ofsted: How the hero of Hackney aims to save Britain's schools

A granite veneer of impersonal grey surrounds Sir Michael Wilshaw: the suit, the notice-board in his office and the rims of his spectacles that shield currant-like eyes are grey, framed by neat, whitish-grey hair. If I did not know he was a head teacher, who has just been appointed the new head of Ofsted, I might suspect him of being a plain clothes detective appropriately impervious to back-chat or challenge.

For Sir Michael, the “miracle maker” who made Mossbourne Academy in Hackney a model of success, the Ofsted job is a chance to bring the same “no excuses” grit to a national stage. Already he has ruffled feathers with his claim this week that schools like his own must act as “surrogate parents” for children of “dysfunctional families”, often offering them an alternative to gang culture.

“We are filling in those gaps all the time,” he says. “We get these children in at 7.30am every morning to do an hour’s reading, before school starts. They stay until 6pm, to make sure they do their homework. And we have them coming in at weekends. They may be loved, but they don’t have the support they need at home to succeed and so teachers are like surrogate parents.”

So far the report for the rest of England’s 30,000 schools is a damning “could do better”. The gulf between independent and grammar schools, with glittering Oxbridge entry and A* exam results, is widening; the number of teenagers going to top universities from state schools is pitifully low and many middle-class parents would rather re-mortgage their homes than “risk” the local comprehensive.

“We have to ask why are parents sending their children to independent and grammar schools,” says Sir Michael. “Is there disillusionment? There certainly is. Standards are too low and they have to be raised. Undoubtedly in some places it’s going to be harder than others. But if we want a world-class education system that’s what we’ve got to do.’

The £180,000 Ofsted position was advertised twice, without any takers. Sir Michael, 65, admits he received a “whisper” in his ear, but for the man dubbed the hero of our education times by Education Secretary Michael Gove, it must surely have been more like a desperate howl of entreaty.

Despite its position in the middle of one of Britain’s poorest housing estates, with 40 per cent of students on free school meals, Mossbourne Academy achieved record exam results of 82 per cent A* to C GCSE passes, including maths and English; it sent eight students to Cambridge, a single mother among them; and a further 60 per cent won places at top Russell Group universities. As head of Ofsted, it is a message that Sir Michael is determined to spread.

“There are a growing number of schools producing fantastic results in areas of deprivation, because of the effort they are putting in and the high aspirations of the children,” says Sir Michael. “It can be done. We’ve got to stop making excuses for background, culture and ethnicity and get on with it.”

Sir Michael acknowledges that Mossbourne epitomises an education system polarised between “outstanding” and so awful that even Ofsted’s inspection grading terms have lost all meaning. “Good” is often considered little more than acceptable, while “satisfactory”, ironically, is damning.

“It makes no sense that 19 per cent of schools are judged outstanding overall, but teaching is judged as outstanding in only 4 per cent of schools,” says Sir Michael. “You should not be able to have one without the other. Not least because it does a disservice to schools that are truly outstanding. As for 'satisfactory’, well, that’s an awful word, isn’t it? I want to replace it with 'improving’ for schools heading in the right direction. And another word for those that are not.”

Already Ofsted is facing drastic reforms to cut red tape under changes that will come into effect when Sir Michael takes up his position in January. Parents will have the power to trigger fresh inspections and Ofsted will focus only on four key areas: behaviour, leadership, outcomes and teaching.

“You can identify a failing teacher very quickly,” says Sir Michael. “My difficulty is the teacher who can turn it on when observed, but fades back into mediocrity when there’s no one watching. We need robust performance management. That takes courage.”

Sir Michael’s own background is modest. He was the son of a postman, who grew up in a Catholic household in London. He “only just scraped” his own exams and went on to gain a history degree at Birkbeck College. As a teacher, he has worked consistently in some of the toughest areas in London, including West Ham and Hackney. Indeed, some question whether he is more inspiring as a head than an inspector.

“It was a hellishly difficult decision,” he says. “But this is a chance to shape the national education scene and make a difference, although I’m expecting more brickbats than bouquets.”

For now he remains most committed to the poorest children. But Sir Michael is pragmatic in achieving his goal, and will borrow from and copy the best of what the independent schools have to offer.

“I visited Wellington College and the students there think they are masters of the universe,” he says. “They think they’ve a right to the best universities and the best jobs. They have that sense of entitlement. And that’s what I want to give children in the state sector.”

He has also forged a partnership with Bishop’s Stortford College, a private school in Hertfordshire, to support Mossbourne in its Oxbridge applications. “They send around 30 kids to Oxbridge. They knew how to do it. They gave us good advice, as well as opening up our eyes to the standards that were required to get in.

“That was crucial. I don’t agree with tokenism. That only reinforces mediocrity among poor children. You can’t go to the hothouse of Cambridge and cope if you haven’t got there by the same means.”

As well as teachers, Sir Michael has heads in his line of fire. A head teacher can make or break a school and, according to Sir Michael, those children requiring “surrogate parenting” from their schools need heads who can fight their corner to compete with the most privileged children.

“I was rapped over the knuckles for saying good leadership is about power and ego,” he says. “But that’s what the independent sector has, very powerful figures who resist government interference and won’t do anything that won’t benefit their school. We need those slightly maverick figures who know what they believe in and fight for it. Do we need empire builders? Yes, we do.”

Of course, for most children education is about what happens in the grey middle of the debate, not at the outer extremes of Oxbridge glory or severe special needs. But I resist looking for the cracks in Sir Michael’s granite veneer.

Our hope is that he will do for all poor children of England what he’s done for those of Hackney – and in doing so will take the rest of us along for the ride.


The bus stop bullies: How many British schoolchildren are too scared to even go to school

Tens of thousands of children are terrified of going to school because ‘bus stop bullies’ make their journeys a misery.

Gang culture and a breakdown of discipline have turned English school children into the most bullied youngsters in Europe, research has revealed.

A third of those aged 12 to 16 live in fear of bullies, and one in six is so scared of their tormentors that they are frightened of travelling to and from school.

The bus stop bullies often target vulnerable youngsters from their school who do not have the ‘protection’ of gang membership.

The situation is far worse than in other European nations, including Poland, Holland and Spain, and many children said they did not know where to turn for help.

Stephen Moore, co-author, said: ‘The primary threat to personal safety comes from other pupils, generally from the same school.

‘Whilst incidents may be regarded as ‘low impact’ in terms of objective levels of harm - name-calling was much more common than violence - these low impact incidents can potentially have a significant effect on the emotional wellbeing of young people.

‘Interestingly, the patterns of bullying outside school and the responses varied quite noticeably across the different European countries, and the same notions of bullying were not held across the various countries.’

The study looked at 855 children in the east of England, from a mixture of rural and urban schools.

Mr Moore added that children do not know where to turn. He said: ‘The issue of who to turn to when a problem occurs during the time before and after school was a dilemma for the young people, as it was recognised by the pupils that threats and violations to personal safety at these times were not necessarily a matter in which they wanted to turn to the school for support.

‘It was most often other young people who provided the support and advice when young people were bullied. ‘The research found that this level of support was not fully acknowledged in current bullying strategies, nor was the sophistication of young people in dealing with bullying incidents.’

As well as speaking to pupils in England, researchers sampled children from Spain, Poland, Hungary, Cyprus, Portugal, Holland and Italy.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Education Vs. Bureaucracy

How can a 375% education spending increase over four decades result in flat-lined reading, math and science scores? Because all that largesse feeds a bureaucratic monster sheltered from competition.

According to Neal McCluskey, the associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, the education spending much of the American public believes to be a vital investment in the country's future, actually "gives money to a catatonic heap of warm bodies and says, 'Stay the way you are.'"

In touting his jobs bill, President Obama calls on audiences to "tell Congress to pass this bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong."

But speaking to a Cato policy conference in New York City last Friday, McCluskey made no bones about federal education spending being bad for kids and bad for the economy — a big reason being that much of the spending goes not to real teachers or principals but to those holding an array of bureaucratic "support" positions.

McCluskey, author of "Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education," praised the Senate for last month defeating the $35 billion education employee portion of Obama's so-called American Jobs Act (while warning that a $30 billion school infrastructure measure might still pass).

"How can it be good for students throughout the country to lose teachers, principals, secretaries," McCluskey asked, not to mention "periodic assessment associates (a real New York City job), labor support unit consultants, talent research and evaluation managers, and, employees for the Law and Order Administrative Trials Unit?"

Because those "jobs" are what the real federal spending per pupil of 375% since 1970 has largely gone toward — the invention and support of mysterious bureaucratic positions like "instructional aide" (of which there has been an almost 12-fold increase per-pupil) rather than to honest-to-goodness teaching.

Public school employment has increased at 10 times the rate of enrollment, with a massive expansion in administrative staff. All this dwarfs the much-bemoaned "cuts" achieved from time to time over the years.
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Beyond ever-expanding, militantly union-supported bureaucracy, McCluskey is quick to stress that "the main problem of public schools is not bureaucracy but lack of competition."

Contrarian education scholars like McCluskey have insisted for decades that vouchers and other forms of school choice made available to low- and middle-income parents would not only give pupils a way out of the disastrous shortcomings of so many public school systems in the nation, especially in the poorer urban areas, but would force the public schools themselves to improve.


Playgrounds scrapped and children to share unisex toilets as British schools look to accommodate 350,000 extra pupils

Unisex toilets will be introduced in schools to create more classroom places. Playing fields will also no longer be an obligation – potentially killing off team sports such as football, hockey and netball.

Grounds will be filled with portable buildings and every spare space – such as store cupboards and sheds – will be used for teaching.

The ‘pack ’em in and pile ’em up’ measures, published yesterday, form part of the Government’s new rules on standards of school buildings. They paint a bleak picture of education as Britain becomes increasingly overcrowded.

The measures are a desperate bid to find space for an additional 350,000 primary pupils by 2015. The surge is the result of an immigration-fuelled baby boom.

It would cost £4.8billion to build enough primaries to accommodate the influx, according to Department for Education figures. The ministry is allocating an additional £500million for new places this year.

It is hoping schools will expand, creating the need for fewer new buildings, and yesterday’s relaxation of building regulations gives schools the means to do so.

Previously schools were – with the exception of academies and free schools – legally obliged to provide separate toilet facilities but now both primary and secondary schools will allow unisex toilets with urinals.

The DfE’s new regulations state: ‘A number of schools have provided toilets for use by both male and female pupils over the age of eight, even though this is not currently allowed by the regulation.’

A DfE spokesman confirmed urinals will be allowed under the regulations, provided cubicles, with locking doors, are also provided.

The change means female pupils as young as four will share toilet facilities with 11-year-old boys. And 11-year-old girls reaching puberty, will have to share with 18-year-old males.

Previous attempts to introduce unisex toilets have met a furious reaction from parents. Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, a parent group, said: ‘This idea is absolutely crazy. Parents are horrified. Most do not think it should be allowed. It’s very important that young people are not allowed to be pressured by the opposite sex and can retain their modesty.

‘There needs to be a place they can go for privacy. It will be especially horrible for girls through puberty.’

On playing fields, the DfE is seeking to relax regulations so they meet the ‘requirements of the curriculum’ and ‘enable pupils to play outside safely’. At present, the regulations ‘require that team game playing fields shall be provided which satisfy specified minimum areas based on pupil numbers and ages’.

The new regulations are set to be introduced in 2012.


Australia: Principals' freedom is a winner with schools

THE push to give NSW public schools greater autonomy is gaining momentum, a trend which will be further advanced by near-unanimous support from 47 principals leading a two-year trial.

All principals told an independent review the freedoms allowed had led to concrete improvements at their schools. About 95 per cent said it had increased teacher capacity to deliver the curriculum and 83 per cent said they had been able to do more for their schools at a lower cost.

Some principals pointed to improved NAPLAN and HSC results as proof of success.
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The review found principals valued the flexibility to make decisions and to reallocate parts of their budgets to employ staff to suit their schools' needs.

Principals believed creating the right staffing mix for their schools to be essential. ''It's always about staffing,'' one said. ''Get this right and nothing else matters.''

Under the pilot program principals could choose staff on merit without being subject to priority transfer arrangements administered by the education department. Being able to choose staff was seen as critical if school leaders are to be held accountable for student performance.

''We are asking principals to achieve outcomes for students and be accountable for quality of teachers but we don't allow them to select staff so they don't control this,'' one said.

NSW, with more than 2200 schools, is among the most centrally controlled education systems in the Western world. Other Australian states have ceded significant power to the school level. Victorian principals are allowed to choose their own staff and in Western Australia schools can choose to operate independently with substantial freedoms.

The pilot program was established by the previous government and will continue under the new rules until the end of next year. The Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is leading a consultation program, ''Local Schools, Local Decisions'', also aiming to devolve power.

The minister hopes to announce new rules for greater school autonomy early next year, which would be implemented in 2013. Simultaneously, special federal government funding will be available next year for 162 schools under the Empowering Local Schools national partnership.

Schools varied widely in the way they used the staffing flexibility, with some hiring an extra deputy principal, one choosing a business manager and another a diversional therapist. Castle Hill High School appointed a head teacher to coach boys in year 12 to improve their HSC results.

''We appointed someone who specifically mentored boys who were close to the top but who were underperforming, disorganised, didn't have a study program and couldn't get their act together,'' the principal, Vicki Brewer, said.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

What's Your Kid Getting From College?

Occupy Wall Street has a point about student debt—sort of

For hard-working American families struggling to make ends meet, the student protesters at Occupy Wall Street must seem like cast members of a reality show designed to make them look shallow and self-indulgent. The irony is that these students and recent grads have a point about their college debt. It's just not the point they are making.

Here, for example, is a typical entry on the blog "We Are the 99 Percent." A woman is holding up a handwritten note that reads: "I am a college graduate. I am also unemployed. I was lead [sic] to believe that college would insure me a job. I now have $40,000 worth of student debt."

The headlines tell us that, as a nation, we now owe more in college loans than we do on our credit cards. Notwithstanding the stock horror stories about the kid who leaves campus owing hundreds of thousands, however, the average college debt load is about the price of a new Toyota Prius—$28,100 for those with a degree from a four-year private school, $22,000 for those from public schools.

Even so, these figures don't touch the most important question: Are students getting fair value in return?

Anne Neal has been trying to help families answer that question for years. As president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, she believes students should leave college with a broad base of knowledge that will allow them "to compete successfully in our globalized economy and to make sense of the modern world." By that ACTA means universities should require a core curriculum with substantive courses in composition, literature, American history, economics, math, science and foreign language.

"The fundamental problem here is not debt but a broken educational system that no longer insists on excellence," Ms. Neal says. "College tuitions have risen more than 440% over the last 25 years—and for what? The students who say that college has not prepared them for the real world are largely right."

At, students can click onto ACTA's recent survey of more than 1,000 American four-year institutions—and find out how their colleges and universities rate. Two findings jump out. First, the more costly the college, the less likely it will require a demanding core curriculum. Second, public institutions generally do better here than private ones—and historically black colleges such as Morehouse and service academies such as West Point amount to what ACTA calls "hidden gems."

Alas, much of the debate over the value of a college degree breaks down one of two ways. Either people pit the liberal arts against the sciences—"Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?" asks Florida Gov. Rick Scott—or they plump for degrees that are thought to be more practical (e.g., business). Both are probably mistakes.

If the young people now entering our work force are going to change jobs as often as we think, the key to getting ahead will not be having one particular skill but having the ability to learn new skills. In this regard, the problem is not so much the liberal arts as the fluff that too often passes for it. In other words, though Gov. Scott is right to demand better measures of what Florida citizens are getting for their tax dollars, he'd probably be better off focusing on excellence and transparency than on suggesting specific courses of study.

As for the "practical" majors, New York University's Richard Arum and the University of Virginia's Josipa Roksa tell us they might not be as useful as once thought. In a recent work called "Academically Adrift," these authors tracked the progress of more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen U.S. universities. They found that more than a third of seniors leave campus having shown no improvement in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, or written communications over four years. Worse, the majors and programs often thought most practical—education, business and communications—prove to be the least productive.

So yes, the student protesters with their iPads and iPhones may come across badly to other Americans. Yes too, even those who leave school thousands of dollars in debt will—on average—find their degrees a good investment, given the healthy lifetime earnings premium that a bachelor's degree still commands.

Still, when it comes to what our colleges and universities are charging them for their degrees, they have a point. Too many have paid much and been taught little. They've been ripped off—but not by the banks or the fat cats or any of the other stock villains so unwelcome these days in Zuccotti Park.

"If these students and grads understood the real issues with their college debt," says Ms. Neal, "they would change their focus from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the Ivory Tower."


Public school teachers make more than private sector workers

We can already hear the anguished, angry protests of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. But our headline captures the essence of an important new study being released today by Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis and American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Biggs. Richwine and Biggs found that when public school teachers and private sector workers are compared objectively on the basis of cognitive skills -- rather than years of service or educational attainment -- the educators enjoy higher compensation -- contrary to the claims of union officials in public debate and in negotiations with school boards.

This is seen most dramatically when workers switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs. Such a move typically results in a wage increase of approximately nine percent. "Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid," Richwine and Biggs said.

The biggest factor in the compensation advantage enjoyed by public school teachers is not wages, however, but rather fringe benefits, which typically are substantially more generous than those paid to private sector workers in cognitively comparable positions. Public school teacher pension programs routinely offer higher benefits, thanks to the traditional calculation that lower salaries would be partially offset by more generous retirement packages. Also significant here is the provision by public school pension programs of paid or low-cost health insurance programs for retirees. Richwine and Biggs found the presence of retiree health benefits adds about 10 percent to the total value of public teacher compensation. As much as another 8.6 percent is added when the value of public school teacher job security is added to the comparison.

Nationally, this disparity in compensation means that, while comparisons based solely on salary often do find a disadvantageous wage-gap for public school teachers, the bottom-line changes dramatically when benefits are considered. "More generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention," Richwine and Biggs conclude.

No doubt trying to anticipate the objections from critics in the public education community, Richwine and Biggs argue that "no one doubts the significance of high-quality teachers to the school system and to the economy in general, but even the most important public workers should be paid at a level commensurate with their skills -- no more, no less." That's an entirely reasonable position to take, but don't be surprised in the weeks ahead to hear teachers union advocates rejecting it absolutely, even as they direct a hail of bitter and uncompromising assaults on the scholarship and motivations of Messers Richwine and Biggs.


British selective schools win the freedom to expand: Rule change could see 50 per cent more pupils in them

Huge demand for taxpayer-supported selective schooling, not least because an academic ability test before admission would screen out the most disruptive children, usually of African ancestry

Grammar schools are expected to expand their intake by as much as 50 per cent by 2018. Ministers announced yesterday that powers allowing councils to cap the number of places state schools can offer will be scrapped.

As a result many grammars, which dominate league tables for GCSE and A-levels, are expected to boost their intake by at least a sixth by 2013. By 2018 they are predicted to rise by up to 50 per cent from current numbers, equivalent to each grammar taking on three extra classes in each year.

The lifting of the cap in the new schools admissions code is also expected to see a surge in the number of ‘titan’ primary schools: schools which teach 800 pupils or more.

The announcement caused dismay among education experts who believe the optimum number of pupils at a primary is around 400. They criticised the Coalition’s ‘pack them in and pile them high’ approach to education.

The predicted expansion of grammar schools is likely to harm private schools, because many parents send their children to a fee-paying school only after they have failed to gain a free place at a grammar school. The most popular grammars, or selective state schools, currently have up to ten applications for every place.

There are 158,000 pupils currently at grammar schools – nearly 5 per cent of the secondary school roll. A 50 per cent increase in pupils would see them overtake private schools.

At present the number of places grammars can offer is restricted by local councils, which fear the expansion of selective state schools will mean more of the brightest pupils are cherry-picked, making comprehensives in the area less successful.

The scrapping of these powers from 2013, announced by schools minister Nick Gibb, is likely to reignite the bitter row over grammars within Tory ranks. Despite pressure from the Tory backbenches, the Coalition has refused to increase the number of grammar schools in England – currently 164.

Another major impact of the new admissions policy is predicted to be a rise in the number of children educated in titan primary schools.

A surging population fuelled by immigration is placing increasing strain on schools, and it is predicted that 350,000 extra primary places will be needed by 2015 and 500,000 by 2018.

Based on a typical roll of 400 pupils, the Coalition would need to build some 1,250 primaries by 2018, costing an estimated £5.2billion.

This prohibitive cost will, it is argued, lead to more pupils being squashed into existing schools, turning them into titan schools.

Currently schools must battle red tape and bureaucracy to increase their capacity – often to have the plans vetoed by their local authority.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said of the change: ‘It is unclear how we are going to cope with this increase. But it would be very sad if packing them in and piling them high is the sole solution. ‘Youngsters need to receive individual attention. Young people can get very lost in enormous schools. What we desperately need is more schools, not larger schools.’

At present, there are some 20,000 youngsters taught in titan primaries, up from 9,000 in 1997 when Labour took power and up 43 per cent in the last year.

The Department for Education insisted the changes to the admissions code were not intended to solve the shortage of places.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Two-Thirds of Colorado Voters Reject Tax Increase for Schools

Colorado voters by a margin of almost 2-to-1 defeated a citizen initiative to increase taxes for public education that would have raised $2.9 billion.

Proposition 103, the only statewide tax vote in the U.S. this election season, failed 64-36 percent with 84 percent of the projected vote counted, the Associated Press said today.

The rejection continued a nationwide trend against new taxes. In November 2010, Washington voters spurned an income tax on top earners and dropped levies on candy, bottled water and carbonated beverages. The last successful statewide voter initiative to increase taxes was in 2006 in South Dakota.

“One of the concerns with Prop 103 was that it was a grassroots movement, done on a low budget with not a lot of advertising,” said Mike Wetzel, a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. The organization endorsed the measure. He spoke in an interview before the results of yesterday’s balloting were known.

Proposition 103 would have raised the personal and corporate income-tax rate to 5 percent from 4.63 percent and increased the sales and use levy to 3 percent from 2.9 percent. Both increases would have lasted five years, to finance public education.

The vote came the same day Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who didn’t take a position for or against the initiative, called for cuts to public schools and universities to help close a $500 million gap in the $20 billion fiscal 2013 state budget.

Student Spending

Colorado spent $1,781 less per public-school pupil than the national average of $10,499 in 2008-2009, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the latest available. Only 11 states spent less. Before 1982, Colorado’s spending was about equal to the national average, according to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Supporters of the tax plan, endorsed by union leaders and the school boards in the state’s largest districts, raised $607,000 through Oct. 31, according to a campaign filing by Support Schools for a Bright Colorado on the secretary of state’s website.

Opponents including Too Taxing for Colorado and Save Colorado Jobs, a group headed by a former state Representative Victor Mitchell, a Republican, raised about $25,000, according to the most recent filings.

Republican Opposition

The National Federation of Independent Business and the Colorado Republican Business Coalition fought the increases, saying they would harm the state’s economy as it struggles with an 8.3 percent unemployment rate.

“I’m opposed to raising taxes on Colorado families and small businesses,” Frank McNulty, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives from Highlands Ranch, said in an interview before the election. “Our efforts must be focused on job creation.”

Colorado was the only state with an initiative to raise income taxes in this month’s U.S. elections. A 1992 amendment to the state constitution bars the Legislature and local lawmakers from increasing levies without voter approval. Coloradans last year voted not to lower their income tax.

Statewide tax increases blessed by voters are not unheard of when the economy is struggling. In 2010, voters in Arizona and Oregon approved measures to increase taxes.

Standard & Poor’s said in a report Oct. 25 that it didn’t expect the passage of any state ballot initiative in this election cycle, including Proposition 103, to “have an immediate credit impact on any state ratings.”


Weighing the value of a law degree

by Hans Bader

Clifford Winston was right to question the legal requirement that lawyers graduate from law school before they can practice law. Many students learn little of value in law school. I learned more practical law in two months of studying for the bar exam after graduating from law school than I ever did in law school.

I learned about trendy ideological fads and feminist and Marxist legal theory while at Harvard Law School. But I did not learn many basic legal principles, such as in contract law and real estate law, until I took a commercial bar-exam preparation course after law school.

Getting rid of the requirement that students attend law school before taking the bar exam would save many students a fortune in student loan debt. It would also force law schools to improve their courses to attract students who now have no choice but to attend.


British shools acting as 'surrogate parents', says Ofsted chief

Schools are being forced to act as “surrogate families” because growing numbers of parents struggle to bring up their children properly, according to the new head of Ofsted.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said teachers were being required to step in to give pupils an evening meal, offer pastoral support and show them right from wrong. Staff are forced to provide care “beyond the school day” amid concerns that many mothers and fathers lack basic parenting skills, he claimed.

The comments come after the Coalition unveiled plans to provide parenting classes for around 50,000 people next year as part of a national trial scheme.

Families in Middlesbrough, Derbyshire and Camden will be given classes in areas such as communication and listening skills, managing conflict, discipline and setting boundaries for their children.

Sir Michael, the principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London, who will take over as Ofsted chief inspector in January, insisted schools were increasingly “becoming surrogate parents” to compensate for poor parenting skills.

In an interview with The Evening Standard, he said: "Often children come from homes that are dysfunctional, where parents may love their children but not be able to support them for a variety of reasons, where there are problems with gang culture. "Schools - and my school is one of them in Hackney - take on a parenting role. We become surrogate parents for a lot of our children, and that means working with them beyond the school day well into the evening. "Giving them an evening meal, mentoring, supporting them in a way that a family would do. Doing what is absolutely necessary to ensure they have a secure and safe life."

Sir Michael said pupils who could not read were given tutoring from 7.30am until they catch up. "Parents should be [reading with children] but often they don't. It's up to the school to promote literacy,” he said.

The comments were made ahead of Sir Michael’s “pre-appointment” hearing before the Commons education select committee on Tuesday.

Under Parliamentary rules, the cross-party committee can quiz senior ministerial appointments and recommend overturning the decision in extreme cases.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Student loans: Forgive and forget?

One of the great things about America, President Obama told students at the University of Colorado, is that no matter how humble your roots, you still have a shot at a great education. He also told students that his goal is to "make college more affordable."

Alas, the president's prescription for making higher education affordable seems likely to yield the same results as his plan for curbing health care costs - that is, it is likely to drive prices higher than inflation.

The nation's next fiscal nightmare may well be a higher-education bubble.

Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards. As USA Today reported, America's student loan debt is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Rising costs have left many graduates in a deep hole. Many of last year's graduates walked away with a diploma and, on average, $24,000 in student loans. The default rate on student loans rose to 8.8 percent in 2009.

Occupy Wall Street activists have been calling for forgiveness of student loans.

Congress already passed legislation proposed by Obama to cap some student loan payments at 15 percent of a graduate's discretionary income and to forgive the balance after 25 years. Thursday, Obama pledged to lower the cap to 10 percent of discretionary income - with forgiveness after 20 years.

What next, 5 percent and 15 years? "And we can do it at no cost to the taxpayer," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cooed in a statement.

"That is simply not true," responded Neal McCluskey of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. Taxpayers are on the hook for those loans.

Last week McCluskey put out a paper that concluded that when government bestows more aid, institutions benefit far more than students. The phenomenon predates this administration. The College Board reports that for the last decade, college tuition and fees exceeded inflation by 5.6 percent a year. That's where McCluskey believes increased financial aid goes.

"There is no question," McCluskey wrote, "that colleges and universities have been raising prices at a very brisk pace in recent decades and that those increases have largely nullified aid increases."

Rush Limbaugh delights in blaming the rising price of higher education on "greedy academics." Look at the salaries that California's public universities pay administrators. The new Cal Poly San Luis Obispo president is about to take home $50,000 more than the published maximum salary of $328,212. With federal and state student aid dollars feeding the beast, eggheads cash in.

The biggest losers are students who get sucked into colleges, because the federal loans look like free money, only to drop out of school. They get the debt, but no degree. As McCluskey observed, "We give money regardless of their aptitude to do college work."

The other losers are graduates with six-figure debt and little income. The White House is working on a "Know Before You Owe" project to warn students about the cost of student loans.

As a beneficiary of a state university education and a repaid student loan, I don't want to end a program that helped me and can help others. But like mortgages that fueled the housing bubble, there can be too much of a good thing.

The unintended consequences of the steep rise in government financial aid, McCluskey concluded, may well be "sky-high non-completion rates and rampant tuition inflation."

In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs explained the economic factors that went into his decision to drop out of Reed College. "I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition."

He actually thought about the money - that sounds so quaint today. I am not suggesting that anyone drop out of the right school. I just want graduates to look back at their education and know in their hearts it was worth it.


"Exemplary" British headmistress who created 'culture of fear' among teachers is banned from job for life

A bullying headmistress who created 'a culture of fear and intimidation' for teachers has been banned from the job for life.

Debbie Collinson 'bullied, intimidated and swore' at teachers and encouraged staff to openly criticise each other. She told one 31-year-old female teacher: 'Have I made a mistake in employing you? I hope you're not one of those mothers who take time off to be with their children'.

Collinson, in her late 40s, even invited pupils to meetings where they dished the dirt on teachers in exchange for coke and doughnuts. On another occasion, she swore at staff regarding a school play and verbally abused a teacher when she requested time off.

She also urged staff to falsely improve pupil attendance records and test scores.

Collinson was headteacher at the 430-pupil Harrow Gate Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, between January 1, 2000 and March 24, 2010. Surprisingly in 2008, she was hailed by education chiefs for 'demonstrating the best sort of resilient and courageous leadership'.

But she was found guilty of professional misconduct at the General Teaching Council (GTC) in Birmingham on Friday. The panel slapped her with a conditional registration order, banning her from ever working as a headteacher again. However, she is still free to work as a teacher.

Chairwoman Dr Barbara Hibbert said: 'Ms Collinson's behaviour demonstrated a wholesale disregard for the standards expected of a headteacher. 'Fundamentally this case involves Ms Collinson's failure to properly exercise her position of authority as a headteacher. 'Either directly or by creating a culture of fear and intimidation, she bullied colleagues and sought to falsify records and test results.

'Such behaviour is clearly unacceptable particularly for a headteacher who has a responsibility for setting an example to others and exercising a positive leadership role. 'We consider that it is appropriate that Ms Collinson be allowed to continue teaching but in view of her failings in her role as a headteacher, she should never be allowed to hold that role again'.

The panel heard that Collinson would also reshuffle staff to different posts and assign them to different areas of the school as a punishment tactic. She even ordered teachers 'to make life difficult' for a colleague returning from maternity leave.

In a bid to boost the school's reputation, Collinson also instructed staff to amend attendance records and test results, and 'condoned giving inappropriate assistance to pupils in tests'. During the spring term in 2008, she gave admin staff 'no alternative but to falsify attendance records' after telling them a 95 per cent attendance record had to be achieved.

Between 2007 and 2008, she instructed teachers to amend the results of numerous tests, including KS1 Literacy and Numeracy exams and SATs tests.

Collinson has 28 days to appeal the ruling. She no longer works at Harrow Gate Primary School but it is not known if she is teaching elsewhere.


IQ tests "incorrect" in China too

Education authorities have halted intelligence quotient (IQ) tests for students with low examination scores in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu province.

Since January, some 500 primary school students with below-average exam scores have been told by teachers to take IQ tests at the Wuxi Children's Hospital, according to the Jiangnan Evening News, a Wuxi-based newspaper.

Zeng Laiyu, mother of a 7-year-old boy, said she was upset to get a phone call from her son's teacher in early October asking that the student have his IQ tested.

"My son is just as bright as the other students. He only got a 70 in math because he acts up in class instead of listening to the teachers. It is unfair and unethical for a teacher to ask my son to prove he's not smart," said Zeng.

Zeng said she didn't have her son's IQ tested, calling the request "simply absurd".

Zhang Feng, director of the children's healthcare department at the hospital, refused to comment on Sunday on IQ tests conducted in the department.

Zhang was quoted by the Jiangnan Evening News on Oct 25 as saying that about 70 percent of the IQ test results of the students in the hospital were normal.

Some of the results fell between 65 and 70 on a scale of 130, while just a few results were below 65.

The regulations state that if a teacher can obtain a diagnosis of a student saying that the child's IQ is below 70, the teacher can apply to the school to exclude the student's academic performance from the assessment of teaching quality, a source with the Wuxi education authorities told China Daily.

In many primary schools in Wuxi, a teacher's performance-based salary is closely related to students' academic performance, or more precisely, students' exam scores, said the source.

"Teachers worry that low student scores would hurt their income, so they resorted to asking students to obtain a diagnosis saying that the children were stupid, which was wrong indeed," said the source.

Wuxi education authorities and the education supervision office of the Wuxi government jointly released a circular on Oct 28 banning such tests.

It is wrong to evaluate students' learning ability and potential only based on their IQ test performances, and it violates the rules of education to do so, said the circular.

Authorities will launch an investigation of schools and teachers that ordered IQ tests as a means of demonstrating low intelligence, the circular said.

Schools and teachers that are found to have taken part in this practice will not be eligible to be designated as excellent units or individuals in various competitions, according to the circular.


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Limits of Higher-Education Spending as a Stimulus; Obama’s Student-Loan Flim-Flam


South Korea got a higher percentage of its young people to go to college than the U.S. But it backfired. Although “great numbers of eager students graduate from college every year,” “the predictable problem is that many of them can’t find work commensurate with their education. The government now wants to lower the number of students going to college.”

The Obama administration wants to increase the percentage of youngsters going to college in the U.S., based on the theory that this will somehow result in more skilled jobs, but Korea’s experience shows that “the idea that supply creates its own demand with regard to education is mistaken. Joanne Jacobs says that in Korea, 40 percent of new college graduates can’t find jobs (even though Korea has had healthy economic growth recently, although less so than in the past).

Economist Peter Schiff, “who was among the first people to publicly predict the collapse of the housing bubble,” criticizes Obama’s new, costly student-loan repayment scheme here, saying it will result in increased college tuitions and “moral hazard.” George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy writes that “Obama’s student loan gambit,” just “like his politically motivated interventions in the housing market,”
is just going to prolong and deepen the problem — too many people going to college largely at the expense of others, then struggling to find jobs that pay enough to cover the debts. Many will never find such employment since the labor market doesn’t automatically create high-paying jobs just because more people have a “higher attainment” in formal education. Then the costs are passed along to taxpayers. Obama’s move might reap him some political benefit, but it will lead to more wasted resources.

At Minding the Campus, Andrew Gillen calls the Obama administration’s new student loan repayment scheme unjust social engineering that will harm some borrowers. As Joanne Jacobs notes, “Obama’s Pay As You Earn plan limiting loan repayment encourages students to borrow more and colleges to charge more, writes a business analyst. Taxpayers will get the bill.”

A credit rating agency, Moody’s, is now warning student borrowers that college may not be worth the money for some majors. As Reason magazine notes, there is now a looming higher education bubble:
A growing chorus of economists and educators think that the higher education industry will be America’s next bubble. Easy credit, high tuition, and poor job prospects have resulted in growing delinquency and default rates on nearly $1 trillion worth of private and federally subsidized loans. Now the ratings agency Moody’s has weighed in with a chilling diagnosis: “Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand, and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place.”

We wrote earlier about the higher-education bubble here. In the New York Post, John Podhoretz suggests that the administration’s recent student-loan repayment scheme will fuel that higher-education bubble, and
enrich one of the sectors within the American economy most responsible for the profound financial pressure on the middle class — higher education. The staggering inflation in the cost of higher education since the federal government got involved in lending money to Americans for college in 1965 beggars description. One federal study found that between 1982 and 2007, tuition costs rose 432 percent while family income rose only 147 percent.


Britain's crazy university admission system to be rationalized

What the Brits are just getting around to doing, Australia has been doing for generations -- so it's not hard. But for lazy Brits it may be hard

Students will apply for university once they have received their A-level results in a shake-up designed to end the ‘inefficient, stressful and confusing’ admissions system.

Teenagers currently choose courses based on predicted grades even though half turn out to be wrong.

Under proposals to be published today prospective students can only apply after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.
No time to celebrate: Under the proposal, students will need to find a university course after they receive their exam results

It will see students sit their A-level exams in early May, 15 days earlier than at present, with results published before the end of the summer school term in early July.

Candidates will then apply, in the third week of July and accept offers by the third week of September.

University start dates, for the first year students, will be pushed back to the second week of October.

It will involve exam boards dramatically increasing the speed of their marking and universities processing applications during the summer holidays.

The changes, set to be introduced in 2016, have been recommended in the first major review of admissions in 50 years, conducted by the University and College Admissions Service(UCAS).

They are likely to be met with some resistance from Universities and exam boards, which will have to adapt fast.

And following the chaos of recent university admission rounds, with thousands of students with straight A grades failing to get a place, there are fears teething problems with the new system could jeopardise the university career of even more students.

However, Universities Minister David Willetts has signalled his support.

The overhaul comes as the current system, which has been in place since 1961, has in recent years, failed to deal with the volume of applications, which now total some 2.7million.

The review found it forces applicants to make decisions about higher education at least six months before they receive their results. In addition is it ‘complex and many applicants find it ‘hard to understand’ and clearing is ‘inefficient, stressful and confusing’.

The review also found that fewer than 10 per cent of students are applying to university with three accurate grade predictions.

And an estimated 20 per cent to 40 per cent of university applications have predicted grades which fail to meet the minimum entry requirements of the course applied for.

Almost half, 42 per cent, of applicants hold a so-called ‘insurance’ or back-up place that require them to get the same or better grades than their first choice course.

Under the proposals, the application process would be split into three windows’ to accommodate mature and overseas students and those who fail to get an offer first time round.

The first process would be open all year for students who already have their grades.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: ‘Predicted grades are never completely reliable and at the moment students are forced to narrow their options far too early in the process.’


Australia: More overpaid and under-worked unionists determined to bleed the taxpayer even more

And I am a former teacher so I know all about teaching work -- JR

MOST of the state's 50,000 full-time teachers are expected to walk out of their jobs on Wednesday to attend stop-work meetings.

NSW Teachers Federation deputy president Gary Zadkovich said the stop-work meetings would force most of the 2230 public schools across NSW to close from 9am to 11am on Wednesday.

It's expected that 270 separate stop-work meetings will be held across NSW and that teachers would return to work in the afternoon and classes would continue as normal.

Mr Zadkovich said salary negotiations typically took many months, but the state government was yet to table an offer for teachers with two months left on the current awards agreement.

"If we get to the end of the year and there's no award negotiated and in place the government will be saving millions of dollars every week the process is delayed," Mr Zadkovich said, warning that further industrial action was on the cards before the end of the school year.

But Justice Frank Marks in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission told the federation the stop-work meeting was without justification.

Justice Marks said on Friday the stop-work meeting would disrupt many students for far longer than two hours and questioned why students needed to have their education interrupted when the government had offered to start wage negotiations this week.

"My best guess is ... that this strike action is not going to endear this government to this federation and it will only create even greater resolution to do what it can to win the ultimate war," he said.

Mr Zadkovich said they are calling for a fair and reasonable offer from the government.

School choice making inroads in blue states

If you have any doubt that real school choice can reach practically every state in this country, cast those apprehensions aside. School choice is making inroads in big, blue states, and it’s likely coming to a community near you.

Need proof? Take a look at the news that just broke last night in Pennsylvania.

Led by a Democrat and a Republican, a school voucher bill — yes, a voucher bill — passed out of the State Senate with bipartisan support, just one day after the legislation (Senate Bill 1) was approved in the Senate Education Committee.

This all happened in the Keystone State, a state that voted for President Obama in 2008 by more than 10 percentage points. In fact, the last time the state voted for a Republican for president, there was still a superpower called the Soviet Union and the sitcom “Full House” was in its first season.

If the Pennsylvania House passes the voucher bill, it will likely be signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett. And it would be inhumane not to enact the program, given who it helps. The proposal would permit private school vouchers only for children in families that make less than $30,000 per year (and that’s for a family of four). To qualify, the students would have to attend the absolute worst schools in the state — schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent. This means that the program will be an immediate lifeline for children and families who need our help the most, kids who are attending schools that chronically fail and are frequently violent.

Just imagine, for a moment, living in poverty (in this economic climate, no less) and knowing that your child is attending one of the 100 worst schools in any state. Imagine the feelings of complete and utter hopelessness. This legislation provides immediate options to parents, and it will incentivize public schools to improve. The legislation also includes a provision increasing funding for the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program, a highly popular initiative that helps children from low- and middle-income families receive corporate scholarships to go to private schools. That program saves state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while providing companies with incentives for helping improve education.

The bill that passed last night in the Pennsylvania Senate is no small proposal. It’s significant, it’s targeted and it will change the face of Pennsylvania education — in a good way. And, it’s making headway thanks, in no small part, to Democratic leaders.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state passing education reform measures with bipartisan support. Across the Delaware River, in New Jersey, another bipartisan team — and we’re not talking “token Democrats” in either state, we’re talking Democratic heavyweights — is championing a scholarship tax credit proposal for low-income kids. Indeed, school choice is smashing through the status quo’s invisible Northeastern firewall in a year when nearly a dozen states have enacted or expanded private school choice programs.


Fear and loathing in British classrooms: the girls think they are fat and the boys are carrying weapons

The girls think they are fat, the boys are carrying weapons, and children of both sexes are getting heavily drunk by the age of 12.

The grim picture of the modern classroom is revealed in a series of statistics issued by the Schools Health Education Unit. The figures disclose that by the age of 11, at least one in three girls wanted to lose weight, rising to two thirds by they got to the age of 15. By that age, a third had skipped breakfast on the day they were questioned, and of those, one quarter had missed lunch on the previous day.

Meanwhile, some children as young as 12 were found to be drinking the equivalent of 19 glasses of wine a week.

The study by the unit, based on data collected from more than 83,000 children aged between 10 and 15, found four per cent of children aged 12 or 13 had drunk 28 units or more of alcohol in the week before they were questioned – exceeding government limits for adult men, who can safely drink three to four units a day. Three units equates to two small (125ml) glasses of wine, or a pint of strong lager.

By the age of 15, a quarter said they had got drunk at least once in the previous week, with about 15 per cent saying they had done so twice. Most were drinking at home, or in the homes of friends or relations, rather than obtaining alcohol from pubs or shops.

Among boys, fear of violence was a prime concern. One in five boys said they sometimes carried weapons for protection.

The report by the unit – a research company which provides services to schools and health authorities – also showed concerns about bullying, with girls more likely than boys to express fears.

One third of girls aged 10 and 11 were frightened to go to school because of bullying, on some occasions, though they became less afraid as they got older.

Experts said the depressing findings confirmed many of their concerns. Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the charity Addaction, which helps people with drug and alcohol problems, said: "These new figures back up our own experiences.

"We know children who drink at younger ages are the ones who need help most. We also know that children whose parents misuse alcohol are more likely to develop their own problems later in life. "It is essential that these children, and their families, have access to specialist support at the earliest possible opportunity."

Beer, larger and cider were the most popular choices with boys, while girls are opting for wine and spirits.

Alcohol Concern said involvement in "a drinking subculture" at a young age could easily cause consumption to escalate, leading to risky behaviour with sex and violence, and disruption to education and social development.

A spokesman warned that dependency was more likely when people started drinking at a young age.

Nutrition scientists said many young girls felt under a great deal of pressure to obtain an "ideal" body shape, and were easily influenced by the media.

Dr Laura Wyness, a senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said young girls often employed unhealthy methods in an attempt to reduce their weight, with some taking up smoking, while others who cut back too drastically missed out on protein, iron and other vital nutrients.

She said research had found eating breakfast improved cognitive function and might protect against become overweight, though the case was not clear.

The study also found that many children were too tired to stay alert at school. While two thirds of children aged 12 and 13 said they were getting enough sleep for their studies, by the time they were 14 and 15 – the year before taking GSCE exams – almost half of girls and one third of boys said they were not.

The teenagers disclosed that they were spending more time in front of the television or computer than doing homework.

Almost one quarter of girls in school years eight (aged 12 and 13) and 10 (aged 14 to 15) said they spent more than two hours playing computer games the day before they were surveyed, while around 6.5 per cent of girls said the same. Just three per cent said they spent this much time on homework – with one in three saying they spent no time on homework at all.

Cathy Ranson, editor-in-chief of parenting website said: "In an age where many young people have access to a computer, TV or mobile phone in their bedroom these findings don't come as a huge surprise. "Encouraging our offspring to switch off and go to sleep seems to be the key to helping them feel alert and able to function at school."


"Without boarding school I’d be nobody"

Ben Fogle was miserable when his parents packed him off to school; yet he grew to prize the skills and values it gave him. But when the time comes, will he send his own children away?

People often raise their eyebrows when I mention that I went to a boarding school. Many believe it is a symptom of poor, or neglectful parenting; but in my case it was an act of selfless love. My parents had to work twice as hard to pay the debilitatingly high fees – just to give me the best chance they could.

I was a deeply shy, self-conscious little boy; embarrassed by my own reflection. Terrified around other people I can still remember hiding behind my father’s legs when we had visitors. Hopelessly unsporty, and worryingly unacademic, things didn’t look good for me – until I went to boarding school.

Boarding was never a tradition for the Fogles. My mother is the actress Julia Foster, and my father is the vet and author, Bruce Fogle; my two sisters and I grew up above a veterinary clinic in central London, with two golden retrievers and an African grey parrot called Humphrey. We had an exciting, colourful childhood filled with movie stars, dogs in Elizabethan collars and film crews. I loved my home life, but when I was 14 I found myself in an educational conundrum.

I had already had a colourful scholarly career. When I was five my parents sent me to the French Lycée in South Kensington in the hope that I would become fluent in French. It was a spectacular failure and I left after two years and went to a small independent all-boys school in Hampstead.

The school focused too much on academic issues. Buckling under the pressure, I failed my Common Entrance exams and ended up being one of only five pupils in a new London day school. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring environment and the teachers and my parents soon became worried about the detrimental effect it was having on me. Given that no other London independent school would have me, and my parents didn’t want to go down the state route, boarding school it was.

That said, my parents never put pressure on me to go away to school; it was a collective decision. We settled on Bryanston School in Dorset for a number of reasons: primarily, they would have me, but also because it was one of the more liberal boarding schools. It was fully mixed throughout and I wouldn’t have to wear a uniform.

I can still remember that summer of dread leading up to the new term. I loved my home. I loved my dogs and I loved my family. I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye, but I knew the day would arrive.

I buried my head in the sand and pretended it wasn’t happening. My mother shopped for all my clothes without me and even packed my trunk and tuck box. It was as though I believed that if I ignored it enough, it might go away. But it didn’t and the endless summer raced by and soon we were on the M3 on our way to Dorset.

Bryanston is a beautiful school, surrounded by farms, and separated from the town of Blandford Forum by an impossibly long tree-lined drive.

My stomach turned in knots as we pulled up outside the main building. I will never forget that feeling. I stood helplessly in the drive way, my oversized jumper hanging to my knees and tears streaming down my face, as my parents’ car disappeared back down the drive. I didn’t stop crying for a year.

Now some of you may at this point question putting a child through that emotional trauma but I can assure you that I put my parents through far worse: the sobbing down the payphone every morning; the letter pleading them to take me home. But they were determined that I persevered and stuck by “our” decision.

The teachers were incredible, and I knew several of the other pupils from London, but none of that seemed to make a difference. I was a hopeless boarder; simply too much of a homeboy. A teacher once told me that homesickness was a symptom of a happy family life and that it’s more worrying if you never miss home, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I was determined to hate boarding.

Those teachers were some of the most patient people I have ever met. My housemaster, Mr Long, a former Olympic hockey player, and the headmaster at the time, Mr Weare, both went beyond the call of duty to help me through that emotional first year.

I don’t know how it happened, but one day I woke up and I was happy. Suddenly from heading home most weekends, I would go for a month without an exeat. The homesickness had gone and I began to love school. I made friends. Indeed my very best friends today are from Bryanston.

The school’s liberal ethos may have helped me, but it was the boarding itself that made the real difference to my character. Up until then I had always deferred decision making to my parents – a shrug of the shoulders and a monosyllabic grunt was all I had to offer – but suddenly I was forced to make decisions on my own. My confidence grew; I stood taller.

Some of you may still have a notion that boarding schools are for tough, battle-hardened kids. I’m living proof that this is not the case. So is my wife Marina, who also cried for a year when she started boarding but, like me, isn’t bitter, but grateful for the experience.

The traditional image of cold showers and iron beds couldn’t be further from the reality at most progressive boarding schools. And it may seem strange, but boarding school can strengthen the family unit rather than weaken it.

The time I spent with my parents during holidays and weekends was always positive, happy and uninterrupted. Marina believes boarding protected her relationship with her parents; all her teenage angst was directed at her teachers and matrons, rather than at them.

The irony is that the homesickness I battled with and won as a teenager has returned now that I have a family of my own. Marina and I are already debating whether we will send our two children Ludo, 23 months, and Iona, five months, away to school. Travelling overseas has become much harder for me since the children were born; there are tears on the doorstep when it’s time to say goodbye. Could I bear to send my two beautiful children away to school? I couldn’t possibly say for sure; it will depend on their individual characters and whether they want to board. But in theory, yes.

Boarding school changed my life. It made me the person I am. Perseverance, trust confidence are all assets I still use on a daily basis and if it can do the same for my children then it would be worth it. It may sound dramatic, but without boarding school, I would be nobody.