Monday, July 21, 2014

Court Rules Against Woman Challenging University’s Race-Based Admissions Standards

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Abigail Fisher in her ongoing battle against the University of Texas at Austin for discriminating against her based on race. The court upheld the university’s admissions policy which uses racial and ethnic preferences to achieve “diversity” on campus.

Texas adopted a plan in the mid-1990s that automatically admitted Texas students in the top 10 percent of their high school class to all state-funded universities. Following a 2003 Supreme Court decision that authorized schools to consider race or ethnicity as a “plus factor,” the University of Texas began subjecting applicants for the remaining spots to a “holistic review” that included preferences for underrepresented minorities. Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, did not graduate in the top 10 percent, so her application for admission was in competition with candidates who received racial preferences. Fisher challenged the university’s consideration of race in court after her application was denied.

This case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, went to the Supreme Court in the 2012-2013 term. Last June, in a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts were too deferential to the university’s judgment upon reviewing the university’s admissions plan. The Supreme Court previously stated that racial preferences are constitutional if they pass strict scrutiny review, which requires that the university prove that its classification based on race is “narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests.” “On this point,” the Supreme Court determined that university officials are entitled to “no deference.” The Court explained that it is “for the courts, not for university administrators” to ensure that the means used by the university pass strict scrutiny review, which must not be “strict in theory but feeble in fact,” and it sent Fisher’s case back to the federal appellate court for a more searching examination.

Unfortunately, in a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit essentially rubberstamped the university’s judgment once again. The burden was on the university to demonstrate that its use of racial and ethnic preferences advanced its compelling interest in obtaining a “critical mass” of campus diversity, but, as a dissenting judge pointed out, the university didn’t come close to defining what a “critical mass” is. Of course, this is not to say the university should be able to use racial quotas, but it’s difficult for a court to determine if the university’s use of race was necessary to achieve a “critical mass” when the university did not “describe[ ] what ‘critical mass’ requires.”

Further, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. 1, classifications based on race are constitutionally permissible only as a “last resort.” Thus, the university was required to show that there are “no workable race-neutral alternatives” in order to justify its use of race classifications. The majority found that there were, in fact, “no workable race-neutral alternatives” since the state of Texas had tried various alternatives to increase diversity in the past and the top 10 percent program produced too many students from majority-minority schools (who apparently don’t provide the “right” kind of diversity).

This stereotyping by race contradicts the equal protection guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The government should not be in the business of sorting people by such innate characteristics as race and ethnicity. The University of Texas is, after all, a state-run school and its use of racial preferences remains discriminatory. Even though they may be “cloaked in good intentions, the University’s racial tinkering harms the very people it claims to be helping,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Indeed, racial preferences are nothing more than government-sanctioned discrimination, and as Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In a statement following the decision, Fisher said, “It is disappointing that the judges hearing my case are not following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer. I remain committed to continuing this lawsuit even if it means we appeal to the Supreme Court once again.” It looks like the justices may have a yet another opportunity to consider the continued validity of racial preferences in college admissions.


UK: How Ofsted marks teachers down for actually teaching! Watchdog prefers 'jazzy' child-led learning to 'chalk and talk' lessons

Ofsted inspectors are favouring ‘trendy’ learning methods over traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching, a report claims today.

They prefer child-led activities to such an extent that it is ‘inconceivable’ for teachers to allow pupils to learn from textbooks during a visit from the watchdog.

An examination of Ofsted reports by the think-tank Civitas reveals that inspectors show an ‘aversion’ to direct teacher instruction and like group work instead.

This is resulting in staff putting on ‘jazzy’ lessons to impress them, according to the study, Playing The Game: The enduring influence of the preferred Ofsted teaching style.

Robert Peal, a history teacher and education research fellow for Civitas, examined 130 Ofsted reports of secondary schools inspected between September and October last year. Of these, 52 per cent showed a preference for lessons in which pupils learn independently from teachers and 42 per cent favoured group work.

Eighteen per cent criticised teachers for talking too much and the same proportion criticised lessons because the pupils were ‘too passive’.

There was only one example of an inspector recommending a more teacher-led approach.

Two months later, Ofsted issued new guidance for inspectors which stated they should not back one style of teaching over another in the course of their work. And in January this year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, wrote to inspectors saying: ‘Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it does not conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.’

Mr Peal studied an additional 130 reports of inspections conducted between January and March this year to assess whether inspectors had taken the guidance on board. Only 8 per cent demonstrated a preference for pupil independence and there were no reports of inspectors criticising teachers for talking too much. Two per cent flagged up the ‘passivity’ of pupils.

But Mr Peal claims the changes are ‘largely superficial’ and that ‘fundamental problems’ remain because reports have simply been rewritten to ensure signs of ‘bias’ are not included.

Inspectors have been given a list of ‘banned’ phrases to prevent schools from thinking the watchdog has a preferred style of teaching. Serco – which is contracted by Ofsted – provided its inspectors with alternative ways of making comments in May.

Instead of writing that ‘too much teacher talk dominates’, it was suggested that inspectors could write ‘explanations are not clear’.

Inspectors are also still backing child-led learning in verbal feedback to staff, according to Mr Peal. One teacher told Civitas: ‘“Too much teacher talk” is often verbally mentioned in feedback but, due to new criteria, not written down.’

Writing in the report, Mr Peal claims inspections are ‘distinctly in favour of child-centred teaching methods and prejudiced against more teacher-led alternatives’.

He said: ‘Teachers are accustomed to putting on “jazzy” lessons, replete with group work, role play and active learning in order to fulfil what has become widely acknowledged as the Ofsted style.

‘So strong is the inspectorate’s reputation for favouring trendy teaching methods that the idea of putting on a “chalk and talk” lesson or learning from a textbook with an Ofsted inspector in the room has become inconceivable within the teaching profession.’

In June, Ofsted announced a pilot scheme in the Midlands to end grading teaching quality on each lesson observation form. Instead, lead inspectors will form an overall judgment on teaching in the school from their team’s summaries.

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘As HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly made clear, Ofsted does not have a preferred teaching style. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine how they should teach.’


UK: Teachers pour away seven-year-old pupil's bottle of squash during hot weather claiming it breached school's health policies

A mother has pulled her seven-year-old son out of school after teachers started pouring away his bottle of squash claiming it breached the school’s health policy.

Sammie Riley, 25, started sending son Bailey to The Bewbush Academy in Crawley, West Sussex with bottles of squash because he doesn’t like the taste of water.

However, she was shocked to discover teachers had been pouring the juice away and replacing it with water because the flavoured drink is against the school's health policy.

After finding out her son’s drink was tipped away twice in one week, the mother-of-three decided to take action and kept him off school.

She said: ‘The school have pulled me in about it and told me they have a no juice policy.

‘I kept him off school on July 2 and sent him back on the Thursday but again the staff had tipped his juice away and refilled it with water. I was absolutely fuming.

‘Bearing in mind it was a really hot week with temperatures of 26C outside, it must have been hitting 30C in the classrooms and my son was unable to drink.

‘Bailey came home dehydrated with a really bad headache and I wasn't happy for him to go back to school.  ‘I was livid that they have been tipping Bailey's drink away.’

Miss Riley spoke to the acting head and head of Year 2, but was told it was ‘water or nothing’.

She was also told that staff had tried putting cucumber and lemon in the drinks to spruce up the water, which didn't work.

The mother, who is now considering setting up a petition, has accused the school of double standards because they ban juice but hand out sherbet sticks and lollipops at the end of the week for ‘rewards’.

She said: ‘It is part of their health policy but how is it helpful for my son to become dehydrated and unable to concentrate in lessons?  ‘Of course I'd prefer him to drink water because it's healthier but at this stage I want him to drink rather than being left with nothing.

‘I don't think the school should me to make my son drink something he doesn't like.

‘The school is being totally ludicrous and contradicting its own health policy because they are giving out treats as rewards.’

Headteacher Elizabeth Harrison said parents are able to pack non-fizzy drinks for children to enjoy during break-times, but they must have nothing but water in lessons following advice from health professionals


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