Monday, July 10, 2017

Ruling against Blaine Amendments is a huge victory for school choice

Over half of the States have Blaine amendments, which obstruct the use of school vouchers. The vouchers would mostly go to Catholic schools and the amendment stops funding of Catholic schools.  That has all now been swept aside by SCOTUS. Instead of laboriously repealing the amendments State by State, they are all gone now in one hit. 

In ruling in favor of religious freedom last week in the Trinity Lutheran case, it seems doubtful the justices of the US Supreme Court had ever heard of Catholic schoolboy Thomas Whall of Boston. If they had, they never mentioned him, though much of the case before them was owing to his legacy.

In 1859, a 10-year-old Whall was asked by his teacher at the North End’s Eliot School to recite the Ten Commandments, and he refused. Beginning the school day with biblical scripture was not unusual, but what Whall’s teacher expected was the Protestant version, which enumerated the commandments in a different way than the Catholic Church.

Whall was whipped across the hands with a rattan stick for his insubordination. His hands cut and bleeding, Whall supposedly fainted from the beating, which went on for a half hour.

In the following days, hundreds of Catholic students walked out of school in protest. What came to be known as the “Eliot School Rebellion” eventually led to the creation of a network of Catholic elementary and secondary schools separate from the public school system.

Protestants responded with an act of defiance of their own.

Maine politician James Blaine in 1875 proposed a US constitutional amendment to deny public funding for religious schools. Since the public schools were de facto Protestant institutions, the target of Blaine’s hostility was obvious: Catholic parochial schools. The proposed federal amendment failed, but it took off at the state level and currently about two-thirds of state constitutions contain “Blaine amendments,” including Massachusetts.

It is one of the ironies of history that Blaine amendments are now used against Protestant-operated schools like Trinity Lutheran’s pre-school and day care center in Missouri.

The facts of the case are fairly simple: Missouri offers a program that recycles old tires into playground surfaces. Trinity Lutheran applied for state funding under the program and was denied. State bureaucrats pointed to their Blaine amendment to justify their decision, which, not surprisingly, was upheld by state courts.

The Supreme Court, however, said Missouri’s policy was unconstitutional under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Writing for the 7-2 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said you cannot exclude a church from a public benefit merely because it is a religious institution and that to do so “is odious to our Constitution.”

Of course, the real debate here is not about playground resurfacing; it’s about school choice and whether parents have the right to expect their tax dollars to follow their children into religiously affiliated education settings.

In light of the Trinity Lutheran ruling, the Court returned to the states for “further consideration” cases involving a Colorado tuition voucher program and a state-funded textbook lending program in New Mexico, both of which relied on Blaine amendments to deny religious schools’ participation.

While the Court has not yet ruled on these larger funding questions, it would be hard for the justices to depart from the logic of their reasoning in Trinity Lutheran simply because the benefit is more substantial than a playground resurfacing.

The fact that the Blaine amendments are firmly implanted in anti-Catholic prejudice is no longer the main issue with their continued existence. The far more serious problem is that they are unconstitutional because, as the Court said, they force churches to choose between their religious character or participation in a public program.

The public schools have changed a great deal since the days of Thomas Whall, as have the number of alternatives available to parents and their children. What has also changed is the idea that you can treat churches differently for no other reason than they are religious, and that is a victory for liberty.


Another failure of modern education: Education for life

Millennials aren't ready for the 'reality of life' and suffer from panic attacks and anxiety problems, new research has revealed.

A study of 2,000 young people preparing to start university found that many aren't ready for the challenges of living independently.

The research found that more than half of prospective students don't know how to pay a bill and that many believe that nights out cost more than paying rent.

Researchers said that many would-be students have been left worried and confused by the prospect of leaving home to start higher education.

The study found 61 per cent of millennials are anxious about the prospect of starting university, while 58 per cent are having trouble sleeping and 27 per cent are having panic attacks.

Students are worryingly unprepared

Researchers said the results suggest many would-be students are worryingly unaware of the challenges of university life.

The poll found that 60 per cent of prospective students believed that they would spend more time in lectures than they did in school lessons.

But in practice, most university subjects take up much less time than school, with students on degree courses such as history often having fewer than ten hours of lectures a week.

And while many participants considered themselves to be good with money, more than half admitted that they do not know how to pay a bill.

Many students were also unaware that paying rent is the biggest cost for students after tuition fees.

Confusion over finances

When asked about their finances, only half of prospective students correctly identified accommodation as their biggest expenditure.

Other participants said they believed their biggest expense after tuition fees would be 'nights out', 'student societies', 'groceries' or 'course materials'.

Researchers have warned that the prospect of leaving home has left ill-prepared millennials feeling anxious and panicked.

Nick Hilman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), who carried out the new research told the BBC that more needed to be done to help students adjust to university.

'Fixing the gap' between school and university

'We know lots about what students think but very little about what those applying to higher education expect to happen when they get there,' said Mr Hillman.

'We set out to fix this gap because people who expect a different student experience to the one they get are less satisfied, learn less and say they are getting less good value for money.'

The research also found that many would-be students with mental health problems aren't planning on informing their university of their condition.

Only one third of prospective students intend to tell their university about an existing mental health problem, raising concerns that institutions will be unable to properly prepare for treatment demands.


Four in ten English pupils fail to meet the expected standard in reading, writing and maths tests at the end of primary school

Almost four in ten children in England are still not meeting expected standards in the three Rs by the end of primary school.

Official data shows that just 61 per cent of 11-year-olds made the grade in reading, writing and maths national curriculum tests this year.

This means that 39 per cent failed to meet the threshold across all three subjects and could now struggle when they move to secondary school in September.

However, the results are a marked improvement on 2016 – the first year of a rigorous new testing regime in primary schools – when 47 per cent of pupils did not reach expected standards.

School standards minister Nick Gibb yesterday said the increases in scores across the subjects showed that the Government was 'right to raise expectations' of primary pupils. More than half a million 11-year-olds across England took the tests, known as SATs, in May, with the results used in league tables to assess the performance of schools.

Some 71 per cent of pupils this year met the expected standard in reading, compared with 66 per cent last year, the Department for Education statistics showed. And 75 per cent of pupils met the expected standard in maths – up from 70 per cent.

The expected standard in grammar, punctuation and spelling was met by 77 per cent of pupils, compared with 73 per cent last year, while writing was up from 74 per cent last year to 76 per cent.

To make the grade in reading and maths, a pupil must achieve a score of 100 or more in tests.

For writing, teachers assess whether pupils have 'reached the expected standard' or 'worked at a greater depth'. Last year, pupils sat tougher papers based on a new national curriculum for the first time, and 53 per cent of pupils reached the new standard in reading, writing and maths.

The year before, under the old system, 80 per cent reached Level 4 – the old standard expected of the age group – or above in these core subjects.

Ministers were at pains to stress that the results were not comparable between the two years.

However, teaching unions yesterday reiterated their opposition to SATs.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'Today's results tell 39 per cent of 11-year-olds that they have not reached 'the expected standard' for their age group and are not ready to begin secondary education.

'This demoralising situation says less about the efforts of teachers and pupils than about the deep flaws of our current system.'

And Julie McCulloch, primary specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, added: 'It cannot be right that the performance of primary schools is judged on a set of tests taken over just four days in May at the end of the seven years children spend at primary school.

'We currently have a system in which the SATs hang over schools like the sword of Damocles.'

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, insisted that improvements showed that former Education Secretary Michael Gove was right to demand higher standards.

He said: 'The improvements vindicate Michael Gove's approach. He has been proved right in demanding higher standards of schools and the schools have shown they can achieve them.'

However, he added it was 'concerning' that reading results lag behind writing scores and questioned whether parents are 'doing enough' to encourage it at home.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, insisted more must be done to educate teachers on how to teach the new primary curriculum.

He said: 'The problem is getting used to higher standards but we need to re-educate teachers in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.'

Mr Gibb yesterday said the new curriculum has 'significantly higher expectations' of pupils.

Referring to the rise in test scores, he said: 'It certainly does show they are able to achieve the standards that we're now expecting of schools and of pupils.'


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