Category: Educational Choice

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.

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
Sunday, November 26, 2006
By

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
Monday, October 9, 2006
By

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?

Just one week after the public release of the Catholic High School Honor Roll, positive reactions are streaming in. Many schools have let us know that they have observed a noticeable change because they were named to the Honor Roll. Other schools have used already used this occasion to jump start their advancement engines.

Rev. Ronald Schwenzer, President of St. Thomas High School in Houston, TX, observed the usefulness of the Honor Roll. “Last year we had an inquiry from a family in Ohio that was moving to Houston,” he said. “They contacted us because they saw we were one of the top 50 Catholic high schools on the Honor Roll.” The Honor Roll provides a powerful resource to parents and educators because they want to know which schools best offer a true Catholic education.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln also got word of the news. “It was a joy to receive the information…that Pius X High School in the City of Lincoln, has been commended for its educational excellence and has been named to the 2006 Catholic High School Honor Roll,” he said. “Being recognized nationally is a well-deserved honor for our school.”

Kyle Groos, Principal of O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, SD, has noticed change. “The positive impact has created opportunities in the way of increased enrollment over each of the last three years, increased academic success and community service, and most importantly the lasting impact on the future of our younger students,” he said. “We are truly blessed to have the opportunity of being named a Top 50 Catholic high school.”

To see a list of the top 50 schools, along with lists of the top 25 schools in each category, please go to www.chshonor.org.

In case you missed it, there is a great discussion brewing on Amy Welborn’s blog about the Honor Roll. Specifically there is reference to the examination of civic education as a criterion, specifically regarding a school’s teaching of economics, business, and Catholic social teaching. Go to her blog to follow the discussion.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
By

On yet another day in a long season of bad news for Catholic schools in major urban areas, Chicago’s historic high school seminary is slated to close.

Michael J. Petrilli addresses the broader context of the problem in this analysis on NRO. The first part of the article lays out the by now familiar reasons for the epidemic of Catholic school closures in cities such as Detroit and Boston.

More interesting is the second part, in which Petrilli reveals that one of the main features of No Child Left Behind is failing because of “the loophole”—a provision that permits districts to maintain poor schools without implementing the radical reform that the federal act envisioned.

Petrilli’s analysis is right but he neglects to point out that such loopholes are inevitable in any such national legislation. Without political and institutional will at the local level, failing schools will not be improved or closed. This is why the longterm solution to educational mediocrity—and perhaps a simultaneous revitalization of inner-city Catholic schools—will not be found in congressional lawmaking but in a reassertion of federalism and a return of decision-making power to parents. The vouchers that Petrilli advocates are a good step, but only a step, in that direction.

Rick Ritchie has a thought-provoking post over at Old Solar, deconstructing a rather shrill WorldNetDaily article. In a piece titled, “What!? Caesar’s Money Has Strings Attached?,” Ritchie soberly observes, “When you do accept state funding, the state does have an interest in how its money is used.”

The WND piece and Ritchie’s post refer to this bit of California legislation, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which requires any educational institution that receives government support in any form, including through student financial aid, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

According to the WND article, the Capitol Resource Institute’s “analysis of the legislation concluded it will prevent parochial schools such as private, Christian and other religious institutions from getting financial assistance for students if they maintain a code of conduct that does not endorse such behavior.”

As Ritchie rightly observes, the legislation doesn’t seem to say anything about condoning, promoting, or endorsing particular behavior, but simply about not discriminating on such a basis.

Ritchie writes, “This issue, when you tease it out, really has to do with the nature of the state’s involvement in education in a broader sense. That these groups are suddenly bothered now as if a really new element had entered into the equation strikes me as disingenuous. Either that, or these people are really stupid.”

The reality of the strings attached to government money have led some schools, like Hillsdale College, for instance, to refuse to accept any federal funding. This legislation comes on the heels of recent cases in California where students have been expelled from a Christian school for so-called “lesbian behavior,” in addition to a school which expelled a student “because her mother is gay.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, August 3, 2006
By

One of the flashpoints in school choice debates is the performance of public schools as compared to private. A while back a Department of Education study drew attention by claiming that, when certain socio-economic factors were controlled, there wasn’t much of a difference between achievement by public and private school students. Those findings are now under fire from Harvard researchers Paul Petersen and Elena Llaudet, who use the same data but a different method—and claim that the Department of Education’s method was flawed.

HT: John Hood at Phi Beta Cons.