Friday, May 17, 2019

Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill letting more teachers carry guns in school

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday that'll let more Florida teachers carry guns in school, the latest response to last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

DeSantis signed the bill in private and issued no statement. The Republican-led Florida House of Representatives voted to send the bill to the governor last week, while the GOP-controlled state Senate passed the measure the week before.

The new law expands an existing school "guardian" program and allows any teacher to volunteer to carry a weapon if his or her school district approves. Would-be volunteers must undergo at least 144 hours of police-style training, psychiatric evaluation and drug screening. Under a previous law, passed immediately after the February 2018 Parkland shooting, only teachers who had another role at school, such as sports coach, were eligible to carry weapons on campus.

Teachers in Florida will be allowed to carry guns in schools if Gov. DeSantis signs a bill the state’s Republican-led legislature passed to expand the state’s guardian program.

The new law expands the program to make all teachers eligible regardless of whether they have a non-classroom role.

The bill was opposed by most Democrats and teachers' unions, which argued that the introduction of more weapons in schools would place children at risk, increase the dangers of mistaken shootings and lead to more violence against African-American students because of inherent biases. Supporters of the bill said arming teachers is the best way to protect children from future school shooters. Republicans emphasized that the program is voluntary, and that law enforcement in some rural districts could be 15 minutes or more from a school if a shooter attacks.

It's unclear how many Florida school districts in the state will approve of expanding the "guardian" program. Currently, 25 of the state's 67 school districts take part in the program, but boards in some of Florida's most populous counties have already opted out, preferring to use trained police officers for school security.

"Can you imagine somebody you taught potentially coming on the campus and you ... protecting other children and shooting a child you once taught?" Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association told Fox News this week. "We're not thinking about all the mental issues that go into that."

"We also have kids that come from places where school is the only safe space that they have," Baxter-Jenkins said, "so turning that into a different scenario -- we don't think is healthy for kids mentally."

The new law also contains a number of other school safety measures, such as wider disclosure of certain student mental health records and mental screening of troubled students. It also mandates greater reporting of school safety and student discipline incidents and a requirement that law enforcement officials be consulted about any threats.


The Collegiate War Against Academic Excellence and Its Consequences

Historically, success in America has been gained mainly by individual achievement. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at our nation’s high income and geographic mobility, noting how bright and hard-working people could overcome poverty and rapidly rise up the economic ladder; Americans lacked titles of nobility, aristocratic pretensions, etc. For the most part, colleges were part of this tradition: higher education was and is a screening device that helps identify the smartest, hardest working, most ambitious young Americans with a talent for leadership in business, politics, the arts, etc. To be sure, even from the beginning, colleges were disproportionately attended by relatively affluent persons, and brightness and prior academic achievement were not always the basis for admitting and graduating college students. Still, collegiate success at the level of the individual student, faculty or even at the institutional level was largely measured by achievement—knowledge gained, research published, vocational accomplishments of alumni, etc.

While aging has many disadvantages, that is partially offset by gaining a heightened sense of historical perspective. Speaking personally of my over 60 years of involvement with universities, I can say that academic achievement is increasingly being de-emphasized, although college remains a necessary but not sufficient requirement for vocational success.

The downplaying of academics has become apparent in two admissions legal contretemps of the past year. The Harvard admissions lawsuit has revealed that on purely academic achievement grounds, it appears Harvard has been significantly discriminating against Asian-American students. Amorphous non-academic qualities as determined through some “holistic” process appear to often trump academic achievement in determining who gets into Harvard. The Ivy League is dominated today by rich kids and seems perhaps more like an academic gated community than a promoter of the American Dream. And the Varsity Blues scandal shows ball handling skills are often more important for admission than brains and good grades at some top or wannabe top schools like the University of Southern California.

The downplaying of academics, of course, varies widely in magnitude across colleges and universities. But several trends are fairly clear:

1. A decreasing portion of institutional resources is going to fund academics—teachers and researchers. Spending on disseminating and creating knowledge is being crowded out by massive increases in administrative staff overseeing student affairs, new sustainability and diversity bureaucracies, intercollegiate athletics, etc.

2. Students on average are spending far less time on academics than they did a generation or two ago, and almost certainly are learning less from their schooling.

3. America’s clear global lead in research is rapidly ending as other nations, especially China, are vastly increasing research spending relative to that in the United States, where political leaders increasingly forfeit future investment and national greatness for immediate political job security.

4. The hallmark of a vibrant collegiate intellectual environment is campus debate—the non-violent but vigorous discussion of alternative perspectives. That is declining on many campuses where speakers are suppressed by protesters and faculty profess near uniform left-wing perspectives.

5. While students are learning less as academics are downplayed, the cost of creating and disseminating knowledge is actually rising even faster than standard cost measures (e.g. tuition fees) indicate. Students are learning less for more.

6. The notion that “college is for all,” along with federal government financial aid programs, simultaneously raised enrollments and college costs, leading to a glut of college graduates and stagnation in the earnings advantages of a college degree, as more graduates are now “underemployed.”

7. This is now leading to enrollment declines and falling public support. As a consequence, more colleges are failing. The creative destruction that Joseph Schumpeter said made capitalism so successful is finally coming to higher education.

In the competitive market sector, there is a well defined “bottom line”: profits, and business net worth as often manifested in stock prices. Market forces discipline firms to be efficient, lowering costs, and producing desirable products, increasing revenues. By contrast, a lack of market incentives along with a lack of well-defined goals and information needed to measure them, along with insufficient innovation, help explain higher education’s drifting away from its core missions.


Australia: School suspensions not always bad

Schools should have high expectations for student behaviour. And the harsh reality is that this sometimes requires student detentions, suspensions, and expulsions.

Queensland government schools last year were reported to have had a 12% increase in students being suspended or expelled. In response, the Queensland education minister Grace Grace said this shows the government’s aim to foster a more positive school environment is working.

The minister’s approach should be commended — especially since behaviour management (and clear consequences for misbehaviour) went out of fashion in many education circles decades ago.

It is true that students who are suspended from school tend to have worse outcomes later on, but how much of this is just correlation rather than causation?

There is a tendency to criticise schools when they suspend or expel students for serious incidents of misbehaviour. The instinctive response is to blame teachers for not sufficiently ‘engaging’ the students, and teachers are told they should focus on understanding the reasons for student disruption.

But this ignores the fact that children often make irrational decisions, and take many years to acquire an adequate moral framework and impulse control. This happens regardless of how well they’re taught or how ‘engaging’ the lessons are.

If a school culture is too permissive, misbehaving students will not learn to improve their conduct and will undermine the academic outcomes of other students. Discipline is a key ingredient of success for all schools, including those with disadvantaged students.

And according to the international datasets, Australia’s school system is among the worst in the OECD for student behaviour. So focussing on discipline is potentially a way of improving school productivity in Australia.

Maybe the major parties should think about that before spending billions more taxpayer dollars on schooling.


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