Friday, February 06, 2015

GOP Leaders: School Choice a ‘Civil Rights Issue’

In celebration of National School Choice Week at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, GOP leaders came together to tout the benefits of school choice, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who said that “education ought to be the civil right of the 21st century.”

National School Choice Week is an “annual celebration of all the options available to families and children nationwide.”

“Education ought to be the civil right of the 21st century – and you have the power to make it happen,” Boehner told students, teachers and parents in the audience. “Believe it. I have faith in you, and frankly, I’m counting on all of you.”

“The education establishment decided a long time ago that the answer to every problem was more money and more government control, and no matter how much money they poured into that hole, things just got worse,” Boehner said.

“So a few of us got together – including Anthony Williams, our mayor here in D.C. at the time. We said, ‘Let’s try something different,’ and we were shouted down. We said, ‘Let’s have parents make these decisions’ – we may as well have been talking about life on Mars. That’s how alien the idea of school choice was – and still is – to the people in power.”

“This struggle won’t be won by my generation, but it will be won by yours. Through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, you’ve shown that students thrive when parents are empowered to pick the best schools. You’ve shown how great charter schools are – and how we need more of them. Because of you, we know that school choice can make anything possible,” said Boehner.

“That knowledge is worth more than any power Washington has – and this is where your assignment comes in. If you share YOUR story, you can change hearts and minds, and if you can change hearts and minds, you can change the laws, and if you can change the laws, you can change the face of education in this country,” he added.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) echoed those statements at the event saying, “School choice is a civil rights issue.”

“Every child has an opportunity to receive an excellent education. It shouldn’t matter what your race, or ethnicity, or zip code is. Every single child deserves an opportunity,” said Cruz. “That’s what school choice is all about. The rich and middle class have had school choice from the beginning of time. This fight is about ensuring that every child has the same opportunities.”

“Over one million children are on waiting lists for charter schools all over this country. We shouldn’t put our future on a waiting list,” Cruz added.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who was the master of ceremonies at the event, formed the Congressional School Choice Caucus last January in celebration of National School Choice Week.

“No child should be forced to go to a school where they won’t have a meaningful chance to learn,” said Messer. “That’s why school choice matters. Whether that means open enrollment, expanding charter schools options or more access to virtual classrooms, empowering parents with a choice will give their children a greater chance for success.”


Grassroots Will Make School Choice a Reality!

After more than 20 years of experimentation and intense debate, Americans favor school choice. A national survey by Beck Research shows 69% of Americans support school choice, including 60% of Democrats.

Americans have come to realize what Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman, recently articulated:

“During my time on the D.C. council, I faced firsthand the results of our failing to educate all children. Educational choice has become a lifeline for far too many residents here in the District of Columbia who should be getting what they are entitled to with their neighborhood public school but frankly do not.”

Vermont’s experience with school choice has existed since 1869. Today, every child in 93 Vermont towns may receive a voucher – valued at approximately $14,000 – and is free to attend any public or private school. Similar to our national poll, Vermont's citizens favored school-choice by roughly 70%.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is also attempting to move his state toward school choice. Cuomo has championed increasing charter schools, tax credits for donors to private schools, and using vacant government buildings for charter schools.

Self-interested and harmful, the very powerful teacher-unions are fiercely opposed to school choice. Our teacher-unions donate millions of dollars into state and federal campaigns. Of the gigantic amounts of money raised, nearly the entire amount goes to the Democratic party, which have blocked most school reform efforts.

Again, in Human Events, Chavous claims the 2014 elections favored candidates supporting school choice.

“The 2014 midterm elections saw that nearly every pro-school-choice candidate around the country … who campaigned on that issue won. It sends a loud and clear message, particularly to the two largest teachers unions that invested $100 million in those races, only to fall short in the vast majority of them.”

Today, the politics are clearly favorable with 70% of Americans supporting school choice. Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman, and the Governor Cuomo of New York are actively supporting the concept of school choice. Vermont supports school choice. Now, it is time for parents and community leaders to demand school choice in their school district, state, and nation. If we stand together, a strong grassroots campaign will force politicians to vote for school choice.

As we all know, better educated students will benefit the future of America as well as themselves. As Kevin Chavous, currently executive of the American Federation for Children, claims, “school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”


William Kitchen vs education’s child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy

REVIEW of "Authority and the Teacher" by William Kitchen

After almost two decades working in the British education system, I’m still shocked when I meet teachers and lecturers who recoil at the prospect of actually imparting knowledge to their students. I cringed when the headteacher at my daughter’s junior school gathered all the new parents together to watch a sharply edited film showing that knowledge was now so easily accessible and so quickly outdated that there was little point in teaching children anything other than how to Google. When I find myself discussing the purpose of higher education, my proposal that the pursuit and transmission of knowledge should be the primary concern of the university is mostly met by looks of incomprehension that swiftly turn to barely concealed horror.

Teaching knowledge, as has been discussed before on spiked, has rarely been popular among the Rousseau-inspired, supposedly child-centred progressives of the educational world. It began to go more seriously out of fashion in the 1970s. Today, when every 10-year-old has a smart phone in their back pocket, actually teaching them stuff is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their individual creativity, serving no other end than future pub-quiz success. Working with children, rather than teaching knowledge, is considered altogether nicer; what’s more, it conveniently avoids the need for complex decisions to be made about what is most important in any particular subject. Rather than imposing their authority on children, teachers can be simply ‘guides on the side’, creating a learning environment through which children can determine their own path. What lies behind many of these entrenched ideas is a fundamental misunderstanding of what knowledge actually is.

Unfortunately, as a few voices in the educational world are beginning to make clear, left to their own devices children generally learn little and creativity is stifled rather than unleashed. Michael Young has been making the case for ‘bringing knowledge back in’ for many years now. More recently, people like Daisy Christodoulou, Toby Young and Tom Bennett have joined those chipping away at the child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy. This is definitely a trend to welcome. And when knowledge-centred teaching goes against everything the educational establishment stands for, it is important to get the arguments right.

William Kitchen’s book, Authority and the Teacher, is a useful addition to the debate. Kitchen makes a convincing case that ‘any education without knowledge transmission is not an education at all’. The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Kitchen draws upon the work of three philosophers – Karl Polanyi, Michael Oakeshott and Ludwig Wittgenstein – to make his case for the importance of authority to teachers. He takes Polanyi’s concepts of community, tradition and practice to show that ‘learning begins in submission to the authority of a master expert, with a view to [the student] becoming part of a practice and a way of working’. Then, he turns to Oakeshott to argue that the primary aim of education must be the inculcation of learners into the inheritance of human achievements, which incorporates both information and judgement; ‘neither can be dispensed with and both require the teacher to “teach” them’. Finally, Kitchen considers Wittgenstein’s understanding of the nature of knowledge and ‘the role that trust and training play in forming the bedrock certainties upon which learning and knowledge development are to be positioned’.

In appealing to philosophy to justify the importance of teachers’ authority, Kitchen differs from others attempting to revitalise the teaching of knowledge. For many of the new education authors and bloggers, the importance of teaching knowledge is premised upon what is proved by empirical evidence. So, for example, comparing the test results of children who have learnt about the Ancient Egyptians through engaging in self-directed creative projects against those who have been taught using more formal ‘chalk and talk’ methods will most likely show that the ‘chalk and talk’ group perform better. Therein lies the main argument for knowledge-based, rather than child-centred, education.

A recent drive to find this evidence has thrown up a number of changes that may improve the efficiency of children’s learning. Starting the school day an hour later is reported to be more in tune with the sleep rhythms of teenagers, and therefore more conducive to getting them to sit still and concentrate. Incentivising learning through incorporating an element of gambling into lessons apparently encourages children to learn more effectively. Those who trumpet such evidence as the solution to problems in our schools risk demonstrating as little understanding of knowledge as do the child-centred theorists they seek to challenge.

Determining practice by deferring to the evidence can further undermine the authority of the individual teacher. There’s little room for exercising professional judgement, experienced intuition, or taking into account the dynamics of the quite unique relationship that develops between any one teacher and a particular group of children, when teachers don’t trust their own instincts and rather need a weight of evidence to tell them what works best. Teaching is a social activity, not a medical procedure; it is based on interaction between children and adults, between one generation and the next. There may be times when evidence, however persuasive, is noted and rejected.

Making the argument for knowledge-based teaching through philosophy allows Kitchen to remind us that, whatever the evidence might suggest, it is the authority of the teacher that is of crucial importance to the success of education. Authority and the Teacher is a vital contribution to the key education debate of our time.


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