Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Arkansas House panel rejects school choice bill

An Arkansas House committee on Thursday rejected a proposed rewrite of the state's school choice law, as lawmakers debated whether to delay changing the law until a federal appeals court rules on its constitutionality.

The plan, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton, would have allowed students to transfer out of their geographically determined districts under a variety of circumstances, such as when a student performs poorly on state exams or when the transfer would promote racial integration.

Lawmakers have been grappling with how to respond to a federal court ruling last year that struck down the state's school choice law as unconstitutional.

The existing school choice law, adopted in 1989, aimed to prevent "white flight" by barring most transfers where a student wanted to switch into a district where a higher percentage of students were of his or her race. But the federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional in using race as the sole factor to determine whether a student could transfer schools.

The state's appeal of the case is pending before the Eighth Circuit, which heard arguments in January.

At the House Education Committee hearing Thursday, a representative from the Attorney General's office and the association of school administrators urged lawmakers to wait for guidance from the appeals court before moving ahead with the school choice proposals.

"We would like to get the Eighth Circuit decision in because we feel like it will address a lot of the questions that come up in this difficult area," said Assistant Attorney General Scott Richardson. "It's very difficult to determine what the state's obligations are going forward."

Hammer said after the vote that he thought lawmakers on the panel had opted for a "wait and see" approach in rejecting his proposal.

Lawmakers are also considering two other bills that would rewrite the school choice law.

The author of one of those proposals, Sen. Johnny Key, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the rejection of Hammer's proposal and concerns about changing the law while the case is pending won't change his plans to move forward with his bill. He said he planned to ask for a vote next week before the Senate panel on his school choice bill, which would remove the racial component.

Opponents of Key's proposal said that if lawmakers eliminate race as a factor in school transfers, they will end up with segregated school districts. Arkansas has a history of struggling with desegregation issues.

A competing proposal by Sen. Joyce Elliot, D-Little Rock, would allow individual school districts to exempt themselves from the school choice program if they thought it would be harmful to their district. The Senate Education committee has debated Elliot's bill but it has yet to vote on the proposal.


Oregon professor fired for bizarre tirade, allegedly threatening student protesters

A law teacher with the University of Oregon got a life lesson from the school of hard knocks when he was fired from his position after he got irate with student protesters, seen in an eyewitness video eventually shoving one protester and snatching the phone of another.

James L. Olmstead, an adjunct law professor, was arrested on theft and physical harassment charges after he confronted students from a pro-immigration organization during a campus rally last Thursday and at first seemed to agree with the activists before the public discussion took a sudden bizarre turn.

Olmstead, who also is a land-use and conservancy attorney, started to reject the protestors' peaceful protesting techniques in an exchange that was captured on video and went viral over the weekend on YouTube.

“Start a f---ing war. ... Stop being p---ies,” he starts shouting at the crowd of students. “Start a war, get a gun, shoot me first. I’m right here.”

"This is an aggressive tone. I'm feeling a little threatened right now," one student can be heard saying on the video as Olmstead rips off his jacket and throws it to the ground, appearing to gear up for a physical altercation.

The professor then becomes more irate when one student approaches him in an attempt to calm him down.

Olmstead is seen in the video shoving the student and starting to threaten the group, urging them to “do something” if they wanted him removed. He then grabs the phone of a student who had been using it to film his awkward behavior and puts it in his back pocket.

With the phone still recording, Olmstead can be heard continuing his tirade, shouting, “Do something.”

He continues by stating that the campus grounds are his public property and posing questions to the protestors.

"Do I have freedom to speak to? Can I yell?" Olmstead said. "I'm part of your performance. You need a protagonist."

Olmstead was arrested after his outburst and later removed from his teaching position, and he received a letter from university officials stating that he was banned from campus.

“His teaching responsibilities have been reassigned to other professors on staff,” Julie Brown, director of communications for the University of Oregon, told

Olmsted did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"If a liberal professor attacks like-minded students in this way, I can only imagine how he would have treated students of an opposing viewpoint." Josiah Ryan of advocacy group Campus Reform said in a statement to


I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools: Education Secretary berates 'the new enemies of promise' for opposing his plans

By Michael Gove

Exactly 75 years ago the great English writer and thinker, Cyril Connolly, published his most famous book –  The Enemies Of Promise. Connolly’s work explores the ways in which the talented individuals of his time were prevented from achieving their full potential.

It’s time someone produced an update. Because there are millions of talented young people  being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies Of Promise.

The new Enemies Of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.

Our education system should give all children the tools they need – mastery of English,  fluency in arithmetic, the ability to reason scientifically, a knowledge of these islands and their history – to take their place as confident, modern citizens.

There are many brilliant schools – a growing number – which do just that. Their students earn the qualifications which allow them to choose where they will go on to work, or study.

And they acquire the stock of knowledge required to take their place in a modern democracy  – how to communicate in formal settings, appreciate the arguments in newspapers’ leading articles and understand the  context behind big political decisions.

But, tragically, there are all too many children who still don’t leave school with these basic accomplishments. Businesses report that school-leavers lack basic literacy and numeracy.

Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a  fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes  was real.

Expectations in science have been so dumbed down that children could be asked if grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages in their GCSEs. And the greatest tragedy is that poor educational performance is concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities – places like Knowsley in Merseyside, Hull and East Durham. Because of my own background, I am determined to do everything I can to help the poorest children in our country transcend theirs.

But who is responsible for this failure? Who are the guilty men  and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need? Who are the modern Enemies Of Promise?

Well, helpfully, 100 of them put their name to a letter to The Independent newspaper this week.

They are all academics who have helped run the university departments of education responsible for developing curricula and teacher training courses.

You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves  to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence.

They attacked the Coalition for our indefensibly reactionary drive to get more children to spell properly, use a wider vocabulary and learn their times tables. Expecting 11-year-olds  to write grammatical sentences and use fractions in sums is apparently asking for ‘too much too young’ and will ‘severely erode educational standards’.

How can it erode educational standards to ask that, in their  11 years in school, children be given the opportunity to use the English language in all its range and beauty to communicate their thoughts and feelings with grace and precision? What planet are these people on?

A Red Planet, if their published work is anything to go by. One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’.

It is no surprise that two signatories co-authored a paper proclaiming ‘Marxism is as relevant as ever’. It certainly seems to be if you want a position in a university department of education.

School reformers in the past often complained about what was called The Blob – the network of educational gurus in and around our universities who praised each others’ research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory.

Some wonder if past reformers were exaggerating the problem in university education departments. Thanks to the not-so-Independent 100 we can see that, if anything, they were underplaying the problem.

In the past The Blob tended to operate by stealth, using its influence to control the quangos and committees which shaped policy. But The Blob has broken cover in the letters pages of the broadsheets because this Government is taking it on.

We have abolished the quangos they controlled. We have given  a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government. We are moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools. And we are reforming our curriculum and exams to restore the rigour they abandoned.

GCSEs and A-levels had been systematically devalued. We have acted. GCSEs and A-levels will again be taken after two years’ study, instead of broken into ‘modules’, and will stretch children with the challenges they need, such as extended essay-writing and more problem- solving in maths and sciences.

We believe children will  flourish if we challenge them, but The Blob, in thrall to Sixties ideologies, wants to continue the devaluation of the exam system.

These reforms have the support of the growing number of great heads and outstanding teachers who want children to succeed. More and more schools are now being rated good and outstanding. But there are still a tiny minority of teachers who see themselves as part of The Blob and have enlisted as  Enemies Of Promise.
They are the ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes. They oppose our plans to pay good teachers more because they resent the recognition of excellence and they hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards.

Previous school reformers have been stymied by these  Enemies Of Promise before. Just last week Tony Blair was lamenting the fact teaching unions ‘have stood out against necessary educational change’ and arguing for the policies this Government is pursuing.

Indeed, across the world those politicians who want to help children from poor backgrounds get on are fighting the Enemies Of Promise. Last week I was talking to the Democrat Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, about his battle with the teaching unions.

That’s why it’s such a pity that, this week, Labour’s education spokesman Stephen Twigg chose to side with the Marxists and failed to condemn the unions who want to close successful schools.

The fight against the Enemies Of Promise is a fight for our children’s future. It’s a fight against ideology, ignorance and poverty of aspiration, a struggle to make opportunity more equal for all our children.

It’s a battle in which you have to take sides. Now that Labour seem to be siding with the militants, it’s even more important that we support the great  teachers and heads fighting for higher standards for the sake of our children.


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