Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Public School Discipline and Obama's Egalitarian Society

Claiming to protect the civil rights of minority students by condemning good black kids from inner-city schools to classrooms with dysfunctional and violent juvenile delinquents seems like a plan orchestrated by the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. However, this is the brainchild of the Obama administration to remedy its alleged racial discrimination in school discipline policies that do-gooding liberals imposed in the first place.

Just last Wednesday, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education sent a co-authored letter to K-12 public schools across the country. Unbelievably, the letter advises educators to alter disciplinary practices involving disruptive black students in order to ensure that all racial groups are now punished in equal percentages.

In fact, if the proportions in discipline by racial groups do not balance out, the letter threatens that schools could face federal lawsuits.

Currently, government data reveals that black students are suspended three and a half times more often than white students are. On the other hand, Asian students are suspended far less frequently than are whites -- more than two times less often, according to the government’s study.

Of course, the DOJ’s letter simply ignores the latter fact; maybe because whites students are not minorities -- well, not at most schools anyway.

On the surface, however, someone looking at these statistical facts alone might be persuaded to believe that a gang of conservative-Asian bigots was running the public school system. I mean, the DOJ and DOE’s letter flat out states, “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem” -- except in terms of suspending Asian students.

I have taught English and coached wrestling in a few different public high schools across the country, including two predominantly black schools most recently. The latter two schools are located in a city ranked by Forbes.com as one of the top 10 most impoverished cities in America. It also consistently ranks among the top 50 most dangerous cities in the country.

I can assure you that conservative-Asian bigots do not control the public school system there -- or anywhere else. But you do not have to rely on my personal experience as proof.

At the 2011 National Education Association’s convention, 72 percent of delegates voted to endorse President Obama for re-election. It is painfully clear that if there are any racist bigots imposing racially discriminatory discipline on students, those racists would most certainly be multicultural liberals.

Nevertheless, the attorney general is blaming “zero-tolerance” policies, not the liberals who imposed them, for the problem. (Of course, it seems kind of ironic that Holder has zero tolerance for the idea of blind justice, but I digress.) The DOJ claims that while zero-tolerance policies are well intentioned, they disproportionately affect minority students.

Here is how the DOJ explains the high number of suspensions regarding disruptive black students: “Schools ... violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race."

In other words, “Some black students have more of a propensity to violate school rules so we are directing you to start ignoring them, and if you don’t, we will prosecute you for violating their civil rights.”

The DOJ even makes an effort to drag the well-behaved and scholarly Asian students in to its discipline discrimination charges. According to the letter, Asian students are being disproportionately disciplined for being late to school because they tend to live farther away from the schools than other students.

But why do Asian students not attend schools closer to where they live? Are liberal administrators assigning school zones in an effort to increase test scores at schools where the general population might not naturally have any Asians at all? It is not like busing for that very purpose is some radically new liberal concept.

Then again, busing Asian students to schools far away from their own neighborhoods is more likely explained by liberals as part of the multiculturalism experience. Of course, encouraging students to emulate the respect for teachers, self discipline, hard work, respect for others, and responsibility that Asian students typically exhibit is something that violates the foundation of multiculturalism. Assimilation is bad. To liberals, Asian students are just fun to watch and really do a good job improving a school’s test scores.

Nevertheless, regarding zero-tolerance policies in general, Attorney General Holder insists the policies too often escalate school matters to the level of criminal behavior.

The DOJ’s letter cites examples like chewing gum, being late to class, and cell phone violations. However, at many inner-city schools, each one of those seemingly minor infractions can quickly escalate to a student causing a verbal commotion or even physically threatening the teacher attempting to correct the infraction.

Furthermore, gang members routinely use their cell phones to organize drug deals, fights, and more in bathrooms and stairwells during requests to go to the restroom. Simply maintaining some semblance of order at inner-city schools is a full-time job.

Meanwhile, good black students routinely sit frustrated or become disengaged as their teachers are preoccupied with resolving conflicts or filling out the required documentation of an incident report or referral to classrooms called “Chill Out” or “ICE” (a.k.a. in school suspension). Thorough documentation is necessary to justify a principal’s decision to suspend an unruly student who takes up 20 minutes of class time by refusing to comply with a teacher’s simple instructions to be quiet or to leave the room -- you know, 20-minute minor infractions like that.

Granted, principals should have discretion in making disciplinary decisions for individual students. Decisions made by individuals closest to the problems are generally better than those made by disengaged bureaucrats in Washington D.C.. Central planning generally comes up with stupid ideas like replacing personal discretion with racial quotas.

The truth is that any racial discrimination in school discipline would be the exception, not the norm. In terms of many classrooms in inner-city schools, they are nothing more than security-guard jobs. As long as the hoodlums from the neighborhoods are not out committing crimes in the city for a good part of the day, politicians and Attorney General Eric Holder will happily sacrifice the education of the good black kids who are mired in those chaotic classrooms.

On the other hand, what is so different about students of Asian descent? Why do they face far less discipline at school than other students? The answer is quite obvious. More of their parents have zero tolerance for disrespect and delinquency at home.

Instead of celebrating counterproductive “stereotypes” associated with any racial group under the banner of multiculturalism, perhaps students should be expected to assimilate and pursue qualities that produce personal success, not government dependency.

Demanding higher standards of conduct from all school children seems like a far better plan than having the federal government force schools not to suspend black juvenile delinquents who are robbing their black classmates of an education at school and committing other crimes when they are not confined to a classroom.

Liberals certainly benefit when everyone just ignores the violence and crime taking place in communities like the one where my former students live. Though most Americans might think of inner-city schools in places like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, or Washington D.C, smaller cities have the same if not worse problems.

If this situation were not so serious regarding the education of the black children who strive hard to avoid the snares of trouble in their cities, it would almost be hilarious that the DOJ’s letter exposes the fact that liberal fantasies (like Holder’s naughty dream of racial punishment) are the obvious causes of their own complaints of racial discrimination.

Maybe this whole situation is bigger than civil rights though. It may very well be an effort by the Obama administration to also substantiate multiculturalism. Clearly, Asian students tend to be more respectful toward teachers and just more serious students than other kids. Just look back at the suspension data and check out their test scores.

But if all races are going to be punished in equal percentages, there really are no superior values in any one culture. More good people are simply going to become the victims of bad people who will face no consequences for the offenses.

Finally, liberals might have found a way to achieve their egalitarian society after all. And it looks like everyone is going to be miserable.


The Common Coring of private schools

Should private schools be primarily accountable to parents or to government bureaucrats?

That’s the central question the Thomas B. Fordham Institute seeks to answer in the report it released Tuesday. The institute proposes that state governments should require private schools to administer state tests to all students participating in school-choice programs, and that the results should be publicized. Any private school the state deemed “persistently underperforming” would be expelled from the choice program.

This policy is well-intentioned, but a bad idea. It isn’t supported by the evidence and would be detrimental to the hundreds of thousands of students participating in school-choice programs nationwide.

First, the evidence: It is telling that the Fordham Institute cites only one study that suggests its policy “may boost student achievement.” Problematically, one of the authors of that study has already publicly cautioned against drawing this conclusion, noting that his finding is “enticing and suggestive but hardly conclusive.”

But even if the support of that one study were not in question, it would still only be one study. And a single study, no matter how carefully executed, is not a scientific basis for policy.

By contrast, there is a significant body of evidence that school-choice programs work without excessive government regulation. Of twelve randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of social-science research — eleven found that school-choice programs improve outcomes for some or all students, while only one found no statistically significant difference. None found a negative impact. And none of these school-choice programs studied were designed along the lines of the Fordham Institute proposal.

A 2009 literature review of the within-country studies comparing outcomes among different types of school systems worldwide revealed that the most market-like and least regulated education systems tend to produce student outcomes superior to more heavily regulated systems, including those with a substantial number of state-funded and regulated private schools. In short, the evidence suggests the best form of accountability is directly to parents, not government bureaucrats.

While the benefit of further regulating private schools is dubious, the harm is clear. By forcing every school to administer the same tests, states would induce conformity and stifle diversity and innovation. This is especially threatening because it’s already happening across the country, even without mandates, through the spread of the Common Core.

Forty-five states have adopted and begun to implement the Common Core’s uniform national curriculum standards. Though the standards do not prescribe a curriculum per se, the Common Core–aligned tests create a powerful incentive for schools to teach the same concepts in the same order at the same time. This would make it all but impossible for schools to experiment with new ways of tailoring education to meet the needs of individual children — they will instead have to resort to expecting that all children who happened to be born in the same year progress at the same rate across subjects. As Professor Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas has cautioned:

    "Such uniformity would only make sense if: 1) there was a single best way for all students to learn; 2) we knew what it was; 3) we could be sure the people running this nationalized education system would adopt that correct approach; and 4) they would remain in charge far into the future. But that isn’t how things are. There is no consensus on what all students need to know. Different students can best be taught and assessed in different ways."

If states force private schools to administer state tests, which will now be Common Core–aligned, they will almost entirely eliminate any viable alternative education systems.

Why? Even schools that don’t participate in school-choice programs, and therefore don’t have to take the state tests, will be affected. All over the world and across history, whenever private elementary and secondary schools are eligible for government subsidies, whether directly or indirectly (via school-choice programs), the share of students enrolling in unsubsidized schools falls.

Private schools that resist such regulation will be in the minority, and will gradually be driven out of business by their subsidized counterparts (much as America’s once-dominant private schools were marginalized by the spread of “free” state-run schools). Private schools may value their autonomy, but they value their existence even more. The higher the subsidy and the longer it has been in place, the more the unsubsidized sector is diminished.

If state governments expand their authority over private schools, even the Fordham Institute will likely come to regret it. Ultimately, it won’t be Fordham’s friends whose power has been expanded, but that of the teachers’ unions and other vested interests.

As Professor Greene has warned, “Minority religions shouldn’t favor building national churches, because inevitably it won’t be their gospel being preached.”


Cost no barrier for some as Australian universities lose students to Oxford and Harvard

The number of Australians heading to the world's most prestigious universities such as Harvard and Oxford for their undergraduate degree is swelling, as students are lured by reputation and rich scholarly traditions.

But a leading education expert says the immense costs, up to $90,000 a year, will remain a barrier for all but a privileged minority or those with scholarships.

While 55,000 students received offers this week to study at NSW universities, many others were preparing for a year abroad.

Kim Zhang, who graduated from Pymble Ladies' College last year, will soon join an impressive list of Australians to have studied at Oxford University, including Tony Abbott and three other Prime Ministers.

The 18-year-old, who received an ATAR of 99.95, will travel to the oldest university in the English-speaking world to study the classics.

"It's one of the best places in the world for classical literature and philosophy and history," she said.

Australia is Oxford's fifth-largest source of international talent, with more than 300 Australians currently enrolled, of which less than a quarter are undergraduates.

In the US, two-thirds of the Australians studying at university are undergraduates or on exchange programs, figures from the Institute of International Education show.

Between 2012 and last year, more than 4000 Australian students were studying at American universities.

And, while there are more than 3000 institutions, Australians are well represented at the eight elite Ivy League universities in the US, with Harvard University the equal second most popular place for undergraduates to study and Princeton University equal sixth.

The most recent enrolment data from Columbia University in New York shows there were 116 Australian students in 2012, almost double the number in 2006.

Last year, the University of California, Berkeley had 65 Australians enrolled, Princeton had 30 undergraduates and 21 graduates and Yale had 42 students, including 15 undergraduates.

US consulate general public affairs officer David McGuire said the Ivy League universities were "highly selective".

Acceptance rates are as low as 5.69 per cent at Stanford University and 5.79 per cent at Harvard. In Britain, only 12 undergraduate Australians were accepted to study at Cambridge University in 2012 out of almost 100 applicants.

As well as competitiveness, Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton said cost would be a barrier for most students without scholarships.

"You'd expect some growth but I think the cost and social implications of studying overseas are still going to keep most people here," he said.

It is estimated Harvard costs an international student $73,000 a year. Cambridge ranges from $55,000 to more than $90,000.

By comparison, studying law at the University of Sydney while living at one of the prestigious on-campus colleges would cost about $30,000 without a government loan.

Jane McNeill, director of Hays recruitment in NSW, said a degree from a top university did not carry the advantage it once did.

"Today many employers value candidates with experience as well as a degree," she said. "The biggest advantage of a degree from a prestigious university is probably the alumni network and the connection you make with fellow students."


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