Sunday, May 03, 2015

New NAEP Scores Show America’s Schools Still Failing

The latest 8th grade U.S. history, civics, and geography results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released Wednesday, April 29, showed no significant change from the last assessment in 2010.

For 2014, the NAEP scores show only 18 percent of students scored proficient in U.S. history, 23 percent in civics, and 27 percent in geography.

Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom describes the NAEP scores released today as “bleak.”

“The scores weren’t particularly surprising,” said McCluskey. “We’ve known for quite some time that American students have pretty poor historical, geographical, and civic knowledge, and nothing has happened since 2010 that should have radically changed that. Indeed, the focus on mathematics and reading, to the possible detriment of history and civics, may have been amplified a bit with the move to Common Core standards, though since the advent of NCLB math and reading have been essentially the first and last words in school ‘success.’” 

School Choice as a Solution

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform says parents need additional educational options for their children if scores such as these are ever to improve.

“It’s appalling that not even 30 percent of our nation’s 8th graders are proficient in subjects like civics and history that are so fundamental to our nation’s founding and democracy,” said Kerwin. “If we don’t act now and take bold steps to empower parents and accelerate the pace at which they have access to opportunities that dramatically change their children's learning outcomes, we will not be able to move our nation forward.”

Underachievement in the Middle Class

Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute Lance Izumi, says the unimpressive NAEP scores are an indication many parents believe their children are attending better schools than they are in reality.

"One of the key points to understand is that the low scores on the history, geography and civics NAEP exams are not due only to the performance of low-income students,” said Izumi.  “Non-low-income students, many of whom are from middle-class and more affluent backgrounds, underperformed on each of the NAEP exams.  In fact, as a group, non-low-income students scored well below the proficient benchmark on the history, geography and civics NAEP.  The underachievement of these middle-class students indicates that many schools in affluent areas are not as good as parents think they are, and that middle-class parents need to push for reforms like school choice that will help them and their children."

Expanding Choice

Susan Meyers, a spokeswoman for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, agrees with Izumi. Meyers says school choice will be necessary in order to see positive gains in measurements such as NAEP scores.

"Students can't function in today's world with such inadequate skills," said Meyers. "Until we have significant school choice in every community and schools feel the pressure to compete for students, they will continue with the same, tired and failed policies that are not educating our children. This is why parents want and deserve the freedom to choose a school that works for their child. They don't have time to wait."

Unsurprising and Disappointing

Matt Frendeway, national communications director for the American Federation for Children, says the NAEP scores are not at all surprising.

"National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores were released today, and like every year, serve as a national reminder that our nation's public education system is largely failing our students,” said Frendeway. “The best way to challenge the status quo and help students is by offering parents access to choice and redefining public education by funding students, especially low-income students, and allowing parents to choose the best school for their son or daughter.”

Executive Director Roger L. Beckett of Ashbrook Center, an independent center at Ashland University, says students are missing important lessons regarding the American government and Constitution.

"The recent NAEP scores in history and civics further demonstrate America's crisis in history and civics education,” said Beckett. “The test scores remain abyssmal. America is an experiment in constitutional self-government. If we are not preparing future generations with an understanding of our past as well as an understanding of how American government works, we risk seeing this great experiment fail. Today's tests show yet again how badly we need a revival of history and civics education in our schools.”

McCluskey of the Cato Institute says he is not convinced the disappointing NAEP scores will change anything. 

“These scores are neither surprising, nor will they likely have much lasting impact on the public consciousness,” said McCluskey. “History, civics and geography just don’t seem to matter that much in the current, top-down education system.”


UK: 5,000 more pupils at private schools: Economic recovery and students from abroad boost independent school numbers

The number of children attending private schools has risen by more than 5,000 in a year because of the economic recovery and an increase in pupils from abroad.

The total of 517,113 – compared with 511,928 last year – is the highest since records began in 1974 and represents around 7 per cent of the school-age population.

The Independent Schools Council’s annual census reveals that the increase in numbers comes despite the fact that school fees have risen by an average of 3.6 per cent at the same time.

Parents now pay around £15,675 a year to educate a child privately, but head teachers said finances were improving for many families.

The ISC, which represents 1,267 institutions, said one new pupil in five was from overseas, with their numbers up by 4 per cent from 24,382 to 25,267.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the organisation, said the overall rise was remarkable and ‘shows parents continue to value an independent education’.

The figures showed many pupils move from the state sector to independent sixth forms, with around 14 per cent of school children over 16 now attending an ISC institution.

Responding to the survey, a Conservative Party spokesman said: ‘We are specifically targeting an extra £2.5 billion toward the education of the most disadvantaged every year.’

The survey showed pupil numbers are up even in regions hit hard by the recession.  Wales, for example, recorded its first increase since 2008 – up 4.7 per cent from 7,410 to 7,756 pupils.

Pupil numbers have also risen in the North from 68,960 in 2014 to 69,000 this year. A record number of pupils, 170,000, now receive help with their fees, to a value of £836million, up £60million from last year.

Part of the increase in pupil numbers is also down to ten new schools, with 2,000 pupils, joining the ISC in the past year.

Paul Norton, principal of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff, said first year entry this year had doubled, which was ‘unheard of’.

Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, said pupil numbers at his school had risen by 34 per cent since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.

He added: ‘With young people facing a tougher jobs market than ever, parents are responding by investing money in their children’s secondary education in order to make sure that they get the top grades that leading universities now demand.’

Hilary French, head of Newcastle High School for Girls, said: ‘There is a growing mood of optimism, a sense that local industry and businesses are thriving.

‘We are definitely seeing that translate into an increased demand for places, with a lot more interest in our school.’


Public Schools in D.C. Suburbs May Make ‘Gender Identity’ a Protected Class

The school board in Fairfax County, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., plans to vote May 7 on a proposal to add gender identity as a protected group to the district’s nondiscrimination policy.

School board member Ryan McElveen proposed the change based on the recent opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) which reverses a 2002 opinion and grants local school boards the authority to expand nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s critical for Fairfax County, as the largest school division in the state, to make the statement that we unequivocally protect, value and embrace all of our students and employees for who they are,” the Washington Post quoted McElveen as saying of the proposal.

However the proposal has met with opposition from Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz, concerned parents, and some state delegates who claim that the implications of such a change have not been addressed.

“We have no presentations about what the implications are, what the actual, real-life implications are and how this translates to the way a school functions and how our facilities are set up and what this means for parental rights,” School Board member Elizabeth Schultz told Tuesday. “We’ve had no parent or public engagement of any sort, and so this is a little bit like passing a policy to find out what’s in it, and I think that’s not very good governing.”

Schultz questioned if the new policy would allow “a student of any age” with “gender confusion” to use opposite-sex bathrooms and locker rooms.

“What do we do if that happens in the high school level and…it does involve locker rooms for sports teams, for athletic clubs, for physical education. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know who decides -- you know, is it just somebody who says that they have this issue? Do they need to be undergoing some treatments? Do we need to have a medical doctor?

“There are very complex issues here that they’re struggling with and we want to respect people’s struggles, but that doesn’t mean that you undermine the rights of 99.7 percent of our population to provide special privileges and you create a protected class for a very, very tiny group of people, and that’s a significant concern,” Schultz emphasized.

“Where are students’ rights and where are parents’ rights and where are rights of other staff members?” she asked.

Two Virginia Republican delegates also expressed concerns at a recent school board meeting.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) and Del. David A. LaRock (R) cited case law in their argument that the school board does not have the authority to create protected classes.

“Seven attorney generals from 1982 to 2010 in eight opinions all concluded that the General Assembly is the only body with authority to establish or change public policy to define classes of individuals of forbidden discrimination,” Marshall told those gathered.

Former Fairfax County School Board member, Mychele Brickner, echoed Schultz’s concerns, telling, “I believe that as parents learn about this and comment to the school board through e-mail or voicemail that they don’t want this type of thing -- I mean this has tentacles that could reach into the far reaches of the school system.”

Brickner said that a male second grade teacher, for example, under this new policy could come to class dressed as a woman and ask to be referred to as a woman. “How does that impact on the children?” she asked. “And the parents? It impacts on everyone, and nobody can answer these questions.”

Brickner also emphasized that this change is not needed.

“We already have a non-discrimination policy -- that is policy 1450 -- and it prohibits any type of discrimination based on sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity,” she explained. “I am not certain why they want to go ahead and put this in because I believe there are major ramifications for putting the language in there.”

Traditional Values Coalition President and Fairfax resident Andrea Lafferty is urging Fairfax parents and taxpayers to voice their objections.

"Of course, we are concerned for those psychologically unhealthy individuals who are confused and don't identify with the body parts they were assigned at birth. These people deserve our understanding and require counseling and other help,” Lafferty said in a statement.

"But our overriding concern must be with the vast majority of students who harbor no confusion about their sexual identity. Parents who object to exposing children to this confused behavior should not be forced to subordinate their sincerely held beliefs in order to accommodate the condition of a very small group of individuals.

"The tyranny of a very small minority must not be allowed to dictate a practice which is contrary to the more common sense beliefs of the majority," Lafferty concluded.

Parents have weighed in on both sides of the issue.

Steve Hinkley, an Alexandria resident and middle school parent, believes Fairfax should change the policy.

“I think it’s great that they would take a lead and show the rest of the nation that everybody should be treated equally,” he told Washington’s ABC affiliate WJLA-TV.

However Alex Strong, a father of four students in the school system, told the local FOX news station that he is against changing the current policy.

“While I respect any individual and their choices and what they do in their life, that's something I feel at an elementary school age is just too soon to have to deal with,” he said.


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