Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Democrats And Competition (Or Not)

Democrats claim to love the [healthcare] public option because the competition it would provide would keep the otherwise dishonest insurance companies honest. As President Obama said in Green Bay last June, “if the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down.” And as, an organization known far and wide for its love of unfettered competition, asserted in a video supporting the public option, “competition is as American as apple pie.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Democrats are such avid supporter of modest school voucher programs, since the competition they provide helps to keep the massive public school near-monopoly more honest.

Oh, wait. I was dreaming and just woke up. What I should have said is that it would be no wonder if Democrats, because of their professed love of competition with powerful entrenched interests, supported modest school voucher programs. They don’t, of course.

Neal Boortz nails them. He points out that critics of voucher usually rationalize their position by arguing that they take money away from the public schools, but that is not the case in the District of Columbia.
They can't use this argument here because the DC voucher system is funded by the federal government. The actual result is that the DC schools have even more money per student after the voucher students bail.

Well ... it didn't seem to matter that the teacher's unions had no real argument against the DC voucher program. We all know what the true argument was. The teacher's union is scared to death that the private schools are going to make them look bad. Competition is poison to teacher's unions. So the voucher system had to be killed.

And guess who just killed it.
None other than Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Remember that $1.1 trillion dollar spending program passed over the weekend? Durban had a very quiet little amendment hiding in that bill. The amendment killed all funding for the DC voucher program. Durbin's Christmas gift for teacher's unions.

But why should anyone be surprised that Democrats, who claim to be principled supporters of competition here, oppose it there? They also claim, after all, to be principled supporters of racial equality even though they vociferously defend the state treating people differently because of their race. Acting differently would require, among other things, principle and consistency.


Obama's Safe Schools Czar Tied to Lewd Readings for 7th Graders

President Obama's "Safe Schools Czar," already a target of social conservatives for his past drug abuse and what they say is his promotion of homosexuality in schools, is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic.

The group under fire is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which Kevin Jennings, now the assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools in the Department of Education, founded and ran from 1990 to 2008. GLSEN says it works to create a welcoming atmosphere for homosexual students in schools, and that effort includes recommending books for students of all ages.

But critics say many of the books, particularly some that are targeted for children between Grades 7 to 12, are inappropriately explicit. A full list is available at the blog Gateway Pundit, which has published dozens of controversial passages from the books.

One recommended book is titled "Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade." On pages 43 through 45, writer Justin Chin tells of how as a 13-year-old, he went along with "near-rapes" by older men, but "really did enjoy those sexual encounters." Chin also recounts each sexual action he performed with an "ugly f*** of a man" he met on a bus.

In another book, "Passages of Pride," the author writes about a 15-year-old boy's relationship with a much older man: "Near the end of summer, just before starting his sophomore year in high school, Dan picked up a weekly Twin Cities newspaper. Scanning the classifieds, he came upon an ad for a "Man-2-Man" massage. Home alone one day, he called the telephone number listed in the ad and set up an appointment to meet a man named Tom.... Even though Tom was older, almost twice Dan's age, Dan felt unthreatened by him. Dan admits Tom was a 'troll' in every sense of the word -- an older closeted gay man seeking sex with a man much younger. But Dan says he was not intimidated by the discrepancy in their ages. 'He kind of had me in a corner in that he knew I didn't have access to anything I wanted.' says Dan. 'But everything was consensual.'"

On Page 13 of a third book, "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," the author recounts his sexual encounters in first grade: "By first grade I was sexually active with many friends. In fact, a small group of us regularly met in the grammar school lavatory to perform fellatio on one another. A typical week's schedule would be Aaron and Michael on Monday during lunch; Michael and Johnny on Tuesday after school; Fred and Timmy at noon Wednesday; Aaron and Timmy after school on Thursday. None of us ever got caught, but we never worried about it anyway."

"Reflections of a Rock Lobster" was recommended in 1995, the year Jennings became GLSEN's first executive director; "Passages of Pride" made the list in 1997 and "Queer 13" in 1999. Those are just three out of over 100 books that GLSEN has recommended for students in grades 7-12 since 1990, and all three remain on GLSEN's recommended reading list.

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the content of the books is shocking, and it raises concerns about Jennings' judgment. "The graphic sexual content of these books is so extreme that I think any average parent or citizen, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, would be shocked at these books being recommended to young people," Sprigg said.

GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard defended her group's recommendations, telling in a written statement: "Some of the books that might be used with young adult audiences contain mature content, as is true of many memoirs and works of literature. Because of the presence of mature content in some of the works, GLSEN provides very clear guidelines throughout, recommending that adults review each book to make sure the book is suitable."

Those guidelines, listed on each book recommendation page, read: "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability."

But critics say the guidelines themselves are damning, because they confirm that GLSEN staff have checked the books for appropriateness. And Jennings, they point out, was in charge at the time. "It's like Jennings just doesn't realize he's working with kids here.... You need a totally different set of rules when you're working with kids," said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

LaBarbera said the books should be seen in light of other recent controversies surrounding Jennings. In September it came out that, when he was a teacher in Massachusetts, Jennings did not report an incident in which a 16-year-old boy told him that he was having sexual relations with an older man he met in a bus station bathroom. After that, 53 Republican members of the House publicly called for Jennings to be dismissed....

Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton declined to comment about Jennings' role in recommending the books. But critics say Jennings, as GLSEN's first full-time employee and first executive director, must be held responsible. "He was at GLSEN from the beginning and was in charge during the time when these books were approved," said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College.

McEwen said that the attacks on Jennings and GLSEN were motivated largely by homophobia. "There are a lot of heterosexual books that are just as explicit. In the first page of 'The Color Purple' [a 1982 novel that has caused controversy when assigned in schools], the character talks about being raped in graphic terms... what's in [GLSEN's] books is no different from what's in The Color Purple."

But Sprigg disagrees that books like "The Color Purple" are comparable to those recommended by GLSEN. "We are not talking about 'The Great Gatsby' or 'The Grapes of Wrath' here," he said. "A lot of people who have only read the news and opinion pieces on this story, without reading the actual excerpts, may think that we are talking about the kind of sexual content that might, in a film, earn a PG-13 or R rating. We are not.

"This is material that, if portrayed visually, would be a triple-X hard-core porn film, and quite possibly meet the legal definition of obscenity. In fact, I think the homosexual content is the only thing preventing the outcry from being even greater, because some people fear being labeled as 'anti-gay.' If the content were heterosexual in nature, there would be no one defending it at all."


Teachers should stop labelling children as dyslexic, say British politicians

The term does seem to be overused but that is surely an argument for using it more precisely. Throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Schools should stop labelling children 'dyslexic' because the condition cannot be distinguished from other reading difficulties, an all-party group of MPs will declare today. The Government's definition of dyslexia is too broad to be meaningful, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Schools should target extra help at all children struggling with reading and not just those diagnosed with dyslexia, it added.

The MPs recommended that dyslexia teachers should be renamed 'literacy difficulty' teachers. In their hard-hitting report, they said ministers had bowed to a powerful dyslexia lobby and framed many of their policies around the condition rather than considering the full range of reading difficulties. 'There are a range of reasons why people may struggle to learn to read and the Government's focus on dyslexia risks obscuring the broader problem,' the report said. It is 'not useful from an educational point of view' to try to differentiate between youngsters with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, it added.

Committee member Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said: 'We came to the conclusion the definition of dyslexia was so wide as to be meaningless.' Around one in ten children - more than a million - are now diagnosed with dyslexia, compared with barely any two decades ago. The condition is often used to win up to 25 per cent extra time in GCSEs and A-levels. Critics are now arguing that extra time in exams should be conditional on a clear description of the candidate's problems rather than a diagnostic label.

In its report, the Labour-dominated committee said there was 'no convincing evidence' that treating dyslexia differently to other reading problems made any difference to children's progress. The report said: 'That is because the techniques to teach a child diagnosed with dyslexia to read are exactly the same as the techniques used to teach any other struggling reader. 'There is a further danger that an overemphasis on dyslexia may disadvantage other children with profound reading difficulties.'

It said the Government's favoured definition of dyslexia was 'exceedingly broad' and 'a continuum with no clear cut-off points'. 'The definition is so broad and blurred at the edges that it is difficult to see how it could be useful in any diagnostic sense,' the report said.

The committee heard evidence from Professor Julian Elliott, of Durham University, who argued that attempts to distinguish between dyslexia and other categories of poor reader were 'scientifically unsupportable and arbitrary'.

In further findings, the committee warned that a flagship Government reading scheme, Reading Recovery, was relying too heavily on discredited teaching methods which encourage struggling readers to guess at words. It had not fully embraced the back-to-basics 'synthetic phonics' method of teaching children to read, which encourages them to learn the sounds of the alphabet and blend them together.

Ministers had extended the programme nationally despite only low quality evidence it worked, they said. No 'randomised controlled trials' had been carried out even though they are the 'gold standard' of research. The report said: 'Wikipedia is more thorough and informative than the Government's guidelines on randomised controlled trials.'


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