Category Archives: Education / Youth

Your Tax Dollars at Work

One hundred and sixteen million dollars. That’s the amount that Education Week reports will be made available this year to Indiana’s voucher schools. Needless to say, that’s also the amount that will be taken away from Indiana’s public schools.

Two new reports detail the exponential growth of the state’s school voucher program: One is the annual report issued by the Indiana Department of Education, the other comes from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which is based out of Indiana University’s School of Education.

The article notes that Indiana has been steadily expanding its voucher program since it was first created in 2011.

Recent changes include raising the threshold on income eligibility, lifting the participation cap on the program, and opening the program up to students who were already enrolled in private schools. For example, the legislature passed a bill in 2013 making students zoned to schools graded “F” in the state’s accountability system eligible for vouchers even if they had never attended their local public school.

For the current school year, fewer than 50 percent of students in the voucher program had previously attended a public school. In other words, we taxpayers have generously taken over the cost of private schooling for  parents who had previously been footing their own bills. At the same time that our public schools–especially in urban areas–are being starved of resources.

Voucher programs in Indiana and Ohio have some of the least restrictive income-eligibility requirements in the country.

And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence in our “buckle of the bible belt” state, but 94% of the schools participating in the voucher program are religious schools.

Honest to Goodness. Indiana.

Time to Find a New Planet

Maybe I should just join that group that’s being sent to Mars.

According to Think Progress, 

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

The sponsor of the legislation, one Dan Fisher, belongs to a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.”

I hate to inject snark into this deep theological debate, but–if God exists, and is the personal, all-knowing deity who favors some athletic teams over others, sends hurricanes to punish gays and otherwise demonstrates fearsome omnipotence–wouldn’t He (and believe me, this version of God is all male) be able to take care of Himself? Could such a deity really be “diminished” by people teaching accurate American history?

But I digress.

The Black Robe Regiment also attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state,” and claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups is indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Talk about projection!

So here we are in the 21st Century, with a Wisconsin governor who wants to replace university education with job training, and an Oklahoma legislature that wants to replace high school education with religious indoctrination.

I understand that crazy people have always been among us. I can handle that. What I want to know is who the hell elects these people?

 

Truth or Consequences

A University of Wisconsin website describes the Wisconsin Idea as “the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.” The University’s mission statement has long included the following language: “basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

According to AP and several other news outlets, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker–in addition to cutting $300 million from the University’s budget–

 had wanted to insert language in the budget stating the university’s mission was “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” He wanted to remove language saying UW’s mission is to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.” He also wanted to remove the statement “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

When the proposed changes became public, the enormous blowback obviously took the Governor by surprise, and he backed off, initially suggesting the change was “a drafting error” that hadn’t been caught.

Right.

The New York Times and other media sources immediately debunked that lame excuse. As a blogger at Daily Kos wrote:

First of all, today I obtained copies of the original records from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau’s drafting office, which show that there was a long chain of correspondence during which the Walker administration actually proposed deleting the Wisconsin Idea. The records also reveal that numerous officials within the administration proofed and approved of deleting the Wisconsin Idea.

Second, this wasn’t “somehow overlooked” by University of Wisconsin officials.  They objected on several occasions to it, but the Walker administration refused to back down.

As the Times noted in a scathing editorial, “It was as if a trade school agenda were substituted for the idea of a university.”

Scott Walker is emblematic of the anti-intellectualism that is so rampant on the American Right. He is one of the (far too many) shallow and ambitious politicians who think education and job training are synonymous, that scholarly research and the “search for truth” are elitist non-essentials, and that humans don’t need to know anything that isn’t immediately useful for obtaining gainful employment. They’d have handed Socrates that cup of hemlock without thinking twice.

After all, if people are allowed to search for truth, they’ll ask inconvenient questions. They’ll challenge the martinets. They might even see themselves as citizens rather than obedient consumers.

 

SB 500–Because Who Needs Oversight? Or Civics?

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would think Indiana needs a bill like SB 500, but State Senator Pete Miller (R-Avon) evidently thinks accountability is a communist plot–and civics a “frill.” He says his bill will “return local control.” The nonpartisan Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY) says what it will really do is remove accountability from Hoosier schools. A few of the (many) things this bill provides:

  • It makes accreditation of schools voluntary and removes requirements for school improvement plans, including schools that have been designated as needing improvement.
  • It removes any reporting of demographics of students or any reporting of suspensions or expulsions, including the reasons for the suspension or expulsion.
  • It establishes a “school data board” that will review all data collection requirements with the aim to “combine, streamline, or eliminate” data reporting by schools. No information will be able to be mandated for school data collection unless it goes through this cozy little committee first.
  • It removes school safety reporting requirements including suspensions and expulsions for alcohol, weapons and drugs.

The measure also removes a number of regulations related to student safety, bullying and mental health awareness. SB 500 entirely removes the current rule against cyber-bullying using a school’s computer, computer system or computer network.

What I find particularly outrageous at a time when Indiana ranks in the bottom tier of states in civic literacy and voter turnout, the bill also removes the requirement that instruction be provided in both public and nonpublic schools on the United States Constitution or the Indiana Constitution.

There’s much, much more. The bill eliminates parents’ ability to review instructional materials, and takes away a variety of other rights that parents have come to expect. But the major thrust of the bill is to stop making data on the schools’ academic and safety  performance available. As MCCOY notes,

Schools are required to compile and report certain types of data, particularly related to safety and discipline not only to protect students and inform parents and the public about how safe a school is, but also to ensure that they are providing high-quality education to all of their students and that certain students are not being left behind or excluded.

If they don’t have to report, parents and taxpayers will have no way of knowing how the schools are performing. I assume that’s the point. The GOP is constantly hyping school “choice,” but evidently they don’t want parents to have access to data that might actually inform that choice.

This bill is being heard Wednesday, January 28 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee in the Senate Chambers. Anyone who can attend should make every effort to be there.

To view the bill in its entirety, visit: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/500#document-f7a3b2a7

 

Testing…

I used to introduce my undergraduate Law and Public Policy class by administering a test–20 questions drawn from the citizenship test immigrants have to pass in order to become U.S. citizens.

I stopped because it was too depressing. Foreign students regularly passed the test; native-born students just as routinely failed it. So I’ve been intrigued by the recent effort to require American kids to pass the test in order to graduate from high school. Arizona was the first state to pass such a measure, and Sen. Kruse has advocated doing so in Indiana. 

Similar measures are under consideration in 15 states, according to Sam Stone, political director for the Civics Education Initiative, an Arizona-based non-profit group that is lobbying for the civics test across the country.

Stone told the newspaper that about 92 percent of immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship pass the test on their first try, but as few as 5 percent of high school students passed the test.

“Those are really poor numbers,” he said. “No matter how much knowledge you have, if you don’t know how to use that knowledge within our system of government, it’s not much good,” he said. “Our government was designed to be run by informed, engaged citizens. We have an incredibly dangerous form of government for people who don’t know how it works.”

No kidding!

So what are the pros and cons of requiring the citizenship test? The biggest pro is pretty obvious: it shines an important light on this country’s abysmal neglect of civic education. At the very least, students will have to learn the material covered by the test. If the past few years of high-stakes testing have shown us anything, it is that we don’t teach anything that isn’t tested.

And that leads to the “con.” A quibble, really.

In this era of “reform,” schools teach to the test, and a number of the questions on this particular test have a very tenuous connection to how our government actually works. (Knowing the date the Declaration of Independence was signed is nice, but distinguishing between the Declaration and the Constitution and understanding the role of each is more central to informed citizenship.) I would hope that passage of the measure–which I support!–would include a provision for updating the test as research gives us more information about what sorts of knowledge correlate most closely to civic participation and literacy.

But by all means, let’s send the message to young Americans that we expect them to actually know something about the country they will ultimately control.