Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GOP Leaders Demand Answers on Administration’s Attempt to Shut Down Louisiana Private School Choice Program

House Republican leaders today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns about the Obama administration’s effort to shut down a successful private school choice program in Louisiana that is providing hope to students and families.

Signed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), the letter states:

The department’s allegation that the Louisiana Program could impede the desegregation process is extremely troubling and paradoxical in nature. If DOJ is successful in shutting down this invaluable school choice initiative, not only will students across Louisiana be forced to remain in failing schools, but it could have a reverberating effect and cause other states to feel pressured to shut down similar initiatives that provide countless children the opportunity to receive a better education…Instead of undermining choice and opportunity in education, the administration should support state and local efforts to provide more education options… We strongly urge you to consider the effects of this poorly conceived motion on the very children you profess to be protecting.

The letter from Republican leaders requested detailed information about the department’s ill-conceived decision, including an explanation of how its attempt to revoke scholarships and eliminate education choices will help low-income and minority children access better education opportunities. Additionally, the leaders asked for all written correspondence between the department and the administration – as well as correspondence between the department and outside interest groups – regarding the Louisiana Program.

BACKGROUND: On August 22, the Department of Justice filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to prevent the state of Louisiana from offering private school choice opportunities to children in school districts with existing desegregation orders.  Specifically, the motion targets the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program, which awards private school scholarships to children of all races who meet strict income limits and are either entering Kindergarten or enrolled in a school that has received a C, D, or F ranking on the state accountability system. Of the 5,000 scholarships distributed by the Louisiana Program last year, 91 percent went to minority students.


Inspectors to be sent into British Muslim school that orders staff to wear the hijab amid concerns about its quality of teaching

Inspectors are to be sent ‘within days’ to a Muslim free school where girls are segregated from boys and non-Muslim female staff forced to wear hijabs.

Michael Gove has ordered Ofsted to immediately investigate Al-Madinah School amid reports lessons are being replaced by prayers.

The Derby school, which opened last year, was due to have its first inspection later this term but the quality of teaching and leadership will now be scrutinised as a matter of urgency.

Possible outcomes include it being given the lowest possible rating of ‘inadequate’ and placed in special measures.

The Secretary of State acted as critics warned similar practices could spread to other free schools, which are state funded but operate outside local authority control.

The revelations have been embarrassing for Mr Gove, who introduced the schools in 2010 to raise the standard of education.

Insiders at Al-Madinah School say it has become increasingly religious since opening. Teachers claim this has led to children’s education suffering.

Girls allegedly have to sit at the back of the class and give up their place at the front of queues to boys.

Stringed instruments, singing, reading fairy tales and even using the word ‘pig’ are banned, according to staff, who say they are also obliged to wear headscarves.

Former headteacher Andrew Cutts-McKay resigned last month, two months after his deputy, Suzanne Southerland.

Sources claimed they had been ‘bullied’ out of their jobs over concerns about hardline policies. The school denies the claims.

Pressure groups and education experts said failure to take action would promote segregation – and encourage other Islamic free schools to follow Al-Madinah’s extreme model.

They also warned that the way female pupils were being treated could end up damaging their sense of self-worth.

Margaret Morrissey, from pressure group Parents Outloud, said: ‘This is going to make life extremely difficult for female pupils.

‘All the time they are being told they are second-class citizens. It is promoting a segregated society.

‘Children have to understand how to live in our society. If they’re not getting that at school then they’re not getting it anywhere.’

Chris McGovern, from the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is a very difficult situation. We live in a multicultural society and a consequence of that is you have multicultural practices. But the buck stops with Michael Gove.’

And Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: ‘I can’t understand why there has been the argument that deregulation [of free schools] is a good idea.

‘Some regulation is important because otherwise you get extremism in schools.’  He added: ‘We are creating an education system that is separating sections of society.

‘For the last 40 or 50 years people were brought together by being educated side by side. Now Mr Gove is allowing space for confusion and bigotry.’

A message posted on the school’s website by interim principal Stuart Wilson said: ‘There are a number of rumours circulating that are worrying parents. The school is not going to shut down.’

But a Department for Education spokesman said: ‘These allegations are very worrying. The DfE will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to prevent religious intolerance or any breaking of the rules for free schools.’


Australia: Ban kids from starting school until they turn five to ensure they don't fall behind, experts say

This is ridiculous:  A "one size fits all" approach.  In fact some kids may be ready at 4 and others not ready until 6.  All kids are not equal.  Mental age (IQ) is what matters and IQ is not equally distributed

CHILDREN should be banned from starting formal education before they turn five, with experts warning students who begin too young are falling behind and calling for a standard national school age.

Amid a new international push towards later school entry, early childhood teaching experts and peak bodies warned many Australian children were too little to learn in classrooms.

"There is considerable international research showing that children who start school when they are older tend to do better," said Associate Professor Kay Margetts, from Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education.

"But there is no evidence that suggests that starting school before the age of five is of any benefit to children."

States and territories control what age children must be before starting school and that age varies widely across Australia. In some states there can be a gap of 17 months, or a third of a kindergartener's life, between the youngest and oldest in a class.

In NSW children can start as young as four years and six months, but they must be in school by the age of six, while in Tasmania they need to have turned five before they enter their first year of primary, which is known across the country by various names including prep, kindergarten and reception. Prof Margetts said children should not be able to start school before turning five.

"It is well documented even with only a 12 month gap, those older children were doing better than the younger children," Prof Margetts said.

More than 120 leading educators in Britain this month launched a new "too much, too soon" campaign calling for formal schooling to be delayed until children turn six or seven because most four year olds are not ready to study in a structured environment.

The Australian Primary Principals Association said there should be a national uniform age for the foundation year of school.

"We believe all states should have some consistency in the starting age of students, and also the naming of that starting year, given that it's known by so many names like reception and kindy," said APPA deputy president Steve Portlock.

"It would certainly help for families who travel between states, but it would also mean that when test like NAPLAN are sat then students who were older and possibly more ready wouldn't have an advantage over younger students."

The Australian Parent's Council also argues for a standardised age and title for the foundation year, but executive director Ian Dalton said an enforced cut-off for those under five would not be appropriate.

"There is no doubt one of the main mistakes parents will make is to start their children at school too young, but that age varies from child to child," Mr Dalton said.

"You are probably better off to start them a little bit older because it can be difficult for a child when all through their schooling they are younger than their peers. But I don't know that there is any hard and fast rule that will suit all children - I think that parents are in the best position to know when to start their at school."

Prof Margetts said what age to start was one of the most vexing issues for parents of younger children, and a uniform age would make the decision easier.

"What we typically find is that the children starting younger in Australia are the children of parents who don't necessarily have a choice about it," she said.

"It's often people with financial difficulties because it's much cheaper to send a child to school than to keep them in preschool or early childhood services. It's also often children from immigrant families who don't realise the flexibility of the rules.

"We know that younger children in the class are at risk of falling behind and if they come from families who are having financial difficulties, then those children are doubly disadvantaged."

Some states have previously implemented a staggered start to the school year for later birthdays, but this practice is currently being wound-back in South Australia amid concern children with less formal schooling were being disadvantaged in standardised testing.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Federal Government supported a move to a standard age for starting school but it was up to the states and territories to administer it.

Mr Pyne would not comment on whether children should be banned from starting formal schooling before they turn five.

"The Federal Coalition supports national uniformity of school starting ages where possible," he said through his spokesperson.


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