Saturday, March 26, 2005


Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities. The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee. The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House. While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views. According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities. Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue. “Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened. Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added. “This is a horrible step,” he said. “Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation.”

The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift responsibility for determining whether a student’s freedom has been infringed from the faculty to the courts. But Baxley brushed off Gelber’s concerns. “Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” he said. “Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue.”

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as “leftists” struggling against “mainstream society.” “The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty,” he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist. Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities and the state Board of Governors already have policies in place to protect academic freedom. Moreover, a state law outlining how professors are supposed to teach would encroach on the board’s authority to manage state schools. “The big hand of state government is going into the universities telling them how to teach,” she said. “This bill is the antithesis of academic freedom.”

But Baxley compared the state’s universities to children, saying the legislature should not give them money without providing “guidance” to their behavior. “Professors are accountable for what they say or do,” he said. “They’re accountable to the rest of us in society … All of a sudden the faculty think they can do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so unheard of to say the professor shouldn’t be a dictator and control that room as their totalitarian niche?”

In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said “arrogant, elitist academics are swarming” to oppose the bill, and media reports misrepresented his intentions. “I expect to be out there on my own pretty far,” he said. “I don’t expect to be part of a team.”



Despite ever lower standards, minorities cannot pass

Only about half of California's African American and Latino ninth-grade boys graduate from high school within four years, a new study reveals. The report, "Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California," is being issued today at a conference in Los Angeles where civil rights advocates and education researchers will present findings on racial disparities in high school graduation. It's part of a national campaign that has led to legislative changes concerning high school graduation reporting in Illinois and Ohio.

Researchers at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which produced the report, are hoping for stronger results in California. They say the state's high overall dropout rate and even higher dropout rate for most nonwhite students amounts to an "educational and civil rights crisis" that will cost billions in lost wages, more prisoners and greater dependence on public health care. "If students don't make it through high school, they really don't have any kind of chance in our economy," said Gary Orfield, author of the report and director of the Civil Rights Project. "And if communities don't make it through high school, their future is very severely threatened."

Across the state in 2002, the report says, 57 percent of African American students and 60 percent of Latino students graduated on time, compared with 78 percent of white students and 84 percent of Asian students. Among all racial groups, the graduation rate for boys was several percentage points lower than for girls.

The Harvard report examines graduation rates by racial group, something the California Department of Education does not do. State figures show only that 87 percent of all students are graduating. The Harvard report disputes that figure - and the method the state uses to calculate it, saying that 71 percent of California students are making it through high school. Harvard's numbers are worse in urban school districts that serve large proportions of nonwhite students.

For instance, in San Juan Unified - where enrollment is largely white - Harvard shows a higher graduation rate than that reported by the state. But the report says that in the Sacramento City Unified School District, 53 percent of all students graduate in four years. When broken down by race, 41 percent of Latino students and 38 percent of African American students graduate on time. "It is a scary epidemic that's happening with our African American children," said Jacqueline Webb, whose son attends Florin High. "It really needs to be looked at deeply." .....

The California Department of Education calculates dropout rates based on individual schools' accounting of how many students leave their school, and where students say they're going. Harvard researchers criticize this method, saying the information rarely is verified. Students might say they are leaving one school to transfer to another, but there is no way to know if they enroll or leave the education system altogether. "There are many ways you can not be counted as a dropout and not graduate high school," Orfield said. For example, he said, students who go to jail are not counted as dropouts.

The Harvard report calculates the graduation rate by counting the number of students who move from one grade to the next and then on to graduation. Discrepancies exist between graduation rates calculated by the Civil Rights Project and education departments in all of the states they examined, Orfield said. North Carolina reported that 97 percent of its high school students graduate, but the Harvard study showed 64 percent. In Texas, the state reported a graduation rate of 81 percent, and Harvard researchers said it was 65 percent. The state-by-state reports are part of a larger effort to highlight the racial inequities in the American education system so that policy-makers can eliminate them, Orfield said.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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