SAT, ACT No Longer Required For Admission To 800 U.S. Schools

SAT, ACT No Longer Required For Admission
To 800 U.S. Colleges And Universities

A growing number of colleges are stepping away from the standardized exams traditionally required of admissions applicants. More than 800 colleges and universities across the country no longer mandate score submissions from SAT or ACT college admissions exams, according to the latest survey by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, otherwise known as FairTest and a longtime critic of the SAT.

The number of test-optional institutions grew after the most recent revision of the SAT and ACT, in 2005. Of those schools, some exempt applicants who meet GAP or class-rank criteria while others require scores only for course placement purposes or for internal research.

“[Colleges and universities] recognize that neither the SAT nor ACT measures what students most need to succeed in higher education,” FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer said in a statement Wednesday. “Even the tests’ sponsors admit that an applicant’s high school record remains a better predictor of college performance than either exam is.”

Among the test-optional schools are Middlebury College and Bowdoin College, both of which were ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 liberal arts colleges in America. Nearly 150 institutions with test-optional admissions rank in the “top tier” of their respective academic categories, Schaeffer said.

Wake Forest University, for example, also found that dropping the SAT requirement further diversified its student body.

“We expect the ACT/SAT optional list to continue growing as more institutions recognize that the tests remain biased, coachable, educationally damaging and irrelevant to sound admissions practices,” Schaeffer said.

Even so, the vast majority of college-seeking teens are still taking the exams. The Louisiana Department of Education, for example, has launched a new initiative that requires all high school juniors to take the ACT.

For the first time ever, the ACT proved more popular this year among test takers than the SAT — by a narrow margin of less than 2,000 test-takers out of 1.65 million who took each.

The FairTest survey results also come as the two companies that administer the tests, the College Board and ACT Inc., recently implemented stricter security measures to curb cheating following the discovery last fall of a cheating scandal among 20 students from Great Neck, N.Y..

Even as exam officials point to the scores as basic numerical indicators of college readiness, FairTest officials maintain SAT and ACT scores are not well-rounded predictors of college success. Student scores on the tests, either fell slightly or remained stagnant this year, indicating stalled achievement and large likelihood of merely average achievement in a student’s first year of college.

Best Education In The World

Best Education In The World: Finland, South Korea
Top Country Rankings, U.S. Rated Average

The United States places 17th in the developed world for education, according to a global report by education firm Pearson.

Finland and South Korea, not surprisingly, top the list of 40 developed countries with the best education systems. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore follow. The rankings are calculated based on various measures, including international test scores, graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, and the prevalence of higher education seekers. (See the list of top 20 countries in the slideshow below)

Pearson’s chief education adviser Sir Michael Barber tells BBC that the high ranking countries tend to offer teachers higher status in society and have a “culture” of education.

The study notes that while funding is an important factor in strong education systems, cultures supportive of learning is even more critical — as evidenced by the highly ranked Asian countries, where education is highly valued and parents have grand expectation. While Finland and South Korea differ greatly in methods of teaching and learning, they hold the top spots because of a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose.”

The study aims to help policymakers and school leaders identify key factors that lead to successful educational outcomes. The research draws on literacy data as well as figures in government spending on education, school entrance age, teacher salaries and degree of school choice. Researchers also measured socioeconomic outcomes like national unemployment rates, GDP, life expectancy and prison population.

The report also notes the importance of high-quality teachers and improving strong educator recruitment. The rankings show, however, that there is no clear correlation between higher pay and better performance. The bottom line findings:

  1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focused system-wide attention to achieve improvement.
  2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.
  3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.
  4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
  5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.

To be sure, South Korea’s top spot doesn’t come without a price. Stories of families divided in the name of education are all too common, to the extent that the phenomenon bequeaths those families with a title of their own — kirogi kajok, or goose families, because they must migrate to reunite.

But America’s average ranking doesn’t come as a surprise. A report recently published by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate. Researchers estimate that gains made by students in those 11 countries equate to about two years of learning.

What gains U.S. students posted in recent years are “hardly remarkable by world standards,” according to the report. Although the U.S. is not one of the nine countries that lost academic ground for the 14-year period between 1995 and 2009, more countries were improving at a rate significantly faster than that of the U.S. Researchers looked at data for 49 countries.

The study’s findings echo years of rankings that show foreign students outpacing their American peers academically. Students in Shanghai who recently took international exams for the first time outscored every other school system in the world. In the same test, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.

A 2009 study found that U.S. students ranked 25th among 34 countries in math and science, behind nations like China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland. Figures like these have groups like StudentsFirst, headed by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, concerned and calling for reforms to “our education system [that] can’t compete with the rest of the world.”

Just 6 percent of U.S. students performed at the advanced level on an international exam administered in 56 countries in 2006. That proportion is lower than those achieved by students in 30 other countries. American students’ low performance and slow progress in math could also threaten the country’s economic growth, experts have said.

College application fees are a barrier to getting an education

College application fees are a barrier to getting an education

by Keith Veronese

This is the time of the year when senior high school students are furiously applying for college — a process that will decide where they will spend the next several years of their life, and shape their futures. And a lot of them will face a common problem: They have the grades to get into a particular school, but they can’t even afford to apply.

Why are college application fees so high? And how much money do colleges make from charging such insane fees just to be considered?

Stanford University charges $90 per undergraduate application. The school receives over 34,000 applications a year, adding up to $3 million in revenue for the school. That’s not the highest application fee in North America, however — that honor goes to Virginia-based public university George Mason.

George Mason is home to 20,000 undergraduate students a year, with an additional 12,500 graduate students enrolled. The publicly funded university’s in-state tuition is quite reasonable — less than $7,000 per year. But meanwhile, George Mason takes in a little more than 17,500 applications from freshmen and transfer students a year at $100 a pop, resulting in $1.75 million in revenue. This number is artificially inflated, however, because George Mason uses this high paper application fee to steer possible students to an online application which costs $40 less and eases the paperwork burden.

These application fees certainly pile up, especially for hopefuls applying to multiple schools. Most universities charge in the $50 to $75 range for a freshman application — the NYU system charges $70, UCLA charges $70 per application, while the University of Texas charges $75.

Prices for private schools vary dramatically, with Emory and Vanderbilt charging a mere $50. A number of private colleges, including Baylor, Drexel, and Sewanee currently waive their undergraduate applications fee for students applying online.

The individual cost may not be a big problem — but the cost can add up pretty quickly, given that students likely apply to multiple colleges. There are programs to help with application fees, but you need to be within a family with an income within approximately $15,000 of the U.S. poverty line to be eligible. For those in the middle class, applying to multiple universities can create a substantial financial burden.

And once you’re accepted, universities charge an admission fee to hold the student’s spot for the coming year — a second fee that can range from $100 to $250.

But these application and admission fees pale when compared to the fees charged by elite schools outside of North America.

Oxford University asks for $120 at the time of application, Uppsala University in Sweden requires for $135 from those outside of Sweden and the EU, while applying to La Sorbonne can cost upwards of $500 for those applying internationally.

Applying for Medical and Pharmacy School
So if undergraduate application fees are expensive, what does it cost to apply to graduate school?

Many graduate programs that are stipend dependent — particularly those in the physical sciences — waive the application fee in hopes of attracting more applicants. These applicants often teach a litany of undergraduate laboratories once accepted, providing a low-cost source of revenue for the departments.

But applying to professional schools, particular medical or pharmacy school, is quite expensive. Both venues work off of a consolidated application system — the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) and PharCAS.

The initial application to one medical school via the online AMCAS system bears a cost of $160, with $33 added for each additional school. Pharmacy school applications are even more expensive, with PharmCAS charging $150 for the first and $50 for each additional.

One of the hidden sets of fees that come along with professional schools are “supplementary” applications; applications sent by each school individually after successful screening of consolidated applications. These applications add substantial additional fees, with Harvard charging $100 while UCLA charged $80 for each of the nearly 3,000 secondary applications the school requested in 2011. These applications are typically necessary to garner an interview and acceptance into the school, with the interview itself posing additional travel expenses.

The move to online applications at the undergraduate level is certainly driving costs down — but it hasn’t yet trickled down to professional schools.

Working for Change in Higher Education: The Abysmal State of Adjunct Teacher Pay

Working for Change in Higher Education:
The Abysmal State of Adjunct Teacher Pay

By Jeff Nall

The recent Chicago teachers’ strike provoked a great deal of thoughtful discussion on the topic of K-12 education and teaching conditions.

Important aspects of higher education, however, continue to be overlooked. In particular, the broader public is likely unaware of the unfair and even damaging teaching conditions adjunct or part-time professors are increasingly facing.

The average salary for a college professor is in the realm of just under $60,000.[1] Most full-time University professors teach around six courses a year while also engaging in a variety of scholarly research.  Full-time professors at community colleges and state colleges often teach 10 courses a year. Yet this only offers a limited vision of the condition of college educators.

Today, non-tenured, part-time instructors (adjuncts) comprise almost 70-percent of college and university faculties. And these teachers are paid very little. Until recently these educational laborers have been largely ignored. With newly organized projects such as the Adjunct Project, part-time college teachers are beginning to demand recognition of their plight, and how it impacts students.

In June 2012, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) released a report, “A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members”[2] finding that the median adjuncts were paid for a standard three-credit college course was $2,700 in fall 2010. Based on responses of more than 10,000 part-time college educators, the report found that the median pay ranged from $2,235 at two-year colleges to $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities.

Adjuncts teaching at the community college and state college level in a state like Florida, for instance, make under $2,000 per class. This means that teaching eight classes a year would yield $16,000 annually for the most highly paid community or state college adjunct. Typically adjuncts have no benefits to speak of. This translates into a growing number of college professors who face severe economic hardship.

Many adjuncts comprise the growing number of impoverished graduate degree holders. As ABC News reported in May 2012,[3] the number of people possessing a PhD who received some kind of public assistance increased more than three-fold between 2007 and 2010, from 9,776 to 33,655. Nearly the same was true for those with master’s degrees: 101,682 in 2007 to 293,029 in 2010. In her article, “The Ph.D. Now Comes with Food Stamps” in the Chronicle for Higher Education, Stacey Patton speaks to adjunct faculty who rely on government assistance for economic survival. Among those are adjunct professor, Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, Ph.D.; Elliott Stegall, 51-year-old married father of two who teaches in the English department at Northwest Florida State College; and Kisha Hawkins-Sledge, a 35-year-old, single mother with a master’s degree in English.

As Sarah Kendzior points out in “The closing of American academia,”[4] these poverty-level wages are downplayed by attitudes toward teaching that treat such pay “as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course….” This attitude is explicitly deployed by at least some college administrators who regularly address adjuncts as if they are all volunteers working side-gigs rather than taking time to learn that adjuncting, for many, is their principle financial means. Many adjuncts teach the same or more courses as full-time faculty, but are paid a fraction. Indeed, this is the reason many adjuncts teach larger course loads than full-time faculty. Yet approximating full-time pay of say $60,000 would require an adjunct to teach 25 to 30 classes a year!

Some of those unfamiliar with the time-consuming work of college-level instruction ask why teaching two-dozen or more classes a year is problematic for instructors. But adjuncts teaching 6-course semester loads, for instance, find themselves struggling to meaningfully teach and engage upwards of 300 students, while also continuously developing the knowledge base from which they are expected to teach. Such conditions often result in bureaucratized teacher-student relations: more scantron tests, fewer writing assignments, less one-on-one communication, and generally fewer opportunities for teachers to engage students as individuals and address their unique developmental needs. All of this is on top of the grueling, untenable work schedules, and a salary that is a fraction of the income of normally-employed instructors.

As discussed in “Dismantling the professoriate,”[5] an article discussing the CAW report’s findings: “Part-time teaching is not necessarily temporary employment, and those teaching part-time do not necessarily prefer a part-time to a full-time position.” 75% of survey respondents indicated that they have sought, are seeking, or will seek a full-time tenure-track position.

In response to these conditions individuals, organizations, and groups are mobilizing for change. Some adjuncts are now relating their cause to the broader Occupy Wall Street movement. In this video, “Adjunct Occupies Wall Street,” an unnamed adjunct educator explains his reasoning for joining the Occupy Wall Street movement including his dismay with poverty-level adjunct income and the failure by President Obama to address working conditions for people like himself. He explains,

I decided, after following this on the internet for a few days, that I had to come up here and show solidary with these people. I’m an adjunct professor. I get paid $2,500 per class, that’s $7,500 a semester, $15,000 a year. No benefits. Nothing. It’s not enough to live on. I have $45,000 in student loans I have to pay. I think a lot of people here had hope when Barack Obama won the election. He ran on a platform of change, and it didn’t happen. If you look at his policies it’s really clear that he’s that he’s looking out for the interests of the 1% just like the Republicans are. Republicans are more blatant about it. They just tell you they’re doing it. But the Democrats are supposed to represent the people and labor, and they’re not doing it. Their policies aren’t representing us. So if they’re not going to represent us in Washington, we have to represent ourselves.

In April of this year adjunct activism and the Occupy Wall Street movement converged when Occupy Boston’s General Assembly endorsed a rally for the union of adjunct faculty at UMass Lowell.

The connection between the plight of adjuncts and Wall Street is all too clear to Michelle Kern. In her September article, “Part-time faculty pay reaching poverty level,” Kern writes: “colleges are increasingly turning toward corporate models and business culture….Cheap and surplus labor is the model for an expanding bottom line in Wall Street-driven institutions and the same process has taken hold of our institutions of higher learning, especially in privatization at public universities.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has begun a campaign they call “FACE,”[6] the Faculty and College Excellence campaign. Its aims include promoting legislation to increase part-time pay and establishing a better balance between full-time and contingent faculty via more full-time positions.

Founded by Joshua A. Boldt, the Adjunct Project is a crowdsourcing project bringing together part-time college educators who have and continue to document the pay and benefits (or lack thereof) received from institutions where they teach. In addition to documenting adjunct pay, an area that has received little meaningful examination, the website also serves to foster solidarity among adjunct educators, as well as dialogue about action, and sometimes simply the opportunity to vent.

In another campaign, activists are seeking 3,000 signatures to their petition, Better Pay for Adjuncts: Stop their Exploitation. Authored by Ana Maria Fores Tamayo, the petition demands “better pay and status for the majority of the faculty teaching in today’s institutions of higher education across the country.” As of this writing the petition is about 200 signatures shy of this goal.

For her part Kern calls on adjuncts to view themselves as the essential workforce they now are, and to organize through unions to improve their conditions and those of their students.

Boston Tea Party Was Act Of Terrorism?

Boston Tea Party Was Act Of Terrorism?
Texas Public Schools Teaching New History Lesson

Some Texas parents are upset over a history lesson
that depicts the Boston Tea Party as an act of terrorism.

The historical protest against taxation without representation will mark its 239th anniversary next month. But a report by The Blaze, a right-wing site started by Glenn Beck, reveals that as recently as this January, the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative included a lesson plan that portrays the Boston Tea Party as a non-patriotic act, instructing teachers to read a story to their students as a recent news report:

News report: New Act of Terrorism A local militia, believed to be a terrorist organization, attacked the property of private citizens today at our nation’s busiest port. Although no one was injured in the attack, a large quantity of merchandise, considered to be valuable to its owners and loathsome to the perpetrators, was destroyed. The terrorists, dressed in disguise and apparently intoxicated, were able to escape into the night with the help of local citizens who harbor these fugitives and conceal their identities from the authorities. It is believed that the terrorist attack was a response to the policies enacted by the occupying country’s government. Even stronger policies are anticipated by the local citizens.

The lesson plan then asks teachers to ask students if the event in the news report meets the definition of a terrorist attack, and whether the act is “from a previous time in our history.”

The lesson is a product of CSCOPE, a nonprofit offshoot of the Texas Education Service Centers of 20 media and “education service” centers established in 1965 across the state’s school districts, playing “an integral role in the provision of necessary and essential services to school districts and charter schools in the implementation of school reform and school improvement.” CSCOPE is reported to have received about $25 million in funding last year.

The Texas Education Service Centers have been charged with preparing the state’s teachers to meet the state’s new, more rigorous State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness standardized exams. The Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative — the group in question — was formed by 19 of the 20 centers.

The issue is igniting fury among parents and teachers upset with what they call the state’s opaque methods of approving curriculum and lessons. It also echoes a similar battle two years ago, when two civil rights organizations sought federal review of the state’s public education after state lawmakers passed curricular changes that the groups said “were made with the intention to discriminate.”

The Texas State Board of Education had adopted a social studies and history curriculum that amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the United Nations and hundreds of other topics.

A report out last year by Keith Erekson, an assistant professor of history at The University of Texas at El Paso, says that Texas K-12 standards in history are inadequate, ineffective and “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards.” The report notes that the Fordham Institute gave the state’s history standards a “D” grade, calling it a “politicized distortion of history” that is “both unwieldy and troubling” while “offering misrepresentations at every turn.”

How Teachers Unions Lead the Way to Better Schools

How Teachers Unions Lead the Way to Better Schools
Contrary to mainstream wisdom, poverty and inequality cause
failing schools, not teachers unions and the teachers themselves.

BY Amy Dean

I have a concern: Teachers are getting pummeled. Too often, they are being demonized in the media and blamed by politicians for being the cause of bad schools. Right-wing governors, power-hungry mayors and corporate “reformers”—all ignoring root issues such as poverty and inequality—have scapegoated the people who have devoted their lives to educating our children. Moreover, these forces are seeking to destroy the collective organizations formed by educators: teachers unions.

The stakes for our country could not be more profound. The labor movement and the public education system are two critical institutions of American democracy. And they are two that go hand in hand. Teachers unions have played a critical role in advocating for public education, but you’d never know it from mainstream media coverage. Therefore, there is a great need to lift up this tradition and highlight the efforts of teachers to collectively push for top-notch public schools.

To figure out how we can push forward on this issue, I talked with Diane Ravitch, one of the country’s leading education historians and public school advocates. A professor at New York University, Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education and the author of several books, including 2010’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

What do you see as the role of teachers unions in preserving public education?

For many years, there has been an effort to diminish teachers unions and to blame them for all the problems of public education. I believe the reason, first of all, is that some people just hate unions. But there’s also a political reason that’s very specific. That is that if you silence the union, then there’s nobody at the table when the legislature or the governor wants to cut the budget, so they can hack away at will. That’s happening in states across the country. I was in Texas a few weeks ago, and there the legislature cut over $5 billion dollars from the education budget, but they did manage to squeeze out $500 million dollars for more testing. They have a weak union. They had no one at the table to say, “You can’t do this.” And no one cared what the teachers thought anyway.

This past summer, you championed the Chicago teachers strike as an example of teachers publicly transcending self-interest and pushing for better conditions in the schools. Can you speak about some of the victories have shown a different style of advocacy from teachers?

Well, the teachers’ union had a problem in that most of the things they were concerned about they’re not allowed to collectively bargain. The law says they’re not allowed to collectively bargain the teaching and learning conditions, but that was the essence of the strike. They had to say that they were striking over something that was legal and not over something that the law didn’t allow. I think that one of the things that they were able to accomplish—and it’s a small accomplishment but an important one—is that the mayor wanted the [teachers’ performance] evaluations to be based, I think, 40 or 50 percent on [student] test scores. They got it down to what was the legally required minimum. My own view is that the test scores should account for zero in teacher evaluation.

One of the historical roles of the labor movement is that unions have been a symbol of high standards of quality. If you have your electrical wiring done by a union electrician, for instance, you don’t have to worry about fires in your home. In the same way, teachers’ unions played a role in forming teaching as a profession with high standards for its practitioners. Can you point to examples where teachers are taking the lead on issues of accountability and evaluation?

The nature of being a professional involves self-regulation. Professions are supposed to set [their own] standards. That involves a certain amount of autonomy, but it also means that you meet professional standards. Lawyers set standards for lawyers, and doctors set standards of good practice for doctors. Then there’s a certain amount of self-policing.

I think that if there’s any way in which unions could be faulted, it’s that they have ceded that to management.  So over the years, unions have come to see their role as defending their members and not setting the standards of practice, and so that’s management’s job. They have ceded that role. And I think that now they find themselves in a bind because there’s been this mass of publicity campaigns to make unions seem evil.

What I’ve seen in state after state is that the teachers are losing their collective bargaining rights. I’m not sure that anything they could have done as a union would’ve changed that because in so many of these states, the governors, whether it’s Ohio or Indiana or Texas, the governors are just very, very right-wing and don’t want unions, period. Nothing they could’ve done would’ve changed the governors’ and the legislatures’ desire to strip the unions.

I agree. But in Democratic states and some strongly pro-union areas, we still hear a trope about teachers not stepping up on issues of accountability and evaluation. Do you see some hesitation here?

I think that this is where peer review comes in, and I think that in places where there are peer review systems, then the union does step up.

Part of what I object to about in this whole line of discussion, not from you but nationally, is the assumption that somehow the problems in American education are all tied up with teachers. The teachers are causing low performance, and if we could just find the ideal teacher evaluation system, we would be the highest performing nation in the world. I think that’s a false narrative that’s been promoted by a combination of Bill Gates and Arne Duncan and lots of right-wing groups who want to say we don’t need to spend anything more on poor kids, we don’t need to do a thing about poverty, we just need to weed out those bad teachers.

I also agree that poverty and inequality are core issues that are not being addressed, and that teachers cannot be held accountable for these. Can you identify some of things that are within teachers’ field of control, around which unions could help create just systems of evaluation?

Knowing your subject, being able to communicate your subject to the students, giving assignments that students understand, that are thought-provoking, encourage and enable students to produce good work—and reviewing the quality of that work so it shows that the students are really engaged and are really learning. The metrics would not be hard metrics like a test score, but they would be meaningful metrics. These would be professional judgments.

We have very high-performing schools both in the US and overseas in places where there are strong teachers’ unions. In these schools, union strength and quality of education are going hand-in-hand. How are these examples relevant to the discussion?

Everybody likes to point to Finland. Finland is a great country, and they have a wonderful school system there. It’s 100 percent union, and the principals and the teachers all belong to the same union.

You find the same thing in the US. The highest performing schools in the US are in union states. What are the three highest performing states? Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut. They’re all union. The lowest performing states are either right-to-work states or nonunion states, places with weak teachers unions.

If you look at the highest performing districts, public schools districts in the US, they’re all union—and they’re in suburbs. It’s because the relevant factor is not union or non-union but wealth and poverty.

Politicians often refer to the high pay of teachers and imply that somehow it’s not a good investment. How, in your opinion, taxpayers should view teacher pay, and what role should unions play in trying to influence public perception?

The national media is so anti-union and anti-teacher and anti-public education that you will see it frequently. That the average teacher’s salary in Chicago is around $75,000 is supposed to be a big black eye for the union. Well, that’s ridiculous. Why shouldn’t a professional be paid $75,000? The people who are complaining about this are usually paid many multiples of $75,000. I don’t see that as something the union should be embarrassed about. They should be proud of it.

Part of what unions have done has been to create a middle-class. You don’t become a teacher and go through four years of college and then get a master’s degree or even higher in order to work for poverty wages. You’re supposed to be a professional. Why shouldn’t professionals be paid as professionals?

A Chinese Education, for a Price

A Chinese Education, for a Price

By Dan Levin

BEIJING — For Chinese children and their devoted parents, education has long been seen as the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive society. But just as money and power grease business deals and civil servant promotions, the academic race here is increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected, who pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools.

Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.

Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary “donation.”

“Of course I knew it was illegal,” she said. “But if you don’t pay, your child will go nowhere.”

Bribery has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party’s new leader this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics.

But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said.

Affluent parents in the United States and around the world commonly seek to provide their children every advantage, of course, including paying for tutors and test preparation courses, and sometimes turning to private schools willing to accept wealthy students despite poor grades.

But critics say China’s state-run education system — promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy — is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Such corruption has broadened the gulf between the haves and have-nots as Chinese families see their hopes for the future sold to the highest bidder.

“Corruption is pervasive in every part of Chinese society, and education is no exception,” Mr. Li said.

It begins even before the first day of school as the competition for admission to elite schools has created a lucrative side business for school officials and those connected to them.

Each spring, the Clean China Kindergarten, which is affiliated with the prestigious Tsinghua University and situated on its manicured campus in Beijing, receives a flood of requests from parents who see enrollment there as a conduit into one of China’s best universities. Officially, the school is open only to children of Tsinghua faculty. But for the right price — about 150,000 renminbi, or about $24,000, according to a staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation — a Tsinghua professor can be persuaded to “sponsor” an applicant.

Parents with less direct connections have to bribe a chain of people for their child to be admitted to the kindergarten. “The more removed you are from the school, the more money you need,” the staff member said. “It can really add up.”

A school official denied that outsiders could pay their way in.

The costs can increase as college gets closer. Chinese news media reported recently that the going bribery rate for admission to a high school linked to the renowned Renmin University in Beijing is $80,000 to $130,000.

Government officials have also found a way to game the system. The 21st Century Business Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that powerful agencies and state-owned enterprises frequently donated to top schools under what is known as a “joint development” policy. In exchange, education reformers say, the children of their employees are given an admissions advantage.

The same practice has been taken up by private companies that provide “corporate sponsorships” to top schools.

In China, education through junior high school is mandatory, and free, but the reality is often more complicated. As a child grows up, parents lacking connections must pay repeatedly for better educational opportunities. Across the country, such payments take the form of “school choice” fees that open the door to schools outside the district or town listed on a family’s official residency permit.

These illegal fees are especially onerous for the millions of struggling migrant workers who have moved to distant cites. The Ministry of Education and the State Council, China’s cabinet, have officially banned “school choice” and other unregulated fees five times since 2005, yet school officials and relevant government departments keep finding creative ways around the ban, allowing them to keep the cash flowing.

At some top-ranked high schools, students with low admission test scores can “buy” a few crucial points that put them over the threshold for admission. According to an unwritten but widely known policy at one elite Beijing high school, students receive an extra point for each $4,800 their parents contribute to the school. “All my classmates know about it,” said Polly Wang, 15, a student who asked that the school not be named to avoid repercussion.

Surrounded by a culture where cash is king, teachers often find their own ways to make up for their dismal salaries. Qin Liwen, a journalist who writes about education, said that some instructors run cram schools on the side and encourage attendance by failing to teach their students a vital chunk of the curriculum during the school day.

“Why do something for free when everyone is paying you?” Ms. Qin said. Faced with the prospect of their child’s missing critical material or incurring the teacher’s wrath, many parents feel compelled to pay for these extra courses, she said.

The culture of brown-nosing becomes a costly competition during Teacher Appreciation Day, a national holiday in September, when students of all ages are expected to bring gifts. Gone are the days when a floral bouquet or fruit basket would suffice. According to reports in the Chinese news media, many teachers now expect to be given designer watches, expensive teas, gift cards and even vacations. In Inner Mongolia, some parents said, more assertive teachers welcome debit cards attached to bank accounts that can be replenished throughout the year.

The value of such gifts, the newspaper Shanghai Daily estimated, has grown 50 times from a decade ago.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Ms. Zhao, the owner of the Beijing electronics business and parent of a 10-year-old girl. “If you don’t give a nice present and the other parents do, you’re afraid the teacher will pay less attention to your kid.”

Poor students are the most vulnerable in this culture of bribery. Bao Hong, 33, a maid in Beijing, used to think her 7-year-old daughter, Rui, was having a tough time at school because she was reared in the countryside by her grandparents. Ms. Bao now blames her teachers.

Last year, she said, a teacher slapped her daughter and called her “stupid.” In the spring, the teacher stopped grading Rui’s homework and then skipped a mandatory home visit. “My daughter’s discriminated against because we don’t make much money,” Ms. Bao said, standing outside the room she rents with her husband, a street cleaner.

Some parents have found that the only way to preserve any integrity is to reject a Chinese education altogether. Disgusted by the endemic bribery, Wang Ping, 37, a bar owner in Beijing, decided to send her son abroad for his education. In August, she wept as she waved goodbye to her only child, whom she had enrolled at a public high school in Iowa.

“China’s education system is unfair to children from the very beginning of their lives,” she said. “I don’t want my son to have anything more to do with it.”

Teacher Raises Correlates To Better Student Performance

Teacher Raises Earlier In Career Correlates To Better Student Performance: Study

A new study has found that front-loading teacher salaries —that is, awarding larger raises early in a teacher’s career and smaller raises later — are associated with better student performance in multiple grades.

To test their hypothesis that districts are likely to benefit from a front-loaded salary schedule, the study’s authors — Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk — matched compensation data to school-level student performance data on math and reading achievement tests in 4,500 districts across 28 states during the 1999-2000 school year. They examined the relationship between salary schedule frontloading and student performance across grades and at multiple points in the achievement distribution, i.e. basic competence, proficient and advanced proficiency.

The authors controlled for differences in cost of living in various districts when looking at teacher compensation, and also controlled for the difficulty of tests and demographic characteristics on the student side.

Overall, they found that in both elementary and middle schools, districts that front-loaded teacher salaries saw higher rates of student achievement. That said, the authors go on to clarify that the nature of their data set prevents them from determining whether these higher achievement levels are actually an effect of frontloading.

According to the report, recent debate on teacher compensation has centered primarily on the use of merit pay to reward teachers for their students’ test score gains. Most salary schedules are currently structured in a way that awards teachers pay increases as they gain years of experience and pursue further education, such as a master’s degree or some other accumulation of credits. However, the size of the raises tends to vary considerably from district to district.

In providing a rationale for front-loaded salary schedules, the authors cite research that indicates teachers are the most important school factor in predicting student performance, and that school district success thus depends on a district’s ability to maintain a high-quality teacher workforce. The authors write that providing teachers with higher pay is one means of achieving this goal.

As the National Council on Teacher Quality points out in a blog post, Grissom and Strunk also find that districts where collective bargaining is required are more likely to practice backloading — concentrating raises among veteran teachers. However, there is potential to imitate front-loaded salary schedules through loan forgiveness programs, signing bonuses and retention bonuses.

Students Share What They’re Thankful For

Thanksgiving In Schools: Harlem Village Academies
Students Share What They’re Thankful For

Every year at Thanksgiving, the Harlem Village Academies ask their students to reflect on why they are thankful.

So in the spirit of the season, enjoy their adorable and at times unexpectedly astute issues of thanks. They express thanks for their school and teachers, as well as for modern conveniences that became less given during Hurricane Sandy.

One girl has a colorful interaction with the camera — she’s still thankful, though.

Educator and national activist Deborah Kenny started the Harlem Village Academy in 2003. The academies have since expanded into several schools with hundreds of low-income and underprivileged students who are beating the odds in New York’s public education system.

Is this what students in Louisiana are learning about evolution?

Is this what students in Louisiana are learning about evolution?

by George Dvorsky

Earlier this week, The New Star published an article questioning the way Louisiana goes about its funding of nonpublic schools. According to the state’s constitution, all nonpublic schools must certify that it has “curriculum or specialized course of study of quality at least equal to that prescribed for similar public schools.” This has prompted some critics to point out the sorry state of affairs found in many private and parochial schools in Louisiana — institutions that brazenly tout a creationist agenda. And indeed, a closer look at the educational literature reveals a definite anti-science bias.

As The New Star is reporting, it’s not clear that the state’s requirements are being met before it dishes out millions of dollars to private and parochial schools:

“We don’t look at the quality of the curriculum,” said BESE member James Garvey of Metairie, who co-chairs the board’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee.

“We don’t look at what they teach,” he said. “We look at the system. We look at policies and procedures, not what they teach. It’s how they teach and not what they teach.”

Garvey, an attorney, said he wasn’t aware of the constitutional requirement but knew that it’s in rules BESE adopted for approving nonpublic schools.

The constitutional provision has been used in court decisions to show that curriculum equality is the only basis BESE can use to approve or reject a nonpublic school’s application for state endorsement.

Currently, 377 nonpublic schools have state approval, and a BESE member raises doubts about whether their approval meets the constitutional requirement.

Indeed, as BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out on Monday, fifth graders in some state-sponsored schools in Louisiana study both creationism and evolution as competing theories. The students are told to question science and ask, “Is it fact, or theory?” The BJU Press materials that they use offer “Christ-centered resources for education, edification, and evangelization.”

Check out what Kaczynski dug up:

As Greg Mayer of Why Evolution Is True points out, it’s not clear from Kaczynski’s article what schools are using these materials. “However, even if these schools were held to state standards, that wouldn’t be saying much in Louisiana,” he writes, “which passed its infamous, creationist Louisiana Science Education Act.”

Mayer also points to a recent report (be sure to check out the cover) on science education standards which sums up Louisiana’s constitution:

The Louisiana science standards are reasonably challenging and comprehensive, but they suffer from a devastating flaw: Thanks to the state’s 2008 Science Education Act, which promotes creationism instead of science, the standards (especially for biology and life science) are haunted by anti-science influences that threaten biology education in the state.

Thankfully, efforts to repeal the law are already underway, including an endorsement from 78 Nobelists.