Friday, December 13, 2013

Obamacore: The travesty called the Common Core Standards

This article is about the travesty called the Common Core Standards.  Its design began before Obama was elected but I and others refer to it as Obamacore because Obama played a major role in imposing it on the country, and like Obamacare it was passed without being read, and it involves centralized data collection of private information.  States across the U.S. signed on to Obamacore because they were bribed with stimulus funds.  As parents became aware of the changes that were made to their children's education many joined organizations to oppose it.  Many insightful and alarming critiques have been written regarding the danger of Common Core.  There are fears that Common Core is paving the way for indoctrination of American students by centralizing control of education, collecting massive amount of data on students, and telling teachers what they must and must not teach.

There are reports that scores have dropped when the Common Core was adopted and that a curriculum designed to meet the Common Core standards would only prepare students for entry level courses in nonselective community colleges.

James Milgram, the only mathematician in the Common Core validation committee , refused to sign off on the math standards.  He said that Common Core math standards would put students two years behind those of high-achieving countries.  He told the Texas state legislature that Common Core standards are, "in large measure a political document that . . . is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results."

He said: "I had considerable influence on the mathematics standards in the document. However, as is often the case, there was input from many other sources -- including State Departments of Education -- that had to be incorporated into the standards...  A number of these sources were mainly focused on things like making the standards as non-challenging as possible. Others were focused on making sure their favorite topics were present, and handled in the way they liked."

Dr. Milgram added that it led to a number of "extremely serious failings" in the Common Core that made it premature for any state hoping to improve math scores to implement them and that the Core Math standards were designed to reflect very low expectations.  
The Common Core standards are low compared to those of high achieving countries but a study by the Thomas Fordham Institute found that the Common Core English standards are higher than those of 37 states and the math standards are higher than those of 39 states.  The reason for this is that states dumbed down their minimum standards so they could show they were meeting their standards and get No Child Left Behind money.  Previously it was easy for a school to exceed the minimum state standards.  Common Core imposes a low level curriculum on schools which dictate what to teach and what not to teach.

Why are the standards of Common Core low when the ostensible purpose of Common Core is to raise the performance of American students?  One can find the answer in a document by the American Federation of Teachers which states that one of the goals of Common Core is to "close the intolerable achievement gap between minority and non-minority students."  It's much easier to close the gap by lowering standards than to raise the performance of poorly performing students and no teacher or school administrator wants to be in the position where their jobs depend on getting students to perform.

There are ideological reasons to lower standards as well.  Common Core instructions tell teachers to "avoid giving any background context" to texts on the grounds that Common Core's close reading strategy "forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all."

The ideology reason given above is to level the playing field although the argument that leaving out background information will somehow do that is ridiculous.  Those making that argument should be going to school instead of designing a curriculum for schools.

Common Core tests do not emphasize getting the right answer.  Instead they focus on essay questions, which makes possible grading in such a way that underperforming minority groups score as well as high performing groups.

The other goal of Common Core stated by the American Federation of Teachers is to help American students compete in the global economy.  That raises the question "Is the reason for America's poor economic performance low standards?"

Is Curriculum the Cause of America's Poor Worldwide Education Rank?

You can have the best curriculum in the world but if there is no discipline you can't teach it.  A school staffer at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia told CBS that:

 "It's mayhem. Students are in the halls, they're smoking in the bathroom; cigarettes, marijuana," said a worker at the school, who asked not to be identified. "We can't contain them and it's really hazardous for us working and these kids are not being educated at all."

"It's a zoo in here. Parents really need to come up here and see what's going on in this school because it's ridiculous,"

Asian students who want to study are assaulted by blacks.  In 2010, a federal judge found that black students at South Philadelphia High School had assaulted and harassed Asian students daily -- for years but the principal said she did not call police because she did not want to "criminalize" the black students.

Laws prevent public schools from taking effective action to stop the violence.

 John Hood in an article for the Foundation of Economic Education wrote:  "A host of administrative decisions, court rulings, and legislative actions have created such a maze of regulations that school principals and teachers are often unable to exercise meaningful control over their schools. Furthermore, the prevailing "ethos" in the education establishment-made up of researchers, administrators, and bureaucrats-is suspicious of many forms of punishment, and exhibits a fixation with "sensitivity training" and building self-esteem among students."    
One would think that if the Obama administration was serious about improving education they would remove the regulations that interfere with classroom discipline.  Instead in response to higher number of blacks being suspended than whites, President Obama issued an "executive order" which effectively placed "quotas" on school discipline based on race.  If there are more disruptive blacks than Chinese in a school and you suspend the blacks you could face possible civil rights violation charges.


Public School Teacher Merely "Suspended" After Unseemly Allegations Surface

A follow-up to my item from earlier. Among other things, Politico reported today that powerful union leaders invariably maintain they do not and will not “protect bad teachers”; they merely want to honor “due process.”  How, then, could they possibly explain something like this? Via Jazz Shaw:

 Officials suspended James Lang without pay from his tenured job as an English teacher at Fords Middle School in Woodbridge -- a short distance from Staten Island -- 20 months ago.  The principal testified some students were afraid to go to Lang's class. …

Among the district's allegations against Lang were incidents including calling a student a "dirty ho," telling a student who bent over that he would "tap that" and asking students if they would be afraid if his "snake were in their bed," according to the Home News Tribune.

This man was not fired. On the contrary, he was only suspended despite allegations he sexually harassed his students, and indeed, made many of them feel uncomfortable and afraid. Is this not grounds for automatic termination? I suppose his presumed union representatives would maintain that as a “tenured” educator, he has the right to appeal his case, and therefore firing him on the spot would have been premature and unfair. Perhaps. But he was suspended nearly two years ago, and one would think the school district could have resolved this issue by now. Why haven’t they?

Schools are supposed to be places where children feel safe. If anything, this story shows how exceedingly difficult it is to fire public school teachers with tenured positions; even ones who allegedly make sexual advances on school grounds and in the classroom.


The BBC's anti-free schools bias is becoming laughable

The National Audit Office's report on free schools is generally favourable, though you wouldn't know it if you relied on this article on the BBC's website.

The NAO report found that the average cost of establishing a new free school is £6.6m, compared to an average cost of creating a new school under the last government of £25m. "New approaches have led to much lower average construction costs than in previous programmes," it says. Yet the BBC chose to go with the following headline: "Free schools costs trebled to £1.5b."

The report found that 87 per cent of free school primary places are in areas that have "high or severe need" for additional places, with 70 per cent of all free school places falling into that category. The BBC reported this as follows: "The NAO said… many schools were not in areas of need."

The report says that 18 of the 25 free schools inspected by Ofsted so far have been rated "Good" or "Outstanding". That's a hit rate of 72 per cent, well above the national average of 64 per cent since Ofsted's tough new inspection regime was introduced. But you wouldn't know that from reading the BBC's account, which simply records the fact that two free schools "have been judged to be providing an inadequate standard of education".

The report says that 86 per cent of the places created by the 174 free schools that have opened so far have been filled. The BBC ignores that and quotes "Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge" (without identifying her as a Labour MP): "Over £1bn will have been spent on the free schools programme by March 2014, yet on opening, one in four desks at free schools were empty."

The general impression created by the BBC article, underlined by its grotesque misrepresentation of the NAO report, is that the government is wasting money on free schools in areas where they're not needed while ignoring the critical shortage of places elsewhere. In fact, not only are 70 per cent of all free schools places in areas of "high or severe need" but the government is spending an additional £5bn on new school places up to 2015. That's more than double what the previous government spent on creating new school places in a comparable time period.

The author of this shockingly misleading article is Hannah Richardson who has a long track record of inaccurate reporting when it comes to free schools. I've blogged about Richardson's Left-wing bias twice before (see here and here) and it was picked up on the Guido Fawkes website here.

Isn't it about time James Harding, the BBC News Director, told her to be a little more even-handed?


Thursday, December 12, 2013

'I like to see a student bossom': British headmaster reveals 'semi-literate' applications received for job at top boarding school

A headmaster has revealed the 'semi-literate' job applications he received from state school teachers vying for a post at his top boarding school.

Among the spelling mistake-ridden CVs received by Richard Cairns were boasts that one history teacher liked 'to see a student bossom' (sic), while a chemistry teacher gave his date of birth as 1053.

Mr Cairns, the headmaster at leading private school Brighton College, was so appalled at the poor standards displayed by candidates for the post of assistant headteacher that he has made details of their applications public.

Among the 50 CVs and covering letters Mr Cairns received, 30 were from state school teachers.

Just one state school teacher was among the final eight candidates, and he did not get the job.

Mr Cairns told The Sunday Times: 'Of the 30 from state schools, 12 were semi-literate. These are serving teachers and this is really worrying.'

The headmaster said the spelling errors, coupled with the low standard of academic qualifications achieved by many of the applicants, showed the failings of many teachers working in state schools.

He questioned how such candidates with low A-level grades and third-class university degrees could impart basic education to children and called for the introduction of minimum standards which potential staff must meet before they are allowed to teach.

Mr Cairns also said that many teachers between 25 and 40 who had themselves been taught in state schools had never been taught basic grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.

Among the CVs received was one from a chemistry teacher, who used the word 'form' instead of 'from' when describing how long he had been a teacher, wrote that he had been born in 1053 and included two pages documenting his experience of flying a single-engine aircraft.

He also wrote about being a keen sailor three times in his application.

Others had poor qualifications, including C,D, and E grades at A-level, with one hoping to land the post despite having achieved just five O-levels and a typing certificate.

One candidate wrote his application in block capitals, while a woman teacher said her skills involved 'diversity and cultural competence'.

A history teacher wrote that he 'liked to see a student bossom', while other letters addressed Mr Cairns as 'Mr Richard', or simply 'Cairns'.

Mr Cairns said that he would like to see a minimum standard introduced in which teachers had achieved at least three B grades at A-level, and a 2:1 degree in their chosen teaching subject.

Last week a new international study revealed that British pupils lag behind leading nations including Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and the Chinese city of Shanghai.

The study was carried out as part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and focused on applied skills rather than theoretical knowledge.

The findings show that the UK's average score for maths was 494 and in reading it was 499, roughly average for all countries and on a par with the Czech Republic, France and Norway.

Britain did better in science with an above-average 514 points, similar to Australia, Ireland and Slovenia.

Official figures have shown that one-in-five of state secondary school maths teachers in England do not have a maths degree, with the same being true of 34 per cent of physics teachers.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said that a record number of high-achieving graduates are now applying to become teachers.

'We are reforming teacher training to attract the best graduates and professionals, investing £4m in professionals, investing £4m in professional development for existing teachers and reforming pay so schools can attract the best teacher who have the greatest impact on their pupil's achievements,' he said.


How PGCE courses are turning out semi-literate teachers

The British Postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) is a Mickey Mouse teacher training course taken after a degree.  It usually takes one year

I'm sitting only a third of a mile from the gates of Brighton College, so my eye latched onto this news story in the Sunday Times this morning. Richard Cairns, head master at the school, has released (anonymised) versions of applications to the post of assistant head at the College, to highlight the poor punctuation and other grammatical errors made within too many.

Read the whole article for the full jaw-dropping horror – the most amusing is the applicant who liked "to see a student bossom", but the most frightening, I think, isn't a display of poor grammar or bad spelling, but the naked solipsism on show. The candidate wrote "I am also a keen sailor" three times within his or her application.

Three times! Once might be forgiven – the marina is only a half mile or so away – but to remind your reader that "I am also a keen sailor" three times in one letter (of application to be a schoolteacher) points to a young person fully trained in the age's number one dogma: nothing else matters than that you follow your dream! Simon Cowell/Brighton College will make it happen! Teaching children – how mundane – "that's just what I did till I like achieved my life ambition? I've always been a keen sailor, me?"

Brighton College is one of the best schools in the country, and a fee-paying independent one (which did not offer the keen sailor a job, parents of its students will be reassured to learn.) What motivated Mr Cairns to release the dreadful letters is that of the 30 he received from state school teachers, "12 were semi-literate".

We shouldn't extrapolate from one set of applications to one position, but this chimes with too many anecdotes. I have a friend who's a state school teacher – with a PhD in chemistry and no interest in sailing, perhaps he should have applied for that College position – who despairs at the standards of arithmetic and spelling among his peers.

What should be done? Mr Cairns offers this advice: "Ministers need to decree that teachers need a minimum of three Bs at A-level and an upper second-class degree in their subject before they are allowed to teach."

I'm not sure that any criteria, no matter how well-founded, should be used as a threshold to determine one's fitness to teach. The Labour Party disagrees with me: they insist that teachers have a qualification, but none of that elitist "upper second-class degree" nonsense. They favour the PGCE, the state licence to teach.

Labour demand all teachers carry the PGCE because (their trades union owners demand that they do so, and because) it will help cripple Free Schools, the schools most likely to bring Brighton College-style schooling to children whose parents could otherwise ill afford it. Labour realise these schools are too popular to attack head-on, so instead they will attempt to make them as much like any other state school as possible. They'll keep the label: they're fond of labels.

Labels like "PGCE". Those 12 semi-literate state-school applicants … I wonder how many of them possessed a PGCE? All of them, I expect. All of them out there, somewhere, teaching children how to think.


10-Year-Old Boy Threatened with School Expulsion for Shooting Imaginary Bow

“I shot an arrow into the air/It fell to earth, I knew not where/For, so swiftly it flew, the sight/Could not follow it in its flight.”

I’m sorry but that Longfellow poem now falls under educational zero tolerance guidelines for describing a weapon being used. All children have already been put into kneeling position and told that they might be killed at any moment.

Johnny Jones, a fifth grader at South Eastern Middle School, was suspended for a day and threatened with expulsion under the school’s weapons policy after playfully using his hands to draw the bowstrings on a pretend “bow” and “shoot” an arrow at a classmate who had held his folder like an imaginary gun and “shot” at Johnny.

The incident took place the week of October 14th, when fifth grader Johnny Jones asked his teacher for a pencil during class. Jones walked to the front of the classroom to retrieve the pencil, and during his walk back to his seat, a classmate and friend of Johnny’s held his folder like an imaginary gun and “shot” at Johnny.

Johnny playfully used his hands to draw the bowstrings on a completely imaginary “bow” and “shot” an arrow back. Seeing this, another girl in the class reported to the teacher that the boys were shooting at each other. The teacher took both Johnny and the other boy into the hall and lectured them about disruption.

The teacher then contacted Johnny’s mother, Beverly Jones, alerting her to the “seriousness” of the violation because the children were using “firearms” in their horseplay, and informing her that the matter had been referred to the Principal.

Principal John Horton contacted Ms. Jones soon thereafter in order to inform her that Johnny’s behavior was a serious offense that could result in expulsion under the school’s weapons policy. Horton characterized Johnny’s transgression as “making a threat” to another student using a “replica or representation of a firearm” through the use of an imaginary bow and arrow.

Horton doesn’t actually know what a firearm is. But sadly there’s no zero tolerance policy for grievous ignorance or incompetence by educational personnel.

According to the South Eastern School District’s Zero Tolerance policy for “Weapons, Ammunition and other Hazardous Items,” the district prohibits the possession of “weapons,” defined as including any “knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nunchaku, firearm, shotgun, rifle and any other tool, instrument or implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.” The Student Code further prohibits any “replica” or “look-alike” weapon, and requires that the school Principal immediately contact the appropriate police department, complete an incident report to file with the school Superintendent, and begin the process of mandatory expulsion immediately

In the year 2013, for the first time in human history, imaginary weapons were outlawed. It’s quite a milestone.

Southeastern looks like a cheerful place. Its motto is “Providing progressive education to strengthen the global community.”

Providing Progressive Education to Strengthen the Global Community. We demonstrate mutual trust and collaborate to champion respect and responsibility on a local, national and global level. We recognize and nurture the value and unique abilities of all individuals as we demonstrate respect for the beliefs and ideas of one another.

So basically just the kind of place you would expect to ban imaginary bows and arrows.

“Long, long afterward, in an oak/I found the arrow, still unbroke/And the song, from beginning to end/I found again in the heart of a friend.”


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Secondary education: learning Latin for literacy

I heartily agree with this.  The time I spent learning Latin in High School was certainly well spent  -- JR

At a time when the OECD report has ranked the UK as 23rd out of 65 countries for reading, perhaps it is time to rethink our attitudes towards education. If the classicists are to be believed, learning Latin can improve literacy levels.

Given that England is the only country in the developed world in which 55-65 year olds out perform 16 – 24 year olds in literacy and numeracy, a return to teaching the classics could provide part of the solution.

Classicists are often called upon to defend their subject, but it has been proved that the benefits extend to other subjects as well. However, despite this, Latin is only taught in 13 per cent of state schools and just 12,000 take Latin GCSE each year. But should Classics be the preserve of the elite?

Studying Latin and Greek offers numerous rewards, improving analytical skills and logical reasoning – but, perhaps most importantly, access to great literature.

Peter Jones is often asked how he finds inspiration for his Spectator column, Ancient & Modern. “It’s easy,” he says, “when I can tap into a wealth of Classical literature.”

Having studied both Latin and English literature for my degree, I can attest to the benefits of a Classical background in understanding English literature.

I was able to study Latin at university, as I had previously enrolled on a gifted and talented evening scheme – my state school didn't, at that stage, offer it.

Jones stressed the employability factor, quoting a YouGov survey in which 83 per cent of those asked supported the classical languages being taught in secondary schools, while 28 per cent said that Classics should be included on the curriculum.

Furthermore, 51 per cent of those responsible for staff, said the study of Classics was either useful or very useful.

Classics for All, a charitable scheme into its third year, funds teaching and resources in state schools.

At a funding event, 'Classics in the City', I spoke to David Hogg, from Kelmscott School in Walthamstow, who completed his GCSE in Latin and taught it through the scheme; he intends to stay ahead of his pupils, who are currently a few steps behind.

He suggested the literature added a whole new layer of teaching to English Literature: “It’s a revelation,” he says. “Atticus suddenly became a shining light projecting his philosophy onto Maycomb.”

“I’ve been teaching these books for years; suddenly I’m seeing them in a whole new light. It’s made me a better teacher of my own subject.”

“I’m very annoyed it isn’t taught to all children – even though I’m an English teacher, those with Classics can reference Byron and Keats better.”

Reading these texts in translation, simply doesn’t have the same potency. The nuances of the language, the word play and the effect of metre cannot be translated. It's a shame most students should be deprived of this.

Historian, Bettany Hughes, says she studied Latin and Greek “not because I went to a posh school but because I had a wonderful teacher.” She is currently a patron of Classics For All, along with Boris Johnson and Mary Beard.

Bettany said the benefits of studying these languages are manifold, not least because, as a historian looking at Syria and similar situations, this learning “gives us a much firmer understanding of contemporary politics”.

“What we’re speaking now is Greco-Roman," she says. "It comes from the greatest literature ever written. When you read it, you feel humility looking at things over time and space”

Trustee, Nicolas Barber, argues that “the national scandal at the moment is literacy.” He says that teaching Latin is a good way to tackle literacy rates as studies done abroad suggest that learning Latin can actually help improve literacy levels of young people.

Jules Mann, Executive Director of the charity highlighted the inclusivity of the scheme, not aimed solely at students who wanted to study Classics further. She stressed that one of the organisation's most important messages was that the scheme could have a huge impact in schools with "so little" funding.

She highlighted Kelmscott School in Walthamstow as a case in point: "Kelmscott received £5,000 in funded tutoring. They are now teaching Latin in school and other teachers are coming forward wanting to be involved." She added: "We need to raise well over £100,000 p.a. to provide classes in 100 schools a year".


High School Sex Ed Indoctrination Reaching Dangerous Levels

I was astonished recently when one of my stepdaughters arrived home from public high school in Washington state with a red ribbon painted on her cheek. Sex education in the schools – which conservatives have tried to limit to abstinence-only – has now gone well beyond simple education. Today's students are being coerced into promoting and acting out the politically correct views taught them. It is being done so sneakily, using the authoritative stamp of approval by the public schools, that even my conservatively raised children were cajoled into participating.

There was no way to pull your child out of the day-long event. The entire school “celebrated” HIV/AIDs Awareness.” A student group formed to educate other students about AIDs was responsible for putting on the event, and took over the front part of the school with tables and displays. On the tables were baskets of mint-flavored condoms, and students working the tables encouraged others passing by to take them.

Every few seconds, a loud gong would sound and someone would announce, “Every 12 seconds, someone is infected with AIDs, and every 16 seconds, someone dies from AIDs.” The windows throughout the school were covered with HIV/AIDs awareness messages and posters were plastered on the walls. Almost every light throughout the hallways was turned off for further dramatic effect. The main staircase inside the school was covered with red ribbons. There was a giant wheel that students were encouraged to spin in order to see what disease they would contract. Students were lured into spinning it with the promise of a prize.

Students were encouraged to wear a slick-looking pin featuring a red ribbon.They were given hip-looking little educational pamphlets that contained a free music download from There were two pages of very graphic instructions inside on how to put on a condom.

There was absolutely nothing in the pamphlet about homosexuality. This is dishonest considering HIV/AIDs affects homosexual men disproportionately. The website reports, “Although men who have sex with other men (MSM) represent about 4% of the male population in the United States, in 2010, MSM accounted for 78% of new HIV infections among males and 63% of all new infections.” Instead of warning men that homosexual activity puts them at high risk for HIV and AIDs, which would perhaps save some lives and prevent some misery down the road, the politically correct teaching method would rather pretend that everyone is the same in order not to offend anyone.

The student advocacy group was allowed to take over an entire class period of the ninth graders. They handed out cups with “fluids” in them, and instructed the students to choose another student to exchange fluids with. There was no option to choose abstinence as a teenager and not exchange fluids. Then, members of the advocacy group dropped some liquid in the cup. If it turned the liquid pink, that meant the student contracted AIDs. If it stayed white, the student didn’t contract AIDs.

Each student was given a paper clover and told to write down three goals, one on each leaf. The students who supposedly contracted AIDs were told to rip off one of their leaves, since contracting AIDs had made that goal no longer obtainable, and explain how they felt. Students were given candy for raising their hand and participating, and encouraged to join the advocacy group when they become sophomores or juniors.

A man with the AIDs virus spoke to the class. He said he had contracted AIDs by sleeping around with women. Again, this was a subtle maneuver done to further create the impression that AIDs affects everyone. He told the students that condoms are 99 percent effective. In reality, the failure rate from condoms is probably closer to 17 percent.

There was nothing in the pamphlet about the failure rate of condoms, or advising kids that they would be safer simply by abstaining from sexual conduct. The Centers for Disease Control, no bastion of conservatism, warns on its website, “Latex condoms can only protect against transmission when the ulcers or infections are in genital areas that are covered or protected by the condom.” Additionally, the herpes simplex virus, which is frequently found in the genital area, is transmitted by merely skin-to-skin contact so would likely not be blocked by a condom.

There was nothing about pregnancy whatsoever. Approximately 15 percent of women who use condoms become pregnant.

This kind of indoctrination continues to grow every year, crammed down our children’s throats. Where will it stop? The number of AIDs/HIV awareness days is staggering. There are now 11 of these days each year, listed at

Encouraging kids to use condoms goes against the advice of the experts. Dr. Harold Jaffee, chief of epidemiology at the National Centers for Disease Control, said, "You just can’t tell people it’s all right to do whatever you want as long as you wear a condom. It (AIDS) is just too dangerous a disease to say that." Dr. Robert Renfield, chief of retro-viral research at the Walter Reed Army Institute, has said, "Simply put, condoms fail. And condoms fail at a rate unacceptable for me as a physician to endorse them as a strategy to be promoted as meaningful AIDS protection."

Forcing children to go along with politically correct behavior contrary to their values and religion does not belong in school. Education is for reading, writing, arithmetic and similar subjects. High school students do not “spin a wheel” to determine whether or not they acquire an STD. They can consciously choose not to engage in premarital, underage sex, which will give them a zero chance of contracting an STD or having a baby.

My eldest stepdaughter observed after undergoing that day at school, “The school prides itself on being a top school. If so, then why are they encouraging kids to go out and sleep around, which will hurt their ability to be successful?”


School Board Posts 17 Legal Talking Points for Limiting Religious Liberty

Last week, CNSNews reported that a Georgia school in Bulloch County decided to confiscate the Christmas cards that were posted along the hallways over the Thanksgiving break.  Traditionally, the school always had Christmas cards posted, but school administrators decided to un-deck the halls.

The Bulloch County Board of Education has even posted on its website under "Press Releases" (12/3/13) seventeen "Case Law Talking Points" on why it has the power to ruin the holidays by banning free speech:

1.      With regards to the issue or religion, the First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." The provisions of the First Amendment are also applicable to state and local entities, including local school districts. Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 301, 120 S. Ct. 2266, 2275, 147 L. Ed. 2d 295 (2000).

2.      The part of the First Amendment which prevents the establishment of religion by a governmental entity is often referred to as the Establishment Clause.

3.      As a practical matter, the requirement that a governmental entity refrain from establishing religion or inhibiting the free exercise of religion is a requirement that such entity adopt a position of neutrality as to religion.

4.      If a governmental entity acts with the purpose of advancing religion, it violates the Establishment Clause in that the entity is no longer acting in a neutral capacity. McCreary County, Kentucky v. Am. Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844, 125 S. Ct. 2722, 162 L. Ed. 2d 729 (2005).

5.      As a local school district cannot speak for itself, it communicates and interacts with the public through its elected board of education, superintendent, teacher and other employees.

6.      Given their responsibility to educate students and the inherent authority that accompanies this task, in many situations a teacher's speech can be taken as directly and deliberately representative of the school. Bishop v. Aronov, 926 F.2d 1066 (11th Cir. 1991).

7.      Accordingly, religious speech by a teacher in his or her official capacity can pose a potential Establishment Clause issue for a local school district, the result of which can be a lawsuit brought by a third party to address the alleged Establishment Clause violation.

8.      Although a teacher does not give up all of his or her rights to free exercise of religion as a condition of employment, Courts have repeatedly emphasized that the rights of teachers in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings. Roberts v. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047, 1056 (10th Cir. 1990).

9.      In contrast, student initiated and student led religious speech, in the absence of governmental involvement, is private speech that is protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Chandler v. Siegelman, 230 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2000).

10.  The reason for the differing treatment of student speech and the speech of a school district employee during the course of his or her employment is inherent distinction between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect. Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 250, 110 S. Ct. 2356 (1990).

11.  A local school district, together with its employees, is not permitted to do indirectly what it cannot do directly, by requesting or recruiting other individuals or entities to pray or deliver religious messages at school events. Under such circumstances, the actions of the local school district would most likely be viewed as support and promotion of the religious communications. County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U.S. 573, 600, 109 S. Ct. 3086 (1989).

12.  If the free exercise rights of a school district employee come into conflict with the prohibitions of the Establishment Clause, the Establishment Clause concerns of the local school district take precedence. Berger v. Rensselaer Cent. Sch. Corp., 982 F.2d 1160 (7th Cir. 1993); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 587, 112 S. Ct. 2649 (1992).

13.  Although private student religious speech is protected by the First Amendment, this protection does not extend to student speech that is sponsored by the school district. Student speech is deemed to be school sponsored when students, parents or members of the public can reasonably believe that the speech has the approval of the school district. Bannon v. School District of Palm Beach County, 387 F.3d 1208. (11th Cir. 2004); Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. 2004).

14.  In reviewing student religious speech, Courts will attempt to determine if the school encouraged, facilitated or in any way conducted the speech. In order to avoid the appearance of school district support, student religious speech must be without district involvement and be subject only to the same reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions as all other student speech in school. Holloman ex rel.Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. 2004).

15.  When acting in their official capacities as representatives of a local school district, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Grossman v. South Shore Public School District, 507 F.3d. 1097 (7th Cir. 2007).

16.  In analyzing a situation to determine if conduct by a school district or its employee constitutes an impermissible endorsement of religion, Courts will typically attempt to determine how a reasonable person with knowledge of the past conduct of the school district would view the situation. The Court will not focus on the intention of the school district in taking the action in question but will instead focus upon how the action is perceived by a reasonable person witnessing the action or speech. Borden v. Sch. Dist. of Twp. of E. Brunswick, 523 F.3d 153 (3d Cir. 2008).

17.  One of the recent issues that has confronted the Bulloch County School District involves teacher e-mail accounts and the propriety of including and religious messages or scriptures is the signature lines of e-mails emanating from these accounts. Although teachers are assigned e-mail accounts that include some portion of the teacher's name or initials, these accounts are provided by and remain the property of the Bulloch County School District. The Bulloch County School District Employee Handbook states on page 48 that "ALL electronic communication from staff to student or parent should be written as a professional representing BCS. This includes word choices, tone, grammar and subject matter that model the standards and integrity of a BCS professional." The employee handbook explicitly states that, with regards to all electronic communications between an employee and a student or parent, the employee is representing the District in his or her professional capacity. Given the District ownership of the e-mail account and the policies of the District, it would be difficult to assert that e-mails from employees with religious messages do not constitute an endorsement of religion or at least entangle the District in the subject.

Talk about overkill.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Education in College Justice

Under pressure from the Obama administration, a university tramples the rights of the accused


Joshua Strange will never forget the girl he met in May 2011.

Both were underclassmen at Alabama's Auburn University when a common acquaintance introduced them. "We instantly became attached at the hip and did everything together," she recalled six months later. "I rather quickly moved into his place. . . . Everything was great until pretty much June 29."

That night, an intimate encounter in Mr. Strange's bed went wrong. She called police, who detained him for questioning. She said she had awakened to find him forcing himself on her; he said the sexual activity was consensual and initiated by her. There was no dispute as to the physical acts involved.

The accuser did not press charges that night. In fact, before sunrise she returned to his apartment, and the couple agreed to continue dating. When I asked him why in a recent phone interview, he told me: "I cared about her."

But the relationship soon disintegrated. Phone records show their communications ended in mid-August. In early September he was arrested again after she told police that two days earlier he had confronted her in a public place and struck her. He flatly denied it, saying he was 15 miles away at the time. This time she did press charges, for misdemeanor simple assault as well as for felony forcible sodomy in the June 29 incident.

Mr. Strange was cleared on both counts. On Feb. 3, 2012, a grand jury handed up a "no bill" indictment on the sodomy charge, meaning the evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause for prosecution. On May 24, when the simple-assault case went to trial, the accuser didn't show up. "I don't have a witness to go forward with, your honor," said city attorney Michael Short. Case dismissed.

So Mr. Strange got his day in court and was treated fairly. But he had already been punished for the unproven crimes. Auburn expelled him after a campus tribunal found him "responsible" for committing the catchall offense of "sexual assault and/or sexual harassment." A letter from Melvin Owens, head of the campus police, explained that expulsion is a life sentence. If Mr. Strange ever sets foot on Auburn property, he will be "arrested for Criminal Trespass Third," Mr. Owens warned.

Joshua Strange, now 23, is a civilian casualty in the Obama administration's war on men. In an April 2011 directive, Russlyn Ali, then assistant education secretary for civil rights, threatened to withhold federal money from any educational institution that failed to take a hard enough line against sexual misconduct to ensure "that all students feel safe in their school." The result was to leave accused students more vulnerable to false charges and unfair procedures. The prospect of losing federal funds has left university administrators "crippled by panic," Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told me. "The incentives are pointing toward findings of guilt, not accurate findings."

The injustice of such proceedings is largely hidden from the public, because most universities conduct them secretively. Auburn is no exception. Its Discipline Committee's hearings are closed to spectators, "private and confidential" under university bylaws. But Auburn keeps on file an official audio recording, a copy of which I obtained.

Ms. Ali's directive had an effect even before Mr. Strange's hearing began. At the time, Auburn's bylaws stipulated that accusers in campus disciplinary cases had to show "clear and convincing evidence" to establish guilt. Less than three weeks before the Nov. 8, 2011, hearing, Brandon Frye, then director of the Office of Student Conduct, informed Mr. Strange that the rules had changed. As per Ms. Ali, the standard was reduced to "preponderance of the evidence."

Mr. Strange still should not have been convicted. The grand jury found there wasn't even probable cause, a looser standard than preponderance of the evidence. But the university hearing that yielded his expulsion was a travesty of a legal process.

The most striking quality of the 99-minute proceeding is its abject lack of professionalism. Imagine a courtroom with a jury and witnesses, but no judge or lawyers. Mr. Strange and his accuser had lawyers present—the only people in the room with legal training—but they were forbidden to speak except to identify themselves at the outset.

Presiding was an Auburn librarian, Tim Dodge, the committee's chairman. The other members were two students, a staffer from the College of Liberal Arts and a fisheries professor from the Agriculture College. Mr. Dodge was confused and hesitant throughout. At one point he got lost and admitted: "I can't find the script here." On multiple occasions an unidentified voice—Mr. Strange believes it is Mr. Frye—can be heard on the recording whispering stage directions to Mr. Dodge.

The absence of a judge to control the proceedings left Mr. Dodge anxious for authoritative guidance. It was provided by the two Auburn administrators the accuser called as witnesses. First up was Susan McCallister, an associate director with the campus police who doubles as a "safe-harbor advocate," a concierge for purported sex-crime victims. "Any kind of services that they need access to, we provide a doorway," she explained. Such services include counseling, "academic accommodations" and help in filing police reports.

At the hearing, Ms. McCallister proclaimed the accuser "very credible" and attested to the belief that Mr. Strange was "a potential threat to [the accuser's] safety." But Ms. McCallister disavowed knowledge even of the accuser's version of events. "As a safe-harbor advocate, I really don't need to know a lot of details, and so I didn't ask her to go into great detail," Ms. McCallister said. "I don't really want survivors to have to tell their story over and over again."

Ms. McCallister had referred the accuser to Kelley Taylor, the university's sex-discrimination enforcer and the accuser's second witness. Ms. Taylor also described the accuser as "credible" and added that she found the allegation "very compelling."

Mr. Dodge asked Ms. Taylor to describe "typical behaviors" of "somebody who may have undergone a sexual assault." She listed three. First, "they frequently cry." Second, "their storytelling is sometimes disjointed, sometimes not." Third, "there's often a lot of emotion inserted into the story that is about being very upset or in disbelief or unsure what to do next, petrified."

The second "behavior" is tautological; every story either is or is not disjointed. The third is a windy elaboration of the first. Thus Ms. Taylor's testimony amounted to a claim that in principle a woman's tears are sufficient to establish a man's guilt—an inane stereotype that infantilizes women in the interest of vilifying men.

The Ali directive stipulates: "Public and state-supported schools must provide due process to the alleged perpetrator." I asked Auburn spokesman Mike Clardy if the university is confident that its procedures meet that standard. He answered with a written statement from Jon Waggoner, interim vice president for student affairs: "While Auburn University does not comment specifically about specific student conduct cases, we feel confident that each and every student who participates in the process is afforded notice and opportunity to be heard on all matters pertaining to the specific case under review."

Mr. Waggoner was alluding to Goss v. Lopez, the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case that established a due-process standard—notice and a hearing—for high-school students facing suspension of up to 10 days. Whether such minimal protections are sufficient for adults in college is an unresolved legal question, and Justice Byron White wrote for the court that even in the high-school context a longer suspension or expulsion "may require more formal procedures."

The Strange case vividly demonstrates the insufficiency of the Goss standard, at least as applied by Auburn. The committee's procedures were as shoddy as the "evidence" it accepted.

The university flaunted its contempt for the defendant's right to confront his accuser. According to Mr. Strange, a curtain was hung in the hearing room to shield her from his view. And although the panelists were permitted to question witnesses, there was no cross-examination.

Adversarial questioning is a crucial check on false or misleading testimony. Example: During the hearing, the accuser claimed three times that immediately after the disputed sexual encounter, Mr. Strange locked her in his bedroom. That sounds menacing, but Mr. Strange's version, which was not told at the proceeding, is that he wasn't locking her in but locking himself out. He told me that she had "started freaking out" and refused to say what was wrong. "I told her, 'I'm going to get my keys. I'm going to go out of the room and close the door and lock it behind me. I'm going to take the key that operates my bedroom door, and I'm going to put it underneath the door, so that way you have complete control.' "

Six weeks before the university hearing, the accuser had testified in a proper courtroom, when she petitioned successfully for a restraining order. Under questioning from Mr. Strange's lawyer, Davis Whittelsey, she acknowledged under oath that Mr. Strange's account was truthful: "I'm not saying I was locked up in there and had no way out or anything. I'm just saying the bedroom was locked."

With criminal charges pending, Mr. Strange chose not to testify at the university proceeding. Auburn bylaws stipulate that "failure of the student [charged with an offense] to make a statement or to answer any or all questions shall not be considered in the determinate on [sic] of guilt or innocence." Yet Mr. Dodge and the other panelists raised no objection when the accuser, in her closing statement, emphasized that Mr. Strange "never talked about the facts of this case."

Although that statement seems improper, it was consistent with the logic of the proceeding. The preponderance-of-evidence standard enfeebles the right to remain silent. In a she-said-he-said case, the adversaries start on equal footing, so that some shred of additional evidence is necessary to convict. But when it's she-said-he-kept-silent, she begins with an overwhelming evidentiary advantage. In a federal civil lawsuit, which uses the same standard, jurors are permitted to draw adverse inferences from a defendant's refusal to testify.

Further, the right against self-incrimination is indivisible from the right to counsel. Even in a civil case, a courtroom defendant who declines to testify has the benefit of an attorney to make arguments on his behalf. By gagging Mr. Strange's lawyer, Auburn made it impossible for the defendant to remain silent without forfeiting the ability to mount an effective defense.

To be sure, the accuser's lawyer wasn't allowed to speak either. But he prejudiced the "private and confidential" proceeding merely by stating his name: Michael Short, the city attorney, who was prosecuting Mr. Strange on the simple-assault charge.

This story is almost as typical of American universities as it is outrageous. I described the hearing in detail to Mr. Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He told me the only element that struck him as unusual was the prosecutor's presence in the hearing room.

Yet apart from the loose standard of proof, none of Auburn's procedural infirmities are expressly mandated by the Education Department. If the due-process requirement is more than an empty promise, the department will withhold Auburn's federal funding until the university revamps its procedures and makes restitution to Mr. Strange.

It would be better still if universities could get out of the discipline business altogether, except for scholarly offenses like plagiarism, cheating and falsification of data. Ordinary civil and criminal courts are immensely more competent to adjudicate allegations of sexual harassment and violent crime, in open proceedings subject to appellate review, without trampling the rights of the accused.

Mr. Strange's banishment from Auburn didn't become official until the Discipline Committee's verdict had been rubber-stamped by Ainsley Carry, then vice president for student affairs, and Jay Gogue, the university president. That was Feb. 2, 2012, the day before the grand jury cleared Mr. Strange of the charge for which he was expelled. He had to stay in Auburn—but away from campus—for 3½ months, until the misdemeanor charge evaporated amid the accuser's truancy. He now lives with his parents in Spartanburg, S.C., and is a senior at the University of South Carolina Upstate. He graduates next May.


Untrained staff are fine to teach in British schools, says Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw

Headteachers should be allowed to hire untrained staff if they are the right candidates for the school, according to the schools inspector.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief schools inspector, he had not met a headteacher who had not hired an unqualified member of staff.

Sir Michael, who used to be headteacher of a comprehensive in East London, told BBC1's Sunday Politics programme a headteacher's job was “to make sure they get accredited as soon as possible and come up to scratch in the class room”.

Asked if he supported the use of unqualified teachers, he said: “Yes I do. I have done it. If I could not get a maths teacher, or a physics teacher, or a modern languages teacher, and I thought someone straight out of university without qualified teacher status could communicate with youngsters I would get that person into the classroom and get them accredited if they deliver the goods.”

Sir Michael also that he wanted Ofsted to take a closer eye on schools between inspections, adding that “sometimes we don’t see a school for five or even seven years. That is wrong.

“My argument Ofsted should play a much greater part in monitoring the performance of schools between those inspections schedules.”

Sir Michael was speaking ahead of figures this week which will show rising numbers of primary schools that are effectively designated as “failing”.

As many as 700 primaries in England – almost one in 20, collectively teaching around 180,000 pupils – are likely to fall below new benchmarks drawn up to "raise the bar" in the state education system.

New league tables will show that the number of underperforming schools this year will exceed the 521 struggling primaries seen in 2012. It follows a decision to record reading and writing separately for the first time in headline results.

Sir Michael is also expected to propose this week a new system fo "national service" for teachers and heads in top schools to go to the worst regions and help to lift standards. The model is based on a successful programme in Shanghai, China.


Australia's classrooms among world's noisiest

Australia has some of the noisiest classrooms in the world and is wasting teaching time but experts agree a quiet class is not always a good thing.

An international study has found 43 per cent of Australian students reported "noise and disorder" as factors in their classrooms.

One-third said they had to "wait a long time for the students to quiet down" and 38 per cent said students "don't listen to what their teacher has to say".

Sue Thomson, director of educational monitoring and research at the Australian Council for Educational Research, said the results - higher than in almost all comparison countries - were a cause for concern.

"Not only does it make it harder for students to learn when they're in a noisy classroom … they also have the problem of the teacher spending 10 minutes extra with classroom discipline issues and quietening the class down," she said. "If you accumulate that over a year, it actually makes quite a difference."

But Michael Anderson, associate professor in education and social work at the University of Sydney said it was important for teachers to distinguish between productive noise and distracting noise. "Noise can be productive when it comes out of collaborative learning opportunities that the kids are involved in," he said.

Leonie Burfield, principal of St Bernard's Catholic Primary School in Botany, likes to hear noise coming from her classrooms.  "A good teacher can tell whether or not it's an on-task noise," she said.

The school has designed its classrooms with a range of different desk options so that collaboration is encouraged and students can choose their own learning style.

"You might see some children on the floor with lap desks, you might see some at individual tables," Ms Burfield said. "You'd see some children on lounges, other children might even be standing."

President of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, Kim Beswick, said that she would like to hear more students discussing maths in class.

"I don't think noise has to be a negative thing," she said. "It only becomes negative when it's undermining the teaching."

She said many discipline problems stemmed from a lack of respect for teachers.

"In Australian culture, there is a lack of valuing of education relative to other countries," she said.

"The Australian community views making the AFL draft as a higher achievement than going to university and doing a PhD. So that's the sort of environment teachers have to operate in."


Monday, December 09, 2013

Canadian Public school classroom bans meat, eggs and fish for “religious reasons”

If you’re a student at Stoney Creek Public School in London, Ontario, your school lunches may be restricted to romaine lettuce and tofu after a letter addressing disallowed foods was distributed to students in a grade two classroom.

To address the influx of students with anaphylaxis allergies, the school’s principal, Steve McCombe, signed a fill-in-the-blank letter addressing the school’s policy on food allergens, and teachers filled in the classroom-specific allergy portion before distributing the letter to students.

For one classroom, this letter instructed “no meat, eggs, fish (religious reasons)”, before saying “We ask that you be aware of the allergies within your child’s classroom, and refrain from sending the items that are listed above with your child.“

The letter was first published by London radio station AM980, where I host The Andrew Lawton Show weekdays from 1pm-3pm.

The school has since backtracked on this, issuing the following statement:

"A letter distributed yesterday to parents of your child’s class – intended only to increase awareness of food allergies among our students – incorrectly listed a student’s food preference based on religious reasons.

That information should not have been listed on the letter and does not reflect TVDSB practices or policies.

We respect individual families’ food choices based on personal or religious preferences, but the letter was intended to raise awareness of food allergies only as they impact others in the classroom.

We apologize for this error.

We thank parents for your cooperation in restricting foods that have been associated with identified allergies among students in our classrooms."

The real question, however, is why this happened in the first place.

Political correctness has taken a stranglehold of public schools in more ways than are countable–from the curriculum to student lunchboxes. And now, it’s not enough for a student with religious dietary restrictions to simply not pack an egg-, meat- and fish-free lunch–everyone else in the class has to as well.

It’s unclear what religion–if any–actually led to the brief introduction of this rule, but it’s safe to say that a Christian wouldn’t experience the same accommodation if he or she tried to ban the entry of meat into the classroom on Fridays, for example.


British Primary school removes Enid Blyton Famous Five children's classics so it could win a race equality award

A primary school has banned Enid Blyton children's stories so it could win a race equality award.

The Famous Five classics were dumped because they had 'inappropriate ethnic stereotypes' with references to gypsies, golliwogs and a dog with a name starting with 'N'.

The clear-out was needed to get a Race Equality mark from the council ahead of the opening of a new school library, it was reported.

Sean Crosier, headmaster of the 196-pupil Huncoat Primary School near Accrington, Lancashire, told the Sun: 'We checked all our books. Some contained references that reflected outdated attitudes.'

Two of the offending stories were Blyton's Five Go To Mystery Moor and The Children of Kidillin. The much-loved author wrote more than 600 books before her death in 1968.

In the 1990s some of her stories were edited to remove parts that were considered racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

Deputy head Phil Clarke said many of the culled books had been replaced with edited versions.  He told the Sun: 'It's about making sure children have a fair representation of different ethnic groups.'

Lancashire County Council's race award is given to schools which 'eliminate discrimination, promote equal opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups.'


Australia:  Does PISA mean we should give a Gonski?

The two big education stories this week have been about school funding and student performance.

On Monday, federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced he would honour his pre-election commitment to deliver the first four years of a six-year funding deal offered by the previous Labor government. This package of funding and reforms was based on the recommendations of the Gonski review of school resourcing and governance.

Pyne's version is different to Labor's - he has pledged to give all states and territories the extra funding they are entitled to under the new funding model, whether they have signed an agreement with the Commonwealth or not, and he will remove many of the accountability requirements and regulations.

On Tuesday, the results of the latest Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. PISA has been conducted every three years since 2000, and assesses the reading, maths and science literacy skills of thousands of 15 year old students around the world.

The PISA 2012 report showed that Australia's international ranking had dropped, as it has in every testing cycle since 2000. This was widely interpreted as a sign of a dire decline in Australia's performance, yet there are other factors to consider.

The number of countries participating in PISA has doubled from 32 in 2000 to 65 in 2012, creating substantial changes in the rankings. Many of the countries that have displaced previously high-ranked countries are not countries at all. The 'partner economies' that dominate the top ranks are East Asian cities or city-states, and Liechtenstein, a country with just 36,000 people. No useful policy conclusions can be drawn by making simple comparisons between these disparate countries and cities.

It is more appropriate to look at Australia's progress over time, which does show a statistically significant decrease in reading and maths mean scores over the PISA testing period, and a non-significant decrease in science. The drop in the mean scores is due to an either stable or growing proportion of students in the lowest performance bands and a shrinking proportion of students in the upper performance bands. We should be concerned about these numbers, but the performance of students in Shanghai and Liechtenstein is of limited value for policy solutions.

Inevitably, connections have been drawn between the issues of funding and performance. The Sydney Morning Herald and the author of the Australian PISA report have claimed that the PISA results demonstrate the need for increased funding for disadvantaged schools, and for the 'Gonski' model in particular.

Increased resources to schools can make a difference, but only if spent prudently. This has not been characteristic of funding increases in Australia in the past; hopefully it will be in the future.


Sunday, December 08, 2013

School Nannies and the Death of Common Sense

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, “A father walked up to his kid’s school and gets arrested…” but watch the video of Jim Howe trying to pick up his kids from South Cumberland Elementary School in Cumberland County, Tennessee, and you’ll sooner cry than laugh. That’s because Howe’s alleged crime was walking into the school building and asking to take his children now that classes were over. Howe was supposed to wait, you see. All walking parents are supposed to cool their heels until a long line of drivers have picked up their kids, and only then retrieve their own children. That's because school authorities are convinced that making parents drive up to school for pick-up is somehow safer than allowing choice in the matter.

“Previously, parents were coming out to pick up children, they were just getting out of cars and coming to school,” Donald Andrews, the director of Cumberland County Schools told the Huffington Post. “In this day in age, the PTO [parent teacher organization] was concerned that it was a safety issue, someone could come up and grab [any] kid.”

No child was ever actually “grabbed” at this school mind you. But why let reality intrude on the important business of overregulating ourselves because of what might happen. Indeed, this incident serves to highlight a broad problem with safety regulations related to children, namely the absence of common sense.

It was a lack of common sense that led school security officer Avery Aytes to arrest Howe in the first place, telling him “I’m going to take you up to the jail… I’m not putting up with this today, you go ahead and record all you want … you’re being childish and it's uncalled for.” (Howe’s girlfriend recorded the exchange and posted it to the internet, which is why we know what happened.) But Howe was never belligerent or even so much as raised his voice to Ayes, he just calmly said he had come to get his kids.

And it was a complete lack of judgment for the school superintendent to double-down on the original arrest mistake by promising to defend the school’s actions in court. “A lot of attention is being drawn because someone doesn’t want to follow rules and guidelines. I stand by the decision to [arrest Howe], we’ll get negative press but that’s OK if it's for the safety [and] well-being of our children,” Andrews said.

Is it really safer to have dozens of cars line up along the side of the road taking up a lane of traffic and making a daily headache for local drivers and police? And even if the rules were reasonable, was it good judgment to arrest a father for disorderly conduct when he’d been calm and polite?

Alas, lack of basic judgment and a devotion to driving isn’t confined to Tennessee education officials. Maryland school administrators can be equally common-sense-challenged, as when a principal from Montgomery County harassed a local mother about how her daughter was getting to school. The parents and their 5th-grader had decided to have the girl take a 10-minute, direct city bus ride to and from school instead of driving her. But after hearing from some “concerned parents” the principal decided that the best use of her and a child protective services case worker’s time was to investigate whether riding the bus was OK.

As the mom reported to Lenore Skenazy’s blog, Free-Range Kids, the principal at first inquired as to the girl’s safety. “Safety from what?” the mom inquired. “Kidnapping,” the principal replied. The mom knows that crime statistics do not bear out that level of fear. The principal then tried to pressure the parent by invoking child protective services. The mom reported that the principal said “if you want to explore the bus option that [the school] would have CPS determine whether or not they felt this was ok to do... Apparently, [someone at the central office] got in touch with a liaison who works with the school system and CPS and this is how they would like to move forward should you decide to not drive her,” the principal told the mom. “Do you want them to meet with you?  This would not be a report regarding neglect or abuse but rather a confirmation or not that it is ok in the eyes of CPS,” the principal explained.

Got that? Parents decide to let their kid ride the bus, nothing happens except that the girl gets to and from school every day, and yet the principal insists that child welfare should get involved to “approve” of the parents’ decision. Did it never occur to the principal to tell the busybody “concerned parents” to mind their own business? Then again, if the principal is irrationally afraid for her students’ safety then common sense may be in short supply.

These tales of overreacting school officials, moreover, aren’t exceptions; they represent the rule according to Barry Schwartz, who discussed the death of practical wisdom during a TED Talk in 2009.

Schwartz tells the story of a dad who mistakenly bought hard lemonade for his son at a Detroit Tigers game and the security guard who saw the seven-year-old drinking an alcoholic beverage and proceeded to overreact. Instead of approaching the father to strongly suggest the drink be taken from the kid, the security guard called the police, the police called an ambulance, and the kid was rushed to the hospital.

After determining that there was no alcohol in the boy’s blood, the kid was forced to stay in foster care for three days. After that the boy was allowed back home but only if the dad left the house. Two weeks later the family was reunited. But as Schwartz explains, “the welfare workers and the ambulance people and the judge all said the same thing: ‘We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure.’”

Perhaps time has come to recognize that in the name of “protecting the kids” we’ve gone over the cliff in terms of reasonable safety rules and regulations. Getting back to good-enough standards, or at least to a place where authorities do not fear using their own judgment over extreme rules, is not going to be easy.


Village Academic Curriculum: Is Our Children Learning?

It may seem like the Department of Education has been around forever – at least, it seems like that's how long we've been debating its usefulness. But that's not the case. In 1980, Jimmy Carter decided that American kids, who were arguably pretty smart already, could be even smarter if the federal government had a cabinet-level education office. Of course, that meant a lot more spending.

A little over three decades (and hundreds of billions of dollars) later our kids are not doing better in school. In fact, according to the National Assessment of Education – also known as the “nation's report card” – their academic performance has remained stagnant. This is despite the fact that the yearly expenditure for each child has gone from $6,000 to $12,500 (in constant dollars), or a total K-12 investment of $115,000 per student.

Clearly we're getting a lousy return, though no one is arguing that we shouldn't continue to invest in our children's education. However, we do need to adjust the way we invest, as international statistics bear out. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test to 15-year-old students from 60 countries, found that American students placed 26th in math and science, behind most developed nations. Americans even placed below Vietnam, a developing nation, in math. Overall, American students are performing on the same level as those in the Slovak Republic, which spends only $53,000 per student for their entire education. Of course, leftists' perpetual answer to everything is to throw more money at the problem. Yet we know that government-reliance is not the path to success, but its largest impediment.


Alternative education shows progress

Schools exist to educate students and therefore open avenues for achievement not otherwise available.

The educational experience is a cornerstone of early personal development and can be the difference between a student in class and a child in daycare. For millions of American children, especially those born into poverty, a quality education may be the only means by which he or she can escape a poor quality of life and give back to the community.

United States public policy has, for generations, reflected the value of national education accessibility by providing school funds for every child, regardless of economic condition. However, public education has, on a remarkable scale, failed to achieve even the basic requirements of the goal to educate every student.

All too many public school districts, specifically in the inner-cities, are drop-out factories that often achieve nothing more than lining the pockets of school administration officials unwilling to change how the school conducts its business for the sake of students crippled by ineffectual education. Alternative education options, like magnet and charter schools, repurpose the same public resources to provide better results–often far better.

Charter schools and voucher programs across the nation have simply worked. In Washington D.C., over 1,600 low-income children participate in the district’s voucher program at a 91 percent graduation rate, which is a stark contrast when compared to the 41 percent rate of those not participating in the program. Similarly, Hartford, Connecticut has opened the door for school choice and seen impressive results. Students at Capital Prep Magnet School score significantly higher on competency test scores than the nearby public school. Regardless of this success, these programs face an unremitting assault from political and special interests.

President Obama, a self-described “big proponent of charter schools,” proposed to eradicate D.C.’s thriving voucher program in his current budget proposal. Similarly, there are interests across the country relentlessly seeking to close the doors of institutions like Hartford’s Capital Prep.

Quality education offers hope for personal achievement where there would been none. A student’s net family income and zip code have zero bearing over his or her ability to learn and achieve a greater quality of life. Schools exist, not to fund special interests or employ teachers, but to educate students. There is only one chance to educate a child; a single lost semester in a poor classroom is simply unacceptable. Alternative education exists because too many traditional public schools fail families. Families demand access to universal quality education, and the special interests deserve to be exposed for standing in the way of progress.