Friday, January 31, 2014

Are Opportunity Scholarships the Way of the Future?

It’s National School Choice week so it’s fitting that Jason Stverak, who is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, argued yesterday at The Hill that it’s high-time we finally have a national conversation about expanding educational opportunities in this country. He writes that while young Americans applying to colleges and universities have a wide range of options to pick and choose from, oftentimes poor children in grades K-12 have no other choice but to attend their local (and failing) public school. Hence a wide range of educational options modeled on the higher education model, he insists, is necessary to meet the diverse and changing demands of American families:

    While far from perfect, the American higher education system is the envy of the modern world. But with our K-12 system lagging well behind those of many other industrialized nations, we continue to cling to the policies of the past, letting government decide which schools parents are allowed to send their children to. It’s long past time to apply the college mentality to elementary, middle, and high schools, and allow parents to “shop” for these schools with their own tax money to find the best fit for their children.

    The American K-12 education system faces perhaps the most daunting task of any in the world. Over 70 million children live in the United States, and they come from every background imaginable, speaking dozens of languages at home, and growing up in settings as varied as urban New York, rural North Dakota, and the melting pot of California. With the most demographically diverse youth population in the world, it would be unreasonable to expect any singular educational program to be able to adequately meet the needs of each of these children.

In other words, the one-size-fits-all approach is not feasible or realistic. So what is the answer? Opportunity scholarships, he argues:

    Opportunity scholarships can solve this problem. These programs, which are working to great effect in states like Indiana and Louisiana, return parents’ educational tax contribution to them in the form of a scholarship that can be used at any accredited school--much as Pell Grants and other forms of federal financial aid can be used at any public or private college. With the money that they’ve already spent on education back in their hands, parents can truly assume control over their children’s futures, and compare the attributes of various schools against each other. Families might choose a large public high school for one child, a small school specializing in arts for another, and a partially-online charter school for a third, all without having to dip into their savings. Moreover, as the cost of educating a child outside a traditional public school is often lower than present per-pupil spending, opportunity scholarships save school districts money, allowing them to reinvest in teachers, facilities, and technology.

    School choice isn’t just an educational or economic issue however--it’s a moral one. The right school can permanently change a child’s life for the better and open up a world of opportunities, and for many low-income families, the present system keeps that school just out of their reach. Opportunity scholarships can shatter this unjust ceiling.

The president will focus tonight on income inequality in his State of the Union Address, which of course significantly impacts inequities in public schools. After all, how is it morally permissible that poor children are routinely forced to attend schools that aren’t up to par? Why can’t they attend a different school, or perhaps continue their studies in the home? Each child is different, and therefore tailoring their educational needs to the right school is paramount. This decision, too, must be placed in the hands of parents, who understand far better than any politician or government agency what is best for their children.

Republicans and Democrats both believe in strengthening U.S. public schools, and providing more opportunity to all. But how can that happen unless American families are given the freedom and opportunity to send their kids to the schools where they are most likely to succeed? Until that happens, a generation of young people will continue to be trapped in a system that perpetuates inequality and poverty.

School choice is one possible avenue to give all children, to borrow a line from Lincoln, "an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life."


British children face nine-hour school days and shorter holidays

Children face being at school for nine hours a day and see their holidays cut drastically under plans being examined by the Conservatives.

The proposals, drawn up by David Cameron's former policy chief Paul Kirby, would see school days extended to run from about 9am until 6pm, from the current hours of around 8.30am to 3.10pm.

Holidays would also be reduced from 13 weeks to seven.

Mr Kirby told The Sun that it would solve a wide range of issues, "transforming the lives of most households in the UK within two years".

The newspaper suggested the extended days could reduce youth crime, boost education standards and prepare children for the world of work by getting them used to full days.

It would also allow parents to return to full-time work.

Tory ministers are examining the plans, which would apply to all children between the ages of five and 18, in time for the party's 2015 general election manifesto.

Mr Kirby told the newspaper: "This is a once in a generation reset that wouldn't detract from the current school freedom agenda. It also involves dramatically expanding what schools actually do – into sport and other activities.

"It would also go a long way to solving the crisis around childcare affordability, a major issue for many parents."

Kirby, who now works for KPMG as a partner, said the move would be popular with teachers and give pupils time to catch up with their international competitors.



Start careers advice in primary schools, say business leaders

A leading business group today called on the Government to help address the gap in employability skills which exists among many young people leaving education.

In a major new report, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have set out ways to transform the education system, calling for a partnership between Ofsted and businesses to ensure that schools are being assessed not just on academic achievement, but also on how they prepare their pupils for work.

In these proposals, Ofsted would look at what schools are doing to coordinate work experience, and what business contacts schools provide young people with.

The manifesto also calls for an early start to careers education and a new universal qualification that assesses literacy, numeracy, ICT and foreign languages.

Nora Senior, president of the BCC said: “Businesses are concerned about the employability of young people leaving education and coming into the workplace, they are concerned both about attitude and aptitude. Employment may be rising – there are currently 30.15 million people in work – but there is still a worrying trend of youth unemployment.

“Successive governments and education establishments have failed young people by not ensuring that they are properly equipped for the world of work."

A detailed policy paper on in-work training will be published later this year. However, the big changes suggested by the BCC are in careers education and measurement.

The report, which highlights the “skills mismatch” described by many UK employers, advocates early careers advice and business engagement for primary school children, starting at Key Stage 2.

John Wastnage, head of employment and skills at the BCC, said: “I don’t think you can start careers advice too early. You can make education relevant by showing that working hard at school helps you to pay for a holiday, for example.”

A universal qualification, based on the music exam model, has also been suggested to replace traditional GCSEs in key subjects.

Speaking about the proposed qualification, Mr Wastnage said: “We are talking about a completely new assessment system for these four functional skills that employers are looking for: literacy, numeracy, ICT and foreign languages.

“Grade one would be taken at the end of primary school, aged 11, but children could progress at different speeds.

“There needs to be a shift in education to make it as much about employability as it is about academic achievement. If you measure schools on the employment outcomes of their pupils, then there is a much stronger incentive for schools to work with the local business community to develop the skills that employers are looking for.”

The BCC's new manifesto says that while employers do not expect the education system to produce "fully-formed skilled workers", they do require basic building blocks.

"Many employers are confused by the wide range of different qualifications and frequent changes to the system by successive governments and struggle to equate particular grades with skills relevant to their business," it says.

The new qualification being proposed by the BCC would aim to test, among other things, whether young people can write a formal email or a business report.

The Skills and Employment manifesto is published in the week that a major inquiry chaired by Sir Roy Anderson, former rector of Imperial College London, criticised “outdated” A-levels which fail to prepare teenagers for university and the workplace.

The report, Making Education Work, claimed that too many sixth-formers left school with poor levels of writing, basic numeracy, critical thinking, problem-solving, time management and an inability to work independently, and recommended a shift towards a baccalaureate-style qualification.

Following on from the manifesto, the BCC will write to Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills and Enterprise and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, inviting them to call a summit to bring together Government, education employers and trade unions in order to take this initiative to the next stage to “develop a long term sustainable solution for employability”.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Standardized Absurdity: A Preview of Common Core Testing, Part 2

We shall continue with our Common Core standardized exam, provided by the testing consortium Smarter Balanced. Recall that this is an eleventh-grade English Language Arts examination.

    "Much Ado About Much Ado About Nothing

    It was the first day back at school after the holiday break. Our drama teacher, Mrs. Kent, handed out our next assignment: an in-depth study of a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. I was so excited to see that I had been assigned a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. Finally, here was my long-awaited opportunity to act out a comedy scene from Shakespeare! My joy was short-lived, however, because moments later I saw Luke shuffling my way with that mocking grin on his face that I find so infuriating. Of course, Mrs. Kent had assigned Luke to be my partner! Even worse, we were to play Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare’s most famous lovers. Where was Macbeth’s dagger when you needed it?

    . . . As soon as we sat down to look at the scene, Luke was pompously proclaiming himself an expert.

    “Beatrice and Benedick are obviously in love here at the beginning of the play. Anyone with a brain could see that, Kate,” he said.

    “I have brain enough for both of us, Luke, which is good, since you seem to be in need. Beatrice and Benedick only fall in love because they’re tricked into it. They would never have fallen in love otherwise—that much is obvious to anyone with a pulse.”

    “Oh, really? I’ll speak slowly so you can understand,” Luke said. Etc."

Sample question from the exam:

    Click on two sentences that summarize the main idea of the text.

    a) Luke and Kate are both very knowledgeable about Shakespeare.

    b) Luke and Kate present arguments to their teacher and defend their points of view.

    c) Luke and Kate realize that people can have different interpretations of characters in a play. Etc.

Common-sense questions.

    Who most likely wrote the foregoing passage? Support your answer in two-three sentences.

    a) an underpaid testing-hack

    b) an overpaid testing-hack

    c) a graduate student in English literature strapped for cash and willing to sell his soul

    d) William Shakespeare

    Which description least fits the foregoing banter between Kate and Luke:

    a) cutesy

    b) cloying

    c) perfectly natural; just how two star-crossed, teenage lovers of Shakespeare would talk to each other

    d) comically unrealistic

Questions on the examination as a whole (for advanced readers):

    Students who read such selections on a standardized exam (and have read similar passages in their English classes to prepare for the exam) will think about these passages . . .

    a) throughout the course of their lives.

    b) when telling stories to their children and grandchildren.

    c) when navigating the tempestuous waters of the twenty-first-century global economy.

    d) when Hell freezes over.

    Most noticeably missing in this standardized examination in English is:

    a) great English literature

    b) learning of any kind

    c) any discernable academic standard

    d) all of the above

    The proximity of such eleventh-grade English standards to the work that will be required of students in a college English literature and composition class could best be described as:

    a) pretty darn close

    b) close enough for government work

    c) exactly on the money

    d) missed by a country mile

So what have we learned through this examination? The first lesson is that all the promises of “college and career readiness” are empty slogans: a tour de force of jargon-ridden demagoguery on the part of the testing hacks and their rich supporters, as well as the rest of the education bureaucrats who control the nation’s public schools. The idea that these readings and the simple-minded questions that follow would prepare students for college is preposterous—unless, which is already the case—the first two years of most colleges serve as one giant, expensive effort at remediation.

The second lesson is, as I show in more detail in my book The Story-Killers, that the authors of the Common Core have no love for great literature. Do not be fooled by the cutesy dialogue of Kate and Luke, who talk about reading Shakespeare. This is not Shakespeare. In fact, this sample examination (presumably for the consumption of teachers primarily) contains not one selection from literature. Compare the passage above to the real Beatrice and Benedick:

    Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior

    Benedick: nobody marks you.

    Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

    Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath

    such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?

    Courtesy itself must convert to disdain; if you come

    in her presence.

    Benedick: Then courtesy is a turncoat. But it is certain I

    am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I

    would that I could find in my heart that I had not a hard

    heart; for truly I love none.

    Beatrice: A dear happiness to women: they would else have

    been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God

    and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I

    had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man

    swear he loves me.

A little tougher—and wittier—no? How much could be said—about Beatrice’s character, about young men, about love itself—discussing the line, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”! Is there any comparable line from the testers’ mock dialogue?

Finally, just how stupid (or somnolent) do they think the American people are? The passage on the “science of meditation” is clearly soft evangelizing in the new religion—a kind of New Age, quasi-spiritual, multicultural mush—supposedly supported by science. The passage on Eco-fashion, however, is the harder side of that evangelizing: on human beings’ constant threat to Goddess Planet. Washing your T-shirt is one of the new sins, and to have that sin forgiven, you must buy clothes that are genuinely Eco-friendly.

The rest of the passage urges the young consumers of clothing to action. Readers are invited to search labels thoroughly, making sure that clothing manufacturers aren’t just paying lip-service to environmentalism. The teenage consumer must learn to hold these awful corporations accountable for their destruction of the environment and chronic waste of the world’s energy and resources (on which the EPA has a perfect handle). In short, the forces behind the Common Core dictate that our children’s minds should be trained on absurdity and thinly-veiled political propaganda rather than the great, soul-ennobling stories written by Shakespeare and Austen and Melville and Poe.

To appreciate fully the gravity of the situation, parents and citizens must understand one basic reality of the Common Core and one basic reality of education. Nowadays, he who controls the testing controls the schools. And he who controls the schools controls the minds of our future citizenry.


Underprivileged British pupils fall FURTHER behind despite Nick Clegg's flagship education policy to narrow gap between rich and poor youngsters

Underprivileged pupils fell further behind better off children last year despite Nick Clegg’s flagship policy to narrow the exam gap between them.

The gulf widened in 72 out of 152 local authorities in a year despite extra funding from the pupil premium policy, according to Left-wing think-tank Demos.

This included 66 where the difference was larger than before the premium was introduced.

The analysis was based on the number of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs with a C grade or higher, including English and maths.

The achievement gap is measured by the difference between the results of those pupils receiving free school meals and those whose parents pay for their children’s school dinners.

Last summer’s exam results revealed it had reached 26.7 percentage points across England, up from 26.4 points in 2011-12. In 2010-11 it was 27.5 percentage points.

But if inner London is removed – where the difference closed from 18.9 percentage points to 18.6 points over three years – the average gap in 2012-13 rises to 29.5 points.

The capital has benefited from another initiative, the London Challenge, which has improved academic results for poorer children by pouring millions of pounds into schools.

The lack of progress made nationwide since the £2.5billion-a-year pupil premium was introduced in April 2011 is an embarrassment for the Deputy Prime Minister, who included it in the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto.

It comes just a week after another of his policies, to double the number of free nursery places for deprived two-year-olds, was criticised for threatening to lower standards unless it was delayed.

The Sutton Trust education charity warned many of the extra staff needed would be former childminders, who tend to have lower qualifications than nursery workers.

The pupil premium was introduced in April 2011. At present, the scheme provides primaries with an extra £953 for each child on free school meals and secondaries with £900 for each such pupil.

The widest gaps were found in the South East, with 42.5 per cent in Wokingham, Berkshire, and 39.6 per cent in Buckinghamshire.

London had the three smallest gaps - 4.2 per cent in Kensington and Chelsea, 7.7 per cent in Southwark and 9.5 per cent in Lambeth.

Ian Wybron, an education specialist at the think tank Demos, said: 'The attainment gap has been a difficult nut to crack in recent years.


English education system among most class-ridden in developed world

Class has a bigger influence on how well educated people are in England than in almost any other developed country, a major study has concluded.

English adults whose parents went to university have dramatically higher levels of literacy and numeracy than those from less privileged backgrounds, it found.

It warns of an “exceptionally” large gap between those with the highest skill levels and those at the bottom, a gulf which is even more dramatic among young people.

The report, published by the Institute of Education, blames decades of inequality between the best schools and the worst.

It finds that the link between people’s skills in adult life and their parents’ background is “especially high” in England in comparison with 24 other countries or regions.

England has the biggest numeracy gap among those aged 25 to 29 out of the 25 countries studied and only Slovakia has a stronger link between young people’s skill levels and their parental background.

Researchers at the institute’s Research Centre on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) compared data from OECD studies of literacy and numeracy.

Overall it concludes: “The association of people’s adult skills with their parents’ social background is especially high in England.

“We conclude that the primary cause of adult skills inequality in England is the exceptionally unequal skills outcomes of the initial education system sustained over a long period, fuelled and supplemented by an especially strong influence from social background.”

It adds that mass migration or different levels of adult training cannot explain the gap between the most skilled and the least in England in comparison with elsewhere.

“Two factors do seem to provide an explanation, at least for England,” it says.  “One is the relatively strong effect in England of social background on skills attainment. “The other is the high level of inequality in the outputs of the education system over a long period.”

Significantly, the study found that 16 to 24-year-olds with parents who have degrees were likely to score 67 points higher in one international numeracy survey than those who parents were educated to GCSE level.

This gap was bigger than in every other country which took part in the survey, apart from the Slovak Republic.

In literacy the gap between those 16 to 24-year-olds with degree-educated and GCSE-educated parents was around 58 points, again wider than in every other nation apart from the Slovak Republic.

Among the working age adult population as a whole, England has the third biggest numeracy gap, after France, Canada and the US.

It is also in the bottom half for literacy. In both literacy and numeracy, the gap between the top scores and bottom scores is narrower in Northern Ireland which retains grammar schools.

However the Province has an even wider skills gap among the young on some measures.

Andrew Green, director of LLAKES, said: "These findings matter, because skills have well-known effects on labour market and wider social outcomes.

“Over the last quarter century the UK as a whole has experienced one of the fastest increases in wage inequality in the developed world.”


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Standardized Absurdity: A Preview of Common Core Testing, Part 1

Let’s put the Common Core to the test. Specifically, let’s look at a pilot standardized examination created by Smarter Balanced, one of the two testing consortia formed to create exams aligned to the Common Core, the educational regimen that prevails in forty-five states in the nation. We shall leave aside the questions of why everyone has been so quiet about what these tests will look like and whether states outsourcing testing to unaccountable agencies that will in turn dictate the curricula of the schools constitutes a gross violation of the principle of local control. For now we shall simply try to figure out whether these purportedly “rigorous” exams will produce the “college and career readiness” for a “twenty-first-century global economy” that Common Core proponents have so often promised and proclaimed, or whether the Common Core is both utterly superficial and politically biased.

What follows is taken from an eleventh-grade English Language Arts exam. That is the class that used to be called simply “English” or “literature.” To shed a little light on what is really transpiring in such a test, we shall add a few of our own questions along the way.

The readings for the exam consist in two-three-page selections followed by several questions. Over the course of two articles, we shall look at excerpts from the first three sections of the exam:

    The Science of Meditation

    Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by people from a wide variety of cultures. Though traditionally a spiritual practice, meditation has more recently been identified by medical professionals as a uniquely effective way to improve mental and physical health. . . .

    . . . Here is one of the most commonly taught ways to meditate: start by sitting on the floor or in a chair in a comfortable and relaxed position. Once you are comfortable, concentrate your awareness on your breathing. . . . As you focus on your breathing, notice how your mind tends to wander to other things. . . . When you notice your attention wandering, simply acknowledge this new thought, watch it go by, and then return your awareness to your breathing. Don’t try to fight against these wandering thoughts . . .

    People who meditate regularly report numerous benefits. They feel calmer and more relaxed, and more prepared and clear-headed when responding to the challenges and frustrations of everyday life. These reported benefits have been supported by scientific research on meditation . . .

Sample question from the actual exam:

    “How does meditation work, and what does science have to say about its effects on practitioners?” [a quotation from the selection]

    What is the meaning of practitioners in the text?

    a) a person engaged in the practice of a profession such as law or medicine

    b) a person who does something repeatedly in order to improve

    c) a person authorized to apply healing techniques to others

    d) a person who engages in something specified

Common-sense questions:

    Before the twenty-first-century global economy, most people handled “stress” by:

    a) praying to God

    b) drinking lots of whiskey

    c) having intimate and prolonged conversations with their breathing

    d) usually a, too often b, and never c, which could have gotten one thrown into bedlam.

    The person who regularly practices the “science of meditation” is most likely:

    a) a bum

    b) a yogi

    c) a hippie

    d) a total flake

    e) all of the above

Reading selection number two:

    Sustainable Fashion

    “Sustainability” is a popular buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony . . . [and] that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” As the idea of living a sustainable lifestyle has become more widespread in recent years, consumers have begun to demand that the products they buy are produced in sustainable ways. It’s a trend that has made a new type of clothing, dubbed “eco-fashion,” very fashionable indeed.

    Why has clothing become such a concern for those who want to live more sustainably? Consider that Americans threw away an estimated 13.1 million pounds of clothing and textiles in 2010, or 5.3% of solid wastes that made it into U. S. landfills that year (according to the EPA). . . .

    But the environmental impact of clothing involves more than just where our used clothes end up. To calculate the true impact of, say, a cotton T-shirt, we must go back to the beginning: to the farm where the cotton was grown. Cotton is a very water-intensive crop that is typically grown with heavy application of insecticides . . . Cotton that is grown in the U. S. is often shipped off to other countries . . . where it is processed with chemicals and dyes . . . The completed product is then shipped back to America . . . While all that shipping uses up a lot of energy, shipping actually accounts for less than half of the energy that will eventually be used on that T-shirt over its lifetime. According to the Audubon Society, about 60% of the energy cost of a T-shirt comes from washing and drying it—and washing adds a water cost as well.

    Given this environmental impact, it’s easy to see why many consumers are bypassing cotton T-shirts for clothing that is produced in more sustainable ways. . . .

    Sustainability, however, does not just mean being good to the environment; it also means being fair to fellow human beings. Etc.

Sample question from the exam:

    “The clothing industry has not been operating in an ecologically sustainable way.”

    Click on all the details that support this conclusion.

    a) Growing cotton uses a lot of water.

    b) Cotton growers use a lot of insecticides.

    c) Etc. through f).

Common-sense questions:

    The adverb sustainably found in paragraph 2 would most likely be found in which resource:

    a) Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

    b) The Oxford English Dictionary

    c) The American Heritage Dictionary

    d) The Tree-Hugger’s Guide to the Planet

    Though not stated explicitly in the passage, who is least likely to be the friend of the American farmer?

    a) A vendor at a rock concert

    b) A fashion designer indifferent to Eco-fashion

    c) An employee of the Environmental Protection Agency

    d) Your mother who wastes energy washing your T-shirts

    The term that best describes the activities outlined in paragraph 3 is:

    a) The international T-shirt shuffle

    b) Eco-homicide

    c) Commerce and free exchange

    d) Economic imperialism

For further “rigorous” reading selections that lead to “college and career readiness” in a “twenty-first-century global economy”—and a few answers to our questions about standardized testing under the Common Core—we shall continue this exam tomorrow.


The present British final High School exams  'should be axed in favour of new baccalaureate'

A-levels should be scrapped in favour of a European-style baccalaureate because schools are failing to prepare teenagers for university and the workplace, a major report has warned.

Traditional “gold standard” qualifications should be phased out over six to eight years to give pupils a grounding in a wider range of subjects and job skills, according to a powerful lobby of academics and business leaders.

The expert group insisted that A-levels were “too narrow”, failed to properly reward pupils with flair and promoted a system of “learning to the test”.

It was claimed that too many sixth-formers left school with poor levels of writing, basic numeracy, critical thinking, problem-solving, time management and an inability to work independently.

The report recommended shifting towards a baccalaureate-style qualification in which pupils study around six subjects rather than specialising in just three.

New courses should also include a compulsory extended project and cover the assessment of “softer” skills such as team working and interpersonal skills, it said.

The conclusions were made as part of a six-month inquiry led by Sir Roy Anderson, former rector of Imperial College London.

The 14-strong advisory group also included Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT and president of the Confederation of British Industry, and Sir David Bell, the Reading University vice-chancellor and former permanent secretary at the Department for Education.

Any move to a baccalaureate will be resisted by the Government which has already rewritten the national curriculum and unveiled a significant overhaul of A-levels.

It also comes a decade after similar plans were considered and rejected by the then Labour government.

But Sir Roy said there was a concern that the “English classroom and what’s taught in it has changed little in the last 60 years”.

“While the past has much to teach us, that shouldn’t be at the expense of keeping a keen eye on the future,” he said.

Sir Michael said the country needed to “move on from our narrow out-dated focus with A-levels and to improve on the other competencies necessary for success, including the fundamental need to improve the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, which are at an unacceptably low level”.

A-levels – first introduced in the early 50s and taken by 300,000 pupils each year – involve teenagers specialising in three or four subjects between the age of 16 and 18.

But the latest report, Making Education Work, recommended moving towards a baccalaureate system, which is already adopted in parts of Europe and the Far East.

The study – commissioned by the publishers Pearson – suggested it should cover English, maths, languages, science and technology as well as other skills such as teamwork and a compulsory extended project.

In a further recommendation, the study called for the creation of an independent body made up of teachers, employers, universities and political parties to establish a "long-term political consensus" over education.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Our new curriculum was developed following extensive consultation with a wide range of experts and will give children the essential knowledge they need.

“Alongside wider reform to GCSEs, A levels and vocational qualifications this will mean young people leave school with the skills and qualifications they need to secure a job, apprenticeship or university place.”


Australian school's $500 lightbulb bill

Doomadgee is an Aboriginal community

Doomadgee State School, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, was billed $200 for labour alone after the teacher was told workplace health and safety regulations prevented any staff member from buying and replacing the bulb themselves, The Australian understands.

Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek yesterday ordered an internal investigation into the bill, saying over-the-top red tape was adding to the spiralling financial costs of delivering services in remote areas of Queensland. The probe was launched after the internal document was leaked, according to sources, in a bid to expose waste and duplication of state and commonwealth services in some of the state's remote communities.
Mr Langbroek said Queensland's teachers and principals were beset with "crazy rules" that included a requirement that a school hire an outside contractor to retrieve a ball in the playground if it became lodged (for instance, in a tree branch) at a level of 1.8m or higher. "This is the sort of red tape that needs to end," he said. "It's crazy."There is no excuse for a $480 bill to put in a fridge lightbulb. The teacher is not going to get electrocuted putting it in."

I have already asked for a review on the type of regulation where a school has to pay someone to get a ball from a branch or a gutter that might be only 1.8m high. There has to be a balance.

The Newman government has already moved to find cost savings in the Education Department, opening up tenders for school maintenance contracts to the private sector. Mr Langbroek said it was difficult to find private contractors who could supply services in some of Queensland's more remote communities. Doomadgee State School, which has 303 students, is among the most expensive in the state, with commonwealth figures showing it cost taxpayers $15,879 for each student per year, compared with the state average of $9000.

The school - which offers prep to Year 10 in the indigenous community of 1500 people - is among the state's poorest performers with the lowest attendance rate in Queensland of just 54 per cent.

Mr Langbroek, along with Indigenous Affairs Minister Glen Elmes and Local Government Minister David Crisafulli, went to Doomadgee last week in a bid to lift the attendance rates, after a visit late last year by Premier Campbell Newman."We are trying to lift the attendance rates, trying to get community support to get these kids to school," Mr Langbroek said."We talked to the community, the council - it is very challenging."


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Only 8 Percent Aware America Spends $11,000 Per Student Annually

Only four countries spend more money on education per student than America. Despite being a ravenous consumer of taxpayer funds, a Rasmussen Report released Friday revealed most Americans are oblivious of the hefty price tag:

 Voters continue to agree that taxpayers are not getting a good return on their investment in education and are not inclined to think spending more will make any difference.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just eight percent (8%) of Likely Voters are aware the United States on average spends about $11,000 on education per student per year. Forty-five percent (45%) believe the country spends less than that amount, including 36% who believe it spends $7,000 or less. Another nine percent (9%) believe the country spends more than $13,000 per student per year. A sizable 38%, however, say they're not sure how much the nation spends on the average student.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus bill recently passed by Congress provides $71.2 billion to the Department of Education. An increase of 3.1 percent from 2012. The spending increase is largely linked to President Obama’s push for major K-12 reforms.


Drug taking British teachers can return to class

Teachers with a criminal record for drug taking or theft could be allowed to keep their jobs in the classroom, according to official guidance.

Convictions for smoking cannabis, taking amphetamines or shoplifting does not prevent them from continuing to work in schools, the guidelines state.

It also means that some gambling, alcohol and driving offences will not bar a teacher from their post, the National College for Teaching and Leadership said.

Campaigners warned that allowing such offenders to continue in positions of responsibility to teach children would set a bad example to pupils.

“The job of a teacher is not just to impart knowledge to learners, it is to give them moral guidance,” David Green, from the Civitas think-tank, told the Daily Mail.

“You can’t give moral leadership if you yourself don’t set an example. If you’ve been found guilty of the possession of drugs, it implies you at least use them.”

The NCTL’s official guidance is sanctioned by the Department for Education. It has been updated following a consultation document last year which was backed by around nine-in-10 people who responded.

It was prompted by Government concerns that the NCTL needed further help when deliberating on cases of misconduct by teachers brought before their professional conduct panels.

Criticism had previously been directed at the old General Teaching Council for England – which was scrapped by the Coalition – for failing to crackdown on bad behaviour by teachers.

Between 2001/02 and 2009/10, just 115 teachers were barred from the classroom for misconduct or poor teaching.  Numbers increased to 99 in the final two years of the GTC in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

But in the first year of the new NCTL-led disciplinary panel, some 98 teachers have been banned.

A DfE spokesperson: “These are not new rules. It is wrong to say that teachers won’t be barred for these offences.

"Obviously teachers should be strongly disciplined if they have committed theft or used drugs. We are absolutely clear that teachers can be banned for life for these offences. Heads are responsible for considering whether a lesser punishment, such as suspension or dismissal, is more appropriate than seeking a life ban.”


British teachers 'are too poorly qualified': Children's education in maths and science under threat from teacher who fail to achieve top degrees

Children's education in is under threat in some subjects from teachers who fail to achieve top qualifications, an independent report has concluded.

Barely half of trainee science and IT teachers hold a 2:1 degree or better, while the figure is around 60 per cent for maths.

This compares to 83 per cent of history trainees, 78 per cent in English and 88 per cent in classics.

The University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment Research's Good Teacher Training Guide warned there was a lack of good quality qualifications `where arguably subject expertise as measured by degree class is especially important'.

One in ten of the 36,898 people in their final year of teacher training in 2011-12 were also found to have failed to achieve Qualified Teacher Status.

A quarter were without a job six months after qualifying, although the report noted the `wasteful loss' was a five per cent improvement on the previous year.

Almost 81 per cent of those who trained in schools - a route growing rapidly under Education Secretary Michael Gove - found employment, compared to 76 per cent who took university-led courses.

The government has been trying to attract more top graduates into teaching with bursaries worth up to œ25,000 for high-fliers.

Report author Professor Alan Smithers said: `There are already major shortfalls of maths, physics, ICT and modern languages teachers, which school-led programmes show no sign of ameliorating.'


Monday, January 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW:  The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core

by Terrence O. Moore (Author)



"a stopcommoncore must-read." Michelle Malkin

". . . I could hardly put this book down until I finished reading it. . . . [T]his is not a dry read. It is a shocking read." Joy Pullmann, Heartland Institute

"It wasn't until I started reading Dr. Moore's writings that I fully comprehended the significance of just what America was about to lose." Heather Crossin, Hoosiers Against Common Core

What is the Common Core? How will the Common Core English Standards affect the teaching of great stories in our schools? Will there be any great stories left in the minds of our children when the Common Core has controlled the curriculum and testing of both public and private schools for a few years? What are the real purposes behind the educational coup that has taken place with very little public debate and even less understanding?

In this book, school reformer and professor Dr. Terrence Moore carefully examines both the claims made by the architects of the Common Core and the hidden agenda behind the so-called reforms that have been adopted by over forty states in the nation, with very few people understanding what is really going on. Moore not only challenges the illiberal aims of this educational regime, but actually analyzes lessons recommended in the Common Core English Standards and in the new textbooks bearing the Common Core logo. Such a thorough review exposes the absurdity, superficiality, and political bias that can only serve to dumb down the nation's schools. Worse, the means that the Common Core uses is a deliberate undermining of the great stories of our tradition, the stories that in former times trained the minds and ennobled the souls of young people. Those stories are now under attack, and the minds and souls of the nation's children are in peril.


The bright British 11-year-olds failing to get good GCSEs: Half of high-flying primary pupils do not achieve grade C at English and maths

Nearly half of high-flying 11-year-olds fail to go on to get five good GCSEs in core subjects, secondary school league tables show.

Of the 160,000 pupils who gained good SATs results when they left primary school,  84,000 failed to achieve a C-grade or higher in the ‘English Baccalaureate’ subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography and a language.

The figures will reignite the debate about mixed-ability classes which Labour and the Conservatives have both pledged to crack down on since 1997. Critics say the lack of sets and streams in schools holds back the most able students.

Some 420 schools or sixth form  colleges were also unable to produce a single student who gained three  A-levels with grades of AAB or above in subjects preferred by leading universities.

The worrying trends emerged in official figures which showed the number of under-performing schools has been slashed since the Coalition took power.

Of the 3,200 state schools in  England, 154 fell short of a government target for at least 40 per cent of pupils to get five good passes in GCSEs including English and maths – leaving them at risk of being closed or converted into academies.

But the figure was 61 fewer than the previous year, despite the benchmark being raised from 35 per cent of pupils. The improvement means 50,000 fewer children are trapped in sub-standard secondaries compared to last year, or 244,000 since 2010.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the results were a ‘credit to the professionalism and hard work of teachers’. Tony Blair effectively admitted mixed-ability teaching was a failure when he dropped the  party’s historic support for the  practice in 1997.

Education ministers backed the line, saying separating pupils according to ability would ‘raise standards’. David Cameron also called for changes while in opposition, saying every comprehensive should have a ‘grammar stream’.

But inspectors at the schools watchdog have found just 46 per cent of state school classes are divided into sets or streams – only a one percentage point improvement in 17 years.

Tory MP Graham Brady, who  supports selective education, said: ‘All of the evidence indicates that teaching by ability works best. That’s true whether it’s within a school through sets or streaming or between schools as a selective system.’

The league tables are based on data provided by the Department for Education and show how more than 4,000 schools and colleges in England performed at GCSEs, A-levels and other academic qualifications.

The top-performing school for GCSEs was co-educational Colyton Grammar School in Devon, which had the best results for the second year in a row.

The analysis also showed that 202,000 pupils were entered for the EBacc compared to 130,000 in 2012, showing schools are heeding government calls to ditch soft subjects such as drama and sociology for those better suited to higher education and the jobs markets.

Teachers’ unions dislike league tables because they claim they do not accurately show how a school is performing and encourage staff to ‘teach to the test’.

But Simon Burgess, professor of economics at the University of  Bristol, said: ‘League tables play an important role in school standards. Removing league tables reduces average school performance and raises inequality in attainment.’


Firms slam illiterate school leavers who are putting Britain's economic recovery at risk

Britain’s economic recovery is being put at risk because too many school leavers cannot write properly, add up or even wear appropriate clothes for work, a leading business group has claimed.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which represents nearly 200,000 companies, said a chronic shortage of the most basic skills by school leavers means companies are losing out to foreign competition.

FSB’s Mike Cherry said: ‘We have been trailing behind in business globally for far too long because of the skills shortage.

'It is probably the most serious issue facing firms. The low standard of numeracy and literacy skills is a huge problem, as is employability. Many are not prepared for the workplace in their attitude or dress.’

The FSB is not alone in bemoaning a lack of skills.

Last year the British Chambers of Commerce said many employers had been left ‘disheartened and frustrated’ by poor levels of literacy, numeracy, communication and time-keeping among school leavers and graduates.

It warned an over-emphasis by schools on sitting exams and hitting targets meant children had not developed social skills needed at work.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

More on Why Preschool Vouchers Are a Bad Idea

After sending out yesterday’s School Choice Weekly, in which I bashed the Indiana House for passing a preschool voucher pilot, I received a few thoughtful comments in my email box.

One was from Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council for Public Policy. He wanted my thoughts on whether a state that already has universal government preschool (like Oklahoma) would be better off if the preschool funds were vouchers. I said yes.

What’s the difference? Indiana currently has no statewide preschool program. Since research and experience consistently indicates these do not benefit children (sources in SCW), it would be foolish to start a new entitlement you know will be ineffective. But if your state already has an ineffective entitlement, it’s better to make the most of it if “inefficient entitlement” and “more efficient entitlement” are the only available alternatives (i.e., you can’t end the program outright and do something more likely to benefit poor kids). I do not agree with the people who would say “don’t make an entitlement better because then you perpetuate it,” because that only serves to increase the harm to entitlement recipients and taxpayers.

Another comment came from Patrick Herrera, a professor at Chapman University who has written for me on effective reading remediation. He writes:

Those who are creating legislation to expend a great deal of time and expense should consider the purpose for pre-school.  There are no statements of purpose.  There are no cohesive programs by any of the major publishers that address the existing need.  Simply putting children in pre-school does not create a benefit.  No mention is made of the curriculum needed, nor the training that teachers need to understand early language acquisition.  More important is training in the early acquisition of a second language when the learner has the additional burden of illiteracy.

Patrick brings up a good point, which is that we do know how to close achievement gaps between middle-class and poor children, which is the main goal (though unmet) of preschool programs. There are a number of effective strategies, including assigning lagging children to an excellent teacher four years in a row, and giving those children a content-rich curriculum. The problem is that very few preschool programs, and no large-scale ones, employ such strategies. It would be difficult for them to try just from a personnel point of view, as there are not enough people trained in these strategies to hire for a large program.

But we can also employ these strategies within the existing K-12 system and catch children up once they reach kindergarten, making preschool again an unnecessary tax expenditure.

Further, the reason government subsidizes education at all is to perpetuate a self-governing republic. One can make an argument that K-12 schooling accomplishes this. The arguments for governments subsidizing preschool, at the one end, and college, at the other, are far thinner, in my opinion, because both are more likely to be lifestyle choices than necessary for the basic grounding in academics it is more appropriate for taxpayers to subsidize.


School Choice Foes Are Wrong

Opponents of school choice sincerely believe that if you make everybody stay on the Titanic, then maybe it won’t sink as fast

Virginia congressman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has been casting about for an issue that might help emancipate the GOP from its current caricature as a party of plutocrats who get a kick out of kicking the poor when they’re down. Hence his recent shot across the bow of New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, sought to control many facets of New York life but actually liberalized one of the most reactionary: education. During his term, the number of charter schools in the Big Apple soared from seven to 123.

De Blasio, a left-wing ideologue, does not approve. His “idealism,” as The New York Times explains, was shaped by his time in Nicaragua, then controlled by the Sandinista revolutionaries of whom he became an “ardent” supporter. “They gave a new definition to democracy,” de Blasio once said. That they did: Their version of it included censorship, suspending civil rights, breaking up demonstrations and imprisoning suspected political opponents without trial.

No surprise, then, that de Blasio is taking out after charter schools—an innovation that has helped poor and underprivileged students by bringing a (very) small degree of personal choice to a system controlled by the state. Bloomberg let charters share space with regular public schools. De Blasio has threatened to evict them. Cantor pointed out in a recent speech that this could mean the end for many of them.

De Blasio shot back, insisting the “Republican agenda in Washington” is “a dangerous philosophy that turns its back on public education”—one that “has failed many times before.” Which is odd, because (a) charter schools are public, not private, schools and (b) “a study published earlier this year shows that the typical New York City charter student learned more reading and math in a year than his or her public school peers.” This is according to that well-known propaganda arm of the Republican Party, the New York Times editorial page.

De Blasio isn’t alone. Although Barack Obama ran for the Oval Office on a theme of “hope” and “change,” on the issue of educational choice his administration has demonstrated considerable hostility to both. The White House has opposed the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to poor children. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has relentlessly attacked a voucher program in Louisiana in a campaign The Washington Post editorial page calls a “perverse” and “appalling” bid “to trap poor, black children in ineffective schools.” (The department’s claim that parental choice would re-segregate Louisiana’s schools was so transparently specious that it has retreated—somewhat. Rather than block the program outright, the DOJ now seeks to regulate it to death.)

The Obama administration has been friendlier toward charter schools, and other Democrats are even more open to innovation: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker supports vouchers, as have former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and, according to an October poll, a majority of Democratic voters in Rhode Island.

Others, however, remain firmly wedded to the notion that the only reform worthy of discussion is the same one that already has been tried a million times over: more money. After adjusting for inflation, per-pupil expenditures have nearly doubled since the mid-1970s, while student performance has scarcely budged.

Critics of parental choice point out that charters and voucher programs have shown mixed results. One federal study of the D.C. voucher program, for instance, noted that while it marginally increased the odds of a student graduating from high school, it had produced “no conclusive evidence” of academic improvement. And a federal audit found what Politico calls “a glaring lack of controls to ensure that the private schools receiving the vouchers were physically safe or academically sound.”

In other words, vouchers make bad policy because the children who use them might end up attending … schools just as bad as the ones they used to. And this is a defense of the status quo?

A second complaint about voucher programs, at least, is that they might end up benefitting rich families. Think about that for a moment: It implies that poor families should be denied a benefit simply to keep rich families from getting it too. Talk about mean-spirited.

A third knock on school choice comes from the tinfoil-hat brigade: It’s nothing but a plot to privatize education and fatten corporate profits. Two minutes’ careful thought should dispel that idea:

(1) The most common reform, charter schools, are—again—public schools, usually started by grass-roots groups of volunteers. Good luck trying to find any charters run by Halliburton.

(2) More than half the students who have participated in the District of Columbia’s voucher program chose Catholic schools. Catholic schools may be many things, but engines of profit they are not.

(3) Because school-choice proposals often are aimed at the poor, many entail tuition tax credits. In Alabama, for instance, a corporation that donates money to a school-choice scholarship fund can claim half the value of the donation as a tax credit. Indiana, Oklahoma, and other states have similar policies. This means companies in those states that support school choice for low-income kids actually lose money on the deal, the heartless jerks.

Opponents of school choice aren’t heartless jerks, either, of course. They sincerely believe that giving poor families the same opportunity to choose education alternatives that rich families have would be a big mistake: If you make everybody stay on the Titanic, then maybe it won’t sink as fast. This doesn’t make them wicked. It just makes them wrong.


Funding cuts 'threaten future of England's top schools'

The future of England’s grammar schools is under threat because education funding is being diverted towards deprived pupils with poor exam results, the head teacher of the country’s top-performing secondary has warned.

Schools face being forced to make teachers redundant and reduce the number of A-levels taken by pupils because of budget cuts, it is claimed.

Paul Evans, the head of Colyton grammar in Devon, said tackling underperformance in poor areas was a “laudable aim” but insisted it had “serious unintended consequences” for schools such as his.

Colyton alone faces losing around quarter of a million pounds in coming years, he said, meaning the “viability of this school is questionable” beyond 2017.

The comments were backed by the Grammar School Heads Association – representing the country’s 164 academically-selective state schools – which claimed that provision for bright pupils was being eroded.

It comes just a day after Colyton was named as the top-performing school in league tables covering more than 4,000 state-funded and private secondaries in England. Pupils at the school scored the equivalent of around 15 A* grades each, it emerged.

Last night, the Department for Education insisted that school funding had been protected in recent years.

But Mr Evans told the Telegraph: “Schools like ours, with able children, are being squeezed.

“And it’s not just our school. I went to a grammar school heads’ conference in the summer and I know some are saying that they just can’t see where the future lies.”

This week, the head teacher wrote to three local Conservative MPs, claiming a number of funding changes were having a damaging effect on state grammars, particularly those in rural areas.

He highlighted a series of reforms including the cost of meeting staff pay rises from a “flat budget settlement” and the loss of cash for “specialist school” status, which is now consumed into the national education budget.

In his letter, he said changes had “significantly diverted funds toward students from deprived families and with low prior attainment”, adding: “These laudable aims have, however, had serious unintended consequences on the budgets of schools, selective or comprehensive, serving significant populations of able students.”

Mr Evans said the school had been particularly hit by changes to the way sixth-form qualifications are funded which will see all schools given a flat rate for each pupil – scrapping the existing system based on the number of A-levels taken.

This hits grammar schools particularly hard because their pupils typically take up to five A-levels each, he said.

Mr Evans said these difficulties were compounded by the fact that schools in Devon already receive less money per head than those in almost all of England’s 151 local education authorities.

“I believe the cuts required to achieve a balanced budget will so limit our curriculum that we may cease to be an attractive option for parents,” he said. “The viability of this school is questionable beyond 2017.

“In the run up to the General Election in 2015, we will be cutting courses and making teaching staff redundant in attempt to reduce our potential £257,000 deficit.”

Charlotte Marten, chairman of the Grammar School Heads Association and head of Rugby High School, said similar difficulties were being faced elsewhere.

“There is the prospect of grammar schools not being able to stretch and challenge or give the breadth that they have traditionally been able to do because the funding is not in place,” she said.

A DfE spokesman said: “We have protected the schools budget in real terms. That has allowed us to ensure all local authorities, including Devon, are receiving the same amount per pupil as in 2010.

"It is down to local authorities to determine exactly how that funding is distributed to individual schools, but we have made sure that no school's budget falls by more than 1.5 from one year to the next.

"Of course if any school finds itself in particular difficulty, we are happy to look into the circumstances of their case.”