Friday, July 12, 2013

Parents' fury after schoolchildren living in British town popular with eastern European migrants are taught song in Lithuanian

Angry parents have launched a protest over a primary school's plans to make their children sing songs in Lithuanian and Polish.

A third of pupils at the Peckover Primary School in Wisbech - a Cambridgeshire town popular with eastern European families - are from migrant backgrounds, but some parents claim their children came home in floods of tears because they did not understand the words to the songs.

Children were being taught the lyrics for an upcoming international singing festival, but mother Clare Eve, 48, who has launched a petition in protest, said: 'The whole school is getting taken over by these cultures and I don't think it's right.'

A total of 23 parents have signed Ms Eve's petition protesting at the content of the 'inclusive' festival, due to take place next week at Peckover's new theatre.

The parents backing the campaign insist their objections to the foreign lyrics are not racist, and say they have a right to complain if their children are upset.

'It's being forced on our children,' Ms Eve said. 'They're only eight-years-old - it's a struggle to learn their own language let alone goodness knows what else.

'When I saw the song list I could not believe it. My son brought the song list home when he wasn't supposed to,' she claimed.

'The school hadn't actually told anybody the true meaning of what the children were doing.

'Children don't know what they are singing about but if we complain we are accused of being racist, and yet this isn't the case,' said Ms Eve, who said she was 'all for' children learning languages.  'My little girl goes to German club,' she said.

'If your child is upset then surely you have the right for freedom of speech to voice your opinion.

'It's happening all the time - at Christmas a nearby infants' school had their nativity play in a foreign language. The parents said it was like being in another country.  'We don't want that here

'I wouldn't have objected if all the Lithuanian kids had sung a Lithuanian song and all the Polish kids sung a Polish song. That would have been different,' said the 48-year-old, who has two children, Alfie, nine, and Libby, eight.

Tamara Meldrum, who also has a child at the primary school, said: 'They’re not even teaching them what it means, at least that would make some sense, but as it stands the children have no idea why they are being forced to do it.'

Peckover sent a letter home to parents inviting them to the festival, which will also see children don the national dress of countries including Germany and Greece, on July 15.

The headteacher last week asked for parents’ support at the 'pioneering' International Singing Festival.  The letter read: 'We are all very excited to hold this event, which has been made possible by a grant from the Cambridge Culture Project Funding, for which we had managed to secure the funds.

'It will be a wonderful occasion, enabling the children to perform the songs that they have enjoyed learning and singing in English and other languages, representative of children at our school.  'We really hope you will support us in this pioneering event,' it said.

Today the school said pupils had been taught the meaning of the Lithuanian song and that children would not be forced to take part if parents objected.

A spokesperson said: 'The children have spent time learning the words and understanding what they mean with the help of our excellent teaching staff and language and music specialists.  'We have made sure that children understand what they are singing about and that they learn to appreciate other cultures.

'Children have been keen and enthusiastic to take part in this inclusive community event.

'We have made alternative arrangements for pupils of parents not wishing their child to take part in the concert to remain at Peckover Primary school, for the hour during which the concert takes place.'

Show Racism the Red Card, an anti-racism educational charity, backed the singing festival.  A spokesman said: 'We believe that there is tremendous value in celebrating multiculturalism and diversity in schools.

'We accept that the Lithuanian language may present a challenge to some young people; however we are sure that the focus of the teachers is to encourage participation rather than linguistic accuracy.'

English will be represented at the singing festival by the song Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music.


Number of Homeschoolers Growing throughout America

Researchers are expecting a surge in the number of students educated at home by their parents over the next ten years as more families spurn public schools.

As the dissatisfaction among parents with the U.S. education system grows, so too does the number of homeschoolers in America. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75%. Although currently the percentage of homeschooled children is only 4% of all school children nationwide, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year.

Despite the growth of homeschooling of late, concerns about the quality of education offered to the kids by their parents persist. But the consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams, one of the most celebrated benefits of homeschooling, should be able to put those fears to rest. Homeschooling statistics show that those who are independently educated typically score between the 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren’t present in the homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity.
    Recent studies laud homeschoolers’ academic success, noting their significantly higher ACT-Composite scores as high schoolers and higher grade point averages as college students. Yet surprisingly, the average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.

College recruiters from the best schools in the United States aren’t slow to recognize homeschoolers’ achievements. Those from non-traditional education environments matriculate in colleges and attain a four-year degree at much higher rates than their counterparts from public and even private schools. Homeschoolers are actively recruited by schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Duke.

Nor do homeschoolers miss out on the so-called socialization opportunities, something considered a vital part of a traditional school environment and lacking in those who don’t attend regular schools. But it’s one of the surprising advantages of homeschooling that homeschooled kids tend to be more socially engaged than their peers, and according to the National Home Education Research Institute survey, demonstrate “healthy social, psychological, and emotional development, and success into adulthood.”
    Based on recent data, researchers such as Dr. Brian Ray ( “expect to observe a notable surge in the number of children being homeschooled in the next 5 to 10 years. The rise would be in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage of the K to 12 student population. This increase would be in part because:

[1] a large number of those individuals who were being home educated in the 1990s may begin to homeschool their own school-age children and

[2] the continued successes of home-educated students.”


"Teach for America" is doing too much good

Or so we gather from the Leftist perspective below

Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs. Last July, it earned Onion fame: an op-ed entitled “My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids,” followed by a student’s take, “Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?”

Despite the endless outcry, no one has ever staged a coordinated, national effort to overhaul, or put the brakes on, TFA—let alone anyone from within the TFA rank-and-file. On July 14, in a summit at the annual Free Minds/Free People education conference in Chicago, a group of alumni and corps members will be the first to do so.

The summit, billed as “Organizing Resistance Against Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” is being organized by a committee of scholars, parents, activists, and current corps members. Its mission is to challenge the organization’s centrality in the corporate-backed, market-driven, testing-oriented movement in urban education.

“The goal is to help attendees identify the resources they have as activists and educators to advocate for real, just reform in their communities,” says co-coordinator Beth Sondel, a 2004 TFA alum who is now a PhD student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin. Though the organizers don’t have pre-set goals, possible outcomes range from a push for school districts not to contract with TFA to counter-recruitment of potential corps members away from the program.

TFA’s resources are enormous. The organization’s total assets for the 2011 fiscal year topped $350 million. That includes eight-figure support from the Broad, Walton, and Gates Foundations, leading bankrollers of campaigns to privatize school districts and ramp up standardized testing. The TFA orbit is also growing. It now has more than 10,000 corps members in 48 regions, as well as more than 32,000 alumni. Districts pay thousands in fees to TFA for each corps member in addition to their salaries—at the expense of the existing teacher workforce. Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans cut 7,500 school staff, converted the majority of its schools to charters, and, between 2005 and 2010, saw its share of black teachers drop from 73 percent to 56 percent. Over the past five years, TFA expanded its Greater New Orleans corps from 85 teachers to 375.

For districts, charter schools and fast-tracked teachers are attractive alternatives to public schools staffed with unionized labor—especially under the well-financed push that TFA supports. As the organization grows, it cultivates leaders who align themselves with its pro-charter slant. Leadership for Educational Equity’s alumni resources, as well as its biggest names, trend toward a particular politics. The 11,000 alumni who attended TFA’s 20-year anniversary summit in 2011 got to hear from charter boosters ranging from Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada and StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston. TFA alums are principals at half of KIPP charter schools—which two alumni founded—and the majority of Achievement First schools. Of the corps members TFA claims remain in education after their two-year stint (a hotly contested figure), administrators and extracurricular leaders are included.

The Chicago summit builds on the gamut of student, teacher, and community resistance to TFA-aligned reform, including recent, successful pushback against TFA itself. In May, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton vetoed $1.5 million in funding for the organization, citing TFA’s already-loaded coffers. Three weeks later, the state’s Board of Teaching voted to deny TFA a group-based licensing variance, an extra hurdle for corps members to be allowed to teach. In April, prominent alumni played a key role in getting the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to tighten the training requirements for teachers of English language learners—which will directly impact corps members.

Within TFA, resistance is an uphill battle. The optimism that singular change agents can overcome poverty—successful teaching “requires all the same approaches that transformational leadership in any setting requires” and “there is nothing elusive about it,” as TFA founder and CEO Wendy Kopp puts it—is a powerful brand that crowds out dissent. Those who question this ideology are less likely to identify as TFA alums—and, in turn, less likely to invest in speaking out against TFA. Those who do speak out face narrower access to leadership pipelines within TFA’s political empire.

“One of the misperceptions of TFA is that accomplished alumni are successful because they’re so persistent, they’re so relentless,” says Janelle Scott, a 1991 corps member who studies reform politics as a professor at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. “What’s talked about less in public discourse is how deep alumni networks are that are largely invisible. Many alumni don’t feel that they a have a voice.”

Organized resistance among TFA teachers is limited to localized spaces like New Orleans’ New Teachers’ Roundtable, whose coordinators are helping organize the Chicago summit. The local roundtable was formed by a group of TFA teachers who felt that the organization didn’t prepare them for students dealing with trauma or connect them with teachers fighting for racial justice before the storm. “That really made a lot of us pretty incompetent,” says Derek Roguski, a 2008 corps member and summit organizer. “Without that training, we thought the best thing was to create conversations in our community, and between our community and the people who we work with in New Orleans.” The roundtable hosts “story circles,” modeled after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s, where white teachers and teachers of color share stories about the issues that they experience and witness.

The priority that TFA assigns to individual responsibility butts heads with this kind of teacher-community solidarity. Under the TFA model, “You’re not thinking collaboratively about what are we doing in these communities,” says Terrenda White, a 2002 corps member who interviews alumni as part of her PhD research at Columbia’s Teachers College. White recalls handing in her resignation letter the same week that she received her teaching credential. “I just felt like I had severed this sense of continuity,” she says. “Notions of community just did not fit with the way in which we were churned in and out.”

The summit is intended to be a kind of scaled-up roundtable with a political edge. The organizers emphasize that their purpose is not simply to call out TFA for inadequately training teachers—but to form a space for pushing back on the privatization movement that TFA anchors.

Within the boundaries of its five-week training model, TFA admits to imperfections in connecting teachers with their host communities. “Teach For America is still evolving in our approach to these issues,” says Heather Harding, a 1992 corps member who is now TFA’s senior vice president for community partnerships, special initiatives, research, and engagement. “TFA hasn’t always been willing to grapple with critical race issues but I have witnessed a significant shift in our actions over the last three years.” Harding points to a program on race and identity that the group piloted in last year’s Charlotte summer training that is being implemented nationwide this year.

The summit, she adds, is “an important step in having alumni ‘talk back’ to TFA leadership.” In a statement to the Prospect, TFA says that it won’t be sending any senior staff to the summit, as it feels that an “official presence could potentially inhibit…open, honest communication.” Still, Harding says, “I hope that they produce a paper or presentation that makes constructive suggestions to the organization so we can be held accountable to those dissenting voices in our community. I believe in the big tent approach and I know many of my colleagues do, too.”

TFA, like its 501(c)4 spin-off, persistently defends its political neutrality. Responding to an open letter this spring from prominent TFA alum and critic Gary Rubinstein, Kopp wrote, “Active and vocal alumni like you are proof that there’s no shortage of diverse opinion within the Teach For America community. But you’re right that we haven’t done enough to highlight ideological diversity and reach out to alumni who feel that their opinions aren’t welcome.”

Highlighting diversity, in and of itself, is small beans in a world ruled by elite networks and high finance. For TFA to put its money where its mouth is, it would have to reroute its financial and political connections, which are entrenched in a particular world of reform.

Though summit organizers say they’ll be happy if TFA engages with them, they stress that their purpose is to provide an autonomous space for elevating dissenting voices. “We really are thinking of this as a countermovement,” says co-coordinator Kerry Kretchmar, a 2006 TFA alum who now teaches education at Carroll College. “We hope, out of bringing these networks together, that we’re taking the first step.”


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Black Education Tragedy   

By: Walter Williams   

As if more evidence were needed about the tragedy of black education, Rachel Jeantel, a witness for the prosecution in the George Zimmerman murder trial, put a face on it for the nation to see. Some of that evidence unfolded when Zimmerman’s defense attorney asked 19-year-old Jeantel to read a letter that she allegedly had written to Trayvon Martin’s mother. She responded that she doesn’t read cursive, and that’s in addition to her poor grammar, syntax and communication skills.

Jeantel is a senior at Miami Norland Senior High School. How in the world did she manage to become a 12th-grader without being able to read cursive writing? That’s a skill one would expect from a fourth-grader. Jeantel is by no means an exception at her school. Here are a few achievement scores from her school: Thirty-nine percent of the students score basic for reading, and 38 percent score below basic. In math, 37 percent score basic, and 50 percent score below basic. Below basic is the score when a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his grade level. Basic indicates only partial mastery.

Few Americans, particularly black Americans, have any idea of the true magnitude of the black education tragedy. The education establishment might claim that it’s not their fault. They’re not responsible for the devastation caused by female-headed families, drugs, violence and the culture of dependency. But they are totally responsible for committing gross educational fraud. It’s educators who graduated Jeantel from elementary and middle school and continued to pass her along in high school. It’s educators who will, in June 2014, confer upon her a high-school diploma.

It’s not just Florida’s schools. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, nationally most black 12th-graders test either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math and science. Drs. Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom wrote in their 2004 book, “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” “Blacks nearing the end of their high school education perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography.” Little has changed since the book’s publication.

Drexel University history and political science professor George Ciccariello-Maher disapprovingly says that the reaction to Jeantel’s court performance “has been in terms of aesthetics, of disregarding a witness on the basis of how she talks, how good she is at reading and writing.” Harking back to Jim Crow days, he adds: “These are subtle things that echo literacy testing at the polls, echo the question of whether black Americans can testify against white people, of being always suspect in their testimony. It’s the same old dynamics emerging in a very different guise.”

Then there’s Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, who says: “Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it’s already dying, despite having been taught for decades.” That’s the kind of educational philosophy that accounts for much of our nation’s educational decline.

The educational system and black family structure and culture have combined to make increasing numbers of young black people virtually useless in the increasingly high-tech world of the 21st century. Too many people believe that pouring more money into schools will help. That’s whistlin’ “Dixie.” Whether a student is black or white, poor or rich, there are some minimum requirements that must be met in order to do well in school. Someone must make the student do his homework, see to it that he gets a good night’s sleep, fix a breakfast, make sure he gets to school on time and make sure he respects and obeys his teachers. Here are my questions: Which one of those requirements can be achieved through a higher school budget? Which can be achieved by politicians? If those minimal requirements aren’t met, whatever else is done is mostly for naught.

I hope Rachel Jeantel’s court performance is a wake-up call for black Americans about the devastation wrought by our educational system.


British Labour gets a history lesson: There were more unqualified teachers when party's education spokesman was in government   

The bitter row over allowing unqualified teachers today after it emerged the number of untrained staff in classrooms was higher under Labour.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is allowing academy schools to employ people with no formal teacher training but his Labour opponent Stephen Twigg has warned it risks damaging the quality of lessons.

But new figures released in parliament show there were more unqualified teachers in England and Wales when Mr Twigg was schools minister under Tony Blair.

The two parties have been locked in an increasingly angry dispute over whether good teachers need to pass exams before being allowed into schools.

Last year Mr Gove announced academies could employ staff without formal teaching qualifications, in line with freedoms enjoyed by free schools and the independent sector.

The Department for Education said the flexibility would more schools to hire ‘great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before’.

Labour opposes the plan, even though Mr Twigg and his colleague Tristram Hunt have boasted of ‘teaching’ in schools in their constituencies.

However, official figures show that the number of unqualified teachers in schools in England has fallen dramatically since the coalition was formed.

Embarrassingly, the data was requested by Labour frontbencher Kevin Brennan.

In 2005 there were 18,800 unqualified teachers in publicly-funded schools, accounting for 4.5 per cent of all teaching staff.

Mr Twigg was schools minister in Mr Blair’s government until he lost his seat at the May 2005 general election.

By 2010 there were 17,800 unqualified teachers, falling in 2012 to 14,800.

Mr Gove now believes 'Labour's education policy is a joke’ after attacking free schools but backing parent and teacher led academies and regularly teaching in schools.

A source close to the Education Secretary added: ‘Now it is revealed that when Labour was in Government and Stephen Twigg was education minister there were thousands more teachers without the certificate than there are now.

‘Every policy announcement from Stephen Twigg blows up in his face. It is madness to want to fire great teachers just because they don't have a union approved certificate or to stop brilliant teachers from private schools switching to state schools.'

However, Labour said the total number of teachers rose under Labour from almost 400,000 in 1997 to 448,000 in 2010, and has fallen by 6,000 since then.

Unqualified teachers were not allowed to be employed permanently in state-funded schools under Labour.

Mr Twigg said: ‘‘When Labour was in government, all teachers in state funded school had to become qualified. Michael Gove scrapped this rule.

‘Michael Gove is damaging school standards by allowing unqualified teachers to teach on a permanent basis in academies and Free Schools.

‘This means that there are now more than 5,300 unqualified teachers- an increase of more than 3,000 since November 2010- in academies and Free Schools. At the next General Election, Labour will offer a guarantee that all teachers in all state funded schools will in future have to have or work towards qualified status’.


Hebrew in UK Jewish schools given last-minute reprieve

British Jewry successfully fights part of the national curriculum overhaul which put in danger primary schools’ Hebrew programs

The British Jewish leadership has expressed relief after the government backtracked on a plan that would have made it difficult for Jewish schools to continue teaching Hebrew, Monday.

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, Anglo-Jewry’s representative organization, said he was “delighted” that the government took the community’s objections into account.

“The consequence of [the] decision is that it will be much easier to teach Ivrit within our schools,” he said.

In November 2012, the government launched a consultation on a suggestion to require primary schools to teach either French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek. Because Hebrew was not on the list, Jewish schools were concerned they would not have enough time to teach Ivrit properly as well, and that they could even be forced to drop it from the curriculum.

The department of education received 601 responses to the consultation, of whom a majority “were not in favour of the proposal for a set list of languages,” according to a February report. There were calls to include a range of languages in the list, including Japanese, Sanskrit, Arabic and Urdu, but by far the largest group – 226 respondents – specified “it was essential that Jewish schools had the option of choosing Hebrew as their foreign language.”

The Board of Deputies and the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools also made representations to the government.

On Monday, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said that he was dropping the proposal.

“We have noted the concerns expressed by organizations such as the Board of Deputies that it could narrow the scope of language teaching in primary schools,” he wrote in a letter to Wineman. “I have decided, therefore, not to proceed with making the proposed list a statutory requirement.”

Primary schools are now obligated to teach a foreign language between the ages of seven and 14, but are free to choose which one. The announcement was made as part of a wide overhaul of the national curriculum, which governs the material taught in state schools.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Toddlers' irregular bedtimes 'hit results at school': Children without a set routine aged three achieve lower scores in maths and reading tests at seven

But why?  Could it be that dumb parents don't restrain unwise behaviour among their kids?  And dumb parents usually have dumb kids

Children who go to bed at irregular times when very young do worse in school later on, research has found.  Those without a set bedtime as three-year-olds achieved lower scores in maths, reading and IQ tests when they were seven.

The disruption, in which girls were shown to be more strongly affected, may restrict children’s academic achievement for the rest of their lives.

Experts believe that sleep is extremely important for very young children as it gives their brains a chance to process all they have learnt the previous day.

If it is disrupted when they are young, it may hinder their ability to learn which could affect their overall achievement for the rest of their lives.

Academics from University College, London, compared the test results of 11,200 seven year-old children in maths, reading and overall IQ.

They looked back at records of their bedtime routines when they were three, five and seven.

Their parents had previously filled-in questionnaires every few years on what time children went to bed and whether it was the same every night.

The study showed that children with irregular bedtimes at the age of three performed significantly worse in the tests at the age of seven.

Scientists think that sleep is a crucial time when the brain absorbs all the knowledge and new skills that have been ‘learned’ during the day.

It is particularly important for three year old children who are at a crucial stage of development and if disrupted, may affect have life-long effects.

Professor Yvonne Kelly, lead author, said: ‘Early child development has profound influences on health and well-being across the life-course. Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts on health throughout life.’

Children were most likely to have irregular bedtimes when they were three – a fifth did not go to bed at the same time every night.

They tend to get into more of a routine as they get older and by the time they were seven, more than half went to bed at the same time every night.

But the researchers are concerned about busy parents who tend to push-back children’s bedtimes to spend more time with them.

Professor Kelly added: ‘Families are prone to demands on time that might adversely impact on routines important for healthy development in young children.

‘Our results suggest that having a regular bedtime is important alongside other aspects of family circumstances.’

The researchers also speculated that children who did not have set bedtimes each night tended to get less sleep.

Some studies have shown that primary and secondary-school children get an average of an hour's less sleep than they did 30 years ago.

Scientists have put this down to the demands of homework and extra-curricular activities as well as television and computer games.

Israeli researchers have shown that children who do not get enough sleep lose the equivalent of two years of learning.

Academics from Tel Aviv University found that 11-year-olds who slept for an hour less than their classmates got the same scores in concentration tests as nine year olds.


An Education in Debt

Tom Purcell

I don't understand what they are thinking.

I speak of the nearly 37 million Americans who owe roughly $1 trillion total in student-loan debt — most of it FEDERAL student-loan debt. And that's for loans taken out before the interest rate on new, federally subsidized student loans doubled a little over a week ago.

The numbers are staggering. According to the informational nonprofit American Student Assistance, the average student-loan balance stands at around $24,300. A rough breakdown shows that:

• 4.175 million borrowers owe more than $28,000.

• 1.67 million borrowers owe more than $54,000.

• 501,000 borrowers owe more than $100,000.

• 167,000 borrowers owe more than $200,000.

I sure hope these people aren't English majors.

But it gets worse. When you factor in credit cards and money bummed from family members, says CNN, each member of the Class of 2013 owes an average of $35,200.

Why do students owe so much these days? The main reason: Tuitions have been soaring, far outpacing both medical and cost-of-living inflation for more than 30 years.

Recent tuition increases are in response to state-funding cuts. Many states, which have to balance their budgets, are giving state universities less — and to cover the shortfall, state universities have increased tuitions.

Universities are able to keep increasing tuitions, in part, because lax lending policies allow most any student to borrow more to cover the increased costs.

A sixth-grader can see the correlation between easy borrowing and the steady increase in college tuitions. To wit: School tuitions have continued to soar because they are able to.

And boy, have some student-loan borrowers racked themselves with debt.

Don't many of us know someone who borrowed thousands of dollars for culinary school — and now makes 10 bucks an hour?

We know of college graduates with jobs that don't require college degrees working second jobs to come up with the $1,000 or more they need to meet monthly student-loan repayment obligations.

That goes for those who are paying back their loans. Nearly 10 percent of student-loan borrowers are defaulting.

I was lucky to graduate from Penn State in 1985 owing only $7,500 in student loans.

Had I been able to borrow lots more, I surely would have tried. Then I could have lived in the lap of luxury, the way many college kids do today.

I surely wouldn't have worked during my college days as a stonemason, dishwasher, janitor, handyman, grass-cutter and bouncer — though as a bouncer, I received the most respect I ever got, then or now.

To raise additional funds, I went to a medical clinic twice a week and sold my plasma. They sucked out my blood, spun off the plasma, then gave me my blood back — for $10.

Those lousy plasma donations nearly killed me, though — my mother, who dedicated her life to giving her children good health, almost strangled me when she found out why I was so pale.

I managed a rooming house during my senior year. It was a big old dump of a place, complete with cockroaches in the kitchen, but I lived there almost free to slash my costs.

My mentality was shaped by my father, a child of the Great Depression. My father has always shunned debt and favored hard work.

When he learned I had become an English major, he begged me to take up something more practical. I was the only person ever to graduate from Penn State with a major in English and a minor in air conditioning/heating.

In any event, we are finally reaching a point where younger generations are questioning the high costs of college education. Is the massive debt worth it?

I don't know the long-term answer to that. But if you borrow thousands of dollars to become an English major, you might want to minor in welding.


Australia: Dangers in push for university education equality

by: Kevin Donnelly

DOES every secondary student, regardless of ability, motivation or intelligence, have the right to go to university, and does increased participation, especially from disadvantaged students, compromise standards?

Newly appointed Higher Education Minister Kim Carr appears to say "no" to the first part of the question and "yes" to the second. In a recent interview Carr is quoted as saying that the dramatic increase in enrolments since the ALP government introduced a demand-driven system may have compromised quality.

Carr states, "given the strength of growth in demand, it is appropriate to (think about) quality and excellence" and "we need to consider refocusing government investment to get the best possible use of public money".

Carr's reservations are in striking contrast to Julia Gillard's belief, when education minister, that millions must be spent increasing the proportion of disadvantaged students entering university from 16 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020, and that increased enrolments would not lead to falling standards.

In a March 2009 speech in response to the Bradley review of higher education, Gillard argues that equity is an important moral issue and that the "hoary old conservative argument that equity and standards are incompatible is nothing but a myth".

In addition to establishing a National Centre for Student Equity and offering universities additional funding linked to enrolling greater numbers of disadvantaged students, Gillard argued in favour of positive discrimination for university selection.

Gillard is wrong. However unpopular it might seem, not all students have the ability or intelligence to cope with or benefit from a university education.

As US academic Charles Murray argues in Real Education, "academic achievement is tied to academic ability" and not all students have the same level of ability.

Take the subject of English. As someone who taught in Victorian secondary schools for 18 years, marked Year 12 papers and was a member of the Panel of Examiners, the reality is that students' language ability ranges from very poor to excellent as measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

Those students at the lower end of the scale find it impossible to cope with the demands of a university course as proven by the number of universities around Australia that now have bridging courses and remedial classes in areas like essay writing.

And concerns about falling standards are nothing new. A 2002 study titled Changes in Academic Work, involving interviewing academics at 12 universities, concludes that "almost one out of two of our respondents thought that the intellectual quality of incoming students had declined, and that this was a change for the worse".

The federal Labor government's decision to impose quotas for disadvantaged students only compounds the problem. As noted by the Group of Eight's Policy Note No 3, February 2012, the push for improved equity has led to a dramatic increase in the number of students with Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores of 50 or less entering university.

Between 2008-11, offers to students with ATARs less than 50 doubled, representing "nearly 20 per cent of all growth in offers to school leavers". As a result, in teacher training courses, for example, it's not unusual for students with ATARs as low as 50 to be accepted.

Gillard's argument that all students are entitled to a university education, in addition to compromising standards, is guilty of privileging academic studies over vocational education and training.

ALP governments and the cultural Left, since the late 60s and early 70s when technical schools were closed around Australia, have long argued that a university education is the preferred option.

Ignored is that an apprenticeship or trade can be a valued, rewarding and challenging career. Also ignored is that the fact a working class student might prefer a trade to a degree does not prove the education system is elitist and inequitable.

The fact that trade and skills courses have been treated so poorly in terms of prestige and funding explains why, compared to many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Australia has such a low level of participation.

Based on 2010 figures the percentage of population aged 25-64 with vocational qualifications in Australia is just under 20 per cent compared with Finland, one of the top performers in international mathematics and science tests, where the figure is closer to 40 per cent.

While attractive to those on the cultural Left whose mantra is equity and equality of outcomes, the argument that universities should be open to all belies a levelling down, egalitarian philosophy that is counterproductive.

Far better is an education system based on meritocracy where only those considered capable are allowed entry. The alternative, as argued by the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch, is to promote a non-selective system, one that makes "the teaching of accuracy and truthfulness harder at all levels" and that will "produce people who imagine they are educated when they are not".


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Michael Gove brings back 12 times tables in new British curriculum

Children will be taught fractions from the age of five and will once again have to learn the 12 times tables under a controversial new national curriculum to be announced today by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The emphasis on a more traditional academic curriculum has already provoked critics to warn that it will damage children’s education.

At present, pupils have to learn times tables up to 10 by the age of 11, but Mr Gove wants them to learn multiplication sums up to 12 by heart by the age of nine.

In English, he is expected to press for pupils to have to study a pre-20th century novel from the likes of Dickens, Austen or Thackeray, after research showed most pupils were shunning the great authors of the past.

In history, Mr Gove will stick to his guns, insisting that pupils learn their UK history chronologically – rather than focus on topics such as the Nazis or the Tudors, the most popular option in recent years. The curriculum will concentrate on key characters from history such as Queen Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell,  Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill.

However, in a concession to his critics, he will insist that – while the emphasis will be on British history – every pupil will have to study events in world history, too. History teachers criticised both Mr Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron’s original “gung ho” attitude that they should be teaching about British history “in all its glory”.

Mr Gove came under fire again last night. Professor Terry Wrigley of Leeds Metropolitan University, one of the organisers of a letter to The Independent signed by 100 academics opposing the plans, said: “My own feeling is that Mr Gove is simply not listening to anyone.

“To think you rely on memorisation is simply a delusion,” he said. “It strikes me the way that Gove’s mind works is he thinks you raise standards by getting nine-year-olds to remember their 12 times tables and five-year-olds to do fractions. It is not the direction other high-performing countries have taken.”

Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added that the proposals “are being rushed through with little thought given to the practicalities of implementation – never mind the content”. They were confronting schools with “an unprecedented amount of change”, coming as they did on top of GCSE and A-level reforms.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, said they represented Mr Gove’s third attempt to rewrite the curriculum. “He should listen to the experts and not try to write it himself based on his personal prejudices,” he said.

The Department for Education said last night it would concentrate on “getting basics right”. Mr Gove added: “This curriculum is a foundation for learning the vital advanced skills that universities and businesses desperately need – skills such as essay writing, problem-solving, mathematical knowledge and computer programming.” He said it would aim to halt what he called England’s “disastrous” slide down international league tables from 24th to 28th in maths, 17th to 25th in reading and 14th to 16th in science between 2006 and 2009.

Computer programming and electronics will be given more emphasis, while evolution will be taught to primary school pupils for the first time.

Mr Cameron said: “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education... This is a curriculum to inspire a generation – and it will educate the great British engineers, scientists, writers and thinkers of the future.”

The new curriculum will be taught in schools from September 2014.


British medical schools could drop entrance grades for poorer students

Medical schools could drop their grades for students from poorer backgrounds, meaning those with better results miss out, under a project which has sparked concern from academics.

A national scheme promising “rapid progress” to help aspiring doctors from under-represented social and economic backgrounds will recommend changes to selection methods employed by medical schools to recruit more students from deprived groups.

The project, which has just been launched by the Medical Schools Council, will examine whether more use should be made of “contextual data” - information on candidates’ school, ethnicity, postcode, family income and level of parental education - to give students with lower grades a place.

Professor Tony Weetman, the council’s chairman said the initiative was “a commitment from the UK’s medical schools and indeed the whole of the medical profession to ensure we are selecting the right people for a career as a doctor”.

He said that while medical schools would retain autonomy in choosing their candidates, they needed to do more to recruit candidates from deprived backgrounds, just as action had been taken to recruit more female doctors and black and ethnic minority groups.

Prof Weetman said: “A medical team which can fully recognise the diversity of the population it serves will be better placed to meet the UK’s increasingly complex health needs.”

But last night Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at University of Buckingham, said he was concerned that good sense had been lost in a rush to promote equality.

He said: “I’m very concerned about this. Equality and opportunity is very important but in medicine we do need to have candidates of the highest ability; background shouldn’t be a barrier but candidates for medical school shouldn’t have an advantage over others because of where they were brought up.”

He said he was concerned that candidates with a strong academic record would lose places, which would not only be unfair for them, but could also damage the future health of the nation.

“The most important thing is that succesful candidates have the skills to diagnose accurately and treat their patients,” he said. “We are letting the climate of equality run away with us.”

The project, which has been endorsed by ministers, follow recommendations last month from Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, that universities should recruit 3,700 more state school students, and allow lower grades for those from poorly performing schools.

Last night Dr Dan Poulter, Health Minister, said “In recent years we have made significant progress towards a more meritocratically selected medical workforce. But there is still more to do. I want to encourage students from every background to think about being a doctor - that’s why I’m pleased that the Medical Schools Council is getting more pupils from deprived backgrounds involved.”

The initiative will also look at the use of “outreach” programmes to encourage children from poor backgrounds to consider a career as a doctor, and schemes to give them work experience in the NHS.

Members of the project include Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, who said the initiative aimed to ensure that no-one is put off from entering the profession because of family background or income.


Australian non-government schools defend right to expel homosexuals

A bid to overturn controversial laws allowing private schools to expel students simply because they are gay has been rejected by some faith-based schools as a threat to their religious freedom.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich will soon introduce a private member's bill to State Parliament to abolish the law, which he says could be used against highly vulnerable teenagers.  "It is already so hard to come to grips with your sexuality," said Mr Greenwich, who is gay.

Under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, it is unlawful for education authorities to refuse admission to, or expel, a student for being gay, lesbian or transgender.

Private schools and colleges are explicitly exempt from this law.

The bid to remove those exemptions is expected to be opposed by most religious school authorities, who told The Sun-Herald that, while there are few, if any, examples of students being expelled on the basis of their sexuality, it was important to retain the exemption to preserve their religious freedom.

The exemption is similar to many that exist in federal anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations, including schools.

Ian Baker, acting executive director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, said the fact that so few, if any, cases of students being expelled were widely known was testament to the fact schools tended to treat such students with sensitivity.

"It speaks for itself," he said. "It's exercised with great caution and consideration. The objective is not to punish, but to protect the rights of those families who send their child to a school based on a religious faith.

"We couldn't agree to the exemptions being removed unless we could be assured that there's an alternative way of guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is an internationally recognised human right."

Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, agreed: "Most private schools have a religious ethos, they stand for something, and if these exemptions were removed that would break down the ability of these schools to maintain whatever their particular ethos is."

But Justin Koonin, from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said he questioned why schools wanted the laws if they did not use them. "It's not just that the student can be expelled, they can be discriminated against within the school environment, and the school doesn't have to do anything about it."

In a submission to the recent Senate inquiry into federal anti-discrimination laws, the Human Rights Council of Australia argued that organisations that are wholly or partially funded with public funds, including religious schools, should not be granted exemptions on religious grounds. "It is reasonable for the state to require public funds to be expended and applied wholly in accordance with principles of nondiscrimination," it said.

The most recent national report on same-sex-attracted young people found school was the most common place they experienced abuse.

While in opposition in 2011, Greg Smith, now NSW Attorney-General, was open to reviewing the law.

"I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed," he said.

Mr Smith is on leave but a spokesman for the acting Minister for Justice, Brad Hazzard, said the "government will consider Mr Greenwich's bill following its introduction as it does with all private member's bills".

Not all religious education authorities were opposed to removing the exemptions, though.

"While Jewish schools jealously guard against any incursion into our ability to teach the Jewish religion in a manner consistent with its tenets, and consider those tenets and that ability fundamental to our existence," said Len Hain, executive director of the Australian Council of Jewish Schools, "we do not see any practical limitation, or the imposition of any practical burden on that ability from the amendments deleting the specific exclusions to the Anti-Discrimination Act."


Monday, July 08, 2013

Even Teachers Agree: The Problem is Unions

Two of my closest friends are former teachers in their fifties.  Both of them retired from a career of public school employment within the past five years and both remain active in the profession.  One works from home as an online high school teacher for a private education company and the other is a part-time university professor who teaches K-12 classroom management.  We all became friends as members of the same traditional protestant church and share conservative values on most issues.

This past Friday, the three of us engaged in our usual badinage over an exceptional bottle of wine from the west coast of central California.  If you must know, it was a 2008 “Southing” Pinot Noir by Sea Smoke. This was, of course, paired with complementary cheese and crisp biscuits.

I posed a question that I had been reserving for years for these two.  The three of us have been compadres for a couple of decades and I knew that I would receive a full answer.  But like that bottle of pinot, the character of the grape needed to develop for a time after leaving the field.

I asked, “If you were the Chairman of the Republican Party, how would you appeal to teachers to get them to vote with your candidates?”

Predictably, the initial responses emoted from their right-side cerebra with, “First, stop blaming teachers for student failures.”  And, “Stop complaining about the spoils of time off and early-age retirement.”  And, “Today’s teachers haven’t had a raise in four years.”  And, “Get parents to quit warring with teachers.  When I was a kid, what my teacher said was law and my parents backed them up at home.”

After the wine decanted a bit, the acidity began to vaporize and the pinot opened up smoothly.  Along with the mellowing vin came more useful responses to my question: “The Republican Party is more connected with free enterprise and profitability than is the Democratic Party.  Republicans make educators uncomfortable and insecure by challenging us to adapt to a competitive economy.  That is not the lifestyle that we chose.  And Democrats defend us with empathy and support.”

As special as they are, I believe that my friends are representative of most educators who identify powerfully with their profession.  They see themselves more as constituents of the teaching archetype than as citizens who have trained in the profession of teaching.  Like other kinships such as The United States Marines, law enforcement, and clergy, education has become a fraternity with its own language, certifications, memberships, and affirmations.  In a manner, K-12 has developed as its own culture in awkward isolation from the community in which it serves.

Another useful point came during their lamenting teachers being subjected to public criticism, “It makes sense to conduct standardized testing to measure student progress.  But the natural response from educators is to shift the focus of instruction from student comprehension to simply training the students to perform well on those tests.  That is a low-set bar that hinders imagination.”

There were two areas where my friends’ initial emotional responses evolved into reasoned thought as the sky darkened and our glasses emptied.  Where they first protested a lack of pay increase for teachers, they later described recent raises as being about 3%.  It is not in education’s lexicon to figure compensation as tied to the customers’ ability to pay (i.e. the American economy).  The second change of mind was in regards to the effectiveness of modern-day teaching methods.  While first describing public K-12 as “better than ever,” they later acknowledged the unacceptable percentage of high school grads who require remedial coursework in their first year of college.

Two other topics where liberal indoctrination maintains a lockjaw grip on my pals’ thinking are environmentalism and egalitarianism.  While I contend that teaching the green agenda is a proselytizing of the Left’s religion, they defend it as promoting good stewardship.  They also are accustomed to assuming an “A” performance rating for most teachers, with rare instances of a deserving unsatisfactory rating.

The most revealing and astute observation from these old owls was that teachers would align themselves with the conservative party if they felt honored by them, as are firefighters and the military.  And the single antagonist preventing that alliance is the teachers union establishment.

They spoke ruefully of union membership as like owning a pit bull; a disagreeable companion that you would rather not have in your house, but one that gives you a position of strength when you could use it.  They offered two specific attractions to union representation; liability insurance and having someone else perform the unpleasant task of salary negotiations on their behalf.

The highlight of the evening for me was the moment when both of my friends agreed aloud that their utopian ideal of parents, citizens, and Republicans honoring teachers could not be realized as long as the union remains engaged.  Their classic mistrust of school district management was a clear result of that devil on their left shoulder.  They even described how union leadership would whisper warnings of wicked management intentions.

But we are now well into the 21st Century.  And I believe that it is high time that American communities function with greater purpose in preparing our next generations of technologists, scientists, accountants, artisans, artists, and dreamers.  I would invite union leadership to become part of the solution by working in constructive positions as employees within a school district’s Human Resources Department rather than fabricating an outside demand for their services with such tired, archaic and destructive practices.

I am inspired at the notion of honoring our teachers in an effective partnership with engaged parents and local industries who rely on the emergence of a well-prepared and resourceful workforce.  We already entrust to teachers what American conservatives value above all – our children and the very destiny of this nation.  Let’s configure our communities to invest in equal opportunity for our youth on a national level with unrivaled equipping of our youth on an international level.  We can do this.


Drunken teens and a betrayal by British teachers

The picture posted on Facebook by a pupil from Biddick Academy in Washington, Tyne and Wear, is one that should chill the heart of any parent.

It shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in crotch-skimming skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school. Also at the table are their teachers, and a girl has her arms draped around one of them.

In another picture, a girl can be seen with a bottle of lager in her hand. One of the teenagers has written underneath: ‘Can’t believe I’ve just got mortal in school with my teachers ha ha.’
This picture, which was posted on Facebook, shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school - with their teachers

This picture, which was posted on Facebook, shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school - with their teachers

For the uninitiated, ‘getting mortal’ means getting very drunk. Little wonder the father of one 16-year-old pupil said he did not think it was ‘appropriate’ for them to be drinking at school.

What an understatement! If there is one place that parents should be able to trust with the safety of their children, it is school. And school in this case has failed utterly in its duty of care.

Of course teachers should encourage their pupils to enjoy themselves, but these girls are still two years too young to buy drinks legally. How can it possibly be right for them to be plied with alcohol by school staff?

News of the boozy party at Biddick Academy comes uncomfortably soon after the story of runaway teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled with his 15-year-old pupil to Bordeaux.

He was imprisoned for five-and-a-half years last month after being found guilty of abduction and sexual activity with a child he had groomed from the age of 14. During the court case, we discovered that a number of teachers at Forrest’s school knew of his relationship with an underage pupil, yet did nothing about it except have a quiet word in his ear.

Weren’t they also culpable of a gross neglect of their duty — just like the teachers at Biddick Academy who allowed their pupils to ‘get mortal’?

The sad truth is that we now live in a world where both parents and teachers want to be children’s best friends, not adults responsible for their wellbeing.

Again and again, at home and at school, the boundaries between adulthood and childhood are being blurred — and the ones who suffer are inevitably the children.

A teacher’s job is not to be friends with their pupils, not to treat them like grown-ups by getting them drunk or — as in the case of that abusive monster Forrest — into bed. It is to teach them the joy of learning, give them lessons in life, and lead by example.

A great teacher can change a child’s life, while a bad one can harm them for ever. We should be rooting out  and booting out those who fail our children. And what better place to start than the Biddick Academy?


Good teachers trump small classes: OECD adviser

I have  been saying this for years --JR

Australian children could be achieving the same stellar results in international testing as those from Korea and Finland within a generation if educators addressed equity challenges, boosted teacher quality and strengthened discipline, a world-leading education expert said.

Education policy adviser to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Andreas Schleicher said too much money had been spent reducing class sizes, instead of boosting teacher performance.

"If you have to make a choice between a great teacher and a small class, go for the great teacher," he said. "Australia has put its bets very much the other way around over the past decade."

The federal government has set the goal of having Australian students in the top five in the world in reading, science and maths by 2025, a target inscribed in the Gonski legislation.

Mr Schleicher said the target was "credible, reasonable and achievable".

But when speaking to senior education bureaucrats and academics in Sydney on Friday, he warned "this goal is shared by virtually every education system around the world".

To reach the target, Mr Schleicher said Australia had to address the social inequities the existing system reinforced.

Implementing the needs-based funding system recommended in the Gonski report, he said, would go a long way towards achieving that.

"The current approach to school funding in Australia is, to say the least, not entirely transparent," he said. "There's a lot of money going into the Australian system but it's really a matter of using that money well and aligning the resources better with the challenges being faced."

Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten met Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon on Friday, as well as representatives from the Catholic and independent school sectors, as the government continued in its push to sell the reforms.

The Victorian government said the conversation was productive and both parties had expressed goodwill to come to an agreement.

Mr Schleicher explained that, to address the performance disparity within Australian schools, teachers needed to be able to identify struggling students early. That, he said, was where NAPLAN testing should help.

"I think NAPLAN has really brought into the system a more rigorous approach to quality assurance."

He said Australia's performance could lift in the coming years as the impact of NAPLAN began to filter through.

OECD data also showed that Australian students were not as well-disciplined as other high-performing countries.

"Students complain about noise and disorder in classrooms and there is instruction time lost at the beginning of lessons."

Mr Schleicher said work also needed to be done to "attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms".

He said Australia's biggest problem was not training but continued professional development. "Many teachers feel left alone in the school, they don't get the feedback they need to improve their teaching."

Chief executive of the Department of Education and Communities's Office of Education Leslie Lobel said teacher quality reforms announced earlier this year "are very much about ongoing professional development".

"These things can't be done overnight but they are obviously being started and there's significant reform under way."

Making teaching more attractive was important, Mr Schleicher said, but increasing pay was not the answer. Australian teachers were paid well compared with those elsewhere and relatively well compared to professions with similar qualifications. "It's more about creating a more flexible, knowledge-based profession," he said.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

There goes the summer

UK  education secretary Michael Gove has introduced new powers enabling headmasters in state schools to set their own schools’ term times from 2015 onwards. The move could effectively extend school hours and reduce the long summer holidays currently enjoyed by pupils and teachers. Gove’s initiative is apparently designed to improve the academic attainment of pupils and boost the UK education system after years of it being outperformed by those of the UK’s economic rivals.

The connection between spending on education and economic output is one of those governmental myths that has long done the rounds in education-policymaking circles. Quite why countries that spend less on education than we do attain far greater levels of economic productivity is never properly explained by UK ministers. Equally, if longer term times really were the key to improved exam results, how come expensive private schools, which tend to have much longer holidays than comprehensives, achieve better results? Again, it seems, the government’s rationale is more than a little flimsy.

Then again, maybe the desire to keep children longer in schools has less to do with the economy or exam results and more to do with parents. After all, Gove has already expressed contempt for the biological rights of parents. He would surely love to see schools act in loco parentis on a bigger scale. By pushing schools to extend the teaching day, and by reducing the length of school holidays, the education department no doubt hopes that the ‘toxic’ out-of-school influence of parents can be kept to a minimum.

Gove’s proposals will also allow schools to keep tabs on whether parents are following officialdom’s guidelines on ‘correct’ parenting. Indeed, long school holidays are recipes for all kinds of risks, injuries and accidents ‘waiting’ to happen. Far better, then, to keep allegedly vulnerable children indoors, in classrooms and away from playing fields, beaches, woods and their parents’ homes. Gove may be a free marketeer, but, like New Labour, he seems to believe in the nationalisation of parents and families.


Higher ed: Bubble, toil, and trouble

Interest rates have been in the news again so for this week’s column I thought I’d do a little back-of-the-envelope economic analysis.

What Does this Sound Like to You?

The government artificially lowers interest rates for borrowers who want to invest in a particular sector of the economy. Other things equal, that will increase the demand for assets in that sector as borrowers are misled into believing they will be worth more in the future than they actually will be. The current price of those assets will climb as will the quantity supplied (i.e., the demand curve slides up the supply curve). Borrowers will then clamor to keep borrowing rates low (or even lower) so they can afford to complete their investments, although that would also attract new borrowers. So pressure on demand continues and investment costs soar as asset prices and output keep rising.

Now, because government has kept interest rates artificially low—below the rate that would accurately reflect the actual supply and demand in the loan market—there is too much investment in those assets in relation to the actual demand for it. That means when investors try to sell their assets they will find no market for them. At that point the bubble bursts, bringing complementary sectors down with it.

If the Shoe Fits …

If you think this describes the housing market from 2001 to 2006, you’d be right. Just substitute housing/houses for asset/assets and “financial sector” for “complementary sectors” in the above narrative and you would get an accurate (though incomplete) summary of the recent housing boom and bust. (For an excellent discussion of this episode, see Peter Boettke and Steven Horwitz’s essay.)

But you could substitute “higher education” into the story as well.

As an author of the Economix blog over at The New York Times reports, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that “college tuition and fees today are 559 percent of their cost in 1985. In other words, they have nearly sextupled (while consumer prices have roughly doubled).” There’s a nice diagram in the post illustrating this. Tuition has been far outpacing price increases over time for consumer items, medical care, and gasoline.

Author Catherine Rampell argues, however, that “the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.” As an employee of a state university I can confirm that these cutbacks have indeed been taking place over the past couple of decades. The author offers some evidence to support her claim, but if you look closely, the dramatic rise in tuition still seems to outstrip the relative fall in state subsidies.

More importantly, if what she argues is true, why is it that college enrollment over the same period has been rising? 

In basic economic terms, she is arguing that because the colleges are bearing more of the actual costs, the supply curve for college education has been shifting upward and to the left—causing tuition to rise and enrollment to fall. But the evidence points to a rightward shifting demand curve (like the narrative I sketched at the outset), which accounts for both the higher tuition and higher enrollment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics:  "Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, enrollment increased 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million.  Between 2000 and 2010, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 27.3 million to 30.7 million, an increase of 12 percent, and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 35 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2010."

The Stafford loan program, which subsidizes student loans, began in 1988.

If Rampell is right, then shouldn’t enrollment be falling? Instead it is rising disproportionately. Just as the housing bust left tracts of houses unused, a higher-education bust would create a small army of unemployed young people.

An Act of Independence?

But just as overbuilt housing can be used for some lower-valued purpose than it was intended for, investment in education—which is sometimes more accurately described as “spending on a credential”—often goes “underemployed.”  So growing underemployment of college grads is something we should keep an eye out for.

According to The Huffington Post, “half of recent grads are working jobs that don't require a degree, according to research from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, released in January.”

The same article notes, “In 2000, before the economy fell into a recession, the share of recent college graduates who were either jobless or underemployed hit an 11 year low of 41 percent, according to the Associated Press.”

Now, as an article from The Washington Post makes clear, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Some jobs don’t require a specific degree. Also, it’s unrealistic in a dynamic economy to expect the major you choose when you’re 20 to match what your comparative advantage will be later in life.

Still, it’s probably true that many young people who would otherwise get the training they need for productive jobs from trade schools and community colleges are applying to and getting into four-year colleges, as the lower rates tend to offer a higher subsidy to the latter. (Example: The savings from a lower rate on a $50,000 liberal arts college loan is greater than the savings on a $10,000 loan for community college.)

This week Congress takes a holiday to celebrate Independence Day. One of the things they’re leaving undone is negotiating a measure to keep the rates on Stafford loans from rising from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Given the very real possibility of a bubble in higher education, that may actually be a blessing.

The first step to avoiding a huge bust, though some kind of correction seems to be inevitable, would be to let the Stafford-loan rates rise to reflect the realities of the loan market. That could mean a significant break in the vicious boom-bust cycle in higher education.  The question is, does Congress have the will to do nothing?


Lessons on Churchill: Winston back on the curriculum as British schools are told to teach history properly

Winston Churchill will be restored to the national curriculum as schools are ordered to teach children about Britain’s history.

The national curriculum for history, to be published by Education Secretary Michael Gove next week, will give all children aged seven to 14 a clear narrative of the major events between the Bronze Age and the present day.

The document, seen by the Mail, will state clearly that every pupil must ‘know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day’.

Mr Gove is insisting that pupils learn about leading historical figures such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and Queen Victoria.

Pupils aged 11 to 14 will also be expected to study ‘the Second World War and the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill’, the only modern politician who is mentioned.  He was banished from the curriculum in 1999.

The current national curriculum, last updated by Labour in 2007, leaves big gaps in pupils’ knowledge and ditched the learning of significant dates and events in favour of focusing on historical themes.

But the new curriculum makes British history the centrepiece of the curriculum, rather than, for example, the heavy emphasis on the Nazis.

It also calls for pupils to study ‘how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world’.

That will involve study of non-European subjects such as ancient China, India and Islamic civilisation, rather than the primary focus being on European history as at present.

Earlier this year, Mr Gove said he was worried that the curriculum and exams system ‘mean that children thirsting to know more about our past leave school woefully undernourished’.

A senior Whitehall source said: ‘Children will learn a coherent chronological story of British history instead of Labour’s dumbed-down curriculum that leaves pupils with big gaps in basic knowledge.

They will learn about major global phenomena such as classical Greece, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, and about non-European civilisations such as China.’

The Education Secretary’s first attempt to rewrite the curriculum in February was condemned as too prescriptive by Left-wing academics.

He has compromised by leaving teachers some freedom to decide precisely what to teach. But he has stuck to his guns by ordering them to follow clear chronology.

Professor Jeremy Black, the senior history professor at Exeter University, who helped draw up the curriculum, said: ‘It is very important that we understand our national history as part of being an active citizen.

‘You can’t debate our sense of national identity and our national interest unless you understand our national history. This curriculum puts British history first as well, which I think is right.

‘It kicks out the woolly empathy in favour of giving children more of a sense of where we are at that moment between the past and the future.’