Friday, July 27, 2012

Moral formation and the school choice movement

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum summed up the problem with public schooling in America when he repeatedly called it an “outdated factory model.” Part of Santorum’s purpose was to draw greater attention to the simple fact that parents bear the primary responsibility for the education of their children.

Mississippi State Senator Michael Watson, an advocate for school choice, notes that when it comes to education, “Government does not take responsibility without taking power.” Over time, the government has superseded the parental role in education. The effects are disastrous, not just for education but for moral formation too.

The battle for meaningful reform in public education has been a long and protracted one spanning decades, but states, not the federal government, are turning the tide.

In 2011 at least a half dozen states enacted school choice reforms. In Louisiana, over half of public school students will now be eligible for vouchers. The school choice movement has been steadily making inroads because parents are demanding options and greater control over the moral formation and education of their children. The groundswell of support for reform has come from families and not elected officials or the political class.

Reformers have argued that greater choice -- meaning open enrollment in public school districts -- vouchers, and charter schools, will provide competition for students, thus improving the quality of education. Virtually every study that has tested that theory has backed up the claim that schools that compete for students and tax dollars improve.

There has been a substantial shift away from the thinking that only substantial spending increases in the status quo public education model will improve education. Jay Greene in Education Myths cuts to the heart of the issue, “If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved . . . . We’ve doubled the per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet the schools aren’t better.”

U.S. courts have also ruled in favor of voucher and school choice initiatives. Some opponents have tried to argue that tax credits allowing for school choice violate the First Amendment, which protects religious freedom. However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of religious liberty, as parents, not government, end up endorsing the religious schools of their choosing.

Education, moral formation, and religious expression are in need of greater space from government instead of further secularized encroachment. It is not the government’s role to inhibit the free exercise of faith; rather it has a duty to encourage and uphold it.

Separation of school and state provides greater educational opportunities for an increasing complex global economy. The “factory model” has not adequately educated millions of public school students. Walter Russell Mead commented on the factory model of education: “Don’t we want to teach our children to do something smarter than move in large groups by the clock and the bell, follow directions and always color between the lines?”

Defenders of educational reform and school choice know there are still miles to go given the entrenched opposition from the National Education Association (NEA) and other powerful special interests committed to doubling down on reform-blocking campaigns.

Politicians and elected officials like to talk about equity and fairness, but millions of students with socio-economic disadvantages are denied fairness of opportunity when it comes to education. This is true simply because of the neighborhoods and school districts where they live. It is no wonder that school choice is often referred to as the “civil rights issue of our time.” However, it is also an important religious issue. Educational reform allows for parents to play a greater role in their child’s education, but it will also help strengthen the moral formation of a society in disarray.


Obama quietly implements Common Core

New standards for math and English called Common Core are poised to hit public schools across the nation. Some schools will begin implementing them as early as this fall, before parents have any inkling what has happened to their children’s classroom instruction.

Parents will not know how or why the nationally prescribed curriculum came about or how to change it if they don’t like it.

That undoubtedly sounds similar to the famous assertion of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Congress would have to pass the Affordable Care Act for people to know what’s in it. The nationalized Common Core for education is like Obamacare in ripping control over critical, life-altering decisions from those most affected.

Achieve, a band of like-minded corporate moguls that formed in 1996 to push national education standards, had to report rather sheepishly last month that its own poll showed Americans are almost totally in the dark about the Common Core juggernaut.

A remarkable 79 percent of registered voters know “nothing” or “not much” about what Achieve calls the Common Core State Standards. Another 14 percent said they knew “some,” and just 7 percent claimed to know “a lot.”

None of that is surprising: Those standards for teaching English and mathematics were put together behind closed doors starting in 2009 by “experts” assembled by resident bureaucrats of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

In 2010, even before a final draft had been made public, the Obama administration began pressuring states to commit to the Common Core in order to be eligible for a slice of the $4.5 billion Race to the Top fund carved out of the federal stimulus.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Education made adoption of such “college- and career-ready standards” one of its many conditions for granting states No Child Left Behind waivers.

Thus, any pretense of these being voluntary “state standards” went out the window long ago — all the more so because the Common Core now is linked to mandatory national tests that are being paid for by another $350 million in Obama stimulus bucks.

Achieve had a headache remedy handy for the embarrassing lack of public knowledge revealed by its own pollsters: Write a glowing description of the Common Core and then ask folks again what they thought. After reading it, 77 percent of respondents said they supported implementation of the Common Core, a finding Achieve then touted. This was the description the pollster spoon-fed them: “These new standards have been set to internationally competitive levels in English and math. This means that students may be more challenged by the material they study, and the tests they take will measure more advanced concepts and require students to show their work.”

That’s a classic example of a pollster manipulating questions to obtain a result desired by an advocacy group. Remember, the description was for folks who confessed to knowing basically nothing about the Common Core.

Suppose respondents had before them instead the following description:

“Your local schools are about to start implementing standards and assessments developed by Washington-based interest groups and pushed by the federal government. These standards, known as the Common Core, have never been field-tested, and your local school board has been unable to put them to a public hearing or vote.

“The national standards provide no process for states or localities to amend them. They will require students to take four federally subsidized tests a year, all of them via computer, and the results will be a factor in evaluating local teachers.”

Given that factual statement, it is doubtful the desire to push forward with immediate implementation would have reached 25 percent.
Would parents really trust behind-the-scenes forces to have total sway over their children’s education if they knew they would be powerless to monitor the content of lessons or the online testing?

Forty-six states are on board with the Common Core. Only Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have chosen to stick completely to their own standards and thereby safeguard the rights of their citizens. In the compliant 46, local school systems are dutifully beginning the process of retraining their teachers to conform to the centralized system.

When 90 percent of parents, taxpayers and voters learn what is going on, perhaps the “repeal and replace” battle cry won’t refer only to Obamacare.


NINETY British primary pupils sent home every day for attacks in class: Shocking figures reveal rising school violence

A Rising tide of violent indiscipline in primary schools was laid bare yesterday.  Official figures revealed that 90 children are sent home every day for attacking teachers or classmates.

And the worst deterioration in behaviour is being seen in the most affluent parts of the country. Teachers blamed parents for failing to equip children with the social skills they need to cope in the classroom.

Last year primary schools expelled nearly 300 pupils aged 11 and under for violence and handed out almost 17,000 suspensions. This means that on any given school day in 2010/11, 90 pupils were ordered out of school for attacking a member of staff or fellow pupil.

Primaries were forced to bar pupils more than 10,000 times for persistent disruption in lessons and 6,390 times for verbal abuse.

Hundreds more pupils were sent home for other serious breaches of school rules such as bullying, racist abuse, sexual misconduct, theft, drugs or alcohol offences and damage to property.

Figures issued by the Department for Education shows that while the number of secondary pupils being suspended or expelled is falling, there is a worsening picture at primary level – especially in the most affluent parts of the country.

The number of suspensions has increased most sharply in the country’s wealthiest areas.

The trend follows claims from teachers that spoilt middle-class children are just as likely to challenge authority at school.

Earlier this year, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘A minority of children are very aware of their rights, have a total disregard of school rules and are rather less aware of their responsibility for their own learning and how to show respect to staff and other students.

‘This can apply as much to over-indulged middle class children as those from challenging families.’

The latest data emerged days after a psychologist warned that parents who are afraid to discipline their children are creating an unruly generation. Dr Tanya Byron, who featured in BBC TV’s The House of Tiny Tearaways, described the rise of the ‘friend-parent’ who tries to be the child’s equal rather than an authority figure.

Teachers’ leaders said yesterday that a lack of parental support was to blame for discipline problems.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said a recent survey had shown that two-thirds of teachers highlighted poor support from parents.  ‘Sending children to school on time, with basic equipment and clear expectations of how they are expected to behave is a critical part of the job of all parents,’ she said.

‘Parents must understand that their responsibility for their child’s behaviour does not end at the school gate.’

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘Some children are arriving unprepared for what it means to be in a large group of people.’

The figures show that boys are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than girls.  The average suspension was for 2.4 days but 2,900 lasted more than two weeks.

The fall in numbers being barred from lessons in secondary schools is partly due to schools’ increasing use of unofficial exclusions – or ‘managed moves’ – which transfer disruptive pupils to other secondaries.

Primary pupils perpetrate more assaults on teachers than secondary. Some 42 primary pupils are sent home every day for assaults on teachers, compared with 32 secondary pupils.

The Department for Education said the figures justified Coalition moves to strengthen teachers’ powers to keep order in the classroom.


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