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School Choice

Ms. Klein does not believe Jesus rode a dinosaur to burning man

Are private schools that receive public money able to “teach whatever they want” to an extent that’s greater or different than a local school board’s power to adopt whatever curriculum they want?

The title is a joke, not a slight. I have no inside knowledge about Rebecca Klein’s relationship with any living or dead deity.

She’s an education writer who recently tweeted about a 2017 story she wrote about “voucher schools.”

The Point: Klein says schools taking public money teach religious fiction to students.

The Problem: Though written with integrity, it plays into a trendy anti-Christian narrative that fuels the anti-Betsy Devos matterhorn. Also, singling out schools that receive vouchers works if those schools do harm that is unique to their kind of school. Is that the case here?

Here’s Klein’s tweet that caught my attention:

I created a database of every voucher school in the country. I found AT LEAST 33% of schools use these extremist curriculums.

They teach kids to see other religions as evil, women as lesser. Textbooks call civil rights activists “black supremacists”https://t.co/XI8JBBoCXo

— Rebecca Klein (@rklein90) February 2, 2019

I’m instantly intrigued because she has a large data set and I wonder what story it can tell.

At the same time, I’m sensitive about her angle because examples like calling civil rights activists “black supremacists” is hardly a private school problem exclusively. 

While some conservatives charge public school textbooks are dotted with anti-Trump bias, and that these books turn black supremacists into civil rights leaders, there are are questions that come from the left too.

But Klein’s article claims voucher schools “can teacher whatever they want” and it turns out they are teaching straight up lies, which makes me ask two questions.

1. Are private schools that receive public money able to “teach whatever they want” to an extent that’s greater or different than a local school board’s power to adopt whatever curriculum they want?

2. Is the rate of “extremist” or erroneous information in private school curriculum unique to private schools (especially Christian schools).

On the first question, I believe states can set curriculum standards however they wish. Curriculum battles are frequent because ideological members of the public take issue with how history it told, or how religion is treated, or how political biases are rendered through the lessons.

Klein might say the difference between public and private is one of oversight. Yes, states and local districts could produce curriculum that teaches children that Socrates rode a jet ski, it probably would never happen because of the layers of democratic oversight.

She puts it this way:

Most states have little oversight on the curriculum used in schools that participate in private school choice programs. Some states have zero regulations on the topic. Others require private schools to follow the state’s broad-based content standards but specify little else. (Rhode Island’s stipulations appear the most strict: Curricula in private schools must be submitted and largely equivalent to what is taught in public schools.)

[…]

Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education started selling textbooks in the early 1970s, a few decades before Wisconsin enacted the nation’s first voucher program. At the time, enrollment in fundamentalist Christian schools was booming. For one, recent Supreme Court decisions had banned school Bible readings and official school prayer. Groups of evangelical Protestants were alarmed.
The founders of these textbook companies dedicated their lives to pushing fundamentalist viewpoints. Abeka leaders Arlin and Beka Horton also founded Pensacola Christian College in Florida, which outlaws dancing and other “satanic practices.” They also founded Pensacola Christian Academy, a K-12 school that currently receives public funding for student scholarships via Florida’s tax credit program.

I encourage you to read her entire piece because it is data rich, the infographics are killer, and her writing does a great job about connecting the stories of real people who have been harmed by indefensible educational practices in Christian schools.

In my mind I know it’s an important story that must be told, but in my heart I feel moved to say “hey, traditional schools do teach nonsense as fact too.”

Why is it schools of choice have to answer to repeated inquiries into their discrimination, funding, curriculum, and enrollment while the majority of schools, the traditional ones, are held harmless?

Why not compile a database of every school – not just the private ones – in the country so we can see what percentage of them use error-laden textbooks and questionable curriculum?

A few a points about that:

  • In 2001, a rigorous study of middle-school science textbooks found “a very large number of errors, many irrelevant photographs, complicated illustrations, experiments that could not possibly work, and drawings that represented impossible situations.”
  • A McGraw-Hill text book that called enslaved black people “workers” in a chapter about the Atlantic slave trade.
  • Scholars reviewing textbooks in Texas found one that was “riddled with factual errors” and  “promotes racism and culturally offensive stereotypes, such as Mexicans being lazy, not valuing hard work and bringing crime and drugs into the United States.” The researchers found 500 pages worth of errors and estimated the books were used by 85% of American school children.

That’s substantial.

One old website I found that catalogued 249 problems with K12 textbooks found errors it says is of the “2 + 2 = 5” variety.

Like: “James Monroe was the last president to have fought in the Revolutionary War.”– American Nation in the Modern Era (Holt, 2003)

In fact, Andrew Jackson, not James Monroe, was the last president to have fought in the American Revolution.

or,

“The Dred Scott case was only the second one in American history in which the Supreme Court reversed a federal legislative act.” 
— The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century (McDougal, 2003), p. 162, bottom right margin, “Background” 

Which, according to the site, is the wrong description. “The 1857 Dred Scott decision did not reverse the Missouri Compromise, because the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act had already repealed it.

These examples have me rushing to get my kids’ school books and beginning the fine tooth examination.

I’ve had some examples bad lessons in schools that hit home. In my lovely Minnesota we had a black student in a suburban school district given an assignment that asked her to devise the best way to colonize Africa.

We also had several dust ups with curriculum that described people of color as lazy.

And, at a Minneapolis Montessori school students were treated to a social studies computer program that virtualized slavery. It put students in the role of a slave girl trying to escape, and to win you earn badges by answering questions from random white people.

These schools get public money, they aren’t schools of choice, and the oversight isn’t preventing dumb things from happening.

Maybe that isn’t as clickable as those exposing those wacky Evangelicals who are teaching kids Jesus that made friends with dinosaurs.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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School Choice

Distance learning spare students chaotic classrooms

Veronique Mintz is a 13-year-old student in New York who isn’t having troubles with distance learning that we hear so much about in the media. She isn’t missing the social interactions of in-person schooling because, as she tells it, those interactions were rife with distractions that impeded her ability to learn.

Over three years of middle school Veronica’s classes were disrupted daily by students “Talking out of turn…Destroying classroom materials…Disrespecting teachers…Blurting out answers during tests…pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground.”

Things are different now that she’s learning at home. The upside of school closures is that she has a quiet, safe, and productive place to learn at her own pace without a demand for student collaboration learning activities that hold the most dedicated students hostage to the varying motivation levels of fellow students.

Writing for the New York Times opinion page, she says:

I have been doing distance learning since March 23 and find that I am learning more, and with greater ease, than when I attended regular classes. I can work at my own pace without being interrupted by disruptive students and teachers who seem unable to manage them.

Students unable or unwilling to control themselves steal valuable class time, often preventing their classmates from being prepared for tests and assessments. I have taken tests that included entire topics we never mastered, either because we were not able to get through the lesson or we couldn’t sufficiently focus.

I do not envy a middle-school teacher’s job. It’s far from easy to oversee 26 teenagers. And in my three years of middle school, I’ve encountered only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms — enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly and earning their respect.

I go to a school that puts a big emphasis on collaborative learning; approximately 80 percent of our work is done in teacher-assigned groups of three to five students. This forces students who want to complete their assignments into the position of having to discipline peers who won’t behave and coax reluctant group members into contributing.

Distance learning gives me more control of my studies. I can focus more time on subjects that require greater effort and study. I don’t have to sit through a teacher fielding questions that have already been answered. I can still collaborate with other students, but much more effectively. I am really enjoying FaceTiming friends who bring different perspectives and strengths to the work; we challenge one another and it’s a richer learning experience.

We spend so much time defending the rights of students that struggle with self-regulation, motivation, and focus that perhaps we forget the students who take school seriously and show up fully present to learn. Given the fact that classroom management practices aren’t likely to calm increasingly disinterested students distance learning is one way to address the needs of students like Veronica who deserve every opportunity to learn in a quiet, respectful, and knowledge-rich setting.

Remember, equity means every student gets what they need to thrive.

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School Choice

School choice takes student from bullied to bolstered

Never forget: publicly-funded school choice isn’t about politics, billionaires, or hatred of traditional public schools.

It’s about opening doors for kids.

When the education establishment and its dogmatists engages in scare tactics and shame campaigns intended to close the roads to opportunity that school choice provides for millions of students, we must stand up for the families who have good reasons.

Watch this video below and you’ll meet Keenan Cooper, one of those millions of students. He’s a North Carolina student at Cornerstone Christian Academy who is “the first student in the state of North Carolina to earn a scholarship to go to college through the scholastic 3d Archery Association.”

So, how did he get to this place of success? Listen to his mother Kena Cooper as she explains the situation that motivated her to desperately seek a scholarship to get Keenan out of a public school where he was increasingly depressed, into a private school that supported his needs and led to a “metamorphosis.”

She says:

Picking up my son from middle school, he got in the car, he turned around and looked at me and his face was stained with tears.

 

And I said what?

I just put breaks. He said I can’t take it no more. I can’t do it. I said what you mean? What’s wrong? He said “they keep picking on me, they keep messing with me, they keep bullying me. I’m not getting help.” 

I felt like I what do I do?

was going through the mail and there was a pamphlet that said “how would you like for your child to attend a private school for free? We have scholarships.” I turned it over because I was looking for the little small print around the sides to say, you know call this 900 number, but it was legit. It was real. I was like God and I was like, okay, I’m gonna take every take a stand at it we’ll see what happens and then the next you know, we got the call to come to rally and speak to.

 

I am one of the 4,046 [who received the state-funded scholarship]. I want my child as well as the other parents are here want their child to have a quality education that their children are not looking at as a number but as a person. 

Watch the video:

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Parents

Alabama parents arrested for recording staff abuse of their autistic child

Did you know school principals can issue warrants and their school resource officers can arrest parents for something like recording staff abusing their children? Me either.

The parents of a middle-school girl in the Talladega County School System were arrested because they provided their autistic child with a recording device so that she could secretly capture staff verbally abusing.

From what the family says, they captured 28 instances of abuse, but there’s one problem.

Apparently, the school district’s policy prohibits the use of recording devices at school.

Read this nonsense and tell me you’ve heard anything more asinine.

The charges stem from their daughter Jessalynn’s use of a hidden recorder to document her treatment at Childersburg Middle School, part of the Talladega County School System, the couple claims. Jessalynn is severely learning-disabled and autistic, and she suffers from seizures, anxiety and depression.

[…]

According to her parents, in November, Jessalynn turned her recorder over to the school. Jones, the principal, then wrote a warrant for their arrest.

The McEwens say they were driving down the street in front of their house when they were pulled over and arrested by several school resource officers from Childersburg Middle.

“We were surrounded by three county cop cars like we were murderers,” said McEwen.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources also launched an investigation into the couple.

DHR records show the department removed Jessalyn and another minor daughter from the family’s home last fall for five weeks while they obtained a psychological evaluation that concluded there was not sufficient evidence to support mental abuse or neglect.

Did you know school principals can issue warrants and their school resource officers can arrest parents for something like recording staff abusing their children?

Me either.

For all the talking we do about the school-to-prison pipeline, and schools that fail to serve students with special education needs, we don’t hear so much about it when it happens in traditional public schools (at least not as much as when it happens in charter schools).

In this case, the parents are facing real consequences:

If convicted, they each face a $100 penalty or 90 days of hard labor. The truancy law not only governs the enrollment and attendance of children, it also says parents can be charged with a misdemeanor if they fail to “compel” their child to behave “in accordance with the written policy (or) school behavior adopted by the local board of education.”

This is a story that should make anyone see the benefits of school choice.

Read the whole story here.

h/t to Jason Bedrick for posting this story.

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