Saturday, May 12, 2012

Taxpayers On Hook For $850 Billion In Student Loans                                               

With a possible higher-education bubble looming, taxpayers are on the hook for about $850 billion in student loan debt.

Exactly how much of that the federal government would have to bail out if the bubble bursts is unknown, but with delinquency and default rates rising, it could be substantial. Yet Congress may exacerbate the problem with current efforts to maintain lower interest rates on student loans.

The amount of outstanding student loan debt has skyrocketed from about $440 billion in late 2008 to about $1 trillion today.

Of that, $500 billion is owned directly by the Education Department, according to Sallie Mae data. Another $350 billion was originated by private lenders with a government guarantee under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program. Sallie Mae estimates that the DOE will originate $113 billion in student loans this year vs. just $7 billion from the private sector.

"I think this data — $1 trillion in outstanding debt and a lot of it held by the federal government — is fairly persuasive evidence of a bubble," said Jonathan Robe, a research and administrative associate at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Have Debt, Need Job

Robe points to a recent AP analysis that found 53% of bachelor's degree holders under age 25 were either unemployed or underemployed.

"That may be another sign of a bubble in that more people may have a harder time paying back their loans," he said. "That could end up putting a bigger burden on taxpayers."

Debt loads are rising. Average student debt for new graduates rose 24% after inflation from 2000-2010 to $16,932, according to the liberal Progressive Policy Institute. The average for all borrowers is $23,300 , the New York Federal Reserve says.

Adding to the problem are higher delinquency and default rates.

About $85 billion in student loans are delinquent, the New York Fed said. That's about 14% of borrowers. However, that understates because many borrowers, such as those who are still students or have just graduated, don't have to make loan payments. Among borrowers required to pay back their loans, about 27% are delinquent.

The rate of default — those borrowers who haven't made any payments in at least nine months — is also on the rise. The DOE reports that the default rate rose to 8.8% in 2009 from 7% in 2008.

But the DOE figures only look at defaults over a two-year span. Data examined by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed that 20% of government loans that went into repayment starting in 1995 were in default. The rate was 31% for those at a two-year college and 40% for those attending a for-profit college.

Loans Are Part Of Problem

Part of the problem is rising college tuition, which has skyrocketed nearly 32% after inflation from 2000-2010. Average annual tuition is now about $17,464 based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

But Robe says that is at least partly a function of easier access to student loans.

"Cheap and readily available subsidized student loans have contributed to the tuition explosion ," said Robe. "Those loans make students far less price conscious and it enables the schools to raise tuition because they know if the student can't pay the tuition, they can pass the buck on to the taxpayers."

But both President Obama and GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney favor extending the 3.4% rate on federal Stafford Loans, set to rise to 6.8% in July.

The dispute is over how to pay for the $6 billion cost. The GOP-led House voted to cut preventative health fund in ObamaCare. That won't fly in the Democrat-led Senate. But Republican senators blocked that chamber's version, which would hike payroll taxes on small business.

In the end, a lower rate will only encourage more prospective college students to take out loans.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants to let people discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy. The bill would only apply to private loans not backed by the U.S. gov ernment. However, "That would probably increase the pressure to be able to do the same with federal loans," said Robe.


More British madness:  Schools are deliberately failing to correct spelling mistakes to avoid 'damaging pupils' self esteem'

Teachers are being told not to  correct more than three spelling errors at a time to avoid damaging pupils’ self-confidence, an MP revealed yesterday.  Andrew Selous highlighted the practice at a secondary school in his South West Bedfordshire constituency but fears it is widespread across the country.

The Tory MP condemned not correcting all errors in a piece of work as a ‘false kindness’ which denies pupils ‘fundamental’ skills needed in the job market.  Mr Selous said he had been alerted by a worried mother but had decided not to name the school behind the policy.

In a letter, she told him: ‘I have spent hours of frustration letter-writing but  no one is able to help or offer support.  ‘My children are hard-working but they need to be given the basic building blocks of English.’

The school’s marking policy states: ‘Teaching staff are not to highlight any more than three incorrect spellings on any piece of work. This is in order that the children’s self-confidence is not damaged.’

Mr Selous said: ‘We are not kind to children if we do not correct their use of language because it is one of the most fundamental blocks of any civilised society.  ‘There are probably thousands of schools  that have got this policy but it’s a false kindness and we are letting our children down.’

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Selous called for a debate on the issue. He told MPs that the Coalition would ‘not be keen’ to continue the leniency. Commons Leader Sir George Young replied: ‘It does sound like political correctness taken to excess. I am sure it is in the child’s interests for any spelling mistake to be put right at an early stage.’  He said he hoped the policy of giving more autonomy to head teachers would stop problems with spelling ‘festering’.

Mr Selous was backed by comments on the Mumsnet website. One mother told how her children’s primary school limits corrections because ‘too much red pen is discouraging’.  She said: ‘Surely it would be better to focus on encouraging them to spell correctly and making them feel proud of their work. Copying out a spelling mistake three times was how I improved.’

Coalition reforms will mean stricter marking on spelling and grammar in GCSEs and a new test for 11-year-olds.


Australia: Leftist ideas about school discipline reap their inevitable reward

TEACHERS and principals have stepped up calls for help to deal with rising child mental health and behavioural issues as student violence continues to cause problems across the state.

It comes as bus companies in southeast Queensland consider banning students because of wild behaviour accusations.

At Caboolture, a school community is still in shock after a 14-year-old girl was stabbed multiple times, allegedly by a 16-year-old fellow pupil this week - the third Queensland schoolyard stabbing in a little over two years.

Figures show about 20,000 suspensions were handed out last year for physical misconduct in state schools alone, with about 62,000 suspensions issued overall.  That's about 300 suspensions for every school day.  Exclusions have gone up with more than 1000 state school students expelled or excluded last year.

Last year The Courier-Mail revealed some principals complained their days were consumed with dealing with child behavioural and mental health issues and had called for every school to have access to a professional who co-ordinated issues involving child social and emotional wellbeing.

Yesterday, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said schools were a reflection of society and they had seen an increase in the mental and emotional needs of students, along with those diagnosed with verified disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder.  "We have seen a rise in students displaying anxiety and depression from quite an early age," she said.

Schools were now dealing with these issues "on a daily basis" and she renewed her call for stand-alone professionals.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said its policy was for every school to have access to a guidance officer. But he said the number of guidance officers simply hadn't "kept pace with the needs of schools as these sorts of issues have expanded" and were "spread thin" across the system.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said they had also called for extra support, while behaviour issues in schools were a reflection of what was happening in society.

But last night Education Minister John Paul-Langbroek crushed the idea of providing more guidance officers, saying the Labor government legacy meant there was not enough money in the kitty and chaplains would do instead.

"The mental health of Queensland school kids is of paramount importance," he said.  "Unfortunately, due to Labor's debt legacy, we just simply do not have the money to have a guidance counsellor in every school."

He said 80 per cent of state high schools and more than 40 per cent of state primaries had a chaplain and the LNP had committed a further $1 million to fund them.

Education Queensland assistant director-general Tom Barlow said there were 477 guidance officers in about 1250 state schools.

It is understood there are a further 1271 specialist staff including chaplains, nurses, therapists and teacher aides.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne said student behaviour and mental health were growing issues and his schools had structures in place to deal with it.

He said it would be up to the individual 22 Catholic school authorities on whether they placed a blanket ban on knives, suggested by the Queensland Schools Alliance Against Violence (QSAAV).

Yesterday he sent QSAAV materials to Diocesan leaders and school principals.


Friday, May 11, 2012

"Head Start" an Abysmal Failure for Kids, a Spectacular Success for Teachers

As all the studies have shown, Head Start has done nothing towards achieving its underlying aim:  Improve black educational achievement.  But look how lush it is for its employees!

For more than four decades, Miami-Dade County officials have managed Head Start, the storied preschool program for children from low-income families.  But the county now wants out — and “generous” salaries are partly to blame.

On average, Miami-Dade paid its Head Start teachers $76,860 in salary and fringe benefits in 2011, county records show. That’s about 90 percent higher than the second highest-paying Head Start provider in the county, Catholic Charities, which paid its teachers an average of $40,418 in salary and benefits.

On the administrative side, 17 county Head Start staffers made more than $100,000 in salary and benefits.

Last week, the county submitted paperwork to offload much of the Head Start program to three local agencies: the Miami-Dade school system, Easter Seals of South Florida and the YWCA of Greater Miami-Dade.

Having new agencies run the centers would provide an opportunity to rein in costs — and could save the county more than $3 million annually, said Lisa Martinez, a senior advisor to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Head Start was created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society campaign. The program provides free, full-day preschool and social services for low-income children.  In Miami-Dade, Head Start and Early Head Start centers serve about 6,700 children.

The programs are funded in large part by a $53 million grant from the federal government. County officials manage the grant and operate about one-third of all Head Start centers in Miami-Dade. The rest are run by nonprofit organizations and private childcare companies that receive a share of the grant money.

Head Start has been a consistent money-loser for the county, in part because Miami-Dade pays its Head Start employees much higher salaries and better benefits than any other local providers, records show.

Last year, the average Head Start teacher on the county payroll made more than triple the $19,441 in salary and benefits given to Head Start teachers at Paradise Christian, Miami-Dade’s lowest-paying Head Start provider.

Another way of looking at it: The average county-employed Head Start teacher made about $8,000 more in salary and benefits than the average public schoolteacher in the Miami-Dade school district.  The county’s highest paid Head Start employee was director Jane McQueen, who received $188,624 in salary and benefits.


Israel's Reaction to Anti-Semitism on Campus

At long last an attempt is being made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary at American universities. The Israel Law Center warns that universities "may be liable for massive damage" if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.

The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.

A center's lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said, "Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews." A student at Rutgers, to cite, one example, said he was called "a racist Zionist pig" in a public Facebook posting. That comment was made when the student questioned a Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Holy Land Foundation, a foundation that has funded Hamas - a recognized terrorist organization.

University officials noted that free speech provisions militate against disciplinary action; clearly a case can and should be made for the free and open exchange of ideas on campus. In fact, every provision should be made to foster free speech. However, intimidation is another matter. Using methods to stifle free speech is the overarching issue. As George Santayana noted, "The first duty of the tolerant person is to be intolerant to intolerance."

Ms. Leitner contends that "perpetrators of hate" are exploiting academic freedom and First Amendment provisions to create an environment of intimidation, one that prevents Jews from exercising their free speech. 

Presumably the warning distributed by the center will prompt U.S. colleges and universities to take appropriate action against the growing problem of campus hate.

A former Brandeis student Hershel Hartz maintains that universities have a double standard in which anti-Semitism is protected as free speech while other designated ethnicities are scrupulously protected from discriminatory acts.

The center letter also points to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project which held it illegal to provide support to a terrorist organization, even for supposed humanitarian purposes (a clear reference to the Rutgers program).
The center's notice sets the stage for a responsible reaction to the rash of anti-Semitic actions on American campuses. As I see it, it is about time.


Ban cellphones from schools: Chief British schools inspector gets tough over classroom discipline

Pupils face a ban on mobile phones in school as part of a new Ofsted crackdown on classroom discipline.  Schools will be penalised for failing to tackle persistent low-level disruption in lessons under a tough new inspection regime being introduced next term.

This could force teachers to forbid mobile phone use by pupils – including texting, taking calls and surfing the web – to avoid being marked down by inspectors.

It will also cover other forms of disruption, including back-chatting and calling out, which damage education for well-behaved classmates.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said that apart from the distracting effect of a mobile going off in a lesson, handsets can be used for cyber-bullying and accessing online pornography at school.

In an interview with the Mail, Sir Michael told how, as a headmaster, he banned his pupils from bringing phones to school.

Recalling his experience as head of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London, he said: ‘It certainly cut out all that nonsense that you have in schools of these things being brought in and then a mobile phone going off in a lesson.

‘The outrageous behaviour that you occasionally see in all schools is serious, but I think the bigger issue is that low-level disruption which takes place which stops children learning effectively. Teachers and head teachers have got to stamp that out.’

Sir Michael added that bullying via phones and the internet could be ‘disruptive and pernicious’ and he treated the menace as seriously as a fight in the playground.

He will use a keynote speech today to pledge to push ahead with an overhaul of the school inspection regime despite a revolt by head teachers and claims of ‘bully  boy tactics’.

Under his reforms, 6,000 schools currently deemed ‘satisfactory’ will be rebadged in the next academic year as ‘requiring improvement’.

‘I know this is a tough message but I think in a few years’ time it will be seen as a right one,’ he said.  ‘I’m not a bully and never have been. We are raising the game. We are saying that all children deserve a good education and nothing less.’

Ofsted’s sharper focus on standards of behaviour is expected to lead to schools taking a tougher line on mobiles.  New laws brought in last month give teachers powers to search pupils for handsets if they are banned under school rules.  Staff may also search pupils for phones if they suspect they are being used to view pornography.

Few schools currently impose an outright ban on bringing handsets to school. Many allow them as long as they are kept switched off and stowed away.

But teachers warn that once mobiles are in school, they face a battle to make sure they are switched off all day.

Teachers who contributed to an online forum said: ‘Officially, we do not allow phones and will confiscate if seen. In reality, kids wander round using them as they like.’

Another warned: ‘I’ve had the situation where I’ve demanded the phone from, say, a Year 10 boy (I’m female) and they just shove the phone inside their boxers and say “You want it, you get it!”’

Sir Michael went on to reveal that heads will be expected to deal more effectively with teachers who cannot control their classes.

They will be marked down if they fail to manage the performance of struggling teachers, for example by waving through unjustified pay rises.

‘If the culture of the school is good and somebody is consistently under-performing because they are not teaching effectively, leading to that low-level disruption, that’s got to be picked up,’ said Sir Michael.

‘Where head teachers find that teachers are consistently underperforming, where there is that low-level disruption in every lesson, no matter what the professional development taking place in the school, then action needs to be taken.’

Sir Michael plans to extend Ofsted’s reach to the new chains springing up to run academies, which operate outside local authority influence but are state-funded.

At a conference today at Brighton College, he will say he has not been deterred from pressing ahead with toughening up the system, and that a consultation on the proposals attracted wide support, including from parents.

Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, will tell the conference that heads who fail to sack incompetent teachers should have their pay docked.  ‘No head teacher should ever tolerate bad teaching. Yet up and down the land, that is precisely what is going on.

‘Too many head teachers are prepared to take their relatively generous salaries yet duck the issue of the bad teacher in the staff room.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Parents should take responsibility for whether or not their children have phones in the first place. It is up to individual head teachers to decide if and when mobile phones should be used by pupils in school.’


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Must not question "Black studies"

Late last night, in a shameful example of editorial cowardice, the Chronicle of Higher Education fired Naomi Schaefer Riley.

Naomi joined the Chronicle’s “Brainstorm Blog” a little over a year ago. It was a good hire—she’s written two insightful books on academia, God on the Quad and The Faculty Lounges, along with dozens of articles on the subject. Her postings were smart and entertaining. (For a couple of samples, click over to “If this is art, your middle-school daughter is Picasso” and “No sex for you.”)

Last week she wrote about the world of “Black Studies” in a post titled “The most persuasive case for getting rid of Black Studies? Read the dissertations.” You should read the whole thing, because it’s only 520 words, but here’s the gist of Naomi’s argument:
I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.

That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.

Naomi then went on to dissect two other incredibly silly “Black Studies” dissertations. One of these was written by TaSha B. Levy. Here’s how the Chronicle itself—not Naomi—described Levy’s work:
Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have “played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.”

Chronicle readers were outraged. Not that a graduate student was earning a doctorate by claiming that Sowell, Thomas, and McWhorter are threats to civil rights. Oh, no. They were outraged because Naomi would dare poke fun at such insanity. Because, you know, that’s racist.

Eight days and 497 comments later, the Chronicle’s Liz McMillen fired Naomi.


The Case against Student Aid

For decades, Federal Financial Aid (FFA) programs have been implemented and expanded to make higher education "affordable" for students. The ostensible merits are obvious: loans, grants, and work-study schemes allow students to purchase education without much need for cash or other sources of private funding — a supposed benefit to students who otherwise might not be able to pay for college.

However, as Bastiat instructed, "It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa." Surely, to the credulous eye, the immediate consequences of FFA have solidified its standing as a model of successful federal intervention. Virtually all students who are admitted to college qualify for FFA, which has helped fuel a substantial increase in matriculation rates. This illusory victory is but a distraction from the later and disastrous consequences that Bastiat warned of.

The unintended consequences of FFA are numerous, indeed. Skyrocketing tuition, high default rates, and pathetic graduation rates — to name a few — are all byproducts of a system that incentivizes inefficiency, largess, and misguided decisions. Oddly, while many students aren't legally permitted to take a sip of alcohol, they are systematically encouraged to contract into years of, essentially, indentured servitude. It is evident that the aggregate result of FFA is net harm.

Even statists, to an extent, are recognizing some of the negative effects of FFA. President Obama warned college officials in his recent State of the Union address that "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down." While it is mildly encouraging that he implicitly endorses the Bennett Hypothesis — former education William Bennett's assertion that FFA enables colleges to "blithely" raise tuition — his proposed solutions, including increasing campus-based aid to $10 billion and a bubblegum $1 billion "Race to the Top" competition, only offer ever greater federal intervention. In essence, he wants to reward the meth addict for switching dealers.

Naturally, the only solution to eliminating the harmful effects of FFA is to abolish the programs altogether. Of course, this logical proposal is sure to be met with a great deal of skepticism. Perhaps this is understandable. After all, if one were to assume that nothing would change in the absence of FFA — that college officials, students, and other primary actors would exhibit precisely the same actions as they do today — then skeptics might possess a façade of rationality.

Such assumptions, however, are simply fallacious. Abolishing FFA would, in essence, change the laws of physics as we know them in the world of higher education. As Mises wrote, "Rational conduct means that man, in face of the fact the he cannot satisfy all his impulses, desires, and appetites, forgoes the satisfaction of those which he considers less urgent."

Each actor in higher education, therefore, would reprioritize its actions as it strives to, in Mises's words, "substitute a less satisfactory state of affairs for a more satisfactory one."

It is instructive to evaluate how college officials and students might adjust their actions to determine the effects of abolishing FFA. The effects of these actions, including lower tuition rates, increased institutional efficiency, and most importantly, better outcomes for students are overwhelmingly positive.

Institutional Actions

The Department of Education (DOE) spends about $30 billion annually on subsidies for higher education, almost all of which is distributed in the form of student loans and grants — $9.6 billion and $17.4 billion, respectively. Much like the housing boom, where easy credit fueled a bubble, this has stimulated demand for higher education. Between 1986 and 2006, a period in which FFA programs were greatly expanded, enrollment increased by 48 percent. This surge was accompanied by a 21 percent real increase in cost between the 1995–96 and 2005–06 academic years.

To be certain, the precise effect that FFA has on tuition is difficult to ascertain. The elasticity of supply, for example, differs greatly among institutions — a price increase at Princeton may not have the same effect on demand as a similar increase at Arizona State University. It can be reasonably concluded, however, that FFA generally leads to higher tuition costs. As Boston University professor Peter Woods explains, FFA is "seen by colleges and universities as money that is there for the taking … tuition is set high enough to capture those funds and whatever else we think can be extracted from parents."

Unquestionably, the abolition of FFA would drastically decrease demand for higher education at current tuition levels. Many potential students would possess neither the willingness nor ability to pay these artificially inflated prices — and rightly so. This would place immense pressure on most colleges to respond with substantial tuition cuts. Failure to do so would result in rather desolate campuses. Since state subsidies generally account for a substantial amount of institutional funding, college officials would also be under immense political pressure to adjust their prices. After all, they would be hard pressed to justify any funding without students.

It's evident that abolishing FFA would result in lower tuition rates. Failure to do so would be, essentially, suicidal for the majority of colleges. But how could they possibly persist without their usual injections of inflated revenue?

It is of little debate that inefficiency and largess are rampant throughout higher education. According to Bowen's law, named for Howard H. Bowen, "Colleges raise all the money they can and spend all the money they can raise." Unlike profit-seeking entrepreneurs, and much like any bureaucracy, their budgets have little regard for optimizing the relationship between expenses and quality. As Bowen explains,
The question of what ought higher education to cost — what is the minimal amount needed to provide services of acceptable quality — does not enter the process except as it is imposed from the outside.… The duty of setting limits thus falls, by default, upon those who provide the money, mostly legislators and students and their families.

Abolishing FFA would force colleges toward greater, albeit still bureaucratic, efficiency. Significant cuts in expenditures could be made painlessly with virtually no effect on their core service. Administrative bureaucracy would be a logical starting point for this. In 2007, it accounted for approximately 26.1 percent of the total workforce in higher education, an increase of 15.2 percent from 1997. Administrative bloat has significantly outpaced growth in spending on instruction-related activities. It has been estimated that a mere 5 percent reduction in administrative bureaucracy would save $1.78 billion annually.

Yet even more obvious ways exist to eliminate waste. For years, colleges have been engaged in a virtual arms race, growing to resemble amusement parks rather than institutions of higher learning. Rock-climbing walls, gourmet-dining commons, and lavish fitness centers have all become commonplace. Washington State even boasts the largest jacuzzi on the west coast and the University of Vermont has a $70 million student center. Oddly, such luxuries are rarely questioned in commentary on escalating tuition prices — while likely not a significant cause, per se, they are undoubtedly symptomatic of a greater problem. Although such grandiosity is highly effective at luring marginal students, it is inconsequential in the mission to educate and thus wasteful. Ending this madness would be another step towards greater efficiency on college campuses.

Perhaps most importantly, academia is in dire need of a cultural revolution. With insurmountable pressure to "publish or perish," teaching is but an afterthought for many faculty. As Walter Block and Roberto McGee noted, "receiving an award for good teaching is considered the kiss of death for an untenured professor." It is unsurprising then that teaching loads plummeted an astounding 36 percent between 1987–1988 and 2003–2004. It has been estimated that such reductions have increased costs by $2,850 per student at public four-year colleges.

Of course some research is indeed productive. However, it is highly unlikely that many of the 21,674 scholarly publications written on Shakespeare between 1980 and 2006, for example, had a demonstrable impact on student success. Colleges have much to save — and students even more to gain — when college officials reprioritize the work of their faculties.

Clearly, significant opportunities exist for colleges to become substantially more efficient. Abolishing FFA, and the necessary tuition cuts that follow, would force officials to eliminate many of the expenditures that are peripheral to educational quality. Additionally, student actions would also respond to these changes.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Britain's dehumanizing bureaucracy again

Father's fury as school fails to notify him when his son, 7, went missing... but they insist they 'followed correct procedure'

A fuming father has told how a school failed to notify him when his seven-year-old son went missing.  Keaton Wyles is said to have completed a treacherous walk home across two busy main roads after strolling out of his school’s open gates.

His father Adam Wyles, 31, claims staff took 20 minutes to contact police and failed to notify him of his son’s disappearance.

The youngster was eventually returned to Greenfields Community Primary School, Maidstone, Kent, by staff after he was spotted outside his family home.

Headteacher Dan Andrews said staff 'followed the correct procedure' and Keaton was 'not wandering around on his own'.

But Adam was left furious and is calling on the school to tighten its security.  He said: 'My wife had a text from a neighbour saying ‘Is everything ok? Keaton is out front.’  'My wife was in town and I was at work. She had to phone the school to find out what had happened.  'There was no phone call at all to my wife’s mobile or my contact numbers by the school.

'The school rung the police at 11am and said Keaton had been missing for about 15 to 20 minutes on their log so they hadn’t got a clue where he was.

'We asked why we weren’t informed, as I have three sons in that school and they all have contact details.'

Head teacher Dan Andrews said: 'I am perfectly happy with what happened. I’m confident that all of my staff followed the correct procedure.  'As soon as he chose to leave, the police were called and he was returned to the school promptly and safely for the afternoon session.'

Mr Andrews said Keaton was 'at no point wandering around on his own', but declined to elaborate on the steps staff took to bring him back to school.


Australia: Big classes no barrier to performance

REDUCING class sizes has been a costly policy that hasn't translated into student improvement, tying up money that could have been used "for more worthwhile purposes" in schools, the Productivity Commission warns.

In a report to be released today, the Productivity Commission says a wider range of class sizes would be more cost effective and allow for changes in the allocation of teacher class time versus professional development.

It comes as analysis of The Courier-Mail Queensland Schools Guide, which allows parents to compare schools of their choice, found no correlation between student to teacher ratios and national literacy and numeracy test results.

Queensland has prided itself in recent years on its reduction in class sizes to among the smallest in Australia.

In the state system, there is maximum class size target of 25 students in Prep to Year 3, 28 pupils in Year 4 to 10 and back to 25 in Years 11 and 12.

But Grattan Institute school education program director Ben Jensen said yesterday there was "a mountain of evidence showing overwhelmingly class size has virtually no impact".

"You get a slightly bigger impact on smaller class sizes in younger age levels, but we are still talking about a minimal impact," he said.

The Productivity Commission report agrees, stating student literacy and numeracy has declined in recent years with Australian students falling behind high-performing international counterparts, despite reduced class sizes.

"The policy focus in relation to the schools workforce has tended to concentrate more on teacher numbers, particularly by reducing class sizes," the report says.

"Such reductions have been pursued partly on the presumption that, by enabling teachers to give more individual attention to each student, there will be better student outcomes.

"... Research suggests that smaller class sizes will only benefit some student groups, such as those with learning difficulties, disabilities or other special needs.

"It therefore appears that the across-the-board approach to class-size reductions has been a costly policy that has not translated into a commensurate improvement in overall student outcomes.

"It has tied up funding that could otherwise have been used for a range of more worthwhile purposes, including to better reward quality teaching and use pay differentials for hard-to-staff positions."

The Queensland Teachers' Union has been pursuing even smaller class sizes in Queensland. QTU president Kevin Bates said teachers told them smaller class sizes did make a big difference in this state.

He said individual schools had the ability to apply to have bigger and smaller class sizes if it suited their circumstances.

Data collected for the Queensland Schools Guide shows the number of students per teacher at individual schools ranged from 1.6 to 54.3, with only two schools running distance education posting ratios above 23:1.

The count includes principals, deputy principals and non-classroom teachers.


Bite-sized marking  of British High School exams could go as final exams make a comeback as regulator admits confidence had been eroded

A-levels look set to be overhauled after the exams regulator admitted confidence in the qualifications had been eroded by more than a decade of grade inflation.

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual, blamed the undermining of A-levels and preceding GCSE exams on the cumulative effect of examiners giving students the ‘benefit of the doubt’, awarding them ‘small gains’ with each such decision.

Experts have also blamed a ‘dumbing down’ of the exam system on the former Labour government’s introduction of modular exams, which allowed students to repeatedly resit tests on ‘bite sized’ chunks of the curriculum until they passed.

Miss Stacey revealed Ofqual will consult over the summer on proposals to ‘move away from a modular approach’ at A-level.

Her comments herald a return to the traditional A-level where pupils take exams at the end of the course, with the AS-level exam – brought in as part of the reforms 12 years ago and sat by students at the end of the lower sixth-year – also set to be scrapped.

Miss Stacey had previously said it was ‘unhelpful and negative’ to suggest successive record results were the result of grade inflation and not ‘young people being taught well and working hard’.

But in an interview yesterday she admitted that ‘containing’ grade inflation in this year’s A-levels and GCSEs, by ensuring exam boards set ‘justifiable’ grade boundaries, was a major focus.

Last year, A-level results showed an improvement for the 29th consecutive year, with the overall pass rate up from 97.6 per cent to 97.8 per cent.

Earlier this month, an Ofqual report highlighted concerns among academics that first-year university students had a ‘shallower’ knowledge than 15 years ago, despite  rising A-level grades.

‘If you look at the history, we have seen persistent grade inflation for these key qualifications for at least a decade,’ Miss Stacey told a newspaper.

‘The grade inflation we have seen is virtually impossible to justify and it has done more than anything, in my view, to undermine confidence in the value of those qualifications.’