3.09.2010

Great Britain - Educational Bellwether

If you are a school having a problem with kids not hitting the mark on high stakes tests, what can you do? An article on schools housing problem children gives a hint of what we have to look forward to.
Nationally, the number of young people classified as having behavioural problems is rising fast – there were 150,000 last year; a 25% increase in four years. So this local row raises questions that resonate well beyond the bridges that carry the traffic away from Canvey Island. Is it becoming increasingly common for people to refuse to live alongside these difficult pupils? Are we perhaps even experiencing a wave of nimbyism that extends not just to the sometimes unlovable "EBD" child but to other children and young people in general?Article

In New York City, the good results charter schools obtain appears to be due to a dearth of special ed students. The same appears to be true in England too.
Hundreds of the best-performing comprehensive schools appear to be covertly selecting pupils from more affluent backgrounds and blocking those from more deprived families.

(Added 3-12-10) Research commissioned by the Sutton Trust paints a picture of a secondary education system deeply socially segregated and in which large numbers of schools attempt to skew their intake.article

Higher Education has its woes as well. Some things are fairly uniform up and down the line. The British industry council on higher education that presumably worries about hiring recent graduates issues a report that says standards have fallen over the last twenty-odd years so that people who should not graduate are getting degrees. The report concludes that Tony Blair's desire that universities be open to half of all entrants resulted in the present lack of standards.

One of the experts called in to the council of industry powerhouses has written a response saying they did not pay attention to his reasoning. He lays it out here: Geoffrey Alderman
I believe that there has been a decline in academic standards overall in British higher education over the past two decades, but not for the reasons advanced by the AGR. The evidence for this decline is contained in the 2009 report, Students and Universities, of the then select committee on innovation, universities, science and skills. In my written and oral evidence to this inquiry, I identified the following factors as fundamental to this decline:

First, the league table culture that has permeated the senior leaderships of many British universities, resulting in intolerable pressures on academic staff to pass students who should rightfully fail and to award higher classes of degrees to the undeserving.

Second, pressures to maximise non-governmental sources of income, primarily from "full fee-paying" non-European students, to whom it is deemed prudent by these same senior leaderships to award qualifications to which they are often not entitled, so as to ensure future "market share".

Third, the increasing and increasingly stupid use of students' course evaluations as pivotal factors in the academic promotion process. To put it bluntly, a conscientious academic with poor student evaluations may find it difficult or even impossible to obtain promotion because her/his students do not like getting the low grades they may well richly deserve.

Fourth, the breakdown of the external examiner system, due partly to the near-universal modularisation of degree programmes and partly to the abysmal remuneration for work of this sort. The evidence given to the select committee of improper pressure on external examiners makes exceedingly grim reading.

Fifth, the relative leniency shown towards academic dishonesty, coupled with the tendency of university administrators to insist that plagiarism be viewed through the prism of what I believe is termed "cultural relativism".
If this sort of thing - I include Diane Ravich's more or less 180 degree turn - persists, I am going to have to settle back with popcorn.