Saturday, January 22, 2011

GA: Cherokee School Board Says Yes to Graduations at Church

The Cherokee County school board voted unanimously on Thursday to keep graduations at a local megachurch in Georgia despite the threat of a lawsuit.

Some members of the board took a stand as they voted to continue holding high school graduations at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, which is led by former Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt. Three new members of the board were sworn in with a Bible at the meeting.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue if the district didn't move the ceremony to a secular venue on grounds that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The Washington, D.C.-based civic rights organization contended that holding public high school graduations at the megachurch, which the district has used since 2005, would expose attendants to religious imagery and symbols.

Parents, high school students and community members packed the meeting to capacity. Several students spoke before the board, receiving loud cheers and applause. "To say that using a building violates one religious freedom is stretching the issue far beyond realistic boundaries," said Chase Chitwood, a high school senior.

Another student said he wanted the privilege to walk across the same stage as his sister during her graduation.

First Baptist Church can hold up to 7,000 people and costs the district $2,000 to rent. Supporters say that moving the graduation to a venue of similar capacity would dramatically increase the costs to about $40,000.

"For just one day, we should just be able to put it aside … and graduate together and let all of our family be together who has supported us," Tori Tomlinson, a senior, told the board.

New board member Robert Wofford said the issue wasn't about religion but settling on the most cost-efficient space there is for the district, according to Cherokee Tribune. "I'm not voting for a church or against a church," he said.

AU has sued two school districts in the past over the same issue. One court ruled in favor of the district; the other, against. Both cases are on appeal.

Last year, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled that holding graduation ceremonies at The First Cathedral, an evangelical megachurch in Bloomfield, Conn., is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ordered two Enfield high schools to move their events elsewhere, concluding from her visit to the church that it was "overwrought with religious symbols."

In 2009, however, a Wisconsin judge allowed Elmbrook Joint Common School District to hold ceremonies at a local church. U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert ruled that the district's decision to use Elmbrook Church as the site of its graduations did not excessively entangle church and state.

The Cherokee County school board's attorney told WSBTV that the district will read disclaimers before the start of the ceremony. He also said he and his firm will also work for free if a lawsuit is filed.


Old school teaching better for retaining knowledge

Old-fashioned teaching exercises like reciting times tables and verb conjugations are better than trendy new teaching methods, a study suggests.

Researchers believe that reciting facts shortly after learning them is better than many new-style educational methods. The "simple recall" seems to cement the knowledge "in memory" so it is more permanently embedded for use later.

Many modern teachers rely heavily on learning techniques like concept or mind mapping to help students retain the most from the texts they read, the study said. This involves drawing elaborate diagrams to represent relationship between words, ideas and tasks.

But two experiments, carried out by Dr Jeffrey Karpicke at Purdue University, Indiana, concluded that this was less effective than constant informal testing and reciting.

Dr Karpicke asked around 100 college students to recall in writing, in no particular order, as much as they could from what they had just read from science material.

Although most students expected to learn more from the mapping approach, the retrieval exercise actually worked much better to strengthen both short-term and long-term memory.

The results support the idea that retrieval is not merely scouring for and spilling out the knowledge stored in one’s mind — the act of reconstructing knowledge itself is a powerful tool that enhances learning about science.


British middle-classes 'being priced out of boarding schools'

If a kid is particularly bright and the parents are motivated, the kid will nonetheless be found an affordable place at a good private school. Even Eton has reduced rates for the brightest pupils ("King's Scholars")

Thousands of middle-class professionals have been being priced out of private boarding schools after fees rocketed five-fold in a generation, researchers claimed today. The cost of sending a child to a senior independent school has soared from around £6,000 to almost £30,000 in 25 years, it was disclosed. In the last six years alone, fees have increased by around a third at some schools, figures show, quicker than the rise in earnings.

The disclosure – in research published by the Good Schools Guide – comes despite fears over a squeeze on family finances in the recession.

Researchers warned that the rise meant many middle-income families were effectively being excluded from sending children to some of Britain’s most famous schools, which risk becoming the preserve of sons and daughters of super-rich foreign businessmen. The number of overseas enrolments at independent schools jumped by 7.4 per cent to 23,307 last year, with most pupils coming from Hong Kong, mainland China and Germany.

But independent school leaders insisted the figures were "highly misleading" and rises were in line with an increase in general education costs, including teachers’ salaries, pensions and the price of building work. They said fee rises had been much smaller in recent years as schools sought to ease the burden on parents during the economic downturn.

But Janette Wallis, a senior editor at the guide, said “Such an enormous increase in school fees in 25 years is out of sync with the rise in salaries or prices – and it shows in the families who can afford these schools now. Many professionals have been priced out of the private schools market.”

Research to mark the 25th anniversary of the guide, which is published next month, shows that fees at private senior schools have increased much faster than the rise in earnings. According to data, average fees were set at between £3,600 and £6,000 a year in 1986, although parents were advised to budget for up to £7,000 when extra costs were added.

The guide says parents can now expect to pay between £27,000 and £30,000 to send teenage sons and daughters to senior boarding schools – five times as much for the top schools. When extras such as uniforms, music lessons, school outings, books and overseas holidays are added, costs can escalate as high as £33,000.

It comes despite the fact that earnings increased by less – around three-fold – over the same period.

At Westminster School, fees increased from £5,025 a year in 1986 to £21,948 in 2006 and £29,406 this year. Fees at Wycombe Abbey increased from £5,025 to £23,100 in 2006 and £29,250 last year, while those at Marlborough College rose from £5,550 to £29,310 over 25 years, the guide said. The annual cost of senior boarding at Malvern College increased from £5,400 to £29,256 over the 25 year period.

Fees at Eton went from more than £6,000 to £29,862 and at Harrow costs increased from over £6,000 to £29,670.

David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: "Presenting the figures in such a sensationalist way creates a highly misleading impression. "The figure over 25 years equates to an average annual increase of under seven per cent over the same period. "To put this in context, the average annual increase of the education component of the Consumer Price Index since the late 1980s is about 7.5 per cent.

"So the increase in boarding fees over the period is not extraordinary, and much of the difference represents the increased cost of meeting higher parental expectations and today's very different welfare and regulatory standards.

"Our schools offer a range of fees for families of varying means and fee assistance is widely available. Given this, and the world-class standard of education at our schools, we believe, and continued parental support confirms, that they still offer excellent value for money."


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