Posted in Florida, Religion, School Prayer, SchoolShootings

The Lord Hates a Lying Tongue

A response to those who claim school shootings are because we’ve “removed God from school.”

A few hours after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida I saw the following in my Facebook feed…

WE INTERRUPT THIS POST TO ADD…

This…

I was finished writing this and was just about to post it when I was distracted by an article from the Washington Post about the Florida House of Representatives.

The day after they rejected an assault weapons ban and passed a resolution against pornography, the Florida House of Representatives voted to require all public schools to display the state motto: In God We Trust.

Rep. Kim Daniels (R), who runs a ministry, said it would help provide needed “light” in the state’s schools, according to the Tampa Bay Times. It quoted her as saying: “He is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is not black or white. He is the light, and our schools need light in them like never before.”

While telling other House members why she thought it was important to pass the legislation, she said: “We cannot put God in a closet when the issues we face are bigger than us.”

Presumably, the members of the Florida House believe having “God” displayed in the school would have stopped Nikolas Cruz from killing 17 people. The vote on the bill was 97-10. House members applauded after it was passed.

Question: How many of those 97 House members received campaign contributions from the NRA?

HAS GOD BEEN BANNED FROM SCHOOLS?

The meme above claims that God is not allowed in school. It implies that since the Supreme Court banned school (government) sponsored prayer in public schools, God has somehow been removed.

First of all, I think most conservative Christians – for example, someone who might have posted such a meme – believe their God is everywhere. If that’s the case, then no act by mere humans can remove God. Do they believe that the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to eliminate their God from a particular location? I doubt it.

Do they believe that God ignores children and ceases to watch over them the moment they enter a public school? The children, after all, aren’t the ones who made the decision stopping government sponsored prayer. Why should they be punished?

What about school shootings at parochial schools? The Supreme Court decision didn’t force private religious schools to stop praying with their students. Was God not allowed in the Christian university near Oakland in 2012 where seven people were killed? What about the shooting at the Apostolic Revival Center and Christian School in Fort Myers, Florida, or the Agape Christian Academy in Pine Hills, Florida? Were those schools stripped of their God by the SCOTUS? Was there no prayer allowed in any of those schools? Were the children and young adults who attended those schools somehow unworthy of their God’s protection?

Churches, too. The nine people who died at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston S.C. and the twenty-six people who died at the Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas were surely under God’s protection. How did that happen?

Apparently “allowing” God and prayer in a building won’t stop bullets.

PRAYER IS ALLOWED!

That meme is false. Prayer IS allowed in public schools as long as it doesn’t disrupt the educational process.

Students can pray before or after school, before they eat, before they take a test, at recess, or during a time when they are working on their own as long as they don’t interrupt the learning process or harass other students with aggressive proselytization.

Students can express their religious beliefs in their school work, as long as their work fulfills the requirements of the assignment. In other words, if I assign a science experiment dealing with the nature of sound, I would not expect to see information about my students’ religious beliefs. On the other hand, if I ask the students to write about something important to them, their religious beliefs might be an appropriate topic.

Schools are governmental institutions. Teachers and administrators, as agents of a governmental institution, may not lead students in prayer.

Simply put, individual, non-disruptive prayer is allowed in public schools. Government sponsored prayer is not.

Read that again.

Individual, non-disruptive prayer is allowed in public schools. Government sponsored prayer is not.

As I wrote last month in Public School Prayer and the Constitution – Conflict in Louisiana

…every child, in every public school in America, already has the right to pray whenever they want to as long as they don’t disrupt the learning process and as long as they don’t harass their fellow students.

According to the Joint Statement of Current Law and Religion in the Public Schools, a document signed by 35 religious and civic groups,

Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive…

[Note: The Joint Statement clearly explains what sorts of things are and are not allowed. Teachers who are interested in exploring the subject further should also read A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools.]

And according to A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools from the First Amendment Center,

Didn’t the Supreme Court rule against student prayer in public schools?

No. The Supreme Court has struck down state sponsored or state-organized prayer in public schools. The Court has interpreted the First Amendment to mean that government must be neutral among religions and between religion and nonreligion. This means that school officials may not organize, mandate, or participate in student religious activities, including prayer…

It seems, then, that God has not been banned from public schools. Students’ private, non-disruptive prayers have not been banned from public schools. The meme at the top of this post is misleading at best, and, at worst, a lie. The repeated deaths of school children is not about prayer (or lack thereof), but about the fact that, in the U.S. we simply don’t care about our nation’s children.

A LIE

I’ve read that not telling the truth, or “bearing false witness” is something to be avoided. People who perpetuate the lie that God and prayer are somehow “not allowed” in public schools should research that topic, I think.

They might start with Proverbs 6:16-19.

~~~

UPDATE: See also James Kirylo: God Never Left Our Public Schools

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Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Privatization, reform, Religion, SchoolShootings, TeacherShortage, vouchers

2018 Medley #3

School Shootings, Religion in School, Teacher Shortage, Reform, Charters, Vouchers

GUN VIOLENCE

Wake Up, America! You Have a School Shooting Problem!

Since this blog post of Steven Singer’s was posted less than a week ago, we’ve had yet another school shooting…this one in Los Angeles. And we have heard talk of a Trump/Russia/NRA connection

What has been done to curb gun violence in the US since Newtown (2012)? Columbine (1999)?

“Thoughts and prayers…” Absolutely nothing.

According to an FBI study that looked at incidents from 2000-2013, nearly one quarter of all U.S. shootings took place at schools. And they’re on the rise.

Yet this latest incident barely raised an eyebrow in the collective consciousness.

Hardly anyone even attempted to offer a solution.

The reason?

Since Sandy Hook, we’ve effectively given up.

In December of 2012 a gunman walked in to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six adults, and we did nothing.

We stood by after the murder of elementary kids and couldn’t get up the collective energy to do one damn thing to stop things like this from happening again.

No new regulations.

No assault weapons ban.

No gun buyback programs.

NOTHING.

CHURCH AND STATE

Local School to Train Teachers After Church/State Violations

Last Monday (1/29/2018), I posted Public School Prayer and the Constitution – Conflict in Louisiana which dealt with a lawsuit against a school for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

This case from Michigan, deals with the same sort of thing. Here, however, school authorities have made a commitment to teach their teachers about the law.

Here are three more publications, each endorsed by a variety of religious and civic groups, which will give you a good background on how to handle religion in public schools.

Once teachers, administrators, and other school employees know what the law requires, there should be no excuse for mixing education and proselytization in public schools. This information ought to be mandatory at the beginning of every school year.

A suit may still be filed over the Bible study before school starts, but this is a good development overall. And it needs to be replicated nationwide. These problems are so pervasive all over the country that the Department of Education should force all public schools to have a mandatory in-service day to train teachers and administrators on what the law says they can and cannot do within the parameters of the First Amendment.

REFORM/TEACHER SHORTAGE

Cycle of frustration

The constant drumbeat of so-called “education reform” has been that public schools are “failing.” “School failure” really means societal failure. It’s odd, isn’t it, that America’s “failing” public schools are located in high poverty areas…and all the “bad teachers” are teaching at those schools while America’s schools for the middle class and wealthy are excelling. It’s odd because out of school factors contribute to school achievement much more than teachers do…yet policy makers don’t accept responsibility for societal failure which leads to “school failure.”

The national attack on public education which began in earnest in 2001 with the passage of No Child Left Behind (though school privatization has long been a right-wing/libertarian dream) has done nothing but disrupt and damage public schools around the country. Part of the attack, especially here in Indiana, has been against public school teachers and their unions.

The current attempt to improve educational achievement by lowering standards for becoming a teacher, is a direct result of the attacks on teachers.

[Note: the amendment discussed in this editorial has not yet been passed into law (as of Feb 2, 2018).]

The pattern in Indiana education policy has become all too familiar:

1. Pass a law to disrupt public education in the pursuit of “reform.”

2. Express dismay over the repercussions of the new law without acknowledging what caused them.

3. Pass another law to “fix” the problems created, doing additional harm to public schools.

The most recent example surfaced Wednesday when a last-minute amendment was added to a bill to allow public schools to fill up to 10 percent of staff with unlicensed teachers. Why is this necessary? Because some school districts are struggling to hire faculty in the face of teacher shortages. Why are there shortages? Because laws regarding teacher evaluations, tenure and collective bargaining have made the field less attractive.

REFORM

The Sad Impact of Corporate School Reform on Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities

Thanks to Nancy Bailey for her continuing attention to the damage that so-called education “reform” causes students with disabilities.

School choice is not going to do anything to fix these problems.

  • Charters and most private schools have a record of pushing kids with emotional/behavioral difficulties out.
  • As taxpayers we don’t know what takes place with children who are home schooled.
  • How does one address the mental health needs of students who sit in front of screens for school? Too much tech exacerbates mental health problems!

We need strong public schools, schools with resources that will address the needs of children and teens.

PRIVATIZATION: CHARTERS

Nationwide Charter School Expansion Slowing Down

Some reasons for the slow-down of charter school expansion…

1. Charter teachers have begun to unionize. One reason for developing charter schools was to “bust the teachers unions.”

2. “Failing” charter schools are simply converting to voucher accepting private schools to continue to receive public tax dollars.

3. Charter schools have suffered from an excessive number of scandals resulting in bad publicity.

Diverting public tax dollars to charters (and vouchers) has been a waste of money. Instead we should be working to increase resources and achievement at real public schools.

Put simply, charters are not subject to the same instructional, operational, fiscal, accounting or conflict of interest rules as traditional public schools. Therefore, in most states it’s perfectly legal for a charter school operator to give his brother the instructional contract, his sister the maintenance contract and his uncle the textbook contract. He can replace the teachers with computer programs and apps, while his own privately held company rents and leases the school building at a hefty markup – all with public money.

And somehow that’s still called a “public” school.

We have to face this simple fact: Charters took off not because they were a good idea to help kids learn, but because they were an excellent way to make a lot of money off of the government. It was a way to steal money meant to help children.

Largest Charter School Fail Ever Doesn’t Faze ‘School Choice’ Fans

The failure of this “school choice” was mostly ignored during “school choice” week.

In the run up to what was billed as “record breaking celebrations” of charter schools and other forms of “school choice,” there was a serious bump in the road when news outlets in Ohio reported the largest charter school closure ever in that state, and perhaps the nation, had suddenly sent over 12,000 students and their families scrambling to find new schools midyear.

…“My kids went to bed last night crying,” said a Cincinnati mom whose children attended the school.

“To just rip them out of the environment they are most used to,” complained another mom whose children had attended the school for eight years. “They have relationships with their teachers,” she said in a news video posted on the ECOT Facebook page.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

How Mike Pence expanded Indiana’s controversial voucher program when he was governor

More and more money for private schools coming out of public tax dollars…which eats into money for the public schools.

Where does the money go? To whom are the private schools accountable? Where is the public oversight? Answers – No one knows…no one…and there is none.

Pence, who describes his religious beliefs as evangelical, removed the cap on the number of students who could qualify for a voucher to a private school, increased the limits on qualifying family income, and removed Daniel’s stipulation that the student had to try the public school first.

No longer was money being saved as a small number of students transferred from public to private schools. Now middle-income families already using private schools were having their tuition paid for, at least partially, by the state.

A QUICK PEEK

There are always many more articles I’d like to post than I have room for (I try to keep the Medleys to between 4 and 8 articles). Here, then, are some that I recommend…without comments.

Study Finds Recession-Era Education Cuts Significantly Impacted Student Outcomes: How Many Constitutional Rights Were Violated?

…a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families.

‘Distressed’ schools lost funding

No wonder Gary and Muncie community schools are distressed. Both Indiana school districts have had their budgets cut dramatically over the past decade. It’s not surprising they’ve struggled to pay the bills.

Trump’s Judges: The GOP’s Slow Poison for Democracy, and the Planet

Lawyer Richard Ayres has been fighting for the environment in federal courts for nearly five decades, but he says he’s never seen an onslaught on basic environmental protections like the one coming out of the Trump White House. Still, something scares Ayres even more than the determination of the Trump team to dismantle President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives, shrink federally protected lands, weaken smog standards, scale back habitat for rare species, and expand drilling into the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

What most unnerves Ayres and other veteran environmental lawyers and legal experts is the unprecedented opportunity President Trump has to fill the federal judiciary with anti-regulatory, pro-business appointees.

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Posted in FirstAmendment, Public Ed, Religion

Public School Prayer and the Constitution – Conflict in Louisiana

Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. ― James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

Teachers and administrators in a public school in Webster Parish, Louisiana, were sued by a student and her family for leading students in prayer, encouraging prayer and bible reading, and generally promoting the Christian God.

What happened when a public school student sued over prayer

The Coles [those who brought the lawsuit] say that prayer over the loudspeaker each morning is just the beginning of an unconstitutional indoctrination of students that is promoted and supported by teachers, the principal, the superintendent and the school board.

“Virtually all school events — such as sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies –include school-sponsored Christian prayer, religious messages and/or proselytizing,” according to the lawsuit filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This is clearly unconstitutional. Neither a public school nor its representatives (teachers, administrators, or any other employee) can legally promote religion or religious beliefs (see Abington School District v. Schempp).

One of the parents who favored continuing the religious instruction in the public schools was Greg Lee.

…Greg Lee’s fifth-grade daughter was upset, not relieved. She and her friends took it upon themselves to pray anyway, Lee says.

Lee, a banker who also views himself as a servant of God, says he’s instilled his sense of deep faith in his children. It has always been a part of their life. They have always prayed — at church, at school, and whenever they feel the need to.

Lee’s daughter’s choice to “pray anyway,” was completely legal, and in fact, it is what should have been happening all along.

Despite the protestations of some on the Religious Right, it is legal for students to pray in school, as we shall see in a moment, which is all Greg Lee claims to want.

That is all Greg Lee and others in Webster Parish say they want. To fight for their longstanding beliefs. For the rights and souls of their daughters and sons — and America.

“If you begin to tell me that my children do not have the right to pray in school, then that’s an attack upon the relationship I have with my God and the relationship that they have with our God,” Lee explains.

If that’s all he wants. It’s true that every child, in every public school in America, already has the right to pray whenever they want to as long as they don’t disrupt the learning process and as long as they don’t harass their fellow students.

According to the Joint Statement of Current Law and Religion in the Public Schools, a document signed by 35 religious and civic groups,

Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.

In other words, Greg Lee’s daughter has always had the right to pray in school.

Is that really what Lee and others who object to the lawsuit want? If so, then perhaps this is all just a misunderstanding about what the law requires and a careful reading of the Joint Statement of Current Law and Religion in the Public Schools will educate the parents and educators of Webster Parish, Louisiana.

It’s more likely, however, that they actually want their own brand of Christianity taught in their local public school. They might be willing to let others, who do not have the same beliefs, attend the school, and sit quietly while the local version of Christianity is being taught, but even with that, it would not be legal.

No, people like Lee and others quoted in the article, seem to believe that they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on a captive audience. They consider anything else an attack on their religion.

Again, from What happened when a public school student sued over prayer

The questions spread far beyond this corner of Louisiana, and were raised by none other than President Donald Trump last summer.

“Schools should not be a place that drive out faith and religion, but that should welcome faith and religion with wide open, beautiful arms,” Trump says during a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “It’s time to put a stop to attacks on religion.”

But this is not an attack on religion. It is, however, an attack on their right to use government facilities and spokespersons in the form of public schools and its employees, to proselytize.

It’s clear that the President doesn’t understand the law either (no surprise there). Students are welcome to pray. No one has attacked religion. But our laws don’t allow a government entity to choose one religion over another, or to choose any religion over none. The Establishment Clause requires government, and its representatives, to remain neutral in the area of religion. That means no school sponsored prayer. No captive audience religious services.

I’m pretty sure they would be arguing the exact opposite if their child attended a public school which began each day with a prayer to Zeus, Marduk, or Allah.

Just as I was getting ready to post this blog entry, I read the following by Ed Brayton about the same lawsuit…

The Same Bad Arguments in Every Public School Church/State Case

So if your beliefs are so deeply rooted, why do they need the government to force others to go along with them for you to feel satisfied? Your kids already have every right to pray in schools. They can prayer [sic] any time they want as long as they don’t disrupt the functioning of the school. They can pray 100 times a day if they want. You know what they can’t do? Force others to listen to it or participate in it.

And you know how easy it would be to get you to recognize that reality? One single Muslim prayer would do it.

Exactly right!

Further Reading:

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Posted in Civics, Constitution, FirstAmendment, Jefferson, Madison, Religion

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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Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Constitution, DeVos, Lead, Pence, poverty, Privatization, Public Ed, Religion, vouchers

2017 Medley #28

Public Education, Poverty,
Privatization: Vouchers and Charters, 
Free Speech

PUBLIC EDUCATION: A PUBLIC GOOD

The Public Good

Do privatizers believe in “the public good” or is their philosophy, “I’ve got mine. Get your own?”

It’s selfishness. We see it in the Republican plans to lower corporate and wealth taxes, restrict health insurance and destroy Medicaid. They seem to want, as it has been since the Reagan Administration, the rich to get more while the poor, near-poor, and ever-diminishing middle class, make up the difference in taxes and labor.

It’s the same in education. Jersey Jazzman recently taught us that School “Reform” is a Right-Wing Movement. Vouchers, charters, and ESAs are selfish answers that don’t do anything to help the vast majority of American children who attend out nation’s public schools. On the other hand, they do provide a way to move public tax dollars into corporate pockets and religious institution bank accounts.

Our public schools are a “public good” which must be supported, improved, and strengthened, because the impact of public education is felt everywhere in the nation.

In this post, Sheila Kennedy argues for medicine-as-public-good, supported by public tax money and public investment. She uses education as an example of a public good at the same time that the “public” in public education is under threat from privatizers.

Stop treating medicine as private property—and start treating it as a public good, like education or infrastructure.

THE WAR ON PUBLIC EDUCATION

Here are two excellent articles which discuss the purpose of public education…

Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake.

Why do we have public schools? What role does public education play in the “making of citizens?”

Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.

Civics knowledge is in an alarming state: Three-quarters of Americans can’t identify the three branches of government. Public-opinion polls, meanwhile, show a new tolerance for authoritarianism, and rising levels of antidemocratic and illiberal thinking. …

We ignore public schools’ civic and integrative functions at our peril…

…In this era of growing fragmentation, we urgently need a renewed commitment to the idea that public education is a worthy investment, one that pays dividends not only to individual families but to our society as a whole.

DISPARAGING PUBLIC EDUCATION

Is the Purpose of Public Education No Longer Self-Evident?

The Trump Administration prefers private education.

Trump and DeVos freely disparage the institution of public education—with DeVos persistently extolling privatized charter schools and various private school tuition voucher schemes. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss describes the damage being inflicted by Trump and DeVos on the very government institution for which they are responsible. After Trump once again disdained, at a recent Phoenix, Arizona event, “the failures of our public schools,” Strauss wrote: “But the larger effect of Trump’s remark is not that it is wrong but rather that it is part of a pattern of his — and of DeVos’s — to disparage public education as they promote programs that take resources away from public school systems…Such sentiments by Trump and DeVos, consistently expressed publicly, reinforce the myth that traditional public education is broadly failing students and that the answer is using public money for privately run and/or owned schools.”

The goal of the current administration seems to be to continue to bash public education in order to privatize it as much as they can before they’re (hopefully) thrown out of office.

If our purpose is a democratic and equitable society, test scores take us off-purpose. They distract our attention. Rather, our success is measured by how well we enhance health in our society, manifest civic virtues, behave as a society, and dedicate ourselves to the common good…

Is our purpose a democratic and equitable society? Do privatizers want a democratic and equitable society or are they satisfied with inequity and oligarchy? Is this who we are now?

We need to decide.

➥ For further reading on public education:

AMERICA’S CHILDREN IN POVERTY

America’s Dirty Secret

For too long we’ve been told not to “use poverty as an excuse” for low achievement, as if academic achievement was independent of, and unrelated to, children’s lives outside of school.

Punishing a school for its high poverty rate by closing it or charterizing it doesn’t change the fact that nearly one-quarter of American children grow up in poverty. Punishing a school for failing to cure children of PTSD, food insecurity, or homelessness, doesn’t improve achievement.

Why don’t we punish legislators for allowing so many American children to grow up in poverty?

The struggles of poor children have been omitted from our two-decades’ discussion about school reform as well. No Child Left Behind said we would hold schools accountable, instituted a plan to punish schools and teachers unable quickly to raise scores on standardized tests, and failed to invest significantly in the schools in poor communities. The failure to address the needs of poor children and their schools has been bipartisan. President George W. Bush and a bipartisan coalition in Congress brought us No Child Left Behind. President Obama pushed education policy that purported to “turnaround” the lowest scoring and poorest schools by closing or charterizing them. And Obama’s administration brought us the demand that states’ evaluation plans for teachers incorporate their students’ standardized test scores—without any consideration of the neighborhood and family struggles that affect poor children’s test scores or of the immense contribution of family wealth to the scores of privileged children. Neither Bush nor Obama significantly increased the federal investment to help our nation’s poorest urban and rural schools. The topics of rampant child poverty and growing inequality—along with growing residential segregation by income—have been absent from of our political dialogue.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

Two years ago today Gov. Snyder admitted to the #FlintWaterCrisis and people STILL cannot drink the water

Politicians are eager to blame teachers for “failing schools,” yet they often don’t accept responsibility for their own failures.

Why are children in Flint (median family income $31,424) still living with lead-poisoned water? Would children still be waiting if there was a problem with the water system of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan (median family income $104,000)?

Why will it take over five years to replace the lead and galvanized water lines in Flint? It’s because Flint is not a wealthy city. It’s an aging, former manufacturing boom town that has been forsaken by the industries that once made it great and by a state government that seems to have no idea at all what to do to revitalize these carved out husks with large geographical areas to serve on an ever-dwindling tax base. Most importantly, it’s full of poor people of color with little to no political capital.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

State’s plan could go national

Betsy DeVos, along with Vice-President Pence, love the Indiana voucher program, which drains tax money from public schools and gives it to religious schools with virtually no public oversight.

They like the fact that

  • tax-exempt religious schools are given tax dollars.
  • “failing” private schools can get a waiver to continue receiving tax dollars.
  • the vast majority of private schools (at least in Indiana) teach their favored religious tradition.
  • private schools can discriminate against expensive to educate students with disabilities, behavior issues, or academic difficulties.
  • religious schools can change tax dollars into converts.
  • religious schools can teach that the Earth is 6,000 years old, humans lived with dinosaurs, creationism explains all the living species on the planet, and God will protect us from climate change.
  • Indiana vouchers are now available to families earning more than $90,000 a year.
  • vouchers increase segregation

They don’t care that public schools are underfunded, or that private schools don’t perform any better than public schools.

This article is part of a series sponsored by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and Huff Post.

“The way it was rolled out was perceived to be more of a focus on our most at-risk students – to get them out of situations where public schools weren’t performing,” said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. She is also a Republican, but this is one area on which she and her colleagues disagree.

“Now when you look at the data it has become clear that the largest growing area is suburban white students who have never been to public school.”

The latest report on Indiana’s Choice program shows less than 1 percent of those with vouchers were from a failing public school. And most of those using vouchers have never attended an Indiana public school.

There is no clear picture for what metrics should be used to gauge whether Indiana’s experiment has been a success. Yet, the program has exploded – from 3,900 the first year to more than 34,000 students.

➥ See also:

Failing Charter Schools Have a Reincarnation Plan

“Reformers” insist that public schools are failing. They claim that privatizing schools will improve everything. So when charter schools “fail,” which they often do, they find another way to divert money intended for public schools.

…Originally a private Catholic school, Padua had become a “purely secular” charter in 2010, under an unusual arrangement between the local archdiocese and the mayor’s office. The school initially performed well, but soon sank from a solid A-rating to two consecutive F-ratings.

“These performance issues sounded alarm bells at the mayor’s office,” said Brandon Brown, who led the mayor’s charter office at the time. Leadership issues with the school’s board and at the archdiocese, he added, caused the school to falter. After receiving $702,000 from a federal program that provided seed money for new charter schools, the school’s board relinquished its charter.

In the meantime, Indiana had established a voucher program. So, instead of shutting down, the school rebranded itself as St. Anthony Catholic School, nailing its crucifixes back onto the walls and bringing the Bible back into the curriculum. Last year, more than 80 percent of its students were on vouchers, from which the school garnered at least $1.2 million.

➥ For further reading on segregation and charters

FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS

A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech

Do today’s Americans understand the First Amendment guarantee of free speech?

A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.

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Posted in Accountability, Article Medleys, Budgets, Discrimination, Religion, Segregation

2017 Medley #18: DeVos Doubles Down

Accountability, Discrimination, Budget Cuts, Church-State Entanglement

We all knew that Betsy DeVos was going to be a problem for public education. She didn’t hide her disdain for the common folk who sent their children to America’s public schools. She didn’t hide the fact that she wanted to privatize all the education in the U.S.

So it was no surprise that last week she presented the Trump Administration’s plans to support privatization and destroy public education.

[emphasis in any of the quoted material below is mine]

ACCOUNTABILITY: FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS ONLY

DeVos Still Anti-Accountability

The bludgeon used by “reformers” against public schools has been accountability based on test scores. As we have learned in Indiana, that accountability is only meant for public schools. Schools accepting vouchers or charters can get their grades changed, can get loan forgiveness when they collapse, can continue to receive state funding even after having “failed,” and can even choose their own students.

Accountability is the weapon used to hurt public education, and then claim that public schools are failing. As far as DeVos is concerned, no such accountability is needed for schools run privately.

…What we know is what we’ve known since the days that DeVos beat back attempts at accountability measures in Michigan– she opposes anything that might in any way tie the hands of the Right Kind of People, the people who deserve to set policy and create schools and profit from all of it.

I can understand how liberals are bothered by this policy. What I don’t quite understand is where the conservatives are. Where are all the people who built up the education reform wave in the first place with rallying calls for teacher accountability and school accountability and don’t just trustingly throw money at schools and where the hell are our tax dollars going, anyway? Oh wait– they are off in the corner, counting up all the money they aren’t going to pay in taxes under the GOP plan.

As my college ed prof told us in the seventies, the accountability needle keeps swinging back and forth– but this time it has gone so far in the accountability direction that it has come out the other side in a place so unaccountable that the federal Secretary of Education cannot imagine a situation in which she would deny federal dollars to any voucher school, ever, for any reason. This isn’t just throwing money at schools– it’s lighting the money on fire and throwing it off a cliff. This is wrapping all the money around a big club that will be used to beat anybody who’s not white and wealthy and healthy.

Betsy DeVos Continues Her Push For Private School Vouchers

One of the problems with “school choice” programs (aside from the fact that the “choice” is with the school, not the parents) is the lack of public oversight. Millions of taxpayer dollars are funneled into private, religious, and charter schools, which are given fewer restrictions for how money is being used. Nearly every day there’s another scandal in which someone misappropriates or misuses funds meant for educating children.

…We have a responsibility to provide great public schools to every kid in America. Instead of strongly investing in public schools where 90 percent of kids go, Trump’s budget cuts billions of dollars from key programs and would divert already scarce funding to private schools.

Members of Congress pressed DeVos on the fact that these private schools, even though they get taxpayer funds through vouchers, discriminate against students and are unaccountable to the public. Although she tried to evade their questions, it was clear that she has no interest in ensuring meaningful oversight of schools or barring discrimination in a federal voucher program.

PRIVATIZATION: DISCRIMINATION ALLOWED

Betsy DeVos Wants to Take Money From Poor Kids and Give it to Schools That Could Discriminate Against Them

Private schools get a big boost with the Trump/DeVos education plan. At the same time the message for public schools is, “Let them eat cake.”

…the real priority of this administration isn’t pragmatic; it’s ideological – and it’s a particularly ugly ideology our federal government has historically been focused on dismantling.

More specifically, Trump’s education budget cuts $9.2 billion (13.5 percent) of federal outlays to public schools, and eliminates or phases-out twenty-two programs.

Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concerns with cuts in federal support for afterschool programs, Special Olympics, arts education, gifted and talented students, teacher training, class size reduction, career and technical education, and programs targeted at helping disadvantaged students and veterans successfully complete high school and enter higher education.

TARGETING THE NEEDIEST

10 Serious Issues Facing Public School Students: Where’s Betsy?

DeVos couldn’t seem to care any less about serious problems facing America’s school children. Problems like poverty and segregation simply don’t matter. In fact, the cuts in the proposed budget seem designed to target the most needy children in our schools…the poor, special education, and students who don’t speak English.

Betsy DeVos wastes precious time on her choice initiative, ignoring the most serious problems facing our young people in public schools. At a hearing the other day, she pushed many of these problems onto the states.

But I would argue that these difficulties still require thoughtful attention and research from an education secretary who should be engaged.

Instead of working to find solutions to such problems, she’s too busy planning how to destroy public education with her unproven choice ideology.

Children in crisis need help now! They can’t wait.

Is There a Point to All This Cruelty?

Betsy DeVos does not know anything about public education except that she doesn’t believe in it as a concept. Free public education is one of the unquestioned triumphs of the American experiment, but it’s a disposable commodity to a know-nothing fanatic who married into a vast fortune and dedicated a lot of it to wrecking public education.

THE PROBLEM WITH CHURCH-STATE ENTANGLEMENT

Annie Waldman: Betsy DeVos on Creationism and Intelligent Design

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been a watchdog for the constitutional separation of church and State since 1947. As such, they understand that “school choice” was a tool originally utilized to support racial segregation. That hasn’t changed. “School choice” programs in America are contributing to the increase in segregation. One might even think that was (one of) the goals from the beginning.

Americans United has also been on watch to prevent the entanglement of churches with the state. They have worked tirelessly to keep religious practices and content out of public schools. Betsy DeVos has a history of supporting the entanglement of church and state…as well as her obvious preference for parochial education.

[Full disclosure: I have been a member of Americans United for more than three decades.]

“DeVos and her family have poured millions of dollars into groups that champion intelligent design, the doctrine that the complexity of biological life can best be explained by the existence of a creator rather than by Darwinian evolution. Within this movement, “critical thinking” has become a code phrase to justify teaching of intelligent design.

“Candi Cushman, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, described DeVos’ nomination as a positive development for communities that want to include intelligent design in their school curricula. Both the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and Betsy DeVos’ mother’s foundation have donated to Focus on the Family, which has promoted intelligent design.

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Posted in Anthony Cody, Article Medleys, DeVos, John Kuhn, Religion, vouchers

2017 Medley #8 – Vouchers Come Up Short

Vouchers Come Up Short

VOUCHERS IN THE NEWS

The latest research on the efficacy of school vouchers shows that receiving a voucher does not guarantee a better education. One wonders, then, why Republicans (and some Democrats) are fighting so hard to impose more vouchers on the public to the detriment of public schools?

The current administration, under Trump, Pence, and DeVos, is pushing vouchers nationwide despite the mediocre showing of private schools compared to their public counterparts (see The Public School Advantage as well as here, herehere, and here). This is not to say that private and parochial schools are all inferior to public schools. On the contrary, some elite private schools have excellent programs unburdened by teach-to-the-test policies. However, when you consider the economic status of the students the advantage disappears.

In Indiana, vouchers began as a way to help high poverty students “escape” from “failing” public schools. The truth is that the “failing” public schools were often struggling due to the state’s neglect of the economic conditions in the school communities. Children in East Chicago, for example, have been combatting the effects of lead poisoning for years. “Failing” schools in Indianapolis are due, at least in part, to a child poverty rate of 33% and an overall poverty rate of 20%, both well above the national average. Vouchers wouldn’t help all those students even if private and parochial schools were “better.” Public schools can and should try to improve, of course, but improvement requires support from the larger community, in this case, the state legislature and governor’s office. Until politicians accept their share of responsibility for the high rate of child poverty, schools – public, charter and private – will continue to “fail.”

The Indiana voucher plan began in 2011 with the promise of saved money and increased achievement. Under the Republican-led legislature and Governors (Daniels and Pence), the program has been expanded significantly. Once it became clear that private and parochial schools can’t overcome the effects of poverty any better or more cheaply than public schools can, the argument has changed from “improved achievement and money saved” to “parental choice.” Should parents have the “choice” to spend public tax dollars, earmarked for a public institution, at a religious or private location?

REASONS FOR VOUCHERS

Vouchers do not improve education

Vouchers in Indiana don’t save money…and don’t improve education. Doug Masson provides three “reasons” for vouchers that hits three nails right on the head.

In Indiana, the motivating impulse for voucher enthusiasts seems to be a combination of: a) undermining the influence of teachers’ unions; b) subsidizing the preferences of those who would want a private religious education; and c) providing access to that sweet, sweet education money to friends and well-wishers of voucher proponents.

STUNNING NEWS ABOUT VOUCHERS

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is getting some very bad news about her favorite thing, school vouchers

The LA Times reports that vouchers and school privatization doesn’t really work. The reporter, a Pulitzer Prize winning business reporter named Michael Hiltzik, apparently needs more education when it comes to education reporting.

…DeVos’s patron, President Trump, proposed during his campaign to shovel $20 billion to the states to support magnet and charter schools in voucher programs.

The sentence should end, “…$20 billion to the states to support magnet, charter schools, and voucher programs.” Do vouchers pay for school system magnet programs and charter schools? I don’t think so, but perhaps I’m wrong. It’s my understanding that vouchers pay for tuition to private schools, while magnet schools are part of public school systems, and charter schools are privately run publicly funded schools. Feel free to correct me on this in the comments.

Hilzik continues, reporting the news that recent research has voucher students scoring lower on standardized tests than public school students. The claim that “education experts” are stunned by the results is, in itself, stunning. Simply changing the venue of a child’s education isn’t sufficient to improve achievement if the child continues to live with the out-of-school-factors related to poverty.

…the latest findings, which emerge from studies of statewide programs in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana, have left education experts stunned. In a nutshell, they find huge declines of academic achievement among students in voucher programs in those three states.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

Kevin Carey in the New York Times, echoes the “surprise” over the results of the studies. The results, he says, are “startling.”

In this piece, “well-regulated charter schools” refers to charters which are “open to all and accountable to public authorities.”

The last sentence is the most important. [emphasis added]

The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.

‘REFORMERS’ FIND THAT VOUCHERS DON’T IMPROVE LEARNING

I voted for school vouchers. Now I know I was wrong.

The pro-“reform” Thomas Fordham Institute studied the effectiveness of Ohio’s voucher programs. Just like in Louisiana and Indiana, they don’t help children achieve better than public schools and they strip public education of funding.

In this article a former North Carolina legislator concludes that tax money for vouchers would be better spent on the state’s public schools.

So what did this report say that the Fordham Institute undertook, ostensibly to promote the expansion of vouchers in America? It said that vouchers have failed miserably. That’s right, a pro-voucher group had to put out a report that concluded that vouchers are failing our children. And keep in mind, this isn’t an outlier of empirical studies of vouchers’ effectiveness in educating our children. Two other recent studies (one in Indiana and another in Louisiana) came to the same conclusion.

…North Carolina is scheduled to spend over $1 billion in the next 10 years for a voucher system that simply doesn’t work. It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize this and correct course so that we can reinvest that billion dollars in public schools.

RELIGIOUS ENTITLEMENT

Vouchers a new entitlement to religious education

At first it was for poor kids to escape from “failing” schools. Now it’s a way to provide public funds for religious schools and to increase the segregation of Indiana schools. [emphasis added]

When lawmakers created the program in 2011, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels said it was a way to help children from poor families find a better alternative to failing public schools. But the program has evolved into a new entitlement: state-funded religious education for middle and low-income families.

Some 54 percent of students receiving vouchers this year have no record of having attended an Indiana public school, the report says. Voucher advocates initially insisted the program would save the state money, because it would cost less to subsidize private school tuition than to send a student to a public school. But increasingly vouchers are going to families that never had any intention of sending their kids to public schools; that’s an entirely new cost for the state to take on.

Also, vouchers are more and more going to students who are white, suburban and non-poor. When the program started, more than half of participating students were black or Hispanic. Now over 60 percent are white, and only 12.4 percent are African-American. It’s reasonable to ask if, in some cases, vouchers are a state-funded mechanism for “white flight” from schools that are becoming more diverse.

JOHN KUHN SPEAKS OUT

John Kuhn: Vouchers Serve Adults at Children’s Expense

Anthony Cody wrote this about John Kuhn.

John Kuhn is a Texas school superintendent and long-time advocate for public schooling. His essays have been read hundreds of thousands of times online, videos of his speeches have gone viral, and his book, Fear and Learning in America, has sold thousands of copies. He continues to advocate for teachers and fight for the constitutional promise of free public schools for all American children.

I’ve quoted Superintendent Kuhn quite a few times on this blog and included YouTube videos. He’s an important voice for public education in America…not just Texas.

Superintendent Kuhn presented this speech on March 5 to the Association of Texas Professional Educators, an independent association of educators (i.e. affiliated with neither NEA nor AFT).

The great American experiment of free public schools, open to all children and overseen by locally-elected citizens—this bold vision is being challenged by an army of wealthy and interested parties who are dead set on dismantling the public education system and trading it for a voucher system…

John Kuhn at the Save Texas Schools Rally in 2011

Be sure to read John Kuhn’s Alamo Letter.

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