Category Archives: Madison

2020 Medley #4: Vouchers, choice, and the misuse of tax dollars

School choice fails, Students give up rights,
Tax dollars for discrimination,
Choice and segregation,
Pilot “choice” programs are a trap

“…to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical…” — Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

INDIANA’S VOUCHER PLAN

Indiana’s voucher program began as a plan for low-income students to “escape” their “failing schools” and go to the private schools that wealthier people have always been able to afford. In order to qualify, then-governor Mitch Daniels insisted, a student must have spent at least one year at a public school.

Since its inception in 2011, it has changed into a middle-class entitlement program. Most students who get Indiana “scholarships” are students who have never attended a public school. A third of students who get Indiana “scholarships” are students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches. Less than one percent of Indiana’s “scholarship” students are “escaping” from a “failing school.”

Since private schools aren’t better than public schools, vouchers don’t improve academic outcomes for students.

The purpose of Indiana’s vouchers has changed. Supporters in Indiana no longer talk about helping poor kids get a better education. Instead, taking DeVos talking points, it’s all about “choice.” Parents will choose the best school for their children.

Finally, Indiana schools that accept vouchers don’t have to be accountable for the tax money they are given. At an education forum last month, my local state senator said that this was intended. They don’t have to be accountable. They get the money with no strings attached. Perhaps they’ll use the money they get for their school to fix the church steeple…or pay for the new football field. It doesn’t matter. The taxpayers shouldn’t care about accountability for tax dollars paid to religious institutions.

See also: James Madison’s 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” was written in 1785 in opposition to a proposal by Patrick Henry that all Virginians be taxed to support “teachers of the Christian religion.”

To this day, the “Memorial and Remonstrance” remains one of the most powerful arguments against government-supported religion ever penned.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Constitution (Article 1, Section 6), which seems to agree with Presidents Jefferson and Madison, states,

No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.

SCHOOL CHOICE

The current administration, supported by Mike Pence as VP and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, hates public education. In the State of the Union Address on February 4, 2020, the President sneered about “failing government schools.” DeVos, who purchased her job with political contributions, has called public education “a dead end.” Neither the President, the Secretary, nor any of their children, ever attended a public school.

Despite the lack of evidence, the administration chooses privatization over public education.

School Choice Fails Students and Parents

Ultimately, the school choice debate is a distraction from a sobering fact: the U.S. has failed public education by never completely committing to high-quality education for every child in the country regardless of their ZIP code.

There is no mystery to what constitutes a great school, high academic quality, or challenging education, but there is solid proof that almost no one in the U.S. has the political will to choose to guarantee that for every child so that no one has to hope an Invisible Hand might offer a few crumbs here and there.

STUDENTS GIVE UP THEIR RIGHTS WHEN THEY LEAVE THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The Danger Private School Voucher Programs Pose to Civil Rights

When students participate in a voucher program, the rights that they have in public school do not automatically transfer with them to their private school. Private schools may expel or deny admission to certain students without repercussion and with limited recourse for the aggrieved student. In light of Secretary DeVos’ push to create a federal voucher program, it is crucial that parents and policymakers alike understand the ways that private schools can discriminate against students, even while accepting public funding. Parents want the best education possible for their children, and voucher programs may seem like a path to a better education for children whose families have limited options. However, parents deserve clear and complete information about the risks of using voucher programs, including the loss of procedural safeguards available to students in public schools.

SHOULD TAX DOLLARS BE USED TO DISCRIMINATE?

Anti-LGBT Florida schools getting school vouchers

Suzanne Eckes, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University asks, “Hey citizens of the state of Florida … Do you want your taxpayer money used in this way?”

Do the citizens of Florida want private schools that receive state dollars to be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation? Do they want private schools to be able to refuse service to certain groups of people? The article authors don’t come out and say it, but the answer is, apparently, “yes.”

All of the schools the Sentinel found with anti-gay policies were Christian, with the largest group — about 45 percent — Baptist, not surprising given that the Southern Baptist Convention says Christians must “oppose” homosexuality.

Nearly 40 percent of the schools were non-denominational and a smattering were affiliated with Assemblies of God, Catholic, Lutheran, Nazarene, Pentecostal and Presbyterian Church in America denominations, among others.

There could be more campuses with discriminatory policies, as some private schools that take the scholarships do not publicly post their rules, and a small number don’t have websites.

The schools with these anti-gay rules are found across Central Florida, in suburban DeLand (Stetson Baptist Christian School), near downtown Orlando (Victory Christian Academy) and in historic Mount Dora (Mount Dora Christian Academy). They are in Florida’s rural communities from Okeechobee to the Panhandle and its cities from Miami to St. Petersburg to Tallahassee.

The schools see the proposed legislation as an unconstitutional attack on their religious rights, and many likely wouldn’t change their policies, even if the scholarship law gets amended.

Subsidizing Bigotry

Columnist Sheila Kennedy points out the necessity of public schools.

As the country’s diversity and tribalism have grown, America’s public schools have become more necessary than ever. The public school is one of the last “street corners” where children of different backgrounds and beliefs come together to learn–ideally–not just “reading, writing and arithmetic” but the history and philosophy of the country they share.

Today’s Americans read different books and magazines, visit different websites, listen to different music, watch different television programs, and occupy different social media bubbles. In most communities, we’ve lost a shared daily newspaper. The experiences we do share continue to diminish.

Given this fragmentation, the assaults on public education are assaults on a shared America.

DESPITE BROWN v. BOARD, SEGREGATION CONTINUES UNDER “CHOICE”

Report: Where Parents Have More Choice, Schools Appear To Become More Segregated

Another not-so-hidden “feature” of school “choice” is economic and racial segregation.

…(families) are making judgments about school quality … but they’re basing those judgments often on poor data, on average test scores at a school, which is not a good indicator of school quality. And sometimes all kinds of biases can get in the way too. It looks like, from other research, that white advantaged parents often make decisions based on the number of other white advantaged parents at a school, not based on any real research about school safety or school quality or these kinds of important indicators.

DON’T GET FOOLED LIKE INDIANA

Don’t Be Fooled! Voucher ‘Pilot’ Programs Are A Trap

Legislators use “pilot” programs as ways of getting their pet projects started. Once a program is funded — even as a “pilot” — funding is easier to continue. Changes to the “pilot” program can come later, as in the all-inclusive changes to the Indiana voucher plan. It might begin as a restrictive plan, for certain students “in need.” Given the nature of political donations, however, it will undoubtedly expand…just as Indiana’s plan has expanded.

Last week a South Carolina Senate Education Subcommittee debated SB 556, which would create a new private school voucher program. Before the hearing, Americans United sent a letter to the committee telling its members to reject the bill because vouchers have been shown to harm students’ academic achievement, fail students with disabilities and violate religious freedom.

Sensing that a statewide voucher would be unpopular, some senators offered to make the program a temporary “pilot” or to limit its eligibility to a “narrow” population of students. Hopefully, South Carolina’s legislators won’t buy this false compromise.

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Filed under Article Medleys, Choice, Constitution, DeVos, Indiana, Jefferson, Madison, Privatization, Trump, vouchers

2020 Medley #1: Religious Freedom Day and Vouchers

Religious Freedom Day 2020, Prayer in school, Vouchers in Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee, Why vouchers anyway?

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY

January 16 was Religious Freedom Day.

In 1993 President George H. W. Bush declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. On January 16, 1786, the Virginia House of Delegates, under the leadership of James Madison, passed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In 1992, on that date, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder signed the first proclamation to that effect for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Virginia Statute was the first document to prohibit a state-sponsored church in the new United States. The statute declared “that Almighty God hath created the mind free” and that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

It went on to state that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry…or otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”

The Virginia Statute gave birth to the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

Meanwhile, 234 years later…

PUBLIC SCHOOL PRAYER GUIDELINES

Trump Administration Marks Religious Freedom Day By Mocking That Principle

…we find that the current administration, likely at the behest of its evangelical base, is doing all it can to blur the separation between church and state first expressed in the Virginia Statute.

Prayer in public schools has been a hot topic for decades, and the courts have consistently held that students may pray or express themselves religiously as long as the prayers or expressions do not interfere with the instructional process and aren’t coercive. As Jefferson wrote,

…it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

The administration, however, suggests that non-interference is too much to ask and encourages “student-led” prayer as often as possible. It’s true that some public schools may have overly restricted students’ religious expression, which is the reason the administration gives for updating the rules. However, instead of dealing with those specific issues, the administration has instead chosen to loosen restrictions for all.

The school prayer guidelines look fairly innocuous on the surface, but when you go a little deeper, you see that they promote prayer at every turn and imply that certain types of supposedly “student-led” prayer can be woven into school-sponsored events, a dubious proposition to say the least.

More alarmingly, the guidelines require states to collect and investigate reports of alleged violations of the right to engage in religious activities from public school students and staff. States must forward all of these to federal officials – even the ones that have no merit. Trump’s increasingly theocratic Justice Department will undoubtedly use these stories to harass public schools that are upholding the separation of church and state all over the nation.

MONTANA VOUCHERS

On The Supreme Court’s Docket: Forcing Taxpayers To Pay For Religious Education And Discrimination

In a few days (Jan 22) the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will rule on a Montana voucher plan which the state courts have found to be unconstitutional based on the state Constitution. The new makeup of the SCOTUS, with two newly appointed right-wing justices, will likely result in a finding in favor of vouchers, but perhaps I might just be feeling cynical.

Indiana is, of course, the home of one of the nation’s most expansive voucher programs. Our state supreme court, unlike Montana’s, doesn’t care if our tax money is given to religious groups that discriminate.

It’s clear what Big Sky lawmakers were up to: They wanted to subsidize private religious education, even though Montana’s Constitution contains a provision explicitly protecting residents from being forced to support “direct or indirect” tax aid for religious purposes.

The Montana Supreme Court correctly struck down the plan, calling it a clear violation of the state constitution. More than 90 percent of private school vouchers in Montana funded private religious schools, and 70 percent of all private schools in the state teach a religious curriculum.

The U.S. Supreme Court now will hear the case, which is troubling. The high court’s decision could set a dangerous precedent, eroding church-state separation not just in Montana, but in three-quarters of U.S. states. Voucher proponents have made it crystal clear that they want to pave the way for private school voucher schemes across the country by gutting the religious freedom provisions that exist in the constitutions of at least 37 states.

Not only do private school voucher programs force taxpayers to fund religious education, but they also force taxpayers to fund discrimination. Private religious schools have free rein to discriminate against children and families if they don’t share the school’s religious beliefs, if a student or parent is LGBTQ, if the child has a disability, or if they don’t follow a school’s religious tenets such as accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior or having premarital sex.

WISCONSIN VOUCHERS

Homeowners Fed Up Paying for Two School Systems

Just like Indiana, Wisconsin’s voucher plan takes money away from everyone to pay for religious school vouchers, even in districts that have no voucher accepting schools. The money for vouchers comes out of the “school money” pot first, and then the rest is distributed around to the state’s public school districts. The parents in this particular district are fed up…

“There are more and more people across the state talking about this issue,” Hambuch-Boyle said. “More people are becoming aware that their tax money is supporting private education at the expense of public school students, and they’re not happy about it.”

The first voucher program was instituted in Milwaukee in 1990. It grew to include the Racine school district in 2011 and was expanded across the state two years later. There is also a voucher program for special needs students.

Increased spending for voucher schools means less funding available for the state’s 421 public school districts. Every one of those districts is impacted to some extent because voucher school dollars come from the same state budget fund that pays public schools. Voucher disbursements are made first, before public school disbursements occur.

OHIO VOUCHERS

Two articles from Ohio…one with an interesting voucher twist…an Ohio district is forced to put a tax levy on the ballot in order to pay for increased funding to vouchers!

Ohio’s Budget Bill Multiplies School Vouchers, Leaves Local School Districts in Crisis

I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.

What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year. Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

Education leaders battle over school voucher growth

Washington Local Schools Superintendent Kadee Anstadt said the measures used to designate schools as EdChoice eligible are fundamentally flawed. To illustrate this point, Ms. Anstadt pointed to a school in a neighboring district: Toledo Public Schools’ Chase STEM Academy. Chase is considered one of the most improved schools in the area in recent years, yet it’s still on the EdChoice list.

“So really improvement doesn’t matter so much,” she said. “The list is just ongoing. It’s almost a mathematical formula to include as many people as possible.”

TENNESSEE VOUCHERS

AP Exclusive: State Voucher Violations Leave Details Unknown

Tennessee vouchers are put on a debit card that parents can spend at the school of their “choice.” Apparently, the state didn’t stop to think that some parents might use the money for something else…

Some Tennessee parents were accused of misspending thousands of dollars in school voucher funds while using state-issued debit cards over the past school year, a review by The Associated Press has found, and state officials say they do not know what many of those purchases were for.

The Tennessee voucher program is currently modest in scale but is set to expand under Republican leadership over the next year. The state gives families of children with certain disabilities the option of removing their students from public school and then provides a state-issued debit card loaded with tax dollars to help cover their children’s private school needs.

Privatizer’s dictionary: “choice”

Parents can decide to enroll their children in a private school at the public’s expense. The school, in turn, gets to “choose” whether or not to accept the child.

WHY HAVE VOUCHERS, ANYWAY?

No, private schools aren’t better at educating kids than public schools. Why this new study matters.

Private schools aren’t better than public schools…as this article reporting on research published in 2018 reveals. Indiana’s voucher program was begun — supposedly — to help students “escape” from “failing” schools. Now, after Mike Pence spent his four years as Governor expanding the voucher program, that doesn’t matter. Nearly everyone who wants one can get a voucher for a religious school because… “choice.” The tax money diverted from public schools doesn’t go to religious schools because they’re better, but just because parents want to avoid the public schools for one reason or another.

It’s interesting that state legislatures don’t provide vouchers to private country clubs, for example, for people who want to avoid public parks…or vouchers to book stores for people who don’t want to use the public library. Only private schools get vouchers…the vast majority of them, religious schools.

Despite evidence showing otherwise, it remains conventional wisdom in many parts of the education world that private schools do a better job of educating students, with superior standardized test scores and outcomes. It is one of the claims that some supporters of school choice make in arguing that the public should pay for private school education.

The only problem? It isn’t true, a new study confirms.

University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.

The results confirm what earlier research found but are especially important amid a movement to privatize public education — encouraged by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — based in part on the faulty assumption that public schools are inferior to private ones.

Privatizer’s dictionary: “failing school”

A school is considered “failing” when a large percentage of its students score too low, according to an arbitrarily determined cut-score, on a standardized test. This low “achievement” can be caused by poverty, hunger, joblessness, illness, violence and other outside influences that have a deleterious effect on student achievement over which schools have no control. To call a school which finds itself in such a situation “failing” is to abrogate the responsibility of government. To be sure, school leaders have the responsibility to keep order, hire qualified staff, and provide an appropriate curriculum, and in that sense, perhaps a school can be failing. However, if the outside environment in which students spend the bulk of their time is working in opposition to learning, then there’s not much that schools can do without adequate resources.

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The Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791

(Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post on the Bill of Rights)

The United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was ratified on this date, December 15, in 1791.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: CURRENT CIVIC KNOWLEDGE

The First Amendment within the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, religion, a free press, assembly, and petition.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

Today, many Americans are unfamiliar with the details of the First Amendment. The recent State of the First Amendment Survey from the Freedom Forum Institute revealed that Americans’ knowledge of the First Amendment is lacking.

71 percent of Americans could name at least one of the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment and nearly two-thirds of those surveyed knew that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment (64%), but far fewer could identify any of the other First Amendment rights: 29% identified freedom of religion; 22% named freedom of the press; 12% named freedom of assembly, and only 4% said the right to petition the government was a First Amendment freedom.

In addition, 16 percent of those who took the recent survey thought that the First Amendment protected Americans’ right to bear arms, instead of the Second Amendment.

The apparent ignorance of Americans about their own government, while slightly improved from previous years, is disheartening.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: RELIGION

As a child, I listened to my grandfather tell stories about growing up in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia). One story which stands out in my memory was about his hiding in their home during one of the frequent pogroms against the Jewish communities. He emerged when it was over only to be told that his grandfather had been killed by the Tzar’s cossacks.

That story has given me a strong feeling of gratitude to the American Founders for the First Amendment. Because of its scope, the First Amendment is, to me, the full expression of the intent of America. It acknowledges the freedom of thought which is, as Jefferson (or possibly another member of the Committee of the Five) put it, the unalienable right of every citizen.

The guarantee of religious freedom is that part of the first amendment which comes to mind when I think about my grandfather’s story, and for that we have Jefferson (The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) and Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments) to thank.

The Virginia Statute was the first time an English speaking country or colony, in this case, the Colony of Virginia, DE-ESTABLISHED the state-sponsored church and gave full religious freedom to people of both all religious faiths and no religious faith. Because of Jefferson’s leadership in this context, when my grandfather became a citizen in the early part of the 20th century, he was not taxed to pay for a state-sponsored religion, and he was given the same rights of citizenship as everyone else.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: SPEECH

Eleanor Roosevelt said,

…freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.

The First Amendment provides Americans with great freedom…which we tend to take for granted.

We have the freedom to misunderstand, ignore, or be ignorant of, the responsibilities of citizenship. Freedom of Speech is one area where many people do not seem to understand the relationship between freedom and responsibility.

Simply put, Americans’ right to self-expression is extensive, but there are limits. You can say what you want unless you’re putting others in danger (e.g. shouting “fire” in a crowded theater), or lying about someone or group of someones (e.g. libel laws). For a comprehensive discussion of limits to free speech, see United States free speech exceptions.

Consequences

Finally, within the limits discussed above, we can say what we want, but with that freedom-with-responsibility comes consequences.

This concept is difficult for some Americans to understand. If you call your boss a vulgar name, you won’t be arrested for your speech, but chances are you will be looking for another job. If you make a controversial statement, you will likely be criticized.

Criticism of your speech is not an abridgment of your right to say it. Criticism of a political candidate’s speech is not an abridgment of his or her right to say things. When a controversial speaker is denied a platform by a University or civic group, the speaker’s Freedom of Speech is not abridged. The speaker is free to speak to other groups or write and publish his ideas.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans expressed the mistaken belief that

…social media companies violate users’ First Amendment rights when they ban users based on objectionable content they post.

Private companies, like social media groups, can restrict one’s speech. The First Amendment guarantee of free speech protects citizens from government censorship.

The First Amendment protects individuals from government censorship. Social media platforms are private companies, and can censor what people post on their websites as they see fit.

There are way too many Americans who believe that criticism of someone’s opinions is akin to restricting their freedom of speech. It’s just not so.

THERE ARE TEN AMENDMENTS…

…in the Bill of Rights. I’ve discussed the First Amendment. The Second Amendment is the source of quite a bit of political debate. My answer to the debate on the Second Amendment is simple…if the Supreme Court has allowed the government to define limits to the rights enumerated in the First Amendment, we should be able to define limits to the Second Amendment as well. The political arguments, then, are reduced to the extent of those limits (i.e. assault weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, etc.).

The other amendments are even less known, less understood, and less discussed. They include, for example, the right to a

…fair, speedy and public trial, an impartial jury, a notice of the accusation, and the confrontation of witnesses. The Seventh Amendment protects the right to a trial by jury in civil court cases.

Other amendments guarantee equal protection under the law and due process, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, protection against excessive bail, and protection against self-incrimination.

How much do our children learn about the Constitution and the Amendments?

CIVIC EDUCATION

Understanding how our government works should be an essential part of the education of American citizens. Unfortunately, the obsession with standardized tests in U.S. schools has pushed out content areas including Social Studies and Civics.

Jefferson wrote,

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be…

In order to maintain our freedom, it’s the responsibility of every citizen to understand the basis of, and the processes involved, in running our nation. It’s our responsibility as a society to give every citizen the opportunity to learn how the government works, our rights under the law, and our responsibilities as citizens. When we neglect the Civics Education of our children, we fail in our duty to raise up the next generation of citizens.

How’s your civics knowledge? Take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Civics Practice Test.

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Filed under Civics, Constitution, FirstAmendment, Jefferson, Madison, Religion

2019 Medley #2

N.J. Charters, “Bible Literacy” Courses,
Teacher Shortage, Kg Readiness,
IN General Assembly, L.A. Strike, Vouchers, Science Facts, Happy Birthday Jackie Robinson!

FALSE PROMISES

Broken Promises: Camden’s “Renaissance” Charter Schools

We keep looking for ways to fix public schools, but it’s just as important for us look for ways to fix inequity and poverty. Our schools are just a mirror, reflecting the societal conditions our policy-makers, and we the voters, are unable or unwilling to correct. Until we focus on the source of the problem — that some people are given rights and privileges denied to others — we’ll continue to fail.

[emphasis in original]

Students who enter charter school lotteries are not equivalent to students who don’t. Plenty of research backs this up (see the lit review in this paper for a good summary of this research). Combine this with the high attrition rates in many “successful” charters, and the high suspension rates at many more, and you have a system designed to separate students by critical family characteristics that do not show up in student enrollment data.

…It’s important to note that the Camden City Public Schools do not have the luxury of setting caps on enrollments, deciding which grades to serve, or not enrolling students who move in after the kindergarten year. Everyone in Camden must get a seat at a CCPS school. But only a lucky subset of students get to attend a renaissance school.

 

“BIBLE LITERACY” COURSES

The Threat Behind Public School ‘Bible Literacy’ Courses

Not all of America’s public school students are Christian. Not all Christians in the United States use the same translation of The Bible. When we try to include religious texts in school we run up against the problem of whose version of the text to use, which religious texts should be included, and which religions or sects to include. Teachers who teach such courses need to be well-versed in the law making sure they don’t express a preference for one religion, sect, religious text, or version of a religious text over another.

This is one of the reasons that the First Amendment separates church from state. Madison, the author of the first amendment, grew to recognize the need for the separation of church and state through…

…his own personal experiences in Virginia, where Anglicanism was the officially established creed and any attempt to spread another religion in public could lead to a jail term.

Early in 1774, Madison learned that several Baptist preachers were behind bars in a nearby county for public preaching. On Jan. 24, an enraged Madison wrote to his friend William Bradford in Philadelphia about the situation…Madison wrote. “This vexes me the most of anything whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Gaol [jail] for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither the patience to hear talk or think anything relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.”

The current crop of Bible-in-public-school bills does nothing more than attempt to inject religion into public schools. Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse, in his bill, SB 373, makes it especially plain that this is his goal since his bill adds “creation science” into the mix.

Often, these courses are just a cover to bring a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible into public schools. Essentially, they’re Sunday School lessons masquerading as legitimate instruction.

…Let’s not be misled: Barton, the backers of Project Blitz and other far-right groups behind this new push aren’t interested in truly objective classes about the Bible in public schools. They want classes that indoctrinate children in a specific religious perspective – theirs.

NO TEACHER SHORTAGE

There Is No Teacher Shortage

This post by Peter Greene (the first of two in here) explains that the teacher shortage is the result of stagnant working conditions and lack of respect for teachers.

For almost twenty years (at least) the profession has been insulted and downgraded. Reformy idea after reformy idea has been based on the notion that teachers can’t be trusted, that teachers can’t do their job, that teachers won’t do their jobs unless threatened. Teachers have been straining to lift the huge weight of education, and instead of showing up to help, wave after wave of policy maker, politician and wealthy dilettante have shown up to holler, “What’s wrong with you, slacker! Let me tell you how it’s supposed to be done.” And in the meantime, teachers have seen their job defined down to Get These Kids Ready For A Bad Standardized Test.

And pay has stagnated or, in some states, been inching backwards. And not just pay, but financial support for schools themselves so that teachers must not only make do with low pay, but they must also make do with bare bones support for their workplace.

And because we’ve been doing this for two decades, every single person who could be a potential new teacher has grown up thinking that this constant disrespect, this job of glorified clerk and test prep guide, is the normal status quo for a teacher.

 

KINDERGARTEN READINESS MAY NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS

MD: Failing Five Year Olds

When I began teaching my first class of third graders (after a half year of teaching kindergarten) I discovered that the achievement range of my 38 students was much larger than I had imagined. Some students were reading several years above grade level, and some were reading one or two years below grade level. One student in particular, John*, was reading at a pre-primer level. In retrospect it was plain that this child was a candidate for special education, but, as a first-year teacher in a system with minimal provisions for special needs children (at least at that time), I was responsible for figuring out what to do to help him learn to read.

What should a teacher do with a child reading at a pre-primer level in third grade? I decided that I would do the same for him as I did for the students who were reading several grade levels above average. I would provide material at his level. That meant that John wouldn’t be exposed to grade-level reading material. In other words, I changed the curriculum to fit his needs, rather than make a futile attempt to force him into a curriculum in which he would fail, become frustrated, and learn to hate reading. The latter is what many schools have forced teachers to do since No Child Left Behind.

* not his real name

…it is not a five year old’s job to be ready for kindergarten– it is kindergarten’s job to be ready for the five year olds. If a test shows that the majority of littles are not “ready” for your kindergarten program, then the littles are not the problem– your kindergarten, or maybe your readiness test, is the problem…if you still think that children raised in poor families have “too many” needs, then maybe start asking how you can ameliorate the problems of poverty that are getting in the way.

NO VOTER INPUT FOR EDUCATION POLICY IN INDIANA

Bill gives governor unusual power over schools

I wrote about a related issue in this bill last week. This bill, should it become law, would mean that the State Superintendent of Public Instruction would be an appointed position beginning in 2021, rather than a position voted on by the citizens. Since members of the State Board of Education are also appointed, the voters will have no direct input in the state’s education policy except through the governor.

Governor Holcomb will be the one to appoint the Secretary of Education which means that of the eleven members of the SBOE, nine will be appointed by the Governor and one each by the Speaker of the House, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

With HB 1005, Indiana would become one of 15 states where the governor appoints the chief state school officer. The most common procedure – used in 21 states — is for the state board of education to appoint the chief state school officer.

Indiana’s governor appoints members of the state board of education; so, with approval of the bill, the governor will control both the setting and administering of education policy.

In states where the governor appoints the chief state school officer, the governor has total power to appoint state board members in only Iowa, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia. In other states, board members are elected; or they are chosen by the governor but confirmed by the legislature.

The House approved the measure Thursday by a vote of 70-29, with most of the yes votes coming from Republicans and most of the no votes from Democrats. It rejected a Democratic-sponsored amendment to require the secretary of education to have experience in education.

L.A. TEACHERS STRIKE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Los Angeles teachers went on strike for our schools – and the country

Americans still prioritize now over future. We have cut funding for public schools through actual reductions and through the transference of tax funds from public schools to charter and voucher schools. Indiana, for example, paid $154 million to school voucher schools. The actual cost of charter schools is much more difficult to find, but a Duke University study of charters’ impact on North Carolina schools determined that

…charter school growth results in a “large and negative fiscal impact” on the districts evaluated.

and

…the findings are consistent with previous studies and show that charter growth generally results in a lower quality of education for students who remain in a district’s traditional public schools.

The Los Angeles teachers who went on strike earlier this month didn’t strike only for more pay and benefits. They were offered a 6% increase before the strike. They accepted a 6% increase to end the strike. What they gained were improvements to the learning conditions of the students in the form of lowered class sizes and much-needed wraparound services.

It was clear, however, that part of the problem with funding in Los Angeles and California, as well as in other parts of the country, is that money is being diverted from public schools to privately run charter schools. States can’t afford to support multiple school systems.

We believe every student, however challenged, ought to have access to success. And we know that in our classes with more than 40 students, there are often five or 10 with special needs and another 10 or 15 still learning English as a second language while as many as half or two-thirds are homeless or in foster care or in a continual state of crisis. Students collapse in class from hunger and stress and fatigue and depression.

Overcrowded classrooms are a brutal expression that our students don’t matter. They are someone else’s kids – and all too often they are no one’s kids. No one except the dedicated teachers who every day give a damn about them. And we’re going to keep giving a damn and hope that one day those in power give a damn.

 

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

Side effects in education: Winners and losers in school voucher programs

One size does not fit all. Some teaching methods work for some children, other methods work for other students. Some schools are better for some students, other schools are better for others.

Think about this in terms of the evaluation of teachers, for example. Teacher A might be able to help student A, who is homeless, adjust to school, while Teacher B may not. But Teacher B’s classes usually have higher test scores. If you were the parent of student A which teacher would you want for your child?

As much as we might want to seek a perfect solution for all students, one student’s medicine may very well be another one’s poison. As students’ characteristics and education treatments interact, negative side effects may occur. Funding private schools with public dollars probably does not affect all students positively in a uniform fashion. To date, studies of school voucher programs have found their effects to vary among different populations of students.

Moreover, besides the side effects resulting from the interactions between students’ characteristics and education treatments, side effects also occur because of the broad range of desirable and potentially competing education outcomes. So far, evidence of the effects of voucher programs has been limited to a narrow set of outcomes such as academic achievement. Little, if any, empirical evidence has been collected concerning other equally important outcomes of schooling, such as preparing students for civic engagement and betterment of a shared society (Abowitz & Stitzlein, 2018; Labaree, 2018). Thus, we do not know their effects, negative or positive, on other important outcomes. It is, however, reasonable to believe that voucher programs and other forms of privatization of education can have negative side effects on individual students, the public school system, and the society (Labaree, 2018).

A WARNING

The most disturbing news yet

I recently saw a discussion on social media where someone stated…

“Science is facts. Theory is not yet science.”

After a quick facepalm, I responded with the article, “Just a Theory”: 7 Misused Science Words. This didn’t work, of course, because the person in question had been “educated” at a “Bible Institute.” He was obviously mistaught basic science concepts.

This is what we are up against. When the effects of climate change are no longer deniable, these same people will, at that point, point to “god” and claim we are being punished for allowing gay marriage, transgender soldiers, unisex bathrooms, or some such nonsense. Until that time, they will go along with the right-wing talking point denying climate change claiming it’s just a conspiracy to get more money for scientists.

In the meantime, there are places where insects are disappearing and the entire food chain is at risk. Those places shouldn’t be taken as exceptions, but rather as warnings.

“I don’t think most people have a systems view of the natural world,” he said. “But it’s all connected and when the invertebrates are declining the entire food web is going to suffer and degrade. It is a system-wide effect.”

…We are part of a complex web of interdependencies, and it’s also a non-linear dynamical system. There’s a word for when parts of such a system show a pattern of failure: it’s called catastrophe. By the time you notice it, it’s too late to stop it.

JACKIE ROBINSON – JANUARY 31, 1919

Tomorrow is Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” — Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson Tribute: Baseball Hall of Fame.

📚📝📖

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We’re All Civics Teachers – Constitution Day, 2018

Reposted and updated from 2017.

WE’RE ALL CIVICS TEACHERS

A middle school social studies teacher once commented to me that he had trouble teaching his curriculum because so many of the students in his classroom were reading “below grade level.” My response was, “We’re all reading teachers.”

A few days ago, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released its annual Constitution Day Civics Survey. The results of the survey suggest that we’re all civics teachers, as well – or we ought to be.

The survey found that Americans don’t know enough about how our government works. Some highlights:

  • A quarter (27 percent) incorrectly said the Constitution allows the president to ignore a Supreme Court ruling if the president believes the ruling is wrong;
  • A plurality (41 percent) incorrectly said that both the House and Senate must approve before a nominee becomes a justice on the Supreme Court (30 percent correctly know that the Senate alone confirms);
  • Only a third of Americans (32 percent) can name all three branches of government.

 

BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT

It’s only slightly comforting that Americans probably know that we have the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights even though they might now know which Amendment they’re in. But it is very disturbing (at least to me) that only about one-third of Americans surveyed can name all three branches of the government.

Can you?

Can you name the President Pro Tempore of the Senate? Did you know that he is third in line for the presidency after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House? (It’s Orrin Hatch. Are you surprised that it isn’t Mitch McConnell?)

How many members of the House of Representatives are there? How was that number arrived at? What is the “System of checks and balances?” How many members are there of the Supreme Court? Why did the founders decide that the President should be chosen by Electors instead of the people themselves?

THE AMENDMENTS

(The following information is from the 2017 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey)

While 37% of those surveyed couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, most could name at least one. Freedom of Speech was the answer the largest group of people gave (48%), but, as the chart below illustrates, the other rights guaranteed are unrecognized at an abysmal level.

Now, my guess is that most Americans know we have freedom of religion and a free press, but just don’t know that it’s the First Amendment which guarantees those freedoms. Still, it’s distressing that only 1 in 7 Americans know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, especially now, considering the way the press is being treated by the current administration.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution comprise the Bill of Rights. They were written (by James Madison, with edits from various sources) to appease the Anti-Federalists who were holding up the ratification of the Constitution. They were written to give the people specific rights not listed in the body of the Constitution. It’s concerning that Americans are ignorant of their content.

THE RIGHT TO BE IGNORANT

In his comments about the Annenberg Survey, blogger Ed Brayton asked

…can a democracy really function effectively when the voters are this ignorant about such basic matters of government?

WE’RE ALL CIVICS TEACHERS

On September 17, 1787, 231 years ago today, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, signed the Constitution of the United States. It was ratified nine months later and went into effect 18 months after that.

The challenge: Teach it. We all need to be civics teachers!

🙋🏽‍♂️🇺🇸🙋🏻

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Listen to This #4

Recent quotes and comments…

THE AMERICAN FRONT

Reflections on Noblesville shooting: Our schools shouldn’t be war zones

When did sending our children to school become the same as sending our sons and daughters off to war?

From Elaine Monaghan

I know my children are in a war zone because at least once a month they practice getting shot at.

MAY 7, 1945

Defeated Neo-Nazi Candidate Patrick Little Thinks He Actually Came In ‘First Or Second’

Thankfully, this candidate lost decisively, but the fact that nearly 55 thousand people voted for him is disheartening.

May 7, 1945 is the date of the Nazi surrender in World War II. There are thousands of Americans who apparently wish to reverse that defeat.

From Jared Holt

Patrick Little, the neo-Nazi candidate who sought to represent California in the U.S. Senate, received 54,507 votes, giving him a dismal 1.4 percent of the popular vote and ending his chances of challenging Sen. Diane Feinstein in 2018.

Scene at German surrender in World War II, Reims, France, May 7, 1945.
Ralph Morse—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

TEACHING IN AMERICA

There is No Dignity in Teaching

A Must Read: Teachers take care of our children…sometimes at the expense of their own…

From Kelly LaLonde

There is no dignity in teaching.

We are blamed for the ills of society. We are tasked to perform miracles every day. We are told “I pay your salary, you work for me.” by parents who don’t like their kids’ grades. We are called racist, lazy, discriminatory, and overpaid. We are told over and over again that we are failing our kids.

INDIANA’S TEACHERS

Teacher pay in Indiana continues its downward slide

…and this is how we reward them?

From Carmen McCollum

In Indiana, teacher pay has suffered the biggest inflation-adjusted drop since the 1999-2000 school year, according to the Department of Education: Teachers now earn almost 16 percent less than they did two decades ago.

APATHY WINS THE POPULAR VOTE

Public Schools and Donald Trump

We can no longer afford to be apathetic. Less that 26% of eligible voters elected President Trump.

From John Merrow

…if “not voting” had been a choice, it would have won the popular vote in every presidential election since at least 1916.

INVEST IN OUR CHILDREN

We know the “root cause” of poor school performance.

Krashen’s “voice in the wilderness” reminding us to invest in our children.

From Stephen Krashen

…until we eliminate poverty, we can do a lot to protect students from the negative impact of poverty. Children of poverty suffer from food deprivation, lack of medical care and lack of access to books, each of which effects school performance. We can invest more in food programs, improved medical care (eg school nurses), and libraries and librarians.

We don’t have to worry about “improving teaching and classroom practice.” The best teaching in the world will have no effect if students are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.

FALSE PATRIOTS

Marijuana Arrest Statistics Show Racist Nature of Our ‘Justice’ System

My comment for the quote below from Ed Brayton is with a quote from Carl Schurz; “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

From Ed Brayton

Fake patriots — tribal nationalists — view any such criticism as hating America. The opposite is true. Some of us care enough about our country to demand that it do the right thing. The rest are just mindless cheerleaders for the status quo.

DEVOS AND THE DRIVE TO EXPAND VOUCHERS NATIONWIDE

Religious Vouchers

Public education is a public good and a public responsibility. The purpose of religious schools is the furthering of a particular set of religious principles. Giving tax dollars to religious schools is in direct conflict with the establishment clause of the first amendment. The Betsy DeVos/Mike Pence/Donald Trump quest for national vouchers is not constitutional.

From Peter Greene

…it’s not just a matter of “It’s my kid so I’ll teach her what I want to” personal freedom, because every student who gets this kind of education is one more misinformed uneducated person released into society, and that damages and diminishes us as a country. When uninformed miseducated hold jobs, or raise children of their own, or vote, bad things happen that cause problems for everybody.

The two following quotes are more than two hundred years old. They are from two of the men who founded The Republic. We should not allow public money to be spent for religious schools.

Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, [ca. 20 June] 1785

From James Madison

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

From Thomas Jefferson

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever…

🎤🎤🎤

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The Bill of Rights, 1791

The United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was ratified on this date, December 15, in 1791.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: CURRENT CIVIC IGNORANCE

The First Amendment within the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, religion, a free press, assembly, and petition.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

Today, many Americans are unfamiliar with the details of the First Amendment. The recent Annenberg Center civics survey revealed that American’s knowledge of the First Amendment is sorely lacking.

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government.

The chart below shows the number associated with each First Amendment guaranteed Freedom, as well as the percent of people who included things which are not included in the First Amendment (6, 7, and 8). A full 37% of Americans surveyed could not name even one freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The apparent ignorance of Americans about their own government is disheartening.

[For a recent example, see the TV interview with a spokesman for a U.S. Senatorial campaign and his ignorance of the Constitution.]

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: RELIGION

As a child, I listened to my grandfather tell stories about growing up in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia). One story which stands out in my memory was about his hiding in their home during one of the frequent pogroms against the Jewish communities. He emerged when it was over only to be told that his grandfather had been killed by the Tzar’s cossacks.

That story has given me a strong feeling of gratitude to the American Founders for the First Amendment. Because of its scope, the First Amendment is, to me, the full expression of the intent of America. It acknowledges the freedom of thought which is, as Jefferson (or possibly another member of the Committee of the Five) put it, the unalienable right of every citizen.

The guarantee of religious freedom is that part of the first amendment which comes to mind when I think about my grandfather’s story, and for that we have Jefferson (The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) and Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments) to thank.

The Virginia Statute was the first time an English speaking country or colony, in this case, the Colony of Virginia, DE-ESTABLISHED the state-sponsored church and gave full religious freedom to people of both all religious faiths and no religious faith. Because of Jefferson’s leadership in this context, when my grandfather became a citizen in the early part of the 20th century, he was not taxed to pay for a state-sponsored religion, and he was given the same rights of citizenship as everyone else.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: SPEECH

Eleanor Roosevelt said,

…freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.

The First Amendment provides Americans with great freedom…which we tend to take for granted.

We have the freedom to misunderstand, ignore, or be ignorant of, the responsibilities of citizenship. Freedom of Speech is one area where many people do not seem to understand the relationship between freedom and responsibility.

Simply put, Americans’ right to self-expression is extensive, but there are limits. You can say what you want, unless you’re putting others in danger (e.g. shouting “fire” in a crowded theater), or lying about someone or group of someones (e.g. libel laws). For a comprehensive discussion of limits to free speech, see United States free speech exceptions.

Consequences

Finally, within the limits discussed above, we can say what we want, but with that freedom-with-responsibility comes consequences.

This concept is difficult for some Americans to understand. If you call your boss a vulgar name, you won’t be arrested for your speech, but chances are you will be looking for another job. If you make a controversial statement, you will likely be criticized.

Criticism of your speech is not an abridgment of your right to say it. Criticism of a political candidate’s speech is not an abridgment of his or her right to say things. When a controversial speaker is denied a platform by a University or civic group, the speaker’s Freedom of Speech is not abridged. The speaker is free to speak to other groups, or write and publish his ideas.

There are way too many Americans who believe that criticism of someone’s opinions is akin to restricting their freedom of speech. It’s just not so.

CIVIC EDUCATION

Understanding how our government works should be an essential part of the education of American citizens. Unfortunately, the obsession with standardized tests in U.S. schools has pushed out content areas including Social Studies and Civics. It’s time to change that.

Jefferson wrote,

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be…

In order to maintain our freedom it’s the responsibility of every citizen to understand the basis of, and the processes involved, in running our nation. It’s our responsibility as a society to give every citizen the opportunity to learn how the government works, our rights under the law, and our responsibilities as citizens. When we neglect the Civics Education of our children, we fail in our duty to raise up the next generation of citizens.

We require immigrants to learn basic Civics in order to attain citizenship. We ought to require the same for our children.

How’s your civics knowledge? Take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Civics Practice Test.

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