Friday, August 31, 2012

Disgusting school administration:  Tell 3-year-old deaf student named Hunter to use a new hand sign for his name as it looks like a gun

Harassing a little kid!  And a handicapped one at that

A school district has demanded a three-year-old deaf student named Hunter use a different hand sign for his name as the current gesture resembles a gun, his parents have claimed.

The Grand Island, Nebraska district reportedly has a policy forbidding children from bringing 'any instrument that looks like a weapon' to school.

School administrators claim Hunter Spanjer's name sign, which he makes by crossing his index finger and middle finger and then shaking his hands, violates that policy, his parents said.

While it is perhaps unsurprising that the sign for the name Hunter resembles a gun, supporters of the family have argued that it is not something the little boy will be aware of.

'Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way,' the boy's grandmother, Janet Logue, told KOLN.

'His name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy,' his father, Brian Spanjer, added. 'It's a registered sign through S.E.E.' - which stands for Signing Exact English, a sign language system.

The boy has slightly modified the S.E.E. sign by crossing his fingers, which his family claims makes it personal to the youngster.

Grand Island resident Fredda Bartenbach added: 'I find it very difficult to believe that the sign language that shows his name resembles a gun in any way would even enter a child's mind.'

Speaking to KOLN, the school district was not forthcoming with details into the incident. 'We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child,' Jack Sheard, Grand Island Public Schools spokesperson, said.

Yet he later claimed the issue was a 'misunderstanding' which had nothing to do with weapons.  It was 'not an appropriate thing to do in school' but Hunter was being asked to spell his name out by letters rather than using the sign, Sheard told the New York Daily News. 

Hunter's parents have set up a Facebook group for support and said that lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf could become involved to make sure their son can keep his name.  Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the association, told the Huffington Post it would be help the Spanjers with legal action if necessary.  'A name sign is the equivalent of a person's name, and to prohibit a name sign is to prohibit a person's name,' he said.

Hundreds of people have flocked to the family's Facebook group to voice their support and lambast the school district for its decision.

'We started this cause page to raise awareness of Grand Island Public Schools singling out of this little boy and attempts to try to change his name,' the family wrote on the page.

'I never realised that there were people who could be so ignorant about sign language and to treat a young child like that is unspeakable,' one commenter, Tracie Speed Setzer, responded.


Need $75,000 for a Sex-Change Operation? Enroll at UC Berkeley‏

Under the student health care plan at the University of California (UC) – Berkeley, students can receive coverage of up to $75,000 for sex-change operations and other related therapy, documents obtained on Monday by Campus Reform reportedly indicate.

According to the “2012-13 UC Berkeley Student Health Insurance Plan Benefits Booklet,”the publicly funded university will provide up to 90 percent of the controversial procedure, which comes out to about $75,000.

Also covered under UC Berkeley’s health care plan are students who would like to have “hormone therapy” and “gender confirmation (reassignment) surgery.” Better yet, the university will also pay for some “certain travel costs” associated with a sex-change operation because there are only a “limited number of providers” near the school.

The Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform has more details:

 *   The costs for a sex change operation alone, without additional travel costs, can exceed $50,000. Many private health care providers do not pay for these operations due to their cost and questionable health benefits.

*    The documents also reveal that the university health plan will cover up to 90-percent of costs [for] abortions.

*   Despite multiple inquiries the UC’s administration did not reveal the number of sex-change operations or abortions provided under the plan or when the plan was amended to include these controversial operations.

When students are accepted into the university, they are automatically enrolled in its student health care plan and must apply for a “waiver” to be exempt from buying into it.
UC Berkeley’s website describes its student health care plan as “a comprehensive major medical insurance plan, providing medical, counseling, prescription, vision and dental services.”
Funny, it doesn’t mention sex-change operations.


Thousands of British  students being 'hoodwinked' into taking courses for jobs they will never get

Armies of students are graduating from courses with qualifications for jobs that aren’t there.

Many are being trained in fields such as video games design, media, hair and beauty, forensic science and PR.

However, their numbers far outstrip the positions in the employment market. For example, colleges trained 94,000 students in hair and beauty in 2011, to fill only 18,000 new jobs.

Critics claimed young people were being ‘hoodwinked’ into spending thousands on college courses and university degrees that promise a dream career but in reality offer few prospects.

In contrast, there are dire shortages of trained staff in fields such as engineering and physics.

Research for a book on consumer society shows that 52 universities offer degrees in film studies, 37 run courses in cultural studies and 66 offer television studies.

In addition, 130 video games degrees are available but only eight are accredited by the industry body.

While 5,664 students were taking forensic science degrees in 2009, only 5,000 in total worked in the UK forensic science industry.

Figures also show that nearly 83,000 college students finished media courses last year at ‘level three’ – roughly equivalent to A-level standard – but only 65,000 vacancies were available.

In hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism, nearly 98,000 completed courses with only 43,000 jobs advertised.

In contrast, fewer than 40,000 students completed courses in building-related engineering – even though 72,000 jobs were available.

Steve McKevitt, a marketing expert who draws on the figures for his new book Everything Now, said young people were being failed by an education system which ignored the needs of employers.

‘The decision to supply the labour market with more graduates was taken without really considering what the needs of the labour market actually were,’ he said.

‘I do think it is a scandal that so many young people are being hoodwinked into studying for expensive degrees under the auspices that these qualifications are the key that will open the door to a dream career.’

Mr McKevitt argued that Britons increasingly measure success by their careers and how ‘interesting’ their lives are. Jobs in the creative industries are therefore attractive.  ‘The irony is that while it is very difficult to get a job in the creative sector, it is usually very easy to gain a place on one of the supposedly related courses,’ he said.

‘The key point is not that studying for these degrees is a waste of time. There is nothing necessarily wrong with undertaking a degree in PR, media studies, video games or any of the others…Nor does it mean that if you study one of these then you won’t be able to get a job in your chosen field.

‘The fundamental issue here is that these degrees do not necessarily lead to a job in the sector so if that is your only reason for studying them, then you are probably better off studying something else.’

The warning follows research by the Local Government Association earlier this year, which found that Britain is ‘teaching too many young people the wrong skills’.

The Department of Business said: ‘Graduates continue to do better than non graduates and we must ensure they enter the labour market equipped to succeed.’


Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Higher Education Bubble Spawns Demographic Decline Among Educated Americans"‏

The Washington Times takes note of the burgeoning higher education bubble in a recent editorial:

The cost of a college education has soared far in excess of the cost of health care. This is in spite of — or, more accurately, because of — massive government involvement in subsidizing and running schools. . . Doing more of the same isn’t a realistic answer. America is in the midst of what University of Tennessee Prof. Glenn Reynolds calls the “higher education bubble.” As with the housing bubble, cheap credit is the primary culprit in inflating the price of schooling. Federal student loans subsidized by taxpayers have made learning more expensive, not more affordable.

The Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey estimates federal student aid increased by 372 percent between 1985 and 2010, from just under $30 billion to almost $140 billion. To put it another way, as Mr. McCluskey explains, “Taxpayer-funded outlays per degree rose from $58,755 in 1985 to $78,347 in 2010.” This flow of cheap money corresponded with rapid growth in tuition at rates well above average inflation. Mr. Reynolds reports that college tuition grew at almost 7.5 percent annually between 1980 and 2010, when average inflation was 3.8 percent. At less than 6 percent annually, even health care costs grew at a slower rate than the university tab.

Young people aren’t getting much in exchange for this huge outlay. While enrollment has increased, completion rates remain dismal. Barely a third of students complete their degrees in four years, and less than 60 percent earn their degree in six years, according to Mr. McCluskey. That means at least two out of five enrollees don’t finish and fail to reap the benefits of a post-high-school education. Even those who complete their programs of study and are fortunate enough to find employment find that in one out of three cases, their degree isn’t required for their work.

Earlier, I wrote about how exponentially growing student loans are driving up tuition and creating a demographic time bomb as well as a higher-education bubble that could explode in taxpayers’ faces.

As college costs and student loan debt soar (partly due to opulent university spending) and unemployment rises, young college graduates, crushed by student loan debt, are deciding not to have kids, resulting in demographic decline among the educated in America.  In recent years, student loan debt has skyrocketed from $100 billion to nearly $1 trillion, creating a potential debt bomb for the American economy.

France and England now have higher birth rates than America.  College-educated people in their 20s are definitely more likely to have kids there.  “American fertility is now lower than that of France” and the United Kingdom, notes The Economist, even though American fertility was higher than France or England in 2007.

Why the recent change?  Could it be because college graduates in England and France have less student loan debt? Tuition is lower there.  Per capita expenditures are lower at their elite schools. France and England spend much less on physical plant for colleges and universities. Faculty salaries don’t get as high there.

The buildings at my French-born wife’s alma mater don’t look very impressive, although she studied and learned a lot there.  If a French university outwardly looks more like a high school than a Harvard, that’s OK with them.  What matters to them is the learning that takes place within, not whether it looks like a college marketer’s movie-set image of what a university should look like. French students also study a lot more than American students, so they may be more accustomed to not having spare time (something that may help prepare them to have kids after they graduate, since parents of young children have little free time).

U.S. colleges are borrowing lots of money for fancy, unnecessary facilities, gambling that they can pay the interest on their increased debt by increasing tuition on future students.  This is already resulting in growing numbers of American universities facing “financial trouble,” notes The Economist.

As USA Today noted earlier, American college students learn less and less with each passing year, according to recently-released research. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”  Less time spent studying gives students more time to work to pay their inflated tuition.

Actions by the Obama administration have increased college costs and driven up tuition. The administration has also discouraged vocational training needed for high-paid, skilled manufacturing work, contributing to a severe shortage of skilled factory workers — thus making it harder for factories to expand their operations and hire workers, including the unskilled workers among whom unemployment remains highest.

Countries’ success has little to do with how many of their citizens graduate from college. As Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson notes, “Some robust economies have workforces with a much smaller share of college degree-holders than the United States.”  Tuition in American universities has also been driven up by the cost of administrative bloat, such as the growth of a vast and costly “diversity machine” in college administrations, and red tape that results in some colleges having more administrators than teachers.


Teachers unions’ pressure is failing

Hearing teachers unions complain about extending school choice to American families is nothing new. They have been spreading misinformation about efforts to break up their monopoly on education for years. With millions of students going back to school, we can, unfortunately, expect them to turn up the volume.

Yet every year, the unions’ grip on power loosens. Scholarships, education savings accounts, vouchers and other reform efforts keep proliferating. Worse, from the unions’ point of view, school choice keeps growing in popularity among parents and students. Forty-four percent of Americans now favor allowing students the option of attending private schools at public expense. That is up 10 percentage points from last year.

Small wonder that the Louisiana Association of Educators threatened last month to sue private parochial schools in the state that plan to accept voucher students this fall, or that the union-supported Obama administration has supported a plan to give federally issued paychecks directly to local teachers. Desperation must be setting in.

The calls for more taxpayer money persist despite the huge increases in federal education spending over the past decade. President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request included another major increase for the Department of Education — 2.5 percent more than last year — to nearly $70 billion.

We’re now spending an average of $11,400 per student, a record amount. Yet test scores and other measurements of academic achievement continue to lag.

Given this state of affairs, we should be glad school choice is on the rise. Among the promising signs we see:

New Hampshire is one of 11 states to offer scholarships for underprivileged students to attend private schools. Parents unhappy with their local public schools have a choice. They can do something to get their children into schools they feel would better meet their needs. Businesses and individuals who donate to private-school scholarship funds receive sizable tax credits. The scholarships average $2,500 for students whose families earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

South Carolina has a tuition tax-credit program that lets children attend schools that are right for them. Who is eligible for the tax credit? Anyone who donates to the privately funded scholarships that have been set up for low-income and special-needs students. The program gives tax deductions of up to $4,000 to families to help cover the cost of sending their children to private schools, $2,000 for home schooling and $1,000 to help with expenses related to sending their children to out-of-district public schools.

North Carolina is home to an elementary school that has used online learning to move from the middle of the pack on student achievement into a tie for second place on state tests. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams explains how:

“All of their textbooks, notes, learning materials and assignments are computerized, allowing teachers and parents to track their progress in real time. If a student is struggling, their computer-learning program can be adjusted to meet their needs and get them back up to speed. And the best students no longer wait on slow students to catch up. Top students are constantly pushed to their limits by new curricular material on their laptops.”

Home schooling. Heritage Foundation education analyst Lindsey Burke says it may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States, rivaled only by charter schools. Data from the U.S. Department of Education show a 74 percent increase in home schooling since 1999 alone, with approximately 1.5 million children (2.9 percent of school-age children) being home-schooled in 2007. The numbers have only grown since then. Some analysts place the number of home-schooled children at more than 2 million.

These and other encouraging trends suggest that the status quo in education won’t necessarily remain the status quo much longer. The trend is flowing away from government control — and toward parental control.

“Parents are the first and the most important educators of their own children,” Pope John Paul II once said. “They also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents.” They, not Washington, are the ones who should be directing education. The more our education policy reflects this truth, the better off our children will be.


British govt.  slashes health and safety guidance for schools

More than 95 per cent of health and safety guidance issued to schools has been slashed as part of a Coalition purge on red tape, figures show.

Under Labour, teachers were issued with 150 pages of guidelines designed to keep pupils safe in the classroom and on school trips but the number has since been cut to just eight, it has emerged.

The drop was outlined as official figures revealed for the first time the extent to which education bureaucracy has been reduced over the last two years.  In total, more than three-quarters of official edicts issued schools under the last Government have now been abolished.

State primaries and secondaries in England are now issued with just 6,978 pages of guidance compared with 28,455 pages previously.

Axed documents include the all-out abolition of a 200-page guide to “reducing bureaucracy”, while guidance on “improving pupil performance” has been cut from 2,524 pages to just 174. Another volume on “pedagogy and practice“ has been reduced from 1,959 pages to 63.

The Coalition has faced criticism over its drive to cut education guidance.

Earlier this year, Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, claimed that the Government was jeopardising pupils’ health after announcing that a new wave of academies and free schools would be exempt from nutritional standards governing school dinners.

This month, it was revealed the ministers had abolished school sports survey – including a target that pupils must complete two hours of PE a week – prompting claims that it would undermine the Olympic legacy.

But Elizabeth Truss, the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, who obtained the figures following a series of Parliamentary questions, said the last Government “bombarded teachers with bureaucratic, unreadable guidance” that actually undermined education standards.

“28,000 pages of guidance is not only a massive burden, it also diminishes the trust and responsibility that should be given to teachers,” she said.

“This Government has made huge strides towards reducing the burden of guidance on schools, slashing the total by three-quarters.”

New figures show that teachers are no longer given guidance on handling the media. In the past, they were issued with 188 pages on the subject.

Guidance on health and safety has been dramatically trimmed to just eight pages. This follows concerns that some schools were axing traditional science experiments or school trips amid fears over safety rules.

The number of pages of guidance on science, technology, engineering and maths was cut from 765 pages to nothing, while documents relating to work-based learning were also axed altogether.

Other guidance cut significantly relates to issues such as admissions, attendance, behaviour, the curriculum, equality, finance, qualifications, special needs, staffing and target setting.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What are Chinese colleges like?

For roughly three years I had the opportunity to live and work at two colleges out here in China.  I could describe any number of observations but one that sticks out at this time is the role the Communist Party plays in curriculum.

While the days of the Little Red Book (Mao zhuxi yulu) and cult of personality may officially be in the past, the Party still maintains control over what is and is not taught in classes.

For example, at both colleges I taught at, each department had both a nominal civilian leader as well as a de facto  Party leader.  While I had little daily interaction with Party leaders (I did meet them several times a semester at faculty dinners and they were actually very friendly to me — gan bei!), this form of governance  results in both direct overt censorship and self-censorship via “chilling effects.”

And because the faculty was limited to the Party approved curriculum, this hampered the instructors ability to inject new, different and simply foreign ideas into the classroom.  Thus you cannot foster creativity in a classroom without first dealing with the elephant in the room — the entity whose presence currently engenders the status quo.

The WSJ recently published a report noting how new Chinese graduates are having a difficult time finding jobs in part because of a skillset mismatch between what they learned in college and what hiring firms currently demand.

Before quoting the paper, I wanted to share one additional anecdote that involves this skillset mismatch.  While it may be hard to believe, but I never once in all of my teaching out here have espoused my personal opinions about libertarianism to the student body.  Not only do I think it is unprofessional to do so but I think it is short sighted (e.g., I would immediately lose my job and be deported) — and would accomplish nothing because there is no legal opposition group to rally around.  Thus martyrdom for laowai (which I do not encourage anyways) is self-defeating.

With that said, each semester there were always a number of students that would for better and for worse share their thoughts about the material they were studying in other classes.  And a handful of students, those with cajones, would even mention the material by name:  Marx and Mao.

You see, like many Western colleges, Chinese students are required to take specific courses each semester — with very few electives being offered (and none sometimes offered at all).  In addition to studying subjects like Chinese and English, all students (at the colleges I taught at and most others on the mainland) require that their students take several courses on the literature and philosophy of Marx and Mao.

And while they may have been sent on a fishing expedition to get their laowai instructor to divulge (my) personal opinions, several students each semester — those with cajones (because you could be publicly reprimanded for it) — would verbally complain about having to study the works of Marx and Mao.  Or in the words of one student I had two years ago, “if it doesn’t work in practice what good is learning an [anachronistic] theory semester after semester?  How will this help us get a job?” [He tried to say anachronistic but it didn't come out that way]

So while the North American blogosphere might complain about the futility and practicality of Underwater Basket Weaving or Virtual Reality Gender Studies, the fact that 6 million Chinese graduated this past year being indoctrinated with Marx and Mao should give First World bloggers a moment of solace and perspective.

Now back to the comment my student said two years ago, how will this help them find a job?  To quote the WSJ, it does not:

“High-end jobs that should have been produced by industrialization, including research, marketing and accounting etc., have been left in the West,” said Chen Yuyu, associate professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. Referencing the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.,the Taiwan-based company that makes gadgets for Apple Inc. and others in Chinese factories, he said, “We only have assembly lines in Foxconns.”

Solving the problem is complex, involving a gradual overhaul of China’s education system as well as efforts to add more service-sector jobs. China’s Ministry of Education in 2010 unveiled new guidelines pressing universities to shift away from their traditional focus on increasing enrollment. It is also experimenting with giving faculty greater say over curriculum and school operations, though universities remain tightly controlled by the Communist Party.

Oops.  By directly and indirectly interfering with curriculum, the Party planners have unintentionally outsource — re-sourced — high skilled jobs to the developed world (see also tangentially labor arbitrage).  This is not to say that there are not opportunities for say software programmers (I personally have about 10 business Chinese students at this time who work for a very large American semiconductor company as chipset and driver programmers in Shanghai) — but this is the exception rather than the rule.

And as the same WSJ article notes those graduates that do find jobs are not making big yuan:

A survey of more than 6,000 new graduates conducted last year by Tsinghua University in Beijing said that entry-level salaries of 69% of college graduates are lower than those of the migrant workers who come from the countryside to man Chinese factories, a figure that government statistics currently put at about 2,200 yuan ($345) a month. Graduates from lower-level universities make an average of only 1,903 yuan a month, it said.

Thus the next time you hear someone from the the Professional Protesting class such as the Occupy Wall Street movement complain about making a mere $10 an hour at Walmart, kindly explain to them that college graduates in the worlds 2nd largest economy make less than $3 an hour despite increasingly higher costs of living — which is another anecdote I can vouch for (seeing as hundreds of my former students have now graduated and began their sobering careers).

One last note

Chinese students wishing to further their education via graduate school on the mainland are required to take another lengthy entrance examination (akin to the original gaokao) in which a students knowledge of Marx and Mao are again tested.  A foreign colleague of mine has a Chinese wife who bitterly complained about having to take those portions of the test simply to apply to a grad program in translation and interpretation.  Several of her other, talented friends opted out and instead used guanxi to get government jobs.

Which brings me to this slight twist of fortunes: do you know what the #1 desirable job is now in China?  According to a recent survey from ChinaHR: working for the government — for the old fashioned Iron Rice bowl (tie fan wan) once again.


Price Tag $500K: Baltimore Schools Under Fire for Wild Spending Spree (That Included a Trip to Hooters)‏

The Baltimore school system is coming under fire after The Baltimore Sun obtained its spending reports through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

Though Americans are often told they need to pay more taxes for teachers (and “roads and bridges”), it seems as though the city of Baltimore mismanaged roughly half a million dollars of taxpayer money over the last year and a half.

The Baltimore Sun begins:

    "Despite tightening school budgets and a perpetual rallying cry for more funding, Baltimore school administrators spent roughly $500,000 during the past year and a half on expenses such as a $7,300 office retreat at a downtown hotel, $300-per-night stays at hotels, and a $1,000 dinner at an exclusive members-only club, credit card statements show.

    City school officials defend the majority of the credit card expenditures… as “the cost of doing business,” saying only a handful of “outliers” show questionable judgment or disregard for taxpayer money.

    “We are working around the clock to engage our partners and move our agenda forward,” said Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system. “Every transaction has a business purpose in mind.”

    Among those transactions were a $450-per-person office retreat at the downtown Hilton, during which the 16 employees of the Information Technology Department were also treated to a $500 dinner at Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao; and a $264 lunch for students at Hooter’s."

The Baltimore Sun continues:

    "A review of credit card transactions and receipts by The Sun found that the bulk of the expenditures — about $300,000, generated by 16 central office employees — were made under a new procurement-card program that has operated with virtually no controls or oversight since it began in January 2011.

    Card statements show that many of the expenditures violated the school system’s own protocols and restrictions for use of the cards, such as a prohibition on using them for travel or to buy gifts for employees....

    Still, the schools chief — whose card, sometimes used by his assistant, incurred a $66.77 charge to Victoria‘s Secret on Valentine’s Day that was later removed after the system reported it as fraudulent — defended the program.

Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system, said that $67,000 in travel to conferences for a handful of administrators– including an $8,000 trip to Las Vegas for a bullying conference– is merely an indication of the school’s “overinvestment in professional development.”

Other outrageous charges reportedly include, via the Baltimore Sun:

    "One cardholder charged $97,000 worth of student leadership grant funds to the card to take students on several trips out of town.

    Several cardholders exceeded the $500-per-transaction and $1,500-per-month limits imposed by the rules, and officials said that many of the cards were permitted to have no limits at all. And those who did have spending limits circumvented them by splitting charges into multiple transactions, which is also prohibited....

    About $4,700 worth of transactions made by [Jerome Oberlton's] department included trips to retail stores like Bath & Body Works, Ross, Walmart, the Dollar Tree and BJ’s Wholesale Club to buy snacks and refreshments, and gifts and decorations for holiday banquets, birthdays and baby shower celebrations, records show."

City school officials have ordered Jerome Olberton to pay back $5,000 of the dishonest charges, saying: “We have to remind people that they are using resources entrusted to them by the citizens and that they understand that just because it might be good intent, it might not be right — or look right.”

Edwards added: “But we believe there’s almost always a purpose. And it always has to do with the work of children.”

Though an investigation is underway, City schools CEO Andrés Alonso tried to downplay the theft, saying: “These are a fraction of a budget, are budget-approved expenses and categories… The expectation is at the end of the day, the [educational] outcomes improve.”


Australia: High school teacher speaks out on undisciplined classroom behaviour

TEACHERS say efforts to raise literacy and numeracy standards in the state's schools are futile until a glaring issue is dealt with - bad behaviour in the classroom.

One high school teacher from the state's southwest has spoken out, attracting strong support from across the teaching spectrum.

Speaking in his role as a Queensland Teachers Union representative, high school teacher Paul Cavanagh said politicians and parents needed to know the degree of the learning problem affecting well-behaved pupils.

The QTU, Queensland Association of State School Principals and the Queensland Secondary Principals Association all agreed behaviour was a critical and daily issue confronting staff and called for more support, especially from parents.

Concerns have been raised about increasingly aggressive parents and a rising number of children with behavioural and mental health disorders.

In a recent letter to federal Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne, Mr Cavanagh warned: "Having students disrupting the learning environment is the No.1 factor that is holding public schools back, in my opinion."

Mr Cavanagh, 30, who is on leave this term, told The Courier-Mail that while violent attacks on teachers often made headlines, smaller daily behavioural problems were critical.

"It is the major contributing factor behind student performance at the moment - how does anyone concentrate or learn well with the constant disruption that is happening and nothing is being done?" he said.

"You get these lovely, quiet wonderful kids who are interested, who want to learn, and as a teacher it is heartbreaking to think that I can't spend more time helping those kids get from good to better because I am trying to get these uncontrollable kids to learn a bit of discipline.

"If I had a child of my own I would be so upset, not with the school or the teachers, but with other children to think that so much time was taken away from why my kids are there."

He said most parents really cared about their children's education and it was politicians he wanted to understand what was really happening in classrooms, given the current focus on education.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said behaviour was "getting worse and it is getting more and more critical that schools and homes work together".

Last year her organisation called for a co-ordinator at every primary school to deal with mental health, behaviour and social issues.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said there was "no doubt" behaviour was an issue, and there had been an increase in parents wanting to argue with staff and "take some matters into their own hands".

QTU president Kevin Bates said there had been an increase in more violent behaviour among children, but this was a reflection of the community, not schools, with some parents actively working against teachers on the issue.

He said Mr Cavanagh's frustrations were shared by many teachers, and called for more positive learning centres for pupils with behavioural issues.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations president Margaret Leary said schools needed to be responsible for teaching, and parents for social issues.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said poor behaviour in school should not be tolerated, and urged parents to "take responsibility for the behaviour of their children to help ensure that all Queensland students have the best education experience possible".

Education Queensland assistant director-general Sharon Mullins said the department had measures in place to help teachers manage challenging behaviour, including support staff, suspensions and exclusions.

"Education Queensland expects parents to work in partnership with the school," she said.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's the Curriculum, Stupid

It's the time of the year when children's smiles begin to look a little pinched. You can feel it when you walk through any school supplies store. While the colored pencils and lunchboxes on display evoke memories of "the good times," they also spark memories of all that filler work -- the spelling and grammar exercises, multiplication tables and the dates of the Revolutionary War.

It's also the time when parents think about what their children will study. We used to know the subjects assigned to the various grades, but common core subjects with common values were abandoned long ago, replaced by progressive theories and the dumbing-down of actual information. The emphasis was on methodology and social-activist doctrine, even in the lower grades. We continue to suffer for it.

America has never had an official national curriculum, but as E.D. Hirsch, the education critic, observes in his newest book, "The Making of Americans," "a benign conspiracy among the writers of schoolbooks (insured) that all students would learn many of the same facts, myths, and values and so would grow to be competent, loyal Americans." No more. A hodge-podge curriculum and splintered knowledge marks a decline in academic achievement, as compared to other countries.

Hence a reform movement is burgeoning in reaction to many of the changes of the last half-century. Although results are mixed, some are promising and deserve attention. New York City, with a million students in 1,700 schools, for example, became a focus for reform, with instructive lessons for the rest of the country.

After a child-centered focus for children was described as letting each child find his natural path for reading, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor at the time, Joel Klein, looked at the dismal reading scores of children in the lower grades and reread the criticism and creative ideas of E.D. Hirsch. In 2008, they tested the scholar's early childhood literacy program in the real-life laboratory of 10 elementary schools.

Hirsch had said that higher reading levels could be achieved when an emphasis was put on the content of old-fashioned subjects, like history, geography and science, as much as the mechanics of learning. It was something like rediscovering the wheel, but the wheel was soon rolled up the hill, getting positive results along the way.

After a year, the schools with the new curriculum achieved reading scores five times greater than schools with the old curriculum. Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute writes in City magazine that after three years, the results continue to be encouraging. It was time for other schools to take a look.

The Hirsch diagnosis could be summed up with a paraphrase of a familiar political campaign slogan: "It's the curriculum, Stupid." Hirsch emphasizes that specific shared content knowledge for each grade should be required. He believes the reform should start in the lower grades and work its way up.

Education reform is as complex as health care reform, but it's not exactly a dominant issue for current political campaigns. Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, legislation written in the George W. Bush administration, teachers who "taught to the test" narrowed the scope of study.

The latest trend is "digital learning," where children work at their own pace on computers. It has technological value for the 21st century, but its emphasis on isolated computer teaching gives short shrift to the common cultural knowledge that was once the baseline for educating a child.

I find few high school seniors today who have read the old staples, like "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, such as "Self Reliance." They're unlikely to understand the metaphorical use of an "albatross" around the neck for terms like "the deficit" or even the idea of Social Security.

When a politician's change of opinion is called a "flip-flop," who will understand Emerson's aphorism that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

It's been almost 30 years since E.D. Hirsch wrote the best-selling book "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know," emphasizing the importance of the study of common documents, literary, historical and scientific, that cut across generations, ethnic groups, the privileged and the poor. It was written before the spread of the Internet, Facebook and Google, and the fragmentation of information only makes such core knowledge more crucial.

We risk becoming like those exiled adults in "Fahrenheit 451," the science fiction novel of Ray Bradbury, describing how a few people memorized the great books for safekeeping in a world that burns books.

We don't burn books, but neither do we concern ourselves with the knowledge we hold in common. That's too bad. You might say it's another albatross we must bear. (Say what?)


British Middle classes forced out of private education as costs rise at twice rate of inflation over 10 years

Thousands of middle-income families have been priced out of private schools by inflation-busting fee rises.  Average fees have risen at nearly twice the rate of inflation over the past ten years.

The increases mean that private schooling is now beyond average earners in well-paid occupations, including pharmacists, architects, IT experts, engineers and scientists.  A decade ago, these professionals would have been able to afford to pay fees out of earned income.  Now, however, they would struggle without funding from other sources, according to the study.

The average annual fee for a day pupil at a private school is £11,457, up from £6,820 in 2002, researchers found. Charges have risen 68 per cent in that period, 1.8 times faster than retail price inflation over the same period, which was up 37 per cent.

Private school fees are considered affordable if they account for 25 per cent or less of the average annual full-time salary before tax.

But £11,457 represents 35 per cent of this average, which stands at £33,011, according to the study by Lloyds TSB Private Banking. In 2002, fees would have taken 27 per cent.

Suren Thiru, economist at the bank, said the rises make it ‘increasingly difficult for the average worker in many occupations to afford a private education for their offspring’.

Those who can most easily afford the fees include accountants, senior police officers, airline pilots and  production managers as fees  represent 19 per cent of their annual earnings.

The findings follow a warning this year from the former head of a top private school that the sector is  losing public confidence by becoming the preserve of the super-rich.

Dr Martin Stephen, formerly of St Paul’s School, West London wrote: ‘Independent schools have put themselves in a very dangerous position; even more dangerous because they don’t realise the danger.

‘They are pricing themselves out of the reach of most normal people in the UK. The independent sector is becoming socially exclusive in a way not seen since Victorian times.’

Dr Stephen is now director of education at GEMS, an international schools group aiming to make private education ‘affordable’.

He added: ‘The sector has become too dependent on overseas parents and is profiting from a state sector in some turmoil as a result of radical change. Independents need to realign themselves with their clients.’

The biggest rises in fees have been in London and the South West, both up 79 per cent from 2002-12. Next were East Anglia (74 per cent) and the East Midlands and South East, both at just under 70 per cent.

The number of pupils enrolled at private schools has also fallen over the decade, according to the study.


Record EU students to get 'free' Scottish degree

The number of university places available for Scottish students is being squeezed by record levels of youngsters from other EU countries taking advantage of the SNP’s offer of a taxpayer-funded degree, it has emerged.

Successful applications by youngsters from the Continent are up 3.6 per cent on the same time last year when the previous record was set. The annual £75 million cost of providing them with ‘free’ degrees appears certain to increase further.

Although SNP ministers have boasted of allocating a set number of “protected places” for Scottish applicants, this quota also includes places given to EU students.

A loophole caused by European anti-discrimination laws mean children from the Continent benefit from the SNP’s promise of “free” degrees for Scottish youngsters.

Mike Russell, the Education Minister, announced almost 18 months ago he was examining introducing a charge for EU students that would not apply to Scots but no proposals have been forthcoming since.

Scotland is now expected to be the only part of the UK where admissions by EU students will increase as elsewhere they have to pay tuition fees.

Opposition parties last night said it was another example of the SNP’s higher education funding policies restricting places for Scottish youngsters.

The Daily Telegraph last week disclosed last week how other Scottish universities are being forced to offer thousands of clearing places to fee-paying international and English students only.

Universities confirmed that the number of ‘protected places’ for Scottish and EU students effectively acts as a cap on the number they can recruit. They are threatened with fines if they go more than 10 per cent above their quota.

In the most extreme example of the two-tier clearing system, Aberdeen and Stirling universities said no Scottish students would be allocated a place on the 137 courses with spaces available.

Liz Smith, Scottish Tory Education spokesman, said last night: “Mike Russell has done nothing to resolve the EU loophole and that’s putting additional pressure on the number of places available to Scottish students.

“That is in addition to the clearing situation, where Scottish students are being turned away anywhere where the quota has been reached.”

According to official figures, 3,535 EU students had been accepted in Scottish universities by A-level results day last week, an increase of 123 compared to the same time last year.

The 3.6 per cent increase was more than the 3.1 per cent rise in the number of Scottish students given a place. Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown the number of EU students has almost doubled over the past decade to 15,930.

The Scottish Government said acceptances for fee-paying school leavers from the rest of the UK is 10 per cent up (419) compared to last year, while the total for international students from outside the EU is 7.7 per cent down (201).

Mr Russell has replied to a letter from his opposition shadows calling on him to reform the clearing system and give Scottish youngsters a level playing field.

He confirmed: “There is no question of a place protected for a Scottish / EU student being taken by a student from anywhere else.”

However, he brushed off questions about what happens when the Scottish quota is reached, stating that: “Places available through clearing for Scottish students have always been limited and the clearing system is becoming less relevant to the majority of Scottish students.”

Although this newspaper has been contacted by upset Scottish students unable to obtain a clearing place, he blamed the media for generating “highly regrettable and completely avoidable instances of anguish”.


Monday, August 27, 2012

College officials’ excuses costing students and taxpayers

Finishing college shouldn’t be so hard. Completing challenging classes and mastering advanced material plus working to pay for increasingly expensive degrees is tough enough. But some institutions make it even harder for undergraduates because of their own shoddy administration.

Sacramento State undergraduate Starlight Trotter is starting her fifth year and shared her travails in a recent Sacramento Bee article.

“The 23-year-old psychology major thought she would be a counselor or therapist by now. Instead, she’s still in college and a student assistant in the theater arts department,” according to the Bee.  “I just want to get out of here,” said Trotter, but students struggle to get into the over-packed classes they need to graduate on time.

“Just 8 percent of first-time, degree-seeking Sacramento State students who started classes in 2007 graduated in 2011, the lowest four-year graduation rate in a decade, according to data from the college,” the Bee reported.

The tragedy is that Trotter did everything she was supposed to do. She worked hard in high school and earned several scholarships, which have now run out because she’s had to stay in school so long. Trotter also works and uses financial aid to pay for her degree. But here’s the catch: unable to get into the classes she needs to graduate, she instead attends classes she doesn’t need to just keep her financial aid.

In a separate editorial, the Sacramento Bee (rightly) called Sacramento State’s graduation rate “abysmal and unacceptable.” Sacramento State officials have responded in the past by blaming students for not being academically prepared, having to work, and enrolling in the wrong classes. They also blame the legislature for cutting funding.

Hooey. It was Sac State’s choice to admit unprepared students. In response to the down economy, institutions that depend on public subsidies need to tighten their belts—just like the taxpayers who fund those subsidies are doing.

It’s was also Sac State’s choice to continue offering degree programs they couldn’t fill but continued paying for by pulling funds from other programs (called cross-subsidization). And, it was Sac State’s choice not to cut those programs at the expense of over-enrolled programs such as Trotter’s.

According to data reported to the U.S. Department of Education, Sac State’s core revenue in 2010 exceeded $350 million: $113 from tuition and fees; $128 from state appropriations; $72 million from government grants and contracts; nearly $1 million in private gifts, grants, and contracts; almost $2 million in investment income; and another $41 million in other core revenue.

All that money works out to more than $15,000 per full-time student. If Sac State, or any other public institution for that matter, cannot fulfill their obligation to provide undergraduates with the courses they need for their degrees, then they should return funds to students and taxpayers.

It is also worth noting that if Sac State were a for profit institution, the legislature, state and departments would be demanding investigations for such mismanagement.

To avoid such mismanagement in the future, the California legislature should enact some common-sense reforms. Put an end to lump-sum state appropriations. Instead award appropriations to students directly in the form of grants that students could take to any California postsecondary institution, public or private, of their choice—about $5,500 based on Sac State’s appropriation levels.

If institutions wanted their share of state appropriations, then they’d have to improve their graduation and management track-records to attract and keep students—along with their state appropriation funding.

Another related reform is instituting outcomes-based appropriations. Rather than throwing good money after bad at mismanaged institutions, which leaves less funding for well managed ones, a certain percentage of funds should be awarded based on the number of students who successfully graduate on time.

Ohio adopted an outcomes-based funding system that was enacted in 2009. Today, 5 percent of community college funding and 10 percent of four-year university funding is based on outcomes, including degree and course completion plus incentives for course completion in STEM subjects and for at-risk students.

Tennessee has been using outcomes-based funding the longest, since the 1970s. There is a 40 percent weight on Pell-eligible students (so each counts for 1.4 students) if they graduate to help promote student success without restricting access.

Louisiana and Indiana also have outcomes-based funding systems for both four- and two-year institutions.

All postsecondary institutions must fulfill their obligation to undergraduates and taxpayers to use public funds responsibly and graduate students on time. Stronger accountability from the legislature in the form of better funding incentives, and more freedom for students to take their public education dollars to institutions that will get the job done are sensible first steps.


British Universities minister defends plans to 'name and shame' useless degrees

David Willetts, the universities minister, has defended plans to “name and shame” degrees with poor job prospects under a new ranking system.

The measure is part of the most radical shake-up of the higher education system in decades, under which institutions will be ranked by graduate employment rates and salaries.

Mr Willetts said the Government was looking for a "transformation" in the amount of information students receive in proposals outlined in the long-awaited White Paper on higher education.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said: "There are some courses that are far better at preparing young people for the world of work than others. At the moment, the student finds it very hard to get that information.

"In future, they are going to be able to see “if I do biological sciences at one university, I have got a much better chance of a job in a pharmaceutical company than if I do biological sciences at a different university”.”

The White Paper being published on Tuesday will outline plans to force all institutions in England to publish data on 16 different areas to give students greater choice between courses.

For the first time, all universities will be forced to release detailed figures setting out how many students leave with well-paid jobs as well as average graduate starting salaries.

Other data is expected to cover criteria such as teaching hours, lecture sizes, accommodation costs and standards of student facilities.

Under plans, the information will be fed into new price comparison-style websites that shame the worst-performing universities and allow students to apply to the best institutions.

The move is being seen as a trade off for allowing universities to impose far higher tuition fees – ensuring students gain maximum value for their additional investment.

It follows claims that some students are currently being misled by vague promises made in glossy prospectuses handed out as teenagers apply to different universities.

The changes will be outlined as part of a long-awaited White Paper designed to map out the future direction of higher education to coincide with a decision to almost triple the cap on student fees to £9,000 from next year.

It will propose creating a market-based system in higher education and promoting more competition between institutions.

The document – originally promised in the New Year – will also:

*Toughen up the Office for Fair Access in a move that could see universities hit with new fines for failing to admit enough students from poor backgrounds;

*Give students more powers to trigger an official inspection by the Quality Assurance Agency – the standards watchdog – if teaching is not good enough;

*Force universities to reveal the A-levels needed to secure entry onto different courses, ensure students pick tough courses in the sixth-form instead of “soft” options that are often rejected by selective institutions;

*Remove barriers for private universities to provide degree courses by ensuring more students can take out the same Government-backed loans to study at them;

*Create a new “kitemark” system in which top companies can accredit courses producing the most skilled graduates.

In a key change, the White Paper will also relax the existing strict quotas controlling the number of students each university can recruit.

Under the reforms being announced by Mr Willetts, up to one-in-10 undergraduate places will be placed into an “auction”, allowing universities to bid for extra students.

It suggests that institutions with the cheapest tuition fees will be allowed to expand to keep the student loans bill down.

Universities will also be allowed to compete against each other to recruit the 55,000 students currently leaving school with top A-level grades – two As and a B.

Each university will be able to admit as many of these students as they wish. The change is unlikely to cost the taxpayer any more money as almost all of these sixth-formers already go on to university, but it will create a “new elite” as the best institutions take more top students at the expense of competitors.

A Whitehall source said: “The reforms are all about ensuring that students get their money’s worth. We’re asking graduates to contribute more once they are earning so it is only right that universities deliver for students.

"Universities will become more accountable to students and they will have to be far more transparent about what they are offering.”

But John Denham, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “It is clear that this White Paper, already months late, will be another example of the Tory-led Government making it up as they go along.

“The White Paper will sacrifice quality in an attempt to tackle the fees crisis caused by Government incompetence.”


Britain's  'A-grade' children can't even manage a paper round

By Peter Hitchens

How we used to jeer at the Soviet Union for claiming record tractor production, record wheat production and record economic growth.  These fatuous lies were obvious falsehoods, in a country where the fields were full of weeds, the factories rusty museums of incompetence and waste, and life a series of queues for rare, wonky consumer goods and unfresh food.

But our own official figures are now just as laughably false. The worst of all are the annual claims that our schools are producing a new generation of brilliant wonder-children.

A Tory MP called Graham Stuart, who as chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee ought to know better, actually said on the radio on Thursday: ‘The standard of performance is better than it’s ever been, the teaching’s better and the children are cleverer than ever before.’

Presumably that’s why my local newsagents now employ pensioners to deliver papers, and most of the hard-graft jobs for young people in this country are done by migrants from Eastern Europe. Our own children are just too clever to do paper rounds, or work on a building site.

If Mr Stuart is typical of our lawmakers, it strikes me that they too could all be profitably replaced by pensioners or Poles.

Does he really believe what he says?

For more than a decade, people like me have been abused and denounced because we dared to point out that British school standards were falling, and that our benchmark examinations were being watered down.

There was good evidence for this. The Engineering Council noted 12 years ago that maths standards at A-level had fallen by objective measures. They blamed a softer syllabus.

Durham University, by equally objective methods, found a similar rise in grades – unmatched by a rise in standards – in other subjects.

Now our case is absolutely proved, by the sudden halt in ever-improving grades. This was caused by a simple warning from the government, requiring the exam boards to show that any more ‘improvement’ was justified by better-quality work.

And yet the lies continue.

The BBC, which in my view rightly doubts George Osborne’s pitiful economic policies, has never questioned the absurd Stalinist claims of our education industry, or our equally ridiculous crime figures, apparently compiled in Toytown by Noddy and Mr Plod.

That is because the causes of our wretched education standards, and of our ever-increasing disorder, lie in the failed Left-wing policies of the Sixties.

The BBC passionately supports these policies, and the Tory Party has adopted them just as their utter failure has become evident to anyone with a spark of intelligence.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Teaching Kids Resolve to be True Scholars

Charles Payne

Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and extremely difficult  -Samuel Johnson

Over the weekend, President Obama pitched his would-be jobs program under the guise of educational urgency, noting the loss of 300,000 school teachers as the reason America is slipping in the realm of education. While I'm all for a lot of great teachers teaching our children, I think there are issues that are actually more acutely responsible for the decline in America's educational prowess. Statistics used to prove the more teachers the greater the results are sketchy, and it's more of a touchy-feely kind of thing that sounds good, but in reality there are more important components. I think we are missing out on hitting that hot button that makes kids want to learn.

Moreover, for our economically disadvantaged students, we have given them so many excuses for failure that by the time they get out of the gate many expect to be subpar. This is why the direction of the country is problematic. People that make the least amount of effort are demanding to get a greater share of the end results. The so-called income inequality gap is being used to bludgeon the wallets and pride of achievers while excusing those that aren't living up to their own individual potential. Throwing money at problems alone never solves major issues. It hasn't solved poverty or education in the United States, but has helped to create another problem (debt) that has to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Apparently, the best student to teacher ratio of 15.3 was achieved in 2008, and now at 16.0 (2010), we are back to 2000 levels.

In  2009 PISA reported that there was a section of resilient students defined as those in the bottom quarter of an index of economic, social and cultural status within a country that perform in the top quarter of students from all countries. In other words, these kids were at the wrong end of an equality scale but busted their backsides to perform with the best. What is it that drove these kids to perform so well? There were 25 such nations where the children were more resolved than those in the United States when it came to science literacy (we barely edged out Greece). I don't think it's the money they throw at the problem in Estonia or Mexico.

I'm convinced handing out excuses from the start is hurting poorer students more than a lack of funds. In wealthier schools, the idea everyone should get a trophy is a farce as well. I was on the board of a charter school in the poorest congressional district in America and we had a principle that called all the students scholars. I had a problem with that because the kids that were truly scholars got there through amazing effort that didn't stop when the final bell of the day rang. How did those kids feel when everyone was given the same praise? It hurts motivation.

The dumbing down of America has been a work in progress for a long time, lead by teachers unions looking to protect their jobs more than promoting achievement. It has been aided by communities that fought for easier curriculums so the children feel good. This entire process has eroded the need for resolve. In  2009 PISA tests of black students in America scored 409 which ranked them behind 53 developed and under-developed nations. It cannot be blamed on money. It can't be blamed on teachers not caring; over 80% of American students say teachers care, but less than 30% agree with that statement in Japan where their students run circles around all American students.

The problem is selling the notion of victimhood rather the notion of resolve. We can get it done. If President Obama and others want to remake America, where underachievers are rewarded from the pockets of overachievers, it's only a matter of time before there are fewer of the latter. That means more poverty for all, less liberty for all and no virtue for anybody.

Using children, teachers, police and firefighters to justify runaway spending is shameful. Not finding creative ways to make children embrace learning while promoting the idea they shouldn't be the best is beneath everyone, including politicians.

By the way ... if it was all about a lot of teachers then 2008 would have been the pinnacle of educational achievement. It wasn't.

* From 1995 to 2008, America went from second in the world in college graduation rates to 13th.

* From 1995 to 2008, America tumbled to the ranking of 26th in the world with respect to high school graduation rates.

By the way, it should be noted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls this the New Normal and has argued that low student-teacher ratios are more for an education model of the past and shouldn't be an excuse not to take a business-like approach to teaching our children. Sadly, when it comes to this administration, the New Normal takes a backseat to the Old Normal - spend, spend and spend some more. To be able to spend, tax, tax and tax even more (of course, borrowing has also been an integral part of "paying" for all that spending). In the meantime, toss resolve out the window and replace it with a false pity and false hopes.



British junior high School results: furious backlash as pass rate slumps

It's going to be like getting addicts of drugs to wean some Britons off soft marking

GCSE results fell for the first time in the exam’s 24-year history on Thursday, prompting a furious backlash from teachers, who claimed that grades had been deliberately suppressed.

Up to 10,000 pupils are believed to have missed out on C grades in English — considered a good pass — as results registered their only annual decline since 1988.

Head teachers, local authorities and union leaders said grade boundaries had been “very substantially” raised at the last minute.

Many schools could now face closure or takeover for failing to hit key GCSE targets.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, moved to defuse the row yesterday, insisting that exam boards had operated “entirely free” from political pressure.

He also appeared to welcome the drop in grades, adding: “You cannot have a situation where exam passes continue rising forever and ever without … grades either falling or steadying.”

Business leaders also said results registered this summer were “now more reflective of the ability of those taking the exams”.

In all, it is believed that pass marks in English had been raised by as much as 10 per cent for some GCSE papers this summer compared with assessments taken in January.

Sources said this was because grade boundaries set at the start of the year were too lenient — risking grade inflation.

As more than 650,000 school­children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their results, it emerged that:

 *  The proportion of test papers marked at least A fell by 0.8 percentage points to 22.4 per cent — the first annual drop on record.

 *  Fewer GCSE papers were marked C for the first time, with marks down by 0.4 percentage points to 69.4 per cent.

 *  The proportion of C grades in science dropped sharply from 62.9 to 60.7 per cent after Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog, ordered a toughening up of test specifications.

 *  More pupils opted to study traditional academic subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, history and geography following a government attack on “Mickey Mouse” qualifications.

 *  The gender gap at the heart of the exams system widened, with almost three quarters of GCSEs sat by girls graded C or better, compared with less than two thirds of boys’ papers.

The drop in the number of pupils awarded good results in English proved controversial. Nationally, 669,534 sat GCSEs in English language or a joint language and literature paper, but the proportion of C grades dropped from 65.4 last year to 63.9 per cent. It equates to a fall of just over 10,000 on the number of pupils expected to gain good marks.

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his organisation had received complaints from “dozens and dozens” of schools.

“Students who were working at a C level throughout the year, who were told on their assessments that they were in line for a C, have found out today that this is worth a D,” he said. “This means they may not get their places at college and sixth form. It is morally wrong to manipulate exam grades in this way. You are playing with young people’s futures.”

The Welsh Assembly claimed that it raised concerns with Ofqual two weeks ago over the grading of English language GCSEs.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which represents local authority officials, called on the Department for Education to carry out an investigation into the marking of English papers.

Tory-controlled Westminster council claimed that the “goalposts had been moved” for pupils halfway through their GCSEs.

Mr Gove said grade inflation was finally being contained after decades of rising pass rates, but insisted that yesterday’s scores were a “result of the independent judgments made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”.

He said the decision to change grade boundaries was down to individual exam boards and was “fairly comparable” with previous years.

Between 1988 and 2011, A grades rose almost threefold, while the proportion of Cs increased by more than 60 per cent.

Mr Gove previously warned of the possible scrapping of GCSEs in favour of new qualifications modelled on the old O-level. Yesterday, he said the Government would bring forward proposals for GCSE reform in the autumn, adding: “We want to change them, to improve them.”

John Cridland, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “While the proportion of students attaining an A* to C grade in English and maths has dropped back a little, enhancing the rigour of our examination system will help to improve performance compared with our international competitors.”

Tim Thomas, from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Whilst employers will be disappointed at the fall in pass rates, businesses may find that grades are now more reflective of the ability of those taking the exams.

“Previous pass rate increases have not always translated into attainment ­levels seen by businesses and have led to suggestions of grade inflation.  “Employers often find that school-leavers lack the numeracy and literacy skills they require, as well as wider employability and communication skills.”

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said tougher standards were “good news for pupils and their parents”.  “The point of GCSEs is to give them an accurate assessment of their capabilities as a guide to future choices,” he said. “Over-generous results could easily give the impression that someone was suited to something when they weren’t.”

But Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “We need to understand why results have fallen in these subjects. Is it because of pressure from Ofqual to shift grade boundaries?

“Concerns have been raised regarding the English GCSE. As well as ensuring standards remain rigorous, we must ensure pupils are treated consistently and fairly.”


Australia:  NSW State Govt. takes control of teacher numbers and class sizes

A NEW staffing arrangement for teachers was imposed on the profession yesterday, giving the state government discretion to control teacher numbers and class sizes.

The Department of Education gave the NSW Teachers Federation an ultimatum to sign a new staffing agreement by 5.30pm on Wednesday, but the federation refused. So the agreement was introduced as government policy instead of a formal industrial agreement, which means it does not legally bind the government.

The Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, said he was committed to maintaining existing class sizes as "policy" and said the federation could still sign the agreement to make it formal until 2016.

"The principals wanted the flexibility to determine their mix of staff and we've given that to them," he said.  The existing staffing agreement is due to expire within weeks.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said he was not able to sign the agreement at "short notice" on Wednesday without first consulting his executive.

One of the sticking points in negotiations was the government's refusal to guarantee the number of senior teaching positions. It will be left to school principals to decide the number within a set budget.

Mr Mulheron said the staffing agreement would have formalised class sizes, but these were now at the minister's discretion.

He said the minister's action "confirms the fears of principals, teachers and parents that the government is intent on reducing the number of permanent classroom, executive and specialist teaching positions".  "Without a formal staffing agreement, the class size policy can be changed at any time from term 4, 2012, onwards."

In a letter to staff, the director- general of education, Michele Bruniges, said four months of negotiations with the Teachers Federation over new staffing arrangements arising from the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms had failed.

"Unfortunately these negotiations have not resulted in an agreement and as such the department will implement the new staffing procedures from day 1, term 4, 2012, by way of policy," Dr Bruniges said. "A key element of the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms is putting an end to the centrally determined one-size-fits-all staffing model.

"The Minister and I have been very clear that the Local Schools, Local Decisions staffing reforms will maintain a statewide staffing system, which has greater opportunities for teachers to be selected at the local level to better meet student needs; maintain the department's class size policies".

The opposition spokeswoman for education, Carmel Tebbutt, said the new arrangement meant there was no protection for the present number of teachers or class sizes. "These will now be at the whim of the minister," she said. The Greens MP John Kaye said: "Classroom sizes and important administrative positions in schools have now been completely deregulated."