Thursday, May 24, 2012

Honor Veterans by Giving Their Children Better Education Options

Americans want to honor the veterans and service members who sacrifice so much to defend our country. That’s why we have holidays like Memorial Day. Yet members of our military deserve more than speeches and parades. They deserve policies that reduce the price that they and their families have to pay for their service.

In 1944, Congress passed what is today known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill. By putting a college education within the financial reach of veterans, the G.I. Bill is credited with growing the American middle class and ushering in one of the longest economic expansions in history. Recent changes to the G.I. Bill allow veterans to transfer their education benefits to their college-age children. Unfortunately, they can’t pass them on to their elementary and secondary school children, many of whom sorely need better options.

Congress and state lawmakers should move to change this limitation so that veterans can use existing GI Bill benefits for Military Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to send their children to schools they think are best—regardless of where they are stationed.

More than one million school-age children in America, who mostly attend public schools, have parents serving in the military. Yet over half the country’s public schools with at least a 5 percent military-child enrollment are not meeting state academic standards. Children from military families change schools far more frequently and have higher disability rates than their civilian peers, further undermining their chances of success in school.

Military ESAs would help expand education options without adding costs to national and state budgets because they would simply let veterans direct their existing or unused education benefits into tax-free savings accounts for their school-age children. Ample models already exist for how this could work.

Coverdell ESAs, for example, allow individuals to contribute up to $2,000 annually for schoolchildren’s education, including private school tuition, room and board, tutoring, special education services, uniforms, and educational technology. As with existing Coverdell ESAs, qualified education expenditures from Military ESAs would be tax free. Annual contributions could match the current per-pupil funding at the public school the service member’s child would otherwise have to attend. Military ESA funds could pay for transportation, tuition, associated virtual or home school costs, as well as tutoring, books, supplies, and fees for special educational services. Any remaining funds could be used toward children’s postsecondary education or training.

This isn’t just important to those children who have better education options. It’s important to our nation’s defense. Top military officials report that military parents with school-age children are reluctant to accept assignments to areas with poorly performing schools. Ensuring that military personnel will have high-quality education options will help with military recruitment and retention efforts.

Since 2008, Congress has considered but failed to enact several scholarship programs for military dependents. This is a topic they should reconsider immediately. Unlike other proposals, Military ESAs would be more fiscally—and therefore politically—viable, because they require no additional appropriations. But state lawmakers don’t need to wait for Congress to act.

Virtually every state offers higher education benefits to National Guard members. In some states, those benefits can even be transferred to surviving dependents. States also have their own 529 college savings plans, and qualified withdrawals are not subject to federal taxes. Additionally, some states offer income tax deductions or tax credits for 529 contributions. State lawmakers should simply amend their existing programs so they can serve as Military ESAs for K-12 education expenditures as well. Arizona did so last year, when it became the first state to enact a K-12 ESA program.

Such benefits would be powerful recruitment tools and help nurture home-grown talent, which contributes to states’ economic growth without burdening their budgets. In fact, because most annual private, charter, virtual, and home schooling costs are significantly less than the $12,000 national public-school per-pupil average, states would likely realize significant savings. In fact, if just 1 percent of military children attended private schools instead of public district schools using Military ESAs, states would realize a combined annual savings of more than $92 million.

Most important, by allowing federal and state Military ESAs, policymakers can ensure that the Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country do not have to sacrifice when it comes to providing a quality education for their children.
Tags: Education and Schools , Veterans , Military Families , children , Education , GI Bill


End state support of colleges and universities

In an era in which many statists are doing their best to assure themselves and others that they are not socialists, this might be a good time to visit one of the most deeply entrenched and popular socialistic programs in our time — state-supported colleges and universities.

State-supported colleges and universities receive their revenues in two ways: voluntarily (e.g., through tuitions and donations) and coercively (i.e., through taxation). From a moral perspective, the difference between these two forms of funding is the difference between day and night.

Let’s assume that a college receives no state funding and that it relies entirely on voluntary support. Through tuitions and donations, it is able to raise $10 million per year. Each year it spends the full amount of the money it receives.

One day, the school president decides that he would like to expand operations by $3 million a year. During its annual fundraising drive, the school does its best to raise $3 million in additional donations.

However, while the school is able to raise its usual $10 million, it is unable to convince people to donate the extra $3 million. The school will have to shelve its expansion plans.

But then the college president gets an idea. He exclaims to the college board of trustees: “The donors are wrong. They should easily see how important our expansion plans are. They should have said yes when we asked them to donate the extra $3 million to us. Why don’t we go to the state legislature and ask it to use the coercive power of the state to levy a tax on our donors that raises the $3 million we need, and then give the money to us?”

A libertarian on the board objects: “Wait a minute. Where is the morality in that? When we approached these people and asked them to donate the extra money to us, they refused, which is their right. After all, it’s their money. How can we morally justify forcibly taking the $3 million from them? If we did it privately, we’d be stealing. How is it different in principle if we use the state to accomplish the same end?”

The college president responds, “The difference is that we live in a democracy, a political system in which the majority rules. If the majority of the people, as reflected by their elected representatives, vote to take those people’s money from them and give it to us, that’s what democracy is all about. If those people don’t like it, they can elect other representatives to public office.”

The libertarian responds: “But fundamental rights are not subject to majority vote. We wouldn’t countenance forcing people to go to church even if the majority supported such a law. Why should we countenance what amounts to the stealing of other people’s money simply because the majority has approved it?”

State-supported colleges and universities say that they couldn’t survive without state funding. That might or might not be true. But is that any moral justification for forcibly taking people’s money from them to fund school operations? If a business can’t survive in a free and voluntary marketplace, then why shouldn’t it go under? When people decline to support it, that’s because they choose to spend, donate, or invest their funds elsewhere. Why should they be forced to fund an operation that they have chosen not to support?

In an era in which government spending and debt at all levels continues to soar, one of the best ways to reduce spending and borrowing would be to eliminate all government funding of colleges and universities. It would not only be the fiscally responsible thing to do. It would also be the moral thing to do.


British Pupils' exam results 'closely linked' to parents' education

British State schools are in general  now so bad that you have to be bright to get your kid into a good school

Parental education has a far larger bearing on children’s exam results in England than in other developed nations, according to research.  Pupils with bright mothers and fathers are more likely to exceed national averages in this country than those educated in nations such as Canada and Australia, it was revealed.

Just days before teenagers prepare to take their GCSEs, the study underlined the extent to which social mobility has now ground to a halt.

Academics from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, based at Essex University, found that parents’ success at a young age meant they could afford to live in areas with easy access to the best schools – giving their own children the best start in life.

In a controversial move, researchers suggested that more state secondary schools should adopt lottery-style admissions systems – when all applicants’ names are effectively placed in a hat and picked at random – to break the middle-class stranglehold on places.

It comes just days after Elizabeth Sidwell, the Schools Commissioner, endorsed the move, saying it was undesirable for schools to draw pupils from small affluent catchment areas.

Prof John Ermisch, one of the report’s authors, said: “The educational system is likely to be the most widely used and most acceptable policy tool we have for equalising life chances. Our analysis of England suggests that more equal access to good secondary schools – eg. through lottery allocation – could make a contribution.

“But as long as there is such a wide variation in school quality, such a policy would be resisted by better-off parents, because some would be forced to send their children to inferior schools.”

The study analysed exam results – and the outcomes of interviews – for around 16,000 schoolchildren born in 1989 and 1990. It checked pupils' progress at 11, 14 and 16. The study found a “steep gradient” in the achievement of children with well-educated parents during adolescence.

This rise “becomes steeper between the end of primary school and part-way through secondary school”, it was revealed.  “It appears to be related to the sorting of children into secondary schools, with more educated parents sending their children to better quality schools,” said the study.

Researchers analysed similar data in the US and found that the “parental education gradient when the child is aged around 14 was similar if not steeper than in England”.

But in Canada and Australia children’s achievements in test scores at 15 were “less strongly related to parents’ highest education”, suggesting these countries were much more socially mobile.

The conclusions come just days after Nick Clegg warned that snobbery is being turned into a national “religion” in Britain as millions of children from poor homes are denied good jobs because of class attitudes.  The Deputy Prime Minister said a privileged few had a “sense of entitlement”.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mitt Romney announces education policy team

Mitt Romney on Tuesday announced an extensive list of education policy advisers, further adding to the growing roster of voices helping the presumptive Republican presidential nominee flesh out his policies on major national issues.

The policy group includes several top officials from the administration of President George W. Bush, including former education secretary Rod Paige. It also includes several who advised Romney while he was Massachusetts governor, including Robert Costrell and Jim Peyser.

“I am proud to announce the support of this impressive group of policy leaders who are devoted to expanding educational opportunities for students,” Romney said in a statement. “Our education system is failing too many of our kids, and I look forward to working closely with these leaders to chart a new course that emphasizes school choice and accountability, the importance of great teachers, and access to quality, affordable higher education.”

Peyser, who also advised Romney predecessors William F. Weld and Jane Swift, was involved in several key decisions in Massachusetts education reform, including the birth of charter schools and keeping support intact for the MCAS graduation requirement for high school students. He left his post with Romney fairly early in his four-year term to become a partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that gives money to projects aimed at improving public education, including charter schools.

“It is an honor to work with Governor Romney and his team to help develop innovative solutions to our nation’s education challenges,” said Nina Rees, a group co-chair for K-12 education. “He established an extraordinary track record of results during his time as governor of Massachusetts, and I am confident that with his leadership and his focus on achievement we can ensure that all students have access to the education they deserve.”

Romney has not made education a core part of his campaign, mentioning struggles that students may have finding jobs or paying off college loans but rarely wading into education policy. But that could change with the announcmenet of his new team of advisers.


The Unteachables: A Generation that Cannot Learn

"The honeymoon is over." Instructors who award low grades in humanities disciplines will likely be familiar with a phenomenon that occurs after the first essays are returned to students: former smiles vanish, hands once jubilantly raised to answer questions are now resentfully folded across chests, offended pride and sulkiness replace the careless cheer of former days. Too often, the smiles are gone for good because the customary "B+" or "A" grades have been withheld, and many students cannot forgive the insult.

The matter doesn't always end there. Some students are prepared for a fight, writing emails of entreaty or threat, or besieging the instructor in his office to make clear that the grade is unacceptable. Every instructor who has been so besieged knows the legion of excuses and expressions of indignation offered, the certainty that such work was always judged acceptable in the past, the implication that a few small slip-ups, a wrong word or two, have been blown out of proportion. When one points out grievous inadequacies - factual errors, self-contradiction, illogical argument, and howlers of nonsensical phrasing - the student shrugs it off: yes, yes, a few mistakes, the consequences of too much coffee, my roommate's poor typing, another assignment due the same day; but you could still see what I meant, couldn't you, and the general idea was good, wasn't it? "I'm better at the big ideas," students have sometimes boasted to me. "On the details, well . ".

Meetings about bad grades are uncomfortable not merely because it is unpleasant to wound feelings unaccustomed to the sting. Too often, such meetings are exercises in futility. I have spent hours explaining an essay's grammatical, stylistic, and logical weaknesses in the wearying certainty that the student was unable, both intellectually and emotionally, to comprehend what I was saying or to act on my advice. It is rare for such students to be genuinely desirous and capable of learning how to improve. Most of them simply hope that I will come around. Their belief that nothing requires improvement except the grade is one of the biggest obstacles that teachers face in the modern university. And that is perhaps the real tragedy of our education system: not only that so many students enter university lacking the basic skills and knowledge to succeed in their courses - terrible in itself - but also that they often arrive essentially unteachable, lacking the personal qualities necessary to respond to criticism.

The unteachable student has been told all her life that she is excellent: gifted, creative, insightful, thoughtful, able to succeed at whatever she tries, full of potential and innate ability. Pedagogical wisdom since at least the time of John Dewey - and in some form all the way back to William Wordsworth's divinely anointed child "trailing clouds of glory" - has stressed the development of self-esteem and a sense of achievement. Education, as Dewey made clear in such works as The Child and the Curriculum (1902), was not about transferring a cultural inheritance from one generation to the next; it was about students' self-realization. It involved liberating pupils from that stuffy, often stifling, inheritance into free and unforced learning aided by sympathy and encouragement. The teacher was not so much to teach or judge as to elicit a response, leading the student to discover for herself what she, in a sense, already knew. In the past twenty years, the well-documented phenomenon of grade inflation in humanities subjects - the awarding of high "Bs" and "As" to the vast majority of students - has increased the conviction that everyone is first-rate.

This pedagogy of self-esteem developed in response to the excesses of rote learning and harsh discipline that were thought to characterize earlier eras. In Charles Dickens' Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind, the teacher who ridicules a terrified Sissy Jupe for her inability to define a horse ("Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth . "), was seen to epitomize a soulless pedagogical regime that deadened creativity and satisfaction. Dickens and his readers believed such teaching to be a form of mental and emotional abuse, and the need to protect students from the stigma of failure became an article of faith amongst progressive educators. For them, the stultifying apparatus of the past had to be entirely replaced. Memorization itself, the foundation of traditional teaching, came to be seen as an enemy of creative thought: pejorative similes for memory work such as "rote learning" and "fact-grinding" suggest the classroom equivalent of a military drill, harsh and unaccommodating. The progressive approach, in contrast, emphasizes variety, pleasure, and student interest and self-motivation above all.

It sounds good. The problem, as traditionalists have argued (but without much success), is that the utopian approach hasn't worked as intended. Rather than forming cheerful, self-directed learners, the pedagogy of self-esteem has often created disaffected, passive pupils, bored precisely because they were never forced to learn. As Hilda Neatby commented in 1953, the students she was encountering at university were "distinctly blasé" about their coursework. A professor of history, Neatby was driven to investigate progressive education after noting how ill-equipped her students were for the high-level thinking required of them; her So Little For the Mind remains well-worth reading. In her assessment:

    The bored "graduates" of elementary and high schools seem, in progressive language, to be "incompletely socialized." Ignorant even of things that they might be expected to know, they do not care to learn. They lack an object in life, they are unaware of the joy of achievement. They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product.

The emphasis on feeling good, as Neatby argued, prevents rather than encourages the real satisfactions of learning.


British Liberal leader promoting 'communist' policies for university access

Nick Clegg has been accused of promoting "communist" policies to force universities to take more students from state schools.

The Deputy Prime Minister suggested that leading colleges should lower their A-level entry grades for state school candidates.

Under a sweeping "social mobility strategy", the country's higher education system will be judged on how many state school pupils win places at leading universities, he said.

Vice-chancellors will face financial penalties if they fail to meet targets for increasing the number of disadvantaged students they admit.

But the plan raised concerns that independent school pupils who achieve good grades will be rejected by the best universities.   Leading head teachers warned Mr Clegg he risked "stirring up ill feeling" between the state and private education systems.

Tim Hands, master of the independent Magdalen College School in Oxford, said Mr Clegg's plan would "betray" parents who pay for a private education.  "This is the old-style communist creation of a closed market, to try and deal with the problem after the event," he said.

The government's "energy and money" would be better spent on improving state education "rather than capping the achievements" of pupils in independent schools, he said.

Dr Hands, co-chair of the universities committee at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) of leading independent schools, said Mr Clegg should "value" high quality teaching.  "Many parents make huge sacrifices in order to get the best possible education for their children," he said.

"Privileged politicians propose to betray those parents and their values."

Brian Binley, a Conservative MP on the Commons education committee, said the drive to widen access to universities had been "one of the most destructive measures to our skills base that anyone could ever imagine".  He said it was "absolute nonsense" to tell universities to take more students from state schools when the focus should be on improving standards of primary and secondary education.

The criticism came as Mr Clegg annouced sweeping “social mobility strategy” intended to break the grip of middle-class families on the best-paid jobs and the most highly regarded universities.

In his most strident remarks on college access to date, he said universities to recruit students “on the basis of an ability to excel, not purely on previous attainment”.

He said ministers would aim to ensure that children born into working-class homes can find better jobs than their fathers held, amid evidence that “a large number of professions remain dominated by a small section of society”.

Mr Clegg said the Coalition’s social policies would be rated against 17 new indicators, ranging from babies’ birth weight to adults’ job opportunities.

Opening the best colleges to working-class students is essential to create a country “where what matters most is the person you become, not the person you were born”.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

FL: Half of high school students fail reading test

Nearly half of Florida high school students failed the reading portion of the state's new toughened standardized test, education officials said on Friday.

Results this year from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test showed 52 percent of freshman students and 50 percent of sophomores scored at their grade levels.

Students in the 10th grade must pass the exam in order to eventually graduate but can retake it if they fail.

The results came days after the Florida State Board of Education voted to lower the standards needed to pass the writing part of the test, known as FCAT. The test is administered in public elementary, middle and high schools.

The board took the action in an emergency meeting when preliminary results indicated only about one-third of Florida students would have passed this year.

"We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have, and I am proud of their hard work," Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement.

"As Florida transitions to higher standards and higher expectations, we can expect our assessment results to reflect those changes."


Britain's maths shame: Bright school children end up losing interest at secondary level

Tens of thousands of bright pupils are under-achieving in maths as schools settle for ‘mediocrity’ that meets exam targets, school inspectors warn today.

Able children’s results – even in dumbed-down GCSEs – are a national concern, says an Ofsted report.

Almost 90,000 pupils who achieved ‘level five’ grades in their SATs at 11 failed to secure an A or A* at GCSE five years later, the report reveals.  Schools are content with Bs and Cs for these pupils in line with national targets, it is claimed.

The report says: ‘A parent might legitimately ask, “How has my mathematically able child fallen back into mediocrity?”’

Secondary schools are judged by the Government on the proportion of youngsters gaining C grades or better in five GCSEs including maths and English.

They are also measured on the progress pupils make, with level five at 11 – one grade above the standard for the age group – expected to lead to grade B at GCSE.

Ofsted found that schools are increasingly putting pupils in for GCSE maths earlier than they need to in the hope of ‘banking’ a C grade so youngsters can concentrate on other subjects. This practice ‘hinders’ their ability to achieve top grades.
Concerned: Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C

Concerned: Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: ‘The extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C at the expense of adequate understanding and mastery of mathematics necessary to succeed at A-level and beyond.

‘Our failure to stretch some of our most able pupils threatens the future supply of well-qualified mathematicians, scientists and engineers.’

Ofsted’s report condemns ‘widespread use of early GCSE entry and repeated sitting of units’, which has encouraged ‘short-termism’ in teaching and ‘quick-fix’ booster classes to get pupils up to a C-grade level.

The watchdog declares it is a ‘grave concern that so many able pupils underachieve at GCSE’.

Following a survey of 160 primary and 160 secondary schools, it says that of 176,796 pupils who achieved level five in their maths SATs in 2006, about half – 89,125 – got no better than a B at GCSE in 2011. Some 37,600 achieved no better than a C.

‘This represents a waste of potential and should be a cause of national concern,’ the report says. ‘Too many schools were content with a grade B for their able pupils, speaking of them as “meeting their target” and “making expected progress.’

The report also concludes that GCSE maths is less demanding than it was just a few years ago, with pupils able to gain A grades despite having mastered barely any algebra.


Free childcare 'failing to have lasting impact on British pupils'

"Head Start" all over again

Billions of pounds worth of public money invested in pre-school education is failing to improve children’s grasp of the basics, according to MPs

A huge rise in cash for under-fives has led to “very little improvement” in standards in the first two years of full-time schooling, it was claimed.

In a report, the cross-party Commons public accounts committee said that access to a high quality early years education was supposed to have a “lasting positive impact” on standards.

But MPs found “no clear evidence” of a knock-on effect on pupils at the age of seven, raising concerns that up to £1.9bn a year is being misspent.

Access to state-funded childcare was introduced under Labour in the late 90s and expanded by the Coalition. Currently, all three and four-year-olds receive 15 hours of free education each week.

But the report found that large numbers of parents were being forced to pay “top-up” fees – often equal to hundreds of pounds a month – because nurseries refused to accept the cap on state funding.

The disclosure comes just 24 hours after a study found that childcare in Britain was among the most expensive in the developed world, with typical families spending more than a quarter of household income on nursery fees.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “High-quality early years education can have lasting benefits for children and results at age five have improved.

“But the Department for Education needs to get to grips with why there is little improvement at the age of seven and what happens between the ages of five and seven to lessen the effect.”

She added: “It is unacceptable for any parent to be charged for what should be a free entitlement. It is also completely unacceptable that some parents cannot access the free education unless they agree to pay ‘top-up’ fees for more hours. The Department must take action to prevent this.”

Labour first introduced free entitlement to nursery in the late 90s and the policy has been gradually expanded over the last 13 years.

In 2010, the Coalition announced that all three and four-year-olds would be able to claim 15 hours of childcare a week over a “flexible” 38-week period – at a cost of £1.9bn in 2011/12.

But the study said that there was “no clear evidence” that the “entitlement is having the long-term educational benefits for children” that was intended

Assessments carried out last summer showed some 15 per cent of seven-year-olds – 80,000 – were unable to read after two full years of primary school. Data also showed that one-in-five infants were failing to write to the expected standard and a further 10 per cent are struggling with basic numeracy.

In a further conclusion, the report said that poor families had the “lowest levels of take-up and deprived areas have the lowest levels of high quality services”.

It also emerged that some nurseries were refusing to give parents “the free entitlement without a payment of top-up fees”.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We’ve seen big year-on year improvements in children’s development at five as a result of free early education – but we know there are many factors that influence attainment at school.

“We are commissioning a major piece of longitudinal research to look at how early education impacts on later attainment and to understand more about how a high quality early education leads to better results at seven and beyond. “


Monday, May 21, 2012

A better future for graduates

By Congressman Paul Ryan (R)

The Class of 2012 will proudly walk the stage this weekend. I remember talking with some of these young people when they started college in September 2008, in the midst of a financial crisis. A common refrain I heard during those dark times was, "Thank goodness I'm not graduating this year."

Four years later, many of those same students are graduating into a stagnant economy that is still not creating enough opportunities for them and still threatening to leave much of their remarkable potential untapped. Worse, after years of startling increases in college tuition, they are graduating with unprecedented personal debt burdens. And to top it off, decades of bad policies supported by both political parties have racked up dan gerous levels of national debt, leaving the next generation with an unconscionable mess to clean up.

The good news is this: It's not too late to get America back on track, lift the debt, and ensure a brighter future for today's graduates. The budget passed by the House of Representatives in March offers a sensible path forward to expand opportunity for all by advancing real reforms and principled policy solutions.

First, the House-passed budget offers young Americans a plan to boost the economy and provide them with opportunities to succeed. Over half of recent college graduates are either jobless or underemployed. That's unacceptable. We need to foster sustained job creation with reforms that avert higher taxes and remove the shadow of debt that is hanging over would-be employers.

One step we should immediately take is to make the U.S. tax code fair, simple and competitive. Right now, the code fails on all three counts. High tax rates put us at a disadvantage against other nations, businesses with the best lobbyists triumph over those with the best ideas, and economic growth suffers. We can level the playing field and create jobs by lowering tax rates and closing tax loopholes.

Second, the House-passed budget takes steps to tackle tuition inflation. In the last four years, college tuition has risen by nearly 17 percent, or an average of $1,200 per student. The goal of federal financial aid is to make college more affordable, but there is growing evidence that wholesale increases in aid have had the opposite effect. Instead of helping more students achieve their dreams, these increases are simply being absorbed by (and potentially enabling) large tuition increases.

Consequently, student loan debt is on pace to eclipse $1 trillion. This unprecedented level of borrowing, which has surpassed the national level of credit-card debt, is causing young people to graduate with mortgage-sized debt payments, a debilitating hurdle to clear as they seek to start a family, a career, or a business.

The House-passed budget addresses this problem by limiting the growth of open-ended financial-aid subsidies. Instead, we focus aid on low-income students who need help most. Furthermore, we propose to remove regulatory barriers that restrict competition, flexibility and innovation in higher education.

By contrast, the president's approach has proven woefully short-sighted. Instead of addressing the structural causes of tuition inflation, his policies have simply chased ever-higher college costs with ever-higher subsidies, encouraging students to go deeper into personal debt while adding billions more to the national debt. That's an unsustainable plan, for our country and for our students.

We need a fiscal and higher-education strategy that spurs economic growth, tackles tuition inflation, and gets spending and debt under control. The House-passed budget accomplishes all three.

To give America's young people a brighter future, let's advance economic reforms so college students are graduating into a revitalized economy. Let's address the root causes of tuition inflation by promoting innovation and competition, and by refocusing aid so it's no longer just chasing higher costs.

Finally, let's tackle our national debt so we can keep the fundamental American promise: leaving the next generation with a stronger nation than the one our parents left us.


Private school graduate says  academic dominance of private schools is damaging social mobility in Britain

He's quite right but the challenge is to raise the dismal standards of most government schools.  And to do that the dominant Leftist ideas of how to educate would have to be abandoned.  The private schools do so much better because of the more traditional style of education that they provide

The sheer gulf in standards between state and independent schools is holding back social mobility and damaging the economy, according to the Deputy Prime Minister.

He said children educated in the private sector were three times more likely to achieve at least two As and B at A-level – the entry requirement for many top research universities – than pupils in state schools.

The gap in results between different school types is wider in Britain than almost any other developed country, it was revealed.

The comments were made as he prepared to launch a new drive designed to boost standards among poor children.

On Tuesday, the Government will unveil a list of “social mobility indicators” designed to track the progress of deprived pupils – guiding future policy decisions on education, health and employment.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Mr Clegg, who attended fee-paying Westminster School in central London, said education was “critical to our hopes of a fairer society”.

But he added: “Right now there is a great rift in our education system between our best schools, most of which are private, and the schools ordinary families rely on.  “That is corrosive for our society and damaging to our economy.

“I don’t for a moment denigrate the decision of any parent to do their best for their child, and to choose the best school for them. Indeed, that aspiration on behalf of children is one of the most precious ingredients of parenthood.  “But we do need to ensure that our school system as a whole promotes fairness and mobility.”

The comments come just weeks after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said levels of social stratification in British schools were “morally indefensible”.

He said public schools were already significantly over-represented in politics, the judiciary, banking and FTSE 100 boardrooms.

But Mr Gove insisted there was also evidence of the creeping influence of independent education on industries dominated by young adults in their late teens and 20s, including acting, sport, comedy and music.

Some seven per cent of state school students achieved AAB at A-level in 2011, compared with 23.1 per cent among pupils from the independent sector, figures show.

International research reveals that the gap in attainment between teenagers from state and private schools is now the fourth biggest in the world.

In a speech to the Sutton Trust charity on Tuesday, Mr Clegg will outline plans for a new set of indicators to measure the impact of Government policies designed to improve social mobility. This includes assessing the number of poor children who go on to gain good A-levels.

It comes on top of the introduction of the “pupil premium” – a cash bonus for schools teaching poor children. This year, head teachers received £488 for each child eligible for free school meals, rising to £600 in 2012/13.


Canada: Quebec passes law to restrict protests, ban masks

Authorities in Canada’s Quebec province passed emergency measures Friday to curb protest rights in a bid to restore order after months of sometimes violent student demonstrations over tuition hikes.

The francophone province’s assembly passed a law after a marathon two-day session requiring groups of more than 10 people to inform police in advance when they plan to hold a demonstration, and provide the location, time and duration of the event.

On its heels, the city of Montreal also passed a bylaw prohibiting wearing masks after several cloaked protesters smashed storefronts and clashed with police during demonstrations continuing into a 14th week amid a deadlock in negotiations.

Fines for breaches of the two laws range from $500 to $250,000. An exception to the no-mask rule, however, is allowed for the Halloween holiday.

Students, unions and the opposition party criticized the government over the emergency law, with one former premier calling it “barbaric.”

Louis Masson, president of the Quebec Bar Association representing 24,000 lawyers, said it goes too far by restricting fundamental “freedoms of expression… to a point that begs the question, who would now dare protest.”

Before the emergency law was unveiled, a majority of Quebecers had backed the government on the need for a hike in school fees of more than $1,700 to help reduce a budget deficit.

But many also said Quebec Premier Jean Charest had mismanaged the crisis, according to polls.

The student demonstrations culminated Monday with the resignation of Quebec’s education minister and rising political star, Line Beauchamp, following a standoff when 165,000 students rejected a tentative deal last week to stretch tuition hike over seven years instead of five.

“When laws are unjust, sometimes you have to disregard them, and we’re seriously thinking about this now,” student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said about the emergency measure.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bubbles, malinvestment, and higher education

Artificially low interest rates wreak havoc again

Many commentators are asking whether the next big bubble to burst will be the debt associated with the rising cost of higher education. College costs have strongly outpaced the inflation rate, and the debt students are racking up is crippling. So what is driving this process and what consequences does it have for students? I have some thoughts below, informed by Austrian economics.

Rather than a bubble, it’s probably more accurate to call it a “mini-boom” of an Austrian variety. One factor fueling the rising cost of higher ed–and it’s not the only one–is government provision of student loans at artificially low interest rates; this encourages borrowing, especially for the long term. As a result, too many people spend too much time in college, and more people attend college than should. One can think of this as malinvestment in human capital caused by distorted interest-rate signals.

Another way to look at this is that the low rates lead people to invest in the general human capital (knowledge and skills) associated with higher education rather than the more specific human capital that comes from workforce experience and on-the-job training. No matter how much of a “knowledge economy” we have, we still need cars repaired, septic systems fixed, and meals cooked at restaurants.

Thus just as inflation induces people to invest too much in longer term production processes at the expense of consumer goods, so subsidizing of college induces people to invest too much in the longer term production process and higher order human capital associated with higher education. This distorted structure of human capital is ultimately not sustainable if it doesn’t match the pattern of skills demanded in the market. When graduates can’t find jobs that enable them to pay off their debts, boom will go bust. It is, as we say of inflation-generated booms, unsustainable.

Driving Up the Price

The other complicating factor here is that, like in inflationary booms, subsidizing an activity drives up its price. Just as inflation leads borrowers to bid up the prices of the inputs needed in the early stages of long-term production processes (think of the rising cost of materials during the housing boom), so does artificially cheap borrowing for higher education enable students to spend more on college than they would otherwise. That increased demand pushes up tuitions. With more students able to afford college, schools have upped the ante by providing more and better amenities to attract them, which requires higher tuition and fees to cover those costs. Government mandates have also added to the administrative bloat at many institutions, further raising costs and tuition.

Forgiving student loans seems a tempting option for dealing with the boom.  Like homeowners during the housing boom, students with a lot of debt have been victimized, both by the artificially low interest rates and the constant drumbeat of “everyone has to go to college.” The problem with forgiving this debt is that it creates serious moral-hazard problems–if the federal government wipes out this debt, why should anyone believe that future debt won’t be treated the same way? Whatever is true of the current borrowers, good policy should be made based on long-term institutional incentives not (just) short-term considerations.

The Way Out

The real way out of the higher education bubble is twofold. First, stop subsidizing the demand side through artificially low rates of interest on government loans. We need to find out how much both young people and potential employers really value the human capital acquired through higher education. That will only happen with market-driven loans and interest rates.

Second, we need to unleash real competition on the supply side by ending the government mandates and opening up higher education to new institutions, curricula, and pedagogies. There’s a place for a good old-fashioned liberal arts education, but it is not for everyone. Greater competition will drive down costs and give students choices that better match what they think they need. Getting government out is the only sure way to stop the boom before the coming bust gets any worse.


New Scottish school curriculum teaches students Britain is an ‘arch-imperialist villain’

History lessons north of the border are to be revamped in a bid to downplay the British Empire and promote Scottish Nationalism.

In an assault on the SNP’s new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), senior history teachers said Government ‘tinkering’ would lead to a further slide in standards.

They claimed youngsters preparing to study for their Highers will be told that Britain is an ‘arch-imperialist villain’ and the history of the Empire will be reduced solely to lessons about slavery.

Children will be taught about the Great War purely from the perspective of the Scots who took part – while Scottish history will focus predominantly on a ‘Braveheart’ portrayal of great battles.

Last night, the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH), which is due to meet in Aberdeen today to discuss the changes, warned of the ‘dangerous consequences’ of the SNP’s shake-up.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The SNP is trying to rewrite the history books to create propaganda and that is utterly unacceptable.’

Scottish Tory education spokesman  Elizabeth Smith said: ‘To hear concerns about any attempt to undermine balance and objectivity in history is very worrying indeed. This is not the first time fears like these have been raised about curriculum developments under the SNP. The  Scottish Conservatives deplore any moves to include political bias in the teaching of any subject.’

SATH president Neil McLennan said: ‘After a prolonged period of tinkering with vague proposals and low-level discussion on skills which have basically been taught in classrooms for decades, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has released the first glimpse of content for history exams. What is proposed will shock many.’

Concern focuses mainly on the new National 5 history course. Such courses pave the way to Highers, but SATH claimed the redesigned subject will be biased towards a parochial view of history, where key topics will be taught solely from a narrow Scottish perspective.

Mr McLennan said: ‘In 2014, students will be remembering Bannockburn, but may be poorly informed of the other major anniversary that year [the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.]’

He said the ‘flash of tartan and cries of “Freedom” will attract students to some of the Scottish units in National 5’.  But he added: ‘The British history units pale into dry, boring insignificance against this populist history. Indeed, many units portray Britain as the consistent arch-imperialist villain of the piece.’

Mr McLennan said the make-up of the Great War courses will focus mainly on the role of Scots.

Last night, TV historian Bettany Hughes said: ‘Politicians are always itching to get involved, for obvious reasons, but really we should let history do the talking – without interference.  ‘It is very dangerous to cherry-pick moments in history.  We should be teaching the Empire in context – that’s the most important thing.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The teaching of significant historical events will continue to have its proper place in history lessons in Scottish schools.

‘Ministers recently met Neil McLennan and agreement was reached that further collaboration with Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority is required to support the implementation of history in CfE.’


British High School  grading system faces biggest overhaul in 25 years

Rising numbers of pupils face failing their GCSE exams under the biggest shake up of the qualifications system in 25 years, it emerged today.

Ofqual, the exams watchdog, is considering cutting the number of grades and stripping vocational subjects of their GCSE status to stop the flagship qualification being “devalued”, it was revealed.

In a major report, it outlined plans to review the existing grading structure following claims it is too broad and fails to meet the needs of universities and employers.

The move could lead to the current eight-point scale – awarding pupils a mark from A* to G – being cut to just six.

The change would abolish F and G grades to bring the qualifications into line with A-levels, inevitably leading to a rise in the number of pupils failing altogether.

In a further development, Ofqual is also considering reducing the number of subjects from the current maximum of more than 70.

It may result in many non-academic disciplines such as catering and motor vehicle studies being scrapped, it emerged.

Ofqual said that the current range of subjects “devalues the GCSE brand”.

The proposed changes are among more than a dozen major reforms to the examinations system outlined in the watchdog’s 2012 to 2015 corporate plan.

It comes just weeks after Glenys Stacey, the head of Ofqual, said that the standard of A-levels and GCSEs had been undermined by more than a decade of “persistent grade inflation”.

The watchdog is also:

 *  Reviewing Sats tests in English and maths for 11-year-olds to make them comparable with exams sat by pupils in other countries;

 *  Considering the abolition of bite-sized modules in A-levels in favour of terminal end-of-course exams;

 *  Formally consulting on proposals to allow universities to set A-level exams and syllabuses;

 *  Reviewing the cost all qualifications after it emerged that schools spent £330m on exams last year – more than double the cost in just eight years.

But some of the most radical changes are being made to GCSEs which have been dogged by claims of falling standards for years.

Almost a quarter of GCSE papers taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were graded A* or A last year – around three times as many as when the exams were first introduced in the late 80s. Some 99 per cent of papers were given at least a G in 2011.

Ofqual proposed reviewing “the way in which GCSE results are reported so they best meet their intended purposes”, saying: “The grading structure stretches from A* to G and it is time to look now at whether this is how it should be.”

The report added: “Most people think GCSEs cover just academic subjects, but this is not the case at present. GCSEs are now available in over 70 subjects… We think that this range of GCSE subjects devalues the GCSE brand and we intend to develop brand guidelines for GCSEs.”

But critics claimed that the changes would do little to restore public confidence in the system.

Chris McGovern, a former headmaster and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “We would support any change to the grading system because most universities and employers pretty much ignore anything lower than an A anyway. But removing the F and G grades is not going to wipe out 20 years of rampant grade inflation.”

Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor of educational assessment at the Institute of Education, London, said GCSEs were becoming “increasingly irrelevant” in an education system that encourages most pupils to stay on until 18.

“If kids have got to stay on, why do we need these expensive examinations?” he said. “Schools spend more on examining kids than they do on books and paper.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We want all exams in England to stand comparison with, and be as rigorous as, those in the best-performing education jurisdictions.”