Friday, October 30, 2009

Silencing voices for school choice

To Obama, keeping teachers' unions happy matters more than helping poor black kids

President Obama isn't taking kindly to a television ad that criticizes his opposition to a popular scholarship program for poor children, and his administration wants the ad pulled. Former D.C. Councilmember Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First said October 16 that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had recently approached him and told him to kill the ad. The 30-second ad, which has been airing on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and News Channel 8 to viewers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, urges the president to reauthorize the federally-funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for D.C. students to attend private schools.

The ad features Chavous and a young boy--one of 216 students whose scholarships were rescinded by the Department of Education earlier this year when the agency announced no new students would be allowed into the program. The ad also includes an excerpt taken from one of Obama's campaign statements. "We're losing several generations of kids," Obama says, "and something has to be done."

"President Obama is ending a program that helps low-income kids go to better schools, refusing to let any new children in," Chavous says in the ad. "I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I support our president. But it's wrong that he won't support an education program that helps our kids learn." The young 5th-grade student then pleads for the president's help. "President Obama, I need a good education right now," he says. "You can help. Do it for me."

The nation's first black president has come under intense criticism for failing to support the program that is helping poor African-American students escape some of the nation's most dangerous and worst-performing public schools. After embracing the teachers unions' anti-voucher stance, the president now finds himself in the uncomfortable and awkward position of denying students access to a program that has strong bipartisan, local support, and that multiple studies say is helping poor African-American children succeed.

Little wonder then that the president and powerful allies like Holder--many of whom have benefited from school choice and are currently sending their children to expensive private schools--want the ad to go away.

Chavous discussed Holder's comments during an Oct. 16 interview with WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi and NBC 4 reporter Tom Sherwood during Nnamdi's The Politics Hour. A related article on Holder's objection to the ad on has also been circulating. During the broadcast Chavous elaborated on his interaction with Holder, and said he will continue running the ad until the president agrees to support the program. "I saw [Holder] at an event," said Chavous. "He did ask me in front of others to pull the ad. My response was, 'No, and I tell you what, if the president does the right thing, not only will we pull it but we will celebrate him.'

"We have high hopes based on his capacity to understand the plight of low-income families," continued Chavous. "You know what, if this were 20 years ago and community organizer Obama was in this city and picking sides, he'd be right here in this studio fighting for these parents and these kids, and we want him to remember from whence he came, and [support] these families. He had the benefit of scholarships--many of us have--and I think that these families who have already been awarded scholarships that were taken away from them by the administration, they should have that benefit as well." ....

Secretary Arne Duncan said in an email through a Department of Education spokesman that while "this Administration is devoting more resources and supports more ambitious reform of our public school systems than any Administration in history," he believes that "vouchers are not the solution to America's educational challenges. Taking a tiny percentage of the kids out of the public school system and putting them in private schools is not the answer. We need to be more ambitious. We need to fix all of our schools."

The program's defenders have signaled that the ad campaign is just getting started, and that more hard-hitting ads are on the way.

The National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and People for the American Way have been waging a massive campaign to try to kill the voucher program, which they say takes money and focus away from public schools and is discriminatory....

The price the teacher's unions and their members were willing to pay to ensure their presidential candidate's success was steep. In August of 2008 the NEA announced a $50 million election campaign plan to elect Obama by targeting swing states. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama received $22.9 million from individuals affiliated with the "Education Industry" during the 2008 election cycle alone. That's a whopping $21.1 million more than Sen. John McCain received from the same industry.

These donations came predominately from individuals--many of whom are teachers' union members--employed by educational institutions, colleges and schools. Teacher's unions spent millions more dollars on independent expenditures on Obama's behalf that is not even included in these figures. Prior to his election, then-Illinois state Sen. Obama acknowledged that political realities meant that candidates cannot always answer or act from the heart.

Asked by Chicago Tribune writer David Mendell whether it might have been wiser to spend hundreds of millions of dollars improving Chicago's troubled public schools rather than on Millennium Park, Obama replied: "How do you really expect me to answer that? If I told you how I really felt, I'd be committing political suicide right here in front of you."

More here

Too much praise can ruin your child

Good to see this message finally getting out but the emphasis below on effort only is also too narrow. Real achievement is the most important thing to encourage

PRAISING children too much can backfire, an expert has warned. Author, TV producer and educator Dr Patricia Edgar said US research had found too much praise could lead to performance anxiety and sap motivation. "Smart kids have been told so often how great they are, they may see all peers as rivals, often lie about their test scores, and actually perform less well the more praise they get for being smart," she said. "In contrast, when they are praised for the process - how they tackle a maths problem rather than whether or not they get it right - and for trying, for the effort put into a task, their performance improves."

There is concern among psychologists that children are generally praised too much. Every child wins a prize at parties, some sporting teams give every child a medal at the end of the season and many schools give "student of the week" awards to all children.

"Kids have a pretty good in-built crap detector," Dr Edgar wrote in Shine, a monthly publication of Victoria's Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. "They know when praise is false and when praise given is not warranted and it's pretty scary having to be the best all the time."

There also is too much emphasis on winning, so if children don't win they give up. "Parents should praise children for doing their best. The research is clear that those children who are rewarded for doing their best will continue to strive to improve."

Dr Edgar said research also found that practice, not talent, made people excel in life. Parents had to tread the tightrope of encouraging their children to practise, while not pushing or praising too much. "I think parents have been taught to believe by self-help books, the education system, that giving praise is the way to get best performance. "So they praise anything and everything. "Sometimes children put in no effort but still expect praise."

Dr Edgar said the key was to emphasise effort, which children could control. It was important to cultivate minds capable of thinking and acting in disciplined, creative ways through sustained effort.


Some British parents want no school discipline at all

A school which puts unruly pupils in a store room is facing a backlash from furious parents who are planning a protest. Disruptive children are sent to the 8ft by 4ft room, which has no handles on the inside and only a window in the door, until they calm down. But mothers and fathers have compared the punishment to 'something from the dark ages' and are threatening to keep their children out of classes and picket the main gate until the school changes its policy.

Coppins Green Primary School in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, has refused to back down, however, saying it is necessary to control 'extreme, disturbed children in a safe way'. Mother of three Michelle Evans, 37, has had her daughter Rebecca, nine, locked in the room three times last week after being disruptive in class. She said: 'There is no window to the outside world, there is just a window in the door. 'There is no handle on the inside, the door opens inwards. What if a child is asthmatic or epileptic and has a fit and falls against the door? 'It is like something from the dark ages. I don't want to send my child to a concentration camp.' She added: 'My daughter's claustrophobic and hates confined spaces. It's awful.'

Another parent, Sarah Powell, 33, who has two daughters at the school, said: 'There's supposed to be a teacher on the outside of the room and they hold the child in until they calm down. 'But it can be terrifying for a child and it is going to make a child more upset.'

About 50 parents are expected to protest at the school gates on Monday and organisers claim up to 120 children will be kept away from classes. Many are also angry about a rewards system based on attendance, punctuality, behaviour and dress code which blocks some children from going on school trips.

Schools across the UK have been adopting forms of isolation as a punishment for unruly behaviour among pupils. Parents of children at Ridgewood School in Doncaster last year complained about a black booth lit by a spotlight, dubbing it 'Guantanamo Bay'. The school defended the system, saying time spent in the punishment room gave pupils time to reflect on their bad behaviour. Morley High School in Leeds brought in booths where pupils do work under the supervisions of teachers as part of a 'positive discipline' scheme.

A 2006 study of school isolation techniques for Investing In Children, an organisation which promotes the rights of young people, argued they did not work. The report concluded: 'Isolation has a bad effect on young people's physical and mental health. It makes people feel inadequate; it can take away their confidence and self-esteem.'

The room at Coppins Green School - a mixed establishment with around 650 pupils aged three to 11 - is watched over by a specially trained member of staff. There is no lock, but the door is held closed by the member of staff on the outside and there is no handle on the inside. However, the room has been designed so that the door will swing open if the adult is called away, allowing the child to leave. An Ofsted inspection earlier this year classed the school as 'satisfactory', the third lowest of four categories, but said behaviour was 'of a high standard'.

Head teacher Stuart Livingstone admitted the isolation techniques were controversial but insisted they benefited students. 'It is not a punishment at all. It is a safe room where adults can control an extreme, disturbed child in a safe way,' he said. 'It is not something we use automatically. It really isn't used often, except in extreme cases. It is a small room, not a cupboard, but it is all we can find.'

Mr Livingstone added: 'Coppins Green Primary School has an extremely sophisticated pastoral care system in place which is implemented by a highly qualified team of staff. 'There is a reward system in place at the school which is based on how children themselves choose to behave, which many of the children thrive on. 'Very occasionally we have to deal with extremely violent and disruptive behaviour in order to safeguard and protect other pupils and staff at the school.

'There are a number of safe places at the school to calm children down including a family room with sofas and in very extreme cases a smaller safe room for the most disruptive and violent children. 'Any child that is placed in the room is fully supervised by one of more qualified members of staff and parents are informed. 'We take the welfare of all children very seriously and strive to provide and safe, caring and nurturing environment.'


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