Friday, December 14, 2012

Obama’s low-quality college bailout will fuel skyrocketing tuition

by Hans Bader

We wrote earlier about perverse federal financial aid policies that encourage colleges to jack up tuition. Recently, the Obama administration came up with something even worse. It announced a new financial aid policy that will effectively bail out low-quality, high-tuition colleges and especially law schools at taxpayer expense, and encourage colleges and professional schools to increase tuition even more. These changes are the product of a revised income-based federal student loan repayment program that will go into effect starting Dec. 21.

The revised “Pay as You Earn” program will allow eligible student-loan borrowers to cap monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, and have their federal student loans forgiven after 20 years — or just 10 years, if they go to work for the government. An earlier version of the program capped payments at 15 percent and offered forgiveness after 25 years. For students who foolishly attended third-rate but expensive colleges and law schools, this could wipe out part of their debt, at taxpayer expense, since their salaries in the low-paying jobs they end up with will be insufficient to pay off all of their massive debt in 20 years if they pay only 10 percent of their leftover income on repaying their student loans.

In the short run, this will primarily benefit those students. But in the long run, the primary beneficiaries will be low-quality but expensive colleges and law schools, which will be able to raise college tuition through the roof, since no matter how much debt their students run up in college, it will be written off after 20 years. That will eliminate market-based price discipline for those colleges, resulting in even more rapid increases in tuition.

As Peter Schiff, the President of Euro Pacific Capital, notes, this plan
will ensure students are able to commit to higher levels of federally backed student loans. By limiting student obligations to repay, and by passing more of the repayment burden onto taxpayers, colleges and universities will be able to continue to raise tuitions at a rate that outpaces nearly every other cost center in the American economy. The move will come as a great relief to the education establishment who otherwise may have needed to cut or cap tuitions.

    The Obama plan limits repayment obligations to just 10% of “discretionary income” which it defines as total income above 150% of the federal poverty level (currently translating to about $16,000 for an individual, or $33,500 for a family of four). The plan also limits the term of obligation to 20 years. These terms represent a substantial easing and acceleration of the terms in Obama’s “Pay as You Earn Plan,” which was just announced last year . . .

    Assuming that a successful college graduate would earn, on average, $80,000 per year over the course of the 20-year obligation period, the repayment burden under the new plan will total somewhere around $4,500 per year, or $90,000 for the life of the loan. A less successful graduate who earns say $50,000 per year, on average over the 20-year obligation period, would have a repayment burden of just $1,500 per year, or just $30,000 over the life of the loan. Any loan amounts above those totals will be forgiven.

    As a result, students need not fear the inability to repay large loans. . . . the less a graduate earns, the greater the amount of loan forgiveness. For the majority of students, who don’t become very high earners, it will make little difference if loan amounts are $90,000, $180,000 or even more. As the repayment burden will be capped to a percentage of average income, loan repayments will be the same for any loan beyond a certain threshold.

    These policies could remove all barriers for larger and larger loans, which will then allow universities to charge higher and higher tuitions. . . .The day of reckoning in which the higher education system would have had to offer programs that fit into the budget of average Americans has been postponed, if not entirely eliminated.

    Of course the losers in this new arrangement will be American taxpayers who will be on the hook for the unpaid balances. Recently, college loan debt passed credit card debt as the largest, non-mortgage, source of debt in the United States. . . . If college students were willing to rack up this much debt under the assumption they would have to actually pay it back, imagine how much debt they will be willing to amass now that they realize they do not?  As a result, expect college tuition increases to not only continue but to accelerate.

Third-rate law schools may benefit disproportionately from this bailout, since law school tuition is  funded disproportionately by student loans, loans graduating low students at lower-tier law schools will not be able to pay back with just 10 percent of their income over 20 years. As the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal notes, “Law students . . . are treated generously as future professionals and able to borrow, with virtually no cap, significantly more money than undergrads.” Meanwhile, law school tuition has risen nearly 1,000 percent after inflation over the last half-century. As law professor Brian Tamanaha notes, at 20 expensive low-tier law schools, most students never will be able to fully repay their student loans, since most graduates of these schools don’t find good jobs.

Under the Obama administration’s new program, the federal government will write off most of these foolish law students’ loans, and they will not even have to repay what they are capable of paying, since their payments will be limited to less than 10 percent of their income. (By contrast, prudent students who attended cheaper or better law schools will not receive the same benefit, since their loan payments are already smaller compared to their incomes.) These law schools will respond by increasing tuition even faster, since the increased tuition will be paid by the American taxpayers when the borrowed tuition is later written off (and since the law schools can use some of the increased tuition “loading up their campuses with even fancier facilities such as gymnasiums, performing arts centers, food courts and health centers,” to attract students, and use the rest to pay their administrators a fortune. One fourth-tier law school pays its dean $867,000 per year!).

This taxpayer subsidy for low-tier law schools is especially unfortunate, because such law schools are in many respects economically harmful, and many law schools teach their students so few practical skills (as a few candid law professors have admitted) students would be better off studying for the bar exam on their own, rather than attending such schools (alas, the option isn’t available, since most states require students to attend law school before taking the bar exam, even though I found my time at Harvard Law School to be mostly a waste. Students should be able to sit for the bar exam without wasting three years in law school).

Colleges have been able to increase tuition faster than inflation, year after year, secure in the knowledge they can rake in ever-rising government subsidies and skyrocketing tuition. College students are learning less and less even as education spending has risen. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has de-emphasized the teaching of practical skills needed in manufacturing.

Using faulty math (and assuming interest rates will stay low forever), the Obama administration has given this costly income-based repayment program a ridiculously low price tag of just a few billion. (In one of its computations, it falsely assumed the poverty level — the level of income exempted from repayment under its income-based repayment plan – never would increase because of inflation, even though it rises along with inflation, just like wages do.)


Only 7% of Detroit Public-School 8th Graders Proficient in Reading

In the public schools in Detroit, Mich., according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 7 percent of the eighth graders are grade-level proficient or better in reading.

Some public school teachers in the City of Detroit and around the state of Michigan are reportedly taking a vacation or a sick day today to protest right-to-work legislation likely to be approved by the state legislature. Under current law, Michigan public school teachers must pay dues to the teachers’ union. If the right-to-work law is enacted, Michigan public-school teachers will be free to join the union and pay dues to it if they wish, but they will also be free not to join the union and not to pay it dues.

Detroit public-school eighth graders do even worse in math than they do in reading, according to the Department of Education. While only 7 percent scored highly enough on the department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress test in 2011 to be rated “proficient” or better in reading, only 4 percent scored highly enough to be rated “proficient” or better in math.

Statewide in Michigan, only 32 percent of public-school eighth graders scored grade-level proficient or better in reading, and only 31 percent scored grade-level proficient or better in math.

68 percent of Michigan public-school eighth graders are not proficient in reading and 69 percent are not proficient in math.

Over the past decade, Michigan’s public school have shown no improvement at all in teaching children how to read. In 2002 just as in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 32 percent of Michigan public-school eighth graders scored proficient or better in reading.

The state’s public schools have made a slight improvement in teaching math. In 2000, only 28 percent of Michigan public-school eighth graders were proficient or better in math. By 2011, that had inched up to 31 percent.


British government: dock teachers' pay if they 'work to rule'

Teachers should have their pay docked if they “work to rule” in protests against the Government's school reforms, the Education Secretary has said.

In an escalation of tensions with trade unions, Michael Gove has written to head teachers urging a "robust reponse" towards all staff who take part in a new wave of industrial action.

The Cabinet minister condemned the “irresponsible” unions for telling teachers to stick narrowly to their job descriptions and refuse any extra tasks. This disrupts the education of children and causes long-term "damage to pupil outcomes", he said.

Mr Gove said pay can legitimately be docked from teachers who attempt this kind of behaviour, which he described as "damaging the reputation of the profession".

The Government’s relationship with the teaching unions has deteriorated since George Osborne outlined plans to link teachers' pay to classroom standards in the Autumn Statement last week.

The unions are already angry at the Government’s “erosion of working conditions and pay” and ministers’ “daily criticisms” of the profession.

The NUT and NASUWT unions have advised teachers they can legally refuse to cover colleagues' sickness absence, submit lesson plans, allow more than three hours of observation per year or write more than one school report per year.

However, the Education Secretary yesterday told head teachers that staff in unions who take this action are likely to be in breach of their contracts.

He published legal advice to teachers and a letter from his department saying that docking up to a day's pay is a "proportionate" response.   "The legal position is clear: teachers who are following this industrial action are very likely to be in breach of their contracts,” the Education Secretary wrote.   “Pay deductions represent a lawful response, and the advice sets out how deductions can be made in a proportionate and reasonable way.”

He condemned the unions for causing "unnecessary disruptions" to children's educations.   “I would be very grateful if you could support your school in taking a robust response, including through pay deductions where appropriate," he wrote.   “I am convinced that by working together in a coordinated way we can protect the pupils, parents, teachers and headteachers who would otherwise suffer because of this irresponsible industrial action.”

A few schools have already seen their teachers work to rule over Mr Gove's education reforms, leading to further strikes in some cases.

More than 15 teachers took part in a separate one-day strike at Westfield Sports Academy in Sheffield because teachers had not being told in advance exactly what time observations of their lessons would take place.   Seven members of the NASUWT union have also walked out of Dunston Primary School for two days in protest at the “intrusive and unnecessary” monitoring of their teaching.

Last night, teaching unions reacted angrily to Mr Gove’s letter.  Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said|: "The Secretary of State is recklessly encouraging schools to take punitive action against teachers on the basis of advice which is littered with caveats and ambiguities.   "It demonstrates quite clearly that the Secretary of State is unable to state categorically that any action being taken by NASUWT and NUT members is in breach of contract.   "In the light of this, any school which acts on his advice leaves itself vulnerable to extensive and expensive litigation and escalation of industrial action."

Mr Gove is now reportedly considering new anti-strike laws to challenge the right of teachers to take industrial action.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Competition and free thought: Friedman, Mill, and educational choice

John Stuart Mill’s ideas on education are not as well known as Milton Friedman’s. But they may deserve to be. Mill and Friedman agreed that government should not run schools, but for different reasons. (At least each emphasized different things.) Friedman was mainly concerned with productivity improvements that arise through competition. Mill was more concerned with freedom of thought. Mill valued the diversity of opinion that comes from people pursuing their own intellectual journeys, and all compulsion in opinion was anathema to him. The consequences of state schooling in America suggest Friedman and Mill were correct.

School Productivity

The public schools are a productivity disaster. In principle, public schools should thrive in the Information Age. Schools are in the information business, tasked with inculcating knowledge, and the processing and distribution of information has been vastly accelerated by interconnected computing technologies. Moreover, schools should benefit from the Flynn effect—the pattern cognitive psychologists have observed in which aggregate IQ rises a little bit each generation.

And schools are getting more money, too. In real terms, school spending per pupil rose from $2,835 in 1961–62 to $10,694 in 2008–09, according to the National Center for Education Statistics—a 177 percent increase. Yet SAT scores for college-bound seniors are stagnant. High school graduation rates seem to have hit a plateau, and high school graduates are less prepared for college than ever. Better raw material, more money, new technology—and yet no improvement.

The state education system is centrally planned and run by committees, so choice and competition are lost from the system. Stagnation is therefore inevitable. Where market forces prevail, productivity improvement is normal. Computers and cell phones are vastly better than they were twenty years ago. Cars and planes less dramatically so, but they are safer, more fuel-efficient and have new features. In the energy sector, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has vastly increased the supply of fossil fuels, so that the United States may become a net energy exporter within the next couple of decades. Less innovative sectors can still use technologies invented in other industries to raise productivity (e.g., by lowering their energy costs or improving their logistics) if competitive market forces are at work. But productive innovation is difficult and competition is the best school in which to learn it. Public schools don’t go to that school, so the schools fail to learn.

Poor public schools are a major bottleneck holding back the entire U.S. economy. The recent increase in inequality has been driven not by capital but by labor income, as Saez and Piketty stress. This reflects sharply rising demand for certain kinds of skilled, educated workers, combined with little supply response. The public schools and universities are unable and/or unwilling to train the kinds of people the market wants. Eric Brynjolffson argues in his book Race Against the Machine that workers are unable to keep up with new technology.

The fact that wages of high school graduates have fallen is a painful remark about how much the market values what the public schools produce. In spite of these high labor premiums, college completion rates among men have actually fallen. College is overregulated and oversubsidized, and there is too much power in the hands of accreditation agencies answerable to the Department of Education. But there is still far more competition and choice there than at the K–12 level. Thanks to competition, the U.S. university system is generally regarded as the best in the world and as an important source of U.S. economic competitiveness. Of course, the top universities—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc.—are private. And the consensus in academia is that universities would be equipped to produce many more bright college graduates if the public schools provided more students with basic skills.

Milton Friedman wanted to make K–12 education more like the university system through vouchers. Under a voucher system, financing K–12 education would still be the government’s job, but running K–12 education would be opened up to competition and largely privatized. Each student’s family would get a certain dollar value’s worth of vouchers, which could only be spent on education. “Government” schools would get their money by collecting the vouchers of students who chose to attend them and converting those to cash through the government. Direct financing of public schools through the government budget would be curtailed or eliminated. Meanwhile, vouchers could also be used to pay for private school tuition.

Today, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice seeks to “advance Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children.” Voucher programs have been adopted in several countries, including free-market Chile and social-democratic Sweden. In the United States, there has been progress in overcoming legal challenges to school vouchers (especially Zelman v. Simmons-Harris), and voucher programs have been adopted in cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee and states like Indiana. Where tried, vouchers have improved educational outcomes, just as economic theory says they should.


British government to relax rules on foreign students

Foreign PhD will be allowed to stay in Britain after completing their degrees but Britain will take further steps to "root out abuses" by fake ones trying to get visas, Theresa May said today.

In a key speech, the Home Secretary said foreign PhD students will be allowed to stay in the UK for a year after their studies to encourage more talented immigrants to remain in Britain.

But she will also roll out more face-to-face interviews for overseas applicants, which could make it more difficult for them to get permission to study in the UK in the first place.

Mrs May is trying to bring down immigration to tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands. She said today immigration can increase pressure on property prices and reduce wages for low earners. High immigration can make it difficult to have an integrated society, she added.

In an interview with the Financial Times last night, she also hit out at universities, saying they have a responsibility to make Britain more attractive to foreign students.

"The universities have got a job here as well in making sure that people actually understand that we're open for university students coming into the UK," she told the newspaper. "There's a job here not just for the government, I think there's a job for the universities as well to make sure that people know that we are open."

The Home Secretary is also expected to address concerns about tough visa restrictions on Chinese tourists, with plans to roll out more online applications and offer forms in Mandarin.

There have been a number of rows within the Coalition about immigration policy, with accusations that the Home Office's tough restrictions are holding back growth.

Sources said Mrs May, the Prime Minister, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, have now reached an agreement on sounding more welcoming to students at the same time as remaining tough over security concerns.

Some cabinet ministers have backed university chancellors who argue that including legitimate students in net migration figures is driving them to other countries and deterring billions of pounds in investment.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, has also attacked the Government's "crazy" policies on immigration for throttling tourism and discouraging students.

There has been mounting concern about the shifting attitude towards foreign students since London Met University was stripped of its right to teach foreign students.

The Home Office has cracked down on bogus colleges letting in immigrants pretending to be students as part of a drive to being down immigration to the tens rather than hundreds of thousands.


British private school fees are often subsidized -- for promising students from poor families in particular

The great taboo topic among parents of children at private schools is how (or by whom) the fees are being paid. Looking around the room at their first parents' evening, many of the mothers and fathers will be wondering what arrangements their contemporaries have come to with the bursar, and the common conversational opening gambit of "What do you do for a living?" is often no more than a coded version of "How on Earth are you paying the fees?"

In fact, any such evening will be well populated with those who have done their homework - and made sure that their offspring have done theirs - in order to benefit from bursaries and scholarships.

According to the latest figures from the Independent Schools Council, one third of the children at private schools are being educated at a reduced cost of one kind or another: because they are receiving a grant, or because the school is giving them a bursary. And head teachers report that the number of parents applying for assisted places has trebled in the past six years, as the outlook in the economy has remained grim.

In recent decades the rise in private school fees has far outstripped any rise in wages in most professions, so that whole groups of society for whom private education had been an accepted part of the lifestyle now find themselves struggling to afford it.

But while fees have been rising, so have the sums available to pay them. The amount of money available through bursaries has increased by 11.4 per cent in the past two years, comfortably ahead of the official rate of inflation.

Charitable grants for educational expenses are another possibility worth pursuing: these are often tied to parents in specific careers or professions.

Parents who wish to benefit from scholarships, bursaries or grants will, however, have to prove that their need is genuine and that they have exhausted every other avenue of assitance.

They should prepare for searching questions from school Bursars, and should expect bank and mortgage statements to be inspected. The financial circumstances of the children's grandparents may also be called into question.

But the support is there to be taken up: it is in the interests of most private schools to attract intelligent and hardworking pupils by any means at their disposal, in order to maintain a high placing in the academic league tables so they can continue to attract those parents who can afford the full amount. And the great benefit for head teachers is that they get to choose the children who will be eligible for scholarships and bursaries on ability and attitude, rather than weight of cheque.

As Andrew Halls, head of King's College School, Wimbledon, puts it: "Most good schools will bend over backwards to take the pupils they want."


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The £100,000 degree: Middle class British graduates face repaying more than three times the cost of fees

There is seldom any mention on this subject of why British students need loans at all.  I paid all my son's fees up front so he emerged with zero debt.  And I am not halfway to Obama's definition of "rich".  I would have thought that many British middle-income people would also pay upfront.  Clearly, the fees are very high relative to average British disposable incomes.  Britain is a poor country -- in part because they are taxed to the eyeballs

When Universities Minister David Willetts trebled the cap on tuition fees, he said a graduate would earn an average of £100,000 more over a lifetime.  That figure appeared to justify many universities charging students £9,000 a year for their education.

But Government figures reveal that the £100,000 benefit could be completely wiped out for thousands of middle-class graduates.

Graduates who go on to get a middle-income job could see the cost of their loan rocket by more than three times the total of the fees as a result of interest charges.

That enormous debt compares with repayments of as little as £42,000 for the richest graduates, who earn enough to repay their loans quickly, and repayments of zero for some of the poorest graduates, who will eventually have their debts wiped after 30 years because they have never earned enough to begin paying them back.

Taking into account living costs, the average student debt is  predicted to hit £53,000 by graduation.

The landmark £100,000 figure, revealed in Government documents, includes the interest piled on to the debt for some graduates during the time it takes them to repay the loan. It is far higher than the £70,000 it was previously estimated students would end up paying back over their lifetimes.

A graduate’s monthly repayments depend on their earnings and are currently set at 9 per cent of income above £21,000 a year, regardless  of the interest rate or size of  the loan.

Government figures show almost 300,000 students – 70 per cent of those studying – who started  university in the autumn will eventually repay between £65,000  and £85,000.

Those who go into high-paying jobs such as medicine, finance and law will pay back less because they will start to pay off their debts sooner.

Around 20 per cent of graduates with the lowest lifetime earnings will never come close to repaying their fees and the debt will be  written off after 30 years.

But around 10 per cent of students who are in the ‘squeezed middle’ and go on to middle-income jobs could end up paying between £85,000 and £100,000.

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s business spokesman, said: ‘Students will never forgive this Government for hiking up the costs of going to university. These figures show that, as ever, it is middle and lower-income families who are being hit hardest.’

Liam Burns, president of  the National Union of Students, said: ‘It is shocking that politicians treat the potential of a generation before they have even started their working career with such nonchalance.’

University applications in England fell by 9.9 per cent this year after the higher rate of tuition fees was introduced in October.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: ‘The Government’s reforms have made the university system fairer and more progressive.

‘Most new students will not pay upfront, there will be more  financial support for those from poorer families and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do now once they are in well paid jobs.


Mexico: Nieto proposes sweeping education reform

President Enrique Pena Nieto is proposing sweeping reforms to a public education system widely seen as moribund, taking on an iron-fisted union leader who is considered the country's most powerful woman and the main obstacle to change.

Flanked by the leaders of Mexico's three major political parties, Pena Nieto said Monday that he would send the initiative to Congress within hours to create a professional system for hiring, evaluating and promoting teachers without the "discretionary criteria" currently used in a system where teaching positions are often bought or inherited.

The plan, with multi-party support, moves much of the control of the public education system to the federal government from the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers, led for 23 years by union president Elba Esther Gordillo, who under current law hires and fires teachers and has been accused of using union funds as her personal pocket book.

The proposal requires constitutional reform, meaning it would have to be ratified by Congress and at least 16 of Mexico's 31 states.

"It's time to open the door for the great educators of our country," Pena Nieto said. "The reform would give constitutional status to the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education and give it autonomy."

It was Pena Nieto's first major proposal since taking office Dec. 1 and is considered a political blow to Gordillo, who has played the role of kingmaker with many Mexican politicians.

She was conspicuously absent from the public announcement and did not respond immediately to an Associated Press request for an interview.


Australia:  $1m to help education workers feel good despite Baillieu Government job cuts

No word on whether there was any evident benefit

EDUCATION workers have undergone "emotional intelligence" sessions on coping with change under the Baillieu Government.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which is axing more than 400 jobs to meet savings under the Government's "sustainable government initiative", has spent more than $1 million on workshops and training sessions since March last year.

About 25 per cent of the money was spent on 103 workshops, seminars and training dealing with change, documents released under Freedom of Information reveal.

The courses included Recognising and Managing Stressed Employees, Managing Change and Building Resilience, Leading Through Change, Coping with and Managing Through Change and Understanding and Coping With Change.

In October the department paid $56,000 for career support seminars to help staff manage their careers and apply for jobs.

It also spent $62,700 on a two-day workshop titled Managing With Emotional Intelligence.

Shadow parliamentary secretary for education Colin Brooks said running workshops on managing with emotional intelligence at the same time as cutting the education system and sacking hundreds of staff seemed ludicrous.

"The hundreds of education staff losing their jobs won't feel like holding hands and singing Kumbayah at one of these workshops," he said.

Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said sending people on the courses "just shows complete insensitivity".

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said: "Professional development is central to building a world-leading education system."


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MA: High school’s condom fliers prompt review by principal

The principal of a Massachusetts high school is reviewing a school-sanctioned sexual education course after a parent complained that a flier about the class advocated condom use.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield High School Principal Tracey Benson received the complaint from parent Bruce Radke, who saw a list of 32 phrases -- described as “Condom Sayings” -- that was passed out to about 15 students, including Radke’s daughter Aleisha, a junior at the school.

The flier reportedly included sayings such as "Practice safe sex -- make love with a Trojan" and "Condoms are easier to change then [sic] diapers."

"It has no finesse at all," Radke said. "It’s too blunt and ignorant."

The educational material is now under review, the paper reports.

The class – which requires parental consent -- is designed to help young girls, ages 15 to 18, avoid pregnancy, while increasing their educational career aspirations.

Sarah Gillooly, an employee of Girls Inc. who holds a sexuality education certificate from Planned Parenthood, said the fliers’ sexually explicit phrases are meant to engage the young women in conversation. Gillooly teaches the sex education class, which is provided at Pittsfield High by Girls Inc.

"It can’t continue the way it is," said Benson, who said he already has met with Gillooly and will review the sex education material before the holiday break, according to the Berkshire Eagle.


Schools should axe citizenship lessons and teach more British history, say MPs as they bid to halt decline in the subject

Schools should axe Labour’s citizenship classes and devote more time to British history studies, MPs will say today.

The idea is one of a string of measures being put forward to reverse the decline in history teaching which has seen the subject all but disappear in state schools in some parts of the country.

Research by the All-Party History Group found that fewer than 30 per cent of 16-year-olds in state schools were entered for the GCSE in 2010, compared with 55 per cent of pupils in grammar schools and 48 per cent in private schools.  In one local authority area – Knowsley, in Merseyside – just four pupils passed the exam.

MPs said schools should be allowed to replace citizenship classes with history. Citizenship was introduced as a compulsory subject a decade ago.  Pupils study topics such as crime, justice and politics, and how to be an ‘active citizen’ by voting and taking part in society.  But critics say it is often poorly taught and of little value.

The group said there was a ‘wide educational divide in this country when it comes to studying history’, with teaching of the subject becoming concentrated in affluent areas.

In more deprived areas the subject is often ‘neglected or ignored’, with some head teachers shunning it because it is seen as difficult.

The cross-party group is calling on Education Secretary Michael Gove to introduce a series of measures to boost history teaching.

Last year Mr Gove expressed his horror at a survey that found that half of English 18 to 24-year-olds did not know that Nelson led the Royal Navy to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, with a similar proportion unaware that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.

Today’s report warns that children are taught too narrow a range of history, often learning about the Second World War and the Tudors several times during their school careers.

Even where a broader range of topics is taught, it is often done in a disjointed way, giving children little idea of how events in the past relate to one another. The report calls for the introduction of a new British history qualification at 16, which would look at the subject in chronological order.

MPs heard that making history compulsory to the age of 16 would be difficult because it would require a trebling of the number of history teachers. But they urged ministers to work towards the goal.

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, vice-chairman of the All-Party History Group, said: ‘An understanding of British history is vitally important for our national identity and understanding where we came from and where we are going.

‘I would prefer history to be compulsory to 16, as it is in most western countries, but for the moment, we should ensure that every pupil, regardless of background, gets the chance to study British history across a span of centuries.’


British government on 'war footing' with teaching unions expected to launch industrial action over pay as minister  considers new anti-strike laws

Michael Gove is considering new anti-strike laws as he moves onto a ‘war footing’ with teaching unions who are expected to launch industrial action over the end of national pay deals.

Under the reforms announced last week, teachers’ annual rises of around £2,000 will be scrapped and head teachers given almost complete freedom to dictate salary increases based on performance in the classroom.

The Education Secretary believes the reform, allowing heads to reward the best teachers and freeze the pay of the least effective, would improve state education and make teaching a more attractive career choice for high-fliers.

But union barons have raised the prospect of industrial action, swiftly condemning the move as ‘disastrous’ and ‘unfair’ to long-serving staff.

A senior source at the Department for Education said the measures under consideration include legislation to make it more difficult to call strikes, challenging strikes in the courts possibly including the European Court of Human Rights, and making it easier for academies to sack sub-standard staff.

The source told The Sunday Times: ‘Gove’s team and officials have been working on this for 18 months. He regards giving heads the power to pay good teachers more as one of the fundamental pillars of the new system’.

Mr Gove’s department is said to be moving onto a ‘war footing’ as the minister made it clear internally that ‘he is prepared for the unions to have an all-out strike and that there will be no back-tracking'.

Currently teachers start on a salary of £21,588 and receive a virtually-guaranteed eight per cent pay rise annually in their early years.

The figures are set by national pay bargaining and teachers move up the main pay scale according to length of service in the classroom.

The system has meant that long-serving but under-performing teachers are paid the same as more capable colleagues.

Under proposed reforms, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in last week’s Autumn Statement, head teachers would in theory be able to promote a teacher from a starting salary to the maximum £51,000 in just six months.

The move - which will be put out to consultation - strikes at the heart of national pay bargaining and severely weakens the power of teaching unions.

Detailed national pay scales for teachers will be ripped up and replaced with three broad pay bands - starting at £21,804, £34,523 and £37,836 for teachers outside London.

It follows a report from the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) which recommended more freedom for schools to set pay. National pay arrangements for civil servants, prison officers and NHS staff will continue.

Heads will also be able to withhold the one per cent pay rise due for all public sector workers in 2013/14 and 2014/15. Only those on the lowest salaries will be guaranteed the increase.

The National Union of Teachers claim that the proposals ‘shake our pay arrangements to their foundations’ and will ‘lead to unnecessary conflict between heads and teachers.’

Its leader Christine Blower and Chris Keates of the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) are meeting this week to discuss their response to the pay overhaul.

They have mandates for full strikes following ballots of their 430,000 members in England. Miss Blower said strike action ‘remains an option but it will be a last resort.’

The Department for Education source added: ‘A full national strike is regarded as a price worth paying to change the culture and break the destructive power of Keates and Blower. Resources are being moved internally to prepare for strikes. Lawyers are being discreetly spoken to.'


Monday, December 10, 2012

Problem British pupils to be given military-style training by ex-soldiers

Badly behaved pupils face being given military-style boot camp training under Government plans to draft former soldiers into schools, it was revealed today

Ex-servicemen will be employed to help instil teamwork, discipline and leadership skills among children expelled from mainstream education, it was announced.

Four projects - drawing on the expertise of former members of the Armed Forces - will be given taxpayer funding as part of a œ1.9 million programme designed to raise standards among difficult pupils.

The Government said it would lead to the use of "military-style obstacle courses to engage and motivate hard-to-reach pupils and help them understand how to transfer the elements which helped them succeed in the classroom".

Ex-servicemen will also take part in one-to-one mentoring to help pupils address behaviour issues, run a range of indoor and outdoor team-building exercises and build confidence among primary schoolchildren about to make the step into secondary education.

It is the latest in a series of moves designed to bolster links between the Armed Forces and schools.  Ministers have already expanded the number of school-based cadet forces and pledged almost œ11m to train former members of the Army, Navy and RAF as teachers.

Teachers' leaders have criticised the deployment of ex-servicemen in the classroom, suggesting that schools risk being used as recruitment grounds for the Armed Forces.  But Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said pupils - particularly those expelled from mainstream school - could benefit from the "values of a military ethos".

It comes amid fears over a gulf in standards between excluded pupils and their peers. Last year, only 1.5 per cent of pupils in alternative education achieved at least five good GCSE including English and maths - about 40 times worse than children in mainstream schooling.

Mr Gove said: "Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.  "Self-discipline and teamwork are at the heart of what makes our Armed Forces the best in the world - and are exactly what all young people need to succeed.   "Exclusion from school should never mean exclusion from education.

"These projects are helping pupils in alternative provision reach their full potential and are helping to close the attainment gap."

According to the Government, some œ600,000 of funding will go to Cheshire-based Commando Joes', an organisation providing trained mentors for pupils in schools in the most deprived parts of Britain.

Another œ700,000 has been awarded to Challenger Troop in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, to provide leadership training for "disengaged pupils" aged eight to 16.

Knowsley Skills Academy has received œ400,000 to provide pupils with a programme of physical activities, team-building and work-related tuition to prepare them for post-16 education or employment.   Newcastle-based SkillForce was awarded œ200,000 to provide a programme of outdoor challenges, focusing on secondary schools and feeder primaries.

Mike Hamilton, a former bomb disposal expert and director of Commando Joes', said: "We teach children the skills we learned in the army. Not everyone wants to be a soldier, but the skills we learn in the military are brilliant and I think anybody can use them in any job."
He added: "The instructors are all ex-military personnel - they are role models and kids look up to and aspire to be like them.

"When we go to a school playground children hang on every word. "In some of the  deprived areas we work in, young people have not got grassy areas or anywhere to go. When they come to our sessions they get a chance to socialise in a different way, to be part of a team."


Excluded British pupils find few opportunities outside mainstream state school

Thousands of pupils excluded from state schools are being deprived of the opportunity to gain qualifications that would help them build a future, according to children's campaigners.

Permanent exclusion has always been the ultimate sanction for headteachers, subject to a final appeals process. Last year, there were 5,080 permanent exclusions from state schools. Since September, however, new legislation has made it much harder for parents and carers of excluded children to reverse a school's decision or get it removed from a child's records.

Many schools are reluctant to offer a place to a child who has been excluded from a nearby school as they have a duty to protect pupils from others who may be disruptive. Most excluded children are sent to local-authority-run Pupil Referral Units (PRU), where places cost upwards of œ16,000 a year, compared with around œ4,500 for a place at a mainstream school. In spite of the high cost, PRU pupils are only able to take a limited range of courses.

The units provide a limited careers service and no sixth-form facilities. Despite supportive teachers, bad behaviour is often the norm and vulnerable children are free to mix with other disruptive pupils.

A study by the independent thinktank, Demos, found that only 1% of excluded children received the equivalent of five A* to C grades at GCSE level, compared with 70% of pupils who remained in school. According to the Department of Education, pupils with special educational needs are around nine times more likely to be excluded permanently. Children who are eligible for free school meals are almost four times more likely.

Scout Pedley, 15, was expelled last month from Swakeleys School, Uxbridge, for persistent breaches of the school behaviour code, which included, she says, wearing non-regulation trousers, swearing at a teacher and banging a school door violently. She had been on track to get 13 GCSEs and was in the top 20% of her year group. Her appeal has been rejected and she is now at a Pupil Referral Unit.

This means that, just months before sitting her GCSEs, she has run into a major roadblock. "I am taking Maths, English - trying to get a science - ICT, art and that's it. It's gone from 13 GCSEs to four or five. I have a lot more free time and they don't give out homework. I still want to be an accountant. It's just going to be harder."

Sarah Hannett, the director of the City University/Matrix School Exclusion Project, which provides free legal representation to parents of children who have been excluded, says: "It's a scandal. A disproportionate number of excluded pupils have special needs, or are in care. Plus, kids simply can't get a new place that gives them full access to the curriculum."

Scout says she "wasn't an angel" but says "doesn't deserve to be put in this situation". Her mother, Mandie, says: "She just wants to go back to school, finish her exams and leave at end of year 11, go to college and carry on. Obviously, that's been blown out of the window. You only get one shot at it."


Australia: Students drop old uniforms to conform to political correctness

SCHOOLS are abandoning skirts and tunics for girls in favour of unisex shorts and skorts as part of an overhaul of the traditional student uniform.

The Parents and Citizens Association claims the move is being driven by Gen X and Y parents who want to remove gender bias from the playground.

The Department of Education claims the change is due to teachers wanting girls to be able to play freely in the playground.

However, not all parents are happy with the proposed new look with the many wanting schools to retain a uniform for girls.

A survey of schools by The Sunday Telegraph has found scores of schools preparing to adopt a unisex uniform in the next two years, with some having already made the changeover.

The majority are state public schools, with independent and Catholic schools sticking with the traditional attire.

Parents of students at Winston Hills Public School are being asked to comment on the proposed new look, which the school plans to make mandatory by 2014.

The proposed new uniform to be worn during the warmer months features a polo shirt and shorts for both sexes.

Sussex Inlet Public School on the south coast has also gone unisex with girls wearing culottes and skorts while Kanwal Public School and Wyong Public School are also offering alternate uniforms. The shift was being driven by parents who wanted to remove gender bias from the classroom P and C regional spokeswoman Sharryn Brownlee said.

"It is an incredibly divisive issue. Some parents still believe little girls should look like little girls," she said.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of 'informational texts'

American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.  A new school curriculum which will affect 46 out of 50 states will make it compulsory for at least 70 per cent of books studied to be non-fiction, in an effort to ready pupils for the workplace.

Books such as JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by "informational texts" approved by the Common Core State Standards.

Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California's Invasive Plant Council.

The new educational standards have the backing of the influential National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and are being part-funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jamie Highfill, a teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Arkansas, told the Times that the directive was bad for a well-rounded education.  "I'm afraid we are taking out all imaginative reading and creativity in our English classes.   "In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn't it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?"

Supporters of the directive argue that it will help pupils to develop the ability to write concisely and factually, which will be more useful in the workplace than a knowledge of Shakespeare.


British educational establishment 'blocking progress in maths'

Long division and times tables risk becoming taboo subjects in primary schools because of “resistance” to traditional teaching methods, a former education minister has warned.   Pupils are struggling to develop a fluency in mathematics after being denied the chance to practice basic sums at a young age, it was claimed.

Nick Gibb, the ex-Schools Minister, suggested that learning times tables by heart was necessary to enable children to tackle more challenging topics at secondary school.    But he warned that the methods were viewed as “stultifying” by the educational establishment, potentially acting as a bar on progress in the classroom.

The comments – in an article for as part of our Make Britain Count campaign – come after the publication of a proposed new maths curriculum for primary schools in England.   Under the plans, five and six year-olds will be expected to count up to 100, recognise basic fractions and memorise the results of simple sums by the end of the first year of compulsory education.

By the age of nine, pupils should know all their times tables up to 12x12 and confidently work with numbers up to 10 million by the end of primary school, it was recommended.  Currently, children only need to know up to 10x10 and familiarise themselves with numbers below 1,000 by the age of 11.  It represents a dramatic toughening up of requirements in primary school maths.

But Mr Gibb, who oversaw the proposals before being moved out of the Department for Education in September’s Government reshuffle, said he was concerned that teaching unions were attempting to oppose the proposals.

He said the best primary schools placed an emphasis on complex addition, subtraction and multiplication but there was “strong resistance to the teaching and practice of traditional algorithms amongst many in the educational establishment”.

Mr Gibb, the Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: “On one side of the argument are those who believe that primary school teachers should put more emphasis on the teaching and understanding of mathematical concepts and less emphasis on the techniques or algorithms of calculation.

“Traditionalists, on the other hand, believe that by being taught the algorithms with a lot of practice children not only become fluent and confident in calculation they also develop an understanding of the concepts underlying those calculations as familiar patterns emerge from practice.”

The Telegraph launched the Make Britain Count campaign designed to highlight the scale of the mathematical crisis in Britain and provide parents with tools to boost their children’s numeracy.


What makes a kid do well at school?

Surprise!  They have discovered that children from prosperous middle class families tend to become  prosperous middle class adults!

KIDS who have a special space to do their homework, own lots of books and visit and talk about museums, galleries and films with their parents will push their way to the head of the class.

Research into parents' influence over children's learning has found mums and dads - possibly more so than teachers - are key to their success.

And parents should not be paranoid about their own level of schooling.

The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth report showed taking an active interest and showing a love of learning is what kids need far more than a parent who understands calculus.

Teachers should talk to parents about the best ways to encourage and motivate learning.

Mums and dad should talk to their kids about class, books and films, school subject choices, their dream careers, and what was expected of them at school.

Other suggestions included making learning fun, linking school work with current events, creating a homework area to study in, providing books and newspapers to read, taking children to museums, libraries, galleries, talks and performances and making sure there were family nights together.

Research found that a child with an engaged parent had an advantage that was equivalent to an extra $1000 in resources and improved results that were comparable to a student whose parents had an additional four to six years of education behind them.

Results included higher grades, making advanced classes, lower dropout rates and greater likelihood of tertiary study.

Schools with strong family involvement were four times more likely to improve student reading and 10 times more likely to improve maths results.

But volunteering at school had little impact, and parents demanding high achievement can actually damage a child's self esteem and result in their marks plummeting.

The report will be examined by Schools Minister Peter Garrett, who wants every school in the country to draw up a plan of how they will better connect with parents under federal Gonski reforms.

Parents were the "missing link in education", Mr Garrett said.