Friday, January 03, 2014

Christie Gives Undocumented Students Access to In-State Tuition

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed landmark legislation at the end of December which allowed the state’s undocumented high school students access to in-state tuition at all public colleges and universities.

Under the new legislation, students who graduated from a New Jersey high school where they had been in attendance for at least three years are eligible to receive in-state and in-county rates at state colleges, universities, and community college campuses.

“This is what compromise looks like,” the governor said of the bill, deemed the state’s “Dream Act.” Christie signed the original bill with a conditional veto, forcing Democrats in the Legislature to remove a provision that allowed access to state financial aid. Upon the bill’s return, both the Senate and the Assembly quickly agreed to Christie’s revision.

While many in the state hailed the passage as an historic compromise, Christie still came under fire from critics on both the left and right. Immigration advocates claim Christie’s exclusion of access to financial aid unfairly punishes students who were brought to this country by no choice of their own and produces a roadblock to their potential success. Critics on the right are afraid that the legislation, as is, will cost the state millions of taxpayer dollars and reduce the number of opportunities for native-born and legal immigrant students.

The New York Times reported Christie stating, “I care about taking care of New Jersey kids, whether they’re citizens or undocumented.” The same article cited New Jersey as part of a handful of states that allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, with only three states – California, Texas, and New Mexico – allowing unauthorized immigrants access to financial assistance.

Despite increasing political speculation as 2016 approaches, Christie continues to work through controversial topics in a deeply democratic state. As the political events in the Garden State gain more national attention, we will see if the Governor's leadership style appeals to a broader base.


Common Core

John Stossel

My TV producers asked our Facebook audience to vote for a topic they'd most like to hear discussed on my year-end show. The overwhelming winner, for some reason: the education standards program Common Core.

Most Americans don't even know what that is. But they should. It's the government's plan to try to bring "the same standard" to every government-run school.

This may sound good. Often, states dumb down tests to try to "leave no child behind." How can government evaluate teachers and reward successful schools if there isn't a single national standard?

But when the federal government imposes a single teaching plan on 15,000 school districts across the country, that's even more central planning, and central planning rarely works. It brings stagnation.

Education is a discovery process like any other human endeavor. We might be wrong about both how to teach and what to teach, but we won't realize it unless we can experiment -- compare and contrast the results of different approaches. Having "one plan" makes it harder to experiment and figure out what works.

Some people are terrified to hear "education" and "experiment" in the same sentence. Why take a risk with something as important as my child's education? Pick the best education methods and teach everyone that way!

But we don't know what the best way to educate kids is.

As American education has become more centralized, the rest of our lives have become increasingly diverse and tailored to individual needs. Every minute, thousands of entrepreneurs struggle to improve their products. Quality increases, and costs often drop.

But centrally planned K-12 education doesn't improve. Per-student spending has tripled (governments now routinely spend $300,000 per classroom!), but test results are stagnant.

"Everyone who has children knows that they're all different, right? They learn differently," observed Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women's Forum on my show. "In the workplace, we're allowing people flexibility to telecommute, to have shared jobs. In entertainment, people buy and watch what they want, when they want." Having one inflexible model for education "is so old-fashioned."

No Child Left Behind programs were an understandable reaction to atrocious literacy and graduation rates -- but since school funding was pegged to students' performance on federally approved tests, classroom instruction became largely about drilling for those tests and getting the right answers, even if kids did little to develop broader reasoning skills. So along comes Common Core to attempt to fix the problem -- and create new ones.

Common Core de-emphasizes correct answers by awarding kids points for reasoning, even when they don't quite get there.

A video went viral online that showed a worried mom, Karen Lamoreaux -- a member of the group Arkansas Against Common Core -- complaining to the Arkansas Board of Education about complicatedly worded math problems meant for fourth-graders. She read to the Board this question: "Mr. Yamato's class has 18 students. If the class counts around by a number and ends with 90, what number did they count by?"


But I could be wrong. Maybe this is a clever new way to teach math, and maybe Lamoreaux worries too much. Unfortunately, though, if Lamoreaux is right, and the federal government is wrong, government still gets to decree its universal solution to this problem.

Promoters of Common Core say, "Don't worry, Common Core is voluntary." This is technically true, but states that reject it lose big federal money. That's Big Government's version of "voluntary."

Common Core, like public school, public housing, the U.S. Postal Service, the Transportation Security Administration, etc., are all one-size-fits-all government monopolies. For consumers, this is not a good thing.

With the future riding on young people consuming better forms of education, I'd rather leave parents and children (and educators) multiple choices.

Despite Common Core, Schaeffer pointed out that this year did bring some victories for educational freedom. "We saw new education tax credit programs and expansion of tax credit programs in numerous states -- Alabama, Indiana, Iowa and others. Education Savings Accounts expanded in other states; voucher programs expanded."

This is good news. Vouchers, Education Savings Accounts and tax credits create competition and choice.


School league tables 2013: 50,000 bright British  pupils 'going backwards'

Almost 50,000 of England’s brightest children are effectively going backwards in the last few years of primary education, it emerged today.

School-by-school league tables show that more than a third of pupils – 37 per cent – gained relatively higher scores in assessments taken at seven than exams sat at the age of 11.

The Department for Education branded the disclosure “unacceptable” and insisted that too many children who make bright starts to their education are being allowed to fall “back into the pack”.

It also emerged that three-quarters of low-achievers at seven were still consigned to the lowest ability groups at 11, while almost fifth of those considered average performers as infants failed to reach their potential.

The disclosure was made in official rankings for around 16,000 primary schools in England.

It comes just 24 hours after the head of Ofsted called for the best teaching to be more evenly spread among all age groups to prevent a “dip” in pupil performance half-way through primary and secondary education.

He also recommended more rigorous exams at seven and 14 to accurately track pupils' progress.

Today’s league tables measure standards in reading, writing and maths at the age of 11 just before pupils move on to secondary education.

Figures show that:

 *  Some 25 per cent of children – 129,000 – left primary school in July without hitting the expecting standard for their age, Level 4, in the three core subjects. Results were unchanged from 2012;

 *  The proportion of pupils gaining the target level increased by one percentage point in maths to 84 percent, while writing scores increased by two points to 83 per cent;

 *  But in reading, results actually dropped back this summer from 86 to 87 per cent;

Currently, pupils’ performance is assessed informally in the classroom at seven before pupils take formal exams at 11.

It emerged that 126,230 children were considered high-fliers at seven and should have been expected to score elite Level 5 grades in SATs tests four years later.

But today’s figures show that 47,280 failed to do so. This included around 1,300 who failed to even reach Level 4.

At the other end of the spectrum, 91,333 were considered “low attainers” at seven. Of those, almost three-quarters remained in the lowest groups at 11.

However, the DfE insisted that figures showed how some schools were achieving against-the-odds by driving up standards among low-achieving pupils.

In all, 23,377 of these children – 26 per cent – went on to hit the Level 4 target at the end of primary education.

Some 25 schools managed to push every low-attaining pupil on their books onto Level 4 or better by the age of 11, it was revealed.

A DfE spokesman said: “Every child must be challenged to achieve their best.

“These results show that some children who were struggling at seven have made real progress by 11 and are now performing as well, or even better, than was expected.

“However, there are still too many cases where the opposite is true. It is unacceptable that children who made such bright starts to their school career have fallen back into the pack.

“The difference between success and failure is so often great teaching – our reforms are raising standards by improving the quality of teaching and delivering discipline in the classroom.”


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Obama Regulations Disenfranchise Minority, Low-Income College Students

Education is the great equalizer. Yet, while President Obama was talking earlier this month about how minority and underprivileged Americans need a “decent education,” his Department of Education (ED) was pushing more onerous regulations that would have the opposite effect. ED is finalizing the administration’s second attempt at passing “gainful employment” standards that place restrictions on institutions that can receive government funding for its students.

In short, the new rules would require programs that receive government funding to students graduate with less than a 12 percent debt-to-income ratio or a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of less than 30 percent.

This is another example of the administration’s attempt to constantly pick winners and losers – and dictate via government funding how private organizations should operate. But this is more than government bureaucrats meddling with business; these rules potentially impact the futures of thousands of individuals who are trying to make their lives better.

Take President Obama for example. He graduated from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country – Harvard Law. Doing so, he incurred a debt in excess of $42,000 on tuition of less than $14,000. Since the early 1990s, tuition has increased by 320 percent. Adjusting the President’s debt by the same proportion, his debt would balloon to upwards of $134,000.

The median salary coming out of Harvard Law now: roughly $130,000. That means that the President’s own law program – and one of the premiere programs in the country – would have failed ED’s regulations. But still no red flags for ED or the regulation-heavy Obama Administration.

A study conducted by the Department of Education should have set off more red flags. In that study that looked at college graduates in 2009, a greater proportion of programs at private non-profit institutions would fail the 12 percent threshold than those at for-profit colleges – 39 percent of private graduates faced excessive loan repayments vs. 35 percent of for-profit graduates. And, lest you think public colleges are immune, a full 26 percent of public graduates would face loan payments in excess of 12 percent of income.

What happens to the college system when so many programs – as many as a million – no longer exist? Particularly since a large proportion of the students impacted are from low-income and minority groups?

That potential even has liberal Congressmen concerned. In a letter this week, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and 29 other Congressman inquired to the ED for its rationale. In particular, these liberal congressmen were concerned that “the Department’s proposed regulation […] would negatively impact millions of students nationwide.”

But the Congressmen aren’t alone. An Inside Higher Ed/Gallup poll of university presidents said that an overwhelming majority thought the ED’s college rating system was a bad idea. A full half said that the President’s plan would negatively impact their college.

So, if evidence and common sense, as well as those in Congress and the higher education community, tells you this will fail, why is ED pushing it?

Put simply, its symptomatic of the brand of liberalism that is seen everywhere from Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban to Obama’s quest to kill coal power; the brand of liberalism where leaders tell constituents what is good for them, instead of trusting them to make informed decisions. And this iteration of that disease threatens to disenfranchise low-income and minority students, those who need opportunity the most.


2012 grads: Highest-ever student debt

The Institute for College Access & Success, an independent nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California, recently released its eighth annular report on average student loan debt in the United States, and its findings are dire. College graduates who borrowed for bachelor’s degrees granted in 2012 have an average student loan debt of $29,400, the highest average student loan debt ever on record.

Overall, seventy percent of college seniors graduated with debt in 2012.

“The graduates of 2012 left school and entered repayment at a time of high unemployment,” said Debbie Cochrane, research director at the institute. “In many ways, these graduates were hit from both sides.”

“They went to college during a recession when their family’s ability to pay for college was likely reduced. Now they are graduating from college and may be experiencing substantial challenges getting a job to repay the loans.”

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, an expert on college issues, says the trend isn’t likely to reverse itself anytime soon because the price of higher education continues to rise, while incomes remain flat.

“College costs have always gone up higher than inflation, but the problem we face now is that family incomes are stagnant and they can’t afford it anymore, if they ever did,” said O’Shaughnessy, author of the book The College Solution and a blog of the same name. “It used to be much more affordable.”

Students in certain states are hit particularly hard. For example, average debt is higher for graduates from Pennsylvania ($31,675). Seventy percent of graduates from Pennsylvania public and nonprofit colleges have student loan debt, compared to 41 percent of students graduating from Nevada colleges. The average student debt in New Mexico is just under $18,000.

Mike Morrill, Executive Director for Keystone Progress, an activist network, explains the long term effects: “Even if you are able to get a good job it means that if you’re graduating with $30,000 or more in debt, that means it’s going to be a long time before you get rid of that debt. It makes it harder for you to buy a house, harder to start a business.”

The Times Herald reports that college expenses in Pennsylvania have become outrageously high over the past decade, fueled in part by the “easy money” of student loans and government financial aid. Schools maintain extremely high principals (the cost of tuition) and offset the costs to students, who are expected to take out loans that could potentially permanently bury them in debt.

And student debt, like subprime loans, is a huge moneymaking scheme from which the government is making a pretty penny. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports that the federal government is poised to make $185 billion over the next ten years on student loans.

Before Christmas, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) released a slate of proposed reforms aimed at lowering student debt, including a student borrower’s bill of rightsthat would put more emphasis on getting servicers to offer students affordable repayment plans, and a provision that would require schools with lots of struggling borrowers to compensate the government for loan repayment losses.

Businessweek reports the penalty proposed in the Protect Student Borrowers Act of 2013 would affect schools at which at least a quarter of students take out loans, a threshold that would include most institutions. Community colleges would be exempt, along with historically black institutions, according to Inside Higher Ed.


British education boss criticises ‘disconnected’ history lessons

Schoolchildren are struggling to properly differentiate between the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks because of failings in the teaching of history, according to Michael Gove.

Pupils have lost a sense of chronology that allows them to place key dates and civilisations in their historical context, the Education Secretary warned.

He said too much time had been spent teaching children a “disconnected set of topics” with little understanding of how they fit together.

The comments follow the introduction of a controversial new history curriculum for schools in England designed to equip pupils with a broad sweep of British and world history.

Speaking today on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, Mr Gove said the move was designed to stop schools “jumping around” between disparate topics.

In further comments, he suggested that Horrible Histories, the books and television series created by Terry Deary, was a useful tool spark interest in “neglected” periods of history in schools such as the 17th century.

Mr Gove also said the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War presented schools with an opportunity to “generate empathy” with the conflict and the role of its generals – instead of simply viewing it through the traditional “prism” of Blackadder and Oh! What a Lovely War.

The new history curriculum – for pupils aged five to 14 – starts with the Stone Age and finishes with the development of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The document, which will be taught from September 2014, also takes in the Romans, Vikings, Magna Carta, the Reformation, the Civil War, development of the Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, Industrial Revolution, the world wars and creation of the NHS.

It has been criticised by some teachers and academics for promoting a "pub quiz"-style approach to the subject.

But Mr Gove insisted pupils needed a “narrative arc of chronology” that gives them a “wider sense of the impact of Britain on the world and the world on Britain”.

He said: “There’s children, including my own, who can’t remember, well perhaps didn’t even know in the first place, whether the Romans, Egyptians or the Greeks came in which particular order and whether or not the Vikings were their antagonists, protagonists, sons or daughters.

“So in that sense, giving people a sense of chronology is the high priority. But then it’s not enough simply to try to revive ‘1066 and all that’ for the 21st century.

“You have got to make sure that there is room for people to explore subjects which in the past were neglected because of our approach towards our understanding of our own country, and you have also got to encourage critical thinking skills as well.”

Speaking on the programme, Margaret MacMillan, the historian, said the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014 should be used to give pupils “a sense of respect for those that fought”.

This included an appreciation of Earl Haig who has been “caricatured as this heartless man sitting in his château, drinking champagne while sending men into the mud to die”, she said.

Mr Gove said: “History should – in the broadest sense of the word – generate empathy. That doesn’t mean agreement with how people are and how they operated in the past, but it means understanding of the constraints under which they operated.

“I do think that the influence of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys, Oh What a Lovely War [and] even Blackadder have meant that we see the First World War through a particular prism and if there’s a correction I think that will be helpful.”

On the subject of Horrible Histories, Mr Gove said that the series had been used by his children to learn about Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, adding: “The 17th century has been neglected in the past but has the capacity to interest children like no other period.”

He also rejected suggestions that history should be used to foster a sense of patriotism.

He said: “I love reading the stories of heroes and heroines in the past and I am proud of the role that Britain has played on the world stage… However, there is a difference between my own personal enthusiasms and the responsibility that I have, or any politician would have.

“The thing that I want people to have is an understanding of the past and an ability to analyse. And if students at the end of studying history come out as Maxists who hate the oppressive narrative of baronial rule that is the spine of English history, as long as they love history, I will be delighted.”


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Rotten to the Core

Instead of ill-conceived standards, improve schools with vouchers and competition

Americans expect more individualization, from flexible workplace schedules and telecommuting, to TV programs that can be watched at viewers’ convenience.

Yet American education is moving in the opposite direction toward one-size-fits-all schooling thanks in no small part to the Common Core national standards. Savvy education consumers should reject this growing centralization and start demanding from education what they demand from every other industry sector: more innovation and personalization.

Common Core was publicized as a state-led, voluntary initiative, but it was actually an offer states couldn’t refuse if they wanted their share of billions of federal education dollars. Now that most states have signed on, they’re getting more—and less—than they bargained for.

Common Core is supposed to provide a consistent understanding of what students should know to be college-and career-ready. But it turns out Common Core’s standards are no more rigorous than the average state standards were. Worse, new Common Core-aligned tests cost state taxpayers about twice as much their previous standard tests.

Experts who served on the Common Core Validation Committee also warn that academic rigor was compromised to get political buy-in from the various interest groups involved—including teachers unions. For example, the only math-content expert, Stanford University mathematics Professor Emeritus James Milgram, explained that questionable content decisions were approved to make Common Core standards “acceptable to the special interest groups involved.” Milgram concluded that the Common Core is “in large measure a political document” that is watered down—not strengthened by practices used in high-achieving countries.

Another Validation Committee member, University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky who was in charge of revising K-12 standards in Massachusetts (considered the strongest nationwide) together with former U.S. Department of Education senior policy adviser Ze’ev Wurman, also warn that Common Core’s notion of college- and career-readiness “may decrease, not increase, student achievement,” in large part because it’s geared toward minimal competencies such as graduating high school or avoiding remedial classes at two-year community colleges.

Unsurprisingly, the approved curriculum is advancing a partisan political agenda, showcasing pro-labor union and pro-universal health care materials, along with more graphic, adult-themed books under the auspices of promoting diversity and toleration. The problems don’t stop there.

Non-academic, personal information is also being collected through federally-subsidized Common Core testing consortia about students and their parents, including family income, political affiliation, religion, and students’ disciplinary records—all without parental consent. That information, including Social Security numbers of students in at least one state, is being shared with third-party data collection firms, prompting a growing number of parents to opt their children out of Common Core.

Ultimately, Common Core rests on the faulty premise that one centralized entity knows what’s best for all 55 million students nationwide. Of course, children need to learn the basics, but there are better ways of accomplishing that goal than embracing a national curriculum developed by Washington.

Parental choice programs, for example, educate students to high standards, without limiting the diverse schooling options needed to meet their unique needs. Importantly, unlike rigid federal mandates, these programs provide real, immediate accountability: parents can enroll or transfer their children to different schools if they believe their current schools aren’t performing.

This year, nearly 245,000 students are attending schools of their parents’ choice through 32 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs operating in 16 states and D.C., as well as one educational savings account program in Arizona. Scientific research consistently shows that participating students have higher graduation and college attendance rates, as well as higher reading and math scores, than their peers.

These are compelling findings, especially since students participating in parental choice programs are overwhelmingly from low-income families and had previously attended underperforming or failing public schools.

Importantly, private schools get results without the inflexibility of a cookie-cutter system. They offer an array of curricular choices, from Montessori to back-to-basics. Not only do most private schools administer standardized tests and report results directly to parents, they also report information that’s most important to parents, including student-teacher ratios, course descriptions and college acceptance rates.

Regardless of the particular academic program offered, private schools must continue offering rigorous academics children need and parents think are best—or risk losing students to other schools.

Washington doesn’t make schools accountable. Parents do. Washington doesn’t improve school performance. Competition for students does. Parental choice ensures high standards and encourages the customization students need to succeed in school and beyond—without all the cost, compromised rigor or political agendas.


Ten children a day are kicked out of British schools for having weapons: Pupils and teachers attacked with pepper spray, chisels and knuckledusters in string of incidents

Ten children a day are suspended or expelled from school because of incidents involving weapons including knives, air guns, chisels and knuckledusters.

Pupils and teachers were threatened or attacked in a string of incidents over the past year, some involving pepper spray and razor blades, a disturbing survey has found.

In Essex, a pupil took a knife to school and held it to another child’s throat. Another pupil was expelled for throwing a fire extinguisher at a headmaster.

A child in Leicester stole the emergency hammer from a school minibus and threatened fellow pupils with it.

And in Birmingham, pupils were disciplined for bringing machetes, knives and pepper spray to school. One student was expelled for whipping his teacher with a rope, while another attacked a fellow student with a knuckleduster.

In West Sussex, a student was suspended after attacking two pupils with a chisel. In Croydon, South London, a pupil shot another with a BB air gun.

A survey of councils in England after a Freedom of Information request found 57 out of 150 had received reports from local schools of pupils excluded temporarily or permanently for incidents involving weapons, many of them potentially lethal. Altogether last year there were 594 incidents.

But only a third of councils hold this information as they are not required to by the Department for Education, so across the country the total would be around 1,800 – or ten children per school day.

Academies and free schools do not supply information about incidents at school to their council.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education and a former state school history teacher and headmaster of a successful prep school, said: ‘Schools should be safe and secure places for staff and pupils.

'Where violence reigns, self-preservation, not education, is the order of the day. The fact is there are few deterrents for delinquent kids.

‘A child who is a danger to others in school should be educated in an isolation unit until we can be fairly sure that he or she no longer poses a threat.’

The greatest number of violent incidents at schools during the 2012/13 academic year – by both adults and children – was in London which had 112, followed by 14 in the West Midlands.

Tower Hamlets council in East London had a report of a pupil coming to school armed with four replica guns and ammunition.

The Daily Mail revealed earlier this year that 40 primary school pupils are expelled for attacking staff every day. There were 8,000 expulsions in just one year – a 15 per cent rise in 12 months.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘It is totally unacceptable for pupils to threaten other pupils and teachers with weapons.

‘That is why we have put  teachers back in charge of  discipline. Teachers can now issue no-notice detentions, search pupils without consent for weapons, and use force to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom.’


Keeping Teachers in the Classroom

Given our still-sputtering economy, Americans have grown used to their public schools facing tight budgets. This fiscal squeeze has drawn out a hidden crisis in public education: How do we keep our best teachers in the classroom?

The short answer is, we don't.

Between 2009 and 2012, public schools laid off about 140,000 teachers across America. In most places, teachers are let go in order of seniority, based solely on how long they've been in the system.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 15 states require teacher performance to inform decisions about layoffs. But, as parents and school administrators realized they were losing their most effective young teachers, fights erupted from California to Connecticut.

Most recently, the battle has come to Philadelphia, America's eighth-largest school district. There, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is in a tense standoff over the rehiring of 3,800 laid-off teachers and other school employees.

In the midst of a longstanding budget crisis, Philadelphia school district officials can't rehire every teacher. Their solution? Suspend seniority rules and put the best teachers back in the classroom. Naturally, the teachers' union is fighting them tooth and nail.

As in other cities, seniority is harming Philadelphia's parents, teachers, and some of its most disadvantaged students. For Philadelphia Rep. Vanessa Brown, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania's black caucus, seniority rules were nearly a matter of life and death.

Learning was always a struggle for Brown's special needs son-until the second grade. Then one day he told his surprised mother that he loved school. The reason was a dynamic new teacher, who connected so well with her son, the boy moved up three grades in just one year.

By the time Brown's son reached ninth grade, however, a massive teacher layoff in Philadelphia cost the teacher his job. He got "bumped" by a more senior teacher, according to teacher union rules and state law. His excellent results with students like Brown's son didn't matter.

The more senior teacher, according to Brown, interpreted her son's every learning obstacle as a disciplinary problem. The boy grew frustrated, and started acting out. He missed an opportunity to go to college, and that was the beginning of a "long, dark" depression, Brown says.

Were it not for Brown's vigilance, thoughts of suicide might have overwhelmed him. Now Brown remains the only Democratic co-sponsor of a bill that would retain teachers based on performance, not on how much time they've served.

Seniority rules hurt some of the worst-off schools even within failing school districts like Philadelphia. Urban schools tend to attract young zealous teachers. But when layoffs hit, those teachers are the first let go.

In Los Angeles, Markham Middle School-one of the lowest-performing schools in the state-was on track for reform under a new operator and new teachers.

When the Los Angeles Unified School District laid off 9,000 employees in 2009-a tenth of the workforce-Markham lost half of its mostly young staff. Even when re-hiring began, the school was required to hire from a pool of displaced senior teachers first, most of whom didn't even want to teach at Markham. The school ended up having to rely on substitute teachers, derailing its reform efforts.

The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have staunchly opposed seniority reform, even when it's meant jettisoning their younger, due-paying members.

That's why detailed teacher evaluation systems, such as those enacted in Florida or Indiana, are important. Used well, and with the goal of providing detailed feedback so teachers know how to improve, such systems tie teacher retention to student performance.

The battle playing out in Philadelphia-and which has been repeated across the country-has real victims. Both teachers and some of our most vulnerable students suffer when we rely on seniority alone to decide who gets to stay in the classroom. But if our public school system is to thrive, we must fight to keep our best teachers teaching.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poll: Public education seen as declining  in Louisiana

The Mood of Louisiana was an opt-in survey made available to the print, digital and social media audiences of The Town Talk in Alexandria, The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, The Daily World in Opelousas, The Times in Shreveport and The News-Star in Monroe in early December. Five hundred people participated in the survey.

Public education has long been a critical backbone of community and economic success, and a recent statewide survey shows that most Louisiana residents put it at the top of the list of state priorities.

The Mood of Louisiana was an opt-in survey made available to the print, digital and social media audiences of The Town Talk in Alexandria, The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, The Daily World in Opelousas, The Times in Shreveport and The News-Star in Monroe in early December. Five hundred people participated in the survey.

Overall, nearly 75 percent of respondents said K-12 education is “extremely important,” and nearly 18 percent qualified it as an “important” subject. With that high interest comes high concern. About 62 percent of respondents said they believe Louisiana public education is declining in quality, while another 21 percent said it is maintaining the status quo. Only about 12 percent of respondents said they think public education is improving in the state.

The results come after more than a year of major changes and controversies, including the implementation of Common Core State Standards, a new teacher evaluation model, a higher-than-expected rate of teacher departures and the state’s Minimum Foundation Program funding remaining stagnant. Meanwhile, state support for options such as voucher schools and charter schools have prompted some to question whether officials like Gov. Bobby Jindal are putting more faith in private enterprises than the traditional public model.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said he believes media coverage of those topics has caused more people to pay closer attention to what is happening in schools in their communities, and overall education reform efforts.

“... While citizens may not have a wonk’s understanding of any of these issues, the net effect, I believe strongly, is a powerful reminder of how critical public education is to all of our futures,” Monaghan said via email.


Australia: Victorian students will get tough love lessons

VICTORIAN school students will be taught to toughen up and sort out their own problems amid concern too many lack resilience.

The delivery of sex and drug education will also be overhauled as part of the new schools initiative.  It aims to help youngsters better deal with life's setbacks.

The State Government will today announce experts from the University of Melbourne will develop the resilience program, to be rolled out to state primary and secondary schools from mid next year.

It follows findings that developing students' social and emotional skills is critical to improving their academic performance and success in life.

"Education is more than teaching numbers and words - it's about preparing students for life during and after school," Education Minister Martin Dixon said.

"Victorian schools already have a strong wellbeing focus - making sure every student is supported to succeed at school.  "The resilience framework takes the next step, teaching students how to make good decisions when faced with life's challenges."

Under the resilience initiative teachers and school leaders will get access to new online social, wellbeing and health resources which can be used in class or given to families to use at home.

Students will learn how to make informed decisions, when to ask for help and develop relationship and self-awareness skills.  Advice about "respectful" relationships and health promotion will also be included.

University of Melbourne project leader Associate Prof Helen Cahill said the institution had extensive experience in delivering such programs.

"The resilience framework will equip educators with evidence-based approaches to promoting social and emotional wellbeing and health education in Victorian schools," she said.

Training to help teachers handle students who have challenging behaviour and advice for principals to deal with aggressive parents are also part of the welfare push.

Content will be tailored to students' age


Australia:  Qld. eyes new back-to-basics exams for kids to make grade

STATE school maths and science testing is set for a shake-up with the Newman Government supporting reforms including the potential for external, HSC-style exams.  The move could have wider implications for the future of Queensland's OP system, which is also under review.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek will today release his response to the parliamentary Education and Innovation Committee's inquiry into the way maths, chemistry and physics are being assessed in schools and its 16 recommendations.

The LNP asked for the inquiry after complaints from parents, teachers and academics about the current system.

Mr Langbroek said the Government backed the committee's recommendations and wanted the system to go "back to basics".

"The major outcomes of this will be a greater emphasis on numerical marking and a review of students' written assignments," Mr Langbroek said. "This is about getting back to basics, removing the confusion and allowing schools to make decisions about the best way to assess their students."

In a further indication the current OP (overall position) system for assessing senior students is on its way out, Mr Langbroek also expressed support for an external, HSC-style exam worth about 50 per cent of a student's overall mark in maths, chemistry and physics. All of the assessment is  school-based currently.

He has asked the independent inquiry into the OP system, being carried out by the Australian Council for Educational Research, to consider the move and it is due to report back by July.

Under the plan, the number of inquiry-based assessments such as essays will be capped, while the senior heads of maths and science departments from about 400 schools will be compelled to attend workshops early next year to address "challenges and confusions" identified in the parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Langbroek said the workshops will be held by the outgoing Queensland Studies Authority which is due to be replaced by new body, the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, in July next year,

"The QSA will be directed to formally amend syllabuses to require that no more than two extended experimental investigations be conducted per subject per year as part of the implementation of the Australian Curriculum," he said.

"They will also write to all principals clarifying the use of numerical marking, and develop resources that explain how marks can be linked to syllabus standards and criteria."


Monday, December 30, 2013

DIY Bathroom De-Gendering Spreading at Colleges

Students at Wesleyan University followed the lead of students at Brown University to relabel traditional bathrooms as gender neutral. A Slate writer defended the move, describing bathrooms as a "social construct" and personal comfort as a "privilege."

The relabeling campaign is easy to organize: only a handful of activists are needed to obtain some signs for free and then relabel bathrooms on their own.

It is important to note that some places in America now require gender-neutral bathrooms, including Philadelphia and a county in Oregon. However, these locales have not replaced traditional bathrooms but have rather added a third, gender-neutral option.

Those initiatives do not go far enough, according to Slate writer Izzy Rode. Although the author is only an intern, her (Rode describes herself as "female-bodied yet androgynous," so it is unclear what pronouns would be appropriate) piece defending gender-neutral bathrooms is one of only two pieces the Slate editors have chosen to publish (along with a piece arguing that monogamous marriage and families should not be encouraged).

Rode clearly sides with the students at Brown and Wesleyan, who want to eliminate all gendered spaces. If the ordinary channels of advocacy do not bend to the will of this minority, then the activists may turn to vandalism and destruction of school property. The Wesleyan campaign openly shares its extreme objectives in an interview with campus media. Highlights include:

"Do you want to eliminate all gendered bathrooms, or just have a more even distribution of gender-neutral vs. gendered bathrooms?

P: Because binary-gendered bathrooms exclude by decree and become dangerous/inaccessible spaces for trans*/gender-non-conforming people, yes, the elimination of all gender-segregated spaces on campus is necessary. There is no reason that trans*/gender-non-conforming people should put up with cisgender supremacist coding of “public” spaces.

Would you be willing to discuss permanently changing bathrooms to all-gender bathrooms with the administration, or do you view them as a lost cause?

P: Yes – in fact, we are talking to various administrators already. But I do know that we’re not going to wait for the glacial pace of policy and law reform to claim safe space bathrooms all across campus....

P: A friend of mine put it this way: ”What does it reveal about how our lives touch when your ‘vandalism’ is my ‘Liberation’?”
L: ...Valuing property over the humanity of oppressed people is f***ed.

Do you think that this direct action approach could backfire and harm future dialogue with the University and/or with other students about changing the bathrooms?

P: Frankly, peaceful and civilized “future dialogue” is not our priority here."

Ultimately, self-described trans* activists are doomed to fail as long as they continue to fixate on radical ends, coercive means, and resentment towards the vast majority.


White boys in Britain are failing in schools because of immigration, says Labour spokesman as he admits party got the figures badly wrong

Poor school achievement from white boys is linked to immigration from Eastern Europe according to Labour's shadow education secretary.

Tristram Hunt, who is a former television historian, said that more must be done to train British youngsters for skilled jobs.

He claimed that change was essential as more people from the EU continue to arrive to compete for jobs.

Mr Hunt also branded Conservative education secretary Michael Gove a 'zealot'  with a ' highly aggressive investment-banker model of school.'

The comments were made in an interview with The Fabian Society which will be published next week.

They come days before migrants from Romania and Bulgaria will be granted the unrestricted right to live and work in the UK.

And Mr Hunt said that the previous Labour government got their immigration forecasts 'badly wrong'.

The Telegraph reported that Mr Hunt said: 'What we can do in the education sphere is to [show] that there is a growing issue of white British boys not getting the education they want.'

And when asked if he thought that poor attainment in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and the Kent coast is because of high levels of EU migration there, Mr Hunt said: 'Exactly. And that comes back to the supply side, we have to get in there.'

He added: 'In 1997 the focus was on standards and expansion of the higher education sector.  'We all thought the knowledge economy was the answer and that financial services would keep going forever.'


University apologises to students in Mohammed and Jesus T-shirt row

The London School of Economics has apologised to two students who were forced to cover up T-shirts with images of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on.

Professor Paul Kelly admitted he got the ‘judgment wrong’ after the pair were told by student union officers that displaying the images may constitute religious harassment.

Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis were threatened with being thrown out of the university’s Freshers Fair if they didn’t cover up the images, as they manned an Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the event.

Prof Kelly, pro-director at LSE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was a difficult judgment and I quite accept I called it wrong.”

The T-shirts featured a picture of Mohammed prohibited under Islamic law.

Prof Kelly dismissed claims that the decision was made on the basis of freedom of speech, but said this was based on a dispute between students. He said they had to take into account the views of everyone at the event, which sees students from hundreds of different countries across the world attend.

He also said they had received both oral and written complaints.

He added: "This was a complex event because it's a welcome event. It's when students from 130 countries arrive in the UK all together. Freedom of speech still applies there, but it wasn't the same as us objecting to a student society event or a public lecture, or if Christian – as he later did – hosted an event where students wore the T-shirt. That's fine."

But Mr Moos said that he had received only "positive" responses to the T-shirt on the day and had never been shown any evidence of complaints being made.

He said: "I think this was a very straightforward decision. It was simply two students exercising their right to freedom of expression that they have as much as any other student who might wear religious symbols or T-shirts expressing their faith. It is extremely shocking that LSE try to justify their decision.

"We've always said we support freedom of expression within the law. If somebody is wearing a racist or violent or gory T-shirt, that would be a totally different situation. But (it's different) when you are wearing an innocuous T-shirt that does not offend or harass anyone, not even by the most stringent standards."

The students formally appealed to LSE on November 12 and received a public apology from Professor Craig Calhoun, director of the LSE. He wrote to the pair to confirm that wearing the T-shirts did not constitute harassment or break the law.

A statement released by the university said: “LSE takes its duty to promote free speech very seriously, and as such, will discuss and learn from the issues raised by recent events.”

At the time Richard Dawkins, a high profile atheist, branded LSE student union officers “sanctimonious little prigs” over the incident.