Friday, February 24, 2017

Proponents of ‘Diversity’ Tried to Force My Religious Group Off Campus

Recent news about U.S. colleges has not been flattering. We’ve seen a tidal wave of stories from campus protests and violent riots, to sexual assault and purported millennial “safe spaces.”

But obscured by the attention-grabbing headlines is the reality that many students are actively engaged in campus communities that foster cultural and intellectual diversity, encourage innovative thinking, and create opportunities for enriching and helping others in their campus communities and around the world.

I know, because that’s part of my story.

As a student at Missouri State University, I was first a member, then a leader, of Chi Alpha—a student Christian organization devoted to supporting students of faith and promoting campus diversity and community service.

As one of the most engaged students on campus, the best part of my college experience was seeing the huge variety of student groups—faith-based or otherwise—working, sometimes together and sometimes independently, to promote and act on shared values that were important to each groups’ members.

More than any class assignment, the interaction with students and interest groups allowed me to see that all groups on campus, even those with diametrically opposing viewpoints, can flourish under the same university banner.

Yet politicians and campus administrators in some states are trying to push certain groups off campus for daring to be distinct. Religious groups that require their student leaders (not general members) to actually believe and uphold the groups’ beliefs and mission are being accused of bigotry and kicked off campus.

In a puzzling irony, this aggressive ideology only sacrifices true campus diversity and academic freedom in the name of ambiguous and subjective political correctness.

My participation and leadership in Chi Alpha showed me the true value of campus diversity. While Chi Alpha is religious in nature, I interacted and became friends with students who chose to be a part of Chi Alpha for a safe and uplifting social environment.

Some joined Chi Alpha to participate in our shared ethos of community service and humanitarian efforts, like our partnership with feedONE, feeding starving children worldwide. Other students valued our work promoting campus diversity.

I personally led multiple service trips, like taking Chi Alpha students to work with the homeless in Milwaukee, the widowed and orphaned on a New Mexico Navajo reservation, and neglected elementary school children in Kenya.

For all of us, our shared Christian faith fostered a commitment to each other and to caring for others no matter who they are or where they come from.

Schools Are Squelching, Not Empowering, Student Choice

Whether motivated by faith or not, all students should be free to join their own groups to express shared values. But faith-based groups are especially being targeted. Two recent examples come to mind.

Just last year at Southeast Missouri State University, virtually every religious student group on campus was discriminated against because the groups required their leaders to share their faith (to essentially practice what they preach) while other campus groups like fraternities and sororities were allowed to continue selecting both leaders and members based on the groups’ mission or purpose.

Only after months of lobbying (and months of academic distractions) were religious students at the university able to regain equality with the other campus groups.

And two years ago, my fellow Chi Alpha student leader, Bianca Travis, had her entire Chi Alpha chapter removed from a California State University campus.

Despite 40 years of service within the Cal State community, including assisting the school with international students, helping campus police hand out free water during major student activities, and fundraising to address issues like human trafficking, Travis and her friends were singled out, denied the ability to function equally alongside other student organizations, and literally locked out of their meeting space.

All this because they required their leaders (again, not their students) to uphold the group’s mission and purpose.

These are just two examples. Similar problems are going on in Florida, Indiana, Maine, New York, and Washington. All across the country, religious organizations are being scrutinized and investigated for a leadership philosophy that almost all groups with student leaders share.

The only difference is that the religious nature of these groups make it easier for misinformed, misguided administrators to yell “foul play.”

Let Students Freely Engage

A true commitment to academic freedom, diversity, and intellectual engagement (objectives that all colleges and universities say they desire) requires giving students and groups the ability to operate freely as they add value to their campuses by sharing their unique perspectives—religious or secular.

The world is a complex place. Forcing certain groups off campus and thus shielding students from ideas in college won’t help students adequately prepare for the increasingly diverse world ahead of them.

All student groups—even those who require their leaders to uphold their mission to adequately function—must have an equal place at the table.

True academic freedom and diversity cannot exist otherwise.


Flying Coach: Many Universities Are Using Private Planes

Once seen as a luxury of the corporate world, private planes are becoming increasingly common at U.S. colleges and universities as schools try to attract athletes, raise money and reward coaches with jet-set vacations.

Some schools spend millions of dollars a year flying their coaches and executives on scores of trips around the country, and some pass the cost on to students and taxpayers.

The Associated Press requested documents from dozens of public universities and found that at least 20 own or share ownership of planes for school business, often employing a few full-time pilots to fly them. Many others charter private flights through outside companies.

Flight logs show that, at times, the aircraft are used for purposes unrelated to university business.

At Ohio State University, which leases one plane and partly owns another, football coach Urban Meyer and members of his family took 11 personal trips last school year, including a vacation in Florida, a weekend getaway to Cape Cod and a spring break in South Carolina. The university's cost: $120,000. Add Meyer's 15 recruiting trips in the same planes during that period, and the price tag jumps to more than $350,000.

Meyer declined to comment.

Some private colleges, which aren't subject to open-records laws, also own planes.

Colleges defend the costs, saying coaches and top administrators need to travel more than ever, while commercial airlines are offering fewer flights. Some say it's economical for officials who often fly on short notice or to towns that are far from a major airport.

But some critics condemn such spending as a luxury at a time when tuition continues to rise.

"The students are paying for it or the taxpayers are paying for it, and it's usually the students," said Richard Vedder, an economist and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, D.C.

Universities often use planes for athletic recruiting, mostly football and basketball, and to shuttle administrators on trips to woo donors or lobby lawmakers.

Some of the nation's largest schools, such as Penn State and the University of Texas, own planes, as do many smaller schools, including the University of Wyoming and the University of Central Missouri.

The price for a private plane usually reaches into the millions, climbing as high as the $8.4 million that the University of Florida's athletic association paid for an eight-passenger jet in 2011. Then there are operating expenses such as fuel and maintenance, which at Ohio State cost $1.6 million last school year.

Each flight often averages more than $1,000 an hour, far exceeding the cost of a commercial flight.

Purdue University, for example, sent a plane to Providence, Rhode Island, last year to bring alumnus and former NFL lineman Matt Light to Indianapolis for an athletics meeting and then flew him back, at a cost of $15,000. A commercial flight between those cities typically costs less than $400 round-trip.

The University of Kansas chancellor and two staff members were flown to the NCAA basketball tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, for $10,000 last year. Officials at the University of Tennessee routinely fly between Knoxville and Nashville, a drive of less than three hours.

"With our executive administration, their time is valuable enough that certainly the plane use is warranted," said Ron Maples, interim treasurer for the University of Tennessee. He added that the school's yearly spending on flights, about $700,000, is "hardly a blip" in the overall budget.

Costs for chartered flights can add up fast, too. The University of Minnesota doesn't own a plane but spent $2.9 million chartering flights last year.


School Revolution in Australia?

John Hattie is a smart guy but he is up against a lot:  principally the low intellectual standards of those applying to be teachers.  Very few people with other options would want to teach in Australia's chaotic public classrooms.  Dedicated teachers get jobs in our large private school system, where they can make a difference.  My son's private High School actually had several MALE teachers!  Wonder of wonders!

AUSTRALIA is on the brink of a revolution in our schools, with a radical overhaul driven by the kids whose lives it will transform. And it all comes back to a reality TV show.

For the first time the progress of students will be linked not just to their teacher but all the way to their teacher’s teacher.

Under tough new standards being developed by the government, teacher training institutions will be accredited based on how students ultimately respond to the teachers they produce.

The pioneering new approach is driven by the guru behind the ABC reality show Revolution School, which famously transformed a struggling public high school in outer Melbourne into one of the leading schools in the state.

Internationally renowned education expert John Hattie says not only does the way we teach have to change but the way we teach our teachers must too.

He told he was sick of teacher training institutions reporting only what they taught their graduates without focusing on how that ended up in the classroom.

“I couldn’t give a s**t how you teach,” he says. “I care about the impact of your teaching.”

Prof Hattie is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute as well as chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), which has been set up to advise the Federal Government as it overhauls Australia’s flagging education system.

His book Visible Learning is, according to the University of Melbourne, “believed to be the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors which improve student learning”. It combined 50,000 other smaller studies and ultimately involved 80 million students.

In a nutshell, it found that teachers should talk less and listen more.

Almost miraculously in the current political environment, this approach has bipartisan support. Labor has even accused the Turnbull Government of pinching its own ideas, which in politics is about as close to a compliment as you can get.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is understood to be very close to the thinking of Prof Hattie and Labor’s education spokeswoman and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told “I think the Hattie approach is fantastic.”

According to one senior insider developing the new scheme it is nothing short of a revolution. “It’s absolutely a revolution. It’s going to take a while to flow through — you can’t make these things happen overnight — but it will happen.”

Senator Birmingham has adopted a cool and clinical philosophy since becoming minister 18 months ago but his resolve is clear.

“Every decision that’s made and every dollar that’s spent needs to come back to answering a simple question — what does the evidence show works best?”

And Ms Plibersek agrees: “All the research agrees that the most important thing to the child’s success in the classroom is the teacher.”

Critically, Ms Plibersek says that while she still wants to see more needs-based funding for schools, the Opposition “would never hold reform hostage” and supports maximum transparency in measuring student progress as well as teachers and training institutions being driven by that.

This is an almost unprecedented aligning of the planets when it comes to real reform that will transform our kids and ultimately our country.

And a major breakthrough could come in mere weeks, with the Council of Australian Governments’ Education Council set to meet in Hobart on April 7.

It is expected there will also be significant progress on fixing school funding so that wealthy private schools are not overpaid with taxpayer dollars, which Labor has indicated it is also willing to consider.

The top-to-bottom schools overhaul follows a string of international reports showing Australia falling behind in education.

The latest figures from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study found Australia had fallen behind Kazakhstan in maths and science — described by the Centre for Independent Studies education research fellow Jennifer Buckingham as “dismal”.

The following week the Programme for International Student Assessment found Australia had slipped behind nine countries — including New Zealand.

The Australian Council for Education Research’s Dr Sue Thompson, who collated our portion of the data, described school performance as being in “absolute decline”.

Prof Hattie is even more brutal, saying the obsession with more cash over better quality of teaching was destroying Australian education. “There’s a lot of ‘Just give me more money and leave me alone’ and it’s killing us,” he says.

“Everybody knows we’re going backwards but it’s very hard to get that on the table. We want more money to do what we were doing yesterday which is not the right answer.”


As demonstrated by Revolution School, as well as data and research across the world, the number one factor in a student’s performance isn’t school resources or class sizes but how the teacher engages kids in the classroom.

The new push means that for the first time student progress will be tracked not just back to the teachers but to the teachers’ teachers, with tough new standards for training providers based on how their methods work not on their graduates, but on the kids their graduates end up teaching.

It’s so simple it’s radical.

The government is significantly toughening up the accreditation process for initial teacher education programs, which Prof Hattie says has been ridiculously soft.  Providers must now apply for accreditation against a new strengthened standard. Some may well fall short.

“In the history of this country we’ve never denied accreditation to a single institution,” he says.

Under the new scheme providers would need to show “evidence of impact”. It is linked to an Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership report that states:

“It is a fundamental expectation that every teacher education graduate will have met the Graduate Teacher Standards, succeeded on the teaching performance assessment and demonstrated a positive impact on student learning.  “Equally, it is expected that graduates will continue to have a positive impact throughout their teaching career.

“It is acknowledged there are measurement challenges in assessing teachers’ impact on student learning, but it is expected that improved mechanisms will develop over time, given the importance of measuring this impact.”

In other words, the accreditation of training providers will depend on the performance of teachers not in their institutions but in the classrooms of the future.

Prof Hattie admits the approach of constantly measuring teacher performance by student progress or “growth” had met resistance by entrenched interests, including teachers unions and the odd state government.  “The union at the moment has a black ban on AITSL,” he says, only half joking.

In response, the Australian Education Union says it was actually represented on the AITSL Board until 2015, when former minister Christopher Pyne restructured it. “We’ve not really been part of their work since then, but we haven’t black-banned them,” a spokesman says.

He says the AEU supports measuring teacher performance and pay against set professional standards — a big improvement on the previous model based on years of service — but not on teachers being measured by student achievement.

“On the general idea of paying teachers according to student achievement, there are massive practical issues with what you measure, how you measure it and how you compensate for the different social backgrounds of schools. As far as I know, there’s no school system, public or private, that makes it the basis of teacher pay, including high-performing Asian ones like Singapore.”

But Prof Hattie says this is because schools do not have the right tools to measure student growth. “When you give the teachers the skills, the resources, they’re hungry for it,” he says.

The key is regular ongoing feedback and measurement rather than just end of year report cards or NAPLAN tests. “How do we help the teachers use that? How many of their kids have grown? There’s no calibration,” Prof Hattie laments.

“Teachers don’t have a common conception of progress. It’s reporting back to teachers, giving the resources to teachers so they can see who’s making progress.”


It is also vital to be able to talk about teacher performance without being seen to “bash teachers”. “How do you get a debate about expertise without getting a debate about bad teachers?”

Even parents, he warns, have fallen prey to misguided ideological thinking, often focusing on issues like class sizes that the research says do not really matter: “The things they want the resources for are the things that impact the least.”

Meanwhile, the great dance of the federation continues, with the states instinctively milking the Commonwealth for all the money they can get. “Every time the government puts a dollar in, the states take a dollar out,” Prof Hattie says.  “I can tell you, Oliver Twist is alive and well.”

Or, as the insider puts it: “Essentially we’ve been handing over this cash to the states and they’ve been doing all this ideological s**t that doesn’t make a difference.”

Meanwhile the crippling taboos and sensitivities that have always haunted political reform remain.

Prof Hattie is at pains to stress that his approach is nothing like the much-maligned NAPLAN “National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy” testing, saying he’s scared to even use the word “assessment”. “You can’t do that!” he jokes. I think.

But there’s one thing even more shocking, more galling and more forbidden about the schools revolution that might just save our nation. A truth that the former Professor of Education at Auckland University dare not speak and one that should send chills down the spine of every red-blooded Australian.

“I should never say we’ve already done it in New Zealand.”


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