Friday, June 24, 2022

A Supreme win for school choice

In a win for parents and school-choice advocates, the US Supreme Court overturned a Maine law Tuesday that denied religious schools access to state tuition assistance available to students attending secular private institutions.

Maine created the program to give options to kids living in areas without public schools — but excluded faith-based institutions from those options.

The high court ruled 6-3 that the prohibition “penalizes the free exercise” of religion in Maine by excluding “otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.” In other words, discriminating against all religious education is discriminating against religion, period.

In 2020, the court ruled similarly that states allowing public money to be used in private education can’t deny religious schools access to those programs. In that case, the court struck down Montana’s “Blaine Amendment” (a provision also imposed in New York and dozens of other states, on nakedly anti-Catholic grounds, back in the 19th century) barring public funds from being spent on religious institutions.

The new ruling’s not just a clear win for the three Maine families that wanted the state aid to help their kids attend the (religious) schools of their choice, but likely to force change in the 18 states that still have Blaine Amendments on the books.

The more school choice, the better for students across America ill-served by regular public-school systems. Heck, the competition can only force the public schools to up their game, too — which is something the nation desperately needs.


Confucius Institutes Closing, but Chinese Influence Operations Continue on College Campuses

When an organization becomes unpopular, it rebrands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its mission or product has fundamentally changed.

That was the message of a panel of experts at a discussion Tuesday at The Heritage Foundation on the recent widespread closures of so-called Confucius Institutes on American college campuses.

Founded in 2004, Confucius Institutes are “cultural” centers that operate on college campuses and are funded by China. In the past few years, they’ve come under increased scrutiny as operations of Chinese state influence.

Under then-President Donald Trump, Confucius Institutes were placed under scrutiny by various agencies, including the State Department and the FBI. At the end of 2020, the Trump administration submitted a rule at the Department of Homeland Security requiring that U.S. universities disclose their connection to Confucius Institutes.

In just a few years, most Confucius Institutes have shut down or begun the process of doing so.

However, the Biden administration rescinded the Confucius Institute disclosure policy less than a month later, despite objections by Republican lawmakers, and the heightened risk of Chinese influence remains.

At Tuesday’s Heritage Foundation event, “After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education,” panelists explained the threat that Chinese Communist Party influence continues to represent in American education.

Experts said that despite many Confucius Institutes closing in the past few years, Chinese influence operations in American schools, in both higher education and K-12, continue.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, explained in his opening remarks that the Confucius Institutes were not like other cultural and language exchange programs established in the United States. They are instead intended as a vehicle to project Chinese “national power” and are essentially “propaganda outlets.”

Even though Confucius Institutes have been shutting down, new organizations that function nearly the same way have emerged in their place. They’ve rebranded, but retained their function of promoting the interests of the Chinese Communist Party in the United States.

“With Confucius Institutes around the country being shut down … I think most of us thought the job was done. We could move on,” Lohman said. “But of course, the job can never be done, and stemming these sorts of influence operations will be an ongoing challenge, requiring eternal vigilance as long as the Chinese Communist Party is in power.”

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., spoke at the event about how China’s regime imperils America’s future, and that’s an issue that must be a top priority.

“America cannot both control its own destiny in the century ahead and ignore the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to our long-term viability as a nation,” he said.

The Indiana lawmaker said that one of the big misconceptions about the competition between China and the United States is that that rivalry is being conducted in secret. It isn’t; it’s being conducted in plain view, he said. In particular, the congressman pointed to the United Front Work Department, which partnered with Confucius Institutes and conducts various influence operations in the U.S.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department’s mission is to influence foreigners and foreign institutions and especially those in America, and their work can be seen on college campuses all over the country,” Banks said.

The United Front typically targets universities with strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, he said.

Banks cited several examples in which the Chinese Communist Party conducted espionage through its connection to university programs. That included a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles covertly sending missile technology back to China.

“President [Donald] Trump led the effort to take Chinese espionage attempts seriously. During his administration, he was the first president to actually do so,” the Indiana lawmaker said. That included sanctioning the United Front for the first time.

Banks lauded policies and leadership during the Trump era that led to 104 of the 118 Confucius Institutes closing or beginning the process of closing by the end of 2022.

However, Banks said that the Biden administration “fundamentally does not understand the China threat and has undone in a year and a half much of the progress that was done under President Trump.”

Keith Whitaker, chairman of the National Association of Scholars, called the Confucius Institutes the “beachheads of Chinese influence on higher education” that came under deep scrutiny since his and other organizations began uncovering their true nature. Many of them “appeared” to close, he said.

The problem, however, is twofold, Whitaker explained. It’s not just a problem that higher education in America has been influenced by China’s communist regime, but that it has showed such openness to its influence. Whitaker faulted university administrators for that, rather than professors.

Rachelle Peterson, a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars, said that the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to sidestep scrutiny of Confucius Institutes by rebranding and slightly restructuring to make them seem like new organizations.

“The Chinese government is betting that if it takes away the name ‘Confucius Institute’ and tweaks the structure of the program, no one will be the wiser,” she said.

Often, a Confucius Institute is rebranded as a Center for Language Education and Cooperation.


Australia: Qld kids failing to meet basic literacy, numeracy targets

Queensland children are failing to meet basic literacy and numeracy targets, with new data showing the alarming levels state school students are falling behind.

This week’s state government budget papers have revealed in every instance, Queensland state school students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 missed the department’s targets on the percentage of students meeting the national minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy.

The 2021-2022 statistics showed older students were falling behind the furthest, with less than 90 per cent of year 7 students meeting the minimum standard for numeracy, well below the 96 per cent target. Just 82.9 per cent of year 9 students met the standard for reading, compared with a target of 90 per cent.

Writing also proved to be an area of concern with just 72 per cent of year 9 students achieving the minimum standard – compared with a target of 86 per cent – and 83.4 per cent of year 7 students, against a target of 92 per cent.

Indigenous student levels were also below the department’s targets of students hitting the national minimum standards in key numeracy and literacy areas.

Less than half of all year 9 Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for writing, well short of the target of 69 per cent. Just two thirds of year 9 Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for reading, against a target of 78 per cent.

LNP education spokesman Christian Rowan said the results were “extremely concerning”.

“More worrying still, there is no comprehensive plan from the state government to address this steady decline,” Dr Rowan said. “Queensland’s students, parents, teachers and school staff deserve a world-class education system that exceeds targets.”

But Education Minister Grace Grace commended students and staff for grappling with the “incredibly challenging circumstances” during the Covid-19 pandemic, and insisted NAPLAN results proved there had been “significant improvements”.

“Online learning, staying home when sick, and isolating as close contacts have all had an impact,” she said.

“We make no apologies for setting ambitious and stretching targets, many of which we are very close to achieving after consistent improvements over a number of years.”

The state government also missed its employment and training targets with thousands of students failing to complete apprenticeships or traineeships.

About 3400 fewer students completed their studies than expected, and just 79 per cent of graduates were able to gain employment or continue studies – well below the targeted 87 per cent. Only 73 per cent of employers were happy with apprentices and trainees – below the targeted 83 per cent.

The proportion of Queenslanders with higher qualifications reached 64.9 per cent, above the 62 per cent target.




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