Friday, May 01, 2015

Give Every Child in Baltimore a $17,329 School-Choice Voucher

"The education system has failed them."

That is part of the explanation that Billy Murphy, a lawyer representing the family of Freddie Gray — who died after his spine was severed while in police custody — gave CNN's Wolf Blitzer for why some young men in Baltimore rioted on Monday afternoon after Gray's funeral.

"These kids have had bad experiences in school," Murphy said.

"They are frequently harassed by the police," he said. "They are unemployed because there's no summer jobs, and so this is what you would expect in a tense time like this. That's not a justification, though, because what they're doing is wrong, and we need to stop them. And those of us who are more mature in Baltimore, black and white together, we need to have a demonstration that shows them the right way to do it, rather than permitting them to go without leadership, the way that they're going now."

He is right.

And one way to start moving things back in the right direction is to give every parent in Baltimore a voucher worth $17,329 that they can redeem at any school — public, private or religious — to which they choose to send their child.

Why $17,329?

Actually, it probably should be a bit more than that. But, according to the U.S. Department of Education, $17,329 is the total expenditure that the Baltimore City Public Schools made per student in the 2010-2011 school year, the latest year for which the Department of Education has reported this data. ($17,329 in 2011 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, equals about $18,083 in 2015 dollars.)

What did parents and taxpayers get in return for that $17,329 when it was spent by the public schools?

Well, judging by National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, most of the students did not get a good education.

In 2013, according to the Department of Education, only 16 percent of the eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in the NAEP reading test. That same year, only 13 percent of the eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in math.

According to the Department of Education, eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools had average NAEP math and reading scores that were lower than the national public school averages, lower than the Maryland averages, and lower than the averages for the nation's large cities.

The Baltimore City Public Schools are not failing for lack of money or personnel.

In the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Department of Education, the city's schools enrolled 84,747 students. But they also employed approximately 5,380 classroom teachers — meaning they had a student-to-teacher ratio of 15.75 students per teacher.

In addition to the 5,380 classroom teachers, the Baltimore City Public Schools also employed 1,690 "instructional aides," 422 "school administrators," 482 "district administrators," approximately 508 "school administrative support" personnel, approximately 628 "student support services" personnel, approximately 116 "guidance counselors," approximately 86 "librarians" and "media specialists," 75 "instructional coordinators and supervisors," and approximately 1,150 workers providing "other support services."

In total, the Baltimore City Public Schools had about 10,165 teachers and other staff on the payroll in the 2012-2013 school year — or about 1 for every 8.3 students enrolled in the schools.

In the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Department of Education, the Baltimore City Public Schools had $1,441,019,000 in revenue — with 62 percent coming from the state government, 19 percent coming from the federal government and 19 percent coming from local government.

The schools turned around and spent a total of $1,452,189,000.

Despite this, the kids in the Baltimore public schools got a bad deal. They deserve better.

Give them a choice. Give every parent or guardian of every student eligible to attend the Baltimore City Public Schools a voucher worth the same amount those schools spend per student. Let them redeem it at any school anywhere, public, private or religious.

If that means churches and other private organizations — and groups of parents — in and around Baltimore begin starting up their own schools to educate local children according to their own values, then that may mean not only schools that produce better test scores but schools that produce better citizens.


UK: Migrant baby boom has cost 80,000 children the school places they wanted and led to pupils being sent miles away from their homes

For Joel, Harri and Olli Whitehouse, September couldn’t come quickly enough. Because it was then that their four-year-old sister Alice would be joining them at their primary school in Rochdale, Lancashire.

‘Last year, Alice was diagnosed with diabetes,’ explains their mother Joanne, 44. ‘Obviously, it worried us all, but the boys were particularly upset. They want to look after her and couldn’t wait for her to join them at school so they could be big brothers to her.’

But now that won’t happen. For last week, Mrs Whitehouse was told by her local council which school her daughter would be joining in the autumn — and it isn’t the same one as her siblings.

The boys, aged nine, seven and six, attend St John Fisher Roman Catholic Primary. But because it was massively oversubscribed — 82 pupils (or rather their parents) had applied for 30 places — there was no place for Alice.

This is because applicants living more locally had priority — despite the presence of her three brothers and the fact that the family lives little more than a mile away from the school.

Instead, Alice has been allocated a place at a Church of England school, something that ignores not just the family’s faith but the practicalities of parenthood as well. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ said Mrs Whitehouse. ‘I can’t split myself in half and be at both schools at the same time.

‘And it’s already affecting the children. Alice is worried she’s going to have to go to school on her own, and her brothers are upset that she won’t be with them.

‘I had no problem getting them into the school, but I suppose there must be more people applying for places this year. But why should we suffer? It’s just not fair.’

And Mrs Whitehouse is far from the only parent to voice such a lament.

Across the country it is estimated that the parents of some 80,000 pupils learned last week that they had not got their first choice of school, while the parents of around 20,000 pupils will have had all their preferences — up to six in some in cases — totally ignored.

The reason is a shortage of places caused by a booming birth rate, the main driver of which was the decade of open-door immigration overseen by New Labour.

As the Prime Minister warned in an electrifying intervention in the election campaign this week, if a Labour government is voted into power again, it will allow ‘a return to uncontrolled immigration’, which will serve only to put an even greater strain on an already groaning education system.

The impact of Labour’s policy under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was felt first by maternity services and then, inevitably, by schools.

Government statisticians warned what was about to happen — predicting that the 3.9 million pupils at state primaries in 2009 would grow to 4.6 million by 2018.

And yet, as every year passes, more evidence emerges of the lack of adequate provision within the school system.

Not only are four-year-olds being sent to school miles from where they live, others find themselves crammed into classes of 30-plus, or attending so-called super-size primaries where the school roll exceeds 1,000 and classrooms are built on stilts to preserve playground space below.

And what seems increasingly clear is that as this demographic bulge makes its way up the system, the secondary school system will also struggle to cope.

The first signs are already worrying. In this year’s round of admissions, almost half the children in some areas were denied their preferred secondary school owing to pressure on places.

Meanwhile, projections by the Department for Education show that by 2023 the secondary school population will have grown by 17 per cent to 3.2 million, an increase equivalent to 500 new secondaries.

‘For a while, numbers have been going up in primary education and down in secondary education but, like a wave in the sea, it is now passing through the system,’ says Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University.

‘In theory, the secondary schools have had more time to prepare. But the education system always tends to be a bit behind demography. It shouldn’t be, but it always seems to be caught by surprise.’

Of course, for parents whose children were born during this boom, the only question they want answered is why they should suffer?

Take the case of Joanne Booth, 34, and her 38-year-old husband Marc, an operations director, who live near Kings Langley, Hertfordshire with their children Emmie, three, and one-year-old Abigail.

When applying for a primary place earlier this year for their eldest daughter, they put down four choices. The nearest school on their list was half a mile away, the furthest 1.8 miles.

After months of nervous anticipation, last Thursday they received an email informing them of the council’s allocation.

‘I am sorry to inform you that it has not been possible to offer Emmie a reception place at any of your preferred schools,’ it read. ‘It is also currently not possible to offer a reception place at this time.’

The reason? Because there has been a 3.5 per cent increase in the number of applications for reception places across the county this year.

A second email explained that Emmie’s name would now be placed on the ‘Continuing Interest’ list and that a school would be allocated in mid-May. It listed a dozen establishments across the county that would be taking in extra children — a number of which are an hour’s drive away.

The news came as a hammer blow to the couple. ‘I was with a fellow mother from the nursery when it came through and she hadn’t been given a place either,’ said Mrs Booth.

‘I couldn’t believe it. Every night I had gone to bed imagining what it would be like at one of the four schools I had put down. But to be told I had not got anything at all is ridiculous.

‘I have been very upset. We started this process in November and now we have been told we have to wait until May to find out which school we are going to end up at — and it could be one miles away from us.’

Mrs Booth believes the reason she did not get into a local school is due to a newly-built development of 400 houses nearby.

‘There are clearly too many children for however many spaces there are,’ she said. ‘They build these houses, but don’t think of the infrastructure to deal with the families living in them. I don’t understand why they can’t predict demand better.’

The number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) - the number of children born per woman - also increased, from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010    +8
The number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) - the number of children born per woman - also increased, from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010

It is a good question, particularly as the trends in Hertfordshire with regards to school-age children reflect the picture across the country.

Between 2000 and 2010, the numbers attending English state nursery and primary schools actually fell — from 4.3 million to 3.9 million a year. During this time 1,000 primary schools were closed. But at the same time, government statistics clearly indicated that the decline in numbers would soon be dramatically reversed.

Over the course of that decade, the number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. This was reflected in a measurement known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) — the number of children born per woman. It increased from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010.

What was behind this? In part, it was down to women who had delayed having children in their 20s and 30s coming late to motherhood. But it also reflects the growing number of children born to foreign-born mothers.

In 1991, 12 per cent of births were to mothers born outside the UK. This increased to 16 per cent in 2001 and 25 per cent in 2011. This was owing to the fact that the number of foreign-born women living here increased over this time and also because they were more likely to be aged 25 to 34, when fertility is at its highest.

Research by the Office for National Statistics has revealed that in 2011 the TFR was 1.9 for UK-born women and 2.29 for women born outside the UK.

And so the demographic bulge — which would soon hit schools — was born. A paper published by the Department for Education six months ago shows the impact.

It predicts that primary pupil numbers will rise dramatically from 3.9 million in 2009 to 4.57 million in 2018 and 4.66 million five years later.

A rise in secondary school pupils is expected to result in a 17 per cent increase in numbers by 2023 to 3.2 million. Last year — 2014 — saw a 4.3 per cent increase in applications to secondary schools, the first increase since 2008.

The overall growth in pupil numbers in the decade from 2013 will mean that the education system will have to cope with a million more pupils in total.

While the primary system has struggled to cope with this increased demand, there are fears that secondaries could fare even worse. This is because the provision of places has to some degree been taken out of the hands of local councils.

There is now a presumption that new schools will be free schools or academies, which are outside local authorities’ sphere of influence.

It means local authorities do not have as much control over the creation of new schools and places as they once did, although they can invite bids for free schools and academies in their areas.

‘As children move through primary school, securing new secondary places will become a significant issue,’ warns David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board.

‘The challenge for councils is making sure places are delivered on time and in the right places, in a context where some of the decision making about new school places is now in the hands of the Government.’

(As for the Government, it has insisted that it has done all it can to tackle the problem — spending £5 billion to create more than 445,000 new school places since 2010.)

But the concern is that because the pressures will exhibit themselves unevenly across the country, supply may not match local demand. This is already the case with primary schools, resulting in children having to go to schools outside their local area.

It is a situation that residents of a street in Lewisham, South London, are trying to battle.

Cafe owner Jamie Mockridge put down six local schools when applying for a place for his three-year-old son, Arlo, for September. The nearest was 757 metres away, the furthest 1,916 metres.

He got none of them. Instead, Arlo is being offered a place at a school that could be reached only by driving three miles on the South Circular, one of London’s busiest roads.

Anna Baptiste, his near neighbour on the street, also failed to get any of her six choices. Instead, her four-year-old daughter, Isla, has been offered a place at a school three miles away in the opposite direction.

Both Mr Mockridge, 40, and 38-year-old Mrs Baptiste, a marketing manager, say that getting their children to and from school would be logistically impossible if they and their partners are to continue to work.

They have learned that a total of 274 families in the borough were allocated a school outside of their six preferences and that, like them, 29 families were offered a school more than two miles away.

W orking together, they have formed a pressure group called Parents 4 Primary Places and are demanding that a truly local school takes on an extra form of pupils this September.

‘Everyone has a right to an education and I feel my daughter has become a victim of a massive systemic failing,’ said Mrs Baptiste, whose husband, Daniel, is an NHS dietitian.

‘We work hard, and I have been paying taxes for 20 years. It doesn’t seem too much to ask for my child to go to school locally. Someone mentioned to me that because the school they are offering is more than two miles away, the local authority is obliged to pay for transport, which could be a taxi.

‘The thought of putting my little girl in a taxi with some random driver and waving her off is just unbearable. It is preposterous.’

Mr Mockridge adds: ‘Our children should be allowed to go to school in our community. We always had this idea that we would be able to pick up Arlo from school, stop off at my cafe for a piece of cake, then go to the park before heading home.

‘That might sound a bit Enid Blyton, but what is wrong with that? After all, they’re just kids.’

More to the point, they are kids who didn’t just appear overnight but who, because of poor planning, are expected to make do with second best (or in some cases, seventh best) at primary school and beyond.


Scottish National Party bad for Scottish education

The SNP has been accused of letting down Scotland’s children after official figures revealed that standards of literacy have fallen in primary and secondary schools.  A report from Scotland’s chief statistician shows the performance of pupils in primary four, primary seven and second year has dropped between 2012 and 2014.

Opposition parties said the figures proved the SNP had “taken its eye of the ball” while trying to break-up the United Kingdom.
The figures emerged in the wake of the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which was intended to improve standards.

The 2014 Scottish Survey of Literacy found the overall proportion of pupils performing well, or very well, in reading had dropped from 83 to 78 per cent in P4, from 90 to 88 per cent in P7, and from 84 per cent to 80 per cent in S2.

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The equivalent level of performance in writing remained the same in P4, but fell by four points from 72 per cent in P7, and by nine points in S2, down from 64 per cent to 55 per cent.

The survey also revealed that less than half of S2 boys (47 per cent) were doing well, very well or performing beyond the level they were being assessed for in writing, down from 58 per cent in 2012.

The proportion of S2 girls whose writing was of the same standard also fell, from 70 per cent to 63 per cent.

In the most-deprived communities, just two-fifths (41 per cent) of S2 pupils were said to be performing well or very well in writing, a drop of 11 points.

The confirmation that the most deprived pupils are lagging behind makes difficult reading for Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, in an election campaign in which she claims to represent the party of social justice, and is seeking more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative spokesman for young people, said the statistics showed the SNP was failing Scotland’s schools and failing to close the attainment gap.  She added: “The SNP’s obsession with trying to break up the United Kingdom has meant that it has completely taken its eye of the ball when it comes to education and helping those from the most deprived backgrounds to succeed. “The statistics also tell us that the number of young people doing well and very well in reading has declined. That is something which parents will find totally unacceptable.”

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said SNP ministers had pulled Scotland out of international literacy studies because they “did not like the results”, but could not hide from their own figures. He added: “The decline in literacy levels is compounded by last year’s survey which showed a similar drop in numeracy levels.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Falsely accused male college student strikes back

A COLUMBIA University student in New York has sued the school, saying it failed to protect him against harassment when a female student went public with claims he raped her after school and law enforcement authorities rejected her case.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court by Paul Nungesser, a German citizen who said one-time friend Emma Sulkowicz has repeatedly and publicly called him a “serial rapist,” resulting in national and international media attention.

Defendants include the school, its board of trustees, President Lee C. Bollinger and Professor Jon Kessler. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages.

“Columbia University’s effective sponsorship of the gender-based harassment and defamation of Paul resulted in an intimidating, hostile, demeaning ... learning and living environment,” the lawsuit said.

Roger Hornsby, a Columbia spokesman, said the school had no comment.

Email messages requesting comment from Mr Bollinger and Mr Kessler were not immediately returned. The suit was filed three days after a judge tossed out another gender-based lawsuit brought by a male student against Columbia University.

In his lawsuit, Mr Nungesser said a Columbia-owned website had presented as fact that he sexually assaulted Ms Sulkowicz. It said that the school allowed Sulkowicz to carry a mattress into classes, the library and campus-provided transportation as part of her senior thesis, that Prof Kessler approved the “Mattress Project” for her course credit and that Sulkowicz’s pledge to carry her mattress to graduation may prevent Mr Nungesser and his parents, who’d like to fly from Germany, from participating in graduation ceremonies.

“Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day,” the suit said.

As a result of publicity that resulted in media reports in 35 countries, the lawsuit said, Mr Nungesser “has been subjected to severe, pervasive ... and threatening behaviour by other Columbia students, believing that Paul is a ‘serial rapist,’ whenever Paul has appeared at university activities.”

The complaint also said he wants to stay in the United States, where he has been dating a girlfriend for over a year, and is seeking consulting work in New York, though job prospects have been “severely jeopardised” by the school’s support of Ms Sulkowicz.

In an email responding to a request for comment, Ms Sulkowicz wrote: “I think it’s ridiculous that Paul would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece.

“It’s ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’ especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?”

Ms Sulkowicz has argued her case was badly mishandled by the school disciplinary panel after she reported in 2013 she was raped in her dorm months before. She was among 23 students who sued Columbia last year, saying it mishandled sexual assault cases. She also attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January at the invitation of Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.


UK: Parents anger after children as young as THREE told to sign contract promising not to use 'transphobic language'

Children as young as three are being asked to sign a contract pledging not to use transphobic language at school.

The pledge is contained in a ‘home-school agreement’ which all children must sign before they start at Turnham Primary School in September.

The infants must also promise to refrain from using homophobic and racist phrases and to be tolerant of people with different sexual orientations and lifestyles. Each child must print their name and provide a signature to confirm that they understand their ‘responsibilities’ while attending the school.

It is understood that teachers at the South-East London school introduced the document to help stamp out playground prejudice against transgender people and a wide range of disabilities and cultures.

But yesterday the chairman of governors said that they knew nothing about the change to the contract, which was also dismissed as ‘bonkers’ by parents who said pre-school children could not be expected to understand such complex issues.

The contract was sent to parents last week along with the letters offering a place at the school. It reads: ‘We believe that every child can and should reach their full potential. This is achieved when all staff, parents and children understand their responsibilities and work together towards the same goals, as detailed in our home-school agreement.’

In a list of responsibilities for pupils to sign is a clause which states pupils will be tolerant of ‘sexual orientation or lifestyle and refrain from using racist or homophobic or transphobic language in school’.

The contract does not say what will happen to pupils who disobey the clauses.

Yesterday, one mother said: ‘My son is three yet he is meant to pledge not to use “transphobic” language.

‘How am I meant to explain it to my three-year-old that he must sign on the dotted line not to do something which he is not even aware exists when he can barely hold a crayon? This just fills me with dread about what sort of politically correct, tick-box bureaucracy runs this school.

‘I agree that teachers need to be made aware of transgender issues as it affects a number of children who suffer in silence, but to make three-year-olds sign up to something they do not even know exists is bonkers.’

Turnham Primary is a foundation school, which means it is funded by the Government through Labour-run Lewisham Council, which yesterday refused to comment on the matter. The school, led by executive head teacher Selina Sharpe, also declined to comment.

Yesterday, Robert Mapp, chairman of governors, said he was not aware of ‘the change in format’ to the home-school agreement.

He said Miss Sharpe was an ‘interim executive head’ at Turnham, adding: ‘Given she is a Lewisham Council employee who was personally referred to Turnham Primary Foundation School by the executive director for children and young people, Frankie Sulke, I am surprised the local authority have elected not to comment on the matter once.

‘On behalf of the governing body I would like to sincerely apologise for any offence or distress caused to our parents and pupils. Until I have held a full inquiry into the matter, I am not in a position to make any further comment.’

The controversy comes in the wake of the Coalition’s British Values drive, which requires all schools to teach tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles. It was introduced last year in response to the Trojan Horse scandal, which saw schools in Birmingham allegedly infiltrated by Muslim hardliners hoping to impose an Islamic agenda.

But since then, schools have complained they have been penalised by Ofsted for failing to meet the criteria. Two Christian schools in the North East said pupils were asked ‘inappropriate’ questions on race and sexuality – and branded intolerant when they gave the wrong answers. One ten-year-old girl was left in tears after inspectors allegedly asked her ‘whether she felt trapped in someone else’s body’.

Two years ago Turnham Primary came to national attention when Cliff Pearce, then chairman of governors, claimed expenses for travel to the school for meetings from his home in Menorca in Spain.


Another West Virginia County Cracks Down on Testing Opt Outs

Freedom and Independence? Ha! Nice one, Harrison

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a county in West Virginia was trying to intimidate students who wanted to opt out of the standardized testing mandated under Common Core standards. Despite assurances from the State Superintendent of Education that there were no consequences to students for opting out, schools were fearing a loss of funding, and therefore overreacting to parents exercising their rights by singling out and pressuring students to comply.

Unfortunately, it seems the situation has gotten worse. The Superintendent in Harrison County, one Mark Manchin, has gone public with his anti-opt out position.

“We simply cannot allow them to opt out,” he said on the Mike Queen Show, “or decide that they don’t want to participate in the statewide assessment.” Manchin went on to say that he had given school principals the authority to discipline students at their discretion for failing to take the test, which, it should be repeated, the State Superintendent said they were allowed to refuse.

The county is classifying the decision to opt out as “insubordination” and applying appropriate disciplinary measures, although Manchin stopped short of detailing exactly what these might be.

This kind of county-by-county tyranny further underscores the need for more school choice in West Virginia. If a school denies the student’s right to opt out of a test, the student should be able to opt out of that school and pursue education in a county that values parental choice more highly. As things stand, students are forced into schools based on where they live, and depending on the county, are forced into tests that neither they nor their parents think are beneficial to their educations.

Superintendent Manchin attempted to underscore his point with a powerful, albeit misguided hypothetical:

“What if a parent doesn’t like another decision that we make here? They’re going to, unilaterally, to allow their student to opt out of disciplinary issues, or other issues that we have at the school system and [the administration] allow that to take place?”

What if, indeed? Maybe people would get the education they actually want instead of that which the government decides to ram down their throats. Education should not be a battle of teachers against parents, but rather should be a collaborative search to find the best, most effective methods for each individual child. The adversarial relationship these centralized standards are creating is one of the most potent objections to Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessments.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New Jersey Parents, Activists Raise Student Privacy Concerns

Parents and other interested parties in New Jersey skirmished with state education officials in March over the Pearson testing company monitoring students’ social media posts regarding Common Core-aligned PARCC testing. Pearson contacted the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) over a Twitter post the company found objectionable. NJDOE then contacted the school district of the student who posted the tweet, and the student removed the post. Parents came forward to say they have concerns over student privacy and free speech rights of students regarding educational testing companies such as Pearson.

“This issue is both a free speech and a privacy issue,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “Pearson has good reason to suppress any discussion of its exams, which have been shown to be very low quality in the past.”

Upset Parents 

“Parents are upset across the spectrum,” said Julia Rubin, a volunteer for Save Our Schools NJ. “Nobody knew what was going on. Not just that they were monitoring. I think it’s the idea that they are monitoring in coordination with the NJDOE. NJDOE then went to the district.”

Rubin says students were not told they couldn’t talk about the testing at all, but had only been told they couldn’t take photos of the tests.

“I put a lot of the blame on the NJDOE,” said Rubin. “This type of behavior may lead to an environment where students are afraid to talk about the standardized tests at all.

“You get to a point where students don’t know what is and is not allowed, which means you might not say anything,” Rubin said. “That definitely infringes on the free-speech rights of these students.”

Haimson and Rubin both question how realistic and plausible it is to keep students as young as eight from speaking about testing, which takes place over the course of a month. Many parents and activists say students should be able to talk about the tests, including talking about questions and content after the taking the tests, unless they are doing so in order to cheat.

Massive Data Collection

“[Pearson representatives] provided staggering information about the personally identifiable information that [Colorado school] districts upload to the Pearson testing system, as well as ‘device and response’ information they gather during test administration,” said Rachael Stickland, who is based in Colorado and co-chair of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

Among the information collected during PARCC testing is data on economic status, race, and ethnicity, whether a student has migrant or immigrant status, whether a student is homeless, and even whether a student has ever been expelled or not, Stickland says.

“Pearson told our state board that any student data they collect belongs solely [to] the state and that they, Pearson, are expressly limited in their contract with the state of Colorado to ‘use’ student data only under specified terms,” said Stickland. “I would like to know if there is a provision in the contract that allows Pearson employees to access student-level information in their database to identify individual students with the intent to locate those children. If so, this puts children at great risk of identity theft as well as other vulnerabilities. If not, how will the Pearson employees be disciplined for unauthorized access to student records?”

Another Data Dump Halted

Both Stickland and Haimson say the Colorado case is not the only example of uploading of large amounts of student data online without consent from parents. Parents in several states fought for more than two years to stop inBloom, which eventually shut down following public outcry. Officials in those states were uploading personal student data to third-party vendor inBloom. The data sometimes included Social Security numbers and details of familial relationships such as whether a student was a foster child, and reasons for enrollment changes, such as a student leaving school as a victim of a violent incident.

Pearson’s monitoring of social media posts is considered a common business practice, but the amount of information and what the information is being used for raise questions for parents and activists, Haimson says. Pearson uses Caveon Test Security, a subcontractor, to monitor social media posts regarding PARCC testing. Pearson and Caveon say searches only pull from publicly available web pages, which are viewable by anyone.

“We are also very concerned that Pearson and its tracking vendor, Caveon, is monitoring students and locating them through the data they’ve scooped up through PARCC,” Haimson said. “PARCC itself has a very weak privacy policy. Like inBloom, it is a way for states to get access to a huge amount of personal student data and share it with third parties without parental notice or consent—and Pearson claims the right to use this data to help states and districts decide which kids should be held back, and how teachers and schools should be rated. Caveon has had its own problems, with many questioning the quality of its work in DC and Atlanta.

“In [the New Jersey] case, either Pearson or Caveon apparently reported erroneous information to the NJDOE claiming the student had posted a photo of the exam, which was incorrect,” said Haimson.

Legislation Proposed

New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) are sponsoring a bill to require employees of state-contracted companies to undergo the same background check as public school employees before receiving access to students’ personal information.


Tennessee's Common Core Repeal Bill Is Weak, but an Encouraging Start

Common Core standards are about to go away in Tennessee, but will their replacement be any better?

It appears that Tennessee will be next state in line to repeal the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards, joining South Carolina, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This week, the state House passed HB 1035 unanimously, a bill that calls for Common Core standards to be repealed and replaced with standards designed by the state. The state Senate followed shortly thereafter, passing the bill by a vote of 27-1.

As Common Core repeal bills go, this one could certainly have been stronger. There is no language in the bill about testing requirements or the student data collection that is concerning to many parents, and the multi-commission process for replacing the standards will seem overly bureaucratic to many. Moreover, there is nothing in the bill forbidding standards common to a large number of states, or partnerships with the federal government on standards.

The local group, Tennessee Against Common Core has warned of a mere rebranding like what we saw in Indiana, where Common Core was replaced with nearly identical standards. This is certainly a valid concern, given the current federal laws require standards similar to Common Core in order to qualify for federal education funding.

Whether or not a mere “rebranding,” as opposed to more substantive reforms, will occur in Tennessee will be left in the hands of the education commissions set up by the bill, and the work they do. There is little in HB 1035 to reassure skeptics of a good outcome.

The fact that a repeal of Common Core was able to achieve unanimous support in the state House and near unanimous support in the state Senate is a testament to how bad these standards really are and how much we need to reverse them. While HB 1035 is far from perfect, it is encouraging that so many lawmakers of both parties were able to agree that something has to be done to fix education.

As the public becomes more educated on the issue and more states fight to regain control over their education systems, we can look forward to stronger bills in more states, until we finally end Common Core nationwide.


Army Cadets on Campus Forced to Wear Red High Heels and Raise Awareness of Debunked ‘Rape Culture’

Those who did their homework in 2008 knew that when Barack Obama was elected, all aspects of American society would suffer unprecedented levels of  left-wing lunacy, but did anyone think it would come to this?

Patriotic young cadets — America’s future warrior — pressured to walk around in bright red high heels on campus — against their will  – or face retribution.

Via the Washington Times:

Army ROTC cadets are complaining on message boards that they were pressured to walk in high heels on Monday for an Arizona State University campus event designed to raise awareness of sexual violence against women.

The Army openly encouraged participating in April’s “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” events in 2014, but now it appears as though ROTC candidates at ASU were faced with a volunteer event that became mandatory.

“Attendance is mandatory and if we miss it we get a negative counseling and a ‘does not support the battalion sharp/EO mission’ on our CDT OER for getting the branch we want. So I just spent $16 on a pair of high heels that I have to spray paint red later on only to throw them in the trash after about 300 of us embarrass the U.S. Army tomorrow,” one anonymous cadet wrote on the social media sharing website Imgr, IJReview reported Monday.

The only silver lining to this story is that comments on social media – Twitter, Facebook,  Reddit, and Tumblr –  have been overwhelmingly negative. In fact, I have yet to see a comment in support of this embarrassing nonsense.

“This makes me want to throw up!” said one Twitter user. “No doubt…. Too many mentally ill people have gotten into positions of power who then put their mentally ill friends into power,” said a another savvy tweeter.

In a Reddit discussion thread on the subject — titled, “Okay, who put the cadets up to this?” — a user confirmed that the claims were legitimate and added, “I just don’t understand why [General] Combs would court political controversy like this. Isn’t the military supposed to avoid faddish political movement and religious issues.”

During the Obama years, the military has become a hostile environment for Christian chaplains, and Christians in general. By the spring of 2013 — after Obama had been safely reelected — the hostility became palpable. That April, it was widely reported that an Army instructor in Pennsylvania had labeled evangelical Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Mormons “religious extremists” alongside Hamas and al Qaeda during an Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief on extremism.

Later that month, an Army officer at Ft. Campbell, KY, sent an email to subordinates using similar descriptions to describe two mainstream Christian ministries that were put in the same category as Neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. Shortly after that, the United States Army blocked the website of the Southern Baptist Convention from government computers.

Now we see the fundamental transformation of our military taking giant (and high-heeled) strides at ROTC detachments at college campuses.

Said my 14-year-old daughter as she happened by my computer while the photo of the cadets wearing heels was displayed: “Welp — there goes the military.”


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Harvard Students Pushing Fossil Fuel Divestment Are Missing

A movement has sprung up on many college campuses urging schools to divest their endowment funds of any companies that produce fossil fuels.

The protesters argue we must dramatically reduce the amount of fossil fuels used each year in order to prevent climate change. In their view, schools have a moral imperative to purge their portfolios of companies that produce such fuels.

So far 22 U.S. colleges and universities have agreed to protesters’ divestment demands. Now the multi-million dollar organizations backing the “grassroots” movement have turned their attention to high profile targets such as Harvard University.

Student activists at Harvard are leading a series of protests to pressure the university into purging its $35.9 billion dollar endowment of investments that aren’t “green” enough.

A focus on divestment accomplishes only two things. First, to the extent it has any impact on stock price (dubious), it will make fossil-fuel investments a better deal for subsequent investors since divestment does not change the demand for nor profits of selling the fuels.

Second, it will negatively impact university endowments, punishing future generations of students.

In essence, those pushing divestment want colleges and universities to play investment musical chairs where their schools volunteer to be the ones who don’t get a seat.

If students at Harvard and elsewhere are truly serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then instead of advocating for the symbolic gesture of divestment, they might consider transferring to a school closer to home.

Climate activists have long urged us to buy locally grown food to reduce our carbon footprint. The same principle could apply to colleges.

If cutting carbon dioxide is so important that it justifies sacrificing choice and quality in food, why not for education as well? Perhaps it could be called the “Learn Local” movement.

Let’s use Harvard to illustrate the point. Eighty-three percent of Harvard undergraduates come from states outside of New England. Transfer by those students to a hometown college has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on Harvard’s regional enrollment data, we estimate that undergraduate students living outside of New England burn through roughly 814,000 gallons of jet fuel flying back and forth from school each year.

By walking instead to a college in their hometown these out-of-state Harvard undergraduates could become “local-scholars” and save enough fuel to prevent about 17.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Of course, we don’t really think a “Learn Local” movement is a good idea and we don’t expect many Harvard students to transfer to a community college in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

We do fully expect them to continue pointing their fingers and telling others what to do to save the planet. Perhaps these numbers illustrate that the divestment movement is more about shifting perceived blame than anything else.


Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces: The Campus Counter-Revolution

Once upon a time (not that long ago), the west’s colleges and universities were its centers of political dissent and incubators of cultural change.

From dress and speech codes to musical trends to the defining issues of the day, students — often with the support and encouragement of more “liberal” faculty — fashioned their own new civic religion out of the catch-phrase “subvert the dominant paradigm.”

The politically active among today’s generation of college students seem hell-bent on turning that religion inside out, maintaining its outward image, form and tactics while working diligently to negate its substance.

From “trigger warnings” ahead of controversial readings or class discussions to “safe spaces” within which potentially traumatizing elements are banned altogether, the goal is conversion of campuses into hothouses, with students as delicate flowers ensconced within and protected from any hint of challenge to their cherished preconceptions.

We’ve been here before. Be it Thomas Bowdler’s “family-friendly” butcherings of Shakespeare, Anthony Comstock’s crusade against delivery of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials via the US postal system, or Tipper Gore’s demand for “Parental Advisory” labels on music, the neo-Puritan impulse cuts across our history as response to anything new, anything different, anything challenging.

Such movements are inherently conservative, and the 21st century campus version is no exception. Conservatism isn’t about the particular content of any set of ideas. It’s about protecting the established, enshrining that which exists now and protecting it from challenge or change at all costs.

If there’s a defining difference in this creeping (and creepy) new campus conservatism with its trigger warnings, safe spaces, and demands that scary, challenging speakers be un-invited to address students, it’s not the speed with which new social norms (particularly those relating to sexual mores, sexual orientation and gender identification) are adopted, but the speed with which the new norms are deemed sacred, no longer up for debate or discussion.

This is the conservatism of China’s Cultural Revolution; western college activists are its Red Guards. They are not the crowd storming the Bastille. They are the crowd cheering around the guillotine. Their demand that society accept the social changes of the last few decades as set in stone and immune to challenge is fundamentally reactionary.

Trigger warnings, safe spaces and campus speaker censorship tend neither toward advancement of good ideas nor protection from bad ideas.  Free thought and free expression, however, do serve those ends. Students: Rebel!


Australia: Former student Lamisse Hamouda says sports for girls at Al-Taqwa College wasn’t encouraged

A FORMER pupil of the Islamic school at the centre of the ban on running because it could cause girls to lose their virginity controversy has spoken out describing her time at the college as a “rollercoaster of frustrations, battles and internalising resentment”.

Lamisse Hamouda, 26, says that during her time at Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne girls were never forbidden to participate in sports, it was just never encouraged, she wrote in Fairfax media.

“If it wasn’t the insidious racism, it was the oppressive preaching of faith that rendered critical thinking lost to obedience and authoritarianism,” Ms Hamouda wrote. “As female students, we often copped the short end of the stick. Participation in sport was never outright forbidden, it was just ignored wherever possible. Lip service was paid to exercise and sports, and there was an attempt to designate a “female-only” basketball court.

“The schoolyard was strictly gender-segregated, with female students relegated to spaces of concrete and picnic tables.”

She added: “I used to joke, as a teenager, that Al-Taqwa College was run like a mini Arab dictatorship.”

Yesterday it emerged the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority had been asked to investigate claims that the principal, Omar Hallak, stopped girls from running in cross country events in 2013 and 2014.

Fairfax reported the former teacher put forward the claims in a letter this week that said: “The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may ‘lose their virginity’.”

But following the reports, Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne issued a statement denying the claims.

“Contrary to reports in the media, female students at Al-Taqwa College participate in all range of sporting activities such as track and field (including running over a range of distances, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus, athletics), basketball, cricket, hockey, tennis and netball.

“Other recreational activities on camps include low rope climbing, bush walking, archery, golf, volleyball and table tennis, as well as other indoor and outdoor activities.

“Girls are encouraged to participate in all activities, with participation subject to parental consent.

“We do not believe that running excessively may cause female students to lose their virginity or that sporting injuries could render them infertile.”

Victorian Education minister James Merlino confirmed an investigation was underway.

He said the authority had the power to force sanctions on schools and funding if investigations uncovered issues with meeting governance standards.

Islamic Council of Victoria general manager Nail Aykan said his first reaction would be to clarify the accuracy of the allegation.

“But if it was true, it’s an absurd statement and absurd thinking and has no place in our society,” Mr Akyan told

“If anyone thinks as such then it is pure stupidity.”

“We would ask him (the principal) to realise the absurdity of such thinking and apologise and learn from his mistake and that these types of comments are not on.”

He said these types of attitudes did not have a place in any school, public or private.

According to Fairfax, the former teacher also alleged that Mr Hallak also believed there was scientific evidence “that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile”.


Monday, April 27, 2015

The real victim of ‘rape culture’? Free speech

As the Christina Hoff Sommers furore shows, too many students can’t handle debate

In November last year, anti-rape activists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, erupted in outrage when it was announced that libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy had been invited to take part in a debate about sexual violence. McElroy, as it happens, was herself the victim of a rape so violent it left her with permanently impaired vision. But she has since incurred the wrath of those who claim to speak for rape victims by vehemently disputing the existence of what radical feminists call ‘rape culture’. Rape culture, McElroy has written, is ‘a lie [which] has been successful in spite of reality’ and is now being used to justify an illiberal and sinister attack on due process.

Whether one agrees with this view or not, it ought to be obvious that transparent debate of this issue is not only legitimate, but vital. McElroy’s activist opponents disagreed. The very expression of opinions like hers, they insisted, constitutes an intolerable threat to student safety.

This dismal scenario is now being re-run following an invitation extended by Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians (OCRL) to feminist writer Christina Hoff Sommers. Sommers – a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and author of the 1994 polemic Who Stole Feminism? – also considers ‘rape culture’ to be a dangerous moral panic. And, like McElroy, she believes it must be discredited with the careful marshalling of evidence and argument. Her opponents, on the other hand, while maintaining the truth of their own claims to be self-evident, have preferred to marshal only disgust and invective, the most recent manifestation of which has been an open letter published in the Oberlin Review beneath the maudlin headline ‘A Love Letter To Ourselves’.

These activists have every reason to feel defensive. Sommers’ talk comes on the heels of the devastating investigation by the Columbia School of Journalism into Rolling Stone’s credulous reporting of last year’s UVA campus rape hoax. Not only was the story’s fallout an embarrassment for Rolling Stone - it also painfully exposed the degree to which campus activists refuse to allow facts to interfere with conviction and radical feminist dogma. The Oberlin letter will do nothing to dispel this impression.

The letter opens with a spurious attack on Sommers’ bad timing. ‘This Monday’, it explains, ‘happens to be a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month which makes the timing of this talk particularly objectionable’. And why should awareness-raising preclude open debate and discussion? Because, we learn, Sommers is a ‘rape denialist’. The inference is not hard to grasp. Would you, the letter suggests, bring a Holocaust denier on to campus to contest the facts of the Shoah during Holocaust Memorial Day? It is difficult to conceive of a more tasteless and dishonest analogy, which may be why no attempt is made to substantiate it. Instead, what follows is an example of question begging in its crudest form:

‘By denying rape culture, [Sommers] is creating exactly the cycle of victim/survivor blame, where victims are responsible for the violence that was forced upon them and the subsequent shame that occurs when survivors share their stories, whose existence she denies. This is how rape culture flourishes. By bringing her to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualised violence and full of victims/survivors, OCRL is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/shame that ultimately has real-life consequences on the wellbeing of people who have experienced sexualised violence.’

Or, in other words, it is dangerous to challenge the existence of rape culture, since to do so inflames rape culture.

This is, at best, circular reasoning, and, at worst, an exercise in self-serving denunciation, cynically constructed to render dissent heretical. Have the letter’s authors never heard of the importance of falsifiability? Or have they simply chosen to disregard it in the name of expediency and bad faith? What follows leads me to suspect the latter: ‘We could spend all of our time and energy explaining all of the ways she’s harmful. But why should we?’ Why indeed, when to act fair-mindedly would only invite the accused to defend herself?

But like a child who has purged himself of a violent tantrum, the letter’s tone then lapses abruptly into sullen resignation. Eight ‘concrete examples of ways to engage’ are offered: ‘1) Listen to your friends who’ve been harmed; 2) use your social and financial capital; 3) challenge violence and harm; 4) participate in actions and conversations in response to the event; 5) recognise and prioritise intersectional feminism and survivor support; 6) genuinely care for one another; 7) educate yourself on the impacts of trauma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress/reactions; and 8) silence.’

But what is being recommended here is not engagement, but flight from argument, a retreat into the comforting echo chamber of like minds. Lest there be any doubt, sympathetic readers are then encouraged to ‘engage in some radical, beautiful community care, support and love. Let’s make space for everyone to engage at whichever level they want/need. Let’s come through for each other, both now and in the future. Trauma is an experience that threatens a person’s bodily, spiritual and emotional integrity. The psychological, emotional and somatic impacts extend beyond the experience of trauma. Healing is a process that looks different for each person. Let’s make space to care for all experiences of trauma and to respect those we care for. Let’s focus our energy on taking care of each other and ourselves. Let’s make [Sommers’] talk irrelevant in the face of our love, passion and power.’

If this letter is representative of intersectional feminism, then this is surely an ideology approaching its nadir. Its champions hold reason, scholarship, academic rigour and critical thought in contempt, while they re-clothe censorious spite and sanctimony as compassion. We are right because we care; you are wrong because you don’t. ‘It is important to underscore both that safety is a priority and that it’s not possible to be neutral about rape culture’, the letter runs. ‘A decision not to support survivors/victims is a decision to permit the actions of the perpetrators.’

If you are not with us, you are with the rapists. The gavel has come down. The sentence is public disgrace and excommunication from feminist politics and decent society. May God have mercy on your soul.


Ted Cruz First Signer of Phyllis Schlafly’s STOP Common Core Pledge

Limited government constitutional conservative presidential candidate Ted Cruz is the first signer of the new Eagle Forum STOP Common Core Pledge announced Eagle Forum Founder Phyllis Schlafly.

The pledge will be available for candidates at every level to sign and show their opposition to Common Core in all forms and under all names.  Senator Ted Cruz is the first candidate or office holder to sign this pledge.

“I am thrilled to introduce our new STOP Common Core Pledge,” said Schlafly.  “As 2016 elections heat up, voters deserve to know every candidate’s position on this vital issue.  Common Core has quickly become one of the hottest grassroots issues as people have seen the program for what it truly is.  Common Core offers nationalized control, special-interest strings attached, and a whole new method of learning that has accomplished nothing but mass confusion among our kids.  Candidates and incumbents now have the opportunity to make clear to voters, by signing our pledge that they will work to STOP Common Core.”

Senator Cruz’s clear opposition to Common Core, as evidenced by signing the Eagle Forum STOP Common Core Pledge, is in stark contrast to Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, who both support Common Core.

Speaking of her opposition to Common Core, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and potential Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina pretty well summed-up the problem Florida Gov. Jeb Bush  has a “big government Republican” who is “dead wrong” on issues like immigration reform and Common Core.

“Jeb Bush is dead wrong on a couple issues,” Ms. Fiorina said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, The Daily Caller reported. “He’s dead wrong on comprehensive immigration reform. He’s dead wrong on Common Core. He’s dead wrong about government being too powerful. I think government is too powerful. I’m not sure he believes that.”

“There’s no question that there are big government Republicans and there are big government Democrats,” she continued. “Jeb Bush’s record suggests that he is a big government Republican. I don’t tend to agree with Common Core — you and I have had this discussion before — his answer on Common Core is that, ‘Well it’s not intended to be a heavy-handed bureaucratic program. It’s intended to be a set of nationwide standards.’ Bureaucracies only know one way: It’s called heavy-handed. So if you get a federal bureaucracy, or in some cases even a state bureaucracy, involved in anything, it will become heavy-handed. That’s how we’ve gotten bigger and bigger government under both Republicans and Democrats.”

Ms. Fiorina is right, and Jeb Bush is starting to realize it.

Although at a recent speech to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Bush reiterated his support for the unpopular program that many see as an Obamacare-style takeover of local schools, he has subsequently tried to give himself some wiggle room – most notably in a recent appearance in New Hampshire.

As Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau Chief noted in a Tuesday afternoon post to, “For months now Bush has maintained support for Common Core but added language to the effect that he is simply for higher standards, no matter what they are called. Bush has also stepped up talk that the federal government should not be involved, a line he used in New Hampshire last weekend.”

Jeb’s wiggling and trying to put some air between his position and Hillary Clinton’s, when there really isn’t any, is why the Eagle Forum STOP Common Core Pledge is so important.

There’s no wiggling – you either sign and promise to oppose Common Core, no matter what proponents call it, or you don’t.


School Nutrition Experts Call for Increased Flexibility of Child Nutrition Programs

The Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today held a hearing to discuss the importance of federal child nutrition programs as the committee begins an effort to reauthorize these programs later this year.

“Healthy meals are vitally important to a child’s education,” Chairman Kline said. “It’s just basic commonsense that if a child is hungry then he or she is less likely to succeed in the classroom and later in life … It’s the responsibility of this committee and Congress to reauthorize these programs so that students and families receive the support they need in the most efficient and effective way.”

Witnesses echoed Chairman Kline’s sentiments. As First Lady of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, remarked, “The impact of hunger and malnutrition on children is devastating, well-documented, and obvious to anyone who is a parent or works with children … How can we expect our children to be hungry for knowledge, if they are just plain hungry?”

The last reauthorization of child nutrition programs in 2010 vastly expanded the role of the federal government. As a result, program costs have increased while student participation has decreased. Furthermore, many schools are struggling to address wasted food and the nutrition needs of each individual student. When asked what Congress can do to improve these programs, witnesses responded with the need for increased flexibility to effectively serve children.

“Some of the new regulations have resulted in unintended consequences, which threaten our ability to better serve students’ nutritional needs,” said School Nutrition Association President, Julia Bauscher. She added, the US Department of Agriculture “estimated that this year, schools must absorb $1.2 billion in added costs as a result of the new rules.”

Senior Director of Share Our Strength, Duke Storen, highlighted the success of public-private partnerships to “make the federal programs run more efficiently and effectively” and to decrease the costs imposed on school districts.

Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University, Kathy Krey, agreed: “Public-private partnerships bridge local, state, and federal resources to maximize the efficiency and reach of these programs. Innovative collaborations increase the capacity of communities to take ownership of their needs so that children can stay fueled for learning all day, all year round.”

At the same time, Mr. Storen reminded members of the critical need to “update these programs to remove bureaucratic barriers and create efficiencies that will allow us to reach those kids who currently go without.”

"We have to find a better way forward," Chairman Kline concluded, "one that continues our commitment to providing nutritious meals for America’s students, while giving state and school leaders the flexibility they need to make it a reality."


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Anger after white people and men are banned from 'anti-racism' rally at British university

A students’ union has been accused of racism and sexism after banning white people and men from an event to promote equality.

Those studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, were invited to the students’ union meeting to discuss ‘diversifying the curriculum’.

But they were shocked when an organiser told white people and men ‘not to come’ as it was only open to BME [black and minority ethnic] women.

The union eventually backed down after a backlash from students, one of whom described the exclusive policy as ‘patronising beyond belief’.

The event, held on Wednesday, was organised by welfare and diversity officer Bahar Mustafa, who said she hoped to persuade academics to broaden courses to include more material relating to minority groups.

She wrote on Facebook: ‘Invite loads of BME Women and non-binary people!! Also, if you’ve been invited and you’re a man and/or white PLEASE DON’T COME just cos i invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME Women and non-binary event only.’

Non-binary is a term used to describe people who do not consider themselves exclusively male or female.

Miss Mustafa, 27, added: ‘Don’t worry lads we will give you and allies things to do’, followed by a wink. The event’s online page said it was open to ‘self-defining BLACK and ETHNIC MINORITY women and non-binary people with gender identities that include “woman”.’

The ban on men and white students is surprising, since the organisers claim to promote ‘zero tolerance’ for ‘all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression’.

A senior union member told student newspaper The Tab that Miss Mustafa’s actions had made it ‘very difficult’ for male students.

He said many white men felt they ‘could not say anything for fear of retribution’, adding: ‘For Bahar to have the nerve to write this is patronising beyond belief. The irony that she thinks that they are diversifying the student community in the name of feminism and multiculturalism is laughable.’

The event sparked a fierce backlash on social media, with one user writing: ‘Isn’t this racism – and why wasn’t she prosecuted?’

Another said: ‘Hypocrisy of the left ... When will people see it.’

Organisers later appeared to back down on the rules, with the statement ‘Allies now welcome!’ added to the meeting’s Facebook page.

Miss Mustafa recently graduated from Goldsmiths with an MA in gender and media studies.

She is understood to live with her mother Nursen, 55, father Ismail, 57, and sister Ipek, 23, in Enfield in a £450,000 three-bedroom terrace.

A spokesman for Goldsmiths said the university had no part in the decisions of the union, adding: ‘We are proud of our diverse community and do not tolerate any form of oppression, including racism, sexism or any other form of bigotry.  ‘We have written to the students’ union to express our concern.’

The union said: ‘Goldsmiths Students’ Union places huge importance on equality and diversity.

‘It is in this vein that we host spaces where specific minority groups who experience similar discrimination can talk together confidently about overcoming the structural disadvantages and prejudice they face.

‘The accusation that we discriminate is one we refute wholeheartedly.’  [They may reject it but they  haven't refuted it -- not that such lamebrains would know the difference]


Handicapped Governor ‘Does Not Represent Diversity’ For University Of North Texas Grads

Students at the University of North Texas have petitioned school officials to replace Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as the keynote speaker at the school’s 2015 spring commencement ceremony.

A petition opposing Abbott’s invitation to speak has garnered 2,435 signatories as of Tuesday evening.

The petition focuses on the fact that some students have political disagreements with Abbott, a Republican.

“The University of North Texas’ student body is made up of students from all walks of life,” the petition reads. “Therefore, it is pivotal that our keynote speaker be someone who reflects not only our student population but our views on equality and representation. Governor Abbott is an advocate for immigration reform, border patrol, and anti-equal marriage laws.”

Because some students disagree with Abbott, his views do “not align the spirit of the University of North Texas which prides itself in providing equal opportunities for their students,” the creators of the petition reason.

“While Governor Abbott’s story is inspirational, his views on inequality cannot be overshadowed by this. Our Mean Green Pride comes from being heard and respected. Which is why we ask University President Neal Smatresk to find a new keynote speaker for graduation.”

The petition does not suggest a replacement graduation speaker with views which “align the spirit” of the 36,168-student commuter school in the suburbs of Dallas.

Several signers say they will boycott their own taxpayer-funded school’s graduation ceremony if the state’s sitting governor speaks.

“I’m signing because I want to attend my own graduation ceremony, but cannot due to my moral disagreements with Abbot’s policies,” Allyson Nophsker, a decision science major, proclaims she has decided.

“I won’t attend a graduation ceremony that is split up by political preference,” agrees Benjamin Garside, who fears “a tense room filled with politically charged graduates.”

A woman named Terri Frederick says she cannot attend her own niece’s graduation “because of the extreme politics of this man.”

Other backers of the petition, such as Elizabeth Vazquez, say they “do not wish to have a speaker with a political agenda at my commencement.”

Still others focus on the concept of diversity, which they say Abbott lacks.

“Governor Abbott speaking at UNT does not represent ‘diversity,'” declares Paul Young.

“I expect a university environment that hosts speakers who foster the growth of education and represent (not suppress) diversity,” demands Leah Radecki — a cosmopolitan fan of the Democratic Party, Frack Free Denton, the website Jezebel and Olive Garden Breadsticks on her Facebook page.

Many supporters of the petition express their views cordially. However, others do not.


Plagiarism on rise at Australian universities as academics face pressure to pass international students

This has been going on for years

A NURSE who accidentally gave a 79-year-old hospital patient dishwashing liquid instead of his usual medication could not read the label on the bottle, despite being awarded a degree at an Australian university.

University academics have told Four Cornersof pressure on university lecturers to pass underperforming students and widespread plagiarism among international students desperate to complete their courses. There was also evidence of fraudulent documents being provided by overseas recruitment agents to help students gain entry to some of Australia’s top universities.

Retired lecturer Barbara Beale of the University of Western Sydney said she believed that there were students who had graduated from the university’s nursing course, one of the largest in the country, who should not have been allowed to do so.

“A lot of students end up in the aged care sector, who do we have in the aged car sector? The most vulnerable, ill people and we have students who may have been pushed through university looking after them.

“In the aged care sector there is not much supervision, very quickly they might find themselves being the only registered nurse on duty and that is something that frightens me.”

In March 2013, one UWS graduate, Bhavesh Shah, fed a cup of Morning Fresh dishwashing liquid to a private hospital patient because his poor English skills meant he could not read the label on the bottle.

At least two other graduates have also been forced out by hospitals due to poor English and dangerous practices, although the university says there have been no similar cases since 2011.

But Ms Beale said there was constant pressure at UWS to pass failing bachelor of nursing students. One student who she originally gave a mark of 2 out of 30 for one assignment, later had this changed to a pass. The paper passed through three reviewers before the fail was upheld.

“If I hadn’t really pressed that, if it had been somebody else that had less experience or less conviction ... then that student would have passed,” Ms Beale said.

In a statement, UWS strenuously denied soft-marking was a problem: “UWS completely rejects the accusation that the standard of our nursing program is ‘falling’ and our nursing students are ‘weak and unsafe’.”

Peak body Universities Australia has described the program as presenting a “one-sided picture of international education in Australia”.

“It is unfortunate that Four Corners failed to acknowledge Australia’s global leadership as a provider of high quality, and highly regarded international education,” University Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said in a statement.

“The list of agents terminated by Australian universities over the recent period indicates that Australia universities have robust systems for identifying and stamping out fraud and unethical behaviour.”

The report also shed light on the murky world of the offshore agents used by Australian universities to recruit hundreds of thousands of students, mainly from China.

In one case, a Beijing agent who represents universities including Monash, Queensland, Sydney, Newcastle, Southern Cross, Australian Catholic University, Australian National University and University of Technology, Sydney, was caught on tape saying he would accept a forged school transcript if a student had a poor academic record.

Agents also discussed how to get around the English language requirements at universities.

Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said its universities made no apology for using the on-the-ground skills of overseas agents to help choose students.

“However, at all times our global reputation is paramount ... for that reason Group of Eight universities act swiftly to address any issues that are brought to their attention,” Ms Thomson said in a statement.

“It should not be ignored that international education is Australia’s third largest exporter. Getting it right is paramount.”

Dr Zena O’Connor, who teaches at the University of Sydney, told Four Corners the income stream generated by international students was huge. At Sydney University, international students make up a quarter of all enrolments while at RMIT in Melbourne they make up 50 per cent.

“I’m staggered by the increase in plagiarism. To start with, in my experience, it was a very small proportion, you know, maybe two, three, four per cent. I would peg it now at being much, much higher, well over 50 per cent. And some of the cases of extreme plagiarism where a student has plagiarised at least 80 per cent if not up to 100 per cent of their paper, that proportion is growing, and that level of extreme plagiarism I didn’t see five or ten years ago.”

Dr O’Connor has not instituted formal proceedings against any students for plagiarism because she says she was told to do all she could to pass them.

Alex Barthel, who formerly ran the language centre at the University of Technology, Sydney, told Four Corners he had been a longstanding advocate for higher English language entry standards for universities.

“Academic staff increasingly are frustrated by the fact that they are there to teach pharmacy or engineering or IT or whatever they’re teaching and they’re basically saying, ‘It’s not my job to help somebody with 65 spelling errors on the first page of an assignment. It’s not my job to teach them basic English grammar’.”

A major report by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption last week, Learning the Hard Way, reported significant risks of corruption within institutions.

“There is a gap - at least in some courses - between the capabilities of many students and academic demands,” the report said.

“Students may be struggling to pass, but universities cannot afford to fail them.

“There is pressure for some international students to pass courses that are beyond their academic capabilities, pressure on staff within universities in NSW to find ways to pass students in order to preserve budgets.”