Tuesday, May 01, 2012

TN: “Gateway sexual activity” bill heads to governor

Legislation banning teachers from promoting or condoning “gateway sexual activity” is headed to the governor’s desk after approval by the state House of Representatives on Friday.

The bill, which passed the full Senate earlier this month, would require all state sexual education classes to “exclusively and emphatically” promote abstinence while banning teachers from promoting any form of “gateway sexual activity.” The latter term, which has garnered national media attention and been lampooned by comedian Stephen Colbert, is not specifically defined in the bill.

The vote was 68-23, with all but one Republican for it.

Democrats who opposed it said sufficient provisions were already in place in the curriculum and cited a 2007 federal study that said abstinence-only education was not effective in reducing teen pregnancies. Other dissenters said the bill’s definitions of gateway sexual activity are too vague and could force teachers to define when students hold hands or kiss under threat of lawsuits from parents.

“It seems like a totally new requirement for teachers and it’s a totally new way that teachers can now be subject to discipline,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Hermitage, said the legislation he sponsored clearly defines abstinence and takes a harder line supporting its role than the current curriculum both sides said doesn’t work.

“We need to change what we’re doing, and we need to go in a different direction on this, and I feel this bill is a big step forward,” Gotto said.


WKU Art Prof. Actually Defends ‘Vandalism’ of Pro-Life Cross Display With Condoms as ‘Learning’

There’s a battle brewing at Western Kentucky University between a pro-life group, an art professor and at least one student. Hilltopper’s For Life, a student-led anti-abortion group, is claiming that pupils desecrated and vandalized a pro-life display by putting hundreds of condoms on top of some of the crosses that comprised it.

The display, which had been approved by the university, is now the center of intense debate. A member of Hilltoppers apparently caught Elaina Smith, the offending student, as she and another individual were putting the condoms on top of many of the exhibition’s 3,700 crosses. According to sources within the pro-life group, the student claimed that her actions were part of an art project for her class. When Smith refused to stop desecrating the display, campus police were called.

Here’s where the situation gets interesting. Authorities refused to stop Smith and allegedly said that her actions were permitted by the First Amendment. Even more bizarre is the response that came from art Professor Kristina Arnold. In a statement that was released, she did anything but take a stand against Smith and her actions.
“Learning and debating are not always pretty or polite processes. Critical engagement with ideas can get messy,” she wrote. “If we are asked to introduce our students to all the tools of debate and engagement, they will use these tools. The use and discovery of tools, and the use and discovery of voice is exactly what is occurring on our campus, on both sides of this current discussion.”

Smith, too, is doubling down and defending herself. In an e-mail message that was sent to the pro-life group Students for Life earlier this week, Smith apparently defended her actions:
    During the week of April 16th, the Hilltoppers for Life’s pro-life display remained un-interrupted. The student body tolerated this intrusion without major incident. The voice of the pro-life community was heard. On the last day of this event, I attempted to add to the visual dialogue with my own voice and was met with strong resistance. I take this subject very seriously, and had hoped to remind people of the effectiveness of condoms and other forms of contraception in preventing unwanted pregnancies. I do not ask that everyone agree with my point of view or the way in which I tried to express it. However, I stand by my actions. I do not believe that I impeded anyone else’s freedom of expression. I did not break any laws. I did not damage any property. I voluntarily removed the condoms even though I was not required to do so. At the time, I thought that the matter had ended there. I do not feel that I should apologize for attempting to exercise the freedoms that we all are entitled to.

In the letter, Smith is clear about the fact that she doesn’t believe an apology is warranted. Yet, Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell released a contradictory statement this week claiming that an apology had been issued by the student (i.e. Smith).
“No member of our University family should impede another member of our family’s freedom of speech or creative effort, especially when it comes to exercising religious freedoms,” Ransdell’s statement read. “The offending student has apologized. This matter has been dealt with properly, decisively, and brought to a conclusion.”

But according to the e-mail that allegedly came from Smith, she feels no need to apologize. Naturally, Hilltopper’s For Life is flabbergasted that the situation has unfolded as such. With the professor purportedly defending Smith and with the university seemingly attempting to put a stop to the rhetoric surrounding the situation, the group is standing up for its rights. Starnes has more:
    The Hilltoppers For Life are now represented by the Alliance Defense Fund. They’ve sent a letter to the university demanding answers and an official apology.

    “It appears that several WKU officials knew this vandalism would occur, did nothing to stop it, and allowed it to continue,” wrote attorney Travis Barham. “Our clients were exercising their First Amendment rights, and it is the duty of WKU officials to protect those freedoms, not passively allow them to be violated.”

    The Alliance Defense Fund sent a list of eight demands to the university. In addition to a public apology, they also want to know who purchased and supplied Smith with 3,700 condoms. They also want assurances that the student will be punished for her act of vandalism.

With the school claiming that the situation has been put to rest, but will Hilltoppers still pushing for resolution, it’s likely further discussion will be taking place in the coming days.


Final High School exam  overhaul to halt Britain's "rampant grade inflation"

Sweeping reforms to the “gold standard” A-level exams have been signalled by the head of the exam watchdog.  Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, said that after more than a decade of “persistent grade inflation” in exams, which was “impossible to justify”, the value of A-levels and GCSEs have been undermined.

To restore public confidence, wholesale changes were needed to the structure of exams and the culture within exam boards, she warned.

It is the regulator’s first admission that the continuous rise in results has been fuelled in part by the cumulative effect of examiners giving students the “benefit of the doubt”.

The chief sounded the death knell for the two-part A-level, introduced 12 years ago and about to be taken by thousands of sixth formers in this summer’s exam season which starts next month. Her comments herald the scrapping of the AS level, taken in lower sixth, and a return to the traditional A-level where pupils take exams at the end of the course.

* Current A-levels, made up of modules examined at intervals, were not working and needed to be changed

* Resits were robbing schools of teaching time

* Good quality multiple choice questions should form a part of some A-level subjects to ensure more of what pupils are taught in lessons is examined

* England needed to learn lessons from high performing countries where maths and English are compulsory to age 18

The Government is carrying out a fundamental review of the national curriculum and the examination system after fears that endemic “dumbing down” has created a generation of students who struggle to cope with degree level work.

Until now Ms Stacey, who was appointed by Michael Gove last year, has avoided the term “grade inflation”, criticising it as “unhelpful and negative”. She said last year that rising results may be explained by “young people being taught well and working hard.”

But the regulator head admitted that “containing” grade inflation in this year’s A-levels and GCSEs, by ensuring exam boards set “justifiable” grade boundaries, was a major focus. Her remarks pile pressure on the beleagured boards to rein-in examiners to avoid any hikes in results this August.

“If you look at the history, we have seen persistent grade inflation for these key qualifications for at least a decade,” she said. “The grade inflation we have seen is virtually impossible to justify and it has done more than anything, in my view, to undermine confidence in the value of those qualifications.

“One of the reasons why we see grade inflation, and it is a laudable reason, is that a lot of the time there are very small gains just by giving the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt factor has an impact over time. We need to find ways to manage grade inflation.”

Experts say modular exams, introduced under Labour, fuel grade inflation because they are easier to pass and pupils are allowed numerous resits.

The chief executive revealed that Ofqual will consult over the summer on proposals to “move away from a modular approach” at A-level.  “We have found that there is a strong and persistent view from universities that the modular approach to A-levels is not achieving what it needs to, that the parts don’t add up to the whole,” Ms Stacey told the Sunday Telegraph.

She said teachers had also raised concerns about the structure of current A-levels.  “There are only so many school hours in a year. When time is spent preparing for modular exams, doing test papers, doing exams, doing resits, where is the time for teaching?” said Ms Stacey. “It is said to me sufficiently often that I am sitting up and taking notice. I think I am quite right to be concerned about it.

“It is not simply a question of 'well, let’s propose we get rid of the January exams’, you do need to have regard to the structure of the two-part A-level. The answer may well be different subject by subject."

Ms Stacey said that England needed to learn lessons from exam systems in high performing countries around the world.  An international report to be published by Ofqual next month will compare the English approach to countries such as Canada, China, the Netherlands, Finland, South Korea and New Zealand.

It will say that high quality multiple choice questions, project work, oral assessment and compulsory subjects all featured more strongly in overseas exam systems.

The findings will bolster the case for making maths and English mandatory in sixth form, which is likely to be part of the Government’s reforms.

“We are quite unusual in this country in that students here have a free choice about what they study,” said Ms Stacey. “That is not the approach internationally. We are concerned about whether A-levels are preparing students in the round and subject specifically for university study.”

Ms Stacey, was previously the chief executive of the now defunct Standards Board for England, a non-departmental body responsible for promoting high ethical standards in local democracy.


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