Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest ruling to desegregate Israeli school

The Sephardim are browner and quite a lot dumber on average -- and it is true that the religious practices of the Sephardim and Ashkenazim do differ

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested Thursday against a Supreme Court decision to jail parents who have refused to comply with their order to desegregate a religious girls' school.

Dressed in black hats and carrying posters denouncing the court as "fascists," the peaceful protesters continued Thursday afternoon until about 42 sets of parents turned themselves in to police custody to begin serving two-week sentences for contempt of court.

It was one of the largest protests in Jerusalem's history, and a reminder of the ultra-Orthodox minority's refusal to accept the authority of the state.

Also, the throngs of devout Jews showed to what extent the ultra-Orthodox live by their own rules, some of them archaic, while wielding disproportionate power in the modern state of Israel.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at the Beit Yakov girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don't want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim. The state-funded independent school enrolls all students but maintains separate studies that largely keep the Ashkenazi students apart from Sephardi ones.

The Ashkenazi parents insist they aren't racist but want to keep the classrooms segregated, as they have been for years, arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren't religious enough.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected that argument and ruled that the 42 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed Thursday for two weeks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 100,000 people converged in downtown Jerusalem in support of the Ashkenazi parents. An additional 20,000 demonstrated in the central city of Bnei Brak. He said 10,000 police were deployed.

Parents of the Ashkenazi girls insist the separation at the school is based on religion, not skin color, saying Sephardi customs are generally less stringent in terms of dress and conduct, such as watching television or using the Internet. Many Ashkenazi reject outside culture and don't have televisions in their homes.

Ashkenazi leaders denied ethnicity played a role in the school's decision. "There is not a drop of racism," Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yakov Litzman, a leader in the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, told Israel Radio. "The problem is that the communities adhere to different standards."

Not so, according to Yonatan Danino, spokesman for the nonprofit organization that petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the policy. "Sephardic Jewry is no less pious, and the girls of these families suffered clear discrimination," he said.

The court agreed, ruling last year that the practice was based on discrimination. Comparing the case to desegregation of the American South in the 1950s, the court ordered the separation at the school to end.

Parents to date have refused to comply, withholding their daughters from school and saying their religious convictions trump the court order. The dispute culminated in a courtroom standoff this week, during which justices ordered about 84 parents to either abide by its order or go to jail.

Sephardi religious leaders have not publicly criticized the demonstration or the Ashkenazi parents' conduct. Nissim Zeev, a lawmaker from the Orthodox Sephardic political party Shas, said the issue should have been settled by a rabbinical court and that the parents' prison sentence was "puzzling." He insisted the Sephardi girls had the right to choose to attend a mixed school.

The protests come amid a recent flare-up of tensions between Israel's secular and religious citizens. In a separate decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that special government subsidies given to support religious students must end next year because they discriminate against nonreligious students.

Violent protests also rocked the cities of Jaffa and Ashkelon in recent weeks as the ultra-Orthodox protested development projects they say will disturb ancient Jewish graves.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox minority of some 650,000 Jews — slightly less than 10 percent of the nation's population — is an insular community that has been known to riot over the state's intrusion into its affairs.


End them, don’t mend them

It’s time to shutter America’s bloated schools

The school year is drawing to a close. Time to balance the educational accounts and see what’s been learned. Though not by my kids. I don’t worry about them. They’re geniuses like your kids and soak up knowledge the way a sponge (or a SpongeBob) does. Muffin, in sixth grade, has learned that Justin Bieber is very talented and doesn’t—really, Dad—sing like a girl. Poppet, third grade, has learned how the Plains Indians made tepees. (They waited until after dinner to announce that their “Lifestyles of the Cheyenne” project was due tomorrow so that all the Cheyenne dads were up until one in the morning gluing dowels and brown wrapping paper to a piece of AstroTurf.) And Buster, kindergarten, has learned he can make himself giggle hysterically by adding “poop” to any phrase. The Little Engine That Could Poop.

No, the accounts that I’m balancing —and it’s quite educational— are bank accounts. What’s been learned is that it costs a fortune to send kids to school. Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That’s an average. And you, like me, don’t have average children. So we pay the $11,749 in school taxes for the children who are average and then we pay private school tuition for our own outstanding children or we move to a suburb we can’t afford and pay even more property taxes for schools in the belief that this makes every child outstanding.

Parents of average students believe it too. According to an annual Gallup poll conducted from 2004 through 2007, Americans think insufficient funding is the top problem with the public schools in their communities. But if throwing money is what’s needed, American school kids are getting smacked in the head with gobs of cash aplenty. That $11,749 is a lot more than the $7,848 private school pre-K through 12 national spending norm. It’s also a lot more than the $7,171 median tuition at four-year public colleges. Plus $11,749 is much less than what’s really being spent.

In March the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. He found that school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 and 90 percent. The school districts cried poor by excluding various categories of spending from their budgets —debt service, employee benefits, transportation costs, capital costs, and, presumably, those cans of aerosol spray used to give all public schools that special public school smell.

Schaeffer calculated that Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000. The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900. The District of Columbia’s per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542. The real number is an astonishing $28,170—155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.

School districts also cheat by simple slowness in publishing their budgets. The $11,749 is from 2007, the most recent figure available. It’s certainly grown. The Digest of Educational Statistics (read by Monday, there will be a quiz) says inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending increased by 49 percent from 1984 to 2004 and by more than 100 percent from 1970 to 2005.

Bell bottoms and Jerry Rubin hair versus piercings and tattoos —are kids getting smarter? No. National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test scores remained essentially the same from 1970 to 2004. SAT scores in 1970 averaged 537 in reading and 512 in math, and 38 years later the scores were 502 and 515. (More kids are taking SATs, but the nitwit factor can be discounted—scores below 400 have decreased slightly.) American College Testing (ACT) composite scores have increased only slightly from 20.6 (out of 36) in 1990 to 21.1 in 2008. And the extraordinary expense of the D.C. public school system produced a 2007 class of eighth graders in which, according to the NAEP, 12 percent of the students were at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent were at or above proficiency in math. Many of these young people are now entering the work force. Count your change in D.C.

More here

British Private school fees increase three times faster than incomes

As discipline in government schools continues to deteriorate, the demand for private schools rises

Private school fees have risen at three times the rate of household income since the early 1990s, according to new research. Average annual fees for independent day schools rose from £5,280 to £9,650 between 1992 and 2008, the study said, an increase of 83 per cent.

The figures – which are adjusted for inflation – show that boarding school fees went up 65 per cent from £13,400 to £22,100 during the same period. In the meantime household earnings increased just 30 per cent, meaning the average income of a family with two young children rose from £14,500 to £18,900, after taxes and benefits.

The spiralling cost of private education was thrown into light by a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which revealed that independent school fees are still on the rise. This year the cost of private day schools reached an average of £10,100 a year, while boarding schools fees were about £24,000.

Despite the growing expense, the cost of fees is less of a factor in determining whether a child goes to an independent school than whether one of their parents was privately educated, the IFS said.

The study, which examined why parents choose to send their children to independent schools and the cost of doing so, found that a further increase in fees of £1,300 a year would reduce uptake of private education by just 0.33 per cent.

Children were at least three times more likely to go to a private school if their parents had also attended one, the report said.

Researcher Luke Sibieta said: "One of the strongest predictors is if one of a child's parents went to private school they are three times more likely to go to private school themselves."

Young people who grew up in areas where there were diverse levels of family income were more likely to be privately educated than children from neighbourhoods where incomes were broadly the same.

The study also analysed political factors, with Conservative voters 2.5 to 5 per cent more likely to send their child to an independent school than undecided voters, while Labour supporters were 2 to 3 times less likely to do so.

There are about 628,000 students at 2,600 independent schools in Britain – about 6.5 per cent of pupils in the country. Of those in the private system approximately 87 per cent are day pupils, with the other 13 per cent boarding.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents about half the independent schools in Britain, said the rise in fees was down to increasing costs of providing education, adding that demand for private education had risen during the period of the study.

Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, ISC Head of Research & Intelligence, said: "The vast majority of independent schools are not-for-profit and reinvest all of their income from fees into the education of their children.

“The IFS study also shows the success of bursary schemes at independent schools. Children from the poorest 0.5 per cent of families are twice as likely to attend independent schools as children from families with average incomes."


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