Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Washington Post's editors describe how Congressional Democrats together with the Obama adminstration are destroying the District of Columbia's school voucher program which, according to a new study, has achieved good results for students in the program. I can't improve on the Post's account of this shameful development, so I will simply reprint it:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision -- made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall -- comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it's clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

Officials who manage the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program sent letters this week to parents notifying them that the scholarships of up to $7,500, were being rescinded because of the decision by the Education Department. Citing the political uncertainty surrounding vouchers, a spokesperson for Mr. Duncan told us that it is not in the best interest of students and their parents to enroll them in a program that may end a year from now. Congress conditioned funding beyond the 2009-10 school year on reauthorization by Congress and approval by the D.C. Council. By presuming the program dead -- and make no mistake, that's the insidious effect of his bar on new enrollment -- Mr. Duncan makes it even more difficult for the program to get the fair hearing it deserves.

That's not to mention the impact of the last-minute decision on these families. Many of the public charter schools already have cut off enrollments for the upcoming school year; the deadline for out-of-boundary transfers for the public schools has passed. No doubt Mr. Duncan is right about possible disruption for new students if the program were to end. But scholarship officials have been upfront with parents about the risks, and the decision really should be theirs. Let them decide whether they want to chance at least one year in a high-quality private school versus the crapshoot of D.C. public schools.

That, after all, is what this program is about: giving poor families the choice that others, with higher salaries and more resources, take for granted. It's a choice President Obama made when he enrolled his two children in the elite Sidwell Friends School. It's a choice Mr. Duncan had when, after looking at the D.C. schools, he ended up buying a house in Arlington, where good schools are assumed. And it's a choice taken away this week from LaTasha Bennett, a single mother who had planned to start her daughter in the same private school that her son attends and where he is excelling. Her desperation is heartbreaking as she talks about her daughter not getting the same opportunities her son has and of the hardship of having to shuttle between two schools.

It's clear, though, from how the destruction of the program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents' needs, student performance and program effectiveness don't matter next to the political demands of teachers' unions. Congressional Democrats who receive ample campaign contributions from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers laid the trap with budget language that placed the program on the block. And now comes Mr. Duncan with the sword.


Homosexual Day Of Silence

The Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), fast approaches. This year it will take place in most public schools on April 17. On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN's socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality.

Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child's school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence.

Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence. If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling their children out of school on the Day of Silence and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members. One reason this is effective is that most school districts lose money for each student absence.

School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day.


Britain employing nightclub bouncers as teachers

Bouncers are being employed by schools to take classes when teachers are not available. One London school went to a doormen’s agency for “cover supervisors”, who watch over lessons when teachers are away, and gave jobs to two bouncers, one of whom is still at the school.

The National Union of Teachers conference in Cardiff heard that schools were advertising for cover supervisors with military or police experience. Andrew Baisley, a mathematics teacher at a secondary school in Camden, North London, told delegates that head teachers were hiring almost anyone provided they had been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau.

Cover supervisors hand out worksheets and make sure that children behave. They have no teacher training and work is normally set by a teacher who does not stay in the classroom. Mr Baisley said: “The idea is that it’s about crowd control and childminding. If they’re stern and loud, that’s what is necessary to do the job.” The wage, half that of supply teachers, was an incentive for supervisors to be used, he said.

In Birmingham an education recruitment agency posted an advert online saying: “Hard core cover supervisors needed now!” and offered £50 to £70 a day. It said: “Aspire People are on the hunt for dynamic, inspiring, hard core cover supervisors. You might be an ex-Marine, prison officer, bouncer, policeman, fireman, sportsman or actor. We need someone who thinks they can get involved in a school environment and control the kids in schools.”

Mr Baisley said: “I know of a school which went to an agency to employ bouncers. They were taken on as permanent members of staff. One ended up with a disciplinary issue within the first term. The bouncers were monitoring lessons. They were big guys who had no teaching experience.”

The school was a secondary in a “not particularly tough area”, he said. “Some adverts for cover supervisors ask for applicants with ex-military or police experience. I think there’s something questionable about thinking that is an appropriate skill for the classroom.”

Cover supervisors are paid up to £20,000 a year; experienced supply teachers earn twice as much. The NUT wants all classes to be taken by qualified teachers when the regular teacher is ill or away preparing for lessons. More cover supervisors are likely to be recruited after September, when rules barring schools from asking teachers to cover for colleagues other than in emergencies come into force.

One teacher discussing the issue on a web forum said that his former school had “full-time security on the corridors and on call for classroom and playground fights. These security were actually nightclub door staff, topping up their income with daytime hours — and believe me they were needed.”

Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the Schools Minister, said: “Heads should ensure that the people they employ have experience and training — and that checks are carried out. Cover supervision should only be a short-term solution. “Pupils should continue their learning through pre-prepared lessons and exercises supervised by support staff with appropriate skills and training. It is up to heads to determine systems for cover in their schools.”

The behaviour expert Sir Alan Steer, asked by the Government to examine behaviour in schools, is to report this week that disruptive children should be removed to “withdrawal rooms” and taught in isolation.


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