2010年7月31日 星期六

In Britain, Dorms Have Summer Jobs

In Britain, Dorms Have Summer Jobs

Jonathan Player for The New York Times

Dining hall of Oxford University’s Keble College, built in 1878. More Photos »

WHEN I walked into Victoria Hall at Oxford University’s Keble College last month, I was sure I had entered a far more genuine Hogwarts experience than anything Universal could have created at the new Harry Potter theme park in Orlando. Before me was a Gothic dining hall nearly the length of a football field, filled with long wooden tables illuminated by reading lamps. From the cathedral-high brick walls hung portraits of the college’s former wardens and founders beneath stained glass windows. As I lingered over a breakfast of sausages, roasted tomato, baked beans and eggs, I found myself staring up at the image of the college’s namesake, the Rev. John Keble, and could have sworn I saw him fidget within his frame. All that was missing was a flurry of owls delivering the mail.

Never mind that the dining hall used in the Harry Potter films is down the street at Christ Church College. Victoria Hall — the longest hall in Oxford — is an excellent doppelgänger. And unlike Christ Church, which is open to tourists only at certain hours of the day, visitors at Keble can actually spend the night in the dormitory rooms of the 19th-century college, have meals there (the dinner menu comes with a wine list) and roam the university’s manicured quadrangles, at least one of which has an outdoor cafe where guests can enjoy a cool pint of beer on the pristine lawn.

Keble College is one of more than two dozen universities in 20 cities in Britain whose bustling dormitories are transformed into tranquil bed-and-breakfasts during spring, summer and sometimes even Christmas vacations. According to Charlie Ramsay, managing director of University Rooms (universityrooms.co.uk), the consortium behind the Web-based business, some 3,000 accommodations — from singles with shared baths to family suites — are available during the summer season alone.

“There are two reasons to stay in our rooms — price and a unique experience,” said Mr. Ramsay, a 2003 graduate of Oxford University who thought up the business while he was a student, sensing an opportunity to funnel the extra revenue into the maintenance of university buildings, as well as keep student housing costs lower. The site went live in 2007.

“Staying in a university accommodation is a really affordable way to visit cities across the U.K. where a hotel might easily be at least twice the price,” said Mr. Ramsay, adding that the average cost of a room is £25 to £40 a night (about $37 to $60 at $1.49 to the pound). “What’s more, getting behind the walls of world-famous institutions are experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.” Mr. Ramsay is now expanding the business throughout Europe (two universities in Madrid and Barcelona will be available for guests later this year).

My rediscovery of dorm life began in April, when my college-bound daughter and I decided to visit the University of Exeter in Devon, a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from London in southwest England. Looking for a place to stay, I noticed availability in what the English refer to as their “halls of residence.” With two dormitories open to guests, we had a choice of staying either in Holland Hall, a “stunning modern dormitory with a glass fronted dining hall and panoramic views of the Exe Estuary,” or Mardon Hall, built in 1933 with “original features” that included a “wood-paneled library and grand staircase.”

Noting that Holland Hall’s rooms were all “en suite” (the British term for having a private bath), while many at Mardon had only a sink with a shared bathroom down the hall, I opted for the former and was pleasantly surprised to learn we would be paying only £52.95 a night for the two of us, including an “English breakfast” (everything from cereal to ham and eggs).

Not only was the elderly porter welcoming when he checked us into our hillside dormitory, generously offering sightseeing tips as he pointed out a rack of tourist brochures, but the room was lovely and clean, with sweeping views of the countryside that more than made up for the lack of television and Wi-Fi. Though the double bed was a disappointment (only Mardon Hall’s rooms had twin beds), we found fluffy towels, supplies for making cups of Fair Trade tea and coffee, and even toiletries.

Had we not been investigating the academic side of this beautiful red brick campus, we would have taken advantage of the sports facilities, all accessible to overnight guests; headed to one of the many sandy beaches nearby; or explored the Dartmoor National Park, 20 minutes away.

Instead, we took a break from our tour at the Queen’s Cafe, an airy campus restaurant with pine wood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows and fantastic food — we shared a roasted duck panini with ginger, soy and fresh coriander, as well as a prawn sandwich with tomato and orange dressing (£3.95 each).

A quick convert to staying in dormitories, I next reserved a room at Imperial College in London for my husband and me for a trip in June. Since it was located in what I knew to be the desirable neighborhood of South Kensington, steps from Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall and many of London’s top museums, I could hardly believe my luck when a double room with a bath at Imperial was available for just £75 a night. A five-minute walk away, hotel rooms easily cost at least double, if not triple that price.

After checking into our room, again in a modern dorm, with all the conveniences of Exeter (minus the minibar, though it did have an alarm clock and lots of closet space), we headed straight to the Eastside Restaurant for a quick drink before meeting friends. It was on the ground floor of our building and too convenient not to visit. Because the drinking age in Britain is 18, most of the cafes and restaurants on university campuses serve alcohol at student rates. Had we wanted to spend the afternoon watching Wimbledon on one of the two flat-screen televisions, we could have ordered a bucket of five Budweiser beers for a mere £9.50 or a jug of Pimm’s for £12.

Later, I decided to try staying in an Oxford dorm with a friend. Though my companion insisted we change rooms just before bedtime (she said the room smelled like stale socks), the porter could not have been more accommodating, moving us immediately to a room that met her olfactory standards. At breakfast the next morning, even she could not help but take photos of Victoria Hall, between bites of croissant.

Speaking to our fellow guests — an elderly Belgian couple, a Swedish family with two pre-teenage girls, and an American couple — one traveler summed it up best. “Staying here you feel more like a guest than a tourist,” said Michael Marcinko from Pittsburgh, adding that he did not mind the simple rooms or lack of television, as the college’s atmosphere “allows me to wander back to the time of Lewis Carroll or J.R.R. Tolkien.”


University Rooms offers an online booking service with accommodations across Britain from Edinburgh in the north to Plymouth in the south (universityrooms.co.uk). Prices below are approximate as room rates vary with time of year and demand.

KEBLE COLLEGE AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY Open to visitors until the end of September, and from March 23 to April 20, 2011. A single room with shared bath costs about £45 (about $67 at $1.49 to the pound) and includes breakfast, while a two-bedroom family suite that sleeps four costs about £185 ($276). Each room has an Ethernet point, with cables available for a small charge. Visitors have access to the grounds, the campus chapel and bar.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, DEVON The Streatham Campus is open to visitors this summer until the end of September, and during spring vacation next year, from April 6 to 27. Single rooms with shared bath are about £20. Doubles with private baths and minibars are about £50, including breakfast. Some rooms have Internet access. Sports facilities are available at a discount.

IMPERIAL COLLEGE, LONDON Open to visitors until the end of this September, and next year from July 4 until Sept. 27. With more than 1,200 rooms in six dormitories, both old and new, prices vary depending on demand, but never exceed £95 (including breakfast) for a double room with bath. The least expensive room is about £35 for a single with private bath and breakfast. For £5, guests have access to Imperial’s sports facility, which includes an indoor pool.

2010年7月27日 星期二

Britain Plans to Decentralize Health Care

Britain Plans to Decentralize Health Care

LONDON — Perhaps the only consistent thing about Britain’s socialized health care system is that it is in a perpetual state of flux, its structure constantly changing as governments search for the elusive formula that will deliver the best care for the cheapest price while costs and demand escalate.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The new British government’s plan to drastically reshape the socialized health care system would put local physicians like Dr. Marita Koumettou in north London in control of much of the national health budget.

Even as the new coalition government said it would make enormous cuts in the public sector, it initially promised to leave health care alone. But in one of its most surprising moves so far, it has done the opposite, proposing what would be the most radical reorganization of the National Health Service, as the system is called, since its inception in 1948.

Practical details of the plan are still sketchy. But its aim is clear: to shift control of England’s $160 billion annual health budget from a centralized bureaucracy to doctors at the local level. Under the plan, $100 billion to $125 billion a year would be meted out to general practitioners, who would use the money to buy services from hospitals and other health care providers.

The plan would also shrink the bureaucratic apparatus, in keeping with the government’s goal to effect $30 billion in “efficiency savings” in the health budget by 2014 and to reduce administrative costs by 45 percent. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost because layers of bureaucracy would be abolished.

In a document, or white paper, outlining the plan, the government admitted that the changes would “cause significant disruption and loss of jobs.” But it said: “The current architecture of the health system has developed piecemeal, involves duplication and is unwieldy. Liberating the N.H.S., and putting power in the hands of patients and clinicians, means we will be able to effect a radical simplification, and remove layers of management.”

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, also promised to put more power in the hands of patients. Currently, how and where patients are treated, and by whom, is largely determined by decisions made by 150 entities known as primary care trusts — all of which would be abolished under the plan, with some of those choices going to patients. It would also abolish many current government-set targets, like limits on how long patients have to wait for treatment.

The plan, with many elements that need legislative approval to be enacted, applies only to England; other parts of Britain have separate systems.

The government announced the proposals this month. Reactions to them range from pleased to highly skeptical.

Many critics say that the plans are far too ambitious, particularly in the short period of time allotted, and they doubt that general practitioners are the right people to decide how the health care budget should be spent. Currently, the 150 primary care trusts make most of those decisions. Under the proposals, general practitioners would band together in regional consortia to buy services from hospitals and other providers.

It is likely that many such groups would have to spend money to hire outside managers to manage their budgets and negotiate with the providers, thus canceling out some of the savings.

David Furness, head of strategic development at the Social Market Foundation, a study group, said that under the plan, every general practitioner in London would, in effect, be responsible for a $3.4 million budget.

“It’s like getting your waiter to manage a restaurant,” Mr. Furness said. “The government is saying that G.P.’s know what the patient wants, just the way a waiter knows what you want to eat. But a waiter isn’t necessarily any good at ordering stock, managing the premises, talking to the chef — why would they be? They’re waiters.”

But advocacy groups for general practitioners welcomed the proposals.

“One of the great attractions of this is that it will be able to focus on what local people need,” said Prof. Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, which represents about 40,000 of the 50,000 general practitioners in the country. “This is about clinicians taking responsibility for making these decisions.”

Dr. Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the general practitioner committee at the British Medical Association, said general practitioners had long felt there were “far too many bureaucratic hurdles to leap” in the system, impeding communication. “In many places, the communication between G.P.’s and consultants in hospitals has become fragmented and distant,” he said.

The plan would also require all National Health Service hospitals to become “foundation trusts,” enterprises that are independent of health service control and accountable to an independent regulator (some hospitals currently operate in this fashion). This would result in a further loss of jobs, health care unions say, and also open the door to further privatization of the service.

The government has promised that the new plan will not affect patient care and that the health care budget will not be cut. But some experts say those assertions are misleading. The previous government, controlled by the Labour Party, poured money into the health service — the budget is now about three times what it was when Labour took over, in 1997 — but the increases have stopped. The government has said the budget will continue to rise in real terms for the next five years, but it is unlikely that the increases will keep up with the rising costs of care and the demands of an aging population.

“The real mistake that is being made by the health secretary is to drive through an ideologically determined program of reorganization which is motivated by the principle of efficiency savings,” said Robin Durie, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter. “History shows clearly that quality will suffer as a consequence.”

Dr. Durie added, “The gulf between the rhetoric of the white paper and the technicalities of what is involved in the various elements of the overall reorganization being proposed is just extraordinary.”

For example, he asked, how will the government make good on its promise to give patients more choice — a promise that seems to require a degree of administrative oversight — while cutting so many managers from the system?

“How will the delivery of all this choice be funded?” Dr. Durie asked. “And how will the management of the delivery of choice be funded?”

Dr. Vautrey said the country needed to have a “mature debate about what the N.H.S. can and cannot afford.”

He said: “It is a sign of the mixed messages that government sends out. They talk about choice and competition and increased patient expectations at the same time as they tell the service they need to cut costs and refer less and prescribe less. People need to understand that while the needs of everyone may be met, their wants will be limited.”

As they prepare for the change, many doctors are wondering whether it will be permanent this time around.

“Many of our colleagues have seen this cycle of change repeatedly,” Dr. Vautrey said. “Many would look at previous reorganizations and compare it to this one and wonder how long the current change will last before the next one comes along.”

2010年7月21日 星期三

Britain’s Leader Carves Identity as Budget Slasher

Britain’s Leader Carves Identity as Budget Slasher

LONDON — In the five years David Cameron spent rebuilding the Conservative Party in opposition, opinion polls showed that as he sought to rebrand it by offering a compassionate but persistently fuzzy image, voters had trouble defining what sort of a prime minister he would make.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain with Lady Thatcher, one of his Conservative predecessors, in London last month.

Readers' Comments

Not any longer.

After 10 weeks in office, Mr. Cameron, who met with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, has emerged as one of the most activist prime ministers in modern times, rivaling in some respects even Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who as the Conservative leader in the 1980s attacked unions and government bloat while privatizing national industries and vigorously pursuing free-market policies.

With a relentless battery of policy announcements, Mr. Cameron and his coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have proposed to couple the deep deficit cuts the conservatives sketched out during the May general election campaign with a wider effort to break the mold of big government in Britain that, despite Lady Thatcher’s best efforts, has largely prevailed since World War II.

In so doing, they have charted an economic course of almost savage austerity, an approach that contrasts starkly with the policies of Mr. Obama, who wrote to Mr. Cameron and other leaders last month warning against premature cuts in government spending that might drive the world into a double-dip recession.

Mr. Obama has chosen a different path for the United States, deferring the kind of sharp budget cuts now being rolled out across Europe, and at his meeting with Mr. Cameron the two leaders, in effect, agreed to disagree.

In a radio interview with NPR before going to the White House, Mr. Cameron expressed his viewpoint diplomatically. “Every country has to deal with its budget deficit, but the time at which we do it can vary,” he said.

And vary significantly, as Mr. Cameron’s government has shown. A budget last month proposed an austerity campaign of extraordinary severity, setting across-the-board cuts over the next five years of 25 percent and more. But that has proved to be only the scene-setter for an ambitious — and politically risky — bid to dismantle Britain’s sprawling bureaucracy. If successful, it will lift what the new leaders say is the state’s heavy hand on public life, restricting its reach into schools and hospitals, slashing welfare benefits and reviewing intrusive law-and-order Labour programs that have alarmed advocates for civil liberties.

At 43, Mr. Cameron is Britain’s youngest prime minister in nearly 200 years, and he appears to have surprised even himself. As opposition leader, he developed a reputation for blandness, but all that changed after the May 6 general election, when the Conservatives’ cautious, middle-of-the-road campaign failed to win the outright majority many had thought was theirs for the taking.

To achieve a parliamentary majority, Mr. Cameron reached out to the Liberal leader, Nick Clegg, and the two men vaulted ahead of their parties by drawing up a plan for a radical reshaping of the way Britain was governed.

Their proposals for slashing spending go beyond anything Britain has experienced in its modern history, even under Lady Thatcher. They sharply reverse course from a Labour government that, for 13 years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, expanded the state’s power at a pace never seen outside of wartime, turning Britain into one of the most heavily taxed, tightly regulated countries in the developed world, with government accounting for about half the work force and half of the economy.

So far, the course charted by Mr. Cameron and his deputy prime minister, Mr. Clegg, remains largely visionary. At best, they face months, and potentially years, of slug-it-out battles with opponents, including skeptics in their own parties, as well as with newly restive labor unions and a recalcitrant bureaucracy. Their austerity drive alone could bring the coalition down, if people like Mr. Obama who fear that budget-slashing could drive economies like Britain’s back into recession prove to be right.

The main hallmark of the coalition’s program is a plan to halve the annual budget deficit of $235 billion within five years, and to achieve that by across-the-board cuts in almost all government ministries. All the departments involved have been told to prepare a plan for cuts as high as 40 percent, and some may have to cut much deeper than others to compensate for high-spending ministries like those responsible for the military and for Britain’s $290 billion annual welfare outlays, which are unlikely to make even the 25 percent reductions.

The National Health Service, while protected from cuts, has been ordered to shed thousands of jobs. The coalition’s plan is to hand real power — and 70 percent of the health budget — to general practitioners, who, in the coalition plan, would decide for the first time in the health service’s 60-year history what kind of treatment patients would get, and where they would get it.

In a bid to lift some of the poorest standards for literacy and educational achievement in Europe, parents are to gain wider powers to establish so-called academies, independent but publicly financed schools in which head teachers and their staff would be freed from the stifling oversight of local councils and the central education authorities.

A system of legal aid that is one of the world’s most expensive would be slashed, with deep cuts in lawyer’s fees and cases that could be paid out of the taxpayers’ pockets, including divorces. The BBC, financed by $5.3 billion in license fees paid by everyone in Britain with a television set, faces deep cuts as the coalition considers reducing the $220 annual license. Tens of thousands of government workers are likely to lose their jobs, and those who stay are likely to face a two-year wage freeze and potentially sharp pension cutbacks.

In a country with eight million long-term unemployed people, the coalition plans savings of tens of billions of dollars in welfare payments, including radical cuts in the rent the government would pay for subsidized housing. After newspaper accounts telling of immigrant families receiving more than $150,000 a year in taxpayer-paid rent to live in large houses in some of London’s most fashionable districts, the coalition has said that it will place a cap of $600 a week on such payments.

A catalog of laws and practices that advocates of civil liberties have deemed intrusive are to be reviewed. These include 28-day detention orders for people suspected of terrorism, a Labour plan for national ID cards, and the wide use by the police and other enforcement agencies of an elaborate network of closed-circuit television cameras.

Weakened and divided by its May election defeat and temporarily rudderless as it awaits the election this fall of a new leader to succeed Mr. Brown, Labour has resolved to halt many of the changes by all means possible. In the short term, that points to a new and prolonged season of labor unrest, particularly by public sector unions.

Beyond that, Labour has said it will work to ensure that the new coalition is a one-term government, doomed to defeat in a popular backlash in the 2015 general election — and doomed much sooner if strains already showing within the coalition widen to the point of collapse.

2010年7月14日 星期三

The Times's Hard Paywall

業界把泰唔士報收費型態稱為「硬式收費牆」(Hard Paywall),意指沒有緩和的餘地,不是黑就是白,讀者不付費就看不到內容。
依照梅鐸 (Rupert Murdoch) 早先的規劃,倫敦泰唔士報 (The Times) 與星期日泰唔士報 (The Sunday Times) 兩報的網站,從七月一日起開始收費,零售一天一英鎊,訂閱一星期兩英鎊,優惠期間 30 天只要一英鎊,以後以一星期兩英鎊計價。輸入泰唔士報網址 www.thetimes.co.uk、 或星期日泰唔士報網址 www.thesundaytimes.co.uk, 雖然出現首頁,但只要往內頁連結,就立即出現下面的畫面。

業界把泰唔士報收費型態稱為「硬式收費牆」(Hard Paywall),意指沒有緩和的餘地,不是黑就是白,讀者不付費就看不到內容。相對的軟式收費牆就緩和得多,讓讀者免費閱讀固定數量的內容,超過數量才 需付費,這也是紐約時報即將採用的方式,預期明年開始實施。硬付費也許可以試用在地域性的小型報紙,因為內容有高度地域性,別處取不到。泰唔士以大型都會 報硬收費,不顧當地不收費的競爭對手如「衛報」(The Guardian),把自己關在牆裡,業界許多人感到不解。

因應泰唔士報收費,衛報網站不但維持免費,更進一步開放衛報的新聞報導與儲存的資料,讓大家取用放到自己的網站、網誌。所以衛報不僅是報紙與網站,還扮演 技術平台,提供應用程式介面 API (Application Program Interface),讓大家很容易的把衛報內容,成為自己產品的一部份軟體大型,有如開放介面讓別人撰寫應用程式。大型報紙的缺失,在時效上不若電子媒 體,在地方新聞上也沒有當地小型報紙充分,但在資訊技術上仍相當強勢,衛報用技術工具來配合內容,希望打開營運的僵局。

衛報把這個創舉稱為「開放平台」(Open Platform),開放衛報的工具與內容,提供一系列的服務項目,包括使用取得 1999 年到今天 100 萬篇的見報新聞的文稿、標記 (Tags)、圖片、影視,由衛報記者收集特製的常用資料儲存庫,豐富的政治與選舉資料,以及全球政府資料儲存庫。英國的旅遊局就利用開放平台製作 Enjoy England 促銷網站,從衛報取得各景點資訊,與 Google 互動地圖結合,深獲好評(地圖上有藍色 g 字的地方表示資訊由衛報提供,紅色人頭表示由讀者建議的旅遊資訊)。

為什麼要做這件事?衛報解釋說,他們對數位技術一向採取開放政策,在數位創意上也有相當經驗,開放平台是數位演進的下一階段,衛報的視野在與網路交織結 合,成為網路的一部份,而不是浮在網路表面,開放平台的目標在把衛報作為成一個資源,讓全球的伙伴藉著衛報的資源進一步發展。

收費與免費的爭戰當然不會僅在倫敦城裡,根據義大利第三大報共和國報 (La Repubblica) 報導,Google 在義大利悄悄的推廣一個付費的 Newspass 計畫,由 Google 總體負責各報網站的收費,一次收費就可閱覽各報網站,一反由各報單獨收費,Google 還沒正式公佈這個計畫,運作細節還不明朗。不過有人認為,如果要收費,這倒不失為可行的辦法,一次付費簡單省事,而且可以在各報網站之間跳越,合乎網路時 代從多處獲取資源的習性。

Google 不是報業,但有超強的技術與市場能量,以第三者來匯集報業收費,可以說站在恰當的位置,在效果上也遠勝於各報獨自收費,問題是報業願不願意合作。專家們分 析 Newspass 的成功依賴兩個條件,一是報業團體要支持,如果世界報業協會強力支持,進行就順利得多。二是報業本身要改變,必需是高品質的內容才放入 Newspass 收費,一般的內容還暫時維持免費,一旦每家報紙都這麼做,Newspass 就成為高品質的品牌,收費就順理成章了。

誰都知道沒有白吃午餐,好東西理應付費,十幾年來報業試圖網上收費都不成功,原因固然很多,其中之一恐怕是不了解網路生態,把網站當作印刷版經營。現在大 家對網路的概念愈趨成熟,再一次嘗試,成功的機會似比以前大得多了。

2010年7月6日 星期二


2010 年07月06日 06:13 AM


The most appealing aspect of an often bizarre Conservative election platform was the proposal to make it far easier for new schools to enter the state-funded sector. Under Tory proposals, anyone who passes regulatory muster can set up a school and bid to attract pupils, who will come neatly packaged with state funding. The Conservatives want to expand dramatically the range of choices, introducing new, innovative schools and perhaps reinvigorating older schools with the bracing winds of competition. But will it work?

英国保守党的竞选政纲常常有些异想天开,但其中最具吸引力的一项提议,是大大降低新学 校享受财政拨款的教育领域的难度。根据保守党的提案,任何通过监管机构审批的人都能成立学校招生,而学生们均将获得政府资助。保守党希望明显扩大选择范 围,引入创新型新学校,也许还能通过良性竞争,让老一些的学校重新焕发活力。但这管用吗?

The Conservatives point to Sweden and to the US, both of which have introduced policies along these lines. In their manifesto they wrote that in Sweden, “standards have risen across the board as every school does its best to satisfy parents”. The evidence is more ambiguous than that. Early studies of the Swedish reforms looked impressive; more recent work has raised some questions.

保守党人提到已出台类似政策的瑞典和美国。他们在宣言中写道,在瑞典,“由于每所学校 都尽力满足家长的要求,行业水准得到全面提高”。可证据并不像他们所说的这般明确。有关瑞典改革的早期研究看上去有理有据;但后来的研究就反映出了不少问 题。

In the US, the evidence is more encouraging, but – warns Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – it comes with a health warning. British reformers sometimes talk casually about the benefits of American “charter schools” as though this was some well-defined category. But different US states have very different regimes. Some have simply liberalised entry without much regulatory oversight. Others, such as Massachusetts, are stricter and close down charter schools that are failing to deliver.

来自美国的证据更令人鼓舞一些,但麻省理工学院(MIT)的乔舒亚•安格里斯特 (Joshua Angrist)警告,美国的情况也存在问题。英国改革家有时会不自觉地提到美国“特许学校”(charter school)的好处,仿佛这种学校的界定已十分明确。但美国不同的州拥有截然不同的体制。一些州在审批时完全不设限制,也没有什么监管。而有些州,例如 马萨诸塞州,就较为严格,还会关闭那些未能达到要求的特许学校。

The most credible research studies a particular subset of schools, typically in New York and Massachusetts. They are typically “no excuses” schools that emphasise discipline, long hours and short holidays. They are oversubscribed. The disadvantage here is that researchers are looking only at charter schools that parents already reckon are succeeding. But the advantage is that places are allocated by lottery and so researchers can compare lottery winners and losers. The encouraging conclusion is that such charter schools can be dramatically effective, especially for poor children and ethnic minorities.

其中可信度最高的研究考察了部分特许学校,主要是在纽约州和马萨诸塞州。这些学校是典 型的“不给借口”学校,强调纪律、长时间学习和较短的假期,申请竞争也相当激烈。但该研究的缺点在于,研究人员只考察了那些家长已经认为取得成功的特许学 校。但优点在于,学校是以抽签的形式挑选的,因此研究人员能对抽出的赢家和输家进行比较。令人鼓舞的结论是,这种特许学校会非常有效,尤其是对贫困及少数 族裔儿童。

Several questions remain unanswered, however. One is about how much autonomy charter schools should really have. The ideal combination in the US seems to be freedom from dealing with teacher unions and public school schedules, but nevertheless a tight leash as far as performance is concerned. The schools which give their pupils “no excuses” are allowed few themselves. More laissez-faire approaches to charter schools in other states appear to work less well, which suggests that parent power alone is not enough.

但有几个问题仍未得到解答。一个是,特许学校到底应拥有多大的自主权。在美国,理想的 状况似乎是不必与教师工会打交道,无需理会公立学校的教学大纲,但在表现方面要严加管教。允许不给学生任何借口的学校自己也没有什么特权。其它州对特许学 校实施的更自由放任的政策,似乎就不那么有效了。这表明,仅凭家长的力量是不够的。

A second question is whether charter schools boost the performance of other schools, hollow them out, or do nothing to them. In Sweden, the signals are mixed. In the US, I am aware of no credible evidence either way. If charter schools are to raise the standards of regular schools, parents need to be able to distinguish good schools from bad. Some new research from Simon Burgess of Bristol University, Ellen Greaves of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and others, suggests that parents in the UK do sensibly weigh up the academic quality of schools. Parents do like schools with low poverty rates – which might push towards segregation – but they don't seem to care about race. Poor parents have broadly similar preferences to rich parents.

第二个问题是,特许学校是改善了其它学校的表现,还是起到了反作用,抑或是毫无影响。 在瑞典,似乎各种影响皆有。而在美国,哪种影响都拿不出可靠证据。若想让特许学校提高普通学校的水准,家长们必须能区分良莠。布里斯托大学 (Bristol University)的西蒙•伯吉斯(Simon Burgess)与伦敦财政研究所(Institute for Fiscal Studies)的埃伦•格里夫斯(Ellen Greaves)等人进行的一些最新研究显示,英国的家长会理智地衡量学校的教学质量。家长们都喜欢贫困率较低的学校——这也许会加剧社会隔离——但似乎 并不在意种族。贫困家长与富裕家长的喜好大体相同。

This suggests that more choice can raise standards in British schools. The Conservative policy is well worth trying. But there is one more obstacle: the Tories need to be willing to shut less successful schools if standards are truly to rise. This has proved a tough sell in Sweden. Will David Cameron's softer, kinder Tories do better?

这说明,增加选择能够提高英国学校的水准。保守党的政策很值得一试。但还存在一个障 碍:要想真的提高学校水准,保守党必须愿意关闭那些不那么成功的学校。这在瑞典进行得相当艰难。戴维•卡梅伦(David Cameron)更温和、更仁慈的保守党会表现得更好吗?