Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More hatred of Christianity in the educational system

A California school district has canceled a fundraising program featuring memorial bricks, scuttling proceeds of $45,000, after two women submitted Bible verses in their tributes.

The two women, Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna, had filed a court complaint in January against the Desert Sands Unified School District after the district blocked them from placing the Bible verses on bricks to be installed in walkways at Palm Desert High School in Palm Desert, Calif., about 10 miles east of Palm Springs. The women sought an injunction against the district to compel it to allow the scripture bricks.

Instead, school district officials have decided to rescind the fundraiser and refund money of every community group or individual who purchased a memorial brick, according to a court filing last week with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The move has angered advocates of religious freedom in the public sphere. "Christians should be allowed to express themselves on public school campuses just like everyone else," David Cortman, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a written statement.

Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian organization, initiated the lawsuit for Hart and Caronna. "It is cowardly to shut down everyone's participation in this program simply out of animosity toward Christian speech," Cortman said. "There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about a Bible verse on a brick when a school opens up a program for anyone to express a personal message. The school could simply have allowed the Bible verses, but instead, it chose to punish everyone."

Hundreds of other messages had been accepted for the bricks, Cortman's organization said, including inspirational and religious themes, such as a quote from Mahatma Gandhi and a Bible quotation -- "Yes, it is possible" -- written in Spanish.

Hart, of Palm Desert, and Caronna, of Rancho Mirage, were informed after submitting their bricks that they would not be included because the religious content risked an unconstitutional establishment of religion, Alliance Defense Fund officials said.

According to the court complaint, the bricks were offered in two sizes and prices: 4 inches by 8 inches for $100 and 8 inches by 8 inches for $250. Alliance Defense Fund officials told a total of $45,000 was raised as a result of the sales.

Desert Sands Unified School District officials have not responded to repeated requests for comment. Robert Hicks, the school's new principal effective on July 1, told in an email that he was unable to comment.

According to last week's filing, district officials agreed to provide a copy of guidelines to be used for approval of any future memorial bricks within the next two years at any school within the district.

In February 2010, the school's parent-teacher organization announced the fundraiser, which was later approved by the school and the district. No limitations were given at the time as to the content of the messages, which were to be used to "create a legacy, commemorate a special event or given recognition to various entities," according to Alliance Defense Fund.

Peter Lepiscopo, a San Diego-based attorney who served as local counsel on the matter, confirmed during a brief phone interview late Monday that the case had been finalized last week. "The case has been settled," he said.

Asked if the fundraiser is expected to be launched again, Lepiscopo replied: "We'll see at this point."


Are philanthropists backing the best charter schools?

The central problem confronting American education is not that we lack models of excellence; it is our inability to routinely replicate those models. Build a slicker cell phone or brew a tastier cup of coffee and the world beats a path to your door. Find a better way to teach kids everything from calculus to Cantonese and... crickets.

Our failure to replicate educational excellence has been recognized for years. In an attempt to overcome it, philanthropists have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scaling-up networks of charter schools — hoping to grow the great ones and crowd-out the laggards. Regrettably, this strategy isn't working.

Over the past half-year I collected data on the donations made to networks of charter schools in California — any group of two or more charters that share the same management, methods, or founders. I then studied the academic performance of these networks on the California Standards Tests, controlling for individual student characteristics, school-wide peer effects, and addressing a concern known as selection bias. As a check on those results, I also looked at charter networks' AP test performance. If philanthropists were consistently directing their generosity to the highest-performing networks, there would be a strong correlation between grant dollars and academic performance.

There isn't. The three top-performing charter school networks rank 21st, 27th, and 39th in terms of the grant funding they've received, out of 68 total networks. In fact, the correlation between CST scores and grant funding is so tiny as to be negligible — it's a 1 on a scale from 0 to 10. That's smaller than some correlations we see due to random chance. For instance, the correlation between the length of the networks' names and their CST scores is twice as strong as the correlation between grant funding and scores.

The AP results are worse; higher grant funding is associated with lower AP performance, though the correlations are negligible in magnitude.

This disappointing overall result is not due to a lack of excellent charter school networks. For example, low-income black and Hispanic students at the top-ranked American Indian Public Charter Schools outperform the statewide averages for middle- and upper-income whites and Asians.

AIPCS resoundingly outscores famous charter school networks like KIPP (which also does well), and even beats two of the most prestigious and academically selective public schools in the nation: Lowell High in San Francisco and Gretchen Whitney outside of Los Angeles. Lowell and Whitney receive thousands of applications each year, of which they accept only a small fraction — and they consider the applicants' test scores in their admissions decisions. AIPCS consistently outscores them despite accepting all applicants or using a random lottery when oversubscribed.

Nor is the problem that growth inevitably breeds mediocrity. There is no significant relationship between enrollment growth and academic performance. So we have models of excellence, and there is no intrinsic reason why they can't be replicated, but our philanthropy-plus-charter-schools model isn't managing to do it. Why?

Rather than merely speculate about the cause of our failure and immediately hop on another education reform bandwagon, perhaps it's time we pull over and look at a map. As it happens, there already are a number of places around the globe where educational excellence is scaling up. Where top teachers use the Web to reach not hundreds or thousands of students but hundreds of thousands. And where they are rewarded for doing so with salaries in the millions of dollars. There are successful networks of schools that have grown not merely to a few dozen schools in a few dozen states, but to tens of thousands of schools in scores of countries.

Why do top teachers in Korea's for-profit tutoring sector become celebrities who earn more than the nation's professional baseball players? Why has the Japanese tutoring chain, Kumon, expanded to serve over four million students worldwide? Could it be because the tutoring sector operates within the same free enterprise system that has resulted in the massive scale-up of excellence in every other field? Is it an accident that when we reward education entrepreneurs for their success, their success grows? Could it be that philanthropists have failed to consistently fund the best charter schools because they do not expect a return on their investment, as hard-nosed venture capitalists do?

These questions have obvious, if inflammatory, answers. Until we let education participate in the same free enterprise system that drives the scale-up of everything from iPhones to Facebook, excellent schools and teachers will remain floating candles—beautifully illuminating their immediate vicinity, but doomed never to touch off a wider blaze.


British government school pupils 'held back by soft High School courses -- leaving just one-in-six qualified for elite universities'

Just one in six comprehensive pupils stands a chance of studying at an elite university – because they take the wrong A-levels, figures show.

Russell Group universities, such as Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, only accept those with top grades in three or more core A-level subjects.

But official figures show that each year just 15 per cent of state school pupils are entered for three or more of these A-Levels – maths, sciences, English literature, the humanities or modern and classical languages. Instead they take ‘soft subjects’ such as media studies and law, which will deny them places at more than 20 prestigious universities.

Almost a third of private school and grammar school pupils take three core subjects, data for 2010 shows.

State school take-up varies widely by local authority. In Knowsley, Merseyside, just 1 per cent of pupils did three core subjects compared with 25 per cent in Hammersmith and Fulham, West London.

Tory MP Elizabeth Truss who requested the figures in a Parliamentary question, blamed schools for pushing pupils into easier subjects. ‘They are being missold low quality subjects that are not accepted at top universities to boost results,’ she warned.

Dr Wendy Piatt, of the Russell Group, said: ‘Too few students from some state schools opt for science, maths and language A-levels, restricting their options at university.’


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