Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Parents Fight Back Against Teachers Union Suing Nation’s Largest School Choice Program

Teachers’ unions in Florida continue to threaten the educational opportunity of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable children.

But there is some good news: Last week, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III granted parents of these children the right to intervene on behalf of their children’s scholarships, which are awarded through the corporate tuition tax credit scholarship program.

“All three [of my] children are excelling academically and socially in their respective schools under the scholarships,” said Cheryl Joseph, a mother of three scholarship recipients and one of 15 parents who were granted a motion to intervene in the lawsuit. Cheryl, like the other parents who filed, will not be able to send her children to their chosen school without the scholarship funding.

In August, the Florida Education Association and allies—including the Florida School Boards Association, the PTA, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others—filed two lawsuits challenging the state’s 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program.

The first suit claimed that the scholarship violates the “no aid” clause and the “uniform public schools” clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.

The second lawsuit argued that the expansion of the scholarship program by lawmakers in June violated legislative procedure because it didn’t pass as a standalone measure; rather, the legislation included a variety of education-related topics—including the passage of Florida’s first education savings account program. However, this lawsuit was dismissed by Leon County circuit court judge Charles Francis in September.

The court found that the unions did not have standing to challenge the law, freeing nearly 1,000 students to begin using their education saving account school choice option (Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts in Florida) and allowing the Tax Credit Scholarship eligibility to expand.

Despite this win for educational choice, the unions continue their attack on Florida’s popular Tax Credit Scholarship option by opposing parents of scholarship students’ motion to intervene and the state’s motion to dismiss.

Enacted in 2001, the tax credit scholarships have enabled nearly 400,000 Florida students to attend a school of choice. This year businesses contributed $357.8 million to non-profit groups providing scholarships to 68,761 children to attend a private school of choice—most of whom are low-income minority children. Eligible children are from households with incomes of no more that 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

Under the recently expanded tuition tax credit scholarship program, families at 260 percent of the federal poverty line, or $62,010 for a household of four, will be eligible for partial scholarships during the 2016-17 school year.

The union suit implies that taxpayers are forced to support parochial education through public funds, but this is not the way tax credit scholarships work.

“Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands,’” writes Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick.

In the case of Florida, private corporate donations— not public funds— make up the funding for the scholarships. Businesses receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to non-profits that administer the scholarship.

A similar suit was filed by the teachers union in New Hampshire last year. But in August, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously upheld the tax credit scholarship, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing because the scholarships were funded through private contributions and could not prove any individual harm caused by the scholarships.

The Florida scholarships allow the most economically disadvantaged children to choose an educational environment that best meets their needs. According to Step Up for Students, the non-profit administering the scholarships, 54 percent of the scholarship children are from single-parent households and have an average household income of $24,067.

These children are succeeding with their scholarships. Research conducted by Dr. David Figlio in 2011 found that students enrolled in the scholarship program performed slightly better than their peers in reading and math achievement levels. Other research suggests that the public schools in Florida are improving because of increased competition from the state’s various school choice options.

It is a disappointment that teachers union heads continue to threaten the educational opportunity of Florida’s most disadvantaged students, despite evidence suggesting academic improvement for students in the program and in traditional public schools. The court was right to grant parents of scholarship students the right to intervene in the suit—it is their children’s future that is at stake.


Are College Women Crying Wolf?

We’ve been told repeatedly by Barack Obama and others in his truth-challenged administration that one in five college women across the nation will be the victim of sexual assault. One in five. Congress is working on legislation to address the issue. Magazine articles and books are written with the narrative as background. But is the story true?

Earlier this week we told you about all the trouble caused by a phony Rolling Stone rape exposé. Reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely interviewed a woman named Jackie, who, as it turns out, falsely accused members of a University of Virginia fraternity of gang-raping her at a party. While the magazine has backtracked on most of the account, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan did not relent on a suspension of all fraternity activities for the remainder of the semester and winter break. Sullivan still considers sexual violence among the “most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today.”

This Rolling Stone hit piece came hot on the heels of HBO celebrity Lena Dunham’s autobiographical claim that she was raped by a “mustachioed campus Republican named Barry” during her days at Oberlin College. Her book publisher later walked back the story when the alleged perpetrator cried foul and lawyered up.

So one has to ask why these stories fall into the “fake but accurate” school of journalism. We think it’s because they fit so neatly into the prevailing progressive narrative of women as sexual victims. As the tale is told, predatory males (for example, of the Duke lacrosse team) go to college to drink, party and prey upon college women. Therefore, to question (read: to seriously investigate) any allegation is to be, in the parlance of feminists, a “rape apologist.”

Sexual assault is a horrific crime, and too often women don’t report it. But the Obama administration’s now-engrained statistic is bogus, and it does damage not only to the fight against real sexual assault on campus but also to the perception we have of college men in general.

This week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics – part of Eric Holder’s Justice Department – released a new survey that scrutinized nearly two decades' worth of crime statistics and revealed that the oft-repeated one-in-five tale grossly overstated the true statistical likelihood of such an occurrence. Instead of 20%, the actual figure came out to be 0.61%. So the narrative that college is unsafe for women simply falls apart under the light of investigation. In fact, the college campus is actually slightly safer than the “outside world” off-campus, where the figure was 0.76%.

These statistics don’t settle the debate, however. Some women never report their assault, and some guilty men get away with it. Yet to point out that the narrative is false is to become a pariah. Just ask political analyst George Will about his experience in questioning the one-in-five stat earlier this year. The ironclad narrative defense has also led to the loss of due process for male students, as federal rules are encouraging colleges to adopt a lower standard – simple “preponderance of the evidence” – to adjudicate on-campus sexual assault allegations.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes: “Because campuses provide victims with a lower standard of proof, utilize definitions of consent that effectively flip the burden of proof onto the accused, and prohibit cross examinations, complainants are predictably steered away from the criminal justice system until it is often too late to initiate an effective law enforcement response.”

Again, just because the narrative is incorrect doesn’t mean we should do less for those who are victims. But the evidence clearly shows that males on a college campus, even those in fraternities, should not automatically be looked upon with suspicion as potential rapists. Leftists hurt their own cause when they fail to remember the tale of the girl who cried wolf.


UK: Christmas 'cancelled' in bid to get children into top private schools

Getting your kid into a good school is a major challenge in Britain

Pushy parents are ruining Christmas by signing children up for “wall-to-wall cramming” over the festive season to get them into top private schools, according to a tutoring expert.

Some children are being enrolled in revision courses lasting up to six hours a day over the Christmas holidays in preparation for January entrance exams, it was claimed.

Will Orr-Ewing, director of Keystone Tutors, said the timing of tests for many schools – just after the New Year – was putting mounting pressure on children “at a time when everyone else is letting their hair down”.

He called for assessments for private day schools to be put back until February to give 10- and 11-year-olds a proper break.

It comes amid a surge in demand for places at the most sought after schools, particularly in London and the South East, with as many as 10 pupils chasing each place.

Mr Orr-Ewing said: “More and more providers are offering Christmas holiday tuition.

“Targeted, limited tuition can be exactly what some students need. But the idea that signing up children for wall-to-wall cramming before the turkey has had a chance to get cold is a bit over the top and is counterproductive.

“Putting children under maximum stress, especially at a time when everyone else is letting their hair down, doesn’t help them learn, rather the reverse.”

In the past, many tutoring companies closed down over Christmas because of lack of demand.  But the rush for places at leading day schools has led to an increase in the number of organisations running tailored courses in preparation for tests in January. Many schools test pupils for places for 11-year-olds and 13-year-olds starting in September.

Keystone itself runs two-day “Christmas revision” courses in maths, English, Latin and science this week.

But some others run courses on Christmas and New Year week itself, with sessions lasting up to six hours a day being advertised online.

Mr Orr-Ewing called for exams to be delayed, adding: “There is no reason that I can see why they have to be held in the first week of January. Admissions aren’t decided until the middle of February. Surely it would be possible to delay them a few weeks.”

Sarah Knollys, headmistress of Glendower Preparatory School, west London, said: “I have heard that some London tutors are offering revision courses over the Christmas holidays and even during the week between Christmas and New Year and find this quite shocking.

“I think it is a terrible shame that parents feel so pressurized that they want to keep a high intensity study programme going throughout Christmas for their children.

“If the entrance exams could be delayed by a week or two at the start of the year it really would let the children enjoy a proper, well-deserved Christmas break.”


UK pupils need to do more homework to catch up with students in the Far East

British pupils lag behind their counterparts in the Far East because they spend considerably less time doing homework, a new analysis suggests.

International research spanning 65 countries shows a clear link between time spent on homework and higher academic performance.

Teenagers who put in the most homework hours tended to do better in an international maths test, according to the study, which is one of the biggest ever carried out into homework patterns.

It also revealed that British 15-year-olds complete a fraction of the homework of peers in East Asian nations which regularly take top spots in international maths rankings.

British teenagers spend 4.9 hours a week doing homework – substantially less than the 13.8 clocked up by counterparts in Shanghai, China.

The city, the biggest in China, came first in last year’s international table of teenagers’ maths performance in 65 countries and regions produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which also carried out the homework study.

In Singapore, which came second in the table, average homework hours are 9.4, while in Hong Kong, which came third, pupils put in six hours.

Britain – whose homework hours are the same as the international average - came an undistinguished 26th in the table, which is based on results in the so-called PISA test (Programme for International Student Assessment), given to 15-year-olds in participating countries every three years.

The study also found that Britain has one of the highest totals of pupils who do no homework at all.

And the country has one of the largest gaps between pupils from middle-class and disadvantaged backgrounds in the amount of homework time clocked up.

The OECD concluded that spending more time on homework could influence the results of individual pupils and schools. The benefit to pupils of attending a school which sets lots of homework could equate to six months of schooling, the research suggested.

But the OECD was unable to say that adopting more homework as a national policy would drive up a country’s performance in the rankings.  It said that other factors – such as the quality of teaching – were likely to be more crucial to the achievement of a country as a whole.

The study said: ‘The amount of time students spend doing homework is related to their individual performance in Pisa and to their school’s Pisa performance: students who spend more time doing homework tend to score higher in PISA, as do their schools.

But it added: ‘While the amount of homework assigned is associated with mathematics performance among students and schools, other factors are more important in determining the performance of school systems as a whole.

‘The average number of hours that students spend on homework or other study set by teachers tends to be unrelated to the school system’s overall performance.

‘This implies that other factors, such as the quality of instruction and how schools are organised, have a greater impact on a school system’s overall performance.’

This may explain why Finland, which came 12th in the maths table, sets the lowest level of weekly homework among countries studied, at just 2.8 hours.

Experts said, however, the implications for individual pupils were clear. ‘These findings should finally silence sceptics who have argued that homework is bad for youngsters, causing stress and division in families,’ said Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham.

‘Homework is clearly very important to reinforce lessons that are learnt at school. It is worrying that in this country there are lots of 15-year-olds who are not doing any homework at all,’ he told the Sunday Times.

‘It is a failure of schools if they are not setting and enforcing homework. The best schools set it, mark it and hand it back quickly and make a fuss if it isn’t done.’

He suggested that 15-year-olds should be doing 1.5 hours a night of homework, five nights a week.

‘That gives young people time to size up the problem and put in the effort, check it and then have some time to develop their hobbies later in the evening,’ he said.

The research will add to intense debate about the role of homework amid claims by some contributors to parenting website that it should be banned, at least in primary school.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, said she wanted to see schools doing more to lean on pupils to complete their homework instead of expecting parents to police it.

‘If schools are serious about homework parents will support it, but it should not all be left to parents to make it happen. Where parents get really frustrated is where they feel they are battling alone to enforce it,’ she said.

The study prompted the OECD to call on schools to offer classrooms where pupils could work after school and help parents motivate children to finish their homework before surfing the web.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD education director, said: ‘One good way to make sure that homework doesn’t perpetuate differences in performance that are related to students’ socio-economic status is for schools and teachers to encourage struggling and disadvantaged students to complete their homework.

‘This could involve providing facilities at school so that disadvantaged students have a quiet, comfortable place to work, and/or offering to help parents motivate their children to finish their homework before going out with friends or surfing the web. The homework still has to get done; but maybe students and their parents will find it a little less troublesome.’


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