Wednesday, March 20, 2013

CA: New state bill on transgender students in locker rooms

California public schools would be required to allow transgender students to use school facilities and participate in activities and on sports teams that match their gender identity under a bill introduced at the Capitol.

State law already prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure, AB1266, say some schools and school districts don't provide access to restrooms, locker rooms or sports teams that align with the identity of transgender students.

The bill would make it clear that the law requires that, they said.

"Transgender boys are boys, and transgender girls are girls, and this bill ensures they are treated as such," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, which is backing the bill introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Barring a transgender student from using a locker room that aligns with his or her gender identity can create barriers to achieving needed credits for graduating, backers said, and stopping a student from participating on a sports team diminishes involvement in school.

They said some students feel unsafe at school when they are required to use a restroom that doesn't match their gender identity. The proposed law includes the phrase that the access to programs, facilities and activities shall be granted "irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records."

Opponents say the proposal is extreme and could result in male and female students sharing locker rooms or showering together.

Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based organization that opposes many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights bills at the Capitol, said there is no legal requirement for how one determines a gender identity, and that leaves the school situation open for abuse.

"It is solely at the discretion of their opinion of themselves," she said. "We should not be mandating state law based on that."

Current law does not specify how schools should accommodate transgender students, and England said that's a good thing because it allows local districts to make their own determinations.

Several school districts already have policies that mandate the kinds of access specified in the bill, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Francisco Unified School District.

S.F.'s longtime policy

The San Francisco policy has been in place since the mid to early 1990s, and district officials know of about 150 current middle school students and 300 high school students who identify as transgender, said Kevin Gogin, the program manager in school health programs for the district. Those numbers come from a yearly survey the district gives to students and represent about 1.5 percent of those enrolled.

San Francisco Unified, Gogin said, is the only public school district in the country to survey whether students identify as transgender as part of a larger risk behavior questionnaire funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students must identify as a certain gender "exclusively and consistently" and officials work with them to ensure they have access to the same activities and facilities as other students of that gender, Gogin said.

He said there have been no problems with students claiming to be transgender when they are not, nor have there been complaints from parents.

"These are students who have a sense that their gender identity is not matching the sex they were born with," he said.

What kind of assistance a transgender student receives depends on the individual's needs, he said.

Elsewhere in California, transgender students have sought policies like the proposed state law.


Data mining kids crosses line

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on "non-cognitive" student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents' knowledge.

The feds want to use schools to catalogue "attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intrapersonal resources – independent of intellectual ability," according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

The report suggests researching how to measure and monitor these student attributes using "data mining" techniques and even functional magnetic resonance imaging, although it concedes "devices that measure EEG and skin conductance may not be practical for use in the classroom." It delightedly discusses experiments on how kids respond to computer tutors, using cameras to judge facial expressions, an electronic seat that judges posture, a pressure-sensitive computer mouse and a biometric wrap on kids' wrists.

And that's not all the feds want to know about your kids. The department is funding and mandating databases that could expand each kid's academic records into a comprehensive personal record including "health care history, disciplinary record, family income range, family voting status and religious affiliation," according to a 2012 Pioneer Institute report and the National Center for Educational Statistics. Under agreements every state signed to get 2009 stimulus funds, they must share students' academic data with the federal government.

As Utah blogger Christel Swasey has documented, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act used to protect highly personal psychological and biological information, including items mentioned above and, according to the DOE, "fingerprints; retina and iris patterns; voiceprints; DNA sequence; facial characteristics; and handwriting."

Under the DOE's 2011 FERPA reinterpretation, however, any local, state or federal agency may designate any individual or organization as an "educational representative" who can access such data as long as the agency says this access is necessary to study or evaluate a program. These can include school volunteers and private companies. A lawsuit against the regulations is pending.

Meanwhile, several agreements the DOE has signed with two organizations writing national Common Core tests insist the information these tests collect must be "student-level" – meaning these would not be anonymous records but instead tied to specific children.

Previous FERPA interpretations required data collectors to identify students by random numbers. No one knows what personal data the Common Core tests will collect, because those tests have yet to be written and released. But this information mother-lode has to come from somewhere. Since the tests are being written by private organizations, although entirely funded so far by the federal government, no one can do a public records request to find out.

In short, the government wants to collect a dossier on every child, containing highly personal information, without asking permission or even notifying parents. Officials believe "federal agencies should invest in programmatic portfolios of research" to monitor and influence student attitudes through schools, says the February DOE report.

The department recommends schools start tracking and teaching kids not just boring old knowledge but also "21st Century Competencies" – "recognizing bias in sources," "flexibility," "cultural awareness and competence," "appreciation for diversity," "collaboration, teamwork, cooperation," "empathy," "perspective taking, trust, service orientation," and "social influence with others." I'm really looking forward to seeing how psychologists profiling children for government reports interpret each of these characteristics.

Utah officials told Swasey no student may attend schools there without being tracked, even those in non-public schools. The personal data are currently being collected through the tests public schools are required to administer, but part of the agreement the states signed for stimulus money includes a requirement that schools collect data on students who are not tested.

All of this looks like another step in the federal government's push to compile an intimate, cradle-to-grave dossier on every American. What they might intend to do with all that information remains a rather disturbing question.


The unmentionable:  Social class and education

Social background is an overwhelming determinant of educational achievement in Australia as elsewhere. Rich people are smarter and so are their children.  So for pupils living in wealthy suburbs, the social contacts you make are the main benefit of a private education

Public and private schools on Sydney's north shore have continued to achieve almost uniform high results in NAPLAN testing, a trend believed to be one factor driving the enrolments surge in local public schools.

The income that Wenona School, an independent school on the north shore, receives per student is almost three times what is received by Lindfield Public School. Yet the NAPLAN results achieved by their students are roughly the same.

Steph Croft, from the Northern Sydney Regional Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, said the My School data, first published in 2010, was helping to drive the surge in enrolments in the area's public schools, which has seen the highest growth of any region in Sydney over the last five years.

"There's a group of people who are choosing schools off the My School website and moving houses to get into the area for certain schools," she said.

A snapshot by Fairfax Media of government and non-government schools in the north shore region shows high results were achieved regardless of school sector in the 2012 NAPLAN tests.

From the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, known as Shore, where fees tipped $25,000 in 2013, to the public Mosman High School and the Catholic systemic school Blessed Sacrament, children in most grades achieved test scores significantly above the national average in reading in both year 3 and year 5.

The principal of Lindfield Public School, Craig Oliver, said he was not at all surprised his students were performing on par with their private school peers.

"If I was a parent of a child I was considering enrolling in a high-fee private school and I was making my decision on the basis of NAPLAN results alone, I would be considering the public school option was a very attractive one," he said.

"In terms of funding, we don't attract anything like the levels of funding the private schools do but we certainly do make the best of what we do have."

He said many of the families at his school could afford a private school education but chose to stay in the public system.

The headmaster of Shore, Timothy Wright, said it was not surprising the whole area was performing well.

"It's a well-known fact in educational research that literacy and numeracy performance does broadly correlate with socio-economic status … because it correlates with such things as parent education and parent commitment to education," he said.

"Without having done a scientific poll, I'd be confident to say that most of the students in my school have parents both of whom went to university."

He said schools in the area also tended to retain good teachers.

"Our staff turnover would be 3 [per cent] to 5 per cent in a typical year and I think stable staffing helps build strong academic cultures."

All of the schools had a similarly high score on the My School's website's Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, which uses a range of data to rate the education and affluence of a child's family, as well as whether the school is in a regional or remote area and proportion of indigenous students.

Dr Wright said he was happy to see public schools doing well but believed Shore offered points of difference outside NAPLAN measures. "We would say our point of difference is in the breadth of our co-curricular and other activities that aren't necessarily available in all public schools."

Helen Proctor, from the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, said parents were looking for more than just strong academic results and were often influenced by behaviour, networking, facilities and discipline.

"Why does someone buy a top-level BMW when a Holden can do the job?" she said.


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