Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arkansas parents challenge racist law

Why should kids be kept in underperforming schools just because they are white?

Four rural, mostly white school districts in Hot Spring County are being asked to defend the race restrictions in a school transfer law that they'd rather see changed. A group of white parents has sued the districts over the School Choice Act, which forbids the four schools from accepting white students from the racially diverse Malvern district which they're supposed to attend. So when the Ouachita, Glen Rose, Magnet Cove and Bismarck districts were named in the federal lawsuit, they offered no defense of the 1989 law. With that, they've sided with those who favor more choice in selecting schools and against many racially diverse school systems in urban areas where administrators fear white students will flee if the race provisions are removed.

The divide between various school systems presents a challenge for lawmakers who plan to reconsider the law this session while the parents continue their fight in U.S. District Court in Hot Springs. On one side, with higher percentages of white students, are the many rural and suburban schools who want to open their doors to anyone who wants to transfer. On the other side, with higher percentages of black students, are more urban schools such as Hope, Jonesboro, El Dorado, Camden-Fairview and Hot Springs, where administrators say they fear "white flight." "It's hard to please everybody," said Rep. Bill Abernathy, D-Mena, who leads the House Education Committee. "It's going to be difficult to find middle ground."

Parents of at least 50 white students in Hot Spring County have sued the Ouachita, Glen Rose, Magnet Cove and Bismarck districts along with the state Board of Education and the Malvern School District, claiming the transfer law violates their civil rights. The parents live within the boundaries of Malvern schools, where roughly one-third of the student body is black, but they want their children to attend the other schools, where the number of white students exceeds 90 percent. The school choice law bans transfers that "adversely affect the desegregation of either district," and it outlines specific formulas to be used in calculating the racial balance.

The lawsuit points to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricted race-based enrollment decisions. But there is no consensus among education attorneys in Arkansas on whether the ruling means Arkansas' law is constitutional. The state attorney general's office plans to defend the law in the Malvern case, which is scheduled for a Nov. 30 trial. Still, lawmakers say they intend to propose changes. "This is the biggest policy issue, in my opinion, that this state faces this session," said Tom Kimbrell, executive director of a state association that represents school administrators.

When lawmakers passed the choice act, they intended to increase competition among schools by freeing parents, to some extent, to pick schools, regardless of where they live. In the past few years, fewer than 1 percent of students across the state have transferred out of their home districts under the law, according to the Arkansas Department of Education. This school year, 2,718 of the state's 465,801 students took advantage of the law. There is no way to know how many more would transfer if the race restrictions were removed, and the Department of Education is not studying the matter, a spokesman said.

But Allen Roberts, an attorney for several school districts including El Dorado and Camden Fairview in south Arkansas, says he's convinced that large numbers of white students would leave the more urban schools. "If students were permitted to go to school wherever they wanted to, at school districts in south and east Arkansas, that would result in total segregation to the education system in that area," he said.

Superintendents at districts that stand to gain more students under loosened rules, however, say race should not be a factor in enrollment decisions. "The playing field is not level right now," said Nathan Gills, superintendent of the Glen Rose School District, where the student body is about 98 percent white. The Glen Rose School Board in Hot Spring County even passed a resolution stating their view that the race provisions in the act are unconstitutional. And when Glen Rose and the other area schools were forced to respond to the federal lawsuit that originally named just Malvern, their attorney simply offered that the districts "admit that the race-based provision of the school choice statute is unconstitutional at this time."

In St. Francis County, one district made a bold move this school year to buck the state transfer law and turn a blind eye to the color of the skin of the students seeking transfer. The Palestine-Wheatley School District in the Delta can't accept more white students from its nearby districts, under the choice act. Its student body is about one-third black, compared with the two other districts in the county where the student bodies are nearly 80 percent black. But Superintendent Donny Collins said he thinks the act is unconstitutional, so he took a risk and accepted both black and white student transfers. Enrollment climbed a couple of dozen students to 626, he said. "You just can't base something on race," Collins said.

More here

New British diplomas not suitable for bright pupils, say teachers

More crap education for kids stuck in British government schools

Teachers do not rate the Government's new diploma as suitable for bright teenagers or those wanting to go to university, according to research published today. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, appears to be failing to win round his own workforce in promoting the qualification for 14 to 19-year-olds. Mr Balls has said that the diploma, which is supposed to bridge the academic and vocational divide, could become the qualification of choice, eventually replacing A levels. Teachers, however, do not appear to share his enthusiasm. A survey of 1,300 teachers found that under a quarter thought the diploma was suitable for academically able pupils. Just a fifth believed that students destined for university should bother taking a diploma; A levels were still seen by most teachers as appropriate for clever pupils and for those wanting to progress to university.

The results of the survey are a blow for the Government, which has pushed hard to convince parents, universities and employers of the diploma's worth. The qualification was designed to break down what ministers have called the pernicious divide between theoretical and practical education.

Some universities have agreed to accept the engineering diploma, but Oxford and Cambridge also want students to take A-level physics as a condition of entry to its engineering degree course. Other diploma subjects include construction, hair and beauty, information technology, and travel and tourism. Five diplomas are currently on offer, with plans for an eventual 17. Three announced most recently appear more academic than their predecessors, covering science, languages and humanities, but these will not be available until 2011. Only 12,000 teenagers began taking diplomas last September, a quarter of the Government's original estimate.

The poll, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research and released by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, found that three quarters of teachers thought the diploma was for schools in poorer areas. Only three in ten believed it was suitable for independent schools. More than four fifths saw the qualification as being for those who wanted to pursue a vocational route.

James Turner, director of policy at the Sutton Trust, said: "At a time when diplomas are being heavily promoted to schools and students, it is worrying that the perception among teachers - who should be best informed - is that these are not for bright young people with university ambitions. This reflects a wider confusion about the role and currency of the different qualifications available in schools and colleges. "There is a real danger of a divide emerging between those pupils in independent and top state schools who are set on an academic path, leading to places in selective universities, and students from non-privileged backgrounds who have those opportunities closed to them."

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said the survey showed that young people needed better guidance. Diana Warwick, its chief executive, said: "This is a new qualification, so inevitably there will be a learning curve for everyone involved. But we are concerned that there is a perception among the teachers surveyed that the diplomas are not appropriate qualifications for students aiming to go on to university. "Diplomas provide a new route to higher education and enable wider accessibility for students to develop the skills that best meet their aspirations."

Professor Michael Arthur, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds and a member of the Government's advisory group on diplomas, said: "The results of this survey show that we have to work harder on providing high quality information and training to those that are giving our 14 to 16-year-olds advice and guidance about their future studies."


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