Category: Educational Choice

Martin Luther King, Jr. has to be turning over in his grave. Just when you think America may be on the path to no longer judging people on the basis of skin color, we run into nonsense like the decision last fall by the Florida Department of Education, to institute race-based education standards. According to CBS News in Tampa, the Florida Department of Education,

passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as poverty and disabilities.

This plan seems to be the exact opposite of what Dr. King died for back in 1968. What the plan clearly communicates is the soft bigotry of low expectations. In light of the logical backlash against the race-based proposal, there have been some attempts to defend the new Florida policy as something other than what it clearly is. For example, Alex Yahanda, senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily, attempted to spin the proposal this way:
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Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the Chicago Public School (CPS) System have reached an agreement that the way to cover the school system’s $1 billion deficit is to restructure the system by closing 54 under-utilized schools. This type of fiscal responsibility may be prudent in the private sector but it is being protested in Chicago as USA Today reports:

Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education, says the number of schools must be pared because many are under-utilized due to a shrinking student population — the number of Chicago residents fell by 200,418 from 2000 to 2010 — and because the district faces a $1 billion budget shortfall. About 30,000 children will be moved. Schools are currently equipped to accommodate 511,000 students; enrollment now is 403,000.

The school closing disproportionately affects African-American neighborhoods because Chicago’s population loss has been primarily in the African-American community like we are seeing in cities like New York, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. According to recent reporting,
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Over 100,000 students in Texas are on the charter school wait list—and with the number of charter schools capped at 215, they have a long wait ahead of them.

schools-texasBut state senator Dan Patrick—a self-described “education evangelist”—is attempting to implement a radical educational reform. Patrick is sponsoring two consequential school choice proposals. One would remove the limit on the number of licenses Texas issues to operate charter schools and created a special board to oversee the new charter applications he expects will follow. The other is a voucher plan that would allow businesses to earn tax credits for donations that help poor and at-risk children leave public schools for private or religious ones.

The legislation could help close the achievement gaps between white and minority students and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. As the Heritage Foundation notes,
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Over at the Hechingerreport.com, Sarah Garland wonders how we can move toward ending “racial inequality in gifted education” programs. Garland laments the following:

Gifted and talented programs have been the target of criticism ever since the concept took hold in the 1970s as huge demographic changes were transforming urban school districts. White, middle-class families were fleeing to the suburbs. Like magnet schools, accelerated programs for gifted students were attractive to many of these families and provided a way to counteract this flight and maintain diversity in city school systems. The problem was that gifted programs tended to foster racial separation inside schools, undermining the very goal they were supposed to support.

Today, gifted programs still tend to separate students by race. New York City is a case in point. There, the education department has been struggling for years to change the demographic makeup of its gifted program—which is disproportionately white and Asian—and spread access to a more representative group of students. There are a handful of open-enrollment gifted schools in the city, but the district’s efforts at increasing diversity in the bulk of gifted and talented classrooms have largely backfired.

Why is this surprising? Of course these programs backfired. Of course gifted programs in New York City are primarily comprised of Asian and white students. Of course attempts to socially engineer gifted programs have failed. What else would we expect in a world where the most important predictor of education success and achievement is the structure of the family?
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Last month I wrote about the Romeike family, a German family of homeschoolers that was given the choice to abandon their religious convictions or lose custody of their children. Although the family is seeking asylum in the U.S., President Obama’s Justice Department has argued that the family should be denied refugee status based on their contention that governments may legitimately use its authority to force parents to send their kids to government-sanctioned schools.

Nick Gillespie of Reason.tv talked to Mike Donnelly, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association and a representative for the Romeike family, about the case and the history of anti-homeschooling laws in Germany.

If we assume that the institutions of civil society, like churches, recreation centers, fantasy football leagues, and book clubs are essential for a flourishing society, it becomes very important to determine how such institutions are developed, maintained, and promoted.

For thinkers as varied as Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Kuyper, and Pope Paul VI, the realm of civil society provides an indispensable area of connection and protection between the individual person and the political order. In Quadragesimo anno, Paul VI writes of the need for “the reform of institutions,” necessary in part because of “the evil of what we have termed ‘individualism’ that, following upon the overthrow and near extinction of that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State.”

It is at this point that Paul VI invokes the principle of subsidiarity, which is dependent upon and recognizes the rich variegation of human social life, which consists in human identity not only in terms of the individual citizen and the political order, but also in the human person as friend, co-worshiper, family member, co-worker, neighbor, and so on. One of the things most pressing for Paul VI was the idea that these institutions of civil society needed to be strengthened, not only for their own good but also for that of the political order itself and even more broadly for the common good: “for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

How do we reinvigorate civil society once it has declined? How do we help build up what has atrophied? These are questions that are vital for moving beyond a false dichotomy of market and state or individual and state, not only conceptually but practically. As Matthew Kaemingk writes, “Their importance is often ignored by politicians, but sociologists tell us that a flourishing array of non-profits and free organizations consistently leads to measurable declines divorce, poverty, violence, obesity, depression, chronic illness, illiteracy, dependency, homelessness, and political apathy.” But if associations of civil society help lead to these outcomes, what helps lead to associations of civil society?

Melissa Steffan reports at Christianity Today this week on some research that bears on aspects of the necessary answers to these questions. Steffan writes, “Parents considering whether or not to send their children to private school can now weigh more than just tuition and curriculum. According to a new study from professors at Calvin College, the affiliation of a high school student’s school significantly impacts his or her sense of civic duty.”

She is referring to a new article from Jonathan Hill and Kevin den Dulk, “Religion, Volunteering, and Educational Setting: The Effect of Youth Schooling Type on Civic Engagement,” which appears in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
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If you’re a gradeschooler you’re probably sitting in a classroom right now thinking there’s no way teachers could possibly make school more tedious and boring.

Well, I have some bad news for you.

According to the New York Times, you may soon be studying the periodic table while playing dodgeball:

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In 2010, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who lived with their five children in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, were faced with a choice: abandon their Evangelical Christian religious beliefs or lose custody of their children. The Romeikes had withdrawn their children from German public schools in 2006, after becoming concerned that the educational material employed by the school was undermining the tenets of their Christian faith. After accruing the equivalent of $10,000 worth of fines and the forcible removal of their children from the home, they chose to flee their homeland and seek asylum in the United States. They believed our government was more respectful of religious liberties.

german-banThey soon discovered that was not the case.

On January 26, 2010, a federal immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum, ruling they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. The judge also denounced the German policy, saying it was, “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.” However, President Obama’s Justice Department disagreed. They argued that the family should be denied asylum based on their contention that governments may legitimately use its authority to force parents to send their kids to government-sanctioned schools.

To better understand what Attorney-General Holder and his Justice Department are supporting, let’s look at the German policy. The parent-children relationship is defined in Art. 6 § 2 as follows:
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rheeMichelle Rhee isn’t afraid of controversy. In 2007 she took the job of chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, one of the worst districts in the country. Given a free hand by the city’s mayor, she instituted a number of reforms that, while modest and sensible (accountability, standardized testing), were considered “radical” by many residents of D.C.

Rhee even fired 266 teachers and defended her actions by saying, “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”

Putting kids before the teachers unions is not always a path to popularity, and following the logic of such convictions can lead an educational reformer to accept some uncomfortable positions. For Rhee, that was accepting the legitimacy of school vouchers:

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JMM_15.2_WebThe newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been published. The issue is available in digital format online and should be arriving in print in the next few weeks for subscribers. This issue continues to offer academic engagement with the morality of the marketplace and with faith and the free society, including articles on economic engagement with Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, biblical teaching on wealth and poverty, schools as social enterprises, the Reformed philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s economic theory, and much more.

As we have done in the past, Jordan Ballor’s editorial is open access, even to non-subscribers. In “Between Greedy Individualism Editorial and Benevolent Collectivism” he examines the enduring impact of Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, writing,

At the time of its publication, Novak’s work must have been like a window thrust wide open in a dank room, introducing a breath of fresh air and the sanitizing rays of sunlight. Against ideologies that posit state power as a neutral or even benevolent force arising of necessity against the rapaciousness of the market, Novak observed instead that it was democratic capitalism that arose first as a system designed to check the invasiveness of state tyranny. The “founders of democratic capitalism,” wrote Novak, “wished to build a center of power to rival the power of the state.” Indeed, “they did not fear unrestrained economic power as much as they feared political tyranny.” Still more would they fear the union of economic and political power that we find all too often today in corrupt and cronyist regimes.

You can read his full editorial here. (more…)