Friday, January 09, 2015

Mom Arrested for Not Signing School Sign-In Book

Here to help you start your day with a little scream (beats coffee!) comes this story from KMOV in St. Louis, MO.  Apparently, last week, the mom of a special needs son got a “frantic” call from his teacher. She rushed to the school, got buzzed in and ran to his classroom, committing a cardinal sin: She didn’t sign in.

Informed of her transgression by a school administrator, the mom asked to have the sign-in book brought to her but was informed: Too late, the police were already on their way.

And so they were. She was taken to the police station. The charge? Trespassing. Meantime, the school went on lockdown for 12 minutes — as if the administrators didn’t well KNOW that this was a mom and not a shooter. Why are we so addicted to overreacting — or, worse, pretending something terrible and threatening has happened when it obviously has not?


Calif. College Students Demand Sex-Consent Ed--for Kindergarteners

Take Back The Campus, an activist group for college students, is trying to combat the perceived string of sexual assaults on college campuses by demanding that children be educated on the particulars of sexual consent as early as kindergarten, which is for 5-year olds.

Responding to recent claims of rising sexual violence on campuses, students from the University of California Berkley, UC Santa Barbara, and San Diego State University posted a list of demands on the group’s official Facebook page in December, which included a request for “consent education in K-12.”
“College is too late for people to learn about bodily autonomy and respect,” the group claimed.

The group also demanded that all colleges and universities release statistical data on their investigations into reported cases of sex crimes, and that “all institutions of higher education must meet all federal and state recommendations and standards including mandatory consent education.”

Meghan Warner, a UC Berkley student who supports the demands, told the Huffington Post that students “get to universities and we expect them to behave like they’re supposed to without any prior understanding of what consent looks like.”

Despite Warner’s claim that college students do not understand consent, the Department of Justice in December published a report that stated only 6 out of every 1,000 female college students ages 18-24 were victims of rape between 1995 and 2013. Another 2 students per every 1,000 were victims of attempted rape, and less than 2 out of every 1,000 students were victims of sexual assault.

Warner also told the Huffington Post that sex education for pre-college students is “really bad” in California.

However, California is also the only state with a “yes means yes” law for colleges that requires sexual partners to give “affirmative consent” before having sex.

According to the law, “Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”
When it comes to educating kindergarteners on consent, Alejandra Melgoza, another student supporter of the activist group’s demands, told the Huffington Post that “concerned parents might think we’re talking about consent in purely sexual context, when really we’re talking on a day-to-day basis.”

Melgoza went on to explain personal space should be explained to children, claiming that traumatic memories of past violence or sexual assault could be triggered by a simple hug, the article stated.


Union Lawsuit Against Florida School Choice Programs Dismissed, But the Battle Continues

Hundreds of Florida parents are able to celebrate the New Year with access to school choice thanks to a decision last Tuesday to dismiss the union lawsuit against the Sunshine State’s Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and expansion of the tax credit scholarship program.

For the second time, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis found that the Florida Education Association, Florida school boards, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, among others, lacked standing to challenge the school choice options.

During the last day of the legislative session this past June, the Florida legislature passed an education bill that created the nation’s second education savings account program, known in Florida as Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, and expanded Florida’s thriving tax credit scholarship program.

Shortly after the legislation was enacted, special interest groups filed an injunction against the scholarship accounts and tax credit scholarship program contending the legislative process in which the bill was passed did not follow procedure because it contained more than one educational program and therefore violated the “single subject” rule— despite the subject being “education.”

In September, Judge Charles Francis gave the plaintiffs 15 days to rework their argument, stating that they did not provide proof of harm from the program. Last Tuesday, Francis again found that the plaintiffs could not prove how the school choice legislation caused them “special injury.”

As a result, hundreds of Florida families are now able to choose an educational option that best meets the needs for their children, through Florida’s personal learning scholarship accounts and tax credit scholarship program.

Modeled after Arizona’s innovative education savings accounts program, Florida’s scholarship accounts help families of children with special-needs—defined in the statute as those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, spina bifida, Williams syndrome or Intellectual Disability (severe cognitive impairment), along with some kindergarten students deemed “high risk” because of developmental delays— to fully tailor their child’s education. Through the accounts, the state deposits 90 percent of its per-pupil state funds onto an education “debit card” that parents can use toward a variety of schooling options, including private school tuition, tutoring, curricula for home schooling, therapy, textbooks and special-education services.

Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program has enabled nearly 400,000 Florida students to attend a school of choice. In 2014, businesses contributed $357.8 million to non-profit groups providing scholarships to 68,761 children to attend a private school of choice—most of whom are low-income minority children. Before the expansion of the program, eligible children were from households with incomes of no more that 185 percent of the federal poverty line. But under the expansion, families at 260 percent of the federal poverty line, or $62,010 for a household of four, will be eligible for partial scholarships during the 2016-17 school year.

But despite this victory for educational opportunity, the fight for school choice in Florida is not over.

According to Politico, top Florida Education Association staff will convene this week to decide whether to appeal the dismissal. And in the meantime, the union is preparing for a Feb. 9 hearing on the tax credit scholarship’s constitutionality.

In August, the Florida Education Association and allies, including the Florida School Boards Association, the Parent-Teacher Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others, filed another lawsuit against the tax credit scholarship program claiming that the scholarship violates the “no aid” clause and the “uniform public schools” clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation. But this is not an accurate representation of the way tax credit scholarships work.

“Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands,’” writes Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick.

You can read more about “no aid” clauses and similar “Blaine amendments” in-depth in a new analysis by Heritage’s Lindsey Burke and co-author Jarrett Stepman in the Journal of School Choice.

Earlier this month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III granted parents of scholarship children the right to intervene in the suit, despite union efforts to block their involvement.

In national debates over school choice, public education is increasingly coming to be understood not in terms of school buildings, but delivery of educational services. School choice measures such as personal learning scholarship accounts and tax credit scholarships allow those who know the needs of the child best— the parents— to choose an educational option that best meets the needs of the child. The recent court victory will allow hundreds of Florida families to do just that.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Calgary bus driver Kendra Lindon was fired for using her SUV to pick up children rather than let them freeze

Kendra Lindon Calgary School bus driver, Kendra Lindon was fired for driving kids to school in her own Escalade after her bus broke down in frigid temperatures in Calgary, Alta. on Monday March 3, 2014.

Do the right thing, and lose your job.

It’s a heck of a life lesson for students at a Calgary junior high, and one that has parents writing livid letters to a local school bus company, demanding a veteran driver be reinstated.

“It is going to be a very sad moment for me when I have to tell my children that Kendra will on longer be driving them to school,” wrote Jennifer Hughes, one of 13 parents to pen letters of outrage to First Student Canada.

Alison Stutz was another: “I think it is ludicrous she was fired for a safety violation when she was in fact trying to keep the kids safe in such extreme weather.”

Rewind to February 12, 2014, when Calgary was in the midst of another bitter cold snap, with windchill temperatures dipping as low as -37C, according to Environment Canada records.

With frostbite her first concern, Kendra Lindon, a 10-year veteran driver for First Student, broke a rule that ultimately cost her a job.

Knowing that kids she’d been driving since kindergarten would be stranded outside, Lindon chose to get them.  “They would have been out in that cold for 20 minutes, so that’s the decision I made,” said Lindon.

The fateful, frozen morning started when Lindon’s bus, parked at her Hawkwood home, refused to start.

She called dispatch for a mechanic, but realizing how backed up the system was in the cold snap, Lindon worried about kids along her route, who would be stuck in the chill until a bus arrived.

That’s if a bus arrived. In previous days, there had been complaints from parents that First Student failed to send a back-up bus when the regular ride broke down.

Lindon put safety first. It was a matter of blocks to round up the five junior high students she’d normally take to F.E. Osborne school, using her own personal SUV.  From there, Lindon planned to keep the kids, including her own son, warm until another bus arrived — no frostbite, no problems.

Or so she thought.  It turns out another parent had watched Lindon picking up the kids, including two boys who had to sit in the rear cargo hold, where there were no seat belts.

Concerned, the parent contacted First Student — and that afternoon, Lindon was fired.  “They told me, ‘you were picking up kids in your personal vehicle’ and that was it,” said Lindon, who works in the day as a school aide.

It appears there was no reasoning, no appeal, and no understanding that for every rigid rule there is an exception — especially when the safety and health of children is at stake.

Yes, to drive students in a private vehicle is a bad idea — except when it’s overruled by a truly horrible notion, like leaving students to freeze outside.

“Kendra made the RIGHT decision to ensure that the kids on her route remained safe,” wrote Sarah Howell, another supportive parent.

Lindon didn’t drive in traffic, or attempt to take the kids to school. All she did was use the only tool at her disposal to keep the children warm, in conditions where flesh can freeze in under a minute.

“While it is against company policy to discuss personnel matters, First Student has an unwavering dedication to the safety and security of the students we transport to and from school each day,” was the only response First Student would offer, via email.

No comment, in other words.

One wonders what First Student might have said if the children in question had ended up in emergency care due to frostbite.

Certainly the parents who know and trust Lindon say the U.S.-based company needs to sort out priorities that place policy over compassion, where following the rule book means ignoring the welfare of students — no matter what.

“Terminating her employment is a gross injustice considering the circumstances,” wrote Tanya Yarmchuk, another of the parents demanding Lindon be re-hired.

“Exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures.  As a parent of children transported on Kendra’s bus route, I commend her for her dedication to the well being of these kids.”


University Taps Students to Cover Pensions Shortfall

The University of California’s Board of Regents recently voted to increase student tuition up to 25 percent over the next five years. UC president Janet Napolitano said the tuition hike was necessary “to maintain the University of California in terms of academic excellence.” But the real reason for the tuition increase is that the UC system needs funds to bail out the mismanaged pension system that covers retired employees of its ten campuses.

Let this be a lesson to the rest of the country: Public officials rarely take responsibility for the messes they make. Rather, they deny culpability and send the bills to the public they’re supposed to serve.

The University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP), like most other public-employee pension plans, is a defined-benefit system, which obligates UCRP to provide eligible pensioners with a set-dollar-amount benefit each month. The UC Board of Regents governs the UCRP, which has assets worth $53 billion and pension liabilities of at least $61 billion.

UC admits that it should have at least $8 billion more in the bank today to pay for the pensions it has promised to retirees. Other independent estimates put the unfunded liability as high as $16 billion. Either way, UC is scrambling to fill a massive hole and hitting up students for the money.

According to numbers supplied by UCRP’s actuarial consulting firm, Segal, UC needs to inject $1 billion more each year into the pension system for it to be fully funded in 20 years or so. The tuition increase will produce at least $100 million a year in new money, all of which will be swallowed up by the pension fund.

This is all the result of the regents’ irresponsible oversight. In 1990, UCRP had 137 percent of the assets it needed to meet its obligations, so regents suspended employer and employee contributions to the pension fund. State legislators also stopped allocating money to UCRP. This “pension contribution holiday” lasted 20 years. To top it off, during this period, university officials boosted pension benefits a half-dozen times. By 2012, more than 2,100 UC retirees were each collecting six-figure pensions for life.

The contribution holiday and benefit increases devastated the pension fund, with funding levels plummeting from 137 percent to only 75 percent. A September 2010 UC report admitted the catastrophic mismanagement: “Had contributions been made to UCRP during each of the prior 20 years at the normal cost level, UCRP would be approximately 120 percent funded today.”

Five years later, UC officials are denying their mismanagement. Gary Schlimgen, an executive director with the retirement system, said recently: “The contribution holiday is neither here nor there. . . . We feel we’ve been responsible stewards of the system. Pension plans cost a lot of money to keep going. They just cost money.” In reality, what costs more money is not making sufficient contributions and losing decades of compounded earnings.

As the American Academy of Actuaries noted in a 2014 report, one hallmark of a well-run pension fund is that contributions “should actually be contributed to the plan by the sponsor on a consistent basis.” UC officials have eschewed this commonsense approach and now seek a bailout from students, who played no role in the pension fund’s mismanagement. This is unjust and will do nothing to prevent similar disasters in the future.

The best way to mitigate the California university system’s pension woes is not by levying a patently unfair pension-bailout surtax on students, but by reforming the system itself, as other states have done. Faced with similar fiscal problems, public officials in Alaska and Michigan reformed their pension systems, switching government employees from defined-benefit plans to 401(k)-type defined-contribution plans. These plans are more affordable, always fully funded, and limit the public’s long-term obligations. If UCRP were to do the same, students could not be used as piggy banks to pay for future unfunded liabilities.

The University of California already has declared its “right to change UCRP benefit provisions prospectively for both current and future employees.” The regents should exercise that right, switch to financially sustainable 401(k) plans, and get their hands out of UC students’ pockets.

And the rest of America should applaud and learn from California’s mistakes.


Teaching literacy a complex mix of methods

Comment from Australia

A recent report by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Studies suggests there are significant concerns that teachers are not fully equipped to teach reading.

The report is a result of an audit of teacher education courses with a view to finding out how and in what manner teachers are trained in university courses to teach reading to young children.

Of course, the teaching of reading is central to the role of a primary classroom teacher and for perhaps as long as a century the best way to teach reading has been the subject of research, investigation and analysis.

When a teacher introduces a learner to the intricacies of decoding text, they start with the fundamental principle, the alphabet, the symbols that unlock the puzzle of reading. This is followed by teaching the relationship between sound and symbol.

This is known in education as "teaching grapho-phonic relationships".

At times this is simple enough and some children need only to have this relationship pointed out, which is why some children seem to learn to read effortlessly and some children come to school already reading.

Of course, there are other learners who do not find this as straightforward.

Where this becomes more difficult is that the English alphabet presents the learner with 26 letters but 44 sounds. These extra sounds are made up of groups of letters together that make a new sound. So some young learners need to take some enormous steps to bring all this together in becoming literate.

Which is why most teachers, most curriculum documents and most educational systems recommend embedding this teaching in a varied set of strategies and within a context of engaging materials and books.

And of course to teach reading and writing in tandem in the early years.

The Board of Studies report questions whether teachers actually teach grapho-phonic relationships, and if they are trained to teach using this method while at university. In doing so, the board once again takes us around the merry-go-round of best methods in teaching early reading, a debate that has raged for more than 50 years and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of studies, which give very clear direction.

Driving much of the teacher education in this country and abroad is a report in 2000 of the US-based National Reading Panel  called "Teaching Children to Read", which provides directions in five key areas of teaching reading:  phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.

Learners need to know about the sound symbol level of print, the meaning level, and finally understand the place of word class when making sense of print. This is known as the three-cueing systems and all teachers in schools and those in teacher education programs would be able to both describe these systems and implement classroom activities to engage those in early reading.

It has been reported recently that teaching reading is mired in theory, with too little focus on practical skills. The teacher needs to have the linguistic knowledge of the English language, and we all know what a difficult language system that is. Teacher educators would never make an excuse about the essential need for teachers to have this theoretical knowledge about language as system. Together with this, they need to have a strong overview of the myriad practical strategies for teaching reading built up from over 100 years of research across the world, and then teachers need to add the special essential ingredient to this knowledge of the individual learners in their classes.

No policy maker, teacher educator, principal or system manager would suggest theory does not have a place in the early reading classroom nor that practical knowledge has no place. What is required is a sophisticated weaving of this knowledge to each of the learners in their charge, and given the recent success of NAPLAN and other measures of reading in this country they are doing a fine job.

Catherine Snow from Harvard University has famously said: "Teaching reading IS rocket science." Reading is a complex set of behaviours applied by readers to myriad tasks when negotiating the printed word. Teaching is a profession and all teachers constantly engage in professional learning, inquiry into their own practice and sharing at a school, system and national level through professional learning communities. Suggesting that teachers are not prepared to do this seems mischievous at a time when education systems are under constant scrutiny and evaluation.


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

'Rape culture'?  Women are safer on campus than off

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, "Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-age Females, 1995-2013," should be an early Christmas present for President Obama.

On Jan. 22, 2014, Obama established a special White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. He stated, "It is estimated that one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there. ... It's totally unacceptable."

The BJS data released on Dec. 11 finds the actual rate of sexual assault for female students to be 6.1 per 1,000 per year or 0.61 percent; this is the mean for the years 1995 to 2013. The rate of general sexual assault for males was 1.4 per 1,000.

Sexual assault has been declining for the last 15 years, with attacks on females falling by nearly 25 percent. From 2007 to 2013, the mean annual rate of female assault was 4.7 per 1,000. If a student attends university for four years, then multipying by four renders an approximation of the overall risk: 20 per 1,000 or one in 50. Of these assaults, the BJS says one in three is a completed rape. That means there is a 1.6 per 1,000 or 0.16 percent risk of rape per year. The overall risk is 6.3 per 1,000 or 0.63 percent.

The good news keeps coming. It is common these days to view campuses as bastions of "rape culture" where assault is epidemic. But the rate of assault is lower on campuses than off, with female non-students experiencing 7.6 sexual assaults per 1,000 per year (1995 to 2013). Females are safer on campus.

Where, then, does the "one in five" figure come from?

The BJS compares its methodology to that of other studies. For example, the BJS's expansive but reasonable definition includes actual, attempted and threatened rapes and sexual assaults. By contrast, "[t]he NISVS [National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey] uses a broader definition of sexual violence, which specifically mentions incidents in which the victim was unable to provide consent due to drug or alcohol use; forced to penetrate another person; or coerced to engage in sexual contact (including nonphysical pressure to engage in sex) or unwanted sexual contact (including forcible kissing, fondling, or grabbing); and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences that do not involve physical contact." [Emphasis added.]

Noncontact sexual experiences also include behaviors such as harassment or telling lewd jokes. This sort of broad and vague definition is what leads to the one-in-five figure.

More specifically, the one-in-five statistic comes from a 2007 online survey of two universities. Survey respondents were offered a $10 gift certificate to participate. Some equated sex while drunk with rape. Others equated a man trying to steal a kiss as sexual assault. The lead researcher, Christopher Krebs, has publicly stated that the survey cannot be generalized to a national level or even to other public universities. But, of course, that is what happened.

The good news is unlikely to be greeted as such by Obama or "rape culture" zealots who are demanding draconian measure to combat campus rape. The new rape hearing procedures virtually destroy due process for an accused who is almost always male; for example, the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard (99 percent certainty) is replaced by a "preponderance of the evidence" standard (51 percent) in order to adjudicate guilt. The accused has no right to the presence of an attorney or to cross-examination of witnesses.

The BJS data will not be greeted because it casts doubt on the existence of rape culture — a concept that is central to gender feminist campaigns sweeping American campuses. The new procedures for campus rape hearings are so blatantly unjust to males that they must be sold as a response to a crisis; gender feminists need the rape culture to have their solution to it accepted. Nor will the data be welcomed by Democrats who need liberal and female voters to retain whatever power they have left. To them, the BJS report is bad news because it contradicts policies aimed at pleasing their voting base.

The data raise an awkward question. What if the rape culture does not exist? What if it is a political construct used to impose gender policies and cement voting blocks?

Those who use the issue of rape as political leverage will dismiss or ignore the BJS report. They will repeat "one in five" as a mantra because "one in 50" is 10 times less effective in achieving their objectives.


Former Catholic School Teacher Fired for Violating Catholic Teaching Awarded $1.95M, Mostly for Hurt Feelings

It is no secret that the Catholic Church teaches that birth control, abortion and in vitro fertilization are morally wrong. It is also no secret that many Americans who self-identify as Catholic also see no moral problem with these things. While regulated, these things are legal throughout the United States.

But can a Catholic diocese require that its employees live up to a moral code that prohibits what is otherwise legal?

Last Friday, a federal jury awarded a former teacher in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend almost $2 million for what she claims was sex discrimination, the bulk of which was not for medical bills or lost wages, but for $1.75 million in “emotional and physical damages” she allegedly suffered.

And while the case looks narrow—was this female teacher fired when immoral male teachers were allowed to retain their jobs?—it involves a much bigger question: when can federal courts scrutinize the religious decisions of churches?

In 2008, Emily Herx, a junior high school language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, began IVF treatment. She notified her school principal about additional IVF treatment in 2010, and in April 2011 the church pastor met with Herx to inform her that IVF was morally wrong.

IVF is a multi-step procedure that usually involves stimulating a woman’s ovaries to cause multiple ovulation, collecting the eggs and fertilizing them with donor sperm in a petri dish (in vitro meaning “in glass”), developing embryos, selecting a few and implanting them back in the woman. Leftover embryos are usually frozen or destroyed. According to Catholic moral teaching, this process is objectionable in many different ways.

Because of her IVF treatment, Herx’s contract as a teacher was not renewed, and she sued the Diocese citing alleged violation of various federal laws. Some of her claims were dismissed by the court, but her sex discrimination claim went to a jury, which rendered a verdict last Friday finding the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend liable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Herx had argued that, although she was terminated for undergoing IVF treatments, the Diocese allegedly continues to employ male teachers who had received vasectomies and other treatments that interfere with natural reproduction.

Certainly, antidiscrimination law is very complicated, and at the front end, there is no substitute for common sense: why should someone seek employment at a place where they know they cannot live up to their contract or where they oppose their employer’s moral vision? Why should a gay couple actively seek out the one baker in town who opposes gay marriage? Why did Emily Herx seek to make her IVF treatments public? Each of these cases involves someone putting themselves in a bad situation, and then using the law as a club—each of these cases could have been avoided by exercising common sense.

Beyond that, however, what about the law? First, is this case similar to the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor case? In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar ministers from suing their religious employers on employment discrimination grounds.

And the Court described a rather lengthy balancing test as to who qualifies as a “minister.” Certainly, on the one hand, Emily Herx was a language arts teacher and presumably did not formally teach religious education. On the other hand, her contract included a morals clause, and Catholic ecclesiology, particularly post-Vatican II, does stress that laypersons have a significant role to play in the life of the Church. Looking at Herx’s job duties and contract in context, it might be that the federal district court erred in applying Title VII to the Diocese at all. It might be that the First Amendment protects the Diocese in its hiring and firing decisions for Catholic school teachers.

As a matter of first principles, how should secular courts handle religious disputes? In American law, the answer is clear: err on the side of protecting, rather than harming, a church. To do otherwise is to chill the religious landscape in America. In the words of Justice Byron White:

It is a significant burden on a religious organization to require it, on pain of substantial liability, to predict which of its activities a secular court will consider religious. The line is hardly a bright one, and an organization might understandably be concerned that a judge would not understand its religious tenets and sense of mission. Fear of liability might affect the way an organization carried out what it understood to be its religious mission.

In the case of Emily Herx, Justice White’s words ring true—unless the jury award is reversed on appeal,

Will Catholic schools remain Catholic? With orthodox Jewish schools remain orthodox and Jewish? Or will such schools err on the side of caution, and sacrifice their moral mission at the altar of American law?

Whatever the end result, all reasonable people can agree on one thing: Emily Herx obtaining a court judgment for $1.75 million dollars for “emotional and physical damages” beyond her medical bills and lost wages appears to be an absurd result.


Australia’s future teachers could be lacking basic literacy skills

They already are -- but better than Detroit teachers, I suspect

A new study has highlighted alarmingly low levels of literacy among undergraduates studying high school teaching, with the results suggesting the graduating teachers could have worse literacy skills than some of their future students.

Some of the would-be teachers who participated in the study did not spell one word correctly out of a list of 20, while only one third managed to get more than 50 per cent of the answers right.

Not one of the 203 student teachers from an unnamed Australian university were able to spell all 20 words correctly.

Published by the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, the study listed some of the more frequently misspelled words. They included 'acquaintance', 'definite', 'exaggerate', and 'parallel'.

The study, conducted by Dr Brian Moon from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, also found the university students struggled with the definitions of particular words.

The word 'candid' was given definitions including 'something hidden', 'burned sugar', and 'cooked in sugar'. Hyperbole was thought to be 'a poem' or a type of Jamaican fruit, and kosher was defined as 'a type of bean' and 'a weapon'.

Dr Moon writes that some of these guesses show "a tendency for subject specialists to make guesses that reflected their narrow knowledge base."

Dr Moon said these poor literacy results are a big problem.  "Analysis of the results showed high rates of error on general spelling and vocabulary tasks," wrote Dr Moon.

"The raw evidence of student performance on spelling, vocabulary and writing tasks still suggests that some graduating teachers have literacy skills below the ability level of the students they will be hired to teach."

The study pointed out while the accuracy – or lack of – in the student spelling tests is an issue, a closer look at how the students attempted to spell showed a range of problems with their 'personal literacy competence'.

"While the occasional near miss is to be expected, many of the errors reported here point to significant - and probably longstanding - deficits in spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation," Dr Moon noted.

"Many undergraduate students appear to have literacy problems so fundamental that remediation in the late stages of their degree program cannot hope to overcome a lifetime of poor literacy performance."

Dr Moon suggests setting a higher - or different - university admission standard for teaching degrees, but also working to fix this literacy problems much sooner in their school and university careers.

The Federal Government is due to release a report on possible improvements to teacher education soon.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Teacher Shows Kids Carpentry Tools, Gets Suspended on “Weapons” Charge

This is what truly perplexes me: Why do seemingly so many school administrators adamantly refuse to think like normal, rational human beings?

The other day I visited the Sudbury Valley School  in Framingham, Mass., and saw such a completely opposite world — a heart-soaring place where kids are trusted not only with tools but with their own educations — so now it’s doubly hard to read about cases like the one below.

    A veteran teacher at a Chicago elementary school has lost his bid to reverse a four-day suspension without pay because he showed an array of hand tools to his second grade students as part of a math lesson.

    Douglas Bartlett displayed pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, a pocket knife, and a box cutter in his classroom as part of the lesson. He also described and demonstrated how each tool is used by professionals.

    Mr. Bartlett, who has been a teacher in Chicago for 17 years, thought he was using physical objects to help his students learn the required course material.

    Instead, according to school administrators at Washington Irving Elementary School, Bartlett was guilty of wielding “weapons” in his classroom in violation of various school policies.

    School Principal Valeria Bryant cited Bartlett for “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon on the job when not authorized to do so.”

    He was also accused of violating school rules, repeatedly engaging in flagrant acts, inattention to duty, and negligently supervising children.

The equating of “tool” with “danger” reminds us that we have become so focused on threats to kids, we can’t see anything else. Not a cool lesson. Not a future trade. Not a welcome breath of the real world in the classroom. Just DANGER DANGER DANGER.

Something there is that loves to hate, to freak out and to blame


Boys should be educated separately until they're 16 to stop them being 'intimidated' by girls, says top British head

Boys aged 11 to 16 should be educated separately to avoid them being intimidated by girls, according to the new head of the Girls' Schools Association.

Alun Jones, president of the body which represents independent girls' schools, said separating them in state schools could prevent boys falling behind girls in exam results.

Fears of a gender gap have been fuelled by recent statistics showing girls at state schools are more likely to achieve C grades than boys.

He told the Sunday Times: 'If you have a very bright, very driven, very focused, very articulate lady, which a lot of girls are, that intimidates a boy in the classroom, especially boys of average ability.

'The result is that boys don't put their hands up to answer questions or they indulge in immature behaviour to avoid being shown up.

'Boys will put their hand up if they feel safe; they won't if they are in fear of being ridiculed or humiliated.'

He called on boys to be educated separately from girls in the formative years of adolescence, and suggested more single-sex classes for boys in state schools could improve boys' achievement.

Fears of a gender gap have been fuelled by Department for Education statistics released in October which showed 61.2 per cent of girls at state schools scored at least five C grades including English and maths last year, compared with 50.8 per cent of boys.

But at A-level, boys did better than girls with 12.3 per cent of male students gaining three A*-A grades, compared with 11.1 per cent of female classmates.

Mr Jones' comments come as its revealed a huge gender divide in the A-levels chosen by sixth-formers is likely to continue as girls continue to shun 'masculine' subjects like physics, it is suggested.

Despite a number of schemes aimed at encouraging young women to take the science after age 16, there has been little impact on take-up so far, headteachers and academics said.


Stop treating black students as victims

After Ferguson, African-American students don't need special treatment

The fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner in New York City, after NYPD officers put him in a chokehold, have reignited a longstanding debate about police brutality towards African Americans in the US. One thing that this reignited debate does not need is the patronising pity of white middle-class students. Because ‘patronising’ is the only way to describe one particular student’s request for the postponement of exams for black students because of the supposedly inevitable distress caused by these recent deaths.

Della Kurzer–Zlotnick, a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, emailed her professor to ask if black students could have their exams postponed. She said her African-American fellow students were not ‘at all in a place to take their finals’ due to the ‘significant trauma’ caused by the deaths of Garner and Brown - trauma which has apparently been exacerbated by US grand jury decisions not to indict the cops involved. Kurzer–Zlotnick argued that, as a white middle-class person, she has the ‘privilege’ to remove herself from this situation and will be able to pass her exams. Following her professor’s simple and unequivocal ‘No’ to her request, Kurzer–Zlotnick posted the email correspondence online, prompting widespread media coverage.

But Kurzer–Zlotnick’s request is not a one-off. In fact, it followed a petition from Oberlin College students in which they asked for the college grading system to be adjusted for black students following the deaths of Garner and Brown. Elsewhere, Columbia University law students also asked for students who have been distressed by the police-related deaths to be able to postpone their exams. In a blog post, the Coalition at Columbia Law stated: ‘We have been traumatised over and again by the devaluation of black and brown lives. We are falling apart.’

In their attempt to speak on behalf of all black students, these requests represent a patronising response to issues that have divided the US. They suggest that black students, by virtue of having the same skin colour as Garner and Brown, will have been so traumatised that they simply won’t be able to cope with college exams. They suggest, in short, that black students are especially weak and vulnerable.

Moreover, such responses only further racialise the debate about police brutality. They present it solely as a black problem, which affects only black people and which has to be dealt with separately by black people. But as the chants in Ferguson suggested, ‘Fergusons’s Hell is America’s Hell’. Although the victims of the shootings were black, addressing the issue of police brutality and social injustice will require action and effort from all sections of society.

Claiming that students will be unable to cope with their college courses due to race-specific trauma will not help anyone. It will only divide and patronise. Students asking for black students to be given an easier ride at college will do nothing to deal with African Americans’ distrust towards the police or the problems many of them still face. In fact, it only makes things worse: it suggests that black Americans really are substantially different to white Americans, and should therefore be treated differently. This approach undermines the efforts of the civil-rights campaigners of the 1960s who fought for black students, such as political activist James Meredith, to be admitted to universities in the first place – on the grounds that they were just as capable as white students. Instead, asking for colleges to treat black students differently at exam time perpetuates the idea that African Americans are not quite as capable as white students. And it suggests that African Americans should be treated, above all, as victims. And that certainly doesn’t do African Americans any favours.


Monday, January 05, 2015

No Sunscreen Allowed at School: “Kids could drink it.”

Our country has grown delusional creative when it comes to thinking up new child dangers to be worried about. The latest involves a San Antonio, TX, school where kids were going on a field trip, but forbidden to bring sunscreen, which the school classifies as both a “medication” and “toxic.”

Now, if kids were generally inclined to guzzle the Coppertone, maybe this would make some sense. But…have you ever witnessed this? I don’t think they even drink liquid soap, the gateway drug for sunscreen. But according to school district spokeswoman, Aubrey Chancellor, as quoted on

    “Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” Chancellor said…. At this time, she said, sunscreen can’t be brought by students to school campuses.

    “We have to look at the safety of all of our students and we can’t allow children to share sunscreen,” she said. “They could possibly have an allergic reaction (or) they could ingest it. It’s really a dangerous situation.”

As usual, the real danger is looking at ordinary, safe, 2014 life through the Kaleidoscope of Death. But many school administrators seem to find this irresistible.


UK: Muslim faith schools are causing serious divisions in society because of their lack of diversity warns top equality campaigner

The rise in Muslim faith schools is breeding social and racial segregation in Britain, a leading equality campaigner said today.

Matthew Taylor, chairman of the Social Integration Commission, said that the increase in faith and free schools is stifling diversity and stopping children from different races and backgrounds mixing.

He was particularly critical of Muslim faith schools because they have the least diversity.

It came after 2014 saw a string of schools criticised over 'Trojan horse' plots by religious extremists and failures to protect students from radical material and influences.

A report in July found there was a ‘coordinated’ campaign to introduce ‘an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos’ into some of the city’s schools.

In total 21 schools investigated by Ofsted and several were found to be failing students and put into special measures.

Mr Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, singled out Muslim faith schools as the least diverse in their intake and called for the Government to take action.

He accused the Government of a 'certain amount of carelessness' over its schools policy, in particularly that 'we have more schools and more faith schools and more free schools'.

He told the Independent: 'It's more by negligence than anything; I don't think that the Government has deliberately promoted segregation but I think sometimes it pursues policies which are anti-integration and it isn't sufficiently aware of that.

'Britain's becoming more diverse and if we don't think about this and we're not willing to act on it, the danger is we will become more separate ... there will be far too many places which feel like they're just for the well-off and far too many places which feel like they're just for the poor; there'll be far too many schools which feel like they're just for one minority group of for just one social class.'

'If you were in the Department for Education and said, "A lot of these schools are not terribly integrated places", you'd have been brushed aside and told, "Well that's not actually a priority and that's not the important thing - the important thing is that we have got more of these institutions".

The latest figures for the number of government-approved free schools across the UK was 331, accounting for 175,000 pupils, as of June 2014.

In October plans for a voluntary code of conduct for faith schools were shelved by the Government.

This was despite even though it had been recommended by the cross-government task force on tackling extremism and radicalisation in order to prevent children being exposed to 'intolerant or extremist views' in religious 'supplementary schools' providing lessons outside mainstream education.

A DfE spokesman said: 'Our plan for education is designed to ensure every child of whatever background leaves school prepared for life in modern Britain. Ensuring they are well rounded young people, ready to play their full part in our society is a key part of that.

'The best schools already have strategies in place to ensure their pupils are well integrated and this government's policies are helping too. We have strengthened guidance to ensure all schools actively promote fundamental British values and that these are woven throughout the curriculum.

'Faith schools are an important part of our diverse education system and are popular with parents. We have made sure that all new faith academies and free schools can only prioritise half of their places according to the faith, while two thirds of new free schools have been created in some of the most deprived areas of the country'.


Improving Civic Literacy

North Dakota has joined several states considering adoption of civics education requirements for graduating high school students. Betsy Dalrymple, the state’s first lady, joined several state legislators in making the Dec. 1 announcement they’d introduce a bill on the matter at the beginning of the 2015 legislatives session.

Language for the bill has yet to be written, but it will likely adhere to a draft bill used by other states adopting the requirements, including Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. Louisiana is expected to announce it will join the effort as well.

The draft bill calls for passing 60 percent of a 100 question test given to high school students as a condition for graduation or General Educational Development certification. The 100 questions will be the same as those given by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to immigrant applicants for U.S. citizenship.

Inspiring Public Service

Championing the push for the civics graduation requirement is championed by the Civics Education Initiative (CEI) of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group established to educate youth on the importance of U.S. freedoms and to inspire them to public service. CEI staff composed the draft legislation for the civics requirement.

“The Civics Education Initiative is really simple, which is part of what makes it so appealing to so many people,” said CEI spokesperson Sam Stone. “We’re asking every state to pass a law requiring high school students to take and pass the USCIS Citizenship Civics Test, the test all new immigrants are required to take before becoming citizens.”

The test is made up of 100 basic questions about U.S. government, history, and geography—things everyone should know but far, far too few people do, Stone said. An estimated 40 percent of U.S. schools have no civics requirement at all, he said.

Disturbing Test Results

“We’ve also heard that there are legislators in a couple of states that may look to do this on their own, and since our goal is to pass the bill in all 50 states by September 17, 2017—the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution—we’ll take all the help we can get,” said Stone. “Our only concern in that case is making sure it gets done, that kids don’t miss out on learning about this stuff that’s going to impact them every day for the rest of their lives.”

Citing 2010 statistics indicating less than 25 percent of high school seniors display proficiency in civic knowledge, Stone says results of current testing given to students in grades 4, 8, and 12 are disturbing because students in grade 4 earned the best results.

“Unfortunately, this problem has been growing for a while, and isn’t limited to kids,” said Stone. “A 2010 Pew Research Center poll of American adults found that only 59 percent of respondents could name the vice president in an open-ended question.”

“We’ve developed a really good system to help ensure passage: recruiting state co-chairs from across the political spectrum, lining up bill sponsors, etc. So if any of these legislators considering the bill on their own want our support, we’re here for them,” he said.

Shocking Ignorance

According to an Annenberg Public Policy Center survey (September 2014), only 36 percent of Americans could name all three branches of our federal government. Thirty-five percent couldn’t name even one.

Studies by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and the Goldwater Institute in Arizona showed students in those states had less than a 5 percent passing rate on the USCIS Citizenship Civics Test, the same test more than 92 percent of new immigrants manage to pass on their first try.

“We’ve all seen the segments on late night TV featuring one person after another stumbling over the most basic civics questions, and sure, everyone laughs at that,” said Stone. “But we shouldn’t be [laughing]. Our system of government simply doesn’t work without citizens who know how to make it work.”

Stone adds CEI has co-chairs and supporters on both sides of the aisle in every state in which it’s been launched. “It’s not [just] bipartisan; it’s simply American,” he said.

‘Informed, Engaged Citizens’

“When we did national polling to gauge support for the initiative, over 68 percent of people in every age, race, and political demographic said they support the initiative. Overall support for the initiative was 74 percent. Almost no issue ever polls with that kind of support, but people all over the country and across the political spectrum understand that our lack of civics knowledge isn’t just a problem; it’s a catastrophe in the making,” said Stone.

The Joe Foss Institute is developing a website schools, students, and others can use to take the test and get their results certified. The JFI site will be “fill-in-the-blank” and will eventually also include free online course and study materials.

Stone said in addition to leaving states as much room as possible to adapt this bill to meet their own needs, CEI encourages making the test part of the classroom experience.

“Let kids take the test as many times as they need to pass. No kid should ever be denied a diploma because of this test, just like no kid should be denied the basic knowledge they need to become informed, engaged citizens,” he said.


Sunday, January 04, 2015

The School Choice Year Ahead

A number of state leaders have signaled their intent in the year ahead to expand existing school choice programs or inaugurate new ones; the field looks promising particularly in Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. The past three years have been perhaps the best for school choice in the United States since parents really did control community schools.

The great danger of this success is that it will be coopted and ruined by people who understand the need for individual freedom in education because the alternative produces so little genuine education, but don’t understand why freedom works.

Take, for an example, congressional Republicans, who are eager to “expand school choice” by demanding states expand charter schools to receive federal funds, or granting federal funds directly to favored charter groups and styles. This is not choice. It is government picking a new set of winners and losers. Choice means consumers – families – decide, not regulators and politicians whose resumes and campaign coffers are always hungry for the feast only big companies and special interests can lay out.

To provide genuine, individual-level freedom to families, lawmakers need to relinquish state power back to the people. Schools should be free to pick their own tests and curriculum, and families should be free to choose among them. Markets need good information, and private organizations such as and state-based nonprofit organizations are already moving to provide this independently of government. Research shows families trust private organizations more than they do governments for accurate information.

It’s a very simple concept, but very hard for a politician to hear when he could boost his own ego and look like the savior of schools while replacing the previous stranglehold on them with his own. So politicians need to hear from constituents that we won’t settle for rearranged deck chairs. Our kids will be through school by the time we all discover the current “reform” idea has failed. We want freedom in education, and we want it now. No diversions, deceptions, or excuses.

And thus the battle lines for the next legislative session are drawn, not by political party, but according to those who promote self-government and those who promote big government.


As the Campus Rape Narrative Unravels, Will Due Process Strike Back in 2015?

Why 2015 could be another rough year for students’ rights

It was undoubtedly a year of heightened paranoia about rape on college campuses, with everyone from Lena Dunham to President Obama demanding immediate action to curtail a purported epidemic of sexual violence. But due to a string of embarrassments, 2014 ended on surprisingly sour note for illiberal activists conspiring to shunt aside due process in their zeal to eradicate an exaggerated and politicized problem.

Still, while the voices of reason—of fairness for accusers and the accused—scored some ideological victories this year, 2015 will likely present even more daunting challenges. Dark clouds loom on the horizon, according to several legal experts who are advocates for campus due process or involved in rape disputes. In particular, a wave of wrongheaded affirmative consent policies—which force students to adopt bizarre and limiting sexual consent customs—could sweep the nation.

"I would guess that affirmative-consent ordinances will become law in various municipalities governed by Democratic machines, like Chicago (as well as New York City)," wrote Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former Office for Civil Rights lawyer, in an email to Reason. "'Affirmative consent' is like quasi-religious catechism for the Democrats."

In 2014, government policymakers seized upon a controversial statistic—that one-in-five women will become victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault while at college—like never before. Long had that number been part of certain feminist activists' mantras, but last January, President Obama cited it in a memorandum establishing a task force to combat the campus rape crisis. Other areas of government used the statistic to justify firmer measures. The Department of Education continued to punish colleges for failing to tip the scales in favor of the accusers during rape trials. And the state of California, decided—incorrectly—that misunderstandings surrounding the decision to have sex were the main problem, which prompted the legislature to codify affirmative consent and compel colleges to enforce it.

Affirmative consent is a baffling way to fight sexual assault. Rape is a crime committed by a minority of determined, serial perpetrators; it’s unclear why activists think that forcing students to jump through new hoops before they have sex will deter these monsters. The policy will produce more mutual confusion and false accusations, however.

But sadly, the compelling arguments against affirmative consent haven’t dissuaded college administrators from codifying it, according to Gina Lauterio, program director at Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, an advocacy organization for victims of sexual assault and false allegations.

"By now you’ve probably heard many reasonable arguments against both affirmative consent and increased federal regulation in campus sexual assault, and they were probably convincing," Lauterio told Reason. "That’s irrelevant. There were severe logical loopholes in [California’s affirmative consent bill] and it still passed, and elsewhere affirmative consent is being passed by executive order, therefore making a body of reasonable minds unnecessary."

Activists’ reliance on the misleading 1-in-5 statistic might, at least, subside in 2015. New data from the federal government’s Bureau of Justice statistics indicated that students were actually less likely to be victimized than non-students, and suffered rape rates that were nowhere near 1-in-5. Politico noted that the statistic was "increasingly disputed," and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), a firm believer in tougher anti-rape policies, quietly scrubbed any mention of the stat from her website.

The collapse of Rolling Stone's report on a gang rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) was perhaps an even more dramatic setback for activists. Shortly after the incredible story broke, UVA President Teresa Sullivan suspended all campus fraternities, and people predisposed to believe that campuses are veritable rape factories took up their pitchforks. But the story’s thorough debunking left them with egg on their faces. As Reason contributor Cathy Young noted, the crusade against rape culture undeniably "stumbled" in 2014.

Unfortunately, none of these small wins for sanity about the scope of violence on college campuses mean that due process is destined to make a comeback in 2015. Lawyers Matt Kaiser, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, and Justin Dillon, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, represent dozens of students accused of sexual assault through their firm Kaiser, Legrand & Dillon PLLC. They have seen firsthand just how shoddy the farcical campus adjudication processes are: Accused students are frequently denied basic due process and placed at the mercy of administrators and faculty members with no understanding of how a fair trial should work. They see little reason to be optimistic that the problem is going away.

"The Department of Education has made clear that it doesn’t really care about due process, which means colleges won’t either—until they start having to pay out large damage awards to wrongly convicted students," Dillon told Reason. "The more that happens, the more likely you are to see the pendulum start swinging back to a sensible middle."

Dillon and Kaiser agreed that while some colleges were doing a better job of establishing fair procedures than others, the tide isn’t exactly turning yet.

"So far, the UVA story crumbling and the debunking of the 1-in-5 statistic don't seem to have changed the way these cases are handled," said Kaiser. "Hopefully there will be more media scrutiny and that will start to affect how these cases are resolved on campus."

Advocates for due process haven’t won the policy battle—let alone the war—yet, which means 2015 could be another rough year for students’ rights. But it’s impossible to deny that the chorus of voices demanding an end to kangaroo courts grew louder this year, with Harvard’s law faculty, Slate magazine, conservative organizations, and libertarians all decrying the travesties of campus injustice.

"At the beginning of 2014, only a tiny handful of commentators and scholars were skeptical of the idea that American universities are plagued by a culture of rampant sexual violence," Caroline Kitchens, senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, told Reason. "Over the past year, the national discussion on campus rape has evolved dramatically, and I see a glimmer of a growing consensus that we need to focus on empowering the criminal justice system to handle cases of campus rape rather than university courts."

Still, Kaiser and Dillon don't think they will need to quit their jobs anytime soon.

"Affirmative consent laws will, unfortunately for the students subjected to them, be a full-employment act for lawyers who do this work," wrote Dillon. "California’s law, for example, is terribly worded and contrary to everything we know about how sex between human persons actually works."


UK: Most homework is 'pointless', expert says

A new Ofsted regime will encourage teachers to set “completely pointless” homework for their students, an education expert has claimed.

Youngsters will be forced to endure more “back breaking” after-school tasks with little educational value, according to Tom Bennett, director of the ResearchEd conference.

He added that schools were encouraging “the pickpocketing of family life” by setting youngsters futile work in order to hit targets.

Under the new regime of England’s inspectorate, Ofsted, progress will be shown through schoolbooks and homework, he said.

Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Bennett, who teaches at a school in Essex, argued this would encourage teachers to set more after-school tasks.

Describing many homework tasks as “so much wasted on so little”, he cited real examples including ‘Design your own ideal bedroom’ and ‘Imagine how Jesus felt on the cross and draw it’.

He wrote: “I have no problem with setting challenging homework but I do disagree with the pickpocketing of family life to serve the requirements of a school’s homework timetable.

“This may seem harmless but we must never forget that time is one resource you don’t get back.”

Last month a study of homework patterns among 15 year-olds in 65 countries, revealed British schoolchildren were lagging behind the competition.

The survey showed children in the UK were set an average five hours of homework a week compared to nearly fourteen hours in Shanghai, China, and nearly ten hours weekly in Russia and Singapore.