Christian schools allowed to discriminate

When word spread this month that George Fox University had received an exemption to Title IX, allowing it to discriminate against a transgender student by denying him the housing he requested, many advocates for transgender students were stunned. Federal regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 do in fact require the Education Department to exempt colleges from rules that violate their religious beliefs. During the debate, George Fox officials noted that they were objecting to a housing request only, and that they haven’t kicked the student out of the university.

But now the Education Department has confirmed that it has since awarded two more exemptions to Title IX to Christian colleges that want to discriminate against transgender students. These colleges assert (and the Education Department agreed) that they should be exempt from more of Title IX than just housing equity. These colleges have policies to punish transgender students for being transgender students, apparently up to expulsion — and they can now do so legally. The two institutions are Spring Arbor University, in Michigan, and Simpson University, in California.

Spring Arbor is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and its traditions. It requested exemption from Title IX with regard to issues of admissions, behavioral rules, housing, access to restrooms, athletic participation and more.

The university’s student handbook says: “Spring Arbor University reserves the right to terminate or deny enrollment of those whose influence upon our community should prove to be in our judgment intractably contrary to the best interests of our students, and commitments to our university and to our Lord. Therefore, Spring Arbor University will not support persistent or conspicuous examples of cross-dressing or other expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender, and will deal with such matters within the appropriate pastoral and conduct processes of the university.”

Continue reading “Christian schools allowed to discriminate”

U.S. schools fail to help disabled

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday focuses his quest to improve classroom performance on the 6.5 million students with disabilities, including many who perform poorly on standardized tests.imgres

As Huffington Post reports, “Duncan, who has spent his years in the Obama administration using accountability measures in existing laws to drive improvements in student performance, on Tuesday joins Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, to announce a new framework for measuring states’ compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that supports special education and services for children with disabilities. The law originally was known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

“After years of holding states accountable under the law for such things as timely evaluations of students and due process hearings, the Education Department plans to look at results. For the first time, the government will define compliance with the law not just in terms of what states do for students with disabilities, but with how those students perform.

“Focusing on inputs has worked on improving that type of compliance, according to information the Department released Tuesday. For example, in 2006, 84.8 percent of initial evaluations of students with disabilities were completed on time. By 2010, that number had increased to 96.9 percent. At the same time, national average math proficiency hardly budged from 33.2 percent in 2005-2006 to 35.2 percent in 2009-2010 — representing a dip from 38.7 percent in the previous year.

“Basic compliance does not transform students’ lives,” Duncan said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math” at sufficient levels by the time they graduate from high school, he added.

“According to this new results-driven accountability framework, states will be responsible for students with disabilities’ participation in state tests, gaps in proficiency between students with disabilities and their peers, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the only national standardized test. This marks the first time the NAEP, which is often described as a low-stakes test, has been used for school accountability. Continue reading “U.S. schools fail to help disabled”

Charting disaster

As an antidote to the “grow grow grow” mentality of the elected officials and business leaders pushing charter schools, a recent report by University of Oregon professor and political economist Gordon Lafer outlines what’s wrong with privatization of public schools.

The report, titled Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, focuses on the model of Rocketship, a national charter elementary school organization that hopes to expand its Milwaukee footprint to eight schools by 2018.

City officials have even considered carving out the lowest-performing parts of the city’s schools for charters to operate, similar to the New Orleans “recovery district.” Milwaukee’s Chamber of Commerce and Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett are among the charter chain’s supporters, raising millions to help it grow.

Rocketship’s investors, who are tech industry heavyweights, claim altruistic intentions: they care about the kids! But they’re also profiting from the expansion of charter schools, a market for their own products and services.

Case in point: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, on the board of Rocketship, is also an investor in a company called Dream Box, which runs software the schools use for math applications. In the public sector this type of self-dealing is often prohibited, because schools should be choosing the service or product with the best track record, not the one that will enrich investors.

So it’s no surprise that businessmen like Hastings find investing in charters much more appealing than paying more taxes to support public schools. Continue reading “Charting disaster”

Separate and unequal

Saturday is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case where a unanimous Supreme Court held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The following year the justices ordered that states end school segregation with “all deliberate speed.”images-1

As reported in Slate magazine, “In the popular narrative, this is the beginning of American integration, a process that goes from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King to the Civil Rights Act and eventually to President Obama.

“But for as much as we share an integrated culture, millions of Americans—and blacks in particular—live in segregated worlds, a fact illustrated by the persistence and retrenchment of school segregation, as detailed in a new report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California–Los Angeles.

“Before considering the report, it’s worth taking a closer look at the process of school desegregation. Almost immediately after Brown, white Southerners met the decision with “massive resistance.” In Virginia, segregationist Democrats pushed sweeping educational changes to combat integration. In 1956, the Commission on Public Education—convened by Gov. Thomas Stanley—asked the General Assembly to repeal compulsory education, empower the governor to close public schools, and provide vouchers to parents to enroll their children in segregated private schools. In the next few years, whites would open “segregation academies” across the state, while closing public schools to block integration.

“Following Stanley’s lead, whites across the South worked to keep blacks out of their schools with rules, legislation, angry mobs, and outright violence. But it failed. Within the decade, new civil rights laws had enhanced federal power. By the end of the 1960s, the federal government was authorized to file suit against segregated school districts and work to dismantle them “root and branch.”

“As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.” Continue reading “Separate and unequal”

Not blaming schools

Google the phrase “education crisis” and you’ll be hit with a glut of articles, blog posts and think tank reports claiming the entire American school system is facing an emergency.Much of this agitprop additionally asserts that teachers unions are the primary cause of the alleged problem. Not surprisingly, the fabulists pushing these narratives are often backed by

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anti-public school conservatives and anti-union plutocrats. But a little-noticed study released last week provides yet more confirmation that neither the “education crisis” meme or the “evil teachers’ union” narrative is accurate.

Before looking at that study, consider some of the ways we already know that the dominant storyline about education is, indeed, baseless propaganda.

As I’ve reported before, we know that American public school students from wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. This proves that the education system’s problems are not universal–the crisis is isolated primarily in the parts of the system that operate in high poverty areas. It also proves that while the structure of the traditional public school system is hardly perfect, it is not the big problem in America’s K-12 education system. If it was the problem, then traditional public schools in rich neighborhoods would not perform as well as they do.

Similarly, we know that many of the high-performing public schools in America’s wealthy locales are unionized.

We also know that one of the best school systems in the world—Finland’s—is fully unionized. These facts prove that teachers’ unions are not the root cause of the education problem, either. After all, if unions were the problem, then unionized public schools in wealthy areas and Finland would be failing, reports In These Times.

“So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing and education data, researchers found that that a majority of all public school students in one third of America’s states now come from low-income families.   Continue reading “Not blaming schools”

California nears gender identity legal breakthrough

Gender identity will no longer limit California students in their decisions concerning which bathrooms and locker rooms to use, or which sports teams to join, reports today’s DailyCaller

“Under a proposed law that has passed the state legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, students in California will be able to make such choices based on their perceived gender identities, CNN reports.

“Assembly Bill 1266 aims to extend the rights of transgender students. The text requires that students “be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”In May, California’s Assembly had approved the proposed law, which was advertised as the School Success and Opportunity Act. This week, the state Senate passed the proposal by a 21-9 vote. Representatives for Gov. Brown have not signaled whether he will sign the bill. If the new law goes into effect, it will be the first such law anywhere in the country that expressly insists that public school facilities and school-sponsored activities provide equal access to all students based purely on the way they feel about their genders. Continue reading “California nears gender identity legal breakthrough”

Giroux: The War on Youth

In his new book America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth?, Henry A. Giroux  exposes the apostles of education “reform” who mistake corporatizing the classroom for preparing young people for a robust, productive democracy.  Giroux is interviewed in TruthOut, as briefly excerpted below:imgres-1

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: You have authored over 50 books, all of which deal with education in one form or another and most of which deal with the problems of youth; how would you define the specific focus of America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth?

The focus of this book is on the growing economic, political and cultural gap that has emerged in the United States between political leaders elected to govern and the citizenry whom they represent. It is also about the pernicious gap between ruling financial and corporate elites and the rest of society and how it has intensified the growth of a political and cultural landscape that is as anti-intellectual and devoid of a culture of questioning as it is authoritarian. I argue in this book that the deepening political, economic and moral deficit in America is inextricably connected to an education deficit, which is currently impacting young people most of all by starving them of both the economic resources and the formative educational experiences required to help them develop into knowledgeable and engaged citizens. The book begins with the premise that the crisis of schooling cannot be disconnected from the economic crisis – fueled by endless wars, a bloated military-industrial complex, and vast disparities in wealth and income. I argue throughout the book that as the United States proceeds headlong on a reckless course of civic illiteracy, which serves to legitimate and bolster a malignant gap in income, wealth and power, the end point is sure to entail the destruction of current and future possibilities for developing the educational institutions and formative culture that advance the imperatives of justice and democracy. Continue reading “Giroux: The War on Youth”

Public school and private interests

At first glance, it is one of the nation’s hottest new education-reform movements, a seemingly populist crusade to empower poor parents and fix failing public schools. But a closer examination reveals that the “parent-trigger” movement is being heavily financed by the conservative Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s largest and most strident anti-union organizations, a Frying Pan News investigation has shown. As TruthOut explains:images

“Since 2009, the foundation has poured more than $6.3 million into Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles advocacy group that is in the forefront of the parent-trigger campaign in California and the nation. Its heavy reliance on Walton money, critics say, raises questions about the independence of Parent Revolution and the intentions of the Walton Family Foundation.

“While Parent Revolution identifies the Walton Family Foundation as one of several donors on its Web site, the full extent of contributions from the Walton foundation and other donors hasn’t been publicly known until now. Information supplied to Frying Pan News by Parent Revolution and publicly available tax records show that a total of 18 separate foundations have given more than $14.8 million to the group since its founding in 2009. Continue reading “Public school and private interests”

Abistinence only is driving up STDs

images-3Late last month I interviewed a woman who was 19 when she contracted the herpes simplex virus (HSV1) genitally while still identifying as a virgin. Yahoo News says that  “No one ever told me you could contract an STD by [having] oral sex,” she said. “I thought I was being responsible, because I was saving myself for marriage…I come from a very religious background, and that’s what I was taught. Good girls don’t practice safe sex; they don’t have sex until marriage.”

“Coming to terms with the realization that there were still risks, despite abstaining from vaginal intercourse, this young woman now knows she was lacking some basic knowledge that she needed to make informed decisions about her sexual health.What would have helped her? Comprehensive sex education would have helped.

“We weren’t told about that stuff,” she told me. “Sex ed was literally a bunch of kids giggling about gross slides and our teacher telling us not to do it. Some of us even signed a paper saying we wouldn’t until we were married. So I only had oral sex, and look where that got me.” Now 23, she wishes she’d been armed with a comprehensive sexual education program, as opposed to the abstinence-only approach she received from her high school in South Carolina.

“When I asked her if she thought more thorough sex education in school would have influenced her behavior, she replied enthusiastically. “Yes, definitely! It’s not like I didn’t listen to or respect my teachers. I just didn’t know. I mean, no one told us to use some kind of barrier with oral sex; they didn’t want us to have sex at all. Why would they tell us how to do it safely?”

 

More: http://news.yahoo.com/abstinence-only-sex-ed-driving-std-rates-203137849.html

Teaching empathy in schools

 Restorative justice is a concept for helping students develop empathy and social concern. Today’s New York Times carries the story excerpted below on the topic:

“There is little down time in Eric Butler’s classroom.“My daddy got arrested this morning,” Mercedes Morgan, a distraught senior, told the students gathered there.

“Mr. Butler’s mission is to help defuse grenades of conflict at Ralph J. Bunche High School, the end of the line for students with a history of getting into trouble. He is the school’s coordinator for restorative justice, a program increasingly offered in schools seeking an alternative to “zero tolerance” policies like suspension and expulsion.

“The approach now taking root in 21 Oakland schools, and in Chicago, Denver and Portland, Ore., tries to nip problems and violence in the bud by forging closer, franker relationships among students, teachers and administrators. It encourages young people to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing while challenging them to develop empathy for one another through “talking circles” led by facilitators like Mr. Butler. Continue reading “Teaching empathy in schools”

California schools & gender non-conformity

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation aimed at guaranteeing transgender students the right to use public school restrooms and participate on the sports teams that correspond with their expressed genders, reports USA Today.imgres-1

“The bill reflects the accommodations that a number of U.S. schools are being asked to make as Americans start identifying as transgender at younger ages. Continue reading “California schools & gender non-conformity”

Billions for the world’s schools?

Globally speaking, not much money goes to schools. Which is too bad since so many other issues can be traced back to education. How about a billionaire like Bill Gates taking up global education?

“This week, business leaders are gathering in Davos to debate global priorities at the World Economic Forum” reports Al Jazeera.  The forum declares itself to be “committed to improving the state of the world”. So why isn’t education higher up on the agenda?imgres-2

“On the face of it, there should be little need to make the business case for education. It is intrinsically tied to all positive development outcomes. Economic growth, health, nutrition and democracy are all boosted by quality schooling. If all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, poverty would fall by 12 percent – and that’s good for business. The private sector benefits directly from an educated, skilled workforce. Continue reading “Billions for the world’s schools?”

Not teaching to the test

Increasingly these days, testing and “data” are them main drivers of so-called “education reform.”

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Once a term for progressive change in education, “reform” now means turning back the clock in many ways. And quantifiable results from standardized assessments now determine everything from a student’s graduation to a teacher’s employment status to the fate of whole schools and entire school systems.

“But across the country, a growing number of parents are exercising their legal right to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests, in favor of other assessments (such as portfolios) that are more organically connected to genuine teaching and learning,”reports TruthOut in a bracing essay by Brian Jones, excerpted below:

“Courageous teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have voted unanimously to refuse to administer the district’s standardized tests this semester.

“’Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,’ said Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator Kris McBride yesterday.

“’Students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.’ Garfield teachers were scheduled to administer the district-wide Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to ninth graders in the first part of January. It is supposed to measure progress in reading and math, but teachers report it only wastes time and resources.

“’What frustrates me about the MAP test is that the computer labs are monopolized for weeks by the MAP test, making research projects very difficult to assign,’ said history teacher Jesse Hagopian.’This especially hurts students who don’t have a computer at home.’ The teachers also objected to a conflict of interest: when the district purchased the test for $4 million, the superintendent sat on the board of the very company that marketed it. Students are told the test will have no impact on their grades, teachers said, so they tend to hurry through it.

“Yet district officials use the test results to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. ‘Our teachers feel strongly that this type of evaluative tool is unfair based on the abundance of problems with the exam, the content, and the statistical insignificance of the students’ scores,’ said McBride.”

 

For more, see: http://truth-out.org/news/item/13901-when-teachers-refuse-the-tests

 

 

Most school chairs fail the grade

Blaming teachers has been a favorite blood-sport of republicans in America for decades, dating to the famous Reagan-administration “A Nation at Risk” report. Then liberals like Jonathan Kozol entered the fray by pointing out the “savage inequalities” in school funding.

Now education has a new problem: the chairs. Cheapskate school districts and money-hungry corporations have been keeping the kids in crummy seats.

“‘And then there is the classroom chair,’the New York Times reports. ”In New York City public schools, a top chair of choice since the mid-1990s

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has been the Model 114, also known as the ‘super stacker,’15 pounds of steel, sawdust and resin that comes in 22 colors and has a basic, unyielding design little changed from its wooden forebears.

Continue reading “Most school chairs fail the grade”

How schools crush creativity

Schools often promote ideals of standardized knowledge and conformity to norms, which do not necessarily serve students well for the lives ahead of them. As Sir Ken Robinson discusses in the recent issue of Ted Weekends, it breaks down to two issues:

“First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them.imgres-3

“Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do. Continue reading “How schools crush creativity”

Giving time, not money

“Writing a check is simply a matter of figuring out an amount you can afford and sending it off. But actually donating your time, which was not counted by the survey toward the dollars people gave, seemed a far greater level of commitment.” This from an insightful story in todays’s New York Times by Paul Sullivan entitled A portion of the text appears below. For the complete story, see “Some Prefer Giving Time, Not Money, to Schools” in the New York Times.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a group that rated charities for their effectiveness but was surprised when one of the group’s young founders said he had stopped supporting groups focused on education. He had a perfectly rational-sounding reason: the problems were daunting and he didn’t feel his donations would have an impact.

Then, I heard about a recent study of high-net-worth households that found that education was the leading concern among affluent donors, ahead of health care, the economy, poverty and the federal budget deficit. Continue reading “Giving time, not money”