1. Is giving vouchers for a private education to help low-income families a good idea?
2. What voucher experiments are mentioned in the article? Whose attention do they catch? Are they fruitful?
3. Why have vouchers scared some public schools into action?
VIII. Interpret the idea:
1. The idea is catching on.
2. Valerie Johnson and her husband Robert have latched onto a controversial alternative.
3. Al Gore opposes them (voucher experiments) as a drain on the public-school system.
4. The teacher unions (…) regard vouchers as a threat to their livelihoods.
5. The downside to such freedom is lack of accountability.
6. The defenders of school vouchers argue that the marketplace will work quickly to weed out the worst offenders.
7. Other complaints are tougher to answer.
8. The Hartford Avenue School (…) spiraled into chaos.
9. White parents yanked their kids out as black students were bused in.
10. At its worst point the school went through three principles in three years.
11. The debate has loosened some of the chains that the central office and unions have traditionally imposed upon us.
12. Valerie Johnson would like to see public schools rise to the challenge.
IX. Comment on the headline.
The government is trying to reconcile its egalitarian belief that all should have prizes with the requirements of a meritocracy
"Devise, in your own words, a system for educating English teenagers that stretches the brightest without discouraging the dimmest. It must be rigorous but flexible, broad but deep, and suit employers, universities, pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the politicians who will mark your answer. Write neatly."
That, broadly, was the daunting task facing Mike Tomlinson, a former chief schools inspector, who this week published his proposals for reforming secondary-school education in England (Wales and Scotland are different). The current system is based on the gcse exam, which is normally taken at 16 and A-levels, taken in two stages at 17 and 18.
The system certainly needs improving, but the government's aims are hard to reconcile. Too many people-around a quarter-drop out of education at 16: Britain is one of the worst rich countries on that score, and it is the poor that suffer. But being softer on the low-achievers conflicts with another goal-satisfying employers who complain that school leavers' literacy and numeracy are inadequate: only 42% of gcse candidates gain at least a C in both English and maths.
Another beef is that vocational qualifications are confusing and poorly regarded-but one reason for that is endless meddling with the system. Now there will be yet more.
Differentiating the brightest is hard: this year 22.4% of A-level entries achieved an A grade. But making the exams tougher will penalise pupils at bad schools and help the independent schools that the government has it in for. The system is too burdensome: ten gcses and three A-levels can mean 40 exam papers. But that provides lots of data that universities and employers say they like.
Mr Tomlinson's proposed reform is based on a new four-tiered diploma, which almost all pupils should be able to complete at some level. For the middle and upper tier, basic maths, English and computing will be compulsory. That should please employers, because it will create an incentive to persevere with subjects that are dropped by those who find them difficult. The top-tier diploma will be broadly similar to A-levels, in that pupils will pick a handful of subjects to study in depth. But there will also be an extended essay or similar project, and two new grades of A+ and A« to help the brightest candidates stand out. For gcses teachers will do more marking, and external examiners less.
Will it work? Creating an exam-lite system based largely on teachers' assessments will be a huge and costly task.' Examining is outsourced now because marking scripts is difficult, and best done by experts.
The report suggests that pupils take exams when they want to, rather than with their age-group. That's a nice idea. But even private schools, which have the most money and best teachers, find it hard to accommodate those who want to take exams a lot earlier than their peers. And even if a bright 13-year-old and a dim 18-year-old are studying the same thing, it may be a bad idea to teach them side by side.
Another proposal is workplace experience for the non-academic. Employers are very dubious about that. The sort of teenagers that schools don't want to teach are not necessarily those you want wandering around your factory. Red tape means that firms who play host to minors face legal and insurance problems.
With enough time and money, all that could be solved. But there are other, deeper problems. It is hard to see the system being both tougher and more appealing: making difficult subjects like maths compulsory may encourage a few borderline students not to give them up. But others may decide that it is better to drop out of school as soon as possible. Adding new grades at A-level won't stop grades being devalued: better to encourage the use of a separate exam. Raising esteem for vocational qualifications is a fine idea-but esteem comes from the esteemers, and usually is attracted by an old and solid system, not a new complicated one.
The biggest difficulty is that the proposed new diploma conflates quality and quantity. Accumulating lots of passes in easy and peripheral subjects is not the same as gaining a handful of stellar grades in hard ones. The government quickly signalled that it wants to keep A-levels and gcses for now, whatever other tweaks it ends up endorsing from Mr. Tomlinson's ingenious but flawed piece of work. In the end, meritocracy counts for more.
/The Economist, October 23, 2004/
I. Define the words and word combinations below. Say how they were used in the article:
Rigorous, to mark one’s answer, a daunting task, to reconcile, low-achiever, to conflict, numeracy, beef, to meddle with smth, to penalise, computing, to create an incentive, to stand out, to outsource, red tape, to raise, peripheral subject, stellar grades, tweak.
II. Think of the best Russian translation for:
Meritocracy, a chief school inspector, to drop out of education, to reconcile one’s aims, inadequate literacy, vocational qualification, to be poorly regarded, A-level entries, to complete a diploma, a top – tier diploma, to study in depth, an extended essay, a huge task, to mark scripts, sb’s age group, non-academic, a flawed piece of work.
III. Explain what is meant by:
To reconcile one’s egalitarian beliefs, the requirements of a meritocracy, one of the worst rich countries, to stretch the biggest without discouraging the dimmest, to be soft on sb, to make exams tougher, four-tiered diploma, to persevere with subjects, to pick a handful of subjects, borderline students, external examiners, an exam light system, firms who play host to minors, a separate exam.
IV. Explain what is:
GCSE exams, A-level an A grade, a C grade, A+, A + +