Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Common Core "Slippery Slope"

The Common Core opens the door much wider for Washington to meddle in schooling. The experience of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act is instructive. Initially, NCLB limited federal authority over how states would set standards, select tests, and improve teacher quality. In recent years, however, the Obama administration has used its ability to issue “waivers” from NCLB to push states to adopt the Common Core, sign onto certain tests, and evaluate teachers in specified ways. There’s much precedent for worrying about slippery slopes.

In fact, for all their lip service to federalism, few Common Core advocates give the impression that they worry about extending Washington’s reach. Many have avidly supported Obama initiatives that have increased Washington’s authority. The “state-led” talking points look more like advocates trying to address a short-term political problem.

The result is a dishonest debate, in which advocates refuse to acknowledge what they really think it’ll take for the Common Core to deliver on their grand ambitions for the program. That can create problems of its own: See the troubled rollout of health-care reform, where promises made for political reasons have yielded fierce backlash and immense implementation challenges.

The comparisons to both the federal health exchange and President Bush's No Child Left Behind are apt. The driving ideology behind these kinds of initiatives is that the top-down technocratic elite (usually in Washington DC) can set policy and make rules better than the people who actually live in the states that will be affected.


Scapegoating Israel, Again

'Tis the season of the long holiday for toilers in the Groves of Academe. Learned professors of the American Studies Association (ASA), who recently adopted a call for a boycott of contact with Israel's academic institutions, presumably to protest Israel's "treatment" of Palestinians but perhaps because they just don't like Jews very much, should take a break from grading papers, or partying with academics who think exactly as they do, and use the time to reflect on something important. One such topic should be why they single out the one democracy in the Middle East for criticism of its imperfection.

These academics teach interdisciplinary approaches to history, religion, literature and philosophy in the American culture, but many of them obviously missed their own critical study of intellectual history. How else to explain why they're unable to distinguish between scholarly arguments and arguments extracted from their own attitudes, prejudices and uninformed opinions?

Perhaps they've been too busy researching scorn to heap on the United States for presentation in a learned paper at their next convention. The latest call for ASA "scholarship" is to provide papers on "The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century." (You might want to wait for the movie, which is not likely to be coming soon to a theater in your neighborhood.)

It's a long time since we've looked to tenured professors to guide moral thinking on anything, but this recent ASA resolution is political posturing of the worst order. Not even Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, favors the boycott of Israeli professors, who actually teach a multicultural mix of students in their universities, including, in addition to Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Ethiopians and exiles from despotic countries who are enjoying academic freedom for the first time.

For an organization devoted to cross-disciplinary study, the ASA boycotters might refresh their recollections with unpleasant anti-Semitic models of intellectual boycotts, such as Hitler's order against patronizing Jewish businesses in Germany in the 1930s, or the Arab League's boycott in the Middle East in 1948, when it still held high hopes of seeing the extermination of Israel.

It's particularly bizarre for academicians to single out Israel to be the most imperfect of imperfect nations, because Israelis debate with each other, with a passion that would set off a rush to the fainting couches in almost any American university, such subjects as the treatment of the settlements, prospects for peace and the two-state solution. But the ASA academics are so accustomed to listening to each other compete to scorn America and Israel that outrages across the world never intrude on their intellectual isolation.

They share their prejudices and attitudes with colleagues on smart phones and laptops made in China, which imprisons dissenting academics who speak their minds. The Palestinian Authority does not allow discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Palestinian schools and colleges. Iran executes dissenters, Russia imprisons outspoken feminists, neither gays nor women can be hired at a university in Saudi Arabia, and dissenters are treated brutally in Cuba. There's rarely a peep from the faculty lounges about any of that.

The boycotters singled out only academic institutions in Israel, "whose universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinian students and who boast a higher level of academic freedom than almost any country in the world," writes Alan Dershowitz in Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper. Larry Summers, who was bounced as president of Harvard because he urged an honest discussion of why women often don't do well in math, observes that boycotts that single out Israel are "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not necessarily in their intent." Prejudice is as prejudice does.

It doesn't really matter whether anti-Semites see themselves as hating Jews; it's how they manifest their prejudice and how others react that ultimately count. To their credit, many members of ASA have dissented from the boycott, along with academic institutions including the American Association of University Professors, and at least eight past presidents of the ASA, cutting across political persuasions.

Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg have dropped their ASA memberships. Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, urges his colleagues to reject this "phony progressivism" as dishonest and morally obtuse. Many professors worry that the prejudice inherent in the boycott will "stain" the reputation of scholars in American studies, an argument hard to refute. Henry Kissinger famously observed that "academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." The professors who voted to boycott academic contact with Israel expose their own vicious small-mindedness, which hurts them most of all.


Controversial Ohio Homeschool Bill Withdrawn After Grassroots Tsunami Opposes it

Sponsor vows to leave homeschoolers alone. Forever!

On Wednesday I wrote about SB 248, an offensively intrusive bill introduced in the Ohio Senate by Senator Capri Cafaro. The bill, named Teddy’s Law for 14-year-old Teddy Tedesco who was brutally tortured and murdered by his mother’s boyfriend, would require all homeschooling families to submit to background checks and interviews with social workers before being permitted to homeschool or enroll in an online school in the state. Parents and children would be separated for interviews and any finding by a social worker that homeschooling was not “in the best interest of the child” would be grounds for denial of the right to homeschool or enroll in an online school.

In a stunning reversal, Cafaro, the bill’s sponsor, announced on Thursday that she intends to withdraw the bill. Declaring that the bill was never meant to provoke a policy debate on homeschooling, Cafaro said,

After consultation with Teddy’s family, we have collectively decided the best course of action is for me to withdraw SB 248, and instead pursue a more comprehensive approach to address the current challenges in the state’s social service and criminal justice system.

Ohioans for Educational Freedom (OEF), a statewide PAC that supports homeschooling, began telling Ohio homeschoolers and other supporters of freedom in education about the bill at 10:35 p.m. on Monday night. By Thursday afternoon the bill was dead.

The evolution of SB 248 from the time the Ohio education community first learned about it until the moment Cafaro announced she was abandoning it is an excellent example of what the grassroots can accomplish when they speak with one voice and work with laser-like focus on a single issue. Mark Stevenson from OEF reported:

By Tuesday morning, we sent around to all the Facebook home school groups we were in contact with. By Tuesday afternoon, the news had traveled so fast and furious that all the typical e-mail lists were sending out our RED ALERT quicker than we could keep up with.

CHEO [Christian Home Educators of Ohio] put out a thorough Alert of their own and it seemed most of the Ohio home school population became fully aware that this was the biggest encroachment of home schooling rights in Ohio.

By Tuesday afternoon Mike Donnelly from HSLDA [Homeschool Legal Defense Association] put out a statement saying ”This is the biggest over reach I’ve seen in a very long time if ever in the area of imposing regulation on home schoolers.” Later that evening, HSLDA sent out their evening e-mail that announced a headline of ”Worst-Ever Homeschool Law Proposed”. We were receiving intel reports that Cafaro’s office had been overwhelmed and inundated with phone calls all day on Tuesday and it was continuing through Wednesday.

Stevenson reported that his website received more than 300,000 hits in two days and the group’s Facebook group gained several hundred new members. The story was shared on blogs, newspapers, Twitter, and talk radio — I received several requests to discuss the issue on radio as a result of my article here. Opponents set up several Facebook pages to share information and a petition at received almost 1400 signatures in a day.

By Tuesday, Cafaro was already backing away from the bill in Facebook posts at the Teddy’s Law page, saying:  "I have no desire to have any power over anyone. And, there may need to be some significant changes to the bill to avoid possible constitutional challenges."

I spoke with several legislators who told me the bill had no traction whatsoever — D.O.A. It failed to enlist even one Republican co-sponsor and it became clear within a few hours that public sentiment was strongly opposed to the proposed law.

The backlash against Cafaro’s bill — by the public and by her fellow legislators — must have been overwhelming. In addition to saying she would pull the bill, Cafaro vowed to leave homeschoolers alone. Forever:  "I will not include any content related to education in the home in a new bill, or in any other bill."

She added that she will work to craft a new bill to “honor Teddy’s legacy and to protect vulnerable children like him in the future.”

Hopefully Cafaro will follow through on her vow to reform the social service agencies that failed to act on multiple reports of Teddy’s abuse over several years, including while he was enrolled in public school. Of course, that will mean going up against those in union-protected jobs, but she needn’t worry, because, as she breezily declared in another Facebook post this week, “I am term-limited and am unlikely to seek another elected office in the near future.”

May it be so.  And may we see a whole lot more of this overwhelming grassroots cooperation and coordination in defense of our liberty!


Friday, December 27, 2013

NY charter schools worry about mayor-elect's plans

Operators of New York City's publicly financed, privately run charter schools are bracing for changes promised by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio — including the possibility of having to pay rent — that they worry could reverse 12 years of growth enjoyed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio has pledged to charge rent to "well-resourced" charter schools and has called for a moratorium on allowing new charters to share buildings with traditional schools, taking aim at a Bloomberg policy that helped the schools grow from 17 to 183 during his time in office. The policy has also led to complaints that the charters draw an unfair amount of resources.

"It is insult to injury to give them free rent," de Blasio said last summer, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination.

Charter school backers around the country are watching to see what happens in New York — which they consider an incubator for the charter school movement — while de Blasio supporters hope that the changes help fulfill his campaign promise to improve educational access for all children. De Blasio takes office on Jan. 1.

"The nation as a whole has always looked to New York City in this area," said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "The climate in New York City is a healthy one because of the co-location arrangements."

A majority of the nation's charter schools either pay rent or are paying off a loan or bond issue for their buildings, according to Rees' group, but New York City real estate pressures make that a challenge. She said that many charter schools wouldn't have been able to open if they had to find their own building and start from scratch.

It's unclear how much New York's charters would pay. De Blasio has said he would use a sliding scale, with deep-pocketed charter operators forced to pay more, while some schools would continue to pay nothing. A spokeswoman said that de Blasio would work out the plan with his schools chancellor.

The city's Independent Budget Office estimates that facility costs for the 40,000 charter school students in co-located buildings average $2,320 per pupil and that the city could raise $92 million if it charged rent. There are 114 charter schools co-located within traditional schools.

Critics note that more than a dozen New York City charter school executives are paid more than current New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott's $212,614. Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $499,146. Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and founder of Success Academies, earns $475,244.

Moskowitz has grown Success from one Harlem school in 2006 to 20 schools in several neighborhoods, with six more slated to open next fall. Its 6,700 pupils make it the city's largest charter operator.

"We can't afford it, and it would be taking dollars away from children and from their education to pay rent on a public school," said Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Success.

Moskowitz — who helped stage a march of more than 10,0000 people across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio's plans in October — has been singled out by de Blasio for criticism.

"There's no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK? " de Blasio said at a forum in June. He told a United Federation of Teachers meeting last May that Moskowitz's schools have "a destructive impact on the schools they're going into."

Schools that share space typically use separate entrances and have separate floors. Charter school detractors have complained that charter students get the best of everything, from playground equipment to bathrooms.

Ellen Darensbourg, a teacher at Public School 241, which shares a Harlem building with Harlem Success Academy 4 and another charter school, said that her school has been forced to move around the building numerous times over the last six years to give the charters more space.

Darensbourg said P.S. 241's physical and occupational therapists have to work with special-needs kids in the hallway and the art teacher moves from room to room with a cart because the school no longer has a classroom — though the Success Academy school has an art classroom.

"It's OK for their kids to have an art studio but it wasn't necessary for our kids," she said.

Lyon said that Success Academy generally enjoys a "pretty positive relationships with the schools that we share space with."

Charter schools are run by private entities and have more freedom than traditional public schools to set their own hours and curriculum and pupils are chosen by lottery. Supporters say they give families an alternative to substandard public schools, while opponents point to studies that show mixed results.

New York City's 70,000 charter school pupils represent about 6 percent of the city's 1.1 million public school students.

Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said that charging rent and halting co-locations would slow the growth of charters to a trickle and deprive families of an option they want.

"These are public school kids," Phillips said. "It is perfectly appropriate for them to be in public school space."


British universities making 'unconditional offers' in race for top  students

Top universities are preparing to award places to students irrespective of their final A-level grades amid a scramble to recruit Britain’s brightest school leavers, The Telegraph has learnt.

A string of leading institutions such as Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Queen Mary, University of London, are reviving the practice of “unconditional offers” for large numbers of students starting degrees next year.

In most cases, admissions tutors will make places available to candidates who are predicted by their teachers to gain straight As in their final exams.

Universities insist the move is intended to reward students with potential while taking the pressure off teenagers in the final year of the sixth-form.

But the policy underlines the scale of the competition between universities for the brightest students following the relaxing of tight controls on recruitment by the Coalition.

At least 30 universities – notably those ranked outside the traditional elite – are also offering cash scholarships worth up to £10,000 in an attempt to sign up students with good A-levels.

But the move towards unconditional offers has been attacked by some rival universities amid claims it undermines the exams system and risks being manipulated by pupils.

A senior official at one leading Russell Group university told the Telegraph: “I am concerned at the attempt to downgrade the importance of A-levels – that is the effect that these changes will have.

“These universities are saying, ‘If you make us your firm choice we’ll make you an unconditional offer’. That’s not in the applicant’s best interest.

“Students are pretty smart – if you look at online forums you can see that they have an understanding of what’s going on.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said it was understandable that some institutions were now moving towards unconditional offers, but added: “The continuing shambles over student numbers and the misguided efforts to force a market into higher education has created all sorts of confusion.”

Universities traditionally make offers of places that are conditional on teenagers scoring certain grades when A-level results are published in August.

In the past, Oxford and Cambridge made a number of unconditional offers dependent on students scoring highly in their own entrance exams but the system has since been phased out.

Some universities are now resurrecting the process by making offers to students based on teachers’ predictions of A-level performance – irrespective of final grades.

In most cases, students have to name the university as their “firm choice” on UCAS application forms to qualify for an offer.

Last year, Birmingham became the first institution to use the practice en masse by making 1,000 offers across 12 courses – eventually recruiting 300 students.

In 2014, the scheme will be dramatically expanded to cover 33 disciplines, including English, history, geography, drama, chemistry and theology.

For the first time this year, Nottingham will also make unconditional offers to a “small number of students who have demonstrated an exceptional academic record and personal statement” across a limited selection of courses on a trial basis.

Queen Mary – a member of the elite Russell Group alongside Nottingham and Birmingham – said it was making 500 unconditional offers in biomedical sciences, languages and history often to candidates judged as “exceptional” following an interview.

Leicester is making unconditional offers in most subjects to students predicted to gain at least three As in their A-levels on top of good GCSE and AS-level grades. It insisted students would not have to make Leicester their firm choice to accept an offer.

“In an increasing competitive market we are looking for the top performing students to come to the university and are using past and predicted academic performance as one approach to identify such people,” a spokesman said.

Birmingham City University is also adopting the policy for courses in business, education, English, drama, marketing and PR, law, criminology, psychology. sociology, technology, engineering and the environment.

Experts said many more universities were looking closely at unconditional offers without publicising the move.

Under the Coalition, universities have complete freedom to recruit unlimited numbers of British students with good A-levels – an A and two Bs or better – while places remain tightly capped for other candidates.

The unconditional offer system represents a risk to universities because if students eventually fail to gain top A-levels they will count towards the number of capped places awarded to each institution. Universities can currently be fined for recruiting beyond number controls.

Roderick Smith, director of admissions at Birmingham University, said: “When we decided to make unconditional offers last year we knew that we were taking a leap of faith… But we were pleased to see that those who received an unconditional offer performed to their potential, with examination results above the average for their subject.”

In addition to unconditional offers, a number of universities are tempting students with scholarships, which are distributed irrespective of household income. This includes Anglia Ruskin, Bradford, Bournemouth, Gloucestershire, Salford and Worcester.

Newman University, Birmingham, is offering £10,000 over three years for all students who name the institution as their number one choice for 2014 and gain the equivalent of three Bs in their A-levels.


British schools 'facing shortage of teachers after recruitment failure

Schools could face a crisis in teacher numbers as the Government misses its minimum target for occupied teaching training places for the second year in a row, experts have warned.

Labour claim that schools will face a shortage of trainee teachers because of the failure of Government recruitment reforms.

The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said official figures showed 6,430 of 38,900 available places for teaching training were currently empty and that David Cameron was failing in his “basic responsibility” to provide good teachers.

That would mean the Department for Education’s has missed its own minimum target for the number of new teachers required by 2,000.

However a spokesman for the department said that it was “nonsense” to suggest there would be a shortage of teachers and said that 99% of post-graduate places had been filled.

This year Michael Gove, the education secretary, decided to switch almost half of the country's 25,000 training places into schools and away from universities.

However critics say that this system, known as “School Direct”, is failing to recruit the number of graduates needed and prospective students are “voting with their feet” and favouring the remaining university courses meaning that the government is failing to recruit in crucial subject areas.

Professor John Howson, the managing director of and a leading expert in the teaching labour market, said that the Government had failed to hit “most” of their schools direct targets with subjects that will be key to the economic recovery often most affected.

He said: “If you look at the school direct subject like physics – there were 318 school direct training places and they have filled 60 of them.

“Over all we have probably only filled about half of the places of design of technology across the board – when you considering that is a subject that will get people interested in careers in catering, fashion, electronics in general manufacturing – it is crucial to the economy.

“And if the Government is seriously under-recruiting in that are in it could have a detrimental affect the next generation of people who are going to work in those areas.”

He added that if the trend of under-recruitment continued the country could face a serious teacher shortage.

He said: “I have been warning for some time that the combination of circumstances like this and the growing private economy - which are likely to put us in situation where they would run into a teacher shortage.This is only the start because things will get worse – pay in the public being held down whereas pay in the private sector in a rapidly recovering market is not subject to any hold on wages.

“Over all we have probably only filled about half of the places of design of technology across the board – when you considering that is a subject that will get people interested in careers in catering, fashion, electronics in general manufacturing – it is crucial to the economy.

“And if the Government is seriously under-recruiting in that are in it could have a detrimental affect the next generation of people who are going to work in those areas.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "It is nonsense to suggest there is going to be a shortage of teachers - 99% of our target for postgraduate teacher trainees has already been met.

"We always allocate more places than we need, so it is totally misleading to suggest not filling every place will lead to a shortage.

"School Direct is a response to what schools have said they want - a greater role in selecting and recruiting trainees with the potential to be outstanding teachers. The programme is only in its second full year of operating and is already proving very popular."


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rationing school freedom in collectivist Oakland

You can’t have too much of a good thing—unless you mean freedom and you live in Oakland, apparently.

Oakland Unified School District school board member Jody London says enough’s enough when it comes to parents looking out for their own kids’ education. What does she mean?

Oakland has the highest concentration of charter schools of any city in California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: “This year, more than a quarter of the city’s 49,000 students are attending one of its nearly 40 alternative public schools, far more per capita than anywhere else in the state.” That means fewer students—and dollars—for Oakland USD.

There oughta be a law. Well, technically in California, there is.

The number of charter schools is capped at 1,650 statewide, but that cap is increased by 100 schools annually. While there’s no limit at the local level, an estimated 50,000 students statewide are on charter school waiting lists.

That suits London just fine because as far as she’s concerned, children are community property, as the Chronicle continues:

    "With five more charter applications in front of the school board this fall, London said she has had enough. Supporters of charter schools are “looking out for their families, for their kids,” she said. But that support doesn’t necessarily extend to the neighbors’ children, perhaps a child with severe disabilities or one most at risk of failing.” At some point, we have a collective responsibility in this society, in this community to look out for each other,” she added. Last month, she vowed to vote against any new charters."

It’s illegal for school board members to vote down prospective charter schools because they might negatively affect districts’ budgets. But London insists she’s not against charter schools, just “too many” charter schools.

For her, determining how many is too many is a matter of local control. London’s right.

And it doesn’t get more local than parents who have the right and the responsibility to educate their children as and where they think is best. The last thing elected officials should be doing is rationing schooling options—especially ones who’ve claimed collective “responsibility” over other people’s children and failed.


First Obamacare, now Obamacore

Common Core standards  guide what skills students learn, not only when, but how.

Many great literary works won’t be read or taught at all. The move is away from classics and toward informational texts such as government documents. When reading a classic speech such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, students will be told to mediate on how they feel about the text and then asked to relate it to social justice. Ignored will be the virtues of honor, moral truths, right and wrong, etc., so prevalent in classic literature as revealed in their contents. In other words, students will be encouraged to think like a socialist with texts that foster extreme leftist ideology.

*    Changing emphasis on historical events. Why Pearl Harbor should be remembered seems obvious to most of us.  Consider the opening page of the slim chapter in one approved Common Core textbook devoted to World War II called “War Shock”, which features a photograph of a woman inspecting a large stockpile of thousand-pound bomb castings.  As stated:  The entire section is littered with questions and plenty of photos that show the destruction of Hiroshima.  Just in case students would be inclined to take the American side in this conflict, the editors see to it that teachers will remind the students repeatedly that there are two sides in every war.

*    A new interest in religion — just everything else but Christianity or Judaism. In California, a Common Core book used in middle school (“History Alive”) has an entire 65-page chapter devoted to the History of Islam which glorifies Islam and Muhammad where before there was only one page devoted to Islam, while the text about the history of Christianity and the church has been decreased.

*    Math concepts taught at different age levels. In Math, multiplication is being  moved from second grade to third and algebra is being pushed into the high school. Calculus is no longer a requirement, even though calculus is required at the college level

*    Student and family privacy tossed out. In the privacy realm:  It has been revealed that non-academic, personal information is beingcollected through the Common Core testing consortia about students and their parents, including family income, parents’ political affiliation, their religion, and students’ disciplinary records — all without parental consent.

 *   Exorbitant costs to school budgets. Regarding cost to Illinois:  Official estimates indicate that for every $1 in federal funding states will receive from adopting Common Core, they’ll have to spend $4 to implement it. It’s much higher here in Illinois. Implementation of Common Core will cost $799 million, with federal awards totaling $66 million.  This means Illinois will lose $733 million. As a federal incentive to sign on to Common Core in 2010, Illinois is the big loser financially, as are young people education-wise.

*    Cost passed on to taxpayers. The cost to school districts is projected to reach $166 million nationwide over the next five years.  This year state lawmakers experienced a sticker shock when PARC and SBAC rolled out its new tests which were twice as expensive on the average -as were previous tests — $22 to $27 per test. With 67% of the Illinois’ local districts operating at a deficit, one study shows Common Core implementation could cost local school districts $773 million over the next seven years.

Do your own homework on Common Core in your school district(s). Don’t allow advocates to peg you as crazy.   Show up at local school board meetings and let your opinions be heard, also at PTA meetings. It is imperative that you take the time to find out how far along your school system is in adopting Common Core standards.

FOIAs are a good way to request information if a school district prefers to be secretive by being vague or in giving you the run around.  Also, most districts have a curriculum director for direct interaction about Common Core.  And by all means if you have children attending public schools (and even private schools) keep tabs on what and how they are being taught. Text books must be examined for bias and propaganda.

No where in our Constitution is education spelled out as to its structure and scope, for the Founders wanted nearly all aspects of our lives to be governed by those who were closest to us at the local or state level. Education does relates to the 10th Amendment as state’s rights issue. We cannot allow government to grab children early on, entering them first into a government program called Kindergarten, then continuing the molding until about age 20 when they are called to serve the State.

Opposition is growing against Common Core from the left, the right, and the middle in many states over concern about Common Core and its implementation, especially over the high-stakes standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.There is Common Core unrest in 17 states, Illinois is not among them, as noted in this post by Mercedes Schneider, a public school teacher, education activist, PhD.

Even two Democrat-led states, New York and Massachusetts — Blue States like Illinois — are showing signs of distancing themselves from the curriculum that the Obama administration is supporting in a big way. Will Illinois be next to turn on Common Core?  It is past time to take action that is really for the sake of our children, unlike  school districts who use the phrase “for the children” when appealing to taxpayers for additional funding.

Russian communist Vladimir Lenin knew the power of controlling the future by taking control of the school. He once said: ”Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never by uprooted.”


Why Jaydon can't read

Comment from Australia

In the most recent international assessment of primary school literacy achievement - the Progress in Reading Literacy Study 2011 - Australian and New Zealand students were at the bottom of the rankings for English-speaking countries. One in four Year 4 students in Australia and New Zealand failed to achieve the international benchmark for literacy that allows good progress through school.

This is not a new problem. Other international assessments and national testing programs like NAPLAN show an entrenched proportion of students with low reading levels after four or more years of formal schooling. Millions of words have been written and billions of dollars have been spent on government programs trying to fix this problem, to no avail.

The one thing that has not been tried is the one thing most likely to work - effective, evidence-based reading instruction in every classroom. A robust body of scientific evidence finds that effective reading instruction has five essential components - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. For early success in reading, these skills must be taught explicitly and systematically.

Numerous reviews, surveys and inquiries have found that teaching degrees in Australian universities are not preparing teachers sufficiently well in these reading instruction strategies, based on scientific evidence of 'what works.' Education academics often argue that there are other kinds of evidence, such as case studies, qualitative research and action research. Such studies can provide useful information, but cannot be considered in the same league as studies using scientific methodology and which provide measurable and replicable results.

Reliance on poor quality evidence is not confined to university education faculties; it also plagues government policy development. Literacy policy has been routinely undermined by a failure to understand that reading research, especially as it applies to the early years and for struggling readers, is a highly scientific and specific discipline. Generalist educators and bureaucrats do not have the expertise required to guide policy in this area.

The new Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, plans to establish an advisory committee to guide policy development. The committee will have a strong document to work from - the report of the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. Hopefully some of Australia's internationally-regarded reading experts will be called upon to finally put it into action.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Report: Feds Struggle to Produce Timely, Relevant Education Research

The U.S. Department of Education needs to improve the speed, transparency, and relevance of its research, a federal review has found.

The federal Institute of Education Sciences (IES) does not, for example, publicly report on the performance of its regional laboratories, which consume a large portion of its budget, says the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Similarly, its evaluation of federal Race to the Top grants, which disposed of $4.35 billion, is slated to arrive after grant-recipient states have already spent nearly all of that money.

In addition, IES cannot review federal education programs, many of which continue with little or no review—seven of eleven teacher quality programs, for example, have not been examined in more than ten years.

In 2013, IES’s budget was approximately $600 million. Its mission is to fund and distribute education research.

GAO also dinged IES for taking too long to peer-review education research and not sending research to policymakers who would benefit from the information. IES’s peer review process increased from an average of 117 days in 2011 to 175 days in 2012 and 150 days in 2013.


Anti-Israel ‘lessons’ in American classrooms

Far from being a problem exclusive to local schools, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic curricular materials are endemic in American classrooms.

At issue is not only the insidious nature of materials that inculcate anti-Israel biases disguised as history and multicultural lessons, but also the flaccid response by educators, elected officials and sometimes the mainstream Jewish community.

Examples abound and are surfacing from Massachusetts to California where concerned and sometimes angry parents are reacting.

In Williamson County, Tenn., one biased text asks students: "If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?"

Complaints by a dozen angry parents - who were supported by their Jewish Federation - forced the publisher to remove the offending language from all electronic versions and future 10thand 11th-print editions. The local Jewish Federation then joined with parents to help school officials better train teachers about the realities of Middle Eastern conflicts. In New York, preparatory materials for the famed Regents exam falsely claim that Israel prevailed militarily in 1948 only due to strong support from the United States. (There was almost none. The Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were major allies). This is Arab propaganda, utilized to both demonize America and to explain the failure of the six Arab armies that attacked the tiny Jewish state.

In Albany, N.Y., an English teacher had her students write an essay, as part of a persuasive writing exercise, imagining themselves to be Nazis and assigned some of them the task of describing why Jews are evil. After this case came to light - the result of assertive parents - the School Superintendent publicly apologized and the teacher was removed from the classroom.

At Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a prep school in New York, administrators held an Israel-Palestine Day and, under the pretense of "evenhandedness," invited Rashid Khalidi and Tony Judt as featured speakers to represent "both sides" of the conflict. Both Khalidi and Judt believe the state of Israel should not exist. Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of the panelists, withdrew from the conference upon learning about the contents and opted instead to organize a counter-demonstration. The school refused to allow a single pro-Israel speaker at this event. Among the invited speakers were noted anti- Israel advocates Sara Roy from Harvard University, Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch and Fawaz Gerges from Georgetown University. Meanwhile, teachers instructed students not to speak to the protesters or the media, and the school's Principal announced at the end of the conference that they just heard a "comprehensive" analysis of the Middle East conflict from distinguished speakers and to remember that "the protesters are outnumbered." This event drew strong criticism from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and several politicians.

At the Campbell Middle School in Smyrna, Ga., a parent complained about an assignment that promoted a sympathetic understanding of Islamic treatment of women. Pro-Israel advocate Pam Geller reported that other lessons from the same curriculum written by InspirEd Educators Inc. "explain" homicide bombings and Jew hatred from the point of view of multicultural tolerance of Islam. One lesson describes a video left by a female Hamas homicide bomber who describes her act of martyrdom as "my most wanted wish that I asked G-d Almighty to fulfill." Another lesson in the curriculum is an editorial titled "A Palestinian's Plea" that concludes with: "It is not hard to understand why people would take their anger and frustration out on somebody, and it is understandable that person would be Jewish. It is the Jews that take our land, it is the Jews that destroy our homes and it is the Jews who have killed our children!" The school's Principal defended the assignment on the basis of teacher autonomy, but the Superintendent deemed the lesson inappropriate and declared that such materials need to be fully vetted before being placed in the hands of teachers.

The study of Arabic in public schools has become yet another opportunity to bash Israel: This summer, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) in Arizona requested its school board's permission to accept money from Qatar Foundation International (QFI) to be used to implement "innovative curricula and teaching materials to be used in any Arabic language classroom." QFI is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has named several institutions after Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the de facto spiritual leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, who can be seen on YouTube inciting throngs in Cairo to kill all the world's Jews. (Of note: QFI was founded by Sheikha bint Hamad Al Thani, the founder of Al Jazeera.)

In 2011, Tucson had a problem with another Muslim Brotherhood affiliated group, MEChA, which tried recruiting Mexican students to attend an "occupied peoples' conference" at which Palestinian and TUSD students would share their experiences living in "occupied territories." Tucson's Superintendent expressed concerns about the organizations "anti-Semitic tone and tenor on our campuses."

Can anti-Israelism, which is the new form of anti-Semitism, lead back to the older types? In Pine Valley, N.Y., a rash of anti- Jewish attacks took place over the course of several weeks at a local high school. One Jewish student had a swastika painted across his face; another was beaten with a hockey stick. Holocaust and anti- Semitic "jokes" were directed at Jewish students. Swastikas were left on walls for weeks. Some of the taunting actually took place under the watchful eyes of some teachers. New York's Governor interceded with a terse letter to the state Education Department demanding an explanation and requesting of the police Division of Human Rights to initiate an immediate investigation.

American Jewish organizations came late to the problem of anti-Israelism on the campuses. If this same poison spreads to the entire public school system, America will become a very different place for its Jews.


Guilty Until Proven Innocent

How the government encourages kangaroo courts for sex crimes on campus

One evening in February 2012, Vassar College students Xialou "Peter" Yu and Mary Claire Walker, both members of the school's rowing team, had a few drinks at a team gathering and left together as the party wound down. After a make-out session at a campus nightspot, they went to Yu's dorm room, where, by his account, they had sex that was not only consensual but mainly initiated by Walker, who reassured her inexperienced partner that she knew what to do. At some point, Yu's roommate walked in on them; after he was gone, Yu says, Walker decided she wanted to stop, telling him it was too soon after her breakup with her previous boyfriend. She got dressed and left.

The next day, according to documents in an unusual complaint that Yu filed against Vassar last June, Yu's resident adviser told him some students had seen him and the young woman on their way to the dorm. They had been so concerned by Walker's apparently inebriated state that they called campus security. Alarmed, Yu contacted Walker on Facebook to make sure everything was all right. She replied that she had had a "wonderful time" and that he had done "nothing wrong"-indeed, that she was sorry for having "led [him] on" when she wasn't ready for a relationship. A month later Walker messaged Yu herself, again apologizing for the incident and expressing hope that it would not affect their friendship. There were more exchanges during the next months, with Walker at one point inviting Yu to dinner at her place. (In a response to Yu's complaint in October, attorneys for Vassar acknowledged most of these facts but asserted that Walker had been too intoxicated to consent to sex and had been "in denial," scared, and in shock when she wrote the messages.)

Last February, one year after the encounter, the other shoe dropped: Yu was informed that Walker had filed charges of "nonconsensual sexual contact" against him through the college disciplinary system. Two and a half weeks later, a hearing was held before a panel of three faculty members. Yu was not allowed an attorney; his request to call his roommate and Walker's roommate as witnesses was denied after the campus "gender equity compliance investigator" said that the roommates had emailed him but had "nothing useful" to offer. While the records from the hearing are sealed, Yu claims his attempts to cross-examine his accuser were repeatedly stymied. Many of his questions (including ones about Walker's friendly messages, which she had earlier told the investigator she sent out of "fear") were barred as "irrelevant"; he says that when he was allowed to question Walker, she would start crying and give evasive or nonresponsive answers. Yu was found guilty and summarily expelled from Vassar.

New Rules for Campus Sex

Yu, a U.S.-educated Chinese citizen, is now going after the Poughkeepsie, New York, school in federal court, claiming not only wrongful expulsion and irreparable personal damage but sex discrimination. His complaint argues that he was the victim of a campus judicial system that in practice presumes males accused of sexual misconduct are guilty. His is one of three such lawsuits filed last summer. St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia is being sued by an expelled student, New York state resident Brian Harris, who likewise claims he was railroaded by a gender-biased campus kangaroo court. And in August college basketball player Dez Wells sued Ohio's Xavier University for expelling him in the summer of 2012 based on a rape charge that the county prosecutor publicly denounced as false.

While the lawsuits target private colleges, they also implicate public policy. That was especially true in Wells' case: When he was accused, Xavier was under scrutiny by the federal government for its allegedly poor response to three prior sexual assault complaints, and his attorney says he was the "sacrificial lamb" to appease the U.S. Department of Education. In the other two cases, there was no such direct pressure, but the charges were adjudicated under a complainant-friendly standard that the Obama administration has been aggressively pushing on academic institutions.

In April 2011, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to college and university presidents laying out guidelines for handling reports of sexual assault and harassment. One key recommendation was that such complaints should be evaluated based on a "preponderance of the evidence"-the lowest standard of proof used in civil claims. (In lay terms, it means that the total weight of the believable evidence tips at least slightly in the claimant's favor.) Traditionally, the standard for finding a student guilty of misconduct of any kind has been "clear and convincing evidence"-less stringent than "beyond a reasonable doubt," but still a very strong probability of guilt.

Last May the government reiterated its commitment to the "preponderance" standard in a joint Department of Justice/Department of Education letter to the University of Montana following a review of that school's response to sexual offenses. The letter was explicitly intended as a "blueprint" for all colleges and universities; noncompliant schools risk losing federal funds, including student aid eligibility. Meanwhile, the Department of Education also has launched civil rights investigations into complaints by several college women who say they were sexually assaulted by fellow students, then revictimized by school authorities when their assailants either went unpunished or received a slap on the wrist. The schools under scrutiny include the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

'Rape Culture'

The federal war on campus rape is unfolding amid a revival of what Katie Roiphe, in her landmark 1994 book The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, dubbed "rape-crisis feminism"-a loosely defined ideology that views sexual violence as the cornerstone of male oppression of women, expands the definition of rape to include a wide range of sexual acts involving no physical force or threat, and elevates the truth of women's claims of sexual victimization to nearly untouchable status.

This brand of feminism seemed in retreat a few years ago, particularly after a hoax at Duke University drew attention to the danger of presuming guilt. (In 2007, the alleged rape of a stripper by three Duke lacrosse players sparked local and national outrage-until the case was dismissed and the young men declared innocent.) Yet in 2013, the concept made a strong comeback with a sexual assault case that gained national visibility in January and went to trial in March. This one was in Steubenville, Ohio.

The facts in Steubenville were ugly enough. A 16-year-old girl who got very drunk at an end-of-the-summer high school party was repeatedly sexually assaulted while unconscious or barely conscious. One boy, 17-year-old Trent Mays, penetrated her with his fingers, tried to get her to perform oral sex, and essentially used her as a masturbation aid; another, Ma'lik Richmond, briefly participated in the abuse. Three other teenagers witnessed at least some of these acts (which took place in a car and in the basement of a home after the girl left the party with the boys), taking photos and a video. The next day, Mays bragged about his exploits and mocked the girl in text messages to friends, to whom he also sent her nude photo. When Mays and Richmond, both star players on the Steubenville High School football team, were arrested and charged with rape a few days later, many residents in the football-worshiping small town sympathized with the boys and were inclined to assume that the girl-an out-of-town private school student-was lying to cover up her misbehavior.

This sordid saga arguably shone a spotlight on the dark underside of small-town "football culture," which can breed a sense of entitlement and impunity in popular athletes. Yet the national press coverage, fueled by wild rumors of unspeakable brutalities (the girl was said to have been drugged, kidnapped, urinated on, and gang-raped for hours) and of an official cover-up, turned into a far more sweeping indictment of America's "rape culture"-a term that suddenly migrated from the fringes of feminist rhetoric into mainstream discourse.

Like many radical theories, the idea of rape culture contains plausible elements of truth: Some traditional gender arrangements have indeed encouraged cavalier or even tacitly accepting attitudes toward certain kinds of sexual violence. For much of history women have been treated to varying degrees as men's sexual property, with rape condoned if not legitimized in some circumstances: for example, in marriage (including forced marriage), or toward women who transgressed norms of feminine propriety.

Even in the United States, as recently as 40 years ago, juries could be instructed to consider "unchaste character"-such as being single and on birth control-as a strike against an accuser's credibility, and courts often treated submission to overt physical intimidation as consent (at least in acquaintance-rape situations). And there is some basis for the argument that the conventional script of male pursuit and feminine coyness-with "no" routinely taken to mean "try harder"-can sometimes blur the lines between consent and coercion.

But this history is only one part of a complex mix of cultural attitudes-a mix that has long included genuine societal abhorrence of rape as a violation of female personhood. It is a measure of this abhorrence that when feminists in the 1970s challenged the unjust treatment of rape victims, the reforms they advocated-such as dropping resistance requirements that did not apply to other violent crimes, or barring the use of a woman's sexual history to discredit her-were soon enacted with overwhelming support.

Moreover, the social response to sex offenses has been complicated by many factors besides sexism, from a general human tendency to sweep sordid matters under the rug to the difficulty of proving crimes that occur in intimate settings; these factors have affected male victims, too. Feminist theory offers no convincing explanation for why a homophobic patriarchy would also fail to protect boys from adult male sexual predators.

And yet the "rape culture" trope has gained such sway that even a New Yorker writer highly critical of activist zealotry over Steubenville offered a disclaimer to defend the term. In an article in the magazine's August issue, Ariel Levy cited a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report stating that one in five American women are victims of rape or attempted rape and a recent Pentagon survey finding that one in four active-duty service members have been sexually assaulted. The problem, she concluded, could not be so pervasive unless there was a rape-enabling culture treating sex as "something men get-and take" from women.

But what do these numbers mean? The Pentagon poll defined sexual assault broadly enough to include a slap on the behind-and half of its self-reported victims were men. The CDC study treats all sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs as rape, with no distinction between unconsciousness and impaired judgment. Even the CDC's definition of rape by force could include such transgressions as unwanted penetration with a finger (no matter how brief) during an otherwise consensual make-out session.

The respondents were never asked if they thought they were assaulted; in a comparable survey, the federally sponsored 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study, two-thirds of the women classified as victims of drug- or alcohol-induced rape and 37 percent of those counted as forcibly raped did not consider the event to be a crime. (And these were college women in the age of mandatory campus date-rape awareness programs.)

Notably, when CDC survey respondents were asked about victimization during the previous 12 months, men reported being "forced to penetrate someone"-an act classified as sexual violence other than rape-at the same rate that women reported forced penetration. Either "rape culture" goes both ways, and women also sexually assault their male partners with alarming frequency, or the CDC definition of sexual violence needs rethinking.

Other claims about America's alleged rape-supportive misogyny typically rely on falsified or out-of-context pseudo-facts. Thus, on the website of The Nation, Jessica Valenti states that "we live in a country where politicians call rape a 'gift from God' -not only distorting a comment made by Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock during his 2012 run for the U.S. Senate, but neglecting to mention that the gaffe almost certainly ensured his defeat in a Republican stronghold. (What Mourdock said was that life was a "gift from God" even when it began "in that horrible situation of rape.")

In The Huffington Post, writer Soraya Chemaly's list of "facts about rape" includes the claim that 31 states allow rapists who impregnate their victims to sue for child custody or visitation. Actually, these states simply don't have laws explicitly barring such suits, mainly because it is presumed to be a non-issue. So far, the only known case of this kind involves a Massachusetts man convicted of statutory rape who sued for visitation with his daughter after a family court ordered him to pay child support.

The Steubenville story, with its evidence of boys behaving abominably documented by social media, came to be seen as Exhibit A for the "rape culture." Never mind that it's quite a leap from the repulsive acts of a few drunk adolescents to the notion that our culture normalizes such acts; or that it's hardly unusual for teenagers to flaunt illegal and socially unacceptable behavior; or that the morning-after text messages in the case made it clear that a number of boys were well aware that something very wrong was done to "Jane Doe" and that legal trouble could follow.

After Mays and Richmond were convicted in juvenile court, the media went into moral panic overdrive. In Time magazine, novelist Peter Smith scolded his fellow men for their failure to reject male solidarity and "say something" against rape-as if a male judge hadn't just "said something" by sending the perpetrators to jail.

MSNBC talk show host Melissa Harris-Perry delivered an on-air apology to the victim for failing to make the world safe for her. Twitter threats to "Jane Doe" from two teenaged girls, one of them Richmond's cousin, were seized upon as more evidence of rape culture's pernicious sway. The barrage of threats to Steubenville residents who had been labeled pro-rapist, including the female prosecutor baselessly accused of a cover-up, went unnoticed until Levy's New Yorker article.

Even CNN, a major promoter of the "rape culture" meme, got hit by friendly fire: Correspondent Poppy Harlow and host Candy Crowley were vilified as rape apologists for daring to voice some sympathy for the defendants-and, it was falsely claimed, failing to mention the harm to the victim.

Much of this reaction was well-intentioned. Yet in the end rape-culture feminism promotes not only a toxic view of relationships but a skewed and dangerous view of justice. Its key tenets: 1) Women almost never lie when they report a sex crime, and to doubt them is to perpetuate rape culture; 2) rape is any sexual act in which the woman feels violated-unless she suffers from false consciousness and needs to be educated about her violation; 3) rape includes situations in which the woman agrees to sex because of persistent advances, "emotional coercion," or intoxication-or because she doesn't have the nerve to say no; 4) no matter how willing the woman appears to be, it is the man's responsibility to ensure explicit consent-or he may be guilty of rape.

The inroads these ideas could make in the actual justice system have been limited by constitutional protections for the accused, including the presumption of innocence, a high standard of proof, and the right to confront the accusing witness. But colleges are almost perfect laboratories for feminist rape prosecutions, even if the penalty can be no worse than getting expelled.

Campus Kangaroo Courts

The campus is a place where sex happens a lot-including sex in random, often drunken encounters rife with potential for misunderstanding and regret. The Online College Social Life Survey, collected from nearly 25,000 students on 20 campuses from 2005 to 2011, found that women and men alike drink heavily when hooking up with a casual partner: an average of five alcoholic drinks for women, six for men.

When you try to criminalize much of this confused and confusing sex, subjecting it to second-guessing by secretive quasi-judicial panels operating under arbitrary rules and influenced by the deference to feminist orthodoxy that prevails on many campuses, the results will not be pretty.

Complaints from all sides about the way colleges handle sexual assault reports raise the question: Why should an offense as serious as rape be "prosecuted" by a college, rather than turned over to the police? The answer is that the vast majority of these charges would be unlikely to survive the most basic legal scrutiny.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Student suspended for a year for … *GASP*… hugging a teacher

A high school senior has been suspended for a year and will not graduate on time for committing a terrible offense…he gave a teacher a hug.

Sam McNair is a 17-year-old student at Duluth High School in Georgia. He was suspended last week when a school hearing officer decided he violated the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ rules on sexual harassment.

    “Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite,” said McNair.

A surveillance camera caught the hug. It shows McNair placing his arms around the back and front of the teacher and giving her a “side” hug.

According to a discipline report, the teacher claimed McNair’s cheeks and lips touched the back of her neck and cheek.

McNair denied he kissed his teacher or that he sexually harassed her. He said he hugs teachers on a regular basis and has never been disciplined for it.

April McNair, Sam’s mother, told KCTV 5 that she is stunned about the suspension. She believes the district had a responsibility to notify her if her son’s hugging was becoming problematic before it suspended him and derailed his college plans.

    “He’s a senior. He plays football and was getting ready for lacrosse and you’re stripping him of even getting a full scholarship for athletics for college.”

Sam does have a discipline record and previous suspensions but not for sexual harassment. He does not believe he should be punished for showing affection:   “You never know what someone’s going through. A hug might help.”

We now live in a country where rich 16-year-olds can steal alcohol and kill four people while driving drunk without getting much more than a slap on the wrist, six-year-olds can get suspended for kissing girls’ hands, and teenaged boys can get suspended for hugging teachers.

What happened to our priorities?


Government Preventing Colleges from Saving Money

With skyrocketing tuition, there is no denying that college is too expensive. My friend, Professor Richard Vedder of Ohio University, has produced a lifetime of work showing that colleges' hefty price is directly related to students' easy access to Federal Pell grants and student loans. Those taxpayer subsidized funds allow universities to handsomely compensate tenured professors who rarely teach and ensure administrators at state institutions remain the highest paid public employees in America.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this model is unsustainable. With student loans already surpassing $1.2 trillion , this is a financial bubble ready to burst. And the failure will be another burden on taxpayers because these loans are backed up by the government. That is why we must insist that public colleges and universities model their business practices after private industry, such as incentivizing schools to reduce the time it takes to graduate and to reduce budgets by outsourcing services which can be performed better and more economically by the private sector.

Privatized dorm buildings, food services, and busing contracts are some good examples of public colleges and universities contracting services to save taxpayers money. But one important outsourcing idea is under attack by the Obama administration and government bureaucrats.

Smart entrepreneurs have developed a model for providing all the functions of a campus bursar’s office, allowing outside institutions to handle student loans and financial aid refunds while not having to hire their own employees, which saves millions of dollars for most schools. Using the economies of scale, companies such as Higher One, which was founded by three Yale University students in 2000, offer this service to colleges and universities while quickly processing students’ refund in the form of a check, direct deposit, or prepaid debit MasterCard.

The business model for these companies is one that every college would be wise to consider. Even though students receive 100 percent of their refunds, businesses like Higher One make a profit because the schools pay them pennies on the dollar of what it would cost them to manage financial aid for their students. In addition, these companies earn profit through debit cards and checking accounts with large ATM networks and small fees which are lower than other national and regional banks.

Since most of the schools that use these services are smaller institutions or community colleges, the average student age is 29. And as these older students try to improve their education and get a better job, they often do not have a bank account, so instead they are provided with pre-paid debit cards. Not only do students receive the money the same day, but the cards prevent the type of check fraud that has plagued the Pell Grant program by $1.2 billion. This is the same sort of shift we saw at the Social Security administration, when they stopped providing paper checks a few years ago. The debit card also prevents students from using check cashing services which can take up to 10 percent of their money.

But never doubt government’s eagerness to oppose efficiency. The organization created out of the job-killing monstrosity known as Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), headed up by Richard Cordray, wants to stop these companies from offering the debit cards. Supported by left-wing senators, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the goal is to use the Department of Education to eliminate these third-party financial services for students, while forcing those colleges to spend millions on new staff.

While such actions are beyond ridiculous, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for some regulation. Regulators might want to prohibit these companies from providing commissions to schools to avoid improper sales pitches to students by orientation staff. And, as check fraud is so common, it is probably reasonable to require future payments to happen in more secure ways by eliminating paper checks.

These outside companies provide an important service and should not be eliminated by government decree. These companies only profit when their services are found to be valuable to individual colleges and students. With a sensible amount of oversight, the model of using innovative companies on campuses deserves the full throated support of fiscal conservatives everywhere.


The New Frontier in School Choice: Education Savings Accounts

Parents are using Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to tailor their child’s education to meet that child’s individual learning needs and are highly satisfied with the flexibility the accounts provide, according to two reports released by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

In 2011, new ground was broken in the fight for educational opportunity when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Arizona’s revolutionary ESA program, the first state law of its kind. Through the ESAs, parents are empowered with the ability to customize their child’s education.

The concept behind ESAs is simple: 90 percent of the funds that would otherwise be spent on their child at a public school are deposited into a savings account for parents to use on a variety of approved educational services and products, including private school tuition, education therapy, textbooks, private tutoring, or even college tuition.

Originally, only students with special needs were eligible for the accounts. However, last year Governor Brewer signed into law an expansion of the program to include children in active duty military families, foster children, and children in poor-performing schools. What is more, parents can “roll over” unused ESA funds from year to year.

In the Friedman Foundation report, The Education Debit Card, Heritage education policy fellow Lindsey Burke finds that of the families utilizing education savings accounts, “34 percent chose to use their ESA funds for multiple education options.” When given the ability to customize their child’s education, more than one-third of families utilized the opportunity to its fullest, tailoring their child’s education to that child’s individual needs.

A recent Friedman study by Jonathan Butcher and Jason Bedrick reinforces this point:

    "The majority of respondents reported being “very satisfied” with the accounts (71 percent); nearly 20 percent of those surveyed reported being “satisfied,” and 10 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.” No parent responded as neutral or reported any dissatisfaction with the accounts."

Parents reported that they were grateful for “the educational flexibility the ESA afforded them and the resulting improvement in their children’s lives and opportunities.”

Education Savings Accounts represent the future of school choice. With ESAs, those who are closest to the children and know them best—their parents—are empowered with educational decision-making authority. With this authority, parents are investing in more than their child’s education: They are investing in their child’s future.