Monday, November 01, 2010

Feds blink in standoff with Christian colleges

Religious schools now expecting to be protected from political influence of Education Department

The federal government apparently has blinked in a standoff with private Christian colleges over a proposal that would bring the schools under the regulation of the political powers in their states.

Colorado Christian University President Bill Armstrong has told WND that the rules proposed by the Education Department are the "greatest threat to academic freedom in our lifetime."

Obama's Department of Education – where Secretary Arne Duncan appointed a longtime homosexual activist who was part of the violent Act Up organization to head his "safe schools" office – has recommended that all colleges be required to have a state license. Critics say the license could enable the government to have a say in curriculum, graduation requirements and other issues.

An analysis by Shapri D. LoMaglio of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities said the feds wanted to require colleges to "have a document of state approval … to operate an educational program."

Joining Armstrong in his alarm over the plans were former Colorado state Sen. Hank Brown, who has served as president of the University of Colorado system, as well as prominent columnists Cal Thomas and Jay Ambrose.

Now Armstrong has confirmed for WND that the new rules have been published. But there were dozens of changes in the nearly 900 pages of fine print that appear to provide for an exemption for religious colleges from the government oversight.

"The rules published today contain 82 changes from the original proposal, including 'concessions' to colleges and universities, adopted in response to adverse congressional and public comment," he said in an e-mail. "Schools will be able to continue using their own definition of 'credit hour' when awarding academic credit and 'religious and tribal institutions' will be exempted from state oversight … according to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education," he said.

Armstrong told WND he's not ready to declare victory until he has an opportunity to analyze the hundreds of pages of new instructions. But it appears that the plans will offer the relief that private, and especially Christian schools, would need.

He had raised concerns about political influence on school operations as significant as classroom instruction. For example, a pro-abortion state official theoretically could have required a Christian school to teach "safe sex" to continue operating. Or the government could have demanded that the theory of evolution be taught as fact.

"The religious exemption could be of tremendous significance to Colorado Christian University and other faith-based schools. But it's too soon to 'declare victory' because, as always, 'the devil is in the details.' It will take a while to sift through this massive document and understand exactly what has happened. However, one thing is sure – more control over students, faculty, staff and the nation’s colleges and universities. What a pity!" Armstrong said.

"Fortunately, the rule is 'final' in name only. Congress retains power to overturn the department's action, if it wishes to do so. In recent weeks, I have spoken to three members of the Senate Committee which has jurisdiction over the Department of Education, along with Senate and House staffers. They're as upset as we are about what's going on," he said.

According to the Chronicle, the Education Department experienced "heavy pressure" from colleges on some of the issues at stake.

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told the Chronicle that is seems the federal agency "tried to address some of the concerns that have been raised." He, too, however, noted that colleges are reserving judgment pending the examination of the hundreds of thousands of words. "Everybody in D.C. knows that the devil is in the details," he told the Chronicle. "They haven't provided any."

School officials earlier said colleges already have to qualify to operate by meeting the requirements of the various relatively independent education councils.

Thomas, in a column for Tribune Media Services, warned the rules could have had a major impact. "If imposing outside agendas – from textbook content to course selection – is supposedly bad when conservatives do it (mostly in reaction to the liberal assault on any ideas that conflict with theirs), why is it not equally onerous when liberals push for state control and the dictation of course content at private colleges and universities?" Thomas questioned.

Further, Ambrose, a longtime editor with Scripps Howard News Service, said the proposal's possible impacts "are enormous, including a frightening assault on academic freedom as crucial decisions are transferred from faculty and administrators to bureaucrats and legislative bosses who just might use weapons of mass authority to demolish instruction of a kind they don't like."

"What strikes me (and Armstrong, too) is that the move is more of the same," Ambrose continued. "The Obama administration does not much trust liberty. If something out there sneezes, regulate it. Surround it with endless pages of rules, blankets and blankets of rules, enough rules to smother the slightest hope of autonomy. Do more if necessary. Take over things. Take over health care. Take over the auto industry. Take over financial institutions. Government knows all. Government should do all. Government, we praise thee!"


Britain's top government schools will now be allowed to expand

The best state schools will be allowed to expand to meet demand for pupil places for the first time, it can be disclosed. Under plans being drawn up by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, primary and secondary schools will be freed from limits imposed by councils and be able to take on more students. Top-performing schools will be allowed to accept a greater number of students, and gain tens of thousands of pounds extra funding.

Successful schools are likely to get bigger, as more pupils flood in, while poor-performing schools could see numbers decline sharply and be forced to close. Complex admissions procedures will also be simplified to make them less bureaucratic and easier to understand for parents.

The news came as applications closed for places at secondary schools for next September in many parts of England and Wales. Tens of thousands of children are likely to miss out on their first-choice school because the best are oversubscribed. An estimated 100,000 children did not get into their first-choice school last year.

A report published today by the admissions watchdog said hundreds of families were complaining over schools’ admissions rules. Ian Craig, the adjudicator who runs the complaints process, said there were nearly 400 objections to admissions decisions last year.

The new plans to allow the best schools to take more pupils will form part of an education White Paper to be published later this month. Normally, the number of pupils that state schools can take is set by local authorities and can be exceeded only in exceptional circumstances. However, there is concern in Whitehall that councils are limiting the success and size of popular schools to stop them draining pupils from inferior schools nearby.

Under the new plans, top schools will be to be allowed to convert to academy status so they can scrap their fixed admission numbers and take more pupils, as long as there is physical room for them. This will earn the schools tens of thousands of pounds of extra funding and, say ministers, allow more children to benefit from a good education.

Mr Gove hopes the move will force councils to address quickly why poorer schools are failing. However, it could cause tension with Liberal Democrats if poorer-performing schools suffer. “The key problem is that there aren’t enough good school places,” a government source said. “That’s why we’re letting schools expand to meet demand. Good schools will grow, while those that aren’t performing will have to improve.”

Mr Gove wants to simplify the 86-page admissions code, which was toughened up under Labour to stop parents lying about their address or church attendance to secure places for their children. Officials say it can be made simpler without being watered down.


Australia: A secretive and dishonest education bureaucracy

The NSW Board of Studies risks becoming a law unto itself. Unwilling to take full responsibility for errors, such as last week's mistake in a history exam, it seeks to shoot the messenger. Taking its lead from the state government, the Board has a history of trying to dodge blame and discredit its critics.

The Board dismissed an error it made in an ancient history paper by saying it would have little impact on students. The error related to a multiple choice question worth “only” one mark. As any HSC student will tell you, every mark is crucial when competing for a university place. The error also related to another question worth seven marks - something the Board was slow to acknowledge.

Many teachers and academics are reluctant to publicly criticise the Board, fearing a backlash.

Teachers employed to mark HSC papers at the end of the year make no secret of the generous boost this work provides in their pay packets. The Board consults academics.

Last year, the NSW Ombudsman slammed the Board. The Board was forced to release raw HSC results it spent thousands of dollars trying to keep secret, after the Ombudsman criticised its lack of transparency in how exam results are scaled.

The Ombudsman’s final report was scathing, uncovering a culture of secrecy within the Office of the Board of Studies. It said the Board, under its previous manager, had treated a former HSC student as "the enemy", using "'a defensive and overly fastidious tone and approach" in the crossfire of letters to the student.

The extreme, and often questionable, lengths the Board took to protect the integrity of the HSC marking process from public scrutiny was well documented. The Board advised the student that three sets of documents he requested either did not exist or could not be produced when in fact they did exist and could be produced.
The Board gave the student the false impression that a decision had been reviewed by two different officers, when the same person had reviewed the decision twice.

By the time the Ombudsman’s Office had completed its investigation the Board had spent $51,000 on legal costs.

The Board is well motivated when it comes to ferociously protecting students from any anxiety during the HSC exams. But its protectiveness over students and the integrity of the HSC itself, is being used as a shield against all criticism.

After a report of an HSC timetable glitch – which resulted in students sitting the same examination on two different days - the Board was up in arms during a previous year. The reason being, that the report may have upset students sitting the exams. The timetable had raised legitimate concerns from teachers about the potential for cheating. The Board’s outrage also followed the reporting of a politically volatile Work Choices question in an exam paper. The Board wanted to distance itself from any political controversy in the lead up to the 2007 federal election.

The Board of Studies needs to lose its glass jaw. The Ombudsman’s report made it clear that it should focus more on transparency and less on trying to silence its critics.


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