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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Posted in Jefferson, Madison, Religion

Religious Freedom Day, 2017

This year, Martin Luther King Day is also Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the realization of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an end to the state-established church in Virginia.

[This is an edited version of a post originally published on January 16, 2015]

THE VIRGINIA STATUTE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

In 1993 President George H. W. Bush declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. January 16 was the date in 1786 when the Virginia House of Delegates passed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statue 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 Statue for Religious Freedom was a revolutionary document. It ended the state-established church in Virginia and guaranteed religious liberty for all.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

In his proclamation, the first President Bush wrote:

“…we do well to acknowledge our debt to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These two men were instrumental in establishing the American tradition of religious liberty and tolerance. Thomas Jefferson articulated the idea of religious liberty in his 1777 draft Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia…

James Madison later introduced and championed this bill in the Virginia House of Delegates, where it passed in 1786. Following the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison led the way in drafting our Bill of Rights.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

The Virginia Statute became the basis for the First Amendment protection of religious liberty.

Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Freedom of belief was for everyone — religious and non-religious alike — and, with the passage of the Virginia Statute, and later the First Amendment, it was guaranteed.

Thomas Jefferson considered the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to be one of the three great accomplishments of his life. He didn’t choose to be remembered as Minister to France for the fledgling nation, or as its first Secretary of State, or as it’s third President. Instead he chose as his life’s three great accomplishments, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and the founding of the University of Virginia and it was those three things that he wished to be inscribed on his tombstone.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY

Religious Freedom Day is a mostly unheralded event in the United States. It was begun through the urging of the First Freedom Center, whose mission is:

The mission of the First Freedom Center is to commemorate and educate about freedom of religion and conscience as proclaimed in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Each President, since the first President Bush in 1993, has issued a proclamation on the occasion of the day.

The quest for freedom of belief is as old as humankind, and it’s still ongoing. Recent events have shown us that while human life might be fragile, the conviction of those who would protect the right to free belief is strong.

Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Jefferson, Madison, and to all local, state, and national leaders who have worked diligently to uphold the rights protected under the First Amendment.

President Obama’s 2017 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following…

If we are to defend religious freedom, we must remember that when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. At times when some try to divide us along religious lines, it is imperative that we recall the common humanity we share — and reject a politics that seeks to manipulate, prejudice, or bias, and that targets people because of religion. Part of being American means guarding against bigotry and speaking out on behalf of others, no matter their background or belief — whether they are wearing a hijab or a baseball cap, a yarmulke or a cowboy hat.

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Posted in A-F Grading, ALEC, Article Medleys, DeVos, Evaluations, NewYear, Religion, Teaching Career, Testing

2016 Medley #34: Happy New Year

Happy New Year, Real Life Classrooms,
Religion in Public Schools, ALEC,
School Grades, Betsy DeVos

WRAPPING UP 2016

This is the 93rd and last post to this blog of 2016.

It’s common to wrap up a year in “top ten” lists and such. But a calendar year is a human construct built around the cycle of seasons, and good and bad things happen every year. We all have successes and failures…triumphs and tragedies…joys and sorrows.

A lot has been made recently of the number of celebrities who died in 2016, and it’s true that there were famous people who died this year, just like every year. However, science blogger Greg Laden makes it clear that of the last 7 years, 2016 has had the fewest celebrity deaths.

It’s true that some of the celebrity deaths in 2016 were to people who were “too young to die” (Christina Grimmie, 22 and Anton Yelchin, 27) – artists who were just beginning to make their mark on popular culture. On the other hand, there were many who had lived long, productive lives (Elie Wiesel, 87, Noel Neill, 95 and Abe Vigoda, 94).

My point is not to minimize the importance of anyone’s loss at the death of a friend, relative, or cultural icon, but to suggest that 2016 is like any other year, with its share of sadness and tragedy.

The Guardian suggests that the emotional response to 2016 celebrity deaths is exacerbated by technology

There may not, in fact, have been an unusual number of celebrity deaths this year, but they seem to have been much more salient than before. Part of this must be the result of the growing reach and responsiveness of digital media. Technology makes it possible to observe and react to a distant readership almost as accurately and immediately as an actor can respond to their audience in a theatre. Sudden emotional impulses are amplified with astonishing speed across the internet just as they can be in a crowd. Each apparently solitary smartphone user is really sharing other people’s emotion as well as their own.

It’s not just emotions that are shared in this way. It’s memories as well. The generations of middle-aged people along with all their children and grandchildren have experienced a kind of collectivisation of childhood. This was a historic shift. Before the mass media, childhood memories were shared among very small groups, and anchored to particular places. But for the last 60 years, children in the west, and increasingly elsewhere, have grown up in front of televisions, and many of the most vivid characters of their childhood and adolescence were actors or singers.

Each year is also filled with events which elicit our emotional responses…events like: family occasions (births, weddings, etc), sporting events, and – dare I mention it – political contests.

The path of humanity through history is a path of emotional responses to events in our lives. Joy and sorrow are natural human responses and each is balanced by the other.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

REAL LIFE CLASSROOMS

“Reformers” are often strangers to public school classrooms, either because they haven’t been in one since childhood, or because they were never in one at all. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan never attended and never taught in a public school. His only experience with public education was as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools – where he got no first hand classroom experience and as a parent of public school children after he was already appointed Secretary of Education.

The new nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is likewise devoid of any public education experience. She never attended a public school. She never taught in a public school. Her children never attended a public school. How is she qualified to lead the federal department charged with supporting America’s public schools?

Real schools are peopled with real children and real teachers…real support personnel and real administrators. Their voices need to be guiding public education in the US.

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Children

I teach first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. I know my job well, and I am actually very good at it (according to all the Christmas cards from children I just opened). And this is what I can tell you, in spite of the politics and policy of education that get harmfully thrown around – the most important part of this job is to keep children safe, and care for them deeply so they can live the lives they were meant to live.

The Only Subjects That Matter

I’m an English teacher, but I will argue till your ears are blue that history is the single most important subject of all and the root of all other education.

6 Ways in Which Teaching Is Nothing Like the Movies

It doesn’t work that way in real life. Maybe your kids do love you. Maybe most of them look forward to your class and work hard and achieve things they never thought were possible. But it’s not all of them, dammit! There’s always that one who fights everything you do. And there are always six or seven who sit quietly in the back of the class, and you never know whether they’re learning or sleeping or secretly plotting your violent overthrow. Yeah, sometimes the bad kid ends up being your greatest ally, just like in the movies. Other times he takes his pants off in your class. Mysteriously enough, often it’s both.

RELIGION IN THE SCHOOLS

Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say ‘Merry Christmas’? What’s allowed — and what’s forbidden.

How do you handle religion in your classroom? Many teachers don’t understand what is and isn’t allowed in the classrooms.

“Can students pray inside their public school buildings? Can teachers say “Merry Christmas” to their students? Can religious music be played in public schools? Yes, yes and yes. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to religious expression in public schools…”

Students are allowed religious expression in public schools unless it disrupts the education process. In other words, they can pray before they eat, before tests, at recess, and at other times during the day. They can talk about their own religious beliefs. They can even share them with others. What they can’t do is disrupt the class with religious preaching or interrupt the education of others or themselves. Adults in the school are not allowed to direct religious expression.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that kids can’t pray in school. What the Court has done — and continues to do — is to strike down school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious liberty.

As a result of those decisions, school officials may not impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.

See also: Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents’ Legal Rights

ALEC

ALEC politicians cut backroom deals to float voucher legislation in several states

Follow the money…from private schools, from charter school edupreneurs, to politicians’ campaign coffers.

State politicians across the nation are skirting ethics laws and making backroom deals with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to trade their votes away in 2017 to corporate special interests pushing voucher legislation.

GRADES

Opinion: What school grades really say

Students are not widgets. They cannot be standardized. Using the same bar to measure two students from diverse backgrounds is unfair, unrealistic, and unproductive. Using student tests to compare schools is equally unreasonable. Tests were made to measure student achievement, not school or teacher quality.

…factors outside of the school have a dramatic impact on academic performance, making so-called accountability measures such as school grades useless as a determinant of school and teacher quality. If we were serious in Indiana about improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all Hoosier students, we would stop focusing on standardized tests and school grades and listen to the professionals who work most closely with our children on a daily basis—their teachers. If we would allow teachers to do their work without interference and arbitrary judgements, what we would see would not be the same in every classroom or for every child, and that is as it should be. Education is a people business, not a product business, and it is time we start trusting our people.

See also: Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

School grades still reflect student demographics

How long will it be before “reformers” admit that standardized tests measure family income?

It was true five years ago and it’s still true today. The grades that Indiana assigns to schools say more about the students the schools serve than how effective the schools are.

A change in the grading system this year was a step in the right direction, but not a big enough step to make the grades fair or credible. Schools that get high grades are still more likely than not to serve few students from poor families. Those that get low grades are almost certainly high-poverty schools.

Op-ed: Indiana fails test on teacher bonuses

We know – and have known for a long time – that standardized test scores measure family income. So when you base a teacher “bonus” plan on student standardized test scores you get a plan that favors teachers of the wealthy over teachers of the poor.

Perhaps the legislators and policy makers who put this plan into action were ignorant of the facts of testing. Perhaps they did so because they collected campaign contributions from pro-test groups and testing corporations. Whatever the reason, they shouldn’t be shocked at the result.

The policy is so flawed that the result was highly predictable. Gov. Mike Pence and his minions in the legislature boasted in 2013 that this would reward highly proficient teachers and sort out (shame?) the less effective.

In effect, it undermined the poorer districts and gave to the wealthy, shattering inner-city morale and contributing to a teacher shortage. It was a business model designed to make schools compete for resources, ignoring two important premises: (1) that excellent teaching is a collaborative effort, and, (2) competition creates winners but also losers. When it comes to our youth and their right to an education, we cannot afford to have losers.

NOMINATED SOE IS UNFIT: SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW

Letter: DeVos unfit for education post

Among the people who were considered by President-elect Donald Trump for the position of US Secretary of Education…

Michelle Rhee is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. She taught for three years, was the chancellor of DC Public Schools for one term, and put in place procedures that led to widespread cheating.

Tony Bennett is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. As State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana, he manipulated test score data to favor political donors and charter school owners. He also allegedly used government resources for his own campaign purposes.

Williamson Evers is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. He never taught in a public school. He was never an administrator in a public school. His only public school activity has been to cause damage. He is a self-proclaimed “education expert” for no reason.

Luke Messer is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. His only education experience is as a legislator making rules for schools without having to live with the consequences as an educator. He is an attorney.

As unqualified as those four candidates are, they are all infinitely more qualified than the ultimate nominee for the position. Betsy DeVos is unfit to have anything to do with America’s public schools. Not only does she have no experience, unlike some of the names above, but she has actively worked to destroy public schools as an act of faith. She has promoted charter schools while demanding that they be allowed to function with no public accountability. She has worked to transfer public funds into private pockets. You want to see how well her policies have worked for public schools? Take a look at Detroit.

On Nov. 23, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Betsy DeVos to serve as secretary of education in his administration. From what we have seen in her home state of Michigan, DeVos is unfit for the Cabinet position. Her family has heavily funded a failed push for constitutional change to allow for vouchers, which allow taxpayer money to go to private schools.

Vouchers drain our public schools of the money they so badly need. DeVos also supports the rapid expansion of charter schools and online schools with minimal regulation. We’ve seen in Ohio with the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow how minimally regulated charters steal our children’s education and enrich business people.

Meet Betsy DeVos: Your New US Secretary of Education

Meet Betsy DeVos: Alphabetical Listing

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Posted in Jefferson, Religion

Religious Freedom Day, 2016

JANUARY 16, 1786

Today is Religious Freedom Day.

National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the January 16, 1786 adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute was written by Thomas Jefferson and is the basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

REDEFINING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The Religious Right has worked hard in the last few decades to redefine the term, “Religious Freedom.” In the U.S. today we have governors, politicians, and public officials supporting attempts to discriminate based on religious beliefs. We have candidates for public office promising to limit the immigration of certain religious groups. We have religious organizations which seek to limit the rights of their employees. In other words, the attempt has been made to define Religious Freedom in such a way as to coerce and manipulate the rights of others.

Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has written,

The term religious freedom means the right to make decisions about theology for yourself. It’s the right to worship God – or not to worship at all – as you see fit…

…It’s not the right to tell other people what to do. It’s not the right to make decisions for others. It’s not the right to use the power of government to impose your theology on anyone else.

…Somehow the actions of others are seen as a threat to someone else’s religious liberty.

Thus, an employee’s decision to use birth control becomes a threat to her boss’s religious freedom. An expectation that young children will learn about evolution in a public school endangers the religious freedom of an evolution-denying family in that district. A woman who shows up at a pharmacy and expects the pharmacist to do his job by giving her the medication her doctor has prescribed is threatening the pharmacist’s religious freedom. A same-sex couple’s decision to get legally married somehow threatens the religious liberty of a person across town who doesn’t even know them.

…Unless the actions in question involve busting down church doors, thrashing the implements of worship, and threatening the people inside, very little of what one person does affects the religious liberty of another.

Religious freedom does not mean that you can prevent me from doing something that offends your religious beliefs if my action doesn’t harm you. Believe what you choose…and let me believe what I choose.

TWENTY GODS OR NO GOD

Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

In his own words he reminds us that the first amendment protects all citizens’ religious expression no matter who they are, or what their religion might be. The only restriction is that which is “injurious to others.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But 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.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY, 2016

President Obama’s 2016 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following…

When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute proclaims that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” The First Amendment prohibits Government from establishing religion, and it protects the free exercise of every faith. Our Government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all. The United States stands for the protection of equal rights for all people to practice their faith freely, without fear or coercion, and as Americans, we understand that when people of all religions are accepted and are full and equal members of our society, we are all stronger and freer.

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