Monday, January 24, 2011

For-Profit College Group Sues to Block New Regulations

A trade group has filed suit in federal court to block a series of U.S. Department of Education rules that would increase regulatory scrutiny over segments of higher education.

The lawsuit, filed by the Association of Private Sector Colleges, doesn't include the so-called gainful employment regulation, which could punish programs for graduating students with high debt loads. The Education Department is scheduled to issue that final rule in the first quarter of this year, at which point the rule is likely to face court challenges.

The trade group, known as Apscu, instead focused its lawsuit on rules that would change the way state governments review school programs, restrict incentive compensation for employees and curtail misrepresentation in promotional materials. The three rules are among the 13 whose final versions were issued in late October.

On Friday Apscu asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block the rules from going into effect as planned on July 1. The group alleged in the complaint its members are "grievously and irreparably injured" by the three rules and asked the court to find the regulations unlawful. It said the Education Department didn't follow correct procedure in creating the rules and violated its scope of power and the Constitution.

Apscu boasts more than 1,500 member schools including campuses owned by Career Education Corp., Education Management Corp., ITT Educational Services Inc., Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan Higher Education and others.

The group said it sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking him to voluntarily withdraw the regulations. Mr. Duncan is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The Education Department confirmed receipt of the letter late Friday.

If not withdrawn within a given time frame, Apscu will ask the court for an injunction "until the substance of our challenges are resolved," said Harris Miller, who heads the trade group.

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the Education Department, said the agency is "confident that the published regulations will do the best job of protecting students and taxpayers."

Mr. Miller warned the issue of state authorization may be difficult on which to compromise. The rule issued in October will require a school to receive approval from every state in which it has students, using metrics approved by the federal government. That's a daunting task for some schools with nationwide online operations.

Mr. Miller said it's unlikely all states will be able to update their procedures to meet the federal government's requirements by the July 1 deadline, leaving students in those states potentially ineligible for access to federal student aid.

The incentive compensation regulation has been a lightning rod for criticism, as many industry insiders say it's unclear who is restricted from receiving bonuses based on student performance. The rule is intended to ensure that recruiters don't enroll underqualified students to meet bonus targets, but many say they don't know whether the rule would also apply to football coaches who bring in top athletes or even chief executives who improve student retention and graduation rates.

Meanwhile, Mr. Miller said the two sides could likely come to an easy agreement on the rule governing how schools can be punished for misrepresenting information to the public, and what constitutes a "substantial misrepresentation." According to the lawsuit, the current rule violates the Constitution's due process clause in the way the rule handles penalties for misstatements.


Britain: Bullies, liars and shameless hypocrites are trying to kill our "free" school

Towards the end of last year, I was summoned to appear before the education scrutiny panel of my local council. Why? Because I'm leading a campaign by a group of parents and teachers to set up a free school in West London.

Worried about falling standards in state education, we want to create an outstanding school to which all children in the neighbourhood have access. We call it a grammar school for all.

I hoped I'd be able to cope with the panel's questions. But what I hadn't anticipated was just how far the NUT - the most militant of the teaching unions - would go to try to discredit me.

The union had circulated a document to councillors in which I was accused of sleeping with prostitutes - a false allegation lifted from my former colleague Julie Burchill's autobiography published 13 years ago. I'm a happily married father of four and the council's lawyers had moved to suppress the document on the grounds it was libellous.

But the damage had been done. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised. Unions such as the NUT are controlled by the hard Left and will stop at nothing to protect the state's monopoly over taxpayer-funded education.

Shortly after my appearance, the secretary of the Ealing branch of the NUT, who is also a member of the Socialist Workers Party, organised an event for opponents of our new school. The guest speaker was Bob Crow, leader of the Tube drivers' union and a communist.

The Department for Education has been inundated with applications concerning free schools. Starting a school is a huge undertaking, but thousands of people are so concerned about education that they are willing to do it.

Yes, there are some outstanding state schools, but they tend to be grammar schools, faith schools or comprehensives in middle-class suburbs where only those who can afford the inflated house prices can get in.

Britain once prided itself on being a fair society, where anyone could get on in life if they were prepared to work hard. Not any more. We're at the bottom of international league tables for social mobility, with our schools ranked below those of Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Thanks to the decimation of grammar schools, it's harder for someone born to working-class parents to enter one of the professions than at any time in the past 45 years. Our class system is stronger than ever. Ironically, the most energetic defenders of the status quo are those who claim to represent the interests of the working class.

There's a primary school near my house that serves one of the most deprived council estates in London. Due to the dedication of its staff, it has been ranked ' outstanding' by schools inspectorate Ofsted and, as a result, had an opportunity to become an academy [charter]. That would have meant being free of the control of local bureaucrats and no longer at the mercy of unions.

Needless to say, the NUT opposed this school's bid for freedom tooth and nail. The headteacher allegedly received threatening emails from a union representative. The school has now shelved its plans.

What makes this sort of apparent bullying particularly galling is that the officers of the NUT don't practise what they preach.

Last week, my group unveiled plans to turn a dilapidated old building in Hammersmith into its school site. Dennis Charman, secretary of the Hammersmith and Fulham NUT, accused us of running down local schools. Charman is the partner of NUT general secretary Christine Blower. What he didn't add is that the couple chose to educate their children outside the borough.

In Wandsworth, parents campaigning for a new secondary school were targeted by the GMB. One activist investigated more than 600 people who had signed a petition supporting the plan and found that 25 had a connection to the banking industry. The union dubbed it a 'bankers' school'.

Labour used to be in favour of education reform, but not any longer. When I told Old Labour warhorse Roy Hattersley that I wanted a school with grammar school standards but a comprehensive intake, he dismissed that concept as 'a contradiction in terms'. I reminded him that the phrase 'grammar schools for all' was Harold Wilson's [former Labour Party PM], not mine.

One of our most vocal opponents in West London has been local Labour MP Andrew Slaughter, who calls our efforts to set up a high-performing secondary school 'ideological nonsense'.

Given that he is the product of Latymer Upper School, one of the best fee-paying schools in London, he knows how useful a rigorous education is. Yet he wants to deny the same educational opportunities to those who aren't as privileged as him.

In many ways the opposition of these champagne socialists is even more irksome than that of the trade unions. At least they have a rational motive. A BBC Panorama programme revealed last year that only 18 teachers had been sacked for incompetence in the last 45 years, so great is the stranglehold of the teaching unions. The unions are opposed to free schools because they want to protect their members' interests.

But why are the standard-bearers of the Left, people who claim to be looking out for the interests of the most vulnerable members of our society, so opposed to improving state education? In the name of equality, they are standing in the way of our best hope of dismantling the class system.

When I embarked on this campaign, I had no idea how nasty the enemies of reform would be. But I take heart from the fact that there are tens of thousands of people behind us. So far, more than 1,600 local parents have expressed an interest in sending their children to our school and expressions of support continue to stream in every day. I'm confident we will prevail - we have to.

Britain's schools are now ranked 23rd in the world. If we want to compete with countries such as China, we need to reform our education system and once again unleash the native talent that made this country great.


Homosexual messages built into school maths lessons for British children as young as FOUR

Young children are to be taught about homosexuality in their maths, geography, science and English lessons, it has emerged. As part of a Government-backed drive to ‘celebrate the gay community’, maths problems could be introduced that involve gay characters.

In geography classes, students will be asked why homosexuals move from the countryside to cities – and words such as ‘outing’ and ‘pride’, will be used in language classes.

The lesson plans are designed to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues and, in theory, could be used for children as young as four.

They will also mean youngsters are exposed to images of same-sex couples and books such as And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of two male penguins raising a chick, which was inspired by events at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Meanwhile, statistics students may use census data on the number of homosexuals in England.

However critics warn that the drive is an unnecessary use of resources and distracts attention from learning, as British schools tumble down international league tables in maths, English and science. Although the lesson plans are not compulsory, they are backed by the Department for Education and will be available for schools to download from the Schools Out website.

Sue Sanders, from Schools Out, said: ‘All we are attempting to do is remind teachers that LGBT people are part of the population and you can include them in most of your lessons when you are thinking inclusively.’

David Watkins, a teacher who is involved in the scheme, said: ‘When you have a maths problem, why does it have to involve a straight family or a boyfriend and girlfriend? Why not two boys or two girls? ‘It’s not about teaching about gay sex, it is about exposing children to the idea that there are other types of people out there,’ he added.

However, Craig Whittaker, who is a Conservative MP and a member of the education select committee, said: ‘We are too far down the national comparative league tables in core subjects. Teachers should concentrate on those again. ‘This is not about being homophobic, because there are other schemes around the education which support the LGBT agenda.’

John O’Connell, of campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Parents will wonder if this is a right use of funds and time, particularly when we keep hearing how tight budgets are.’

The plans are funded by a £35,000 grant from education quango the Training And Development Agency For Schools. They will be launched in February at the start of LGBT History Month.

A Department for Education spokesman added: ‘These are optional teaching materials. ‘It is for head and teacher to choose the most appropriate teaching resources to help promote equality and tolerance.’

LGBT History Month started in 2005 and has previously focused more on raising awareness of prominent figures said to be homosexual. A list on its website includes Hadrian the Roman emperor and Michaelangelo the Renaissance painter.


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