Friday, March 18, 2011

TN: Homeschool students gain more access

With sports rules eased, testing could come next

Public school districts already are getting calls from families that home-school their children, hoping to get them spots on football, basketball and soccer teams.

A Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association ruling last year granted access to public and private school teams for home-schooled students beginning in August. It's an opportunity to compete in regional and state tournaments and be seen by college recruiters, an opportunity most of those students don't have now.

"This allows them to try out. There's no guarantees," Metro Nashville Schools' athletic coordinator Roosevelt Sanders said. "But if I'm a great athlete and want to shine, be out front, and if I follow the guidelines, most schools welcome kids who are academically, behaviorally and athletically sound. "

The association's ruling, plus a proposal in the state legislature to give parents who home-school more testing freedom, is a sign to many that Tennessee is opening doors for its children. While some parents prefer to educate their children one-on-one or offer religious and other specialized lessons, they still want access to public school offerings.

"Not all the questions have been answered, but the state is making progress," said Rutherford County pharmacist Beth Spivey, who home-schools her fourth-grader, Sophie. "It would open the door to be able to participate in sports programs. As a taxpayer, I feel like we should be able to participate."

TN stricter than others

School districts in Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and other states let home-schoolers pop in for sports and extracurricular activities. That hasn't been the case in Middle Tennessee.

Tennessee parents who wish to teach their children at home register their intent to do so two ways, but only the first will permit those children to play on a public school team.

* They can tell their county school district, which requires them to report annual attendance and the curriculum they use, plus bring their children in for free Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests in fifth and seventh grades and end-of-course exams in ninth grade.

About 3,025 home-schoolers statewide — 5 percent of the total — are registered with public school districts. If they choose to play sports, they can try out for any team in their district, Sanders said.

* They can register with umbrella groups, usually church related, that handle student transcripts and diplomas while allowing freedom from standardized state tests. A February state report showed the three largest umbrella groups combined enrolled 16,000 home-schoolers.

Sumner County-based Aaron Academy, for instance, is an umbrella group for 3,500 home-schoolers.

"We don't have classrooms where they come," said David Longoria, principal for Aaron Academy. "Parents teach their children at home. We have a testing department, records department, registration and athletics."

Members can play on Aaron Academy's football, basketball, volleyball, golf, soccer and baseball teams. Participation has led to college scholarships, Longoria said.

But students registered through umbrella groups can't play on public school teams under the athletic association's ruling. They'll have to register through the public school districts and have their grades checked just like any public school student.

"They have to approve the classes the child is taking are moving toward graduation. Some parents don't want to do that," said Bernard Childress, executive director of the state's athletic association.

He said its legislative council — made up of state, school district, private school and other leaders — felt that sort of oversight would be difficult if home-schoolers weren't registered with local districts. Prospective athletes also would have to make it through tryouts and pay a $300 activity fee.

To play for private schools, home-schoolers would have to pay full private school tuition.

"Heads of schools felt if they were going to play, there was no way they can allow anyone to play before a full-tuition paying student," Childress said.

The ruling is an initial step to open the door for home-schoolers. As with any new ruling, the association will gauge interest and monitor whether changes should be made, he said.

Some don't like ruling

The requirements are off-putting for some home-school parents. "We will not be using the TSSAA ruling to allow our son to play for a public or private school," said Lynne Dyer, a parent from Mt. Juliet who home-schools.

Her son, a junior, plays for Middle Tennessee Fire, a Brentwood-based soccer team for home-schoolers. If students are good enough, recruiters will find them, she said.

Plus, staying off public school teams would help him avoid awkward situations, she said. "Our son would likely be a welcomed addition to a high school program in terms of his skill and attitude," she said. "I am not sure players and parents would feel the same way if he took another player's position."

Barriers may be lifted

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who home-schooled his three oldest children, proposed legislation this session that, if passed, could lift some of the barriers to registering with public school districts.

It would no longer require home-schoolers who register with districts to take state tests. They instead could take other nationally normed exams, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or Stanford achievement tests.

Right now, parents who home-school registered with public school districts must hold a bachelor's degree to teach high school subjects, but those who opt for umbrella home-school organizations aren't required to have one. Bell's proposal would drop the requirement for all.

"I know parents who have nothing but a high school education, and their children are on full academic scholarships in our state," he said.


The University vs. The Hemiversity

From the truth in advertising divisions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Education, consider this possible headline above.

Aren’t most universities today only teaching ‘half’ (hemi-) of the available knowledge out there from human history? Isn’t the goal of a true ‘uni’(all)versity to convey knowledge from all points of view to give a student a well-rounded understanding of the complex world around them?

Truthfully, can any institute of higher education in America today honestly say that they are ‘unbiased’ in any way, shape or fashion and they encourage the full consideration of the entire range of human thought from the liberal end of the political spectrum to the conservative end?

The famous Last Oration of Otter in ‘Animal House’ just popped into our head for some reason, because if American universities are not teaching universally:

'Then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we're not going to sit here.....and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!’ Indeed.

We have been struck for many years over the ‘uncivil discourse’ that has dominated America politics for the past 30 years, the past 20 being really bad and the past 10, well, ridiculously destructive and idiotic. We think it has something to do with the idealism of the now-aging Boomers and will abate once they start leaving the national stage, to put it delicately, which we will return to later.

We were invited to speak at a panel at a ‘hemi’versity recently and were struck by the stark admission that college campuses nowadays have next to zero intent or interest in being anything other than a ‘liberal’ place where only ‘liberal’ thoughts and observations are considered ‘appropriate’ and ‘acceptable’.

At least some of the people we spoke with were willing to admit it. It used to be that college presidents and administrators ‘denied such a thing ever occurred on our campus!’, especially those state taxpayer-supported ‘hemi’versities where most of the taxes and large donations come from wealthy conservative businesspeople.

We think college campuses have a role to play in restoring comity (not ‘comedy’) and civility to the public discourse and debate. And it will be once again by becoming a place of ‘universal’ thought and discussion where people can learn to agree to disagree in an agreeable manner, mainly by opening discussion of the full range of views out there.

Our contention is that unless people of different persuasions talk to each other on a regular basis, no progress or compromises are ever going to be made in the public arena. Why? Because if you 'hate' another person for their ‘extreme’ views but have never met them in person, it is next to impossible to ever come to some common solution…on anything.

Ever see a married couple try to reconcile their differences? They can’t do it without talking to each other, many times with a counselor in between.

A true ‘uni’versity could be such a ‘healing counselor’ for a nation torn apart by decades of debate and hate-filled speech on abortion, race relations, gay rights, property rights, illegal immigrants, unemployment, Iraq, the CIA and global warming.

And we need to come together and solve some very large problems like the budget deficit, Social Security, Medicare and tax policy right now, like tomorrow morning before it is truly ‘too late’ to solve them.

Here’s the really odd thing to us: Much of today’s thought that is considered to be ‘conservative’ actually has its roots in the ‘classical liberal’ thinking of the 17th and 18th century in Europe where freedom of the individual and liberty in all human activity began to take root after eons of chieftain and monarchial rule.

If a classical liberal free-range thinker such as David Ricardo or Adam Smith applied today to teach at a ‘Hemi’versity of (name your state)’, would they be considered a ‘crazy right-wing free-market supply-sider whackjob’ or would they be given tenure right there on the spot? We wonder.

Back to the Boomers: Read the great book, ‘Generations’ by Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, written in 1991. You X’ers and Y’ers and Millennials will learn that these two guys are the ones who coined your generations in such a manner first…so blame them if you weren’t named something great like ‘The Greatest Generation’. (you gotta earn that first though)

Neil used to come by the congressional office to discuss his theories of how generations actually have distinctive characteristics as a whole such as ‘idealistic’, ‘practical’ or ‘silent’.

Guess what the Boomers of the ‘free love’, ‘more drugs’, ‘Make Love, Not War’ generation of the ‘60s are? You got it…’idealistic’….just like the Transcendentalists of the pre-Civil War era who wanted to end slavery.

And guess what characteristic trait is both admirable and destructive to both generations at the same time? Their collective sense of ‘righteousness’….the conviction that ‘I am right!’ which means that ‘You are wrong!’.

And that leads to stalemate and a digging-in of heels on opposite sides. Sound familiar, like for the past 10 years?

‘Hemi-versities’ becoming ‘uni’versities again can help restore the sense of balance and practical politics to the national stage, especially as the Boomers die off, (oops! sorry but is it going to happen) and the more practical and solution-oriented X’ers take their rightful place in American politics.

We are actually more optimistic about the future because of this demographic change that is underway right now beneath your very nose.


The proof that British exam results HAVE been inflated: OECD warns UK schools are out of step

Exam grades have been artificially inflated and billions of pounds in increased spending on education wasted, according to a damning international report. It is further confirmation of what many have long suspected: that relentlessly improving GCSE and A-level results have hidden a true picture of failure in our schools.

The report, from the highly respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, concludes that pupils’ actual performance remains ‘static’ and ‘uneven’.

The share of A-levels awarded at grade A has risen continually over the past 18 years and trebled since 1980, it says, but independent surveys of students’ cognitive skills ‘do not support this development’.

Most damagingly, the report concludes that despite Labour’s doubling of spending on education since 2000, children’s success remains ‘strongly related to parents’ income and background’.

The education budget soared from £35.8billion to £71billion under Labour. But Britain has plummeted down worldwide education rankings in the past decade, with nations such as Estonia and Poland overtaking us in reading, maths and science.

The study of Britain’s economic performance by the OECD, published yesterday, focused heavily on failings in our education system, which critics say leaves millions of children entering the workplace without the necessary skills to succeed.

Fuelling concerns that exams have increasingly been ‘dumbed down’ to give the illusion of progress, the report said: ‘Official test scores and grades in England show systematically and significantly better performance than international and independent tests.

‘The measures used by the Office for National Statistics... show significant increases in quality over time, while the measures based on cognitive tests not used for grading show declines or minimal improvements.’

The OECD added: ‘Despite sharply rising school spending per pupil during the last ten years, improvements in schooling outcomes have been limited in the United Kingdom.’

The OECD said there had been insufficient focus on disadvantaged students in educational spending - leading to ‘large disparities’ in pupils’ success. ‘Incomes and educational outcomes are unevenly distributed in the United Kingdom compared to many other OECD countries, and intergenerational social mobility is low,’ the report said.

‘Schooling outcomes in the United Kingdom are among the more unequal in the OECD area. This leaves many students from weaker socio–economic backgrounds with insufficient levels of competence, which hampers their chances in the labour market and higher education.’

Early years provision was also letting down many pupils, it concluded, adding: ‘Disadvantaged children seemed to perform worse in 2006 than in 2001, while the impact of parents’ income on six–year-olds’ cognitive and non–cognitive skills has if anything increased recently.’

The organisation also condemned a ‘confusing and rapidly changing array of often low-quality vocational programmes’ for 16 to 18-year-olds.

It backed the Coalition’s move to create a new network of ‘free schools’, run by charities, businesses or groups of parents and freed from state control, adding: ‘Increasing user choice would... induce stronger competition between schools which could provide better educational outcomes.’

Chancellor George Osborne yesterday said the OECD report provided emphatic justification for the Coalition’s education reforms. He promised new measures to boost social mobility by targeting help at disadvantaged children.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘The latest OECD report confirms that Labour’s spending on education didn’t secure the improvement it should have. But the good news is that the OECD backs the reforms we’re introducing. ‘It supports our plans to open new schools, increase choice, reform league tables and give more support to the poorest.’


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