Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Teacher unions smarting after many members vote for Trump

Two weeks after Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election, the USA’s teachers unions are wondering what happened to their chosen candidate — and how so many of their members could have voted for her opponent.

Despite early and eager endorsements of Clinton by both unions, the nation’s school teachers and other school workers contributed substantially to Trump’s Nov. 8 win.

How substantially? About one in five American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who cast a ballot voted for Trump, the union’s leader estimated. Among the larger National Education Association (NEA), which comprises more than 3 million members, more than one in three who voted did so for the billionaire developer, early data show.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, whose union represents about 1.6 million teachers and other workers, said some of the reason for Clinton's defeat was timing — and perhaps sexism.

"Frankly I was always concerned about whether the country was ready to have a female president," she said. "There was an intensity of hatred that male political figures never get. So I think we’re never really going to understand it."

Most of the USA’s largest labor unions endorsed Clinton as early as 2015, including NEA, AFT, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Despite the support, Clinton won union households nationwide by just eight percentage points, exit polls show: 51% to Trump’s 43%.

Clinton carried white, college-educated women, but just barely: 51% to 45%. Among white women without a college degree, Trump won resoundingly: 63% to Clinton’s 34%.

In that sense, teachers, who at last count were about 82% white and 76% female, actually outperformed other groups when it came to their support for Clinton.

Weingarten last week said internal figures show that Clinton earned about 80% of her members' votes, in spite of a "very effective" effort to disparage the former secretary of state’s character.

At NEA, an aggressive member-to-member campaign and strategic political effort actually did get out the vote for Clinton, officials said: As late as last September, nearly 60% of its members identified as "Republicans or independents." At the time, Clinton’s NEA support stood at just 58%. By Election Day, it rose to 65%.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, a former Utah teacher, said that despite Clinton’s loss, the union engaged members in "record levels of activism," supporting down-ballot candidates and initiatives "important to students and working families."

Among other efforts, unions defeated a well-funded charter school expansion effort in Massachusetts and helped ensure the continuation of a tax hike to fund education in California.

NEA's state and national political directors met in Nashville last weekend to figure out what comes next, and educators nationwide are waiting to find out who President-elect Trump names as education secretary.

On Wednesday, school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos said in a tweet that she would work with Trump to "make American education great again."

In a statement, García said NEA will "listen closely" as Trump lays out his education vision. "We haven’t heard any specifics from the incoming administration about education policies, so we can’t speculate further," she said.

In an interview, Weingarten said she had "no regrets — absolutely no regrets" about the union’s endorsement of Clinton, adding that Democratic runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders "was never tested or vetted by anyone, and frankly we have no idea whether he would have actually been able to get through this crucible … either."

She added that Clinton "has spent her life fighting for families and children — and that’s what we spend our life fighting for. Were there mistakes she made? Of course. Were there mistakes we made? Of course. But she is someone who for 30 years has been in the service of the public and incredibly qualified."


When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools

There are more restrictions to professional freedom in the United States, and the educators find the school day overly rigid

"I have been very tired—more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life," Kristiina Chartouni, a veteran Finnish educator who began teaching American high-school students this autumn, said in an email. "I am supposedly doing what I love, but I don't recognize this profession as the one that I fell in love with in Finland."

Chartouni, who is a Canadian citizen through marriage, moved from Finland to Florida with her family in 2014, due in part to her husband’s employment situation. After struggling to maintain an income and ultimately dropping out of an ESL teacher-training program, a school in Tennessee contacted her this past spring about a job opening. Shortly thereafter, Chartouni had the equivalent of a full-time teaching load as a foreign-language teacher at two public high schools in the Volunteer State, and her Finnish-Canadian family moved again. (Chartouni holds a master’s degree in foreign-language teaching from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä.)

In Tennessee, Chartouni has encountered a different teaching environment from the one she was used to in her Nordic homeland—one in which she feels like she’s "under a microscope." She’s adjusting to relatively frequent observations and evaluations of her teaching, something she never experienced in her home country. (A principal or an administrator in Finland, Chartouni noted, may briefly observe a teacher’s lesson, but not on a regular basis.)

Already this autumn, she’s had a couple of visitors in her American classroom: a representative of a nearby university, where she’s completing studies to receive a local teaching license, and her "professional learning community" coach. A district administrator will come to visit her classroom, too. According to Chartouni, these three evaluators will make a few unexpected visits throughout this school year.

Chartouni misses that feeling of being trusted as a professional in Finland. There, after receiving her teaching timetable at the start of each school year, she would be given the freedom to prepare curriculum-aligned lessons, which matched her preferences and teaching style. "I wanted to do my best all the time," she said, "because they trusted my skills and abilities." I encountered something similar when I moved to Finland from the U.S., where I started my teaching career.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. And while most U.S. public-school teachers report a moderate amount of control in the classroom, many say they have little autonomy. In fact, the percentage of U.S. public-school teachers who perceive low autonomy in the classroom grew from 18 percent in the 2003-04 school year to 26 percent in the 2011-12 school year. In general, U.S. public-school teachers report that they have the least amount of control over two particular areas of teaching: "selecting textbooks and other classroom materials" and "selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught."

"If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career."
Marc Tucker, the president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, suggested to me that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which he called "the inauguration of [America’s] accountability movement," significantly affected how U.S. public-school teachers perceived their level of autonomy. According to Tucker, NCLB embodied the first concerted "effort by officials in the United States to hold teachers accountable for student performance on a wide-scale."

Given the significant investment in education programs that served America’s underprivileged children, Tucker explained that U.S. policymakers had grown exasperated by "the lack of return" (evidenced by mediocre student achievement on nationwide assessments). Under NCLB, America’s public schools needed to make adequate yearly progress, decided in large part by student performance on state standardized tests, or face serious consequences, such as school closures. For U.S. officials like George W. Bush, this kind of test-based accountability could be framed as a simple matter of social justice, an effort to give all of the nation’s children access to decent schools with quality teachers; that virtuous sentiment can be heard in his declaration to address "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

But as NCLB aimed to hold schools more accountable and U.S. public-school educators felt squeezed to prepare students for state standardized tests, it appeared to encourage a push for more standardization in the nation’s classrooms in teaching guides, student textbooks, and so forth—and, ultimately, many U.S. teachers perceived a diminution of autonomy. (Today, that law has since been replaced, but the NCES report on teacher autonomy suggests that limited flexibility in the classroom is still felt by a large number of teachers, as America’s test-based accountability movement continues to exist.)

* * *

As a public-school educator in Tennessee, Chartouni is seeing how some accountability measures—ones that are unobserved in Finnish schools—have reduced her level of professional freedom. For example, she and her U.S. colleagues must refer to rubrics and lesson-plan templates to prepare effective lessons. "Everything needs to be written down," Chartouni said. "It is a great habit," she recognized, but she had developed her own routine over a decade of teaching in Finland, in which she’d craft a brief plan and then make sensible adjustments during a class period. "I can’t do it that way here because it would look like I hadn't planned anything," she said.

According to Chartouni, even the beginning of each lesson is prescribed. "Students need to get busy with bell work immediately when they step into your classroom," she said. "They have five minutes to go from one location to another, [and] they have seven periods of intensive teaching." So, occasionally, Chartouni decides to assign easy bell work as she greets her exhausted students: "sit down, relax, and breathe." (In Finland, students and teachers typically have a 15-minute break built-into every classroom hour.)

With only a couple months of teaching under her belt, Chartouni wonders whether she wants to remain in the teaching profession in America. "If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career," she admitted. "I am already looking into other options."


Public School District Suspends 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and "Huckleberry Finn' After Parent Complains

Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia has temporarily suspended study of the novels To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after a parent filed a complaint that the classic literature contained "racial slurs".

During a November 15 school board meeting, Marie Rothstein-Williams said that her biracial son, who is in high school, struggled to get through a page that contained multiple racial slurs.

"I keep hearing 'This is a classic, this is a classic,' she said. "I understand this is a literature classic, but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part — which I'm not disputing, this is great literature — but there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that.

"Right now, we are a nation divided as it is," she continued. "I teach my son he is the best of both worlds, and I do not want him to feel otherwise....It's not just even a black and white thing. ...There's other literature they can use....

"So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they're not acceptable, by no means."

Rothstein-Williams’ complaint will be filed as a "Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources" under the school district’s policy manual. "The material will then be reviewed by a committee that will consist of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student, and the complainant."

The committee will then make a final recommendation to the principal and superintendent to either continue to use or withdraw the novels in question from the curriculum.

The Accomack County School’s Policy Manual also states that all materials cited in the complaint must be suspended until a final determination is made. The complainant may appeal the committee’s decision.

However, not all parents agreed with the school district’s decision to suspend study of the classic novels, which explore issues surrounding race in America.

"Everybody’s read it… it didn’t change a difference in my views at all," Catherine Glaser, a Accomack County resident, told WAVY-TV. "I’d like my son to read those books… my daughter’s mixed, and I don’t have a problem with it. I love those books."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird was written in 1960 by Harper Lee, who passed away in February, The main character, a lawyer named Atticus Finch, is picked to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a young white women in a town in the Deep South, leading to Finch being despised by other whites in the community.

The plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was written by Mark Twain in 1885, revolves around the central character, Huck, and an escaped slave, Jim, who travel down the Mississippi River together in a raft.

An analysis of the novel describes Jim as "a noble human being and a loyal friend,"  the "only real adult in the novel, and the only one who provides a positive, respectable example for Huck to follow."


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

U.S. Education Secretary to schools: Stop hitting, paddling students

The usual "one-size-fits-all Leftist nonsense.  Most students can be reached without corporal punishment but for some it takes corporal punishment to divert them from foolish behaviour

U.S. Education Secretary John King is urging school districts nationwide to stop hitting and paddling students, saying corporal punishment is “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities.”

In a “dear colleague” letter being issued Tuesday, King asks educators to “eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures.

“The use of corporal punishment can hinder the creation of a positive school climate by focusing on punitive measures to address student misbehavior rather than positive behavioral interventions and supports,” King writes. “Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution."

Recent research suggests that more than 160,000 children in 19 states are potential victims of corporal punishment in schools each year, with African-American children in a few southern school districts about 50% more likely than white students to be smacked or paddled by a school worker.

The prevalence of corporal punishment in schools has been steadily dropping since the 1970s, according to findings published last month by the Society for Research in Child Development, a Washington, D.C.-based policy group.

Half of states banned school corporal punishment between 1974 and 1994, but since then, researchers say, only a handful more states have followed suit.

University of Texas researcher Elizabeth Gershoff and a colleague found that 19 states still allow public school personnel to use corporal punishment, from preschool to high school. The states are all in the south or west: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

In his letter, King says that more than one-third of students subject to corporal punishment in schools during the 2013-2014 academic year were black, though black students make up just 16% of public school student population.

He also notes that boys overall, as well as students with disabilities, were more likely to be punished physically: boys represented about 80% of corporal punishment victims, and in nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at higher rates than students without them.

“These data and disparities shock the conscience,” King wrote.


Speaker Ryan: Education Should Be Decentralized; ‘Reform Should be About Results’

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he supports decentralizing education, adding that reform should be focused on results, not the “arrogant, paternalistic notion” that Washington knows best.

“Education reform should be about results. What educates kids, today’s kids, not tomorrow’s kids, the best,” Ryan told reporters during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Ryan’s comments were in response to a question by a reporter asking if the speaker had any reservations regarding the public charter school model favored by Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Dept. of Education . 

“Open it up so we can have different competitive models - choice, charter, public, everything in between - and let that be done in the states,” Ryan responded.

“That’s something that we all feel very passionately about.”

Ryan noted that he supports reverting federal control back to the states because parents, state and local governments are better able to decide what is best for their children.

"I’m a parent. I care about my kids' education and I’m going to send them to the best school that I can,” Ryan said. “Parents can be trusted to do this. Who cares more about your kid than you do?

“So I do believe that in this debate becomes sort of an arrogant, paternalistic notion that Washington somehow knows better or best on how your children should get educated. I think parents know best and care the most.

"And so that is why we so deeply believe in not just decentralizing power, but [in sending] decision-making back to the states, and then opening up competition."


Candy canes banned for Christmas under Tasmanian Primary School's healthy eating policy

A Tasmanian primary school has banned students from including candy canes and similar treats with their Christmas cards this year.

Bellerive Primary School announced a new healthy eating policy on its school association Facebook page on Wednesday. Under the policy, birthday cakes would also be banned from next year in favour of healthy options.

Reactions at the school have been mixed. Parent Ian Green said the school's healthy eating policy had gone too far. "They are depriving kids of being kids," he said.

"They're not going to get obese because they have a cupcake, they're not going to fall over and have a heart attack because they have a candy cane at Christmas."

Another parent Kirsty Shaw said parents had not been consulted.  "I think the school community is a little bit sick and tired of being told what we can and what we can't feed our children," she said.

But not all parents disagree with the ban. Charrhara Harma said it was a good idea. "Yeah that's good because junk is not good for children," she said.

Student James Overton could see both sides of the argument. "It's not really good for your health, but no because people like them and they don't really want them to be banned from school," he said.

The Education Department has distanced itself from the decision.  It said its policy Move Well, Eat Well encouraged the wider school community to support limiting "occasional" foods. In a statement, the state's Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff urged the school to reconsider.

The Bellerive Primary School Association and the school's principal declined to comment.

Tasmania School Canteen Association executive officer Julie Dunbabbin said she believed eventually all schools would ban confectionery.

She said many schools were trying to address the issue of children being exposed to too many cakes due to classmates birthdays. She said cakes could be healthy if baked the right way. "We certainly promote the more healthier version, the ones with less sugar and saturated fat," she said.


Monday, December 05, 2016

Jobs needed, not student loan forgiveness

President Barack Obama has decided to leave a lasting impression before he exists office. Obama has put in place a student debt forgiveness program which only helps few while costing all excessively. Now as costs of tuition continue to soar, the Obama legacy on higher education reform will clearly be one of economic distress and government overreach.

Thanks to Obama, the federal government is on track to forgive at least $108 billion in student loan debt in the coming years according to the Government Accountability Office. Which, is what happens when the economy does not produce jobs for college graduates because it has been slowing down for 16 years, not growing above 4 percent since 2000. Graduates go for loan forgiveness, because the jobs that there are do not pay for the loans.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell, the most generous repayment plans are capped at 10 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income. He continues to note that, “Congress approved the plans in the 1990s and 2000s, and President Barack Obama has used executive actions to extend the most-generous terms to millions of borrowers.”

This has caused the number of students borrowing to skyrocket over the last three years, resulting in a collective debt of $355 billion. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates $137 billion will not be repaid.

The GAO also criticized the Department of Education’s accounting practices, noting that its costs could be off by billions of dollars. These figures also do not include future loans or outstanding interest on current loans which will accrue over time.

However, the financial burden which taxpayers will ensue will only get worse with the further implementation of this program. As explained in a Wall Street Journal editorial in July 2015, each year which had growth in federal student aid for higher education, also saw a rise in tuition prices. This is a surprisingly understandable trend.

The more the federal government has been willing to give, the more schools have been willing to charge.

Consistently since 1987 every time the federal government has raised financial assistance, Universities have raised costs. Not only do colleges increase costs knowing financial aid will act as a cushion, but with the increase in students entering the University there is a necessity for more classrooms and resources, driving up costs significantly.

Finally, the Obama plan does not even provide adequate relief for all those in need, for private sector workers their forgiven amount would be taxed as ordinary income. However, for government workers and those who work for non-profits forgiven debt is listed as tax free income.

Either everyone’s loan forgiveness should tax-free, or nobody’s should be. Government employees and non-profit workers are nothing special, no offense.

The idea of debt-forgiveness is not entirely partisan. Even President-elect Donald Trump has proposed settling payments at 12.5 percent of income and forgiving balances after 15 years. It is Obama’s expansion of current plans and new taxation codes which makes the plan economically unsustainable.

For young Americans with college degrees but who can now not find jobs in the slow-growth economy, they cannot afford to pay off their loans. To them, a student in debt a relief plan sounds amazing. But for a country in debt, this agenda is not the greatest good for the American people. The real solution is not student loan forgiveness, but for the economy to get moving again with robust growth and creating jobs. The government can help that along by reducing the cost of doing business here.

And stop telling every American they need a college education when not every job requires one. Otherwise, as universities raise prices the government will be forced to forgive more and more, eventually it is possible higher education will take home mortgages place as highest household liability. Then, even the people who need to go to school for their chosen vocation won’t be able to afford it.


Princeton University's Non-Sanctuary Sanctuary Campus

Christopher Eisgruber, the president of Princeton University, recently sent out a letter urging Donald Trump to continue Barack Obama’s immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). That’s essentially the cleverly named “Dreamers” Act, which never received congressional approval. Eisgruber defended DACA as “a wise, humane and beneficial policy.” That’s arguable, but Obama’s lawlessness in enacting it was neither wise nor beneficial. In the letter, Eisgruber sought to walk the line of both supporting illegal immigrant students while at the same time supporting Rule of Law. Good luck with that.

Eisgruber stated that he was motivated to write the letter in response to some who had “asked Princeton to declare itself a ‘sanctuary campus.’” He responded in the letter by stating, “Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.”

While stating that Princeton would not declare itself a “sanctuary campus,” he also made it clear that the school would seek to protect the privacy of all its students, and that it would do everything in its power to accommodate those DACA students. However, Eisgruber also noted that the university was not “beyond the law’s reach.”

So, the bottom lines is that Princeton University will not declare itself a “sanctuary campus,” yet in many ways it will essentially behave as one. The university’s passive-aggressive behavior is to choose a policy of non-enforcement while at the same time not seeking to prevent the federal government from enforcing it. Those in the ivory tower evidently like to have their cake and eat it too.


Setting the Record Straight on Detroit Charter Schools

The nomination of school choice supporter Betsy DeVos for the post of education secretary has reignited a lively debate over the impact of school choice and student-centered education financing.

One case in point is a piece by Douglas Harris, who last Friday took to the pages of the The New York Times.

In his piece, Harris singled out Detroit’s charter school initiative as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” Citing one “well-regarded study,” Harris argued that “Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools.”

The study to which Harris was referring—a study on charter school performance in Michigan conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—was actually far more positive toward the Detroit charter environment than the Times piece would have one believe.

It is hardly a “disaster,” with, as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out, some 47 percent of charter schools in Detroit significantly outperforming traditional public schools in reading.

As the conclusion of the CREDO study explains:

Based on the findings presented here, the typical student in Michigan charter schools gains more learning in a year than his TPS counterparts, amounting to about two months of additional gains in reading and math. These positive patterns are even more pronounced in Detroit, where historically student academic performance has been poor. These outcomes are consistent with the result that charter schools have significantly better results than TPS [traditional public schools] for minority students who are in poverty.

Neerav Kingsland, who writes about choice and charters, also parsed the data from the CREDO study to better understand the performance of Detroit’s charter sector compared to Denver’s.

He found that Detroit charter schools performed better than Denver charter schools when compared to their local public school counterparts, with Detroit’s charter schools having twice the impact (0.070**) on reading scores as Denver’s charter schools (0.036**).

Moreover, Kingsland notes that almost all of Detroit’s charter schools (96 percent) performed better than or equal to their traditional public school counterparts in the area of reading. Kingsland provides an important caveat: that “Denver’s traditional schools are probably better than Detroit’s traditional schools, which brings the Denver charter effect down.”

But importantly, he writes, “given that parents in Detroit can’t enroll their children in schools in Denver, we should not decry a charter sector that is providing families better options than what they would otherwise have access to.”

In The New York Times piece, Harris goes on to reference New Orleans’ school choice system, which offers both charter school options and vouchers for private education—relevant points for Harris, since the secretary-designate is also a voucher proponent.

He references an important study by Jonathan Mills, Anna Egalite, and Patrick Wolf, published in conjunction with the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas and Harris’ own organization, the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

That study found that voucher recipients in New Orleans performed worse in mathematics after attending private schools. Harris identifies this as “exactly the opposite” of what came from the New Orleans charter reforms.

First, there are important differences between Detroit’s charter sector and that of New Orleans. New Orleans’ school system was completely leveled by Hurricane Katrina, and the charter sector that emerged in its wake was practically built up from scratch. By contrast, Detroit’s charter sector has had to operate within a larger entrenched public school system.

But more importantly, the negative findings regarding the private school choice program in New Orleans may be due to uniquely strict regulations that have not existed in any other private school choice program.

In this hyper-regulated environment, just 31 of the 84 private schools in New Orleans chose to participate in the voucher program, leaving thousands of dollars in scholarship money per student on the table.

When researchers asked why these private schools did not participate in the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), the primary reason private school leaders gave was fear of future regulations. Moreover, those that did participate were already experiencing enrollment declines prior to entering the scholarship program.

As Jonathan Butcher and I noted, “the schools that chose to enroll in the LSP—and incur the litany of state regulations in the process—were those schools that were already struggling, as evidenced by declining enrollment before program entry.”

Heavy-handed government regulations, all in the name of “accountability,” are likely to blame for hindering the potential of private school choice in New Orleans.

Finally, it is worth noting that there is a general disconnect between test scores and later life outcomes. It is highly reductionistic to measure the success of charter and other schools solely on the basis of student outcomes on state assessments.

Jay Greene at the University of Arkansas identified 10 rigorous evaluations of the impact of charter and private school choice programs on later life outcomes.

Greene found that some schools have large impacts on test score gains but have no real impact on later life outcomes. Other schools have no impact on test score gains, but end up having large impacts on later life outcomes. As Greene explains:

… the No Excuses charter model that is currently the darling of the ed reform movement and that New York Times columnists have declared as the only type of ‘Schools that Work’ tend not to fare nearly as well in later outcomes as they do on test scores.  Meanwhile, the unfashionable private choice schools and mom-and-pop charters seem to do much better on later life outcomes than at changing test scores. I don’t highlight this pattern as proof that we should shy away from No Excuses charters. I only mention it to suggest ways in which over-relying on test scores and declaring with confidence that we know what works and what doesn’t can lead to big policy mistakes.

Context is important. Choice and charters continue to be welcome escape hatches for students across the country.

The secretary-designate has been a champion of school choice for years, and for good reason: Choice enables families to match learning options to their children’s unique learning needs, and is a far better way to allocate education funding.

Contra The New York Times, it is not the variety of school options in Detroit that has been a disaster. On the contrary, these options have been a vital lifeline for thousands of students. A monopolized, government-run school system has been the problem.

Creating new schooling alternatives that empower families and children is imperative, and a worthy cause that must not be abandoned.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

British school apologises to a Christian teaching assistant who was made to feel 'like a criminal' after she told a 14-year-old student she did not agree with same sex relationships

A school has apologised to a black Christian teaching assistant it had issued her with a written warning after she told an autistic pupil she disapproved of same-sex relationships.

Victoria Allen, 51, also said she did not like the way the biblical rainbow symbol had been adopted as an emblem of gay pride.

After receiving the warning, she threatened to take Brannel School in St Austell, Cornwall, to tribunal over the matter.

But on Monday the dispute was settled out of court.  

The 14-year-old boy had interrupted an English lesson to ask her opinion on same-sex marriage.

When she gave her 'personal opinion' on the issue, the boy said he did not feel offended, but agreed when a teacher suggested he felt uneasy about the incident.

She was then given the written warning for not following the school's equal opportunities policies.

After a complaint by the boy's mother, the school launched formal disciplinary action in September.

Both parties yesterday spent the day behind closed doors at Bodmin Magistrates' Court thrashing out an agreement.

A joint statement said head teacher Andy Edmonds 'recognised Victoria Allen's right to share her Christian beliefs with students and has apologised for any upset she may have felt during the disciplinary process'.

Outside court, Ms Allen said she was made to 'feel like a criminal' for sharing her 'personal, Biblical beliefs'.

She added: 'If a child asks my personal opinion, I feel I should give it.'

However Ms Allen, a widow with three children, admitted staff should share 'balanced views'.

Libby Powell of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mrs Allens' claim, said: 'Vicky was asked a question about her personal opinion.

'We know that there are lots of people who disagree with the Biblical view of marriage and they are free to disagree.

'What we want to say is that there has to be space for the other point of view Vicky's point of view to be there as well.'

Ms Allen attends a Pentecostal church and joined the school in 2011.

In her job as a high-level teaching assistant she helps children with a range of educational difficulties. 


DeVos: Great Pick for Education Secretary

Star Parker

If the teachers unions are outraged by Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education, our president-elect must have made a good choice.

The two major unions are beside themselves that Trump picked school-choice advocate and activist DeVos, who chairs the American Federation for Children, an organization that fights for school choice, with a focus on low-income communities.

The National Education Association’s press release says DeVos supports “failed schemes, like vouchers” and “a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize, and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the appointment shows that Trump’s administration will focus on “privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America.”

But the school-choice movement, where Betsy DeVos has been an activist and leader for years, is not about any of this. It is about what the teachers unions hate the most: freedom.

It is about an outrageous idea that parents should have the power and freedom to decide where and how to educate their children.

Freedom is what I thought defined our country, the secret sauce that made, and makes, America great. It is crazy that in something as fundamental as education we have so little of it. And for those with the least power, the poor, parents are totally locked into failing schools controlled by bureaucrats and unions.

If giving parents education choice was a bad idea, why do so many want it?

Thirty years ago, school-choice programs didn’t exist. Today, according to the organization EdChoice, around 400,000 children attend private schools in 29 states with help from some type of public funding — vouchers, tax credits or education savings accounts.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than a million children are on waiting lists to be accepted in charter schools. Yes, the charter schools that Hillary Clinton criticized during the presidential campaign to cozy favor with the teachers unions.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that Betsy DeVos “uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda.”

This is laughable, coming from a union official.

The two teachers unions spent in the 2016 election cycle $33,623,843 on political contributions and $3,077,849 on lobbying to advance their special-interest agenda.

Every agenda is, of course, special interest. Betsy DeVos' special interest is advancing freedom by bringing education opportunities to poor children. The unions' special interest is keeping a stranglehold on public schools and looking out for their members and their left-wing agenda.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a high school teacher in 2014 was $56,310, with the average in the highest 10 percent at $88,910.

The Center for Union Facts shows that there are 198 employees at the American Federations of Teachers with compensation over $100,000, with president Weingarten standing at $543,150.

Regarding the claim that school-choice programs drain funds from public schools, American Enterprise Institute scholar Gerard Robinson, former commissioner for education in Florida and secretary of education for Virginia, reports that inflation-adjusted spending on education since the end of World War II has increased 663 percent, with virtually no change in reading and math scores since 1992.

In 2016 the Department of Education will spend $79 billion, up 67 percent from 2000.

A headline on the National Education Association website says, “Transgender students thrive in supportive schools.” Can you imagine the NEA worrying about Christian children getting biblical values?

Parents should be free to choose a school embracing transgender values or Christian values. It should be up to them, not unions or bureaucrats.

Having known Betsy DeVos for years, I am confident that unions will find their fears justified, and that our new secretary of education will provide leadership to significantly improve education in our country by bringing freedom and choice to families.


Leftist educators not concerned by the poor results that they have delivered in Australian schools

The latest international maths and science results suggest that Australia is a slow learner when it comes to improving school performance. Our mean maths and science scores in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS2015) are the same as they were when TIMSS started 20 years ago.

It’s not just the Asian ‘tiger economies’ that are beating us: England, the USA, Ireland, Russia and Kazakhstan have also improved in the last decade and are now doing significantly better than we are. Australia has dropped down the international rankings to the middle of the pack.

At the same time as the TIMSS results were released, several hundred education academics were in Melbourne at the conference of the Australian Association of Research in Education — our peak educational research body. Given that the downward trend in test results has been apparent for some time, it might be expected that the education academy would be hell-bent on seeking out the best ways to teach maths and science so we don’t end up with a third-world economy.

The pre-occupation of the academy is apparently focussed elsewhere, if the presentation topics at the conference are an indication. They included such critically important subjects as ‘Thinking and doing research on female bodies differently – ‘listening’ to moving bodies’, ‘Nietzsche on aesthetics, educators and education’, and ‘Meet the phallic lecturer: Early career research in a neoliberal imaginary’. Among the several hundred presentations, 14 titles contained the word ‘maths’ or ‘mathematics’, while 10 contained the word ‘neoliberal’, and 18 contained the word ‘gender’.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), which leads the TIMSS study in Australia, described the results as a ‘wake up call’. The fact is, the alarm about maths and science (and reading) went off a decade ago. We keep hitting the snooze button while other countries stopped crying into their pillows over neoliberal conspiracies, rolled out of bed, and got on with it.


Friday, December 02, 2016

Hands down! British school warns pupils who try too hard

This is nonsense.  Teachers have always been able to choose which student they wanted to answer questions.  I recollect teachers saying to me:  "Yes, John.  We all know you know the answer but I want to hear from someone else"

Generations of children have indicated their eagerness to answer a question by thrusting their hand in the air.

One school has decided to ban the practice, however, as part of a movement which argues that raising a hand does not fit with modern values or educational methods.

Barry Found, principal of Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, angered teachers and parents by saying that the “age-old practice” of children putting up their hand did not help their education.

“We find that the same hands are going up and, as such, the teaching does not challenge and support the learning of all,” he told parents in a letter. “We will use a variety of other techniques to ensure that every student is challenged and developed


US students lag peers in East Asia, Russia in math, science

In a globally competitive world, American students have strides to make when it comes to math and science, where they lag behind a solid block of East Asian countries as well as Russia and Kazakhstan.

Eighth graders in the United States improved their scores in math over the last four years on the global exam. Scores for science, however, were flat. In fourth grade, scores were unchanged in the math and science tests, according to results released Tuesday.

"The results do suggest a leveling out in the most recent cycle," said Ina Mullis, an executive director of the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College, where researchers helped coordinate staff to administer the assessments. "One always prefers to see improvement, but holding ones' own is preferable to declining."

Singapore topped the rankings, taking first place in both grades for math and science on the tests, known as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS.

The United States placed 10th in fourth-grade science and in eighth-grade math. In eighth-grade science, the U.S. was in 11th place. It ranked 14th for fourth-grade math, just behind Portugal and Kazakhstan.

Globally, results from the 2015 exams showed achievement trends were up — with more countries registering increases than decreases in math and science for both grades. Gender gaps were another highlight. They have narrowed over the last 20 years, especially in science at the eighth-grade level.

"A lot of countries have been working hard to close that achievement gap, and have promoted girls' interest and participation in science," said Michael Martin, who runs the International Study Center with Mullis.

While the short-term trend for American students overall wasn't glowing, scores over the last 20 years have improved considerably. Math and science scores for eighth graders had sharp gains, as did scores for fourth-grade math. Science scores for fourth graders showed more modest gains over the last two decades.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, lauded progress by the nation's students. The study "affirms that when there is an alignment between teachers and students, instruction and standards, and resources — giving teachers the flexibility to teach what students need to know and do — we see success," said Weingarten.

The TIMSS exams are administered every four years in dozens of countries worldwide. More than 600,000 students around the world took part in the 2015 exams.


Is going to university a waste of everyone’s time and money?

AUSTRALIANS are more qualified than ever. A record number of Australians now have a bachelor’s degree, masters or PhD. But a dangerous idea is out: Degrees might be a big fat waste of time and money.

Thirty years ago you didn’t need a degree to be a journalist, for example. Now? Most job ads demand a degree and plenty of the people applying have taken a masters degree, so they look even more qualified than the competition.

The same “degree inflation” applies in a huge range of fields.


The idea is this: you don’t actually learn much at university. Under this idea, university is a way of showing off that you’re good. It’s like the peacock’s tail — not useful in itself, just a big signal that you’re hot stuff.

Is university just signalling? If it is, it would explain why it doesn’t seem to matter that you forget a lot of what you learned — and perhaps why employers of graduates are always complaining their recruits don’t have any valuable skills

If the signalling theory is right, we would, as a society, be better off making people spend less time in uni. But the reality is the opposite — we are sending more and more people to uni.
More people are graduating with degrees, but do they really need them?

More people are graduating with degrees, but do they really need them?Source:Supplied


As people work harder and harder for qualifications, a backlash is brewing.

Some very powerful businesses have stopped requiring a degree. Professional services firm EY is one. In the UK it no longer looks at academic qualifications in its entry criteria.

Google is also expanding its ranks of the degree-less, according to its head of hiring. Those firms think they can get good value from people without degrees.

US entrepreneur Peter Thiel is famous for questioning the benefit of higher education. He pays scholarships of $100,000 — called Thiel Fellowhips — to brilliant young people in return for dropping out of uni and becoming entrepreneurs instead.


Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to university. Even if it is a waste of time in some ways, most jobs still require a degree. Going to uni is still very much worthwhile for most people.

The data is very clear — people with a Bachelor’s degree will earn $2.9 million over their lifetime compared to $2.07 million for people who finished year 12 without going to uni.

This can’t be used as proof that uni makes you more productive though.

If university is just signalling these people would have been just as useful in the workplace if they hadn’t gone to uni. (And maybe even more useful, because they’d have extra experience instead of a qualification.)

It also implies that plenty of people who didn’t go to uni would do even better at those jobs than the people with degrees. After all, going to university is still mostly for wealthier people, despite the way the HECS scheme has made access way more widely available. (People who are born to rich and well-educated parents are the ones who tend to end up at uni.)


But the problem remains this. We don’t know for sure if this big idea is right. Do people really learn at uni or not? I asked the man who invented the HECS/HELP system, Professor Bruce Chapman, what the evidence had to say.

“We just don’t know,” Chapman said. He has trawled through hundreds of studies to try to figure out if university is mostly learning or mostly just signalling. “We don’t have a good measure for it.”

Some degrees are more practical than others, Chapman said, for example, dentistry: “Would you want an accountant pulling out your teeth?”

Philosophy degrees, he said, are different. They may be more of a way of showing that you are able to think clearly and obey the rules and requirements of a university environment for three years.

Ultimately, Chapman reckons uni is most likely to be a mix of learning and signalling. “If I had to guess, I’d say 50:50.”

Other experts, like Professor John Quiggin of the University of Queensland, disagree, saying the proof is out there and university mostly builds skills.

Debate will continue on whether or not sending more and more Australians to university is a good investment. But one thing most experts agree on is that a very different kind of education is a guaranteed winner. The advantages of early childhood education are enormous, and can last for a lifetime.

One American study found the return on early childhood interventions is $10 for every $1 invested. And the benefits go to everyone, not just the people who are lucky enough to go to uni.

So, maybe, as a society we should worry more about whether Australians go to kindergarten, rather than whether they go to uni.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

College Instructors Tell Students: America’s Founding Fathers Ran ‘A Terrorist Organization’

Instructors at the taxpayer-funded University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) reportedly told students enrolled in their team-taught humanities class that America’s founding fathers ran “a terrorist organization” and used “violence and terror to influence opinions” in their fight for independence from Great Britain.

The course, titled “Resistance and Revolution”, was co-taught by Jared Benson, a history lecturer, and Nicholas Lee, an instructor in UCCS' sociology department.

According to The College Fix, a student who wished to remain anonymous recorded lectures given by Benson and Lee in October and November, telling the website that “what they have been teaching us goes beyond any liberal interpretation of history that I have ever heard.”

The Declaration of Independence lists 27 grievances the colonies had against King George III, including cutting off their trade with other parts of the world, imposing taxes and quartering soldiers in their homes without their consent, and depriving them of a trial by jury.

The document refers to the king’s rule as “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” of their rights as British citizens.

The Declaration also states that it is the duty of a people oppressed and abused by a government to establish a new form of government for themselves, one that acknowledges their “certain and unalienable rights,” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But Benson and Lee compared the colonists’ revolt to modern-day terrorists.

“As Jared [Benson] pointed out, by any modern definition, this was a terrorist organization. And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic,” Lee reportedly told the class. “Like literally an organization that uses terror to accomplish what they want. That’s exactly what they were doing, right?” he asked students.

“So all these people that we were like, 'Oh they’re our founding fathers.' It’s all relative. At the time, they were using violence and terror to influence opinions,” Lee was heard saying.

According to the audio recording, Benson also told students that because there was no nation at the time, and the founding fathers’ identities were linked to the particular colonies they resided in before the Revolutionary War, they used indoctrination to convince their fellow colonists to revolt against English rule.

“So I think that the wealthy created this idea of suffering and led the colonists to believe that they were suffering as a result of British repression,” Lee added.

Benson also suggested that it was hypocritical of the founding fathers to refer to themselves as being enslaved by the British government when many of them owned actual slaves.

“They argued that forcing them to buy British tea over Dutch tea was again enslaving them and compromising their freedoms. What do you think of that? It was a bold claim to make,” Benson told students.

“For a culture that literally enslaved people, to kind of throw that word around – because they have to buy tea from a certain company – feels… maybe a little bit propagandist. But that’s a key piece to successful social movements,” he said.

Benson also criticized the colonists for dressing as Native Americans during the Boston Tea Party, calling their stated grievances against the British monarchy “child-like gripes.”

“Why’d they dress up like Native Americans? That’s offensive on so many fronts. Maybe keeping their identities secret – except they all wrote about it later. So perhaps as unjustified as the colonists were in their child-like gripes against the Crown, the Crown in and of itself is making it worse.” emailed both instructors, asking them to confirm that they compared the founding fathers to terrorists, and asking them to explain the differences, if any, between the Sons of Liberty and jihadist groups such as ISIS.

After receiving no response, CNSNews was contacted by Tom Hutton of the University Communications Office on behalf of Benson.

“The University of Colorado [at] Colorado Springs supports the constitutional principles of free expression and its protection for both faculty and students,” Hutton told CNSNews, adding that “the course was not an American history course or a course on the American Revolution”.

He also stated that The College Fix website distorted the instructors’ comments and “removed the context of the course and its focus on social movements in the United States and across the globe.”

CNSNews also contacted The College Fix and asked if the website had received any pushback from the university.

“The university requested all four lectures be transcribed in full for their review and we agreed to that. That process is underway. That is the extent of our discussions with administration at this time,” The College Fix editor Jennifer Kabbany told CNSNews.


Trumping the ivy walls

After parallel careers in the military and higher education, I believe our recent campus unrest reflects a lethal combination of bad parenting and leftist indoctrination thinly disguised as teaching. Raised on participation trophies rather than real responsibilities, the me-first generation infests campuses miraculously transformed from preserves of higher learning into leftist cactus gardens where every succulent bites, stings or scratches. Our students learn less and less while being programmed more and more, their skyrocketing tuition coaxed from obliging parents or the bottomless coffers of taxpayers.

Recently, some professors canceled exams to assuage the post-election angst of their students. Others discovered the new obligation of the university (Harvard, Yale, Brown, et. al) to serve as a sanctuary. After decades of disinformation, it was a comparatively simple matter to turn campuses that once taught the canons of Western civilization and other conceits of dead white males into sanctuary cities for the indigent or the undocumented. One hand-painted sign at Columbia recently asserted, "No one is illegal!" Wanna bet?

But even faculty club Jacobins may be sensing that the tectonic shifts of recent politics could soon spawn other tsunamis. In their cover story, "A Humbling of Higher Ed" the Nov. 11 Chronicle of Higher Education begins, "The president-elect's resonant skewering of elites, political correctness, and immigration policy resonates with the country's longstanding skepticism of academe." But the recent humiliation of campus pundits, pollsters and prognosticators was so intensely painful that their institutional house organ could barely bring itself to whisper the dread word, "Trump."

For decades, there has been a growing conviction that American academics, like their counterparts in Hollywood and the American media, have abandoned any pretext of objectivity or fair-mindedness. While U.S. education levels were dropping to 17th - well behind Finland, South Korea and Hong Kong - University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt surveyed his colleagues at a 2011 professional gathering.

He found that in an audience of over a thousand, more than 80 percent were liberals while only three people haltingly identified themselves as conservatives. According to The New York Times, "Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a "tribal-moral community" united by "sacred values" that hinder research and damage their credibility - and blind them to the hostile climate they've created for non-liberals."

No one seems to have worried that some of those non-liberals might actually be students, still less that they might have naively hoped that their tuition dollars would prepare them for productive careers. Instead, student potential was less important than the one-sided ideologies of their professors. Maybe there should be an academic version of the Hippocratic Oath: "First do no harm."

Even if there were, some would still oppose it. One of them would presumably be professor Donald Lazere, author of, "Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias." As he explained to the American Association of University Professors, "For many years I have been making the case that the ceaseless conservative attack against bias and political correctness among leftists in both education and media disingenuously stands the truth on its head: the far greater bias pervading American society is conservative, but it is not widely perceived as a bias - just as the normative, natural order of things."

Got that? When the professor at your son's university disses or ignores conservative viewpoints, he does so only because he is a caped crusader, relentlessly exposing the inherent biases of Western society. When the lecturer at your daughter's liberal arts college insists that any religion except Islam is sexist crowd control, then she is merely pointing the next generation toward the sunny uplands of new truths. Ironically, such indoctrination takes place while the professoriat enjoys a cushy lifestyle and protectionist job security. Anywhere else, such "feather-bedding" is either condemned or outlawed. But in academe, those same practices are collectively known as tenure, meaning you can't be fired. Nice work if you can get it.

What is most astounding is that this PC-crazy, Alice-in-Wonderland world of safe spaces, white privilege and micro-aggressions is actually built upon the shifting sands of benign toleration. American colleges and universities are financially supported by an interlocking directorate of parents, alumni groups, generous donors, gullible state legislatures and an eager-to-please federal bureaucracy. Yet the sea change will shortly arrive as an impressive number of these institutions reconvene in January under the adult leadership of Donald Trump, Republican governors or conservative-minded state legislatures.

Among the most urgent questions facing them: Why should we continue to overlook the ongoing scandal of American academe, paid for by private and public dollars? Above all: Why should we continue to finance the subversion of our youth, much less the institutional obliteration of our most cherished Western values?


Australian students are worse at maths and science than children in KAZAKHSTAN

Thanks to "modern" (Leftist) ideas in the classroom

Australian students are worse at maths and science than students in countries such as Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Serbia.

The latest results from the four-yearly Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), shows Australian students have gone backwards as other countries have improved.

The study looked at how well Year 4 and Year 8 students have mastered maths and science lessons, asking questions like how many legs an insect has, which animals lay eggs and what the angles in a triangle add up to.

The Australian Council for Educational Research, which reports on the study, said it should be a wake-up call.

The council's Sue Thomson said the long tail on results was of particular concern.

Between a quarter and a third of Australian students are still not meeting the proficient standard.

'In terms of children in classrooms, that's probably seven or eight students in your average 25-student classroom,' Dr Thomson told AAP.

'That is a big worry and it's not something that's changed over the last 20 years.'

But Dr Thomson says the results only reveal the problem, not solutions.

It could be that Australia has not set its sights high enough, with the 'proficient' standards here set just above the TIMSS intermediate level.

'Since TIMSS 2011 we haven't really put in much that would lift performance at those lower benchmarks so nothing really has happened,' Dr Thomson said.

She highlighted the huge role socio-economic background - measured by the number of books at home - played in a student's success.

If just the results from the richest students were used, they would be among the top eight countries in the world, whereas those from poorer families are within the bottom quarter.

'I'm not necessarily going to relate it to funding, however we're back at the table insofar as school funding goes and we're still finding that disadvantaged students from disadvantaged schools are those who are not achieving well in these sort of tests,' Dr Thomson said.

'They're the ones we need to be targeting to try and improve their achievement.'

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the fascination of some with how much money was being spent in schools came at the detriment of examining its distribution and what would actually boost results.

He will use the maths and science results as a key part of his mid-December discussions with state counterparts about a new funding agreement.

But Labor said it was disingenuous to use the TIMSS results to say Gonski funding hadn't made any difference because students were tested in 2014, when less than 10 per cent of the total money had gone to schools.

'(The results) show governments must act immediately to break the link between poor performance and disadvantage,' Labor's education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said.

'Both Liberal and Labor state governments know the positive difference extra needs based funding is making in their schools - that's why they have put politics aside to campaign together against Malcolm Turnbull's cuts.'


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Muzzled Professors: An Inside Look at How One College Lets Students Censor Classroom Debate
For many students and professors, one of the great appeals of college life is being exposed to new and different ways of thinking. But that age-old process is now under threat at schools around the country. Take the University of Northern Colorado.

After two of the school’s professors asked their students to discuss controversial topics and consider opposing viewpoints, they received visits from the school’s Bias Response Team to discuss their teaching style. The professors’ students had reported them, claiming the curriculum constituted bias.

These incidents, both in the 2015-2016 academic year, reflect a growing trend in higher education. College students increasingly demand to be shielded from “offensive,” “triggering” or “harmful” language and topics, relying on Bias Response Teams to intervene on their behalf. Such teams are popping up at a growing number of universities.

Heat Street filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get a look at some of the complaints to UNC’s Bias Response Team, and a sense of how the team is handling those petitions. In one report reviewed by Heat Street, a professor, whose name was redacted, had asked students to read an Atlantic article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” about college students’ increasing sensitivity and its impact on their mental health.

The professor then asked his students to come up with difficult topics, including transgender issues, gay marriage, abortion and global warming. He outlined competing positions on these topics, though he did not express his personal opinion.

In a report to the Bias Response Team, a student complained that the professor referenced the opinion that “transgender is not a real thing, and no one can truly feel like they are born in the wrong body.”

“I would just like the professor to be educated about what trans is and how what he said is not okay because as someone who truly identifies as a transwomen I was very offended and hurt by this,” the student wrote.

A member of the Bias Response Team met with the professor, the report says, and “advised him not to revisit transgender issues in his classroom if possible to avoid the students expressed concerns.” The Bias Response Team also “told him to avoid stating opinions (his or theirs) on the topic as he had previously when working from the Atlantic article.”

In a separate incident, a professor, whose name was also redacted, asked his students to choose from a list of debate topics, some of them regarding homosexuality and religion.

The Bias Response Team’s notes summarized: “Specifically there were two topics of debate that triggered them and personally felt like an attack on their identity ( is this harmful? Is this acceptable? Is this Christianity? And Gay Marriage: should it be legal? Is homosexuality immoral as Christians suggest?)”

The student, whose name is redacted and who is referred to as “they” in the report, complained that “other students are required to watch the in-class debate and hear both arguments presented.”

“I do not believe that students should be required to listen to their own rights and personhood debated,” the student wrote. “[This professor] should remove these topics from the list of debate topics. Debating the personhood of an entire minority demographic should not be a classroom exercise, as the classroom should not be an actively hostile space for people with underprivileged identities.”

The Bias Response Team wrote that while this incident “did not reach a level of discrimination,” members still contacted the professor to “have a conversation… [and] listen to his perspective, share the impact created for the student and dialogue about options to strengthen his teaching.”

The Bias Response Team wrote that once the conversation was completed, they wanted a full report of “the outcome of your time together. . . so I can document and share with the student that outreach was completed.”

The University of Northern Colorado did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment about whether the Bias Response Team is a threat to free speech and academic freedom. We also asked to be put in touch with the professors who had received complaints, but we did not hear back before publication.

Ari Cohn, a free-speech lawyer with the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said it was “deeply troubling” that UNC professors had been forced to respond to bias reports and to defend exposing their students to a variety of ideas.

“If even challenging a student’s views with a hypothetical opposing opinion is now off-limits, then truly nothing is sacred,” Cohn wrote in an email. “If professors are forced to modify their teaching styles to avoid such exercises, not only does it infringe on their academic freedom rights, but it does a tremendous disservice to students’ intellectual development.”

As Heat Street recently reported, in addition to these bias reports filed against professors, UNC’s Bias Response Team also received complaints about a campus poster that “contained the word ‘crazy’ used in a mocking and flippant way”; after a professor described valence electrons as “retarded”; after an event during Eating Disorder Awareness Week featured a “triggering” healthy-foods competition; and after a Health Center worker asked whether a student needed birth control.

UNC’s Bias Response Team also hung 680 posters on campus last semester as part of a #languagematters campaign warning students against offensive language. Off-limits words included “crazy,” “poor college student” and “hey, guys.”

To date, more than 100 U.S. public colleges and universities have established Bias Response Teams.


Tufts Student Govt Rejects Free Speech Resolution as ‘Unsafe’
The Tufts University student government has overwhelmingly rejected a resolution to broaden free-speech protections on campus, with some student leaders denouncing the measure as an “unsafe” act that “actually really harms students.”

The resolution from Tufts student Jake Goldberg had called for adding clarifications to the university’s speech guidelines, which have earned Tufts a “red light” rating from the free-speech advocacy group FIRE.

The resolution took aim at the university’s vague administrative prohibitions against “inappropriate language,” “gender bias,” “hurtful words,” and “comments on an individual’s body or appearance,” among other examples cited in the measure.

Such guidelines were far too broad, and threatened free speech rights on campus, Goldberg argued. Clarifying language was needed “so that we the students are fully aware of exactly what conduct violates Tufts’ policies and simultaneously receive the full protection of the First Amendment in regards to speech.”

Tufts student leaders did not agree. The student senate recently voted down the measure 26 to zero, with two abstentions, the College Fix reports. A number of student senators argued that the proposal “actually really harms students” because “clarity in itself is subjective.”

One student senator argued in a Facebook post, which she later deleted, that a holistic process is needed to balance our right to free speech and everyone’s right to access their education free from discrimination.”

Student senator Nesi Altaras pushed pack on the suggestion that free-speech rights are the “best kind of rights,” because “there are other countries with free speech issues, and some countries handle them better than America.”

Another student senator, Ben Kesslen, suggested that Tufts students “instantly” began feeling “unsafe” upon learning of the resolution’s existence. “By passing this resolution, we [would be] making more students feel unsafe on a campus they already might not feel safe,” he said.


Professor Pushes Back Against Bias Response Team at the University of Vermont

A University of Vermont professor has published an open letter claiming the college’s broad definition of bias has a chilling effect on classroom discussion, calling for new measures to protect free speech and academic freedom.

Dr. Aaron Kindsvatter, a psychotherapy professor, has asked the faculty union at the University of Vermont to vote on Sept. 30 to adopt the so-called “Chicago principles,” which support unbridled free speech on campus. He’s also pushing for the faculty senate to approve such a free-speech resolution and urging the university’s Bias Response Team to explicitly promise that it won’t interfere in classroom discussions.

Kindsvatter says his efforts this semester are directly prompted by Heat Street’s investigation into bias response teams’ infringements on free speech, mentioning the story about how the University of Northern Colorado’s Bias Response Team told a professor to avoid potentially sensitive topics, including transgender issues.

“I looked at what the bias response language at the University of Vermont was, and in the vague language, I really saw another University of Northern Colorado,” Kindsvatter says.

Right now, the University of Vermont defines bias as “a personal inclination or temperament based on unreasoned judgment or belief,” adding that its definition of a bias incident “is intentionally broad.”

In his open letter to the campus, Kindsvatter wrote, “Given the breadth of the Bias Response Team definition of what constitutes a bias incident, any expressed thought from any place on any ideological spectrum pertaining to a sensitive social issue that is not expurgated to the point that it is leeched of meaning could be considered biased, and potentially appropriate for reporting.”

The open letter notes that the university’s Bias Response Team also keeps complainants’ identities confidential — meaning that “if you participate fully in the interrogation of thorny ideas, a professor or student may secretly report on you.”

A University of Vermont spokesman said the college “vigorously supports freedom of inquiry and expression within the academic community,” adding that the Bias Response Team was created in January 2015 to promote dialogue and education, especially about difficult issues.

“The intent is not to suppress speech,” says Enrique Corredera, the university’s executive director of news and public affairs. “In fact, the team has not been involved in, and the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity has not conducted, any investigations, involving professors and speech issues. Ultimately, we are seeking to establish and maintain a healthy balance between free speech/academic freedom on one hand, and our responsibility to promote a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for all member of our community on the other.”

But Kindsvatter says that in recent years he’s seen a troublesome tendency among some of his students.

“There is a very, very strong belief, even among graduate students, that there should be a third party or person who comes in and kind of saves people from situations in which they don’t have power,” Kindsvatter says. “I’ve seen that, and I’ve also seen really extreme ideas about what constitutes safety and the lack of safety. It’s almost like the concept of a lack of safety has crept out and out and out, to the point where words and ideas are almost considered to be expressions of violence that can really, literally hurt somebody.”

But Kindsvatter says frank classroom discussion is especially important in an era of growing violence, radicalism, and racism. That conversation helps people weigh bad or destructive ideas against better ones, he says. In contrast, suppression of free speech, including in the classroom, drives harmful philosophies underground, where they can flourish into something truly dangerous.

“I’m not looking to irritate anyone here,” Kindsvatter says, “but I really do think in a post-Orlando world, we’ve really got to be crystal clear that the Bias Response Teams don’t interfere with conversations.”