Friday, July 17, 2015

Australian families providing fraudulent rental documents to get kids into top Sydney public school

Reminiscent of Britain

FAMILIES have been providing fraudulent rental documents in an attempt to gain enrolment at Cherrybrook Technology High School, one of the state’s top public schools.

Principal Gary Johnson said he had referred several cases to the police in which parents made false claims in an attempt to get their child enrolled.

Under the education department’s enrolment guidelines, families whose homes are situated in a public school’s catchment area and who can provide the appropriate documentation, ­including proof of address, are eligible to enrol at that school.

An education department spokeswoman said the school was highly sought-after because of its record of academic achievement.

Ray White Cherrybrook and West Pennant Hills ­licensee Andrew Crauford said he was aware of industry colleagues who leased properties to people for the purpose of gaining an ­address within the school’s intake area.

“I have been asked many times by property owners and tenants ‘am I able to provide a lease to put it to the school?’ but the answer is it’s illegal,” he said.

“There are clients out there who are prepared to ask the question of me and my office and the answer is always no, unless they’re prepared to sign the lease and pay the money and ­occupy the premises.” Mr Crauford said Cherrybrook Tech High authorities had phoned his office on a couple of occasions to verify the validity of leases.

Ryde Local Area Command crime co-ordinator Sgt Kerri McDonald said it was a matter for Fair Trading, not police.  A Fair Trading spokeswoman said the department was not aware of any complaints.

Member for Epping Damien Tudehope said the incident showed there was strong demand for schools in the Hills.

However, the rules in this regard were clear, he said. “We’ve got to give priority to people who live in the catchment area and certainly make sure fraudulent practices aren’t used for getting admission to our schools,” he said.


Many Australian Parents In The Dark About Their Children’s Online Activities

Norton Report reveals 74 percent of parents are oblivious to their kids’ online activities

According to survey data released today by Internet security company, Norton by Symantec, many Australian parents are in the dark about their kid’s online activities and are avoiding crucial conversations about their children’s online privacy and security practices.

Polling 600 Australian parents across the country, the Norton survey examines parents’ understanding and involvement with their children’s online activities. The survey reveals that 74 percent of Australian parents are oblivious to their kids’ online activities.                                                           

The Norton survey also shows that many parents are disconnected from their children’s online world and are not engaging with their children about Internet practices that can harm them both now and in the future. For example, approximately 41 percent of Australian parents surveyed never check their children’s online activities, and never discuss sexting (52 percent), cyberbullying (41 percent) or stranger danger online (37 percent).

“From websites to apps to games and online communities, children have access to a ton of content that can affect them both positively and negatively,” said Mark Gorrie, Director, Norton by Symantec, Pacific region.  “Children are interacting online at a younger age and more than ever before and it’s impossible for parents to watch over their kids every second they’re online.  Parents need to arm their children with the knowledge and skills they need to use the Internet positively without compromising their privacy and security.”

Alarmingly about one in five (18 percent) Australian parents surveyed had been warned about their child’s social media activities by their school and approximately 15 percent of parents had admitted to having at least one child impacted by cyberbullying, while one in three children identified themselves as being impacted by cyberbullying.  In addition, almost one in three (27 percent) Australian parents admitted that their young children had joined a social networking account even though they did not meet the minimum age rule.

To help promote online safety, digital ethics and privacy, Norton has partnered with author, child rights activist and parent, Tara Moss, to be our first Norton Family Ambassador in Australia.

“Security, privacy and online ethics are now a necessary part of parenting, just like road safety and safe sex education. Kids using connected devices in the comfort of the family home may look harmless, but activity online has consequences and impacts beyond the home and beyond that moment. As with anything else, education and guidance are needed. To some, the Internet is not part of the real world, but it is. Things said online are sent by real people and received by real people, and when the recipient is a child, unpleasant online exchanges can be more damaging,” said Moss.

“The Norton survey reveals there is a general lack of awareness about the role of parents in educating children about Internet security and privacy.  Many parents haven’t grown up as connected to the online world as their children and may be unaware of the potential impacts of online activity. While schools and governments have invested in teaching children safe Internet practices, it is no longer enough. Parents need to get informed about what they can do to protect their children and take an active role in their children’s understanding of privacy and online ethics, as well as their online well-being,” Moss added.

While technologies exist today that help parents keep their children safe online, 44 percent of parents surveyed confess they never discuss using privacy settings on their children’s social networking accounts and 43 percent do not have parental controls set up on their children’s connected devices. In addition, almost one in three (29 percent)  Australian parents surveyed admit to not having any rules in place about what their child can or cannot do online.

“There are simple steps parents can take to protect their children online. Having an open conversation with children about their online habits can go a long way in protecting children online. Norton also recommends turning on the filtering and security features in search engines and social networking accounts and installing free parental control software, such as Norton Family,” said Gorrie.

Press release

UK: Debate over American-style nursery graduation ceremony

This happens in Australia too but is generally regarded as just fun

A Cambridgeshire nursery has ignited a debate over the craze of three and four year old children taking part in American-style graduation ceremonies
A nursery in Cambridgeshire has sparked a bitter debate about whether school children age three and four should take part in American-style graduation ceremonies.

Pupils at Mother Goose Nursery in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, took part in the nursery’s fourth graduation ceremony earlier this week as the craze rapidly spreads across the UK.

The nursery has defended the event as “raising aspirations” for the children but a leading child psychologist has branded these type of ceremonies as “ridiculous” and designed at making the children perform “like monkeys”.

It is the fourth year the nursery has organised a ceremony for its leavers – all wearing gowns and mortar boards- and after an address by staff, the youngsters were given purple scrolls and individual awards.

But some people believe pre-schoolers are too young to have graduation ceremonies and that they forcing children to place premature emphasis on exam results and academic performance.

Emma Criton, a child psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society, told the Daily Telegraph: “Parents put their own sense of quirky fun and expectations on very young children and this is ridiculous because it is a very narrow view of education.

“Teaching under five-year olds is about the social interactions and growing through play and not about academic achievement."

However, she said, when it came to US-style graduation ceremonies, it was more “parent led”.

She said: “Parents can sit in the audience and laugh and clap at the children performing like monkeys. It has become like a show for parents. They have lost the plot.”

But Beverley Taylor-Carson, operations and HR manager at the nursery, disagreed. She said the ceremony “is all about the children. They are so excited and we tell them ‘we are proud of you’. It’s everything about the child.”

If anything, Ms Taylor-Carson added, it is about raising a young person’s aspirations. She said: “We celebrate their achievements in a holistic way. It’s about the things they love and their personality.

"We believe the graduation ceremony is a lovely way to teach children about change as they move up to school and how it can be a positive thing.”

She recognised, however, that some children are reluctant to wear the gowns and mortar boards. She said: “If they don’t want to participate, that’s not a problem.”

The nursery graduation craze has also provided business opportunities to some. John Martin, who runs Marston Robing in Hampshire, started selling the caps and gowns in 2008 and this year he will sell more than 10,000 sets to pre-school children in Britain.

"We thought we'd give it a try in 2008 as a few nurseries were holding graduations and importing gowns from America, which was inconvenient and expensive." said John.

"Since then the momentum has built up and more and more nurseries have come on board each year, mainly by word of mouth.

"It's incredibly popular with parents. We see it as being about capturing the moment when children transition from pre-school to school in a photo, it's a big moment."

This isn’t the first nursery to hold American-style graduation ceremonies in the UK. A tradition that originally started in the US, ceremonies have been held for around a decade already, although the numbers were isolated at the start.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Vindictive British school staff can't take criticism

A father of five who posted a picture of a joke T-shirt making fun of his autistic son's school has today revealed police later visited him to ask if it was a threat to staff.

Martin Gillingham, 47, claims a teacher at Matravers School in Westbury, Wiltshire, may have been monitoring his Facebook page and contacted police when they saw his message.

Mr Gillingham posted a picture of a humorous slogan T-shirt, which read: 'I may seem calm and reserved, but if you mess with my kids I will break out a level of craziness that will make your nightmares seem like a happy place.'

Underneath he wrote: 'I think I might wear this to the next parent's evening.'

Weeks later he was amazed when two police officers knocked on his door and told him they were investigating the 'threatening' message after an anonymous tip-off.

He believes the school reported him because he had previously clashed with teachers over the education of his autistic son, claiming they moved him to a new class during an Ofsted inspection.

Mr Gillingham said: 'I posted this picture of a T-shirt as a laugh.

'I thought it was quite humorous, and having had trouble with the school before I added the comment 'I think I might wear this to the next parents evening'.

'I posted it a couple of weeks ago, on May 24, then on July 9 I had a knock on the door and it was the police.

'The officer who attended told me that a complaint had been made about a picture on my Facebook profile. The complaint was that it was a threatening message, and had pictures of guns on it. It's ridiculous, everyone can see it is a joke.

'The police officer wouldn't tell me who had made the complaint, but I think it was a teacher at my children's school. The police aren't doing anything about it, as far as I am aware.

'The officer came across as apologetic. I understand it's normal police procedure so they have to investigate it, but even the officer who visited me told me he thought it was nothing more than banter.'

Mr Gillingham lives in Westbury, Wiltshire, with his wife, Lisa, 47, and their five children, Jordan, 21, Joseph, 16, Jamie, Samuel, 11, and Bethany, seven.

He claims problems with the school began when they decided to 'hide away' his son Jamie, 15, during an Ofsted visit.

Mr Gillingham believes that Jamie and three others were seconded to a mechanics class to stop them causing 'disruption' in front of the inspectors.

He publicised the incident in the local media and believes the school is seeking revenge.

'It appears the school are not trying to punish me for going to the press,' he said. 'But I was only doing what was right.

'I think the school are being vindictive, because I put in a complaint.

'I don't think they like me because I am outspoken, and raise problems when I see them.

'I think they are trying to find a way to discredit me.'

Headteacher of Maltravers School Simon Riding said they were not prepared to comment on the claims made by Mr Gillingham.

In a statement he said: 'We have a clearly accessible and transparent complaints policy which we always encourage parents to use when seeking to resolve a concern.

'As a school it is vitally important that we focus our time on the education of our students.'

A spokesman for Wiltshire police confirmed they visited Mr Gunningham's address after a complaint was made, but a spokesman said that no further action was being taken.

He said: 'We are not taking any further action and as far as we are concerned there is nothing else to add.'


UK: Pupils should stand when teachers enter the room and call them 'Sir' or 'Miss', says chief inspector of schools

Schoolchildren should stand up when headteachers enter the room in a return to traditional discipline, the chief inspector of schools said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was dismayed by behaviour in some schools and called for 'grammar school ethos' in every comprehensive.

He said pupils should call their teachers 'Sir' or 'Miss' and teachers should stop referring to youngsters as their 'mate'.

Sir Michael claimed that a quarter of headteachers in secondary schools are 'not good enough', and were hampering progress made in primary schools to improve achievement.

'We have to do something about that ... I want high academic achievement, a culture of no excuses and an atmosphere of scholarship,' he told the Sunday Times.

'I want every comprehensive school to have a grammar school ethos. I want to launch a national debate about the kind of head teachers we want and need.'

Sir Michael called for what has been dubbed a 'renaissance of respect', including pupils being expected to stand when headteachers enter a room.

He said one of his inspectors had been left 'aghast' by pupils refusing to move out of the way for the headteacher.  'She was walking round the school with the head teacher and there was a youngster on the floor in a corner sitting there with a couple of friends eating crisps,' he said.  'She expected the youngsters to stand up. They did not and the head teacher was forced to walk over those prostrate children. She was aghast.'

Sir Michael said he 'held his head in his hands' when watching reality TV shows like Education Essex which showed pupils misbehaving without ever being punished.

He wants pupils to be told to refer to teachers as 'Sir' or 'Miss' and teachers had to change their relationship with the children in their care.

He said headteachers had to stop behaving like social workers, referring to Winston Churchill's comments that 'head teachers are invested with the sort of powers prime ministers can only dream of'.

Sir Michael told teachers: 'Do not call children 'mate'. Do not put your arm around them... The best social work you can do is creating a very orderly, structured environment.'

Inspectors are to be deployed this autumn in a crackdown on 'casual leadership'.

His call for pupils to stand echoes remarks made by David Cameron in 2012 when he praised schools with traditional discipline, including where 'children stand up when their parents or teacher walks in the room... real discipline, rigorous standards, hard subjects'.

It comes after Education Secretary Nicky Morgan warned hundreds of coasting schools face being turned into academies over the next five years.

The Department for Education will introduce strict new rules in a bid to 'shine a spotlight on complacency' at under-performing schools.

The measure is expected to hit schools in middle-class areas which have high-attaining intakes but simply focus on raising pupils over the C-grade borderline.

Schools which fail to meet new standards on progress and attainment over the course of three years will be classified as 'coasting' and face intervention. Up to 900 primary and secondary schools are estimated to be coasting – with hundreds more expected to fall below the standard over the next five years.


Technical Malfunctions Mar Common Core Testing Rollout

The New Hampshire-based company Measured Progress, which developed online Common Core tests used in Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota, has acknowledged a major problem with the test’s rollout.

Technical malfunctions, such as servers crashing during testing, resulted in only 37 percent of Nevada students being able to take their exams. Montana and North Dakota only managed to test 76 percent and 84 percent of students online, respectively.

Though Measured Progress admits the online test completion rate in all three states failed to meet the federal mandate of at least 95 percent of 3rd through 8th graders, the company denies any breach of contract. Measured Progress had the task of rolling out the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced assessments online for all three states.

Neal McCluskey, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, says the testing complications are not surprising.

“The more parts a machine has, the more there is to break,” said McCluskey. “That’s what we’ve seen with Common Core testing, which is ideally supposed to be computer-based and adaptive, which may be nice if it works, but getting it to work well is tough. That’s a major reason to avoid top-down dictation of standards, tests, or anything else. Let small groups try things, and if they work, others can replicate them. If they don’t, not everyone goes down with the ship.”

Government Blames Vendor

Brent Mead, executive director of the Montana Policy Institute, says officials in his state who support Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) are trying to pass the blame onto Measured Progress for his state’s testing problems. In Montana, there was a testing delay until March.

“Montana’s Office of Public Instruction is the proverbial broken clock,” Mead said. “The OPI was correct in granting flexibility to local districts in administering the SBAC assessment this year, but is steadfast in its wrongheaded support of Common Core and high-stakes testing. While the testing fiasco was in full swing, OPI was going before the legislature opposing testing reform bills and asking for appropriations to write Measured Progress a $1.35 million check next year. Unfortunately, the leadership at OPI will continue to pursue a policy that does not benefit students but will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Measured Progress CEO Martin Borg released this statement concerning the testing failure in Nevada: “We regret that schools in Clark County School District were unable to complete their Smarter Balanced online assessments over the past few days, and we apologize for the frustration and inconvenience that students and educators experienced.

“We are actively working with the state of Nevada on a plan to resolve the difficulties and improve the testing experience for all students,” said Borg in his statement. “We are eager to move forward once we receive the state’s approval of the plan. We continue to work with officials in Nevada to deliver Smarter Balanced online assessments. To date, more than 115,000 students in Nevada have successfully completed Smarter Balanced assessments.”


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A truly pathetic British university

Backed down after ridicule

Graduates at a top UK university have been banned from throwing their mortarboards in the air over fears the falling hats could cause injuries.

Students at the University of Birmingham have been told they are not allowed to throw their black caps in the air in celebration because of health and safety concerns.

Those set to graduate later this summer have been told they could be ejected from the ceremony if they are seen following the tradition.

In an email, students were told: 'Throwing of caps is not to be permitted, due to health and safety.'

Speaking to student newspaper The Tab, Hannah Walker said: 'It's just surprising the uni is actively taking action against something that's traditional.  'I personally don't see the harm in it, and honestly don't think anyone will take the ban seriously.'

Gown and cap graduation rental company Ede and Ravenscroft said the ban was because a number of injuries had occurred in the past.  A spokesperson said: 'Over a number of years students have been injured by falling mortarboards.  'On a few occasions customers experienced minor injuries from falling mortarboards.  'We have therefore identified the throwing of hats as a risk to health and safety.

'As a responsible company we don't want to condone any activity which could lead to someone being injured.'

The university defended the decision, saying that the rule barring students from throwing their caps applied only to an event for graduating Classics students.

A spokesperson said: 'The email in question does not refer to our formal graduation ceremonies but concerned a specific private event where space was restricted.

'The University of Birmingham does not have a policy or ban on cap throwing during degree congregations.

'We recognise that this is a time of celebration for our students and their families after years of hard work and dedication and want to ensure everyone has an enjoyable time.'


Teachers endorse Hillary

 The executive council of the American Federation of Teachers voted on Saturday to endorse Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

The vote was overwhelming, according to a press release sent to The Daily Caller this weekend.

“In vision, in experience and in leadership, Hillary Clinton is the champion working families need in the White House,” the teachers union’s president, Randi Weingarten, said of Clinton, a resident of Chappaqua, N.Y. and who’s worth as much as $50 million.

Weingarten, a frequent critic of economic inequality, makes at least $360,000 per year — possibly much more. This salary puts her squarely in the top one percent of all Americans.


Generation unprepared: The Australian school and university leavers with ‘no skills to work at all’

OVER the past 18 months, Queensland mining employer Jack Trenamen has developed a formula that helps him predict the performance of his new apprentices.  The country kids who have worked on mum and dad’s farm from a young age will work hard and appreciate every dollar they get. “You can’t fault ‘em on work ethic,” he says, adding that it shows in their performance.

But the ones who come from more affluent areas, whether that be from the big cities where their parents are a bit more well off and happy to give them pocket money, or mining regions where jobs are available and salaries are competitive, are more difficult to engage. They’re also less likely to agree to get their hands dirty when it comes time to sweep the shed.

The contracting boss has seen exceptions, of course, but he’s also noted strong trends, and what he’s picked up is in line with the bigger picture — the grim picture that’s emerging of a generation of newcomers to the workforce unprepared for work.

“I’ve had countless experiences with kids who are just not ready,” he says.  “They haven’t picked up the skills that you learn by working and that’s often because they haven’t had to.  “They come in late, they don’t realise that they might have to do things they don’t want to, and they don’t appreciate the job. They think if they don’t like it here they can just pack up and get another job around the corner, keep chasing that almighty dollar without building their skills.”

Mr Trenamen might sound like another disgruntled boss whining about “kids these days”, but what he’s picked up is reflected in national trends.

Australian Bureau of Statistics show that school and university students are less likely to pick up part time work while they’re studying with only 31 per cent of 15 to 19-year-old students employed.

The figures are unsurprising to Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Kate Carnell, who tells she could have predicted the findings based on conversations with employers like Jack.

She says while on paper young employees are more qualified than ever before, 20-somethings are showing up to work with degrees from universities that are “disconnected with the workforce”, and a lack of workplace experience.

“A number of our members consistently tell us they’re seeing students come out of university or training programs and they might have the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all. It makes them really hard to employ,” she says.

“General issues are not understanding that a job is about turning up on time every day, not just when you feel like, that it’s about taking direction, and basic things like you’ve got to be well presented and you’ve got to be pleasant.

“The number of young people not working while they’re in school is one of the problems.”

Ms Carnell says the declining need for kids to work is a symptom of a largely more affluent society, and while it offers young people the luxury of focusing on their studies, it also deprives them of the skills they will pick up in the work force before they take up a full time role.

Another part of the problem, Ms Carnell says, isn’t just a lack of enthusiasm for kids to get a job down at the local takeaway or supermarket, but parents encouraging them not to while they focus on their studies.

As well as the lack of work experience young employees bring to their career-starting roles, bosses are also quick to point the finger at the education system.

Mr Trenamen suggests schools teach workplace skills from year 10, and encourage kids to get into the workforce. It’s an argument Professor Johanna Wyn, director of the Youth Research Centre at the University of Melbourne has heard before.

While she believes there is a disconnect between what kids are learning at school, university and TAFE and “the real world”, she says it’s unfair to put pressure on educational institutions to be “all things to all people”.  “It’s not that the universities are teaching the wrong thing, but more that young people are encouraged to get an education, follow that to a job they believe they want to do, and the assumption that it’s going to be an automatic match with what’s required in the labour market,” Professor Wyn says.

“It would be fabulous if young people were gaining really strong skills that they should be learning, but it’s really hard for educators to catch up. Instead of turning it around and blaming schools, we should look at other path ways. “There are some really good models of how communities can wrap more around schools and bring educators and employers together.”

Brett Schimming is the CEO of Construction Skills Queensland, an industry body that works with schools and young career seekers together with employers providing skilling programs to bridge that gap and equip kids to get in to jobs.

“What we do know is that if you simply are going to employ a young person and expect them to know what to do on day one, you are more than likely not going to have success and it doesn’t end well for anyone,” he says.

“We’ve learnt that it’s 50/50 in terms of effort, so we like to increase the chances of matching the right people to the right jobs, and matching people who are each willing to give their 50 per cent and work together.”

The key thing small businesses are looking for is that attitude and they get challenged by how best to find that person because they’ve had experience where they’ve hired people and it hasn’t worked out.”

Apprenticeship Support Australia, which covers the recruitment of more than 300,000 apprentices, is another group trying to meet businesses and new workers halfway.

Last month the federal government-funded group announced a “job-fit test” that would gauge Gen Y job seekers’ work ethic, skills and job readiness before they are approved for an apprenticeship.  The performance test was devised in response to the drop out rate of apprentices falling to a shocking 50 per cent, the Herald Sun reported.

So there are programs that help, and employers, educators and industry bodies alike believe there should be more, but back at ACCI Ms Carnell says the simplest way to learn skills is for young people to get into the work force as soon as they can.

“Young people are always conscious of the reputation their generation has, and they should work to break that,” she says.
“It really, really makes a difference as an employer if you get a CV from a young person and see they’ve been employed during school or university. It’s a huge tick.”


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Education: Debating the Scope of Federal Control

Technically it’s been dead since a Democrat Congress failed to reauthorize it in 2007, but the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been a useful whipping boy for the Obama administration and Democrats ever since it replaced the old Great Society-era Elementary and Secondary School Act in 2001. An attempt to revamp it two years ago failed in Harry Reid’s Senate.

With the GOP takeover of Congress last year, conservatives were convinced that reforms were finally possible. Adding to their concerns was the Obama administration’s use of federal funding to bribe states to adopt unpopular Common Core standards as well as other federal encroachments on what used to be exclusively a state and local issue.

But as with most of the highly sought agenda items on the conservative platform, getting rid of the waste and duplicity within the Department of Education has run into roadblocks from both sides of the aisle.

While the House version, called the Student Success Act, is somewhat better than its NCLB predecessor, it still falls well short of the goals conservatives set. Explains Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who heads the House Committee on Education and the Workforce: “If we expect to really get rid of No Child Left Behind, that means what we pass has to be signed into law, and that means it has to be bipartisan.” However, the House bill won by a narrow 218-213 margin with nary a Democrat vote. Several more conservative amendments failed to make it into the House bill, leading some Republicans to reject the package.

On the Senate side, though, the NCLB re-authorization bill — which doesn’t have a fancy name — has what education unions term “a lot of things going for it.” As a stricter re-authorization, it better maintains the status quo — although it’s certain that Democrats will demonize the legislation should it miraculously win approval from the House. Barack Obama has already pledged a veto of either bill unless accountability standards for failing schools are enhanced.

Again, though, Republicans seem to have the impression that they must do something, lest they be accused of doing nothing. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) declared, “We want the president’s signature. We want to fix No Child Left Behind, not just make a political statement.” Alexander chairs the Senate committee working on the bill and is negotiating with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on something both sides can support. Getting the Democrats on board means discarding common-sense reforms, like allowing states more latitude in setting standards and granting Title I funding portability, which would allow low-income parents more choice in which public or charter school their child can attend. Murray deemed the latter provision a “non-starter.”

With both bills facing an uncertain future, it seems the status quo will continue for at least another two years. And while several GOP presidential candidates have vowed to dismantle the Department of Education — which hasn’t educated a single child since its inception in 1980 under Jimmy Carter — the process won’t occur unless Republicans secure a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

No one said returning the federal government to its constitutionally authorized role in education — which is to say no role whatsoever — is going to be easy. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and one that really is for the children.


Senate Democrats Move to Fund Universal Pre-Kindergarten

A Democratic senator has introduced an amendment to a rewritten version of the No Child Left Behind Act that would fund universal pre-kindergarten.

According to Sen. Bob Casey’s office, the amendment, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015, would fund universal pre-kindergarten by “ending the corporate inversions tax loophole.”

Under the legislation, companies would need to be 50 percent foreign-owned rather than the current 20 percent in order “to escape U.S. tax jurisdiction.”

“Investing in pre-k is good for our nation’s children and for our nation’s economy,” Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement:

“One of the best steps we can take in the long run to boost wages is to invest in early learning so that every child has a fair shot to achieve his or her dreams. The research into the benefits of early learning is overwhelming. If children learn more early in life they earn more later in life. This amendment is an opportunity to invest in our children and the long-term foundation of our economy while ending an egregious tax loophole that both parties agree needs to go.”

Lindsey Burke, an education expert at The Heritage Foundation, argues that “an expansion of preschool subsidies or programs as part of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would further entangle Washington in the education and care of the youngest Americans.”

“Moreover, data on child care use in the United States show that between two-thirds and three-fourths of 4-year-old children are already enrolled in some form of preschool, suggesting that a new federal subsidy would simply offset the costs for middle-income and upper-income families,” Burke said.

According to a press release from Casey’s office, the senator has introduced a universal pre-kindergarten bill in each Congress since 2008.


No, science doesn’t have a ‘woman problem’

The seemingly interminable dissection of Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks about women scientists falling in love and crying in labs raises important questions about academic freedom, women in the workplace, and the influence of Twittermob feminism. Does academic freedom permit scholars to speak beyond their own narrow areas of expertise? Weren’t Hunt’s comments simply a bad joke, and shouldn’t he be judged on his academic record, rather than his sense of humour? Given he met his wife, the leading immunologist Professor Mary Collins, in a lab, is there some truth in his statement?

A growing band of Nobel Prize winners and high-profile scientists, including Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox, has come out in support of Hunt and publicly criticised University College London (UCL) for putting him under pressure to resign his honorary professorship. In turn, this group has been sneeringly written off as a bunch of ‘privileged men’. The lecturer and self-proclaimed award-winning broadcaster, Connie St Louis, who revealed Hunt’s faux pas to the world, has had her own credentials exposed as bearing only a vague resemblance to reality. Meanwhile, Channel 4 newsreader Cathy Newman quickly defended St Louis from this ‘right-wing smear campaign’.

Despite the discussion generating more heat than light so far, there is one point on which nearly everyone seems to agree: science has a problem with women. It was science’s presumed inability to recruit and retain women, and the supposedly precarious employment and promotion prospects of female scientists, that provoked the initial outrage around Hunt’s off-the-cuff remark. In a public statement, the provost of UCL, Professor Michael Arthur, justified his acceptance of Hunt’s resignation and revealingly declared, ‘Equality and diversity is not just an aspiration at UCL, but informs our everyday thinking and our actions. It was for this very reason that Sir Tim’s remarks struck such a discordant note. Our ambition is to create a working environment in which women feel supported and valued at work.’ In other words, one of the greatest academic institutions in the world now considers the promotion of equality to be more important than the pursuit of knowledge, and prompting the resignation of eminent scientists to be legitimate if it might make women feel more valued.

The assumption that promoting gender equality should be a major concern for university science departments is reflected in the considerable amounts of institutional time and money spent on promoting initiatives such as Athena SWAN and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). WISE is a longstanding campaign which aims to ‘inspire girls and women to study and build careers in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing’. The Athena SWAN award was established in 2005 by the largely government-funded Equality Challenge Unit. Universities that can demonstrate they have met ‘10 principles that focus on the advancement of gender equality in academia, addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines, professional and support functions and removing the obstacles faced by women in particular, at major points of career development and progression’ are awarded a coveted Athena SWAN award.

The achievement of such awards is vitally important to universities because many major grant-funding bodies now only give money to chartered institutions. Indeed, UCL’s short statement about Tim Hunt noted: ‘We have adopted the Athena SWAN methodology widely across the institution and have now achieved more Athena SWAN silver awards than any other university, and have just submitted our application for an institutional silver award.’ Athena SWAN is considered so ideologically central to the promotion of gender equality and pragmatically vital for maintaining institutional revenue streams that it is rarely criticised. But it is disastrous for universities to attach such high stakes to gender-equality awards. Time and money that should be spent on medical research, technological advance and the pursuit of pure knowledge is instead channelled into form-filling and box-ticking. Appointments are made and resources invested with gender balance and team diversity, rather than intellectual gains, in mind. Furthermore, such awards seem to be a solution in search of a problem.

In reality, women have made huge strides in science in recent decades. Today, girls aged 16, outperform boys in all the major science examinations. Aged 18, boys perform marginally better (under one per cent) at maths and chemistry, but girls do better in further maths, biology, computer science and physics. It is at university that women students appear to reject some science subjects. In physics and electrical engineering, women comprise under 20 per cent of students. However, across a broader sweep of subjects, the difference is less stark: roughly 55 per cent of science students studying for a first degree are men, 45 per cent are women. Even this statistic understates the impact women have had on university science, as it does not include the two most competitive science subjects: in subjects allied to medicine and veterinary science, women comprise over 75 per cent of students.

This growth in the number of women taking science subjects at university is beginning to have an impact on the labour market. By 2017, it is predicted that more doctors will be women than men, and there are already substantially more female vets. Women are clearly not put off studying science or entering some scientific careers. It is lab-based research jobs that women are choosing not to pursue, and the proportion of female doctors who choose general practice rather than surgery provides a good indication as to why this should be the case. Careers in scientific research and medical surgery demand long and unpredictable hours. Such commitment might be fine when women are young, but when they begin thinking about having children they are presented with difficult choices. Although angry Twitter feminists might not like it, many women opt for careers in science that are also compatible with family life.

Ironically, in all the recent outrage, it has emerged that Sir Tim Hunt ‘fought for seven years to have creche facilities at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology – and was ultimately successful’. He says he will continue to push for a creche at the new Francis Crick Institute in London. The handful of journalists who ruthlessly and gleefully exposed Hunt’s slip-up to the world have done women no favours whatsoever. Instead of asking why combining work and parenthood can still be difficult for women today, and tackling the issue as Hunt has, they are demanding that the workplace be increasingly regulated. They want academic freedom to be curtailed and scholars to be judged, not on their work and intellectual contribution to science, but on whether or not they hold the attitudes and values that a small and self-appointed group of Twitter busybodies deem to be correct. While dressed up as a feminist crusade, the increased regulation and constant self-monitoring such twitch-hunts instigate are actually eroding the camaraderie and intellectual collaboration that make working far more exciting than being at home with a baby.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Sucking the life out of the academy

The British government’s latest plans for the future of higher education were revealed last week when the newly appointed universities minister made his first speech. Jo Johnson, the less famous brother of London mayor Boris, wants ‘Teaching at the heart of the system’. Johnson minor is not proposing to replicate the elite academic education he benefitted from while at Eton and Oxford. There are no plans to extend access to the ivory towers, the pursuit of knowledge and learning for its own sake to everyone who wants it. Instead, today’s universities are to continue down the intellectually impoverished path they have been treading for at least the past two decades, through a focus on social engineering, training people up for work and ensuring the student-customers get value for money.

Johnson wants universities to renew their focus on widening participation in order to meet the prime minister’s commitment to ‘double the proportion of disadvantaged young people entering higher education by 2020’. While the aim of removing ‘barriers to ambition’ sounds laudable, it’s worth asking exactly what problem is being addressed here. Despite predictions to the contrary, since the introduction of £9,000-per-year tuition fees in 2012, there has been no drop in demand for university places. In fact, the number of students, including those from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds, has continued to climb. Latest figures show that over 90 per cent of pupils who leave school aged 18 with high A-level scores go on to higher education irrespective of their social-class background.

There are, of course, still inequalities – not all children benefit from an education likely to lead to top exam results and not all those with high marks enter the best universities. However, a crude attempt to drive up the numbers of ‘disadvantaged’ students, irrespective of their prior attainment or their personal choices, is a demand that universities positively discriminate by offering lower-entry criteria to certain applicants. This reinforces the perception that universities are political rather than educational projects, more concerned with social engineering than scholarship.

Whatever their social circumstances, students who have not proven themselves able to work at a high academic level are less likely to be capable of pursuing knowledge independently of their lecturers. Johnson proposes remedying this by putting greater emphasis on teaching in universities. He wants to establish a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ in order to incentivise universities to devote more time and attention to the quality of teaching. But a university is not a school: students should not require pedagogic tricks to keep them entertained and engaged. Instead, they need access to knowledge, the scholars immersed in and enthused by this knowledge, and the people who are working at the cutting edge of research in specific disciplines. The government’s focus on teaching in universities and its determination to push change through with a crude audit mechanism reveal a complete lack of understanding of the significance of subject knowledge to higher education.

Finally, Johnson has proposed a greater emphasis on ensuring universities offer students and taxpayers value for money. He cites the recent Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Higher Education Academy 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey, which showed that only around half of students felt their course had provided good value for money. But measuring value for money in relation to education is inherently problematic. Learning is not a tangible product that can be weighed, measured and compared prior to purchase. Each student will take something different from the same educational experience and what that is depends on their interest, prior knowledge and determination to learn.

Johnson’s plan is to use graduate earnings as a crude measure of the value of a degree and to frame such data in league tables that will influence the choices of future applicants and drive the logic of market forces into higher education. The only problem with this is that, in reality, there is little connection between teaching quality, degree classification and earnings. A degree is a ‘positional good’, its value depends on its scarcity. As Johnson notes, ‘between 2006 and 2015, the graduate-earnings premium decreased from around 55 per cent higher to around 45 per cent higher than the earnings of non-graduates’. In other words, as the number of graduates increases, the wages they command drops. A determination to push through a rankings mechanism based on graduate earnings would mean higher education becoming more focused on preparing students for work through teaching generic employability skills.

At the start of his speech last week, Johnson applauded British universities for being among the best in the world. ‘At the root of that success’, he noted, ‘is the autonomy and academic freedom that enables us to attract brilliant people to work in and run our universities and lead our sectoral bodies’. Yet his every proposal runs counter to ensuring the continuation of this autonomy and academic freedom. In the same way as the Research Excellence Framework has degraded genuine scholarship, the planned Teaching Excellence Framework will exacerbate the micromanagement of academics and replace any remaining desire to promote a love of knowledge with a mind-numbing focus on tick-box tricks to promote the future employability of the student-customers.


The Need for Accountability in Education Policy

Education Secretary Arne Duncan doesn't obey the law... because he doesn't have to

Accountability is one of those words that seems to crop up again and again in education policy. Everybody seems to agree that more accountability is a good thing, but as usual, it’s easy for people with different interpretations of the same word to talk past each other.

The accountability I want to talk about isn’t student accountability - a phrase that is typically used as code for “more testing.” Instead, I’m interested in accountability to the people making education policy, a group that has emerged largely unscathed from their numerous collective blunders.

In a recent report, the Pioneer Institute pointed out that the PARCC standardized tests - you know, the ones that states are abandoning like rats fleeing a ship - are funded by a conditional grant that requires fifteen states to participate. Currently, only seven states and the District of Columbia are using PARCC, and many of those are only barely using it.

In a sane world, this would result in the loss of PARCC’s grant. However, as anyone who spends any time politics will no doubt have guessed by now, the funding continues unabated, to the tune of $186 million. The rules are there, but without consequences for breaking them, they might as well not be.

This kind of thing is a systematic problem with the Department of Education. The laws meant to rein in the agency’s power are not enforced and even if someone wanted to enforce them, it’s unclear what kind of penalties these violations carry. Case in point, the provision in the U.S. code relating to federal education standards and curricula.

Title 20, Section 7371 of the U.S. Code states that officers of the federal government or forbidden “to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, as a condition of eligibility to receive funds under this chapter.”

That seems pretty clear, but we know that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has not allowed this to stop him from threatening to pull funding from states that ditch Common Core. Since the law doesn’t stipulate what happens to a Secretary who disobeys it, nothing happens at all, and the prohibition has no teeth.

This is one of the main concerns about current efforts at federal education reform. The anti-Common Core language is being strengthened, but the continued absence of a clear enforcement mechanism calls into question whether these reforms will actually have any meaningful effect. Until the government is actually willing to hold itself accountable for the laws it passes, real progress on reform is going to be slow going.


How We Can Stop the Expansion of the Federal Government Into Our Classrooms

Innovation starts locally—not in Washington.  Yet, over the past few years, we have witnessed the unprecedented expansion of the federal government into our classrooms.

Decades of regulations, mandates and rules have been piling up on our educators, but failing to improve our students’ education.

Congress is set to reconsider, and potentially reauthorize, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

This law outlines federal programs for K-12 education and was last reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which further expanded Washington’s intrusion in our schools by creating new federal mandates.

No Child Left Behind also expired in 2007.

This means the Obama administration has been able to operate without certain limitations and has strong-armed states into complying with its liberal education agenda.

Thankfully, we have the opportunity to get Uncle Sam out of the business of micromanaging our schools from the top-down and return control to our local families, educators and officials.

This week in the House, my colleagues and I are revisiting the way Washington approaches our K-12 federal education policy with consideration of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act.

This bill repeals and reforms many failed education policies like the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandate, but I challenge that we can do even better for our children and future generations.

Conservatives have the largest majority in Congress that we have had in years, and we have a real opportunity to stand against Washington’s culture of bureaucracy and make a difference in our federal approach to education—let’s ensure we truly return education decisions back to the local-level.

We all agree that local communities—and ultimately parents—are best equipped to meet the unique needs of each student. Accordingly, they should be able to decide how best to utilize federal funding.

This is why I introduced the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) amendment to the Student Success Act with Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06). The A-PLUS amendment would give states maximum flexibility by allowing them to opt-out of federal mandates and programs while retaining federal funding.

We can strengthen the Student Success Act’s goal of removing the federal government from our classrooms with this simple, common sense policy change.

States and taxpayers should be able to keep their dollars, opt-out of federal education programs without repercussion and focus on the needs of their students and communities.

Greater flexibility will yield greater accountability. A-PLUS would truly restore local control of education.

The status quo is failing our children and we need to ensure each child has access to a quality education and the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Increasing local control of education and empowering parents and children through school choice initiatives is how we break these patterns and foster innovation in our school systems.

A-PLUS would restore state and local control of education and put parents, teachers and school leaders back in the driver’s seat.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fed research: Student aid mostly raises the price of college tuition

Increasing federal student aid leads colleges to raise tuitions, offsetting the benefit to students, according to new research published by economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The new analysis finds that the majority of an increase in subsidized student loans or grants translates to higher tuitions, and that at least in the short run, added loans do not boost enrollment.

"[W]hile one would expect a student aid expansion to benefit recipients, the subsidized loan expansion could have been to their detriment, on net, because of the sizable and offsetting tuition effect," write David Lucca and Karen Shen of the New York Fed and Taylor Nadauld of Brigham Young University.

The study is evidence in favor of the so-called "Bennett Hypothesis," formulated by Reagan Department of Education Secretary William Bennett, that increases in government student aid allow universities to "blithely" increase tuition without losing students. It is one of the few such data points in the ongoing debate over federal policy and the $1.1 trillion plus in aggregate U.S. student debt that has accumulated as tuitions have soared.

The researchers find specifically that a dollar of added Pell Grants or an added dollar of subsidized direct loans translate to 55 cents and 65 cents in higher tuition, respectively.

They arrive at that estimate by measuring differences in tuition changes at schools that had more or fewer students able to take advantage of increased availability of student loans, using data from the Department of Education.

Not only did tuitions rise when Congress increased aid availability, but for-profit colleges saw their stocks jump, the researchers found.

The previous evidence on the question of whether more federal aid was soaked up by higher tuitions was thin or mixed. A few papers, however, have found similar results.

A 2012 paper by George Washington University economist Stephanie Riegg Cellini and Harvard economist Claudia Goldin found that greater student aid mostly translated to tuition hikes at for-profit schools. A 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by four economists found that added federal student aid could cause some schools to reduce institutional aid.


Marco Rubio calls for higher education reform in first policy speech of campaign

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s first policy speech of his 2016 campaign focused on a topic near and dear to young voters — higher education.

Rubio pushed Tuesday for a total reinvention of the higher education system, including creating a new university accreditation process, giving more students access to information before they take out student loans, and more flexibility in how loans are repaid.

“The problems with higher education are many, but the ideas from Hillary Clinton and other outdated leaders are narrow and shortsighted,” he said, as quoted by Bloomberg Politics. “We need a holistic overhaul—we need to change how we provide degrees, how those degrees are accessed, how much the access costs, how those costs are paid, and even how those payments are determined.”

He said right now the system is essentially run by a “cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market” and that he would “bust this cartel” with a new process that was more welcoming to low-cost options.

“This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students –- just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy,” he said at the event in Chicago.

Rubio’s words echoed those heard around the Hill earlier this year when the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act was introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Floridian. This bill would have allowed state accreditation systems to have more freedom. They could create systems and industry-based accreditation boards that could rate alternative institutions, programs, or even individual courses under the act.

Rubio also supported the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” in his speech. This act would require institutions to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out the loans to pay for it, as well as other crucial information to help students better evaluate their decision to take on thousands in debt.

Rubio also took a page out of Purdue University President Mitch Daniels’ book and pitched an innovative idea for student loan repayment that included allowing students to join with investors who would pay their tuition in return for a part of their earnings post-graduation.


Canadian School Denied Accreditation Over 'Discrimination'

Trinity Western University, a 4,000-student evangelical Protestant college near Vancouver, sought accreditation to open a law school, but has been stymied by Canada’s lack of religious liberty. The Law Society of Upper Canada refused to grant accreditation because the school requires students to sign a covenant foregoing all sex other than that within heterosexual marriage.

Naturally, that “discriminates” against not just homosexuals but fornicators, and that’s apparently not acceptable when one is in school to study law. The school argued in court that the covenant governed behavior, not identity, but that also wasn’t good enough.

“Individuals who may not believe in marriage, or LGBTQ persons, may attend [Trinity] but they must first sign the community covenant and thus, in essence, disavow not only their beliefs but, in the case of LGBTQ individuals, their very identity,” the court said in upholding the accreditation denial. “To assert that that result is not, at its core, discriminatory is to turn a blind eye to the true impact and effect of the community covenant.”

In short, if you want a preview of what’s coming to America after the Supreme Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage, look to our northern neighbors.