Friday, March 23, 2012

Georgia charter school decision could set national precedent‏

The Georgia Legislature is hotly debating a bill that would allow the state to cover the costs of charter schools even if local school boards reject them, setting up a case that could set national precedent on educational reform.

The legislation to amend the state constitution would allow the Peach State to create its own parallel K-12 system to local boards, drawing on the same limited pool of Georgia's taxpayer funds -- a decision that the Georgia Supreme Court said was illegal just one year ago.

"In the education reform battle often times things boil down to a turf battle, and that's what we have here. We have some local school systems that are worried that by virtue of having state charter schools that some of their turf is getting interfered. But it's about the children and the choice," said state Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta. "It's a control issue, and it always has been."

The amendment would codify the authority of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, an organization created by the state in 2008 after complaints that school boards were turning down charter school applicants, preventing competition. But the commission began approving and funding charter schools even at the objection of the local boards, illegal under current law. That's when the Georgia Supreme Court stepped in.

"The Georgia Constitution says local boards control where local dollars go, so if a charter school only gets state approval and not local approval, no way can they receive local funds. They can only receive state funds," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators or PAGE, which opposes the funding. "The people who are putting this constitutional amendment on the ballot are trying to do that in our Senate right now -- are really trying to do a run-around the Supreme Court ruling."

Critics say the move to create a state board will damage the public education system because the amendment would allow the state to siphon money from cash-strapped districts at a time when they're facing almost $1 billion in cuts.

"Our state is very strapped in terms of funding," Callahan said. "We have cut by over $2 billion the education budget over the past eight years or so, and we have a funding formula that dates back to 1985 (and) has not been updated for inflation."

Education spending accounts for almost half of the state's yearly budget but GOP leaders promise no money will be taken from school districts.

"This bill in no way touches any kind of local funding," Lindsey said. "In fact we put in to the Constitution a specific provision that guarantees there will be no local money used for these state charter schools. But keep in mind also that these schools that are in the more rural areas. It's a lot of these kids that need charter schools the most and it's the children in those areas we're most concerned about."

Lindsey said charter schools are a beneficial addition to the education world -- they build, not break down, community education.

"Charter schools are part of an overall tool in the tool box for education reform," Lindsey said. "It, along with the myriad of other programs, is extremely important in terms of giving parents and students a greater choice in what is the best education for a particular child and it encourages education achievement and success along the way. It creates innovation."

But Callahan said Georgia charter schools don't outperform public schools.

"Parents are hungry for the latest thing -- whatever may be the best for their children," he said. "And that's understandable, but we all need to step back a little bit and take a deep breath. The best research we've had on charter schools and its pretty comprehensive says that only 17 percent of charter schools actually do better than the public schools they replace."

The amendment is supported by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who has gotten involved in the push to get the legislation passed. Lindsey said he is confident the bill will pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support as it did in the Georgia House. "This is somewhere we can all find common ground," Lindsey said.

If it passes the Senate, the constitutional amendment would go on the ballot in November for voters to decide.


‘Johnny No Friends’: the new role model in British schools

Some UK schools are banning ‘best friends’ to spare children the heartbreak of falling out. Bad move

Will Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer soon be banned from school libraries in England? Not because it contains the word ‘nigger’, which has led it to be censored in some US schools, but because it contains a heinous example of young boys being best mates.

In some English schools, having best friends can now get you in serious trouble with teacher. At the weekend, it was reported that primary school children in certain areas are being discouraged from having best friends to avoid the ‘pain of falling out’. Gaynor Sbuttoni, an educational psychologist working with schools in south-west London, told The Sunday Times, ‘I have noticed that teachers tell children they shouldn’t have a best friend and that everyone should play together… They’re doing it because they want to save the child the pain of splitting up from their best friend.’ Sbuttoni is not the first to speak out against this trend in the UK, and ‘no best friend’ policies have been in place in some US schools for quite a while.

Reading the reports, it might seem like this is just a silly intervention by meddling teachers, which simply needs to be stamped out. But that underestimates what is going on in our schools. The teaching profession is being reformed as a therapeutic profession, often prioritising the delivery of therapy over education to ‘vulnerable’ children and young people. As this new therapeutic profession develops, more and more interventions like ‘no best friends’ will arise, either spontaneously in classrooms or as a result of conscious intervention by school heads, local authorities, government and, of course, Ofsted, which runs with every fad and fashion.

Meddling in young children’s emotional lives is the worst feature of contemporary schooling. Children are now trained to have ‘appropriate’ emotions through emotional literacy classes and so-called subjects like SEAL - the ‘Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning’. The training on offer in such sessions is nothing short of emotional manipulation. Children are taught to be moderate; empathy is good, anger is bad. They are taught to be emotionally dead, out of touch with all the emotions that make up human relationships, passion, anger, jealousy, hatred and even love, which is sentimentalised and sanitised. This is the anodyne therapeutic ethos that now dominates education at all levels.

The excuse given by advocates is that this is all done in the name of protecting children from harmful emotions and emotional relationships. Here’s an example that shows just how manipulative this concern with emotional literacy can be. A friend’s daughter told her that she didn’t like SEAL, but she understood that ‘some of the children in my class have problems with anger management’. She is nine years old and worryingly in danger of becoming an emotional police officer.

These emotional interventions are well meant, but their impact is a dysfunctional one. They create ‘can’t cope’ kids. In this way, teachers are in fact creating the situation that they fear - that kids won’t be able to cope with falling-out, not only with best friends at school but with other friends later in life and then perhaps with girl- or boyfriends. Keeping children together in emotionally safe packs where no one gets too close to anyone else is scary, like something from Brave New World.

Despite the negative effects, teachers adopting therapeutic approaches, expressing concern with emotional literacy, emotional intelligence and emotional wellbeing, will often find they are lauded by parents, schools and local authorities. Schools promoting such therapeutic initiatives can be rewarded with better funding and increased status. This may seem a cynical view, but there is an explanation for it. As teachers have given up their commitment to teaching the traditional subjects, all sorts of fads and fashions have filled the vacuum. The emotional meddling that many of these initiatives involve has an added advantage for teacher and pupils when there is nothing being taught or learnt. The assumption is that children are the best authorities on what they feel. No need to teach them anything!

In the past, children learned their emotional sensitivity and robustness not just from the playground and friends, but also from literature. Poetry, plays and novels teach a range of emotions and feelings that go far beyond the limited and often vulgar interactions of the playground. As their immersion in literature has diminished, children are instead taught lists of ‘appropriate’ feelings. What hope have they of experiencing the higher emotions, those once induced by art and literature?

Many of the best-friend models that we encounter in literature would be damned as ‘inappropriate’ today. Christopher Robin and Pooh; Tom Saywer, Jim and Huck Finn; Iago and Othello; Macbeth and his Lady - all of these relationships have qualities that make them eternal and yet ban-happy teachers would probably find them objectionable.

In the past, therapeutic interventions at school were often about helping Johnny or Sarah ‘No Mates’. These were sometimes effective, helping lonely and sad children to get a best friend. Now it seems that for some emotionally meddling teachers, Johnny and Sarah No Mates are becoming the ideal role models for all our children.


Australia: Victorian Government gives power to school principals

PRINCIPALS are being given greater power to run their own schools under measures to remove red tape.

Education Minister Martin Dixon has announced a series of measures he claims will cut bureaucratic interference and provide more support for schools that are struggling, in line with the recent Gonski review.

The State Government's reforms include handing responsibility for teacher professional development back to principals, as well as funding leadership arrangements.

Principals will also be in charge of the purse strings for services such as speech therapy, psychological services and behaviour therapy.

Mr Dixon said onerous reporting requirements would be abolished to free up principals' time, while new roles would be created to monitor underperforming schools and intervene where required.


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