Saturday, February 12, 2011

Menacing Tennessee teacher gets off free

Would you like your kids to have a rifle pointed at them by a teacher? Particularly when kids are penalized for having such minor things as a butter-knife. The case was clearly not pursued with proper gravity

A Hamilton County grand jury chose not to indict a 46-year-old school teacher arrested last year on 18 charges related to his holding a group of teens at gunpoint as they tried to leave a cemetery late at night.

Stacy Swallows, 46, will not face a criminal trial after the grand jury declined to indict him on any of the nine counts of aggravated assault and nine counts of false imprisonment.

The weekly grand jury report released Wednesday.

The Sequoyah High School teacher blocked the path of nine teens with his car while holding a rifle, late on the night of Sept. 4. as the group was leaving the Shipley Road Cemetery, near Swallows home.

Friends of Swallows testified on his behalf in a November General Sessions Court hearing. Tommy Iles told the court that the cemetery had been “trashed so many times by a bunch of punks,” according to newspaper archives.

Iles and others said Swallows was only trying to protect the private graveyard.

Judge Bob Moon said at the time that the group of teens ghost hunting in the cemetery weren’t doing anything illegal or trespassing. Moon said Swallows simply overreacted.


Ed problems reside at core

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address illustrated just how much political duplicity has entered the debate about national education standards. While crowing about the success of his Race to the Top in purchasing states’ buy-in to the so-called Common Core math and English standards — and asking Congress for even more bribe money — the president then stood truth on its head by depicting the incipient national curriculum developed by Washington insiders as a grass-roots effort.

Education progressives who delight in this disingenuous exercise of power to push national standards (and soon, federally subsidized tests as well) upon all U.S. public schools ought to take warning from England, a country where statist curricular guidelines are firmly entrenched.

The whimsical words of Roger Miller’s old country tune come to mind: “England swings like a pendulum do.” When a nation with monolithic standards for its schools experiences a shift in political control, the pendulum almost certainly will lurch right or left for education ideology as well.

Witness the changes under way in England led by the Conservative coalition’s minister of education, Michael Gove. The Daily Mail of London reports Gove has severely criticized the previous Labor government for having stripped basic knowledge out of the English, geography, history, and music curricula.

When the leftist Laborites had their turn at mandating what all British children should know and be able to do, they eliminated important leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill from teachers’ suggested lesson plans. The supposed purpose was to give teachers more “flexibility.”

Teachers got loads of leeway, in fact, because “at present, the only historical figures in the entire secondary history curriculum are William Wilberforce, the architect of the abolition of the slave trade, and Olaudah, a freed slave whose autobiography helped persuade MPs (Members of Parliament) to ban slavery,” the Daily Mail reported.

Similarly, “the secondary geography curriculum does not mention a single country apart from the UK or any continents, rivers, oceans, mountains, or cities. It does, however, mention the European Union and global warming.”

In addition, “the secondary music curriculum fails to mention a single composer, musician, or piece of music.”

Gove observes left-wing ideologues believe schools “shouldn’t be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics.”

Leading the charge for the Tories, the education minister plans to fill in the knowledge gaps. For instance, he will reinstall such authors as John Keats, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy in the English standards. An overhaul of the history curriculum is supposed to ensure that all children thoroughly learn Britain’s “island story” before graduating.

Proponents of knowledge-based learning on both sides of the Atlantic will applaud Gove’s intentions. But what will happen to England’s national education standards when the political pendulum swings back and the Laborites return to power? Out will go the basics and in will come the multiculturalism and political correctness once again. None of this reflects the preferences of parents.

The United States is not yet at the point of no return regarding national standards. There are standards only for English and mathematics, but proponents are talking about adding history and science and maybe more. Forty-four states have voted to accept the national standards, many of them doing so (as the president himself indicated) in a bid to gain favor with the Obama administration in its distribution of Race to the Top cash. However, with only a dozen states winning grants and the Republican-led House unlikely to approve more such loot, some states’ political leaders are talking about revoking their adoption of the Common Core standards.

Now is the time for the nation to decide whether we really want to commit to education standards forever subject to political manipulation by Washington and crazy swings in the national political pendulum. Would we prefer to have a national minister of education decide what our children will study, or be able to choose for ourselves from among schools offering diverse curricula and methods?

Within a marketplace will probably be an approach just right for each child. Parents can’t be sure of that when Washington’s politicians and special interests are writing a common playbook.


Australia: Law lets NSW private schools expel homosexual students

A SENIOR Anglican bishop calls it "appalling" and a gay and lesbian rights group condemns it as "deeply offensive", but the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, backs a NSW law that allows private schools to expel gay students simply for being gay.

Through a spokesman, Mr Hatzistergos, described the 30-year-old law as necessary "to maintain a sometimes delicate balance between protecting individuals from unlawful discrimination while allowing people to practise their own beliefs".

A relic of the Wran era when homosexuality was still a crime, the law exempts private schools from any obligation to enrol or deal fairly with students who are homosexual. An expulsion requires neither disruption, harassment nor even the flaunting of sexuality. Being homosexual is enough.

Introducing the little-known law in the early 1980s, the then attorney-general Paul Landa told Parliament: "The facts of political life require acceptance of the claim of churches to conduct autonomous educational institutions with a special character and faith commitment."

But the churches are now divided. The Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told the Herald: "I don't think our schools would want to use it."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney declined to distance itself from the legislation. A spokeswoman said: "The focus for our schools has always been on supporting our students regardless of the circumstances."

Political support may also be fracturing. "It is an unusual provision in this day and age," the shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, told the Herald.

He cannot speak for his party, only himself. "I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed."

The chief executive of ACON, Nicolas Parkhill, condemned the law as "deeply offensive, patently unethical and damaging to our society on multiple levels. Recent research shows that young same-sex-attracted people are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and that 80 per cent of the verbal or physical abuse they experience occurs in schools.

"Allowing religious schools to reinforce this negative experience by giving them the right to expel the victims of homophobic attitudes is incomprehensible."

Although "not untroubled" by the legislation himself, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, told the Herald the 130-plus low-fee schools in his association saw no reason to ditch the law. Many of the schools regard unrepentant gay students as "disruptive to the religious teaching of the school", he explained. "What we seek to do is to be able to take appropriate action which may include expulsion."

Brigadier Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby has no qualms about the law. The head of the influential Christian pressure group said a church school should have the right to expel any openly gay child.

"But I would expect any church that found itself in that situation to do that in the most loving way that it could for the child and to reduce absolutely any negative affects.

"I think that you explain: this is a Christian school, that unless the child is prepared to accept that it is chaste, that it is searching for alternatives as well, that the school may decide that it might be better for the child as well that he goes somewhere else. I think it's a loving response."


Friday, February 11, 2011

Lack of realism betrays students

The threat of more school closings in New York brought an unruly mob atmosphere to the large public hearing held by the Department of Education this week. The throngs of teenagers screaming “We Don’t Care” is emblematic of more fundamental issues than their not wanting to hear any speechifying by Cathy Black, Bloomberg’s unpopular new appointment as Chancellor. While it may be true that some schools are failing their students, it’s more germane that “students” are failing at school.

When you have an escalating non-graduation rate, an under-reported functional illiteracy rate and growing problems of drugs and violence within the school boundaries, you know that high school is not the place to start making changes. A slew of social problems has created a population of young people, many of whom are incapable of academic work. Their fundamental math and reading skills are so blunted that they have little chance of success at advanced subjects yet we go through the pretense of forcing them through a high school curriculum they have little chance of mastering.

Instead of reverting to more drill work for honing these skills, our educators have gone in the opposite direction of more creative projects, deluding students who haven’t learned grammar or sentence structure into the pretense that they have something interesting to say and sufficient tools for that expression.

Changing the names of high schools to lofty-sounding titles such as “High School of World Cultures,” “The New Explorers High School for Films and Humanities,” “High School for International Business and Finance” is an insulting scam as these institutions have equally egregious graduation rates and aren’t leveling with students about their own severe academic shortcomings.

Catholic schools have traditionally done better with low-performing students by emphasizing structure, discipline, authority and uniforms – all of which create an atmosphere of respect for the classroom and its teachers. What students in public school have learned is the opposite – that teachers can be challenged and even physically attacked, that students are entitled to their rights and their opinions, that an atmosphere of bedlam is often tolerated though it precludes any hope of actual learning.

For those students who manage to graduate and get into community colleges, there is intensive remedial work that must be done. This realization must be very disheartening to students who had been pushed along in a system that just wants to get them out because it can’t handle the enormity of the problem.

Earlier this week, an article reported on the statistical impossibility of something that has been observed in many schools – the absence of numerical grades of 62, 63 and 64. Schools don’t want to fail kids even when they deserve to fail because they are in the business of self-preservation and don’t want to be closed for poor performance. So the cycle of students who can’t do the work and schools which pretend that they can continues until a culture clash erupts with the students and their parents facing off against an administrative reality from which they’ve been unhelpfully shielded.

There are no easy answers to the problems facing New York City schools or those of other large urban areas. More underclass students are entering school with such glaring vocabulary gaps that by five years old, they are already way behind and unlikely to catch up.

Dumbing down the existing curriculum is not a good answer, nor is sugar coating failing work and pretending that it passes. Compounding all of this is our politically correct atmosphere that stifles the honesty necessary to make changes. We are forced to act as if all kids have the same equal opportunity to succeed. They don’t because life is not a level playing field and many kids start out getting an unfair roll of the dice genetically and environmentally.

They’d have a better chance of compensating for that bad fortune if we rethought our pedagogical philosophy in grade school and made sure that children who can’t read or write or count are not promoted to grades where those skills are pre-requisites. We have made some progress in tackling the nutritional aspects of diet in school cafeterias and lunchrooms. What we demand that our younger students learn at school must be as nutritious as the milk that builds bones. Without that foundation, nothing else will work.


NY School Says Scarf Is Gang Wear

A 9-year-old girl and her parents are upset because of how they say her elementary school is treating her. The debate: Is her attire just head wear or is gang wear?

Vivienne Diaz, 9, is in third grade at Wantage Elementary School in Sussex, N.J. She says she has been wearing a scarf on her head pretty much since the beginning of the school year to keep her hair out of her face. But she says suddenly her teacher had a problem with it because it could be gang-related. "She just came up and said 'Can you roll it up because it looks like a bandana and gangs wear bandanas'," Diaz said. [Gangs wear pants too]

Vivienne's parents were outraged after they discovered what happened Monday morning when Vivienne was getting ready for school.

The school is in a rural farming community. "It's an elementary school...third grade through fifth grade," her father Ed Diaz said. "Demographically, this is just absurd."

Diaz says the principal told him the situation was cut and dry. Diaz says, "I was shocked. I think it's ridiculous. I think this is one step way beyond where the government wants to tell people what to let their children wear on their head."

At the end of the school day Tuesday, the school sent a copy of its dress code policy home with Vivienne. The policy says hats, hoods, visors, headband, and other headgear are forbidden.


Top British universities may be forced to take fixed quotas of state pupils

Leading universities will be forced to take fixed quotas of students from state schools in exchange for the power to charge tuition fees of £9,000, under Coalition plans announced yesterday.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, ordered a government watchdog to "focus more sharply" on institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge, that have struggled to increase the proportion of places they give to working-class candidates.

He told Sir Martin Harris, the Director of Fair Access, to set targets for individual universities and said they could include benchmarks for "the percentage of students admitted from state schools or colleges".

Any university that failed to do enough to meet its targets could be stripped of the power to charge fees above the basic level of £6,000. Serious breaches of an agreement between Sir Martin and a university could see institutions fined up to £500,000, the minister said.

Private school head teachers condemned the proposed measure as "dangerous" social engineering, warning that it would put the world-class reputation of Britain's best universities at risk. The move would punish talented pupils from private schools who would lose out simply because of their background, they said.

Senior Conservatives described Mr Cable's blueprint as "wrong-headed and shameful".

Under the previous government, Labour ministers became increasingly reluctant to discuss whether universities should take more students from state rather than private schools, preferring instead to speak about candidates from "under-represented groups".

The Coalition's reforms explicitly set out how universities could be given targets for taking more state school candidates.

The Liberal Democrats have been criticised by students and some of their supporters, who are disillusioned that the party's MPs backed plans to triple tuition fees from £3,290 to a maximum of £9,000 from next year. Lib Dem MPs signed a pre-election promise to oppose fees, but were forced to compromise after agreeing to join the Conservative-led coalition.

In an attempt to mollify his critics, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader, demanded that universities should ask for lower A-level grades from working-class students than those from more affluent families. Yesterday, Mr Clegg said:

"Universities can and should do more to ensure fair access. Social mobility in this country has stalled. "It will only improve if we throw open the doors of universities, especially the most selective, to more bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds. "We must ensure that our great universities – often the gateway to the professions – make active and measurable progress to widen participation and advance social mobility."

The Coalition's plan is part of a drive to protect sixth-formers from deprived backgrounds from the worst effects of higher tuition fees.

Every university that wants to charge more than the new basic fee of £6,000 will be required to sign an agreement with the Office for Fair Access, detailing how they will provide more opportunities to working-class students.

In a letter to Sir Martin, the ministers said universities should be judged on how successful they were at ensuring more students from deprived backgrounds were given places. Some students should be offered places "on the basis of lower entry qualifications" than would normally apply. Universities should also waive a proportion of the fees for the poorest students.

"The Government believes that progress over the past few years in securing fair access to the most selective universities has been inadequate, and that much more determined action now needs to be taken,” the minister said.

Universities charging fees of more than £6,000 a year must renew their agreement with Sir Martin annually. Their performance will be assessed against “appropriate benchmarks”, which could include cutting drop-out rates and increasing “the percentage of students admitted from state schools or colleges”.

In 2008-09, Cambridge was set a government “benchmark” to take 70 per cent of its students from state schools but only managed 59 per cent. This week, the university announced that it would be willing to agree to a state school intake target of 63 per cent but any higher would be “not achievable”.

Conservative backbenchers have signed a Commons motion in protest at the reforms. Graham Stuart, the Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness, and chairman of the education select committee said: “Penalising universities for refusing to drop their standards is shameful. "To suggest that they have some sort of bias against children from poorer backgrounds is a profound insult. "We need to improve the quality of schooling, not dumb down the entry requirements for universities.”

Independent school heads reacted with dismay to the plans. David Levin, the head of the City of London School, warned that the measures were “very dangerous”. “A number of independent schools have students from very deprived socio-economic backgrounds,” he added.

Dr Wendy Piatt, the director-general of the Russell Group of leading research universities, said: “Admission to university is and should be on the basis of merit. "Any decisions about admissions must respect the autonomy of institutions and maintain high academic standards.”

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said the reforms would introduce “quotas by any other name”. He warned that universities would no longer be free to recruit the best candidates. “Our universities are of global importance because of their high standards. We are now suggesting that their high standards should be compromised by political interference.”

The Universities Minister, David Willetts, insisted that he did not want to see universities forced to accept “crude quotas”. “It would be wrong to say we are going to put in the bin all applications from private schools,” he said.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Social Scientist Sees Leftist bias among academic psychologists

Some of the world's pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year's meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new "outgroup."

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

"This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a "tribal-moral community" united by "sacred values" that hinder research and damage their credibility - and blind them to the hostile climate they've created for non-liberals.

"Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation," said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. "But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations."

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted - anonymously - from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.

"I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work," one student wrote. "Given what I've read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not."

The politics of the professoriate has been studied by the economists Christopher Cardiff and Daniel Klein and the sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. They've independently found that Democrats typically outnumber Republicans at elite universities by at least six to one among the general faculty, and by higher ratios in the humanities and social sciences. In a 2007 study of both elite and non-elite universities, Dr. Gross and Dr. Simmons reported that nearly 80 percent of psychology professors are Democrats, outnumbering Republicans by nearly 12 to 1.

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. "The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy," he said, arguing that this shared morality both "binds and blinds."

"If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community," he said. "They'll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they'll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value." It's easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace "intelligent design" while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks - violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

"Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist," Dr. Haidt said. "Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along."

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). "This was not a permissible hypothesis," Dr. Haidt said. "It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely."

Instead, the taboo against discussing sex differences was reinforced, so universities and the National Science Foundation went on spending tens of millions of dollars on research and programs based on the assumption that female scientists faced discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. After reviewing two decades of research, they report that a woman in academic science typically fares as well as, if not better than, a comparable man when it comes to being interviewed, hired, promoted, financed and published.

"Thus," they conclude, "the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort. Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past." Instead of presuming discrimination in science or expecting the sexes to show equal interest in every discipline, the Cornell researchers say, universities should make it easier for women in any field to combine scholarship with family responsibilities.

Can social scientists open up to outsiders' ideas? Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech "The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology," urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values. To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions."

For a tribal-moral community, the social psychologists in Dr. Haidt's audience seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument. Some said he overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that's 10 percent conservative by 2020. The society's executive committee didn't endorse Dr. Haidt's numerical goal, but it did vote to put a statement on the group's home page welcoming psychologists with "diverse perspectives." It also made a change on the "Diversity Initiatives" page - a two-letter correction of what it called a grammatical glitch, although others might see it as more of a Freudian slip.

In the old version, the society announced that special funds to pay for travel to the annual meeting were available to students belonging to "underrepresented groups (i.e., ethnic or racial minorities, first-generation college students, individuals with a physical disability, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students)."

As Dr. Haidt noted in his speech, the "i.e." implied that this was the exclusive, sacred list of "underrepresented groups." The society took his suggestion to substitute "e.g." - a change that leaves it open to other groups, too. Maybe, someday, even to conservatives.


Australia: Overwhelming load of new red tape for universities

As is to be expected from a Leftist government

NEW reporting requirements under the federal government's $500 million program to boost participation among the disadvantaged have been criticised for lacking evaluative rigour while creating excessive red tape.

The government's proposed reporting guidelines under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program were released for discussion last week but left many equity executives reeling at the level of detail required, without there being an effective process for evaluating whether outreach programs were working. Under HEPPP, the government has allocated $505m from 2010-13 towards boosting the participation of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The bulk of the funding, about $379m, is being paid as a loading for low-SES undergraduate enrolments. The balance, $126m, is for outreach partnerships between universities, schools, governments and community groups. Much of this will be allocated by competitive grants.

The Group of Eight was among those planning to propose a series of changes to the program. Concerns include that reporting on the use of so-called partnership funding appeared to focus on just counting numbers of students involved in outreach activities rather than the depth or effectiveness of programs.

"It is accountability for accountability's sake. They are asking for an enormous amount of detail without a depth of analysis or evaluation," director of student equity at the Australian National University Deborah Tranter said, adding that the usefulness of the proposed reporting requirements was "highly questionable".

"There are no requirements for an objective, independent evaluation process," said Ms Tranter, who is also co-convener of the Equal Opportunity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia.

"A process of evaluation and reporting that is academically valid and rigorous, and is practical, is what is needed," she said.

A group of independent experts could be established to devise such a process. It could include student and parent surveys and the tracking of students' decision-making once they leave school.

Ms Tranter said without such evaluation universities might fail to learn from each other about what works and what doesn't.

There is also concern that the program could be vulnerable to being shut down by future governments if it can't prove it is working. The Cameron government in Britain has discontinued Aimhigher, a similar program.

Pro vice-chancellor (social inclusion) at Monash University Sue Willis said using a quantitative rather than qualitative approach to evaluation would encourage universities to spread their money too thinly, effectively exchanging coverage for effectiveness.

"Spreading it thinly won't do the job. It may look fair but it will be spuriously fair," Professor Willis said.

Professor Willis, who is also convener of the Go8's Social Inclusion Strategy Group, said the department appeared to be open to feedback.

Director of equity at Queensland University of Technology Mary Kelly said the government should hold universities accountable for their spending under the program, but she wanted to see "less focus on operational detail and more focus on quality, depth and impact of program activities".

She said universities should be asked to outline a medium-term evaluation strategy.

"After this initial collection of reports there should be a national conversation on what it means, whether there is room for a national approach to impact tracking, how we will share good practice with each other," she said.


Update: Mansfield Arabic Program On Hold

After parents protest

A Mansfield ISD program to teach Arabic language and culture in schools is on hold for now, and may not happen at all. The school district wanted students at selected schools to take Arabic language and culture classes as part of a federally funded grant.

The Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant was awarded to Mansfield ISD last summer by the U.S. Department of Education.
As part of the five-year $1.3 million grant, Arabic classes would have been taught at Cross Timbers Intermediate School and other schools feeding into Summit High School.

Parents at Cross Timbers say they were caught off-guard by the program, and were surprised the district only told them about it in a meeting Monday night between parents and Mansfield ISD Superintendent Bob Morrison.

The Department of Education has identified Arabic as a ‘language of the future.’ But parent Joseph Balson was frustrated by the past. “Why are we just now finding out about it?” asked Balson. “It’s them (Mansfield ISD) applying for the grant, getting it approved and them now saying they’ll go back and change it only when they were caught trying to implement this plan without parents knowing about it.”

Trisha Savage thinks it will offer a well-rounded education. “I think its a great opportunity that will open doors. We need to think globally and act locally.”

Mansfield ISD says in addition to language, the grant provides culture, government, art, traditions and history as part of the curriculum.

Some parents had concerns over religion. “The school doesn’t teach Christianity, so I don’t want them teaching Islam,” said parent Baron Kane.

During Monday’s meeting Morrison stressed the curriculum would not be about religion, but about Arabic language and culture, similar to the Spanish curriculum already in place in the district.

Kheirieh Hannun was born in the Middle East but raised in the U.S. She believes giving students the option to learn Arabic will give her son and others like him the option to learn more about their culture. “It was surprising, but I think it’s okay, and it will help come down on the stereotype.” Hannun says she is hopeful the class could broaden the minds of not only students, but also parents.

The FLAP grant was awarded to only five school districts across the country, including Mansfield. The district says the plan is on hold so it can hear from more parents. After that evaluation is over, the district says it is possible they might return the grant.

Feds Force Arabic Classes on Young Texas Students

(Mansfield, Texas) The U.S. Department of Education gave a wad of cash to the Mansfield Independent School District with the stipulation that elementary and intermediate school students be forced to learn the Arabic language.

Interestingly, it wasn't until after the deal was done that students' parents were informed. They are not amused.

I'd suggest that Mansfield schools are far from independent if the Obama administration is dictating policy. Arguably, the tagline "Don't Mess With Texas" is not relevant in Mansfield.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Zero Tolerance Policies: Are the Schools Becoming Police States?

“We end up punishing honor students to send a message to bad kids. But the data indicate that the bad kids are not getting the message.” -- Professor Russell Skiba

What we are witnessing, thanks in large part to zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students, is the inhumane treatment of young people and the criminalization of childish behavior.

Ninth grader Andrew Mikel is merely the latest in a long line of victims whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion. A freshman at Spotsylvania High School in Virginia, Andrew was expelled in December 2010 for shooting a handful of small pellets akin to plastic spit wads at fellow students in the school hallway during lunch period.

Although the initial punishment was only for 10 days, the school board later extended it to the rest of the school year. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement, which initiated juvenile proceedings for criminal assault against young Andrew.

Andrew is not alone. Nine-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun. That particular LEGO, a policeman, was Patrick’s favorite because his father is a retired police officer.

David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.

A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials. A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time.

A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.

In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).

Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon.

And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun.

What these incidents, all the result of overzealous school officials and inflexible zero tolerance policies, make clear is that we have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike.

Adopted in the wake of Congress’ passage of the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, which required a one-year expulsion for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school, school zero tolerance policies were initially intended to address and prevent serious problems involving weapons, violence and drug and alcohol use in the schools.

However, since the Columbine school shootings, nervous legislators and school boards have tightened their zero tolerance policies to such an extent that school officials are now empowered to punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. Hence, an elementary school student is punished in the same way that an adult high school senior is punished. And a student who actually intends to harm others is treated the same as one who breaks the rules accidentally--or is perceived as breaking the rules.

For instance, after students at a Texas school were assigned to write a “scary” Halloween story, one 13-year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police, resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed.

Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Indeed, at least 20 children in four states have been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies.

In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses.

Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

The American Bar Association has rightly condemned these zero tolerance policies as being “a one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems that schools confront.” Unfortunately, when challenged about the fact that under these draconian policies, a kid who shoots a spitball is punished the same as the kid who brings a gun to school, school officials often insist that their hands are tied. That rationale, however, falls apart on several counts.

First, such policies completely fail to take into account the student’s intentions, nor do they take into account the long-term damage inflicted on school children. For example, as a result of the criminal charges against him, Andrew Mikel, an honor student active in Junior ROTC and in his church who had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, can no longer be considered as an applicant.

Second, these one-strike-and-you’re-out policies have proven to be largely unsuccessful and been heavily criticized by such professional organizations as the National Association of School Psychologists: “[R]esearch indicates that, as implemented, zero tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices.”

Third, with the emergence of zero tolerance policies, school officials have forsaken the time-honored distinction between punishment and discipline. Namely, that schools exist to educate students about their rights and the law and discipline those who need it, while prisons exist to punish criminals who have been tried and found guilty of breaking the law. And, as a result, many American schools now resemble prisons with both barbed wire perimeters and police walking the halls.

Fourth, such policies criminalize childish, otherwise innocent behavior and in many cases create a permanent record that will haunt that child into adulthood. Moreover, by involving the police in incidents that should never leave the environs of the school, it turns the schools into little more than a police state.

For example, 9-year-old Michael Parson was suspended from school for a day and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after mentioning to a classmate his intent to “shoot” a fellow classmate with a wad of paper. Despite the fact that the “weapon” considered suspect consisted of a wadded-up piece of moistened paper and a rubber band with which to launch it, district officials notified local police, suspended Michael under the school's zero tolerance policy, and required him to undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to class. Incredibly, local police also went to Michael’s home after midnight in order to question the fourth grader about the so-called “shooting” incident.

Finally, these policies, and the school administrators who relentlessly enforce them, render young people woefully ignorant of the rights they intrinsically possess as American citizens. What’s more, having failed to learn much in the way of civic education while in school, young people are being browbeaten into believing that they have no true rights and government authorities have total power and can violate constitutional rights whenever they see fit.

There’s an old axiom that what children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow. As surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches become the norm in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation, America is on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation--one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. In other words, the schools are teaching our young people how to be obedient subjects in a totalitarian society.


Teachers Union Honesty Died With Albert Shanker

Former American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker made teachers’ unions what they are today. He was hard-nosed defender of teachers’ rights, but he also came clean about public school performance.

In the making of “Kids Aren’t Cars,” I unearthed a 25-year old PBS interview with Shanker. His indictment of the public education system was stunning.

“You could do things that are absolutely wrong, you can have huge dropout rates, you can have kids who are leaving without knowing how to read, write, count or anything else and what do you do next year? Do the same as you did this year and the following year and the following year…”

And when Shanker – again, 25 years ago – rattled off achievement statistics, the host challenged him:

Shanker: When it comes to the highest levels of reading, writing, mathematics or science – that just means being able to read editorials in the New York Times…or write an essay of a few pages…or do a mathematical equation, not calculus…the number of kids who are about to graduate who are able to function at that level, depending on whether you’re talking about reading, writing, math science – 3 percent, 4 percent...

Host: Oh, come on!

Shanker: No! 5 percent. That’s it.

Does anyone honestly believe our education system – which has had billions of dollars more each year dumped into – is better now than it was in 1986? Anyone??

Shanker was straight with the public – even if he didn’t see teacher quality and accountability as part of the solution.

If only current AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel would be as candid. But I’m not holding my breath. The AFT and the NEA have presided over the decline of public education in America, and they know it. But if the union leaders admit to that, well, it would undermine their call for ever greater levels of “investment.”

But in the wake of “Waiting for Superman,” Weingarten and Van Roekel are acquiescing to the public outcry for accountability, and taking rhetorical baby steps toward reform, such as maybe one day making student achievement a tiny sliver of a teacher’s overall performance evaluation. Maybe.

The teacher unions are walking contradictions. They portray themselves as experts in education policy, but somehow never manage to deliver the goods. They claim to elevate the teaching profession, yet bend over backward to defend the worst among them, including a Michigan teacher deemed to be a danger to herself and others.

The sad truth is that the AFT and the NEA have an agenda that revolves around accumulating as much money and power as possible for themselves and their political surrogates. The teacher unions are a collection of far-left progressives who use the honored title of “teacher” to conceal their radical political agenda. How else to explain why the Rhode Island chapter of the NEA would participate in a rally for same-sex marriage? What does that possibly have to do with education?

Back to Shanker. Even though he ardently defended teachers, he was genuinely concerned about the quality of education being given to America’s school children. Can the same be said of Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel?

Consider this quote from social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer and decide for yourself: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”


Cambridge University first to charge £9,000 fees - unless your family's poor

Cambridge has become the first university to announce that it will charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 a year. But it will give hefty discounts to poorer students, which means the middle classes will bear the brunt of the move.

MPs voted in December to raise tuition fees to £6,000 per year from 2012, with universities allowed to charge £9,000 in exceptional circumstances. Universities have to publish their 2012 fees by March 31 and Cambridge says its move will be followed by ‘most, if not all’ universities.

The elite institution said yesterday that students from homes with a household income below £25,000 will get a reduction of up to £3,000 per year on their fees. There will be other bursaries worth up to £1,625, but the reductions will taper down to zero for students from homes with an income over £42,000.

This means millions of middle-class students will be left paying the full amount of £9,000 per year over the coming years.

A report yesterday from Cambridge University said it would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ to charge any less than the maximum, as its rivals will do the same. It argued that even with tuition fees set at £9,000, the university is still ‘carrying the burden of a significant loss per student’.

Oxford University yesterday signalled similar plans. It said it would need to charge nearly £8,000 to cover tuition for all its students – but the full £9,000 if it wants to fund bursaries for poorer students.

Oxford’s pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Monaco informally put forward a similar ‘fee waiver’ system for poorer students to that proposed by Cambridge. He said: ‘The message to them would be, it is no more costly to attend Oxford than any other UK higher education institution.’

Pupils from good schools and better-off areas could suffer another blow. Tomorrow, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will order universities to ‘throw open their doors’ to the less well-off.

Controversially, this will include making greater use of ‘differential offers’, where pupils from private schools are required to get higher grades than those from comprehensives. This will discriminate against parents who have saved up to put their children through private school.

He will confirm drastic steps designed to stop £9,000 fees becoming the norm. The number of bursaries and fee waivers that each institution must offer is likely to be fixed.

Private schools believe the ‘fair access’ plans are a ‘sop’ to the Lib Dems and an attack on the middle classes.

Growing numbers of parents are setting up U.S.-style ‘college funds’ because they are so anxious about the surge in the cost of tuition fees, research reveals today. A poll of more than 3,000 people, carried out for the bank ING Direct, found 13 per cent have started a university fund over the last few months, and a further 10 per cent have upped the amount that they are saving to send their children to university.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tennessee County School Board Fires Teachers Union

-By Warner Todd Huston

Now this is more like it. Back in October of 2010 the Sumner County, Tennessee School Board decertified the Sumner County Education Association (SCEA), the union for county teachers, because it no longer satisfied the law by counting as members fifty percent plus one of the total number of employees requiring a teaching certificate. This, school board officials said, means that the SCEA can no longer engage in collective bargaining for teachers.

The school board has used this opportunity to immediately begin rewriting the relationship between teachers and schools.

Naturally, the union is running straight to what is usually the last bastion of mindless obeisance to union obstructionism, the courts, and is suing to force the school board to accede to union demands regardless of the law.

For its part, the union says that just over fifty-two percent of the county schools employees are union members and so they are still in charge. The school board points out, though, that this percentage actually does not satisfy the law because the requirements are that fifty percent plus one of the actual teachers -- those employees requiring a teachers certificate to work -- need to be in the union, not over fifty percent of all school employees -- which includes janitors, administrators and other non-teacher employees.

But the union doesn't care about the law. SCEA representatives want the courts to force the school board to deal with them anyway. As State Senator Stacy Campfield says, "I fail to see why anyone has the guaranteed right to force an employer to negotiate with a union if they don't want to. Where else besides government does that happen in the real world?"

The case will be heard in the courts in the middle of this month, February. But in the meantime, the school board has quickly moved forward to change insurance benefits to require teachers to pay twenty percent of their healthcare insurance instead of the fifteen percent negotiated by the union.

It is good to see government bodies making efforts to eliminate public employee unions. These anti-democratic, budget-killing entities should never have been allowed to exist in the first place. Public employee unions are antithetical to good government certainly.

But there might be even better news in Tennessee on this subject. Tennessee State Representative Debra Young Maggart has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for any school board to have to negotiate with a teachers union at all HB 0130 would eliminate collective bargaining for teachers in the state.

Of course unionists are going crazy over this one claiming that the rep hates teachers and kids! But Maggart insists it isn't an anti-teacher bill.

"This is not an anti-teacher bill," Maggart said. "It is an anti-collective bargaining bill. And I think that this bill serves the best interest for our teachers, our students and our school systems across the state."

Let's hope this bill passes. If you are in Tennessee you should urge your reps to support it. And if it does pass it should serve as a model for other states to emulate. It will be a giant step toward taking back control of our schools as well as a strike for fiscal responsibility.


Georgia teacher sacked for posting picture of herself holding glass of wine and mug of beer on Facebook

The Puritans asre alive and well

With a pint of beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, the worst thing you could accuse Ashley Payne of is mixing her drink. But this happy holiday snap has cost the high school teacher her job after a parent spotted it on Facebook - and complained. The picture was taken while travelling around Europe in the summer of 2009.

But Miss Payne, 24, was shocked when she was summoned to the head teacher's office at Apalachee High School, in Winder, Georgia, and offered an ultimatum.

She told CBS News: 'He just asked me, "Do you have a Facebook page?" 'And you know, I'm confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, "Yes", and he said, "Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?"' He then offered her an option: resign or be suspended. She chose to resign.

School officials also took offence to the use of the B-word on the page.

Miss Payne is now in a bitter legal battle with the school to get her job back. Her lawyer, Richard Storrs, said: 'It would be like I went to a restaurant and I saw my daughter's teacher sitting there with her husband having a glass of some kind of liquid.

'You know, is that frowned upon by the school board? Is that illegal? Is that improper? Of course not. It's the same situation in this case.'

The English teacher later found out it was one anonymous emailer who shopped her to the school board after seeing the picture on the social networking site. But she is baffled how a parent could gain access to her page when she has all her privacy settings on 'high', meaning only her closest friends have permission to see her pictures.

She admits putting the 'offensive' snaps on Facebook but says she now feels as if she had stashed them in a shoebox at home for them to be stolen and showed to the headteacher.

Court documents reveal that officials warned teachers about 'unacceptable online activities'. They claimed her page 'promoted alcohol use' and 'contained profanity'.

She now wants to clear her name and claim back her job. She added: 'I just want to be back in the classroom, if not that classroom, a classroom. I want to get back doing what I went to school for, my passion in life.'


British school teaches pupils in classes of SEVENTY... and says children are learning more

The conventional wisdom has long been straightforward: smaller classes equal better lessons. But a headmaster has rewritten the school rules with mammoth class sizes of up to 70 – and he says the result has been a dramatic improvement in standards.

Bure Valley Junior School, in Norfolk, teaches youngsters aged seven to nine in groups of 60 to 70. The classes, which it claims are the biggest in the country, are divided into smaller groups and taught by two teachers and two assistants in one big classroom.

Headmaster John Starling insists that since beginning the experiment two years ago, his pupils have doubled the amount they learn in a year. It has been so successful, he says, that he plans to roll it out to the rest of the school.

Mr Starling believes larger classes make lessons more fun and collaborative for pupils and teachers, improving the quality of teaching. ‘We’ve monitored the children very carefully in core subjects,’ he said. ‘At the end of the first year we found they had made double the progress they had in the previous year. Staff can work closely with specific groups of children within classes and teachers benefited because they had colleagues in the same room. ‘Teachers are enjoying it, they’re not on their own and it’s particularly good for newly qualified teachers because they have an experienced colleague on hand.’

Ofsted has rated the school ‘good’ overall and the teaching in the super-sized classes ‘outstanding’.

With the population set to balloon in the next decade - with 500,000 new primary school places needed by 2018 – ministers, head teachers and educationalists will watch the experiment with interest. At present the average size of a state primary class is 26.2 pupils. By law it is not allowed to exceed 30 for children aged four to eight.

There are, however, no restrictions for nine-year-olds, allowing Mr Starling to boost his classes to 70 for the older children. For the younger children, he got round the law by using two teachers.

The headmaster’s move follows the extraordinary admission of former education secretary Charles Clarke – who was responsible for enshrining in law a 30-pupil maximum – that there was no evidence to suggest smaller classes were better.

But it has brought an angry response from teaching unions, who have long fought to reduce numbers in lessons. And independent schools – which have an average of 9.2 students per class – admit a low pupil-teacher ratio is their key selling point.

Class sizes have been a hot political topic for decades. Until the 1940s education was very ad hoc and pupils of all ages were often taught together in a large village hall. By the 1960s, when 10 per cent of primary classes housed more than 40 pupils, unions campaigned for a 40-pupil maximum. They are now calling for classes of 20 by 2020.

Christine Blower, of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The independent sector does not seem to be convinced by the argument that class size does not matter and nor is the NUT. ‘The most common reason given by parents to take their children out of the state school system and go into the independent sector is the issue of smaller classes and the obvious benefits they perceive them to have. This ensures that teachers can give the very best to all children in their class.’

David Lyscom, of the Independent Schools Association, said: ‘We know that low pupil-teacher ratios, maintained over a number of years, are valued by parents of our pupils.’

The Coalition has refused to be drawn on the possibility of enlarged classes, saying it hopes to tackle high demand with new state schools and ‘free’ schools.


Monday, February 07, 2011

America's education wars

Recently retired New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein made headlines this week when he told the Times of London that "it's easier to prosecute a capital-punishment case in the U.S. than terminate an incompetent teacher." The New York Post blared, "Joel: Easier to ax a killer than a teacher." The prize for most sensational probably goes to Liz Dwyer's headline, "Joel Klein Compares Teachers to Murderers."

There's plenty of scorched earth between Klein's words and these headlines, reflecting how unnecessarily polarized the education reform wars remain, even over the smallest changes in policy.

Here's the basic fault line dividing the education reform trenches: One side believes that the best way to improve the education system is to focus on improving instruction. The other believes that the best way to improve the education system is to focus on addressing the ways that poverty affects schools with high percentages of low-income students.

Intuitively, both positions make sense. A classroom with an incompetent teacher won't make as much progress as a classroom with a competent one. At the same time, though, it's probably true that low-income students sometimes enter classrooms with unfortunate social and economic -- not intellectual -- handicaps that students in the nation's wealthiest communities don't face.

Both sides also come armed with data. Diane Ravitch and others claim that there is a correlation between a school district's economic well-being and student success. While he found a similar correlation, Ulrich Boser showed that some of the nation's most efficient school districts have high percentages of low-income students. The Widget Effect, a comprehensive study of American teachers, found that our teacher-evaluation systems are laughably broken. Less than 1 percent of teachers in the study received "unsatisfactory" ratings from their districts, but 41 percent of teachers said they had a tenured colleague who should be dismissed.

Both sides can be egregiously unfair. Want to hear that you hate teachers? Claim that those that do their jobs poorly should be dismissed. You'll hear that the data are flawed (or that data are irrelevant), that teachers aren't the problem, that former District schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is not a nice person and that Teach for America is ruining education and this country.

Want to hear that you don't care about students? Claim that poverty might be a factor worth considering for educators working with low-income students. You'll hear that education isn't about serving adults, that all kids can learn, that you are a racist, that it's become impossible to fire a teacher and that teachers unions are ruining education and this country.

Here's some good news: Both sides are right. Teacher quality and poverty can both affect educational outcomes. Here's the bad news: Both sides seem bent on disproving their opponents instead of improving education. To borrow Woody Hayes's famous line, for every three yards of progress in education reform there's a voluminous cloud of dust. This isn't good enough. As Kevin Huffman put it in Monday's Post, parents don't "have the luxury of waiting a generation while intellectuals argue."

If both sides are being honest, it's unclear why they should be opponents. As someone who frequently writes on education reform, I'm always shocked by how rarely critics acknowledge that the American education system is in crisis. Instead, they question each other's sincerity, data or methods.

For example, when we read that it cost New York City $2 million to dismiss three of its 55,000 tenured teachers for incompetence, we shouldn't think, "Scores of teachers are being unfairly victimized." These numbers are too absurd to be simply a matter of bad data or unfair administrators. Instead, we should wonder if Klein was onto something (even if he was over-dramatic).

We could spend our time debating which is easier (or more urgent) to fix -- poverty or school quality -- or we could accept that both are worthy goals. Our ends are the same, and our means aren't as different as they appear. No one wants to dismiss our nation's most effective teachers, and no one is rooting for an education system that consigns low-income students to be part of a permanent underclass. Let's all take a step in from the edges. Let's stop assuming each other's worst intentions. America's students are depending on us.


Ohio Mother highlights poor schools

One might not have much sympathy for a single mother who tries to steal a better education for her kids but her actions could just lead to badly needed change

Perhaps you’ve heard about Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Ohio mother who was recently tried and convicted for falsifying residency records so her daughters could attend a better school where they would receive a quality education.

The “better school” hired a private investigator to prove that Williams-Bolar’s children lived outside the district. As a result, she received a 10-day jail sentence, three years of probation, and a criminal record (two third-degree felonies) that will haunt her for the rest of her working life.

All this happened simply because Williams-Bolar wanted her children to receive a decent education. Yes, she broke the law and was punished. On strict legal grounds, that was the correct course of action.

But in the broader sense of right and wrong, what happened to Williams-Bolar is an outrage – possibly of game-changing proportions—and should serve as a wakeup call for Americans about the need for bold, substantial school choice laws throughout the country.

When National Public Radio called for my reaction, I compared her to Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who refused to move to the back of the bus when a white passenger needed a seat.

Since Williams-Bolar is also African-American, some seized on this comparison and began making this a story about race. But let me be very clear: this is not about race, this is about injustice.

If this Ohio story becomes just about Williams-Bolar’s race, it would obscure the fact that children of all colors are trapped in crappy schools, simply because of their zip code. And condemning children to a lousy school solely because they have the wrong zip code is a great injustice.

There’s a deeper reason I compare this Ohio mother to the civil rights matriarch. After Rosa Parks was arrested and fined for refusing to move to the back of the bus, Martin Luther King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For one year, African-Americans refused to use the busses, choosing to walk or share rides instead.

We tend to think that Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat and –bam!—people recognized the injustice and it was immediately corrected. In reality, Park’s stand was the first step in a lengthy and difficult process that eventually brought justice and a greater measure of equality. It took a lot of hard work and many uncomfortable moments.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mother whose concern for her daughters’ future was so great that it led her to break the law, has put a human face on school choice cause. Now it is up to education reformers to share her story and bring the case for school choice to the country.

What makes the Williams-Bolar case even more powerful is that it occurred during the first annual National School Choice Week, a time in which parents, children, advocates and concerned citizens came together to highlight the need for school choice.

Many American families are trapped in desperate education situations, and they are hungry for school choice. The drastic action Williams-Bolar took to save her kids might be the tipping point in the cause, but only if reformers seize this moment.


Climate education in British schools: a mess of pottage, a porridge of propaganda?

The politicization of Geography teaching seems to be killing off the subject

Indoctrination in schools is illegal in the UK (e.g. section 406 of the Education Act of 1996). Education ought to teach children about their world. But there are those who see the young as so many potential footsoldiers for their cause, little Trojan horses to fill with propaganda to carry back into their homes and into their futures. All to save the planet of course, so who can object to that?

Of course, they are not 'saving the planet'. First of all, 'the planet' is not in danger, and secondly, crippling our economies physically, and our children mentally, are not pathways to robust societies ready to tackle whatever challenges the future may bring them, environmental and otherwise. They are pathways to poverty and dependency.

Geography is an obvious target for proselytising on 'climate change'. It does not seem to be thriving as a subject in schools in the UK.

'In a speech at Charterhouse School, Surrey, Prof Woodhead cited the example of geography, where the curriculum has been focused on turning children into "global citizens" at the expense of an objective study of the earth.

"I think there is a difference between education on the one hand and propaganda on the other - and I think this is one of the main reasons why schools are starting to abandon GCSEs in such numbers," he said.

"Politicians seem to have this belief that schools and teachers can solve the evils of the world. Simply dump all the deeply intractable social problems on to the curriculum and let the schools sort it out. Schools should be teaching children what they don't know, not attempting to create citizens of the future who are active and responsible." '


'Geography lessons 'not good enough in half of schools'

Children’s knowledge of capital cities, continents, world affairs and the environment is in sharp decline because of poor geography lessons, inspectors warned today.

In a damning report, Ofsted said teaching in the subject was not good enough in more than half of English state schools. Geography – traditionally a cornerstone of the curriculum – is often undermined by a lack of space in school timetables after being edged out by exam practice and other subjects such as citizenship.

Many primary teachers lacked specialist geographical knowledge, the watchdog said, meaning classes often descended into a focus on superficial stereotypes. The subject had practically “disappeared” in one-in-10 primaries.

In secondary schools, classes were often merged with history to form generic “humanities” lessons that focused on vague skills instead of geographical understanding.

Ofsted said the decline severely reduced children’s ability at all ages to grasp key geographical issues, identify countries or capital cities and even read maps properly.'

['Ofsted' is a government agency in the UK: 'Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We regulate and inspect to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages.']

How come so many teachers have apparently stopped teaching in order to become facilitators for producing ill-informed agitators? The same malaise has also affected the BBC, an organisation turning into an international laughing stock because of its blinkered, biased approach on climate and its wish to campaign for 'the cause' rather than 'merely' broadcast news, information, and honest investigative journalism.

The scientific case for alarm over CO2 is fragile and has been widely dismantled, not least by Nature herself refusing to follow the purposeful computer models equipped with magical powers for CO2. The political case is also faltering, not least due to the absurdities of the IPCC leadership and publications, and to simple-minded bandwagoning by politicians in many countries running out of steam (see for example, the absence of 'climate change' in the recent State of the Union address in the USA, and several opinion polls showing the declining credibility of eco-alarmism). So will the educational system be the final redoubt for this whole sorry business?

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Real school choice options would help to narrow achievement gap

This week, organizations across the country are holding events to celebrate National School Choice Week, so it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the benefits we receive from the educational options that most of us enjoy. The opponents of school choice often deride it, suggesting that it only serves as a means of undermining public education. Most middle- and upper-class parents, however, already exercise control over most aspects of their children’s educations. They choose their homes based in part on the quality of the school district they are located within, or, if they have the resources, they decide among a number of private and parochial schools.

These schools are not perfect — far from it, in some cases — but, for most of these students and parents, the system works relatively well. There is a well-known correlation between academic achievement and socioeconomic status, and students from higher-income families outperform lower-income students on practically every measure. This disparity is also reflected in the achievement gap between white and minority students. Tino Sanandaji, a Ph.D. student in public policy at the University of Chicago, recently compared the scores of non-Hispanic white American students with those of non-immigrant Europeans on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, and found that the American students performed admirably. White Americans scored seventh out of 28 countries, beating students from Denmark, Sweden, and France, as well as an average of 15 European Union countries.

On the other hand, our educational system routinely fails poor and minority students — those least able to choose a different school by moving to another district. Although the racial achievement gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, at age 17, black and Hispanic students still score about 10 percent worse on average than white students on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). There a number of proven ways we can expand choice and improve academic achievement for those students.

Missouri has already experienced some success with charter schools. According to a 2009 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, students attending charter schools in Missouri show more improvement in both mathematics and reading than similar students in traditional public schools, and this remains true when looking only at black and Hispanic students. Unfortunately, state statute limits the existence of charter schools to the cities of Saint Louis and Kansas City. If that restriction were removed, the gains of charter schools could be expanded to students in other struggling districts.

Furthermore, we could provide parents and students with more options in existing public school districts simply by restructuring how the schools are funded. Under a weighted-student-formula program (also known as “backpack funding”), students can attend any school within the district, and the schools are funded based upon the number of students they attract — with more dollars devoted to students who typically require more resources to educate (e.g., those with disabilities). Schools are then allowed more autonomy to experiment and compete for students — and for the money attached to them. In California, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland both implemented backpack funding and saw large gains in student achievement across ethnic and socioeconomic lines. San Francisco is now the top performing large urban school district in California. There is no reason, outside of political intransigence, that the Saint Louis and Kansas City school districts could not enact the same reforms.

It would be difficult to design an educational system worse for the disadvantaged than one that assigns students to schools based on the housing that their parents can afford. Although our best schools, public and private, are the product of parental choice, poor and minority students are frequently stuck in monopolistic urban school districts. School choice is not a panacea for this problem, but giving parents the power to choose is a necessary step toward ensuring a quality education for all of Missouri’s students.


Teen Faces Criminal Assault Charges for Shooting Spitwads in School

Andrew Mikel II, a freshman honor student and Junior ROTC cadet at Spotsylvania High School in Virginia, hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after he graduates. But for now, the 14-year-old is at home, serving out a suspension sentence handed down from school administrators after he shot plastic “spitwads” at other students.

Last December, Andrew was punished for using the hollow body of a ballpoint pen to blow small plastic pellets at three students during his lunch period.

At first, Andrew was slapped with a 10-day suspension, but the county school board later voted to extend his punishment, citing the school’s Student Code of Conduct no-tolerance policy that requires any student found with “any type of weapon, or object used to intimidate, threaten or harm others“ be ”expelled for a minimum of 365 days“ unless ”special circumstances exist.”

Andrew’s family claims the school is “criminalizing childish behavior” and the freshman is filing an appeal to be reinstated.

But the youngster’s problems could go well-beyond the schoolyard. The school district referred the “assault” case to the Spotsylania Sheriff’s Office which has charged Mikel with three separate misdemeanor criminal counts.

Andrew is now serving out a community service sentence and has been forced to enroll in substance abuse and anger management counseling to avoid further prosecution.

Is there a difference between a kid blowing spitwads at fellow students and a criminal charged with possession of a weapon and misdemeanor assault?

No, according to Spotsylvania Police Capt. Liz Scott. “Assault is assault is assault,” she told Fox News. “There were three victims that were involved in this, and I think the public needs to remember that,” she added.

The school’s assistant principal agrees. During a December 21 disciplinary hearing, Lisa Andruss said Mikel’s behavior indicated a disturbing trend because he was disciplined in junior high for shooting rubber bands. In addition, he was suspended in 8th grade for bringing a comb to school that resembled a pocket knife.

The school guidance department told Andrew that as a result of his tarnished record, he will no longer be considered as a viable candidate for the Naval Academy.

The whole situation has Mikel’s parents baffled. Andrew Mikel Sr., a former Navy Seabee and Marine officer, told Fox News that he’s been left “scratching my head at the whole thing.”

“One thing is he must attend substance abuse counseling – he’s never had a substance abuse issue in his life,” he said.

“Right from the get go the Assistant Principal Lisa Andruss said, ‘Come pick up your son, he’s being suspended for 10 days, we’re recommending expulsion, and we’re going to push this to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued. “When I arrived she showed me what amounts to a pee shooter: a plastic pen casing about four inches long and these little plastic balls that he’d had from a toy guy that he had years ago and found in his closet recently. This thing is harmless.”

Andrew admits his stunt was dumb and only did it because he “thought it would be cool.”

Since the school decided to expel him for the remainder of the school year, the family has enlisted legal help from The Rutherford Institute, a “civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.”

“What happened to Andrew Mikel is an example of how oppressive zero-tolerance policies have become,” John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute says. “School officials have developed a very dangerous mindset that allows virtually no freedom for students, while at the same time criminalizing childish behavior.”

“My son did an infraction and he deserves a just punishment, but this is like cutting someone’s hand off for stealing a piece of cabbage,” Andrew’s father said. “If my son, instead of shooting a spitball, went up and punched a student right in the face he would only have gotten five days suspension and even if he‘d drawn blood the school resource officer said police still wouldn’t have gotten involved.” But since police and school officials are considering Mikel’s spitwad shooter as a “weapon,” the case has taken on a whole new meaning.

“It takes four state agencies to go after someone with a spitwad: It takes the sheriff’s department, the commonwealth attorney, the school board on various levels and the department of juvenile justice … what a fine use of taxpayer resources,” he added.

The Mikels plan to appeal their son’s disciplinary sentence next week and hope that his record will be cleared.


Evangelical church based around creationism plans to open free school in Britain

An evangelical church which places creationism at the heart of its belief system is applying to open a free school. e Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, Nottinghamshire, has said it will teach evolution as a "theory".

Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents.

The church wants to open the new school in September next year and says there are currently not enough secondary places available in the area. Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church's leader, told the Independent: "Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory."

Evolution is a recognised part of the science curriculum. But free schools will have freedom from following the national curriculum.

The church's website says the new school, with space for 625 pupils, will be "multicultural in philosophy and will welcome children from all faiths or none". However, it adds that the "values of the Christian faith will be the foundation of the school philosophy".

The website states: "We believe that the Bible is God's Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives."

The Government has approved 35 free school applications to move to the business case and plan stage, and eight of these have been given the go ahead to move into the pre-opening stage.