Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Betsy DeVos: Dept. Of Ed To Review Obama-Era School Discipline Reform Policy

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday Night that the Obama-era school discipline reform policy is now under review.

“We are studying that rule. We need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. And all students means all students,” DeVos told host Lesley Stahl.

Stahl reacted, “Yeah but let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom and a bunch of whites kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal, but the black kids are, you know, they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.”

DeVos responded, “Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids.”

Stahl disagreed.

DeVos replied, “It does come down to individual kids. And–often comes down to–I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.”

Stahl asked, “Do you see this disproportion in discipline for the same infraction as institutional racism?”

“We’re studying it carefully. And are committed to making sure students have the opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments,” said DeVos.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel rejected the idea that a 2013 Obama Department of Education policy, intended to prevent minority students from being arrested in public schools for misdemeanor violations and implemented in the school district, may have contributed to the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting late last month.

“The school has the ability under certain circumstances not to call the police, not to get the police involved on misdemeanor offenses and take care of it within the school. It’s an excellent program,” Israel told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Feb. 25, “It’s helping many, many people. What this program does is not put a person at 14, 15, 16 years old into the criminal justice system.”

Known as a PROMISE agreement, Broward County struck a deal with the Department of Education that ceased school-based arrests based on “minor misbehavior.” The policy aimed to “reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices while implementing prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent or at-risk.”

These violations included alcohol consumption, drug related abuses, bullying, harassment, and assault. Although the number of student arrests plunged 63 percent by the 2015-2016 school year in Broward, The Washington Post reported that critics of the policy like The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden say law enforcement and school district were just turning a blind eye to the escalating behavioral problems in the school to keep their arrest numbers down

However, more evidence has emerged showing accused Stoneman Douglas Shooter Nikolas Cruz was reported to have multiple red flags raised about him over the years that became so serious, by high school some teachers did not want to be in a classroom alone with him, The Boston Globe reported.

According to The Miami Herald, as a response to Cruz’s escalating emotionally violent behavior, in 2014 he was sent to an alternative schooling facility for troubled youth, where he revealed to a therapist that he envisioned himself in a dream covered in human blood. Cruz did not remain in this setting, though. He was transferred back to Marjory Stoneman in 2016 and expelled one year later.

Cruz’s disciplinary record never included an intervention of some sort by law enforcement, despite tips given to the FBI about him documenting wanting to become “a professional school shooter” or a caller concerned that he was “going to explode” and get “into a school and just” start “shooting the place up.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill claim the Obama-era policy “had nothing to do with” the Cruz shooting. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Health Education Labor and Pension Committee said, “The school discipline processes had nothing to do with why law enforcement didn’t intervene.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott met with Sec. DeVos back in January in an effort to urge DeVos to keep the policy pushed by the NAACP.

“I strongly urged the Secretary to maintain the 2014 School Discipline Guidance Package. States and school districts need the tools and resources provided by this guidance package to ensure compliance with federal education and civil rights laws which require that they identify and address any racial bias in discipline policies and practices,” Scott said in a statement at the time.

Like Murphy, Scott strongly disagreed the policy contributed to Cruz shooting and killing 17 students and faculty at his former high school, while Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson claims law enforcement probably missed Cruz “because of his socioeconomic status.” She continued, “That’s what happens in everyday life. It’s not anything new. He was wealthy. He was white. That wouldn’t have happened to a young man of color.”


Striking British professors and their students are raising big questions

Britain’s university leaders might feel that they had been through an ‘annus horribilis‘, said universities minister Sam Gyimah at last week’s official launch of the Office for Students. With scandalised reports of vice-chancellors’ pay, ongoing wrangles over university funding and student tuition fees, and now a large, sustained and well-organised lecturers’ strike paralysing dozens of pre-1992 universities, more and more angry questions are being raised over the mission and organisation of British higher education.

On every count, there is a serious case to answer. The strike, which was called over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme, has brought to a head much deeper anxieties among academic staff across the sector, to do with the security of their own positions, the insecurity facing increasing numbers of newer colleagues on temporary or sessional contracts, and the way academic work is regarded and rewarded.

For several years now, a particular construction of ‘the student’ has been marshalled to justify increasing scrutiny and regulation of academic life, with its demands that nobody ever gets upset by difficult ideas or unsatisfactory grades. This is a conceit designed to set lecturers and students against each other, despite the fact that ‘the student’ of the policy and media imagination is a cipher for other agendas, a caricature that bears little relation to the thousands of young people filling lecture halls and seminar rooms.

The spiralling despond of student debt, accrued by young people who are simultaneously told that they have to go to university to get a job and that they should be grateful for the privilege of paying for this ‘experience’, is prompting students and academics alike to ask, as the Cambridge academic Stefan Collini eloquently put it in 2012: ‘What are universities for?’ As Joanna Williams recently argued on spiked, it often seems that those in charge of higher-education policy know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

But while the eruption of disquiet around staff pensions on one hand, and student fees on the other, has brought to the fore many of the problems confronting the university sector, it has also revealed something very positive. The debate about what universities should be for is raising some important questions about education and the pursuit of knowledge – questions that have been sidelined by the imperative of expansion and the promotion of ‘employability’. And as students and academic staff have come together in raising these questions, they have revealed what a university continues to be for: a conversation and collaboration between the generations.

The displays of student support for their striking lecturers have taken some by surprise. Whatever way you cut it, weeks of cancelled lectures do not serve the immediate self-interest of current undergraduates. But rather than turning on their lecturers, many students have voiced support for the action, and hit back instead at what they see as higher education’s view of students as a source of revenue, and staff an undervalued resource.

Some students have demanded compensation for missed lectures – a demand that could be seen as confirmation that students are individualistic, entitled consumers who want their ‘value for money’. But it has also been powerfully used as an expression of solidarity with academic staff: an attempt to subvert the student-as-consumer model to hit institutions where it hurts. Students are acutely sensitive to the way that higher-education policy now presents them as units of funding, and they know that this is at odds both with the way that lecturers see them, and the way they see themselves.

Of all the things that students have been told to expect and demand from their university experience – a job, a good time, a swanky hall of residence – they know, deep down, that what they are there to get is an education. Facilities, processes, or marketing material do not provide this education – it is academics and students, and the relationship between them, that do. One outcome of this recent turmoil is the sharp reminder that the heart of the university is education, embodied in the academic community and the ideas that are discussed day in, day out, as part of this collaboration. Far from being an ‘annus horribilis‘, this is a heartening reminder to all those engaged in higher education about why we do what we do.

Many students are cross and anxious about the effects of the strikes on their courses, but they know that the staff are not striking to get out of teaching or avoid doing their jobs. The strike has come about as a last-resort attempt to preserve some sense of security in their retirement, and at considerable expense to their pay packets in the here and now. And here again, the events of recent weeks have revealed a degree of solidarity between the generations that runs against the assumptions of the official imagination.

Policymakers increasingly promote the idea that it is in young people’s interest to reduce the ‘burden’ of pensions. There have been shameless attempts to whip up animosity against so-called wealthy, entitled pensioners, on the basis that younger generations will have to shoulder the cost of their cruises and golf-club memberships. Tight-fisted proposals to end the ‘triple lock’ guarantee on the state pension have provided the official backdrop to wider attempts by pension funds to reduce entitlements on the grounds of ‘unaffordability’.

The university lecturers’ strike has made clear what has for a long time been obvious to those with a basic grasp of mathematics – that those hardest hit by attacks on pensions and pensioners will be the younger generations, when they themselves come to retire. It has also stripped away the self-serving myth that a pension is some kind of nice-to-have benefit, by pointing out that a pension is part of a salary. It is something we earn through our years of work, not a gift kindly bestowed by employers at their own discretion. And very few pensioners live in anything approaching luxury.

The battle for pensions has brought fresh-faced academics out in opposition to the idea that attacking ‘unaffordable’ pensions somehow serves the cause of the young, and senior academics – who in practical terms will lose least from the USS reforms – out in support of their younger colleagues’ demand for decent provision in retirement. In exposing the mean-spiritedness of attempts to pit young and old against each other, the effects of this dispute are likely to resonate way beyond the ivory towers.


State Lawmakers Decide to Shut Down Dept. of Education, Arts

West Virginia just underwent the longest teachers’ strike in the state’s history. According to The Hill, after a nine-day strike that closed schools across all 55 of the state’s counties, teachers received a 5 percent pay raise for all government employees “and a commission to deal with issues with the Public Employees Insurance Agency.”

“We do believe this is what we were looking for, based on the announcement,” Kym Randolph, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Education Association, told reporters on Tuesday morning.

“All three parties — the House, the Senate and the governor — have agreed to the changes that will need to be made to the budget to get to 5 percent.”

Unfortunately, this didn’t really solve much in a larger sense. West Virginia’s finances are a bloody mess; a 2016 report by Truth in Accounting put the state’s debt at $16 billion, over $15,000 per taxpayer in a state where the median income per household is under $40,000. Closing schools across the state for nine days only to give in to public sector union demands didn’t exactly make things much better.

Liberals blame low taxes which the state’s Democrat leaders used to lure businesses there — kind of an important thing in a state not exactly known for its streets paved with gold. Conservatives have blamed the state’s woes on spending on stuff like — well, public sector union demands.

Regardless, money had to be saved somehow. So, on Saturday, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill which dismantled the state’s Department of Education and Arts.

And, with a certainty that you could set your watch by (if you’re the type that still uses watches), liberals began vigorously protesting the utter indignity of cutting a single dollar of arts funding.

“The bill passed the state House by a vote of 60-36, with Democrats opposing the plan that they say will destroy public funding for the arts in the state,” The Hill reported.

“This is going to destroy arts in West Virginia,” Delegate Larry Rowe, a Democrat said. “Always, always the first thing to be cut is the arts.”

I’ll resist the snide remarks about “arts in West Virginia” that originally came to mind except to point out that I could only identify one artist from West Virginia in Wikipedia’s list of them and the only musician I could identify from that site’s list was Brad Paisley. I believe we, as a nation, could have suffered the loss of “Whiskey Lullaby” and “American Saturday Night.” It would have been tough, but I truly believe we would have made it through together.

The Department of Education and the Arts was established in 1989, according to West Virginia Metro News. And it’s certainly been a success; after all, the state now currently has a C- rating from EdWeek’s ranking of all fifty states by educational achievement. In all fairness, the Department of Education and the Arts has only been around for 29 years. I’m sure year 30 will be the charm.


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