Monday, November 24, 2014

Wisconsin to Prioritize Common Core Repeal

As Ohio moves closer to repealing Common Core education standards, Wisconsin looks like it could be next in line. The State Senate Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, has said that tackling Common Core is definitely on the agenda for next year’s legislative session. Fitzgerald has yet to offer any specific proposals, but it’s safe to assume that the changes will be more in line with the school choice platform that Governor Scott Walker ran on to win reelection.

Earlier this year, Walker stated definitively that he wanted to see the federal standards repealed and replaced with something crafted at the state or local level.

“Today, I call on the members of the state legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin,” he said in July.

More recently, Walker reaffirmed his position on education, during a visit to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. "One of the things I mentioned throughout the campaign that I wanted to do early on is an overall education reform package,” he said. “I think that's something we can work on, whether it's a special session or not, it would be early in the next session. Having high standards, but standards that are set by people here in ... Wisconsin, not by people outside of the state would be a key part of that."

Back in February, several Senators introduced a bill that would have repealed Common Core in Wisconsin, but failed to pass. In the aftermath of the midterm elections,, however, as Republicans slightly expanded their majority in the state legislature, and as Common Core becomes increasingly unpopular across the country, repeal may well prove easier early in the next Congress.

So far, six states have withdrawn from Common Core, making new efforts to repeal the standards seem less radical than they did this time last year. For the sake of education freedom, let’s hope the momentum continues into 2015.


UK: Oxford students shut down abortion debate. Free speech is under assault on campus

I would’ve thought that the one place in Britain where you could agree to disagree amicably would be Oxford University. But I was wrong. For instance, I’ve discovered that you’re only allowed to debate abortion there if a) you’re a woman and b) you’re all for it. Any other approach to the subject is liable to attract a mob…

A few months ago I accepted an invitation by the Oxford Students for Life to debate Brendan O’Neill on the subject “This House believes Britain's Abortion Culture Hurts Us All". The setting was Christ Church College and around 60 people signed up to attend on Facebook. To be clear: this wasn’t a pro-life demo and the subject wasn’t whether or not women should have the right to choose abortion. Even though I was speaking for the proposition, my speech would’ve begun with noting that the motion has nothing to do with abortion rights per se and was simply a consideration of how having effective abortion on demand affects wider society. Brendan, speaking for the opposition, would've doubtless done a fine job and probably run rings round me. It was a fair and free debate that I half expected to lose.

But someone was outraged that we dared to discuss this issue at all. A protest group of around 300 people called “What the f**k is 'Abortion Culture'?” appeared on Facebook that promised to “take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their 'debate'.” We were guilty of promoting "really sh*tty anti-choice rhetoric and probs some cissexism." The foul language indicates how sophisticated the protesters were, while the accusation of cissexism had me reaching for my online urban dictionary. Was I being called a sissy by homophobic feminists? Mais non. Apparently a “cis” is someone who identifies with the same gender that they were born with. So that’s a thing now.

The university’s students’ union also issued a statement that took aim at Brendan and me for being so offensively attached to our God-given genitals: “The Women’s Campaign (WomCam) condemn SFL for holding this debate. It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies.” Next, the Christ Church Junior Common Room (posh talk for “the committee that run the students' bar”) passed a motion asking their college to decline to room the debate. Eventually, the college caved-in on the grounds that, “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”. The pro-life society tried to find an alternative venue but everyone else said “no”. I believe that two colleges agreed only to later rescind their invitations. I was sitting in Paddington Station (in a duffel coat and hat!) ready to jump on a train to Oxford at 4.40pm when I was told that the debate was finally, totally called off. I said the same thing my mother says every time the car stalls or the TV goes on the blink: “this is why people vote Ukip.”

The arguments against hosting the debate were spurious. That only men were speaking was no reason to stop it. A) Anyone objecting to the subject matter or the virile masculinity of the speakers was free not to attend. B) A private society should be allowed to invite whoever they want to discuss whatever they want (providing it’s legal and doesn’t incite violence etc). C) The idea that an ethical issue can only be debated by the people directly affected by it is self-evidently unintelligent. And D) we weren’t debating women’s right to choose anyway but instead the effect of abortion on wider society, which does include a few men. Sorry, by “men” I mean “cisgendered heteronormative masculine pronouns in possession of a Hampton wick”.

Some tried to suggest that the presence of this debate might pose some sort of welfare issue to the incredibly vulnerable students of Christ Church, but that, too, is smoke and mirrors. Does this mean no debate may be had about democracy in Hong Kong for fear of upsetting those Chinese sons and daughters of communist apparatchiks paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to study in the UK? And as for the case that holding this debate would threaten abortion rights more generally, I would remind you for the thousandth time that WE WEREN’T DEBATING THEM - and even if we were that really wouldn’t change the fact that abortion in Britain is widely available, easy to get and a politically protected subject. As the successful attempt to shut down this debate proved.

What it also proved is that elements of the Left are working hard to define new parameters for freedom of speech. You are free to speak so long as it doesn’t offend certain sensibilities, which of course amounts to no real freedom at all. I’m reminded of the old Puritan ethic that a human being had liberty only in so far as that liberty led them to salvation. Any practice of liberty that led away from God represented slavery to lies and was thus outlawed – for the good of the so-called sinner. Many on the Left imitate the very authoritarian mindset of the people on the religious Right that they claim to hate, likewise trying to safeguard their definition of freedom by eradicating contrary ideas. On the subject of abortion, the Left can enjoy that authoritarianism because contemporary society broadly agrees with them. But a day will come when they try to argue for something that proves unpopular and they, too, will be gagged. And I’ll be there to defend their right to say something that I disagree with.

Because the older you get the more you realise that just as important as your beliefs are your freedom to articulate them without fear. I guess maturity makes wet liberals of us all.


UK: Ofsted fails top inner city state school for not safeguarding pupils from extremism

One of Britain’s most successful inner city state schools is to be failed by Ofsted for not sufficiently safeguarding its pupils from extremism.

Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat Church of England school in Tower Hamlets, east London will be placed in special measures by the education standards watchdog after inspectors found it failed to monitor the activities of an Islamic society set up by sixth formers at the school.

The inspections were launched in early October at the request of the Department for Education.

A Facebook site set up by the society contained links to hardline Islamist preachers, which potentially could have exposed pupils to radicalisation, the Independent reported.

The society also set up its own YouTube channel which was not monitored.

Ofsted said this constituted a failure to safeguard the pupils, a breach which led to it being placed in special measures.

It is the first school outside Birmingham to be failed on such a safeguarding issue.

The school was also criticised by Ofsted for allowing segregation between boys and girls in the playground.

Local education sources accused Ofsted of overreacting saying it was “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

The report, part of which was leaked to the Independent, will be published on Friday alongside reports on six other Muslim schools which are also said to have raised concerns about safeguarding issues.

It raises questions about how schools should monitor Islamic societies, which are increasing in state schools.

In September it emerged that schools were being hit by a series of “no notice” inspections as part of a crackdown on bad behaviour and the suspected radicalisation of pupils, Ofsted announced today.

Ofsted said around 40 schools were being subjected to lightning inspections over a two-week period amid major concerns over classroom standards.

The action is being taken in light of the alleged “Trojan Horse” plot in Birmingham that saw school governing bodies being infiltrated by hard-line Muslims.

Inspectors raised concerns over the segregation of boys and girls in lessons, the marginalisation of subjects such as religious education and a failure to challenge extremist views.

The watchdog had told regional inspectors to make greater use of existing powers to carry out lightning inspections – rather than the usual half-day notice period – to address a series of major concerns in their area.

This included “rapidly” declining teaching standards and a slump in teachers’ ability to maintain discipline.

Echoing concerns raised in Birmingham, inspectors will also target schools with poor governance and those failing to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.


NYC’s Success Academy Charter Schools Are Beating the Odds . . . and Powerful Unions

It’s no secret that labor union rules impose significant burdens on schools. More than a decade ago Lance Izumi oversaw a rigorous study that examined the impact of 25 years of collective bargaining on the effectiveness of California public schools. It found that rigid union rules put California schools and classrooms in a stranglehold that negatively impact not only day-to-day operations but, most importantly, student achievement.

More recently,’s Nick Gillespie sat down with Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, which is one of New York City’s most successful charter school networks, to talk about how charters are shaking up the education establishment. This eye-opening 17-minute interview, How Eva Moskowitz Outmuscled the Teachers Union, is a must-see for anyone frustrated by the schooling status quo in California and across the country.

Thank you to Lisa Snell, Education and Child Welfare Director at the Reason Foundation, for sharing it. As Reason’s Jim Epstein explains:

In November 2003, Eva Moskowitz, then a freshman member of the New York City Council, held explosive public hearings about how union contracts imposed inane work rules on public schools. The city’s political establishment was astonished.

Mosowitz—a former history professor, public school teacher, and self-proclaimed liberal, whose politics up until that point seemed to resemble those of every other Democratic politician in New York—was sacrificing her political career to take on organized labor. Exposing the consequences of teacher union contracts was a direct affront to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which wields enormous influence in New York City elections.

Moskowitz didn’t pussyfoot. At one point in the hearings, she even played audio testimony from a whistleblower with a disguised voice. She said that many of her sources declined to appear because they feared union retribution. She also went toe-to-toe with Randi Weingarten, the UFT’s confrontational leader.

Two years later, when Moskowitz ran for Manhattan Borough President, Weingarten and the UFT mobilized against her and sunk her candidacy. So Moskowitz left politics for the time being; if she couldn’t transform the system from within, she would build an alternative to the public schools.

Today, Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy, which is the city’s largest and most successful charter school network. With 32 schools around New York City—staffed by a non-union teaching force—Success Academy posted test results last year that astounded education policy experts.

Moskowitz’s courage and conviction are inspirational, and her example serves as an important reminder of the power individuals have to accomplish positive reforms against the odds.


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