May 12, 2011
ELW

Imposing a Federal Curriculum on Private Schools – Why Voucher Programs that Require State Tests Are So Dangerous

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On May 9th, a group of academics, think tank leaders and policy makers led by Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution, Sandra Stotsky and Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas and others, who have long seen the dangers of a federal curriculum, released a 100+ signatory counter-manifesto to the Shanker Institute and US Department of Education’s efforts to combine national curriculum guidelines and national tests with the Common Core National Standards already being implemented through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

Along with many distinguished groups and policy makers at the state and federal levels, Education Liberty Watch has the honor of being one of the original signatories to this excellent document.  The consortium’s press release discusses the problems and lack of need for these brazen moves to nationalize standards, curriculum, and tests:

  • These efforts are against federal law and undermine the constitutional balance between national and state authority.
  • The evidence doesn’t show a need for national curriculum or a national test for all students.
  • U.S. Department of Education is basing its initiative on inadequate content standards.
  • There is no research-based consensus on what is the best curricular approach to each subject.
  • There is not even consensus on whether a single “best curricular approach” for all students exists.

As is proper, the first and greatest concern listed is the legal/constitutional issue.   This is enormously important, because the U.S. Constitution is silent on the matter of education.  Yet the federal role in education is growing larger by the year. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has the federal government interfering in and setting state and local education policy in a myriad of ways. One good provision in NCLB, however, prohibits federal interference in curriculum.

NCLB is awaiting reauthorization.  The Obama administration/s blueprint for that reauthorization includes requiring that states implement national “college and career” ready standards in order to receive funds under this law.  No one seems to be noticing that federal funding of these standards is a significant violation of that prohibition on federal interference with curriculum as is the federal DOE and Shanker Institute’s effort to develop national curriculum guidelines.

Now thanks to the Race to the Top program’s bribery/thuggery of dangling billions of deficit dollars from the worthless stimulus program paid for with a maxed out credit card to cash starved states to “voluntarily” accept unconstitutional, lowest common denominator national standards and federal control of education, 43-1/2 states and D.C. are implementing these national standards in their states.  (Putative conservative former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s education department adopted the English language arts standards, described by curriculum and standards expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky as “content and culture free,” but was at least wise enough to decline the math standards.)

Yet, these national standards are now or are becoming the basis for the state tests that private schools or low income families that accept vouchers must take.  Hence, not only are public school systems ceding their constitutional authority to determine curriculum in order to try to gain a paltry amount of federal money that if they receive it, will likely not continue, but now the private schools that want to offer poor students a refuge from the academic failure of public schools must give these state tests and only these state tests, which are now based on the national standards.

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May 8, 2011
ELW

Comments Submitted for Final Draft of Minnesota Social Studies Standards

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Karen R. Effrem, MD – President, Education Liberty Watch

The following comments were submitted individually at the end of the second public comment period for the Minnesota Social Studies standards as written to conform with the requirements of the online submission form.

It is a good improvement that the Declaration of Independence is now mentioned and discussed at the high school level and that the Declaration principle of popular sovereignty is also explicitly mentioned. However, I am still very concerned that other key principles from the Declaration are still missing.  The most important one is unalienable rights – rights that are inherent or God given, exemplified in the Declaration as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Students must understand that individual rights are not from men or governments, but are from God.

As stated in the following benchmark, the idea that the US Constitution is a changeable, living, breathing document, instead of a set of fixed principles that have made this republic the longest enduring, most stable government in history is promoted:

“Evaluate how constitutionalism and the federal, state and local governments preserve fundamental societal values, protect individual freedoms and rights, promote the general welfare, and respond to changing circumstances and beliefs.”

While there are mentions and descriptions of markets in a neutral sense or negative sense, there continues to be no mention of the benefits of free market economics and the resultant prosperity that that system has produced, especially for the United States as the freest, most prosperous, and most generous nation in the history in the world.

While capitalism is at least mentioned in a neutral context instead of a negative one as cited above in economics and world history, it is mentioned as problematic in US history.  Students are only required to compare and contrast capitalism to communism or “planned economies” and socialism. There is a moral equivalency between the various economies and political systems. There is neither guidance about the evils, deprivation, and death that communism and socialism have caused nor any discussion of the benefits of capitalism.

It is good that the Second Amendment is specifically mentioned. Although states’ rights are mentioned, it is only in the context of the Civil War. There is no discussion of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, whereas other amendments such as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments are specifically mentioned.  The Ninth and Tenth Amendments are the bedrock liberties that states have to stand against an ever encroaching federal government, such as in the health care or education debates, for example.

Although religious freedom is now mentioned in this draft, it is only in the context of the indigenous people in America before the European settlers arrived.  Religion is mentioned once in high school world history as a “motivation” for European “exploration and expansion.”  However, the quest for religious freedom is never mentioned at all in American history as an integral part of the American founding.  Despite the apparent and significant anti-religious bias of this committee, that is a huge historical error.

The anti-religious and anti-traditional BCE/CE convention continues.

My previously mentioned concern that the word liberty is only mentioned once and that it is not mentioned as an unalienable right or in the context of the sacrifices made in its defense remains.

Securing these inherent rights has made the America the freest, most prosperous, and most generous nation in the history of the world.  Yet the concept of American exceptionalism is completely absent from these standards.  Instead, there is an incredibly out of balance emphasis on the concept of America as an oppressive culture with an obsessive focus on slavery and the wrongs done to the indigenous peoples.

The standard, “People have rights both as U.S. citizens and as citizens of Minnesota and those rights have changed over time. (6.5.2.1.1)” is highly disturbing, because it promotes the false idea that rights are from government and transient, instead of God-given and permanent as written first in the Declaration of Independence and expanded upon in the Constitution.  The Founders’ understanding of the origin of our rights distinguishes America from every other nation in the world and is why the U.S. continues to be the freest, most stable, most prosperous nation in history that people do everything they can to enter.

May 7, 2011
ELW

Important Education Conference Committee Information

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The Education Conference Committee has been meeting to discuss the financial and policy provisions of the two versions of the large (omnibus) education finance bill (HF 934/SF 1030) to see where there are differences and similarities.  There have been no real decisions made so far, only discussions regarding what is in each bill, literacy programs, and teacher evaluations.

The reasons for the leisurely pace on the conference committee meetings are both because of differences between the House and the Senate and because the governor is not actively involved in negotiations regarding either the budget or policy.  The governor needs to stop standing on the sidelines and actively engage in the process.  Contact information for the conferees and the governor are as follows:

SENATE:

Senator Gen Olson (Chairwoman) 651-296-1282 sen.gen.olson@senate.mn

Senator Carla Nelson 651-296-4848 sen.carla.nelson@senate.mn

Senator Benjamin Kruse 651-296-4154 sen.benjamin.kruse@senate.mn

Senator Dave Thompson 651-296-5252 sen.dave.thompson@senate.mn

Senator Pam Wolfe   651-296-2556 sen.pam.wolf@senate.mn

HOUSE:

Representative Pat Garofalo (Chairman) 651-296-1069 rep.pat.garofalo@house.mn

Representative Connie Doepke   651-296-4315 rep.connie.doepke@house.mn

Representative Sondra Erickson 651-296-6746 rep.sondra.erickson@house.mn

Representative Dan Fabian 651-296-9635 rep.dan.fabian@house.mn

Representative Tim Kelly 651-296-8635 rep.tim.kelly@house.mn

GOVERNOR MARK DAYTON:  651-201-3400 or http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

Please consider asking these legislators and the governor to:

1)  Do not spend anything new on education and if possible cut the budget. When every other area of life in Minnesota inside and outside of government has to deal with cuts there is no reason to be adding one BILLION more to the education budget.  Especially in light of the facts that achievement is stagnant and there will have to be more negotiation on other areas of the budget and with the governor.

2) Support the Senate position on early childhood spending. Ask them to not spend another $10 million on early childhood.  Even the scholarships for poor children give parents incentive to have someone else raise and educate their children when these programs at best do not work and at worst cause academic and emotional harm. If they insist on doing this spending for scholarships, at least have them take the funds from already existing, but ineffective programs like Head Start or ECFE.

3) Beware the Senate Language on early childhood quality rating systems (QRS). There is language in the Senate bill that requires new early childhood spending to be research based and implemented based on the quality rating system framework already in statute, which would be a back door way of taking this bureaucratic, small business hampering QRS statewide.  This language should be modified to just say research based programs or removed altogether.

4)  Preserve the autonomy of private schools. Either the mandates in the House voucher provision should be removed or the voucher language should be taken out of the bill altogether and the tuition tax credits in the Senate tax bill should move forward.

5) Not implement the new social studies standards or the common core national standards.  The social studies standards are revisionist, anti-American, and anti-capitalist. The national standards are an unconstitutional, one-size-fits all means of eventual federal control of curriculum.  There is language that prevents implementation of both that should be supported.

May 6, 2011
ELW

Comments on US History Standards from an Attorney and Teacher of the Constitution

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As promised in our last alert, here are the comments on the high school US History Standards by Education Liberty Watch Board member Marjorie Holsten, an attorney and teacher of the US Constitution for home schooled students.  The third draft of the social studies standards is now available for a final public comment period.  Comments may be submitted here UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON MAY 8TH.

INTRODUCTION:

As an Attorney who has taught Constitutional Law to homeschooled high students at local homeschool co-operatives for a number of years, I was anxious to review the content of Minnesota’s new proposed Social Studies Standards for senior high students.  I hoped to see studies of the founding documents of our nation, including discussions of how the checks and balances our founding fathers drafted were intended to limit the power of government to allow people to fully enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without governmental interference.  I knew I would be disappointed by the content, but was unprepared to have my breath taken away by the amount of historical revisionism, liberal bias, and politically correct indoctrination.  I cannot help but think of the statement of Hans Schemm from the Nazi Teacher’s League who said, “Those who have the youth on their side control the future.'”

The Social Studies Standards have four sections:  U.S. History, World History, Geography, and Economics.  The U.S. History Section is by far the worst and is the only topic covered in this article.

GENERAL COMMENTS:

The word “analyze” appears 26 times in the U.S. History Standards, and the word “evaluate” appears four times.  The acts of “analyzing” and “evaluating” require students not only to learn and understand material, but also to make judgments.  When students are given only a limited amount of information, and what they are given is one-sided, any judgment they make will be skewed.  It is inappropriate to require students to do so much analyzing and evaluating under these circumstances.  In contrast, the World History section uses the word “analyze” only 7 times, and uses the word “describe” 36 times. (Obviously there were two different authors, with the author of the U.S. History being far to the left of the author of the World History Section.)

EXPLORATION:

The first section on U.S. History is appropriately titled, “U.S. History – Beginning to 1620.”  1620 was a landmark year in our nation’s history, as that was when Pilgrims in search of religious freedom landed at Plymouth Rock.   Stunningly, the standards make no mention of the Pilgrims.  Instead, attention is focused on people “forced to relocate to the colonies.”  (§9.1.4.2.3)  Students are asked to describe the indigenous peoples before European colonization (§9.1.3.1.1), and then “analyze the consequences of early interactions between Europeans and indigenous nations.”  (§9.1.4.1.1)  This is followed by a requirement that students analyze the impacts of colonial government on “enslaved populations.”  (§9.1.4.2.1)  Students then study “the exploitation of enslaved people” (§ 9.1.4.3.1), “the development of non-free labor systems,” and “the experiences of enslaved peoples.”  (§9.1.4.3.2).  It gets worse.

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