Monday, August 08, 2011

Ninth Circus Rules Against Student Christian Groups At San Diego State U

The Ninth Circuit issued a disappointing decision yesterday against a Christian fraternity and sorority at San Diego State. The University allows campus organizations that it officially recognizes to exclude students who disagree with the message advocated by the group, unless the groups are religious. San Diego State views it as “religious discrimination,” in violation of the campus nondiscrimination policy, when a Christian group requires its officers or members to believe in Christianity. So that means the vegan club can exclude student deer hunters and those who advocate eating steaks at Morton’s, but the Christian groups must permit Buddhists and atheists to join.

When a Christian fraternity and sorority declined to agree to a nondiscrimination statement, the University rejected their applications to become officially recognized student organizations. That means the groups cannot meet in campus buildings for free, cannot set up tables in the main mall where students walk each day, etc. The Christian groups are in effect banished from the main avenues of communication with students and relegated to a second class status.

The 2-1 majority upheld the policy. Although the judges admitted that the policy as applied here treated the religious groups worse than non-religious student groups, it was constitutional because there is “no evidence that San Diego State implemented its nondiscrimination policy for the purpose of suppressing Plaintiffs’ [the Christian groups'] viewpoint…” Slip opinion at 9996. Intent is irrelevant. The government cannot excuse its policy that violates a group’s constitutional rights because “it didn’t mean to do so.”

There is some good news in the decision. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the trial court because we had raised sufficient evidence that San Diego State did not enforce its policy consistently across the board, and allowed other groups to exclude non-adherents, but not allowing the Christian fraternity and sorority to do so.

Judge Ripple, a visiting appeals court judge from Wisconsin, reluctantly agreed with the ruling because of precedent for the Ninth Circuit. But in his concurring opinion, he urged the Supreme Court to take the case, and rule strongly in favor of religious liberty:

"The net result of this selective policy is therefore to marginalize in the life of the institution those activities, practices and discourses that are religiously based. While those who espouse other causes may support their membership and come together for mutual support, others, including those exercising one of our most fundamental liberties – the right to free exercise of one’s religion — cannot, at least on equal terms."

We are examining our options about returning to the trial court, or appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Twice as many British universities now looking for A* grades

The number of universities requiring the elite A* grade for entry has more than doubled. Six more leading institutions want students to achieve the ‘super grade’ in one A-level this year, while a further two will require one from next year. And ten are considering adding it to their entry criteria, according to a Daily Mail survey.

In 2010 just four made it a necessity for a place – but all these have dramatically increased the number of courses for which it is required.

The elite grade was initially used to choose pupils studying pure maths or science courses, but it has been broadened to include psychology, philosophy, economics and law.

It comes as analysis indicates that independent schools are set to further tighten their grip on the elite universities following the introduction of the new top grade in 2010.

In the first year that the A* was awarded, pupils in independent schools won 4,112 A* grades in maths, compared with 3,420 in the comprehensive sector.

In languages, they achieved 1,068 A* grades, more than twice the total for comprehensives, according to figures obtained by Elizabeth Truss, a Tory MP on the education select committee. This is despite the private sector educating just 15 per cent of A-level candidates.

The statistics will increase fears that government pressure for leading universities to boost the numbers of comprehensive pupils they admit is being undermined by the poorer grades achieved in key subjects.

This year, for the first time, Exeter, LSE, Bristol, Sussex, Birmingham and Manchester are asking for an A* and two As. Oxford and King’s College London say they will require an A* for entry in 2012.

Last year, the only universities to make an A* a requirement were Imperial, Cambridge, UCL and Warwick. Except for Cambridge, these universities asked for the top grade in just a few courses. Cambridge’s standard offer was an A* and two As.

The trend comes as competition for places at university is fiercer than ever, with 220,000 predicted to miss out on a place this year.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: ‘The A* was controversial but it is winning widespread acceptance. ‘There had been a marked rise in the number of top grades awarded, making it difficult for universities to distinguish between applicants.’

Eight per cent of A-levels taken last year were granted an A* – 62,665. But 17.9 per cent of independent school pupils achieved an A*, compared with just 5.8 per cent from comprehensives.

Miss Truss’s figures were based on the ten subjects deemed by the Russell Group of leading universities to be the most useful for winning a place.

She said: ‘Students at comprehensives are seven times more likely to take media studies than those at independent schools... in too many schools it is taken at face value that an A in media studies is worth the same as an A in any other subject. Students are effectively being misled.’


Catastrophe of British school leavers who can't add up

Children should be taught maths up to the age of 18 to avert the ‘educational catastrophe’ of 300,000 teenagers a year failing to grasp the basics, a hard-hitting report claims.

By 16 there is a ‘colossal’ ten-year range in mathematical learning between students, the report by former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman reveals.

She calls for a ‘mathematics for citizenship’ course to be introduced for those studying A-levels that don’t involve the subject. And she recommends splitting the maths GCSE into two qualifications, one designed for those going on to A-level.

Miss Vorderman, who studied engineering at Cambridge and has said maths is her ‘passion’, believes 16-year-olds should continue with lessons in the subject to develop the skills that are vital in today’s world. Many still struggle with numbers in the workplace and in their personal lives despite 11 years of being taught maths.

Universities and employers are being forced to hold catch-up classes while the lack of numeracy threatens the country’s economic prosperity. This is because almost half of teenagers ‘fail’ GCSE maths, meaning they do not get a grade C or above.

Even those students who ‘scrape’ a C ‘are still incapable of truly understanding how to calculate percentages and fractions or to interpret data’, according to Miss Vorderman.

She was asked by David Cameron and Michael Gove to head a taskforce reviewing maths education when the Conservatives were in opposition in 2009.

The findings of the report, A World Class Mathematics Education for All Our Young People, are likely to be considered as part of the Coalition’s review of the national curriculum in England. Last year, 41.6 per cent of students – more than 317,000 – failed to get a grade C or above in maths GCSE.
Carol's formula for success

About 85 per cent of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland give up maths after GCSE. However, in ‘almost every developed country, all, or nearly all’ students continue for a further two years.

The report says maths education must continue in ‘some form’ between 16 and 18. This would tie in with the reform to raise the age of participation in compulsory education to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015.

For the most able, continuing with maths study would involve AS and A-levels. However, new qualifications should be introduced such as the ‘mathematics for citizenship’ course aimed at those with a grade C or above at GCSE who are studying A-levels where no maths is involved.

Those with a C or below should sit a ‘mature GCSE’, which would involve studying vocational units in basic numeracy, financial calculations and spreadsheets.

The single maths GCSE should be withdrawn when twin qualifications being piloted become widely available in 2015. One, applications of mathematics, concentrates on more functional maths without going into great depth. The other, methods in mathematics, contains the formal elements such as algebra that students need if they go on to AS and A-level.

Improving the maths knowledge of primary school teachers, encouraging more daily maths activities in primaries and helping parents who ‘have a fear of mathematics themselves’ are also among the recommendations.

The report, released by the Conservative Party, adds that Key Stage Two national curriculum maths tests should end in their current form as ‘most secondary schools pay no attention to the results’.

Education Secretary Mr Gove welcomed the report and admitted the country is ‘falling behind our competitors when it comes to mathematics education’.


No comments: