Education Policy

  • August 31, 2010
    Education Policy
    The evangelical Christian ministry Focus on the Family is convinced that too many public schools are intent on preventing bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students at the expense of the free expression rights of Christian students.

    A Focus on the Family spokeswoman told The Denver Post, as noted at TPM, that, "We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled."

    But GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, maintains that students' free speech rights, which are limited in public schools primarily because public schools are not wide- open public forums and the federal courts have consistently held that educators have great discretion in controlling the curriculum and ensuring safety of students, are not the issue here. Instead GLSEN says too many gay students are the victims of bullying and supports local and federal efforts to curb the incidents. A 2005 GLSEN and Harris Interactive report showed nearly 65 percent of middle and high school students had been subjected to bullying and a 2007 GLSEN report revealed that a little more than 86 percent of LGBT students were victims of bullying at school.

    The group is urging Congress to pass a bill introduced earlier this month by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey called the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would include protections against bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students.

    "Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long. Countless youth are denied access to education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a press statement.

    Byard told The Denver Post that GLSEN's efforts to stop bullying of LGBT students do not subvert the religious speech of other students. She noted that, "The word ‘faggot' is not part of any religious creed," and that her group has worked with other organizations, such as the Christian Educators Association International and the First Amendment Center, on sexual orientation issues in the public schools.

  • August 27, 2010
    Education Policy
    Guest Post

    By Sonja Ralston, a judicial law clerk to the Hon. Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ralston taught bilingual first grade prior to law school, and has published several scholarly papers on education law.

    On Tuesday, the federal Department of Education announced the winners of the final round of its Race to the Top program. Nine states and the District of Columbia join Delaware and Tennessee, which won the first round in April. All told, forty-six states and the District of Columbia competed for a share of the $4 billion in prize money to implement comprehensive education reform plans, making it the largest state-based "competitive, discretionary grant" - in short, prize - in national history.

    Though prizes are not an entirely new means of governing (in 1714, Parliament established the Longitude Prize to develop accurate measures of longitude on the open water and awarded £100,000 over fifty years), the Obama administration has newly emphasized competitive grants. But even among the administration's prize programs, Race to the Top is special: unlike the Longitude Prize or the Department of Energy's prizes for energy-efficient light bulbs and better batteries, the goal is to spur policy rather than technological innovation. Therefore, it invites states rather than individuals, companies, universities, or cities to compete.

    Race to the Top represents a new approach to federalism: one that strikes a better state/federal balance in substantive policymaking than traditional spending programs while simultaneously doing more to leverage the impact of federal dollars.

  • August 12, 2010
    Education Policy
    Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
    Martha C. Nussbaum

    By Martha C. Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department, Law School and Divinity School at the University of Chicago.
    We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance. No, I do not mean the global economic crisis that began in 2008. At least then everyone knew that that crisis was at hand, and many world leaders worked quickly and desperately to find solutions. No, I mean a crisis that goes largely unnoticed, a crisis that is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of democratic self-government: a worldwide crisis in education.

    Radical changes are occurring in what democratic societies teach the young, and these changes have not been well thought through. Eager for national profit, nations, and their systems of education, are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive. If this trend continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person's sufferings and achievements.

    What are these radical changes? The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science - the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought - are also losing ground, as nations prefer to pursue short-term profit by the cultivation of useful, highly applied skills, suited to profit-making.

    Consider these two examples. Both concern higher education, but similar changes are taking place at all ages.

    • In the fall of 2006, the United States Department of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, headed by Bush Administration Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, released its report on the state of higher education in the nation: A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U. S. Higher Education (pdf). This report contained a valuable critique of unequal access to higher education. When it came to subject matter, however, it focused entirely on education for national economic gain. It concerned itself with perceived deficiencies in science, technology, and engineering - not even basic scientific research in these areas, but only highly applied learning, learning that can quickly generate profit-making strategies. The humanities, the arts, and critical thinking were basically absent. By omitting them, the report strongly suggested that it would be perfectly all right if these abilities were allowed to wither away, in favor of more useful disciplines.
    • In the fall of 2009, in Britain, the Labor Government issued new guidelines for its Research Excellence Scheme, which will assess all individuals and departments in British universities. According to the new criteria, 25 percent of the grade for each researcher will be based on that person's "impact," meaning, basically, contributions to economic growth and success. The humanities and the arts will now be forced to become salesmen for a product, and they will be able to justify their contribution and their claim to funds only if they can demonstrate a direct, short-term economic impact.
  • May 12, 2010
    Education Policy

    Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation banning ethnic studies programs in public high schools. "State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people," reports The Washington Post

    Adam Serwer argues at The American Prospect, "Colorblind rhetoric doesn't actually seek to end racism; it seeks to end the means by which racism is exposed and dealt with, like medieval Europeans carrying around pockets full of flowers to mask the scent of the plague." The bill was also condemned by a United Nations human rights panel composed of six human right experts. Just before the bill was signed, the panel issued a statement saying that all people have a right to education about their own cultural and linguistic heritage.

    Passage of the bill comes less than a month after enactment of a controversial law criminalizing undocumented workers. Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling, and are calling for boycotts of travel to, and businesses from, Arizona.

  • May 7, 2010
    Education Policy
    State lawmakers are continuing their efforts to limit the work of law school clinics, the National Law Journal reports. Earlier this spring, Maryland lawmakers debated major cuts in funding to a legal clinic at the University of Maryland because of its lawsuit charging a major poultry producer with violating environmental regulations.

    The Journal notes that a fight is brewing in Louisiana, "where legislators soon will consider a bill that would prohibit any law school clinic at a public or private university that receives state money from suing a government agency or seeking monetary damages from an individual or business." The legal newspaper maintains that the law is motivated by state lawmakers who are unhappy with Tulane University Law School's environmental clinic, which "helped secure a mercury contamination settlement from EnerVest Operating LLC, an oil and gas management company. It also helped stop the planned conversion of a power plant into a coal and petroleum coke burning facility - reversing earlier approval given by the Louisiana Public Service Commission."

    Tulane Law School's Dean Stephen M. Griffin and Loyola University New Orleans School of Law Dean Brian Bromberger are fighting the bill. In sent to lawmakers, the deans charged that the "bill sweeps much further and would put nearly all the law clinics in the state out of business, whether they are funded through public or private schools."