Articles in the Religion category

Expanding School Choice: An Education Revolution or Diversion?

Patte Barth,  director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, penned  the following column for the Huffington Post:

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) was speaking recently at the release of the Brookings Institution’s latest report on Education Choice and Competition. Calling these policies “an education revolution,” the House leader baldly stated, “school choice is the surest way to break [the] vicious cycle of poverty.”

Not “a solid education.”  School choice.

The Brookings’ report ranks 100 large districts on their school choice policies. Their report came out in advance of National School Choice Week whose organizers boast 5,500 scheduled events across the country beginning January 26, 2014. Both share a goal to drum up more support for funneling tax dollars into educational options — whether they be charters, magnets, private, or virtual schools.  The rationale is that a free marketplace will force schools to innovate in order to compete for students. Popular schools will equate with “good schools” and unpopular ones will close. And thus, in Brookings words, we will raise “the quality of the product.”

Unfortunately, that’s one mighty big assumption.

Most choice advocates defend their position by pointing to successful charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. Others extol the promise of virtual learning. What they all provide, for the most part, is anecdote, intuition and belief. When they do cite data, it basically shows that choice policies work in some places with some students some of the time.  Truth is, the evidence is much spottier than the champions for choice would have us believe.

Charter schools, for example, are the most studied “choice” reform.  Charter schools are public schools that have certain requirements waived so they can try out new ideas.  There is much to commend successful charters and what they are learning about effective practices. But according to a 2013 study from Stanford researchers, these are the exception. Only one in four charter schools outperforms its traditional public school counterpart in reading. About one in five performs significantly worse. In math, it’s nearly one in three.

The quality of research on voucher programs is notoriously uneven and often contradictory. Nonetheless, there seems to be general agreement that vouchers may have had a modest impact on some low-income and minority youth in some urban districts. But the findings are inconclusive as to their effect overall.  And the general efficacy of virtual schools is a big unknown, largely because districts lack the infrastructure to sufficiently track student performance in online environments.

Ironically, the Brookings report card itself illustrates the disconnect between choice policies on one hand and student performance on the other.  One does not necessarily follow the other.

Only three districts earned A’s on Brookings choice and competition rankings:  Louisiana’s Recovery District, Orleans Parish and New York City. Along with its Brookings “A,” Orleans Parish earned an “A” on Louisiana’s report card for district performance.  Yet the state gave the Recovery District an F. New York City’s A- from Brookings bears little relation to its math scores on NAEP, a national assessment. The city’s scores were at the average for large cities, and below average in terms of gains over the last decade.

Then there’s the low end of the rankings. Atlanta was given an “F” by Brookings. Yet the city boasts fourth-graders who perform above the national “large city” average in reading and posted more than twice the gains their peers made nationwide.  Charlotte, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, are among the highest performing urban districts in both math and reading. Brookings gave them a C and D respectively.

see full data tables

 

So what does this tell us? That high-achieving, high-gaining districts can have “choice and competition” or not. Either way, it shows it’s a mistake to claim, as Rep. Cantor does, that choice is “the surest way to break the cycle of poverty.”

Contrary to popular perception, public schools have been steadily improving over the last twenty years. Math performance and graduation rates, in particular, are at all-time highs. Neither are public schools the monolithic creature some of the choice advocates make them out to be. Many districts across the country already offer alternatives in the form of charter and magnet schools, and continue to diversify instructional programs in traditional neighborhood schools, too. But parents and students need assurance that the choices they are offered are good ones, something choice for choice’s sake has not done, as the research shows.

In addition, it’s one thing to offer alternatives. It’s quite another to encourage public schools to compete with each other for students which could send the wrong messages. We need only look to our colleges and universities who, in their race to attract students, build football teams and state-of-the-art facilities at the expense of investments in teaching.  I really doubt that’s the kind of marketplace we want to create for public schools.

Far from an education revolution, the political attention given choice and competition is diverting us from the hard work of making sure public schools prepare every child for their next steps after graduation.  This means continuing to invest in those things that an abundance of evidence shows consistently work  – access to high-quality pre-kindergarten, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum and individualized instruction for students. It also means learning from successful schools — including schools of choice — about what works with different students in which situations, and bringing those practices to scale.  When we get that right, districts will earn the grades that really matter.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 22nd, 2014|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Legislation, Educational Research, Federal Advocacy, Governance, Legislative advocacy, Religion, School Law, School Reform, School Vouchers, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , , , |

Facts on vouchers to counter National School Choice Week

As the National School Choice Week begins, the Voucher Strategy Center at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) recommends several resources to counter arguments for vouchers and the privatization of K-12 education.

Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE), recently wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post outlining many of the problems with vouchers and other forms of choice that do not hold private and parochial schools accountable for their students’ learning. In  “School Choice Does Not Mean All Choices are Equal,” Barth  discusses recent research that shows many school options have not lived up to their promises, and instead merely drain resources and funds from each community’s public schools.

Barth also wrote a blog for CPE’s EDifier this week discussing recent allegations that a cybercharter school in Pennsylvania inflated enrollment numbers to gain taxpayer funds.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is promoting a Twitter hashtag, #Vouchersfail, to share stories where school vouchers have proven problematic.

The AU has also set up a website, www.au.org/voucherFAIL, with research debunking propaganda being put forth by voucher proponents.

“No matter their motivation, these organizations share the same goal: shifting as many tax resources as possible from the public school system, which serves 90 percent of America’s schoolchildren, to private academies that play by their own rules and aren’t accountable to the taxpayer. Proponents of ‘School Choice Week’ would rather not talk about the many problems inherent in voucher programs,” the website states.

The Voucher Strategy Center also has resources and articles on the evolving field of school choice.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Budgeting, Center for Public Education, Charter Schools, Conferences and Events, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Educational Research, Federal Advocacy, Governance, Online learning, Policy Formation, Privatization, Public Advocacy, Religion, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , , |

School choice doesn’t lead to equal choices, CPE director writes for Huffington Post

Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, writes about the perils of the school choice movement in a new blog for the Huffington Post. Barth, a leading researcher, takes on claims that more choices lead to a better education for children.

She writes: “Unfortunately, the opportunities choice advocates propose do not bring a guarantee that the choice will be a good one for kids, and it can even be worse. School districts have been experimenting with choices for over 20 years, first in the form of charter schools and vouchers that individuals can take to private schools, and more recently, virtual schools. Clearly, some myth-busting schools of choice have demonstrated that low-income children can absolutely achieve to the highest levels — just as some noteworthy traditional public schools have. But research to date has not produced any evidence that ‘choice and competition’ in itself produces consistently better results.”

With the exception of schools such as KIPP Academies and the Harlem Children’s Zone, many alternative schools have not produced better academic results than the students’ previous schools, Barth notes.

Read the full article in the Huffington Post.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|January 9th, 2013|Categories: Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Charter Schools, Educational Finance, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Privatization, Religion, School Boards, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

NSBA President writes about Louisiana voucher ruling

C. Ed Massey, president of the National School Boards Association, has written “Lessons Gleaned from the Louisiana School Voucher Ruling” for the Transforming Learning blog. The blog is a project of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 national level education organizations, and hosted by Education Week.

Massey wrote, “While this particular battle is far from over — Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White have vowed to appeal — this decision is a major victory for all school boards and public education advocates across the United States. (NSBA) supported our state affiliate, the Louisiana School Boards Association, because we saw the case as a direct threat to public education. The pro-school choice advocates were flooded with outside money and have put forth a sophisticated public relations operation.”

Massey is also a member of the Boone County (Ky.) Schools Board of Education. Read more at Transforming Learning.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 11th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Governance, Policy Formation, Privatization, Religion, School Law, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA supports Louisiana school boards in voucher case

A lawsuit filed by school boards will determine the fate of Louisiana’s school voucher plan, which may already be jeopardized after a federal court ruling this week.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is supporting a lawsuit filed in state court by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), the state’s main teachers’ organizations, and 43 school districts that challenges the constitutionality of a plan to provide vouchers to Louisiana students in low-performing schools. The first hearing on this lawsuit is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, La. LSBA’s Legal Counsel Robert Hammonds will be arguing the case on behalf of LSBA’s members.

The law allows students to attend any private or parochial school that is approved by the Louisiana Department of Education, and many of these teach specific and in some cases extremist religious philosophies. Further, the program does little to hold these schools accountable for student learning or financial management of taxpayer funds—for instance, schools that accept less than 40 students with vouchers are not subject to rigorous accountability requirements for student achievement. State legislators and educators have questioned the state’s process to choose the private and parochial schools that are eligible for public funds, while state officials have launched an advertising campaign to promote the plan, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

In a separate but related court ruling on Monday, a federal judge halted the voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish schools, saying that portions of Jindal’s education plan conflicts with a desegregation agreement because the school choice provisions would lead to more segregation in schools. That ruling in New Orleans-based U.S. District court could affect other school districts that are under desegregation orders. State superintendent John White has said the administration will appeal that ruling. It was unclear what the ruling would mean for the students who are already attending schools with vouchers this year.

In a letter to the editor of the The Advocate in Baton Rouge, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard notes that the voucher program will siphon resources away from public schools with little or no accountability to local school district governance.

The program “is diminishing public school systems’ ability to provide necessary services for all students by diverting public funds to private and parochial entities under the guise of ‘choice,’” he wrote. “What’s wrong with giving parents a choice of where their children go to school under the current voucher program? The private or parochial schools that accept vouchers will not be held to high standards for students’ learning nor the taxpayer dollars they spend — if at all.”

Public schools—governed by local school boards—are best equipped to meet the needs of all students, Richard continued. But those schools need a resources to implement programs that will improve student achievement, including early education, strong interventions for students who are falling behind, and highly qualified teachers and staff.

“LSBA is not defending the status quo in our public schools,” Richard wrote. “We need our elected officials to commit to ensuring that Louisiana has the best public school system available to all of its families and the infrastructure to support it — for the sake of our children and our state.”

NSBA President C. Ed Massey will attend the state trial and bring a letter of support from NSBA to Baton Rouge at the start of the trial on Wednesday.

“It is clear this law was not created with the best interest of all children in mind; instead it promotes a narrow political agenda and will harm community public schools that serve the best interest of all children,” Massey said. “It also deprives the public schools of valuable resources that are necessary to carry out the mandate to provide a free and appropriate public education.”

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 27th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Diversity, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, Privatization, Public Advocacy, Religion, School Board News, School Boards, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

What would you do if parents wanted creationism taught in science class?

In the November edition of the American School Board Journal, the Adviser Poll poses this scenario to our readers:

A group of parents and others who attend a large church in the school district began regularly attending board meetings to lobby for the teaching of creationism in the science curriculum. Administrators strongly objected.

The board wanted to be respectful of cultural and religious beliefs in the community, but also felt it was their responsibility to provide a strong foundation in science to the students. What should they do?

Vote and tell us what you think on ASBJ‘s Facebook page.

Naomi Dillon|November 2nd, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Religion|Tags: , |

NYSSBA applauds veto of special education placement bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have required school officials to consider a special education students’ home life and cultural backgrounds when making educational placements. The bill would have given parents more power to demand a publicly funded private education for their children with disabilities.

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), other education groups, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had opposed the bill, which likely would have resulted in more placements in religious schools.

NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer released a statement praising the veto:

“The bill would have made a child’s cultural and family background a factor in special education placements, thereby promoting religious segregation in special education placements at taxpayer expense.  This result is contrary to the pluralistic values upon which our public education system was established,” he said. “Although we respect the personal choices that parents make to raise their children in accordance with their faith and culture, it would have been wrong to obligate taxpayers to pay for these private choices.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto the bill. NSBA noted that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the main federal special education law, includes provisions for addressing issues related to cultural and religious differences during the placement determination stage and it allows parents to petition school districts for private placements. Adding another legal layer to these proceedings would delay a placement and could increase legal costs for both parents and school districts, according to NSBA.

“This expansion of the educational placement process could create a situation where such decisions become subjective in nature rather than being based on educational outcomes, actual data reflecting a student’s present levels of performance, and the spirit and intent of the IDEA and Section 504,” wrote Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. “Further, such expansions could have the unintended consequences of promoting school vouchers, preferences toward certain private and parochial schools, and the promotion of segregated schools on the basis of economic status or family income – all irrelevant to appropriate special education placement determinations.”

According to The New York Times, Cuomo said in a memo that the bill “would have created ‘an overly broad and ambiguous mandate’ to send more students to private schools, burdening taxpayers with ‘incalculable significant additional costs.’”

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|August 3rd, 2012|Categories: Diversity, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Religion, School Vouchers, Special Education|Tags: , , |

Guidelines offer “teachable moment” for tough First Amendment issues

A coalition that includes NSBA and 16 other education, religious, and civil liberties groups has released new guidelines for school districts to combat harassment and bullying while upholding student’s First Amendment rights to express views that may be upsetting to others.

“It is important to distinguish between speech that expresses an idea, including religious or political viewpoints — even ideas some find offensive — and speech that is intended to cause, or school officials demonstrate is likely to cause, emotional or psychological harm to the listener,” says Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools. “Words that convey ideas are one thing; words that are used as assault weapons are quite another.”

Simply put: The former is protected by the First Amendment, the latter is not. But while that principle may seem simple in the abstract, it is anything but straightforward in the real world.  Indeed, as NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said Tuesday at a news conference in Washington, both the U.S. Department of Education and the courts have struggled with this issue.

While the guide “relies on our contemporary understanding of the state of the law, it is not of itself a legal document,” Negrón said. “To the contrary, it is more of a policy guide that roots itself in the best interests of students.  In this context, it means taking the natural tension between the right to be safe and secure and the right to freely express one’s self and identifying the teachable moment that makes sense for students. “ 

The project was organized by the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project  Education Project and endorsed by NSBA along with American Association of School Administrators; ASCD; Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School; Christian Educators Association International; Christian Legal Society; Hindu American Foundation; Islamic Networks Group and its affiliates; Islamic Society of North America; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Association of Evangelicals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Council for the Social Studies; Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  

According to the guidelines, students should be able to attend public schools where they are free to share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences while simultaneously attending safe schools that prohibit discrimination, bullying, and harassment.  

Negrón noted: “This guidance framework will allow educators and schools not to simply legislate prohibitions of conduct or speech or ideas, but to engage students about the importance of civil discourse, respect for the safety and rights of others and teach the value of thoughtful discussion particularly about very deeply held personal views and beliefs.“

Lawrence Hardy|May 22nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Discipline, Diversity, Religion, School Law|Tags: , |

Hastings decision clarifies laws for regulating student groups

Schools should reexamine their access policies for student and community groups in light of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that cleared up “a confusing body of case law,” according to presenters at a Saturday session sponsored by the Council of School Attorneys.

The decision, Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, Hastings College of Law vs. Martinez, underscored the importance of school policy, said attorney Tracey Schneider, in-house counsel for the Stafford Township, N.J., school system.  ”The court sent a strong message that when the plain language of the policy is clear, it need not look beyond that language,” according to Schneider.

In Hastings, the Supreme Court supported a law school’s requirement that to student groups welcome “all comers” in order to use the college’s name and school facilities. A group that required members to sign a pledge to uphold Christian values was denied status as a “registered student organization.”

The all-comers policy was “viewpoint neutral” — a key requirement of any lawful school access policy. Schneider cautioned that schools cannot lawfully prohibit groups because they are perceived to be “divisive” or “controversial,” and said terms such as “special interests” or “point of view” should not appear in policy. Also, schools should not invite others to speak at an event planned by a group in an effort to provide what officials think would be a better or more balanced presentation.

Selective enforcement of access policies is also problematic. It can be interpreted as viewpoint discrimination.

Schneider urged district to have policies that include guidelines for access by student groups and school affiliated groups such as PTAs to the district’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Those forums are become as valued as physical meeting space, and could become the subject of litigation.

NSBA Senior Staff Attorney Lisa Soronen addressed a related topic: parental access to schools. Generally, parents have been unsuccessful in claiming that they have a constitutional right to physical access school premises, she noted.

Parents who sue school districts generally are not seeking to discuss homework with teacher, Soronon said. More typical are plaintiffs who have behaved inappropriately at athletic events or  have insulted teachers and administrators. An emerging pattern involves do-it-yourself individuals who want access to school in order to end bullying.

Parent plaintiffs have failed in numerous cases to get courts to recognize a general right of access based on due process, free speech or equal protection clauses. In one case, the court said, “The constitution does not require that teachers communicate with parents on terms imposed by parents.” Plaintiffs have also been frustrated in attempts to claim they speak for a class of people when they are actually only concerned about themselves or their own child.

But conflicts involving parental access can be costly in terms of reputation or even money. In one case, a district had a parent arrested after she refused to stop removing her daughter from a reading class daily to teach her from a different textbook. A jury awarded the parent $140,000. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found for the school board, though.

-Eric Randall

erandall|April 9th, 2011|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2011, Religion, School Board News, School Law|

NSBA: Supreme Court’s Arizona ruling may promote state voucher schemes

A divided U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the major issue in a case involving an Arizona scholarship program that effectively funnels public money into private religious schools, ruling 5-4 that Arizona taxpayers bringing the case did not have standing to sue because they weren’t directly affected by the program.

The decision announced Monday in Winn v. Christian School Tuition Organization, was a setback for NSBA, which had filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs.

“We’re disappointed,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negron Jr. “The court’s ruling encourages bad educational policy that serves small numbers of children and discriminates on the basis of religion.”

In ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing, the court majority drew a distinction between tax breaks and direct government funding of sectarian schools. That position drew a lengthy dissent from Justice Elena Kagan, who noted that “cash grants and targeted tax breaks are means of accomplishing the same government objective — to provide financial support to select individuals or organizations.”

The program gives state income tax breaks to donors who provide tuition for children to attend private, predominately religious schools. NSBA argued that the program violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from advancing religion. But the high court never got to the constitution issue itself, with Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a “swing voter” on controversial cases, writing the majority opinion.

“By ruling solely on the question of standing, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to set aside legislative schemes aimed at diverting public tax dollars into private, sectarian hands,” Negron said.

In its brief, NSBA noted that most of the students in the program had been attending private schools before receiving scholarships and that the program was too small to give public school parents the financial support to send their children to private schools.

Joining NSBA in the amicus brief were the Arizona School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association, and the Arizona Education Association.

Lawrence Hardy|April 4th, 2011|Categories: Privatization, Religion, School Board News, School Law, School Vouchers|
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