Published: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 18:10:19 -0500
Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:50:00 -0500
(image) Iowa Sen. Mark Chelgren (R–Ottumwa) is a man on a mission to ensure partisan balance at universities in his state, reports The Des Moines Register. Chelgren has introduced Senate File 288, a law that would enact a hiring freeze on Iowan universities until the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats on faculty fall within 10 percent of each other.
"We have an awful lot of taxpayer dollars that go to support these fine universities," he told the Register. Students "should be able to go to their professors, ask opinions, and they should know publicly whether that professor is a Republican or Democrat or no-party affiliation, and therefore they can expect their answers to be given in as honest a way possible. But they should have the ability to ask questions of professors of different political ideologies."
Most college faculties lean to the left, according to Heterodox Academy, an organization that aims to encourage diverse viewpoints on campus. Using data obtained by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the group found that about 60 percent of professors held far-left or liberal ideologies as of 2014, while far-right and conservative professors comprise a little above 10 percent.
Writing at Heterodox Academy, Sam Abrams noted that professors have been steadily moving to the left. "Between 1995 and 2010, members of the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left," Abrams observes. "Moderates declined by nearly a quarter and conservatives decreased by nearly a third."
Chelgren sees the regulation of Iowan universities' hiring practices as the solution to this problem. "I'm under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity," he said, according to the Register. "They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are."
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, one of the men behind Heterodox Academy, spoke at the 2017 International Students for Liberty Conference last weekend. In his talk he lamented the ideological skew in higher education. Unlike the Iowa lawmaker, though, his solutions do not resort to legislation. Instead, he hopes students will press their universities "to do three things: adopt the Chicago principles on free expression, implement a non-obstruction policy—meaning you can't shut people down. You can protest, you can wave signs, but you can't stop a person from speaking. And finally, please, university, give us some viewpoint diversity."
By "the Chicago principles on free expression," he was referring to the University of Chicago philosophy that schools should offer a neutral platform for dialogue and disagreement.
Forcing schools to hire individuals based on a political quota probably wouldn't work anyway. As the Register notes, even "Chelgren said professors who want to be hired could simply change their party affiliation to be considered for the position." Colleges and universities should of course strive to incorporate a diversity of thought at their institutions, but mandating that diversity by law is not the answer.
Mon, 13 Feb 2017 15:20:00 -0500
(image) Ever since the 2016 presidential election, the problem of "fake news" has dominated the national political conversation. Both Republicans and Democrats have railed against what they see as an epidemic of made-up or factually inaccurate stories and the influence they believe those stories have when it comes to swaying public opinion.
Educators, fact checking sites, and even government officials are taking action to fight back against fake news, which some see as threatening democracy. Now, California lawmakers have introduced legislation to require media literacy courses to be taught at the state's middle and high schools, according to the Associated Press.
Some 64 percent of Americans believe that fake news stories are causing a notable amount of confusion, according to Pew Research Center. However, a majority of Americans are somewhat (45 percent) or very (39 percent) confident in their own ability to identify fake news.
Young people often struggle with recognizing non-credible news, a group of Stanford researchers found. They tested middle school, high school, and college-level students on their news literacy skills through a series of tasks. "More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words 'sponsored content,' was a real news story," the Stanford History Education Group study, which was conducted in early 2016, claims. "Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article."
Social media has been blamed for the spread of fake news by many observers. And indeed, Pew Research Center has found that 62 percent of Americans get news on social media, and nearly one in three Americans say they see fake news often online. Of course, as Reason's Jesse Walker has pointed out, the internet also makes it far easier to debunk myths and fact check dubious claims.
For more on the truth about fake news, check out this piece from the March issue by the University of Miami political scientist Joseph E. Uscinski.
Fri, 10 Feb 2017 12:55:00 -0500There's going to be a temptation to want to publicly mock those on the left who have responded to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education by suggesting they could pull their kids out of the public school system as a form of boycott. There have been some social media responses to that effect, and of course media outlets are jumping on them, aware of the sort of hypocrisy baked in. To respond to DeVos' support for school choice by engaging in school choice seems a bit hilarious to those on the other side. DeVos is even an avid supporter of home schooling! NBC notes a quote from DeVos: "We've seen more and more people opt for homeschooling, including in urban areas. What you're seeing is parents who are fed up with their lack of power to do anything about where their kids are assigned to go to school. To the extent that homeschooling puts parents back in charge of their kids' education, more power to them." DeVos' emphasis on school choice is a natural fit for the homeschool movement, whose members span the political spectrum but are largely conservative Christians who resist government oversight. That group has helped fuel remarkable growth in recent years, carrying the movement from the fringe and closer to the mainstream. An an estimated 1.8 [m]illion children were homeschooled in 2012, up from 850,000 three years earlier, according to an Education Department survey published last June. The story does note at the end that it wasn't Christian conservatives who started the homeschool movement in the United States but folks who thought the tightly regimented and bureaucratic system wasn't helpful for kids' learning. If people on the left respond by pulling out of the public schools and homeschooling instead, they're returning the program to its roots. Resist the desire to mock these people. This is what school choice supporters have been arguing for all along. Parents shouldn't have to submit to whatever DeVos thinks counts as the proper education for their children. The public education establishment has attempted to paint the school choice movement as a mechanism for conservatives (particularly religious conservatives and wealthy conservatives) to escape participation in public schools. While an initial response could be "So? Their kids aren't your property," it's also very important to point out it's not true. It's not the DeVoses of the world struggling as hard as they can to get their kids out of public schools and into charters. The DeVoses of the world can just write a check and educate their kids wherever they want. It's those randoms on Twitter who are intended to be the beneficiaries of charter programs and homeschooling. School choice options are wildly popular with parents, something mostly ignored by DeVos' opponents, given that they were more interested in carrying water for education unions. It's akin to the local politicians who protect the taxi cartels from ride-sharing services at the expense of the actual customers, who end up having fewer choices, paying more, and getting treated poorly as a result. In the event that DeVos attempts to push through a particular ideology within the education system (I doubt this will happen, but you never know), parents should feel free to use the mechanism DeVos herself supports and reject her and seek education elsewhere. There's no valid reason for the Department of Education to exist other than to advance and expand bureaucratic rule of over our lives. Meanwhile, some union protester in Washington, D.C., physically blocked DeVos from entering a public school today, an act so stupid that even the president of the American Federation of Teachers rejected it. That behavior certainly is not going to make public schools any better.[...]
Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:20:00 -0500
(image) "A deep political divide is starting to open up in digital literacy discussions," argues Bryan Alexander, an academic turned consultant who writes frequently about education and technology. This division doesn't separate left from right or Red from Blue. "It's a split between those who think people should assume the power to make decisions about information and media, and those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world. On the one side, lower-case-d democrats; on the others, neo-gatekeepers."
For an example, think of the "fake news" debate. If you think the best response to the plague of viral Facebook hoaxes is to give power to a committee charged with sorting true stories from false, you're with the gatekeepers. A democrat wouldn't be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.
The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me, so there's not much mystery about where I fall on this spectrum. By the end of the post, Alexander has confessed his bias toward the democratic tribe too. But his chief interest, he writes, is
how this political divide plays out for educators, from K-12 teachers to colleges faculty and staff, to museum and library professionals. How will we and our institutions stake out positions on this continuum, from democrats to neo-gatekeepers?
I can see incentives and professional reasons for hewing to either pole. Institutions and professions often function as gatekeepers, after all. At the same time each of these fields also has an ethos of empowering their students/users/patrons. Some of these institutions are closely tied up to authorities, such as active churches or states, while others see themselves as independent spaces. Each has taken up a related range of positions on previous digital issues, such as web sites, open education resources, and social media.
And then there's the elephant in the room, or rather the donkey: "Many of these professionals tack Democratic in terms of party politics." That's Democratic with a big D, and not necessarily a small one. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers. But "#resistance can also mean the recreation of authority sapped by the November electoral disaster."
Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me liberally. To read the whole thing, go here.
Thu, 09 Feb 2017 14:20:00 -0500
(image) Georgia House Bill 51 aims to stop universities from conducting their own investigations into felonies, including sexual assault, instead requiring them to have law enforcement take charge. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R–Powder Springs) in January, passed out of a state House panel last week.
The bill explicitly states that "every official or employee of a post-secondary institution in this state who receives information which would lead such individual to believe that a crime which is a felony under the laws of this state has been committed by or against a student of such post-secondary institution or was committed in or on property owned, leased, or operated by such post-secondary institution shall promptly report such crime to the appropriate law enforcement agency." It further prohibits universities from taking matters into their own hands and punishing students accused of a felony.
"I want to treat these crimes with the seriousness they deserve," Ehrhart told the AJC. "But I am not going to sacrifice due process to get there." Last year, he filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that certain Department of Education policies are unconstitutional.
One of those policies is a 2011 rule saying that under Title IX, colleges and universities have to investigate and punish instances of sex discrimination, including allegations of rape. But critics, including Reason Associate Editor Robby Soave, point out that the low standard of evidence being pushed by the department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) amounts to a violation of due process protections for accused students. "It's not about finding the truth, or administering justice," Soave wrote in a recent post. "The purpose of the guidance is to make it more likely that accused students are found responsible, whether or not they have done anything wrong. OCR has tipped the scales in favor of alleged victims, because the lives of the accused matter less than the lives of the accusers."
Opponents of H.B. 51 contend the bill threatens students' safety. Zoë Taylor, a senior at Williams College and the president of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Network, penned a letter that was published on the AJC's "Get Schooled" blog. "It would limit schools' abilities to secure their own campuses, placing investigations in the hands of the legal system which notoriously mishandles cases of rape and sexual assault and fails in its due process," she said of the bill. "Under the guise of liberty, this law would obstruct justice and safety for survivors of rape and sexual assault."
Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:35:00 -0500With the day-long attempt by Democrats to "hold the floor" of the Senate to delay and disrupt the planned confirmation for the next secretary of education mostly in the rearview mirror, it now seems likely that President Trump's controversial nominee, Betsy DeVos, will squeak by on a 50-50 vote. (Vice President Mike Pence, who presides over the Senate, will get to cast the deciding vote after two GOP senators said they will vote no.) There are two basic charges against DeVos, and one is more serious than the other. The less serious, though mostly accurate, one is that she is plainly inexperienced. Like Trump entering the Oval Office, she has never overseen a public office or department, much less than one with nearly 5,000 employees. The Department of Education, founded only in 1979, is the smallest of all cabinet agencies in terms of personnel and budget ("just" $73 billion in 2016). This is to say it's a minor cabinet office that was so unnecessary the coutry somehow got by without one until the waning years of the Jimmy Carter presidency (in 1980, Ronald Reagan said he would abolish it if he won; instead he just massively increased its budget). DeVos is a billionaire through marriage, to Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway fortune, and while she invests in a wide range of more or less interesting businesses (including Neurocore, which is trying to use biofeedback to cure depression and other ailments), she doesn't rise to the level of, say, Carly Fiorina in terms of business chops. Similarly, she has never worked at or run a school or district, leaving her devoid of direct experience with education other than as a student and a parent (which isn't nothing, exactly, but still not much). So that first point is taken: She is inexperienced in running the sort of shop she's about to take over. But then again, if she's a competent administrator, that's really what the job demands. As education analysts such as University of Arkansas' Jay P. Greene and Reason Foundation's Lisa Snell have told me, the education secretary has relatively little to do, as most federal funds are pre-committed through funding formulas that are difficult to monkey with very much. What the secretary can do is set a broad agenda and a tone. And that, not her lack of credentials, is why Democratic senators tried to "hold the floor" against her. DeVos has been very involved in Republican politics at the national and state levels, where she chaired the Michigan Republican Party and has supported all sorts of school-choice plans. Given that, Senate Democrats and teachers unions are dead-set against her. The DeVos vote isn't ultimately about whether or not a Detroit billionaire runs a program that accounts for only 10 percent of K-12 spending around the country. (The federal government's influence is magnified by the conditions and rules it attaches to schools that receive any federal money.) It's about DeVos's outspoken support for both the general idea of publicly financed school choice and specific plans. Here, for instance, is Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, tweeting his disapproval: Making it loud & clear outside the U.S. Capitol today: #NoOnDeVos. Privatizing public edu. will not give every child the chance to succeed pic.twitter.com/ddTnmz0Hhn — Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 6, 2017 Wyden is one of the most reputable people in the Senate—or in Washington politics altogether. Yet he is wrong here, and on multiple counts. The first is that DeVos or Trump is somehow going to "privatize" public education. From a libertarian perspective, that may or may not be a good idea (I know I like the concept of separating the state from education very much; how do you raise truly independent thinkers otherwise?), but nothing like that is on the table. If you argue that "privatization" of public education happens when, say, K-12 students get taxpayer-financed money to go to private schools, your outrage would be better directed to[...]
Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:23:00 -0500The first thing I noticed about the International Charter School in Brooklyn, New York was its founder, Matthew Levey. As I reached the entrance at the beginning of a November Thursday, I saw Levey—sporting an overcoat and a fedora—warmly greeting each of his 225 students by name as they each entered his school building. The Thursday of my visit also happened to mark the monthly meeting of the school's Parents Association with the school's principal. In addition to the kids, Mr. Levey seemed to know each parent on a first-name basis as he or she dropped off their children and comfortably chatted with the lingering crowd as if they were neighbors. As we reflect on the recent National School Choice Week celebrations amid an unprecedented national debate on education policy, moments like these stick out to me even clearer. Before I had learned anything about what was going on inside the school itself, ICS was already defying the stereotypes we've heard ad nauseam about charters being "unaccountable" to parents. As the school day began and parents met with the principal, Levey took me up the stairs to show me around ICS. He was a flurry of activity, explaining the school's history to me while washing cups in the staff kitchen, saying hello to late parents, and making sure a first-grader on a bathroom break was headed back to class (through a conversation in Spanish). After putting his children through New York City public schools, Levey was disenchanted with the lack of responsiveness to parent concerns or substantive feedback he found and wanted to be part of the solution. Levey started an arduous, years-long process of trying to attain a charter, securing sufficient funding, finding the right personnel, and attracting enough families to found International Charter School in 2015. ICS is built on three precepts: developing strong foundations in background knowledge and cultural literacy, an emphasis on social-emotional learning to foster a nurturing community, and an effort to build a racially and socio-economically diverse group of students in a gentrifying neighborhood. Instilling Core Knowledge A key component of ICS is its emphasis on building solid fundamentals for later learning through a content-rich curriculum in the early grades. The school is inspired by E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Curriculum, which has its origins in the late 1980s as part of an effort to improve the cultural literacy of America's youth. International Charter School puts a priority on instilling the basic tenets of the Western canon and history. The emphasis isn't meant to be an exercise in overt "Protestant American triumphalism," but, as Levey describes it, part of an effort to familiarize students with the cultural foundations that inform the society they're growing up in. This is clear the moment one walks in to the school's main floor, where portraits of Washington crossing the Delaware and Abraham Lincoln grace the hallway. First graders, for instance, learn about the basic tenets of the three Abrahamic religions. Levey and other proponents of the Core Knowledge program see this kind of learning, regardless of a students' personal beliefs, as an important dimension to understanding their culture. During the day, Levey called up a local rabbi about organizing a field trip to her synagogue as part of the Judaism section of the religion unit. The visit could give students a chance to experience what they were learning about up close, and Levey hoped seeing different places of worship could help classmates better understand and respect their differences. A key part of Core Knowledge educational techniques is an emphasis on interdisciplinary engagement. During the call, Levey brainstormed using one of the school's music classes as a follow up to the field trip in order to teach the students about how Jewish musical stylings had influences on composers identified with the broader [...]
Fri, 03 Feb 2017 07:00:00 -0500
Sat, 28 Jan 2017 16:06:00 -0500For the past seven days, we've been celebrating National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual week-long event designed to promote and energize efforts to give parents and students more options when it comes to K-12 education. Now in it's seventh year, NSCW coordinated over 20,000 events in every state in the country, a strong showing that mirrors the growth of charter schools, voucher programs, tax credits, and other systems that give more people a way to find a school that's right for their children. All of our coverage—about 20 articles, videos, and podcasts—can be found under our "school choice" tab but I wanted to flag a few entries for readers who might have missed them during a week that was filled with all sorts of other news. First up is a video shot at a NSCW rally in Austin, Texas that explains the big new development in choice, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). These function like Health Savings Accounts or Medical Savings Accounts, with participants being given a debit card preloaded with money that can be spent for tuition, experiences, tutoring, certficiations, and more. It allows parents and students to radically personalize their education. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Xw72eEzDwOw" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Next up is an Reason Podcast with Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas. Greene explains that successful state-wide experimentation in Arizona have changed the politics of the school choice movement by bringing in middle- and upper-class families who want more options for their kids. While the movement's original focus on low-income students made sense—those kids needed reform, and fast—wealthier parents have more political clout. Greene also discusses the trend away from teaching the liberal arts and toward teaching to state-proficiency and other standardized tests. That's a major loss, he says, as different parents want different things for their kids and the full flowering of educational opportunities is stunted by common yardsticks that don't actually create the sort of engaged, critical, self-directed students who will be able to create their own lives. To my mind, his cornucopic vision of all sorts of radically different types of schools with different structures, curricula, and emphases is inspiring as hell. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/304460900&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> As a final sample of what we've offered, check out Robby Soave and Tyler Koteskey's feature from the March print issue of Reason. "Why Are Cops Putting Kids in Cuffs?" looks at how a variety of federal and state laws have transformed K-12 schools into minimum-security prisons. A snippet: When 14-year-old Ryan Turk cut ahead of the lunch line to grab a milk, he didn't expect to get in trouble. He certainly didn't plan to end up in handcuffs. But Turk, a black student at Graham Park Middle School, was arrested for disorderly conduct and petty larceny for procuring the 65-cent carton. The state of Virginia is actually prosecuting the case, which went to trial in November. Chief among the many ironies of this story is that Turk didn't actually steal anything: He participates in Virginia's free lunch program, which entitles him to one complimentary carton of milk each day. On the afternoon in question, Turk had forgotten to claim his drink during his first pass through the line, so he went back. That's when the trouble started, for a very specific reason: A police officer spotted him and misunderstood what was happening. A police officer. In the cafeteria. Graham Park Middle School is among the roughly 43 percent of public schools in the U.S. with a School Resource Officer (SRO): a[...]
Fri, 27 Jan 2017 14:15:00 -0500School choice is flourishing in America, with millions of kids now using vouchers to attend private schools, going to publicly funded charter schools, benefiting from open-enrollment policies, being schooled at home, and more. President Donald Trump is full-throated in his support of choice, recognizing National School Choice Week in a proclamation: Because the education of our young people is so important, the parents of every student in America should have a right to a meaningful choice about where their child goes to school. By expanding school choice and providing more educational opportunities for every American family, we can help make sure that every child has an equal shot at achieving the American Dream. More choices for our students will make our schools better for everybody. Trump's pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is controversial precisely because she is an activist for charters and other forms of school choice. What are the forces that are driving the acceptance of choice programs, does choice increase student performance, and are traditional public schools being left behind? These are some of the questions I put to Lisa Snell, the director of education research at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website. Snell is one of the architects of the reform that's known as the "weighted student formula," in which education dollars follow a particular student to whatever school he or she attends (extra dollars are added for students with learning problems and other issues). Not only does the weighted student formula give more control and options to students, it also allows for an end-run around conventional school districts, which often soak up huge amounts of per-pupil funding before it reaches the classrom—or a teacher's paycheck. In this lively conversation, Snell explains the growing appeal of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to spend money on a wide variety of educational services and hyper-personalize their children's education. For a comprehensive list of school choice trends compiled by the sponsors of National School Choice Week, go here. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode. Click below to listen now at SoundCloud. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/304833587&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Follow us at Soundcloud. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to Reason magazine for just $15 a year! National School Choice Week runs from through January 28. Over 21,000 events involving almost 17,000 schools from all 50 states will take place over the coming days. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice—charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more—is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. As a proud media sponsor of National School Choice Week, Reason will be publishing daily articles, podcasts, videos, interviews, and other coverage exploring the ways in which education is being radically altered and made better by letting more people have more choices when it comes to learning. For a constantly updated list of stories, go to Reason's archive page on "school choice."[...]
Thu, 26 Jan 2017 15:45:00 -0500Whatever negative you can say about President Donald Trump (which is plenty!), he has been unwavering and full-throated in his support for increasing school choice for K-12 students and their parents. His controversial Education Secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, is an activist in the school-choice movement and now Trump has issued the first-ever presidential proclamation recognizing National School Choice Week (NSCW). Now in its seventh year, NSCW runs through January 28 this year and involves over 21,000 events in all 50 states the celebrate school choice in all its forms. Go here for more information and to find events happening near you. Trump's proclamation begins by noting "too many of our children are stuck in schools that do not provide...[a great education]." "By expanding school choice and providing more educational opportunities for every American family," it continues, "we can help make sure every child has an equal shot at achieving the American Dream." By most accounts, about 3 million students attend charter schools, which are publicly funded indpendent schools that receive a portion of the typical per-pupil funding of traditional public schools and operate with greater autonomy. The first charter school law was passed about 25 years ago in Minnesota and now most states have some version of them. Other popular forms of school choice include home schooling, private and publicly funded voucher programs, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which operate like Health Savings Accounts, giving families varying amounts of money to spend on their children's educational needs. Last summer in a widely viewed segment, HBO's John Oliver glibly and inaccurately attacked charters as largely unregulated scams. Such dismissals are possible only if one doesn't bother to look at the large and growing body of research that shows charters, which educate a majority of children in school districts such as New Orleans and Detroit, produce better results especially for urban, low-income students. Education researchers such as Jay P. Greene at the University of Arkansas argue that despite only currently teaching about 6 percent of the country's 55 million K-12 students, school choice has "reached escape velocity" because the same demand for increasing personalization and individualization that we prize in our commercial lives is making itself known in the educational sphere. (Click here for Reason's podcast with Greene about why the benefits of school choice extend far beyond test scores and academics). Andrew Campanella, the head of National School Week, notes that the president joins a unanimous U.S. Senate, 29 governors, and over 700 city and county officials in celebrating NSCW. Here's the text of Trump's proclamation: National School Choice Week runs from through January 28. Over 21,000 events involving almost 17,000 schools from all 50 states will take place over the coming days. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice—charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more—is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. As a proud media sponsor of National School Choice Week, Reason will be publishing daily articles, podcasts, videos, interviews, and other coverage exploring the ways in which education is being radically altered and made better by letting more people have more choices when it comes to learning. For a constantly updated list of stories, go to Reason's archive page on "school choice."[...]
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 15:00:00 -0500When 14-year-old Ryan Turk cut ahead of the lunch line to grab a milk, he didn't expect to get in trouble. He certainly didn't plan to end up in handcuffs. But Turk, a black student at Graham Park Middle School, was arrested for disorderly conduct and petty larceny for procuring the 65-cent carton. The state of Virginia is actually prosecuting the case, which went to trial in November. Chief among the many ironies of this story is that Turk didn't actually steal anything: He participates in Virginia's free lunch program, which entitles him to one complimentary carton of milk each day. On the afternoon in question, Turk had forgotten to claim his drink during his first pass through the line, so he went back. That's when the trouble started, for a very specific reason: A police officer spotted him and misunderstood what was happening. A police officer. In the cafeteria. Graham Park Middle School is among the roughly 43 percent of public schools in the U.S. with a School Resource Officer (SRO): a cop specifically assigned to patrol the school. SROs exist ostensibly to keep students safe and classrooms crime-free. But the staggering increase in their ranks over the last several decades has produced thousands of questionable suspensions and arrests. Many due process advocates and education reformers now wonder if the presence of so many cops is actually undermining school discipline. It shouldn't fall to law enforcement to scold unruly kids: That's a job for teachers, principals, and parents. Unfortunately, bad incentives—including state laws that limit school disciplinary options and federal programs that explicitly subsidize SROs—give schools plenty of reasons to keep hiring cops. Getting rid of those incentives would improve things, but the best solution might lie outside traditional schooling entirely. For students around the country, school choice reforms—which engender new and different ways of thinking about discipline—are already offering a vision for a saner system. Because there's got to be a better way to teach a kid to wait his turn in the lunch line. 'My Life Could Be Completely Ruined by This' Turk's case stands out because of how petty the state's behavior was, but outrageous examples of police interference in schools aren't hard to find. Take William P. Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood, New Jersey. On the last day of classes last spring, a third-grade boy said something about brownies that another student interpreted as racist. It's likely the kid was talking about chocolate desserts rather than dark-skinned classmates, but that's something the school should have worked out on its own. Instead, it called the cops to investigate an unintentionally offensive remark made by a 9-year-old. "There was a police officer with a gun in the holster talking to my son, saying, 'Tell me what you said,'" the boy's mother, Stacy dos Stanos, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "He didn't have anybody on his side." The investigation did not end there. Collingswood police interviewed the boy's father and referred the case to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, which handles instances of child abuse. Before the 1970s there were almost zero cops in schools, and teachers would have laughed at the idea of expelling kids for the kind of behavior that routinely gets students in serious legal trouble today. It was not the first time something like this had happened in Collingswood. Superintendent Scott Oswald confessed to reporters that administrators at his various schools were in the habit of calling the cops as frequently as five times per day. This in a district that contains only 1,875 students. School officials had fallen into the habit of reporting virtually every infraction of school rules—even "[...]
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 10:00:00 -0500A Texas administrative law judge recently recommended that no disciplinary action be taken against a public school teacher who admitted eating a marijuana edible while visiting Colorado over Christmas vacation. In a January 10 decision that was published last Friday by the Austin American-Statesman, Judge William Newchurch likens the teacher's cannabis consumption to gambling in Las Vegas. "Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas—but so is gambling," Newchurch writes. "The ALJ [administrative law judge] would not recommend that the Board [for Educator Certification] find a teacher unworthy to instruct in Texas because she legally gambled in Nevada. Similarly, he does not recommend that the Board find Respondent unworthy to instruct because she legally consumed marijuana in Colorado." The case involves Maryam Roland, a science teacher at El Paso's Parkland High School who in February 2015 supposedly was implicated as a drug user by a former school district bookkeeper named Olaya Calanehe. I say "supposedly" because the email from Calanehe listing Roland's name said nothing about drug use, which she had mentioned in an earlier email that named other employees, and there was no record of an alleged phone call from Calanehe that may have been more specific. Roland described Calanehe as a disgruntled former employee, while Newchurch said her first email "suggested that Ms. Calanche was paranoid and delusional, because she stated she was scared for her life and referred to the devil and demons." Craig Lahrman, director of secondary personnel for the Ysleta Independent School District, nevertheless grilled Roland, who had worked as a teacher for eight years without any allegations of misconduct, about her drug use, which is how her admission of consuming an edible in Colorado came out. She said she otherwise had not used marijuana since college. A urine test found no evidence of marijuana use, but traces were found in her hair. That result was consistent with her account, since hair tests can detect marijuana use for up to six months. Roland said she had never used marijuana during work hours, on school property, or at school functions, which is specifically prohibited by district policy, and there was no evidence to contradict that. Although Roland resigned at the time of this inquisition, bureaucrats at the Texas Education Agency sought to suspend her teaching certificate for two years, which is where Newchurch came in. He concluded that the drug testing was not justified by "reasonable suspicion" of work-related misconduct, as it is supposed to be under district policy. In any event, Newchurch found, Roland had not violated state law or specific district rules, and her behavior did not render her "unworthy to instruct or supervise the youth of this state." That's a catchall description for various kinds of behavior that, while not necessarily illegal, are thought to indicate "absence of those moral, mental, and psychological qualities" that teachers are expected to have. While "habitual impairment through drugs" would make a teacher unworthy to instruct, Newchurch said, eating a cannabis-infused cookie or candy bar while vacationing in a state where marijuana is legal does not. Although Roland by her own admission violated federal law, which criminalizes marijuana possession wherever it occurs, Newchurch said "staff did not offer proof or even allege in the notice of hearing or petition that Respondent had violated a specific federal law." That's lucky for Roland, because the Code of Ethics enforced by the Texas Education Agency says teachers "shall comply with state regulations, written local school board policies, and other state and federal laws." Newchurch's rec[...]
Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:05:00 -0500
Yes, it's National School Choice Week and, as it happens, I recently recorded a podcast with Don Wettrick, a public-school teacher based in Indiana and the voice behind StartEDup, a weekly interview program that covers "where educators, innovators, and entrepreneurs connect." It's a wide-ranging conversation about the need for more variety in educational options for all kids, and more variety in life in general. We also get talking about what it means to be a small "L' libertarian at a time when traditional conservatives and liberals are doubling and tripling down on the very madness that has left their ranks depleted.
It's a rollicking, fun conversation, and you can listen along simply by clicking below:
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National School Choice Week, an annual event promoting the ability of parents and students to have greater options in K-12 education, runs from January 22 through January 28. Over 21,000 events involving almost 17,000 schools from all 50 states will take place over the coming days. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice—charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more—is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans.
As a proud media sponsor of National School Choice Week, Reason will be publishing daily articles, podcasts, videos, interviews, and other coverage exploring the ways in which education is being radically altered and made better by letting more people have more choices when it comes to learning. For a constantly updated list of stories, go to Reason's archive page on "school choice."
Mon, 23 Jan 2017 12:50:00 -0500Need a lesson on why parents are increasingly looking for ways to get their kids out of the public school system? Check out this Democratic California legislator who wants to use public schooling to explain to children what really happened with the 2016 election. Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) announced "a bill that will require the State Board of Education to develop curriculum to educate California students about Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election." He speechifies: "The work of 17 intelligence agencies including the FBI and CIA confirmed Russian interference in our election. This is a threat to our democracy and must be treated with appropriate significance in American history," Levine said. "California is the largest textbook market in the nation. Textbooks approved in our state are used throughout the country. Through this legislation, we can make sure students in California and across the United States receive accurate information about the 2016 Presidential election." So, where to begin? The investigation is still literally happening right now. The extent of communication between the Russian government and Donald Trump's campaign isn't even fully known. Intelligence agencies are looking over intercepted communications, and the idea that we as a public even know enough to "teach" this right now is absurd. Yes, it will probably be some time before the schools and textbooks were able to implement this policy, but even so, let's be suspicious that there will be enough to teach any of this as fact (not that Levine cares). Millions of Americans (even in California!) voted for Trump. There's been no evidence that Russian interests tampered with the actual voting in any way, shape, or form. The "threat to our democracy" consists primarily of the release of private emails from within the Democratic establishment that made it look bad. We shouldn't downplay the harms that could come from cybersecurity breaches like this, but Levine is blatantly calling for the miseducation of students. And he's deliberately ignoring the evidence that Hillary Clinton lost because she simply didn't get voters on her side and the significant increase in the number of people who didn't vote for president at all. Using public schools to advance your party's message is creepy. Did Levine think for a moment at all about the potential consequences here or does he just not care? Or does he think they're a good thing? He probably thinks they're a good thing since he believes he can use California's size as leverage to force this into schoolbooks across the country. But of course, when Levine uses school textbooks to advance the Democratic Party's position on the election outcome, this will encourage others to do the same. Another large state like Texas could pass a law forbidding any mention at all. Heck, what would happen if Congress stepped in and tied federal education funding to whatever message about the election the majority and the president approved? In case anybody needed a reminder, the presidency and Congress are under control of the Republican Party. This isn't why people send their children to school. It's tough to visualize a more compelling example of the problem of political control over the education process than this. Is there a single parent out there actually hoping that public schools remove something out of the political science or history curriculum in order to replace it with this? I mean we already have a generation of young adults with little grasp of the First Amendment (we're apparently having a Twitter debate over whether it's okay to punch people for saying terrible things). Parents send their children to school[...]