Saturday, July 09, 2011

Straight talk on homosexual lessons in public schools

Compulsory education in America makes captive audiences of children and parents who have little or no choice in the matter of what the state decides they should be taught. The state decides what is relevant. The state decides what is important. The State – not the parent -- decides what children should think.

As far as I know, there are no laws in this country mandating lessons in public schools on the United States Constitution. There are no laws requiring instruction on free market capitalism, critical thinking, logic, or implications of individual liberty. No state has decided that those subjects are worthy of compulsory education, regardless of their importance.

But now, the state of California, upon the insistence of gay rights advocates, is poised to implement The “Fair Education Act,” making compulsory the teaching of "gender sensitive" history; i.e. lessons on the contributions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people in America.

Similar laws of appeasement have already made mandatory the teaching of African American, Mexican American, female American, and other so-called “over-looked” group’s contributions.

Now please don’t get me wrong; I’m all for gay rights. To me, gays are the same as straights within the meaning of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Sexual orientation should not affect equality in America. Nor is sexual orientation relevant when the subject is historical contributions.

I don’t, for example, give a fig whether George Washington was gay or straight or bisexual. Why should anyone care? His preferences for sex partners don’t matter to me when I consider his contribution to American history.

If he was heterosexual, that fact is not a necessary part of the lesson. That is not what school children should be taught about George. If he was homosexual or bisexual, the relevance would be the same – zero. He deserves his place in the history books for his contribution to society, not what he liked to do in the privacy of his bedroom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. deserves his place in history, not because he was African American, but because he was a leader in the cause for civil rights. Likewise, if slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk made a significant contribution to the cause of civil rights, he also deserves his place in history, and no law is necessary to make it so.

History and social studies should not be used for the sole purpose of promoting personal lifestyles to a captive audience. That is not education; it’s indoctrination.


A quarter of British primary schools do not have a single male teacher

A quarter of primary schools do not have a single male teacher. Staffrooms in 4,278 of the 16,971 primaries in England are solely populated by women, according to official figures yesterday. There are just 25,500 men teaching young children, compared with 139,500 women. To make matters worse, a quarter of the male teachers in primaries are over 50 and close to leaving the profession.

The worrying trend leaves tens of thousands of boys with little or no contact with an adult male before they reach secondary school.

And with dwindling numbers of male secondary teachers, some could finish their education without being taught by a man.

The figures, released by the Department for Education, have raised fears that bad behaviour will rise among boys whose lives lack male authority. The problem is most acute for youngsters who rarely, or never, see their father.

Ministers under the previous government pressed teacher trainers to recruit more men. However, the Coalition has lifted this pressure, shifting the focus to the recruitment of more highly qualified teachers.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘These are shocking figures. Young boys especially need male role models.

‘Ideally each school should have at least two male teachers to provide a male perspective on life.’

The figures show that the area with the highest proportion of primary schools without a single male teacher is Bedford where 61 per cent of schools, a total of 31, do not have a ‘Sir’ on the staff.

The figure in Central Bedfordshire is 57 per cent, Northumberland 53 per cent, North Yorkshire 48 per cent, West Berkshire 45 per cent, and Windsor and Maidenhead 44 per cent.

Areas that have 100 or more primary schools without any male teachers are North Yorkshire on 154, Essex 151, Hampshire 148, Derbyshire 139, Hertfordshire 128, Surrey 120, Norfolk 115, Lancashire 115, Kent 104, and Cumbria 100.

At the other end of the spectrum, just one of 29 schools in Blackpool and two of 66 in the east London borough of Newham are women-only.

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has raised the issue in the Commons. He said: ‘This is especially a problem because there are more and more families where children are growing up without a father. ‘The teachers in primary school are overwhelmingly women, and they do a great job. ‘But it would be even better if there were more male teachers to act as role models, particularly to young boys.’

A DfE spokesman said: ‘Quality of teaching in our schools is what we should all be looking at, regardless of gender. ‘Our job is to recruit the best men and women into the profession and give them outstanding training. ‘We’ve extended Teach First to primary schools so top graduates will be placed directly into deprived schools. ‘We’re offering bursaries of up to £20,000 to plug the gap in subjects where posts are tough to fill. ‘And we are opening a network of teaching schools, many linked to universities, to train teachers on the job.’


Most populous Australian State dubious about proposed national curriculum

Since Professor Stuart Macintyre, a former member of the Communist Party, was a leading light in drawing up the curriculum, they have reason for concern

THE NSW government has warned it will not approve the national curriculum in October if it is inferior to the curriculum now used in the state's schools.

The state Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, issued the warning - echoing the position of the ousted Labor government - after the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs met in Melbourne yesterday.

While the federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, trumpeted new national professional standards for principals and the endorsement of the first stage of a plan for greater school autonomy, Mr Piccoli left the federal-state meeting warning NSW would not be rushed.

He said the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the national body leading the curriculum framing, was moving to new subjects before the first-stage subjects - English, maths, science and history - had been resolved.

"There's a lot of disquiet among stakeholders in NSW. Nobody is happy with it," Mr Piccoli said. "We're not sure how much it is going to cost [to implement]. There are a million unanswered questions."

NSW remains concerned it will be pushed to approve a weaker curriculum when ministers meet again in October. Mr Piccoli said he was worried the federal government appeared ready to begin work on the next stage "before they've even got this half right". "We've taken a strong view that we're not going to sign off on something that is inferior," Mr Piccoli said.

Mr Garrett noted the scale of the challenge ACARA continued to face. "This has been a huge task, the national curriculum, and I don't think we should underestimate that at all," he said, acknowledging "quite a lot of detailed work" with the states remained to be done.

He also rejected Mr Piccoli's pitch for extra funding to help implement the curriculum. NSW argued that less significant curriculum reforms in the 1990s had cost (in today's dollars) more than $60 million to implement.

"A single day of professional development for all teachers would cost each state many millions of dollars," Mr Piccoli said.

Teacher goodwill would depend upon the investment in professional development, he said. "If right from the very beginning there's not enough professional development - teachers aren't confident with it, don't feel they've been consulted - then the goodwill that's required to implement it won't be there," he said.

"A lot of schools run on goodwill - the goodwill of teachers. They don't run on money."

Mr Garrett said the meeting had "significantly enhanced" his government's education reform agenda, describing it as "a really important day for principals".

Apart from new national professional standards, principals will also be affected by plans to empower local schools.

For most states, this would mark a major shift away from centralised decision making and into a more localised, community-based school governance, Mr Garrett said.

The federal government has invested $69 million in the first phase of the autonomy program, which will involve 1000 - about 10 per cent - of Australian schools. But Mr Piccoli said giving principals more power would not get Australian schools "leapfrogging" other countries in performance. "It's one aspect but a relatively minor one," he said. "The real priority is teacher quality and high expectations [for schools]."


Friday, July 08, 2011

The Year of School Choice

School may be out for the summer, but school choice is in, as states across the nation have moved to expand education opportunities for disadvantaged kids. This year is shaping up as the best for reformers in a very long time.

No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made headlines this year for taking on government unions. Less well known is that last month he signed a bill that removes the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program, the nation's oldest voucher program, and creates a new school choice initiative for families in Racine County. "We now have 13 programs new or expanded this year alone" in the state, says Susan Meyers of the Wisconsin-based Foundation for Educational Choice.

School choice proponents may have had their biggest success in Indiana, where Republican Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state's students to attend public or private schools.
Getty Images

Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma have created or expanded tuition tax credit programs. North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on the number of charter schools. Maine passed its first charter law. Colorado created a voucher program in Douglas County that will provide scholarships for private schools. In Utah, lawmakers passed the Statewide Online Education Program, which allows high school students to access course work on the Internet from public or private schools anywhere in the state.

Even in the nation's capital, and thanks largely to House Speaker John Boehner, Congress revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program for poor families that the Obama Administration had wanted to kill at the behest of teachers unions.

One notable exception is Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett and the Republican state legislature bungled passage of a state-wide voucher bill. Mr. Corbett promised during his election campaign last year that he'd make the reform a priority. Instead, Republican legislative leaders dithered for most of the spring, and Mr. Corbett got engaged very late. The session ended last week without passage of the voucher bill and several other school choice measures, including an increase in charter school authorizers. The Pennsylvania State Education Association is no doubt delighted by the failure.

Choice by itself won't lift U.S. K-12 education to where it needs to be. Eliminating teacher tenure and measuring teachers against student performance are also critical. Standards must behigher than they are.

But choice is essential to driving reform because it erodes the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live. Unions defend the monopoly to protect jobs for their members, but education should above all serve students and the larger goal of a society in which everyone has an opportunity to prosper.

This year's choice gains are a major step forward, and they are due in large part to Republican gains in last fall's elections combined with growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.


As Budgets Are Trimmed, Time in Class Is Shortened

After several years of state and local budget cuts, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.

Los Angeles slashed its budget for summer classes to $3 million from $18 million last year, while Philadelphia, Milwaukee and half the school districts in North Carolina have deeply cut their programs or zeroed them out. A scattering of rural districts in New Mexico, Idaho and other states will be closed on Fridays or Mondays come September. And in California, where some 600 of the 1,100 local districts have shortened the calendar by up to five days over the past two years, lawmakers last week authorized them to cut seven days more if budgets get tighter.

“Instead of increasing school time, in a lot of cases we’ve been pushing back against efforts to shorten not just the school day but the week and year,” said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the federal Department of Education. “We’re trying to prevent what exists now from shrinking even further.”

For two decades, advocates have been working to modernize the nation’s traditional 180-day school calendar, saying that the languid summers evoked in “To Kill a Mockingbird” have a pernicious underside: each fall, many students — especially those who are poor — return to school having forgotten much of what they learned the previous year. The Obama administration picked up the mantra: at his 2009 confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, “Our school day is too short, our school week is too short, our school year is too short,” but its efforts in this realm have not been as successful as other initiatives.

“It feels like it’s been pushed to the back burner a bit,” said Jeff Smink, a vice president at the National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore.

The most ambitious federal program in this realm is part of a $4 billion effort to overhaul 1,150 failing schools, in which each is required to select an improvement model that includes a new schedule increasing learning time. In the Denver suburbs, for example, Fort Logan Elementary School has used the federal money to add four and a half hours of instruction per week.

But an interim report on the program in 10 states found that several districts visited by federal inspectors were out of compliance. In Reno, Nev., for example, officials found that Smithridge Elementary School was using the 15 minutes it had added each morning for breakfast, not academics. District officials in San Francisco, the report said, “believed that Everett Middle School extended the school day by an hour six years ago and due to this reason was not required to implement any additional time.”

In a separate report scheduled for release on Thursday, the National Center on Time and Learning, a Boston group that advocates expanding instruction time, acknowledges that an “untold number” of schools nationwide have reduced their hours and days, often by furloughing teachers. But the report also says more than 1,000 schools and districts have expanded their schedules, and highlights many examples.

In Pittsburgh, for example, $11 million in federal stimulus money is being used this summer to provide 5,300 students — more than twice the 2,400 enrolled last year — 23 additional days of math and reading instruction in a camplike atmosphere that converts some of the city’s museums, recording studios and even bicycle-repair shops into classrooms.

In the small town of Brandon, S.D., near Sioux Falls, some 65 teachers and principals plan to work without pay this summer to keep alive a summer school program that would have otherwise been canceled because of cuts in state aid.

And in Chicago, which has had one of the shortest school days of any major urban system, Mayor Rahm Emanuel won powers last month to impose a longer day and year. Mr. Emanuel is working with school authorities to add time for the fall term.

But each of these seems to have a counterexample.

Across Oregon, districts have been negotiating furlough days with teachers’ unions. In April, for instance, the local union agreed with the 17,000-student North Clackamas district, south of Portland, to six unpaid days off in 2011-12, leaving students with 168 days of class. Many of Oregon’s 200 districts have cut similar deals. The average number of days teachers are scheduled to be with students next year fell to 165 from 167 this year, according to a survey by the Oregon School Boards Association.

Oregon sets minimum annual instructional hours — 990 hours for ninth grade, for example. Most states set minimum days, and several that do — including Arizona, California and Nevada — have lowered the bar amid belt tightening. Nevada’s new law, signed in June, allows as few as 175 days, down from 180.

California made the same cut in 2009, but last week dropped the minimum to 168 for any district where revenues fall short of projections during the 2011-12 school year. Hawaii, mired in red ink, shortened its 180-day school year to 163 days in 2009, shuttering schools on many Fridays. But lawsuits and widespread protests last year persuaded lawmakers to restore the school year to 178 days.

Last month, North Carolina lawmakers moved in the same direction, raising the state’s minimum to 185 days of instruction, up from 180. But since the legislature provided no additional financing, some education officials there were less than thrilled.

The 2,800-student Balsz elementary district in Phoenix adopted a 200-day calendar starting in 2009-10, drawing on a local tax levy and a decade-old state law that increased financing by 5 percent for districts that meet that threshold. “Parents love it,” said Jeffrey Smith, the superintendent. And Mr. Smith said the results were palpable: after one year of the new schedule, reading scores jumped 43 percent in Grades 5 and 6 and 19 percent in Grades 3 and 4.

And if many students groan at the notion of spending more time in class, some have warmed to it.

Rubi Morales, for instance, said that when she started six years ago at the Preuss charter school in San Diego, which has seven hours of class (instead of the typical six) 198 days of the year, she resented returning to her gritty neighborhood in the evenings to find all her friends roughhousing in the streets.

“They were doing fun stuff, and I’d be getting home and doing homework,” recalled Ms. Morales, 18, who is headed to the University of California, Berkeley, this fall. “Now I see all those study hours paid off.”


Schools that fill Oxbridge: Top five take more places than 2,000 comprehensives combined

A handful of leading schools sends more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,000 of the country’s comprehensives and colleges combined. Four prestigious private schools and one state school produced 946 Oxford and Cambridge entrants over three years.

At the same time the 2,000 worst-performing state schools, two thirds of the national total, produced only 927 Oxbridge students.

The leading fee-paying schools, which charge around £30,000 a year, are Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s School and St Paul’s Girls School. The state school, Hills Road college, is based in the heart of Cambridge and caters for the children of leading academics and scientists.

The startling figures were disclosed in the first study of its kind by the Sutton Trust, an education charity which analysed the destination of 750,000 school leavers. The data also shows that grammar schools fare very well when it comes to university places.

On average, grammars sent 65 per cent of their pupils to the top 30 institutions, compared with only 28 per cent for comprehensives.

The 100 elite schools – 3 per cent of the national total – accounted for 32 per cent of admissions to Oxbridge.

Only 12 council areas sent more than 2 per cent of A-level candidates to Oxbridge – and all but one of these were in the south-east of England. The exception was Trafford in Greater Manchester.

The findings highlight the extent to which the choice of school dictates the life chances of youngsters and the Coalition said the report showed Labour had failed young people.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘This report is a damning indictment of Labour’s failure to improve social mobility. ‘Despite all their promises, they left hundreds of thousands of children with little to no chance of getting to the best universities. ‘We are tackling these inequalities by increasing the number of good schools and targeting funding at the poorest pupils.’

The Sutton Trust figures show that Westminster, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, sent the most pupils to Oxbridge between 2007 and 2009 – 235. Next was Eton with 211, followed by Hills Road with 204, St Paul’s School with 167 – a staggering 46 per cent of its pupils – and St Paul’s Girls School with 129. The grammar sending the largest proportion of students to Oxbridge was Queen Elizabeth’s in Barnet, North London.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said schools would try harder to raise standards if they were made to publish data showing the destinations of their leavers. Brian Lightman, of headteachers’ union ASCL, suggested poor pupils were put off applying to Oxbridge. ‘Regardless of ability level, students from more disadvantaged backgrounds will sometimes find Oxford and Cambridge a foreign and intimidating world,’ he said.

Meanwhile, almost 200,000 youngsters have been denied university entry after a record surge in applications. A total of 669,956 youngsters chased the 479,000 places available in the final year before tuition fees rise up to a maximum £9,000. Students without offers will have to scramble for places through clearing when their A-level results are published next month. But opportunities are expected to be limited because few students will take a gap year ahead of the fees rise.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

The College Scam

What do Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have in common? They're all college dropouts.

Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Peter Jennings have in common? They never went to college at all. But today all kids are told: To succeed, you must go to college.

Hillary Clinton tells students: "Graduates from four-year colleges earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, an estimated $1 million more."

We hear that from people who run colleges. And it's true. But it leaves out some important facts. That's why I say: For many people, college is a scam.

I spoke with Richard Vedder, author of "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much," and Naomi Schafer Riley, who just published "Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For."

Vedder explained why that million-dollar comparison is ridiculous: "People that go to college are different kind of people ... (more) disciplined ... smarter. They did better in high school." They would have made more money even if they never went to college.

Riley says some college students don't get what they pay for because their professors have little incentive to teach. "You think you're paying for them to be in the classroom with you, but every hour a professor spends in the classroom, he gets paid less. The incentives are all for more research." The research is often on obscure topics for journals nobody reads.

Also, lots of people not suited for higher education get pushed into it. This doesn't do them good. They feel like failures when they don't graduate. Vedder said two out of five students entering four-year programs don't have a bachelor's degree after year six. "Why do colleges accept (these students) in the first place?"

Because money comes with the student -- usually government-guaranteed loans.

"There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor's degrees," Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It's hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those. These days, many students graduate with big debts.

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who got rich helping to build good things like PayPal and Facebook, is so eager to wake people up to alternatives to college that he's paying students $100,000 each if they drop out of college and do something else, like start a business. "We're asking nothing in return other than meetings so we make sure (they) work hard, and not be in school for two years," said Jim O'Neill, who runs the foundation.

For some reason, this upsets the left. A writer called Thiel's grant a "nasty idea" that leads students into "halting their intellectual development ... maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich."

But Darren Zhu, a grant winner who quit Yale for the $100,000, told me, "Building a start-up and learning the sort of hardships that are associated with building a company is a much better education path." I agree. Much better. Zhu plans to start a biotech company.

What puzzles is me is why the market doesn't punish colleges that don't serve their customers well. The opposite has happened: Tuitions have risen four times faster than inflation. "There's a lot of bad information out there," Vedder replied. "We don't know ... if (students) learned anything" during their college years.

"Do kids learn anything at Harvard? People at Harvard tell us they do. ... They were bright when they entered Harvard, but do ... seniors know more than freshman? The literacy rate among college graduates is lower today than it was 15 or 20 year ago. It is kind of hard for people to respond in market fashion when you don't have full information."

Despite the scam, the Obama administration plans to increase the number of students getting Pell grants by 50 percent. And even a darling of conservatives, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, says college is a must: "Graduating from high school is just the first step."

We need to wake people up.


Dozens of Atlanta educators falsified tests, state report confirms

Dozens of Atlanta public school educators falsified standardized tests or failed to address such misconduct in their schools, Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday in unveiling the results of a state investigation that confirmed widespread cheating in the city schools dating as far back as 2001.

Some of the cheating could result in criminal charges, Deal said.
"I think the overall conclusion was that testing and results and targets being reached became more important than actual learning for children," Deal said. "And when reaching targets became the goal, it was a goal that was pursued with no excuses."

Falsifying test results made the schools appear to be performing better than they really were. But in the process, students were deprived of critical remedial education and taxpayers were cheated, as well, Deal said.

Investigators said 178 teachers and principals working at 44 schools were involved. The educators, including 38 principals, were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a key standardized test or they knew -- or should have known -- what was going on, according to Deal's office.

Deal's office said 82 of the educators acknowledged involvement, according to the report. Six principals declined to answer investigators' questions and invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Deal said. Whether to bring criminal charges will be up to prosecutors, Deal said.

Georgia State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge and Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the governor's Office of Student Achievement, released a joint statement Tuesday condemning "unethical behavior." "Some educators, including those in leadership positions, chose their own interests over helping students entrusted to their care," the statement said.

"While this story has dominated the headlines over the last couple of years, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the educators in Georgia are ethically sound and work diligently with the best interests of their students in mind."

The investigation's findings have been forwarded to the state teacher licensing board, Deal said. That agency could take disciplinary action against the educators involved.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was briefed on the report, said the investigation "confirms our worst fears." "There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system," Reed said in a statement. "Further, there is no question that a complete failure of leadership in the Atlanta Public School system hurt thousands of children who were promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards."

The cheating was brought to light after marked improvements in the district's performance on the 2009 statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency test (CRCT) revealed a pattern of incorrect test answers being erased and replaced with correct answers.

Investigators compared the results with test results from other Georgia schools and found that such patterns did not occur normally, Deal said. That the district's CRCT results fell in 2010 further confirmed the findings, according to the report.

Beverly Hall, who was superintendent of the district when the cheating scandal surfaced, has since resigned. Hall won accolades for the district's apparent successes during her tenure.


Parents' fury as British school tells pupils: 'You don't need to take part in sports day if you don't want to'

The thrill of competitive running on school sports days has been a spur for many future Olympic athletes. But at one politically correct primary school, children are being excused from such pressures.

Parents were astonished when a teacher with a loud-hailer announced all pupils could ‘opt out’ of the sprints if they wished and asked mothers and fathers to ‘respect their decision’. A significant number of the children remained sitting on the grass, drinking fizzy drinks while watching the action.

It was not the only departure from tradition at Newby and Scalby Primary School in Scarborough. Instead of an egg and spoon race, pupils took part in an egg balancing event in which they ‘raced’ one at a time against the clock to score team points rather than against each other.

To add to the protective nature of the event, any parents hoping to record their children’s exploits for posterity faced further disappointment as the head banned all photography for fear the images could be uploaded on to the internet and seen by paedophiles.

Commenting on the controversy, one parent said: ‘It was crazy. They will be asking the kids if they want to opt out of doing their sums next, or whether they want to learn to read and write.

‘In this competitive age, children need to be competitive. ‘Some of them just ended up sitting on the mats drinking fizzy drinks for the rest of the afternoon. I had never seen anything like it before. People were muttering and looking at each other. There was a lot of discontent in the ranks.’

The school has about 425 pupils aged five to 11 and sports days for each year are held on separate days because of the numbers involved. All the sports days are believed to have had the voluntary running race policy.

A parent who attended the event for nine-year-olds said up to 100 family members were there and many complained to each other. Most of those who refused to take part were boys.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘It’s a new one on me. There are some weird things going on in education. For health reasons you would think they would be making them do this.’

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: ‘The school is proud of its record of children’s involvement in sport. ‘The events are organised so that all children take part, including those with disabilities.’


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

CA: Landmark gay history bill goes to governor

California lawmakers on Tuesday sent the governor a bill that would make the state the first requiring public schools to include the contributions of gays and lesbians in social studies curriculum.

The bill, passed on a party-line vote, adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as well as people with disabilities to the list of groups that schools must include in the lessons. It also would prohibit material that reflects adversely on gays.

Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco says SB48 is crucial because of the bullying that happens to gay students. Republicans called it a well-intentioned but ill-conceived bill and raised concerns that it would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.

"This bill will require California schools to present a more accurate and nuanced view of American history in our social science curriculum by recognizing the accomplishments of groups that are not often recognized," said Assembly Speaker John Perez, the first openly gay speaker of the California Assembly.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who has not said whether he would sign it. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2006.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Twin Peaks, said he was offended as a Christian that the bill was being used to promote a "homosexual agenda" in public schools.

"I think it's one thing to say that we should be tolerant," Donnelly said. "It is something else altogether to say that my children are going to be taught that this lifestyle is good."

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

SB48 would require, as soon as the 2013-2014 school year, the California Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that cover the contributions and roles of sexual minorities. The legislation leaves it to local school boards to decide how to implement the requirement. It does not specify a grade level for the instruction to begin.

Opponents argued that such instruction would further burden an already crowded curriculum and expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable. Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, said the bill micromanages the classroom.
"Our founding fathers are turning over in their graves," Donnelly said.

The bill's author, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he hopes Brown will sign his bill. He dismissed arguments that the bill promotes certain sexual behaviors and said it removes censorship in textbooks.

"Bottom line, it's only beneficial to share with students the broad diversity of the human experience and that our democracy protects everyone," he said.

Before the Assembly vote, Perez pointed to a few contributions of gay people, including Friedrich von Steuben, one of George Washington's military advisers who fled Prussia after he was hounded as a homosexual.

Von Steuben is credited with being one of the fathers of the Continental Army and teaching essential military drills.

He also cited Alan Turing, a mathematician who helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes by creating the "Turing bombe," a forerunner of modern computers.

Some churches and conservative family groups warned the bill will drive more parents to take their children out of public schools.

"This sexual brainwashing bill would mandate that children as young as 6 years old be told falsehoods — that homosexuality is biological, when it isn't, or healthy, when it's not," said Randy Thomasson, president of
The Assembly passed the bill on a 49-25 vote.


Britain MUST bring back grammar schools, or risk a generation that fails in life, says biggest study yet on education

Children from working class families are failing in life because they cannot get into good secondary schools, a Government-backed inquiry has found.

The research blames the widening gap between the achievements of rich and poor pupils on ‘selection by mortgage’ – the way middle-class parents are able to buy their way into the best schools by moving into expensive homes in the right catchment areas.

The study is set to re-open the debate about grammar schools, which were largely abolished in the 1970s. Many say this has barred the way to a good education for bright working class children.

The grammar school argument has been fired over the past four years by overwhelming evidence that social mobility – the chance of someone from a poor background doing well in life – has been declining sharply since the 1970s.

Under Gordon Brown’s Labour government, the fall in social mobility was blamed on universities, said to be biased against taking students from poor backgrounds, and on failures in pre-school education.

The new research on social mobility, produced from a survey covering six years of the lives of 33,000 secondary school children, points the finger at the comprehensive system which effectively keeps children from low-income families out of good schools.

The Tories’ war over grammar schools has rumbled on since David Cameron ruled out the opening of more selective schools in 2007 on the ground that parents do not want them.

He accused their supporters of ‘splashing around in the shallow end of educational debate’. Instead the Prime Minister has backed Michael Gove’s programme of opening more mostly non-selective academies and free schools.

The study was produced by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, with the Sutton Trust educational charity and the New York-based Russell Sage Foundation.

Professor John Ermisch of the ISER said: ‘The widening of the parental education gap in pupil performance after primary school appears to be related to the sorting of children into secondary schools.

‘Better-educated parents have their children in better quality schools, and the association between school quality and parental background is stronger at secondary school than at primary school. ‘The sorting is primarily achieved by living in areas with good access to better schools.’

Professor Ermisch said lotteries for school places would improve poor children’s chances, ‘but as long as there is large variation in school quality, such a policy would be resisted by better-off parents, because some would be forced to send their children to inferior schools’.

Another wide-ranging project from the Sutton Trust is expected to uncover large differences in aspiration and attainment between state comprehensives on the one hand, and independent schools and the 164 remaining selective English grammars on the other.

This week Tory peer and former Downing Street adviser Lord Blackwell is to launch an amendment to Mr Gove’s Education Bill calling for the introduction of academically streamed classes within comprehensive schools.

The centre-Right think-tank Centre for Policy Studies, with which Lord Blackwell has links, is to publish a call for the creation of a grammar school for every town.

Lord Blackwell said yesterday: ‘Since grammar schools were abolished in many parts of the country – and direct grant schools driven into the private sector – many children have had no access to high quality schools catering for the needs of the brightest children.

‘If they happen to live in an area where there is a good comprehensive they can still get a good education that will get them to the top universities, but often those schools are in more affluent areas where house prices are high. In effect we have selection by postcode.’


Negligent Australian public school: Kid left behind in fast food store restroom

A MOTHER is outraged her son, five, was forced to walk to his grandparents' house unsupervised. It came after he was left behind during an after-hours school excursion.

She said her son, now six, was distraught when he came out of the Hungry Jack's Hawthorn store's toilet after an excursion to Mitcham Cinema last month, only to find other Eden Hills Primary School students and their supervisors had left.

Her son then walked across several roads, as well a railway line, to get to his grandparents' house. "He cried all the way there, he said he felt as though he was not important enough to be remembered," the mother said. "It is a failure of duty of care. They should have had one carer for every eight children but they had just two qualified supervisors for 27 kids."

The boy's father said his son has been suffering from restless sleep and often wakes up in the night calling out for his parents to quell fears he may have been abandoned.

The child's mother said she would be removing him from the school at the end of this week. "We cannot entrust the school to adequately care for our children. It was a crisis situation, he was unsupervised while in the toilet for starters," the mother said.

She said she was horrified to be told of the incident by her mother-in-law, rather than the school supervisor responsible for her son's welfare. "It was just lucky it was him (her son) because he knew the area and where his grandparents' house was," she said. "If it was another student, who knows what would have happened."

In an email sent to the boy's mother, the school admitted "safety standards were not met" and the incident had been reported to Education Minister Jay Weatherill.

The boy's mother, who said the school had failed to adequately discipline the supervisor involved, had also written a letter to Mr Weatherill complaining about the incident.

Department of Education and Children's Services deputy chief executive Jan Andrews said the school and its OSHC unit had apologised to the boy's parents. "When a student count identified that the boy was missing, a staff member immediately ran back to Hungry Jack's to search for him," she said. "Police were called and the child's parent was contacted.

"The school and the OSHC unit acknowledge that the incident should not have occurred, has apologised to the student and family and offered ongoing support." She confirmed DECS were reviewing the circumstances of the incident, including student-staff ratios on the day.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Ohio’s Dramatic Expansion of School Choice Praised by Nation’s Original Voucher Organization

Gov. John Kasich today signed Ohio’s 2011-2012 budget that dramatically expands the state’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, establishes a new scholarship program for children with disabilities, and makes needed improvements to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. This expansion triples the number of Ohio students eligible for vouchers.

“This is the year of growth for school choice, and Ohio has just joined the bumper crop of states that have decided to make educational choice a centerpiece of education reform,” said Robert C. Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the nation’s leading advocate for school choice. “The commitment of Gov. Kasich and the support of Rep. Matt Huffman and Senators Kevin Bacon and Peggy Lehner is inspiring. Their efforts will ensure that tens of thousands more children will have an opportunity to attend effective schools that motivate and challenge them to succeed.”

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has long supported school choice efforts in Ohio. For almost a decade, the Foundation has undertaken research on the effectiveness of Ohio’s school choice programs. The Foundation also has supported the local efforts — spearheaded by School Choice Ohio — to implement the EdChoice Scholarship Program and educate Ohioans on the benefits of school choice.

“Ohio families emerged victorious today,” said Chad Aldis, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio. “The strengthening and expansion of existing voucher programs and the creation of a scholarship for students with disabilities are tremendous steps forward for Ohio families. This success would not have been possible without the support of trusted partners like the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.”

Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, enacted in 2005, allows students attending chronically failing public schools to receive vouchers to attend private schools. The budget signed today by Gov. Kasich increases the EdChoice Scholarship Program’s reach by:

Expanding the eligible pool of students — Amends the definition of a failing public school to consider both the school’s state rating and the numerical performance index score the school receives.

Quadrupling the cap — The EdChoice Scholarship Program currently is limited to 14,000 children. The budget increases its cap to 60,000 students, quadrupling the number of available vouchers.

Allowing a summer application window — This year, newly-eligible families will be able to apply for the upcoming school year in the summer, instead of waiting a full year for the spring application period.

The budget also creates a new program for students with disabilities, building on the successful Ohio Autism Scholarship Program. Any Ohio student with special needs who has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can receive a voucher worth approximately 90 percent of his or her current public school funding. Actual scholarship amounts will be based on each student’s disability and associated educational needs.

Approximately 260,000 students with special needs would be scholarship eligible, according to School Choice Ohio. Notably, accessibility to that new program is capped at five percent of Ohio’s students with special needs, which would provide just more than 13,000 scholarships statewide.

Finally, the budget makes needed improvements to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program and addresses a historic inequality in the voucher amount available to participating children compared with those using the statewide EdChoice Scholarship Program. Currently, the maximum amount of a voucher in Cleveland is $3,450, whereas the maximum amount of an EdChoice voucher is $4,250 for grades K-8 and $5,000 for grades 9-12. Going forward, the voucher in Cleveland will be worth the same amount as the EdChoice voucher.

With two expanded school choice programs and one new program, Ohio joins a true education reform revolution. This year, 11 states have passed 17 school choice laws, of which seven establish new programs and 10 expand or improve existing programs.

“Ohio’s bold reforms will ensure that school choice grows in the state until every family has the freedom to choose how to educate their child, and until every child receives an effective education that prepares him or her for success in life,” said Enlow.


Union curbs rescue a Wisconsin school district

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs his first budget in front of supporters gathered at Fox Valley Metal Tech in Ashwaubenon, Wis., on Sunday, June 26, 2011. The budget helped save the struggling Kaukauna School District, in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin.

"This is a disaster," said Mark Miller, the Wisconsin Senate Democratic leader, in February after Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed a budget bill that would curtail the collective bargaining powers of some public employees. Miller predicted catastrophe if the bill were to become law -- a charge repeated thousands of times by his fellow Democrats, union officials, and protesters in the streets.

Now the bill is law, and we have some very early evidence of how it is working. And for one beleaguered Wisconsin school district, it's a godsend, not a disaster.

The Kaukauna School District, in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin near Appleton, has about 4,200 students and about 400 employees. It has struggled in recent times and this year faced a deficit of $400,000. But after the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, school officials put in place new policies they estimate will turn that $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. And it's all because of the very provisions that union leaders predicted would be disastrous.

In the past, teachers and other staff at Kaukauna were required to pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance coverage and none of their pension costs. Now, they'll pay 12.6 percent of the cost of their coverage (still well below rates in much of the private sector) and also contribute 5.8 percent of salary to their pensions. The changes will save the school board an estimated $1.2 million this year, according to board President Todd Arnoldussen.

Of course, Wisconsin unions had offered to make benefit concessions during the budget fight. Wouldn't Kaukauna's money problems have been solved if Walker had just accepted those concessions and not demanded cutbacks in collective bargaining powers?

"The monetary part of it is not the entire issue," says Arnoldussen, a political independent who won a spot on the board in a nonpartisan election. Indeed, some of the most important improvements in Kaukauna's outlook are because of the new limits on collective bargaining.

In the past, Kaukauna's agreement with the teachers union required the school district to purchase health insurance coverage from something called WEA Trust -- a company created by the Wisconsin teachers union. "It was in the collective bargaining agreement that we could only negotiate with them," says Arnoldussen. "Well, you know what happens when you can only negotiate with one vendor." This year, WEA Trust told Kaukauna that it would face a significant increase in premiums.

Now, the collective bargaining agreement is gone, and the school district is free to shop around for coverage. And all of a sudden, WEA Trust has changed its position. "With these changes, the schools could go out for bids, and lo and behold, WEA Trust said, 'We can match the lowest bid,'" says Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke, who represents the area and supports the Walker changes. At least for the moment, Kaukauna is staying with WEA Trust, but saving substantial amounts of money.

Then there are work rules. "In the collective bargaining agreement, high school teachers only had to teach five periods a day, out of seven," says Arnoldussen. "Now, they're going to teach six." In addition, the collective bargaining agreement specified that teachers had to be in the school 37 1/2 hours a week. Now, it will be 40 hours.

The changes mean Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes -- from 31 students to 26 students in high school and from 26 students to 23 students in elementary school. In addition, there will be more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students. Those changes would not have been possible without the much-maligned changes in collective bargaining.

Teachers' salaries will stay "relatively the same," Arnoldussen says, except for higher pension and health care payments. (The top salary is around $80,000 per year, with about $35,000 in additional benefits, for 184 days of work per year -- summers off.) Finally, the money saved will be used to hire a few more teachers and institute merit pay.

It is impossible to overstate how bitter and ugly the Wisconsin fight has been, and that bitterness and ugliness continues to this day with efforts to recall senators and an unseemly battle inside the state Supreme Court. But the new law is now a reality, and Gov. Walker recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the measure will gain acceptance "with every day, week and month that goes by that the world doesn't fall apart."

In the Kaukauna schools, the world is not only not falling apart -- it's getting better.


North Carolina Becomes 12th U.S. State to Enact School Choice in 2011

Bill becomes law without governor’s signature

Today House Bill 344 — Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities — became the law of North Carolina. The measure previously passed the state House of Representatives by a 95-20 vote, and passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 44-5.

65 percent of the state Democrat caucus supported the bill to provide more educational opportunities for parents of children with special needs.

“Families across the state of North Carolina will now have the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their individual children, thanks to Rep. Paul Stam and Darrell Allison, President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Their leadership made this law possible, ” said Robert C. Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “We also commend the North Carolina legislators — from both sides of the aisle — who stood up for the state’s children by creating this program.”

Under the law, North Carolina parents of students with special needs will be able to claim an independent tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services. Specifically, those families can receive a non-refundable tax credit worth up to $6,000 annually.

It is estimated nearly 200,000 K-12 students in North Carolina public schools are receiving special education and other related services this school year. An analysis by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina found the tax credits could save taxpayers up to $10 million within the next five years.

“This is the year of educational options,” said Enlow. “North Carolina has now joined the growing number of states providing greater educational options to parents of children with special needs.”


Monday, July 04, 2011

Handwriting obsolete?

Starting this fall, the Indiana Department of Education will no longer require Indiana’s public schools to teach cursive writing.

State officials sent school leaders a memo April 25 telling them that instead of cursive writing, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use. The memo says schools may continue to teach cursive as a local standard, or they may decide to stop teaching cursive altogether.

Greene County resident and parent Ericka Hostetter has mixed feelings about the teaching of cursive. She has three children, and two will be in public schools next fall. “I’m right in the middle,” she said, noting that she learned about it on Facebook. “I don’t use cursive much. I use keyboard. I use my phone, so even for my generation, I think we use the keyboard more.”

Hostetter is concerned about signatures. “I think we all need to know how to sign our names in cursive,” she said during a visit to Terre Haute Friday. Also, children will still need to be able to read cursive written by others.

“I’m really not on one end or the other,” Hostetter said. “I see the points of both sides, but to tell you the truth, I probably lean more toward the keyboard.”

In the Vigo County School Corp., handwriting is currently part of the elementary curriculum in grades 1, 2, and 3, with cursive handwriting being taught in third grade, said Karen Goeller, deputy superintendent. “We consider our students’ needs, and right now, we do see a benefit in teaching cursive as part of our curriculum,” she said.

Currently, the SAT test and Advanced Placement exams call for handwritten essays, she said. “Speed and legibility are keys to success.”

Also, research has shown that handwriting does make a difference in the perception of a student’s knowledge and ideas. Legible handwriting may improve a student test score, while messy handwriting may detract from the writer’s ideas, she said. She noted that some employers consider cursive handwriting as important in day-to- day work.

Handwriting and reading textbook adoption will be reviewed again in 2013 by a districtwide committee. “In terms of handwriting, we will consider future student needs like college and employer expectations in writing,” Goeller said.

Keyboarding also is taught in the elementary grades through a software program available in school computer labs. More advanced keyboarding, word processing and application experiences take place at the middle and high school levels, she said. “We feel it’s important students have a healthy mix of handwriting and keyboarding skills,” Goeller said.

Susan Newton, VCSC language arts curriculum coordinator, said the state is moving from Indiana Academic Standards, which includes cursive writing in third grade, to national Common Core standards, which do not include cursive writing at all.

Most states have adopted the Common Core standards, which aim to create consistent national benchmarks for all students, regardless of their home state.


Civil rights survey: 3,000 US high schools don't have math beyond Algebra I

But is there any demand for that? Kids struggling to read are unlikely to opt for advanced math

The latest Civil Rights Data Collection shows, as never before, the education inequities that hold various groups of students back.

To better diagnose achievement gaps and help education leaders tailor solutions, federal civil rights officials on Thursday released an expanded, searchable set of information – drawn from schools in more than 7,000 districts and representing at least three-quarters of American students.

The survey’s data show, as never before, the education inequities that hold various groups of students back.

For example, in 3,000 high schools, math classes don’t go higher than Algebra I, and in 7,300 schools, students had no access to calculus. Schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers as are schools serving mostly whites in the same district.

“Transparency is the path to reform, and it’s only through shining a bright spotlight on where opportunity gaps exist that we can really make headway on closing the achievement gap,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“These data paint a portrait of a sad truth in America’s schools,” she said, “that the promise of fundamental fairness hasn’t reached whole groups of students that will need the opportunity to succeed, to get out of poverty, to ensure their dreams come true, and indeed to ensure our country’s prosperity.”

Nearly all states have signed on for new “Common Core” standards, designed to ensure that students complete high school ready for college or a career. But education reformers say school districts have a long way to go to help all students achieve those standards. And this data highlight such gaps.

“To know that there are large numbers of schools, particularly schools that primarily serve students of color, that do not even offer higher-level classes that would lead to college and career readiness, that’s a significant finding and something that districts need to address,” says Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, which promotes high school improvements.

The data can show inequities between nearby districts, as well as inequities within districts.

In Boston, for instance, where nearly 80 percent of students are black or Hispanic, 13 percent of teachers are in their first or second year of teaching. In the nearby suburb of Wellesley, Mass., where 81 percent of students are white, 4 percent of teachers are new to the field.

About 1 out of 5 white students in Boston is enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement (college-level) course, compared with 1 out of 12 for both African-Americans and Hispanics. Wellesley has racial disparities as well. There, nearly 1 out of 4 white students are in AP. For Hispanics, it’s 1 out of 6. Black students are 4 percent of the Wellesley district, but not a single black student is in an AP class, according to 2009 data.

In Los Angeles, students and community groups pushed for the district to make a college-prep curriculum available and mandatory for all students, because too many students were languishing in old-fashioned cosmetology courses. They persuaded the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) to do so in 2005, but progress in implementing the plan was slow.

By 2007, 66 percent of all the district’s courses were college-prep level, up from 62 percent in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported. But the percentage of students fulfilling entrance requirements for the public university system remained the same, at just over 47 percent.

“The kids that come from schools that don’t have AP courses have very little chance of competing” when it comes to college admissions at a place like the University of California, Los Angeles, says Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project based at that school.


Too few 'outstanding' schools are outstanding at teaching, warns British schools inspectorate

Schools are being given the top rankings by Ofsted inspectors for good management rather than the standard of teaching, claims the outgoing head of the watchdog.

The Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said that schools were getting "outstanding" status for performance in the staffroom rather than in the classroom.

In her final speech before stepping down, she said that there was now a need for a "real focus" on the development of front line teaching. She said: "Too many outstanding schools have teaching and learning that is good but not excellent. Excellence needs to be reflected in the staffroom and the classroom."

Mrs Gilbert's comments came as Ofsted figures show that of the secondaries graded in 2009/2010 just 30 per cent received the top rating for their teaching compared to 95 per cent which were given outstanding for leadership and management. The figures for all schools currently graded outstanding less than two-thirds received the highest mark for their performance in the classroom.

The chief inspector said there was a "real work to be done around the quality of teaching" and that it was "important to reassert the need for a real focus on observation of the front line."

Reported in the Times Educational Supplement, she said continuous professional development was key to improving teaching quality and she had a "real regret" that its importance was not spelt out in the current Ofsted inspection framework.

But her comments were condemned as "punitive" by one teaching leader. "There is no evidence that teachers are not doing a good job," said Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT. "Ofsted is part of the accountability regime which, under the current Government is bringing in a whole series of measures that are shifting the focus onto teachers and away from school leaders. "We have got a punitive model that is becoming even more punitive."

She admitted that after four-and-a-half years in the job, that inspections were more about judging value for money and delivering "readable" results. She called for ministers to allow the watchdog to inspect academy schools and to be given extra powers to look at financial stability, sustainability, and added value, especially as education was becoming ever more fragmented.

Mrs Gilbert also floated the idea that one day inspection could "become wholly commercial and contractual " with schools paying for the inspections. Ultimately she said schools "could enter into an agreement about being inspected and use that report as a part of their selling device (to parents)."

The Government is currently tightening entry conditions to the profession and has made high-quality teaching a key theme of their reforms, drawing on international research showing it is a prerequisite to improving education systems.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Affirmative Reaction: Texan Wins Scholarship Exclusively Offered to White Males

Storms expected?

There are thousands of different academic scholarships available for those in need coming from traditionally underrepresented demographics in higher education. But what about poor white males? Do they not deserve an opportunity to go to college if fiscally restrained? The Former Majority Association for Equality has awarded its second of five academic scholarships to Brendan Baird based off his demonstration of a high GPA, community service, sports ability, financial need, and the fact that he is a white man.

While the scholarship right now is just a $500 check, the Former Majority Association for Equality plans on expanding their scholarship fund to $25,000 to another 5,000 recipients who may need the money.

“Right now everybody else has their own specific scholarship: Minorities, left-handed people, people who like the color green,” said the group’s vice-president Marcus Carter, who is black. “I don’t feel the animosity of helping this group.”


Florida: Five Steps Forward for School Choice

Florida, already an education reform leader, took further steps this week to expand educational opportunity and provide more school choice for families.

Governor Rick Scott (R), who on Monday signed five bills to broaden educational opportunities for K–12 students, remarked: “Everything we can do to encourage more choice, we should be doing it.”

And Governor Scott is serious about expanding options. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Scott’s bills increase students’ options in a variety of ways, providing more choice between charter, public, virtual, and private schools.

Charter School Choice. High-performing charter schools will now be able to “increase their enrollment by adding additional grades or opening additional branches without the local school board’s approval.” Currently, there are more than 30,000 students on waiting lists for the top-performing Florida charter schools.

Public School Choice. Previously, students attending a failing public school—one which received an “F” grade for two of the four previous years—could transfer to a higher-performing public school. Now, if a student’s school receives a “D” or “F” grade in the previous year, he or she will be able to transfer to a higher-performing public school.

Virtual School Choice. The Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest online school, will now be able to offer courses for elementary school children, whereas courses were previously limited to middle and high school students.

Private School Choice. The new laws expand private school choice for special-needs students via the state’s McKay Scholarship program. The scholarships, currently limited to children “in the state’s exceptional-education program,” will now be open to students with “504 plans,” or students who have a disability but generally not one that requires the same level of intervention.

The legislation broadens private school choice for low-income students. Corporations that contribute to Florida’s Tax-Credit Scholarship Program—which allows businesses to receive a tax deduction for donations toward private school scholarships for low-income students—will now be able to receive a deduction for up to 100 percent (previously set at 75 percent) “of their state income tax liability.” Encouraging more corporations to participate means more scholarships for more students.

Since Florida implemented a series of education reforms more than 10 years ago to expand school choice, student scores have increased significantly, and the achievement gap between minority and white students is narrowing.

Today, many more states are putting policies similar to Florida’s into place to ensure that parents can choose the school that best meets their child’s needs. As the school choice tide continues to swell, more students and families around the nation will have the power to make the best choices for their children’s academic futures. Florida is once again leading the way, and students in the Sunshine State are the beneficiaries.


British Health and Safety fears are 'taking the joy out of playtime'

Misguided "jobsworths" have turned playgrounds into joyless no-go zones and risk harming children’s education for fear of being sued, the chairman of the Health and Safety Executive has warned.

Bureaucrats were using health and safety rules as a “feeble” excuse to stop people enjoying themselves, Judith Hackitt told The Daily Telegraph. “Cynical” authorities employed them as cover for cost-cutting, she added.

“The creeping culture of risk-aversion and fear of litigation also puts at risk our children’s education and preparation for adult life,” she said. “Children today are denied – often on spurious health and safety grounds – many of the formative experiences that shaped my generation. “Playgrounds have become joyless, for fear of a few cuts and bruises. Science in the classroom is becoming sterile and uninspiring.”

Miss Hackitt said the “gloves are off” and her organisation would target officials or employers who wrongly used health and safety to stop everyday activities. “In many cases, the people behind these unreasonable rulings are well-meaning but misguided jobsworths. They may have the public interest at heart but they simply make the wrong call,” she said.

“But a trend of far more concern to me is the use of health and safety as a convenient excuse by employers and other organisations cynically looking for a way to disguise their real motives.” These included concerns over the cost or complexity of an activity, requirements for insurance, and, “most of all”, a fear of being sued for personal injury.

That had nothing to do with health and safety law and but related to the rise of no-win, no-fee claims, she added.

A litany of what she called “daft decisions” in recent years has included ordering children to wear goggles to play conkers, banning running at a pancake race and stopping firefighters using the station pole.

Miss Hackitt’s intervention came as Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, told teachers yesterday not to cancel school trips because of “misguided” concerns. The Department for Education cut its guidance on health and safety for schools from 150 pages to eight.

Miss Hackitt spoke to the Telegraph after publicly criticising Wimbledon authorities for closing Murray Mount, where fans watch on a big screen, because of fears that people would slip.

She said: “Health and safety has surely become one of the most well-worn and dispiriting phrases in the English language. From news reports to TV dramas, it has become convenient shorthand for someone, somewhere, stopping someone from doing something they want to. “Our message to bureaucrats who perpetuate these myths is clear. Own your own decisions. “Don’t use health and safety law as a convenient scapegoat or we will challenge you.”