Education

Worries About Scientific Weakness of Scientific Theories

(Flickr/Loren Javier)
Monday was a busy day in the Tennessee Legislature. In the Senate, they were debating a measure that guarantees teachers the right to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming " (Emphasis mine). The eight members of the state's National Academy of Science have vocally opposed the measure. Since the state was also home to the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial , over the right of teachers to teach evolution, the comparisons have been frequent. "Let me say what this bill does not do ... as may have been mischaracterized by many," Watson told the Times Free Press . "This bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom." It does however give credence to the supposed "scientific weakness" of theories that the vast majority of...

The Difference Between Contraception and Mainlining Heroin

(Flickr/romana klee)
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills . While Wisconsin's governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to "opt-in" if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers' groups. Late Friday, after protests, phone calls, and significant pressure from both sides, Herbert announced he had vetoed the measure . In his statement , he said he was unwilling to say "the State knows better than Utah's parents," noting a majority of parents choose to have their children learn about contraception. Herbert described himself...

Abstinence-Only Education Making a Comeback?

Maybe we can start bringing these books into the classroom too. (Flickr/romana klee)
Here's a way to save time debating women's health. Rather than allow people to fight and debate the issues around birth control and access to healthcare, simply don't tell them key facts about contraception and sexual health. That way, rather than fighting, kids will be blissfully ignorant. Or, you know, rely on the wisdom of my sister's best friend's cousin who says you definitely can't get pregnant if it's a full moon. Legislatures in both Wisconsin and Utah have passed abstinence-only education bills. It's now up to governors in both states to determine whether or not to make the measures law. Utah's proposal is significantly more stringent. It would actually ban schools from teaching about contraceptives—and, for that matter, homosexuality. The Deseret News reports that hundreds of protesters have flooded the capitol, asking Governor Gary Herbert to veto the bill. The governor has said the public efforts against the measure won't sway him; according to the News , a survey at...

SXSWedu: How to Stop Worrying (about Education) and Love Technology

(Flickr/opencontent)
I was expecting some fireworks at South by Southwest Edu. The nerdy cousin of the hip SXSW festival, Edu held its second annual conference last week, as a place where those in tech and education could come together. Many showed up with apps to sell, and others showed up looking to buy. Teachers came, many with an eye toward incorporating technology into their lessons. But the many panels and three keynote speeches all came against a backdrop of budget cuts, low teacher morale, and changes in the the basic expectations of schooling, particularly around assessment. The panels would often allude to the trouble—one I attended, on "Redefining 'Data-Driven'" proved to be cathartic for some of the teachers laboring under strict expectations of performance. But the conference also showed just how easy it is to talk around the fundamental points of contention in education policy. The three keynote speakers were all big names: Levar Burton, the actor who brought children of my generation the...

No Funds Left Behind

As states slash education budgets, private foundations have picked up the slack—and pushed some controversial reforms.

(Flickr/Ken Fager)
UPDATED FROM MARCH PRINT EDITION Last spring, as the Texas Legislature debated massive cuts to public schools—one of many desperate measures to close a $27 billion biennial budget deficit—10,000 protesters massed in Austin for a “Save Our Schools” rally. In the end, the damage to the state’s already-underfunded schools added up to $5.4 billion, forcing districts to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and staffers. In the city of Austin, public schools with rapidly growing enrollment found themselves facing a 5.5 percent cut in the 2011–2012 school year and 8.5 percent the next year. The quandary was far from extraordinary—37 states spent less on education in 2011 compared to 2010. Neither was one of the Austin schools’ solutions: seeking grant money from the world’s largest philanthropic organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One of Gates’s latest education projects is called the District-Charter Collaboration Compact. When school districts sign a pledge to collaborate...

Parental Trigger Hits the Florida Senate

(Flickr/simonov)
Throughout Florida's legislative session, education reform groups and teachers' unions have done battle over proposals to pass a very controversial "parent trigger" law. The state House has already passed its version of the measure and the state Senate is schedule to vote on it tomorrow, while opponents make a last ditch effort to kill the bill. With the session ending on Friday, the stakes for both sides are high. As I wrote last week , Florida has long been at the forefront of the "reform movement" championing charter schools and doing away with teacher protections, in favor of merit pay and more comprehensive evaluations. The parent trigger idea takes things a step farther. If a school has received a failing rating for consecutive years (two in the Senate version, three in the House), a majority of parents could organize in support of an improvement option: replacing the principal, replacing the entire staff, closing the school, or turning it into a charter school. Florida State...

Education on the Cheap

(Flickr/DraXus)
Publicly funded online schools run by private companies have been controversial with teachers groups and some education advocates since they started to take off a few years ago. But the concept of educating kids by computer has a strong appeal—not just among lawmakers but also among portfolio managers and investors. The two biggest companies offering online education—K12, Inc. and Connections Academy—are both for-profit, and until recently K12 had been a stock-market favorite. But an article this week on Seeking Alpha , a major investment website, casts doubt on the long-term profitability of K12 in light of poor student results. In the past few years, school districts and charter schools have increasingly subcontracted out certain operations to either Connections Academy or K12, Inc. In many states, lawmakers embraced the idea, which promised to bring private-sector efficiency to education. Online education also offered an idyllic image: Kids can take classes anywhere, at times that...

With Time Running Out, States Debate Education

(Flickr/Dave Nicholas)
Time flies—just ask the legislators in the 11 states who have to get their business wrapped up in the next few weeks. (New Mexico has already adjourned.) Most of the states began the year with fairly extreme education reform agendas, in terms of both funding and policy. Since then, with pushback from teachers groups, most of those efforts have been watered down considerably. With only weeks to go, key education bills remain up in the air in most of the places, leaving the roles of charter schools, teacher protections, and school funding in the balance. Efforts at education reform are hardly new, but with the Obama administration giving states waivers for No Child Left Behind requirements , there's even more emphasis on teacher evaluations and student performance. While Indiana, among the states with legislative sessions almost over, already received its waiver, other states are working to make themselves more appealing to the U.S. Department of Education. The applications process for...

The End of Affirmative Action in College

(Flickr/Kodamakitty)
As my colleague Jamelle Bouie noted yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher v. UT Austin, a challenge to the use of affirmative action for undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas. I wish I could make a case for more optimism, but I have to agree with the conventional wisdom that Grutter v. Bollinger , the case that upheld that affirmative action was allowed in higher education so long as it was done to promote diversity, is likely to be overruled and the use of affirmative action in higher education therefore made flatly unconstitutional. To start with the less-bad news first, readers may find it ominous that Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case. But this means less than it might appear at first. The 5th Circuit opinion the Supreme Court is reviewing upheld the constitutionality of the program. Because of this, if the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4, the program would be sustained and Grutter would remain good law. While the best outcome would be a...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ing Teachers?

(Flickr/hpeguk)
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to The Daily Show Thursday night to discuss and defend his agency's latest initiative: Project RESPECT. The project looks a lot like 2009's Race to the Top, a chance for states (and in this case school districts) to compete for big grants if they offer ideas that conform to the department's priorities. But unlike Race to the Top, RESPECT is almost entirely focused on teachers and teacher evaluation. It's not likely the Republican-controlled Congress will fund the $5 billion program, which is part of the the president's budget proposal, but the initiative does offer a clearer sense of the department's priorities. The plan emphasizes a need for higher salaries for teachers, but also pushes to reform job protections like teacher tenure and improving teaching colleges to make them more selective. If a state chooses not to compete, districts can apply for funds on their own or in concert. As Bloomberg News reports : The Obama administration...

No Such Thing as an Arizona Free Lunch

(Flickr/USDAgov)
Subsidized school lunches always seemed like a government program most people could get behind. The federal program gives food to low-income children. Giving food to children who live in poverty—hard to argue with that idea. In 2010, I was covering a state legislative race out in East Texas. A Tea Party candidate explained to me that free school lunches are bad for society, because were it not for the government program, parents would provide food for their kids on their own. If the kids still couldn't get food, then he believed churches and charities should pick up the slack, rather than the government. But sadly for my Tea Party friend, in Texas, free lunches may be one of the few federal programs that hasn't stirred up too much controversy. Nationally, however, there's been no shortage of criticism of the program, particularly last year as Congress considered a proposal that would make meals more nutritious. The legislative fight soon became about which agriculture sectors had the...

The Coming Battle over NCLB Exemptions

(Flickr/woodleywonderworks)
In 2014, no students will be behind in math or reading. All of them will meet grade-level goals. That's the plan according to No Child Left Behind. Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that ten states were getting waivers from the controversial law’s requirements. The states would implement their own plans, approved by the Department of Education, for improving public schools. New Mexico, the only other state that applied, was not granted a waiver, but Duncan explained htat this was because its application was incomplete. A few days, he said, and the state would likely be approved. According to the Obama administration, 39 states have expressed interest in applying for waivers. The next round of applications will be due by the end of February. In the meantime, a fight about the future of educational improvement is unfolding both in Washington and in school districts around the country. As 2014—the deadline for total proficiency—gets closer, educators, parents,...

A Ride to School, Brought to You by Disney

(Flickr/redjar)
Ah, the old days when school buses were yellow, slow, and smelled funny. With state budget cuts to education around the country, more buses may soon stop being so yellow and instead become traveling billboards. (I'm guessing they're still going slow and smelly.) Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky are all considering bills to allow school buses to sport advertisements on the sides. In all three states, proponents argue that so many cuts to education budgets, the opportunity for more revenue can't be ignored. "My idea of a school bus is a little yellow school bus with happy children riding down a country road with a dog barking at the back," explained a Florida senator sponsoring the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel . "Unfortunately, we're in times where we have to find every penny we can." Lest you think lawmakers are simply turning children over to the advertisers, the proposals don't allow alcohol and tobacco products to be advertised. But in Missouri, where the...

Sam Brownback's Anti-Poor Agenda

Flickr/VictoryNH
The GOP presidential primary has offered some odd debates on who cares about the "very poor" and whether there should be a "safety net" or a "trampoline" to help people get out of poverty. Meanwhile, in Kansas, it seems Governor Sam Brownback is hoping to dig a bigger hole for the poor fall into. Between his tax plans and his approaches to school funding, Brownback's agenda overtly boosts the wealthy and makes things harder for the poor. While many liberals speculate this to be a secret goal, Brownback is hardly making a secret of his agenda. Currently, the Kansas Legislature is examining Brownback's plan to redesign education funding. The plan removes extra dollars for students who are more expensive to educate —those who must learn English or come from challenging backgrounds. Instead of providing funding based on the actual costs of education, Kansas would allow counties to raise property taxes and keep the revenue. That's great for wealthy districts with high property values and...

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Last week, I mentioned California Gov. Jerry Brown's state of the state address , which argued for more moderate approach to education and investments into infrastructure like high-speed rail. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Brown's plan calls for some slight tax increases. And since California requires voters to approve such increases, Brown is embarking on a campaign around the state to convince people it might not be such a bad idea. In the world of political strategy, this sounds ludicrous. Except that it just might work. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows over 68 percent of California likely voters support Brown's tax proposal. And it's not just Democrats; 65 percent of Republicans favor the governor's plan. According to the LA Times Brown's plan to wallop the well off—individuals earning $250,000, couples making $500,000—pleases the middle class. Raising the sales tax, the governor hopes, will neutralize the business lobby, which mostly fears...

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