Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conservative teachers challenge NEA on moral issues

There was drama at this year’s National Education Association meeting because of the courage and commitment of a relatively small group of Christian and conservative teachers who introduced amendments to overturn the union's liberal policies on several key issues.

The amendments were defeated in secret ballots by the 9,000-strong delegation.

First, teacher Christine Nowak from New York introduced an amendment to the by-laws that would prohibit the NEA from taking any position on the issue of abortion. This would include lobbying, filing amicus curiae briefs in support of pro-abortion court cases, and would mean revision of the NEA Resolution I-16 (Family Planning) to clarify that NEA's support for family planning does not include support for abortion.

The reason for the “no position” is the sentiment of many teachers that involvement in these issues is simply not appropriate use of teacher union dues. And many of the taxpayers who fund local teachers’ salaries agree.

The amendment vote by secret ballot was defeated with 30 percent in favor, 70 percent against. A similar measure at the 2009 meeting was also defeated.

Another amendment called for a similar stance by the NEA on the issue of homosexuality. This amendment, introduced by Ohio teacher Ruth Boyatt, would require that the NEA take no position on the issue of same-gender marriage. It too failed by a vote of 30 percent to 70 percent.

The influence of homosexual and “transgender” teachers was quite visible. Not only was there a booth by the NEA’s “GLBT” Caucus, but one sign announced a “Drag Queen” Caucus. A transvestite beauty contest is rumored to be on the schedule for next year’s meeting.

The Ohio delegation includes many homosexual activists, according to reports from a teacher who attended the Ohio caucus meeting. One teacher rose at the meeting to praise the high number of Ohio teacher delegates who voted against the measure seeking “no position” on same sex marriage, despite its having been introduced by one of the Ohio delegation. Plans are in the works for a separate Ohio “GLBT” caucus as well.

The state affiliate, the Ohio Education Association, threw its support in 2009 behind House Bill 176, a measure to add homosexuality and cross-gender behavior to Ohio’s civil rights laws, a so-called “non-discrimination” measure. The bill, which passed the Ohio House but has not been considered by the Ohio Senate, would apply to employment practices in schools. The OEA also opposed the statewide ballot measure affirming traditional marriage in 2004. The constitutional amendment was approved by Ohio voters.


Study: Later schoolday aids teens

Odd teen sleeping habits are certainly a fact

Giving teens 30 extra minutes to start their school day leads to more alertness in class, better moods, less tardiness, and healthier breakfasts, a small study found.

“The results were stunning. There’s no other word to use,’’ said Patricia Moss, academic dean at the Rhode Island boarding school where the study was done. “We didn’t think we’d get that much bang for the buck.’’

The results appear in July’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The results mirror those at a few schools that have delayed starting times more than half an hour.

Researchers say there’s a reason why even 30 minutes can make a big difference. Teens tend to be in their deepest sleep around dawn — when they typically need to rise for school. Interrupting that sleep can leave them groggy.


British private schools forced to offer more free places

Private schools have been forced to provide more free places for children from poor homes for the first time amid fears they could face state intervention. In an unprecedented move, two independent schools have become the first in England and Wales to increase the amount of money set aside for bursaries under pressure from the official charities regulator.

The move could have serious implications for a number of other fee-paying schools as they battle the threat of falling income in the economic downturn. Last night, private school leaders warned that the rules could “jeopardise the future” of some schools.

The Independent Schools Council is now seeking a judicial review of guidelines issued by the Charity Commission amid claims it is acting “illegally”. Under Labour's 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide "public benefit" to remain in business and retain tax breaks worth around £100m a year.

The commission has warned that it could intervene at schools struggling to meet the requirement to find "ways to fund free or subsidised access".

Last year, five schools were assessed by the commission as part of a test case before rules are extended to more than 2,000 across England. Two of the schools – St Anselm's in Derbyshire and Highfield Priory in Lancashire – failed the assessment. They are both small preparatory schools educating around 230 pupils each.

Commissioners praised them for staging events such as sports tournaments for nearby state schools, graded music exams for local children, public speaking events and leasing out school facilities. But both schools were effectively told they failed to provide enough free or subsidised places. Highfield provided no bursaries but used funds to keep fees low for all parents. St Anselm's gave 90 per cent subsides to two pupils.

Both schools have since increased – or pledged to increase – the size of bursary pots and have now passed the commission’s test. Formal reports on the two schools will be published on Thursday.

Simon Northcott, St Anselm's headmaster, insisted the school was planning to increase he amount of money set aside for bursaries before it was assessed. He added: “We are, of course, delighted that the commission has recognised the changes made since the assessment last year and considers that they are sufficient to meet the public benefit criteria.

“Given many of the particular issues that affect St Anselm's, including its rural location, child protection as a result of the age of young boarders, and it has no endowments, we feel that in the current economic climate it would make life difficult should we be required to do substantially more.”

Under plans, the maximum value of its bursary will rise from 90 per cent to 100 per cent of fees, the number of children benefiting will increase from one to three and it has pledged to advertise future awards more widely. It is now spending £33,000 on bursaries – around 1.1 per cent of gross fee income.

Other independent schools are supposed to meet the public benefit requirements in this year.

The ISC will petition the High Court later this month for a judicial review of the commission’s guidance. It claims that the commission’s focus on free places represents a “gross” misinterpretation of the rules, adding that it has ignored other public benefits, such as sharing facilities with local state schools.

Some schools fear they will be forced to raise fees for existing parents or cut building programmes to find more cash for means-tested bursaries.

David Lyscom, ISC chief executive, welcomed the latest ruling, but said it did “little to lift the uncertainty for charitable schools about what they need to do to meet the commission’s public benefit test”. He added: “Nor does it resolve our concern all along that the commission’s interpretation of public benefit is too narrow and deeply flawed.

“This is not just about individual schools. The entire sector is at the whim of the commission’s prevailing and subjective view as to what is ‘sufficient’ for a school to get the all-clear. “This is an appalling situation for schools to be in, and jeopardises the future of beacons of educational excellence educating almost half a million children annually.”

Sue Fieldman, regional editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: “The vast majority of schools have already upped their game on bursaries and will pass the test. The problems arise with the very small schools that have not got the money for bursaries.”

The Charity Commission refused to comment yesterday.


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