Category: Educational Choice

Check out the links from this piece by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns, which make the case that “small-scale support for private slum schools—through scholarship programs, backing for school-voucher schemes, or subsidized microfinance—might do far more good than a big aid push directed at government-run education.”

Combine that with the insights from this recent NBER paper, “The Effects of Education on Health,” which examines the “well known, large, and persistent association between education and health,” and you could reach the conclusion that private education in the developing world could do much to raise the level of global health.

Meanwhile, Oprah’s private school initiative in South Africa is under fire from some parents for being “too strict” (HT). This includes the imposition of a diet of “fruit, yoghurt and sandwiches.” It seems to me that if this diet were enforced in public schools in America it might do a great deal to increase health.

Reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic, and…religion? So says Cal Thomas in a post from the WaPo blog On Faith.

Writes Thomas, “Religion as a subject and the beliefs of individual religions absolutely should be taught in all schools and at all levels.”

I doubt, however, that Thomas would say that “one should not expect an individual faith to be singled out for special consideration or imposition” in the case of explicitly religious schools. He seems to have in mind the limitations inherent in the public school system.

Thus, he writes, “Neither should a specific prayer be promoted in public schools and universities, as has been advocated by some in the past.” That presumably includes a prayer of secularism.

But surely Cal Thomas realizes that a naked public square does implicitly promote the ‘faith’ of secularism. This confusion and difficulty associated with teaching religion in public schools is real. But all too often the source of the problem is attributed to religion rather than to secularist nature of the public schools itself.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 1, 2007

In an essay for TCS Daily last week, Arnold Kling wrote, “With or without the words ‘under God,’ the Pledge of Allegiance feels to me like a prayer. It’s a fairly nice prayer, and I have no problem with having it taught in private schools. I have no problem praying for my country — such a prayer is included in the standard weekly service at my synagogue. But government institutions ought not to be telling people how to pray.”

The essay is well-worth reading. I especially like Kling’s description of a “Civil Societarian.” But I have another anecdotal piece of evidence to contribute to Kling’s conclusion.

It comes from the back page feature “Baby Bloopers” in the current issue of Parents magazine. Here’s the story “Lady Liberty” as told by Tracie Cirillo of Rochester, NY:

One afternoon my 4-year-old daughter, Maya, came home excited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to me, since it’s played every morning over the public-address system at her school. When she got to the end of the pledge, she said, ‘With liberty and justice for all. Today’s lunch is quesadillas and fruit cup.’

The cynic might say that’s what you get when government teaches you how to pray.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Monday, February 26, 2007

U.S. high school students are taking harder classes, receiving better grades, and from every indication in recent data, leaning much less than their counterparts fifteen years ago. Go figure. All the talk about spending more money and about improving testing and teacher standards and the end result is that two decades of educational reform may not have improved things overall.

The U.S. Department of Education released two studies Thursday that raised very tough questions. David Driscoll, the commissioner of education for Massachusetts, notes, "I think we are sleeping through a crisis." He called these two new studies "stunning." Two means were used for this study: (1) A standardized 12th grade test, and (2) An analysis of the transcripts of 2005 high school graduates.

The fascinating thing is that students in 1990 had a GPA of 2.68 and in 2005 it rose to 2.98, and this included students taking more college preparatory courses than ever before. 12th grade reading scores have been dropping steadily since 1992. So, what are students learning in college prep classes? As for math fewer than 25% scored in the "proficient" range.

This study involved 900 U.S. schools, including 200 private schools! 26,000 transcripts were used. The chief of curriculum for Chicago high schools said, "We know the root to solving the problem is having more rigor in classes." But how? We already have teachers who fear their students, killings in our schools, and armed guards in most U.S. high schools. What next? The fact is few leaders, and especially politicians and educators, have real answers. The system is broken. Do parents and citizens have the will to fix it? I have my doubts. Such problems call for Christians to make a difference. Talk about a cultural opportunity, here is a huge one. But most of us have run away from public education, condemning it with John Dewey and  his ilk to the pit. Even if we do not want our children in the public system can we afford to form ghettos for Christians and ride this storm out to its long term conclusions?

The movie Amazing Grace came out this weekend. We desperately need a Wilberforce-like leader (or hundreds of lesser known but similarly courageous leaders) to begin to work for the real education of our children or our values will be entirely lost in a few more decades.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 12, 2007

Most of our talk at Acton about educational choice addresses K-12 programs, i.e., the public schools. There already exists a great deal of choice at the levels of higher ed, and so they are not of the most immediate concern.

But the issues I raised earlier this month about the integration of faith and learning are just as relevant in the realm of higher ed as they are in secondary education. Here’s what David Claerbaut, author of Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education, has to say:

There is a distinctly Christian view of what life is all about, about the nature of humankind, about what our purposes ought to be, and about where we are headed eternally. To dance away from these distinctives is to marginalize faith as an element in the learning process.

Today’s Zondervan>To the Point features this quote as well as a link to this piece from Inside Higher Ed, “Spiritual Accountability.”

Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado has “proposed a ‘Public Schools Religious Bill of Rights’ to combat what he calls mounting, nationwide violations of students’ and school staffs’ constitutionally protected religious freedom.”

Without endorsing any particular elements of Schultheis’ bill, I have to admit that I have actually considered writing a piece on an idea like this before, a students’ bill of rights which includes the right to learn about God. It strikes me that for people who are religious, the current treatment of belief in God in public schools makes it practically impossible to integrate faith and learning.

In reality the only ones who are able to realize this right are those who can afford to send their children to a religious day school. That’s why we need education reform in this country so desperately. The poor who are forced to send their kids to public schools have no choice but to acquiesce before secularism.

Simply because government requires something to be done doesn’t mean that it has to be the provider. My state requires that I have car insurance if I drive a car, but I don’t buy my insurance from the state. Don’t let the cries against an “unfunded mandate” fool you. Whether in the form of vouchers or tax credits (given the constitutional issues involved in using vouchers to fund religious schools), change needs to come.

If the government is going to make K-12 education mandatory, the least it can do is recognize the rights of parents and children to integrate religious education into a comprehensive, character-forming curriculum. And since the government can’t be the one to administer religious instruction, education is a job best left up to private entities.

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, December 3, 2006

If we are ever going to make progress in reforming the education system, we have to find ways to appeal to at least some members of the education profession. Often, teachers, administrators and school boards have distinct strategies. If we can appeal to a subset of educators, we have a better chance of success. Put another way, no school reform can possibly succeed, without the support of at least some members of the education establishment.

Here is a story that made my blood boil, as a parent. But it illustrates the point that there may be possibilities for reforms that appeal to at least some educators.

Bong Hits for Jesus was written on the banner produced by a high school student in Alaska. He held it up for the TV cameras when the Olympic Torch passed by. His principal saw the banner, ripped it down and suspended the student for ten days. As parent and an educator and a person of common sense, I applaud the principal for disciplining this kid. Naturally, a lawsuit happened:

(The student) was off school property when he hoisted the banner but was suspended for violating school policy by promoting illegal substances at a school-sanctioned event.

The school board upheld the suspension, and a federal judge initially dismissed Frederick’s lawsuit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the banner was vague and nonsensical, and that Frederick’s civil rights had been violated….

The appeals court said even if the banner could be construed as a positive message about marijuana use, the school could not punish or censor a student’s speech just because it promotes a social message contrary to one the school favors.

And for her trouble, the principal, Deborah Morse, (no relation) may end up facing fines.

The court is expected to hear arguments in the case in late February. In addition to the First Amendment issue, the court also will consider whether Morse can be held personally liable for monetary damages.

Morse, now the district’s coordinator of facilities planning, said, “I think it’s important for school administrators all across the country to have some guidance in how to enforce school rules at school activities without risking liability.”

So here is what some smart conservative advocate of school reform should suggest: come up with legislation giving immunity to school administrators from lawsuits. In any other profession, the professionals are given the room to make judgments and use their discretion. In education, professionals have the courts breathing down their necks, second-guessing their decisions and generally interfering with their ability to do their jobs.
This kid has no civil right to advocate drug use. A 10 day Suspension is not that big of a deal. Kids need to have limits set on their behavior. This adult was trying to do her job.

If conservatives could come up with a legal strategy to protect school boards and administrators from these frivolous lawsuits, it would be VERY attractive to that group of education professionals.

(Cross-posted at my personal blog.)

In the wake of the November elections, with politicians promising less partisan bickering, a perfect opportunity presents itself for real cooperation: educational choice. Kevin Schmiesing looks at the state initiatives that have already empowered “poor and middle class parents to send their children to schools that they believe will best serve their educational goals.”

Read the commentary here.

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, November 26, 2006

Along the same lines as my earlier post, The Weekly Standard argues that putting the needs of parents first, can form a more stable foundation for an alliance between fiscal and social conservatives.

Both fiscal and social conservatives should put themselves in the shoes of the parenting class and focus on advancing competition and choice while also encouraging the growth and strength of the two-parent family. In health care, for instance, conservatives have consistently failed to approach things from that point of view….Conservatives should also look beyond the horizon and see that long-term care for the aged is about to become the next major concern of the parenting class…. In education, it is well past time to have another serious go at school choice, which can appeal to the parenting class both as a solution in their own children’s lives and as a call to conscience.

A Free and Virtuous Society needs to respect autonomy and importance of the social sphere, especially the family. Kudos to Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for writing this article, and to the Weekly Standard for publishing it.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 9, 2006

A week ago, The CBS Evening News with newly installed host Katie Couric featured the father of one of the victims of the Columbine school shootings in their so-called ‘freeSpeech’ segment. In this ninety-second spot, Brian Rohrbough said,

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

As Gina Dalfonzo at The Point writes of the reaction to the segment, “CBS received bushels of mail from people who acted as if Rohrbough had gone on the air to advocate the drowning of kittens.” Dalfonzo links to a WaPo story that summarizes some of the complaints, including this gem, which referred to Rohrbough’s remarks as “the biggest load of hogwash I have ever witnessed. How could you use an unspeakable tragedy to give a rightwing flat earth nut job a podium?”

So much for the absolute moral authority conferred on the family members of the victims of tragedies. Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion notes, “Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said.”

Count me among those in agreement. Moral education matters. Here’s what Herman Bavinck has to say about the importance of the dignity of the human person created in the image of God:

The acceptance or rejection of this point of departure is decisive for education and upbringing. Whoever maintains the divine origin, divine relationship and divine destination of man arrives naturally to another theory and practice of upbringing than he who rejects all that and knows only the dumb power of nature. If anyone says what he thinks of man’s origin and being, it is easily shown which pedagogy, at least in principle, must be his.

One specific way in which we can see which pedagogical principle is in play is by measuring a person’s view of the value of human beings relative to that of other creatures.

In this way, Bavinck writes that in light of the unique dignity of the human person,

there is no other conclusive reason thinkable why the killing of an animal is permitted and that of a man is unlawful, than that which lies in the background that man, separated essentially form the animal and related to God, is God’s offspring. He who, with the theory of evolution, obliterates the boundary between man and animal, making both the same kind, must also, as a matter of principle, think lightly concerning the killing of a man. Or, out of fear of this consequence, he must seek support with Buddhism, and respect as inviolate all life also in the animal, and as much as possible in the plant. It is noteworthy that both these trends find innumerable spokesmen in our day. On the one hand it is cynically taught by some that in our day men spend too much care upon the weak and ill, and ought rather to cooperate with the strong to improve our generation; while on the other hand, a sentimental sympathy is preached which has more pity for animals and plants than for man.

What better identifiers of the “moral vacuum” and godless secularism to which Rohrbough refers than these?