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Sustainability depends on a strong governance framework

 

Sustainability depends on a strong governance framework

(16 April 2015)

Article by Terrance M. Booysen
Corporate governance is one of the key elements many investors consider when they reflect upon the organisation’s success, as well as when deciding upon their investment choices.  But when the organisation’s governance system shows signs of stress or failure, not only do astute investors understand the unsettling impact it has upon the organisation’s supply chain, they also become wary about its sustainability which may give rise to them re-considering to ‘weather the storm’ or ‘bail out’ so to speak.
Over the years so much has been written about failures of corporate governance within organisations, including the financial, social and political consequences which are typically found in its trail.  Yet in spite of numerous regulation to improve the overall conduct of organisations, including the various King Codes of Corporate Governance written in South Africa, even more organisations are becoming affected by poor governance.
Indeed, there are a number of reasons why an organisation may become prone to poor governance and these matters are often fiercely debated in the hope that such occurrences would be avoided, or at best stopped.  But in reality — after the scandalous dust linked with poor governance has settled — people seem to forget these (re-occurring) episodes and somehow the perpetrators seem to escape unscathed and they are not publically brought to book in any meaningful way. The failure of governance of any kind is ultimately the accountability of the board and its directors.  Truthfully there are no bad organisations, only bad boards and it can be just one, or a few directors who may lead the organisation astray.  Through their poor leadership and questionable governance practices immeasurable harm is brought to the organisation, including its exposed stakeholders.  As disgraceful as it may be, even when these brazen individuals are removed from their existing directorship positions after they have been found deficient on their fiduciary duties, they somehow re-appear in different organisations to continue their escapades of greed and destruction.

Why then does poor governance continue to prevail, and what additional measures could assist to improve an increasingly dire situation which costs the South African economy billions of rands in a variety of legal battles, including mediation and arbitration hearings, not least private and out-of-court settlements? For the purpose of addressing this question of repeatedly seeing organisations suffer as a result of poor governance; this article purposely does not focus upon the more typical reasons associated with poor governance practices such as poor leadership, or powerful and greedy directors with selfish motive.  Instead, this article makes a hypothetical case — albeit just for a few minutes — that all leaders are ethical and that they are completely mindful of, and serving their fiduciary duties.  If this were true, why then do so many fail when a ‘post-mortem’ is conducted upon the events that damage, or even destroy an organisation or a director’s career?
Rather surprisingly, there is a more fundamental reason why corporate governance is likely to fail in an organisation.  It occurs when an organisation fails to implement a Corporate Governance Framework® which is designed to connect the many intricate components required for ensuring the organisation’s raison d’ etre and its ultimate success. Through its application, a well thought through framework will also allow an organisation to address the qualitative governance issues, and avoid getting bogged down in the quantitative areas that usually have an adverse result upon the organisation’s bottom-line.   By not having such a framework in place — especially in bigger or more complex organisations — is a sure recipe for inevitable governance failure, albeit of varying degrees.
As with most successful organisations, it is extremely rare that the organisation will not have a vision and mission as part of its core guiding principles which underpin the reason for the organisation’s existence.  Indeed, these organisations are guided by a clear set of key documents which includes its strategy, policies and procedures in order to achieve the organisational goals. Whilst these documents are, amongst other, essential for creating common purpose; in reality it is the organisation’s Corporate Governance Framework® which unifies all the complexities of the organisation’s strategic and operational processes which gives the organisation its ‘athletic form’ and ‘mental agility’.  If directors and the executive management structures are not sufficiently connected to all the vital business components needed in a sustainable organisation, then the governance of the organisation will undoubtedly suffer.  For example, directors and management must have the necessary and sufficient understanding of their respective roles and functions, and there must be clear and distinct lines of accountability or responsibility as would be outlined respectively by the appointment of directors and managers.

IN SEARCH OF EDUCATION EQUALITY: FRANCE REVAMPS SECONDARY SCHOOLS

FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

In search of educational ‘égalité,’ France revamps secondary schools

 

French education has been evolving ever more into a case of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ But finding the solution is proving contentious for educators and parents alike.

By Colette Davison, Correspondent May 30, 2015

Paris — France has long prided itself on being a meritocratic system, where anyone – regardless of background – can get to the top with enough hard work. But for many, France’s education system is still highly elitist.

Children of politicians and business leaders fill the seats of the country’s most prestigious schools with the most competent teachers and, eventually, enter into the country’s top companies and political circles. Meanwhile, kids in the more disenfranchised, outlying suburbs – often children of immigrants with no French at home – are taught by young, inexperienced teachers and find their choices for top schooling limited.

Last week, President François Hollande’s government proposed a series of measures to overhaul the country’s secondary education system – to howls of protest from parents and educators across the country. Key among their complaints are plans to implement greater equality – plans, they argue, that would do just the opposite, and widen the gap between France’s schoolchildren.

“This reform is far from creating equality,” says Albert-Jean Mougin, the national vice-president of the SNALC teacher’s union. “It is only going to cause increasing inequality between various establishments and more teaching ‘ghettos.’ Families who have the means will send their kids to the private system, creating ever more inequality.”

Decreasing equality

Peter Gumbel, a professor of journalism at Sciences Po whose book “They Shoot School Kids, Don’t They” analyzes the shortcomings of the French education system, says that as it stands now, France’s educational system clearly aggravates the discrepancy between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

“If you grow up in the banlieu, your chances of finishing school are much smaller than if you grow up in [the wealthy suburb of] Neuilly,” says Mr. Gumbel. “And your chances of actually finishing well are even smaller. Therefore, getting access to the grandes ecoles [elite schools] or the top places in French society is getting smaller and smaller.”

In a 2009 study of students by the national statistics office, children of working class fathers had a 53 percent chance of passing the national exam at the end of high school, versus between 85 percent for children of managers or CEOs.

In addition, a 2012 Pisa study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on 15-year-olds showed that the French school system is becoming increasingly unequal, as compared to the US, where the gap is narrowing – even after taking into account America’s expensive private school system.

The Pisa report, which compares international education standards, also showed that 17 percent of French students leave high school without securing a diploma, according to the same study.

Will reforms help?

New Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem says that the government’s reforms, which could come into effect by September 2016, are an attempt to create more equality in the French school system. Changes include a reduction of classroom hours for Classics courses and a one-year postponement of second-language learning.

Under the current system, Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem says, second-language learning is only available to a handful of gifted students. Under her reforms, all students would have the option to take a second language, but one year later.

Vallaud-Belkacem also recognizes that the French school system – with its desks lined up in a row, and focus on lecture and memorization – can be incredibly dull.

Because, as she says, “it’s not fun enough,” part of the reform will make 20 percent of the curriculum “cross-disciplinary,” giving schools more autonomy in how they allocate teaching time.

Teacher’s unions say, however, that giving schools the choice of how they teach will create differences in the education students receive across the system.

“We’re going to see inequality among schools even in the same neighborhood,” says Mr. Mougin. Unions also worry that by reducing foreign language learning, middle schools will be “dumbed down,” and families who can afford to send their children to private schools will do so, to give them a more comprehensive education.

‘Too centralized’

Despite vehement criticism of the government’s newest education reforms, Gumbel says that the education system is and has been in need of an overhaul.

“The real issue is that the system is much too centralized,” he says. “They try to micromanage everything and that just doesn’t work. What they need is to have much more autonomy at a school level and at a district level, like you have in most other countries where things work better.”

Sophie Vayssettes, a Pisa analyst at the OECD, says that some of France’s European neighbors could provide guidance. Finland and Germany have passed successful reforms focusing on teachers: better training, appropriate salaries, and a push towards further schooling.

By contrast, teacher-training programs in France have dwindled since former President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed through his own set of education reforms in 2008.

Gumbel says that attempted reforms by previous governments have accomplished little lasting improvement, owing in part to a constant seat swapping at the education ministry. “Education is not taken seriously as a policy matter,” he says. “They’re not attacking it properly. The Left comes in [to power] and undoes what the Right has done, and vice versa, and the kids end up as guinea pigs.”

 

FINLAND TO EMBARK ON RADICAL OVERHAUL OF EDUCATION SYSTEM

 THE HUFFINGTON POST

FINLAND SET TO EMBARK ON RADICAL OVERHAUL

OF ITS EDUCATION SYSTEM

 

Finland is set to embark on a radical overhaul of its education system, scrapping “teaching by subject” and replacing it with “teaching by topic” under a set new measures revealed by Helsinki’s head of youth and adult education Liisa Pohjolainen.

 

Although long heralded as a model of a successful educational system, with record high rates of literacy and numeracy, Finland have outlined plans to drastically change its education methods, starting in capital city Helsinki.

 

Amongst a host of changes, there are plans to introduce a programme based around “teaching by topic” rather than the more traditional “teaching by subject” methods, which are already being phased out for 16 year olds in the city.

 

This change will see subject specific lessons, such as Geography and History, replaced by pupils being taught cross-subject topics, such as the European Union, which would combine aspects of Economics, Geography and Languages.

 

There will also be changes to the format of lessons, with the traditional, more passive approach being replaced by a more collaborative method of learning. Instead of sitting and listening to the teacher, students will be encouraged to work together to discuss and solve problems.

 

Unveiling the plans, Liisa Pohjolainen hinted more changes were to come in the future: “This is going to be a big change in education in Finland that we’re just beginning,” she said.

 

Helsinki’s development manager Pasi Silander also backed the changes: “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life.

 

“We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society”.

 

However, some teachers and heads have expressed concerns about ditching long-standing methods, having spent their entire life focussing on a single subject.

 

To ease the transition, Helsinki’s education manager Marjo Kyllonen has advocated a “co-teaching” approach, where more than one subject specialist is involved in lesson planning. Teachers who adopt this approach will receive a small increase in their salary.

 

Around 70% of Helsinki’s high school teachers have now been trained in this approach.

 

According to early reports, the new system is already benefitting Finish students. In the two years since the system started being implemented, pupil “outcomes” – a term preferred to standards – have been on the rise. Ms Kyllonen’s blueprint, which will be published next month, will see these reforms in place across Finland by 2020.

 

Meanwhile, in the UK, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has criticised the “exam factory” approach towards schooling, calling for greater autonomy to be given to teachers and school leaders.

 

 

TOP SCHOOL LOOKS TO BAN HOMEWORK

The Telegraph

 

Top school looks to ban homework

Cheltenham Ladies College reviewing whether to stop homework as youngsters becoming depressed

By Nicola Harley

5 June 2015

One of the UK’s top schools is looking to ban homework to help prevent youngsters from suffering mental health problems.

 

Cheltenham Ladies College is set to review its homework policy over the next five years to help protect students from suffering depression.

 

From the new term in September the school is introducing meditation classes and giving students twice as long to walk between classrooms for lessons.

 

Principal Eve Jardine-Young is considering scrapping homework for pupils in a bid to prevent mental illnesses in their teenage pupils.

 

She said teachers are being trained to spot signs of depression in youngsters.

 

Speaking to the Times, she said the school, which she took charge of in 2011, will be reviewing its homework policy over the next five years.

 

“We will have to look at how we are doing things,” she said.

 

“Will we even be doing prep?

 

“What we have been reflecting on in the last few years are the big national trends and international trends in the worsening states of adolescent mental health.

 

“We’ve created this epidemic of anxiety for ourselves as a society, and if our obligation as educators is to try to the best of our ability to set young people up as best we can for whatever the future may hold, then to ignore this whole area or to trivialise it is really irresponsible.”

 

She said one alternative might be to allow pupils to study material prior to lessons.

WITHHOLDING RECESS AS A PUNISHMENT DECLINES

 

Published Online: April 14, 2015

Withholding Recess as a Punishment Declines

As schools move to ban restrictions on playtime, some teachers resist losing discretion over discipline

By Evie Blad

It’s not uncommon for elementary school teachers to take away recess time to discipline students. Withholding cherished playtime clearly communicates to children that their misbehavior is unacceptable, they argue.

But more and more, schools are doing away with withholding recess for disciplinary reasons, pointing to research findings that unstructured play and exercise benefit students both inside and outside the classroom.

“That physical activity and unstructured play, those things are not luxuries for kids,” said Sara Zimmerman, the technical-assistance director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which advocates increased physical activity for students. “That’s a key part of how kids learn and how they grow.”

Schools around the country have implemented policies that limit or eliminate teachers’ ability to take away recess time, their efforts bolstered by district policies and state laws that place renewed emphasis on physical activity and by increased public involvement in the creation of district wellness policies.

In Minnesota, for example, lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit schools from withholding recess time as a form of punishment. A separate bill in that state would require schools to set clear policies on how much recess time they provide to students and to publish those policies online.

At least 11 states have similar prohibitions, according to the Reston, Va.-based National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

In a 2013 analysis of wellness policies in more than 600 school districts around the country, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 68 percent of elementary schools had no policy in place prohibiting the use of withholding of physical activity as a form of discipline during the 2010-11 school year. That’s a decline from 79 percent in 2006-07.

Supporters of those changes say it’s counterproductive to punish defiant or overly active children by taking away the “time to get their wiggles out,” and that recess is often withheld for unrelated behaviors, like incomplete homework.

Free time also supports students’ cognitive functioning by giving them a “reset button” for their brain, researchers have found.

Kaden Livingston, 8, plays during recess at Patterson International Elementary School in Lakewood, Colo., last week. Research shows children are more engaged in the classroom when they have a break for playtime.

And districts that have made the policy switch say recess gives children a chance to explore social and emotional concepts that are increasingly emphasized in the classroom—like self-awareness and respect for others.

National Momentum

“A lot of times the kids who lose physical activity are the ones who need it most,” said Emily O’Winter, the wellness coordinator for Jefferson County schools in Colorado. “It can have a snowball effect.”

The 85,000-student district leaves it up to its schools to decide if recess can be withheld, Ms. O’Winter said. Many follow a model school wellness policy promoted by the district that recommends not allowing such discipline, she said.

The push for change gained momentum nationally in 2012, when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a position paper saying recess “should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”

“A growing trend toward reallocating time in school to accentuate the more academic subjects has put this important facet of a child’s school day at risk,” that paper said.

“Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom,” the paper continued. “But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it.”

After reviewing existing research, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that many schools had lessened recess time to comply with increased academic demands, and that children attending high-poverty and urban schools are less likely than their peers in middle- and upper-income schools to receive adequate playtime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all elementary school students get at least 20 minutes of recess time each day.

Child-health advocates fear schools have used the implementation of new, more rigorous learning expectations, such as the Common Core State Standards, as justification for reducing the amount of time for physical activity students have during the school day.

“We have the science that shows the importance of moving throughout the day and the impact that can have on focus, concentration, and academic performance, but, increasingly, we’re having kids sit for long stretches of the day,” said Laurie Whitsel, the director of policy research at the American Heart Association.

That organization and others promote research that shows the academic and emotional benefits of recess, alongside data about child obesity and fitness.

When schools limit children’s time for play, “it’s deleterious for their health, and it’s also bad for their academic performance,” Ms. Whitsel said.

“They’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics position paper highlights research that shows young students have improved literacy scores and better cognitive functioning when they get breaks for physical activity.

Researchers have also found school climate and social-emotional benefits.

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Denver found in a 2014 study that 6-year-olds who spent more time in unstructured play showed more signs of strong executive functioning and decision-making skills. Those skills are supportive of strong social relationships, which researchers have linked to academic success throughout a student’s school career.

Champions of child exercise expect more schools to consider revising their policies related to physical activity, including recess, as they upgrade school wellness plans to comply with the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Since 2004, all schools that participate in the National School Lunch program have been required to have wellness plans that outline how they handle student nutrition and physical education.

That requirement was updated under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to add more chances for public participation and transparency in crafting and updating wellness plans. A proposed rule, drafted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to comply with the act, is expected to be finalized soon.

Teacher Resistance

Model school wellness policies drafted by several advocacy organizations include prohibitions on withholding physical activity for disciplinary reasons. Supporters hope that increased input from parents will lead schools to adopt that recommendation.

Such input has already influenced many communities.

In New Haven, Conn., for example, district leaders updated their policies to provide a minimum amount of required recess time and a rule against using recess for discipline after parents spoke up.

But, even as parents have pushed for such changes, some teachers have resisted them.

Eliminating restrictions on recess come as many schools are implementing other changes to their discipline policies to reduce the use of suspensions and other forms of exclusionary discipline.

When parents in Berkeley, Calif., pushed for a policy to eliminate withholding recess last year, teachers pushed back.

There are times when taking away recess time “is the logical and natural response to behavior,” Cathy Campbell, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, told the school board at a November meeting.

“We don’t want it to be impossible for teachers to use this tool,” she said, “because there are times when it is absolutely the right tool.”

The board eventually passed a policy that maintains the ability of teachers to restrict recess time for a maximum of 10 minutes per day after first considering other disciplinary alternatives and providing a verbal warning.

Ms. O’Winter of the Jefferson County district said she understands that some schools may be reluctant to take a discipline option off the table.

But “there’s a growing understanding that it’s damaging to withhold physical activity from children, for disciplinary reasons or for makeup work,” she said.

After the USDA finalizes its new regulations for school wellness plans, she hopes to update Jefferson County’s plan, possibly considering a ban on withholding recess in the process.

“I see it,” she said, “as an opportunity for a big change.”

Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

 

 

1 + 4 MATHS TEACHER MODEL TO START IN EARNEST IN APRIL

1+4 math teacher model to start in earnest in April – DBE

Elijah Mhlanga

24 March 2015

 

Dept says one day a week will be dedicated to preparing teachers for the content to be delivered in that particular week
1+4 Maths Teacher development plan to start in earnest in April 2015

The Department of Basic Education will go ahead with the implementation of the 1+4 teacher development plan aimed at boosting performance in the senior phase. Consultation at the Education Labour Relations Council has been completed and teacher unions have expressed support for the initiative.

The ELRC, a body consisting of all teacher unions, has agreed to among others decide on the implementation of the 1+4 Training programme for Maths Teachers. ELRC noted that Mpumalanga, North West and Eastern Cape had begun with the training and that these provinces cannot be made to stop. The council further decided as follows:

  1. That the 1+4 be promoted as the best model to implement the project and monitoring sessions to be held every 3 months.
  2. That the 1+5 is not a recommended model.
  3. Lead Teachers will be remunerated for tuition in accordance to sub paragraph 2.1 of Chapter D of the PAM. Formula to be used is as follows: First salary position of range 8 (Notch code 108 ) divided by 900.
  4. The Cost of subsistence and travel (S&T) for all participants in the 1+4 training will be reimbursed in terms of the S&T tariffs as determined by the DPSA and Department of Transport respectively from time to time.
  5. Funding for provisions referred to in 3 and 4 above shall be provided for by the Provincial Education Departments.
  6.     CTU-ATU does not support the 1+4 model. (Council noted the position of CTU-ATU)

Implementation of the project can go ahead from 1 April 2015.

In recent years the performance of learners in Mathematics and levels of competency of Mathematics teachers in South Africa in Primary Schools has been under scrutiny. The recent Task Team that was appointed by the Minister of Basic Education to investigate challenges that hamper performance in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) revealed that “MST educator capacity has been found to be wanting at all levels”.

The ‘1+4 Model’ is based on and supports the concept of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) which the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Motshekga, launched on 07 August 2014. The added benefit of the ‘1+4 Model’ is that teachers meet on pre-determined working day. This methodology works on the assumption that teachers need assistance with the entire curriculum and not just certain sections of the curriculum which they presumably have difficulties teaching. We need to be extremely RADICAL and do the out of the normal in our determination to “SAVE OUR CHILDREN”.

The Methodology breaks each week into two parts. One day solely dedicated to thoroughly preparing teachers for the content to be delivered in that particular week. Teachers are presented with CONTENT broken-down into daily doses to be delivered in the other remaining four days of the week. They meet at a nearby school one day per week. This translates into a whopping 23 Days in a year dedicated to intensive training and discussions on mathematics content and methodology.

The training sessions that we have had up to now, which have yielded unsatisfactory results normally run for 10 days in a year. This RADICAL approach will expose teaches to 30 days of Training, Development and Support on a weekly basis.

This METHODOLOGY turns teachers into learners, promoting the principle of a teacher as a lifelong learner. ONE day of Learning and FOUR days of Structured, Effective and Guided Teaching. On Day 1 (e.g. each Monday as illustrated below), on arrival at the venue, teachers are exposed to a pre-test to assess their level of content knowledge of the section of the curriculum to be delivered on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. At the end of the day they are exposed to a post-test to assess how well they have grasped the content they must take to the learners in their respective classes in their schools.

High standards MUST be promoted at all times. It should be expected that teachers will obtain 80% and above in the post-test. Teachers obtaining less than 80% will be identified and support will be provided during the implementation in the week. Subject Advisors will be expected to assist these teachers through Classroom Support Visits to deepen their content knowledge to be provided that week.

These teachers will also be placed in Support Teams made up of Lead Teachers and other teachers who have demonstrated better understanding of the concepts. Heads of Departments, Deputy Principals and Principals in the schools will also have to play a critical role in supporting these teachers.

Removing mathematics teachers from their schools for about 23 Days in a school year to attend the work sessions implies that they will lose approximately 20 hours of teaching time per class per year ( 54 minutes per Day per class). In order to ensure that the 4.5hours instructional time allocated for the Senior Phase is covered and utilised fully, School Management Teams (SMTs) should adapt their time tables to support the model. 

One of the possible ways would be to swop the Mathematics periods allocated for a Day on which teachers will be involved in the work session with the period(s) allocated to other subjects, e.g. Social Sciences. Essentially this means that Mathematics will not be taught on that Day and the Mathematics periods in the time table that were initially spread over five days will be spread over 4 days. 

In instances where one Mathematics teacher teaches other subjects, e.g. Natural Sciences, the same approach should be adopted, i.e. swopping Natural Sciences periods with the periods allocated to the other subjects taught by another teacher. 

Another approach to adapt the time tables is to allocate DOUBLE PERIODS on the remaining week days to compensate for teaching time lost while Mathematics teachers were SCHOOLED during the work session. By adopting this approach contact time will be protected by reallocating to another day. This will not affect the teachers of other subject as their contact time will be moved to the day when Mathematics teachers will be attending the work session. The DBE, after approval by CEM, will issue a circular to communicate the implications of introducing 1+4 Model and requesting SMTs to adapt their time tables accordingly.

Statement issued by Elijah Mhlanga, Department of Basic Education, March 24 2015

IN AN IDEAL WORLD, HOW WOULD YOU MEASURE SCHOOL QUALITY?

In An Ideal World, How Would You Measure School Quality?

By Matthew Mingle

In an ideal world, school quality would be measure by assessing how closely each school’s reality matches the ideals of the Whole Child (hhtp://www.wholechildeducation.org/) approach to education.   To start, these questions, aligned to the Whole Child tenets, would be answered:

  • Does each child enter the school healthy? Does each child learn about and practice a healthy lifestyle?
  • Does each child learn in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults?
  • Is each child actively engaged in learning and connected to the school and broader community?
  • Does each child have access to personalized learning and support from qualified, caring adults?
  • Is each child challenged academically and prepared for employment and participation in a global environment?

Each of these questions can lead students, educators, parents policymakers down a variety of meaningful paths of inquiry.   Such analysis requires far greater time and effort than merely looking at easily quantifiable information like standardized assessment proficiency, graduation rates, attendance, or student/teacher ratios.   While these things are important parts of the complete school-quality portrait, they are far too often considered in isolation, leading to lists that purport to definitively “rank” schools.

In an ideal world, we would move beyond this neat and clean approach to challenge ourselves to measure whether we are really providing all students with pathways for meaningful options for college, career, and citizenship.   This is a common refrain in mission statements and stump speeches, but the quality of schools should be determined based on how well they live up to this laudable goal.   This takes time and a willingness to listen to everyone involved in the operation of the school, from the youngest child to the person cleaning up the stadium after a football game.

In an ideal world, we would measure schools by their ability to offer students well-rounded educational programs and services.   These programs and services should not only include rigorous academics but also health and physical education, art, music, world languages, civics, athletics, extracurricular activities, digital citizenship, service learning, career and technical education, and so much more.   School quality should be based on more than just the results of ESEA-mandated standardized assessments in literacy, mathematics amd science.

In an ideal world, we would check in with students five years after graduation.   Are they healthy?   Are they happy?   Are they good citizens?   Are they engaged in meaningful work or study?   Did their school experience inspire them to make the world a better place on their own, when we were no longer watching?   After all, our mission in schools is really all about preparing our students to no longer need us.

Together, we the educators can and must be unwavering in our attempts to turn the discussion of school quality back to the Whole Child.   Then and only then can we be sure that school quality is being measured by what matters most – how well students’ needs are being met every day.

Matthew Mingle is the director of curriculum and instruction for Madison Public Schools in New Jersey.   He is the president-elect of New Jersey ASCD and was a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders class of 2011.

March 6, 2015 by Inservice Guest Blogger (http://inservice .ascd.org/author/admin/)

 

ONE PARENT STUDENTS LEAVE SCHOOL EARLIER

One-Parent Students Leave School Earlier

Education attainment gap widens
By Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, Greg J. Duncan and Ariel Kalil

SPRING 2015 / VOL. 15, NO. 2

This article is part of a new Education Next series on the state of the American family. The full series will appear in our Spring 2015 issue to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 release of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (generally referred to as the Moynihan Report).

One of the most alarming social trends in the past 40 years is the increasing educational disadvantage of children raised in low-income families. Differences between low- and high-income children in reading and math achievement are much larger now than they were several decades ago, as are differences in college graduation rates.

What might account for these increasing achievement and attainment gaps? One obvious suspect is income inequality itself, which has increased dramatically during the same period. But income inequality is hardly the only factor that may be widening the gaps. We focus here on the central concern of the Moynihan Report: the rise of single-parent families, which has been much more rapid among those with low incomes than among those with high incomes, and indeed has fueled some of the increasing income inequality.

The Moynihan Report focused on black families, but the rise in single-parent families transcends racial and ethnic boundaries. Data from the Current Population Survey show that between 1960 and 2013, the proportion of black children living with a single parent more than doubled (from 22 percent to 55 percent); for white children, the percentage more than tripled (from 7 percent to 22 percent).

Turning from race to class differences, we find that more than half (51 percent) of low-income children entering adolescence were living in single-parent families around the time the Moynihan Report was published. This figure jumped to 75 percent over the next three decades. The corresponding increase for adolescents in high-income families over that period is much smaller, from 3 percent to 6 percent. If the single-parent family structure adversely affects children’s educational outcomes, then the difference in trends across income groups could possibly account for more of the growing gap in educational attainment between rich and poor children than income inequality itself.

In the analysis presented below, we examine the relationships between children’s completed schooling and a number of factors, including single-parent family structure. We find that, while statistically significant, the strength of the relationship between living with a single-parent family and educational attainment is comparable to the relationships for family size and the age of the mother at the time of the child’s birth and weaker than the relationship for maternal schooling. Troublingly, however, the negative relationship between living with a single parent and educational attainment has increased markedly since the time the Moynihan Report was published. In other words, American children raised in single-parent homes appear to be at a greater disadvantage educationally than ever before.

The Data

Our analysis is based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), spanning 31 cohorts of children born between 1954 and 1985. The PSID has followed a nationally representative sample of families and their children since 1968. Our sample consists of 6,072 individuals from whom information was collected on parental income and other characteristics between the ages of 14 and 16 and on completed schooling at age 24. Our key measure is the amount of time between the ages of 14 and 16  that the child lived with a single parent. Throughout our analyses, we adjust for three other family characteristics that may separately influence a child’s educational attainment: mother’s age at the child’s birth, level of schooling the mother had completed when the child was 14 years old, and number of siblings born to the child’s mother. In some analyses, we also adjust for the average parental income when the child was between the ages of 14 and 16. Additional control variables include the child’s sex and race/ethnicity, whether the child was the mother’s firstborn, and the age of the child’s mother at her first birth.

On average over the 31-year period, children the PSID followed into early adulthood completed 13.2 years of schooling by age 24, and 22.4 percent had completed college. They spent 22 percent of the years between ages 14 and 16 living with a single parent, with 26 percent spending any of those years living with a single parent. And their mothers were about 26 when these children were born and had completed 12.2 years of education by the time their children were 14 years old.

The educational attainment gap for adults who lived in single-parent families in adolescence widened considerably over this period. Figure 1a shows the evolution of the gap in years of completed schooling by age 24 between children who, between the ages of 14 and 16, never lived with a single parent and those who lived with a single parent at least one of the three years. While both groups saw increases in years of completed schooling over time, the gap between them widened from 0.63 years for those who were age 24 in 1978 to 1.32 years for those who were age 24 in 2009. This widening appears to accelerate around the mid- to late 1990s. Figure 1b shows similar trends in college completion rates, with the gap between the groups roughly doubling over the 31 years, from 12 to 26 percentage points.

The Role of Single-Parent Families

While the gap in educational attainment by family structure has widened over time, factors beyond family structure may be responsible for that trend. Figure 2 shows the results of our efforts to explain the amount of schooling children completed through five factors: family structure, mother’s age at child’s birth, mother’s years of education, the number of siblings, and parental income. When modeling the relationship between these variables and educational attainment, we control for mother’s age at first birth and whether the individual was the firstborn, along with gender and race or ethnicity. Finally, we report the results of models with and without adjusting for differences in parental income to show to what extent the estimated relationships between each of the factors and educational attainment might reflect associated differences in income. For example, we would think differently about the nature of disadvantages imparted by single-parent family structure if all of the association between living in a single-parent family and completed schooling could be accounted for by lower family income.

To facilitate comparisons across the five key explanatory variables, which are measured in different units, the figures report the change in completed schooling associated with an increase of one standard deviation in each one. For the single-parent family measure, this represents an increase of 40 percentage points (1.2 years) in the amount of time between the ages of 14 and 16 the child spent living with a single parent. The comparable changes for the other variables are 5.7 years for the mother’s age at child’s birth, 2.6 years for mother’s years of education, 2.1 for number of siblings, and a 69 percent increase in parental income.

Figure 2a shows that, holding constant all demographic measures other than income, an increase of one standard deviation in the single-parent measure is associated with a drop in children’s completed schooling of one-quarter of a year. Similar results are obtained for changes in maternal age at birth and number of siblings. In contrast, an equivalent change in the amount of maternal schooling adds about three-quarters of a year to children’s completed schooling. Including the income variable in the model all but eliminates the estimated relationship between single-parent family structure and educational attainment, suggesting that differences in parental income play a key role in the educational disadvantage facing students raised in single-parent families. Adjusting for differences in parental income makes little difference for the other key variables.

Findings are similar with respect to college graduation (see Figure 2b). Here again, maternal schooling is the dominant predictor of differences in educational attainment. An increase of one standard deviation in the level of maternal schooling increases the likelihood of graduating from college by 14 percentage points, nearly three times as much as the corresponding effect for single-parent family structure (5 percentage points). Once again, including the income variable in the model greatly reduces the estimated relationship between single-parent family structure and educational attainment.

While these findings may seem to call into question the importance of family structure on its own for predicting children’s educational attainment, two qualifications are in order. First, recall that Figure 2 shows the change in completed schooling associated with a change of one standard deviation in each of the relevant predictors. For the single-parent family variable, this amounts to an increase of 1.2 years in the amount of time children spent living with one parent between the ages of 14 and 16. The vast majority of children in our sample, however, spent either none of those years or all three of those years in a single-parent family. Spending all three years in a single-parent family, as opposed to none, was associated with completing 0.63 fewer years of schooling and a reduction of 13 percentage points in the probability of graduating from college in models that do not control for family income.

Second, the predictive power of single-parent family structure appears to have increased over time. The results for living with a single parent illustrated in Figure 2 combine data for all 31 cohorts. If we divide the period into three spans of about 10 years (1968–78, 1979–88, and 1989–99), we find that the estimated relationship between the single-parent family structure variable and educational attainment more than tripled in size, from -0.11 for the earliest cohorts to -0.43 in the latest cohorts (see Figure 3). By the final time span, living with a single parent all three years between ages 14 and 16, rather than none, was associated with completing 0.92 fewer years of schooling compared to 0.31 fewer years in the first period.

The estimated relationship between the single-parent family structure variable and the probability of graduating from college doubled. By the final time span, living with a single parent all three years between ages 14 and 16, rather than none, was associated with reduced probability of graduating from college of 16.6 percentage points compared to a reduction of 8.1 percentage points in the first period.

The relationships with educational attainment for the three other key factors—maternal age at the child’s birth, maternal education, and number of siblings—were also changing over the 31-year period, although generally by less than that for single-parent family structure. The associations between maternal age at birth and children’s completed schooling nearly doubled in size, from 0.13 for the earliest cohorts to 0.23 in the latest cohorts. The association for maternal education also increased modestly, while the association for number of siblings fell to zero for the latest two cohorts.

Conclusion

Single-parent families are much more prevalent now than at the time the Moynihan Report was published. They are still far more likely to be found among low-income families than among high-income families, but they have become more common among both whites and blacks.

Our analysis focused on the relationships between completed schooling and a number of characteristics, including living with a single parent as adolescents. We find that the estimated relationships between living with a single parent and educational attainment are similar to those for family size and the age of the mother at the time of the child’s birth but considerably smaller than the effects of the mother’s level of education. Importantly, however, the negative relationship between the single-parent family and children’s completed schooling appears to be larger now than when the Moynihan Report was published. We need to continue to monitor these patterns and examine what it is about family resources and processes in single-parent families that may result in low levels of educational attainment for children.

Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest is research associate professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Greg J. Duncan is professor of education at the University of California, Irvine. Ariel Kalil is professor at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.

 

Seven big myths about top-performing school systems

BBC NEWS Business

4 February 2015 Last updated at 00:17 GMT

Seven big myths about top-performing school systems

By Andreas Schleicher OECD director of education and skills

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says she wants England to get into the top five of the international Pisa tests for English and maths by 2020.

The man in charge of the Pisa tests, Andreas Schleicher, says the evidence from around the world reveals some big myths about what makes for a successful education system.

  1. Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school

Teachers all around the world struggle with how to make up for social disadvantage in their classrooms. Some believe that deprivation is destiny.

And yet, results from Pisa tests show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries.

Children from similar social backgrounds can show very different performance levels, depending on the school they go to or the country they live in.

Education systems where disadvantaged students succeed are able to moderate social inequalities.

They tend to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools, thus challenging all students with high standards and excellent teaching.

Some American critics of international educational comparisons argue that the value of these comparisons is limited because the United States has some unique socio-economic divisions.

But the United States is wealthier than most countries and spends more money on education than most of them, its parents have a higher level of education than in most countries, and the share of socio-economically disadvantaged students is just around the OECD average.

What the comparisons do show is that socio-economic disadvantage has a particularly strong impact on student performance in the United States.

In other words, in the United States two students from different socio-economic backgrounds vary much more in their learning outcomes than is typically the case in OECD countries.

  1. Immigrants lower results

Integrating students with an immigrant background can be challenging.

And yet, results from Pisa tests show no relationship between the share of students with an immigrant background in a country and the overall performance of students in that country.

Even students with the same migration history and background show very different performance levels across countries, suggesting that where students go to schools makes much more of a difference than where they come from.

  1. It’s all about money

South Korea, the highest-performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the average per student.

The world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated ones. Success in education systems is no longer about how much money is spent, but about how money is spent.

Countries need to invest in improving education and skills if they are going to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

And yet, educational expenditure per student explains less than 20% of the variation in student performance across OECD countries.

For example, students in the Slovak Republic, which spends around $53,000 (£35,000) per student between the age of 6 and 15, perform on average at the same level at age 15 as the United States which spends over $115,000 (£76,000) per student.

  1. Smaller class sizes raise standards

Everywhere, teachers, parents and policy-makers favour small classes as the key to better and more personalised education.

Reductions in class size have also been the main reason behind the significant increases in expenditure per student in most countries over the last decade.

And yet, Pisa results show no relationship between class size and learning outcomes, neither within nor across countries.

More interestingly, the highest performing education systems in Pisa tend to systematically prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. Wherever they have to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, they go for the latter.

Rather than putting money into small classes, they invest in competitive teacher salaries, ongoing professional development and a balance in working time.

  1. Comprehensive systems for fairness, academic selection for higher results

There is a conventional wisdom that sees a non-selective, comprehensive system as designed to promote fairness and equity, while a school system with academic selection is aimed at quality and excellence.

And yet, international comparisons show there is no incompatibility between the quality of learning and equity, the highest performing education systems combine both.

None of the countries with a high degree of stratification, whether in the form of tracking, streaming, or grade repetition is among the top performing education systems or among the systems with the highest share of top performers.

  1. The digital world needs new subjects and a wider curriculum

Globalization and technological change are having a major impact on what students need to know.

When we can access so much content on Google, where routine skills are being digitized or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, the focus is on enabling people to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and working.

In short, the modern world no longer rewards us just for what we know, but for what we can do with what we know.

Many countries are reflecting this by expanding school curriculums with new school subjects. The most recent trend, reinforced in the financial crisis, was to teach students financial skills.

But results from Pisa show no relationship between the extent of financial education and financial literacy. In fact, some of those education systems where students performed best in the Pisa assessment of financial literacy teach no financial literacy but invest their efforts squarely on developing deep mathematics skills.

More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.

  1. Success is about being born talented

The writings of many educational psychologists have fostered the belief that student achievement is mainly a product of inherited intelligence, not hard work.

The findings from Pisa also show this mistaken belief, with a significant share of students in the western world reporting that they needed good luck rather than hard work to do well in mathematics or science. It’s a characteristic that is consistently negatively related to performance.

Teachers may feel guilty pushing students who are perceived as less capable to achieve at higher levels, because they think it is unfair to the student.

Their goal is more likely to be enabling each student to achieve up to the average of students in their classrooms, rather than, as in Finland, Singapore or Shanghai-China, to achieve high universal standards.

A comparison between school marks and performance of students in Pisa also suggests that teachers often expect less of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. And those students and their parents may expect less too.

This is a heavy burden for education systems to bear, and it is unlikely that school systems will achieve performance parity with the best-performing countries until they accept that all children can achieve at very high levels.

In Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, students, parents, teachers and the public at large tend to share the belief that all students are capable of achieving high standards.

Students in those systems consistently reported that if they tried hard, they would trust in their teachers to help them excel.

One of the most interesting patterns observed among some of the highest-performing countries was the gradual move away from a system in which students were streamed into different types of secondary schools.

Those countries did not accomplish this transition by taking the average and setting the new standards to that level. Instead, they “levelled up”, requiring all students to meet the standards that they formerly expected only their elite students to meet.

In these education systems, universal high expectations are not a mantra but a reality.

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

 

Does The Fight For A Cursive Comeback Miss The Point?

Does The Fight For A Cursive Comeback Miss The Point?

Loops And Swirls: You might have the best cursive handwriting in the land, but your kids probably don’t. Does learning to write in cursive help kids’ brains grow?

 

by CORY TURNER

March 25, 2014 4:00 PM ET

 

When was the last time you wrote in cursive? Was it a thank-you note for that birthday sweater? Perhaps a check to the baby sitter? The fact is, you may know how to loop and swirl with the best of them, but do your kids or your neighbor’s kids know as well?

Across the country, many school districts dropped cursive from their curricula years ago. The new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in most states never mention the word “cursive.” Given longhand’s waning popularity, lawmakers in several states, including Tennessee, are now trying to legislate a cursive comeback.

The arguments in favor of cursive usually revolve around heritage or tradition. Some parents want their children to be able to read a letter from Grandma as well as our nation’s founding documents. Some cursive supporters also invoke science, arguing that learning cursive helps young brains grow more than learning basic printing does.

Professor Amy Bastian, a motor neuroscientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has dedicated her career to studying how the brain talks to the body. “The more variety of things you do in the fine motor domain, the more variety of hand movements you make, will improve your dexterity,” Bastian says.

That may sound like a ringing endorsement for cursive handwriting, but when asked if cursive writing is better for a child’s development than printing, Bastian makes it clear: She doesn’t know. Cursive is good, she insists, but it’s not certain that it’s better or more important for a child’s development than printing.

Steve Graham, who studies children’s writing and teaches education at Arizona State University, believes that the current cursive debate misses the problem.

“It really doesn’t matter if it’s manuscript or cursive,” Graham says. “It is kind of silly, in a way, that you have state legislatures getting all tied up in this.”

All of the researchers NPR spoke with agree that cursive is good, but none would argue that it is better or more important than printing. The evidence just isn’t there. As long as children are writing in school, it doesn’t really matter if the letters curl and connect. So, problem solved. Or is it?

“Imagine a world without handwriting,” bellows a deep-voiced narrator. “It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.”

So begins a promotional video for a conference geared toward researchers and educators held a few years ago, called “Handwriting in the 21st Century?”

The question mark at the end of the title says it all. The premise of the gathering, according to the video: “Handwriting instruction is in danger of becoming increasingly marginalized.”

If the claim is to be believed, that’s a bad thing. And lots of reading specialists and academics believe it. It turns out, the real fear among those who study kids and handwriting is not that our schools will stop teaching cursive; it’s what Steve Graham of ASU has noticed in recent years: “We don’t see much writing going on at all across the school day,” Graham says.

What are kids doing instead?

“Filling in blanks on worksheets,” Graham says. “One-sentence responses to questions, maybe in a short response summarizing information.”

In other words, not enough good old-fashioned composition and too much choosing among (A) This, (B) That or (C) All of the above. Some of those fighting to keep cursive in schools argue that computers are the enemy. Instead of writing, kids are typing on the keyboard, they say. But there are two problems with that argument.

First, many researchers say that learning to type is a good thing. And second: “Schools are not teaching keyboarding,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Berninger is a big champion of both handwriting and typing. She’s worried that they have been nudged to the side by crowded state standards.

“In the 21st century, you teach kids to be multilingual by hand,” Berninger says.

The new Common Core State Standards place considerable emphasis on the importance of composition, which suggests students may be doing more writing as states implement the core. But that means that right now the pressure is on teachers, administrators and textbook writers to make sure students get the time and instruction they need to become fluent writers.

“If we expect kids to develop mastery in anything and develop fluency in anything, they have to be doing it on a regular basis,” says Scott Beers, who teaches education at Seattle Pacific University.

That’s true not just in kindergarten or first grade, but in grade after grade. Focus on handwriting early and often, experts say, print or cursive or both. Then, as kids’ brains develop, gently lay the groundwork for typing.

It’s not either-or. It’s choice (C) All of the above. The good kind.