Monday, June 17, 2013

School Threatens to Ruin Valedictorian’s Naval Academy Appointment

A Texas high school principal threatened to sabotage a valedictorian’s appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy after the student delivered a speech that referenced God and the U.S. Constitution, the boy’s attorney alleges.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation with the Liberty Institute, said Joshua High School principal Mick Cochran threatened to write a letter to the U.S. Naval Academy disparaging the character of Remington Reimer.

“It was intimidating having my high school principal threaten my future because I wanted to stand up for the Constitution and acknowledge my faith and not simply read a government approved speech,” the teenager said.

Sasser is now representing the teenager and is calling for the Joshua Independent School District to issue a public statement exonerating him of any wrongdoing.

He said the speech was edited and reviewed by four different school officials – including an officer in the JROTC. Sasser said the censorship violated federal and state laws.

“All he did was simply follow state law and Joshua ISD policy,” he said.

Reimer, a senior at Joshua High School, made national headlines on June 6 when officials cut off his microphone in mid-speech after he strayed from pre-approved remarks and began talking about his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Reimer, who has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, thanked God for “sending His only son to die for me and the rest of the world,” the Joshua Star reported.

The following day the principal met with Reimer’s father and informed him “that he intended to punish Remington for his perceived misdeed.”

“Specifically, he threatened to send a letter to the United States Naval Academy advising them that Remington has poor character or words to that effect,” Sasser told Fox News.

After consulting with a school attorney, the principal temporarily retracted the threat, Sasser said.

“The principal said he wanted to try to ruin him for what he did – for talking about the Constitution and his faith,” Sasser said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be able to continue to be the principal of that school.”

Sasser said the school district violated state and federal laws by censoring Reimer’s speech. He said the law, along with local school policy, requires the school to distance itself from the valedictorian’s speech. That means not editing or drafting the speech.

The school was also required to publish a message in the graduation program that read in part, “the content of each student-speaker’s message is the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District.”

Sasser said contrary to the law and its own policies the Joshua Independent School District failed to include the disclaimer and not only edited – but tried to control Reimer’s speech.

“These school officials broke the rules and violated state and federal law and their own board policy,” Sasser said. “They should be held accountable for violating school board policy and causing needless embarrassment for Joshua ISD and the Joshua community.”


Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Pre-School is Better Than Grandma

I'd back grandma

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that “cultural hesitation” makes it more difficult for some Hispanic parents to want to enroll their children in public pre-school programs because of their preference for family and friends.

Duncan’s remarks came when asked about pre-school and the Hispanic community at an event to mark the anniversary of Educare of Washington, D.C., a preschool for children from six weeks to five years old.

Educare of Washington, D.C., is part of the Educare Learning Network, which has 18 pre-schools in 12 states.

Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended the event to urge support for President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request to double the number of four-year-olds in pre-school nationwide from 1.1 million to 2.2 million over the next decade, the Washington Post reported.

Obama is also proposing $15 million more for infants and toddlers and home visitations, according to Duncan.

“Two different challenges that I think we have to face,” Duncan said. “One that [HHS Secretary] Kathy [Sebelius] talked about is sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever.

“And so how we communicate very directly with families and churches and non-profits to make sure if we build it they will come, there’s some work we need to do there,” Duncan said.

Sebelius said pre-school could make Hispanic children “culturally comfortable” with entering public schools as kindergartners.

“Making sure that families are culturally comfortable with the kind of environments that they’re going to hit at a school level and that they feel welcome, know how to participate and know how to support their kids,” Sebelius said.

Duncan said work was needed on “how we challenge some of the cultural hesitation” of Hispanic parents.


Australia: Education's ominous national plan destined for failure

THE government isn't quite sure what to call it - is it the National Plan for School Improvement or Gonski or Better Schools?

For a while there, the government decided to refrain from using the term Gonski to describe its ambitious plans to alter school funding and impose federal oversight of schools. And well it might; there is an important point of difference between what the federal government is proposing and one of the core premises of the Gonski report.

According to the Gonski report, "the panel recognises that the states and territories have constitutional responsibilities for the delivery and management of schooling. They require a strong degree of autonomy to meet the needs of their state or territory school communities and student population."

The problem with using the term National Plan for School Improvement is that it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

And, let's face it, that mouthful is a bit spooky. The Soviet Union probably had a national plan for school improvement, along with national plans for all sorts of other improvements.

Better Schools could work. But under that heading the government includes the national curriculum, ongoing teacher training and better communication with parents, in addition to funding based on student needs.

So how is the implementation of the new school funding system progressing under the earnest and increasingly desperate stewardship of ex-pop singer Peter Garrett? We should not forget this is not just any area of policy, it is one of the Prime Minister's pet projects.

The answer is that progress to date has been long on politics and short on systematic and measured policymaking. Lots of shots of Garrett and Gillard with generally well-behaved school students, but the real outcomes are partial and patchy.

Take the Australian Education Bill 2012 that was rushed through the House of Representatives late last year. What was the point? It read like a Labor Party pamphlet with lots of buzz phrases, including students receiving excellent education, students reaching their full potential in the Asian Century and Australia having one of the top five performing school systems in 2025.

There was the truly bizarre section 10, which stated that the act did not create legally enforceable obligations. Why would the government ask the parliament to pass an act that had no legally enforceable obligations? Obviously, the government saw some political advantage to the passage of the bill; it was arguably a gross misuse of parliamentary processes.

The first five-plus months of this year have been a chaotic period of policy confusion, incomplete modelling, uncertain funding and costly side deals offered to the more amenable states and territories. The government even seems to have managed to get the non-government schools offside.

In the week before last, the government rammed a large number of amendments to the Australian Education Bill through the House of Representatives. There are 71 pages of amendments, compared with the 11 pages in the original bill. The main thrust of these amendments is to carve out separate deals for participating states and territories and non-participating states and territories, respectively.

These amendments are very strange. Normally, one would expect to see these sorts of details articulated in regulations or as attachments to the National Education Reform Agreement, rather than sit in an act. Again, politics is the explanation, plus an attempt by this government to rule from the grave.

At least the federal government has been quite frank about its intended takeover of school education. In the Prime Minister's words, "The funding flows to states, territories and Catholic and independent schools who agree to the actions, targets and reporting for improvement which we agree under the national plan."

In other words, the national plan trumps everything. Note that "all schools will engage with at least one school in Asia in support of the teaching of a priority Asian language, taking advantage of the National Broadband Network", according to Gillard. Schools, Asia and NBN all in the one sentence - how good is that?

As Kevin Donnelly points out, the real trouble is that the new arrangements and accountability requirements being foisted on schools are the complete antithesis of giving schools and their principals more autonomy.

The Australian Education Act may not withstand a constitutional challenge. After all, section 99 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act states that "The commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one state or any part thereof over another state or any part thereof".

Moreover, Bronwyn Hinz and Brian Galligan, of the University of Melbourne, have raised broader constitutional problems for the Gonski reforms stemming from the fact school education is a residual power of the states.

The authors claim it is only a matter of time before there is a further legal challenge.

According to Hinz and Galligan, "Gonski and the High Court both stated that the commonwealth should retreat from schooling, the former on practical grounds, the latter on constitutional grounds. The commonwealth rejected both their conclusions."

The state of play with Gonski is that NSW, the ACT and South Australia have signed up. The remaining Labor state, Tasmania, in all likelihood, will sign up soon.

Given the parlous state of the budgets of Tasmania and South Australia, it is quite fanciful that either can really afford Gonski, given the co-funding requirement. But because the Gonski financial arrangements are heavily back-end loaded, the fiction can be maintained for a little while.

There are some short-term financial penalties for the non-participating states that Garrett clearly hopes will be sufficient to get Queensland and Victoria over the line. The decision to kill off several National Partnership programs in education, funded by the commonwealth, is a further part of Garrett's armoury.

The bottom line is that the implementation of Gonski is no way to conduct important public policy reforms. And if the key is the reform of school funding to reflect student needs, we should take note of Hinz and Galligan's observation that "the funding formula Gonski recommended is already being used in various degrees by most states".

But when it comes to leaving the control and management of public schools in the hands of the states and territories, the Labor government isn't having a bar of it.

New controls, new bodies, new accountability measures, all 10,000 schools submitting annual School Improvement Plans - it is no wonder that the lagging states are a bit hesitant. And most of these new arrangements also will apply to non-government schools.

In the meantime, we should not be concerned with the educational outcomes of only the worst performing students. We also should worry about those at the top, whose performance has slipped according to international standards. There is work to be done, but the National Plan for School Improvement is far too expensive, constitutionally dubious, overrides the states and territories and is unlikely to make much difference.


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