Friday, March 04, 2016

Minnesota Kindergarten Students Forced to Confront Gender Identity

On Oct. 14, 2015, the elementary school principal of a Minnesota charter school informed parents that in the coming days, the school would be taking steps to “support a student who is gender nonconforming.”

Their 5- and 6-year-old children, parents were told in an email, “will listen to various books that celebrate differences and will be teaching children about the beauty of being themselves.”

One of those books, the principal noted, would be “My Princess Boy,” a story that centers on a boy who sometimes likes to do traditional girl things like wear dresses.

In the email, the principal encouraged parents of kindergarten children to “have conversations at home about the appropriateness of comments or teasing relating to all protected classes,” specifically pertaining to gender identity.

Details regarding the gender non-conforming student at the school, Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul, Minn., were kept confidential. But shortly after that initial email went out, parents at Nova Classical Academy learned that the child was also in kindergarten.

Immediately, some parents raised concern about the issue of gender identity being introduced to their 5- and 6-year old children. The concept, they believed, is too complicated for kindergartners to grasp.

And although the school hadn’t yet announced any new restroom policies, parents were concerned about their children using bathrooms with students of the opposite sex.

In their attempt to push back, parents grew frustrated with the school’s response. At least 10 students, The Daily Signal learned, transferred to another school.

One mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity, said she transferred her child because the classmate was having a “traumatic” effect on her daughter.

“Our daughter—because she is a normal kindergartner who was raised in a family where we had some social norms regarding biological gender and sex—now she’s asking questions like, ‘How does a boy become a girl when they’re born with a penis?’ She has two brothers, so she’s wondering, how is this possible, as the boy is wearing a jumper and has ribbons and ponytails in his hair,” her mother said.

Another mother, whose daughter is still in the same class as the gender nonconforming child, described a similar effect. That mother also requested to remain anonymous.

Similar to how the debate over transgender rights has caused a culture war in states such as Washington and South Dakota, the situation at Nova Classical Academy also caused a rift in the tight-knit community.

The school is a competitive public charter school that consistently ranks high in school ratings. When it was granted its charter, Nova Classical Academy requested a waiver so that a majority of its school board members would be parents instead of educators. One goal of doing so, parents told The Daily Signal, was to foster parental involvement and oversight of curriculum.

“We as a school community go through processes that are very lengthy, but in the end it always ends up being a conversation and a win-win situation,” one mother said. “And this situation, this is not what happened.”

For example, this mother explained, deciding when to begin the gender and sex curriculum required “a  long, painful process.”

Eventually, parents and educators agreed the program would begin in fifth grade, and address the topic of being transgender in 10th grade. But now, they thought, that decision was being flipped on its head, and the school was bypassing parental input to introduce these topics starting at a younger age.

Parents were divided—many fully supported the reading of “My Princess Boy” and the curriculum that would go along with it. Some of those supporters launched a petition drive in which they and others—some from outside communities—could speak out.

“I am in favor of using materials such as this as part of the curriculum,” wrote Stephanie Schweser. “Teaching and promoting tolerance, understanding, and inclusion will better our school community and our community beyond.”

“I fully support the reading of ‘My Princess Boy’ or another book that specifically addresses gender nonconformity,” added Josephine Chung on the same petition. “A book is a useful and necessary tool for educating our children.”

Those who objected were particularly concerned because Nova Classical Academy is a K-12 school. Although the school had not yet addressed bathroom policies, their 5- and 6-year-old children, some parents feared, might now be forced to share a bathroom with a senior of the opposite sex.

“We are in a K-12 school, and that bothers me—there are some bathrooms that are shared. So I could have my daughter in the bathroom and a senior,” the mother whose kindergartner still attends the school told The Daily Signal, adding:

    "If we start to desensitize our children at a young age that it’s fine—and right now, I’m not worried that something bad is going to happen to her in her elementary school, but that she would get used to this. And eventually she could get put in a situation where she could be in harm’s way, because she’s innocently in the bathroom with someone who intends to cause harm"

Two months ago, Dave and Hannah Edwards, the parents of the gender nonconforming student at Nova Classical Academy, went public with their story in an interview with radio host Jack Rice.

During that interview, Hannah Edwards attempted to explain her son’s identity. “[W]hen we ask him what he prefers, he says, ‘I’m a boy and in my heart I’m a girl.’ And sometimes he’ll say he’s half and half, which is something you put in your coffee, but I say OK, that’s great.”

Hannah Edwards said the change began around the age 2 after her son, Holden, watched Beyoncé perform at the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show:

    "I kind of think of it as life before and after Beyoncé. Pretty soon it turned into an everyday occurrence, wanting to watch this 10-minute halftime show. And he started tying his blankets on his head, and dancing like her, and watching his reflection in the fireplace glass. That was, I think, the first time I noticed. It started becoming less of ‘he thinks this is interesting’ and more of ‘I am being Beyoncé; I am being a girl.’"

The Daily Signal attempted to speak with Gender Justice, a group that is working with the Edwards family. They did not respond to a request for comment.

In the radio interview, the Edwardses suggested Holden had been subject to bullying in the classroom, and thus, the gender curriculum was necessary. But the real problem, they said, stems from parents who objectied to the school’s handling of their child.

“I would say his teacher has been pretty integral in stopping the bullying, at least in the classroom. I know that he comes to school now in the jumper, and that’s within the last month,” Holden’s father, Dave Edwards, said during the interview. He added:

    "I feel comfortable with what’s happening in his small, little classroom world. It’s these other parents coming in and objecting or starting petitions. And I think that really comes from a place of fear and ignorance on their part".

Eric Williams, the school’s executive director, confirmed to The Daily Signal that in December, Nova Classical Academy invited the president of the National Association of School Psychologists, Todd Savage, “to educate the staff and community about gender nonconforming and transgender students.”

Parents who attended the event and spoke with The Daily Signal said they thought the session came from, in one parent’s words, ” a very progressive perspective.”


Fear and Trembling in Phoenix: A Common Core Cautionary Tale

Arizona is widely hailed as the national leader in school choice. It is also one of a growing number of states turning against Common Core. But you wouldn’t know it from what’s going on inside the Capitol these days.

Proposed legislation affirming parents’ basic rights over their children’s education is being held or amended within an inch of its life in the House and Senate Education Committees—all in spite of an existing explicit statutory Parents’ Bill of Rights affirming their inalienable liberty over their children’s education and upbringing (see here and here).

As more states fight back against federal contamination of classrooms, Arizona offers an important lesson about extinguishing Common Core for good—so it doesn’t keep rising from the dead in one infectious form or another.

About a year ago Arizona Governor Doug Ducey urged a “review and revise” placebo instead of a “repeal and replace” antidote for Common Core. Last fall at the urging of the state’s elected pro-parental choice/anti-Common Core Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, a majority of the State Board of Education voted to sever ties with it—but the board left the Common Core-influenced standards and the reviled AzMERIT state assessment in place.

This course of action hasn’t cured a thing, but it is exposing how some lawmakers are willing to protect parents’ inalienable rights only up to a point. In other words, parental choice ends once they’ve exercised school choice.

Once inside, students are creatures of the state. They can be given the Common Core-influenced statewide assessment, have their personal information collected via that assessment, and have their personal information shared with state and federal government entities as well as third-parties. All this without prior notice, review, or informed written consent from their parents.

Consider just some of the examples of the pernicious, lingering effects Common Core can have—because if they can happen in the school-choice leader state, they can happen just about anywhere.

Proposed opt-out legislation that would have allowed parents to exempt their children from the Common Core-influenced state assessment was inexplicably held by House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Boyer—even though he originally co-sponsored it.

The proposed legislation was revived by another original co-sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Sylvia Allen—a longstanding supporter of school choice—and parents statewide rejoiced.

That is, until they learned she subsequently amended away parents’ right to opt out their children from the state assessment, and replaced it with a compromise to let parents “opt in” to another statewide test. Viola! Choice—but not over what matters most to parents.

There is legitimate and growing concern that statewide assessments—pick whichever one you like—are now (or are on their way to becoming) more about data mining, not measuring academic performance.

As of this writing, parents are still hopeful that Sen. Allen will restore the opt-out provision. But any lawmaker who supports parents will likely take a lot of heat from the Common Core establishment—including affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which vowed last year to apply “political pressure around the clock,” according to Breitbart News.

Other proposed legislation would have required prior written notice from schools and parents’ informed consent before their children were assessed to protect students’ privacy. That requirement was recently gutted by an amendment from the House Education Committee Vice Chairman, Rep. Jay Lawrence.

Thankfully, legislation sponsored by Sen. Judy Burges and other lawmakers, including Sen. Allen and Rep. Lawrence, requiring prior notice, parental informed consent, and stiff penalties for collecting and sharing students’ personally identifiable information hasn’t been amended to death. But stayed tuned: it expressly prohibits the adoption or administration of any state or national test that collects non-academic personal information, so it will likely become a target.

So Common Core can’t in any meaningful sense be “contained,” and it’s already infecting far too many lawmakers. After all, if they are willing to compromise on parents’ rights, what won’t they compromise on later on?

To truly kill Common Core and protect parents’ rights, states have to cut the pathogen’s pathway between them and its source.

In fact, Arizona used to do this to stay infection-free and protect inalienable rights.

Nearly 60 years ago Arizona was the only state (p. III-4) that didn’t accept federal K-12 funds through the National Defense Education Act because it had twelve mandates—a regulatory pittance by twenty-first-century standards.

Back then Arizonans refused to be bribed with their own money because, as U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater predicted, “federal aid to education invariably means federal control of education” (p. 76, emphasis original).

We all would be better off today had we heeded Goldwater’s warning, but it’s not too late if we follow the Constitution, not Common Core.


Bitter fight brewing over Mass. charter school expansion

The antagonists in a bitter feud over lifting the state’s cap on charter schools appear to be careening toward a winner-take-all contest at the ballot box in November, with both sides skeptical of the Legislature’s attempt to craft a compromise before then.

The push for a compromise is playing out in private meetings in the Senate president’s office, where four senators gather on Wednesday afternoons to write legislation acceptable to foes and advocates of charter schools.

If they succeed, voters won’t see the charter expansion question on their November ballot, and the state will have avoided perhaps the most costly and divisive ballot fight in state history.

But even the senators involved seem unsure that they can craft a bill that will mollify both sides, and make its way through a deeply divided Legislature. “It’s not a question of whether we can thread the needle,” said Senator Daniel A. Wolf, a Harwich Democrat. “It’s a question of whether this needle even has an eye in it.”

Advocates on both sides are looking ahead to — even hoping for — a November ballot fight, in part because each side is confident it will win at the polls.

The proposed ballot measure would allow for the creation or expansion of 12 charter schools per year, with a preference for proposals in the lowest-performing districts, adding significantly to the state’s existing stock of 81 charters.

Proponents, who have pledged to spend up to $12 million on a ballot campaign, have the financial backing of some of the wealthiest business leaders in New England, including Fidelity Investments chief executive Abigail Johnson and New England Patriots president Jonathan Kraft.

They also have the support of Governor Charlie Baker, who is popular with voters. And they say their internal polling shows the public backing charter expansion by a wide margin.

Opponents say their polling shows the ballot measure is on shaky ground. And the leadership of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, a prime mover in the opposition, also is pledging heavy spending.  “We want to go to the ballot box, that’s what our poll numbers are telling us,” said Barbara Madeloni, president of the union. “I really think the narrative about charter schools is shifting.”

Charter schools have long been controversial because they have a freer hand with curriculum and budgets than traditional public schools and most are not unionized.

Critics — including the teachers union — say they worry about the impact of charter schools on local school budgets because students who go to charters take with them thousands of dollars in state aid that would otherwise go to their hometown districts; the Boston Public Schools will lose an estimated $119 million this year.

Proponents point to research showing that Massachusetts charter schools are some of the strongest in the nation. And with 34,000 students on charter school waiting lists — many of them in poor, urban areas — they call expanded access a matter of civil rights.

The two sides, however far apart, have come to accommodations in the past.

In 1993, the Legislature approved the state’s first charter schools even as it poured hundreds of millions of dollars into public schools of all kinds — part of a sweeping education reform law credited with making Massachusetts schools the best performing in the country.

And in 2010, at the end of the Great Recession, lawmakers raised the cap on charter schools as part of a successful bid to win $250 million in federal education funds through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” grant competition.

Now, though, the urgency of the recession has receded, federal grants are no more, and the debate is more narrowly focused on charter schools, allowing for less of the horse-trading typical of big education bills.  “It’s the pure charter play this time,” said Martha “Marty” Walz, a management and public affairs consultant who helped usher the 2010 bill into law as cochairwoman of the Legislature’s education committee.

Baker has offered a small sweetener for school districts leery of charter school expansion.

Under current law, districts that lose students to charter schools are entitled to temporary reimbursements from the state to cushion the financial blow. And the governor, in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, has called for a $20 million increase in the pot of money available for those reimbursements.

But it does not look like enough to mollify charter school critics and head off the ballot fight.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg has offered more enticements.  The Senate, he says, will look not just at expanding the number of charter schools allowed in the state, but at a wide range of issues that reflect critics’ concerns about charters — from financing, to governance, to admission and retention of hard-to-educate populations, like special needs students and English language learners.

The approach does not sit well with charter school supporters.

“We have the highest-performing public charter school sector in the nation,” said Mary Jo Meisner, executive vice president of communications at the Boston Foundation, which has been a strong charter advocate. “Opening that up to radical change is a scary thought.”

Charter school advocates point to data showing that the schools have made substantial progress on recruiting and retaining hard-to-educate students in recent years. And they say some of the critics’ proposals — like making charter school funding a separate line item in the budget, subject to whims of legislators — would be “poison pills” they could not accept in a Senate bill.

Senator Patricia D. Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat and charter school critic who serves on the four-member working group attempting to forge a compromise, says the Senate should not be subject to the dictates of charter advocates — even if those advocates are threatening to spend up to $6 million on the legislative battle and $12 million on the ballot fight. The precedent, she argues, would be a bad one.

“If a bully comes and asks for your lunch money one day and you give it to him, does that keep him from coming back the next day?” Jehlen said.

Charter school advocates insist they are open to some give-and-take. And with a charter-friendly House of Representatives and governor, they have not given up all hope of a legislative compromise.

But if they refuse to bend on some of the critics’ central demands and push the fight to the ballot, they will be taking a risk. Failure at the polls, they acknowledge, would effectively kill the push to raise the state cap on charter schools for years to come.

Opponents keyed on a ballot fight face some risk as well. Stepping back from legislative negotiations means forfeiting a chance to win some of the changes in charter school law critics have long sought.

“It’s a real gamble for both sides [to take the issue to the ballot],” said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who is cochairwoman of the Legislature’s education committee and serves on the working group trying to hash out a compromise. “And more importantly, it’s a real gamble for the Commonwealth and for kids.”


No comments: