Friday, June 08, 2012

Going to college? Watch out for political correctness and impractical degrees

Here’s a fine book I enjoyed reading written by my friend Ari Mendelson, which talks about the dangers of political correctness on the university campus, and especially in the humaninities. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s based on actual cases from a variety of college campuses.  Here’s a snippet from Ari’s web page about the book:
    Lured by brochures promising limitless intellectual freedom, Jeff Jackson arrives at picturesque Tinsley College, eager to experience college life to the fullest. He does not know that the freedom he has been promised is in short supply at Tinsley, a college so dedicated to leftist ideals that the administration changed the name of the anthropology department to “anthrogynology” in order to make the name more “gender inclusive.”

    Jeff makes the mistake of believing that the renowned Professor Bancroft Tarlton would be willing to debate the left wing politics that the professor advocates in his classes. Not realizing that there are just some questions one does not ask on a college campus, Jeff submits an essay outlining his provocative theories about happiness and human sexuality.

    Professor Tarlton is not the only one furious at Jeff for his lack of devotion to left wing norms. Calling himself a “pomosexual” and believing Jeff to be not only a homophobe, but a “pomophobe” as well, Carl Fitzgerald, Jeff’s classmate, begins a feud with Jeff. The battle escalates from insults, to vandalism, to shattered love affairs and a dorm room inhabited by a fainting goat. In a college obsessed with political correctness, a clash between the writer of a “homophobic” essay and the “pomosexual” victim of a college prank can only end one way: with a showdown in a campus courtroom.

You can click the link to learn more about the book. It’s a nice little introduction to parents and college-bound students about what really goes on in the liberal arts departments of most universities. I resonated with the hero of the story who chose to study liberal arts, even though I studied computer science for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I knew that political correctness dominated in the liberal arts. My first choice of career was actually to be a lawyer and then an English teacher. I sat in on a criminal law course at one local university and then an English course at another while I was a senior in high school. That’s when I changed my major to computer science based on my experiences. Now that the economy is the way it is, I think it was the right thing to do.

University is a fine thing as long as you go there to learn math, science, technology or engineering. If you go there to study anything else, all you will learn is how to parrot the opinions of your professor. Any dissent will be met with bad grades, and possibly expulsion. There is no focus on producing value outside of the STEM departments. Not only is it a waste of money to be indoctrinated, but it destroys your ability to think critically and independently. You want to learn valuable skills in your time at university – all the better to pay back those enormous student loans. In case you would like to read a good book on the importance of choosing a major in STEM fields, here is a book authored by Captain Capitalism which makes the case for that, with all the facts and figures you would expect from an economist.

Here’s a blurb from his blog:
    The amount of money they (or you) are going to spend on tuition, not to mention the sheer volume of their youth they will spend pursuing a degree, can NOT be wasted simply because nobody had the courage to tell the kids the truth about economics and the realities of the labor market.

    But you don’t have to.  The book will do it for it you.

    “Worthless” explains first and foremost to the reader that the reason somebody got them this book is because that person really cares about them.  And while it may not be what they want to hear, they will end up appreciating it in the future.  “Worthless” also goes into detail and explains in clear, understandable language the economics behind the labor market, showing the reader how and why some degrees are worthwhile and others are literally worthless.

Sometimes, people just seem to go off to university and choose a major without really thinking about it. Both of these books will help a college-bound student to think a second time about why they are going to college and what they hope to achieve there. It might even be a good idea to just choose a trade school and learn some practical skills. In this economy, the first priority is to find a job. You can always study the really interesting fields like philosophy in your spare time once you are gainfully employed.


Whining teachers in Australia too

Teachers are Prima Donnas worldwide.  Check Wisconsin, NYC  and Britain, for instance

TEACHERS have rejected a pay deal from the Queensland Government and are planning to rally outside State Parliament in a fortnight.

The Queensland Teachers Union issued a newsflash yesterday telling its members they had rejected an enterprise bargaining package, which included a 2.7 per cent pay rise per annum over the next three years.

The union has raised concerns over what the Department of Education, Training and Employment "requires" to be removed from its current certified agreement as part of the enterprise bargaining offer.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said classroom teachers would earn up to $90,238 a year, graduate teachers up to $61,636 a year and principals up to $147,981 a year under the agreement.

Graduate teachers would be kept at the same classification for three years before being eligible to access annual increments.

The QTU warns pay progression "would require certification by principals of teachers' satisfactory conduct, diligence and efficiency rather than increments being held by exception as is currently the case".

Mr Langbroek said: "The salary increase of 2.7 per cent a year promises an increase in real wages with the annual national inflation rate currently just 1.6 per cent (CPI year to march quarter 2012).

"It is a fair offer in the current economic climate, particularly given the job security that teachers enjoy."

But the QTU has warned beginning teachers would lose more than $6000 over the life of the agreement, while "items" like class sizes they had fought for would be removed and "considered matters of policy to be determined by the department".

"Examples of items suggested by the department which are better determined by policy are: class sizes; remote area incentive scheme ... workload management and work/life balance; job security; conversion to permanency of temporary teachers ... policy can be changed at any time by the government and department without consultation with teachers and principals.

"These issues have been included in agreements over the past 18 years as a protection against unilateral change by government or department. The entitlements won over six EB campaigns and more now become uncertain."

The QTU newsflash states it will be seeking a permit for an after-school rally outside Parliament on June 19 or 20.


Dumb teachers in Australia

ABOUT one in 10 high school graduates who took up teaching courses this year had an OP 17 or worse.  Overall Positions (OPs) range from one, the highest, to 25, the lowest, and are used to rank students wishing to be admitted for tertiary education.

The revelation follows concerns new teachers are graduating without basic numeracy and literacy skills and that universities are churning out too many graduates despite an oversupply of primary school teachers in Queensland.

A report this year revealed more than 12,000 primary school and 4000 other teachers were seeking work with Education Queensland in January.

In submissions to the Productivity Commission for a Schools Workforce report released in April, the Department of Education, Training and Employment said it had concerns about the imbalance of graduate primary school teachers, while the Queensland Catholic Education Commission said it was concerned the oversupply could lead to "a decrease in the quality of teaching graduates".

Figures released to The Courier-Mail by the Queensland College of Teachers revealed 11.8 per cent of high school graduates who entered teaching courses this year had an equivalent of an OP 17 or worse, and about 3.6 per cent had an OP of 20 to 25.

QCT director John Ryan said higher education institutions providing teacher education "must provide extra tuition to any student who needs support in literacy or numeracy".

But he said the Queensland school-leaver figures were better than those nationwide.  "As a percentage, Queensland had more students with higher entry scores and less people at the lower end of the scale than the rest of Australia entering teacher education.  "This data only applies to school-leavers and accounts for approximately 50 per cent of people entering teacher education."

The revelation came as recommendations to introduce a pre-registration test aimed at improving the quality of teaching graduates has been postponed for a second time because of concerns over cost.

Controversial recommendations made to the Bligh government aimed at lifting teacher standards, including enforcing a better alignment between demand and supply by limiting practicum (practical experience) places, are also in limbo, with their fate yet to be decided by the Newman Government.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Teacher's Unions Earn "F" for Wisconsin Recall Abuse

 Michelle Malkin
They really outdid themselves. In Wisconsin and across the nation, public school employee unions spared no kiddie human shields in their battle against GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget and pension reforms. Students were the first and last casualties of the ruthless Big Labor war against fiscal discipline.

To kick off the yearlong protest festivities, the Wisconsin Education Association Council led a massive "sickout" of educators and other government school personnel. The coordinated truancy action -- tantamount to an illegal strike -- cost taxpayers an estimated $6 million. Left-wing doctors assisted the campaign by supplying fake medical excuse notes to teachers who ditched their public school classrooms to protest Walker's modest package of belt-tightening measures.

When they weren't ditching their students, radical teachers steeped in the social justice ethos of National Education Association-approved community organizer Saul Alinsky were shamelessly using other people's children as their own political junior lobbyists and pawns. A Milwaukee Fox News affiliate caught one fourth-grade teacher dragging his students on a "field trip" to demonstrate against Walker at the state Capitol building.

The pupils clapped along with a group of "solidarity singers" as they warbled: "Scott Walker will never push us out, this house was made for you and me."

Hundreds of high school students from Madison were dragooned into marches. When asked on camera why they had skipped school, one told a reporter from the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute: "I don't know. I guess we're protesting today." Happy for the supply of warm young bodies, AFSCME Local 2412 President Gary Mitchell gloated: "The students have been so energized."

"Energized"? How about educated, enlightened and intellectually stimulated? Silly parents. Remember: "A" isn't for academics. It's for "agitation" and "advocacy." Former National Education Association official John Lloyd's words must not be forgotten: "You cannot possibly understand NEA without understanding Saul Alinsky. If you want to understand NEA, go to the library and get 'Rules for Radicals.'"

Against a rising tide of rank-and-file teachers who oppose their leaders' extremist politics, the national offices of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers shoveled millions in forced union dues into astroturfed, anti-Walker coffers. According the, strapped state affiliates also coughed up major sums to beat back Wisconsin's efforts to bring American union workers into the 21st century in line with the rest of the workforce:

"The Ohio Education Association made a $58,000 in-kind contribution May 30, followed a day later by a $21,000 contribution from the Pennsylvania State Education Association. New York State United Teachers gave $23,000 on June 1, the Massachusetts Education Association gave $17,000 on May 31, and a group of unions based in Washington, D.C., poured in $922,000 during the past week." Even the Alaska NEA affiliate pitched in $4,000.

Back in the Badger State, the Education Action Group Foundation caught Milwaukee teacher's union head Bob Peterson on tape this week bragging about how his school district organized bus runs and stuffed flyers into every K-8 student's backpack urging them to vote in the recall election. No, this wasn't a civic, nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort. It was a purely partisan self-preservation campaign. Peterson preaches that educators must be "teachers of unionism. We need to create a generation of students who support teachers and the movement for workers rights, oppressed peoples' rights." Because, you know, asking teachers to contribute more to their pension plans is just like the crushing of freedom fighters in Iran, Egypt and China.

The progressives' blatant exploitation of bureaucratic authority over the nation's schoolchildren -- at the expense of classroom achievement and fiscal sanity -- isn't sitting well with the public. A new Marquette University Law School poll released on the eve of the Wisconsin recall election showed that "only 40 percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable view of public-sector unions, while 45 percent viewed them unfavorably." In addition, "three-quarters of respondents said they approved of the law Walker signed requiring public employees to contribute to their own pensions and pay more for health insurance, while 55 percent approved of the new limits on collective bargaining for state employees that Walker signed into law."

Uncertainty reigned over Wisconsin as both sides braced for a possible recount on Tuesday night. But from their first unhinged salvos 16 months ago in the state Capitol and right up until Election Day, the union bosses have made one thing clear as a playground whistle: It's not about the children. It's never about the children. It's about protecting the power, perks and profligacy of public employee union monopolies.


The New York Times Needs a School Choice Reality Check

A recent New York Times article spilled a lot of ink insisting tax-credit scholarships funnel public funds to private schools. It barely mentioned a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that dismissed this argument out of hand, along with the faulty logic behind it. Moreover, it reflects an out-of-date perspective on education policy: The public isn't concerned about bureaucratic turf wars; they want education programs that work and efficiently use taxpayer dollars.

Far from a radical new invention, the first tax-credit scholarship program was enacted in Arizona back in 1997. In the last fifteen years, eleven additional programs have been created across the country, benefitting approximately 82,000 students nationwide.

Under tax-credit scholarship programs individuals and/or businesses receive a credit against their state income taxes for donations to charitable organizations that award scholarships so children can attend the private schools of their parents' choice. Critics like those quoted by the Times , call tax credit scholarships a "shell game", or "neovouchers."

Yet vouchers and tax-credits vary in important ways. Both programs enable students to attend public or private schools of their parents' choice, but unlike tax-credit scholarships, vouchers are publicly funded, paid for with government appropriations.

It's also worth noting that college students have used "vouchers" for decades, including Pell grants and GI Bill scholarships. And the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of vouchers for school-age children a decade ago in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris , ruling that public funds may support private educational choices so long as parents, not state governments, are doing the choosing.

The constitutionality of tax-credit scholarships is even clearer. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a decisive blow to opponents' nearly 15-year-old crusade to end Arizona's - and the country's - oldest tax-credit scholarship program. Similar to the Times critics, opponents of Arizona's programs insisted that private donations for scholarships are actually government funds, which of course belong to public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn that assuming “all income is government property, even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands… finds no basis in standing jurisprudence ."

Taxpayers should rejoice. The idea that government knows best how to tackle every public problem should be soundly rejected not just in the Courts, but by the court of public opinion. It’s exactly this approach that has left our education system in the sorry condition that we see today. Empowering taxpayers and education consumers to direct education dollars to different providers isn’t a threat to education quality. On the contrary, it bolsters better quality through the true accountability that comes with choices and competition.

The claim that more education options hurt public schools also has no basis in reality. Research by Northwestern University professor David Figlio found that in response to competition from private schools for students, Florida public-school math and reading performance improved—something the Times failed to mention.

Tax-credit scholarship programs also save money for states, school districts, and taxpayers. The typical American public school spends more than $12,000 per student, while private-school tuition averages $8,500 nationwide. When students use tax-credit scholarships to attend private schools, there is more money for public schools to educate fewer students, which more than offsets the upfront general fund revenue loss from donors claiming tax credits.

Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government, for example, found that the state’s tax-credit scholarship program saves $1.49 for every dollar it reduces state revenue. When was the last time an education program actually helped raise student achievement and generate a 49 percent return on investment?

Parental choice opponents will likely seize on the Times' article to block adoption of tax-credit scholarship programs in other states—including New Jersey, which is currently considering enacting the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OPA) program for low-income children in failing schools.

Fifteen years of experience shows that tax-credit scholarship programs are constitutional. They help improve student achievement. They save money. Most important, tax-credit scholarships offer a lifeline to students trapped in schools that aren’t working for them. That’s the real story of this important education innovation. Shame on the so-called paper of record for trying to keep it from voters.


British university 'malaise' forcing bright students to US

Growing numbers of bright teenagers are rejecting British universities in favour of those in the United States amid claims they no longer represent value for money, a leading headmaster has warned.

Students are being forced to seek courses on the other side of the Atlantic because institutions in this country are stuck in a “malaise”, according to Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, Berkshire.

He said cash-strapped British universities provided less contact time with lecturers and displayed only a “perfunctory interest” in sport and the arts.

The comments – in a new book published by The Good Schools Guide – come as figures show a surge in the number of pupils applying to study in the United States.

According to data, the proportion of students taking the US college entrance exam in Britain increased by a third last year compared with 2008. In all, more than 10,000 applicants sat the main admissions test, it was revealed.

The rising interest is believed to be driven by pupils from independent and grammar schools seeking to escape annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 in Britain from September.

But writing in the new book, Uni In The USA, Dr Seldon said the exodus was “down to far more than economics”.  “American universities in particular celebrate breadth of achievement far more than those in Britain, where only a perfunctory interest is shown in sporting or artistic prowess, or whether one held positions of responsibility and contributed to charitable activities,” he said.

Dr Seldon said that one-in-10 Wellington students were now applying to universities outside Britain compared with just the “occasional pupil” a few years ago.  Other independent schools have reported a similar increase in recent years.

According to the Fulbright Commission, which promotes links between US and UK universities, demand is highest for places at elite Ivy League institutions.

Applications to Pennsylvania University jumped by 50 per cent last year, while demand for Harvard was up 41 per cent and Yale reported a 23 per cent rise, the Commission said.

Dr Seldon, writing in the foreword of the book alongside Wellington's head of sixth-form, Matt Oakman, added: “The concerns we hear from British students about poor contact time with UK lecturers and a lack of genuine engagement with them is more than media scaremongering.

“There’s a malaise in British universities, which have received too little money for far too long. Spending per head on students in American universities can be as much as twice that spent on British students.”

The new guide includes reviews of more than 65 US universities, as well as information covering the applications process, entrance exams, fees, scholarships, visas and lifestyle issues.

It says that most students in England will face annual tuition fees of £9,000 from September – on top of the cost of living.

US universities traditionally charge the equivalent of £9,800 to around £35,800 a year, it is claimed, although some provide generous scholarships and grants.

Alice Fishburn, the book's editor, said: "The rise of tuition fees in England is slowly forcing people to look across the Atlantic. The excellent financial aid and bursary programmes in place at most American universities ensure that many British students can afford to go, regardless of their educational background or economic status.

"The recent slide of the dollar puts living expenses within reach. Most students will graduate with less debt than their British contemporaries."


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Failure of Vision

The United States has been making education policies based on false assumptions

The second half of the twentieth century was a time of great prosperity and growth in the United States. Our nation’s natural bounties—physical, cultural, moral, and intellectual—were enough to mask any fundamental errors committed by our leaders. Between enormous advances in technology and wide-open world markets, we could quickly turn around any ill effects caused by bad policies.

A consensus vision of the future formed based on this temporary good fortune. The vision featured the United States maintaining its position atop the world economy permanently by focusing on the highest levels of employment: research, design, and development, as well as finance. Lower-skilled functions such as manufacturing and resource-extraction could be left to less-developed nations—what we need to do was pump up our scientific and technical labor force through education and immigration.

Under the vision’s spell, our leaders have poured money into education, and continue to do so. Considered especially important is increasing the numbers of college graduates in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines.

But our era of economic invulnerability is over, and that vision of permanent technical superiority is proving to be false.  The prolonged recession is revealing big cracks in the foundations of the big government, Western welfare state model that subsidizes education at unsustainably high levels. Developing nations, such as China and India, are not content to perform just low-skill functions, but are producing their own highly educated researchers who can replace U.S. engineers and scientists.

Yet, even as the vision’s fundamental flaws and lack of sustainability grow more painfully obvious, much of our leadership cannot let go of its basic tenets. It continues to prime the STEM pump as a cure for high unemployment, when there are already gluts in many STEM fields.

Our leaders ignore the fact that such traditional industrial activities as manufacturing and resource extraction are the very activities that produce huge numbers of good jobs, and instead burden them with onerous regulations and tax structures. Accordingly, China surpassed the United States as the world’s leading manufacturing nation in 2010; U.S. employment in manufacturing has been shrinking rapidly for over a decade:

A key element missing from the vision is the understanding that far more engineers can be employed to perform routine operations such as supervising production in traditional industries than our country will ever be able to employ doing meaningful research. Despite decreasing employment in the manufacturing sector, and despite our emphasis on producing researchers, only 4.8 percent of all engineering positions today are in research and development, according to Leonard Lynn of Case Western Reserve, Daniel Kuehn of American University, and Hal Salzman of Rutgers and the director of the J.J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

The pharmaceutical industry, which at one time hired large numbers of chemistry and biology majors, has been struggling due to burdensome government testing regulations and difficulty enforcing patents overseas and is dismantling much of its research capabilities. A Forbes article, citing consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, revealed that between 2000 and March of 2011, the pharmaceutical industry cut 297,650 jobs.

The energy sector—which hires lots of engineers and scientists—has had its hands tied as well by environmental opposition.

This drop in wealth-producing employment may portend a drop in future innovation: the vast majority of innovation comes from industries that are already working in the specific area of the innovation. They’re the ones who are closest to the existing technology, the needs of customers, and have the most at stake.  As innovation guru Peter Drucker suggested, the “mundane and unglamorous” tends to provide the most fertile ground for innovation.

It may be that America loses its global technical edge, not because we lack sufficient scientists and engineers to man our industries, but because other countries that are now eager to undertake “mundane and unglamorous” pursuits for material gain will increasingly innovate as a routine function of their operations.

For now, we must focus on putting our resources toward their most efficient use, not trying to make the real economy match failing theories. In two previous articles, I presented statistical arguments that clearly show the presence of labor supply gluts that exist or have existed recently in some of the most important STEM disciplines, such as chemistry, engineering, and computer science. Continuing to overproduce graduates in these subjects will only make employment in these fields more difficult, lower wages, and is a terrible use of human resources.

Of course, just because STEM careers are not as promising as advertised and more investment in innovation is not the way to the Promised Land does not mean we should ignore science and technology. There are still many reasons why we should continue to educate people in STEM fields, including:

Bright, inquisitive minds will naturally be drawn to the study of the physical world and to practical applications of science.
Scientific exploration and innovation will continue to be extremely important. (We just shouldn’t expect to solve non-technical problems with technology.)

There will always be some jobs opening up that require knowledge in these disciplines. In many of them, particularly computer science, employers may prefer recent graduates trained in the most up-to-date technology rather than more experienced workers whose skills are growing obsolete.

These subjects also provide the rigor and habits of mind all too often absent from other college majors. Many of the skills are transferrable to other careers; if you learn how to differential equations to earn a physics degree, you can certainly apply them to economics. Training in the scientific method will enable graduates to apply their powers of experimentation and analysis to many different endeavors.

But while having young people study science and technology is important, such activities’ ability to change the economy should not be exaggerated. The solutions of the establishment vision simply won’t work anymore.

So how do we get out of this conundrum?

It won’t be by doing what we have already done for decades. Pushing more students into fields where there are shrinking opportunities is not the solution; an end to government meddling is. Only by the government getting out of the way can we allow the market to make the proper adjustments and restore our productive capacity.

We must also stop treating rising wages as a disease that needs immediate treatment via immigration, and recognize them as a sign of a healthy industry as well as a signal to people to enter that field.

Conversely, academia must stop pretending that labor supply and demand don’t exist and stop encouraging students to study for careers that are on the decline. University officials must allow departments to shrink and quit trying to solve their enrollment and graduate assistant labor problems with foreign students.

It must be understood that economy-changing innovation is unpredictable, and according to Drucker, innovation from scientific research is the most risky of all. Investing in innovation is not the same as investing in a factory—you can predict when the factory will produce goods, but you can’t predict when researchers will discover a fundamental breakthrough.

More fundamentally, it means a change in visions. Pipe dreams of a future technological paradise, populated strictly by visionaries, innovators, and other assorted creative types, may be fine for entertainment purposes, but they are not a firm foundation for our economy. Such futuristic fantasies are already leading us to a downward spiral by avoiding the present reality. What is needed now is a new pragmatic vision of using our currently available technology and human capital to restore our actual prosperity. In doing so—by concentrating on what we can do now—we will not only put people back to work, but we will again create a demand for potential innovators who, given the opportunity, will create a brighter future.


Students' pushy parents must cut the umbilical cord, say Oxford dons, as demands for exam remarks soar

After the family purse pays for GCSE and A-Level resits, students are taking their overdependency on home to university, says bursar.

They believe their sharp elbows and pushy nature have helped to smooth the path for their children into one of the country's oldest and finest universities.

But parents of a new generation of Oxford students are causing consternation among dons, who claim they are responsible for the number of appeals doubling in the past year.

Some parents refuse to “cut the umbilical cord”, it is argued, and after paying for remarks and resits “at every stage” of the A-level and GCSE process, they see nothing wrong with encouraging their children to appeal against their university exam marks as well.

Of the 224 appeals received in the past year, only one case of incorrect marking was found.

Students who had attended private schools and whose parents had paid for GCSE and A-level resits were more likely to question Oxford examiners’ decisions, according to David Palfreyman, bursar of New College and director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies.

The university’s proctors, who act as ombudsmen for the students, have sent guidance to colleges reminding them of the strict rules surrounding appeals in an attempt to cut down the amount of time dons spend checking marks.

Mr Palfreyman said parental influence was leading to more students appealing against their finals grades.  “Mum and dad have paid for a re-mark and a resit at each phase of the A-level process. The students just carry on that mentality at university and so do mummy and daddy,” he said.  “The family is investing in it so it is not surprising if mum and dad work out that there is this appeals process.

“Compared with my day, when you had to go out of your way to get to a phone box to ring mum and dad once a week, with the mobile phone mum can track you down any time but equally you can ring mum because you don’t know how to open a tin of beans.

“It is more difficult to sever that over-dependency if you can contact them so easily. If you are not careful, the child will march into their interview with their mother. It is infantilisation.”

Of the 224 appeal complaints, almost 90 per cent related to examinations. About 70 of these appeals involved students requesting marks checks, but only one paper was found to have been inaccurately marked. A handful of complaints related to other matters, such as harassment or maladministration.

Brian Rogers and Laurence Whitehead, the university’s proctors, said some students were having difficulty “negotiating the transition from adolescence to adulthood”.  Speaking to Congregation, Oxford’s “parliament of dons”, Prof Whitehead said: “In many ways they are highly sophisticated, but many have also grown up more protected and with less experience of the world than almost any of their predecessors.”

In his oration, Prof Whitehead said “the widespread use of complaints procedures” in school exams could be a cause of the rise in GCSE and A-level resits.

“Some colleges forward requests for marks checks where the only basis appears to be that the candidate is disappointed with the mark they have received,” he said.

Prof Rogers, a psychology tutor at Pembroke College, said: “Many colleges, including my own, actively welcome parents to come up with their students at the beginning of their first year. I would never have been seen dead with my parents, I’m afraid – I would have been totally embarrassed. But they like to inspect us and are more involved.”


British University applications drop by 50,000 amid rising fees

University applications have plummeted by 50,000 as growing numbers of students are put off by annual tuition fees of up to £9,000, it emerged today.  Figures show that demand for degree courses across Britain is down by almost nine per cent in just 12 months.

Students from England – who face paying the highest fees – are being hit hardest by the new student finance regime, it was revealed.

In total, demand from English students has dropped by 10 per cent so far this year – almost five times the fall seen among those from Scotland, who receive free tuition.

The data – relating to applications lodged by late May – represent further evidence that students are being deterred from university by a near tripling in the cost of a course.

It was also revealed that demand for arts-based courses, which traditionally lead to relatively poorly-paid jobs, is down quicker than those for other degree subjects.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said: “These latest figures highlight yet again the government’s recklessness in raising tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year.

“It should come as little surprise that applications in England are hardest hit as a result of the government making it the most expensive country in the world in which to gain a public degree education.”

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show some 597,473 people have applied to British universities so far this year. It is down by 49,535 – or 7.7 per cent – in 12 months.

But the data masks significant differences between countries, with overall applications being largely propped up by continuing high demand from foreign students living outside Europe.  The number of students applying from mainland Europe has dropped from 45,727 to 39,966 – a fall of almost 13 per cent.  Among British students alone, applications are down by almost nine per cent – from 550,147 in 2011 to 501,267 this year.

From this autumn, universities in England will charge up to £9,000-a-year in tuition fees – almost three times the current maximum.

Institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can charge the same amount, although devolved governments will provide generous subsidies for their own students. Scottish students receive free tuition while those from Wales have fees capped at current levels.

According to Ucas, students from England are being put off in far higher numbers than in other countries, with demand down by a total of 10 per cent. Among 18-year-olds coming to the end of their A-levels, applications have dropped by 4.1 per cent.

By comparison, applications from Scotland are down by just 2.2 per cent, while those from 18-year-olds have actually increased by 0.3 per cent.

It comes after an analysis by the Government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England last year suggested that families may consider moving from England to Scotland to avoid the fees rise.

Today's figures also reveal sharp differences between courses, suggesting that students are being driven away from subjects that are less likely to lead to a highly-paid job.

Demand for creative arts and design courses is down by 16.4 per cent and subjects such as media and film studies have seen drops of 14 per cent. At the same time, applications to study medicine and dentistry are down by just 2.6 per cent, while engineering has seen a two per cent fall.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bill introduced to reshape higher education in New Jersey

Gov. Christie lent guarded support to a bill introduced by Democratic legislative leaders Monday that would dramatically reshape higher education in New Jersey by drawing Rutgers-Camden closer to Rowan University and by breaking up the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

The legislation, introduced by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), would establish a board to govern Rutgers-Camden and Rowan and sever many of Rutgers-Camden's administrative links to the larger university.

The bill is not exactly along the lines of Christie's January proposal, but he called it "a critical and positive step," adding that he "looks forward to working together to achieve this reorganization by June 30."

The Republican governor's plan, especially his proposal to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan, has stirred months of protests from Rutgers students, alumni, and officials, and led to closed-door negotiations among political leaders on a possible compromise.

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and Joseph F. Vitale (D., Middlesex). Among its highlights:

All UMDNJ's assets in Newark and New Brunswick, except University Hospital, would be moved to Rutgers. University Hospital, in Newark, would become independent. UMDNJ, a sprawling network of eight campuses, employs 14,000 people across the state.

Rutgers-Camden would be "granted autonomy" and operate under a seven-member board of trustees. The school would receive funding directly from the state.

Rowan would be designated a research institution, ensuring greater state funding.

The joint Rowan/Rutgers-Camden board would be able to "approve or disapprove" decisions by each school's board of trustees.

That Rutgers-Camden would have "autonomy" but exist under a complex governance structure in which it is subject to oversight by a joint board overseeing it and Rowan raised suspicions among many Rutgers faculty.

"This a merger with Rowan in everything but name," said Andrew Shankman, a history professor at Rutgers-Camden. "It seems we've been completely cut off from Rutgers, despite the fact we would somehow retain the name of Rutgers."

In a statement, Sweeney said: "No one will get everything they want, but everyone will get something they want."

Rutgers-Camden chancellor Wendell Pritchett, who had staunchly opposed the merger at a campus meeting earlier this year, issued a statement that "I am deeply gratified that Senate President Sweeney recognizes the importance of Rutgers-Camden and wants to see us continue to flourish." He added: "I look forward to working with legislative leaders to refine this proposal."

The legislation comes at a critical juncture in the governor's efforts, backed by key legislative leaders, to remake the state's university system.

It comes less than 30 days from the legislature's vote on next year's budget, which Christie has set as a deadline for the university plan, which he introduced saying it would boost the universities' national competitiveness.

It is also only days ahead of votes scheduled for Wednesday by Rutgers' current boards of trustees and governors on a statement opposing any drastic restructuring of the university.

Norcross, a brother of powerful Democratic leader George E. Norcross III, has opposed Christie's plan to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan. But he said Monday that his legislation avoided the pitfalls of that plan.

In a statement Monday, Donald Norcross said: "We have worked very hard over the last several weeks to listen to all sides of the debate and incorporate their ideas into this plan. Real change will be achieved only through respectful collaboration."

For many in the political establishment, the legislation represented a starting point.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who last week helped draft a contentious list of demands for higher education in Newark, was among legislators who, while praising Sweeney's efforts, withheld endorsing his proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said: "This is not some idea that is not allowed to be questioned. It is another step in the legislative process."

Questions of cost continue to hang over the proposal. The cost of a similar restructuring proposed under former Gov. Jim McGreevey was estimated at $1.3 billion.

The legislation follows months of behind-the-scenes negotiations involving members of Rutgers' board of governors and some of the state's top political figures, including Sweeney, George Norcross, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

The bill also would grant Rutgers-Newark its own board of governors, with authority to "propose" capital projects and budgets to the larger university.

In an interview, George Norcross, a managing partner in The Inquirer's parent company and a supporter of Christie's plan, said the legislation would "create a new research university of over 20,000 students with a medical school, a law school, an engineering school, and two great universities in Rowan and Rutgers-Camden."

The question now is whether Rutgers' boards of trustees and governors will support the legislation when they meet Wednesday. According to the university, Rutgers, unlike other state universities, has the power to block legislative decisions in regard to its campuses.

Rutgers president Richard McCormick said in a statement that "overall the bill appears to advance the goals of enhancing medical education across the state, boosting Rutgers' standing among its peer institutions."

Whether the university's boards will go along was unclear. Last month, the trustees issued a statement opposing any deal that gave up Rutgers-Camden.

Jeanne Fox, a Rutgers trustee and vocal opponent of the Rowan merger, said the legislation was a setback.

"It seems clear that we need to work out a compromise, and this isn't a compromise," said Fox, chairwoman of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to work one out, but I thought it would be sooner rather than later."

Spokesmen for UMDNJ and Rowan declined to comment, saying officials were still reviewing the bill.


Private Muslim schools told to promote British values

Private Islamic schools face being required to promote “British values” as part of a new Government drive to combat extremism, it emerged today.

For the first time, they will be forced to meet new rules introduced to ensure schools respect the criminal and civil law, present political issues in a balanced way and promote tolerance of other faiths.

The change – applying to all independent schools in England – comes amid concerns that the curriculum in some schools may encourage the development of radical beliefs.

In a report, the Department for Education said reports from a range of sources suggest that “extremism may be more of a problem within some independent schools rather than state-funded schools”.

Although the duty applies to all fee-paying schools, particular concerns have been raised in the past over more than 100 private Muslim schools.

A report by the think-tank Civitas in 2009 found anti-Western views promoted on some school webites. A separate study by Ofsted, the education watchdog, revealed that one-in-five independent faith schools were failing to teach children about other religions.

The DfE is now proposing changes to official regulations for independent schools in England that toughen up requirements surrounding the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.

A consultation document into the plans suggests that schools should “enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law”, while providing children with a “broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England”.

Schools will also be expected to "preclude the promotion of partisan political views" and ensure that children “respect fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

The new regulations represent a tightening of existing rules, which merely require independent schools to respect "the law", encourage pupils to contribute towards community life and tolerate different cultures. It will be used by Ofsted and other official watchdogs during inspections of independent schools.

The report – which is open to consultation until Tuesday – said the changes would “help ensure that extremism, intolerance and teaching that undermines democracy and the rule of law are challenged within independent schools”.

“Inspectorates will in future be better able to identify and report on extremism if these changes are made,” it added.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are consulting on whether we need to add additional requirements for independent schools to bring them into line with maintained schools.

“These requirements include the promoting of fundamental British values, respecting the civil and criminal law and presenting political issues in a balanced way.”



Australia:  If they're happy and they know it . . .  "Positive education"

CRITICS deride it as "happyology", but positive education is taking hold from the gleaming halls of Geelong Grammar to the classrooms of hardscrabble public schools across the country.

The brainchild of an American psychologist, positive education aims to help students cultivate positive emotions and character traits, improving their behaviour and fighting depression before it sinks in.

Teachers faced with the challenge of teaching adolescents in the 21st century have embraced it with fervour, led by the elite Geelong Grammar and its team of specially trained staff.

"If our investment saves one kid from committing suicide in 10 years' time it's worth every single penny," said vice-principal Charlie Scudamore.

"This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion.

"It's about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that."
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Geelong Grammar has pioneered the spread of positive education over the past four years, incorporating it across the whole school as well as running specific Year 7 and 10 classes and seeking donations from parents to run courses on the concept for other school teachers.

Nathan Chisholm, principal of Altona College in Melbourne's western suburbs, said the adoption of positive psychology had produced a remarkable change in student and staff attitudes at his battling public school.

"We have shifted the culture from one of welfare to one of wellbeing, and that's a really important thing," Mr Chisholm said.

South Australia has appointed positive psychology founder Martin Seligman as its latest thinker in residence, using a pilot program in the Adelaide Hills to help determine whether rollout of positive psychology should occur across the state system.

While the growing number of schools involved, and support from prominent psychologists, has lent weight to positive education, Sydney psychologist Vera Auerbach warned it would not help children with serious mental health issues.

"I think it's flavour of the month; I think it's like a fad," she said. "If you're a well-adjusted individual and you've got no issues in life, positive psychology might help by just putting something on top of it.

"If you are deeply depressed and suicidal, if your boyfriend has broken up with you and you don't want to live any more, then I don't think this positive-psychology stuff works at all."


Monday, June 04, 2012

Student Loans Held by the U.S. Federal Government

The current bubble in the number of people attending college is mostly the result of government-backed student loans. In an effort to make college education more affordable, Congress passed a bill in 2007 to temporarily reduce the interest rate for federally subsidized loans to 3.4 percent. This law is set to expire at the end of June, but the Obama administration now wants to extend the cut in interest rates. In addition, the administration effectively federalized student loans in March 2010 when President Obama signed legislation to expand college access. Under the measure, private banks would no longer receive fees for acting as intermediaries in federal student loans. The government would use these savings to increase Pell Grants to make it easier for students to pay back their loans.

Using data from the Federal Reserve, this week’s chart shows a dramatic three-fold increase in the number of student loans held by the federal government in the past four years alone. When the law was passed in 2007, student loans held by the government totaled about $100 billion. The loans increased to $111 billion in 2008; $186 billion in 2009; $316 billion in 2010; and $425 billion in 2011.

In 2008 the interest rate was 6.8 percent and was reduced in stages over the next four years to 3.4 percent. The data show a notable rise in the number of loans taken out between July 2009 and July 2010, when the interest rate was reduced to 5.6 percent. A similar spike is apparent in the July months of the following years. We also see a noticeable change shortly after the adoption in March 2010 of a law to overhaul student loan programs, which has effectively run private banks out of the student-loan business.

Historically, federal loan programs have been the main source of federal credit assistance for higher education. Since the recession hit, private lending has remained stagnant, growing at a much slower pace. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the size of the private student loan market was about $22 billion in the 2007-2008 academic year, implying that the private market was about one-quarter the size (by dollar value) of the market for federal student lending. According to the Wall Street Journal, non-revolving consumer lending by commercial banks (privately held) — a measure tracked by the Federal Reserve that includes student loans as well as auto and other personal credit — is up less than 11 percent since December 2007. Over the same period, total consumer loans owned by the federal government — a measure that includes loans originated by the Department of Education under the Federal Direct Loan Program — has more than quadrupled.


Education the Finnish way

With some comparisons to Australia

Finland — with 5.4 million people, a population similar in size to Victoria's — is a superstar in school education. It consistently ranks among the world's top countries in international tests of student capabilities in reading, maths and science, known as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The group of 22 Victorian primary and secondary school leaders went to Finland to investigate what they could learn from the Nordic nation's successful track record in education.

The international testing program of 15-year-olds and national studies show Australia's student literacy and numeracy results have slipped in recent years and fallen behind the world's best performers, according to the Productivity Commission's report on schools.

The study group of representatives from the Victorian Principals Association and the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals found striking structural differences between Australia's schooling system and Finland's, especially when 15-year-olds in year 9 sit the international PISA test.

In Australia, research shows year 9 has become a danger zone for student boredom. Many schools have introduced specialist camps and programs designed to reduce the risk of student disengagement.

Year 9 in Finland is a much more competitive year. It marks the end of junior secondary school when the school assesses the grade point average achieved by every student to determine which upper secondary school they can go to in years 10 to 12.

"While students are working hard to get a good grade point average to get into their preferred upper secondary college, the PISA test comes along at the same time," Mr Blunt says.

Students enter either vocational upper secondary schools, academic upper secondaries or others specialising in music, language or sport. More than 50 per cent of students choose vocational senior secondary schools, according to Mr Blunt.

All upper secondaries are well resourced and lead on to university or polytechnic colleges, with students able to switch between the two streams if they want to change course. In some municipalities, vocational colleges are harder to get into than the more mainstream academic schools.

"If you have agreement that there needs to be courses for kids' individual talents then you can't neglect the talents of kids who want to be tradespeople," Mr Blunt says. "It's unfortunate that Victoria doesn't have the same sort of support for kids who want to follow that path.

"We want to get to the level that we witnessed in Finland where year 10 students are aspirational about going into trades and it's not just seen as somewhere to end up because you're not good at school."

Mr Blunt has set up a similar pathway for year 10 students at Sunshine College. Four years ago, in partnership with Victoria University, the school established Harvester Technical College on one of its campuses.

The arrangement allows more than 150 students to stay at the school and study TAFE courses delivered by the university as they progress through years 10, 11 and 12.

"Some young kids find it too hard to go directly to TAFE and start a course on their own," Mr Blunt says. "They end up dropping out. So we're trying to do this on campus with the security of the school environment to support them."

Unlike Australia, Finland does not have a national student testing system. However the study group found all schools had more frequent classroom testing than found in Victorian schools.

"Kids were tested a lot more than they are here," says Frank Sal, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals.

"At the end of each unit of work they're given tests devised by their teacher or school."

In Finnish secondary schools, teachers give students grade points based on the tests, which they record on a national computer database. The education authority reviews each school's grade points assessment system every four years to ensure teacher judgments on the gradings are nationally consistent.

Mr Sal says Finland's student assessment system is backed by a strong, ongoing intervention program for all students found to be struggling either academically or behaviourally. All schools have teams of special education teachers who usually work in pairs with a maximum of 12 students in a group.

About 50 per cent of all Finish students use the special needs teachers to get extra tuition.

Schools also have a nurse who works with students and their families on health problems. National principal organisations in Australia have been campaigning for a similar approach to early intervention and welfare services in their schools.

"Almost from birth the Finnish school system ensures there are constant supports in place for students as they go through primary and secondary school," Mr Sal says. "It's very much part of their beliefs and policies. Seven per cent of their education budget goes into special needs support, compared with 1 per cent of our education budget."

Finland's national curriculum is reviewed every 10 years. Mr Sal says the 10-year cycle gives teachers and schools the autonomy to implement the curriculum and add to it without bureaucratic interference or interruptions from policy changes.

"It means education doesn't become a political football . . . All political parties support the country's education system and the processes that are in place."

In November, a group of Finnish school principals will visit Victorian primary and secondary schools to investigate the use of information technology in classrooms and ways to cater for students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Australian students have the world's second-highest levels of digital reading literacy, according to the latest PISA results released last month in a report by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

They ranked second behind Korea in the international test, which assessed the ability of 15-year-olds to read, understand and apply digital texts. All other industrialised countries, apart from New Zealand, performed on average at a much lower level than Australia.

Finland's homogenous culture — where most citizens come from Nordic Lutheran backgrounds — is cited by educators as one of the reasons for the nation's outstanding results in student achievement.

Mr Sal says he and his colleagues saw how Finland's predominant Lutheran culture, which emphasises a strong work ethic, has shaped attitudes to learning and helped schools deliver good results.

But the nation's school principals are facing challenges in catering for a more multicultural student intake, as rising numbers of migrants and asylum seekers from Europe and Africa settle in Finland.

"Our Finnish counterparts want to see how we deal with multicultural school populations because they're starting to get worried about how to deal with cultural differences," says Mr Sal, whose organisation will host the visit with the Victorian Principals Association. "They're concerned about some of the changing attitudes in children in years 8 and 9 to schooling, particularly in boys.

"About 6000 children seem to disappear from their schooling system at the end of year 9. Many of them are boys. They lose track of them and they're putting a lot of effort into getting these disengaged youth back into the school system."


British Primary school pupils who can't even catch a ball because schools and parents are neglecting physical skills

Thousands of children are unable to throw and catch a ball because schools and parents are neglecting basic physical skills, an expert warned yesterday.

Poorly trained primary school teachers are failing to give effective physical education lessons, according to Dr Jeanne Keay, of Roehampton University.

They allow pupils to play ‘adult games’ such as football without first helping them to build movement skills, such as throwing, catching, jumping, hopping and even walking in a straight line.

Dr Keay, a former PE teacher, said parents also often failed to encourage children. She is demanding changes to the curriculum for PE to give a better grounding in key skills. She said: ‘We’ve seen that some young people are incapable of even the most basic of movement skills, like throwing or catching a ball and walking in a straight line. This is a huge concern.’

Research among more than 500 teachers by Dr Jon Spence, also of Roehampton, found that 47 per cent had been given ten hours or less of training in teaching PE. Dr Keay added: ‘The quality of training for teachers in primary schools is not even close to where it needs to be if we’re to ensure our children learn and develop well and so enjoy physical activity.’


Sunday, June 03, 2012

Louisiana's bold bid to privatize schools

 Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

"We are changing the way we deliver education," said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. "We are letting parents decide what's best for their children, not government."

The concept of opening public schools to competition from the private sector has been widely promoted in recent years by well-funded education reform groups.

Of the plans so far put forward, Louisiana's plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

The Upperroom Bible Church Academy in New Orleans, a bunker-like building with no windows or playground, also has plenty of slots open. It seeks to bring in 214 voucher students, worth up to $1.8 million in state funding.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains "what God made" on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

"We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children," Carrier said.

Other schools approved for state-funded vouchers use social studies texts warning that liberals threaten global prosperity; Bible-based math books that don't cover modern concepts such as set theory; and biology texts built around refuting evolution.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers can be used for religious education so long as the state is not promoting any one faith but letting parents choose where to enroll their children.

In Louisiana, Superintendent of Education John White said state officials have at one time or another visited all 120 schools in the voucher program and approved their curricula, including specific texts. He said the state plans more "due diligence" over the summer, including additional site visits to assess capacity.

In general, White said he will leave it to principals to be sure their curriculum covers all subjects kids need and leave it to parents to judge the quality of each private school on the list.

That infuriates the teachers union, which is weighing a lawsuit accusing the state of improperly diverting funds from public schools to private programs of questionable value.

"Because it's private, it's considered to be inherently better," said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "From a consumer perspective, it's buyer beware."

To date, private schools have not had to give their students state standardized tests, so there's no straightforward way for parents to judge their performance. Starting next year, any student on a voucher will have to take the tests; each private school must report individual results to parents and aggregate results to the state.

The 47-page bill setting up the voucher program does not outline any consequences for private schools that get poor test scores. Instead, it requires the superintendent of schools to come up with an "accountability system" by Aug. 1. Once he does, the system cannot be altered except by legislative vote.

White would not say whether he is prepared to pull vouchers from private schools that do poorly on tests.

He pointed out that many kids applying for vouchers are now enrolled in dismal public schools where two-thirds of the students can't read or do math at grade level and half will drop out before they graduate high school. Given that track record, he argues it's worth sending a portion of the roughly $3.5 billion a year the state spends on education to private schools that may have developed different ways to reach kids.

"To me, it's a moral outrage that the government would say, 'We know what's best for your child,'" White said. "Who are we to tell parents we know better?"

That message resonates with Terrica Dotson, whose 12-year-old son, Tyler, attends public school in Baton Rouge. He makes the honor roll, but his mom says he isn't challenged in math and science. This week she was out visiting private schools. "I want him to have the education he needs," she said.

The state has run a pilot voucher program for several years in New Orleans and is pleased with the results. The proportion of kids scoring at or above grade level jumped 7 percentage points among voucher students this year, far outpacing the citywide rise of 3 percentage points, state officials said.

Studies of other voucher programs in the U.S. have shown mixed results.

In Louisiana the vouchers are available to any low- to middle-income student who now attends a public school where at least 25 percent of students test below grade level.

Households qualify with annual income up to 250 percent of the poverty line, or $57,625 for a family of four.

Statewide, 380,000 kids, more than half the total student population of 700,000, are eligible for vouchers. There are only about 5,000 slots open in private schools for the coming year, but state officials expect that to ramp up quickly.

Officials have not estimated the price tag of these programs but expect the state will save money in the long run, because they believe the private sector can educate kids more cheaply than public schools.

Whether those savings will materialize is unclear.  By law, the value of each voucher can't exceed the sum the state would spend educating that child in public school -- on average, $8,800 a year. Small private schools often charge as little as $3,000 to $5,000 a year.

Yet at some private schools with low tuition, administrators contacted by Reuters said they would also ask the state to cover additional, unspecified fees, which would bring the cost to taxpayers close to the $8,800 cap. The law requires the state to cover both tuition and fees.

In the separate mini-voucher program due to launch in 2013, students across Louisiana, regardless of income, will be able to tap the state treasury to pay for classes that are offered by private vendors and not available in their regular public schools.

White said the state hopes to spur private industry to offer vocational programs and apprenticeships in exchange for vouchers worth up to $1,300 per student per class. Students can also use the mini-vouchers to design their own curriculum, tapping state funds to pay for online classes or private tutors if they're not satisfied with their public school's offerings.

State officials will review every private-sector class before approving it. They are still working out how to assess rigor and effectiveness.

The state has not done a formal fiscal analysis, but public school advocates say subtracting the costs of vouchers from their budgets is unfair because they have the same fixed costs -- from utilities to custodial services -- whether a child is in the building four hours a day or six. White responds that the state is not in the business of funding buildings; it's funding education.

While public schools fear fiscal disaster, many private school administrators see the voucher program as an economic lifeboat.

Valeria Thompson runs the Louisiana New School Academy in Baton Rouge, which prides itself on getting troubled students through middle and high school. Families have struggled to pay tuition, she said, and enrollment is down to about 60 kids.

"We're a good school," Thompson said, "but we've been struggling fiscally."

The vouchers have brought in a flood of new applicants and the promise of steady income from taxpayers. Thompson enrolled 17 new students in two days last month and hopes to bring in as many as 130. "I'm so grateful," she said. "You can't imagine how grateful."


Hundreds of British prep schools to break free from Labour's 'nappy [diaper] curriculum'

Hundreds of private schools may ditch Labour’s controversial ‘nappy curriculum’ amid a proposed overhaul, it was revealed yesterday.  Around 500 prep schools are likely to opt out of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) which sets out what should be expected of preschool and reception youngsters.

They believe that the imposition of a compulsory, national framework is a ‘fundamental breach of human rights’ which denies parents’ choice over the kind of education they want for their youngsters.

Ministers have undertaken a consultation on changes to the exemption system that would allow independent schools to discard the learning and development requirements of the EYFS if inspectors judge them to be ‘good’ or better.

The Government is also proposing to allow groups of schools, such as the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) to apply to be exempt from these goals, according to the Times Educational Supplement.

However, maintained schools, academies and free schools would not be allowed to apply for an exemption.

The EYFS has been a compulsory requirement for all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders since 2008.

Under the system, every nursery, childminder and reception class in England has had to monitor children’s progress towards 69 centrally set ‘early learning goals’ up to the age of five.

The EYFS was recently reviewed by Dame Clare Tickell and a slimmed down version is due to come into force in September.  The Tickell review recommended that the framework should continue to apply to all providers, but suggested that the Government review the exemption process for independent schools.

Private schools have long argued against the compulsory nature of the EYFS which they believe is a contradiction of Government policy.  This is because independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum from Year One onwards.

David Hanson, chief executive of the IAPS, told the TES: ‘For our schools, it is a principle that is at stake, and that principle is parental choice.  ‘It has never been about the EYFS per se.

‘Our fundamental concern was that the Government imposed a methodology on all schools. We believe that it is a fundamental breach of human rights: parents should be able to choose the education they want for their child.

‘Undoubtedly the EYFS has improved the poorest settings, but at the same time it has frustrated the best practitioners.’

Mr Hanson added: ‘We represent 500 high-quality schools. I think the vast majority of schools will technically opt out but still continue to use the best parts of the EYFS.

‘We don’t have an argument in terms of the principle of developing emerging literacy and numeracy and the goals themselves make sense.  ‘But it’s to do with professional autonomy. We want teachers to be able to use their professional discretion rather than being compelled to follow a Government strategy.’

But Megan Pacey, chief executive of charity, Early Education, insisted that exemptions ‘do very little to support overall quality improvements’.

And Bernadette Duffy, head of the Thomas Coram Centre in London and a member of the Tickell review’s expert panel, added: ‘The framework is really good for focusing on how children learn and that seems as appropriate for children in the independent sector as any other sector.’


Thousands of middle class British students WILL lose out in university equality drive, warns official

Thousands of deserving middle class students face missing out on university places in a drive to widen the social mix of students, the head of the admissions service has suggested.

Mary Curnock Cook raised a series of concerns over the so-called social engineering of university admissions.

Under the policy, universities are expected to make background checks on applicants and use the information to reduce entry grades for poorer students.

But Mrs Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, warned that ‘somebody has to lose out’ unless the total number of university places increases.

‘I don’t really know if anybody has identified who they think that should be,’ she said.

Despite the Government’s ‘push on widening participation’, the overall number of funded places ‘is not increasing’, she added.

Her remarks suggest that wealthier students would be squeezed. The UCAS chief went on to admit she had ‘real concerns’ over the quality of official data supplied to universities on pupils’ backgrounds.

The system could result in discrimination against deprived pupils who received bursaries to go to private schools while giving an advantage to wealthy pupils at under-achieving schools, she suggested.

The UCAS chief is the most senior higher education official to question the use of so-called contextual data.

Her remarks to a conference came on the day Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched a major social mobility drive aimed at breaking the grip of middle-class families on top jobs and sought-after universities.

The strategy backs the use of  contextual data  – information on applicants’ school, family background and postcode – to help universities decide who to admit.

UCAS already supplies universities with data on the performance of an applicant’s school and average levels of free school meals in their area.

Questions on the standard university application form ask candidates whether they have ever been in care and whether their parents have any history of attending university.

Some may consider separate information, such as levels of higher education in an applicant’s postcode.

But Mrs Curnock Cook admitted that ‘to be honest...we can’t access high enough quality information to be really sure that that contextual data service is serving its purpose’.

She added: ‘I have some real concerns, anyway, about whether the contextual data is sophisticated enough, even were it accurate.’

The UCAS chief went on to warn that poorer youngsters were effectively being asked to declare publicly ‘you live in a poor area, you go to a rubbish school, that your parents are very poorly educated’.

Some may be embarrassed at being considered a ‘widening participation applicant’, she suggested. Addressing the Westminster Higher Education Forum, she quoted Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas, who took part in a BBC radio discussion on university admissions.

‘This is what Claire Fox said on the Moral Maze recently – “I’m very glad nobody took account of my accent, my social background, or investigated my parents’ lack of education to do me a favour, because I never would have been taken seriously”.’

Mrs Curnock Cook told her audience of university officials: ‘It is worth bearing that in mind when you are thinking about how to handle widening participation and contextual information.’