A+ Washington keeps education reform moving forwar
THE state Legislature made a notable commitment to protect public-education funding and act on key reforms in the face of daunting budget cuts in the just-concluded session.
The challenge to keep the momentum going is met with a bold and comprehensive strategy that aligns education reform from pre-K to college or career training. A diverse coalition of local and statewide education groups banded together under the umbrella Excellent Schools Now and created a broad strategy for moving forward on education reform.
The result is A+ Washington, a powerful and sequential road map worth consideration by the public and lawmakers.
Expanding access to prekindergarten classes is a practical beginning. A Washington state study of incoming kindergartners found a third were starting out behind.
Boosting high-school graduation requirements better aligns them with college entry requirements. Nearly two-thirds of college students have to take remedial courses during their first two years, consuming time and money.
Other goals, lowering the dropout rate and raising the high-school graduation rate, will not be solved overnight but through focused policies and public investment.
Education budgets are tight, but there is power in A+ Washington and the plan's strong potential to keep the reform conversation going. Moreover, the priorities are backed by a majority of voters and public school teachers in a statewide survey taken earlier this year.
The hefty list is not intractable. These are important goals and strategies that ought to be tested and, if necessary, improved upon. But the key is to keep the conversation going.
Many of the education reforms passed by the Legislature are aligned with the A+ Washington agenda, including stronger teacher and principal evaluations and replacing seniority with performance in school hiring and firing decisions.
The Legislature must continue to protect education funding and push for more reforms. In the gubernatorial race, candidates Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Jay Inslee, a Democrat, support the plan. But their positions on specific strategies differ, something that ought to be highlighted on the campaign trail.
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Illegal loans: Reps to probe education ministry, J
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts has resolved to probe the Federal Ministry of Education, for obtaining illegal and unauthorised loans from the various parastal agencies under it over the years.
The parastatal agencies, which the committee was to beam its searchlight on, are the National Universities Commission (NUC); Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TetFund); Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC); National Examination Coincil (NECO); National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) and the National Teachers Institute (NTI), among others.
This is coming just as the committee gave the ministry a 30-day ultimatum within which to pay a sum of N531 million back to the TetFund, being the two instalmental loans it took illegally from the agency between 2006 and 2007 on the orders of the then minister of education, which had not been paid back till date, failure which the Accountant-General of the Federation would be directed to stop further disbursement of funds to the ministry until the money was fully paid.
The chairman of the committee, Honourable Adeola Olamilekan Solo-mon, handed down the orders during the meeting with the management of Tetfund, led by its Executive Secretary, Mallam Mammud Yaqub, over the 12 queries raised against the agency by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federaton (AGF).
The AGF had accused TetFund of granting a N50 million loan to the ministry in 2007, contrary to finacial regulations and another disbursment of N481 milion in two instalments for the payment of transfer allowances to teachers in Federal Government unity schools and technical colleges, among others.
The AGF disclosed that all the transactions were not properly documented and also violated all relevant financial regulations of the Federal Government, adding that as such, the money should be paid back to the coffers of the agency with proof of evidence of payment.
In his defence, Mallam Yaqub said though he was not in office when the loans were taken, he had made spirited efforts to recover the loans, though all the efforts failed.
The committee also frowned on a N25 million donation which Tetfund made to Gateway Games hosted by Ogun State in 2006 and summoned the immediate past executive secretary of the agency to appear before it within 14 days to defend the donation.
In addition, the committee directed the Minister of Education, Professor Rukkayat Rufai, to appear before it within 14 days, to explain why the ministry had been tampering with the funds of the agencies and para-statals under it.
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Putin Completes His Education at Last Cabinet Meet
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his stint in the job sometimes felt like getting an education, as he bid farewell to his Cabinet on Wednesday at its final session.
Before approving higher taxes on the gas industry, Putin in a speech thanked the ministers for helping the country to withstand the battering of the global economic crisis. His inauguration for a third presidential term just days away, he conceded that his previous experience of running the country as president wasn't always sufficient for the hard choices of the past four years.
"It was also a special test and a special schooling for me," he said, speaking almost without looking down at the prepared statement. "I sometimes had the impression that I was taking some advanced training courses."
Putin spoke at a session of the full Cabinet, a rare phenomenon during his tenure. In one of his first moves as prime minister, he established a trimmed down lineup of the Cabinet that he named the Presidium.
Some of the key ministers, however, chose to skip the potentially memorable moments of last seeing Putin at the head of the Cabinet meeting table. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov were away on vacation.
Former Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin did come, despite his appointment as acting Perm governor a few days earlier.
The symbolic value of the meeting didn't mean the Cabinet had a lax agenda.
It approved a tax maneuver that Putin touted during his campaign. The change envisages a higher tax burden on businesses that extract natural resources and those who lead a luxurious lifestyle, while providing the incentive of lower taxes in some other areas.
As part of the package, the Cabinet approved steady increases of the tax on natural gas production that will affect both the cash cow Gazprom and smaller rivals not controlled by the state.
The government will also raise the rate of the vehicle tax to charge more from owners of Maybachs, Mazerattis and similar models that have more than 410 horsepower, Deputy Economic Development Minister Sergei Shatalov said.
About 20,000 cars will come under the new rate, he estimated. Of them, 7,000 cruise the roads of Moscow and another 1,000 the Moscow region, he said.
The increased tax will yield between 2 billion rubles ($69 million) and 3 billion rubles, representing modest additional revenue, he said.
Owners of jumbo or pricey housing, or a collection of residences, will also eventually have to pay more. While the standard rate will be 0.05 percent of a property's value, for owners of a property or set of properties that are cumulatively worth upward of 100 million rubles the rate will double, Shatalov said.
The rate will jump sixfold for properties that are worth more than 300 million rubles.
He didn't say exactly when the rule will begin to apply, but added that the government wouldn't reap much more as a result of the measure.
"It bears the nature of social justice rather than pursues fiscal goals," he said.
One area where the fiscal burden will be eased is the property tax on new equipment for businesses. The government will cancel the tax in a bid to spur technological upgrades.
The measure will allow companies to save 50 billion rubles every year over 2013-2015, Shatalov said.
The tax, whose rate is 2.2 percent, is paid to regional coffers.
Excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol are also set to grow under the plan approved Wednesday.
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Strong stance tells state to stop meddling
On April 19, the Victoria Independent School District board came to a decision. Victoria schools have had enough of the state meddling in local education, so they adopted a resolution crafted by the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of School Boards. This was greeted with a standing ovation from educators.
We were proud to see the Victoria school board take a stand on education in Texas. The vote may have been largely symbolic, but at the time, it joined more than 340 districts across the state who have taken the same stance. That number has grown to 412 districts representing more than 2 million students as of April 26.
VISD also joins 20 other districts in Region III, including Bay City, El Campo, Ganado, Goliad, Industrial, Nursery, Palacios, Refugio, Shiner, Wharton and Yorktown.
There are 1,265 districts in Texas, which means almost a third of the districts in the state have passed a resolution similar or identical to the one passed by VISD. With such a large percentage of the districts voicing this sentiment, the state should be taking time to pay attention to their concerns.
VISD board members at the April 19 meeting referred to the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test as a rush job. STAAR was supposed to be a more comprehensive end-of-grade exam that would cover a variety of subjects. But teachers started the year with very little guidance on what was expected of them and their students before the end of the year testing period. For that reason, the state agreed to allow districts to waive the requirement that the test account for 15 percent of a student's overall grade.
We think it is bad judgement on the part of the state to push out a new test without providing the necessary teaching information to go with it, as well as trying to create a new test in the middle of a budget crisis. The decision is puzzling in the least and reckless at the worst.
The purpose of standardized testing is to hold schools accountable and make sure students across the state are receiving the same level of education, but it's hard to set a clear standard when the state keeps changing the test.
On top of all this, teachers say the overemphasis on testing has taken the joy out of learning in school. We think Bernard Klimist, board vice president, said it best at the meeting.
"We've turned schools into factories," he said. "Our kids aren't learning. That's what's scaring me. Their whole life is governed by a test."
This is not what education should be. And we applaud all our area districts who took a stand for our schools and students.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.
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Education Reform: Language and Technology vs. STEM
As we get closer to the presidential election, organizations and individuals are once again appealing to officials for an education reform. Over the past few years there has been a push for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programs. What about a push for language instruction?
Although a science and technology program is valuable, a program that integrates technology and language is equally important. Part of the problem with this type of language initiative though is that individuals within the discipline have split views. On one end are the traditionalists who are completely against incorporating technology into language pedagogy. On the other end of the spectrum are those so eager to test new technologies that in their haste end up poorly incorporating technology into the lesson plans. For example, I recently learned that a teacher created a class account on Pinterest and had the students post a picture and a paragraph about a famous Spanish monument on the site simply because Pinterest is currently the "hottest" tool in technology. Needless to say, the activity was a disaster because it was poorly integrated into the lesson. In a globally connected world, technology is a crucial element of language instruction but it requires careful thought and planning.
Also, while making sure that students develop information, media and technology skills is important if we are to compete and keep up with other nations in the 21st century, we shouldn't forget that these technological skills must simultaneously be accompanied by language acquisition to effectively communicate on the global stage. It was through my time abroad that I understood how problematic language barriers can be and consequently how valuable it is to know other languages. Not too long ago, I was sitting at the airport in Morocco shortly before our flight's departure when our Morocco Exchange Program director was taken by an official for questioning. Our director had just distributed a series of papers with information about Morocco's history, its government, religion and arts and culture for us to read on our flight home. However, the officials were suspicious because they did not know what type of information the papers contained since everything was in english. I will never know what ran through the official's mind, maybe that our director was a stranger dispersing misleading or harmful information about their country to a group of foreigners but I do remember being nervous our director would not be allowed to leave Morocco. Fortunately, our director knew Arabic and was able to explain that we were a group of students from the U.S. on an intercultural exchange program and that the information on the handouts was for educational purposes. The official apologized for the misunderstanding and appreciated that our director was teaching us about Moroccan culture. I have heard many times that people are more open-minded when you speak to them in their target language, and this experience certainly proved it. This story is an example of how language can overcome cultural barriers and stereotypes. In addition, with this story I hope to reiterate that when it comes to language instruction, the content (language and culture) is equally if not more important than the technological components used to teach. Ultimately technology is meant to enhance language learning, not hinder it or serve as a substitute for the actual language.
Therefore, in terms of language instruction, the best initiatives are those that effectively integrate language and technology. One of the few models of this unique language initiative is found at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Every year the Department of Modern Languages at Marist College offers a course titled Spanish and Technology. Unlike traditional lecture-style pedagogy, this course is completely project-driven with the goal of fostering 21st Century skills such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking, and self-direction, while simultaneously developing a student's media literacy and Spanish language skills. Based on the success of this course and its commitment to preparing students for the 21st century, Marist now also offers a pre-college Spanish Summer Institute, an intensive two-week program. This program offers high school students the chance to earn three college credits. Students develop their language and technology skills, take part in cultural activities, interact with native speakers from other countries, learn through location-based games using the iPad and visit businesses, museums and historic sites throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City. As one student recently commented in a testimonial, this program helped her "communicate and feel more comfortable in the target language."
Today, a lot of attention and funding is given to STEM programs but the humanities, language acquisition in particular, deserves just as much attention. As we think about potential education reforms, more options that combine technology and language learning or the humanities in general should be made available. The best education reform is one that not only supports STEM programs but also Language and Technology initiatives.
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Video: Senate Education Committee Rejects Huff's S
The Senate Committee on Education rejected a measure this week that would have given California school districts a new funding source without raising taxes. SB 1295, authored by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), would have allowed districts to provide advertising space on the exterior of its school buses and gave full authority to local school districts over how to spend the revenue that resulted from this new funding option.
The defeat of SB 1295 comes on the heels of a California Taxpayers’ Association report that claims the Huff legislation could have resulted in $31 million annually in additional revenues for California schools.
“This is a shortsighted decision by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee,” remarked the Senate Republican Leader following the vote. “As Democrats base the educational future of our schoolchildren on a tax measure that may or may not get approved this November, we need to lead by finding alternative ways to help protect our teachers and continue to provide a quality education to our children.”
Advertising on the exterior of school buses is already permitted in seven states, and the practice was most recently adopted New Jersey and Utah. Under current California law, school districts already sell advertising space inside school buses, on the exterior of campus buildings, at lunch tables, hallways, school-related publications (such as newspapers and yearbooks) and in sports facilities.
A recent Department of Education study revealed 127 California school districts face severe financial jeopardy because of state budget cuts. Seven districts were given “negative certifications” in The First Interim Status Report for fiscal 2011-12, which means they do not have the resources to meet financial obligations for the current or upcoming school years.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction blames the problem on “deep cuts made to school funding,” which occurred under a majority vote budget that contained more than $1 billion in trigger cuts. No Republican supported the school funding cuts ordered by the Governor in December.
“We should be providing solutions, not gambling on the future of our children,” said Senator Huff. “My measure provided a new and needed source of funding for our schools at no cost to taxpayers. We are all disappointed in the decision by the Democrat majority.”
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Killer performances in Mayfield Theatre’s Chicago
“Give ’em the old hocus-pocus, bead and feather ’em,” advises sings razzle-dazzle celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn, the moral councillor of Chicago. “How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”
The breezy, insurrectionist 1975 Kander and Ebb/ Bob Fosse musical may be a guide to The Scam in America. After all, it’s one big upstaging joke, at the expense of the press, the American justice system, and showbiz with its fickle, gullible, tabloid-trashed consumers (damn, that’s us, my friends). But, in a world where fake high spirits don’t always raise your own, Ron Jenkins’s production is currently delivering the bona fide goods at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, a showbiz institution of unusually ambitious esprit de corps and real chops.
In this Roaring ’20s cartoon of celebrity sleaze, Billy’s latest client, failed chorus girl Roxie Hart (Pamela Gordon), has shot her lover and tried to frame her devoted hubby Amos (Garrett Ross) for the rap. Like her rival Velma Kelly (Sara-Jeanne Hosie), an ex-vaudevillian who has offed her husband and her sister, Roxie is hot to make crime pay with a Page 1 splash, and stardom.
This inspirational tale of upward mobility — “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery ... all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts” — is propelled by Kander’s snazzy musical pastiches and Fosse’s dance numbers of surpassing difficulty (choreographed by Laura Krewski). And, as framed by Cory Sincenne’s handsome black-and-white set and sexy costumes, it references the age of jazz baby and gin joint in witty, minimalist fashion. Since at heart it’s a tale propelled by the shameless urge to perform, the fun of Chicago is that, unlike its more o’erweaning mega-musical cousins, its jokes are stage jokes. And the experience isn’t marred by a small, weird-shaped stage, and ingenuity over budget in stagecraft. Au contraire, it’s part of the fun. Which is why the 2002 movie was such a cluttered drag.
It’s all about the killer performances — the people singing and dancing their (long) legs off, that is. And though the sound mix doesn’t do the voices any favours, to put it mildly, Jenkins’s well-cast production delivers on both counts. The two murderous leading ladies, competing for the same headlines, are a funny contrast. As Roxie, Gordon — making a welcome return to Edmonton after nearly a decade — positively quivers with the kind of malice/ faux innocence combo that bristles with grievance at the first setback. She’s in fine voice, with comic timing to match. Hosie’s Velma, a giant worldly pixie of a woman, exasperated and then enraged by her upstart rival, has a genuinely period inflection to her voice. She does a riotously strenuous solo version of her previous double-act. Class, her duet with the prison matron (Jenni Burke), is a highlight, a plaintive lament for the loss of morality in the world.
John Ullyatt, whose showbiz versatility seems limitless, is Billy, oily and charming in a performance that makes conniving a physical and readable act. Chicago’s leading director of show trials savours his own stardom with a connoisseur’s appreciation. A passive shmo like Amos, amusingly played by Ross, is instant roadkill to Billy. Amos sadly reviews his own invisibility onstage in the catchy Mr. Cellophane.
Musical director Van Wilmott has arranged the brassy score for a six-person band of exceptional versatility. The music values are high. The only drawback, a rarity these days at the Mayfield, is the sound. You can’t always hear Ebb’s witty lyrics, which is a shame. It is R. Markus’s knockout Mary Sunshine, a tabloid journalist with a gift for massaging the most egregious crime into sentimental narrative, who cuts through all the sound vagaries with a trilling soprano.
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Governor thanks secretary of education for years o
Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery was thanked for her service by Gov. Jack Markell.
Lowery is leaving the Delaware position to become the state superintendent of education for Maryland.
Markell said in a news release that Lowery helped to make the public schools in Delaware stronger, and she always remembered that the needs of students came first.
Markell also said that he wants to nominate a new secretary of education in time for the state Senate to consider confirmation before adjourning July 1. Lowery will remain in her current position until a new secretary is named.
"While I have been privileged to serve as Delaware's secretary of education, I am excited to be joining the Maryland State Department of Education as the state superintendent of schools," Lowery said in the news release. "This new opportunity will allow me to work in another wonderful state, hopefully having a positive impact on many more students, while being closer to my family."
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