Friday, February 20, 2015

Overlooked Education Stories in 2014

Five Top Stories Overlooked by the Media

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund named their top 5 education stories for 2014:

1.       Testing and accountability.
2.       Violence in Jacksonville (involving youth).
3.       Quality Education for All Fund.
4.       Marketing, school choice and middle school reform.
5.       Rise in graduation rate.

But here are 5 stories that have been overlooked but should not have been:

1.       Large swelling of class sizes in core classes along with no effort to reduce excessive elective class sizes. A law took effect July 1, 2014 that negated penalties for excessive class sizes. The constitutional amendment remains in effect but schools and districts will no longer suffer penalties for non-compliance. This year, the state will determine penalties according to school-wide averages rather than a class by class measurement, which by the way, is what the amendment prescribes. In response, districts have increased class sizes dramatically: core mathematics classes in middle school have 33 students and no one blinks an eye as long as the average is met or within the district’s predetermined tolerance. The real scandal is in elective classes which now average in the 40s because there’s no penalty. District leaders have abandoned the pretense of caring.
2.       Tepid response to violence in the schools. Every time students are caught bringing guns to schools, we are promised an increase in random searches of classrooms and buses. Duval County, know the truth: it doesn’t happen. Three guns were found within a 30 day stretch in my school. The number of random searches taking place after that: ZERO. Perhaps the people in charge don’t know the meaning of the word random. Random means there was no tip, no reason to suspect a weapon, but a class was selected and a search was performed.
3.       The failure of the new Code of Conduct. This one bothers me because the new Code has not been given a fair chance. It cannot stand on its own, but that is what schools are trying to do. Initiatives like Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Support are half-hearted or non-existent. That is why Class 2 and 3 violations have dramatically increased. There is little encouragement for students to act right and the consequences of acting wrong are gone. The District may protest with statistics that show violations are down, but people, get real. District statistics are based on what schools enter into the information systems. The old game of not entering referrals to show good numbers goes on.
4.       The collapse of Westside schools. As the QEA initiative draws the best teachers and lion’s share of resources into the district’s most challenged schools, the Westside continues to be ignored or come last in the district’s priorities. As a result, the district is replicating the failing conditions of the Northwest corridor on the Westside. The media stories are already written: rerun the stories of the last 15 to 20 years but replace Ribault and Raines with Westside High, Ed White, Jefferson Davis, and Jeb Stuart. Don’t be fooled by Middle School reform: if you go through the plan carefully, you will understand the lack of thought that went into themes for the Westside schools. Lots of school received information and communications technology, aerospace engineering, or the like. Schools like Jeb Stuart: technology, with a little T. That could mean anything. Pencil manufacturing is technology, low tech indeed, but still technology.

5.       Revolt of School Boards against privatization: Admittedly, we have not seen this in Duval County. But in South Florida, School Boards are beginning to question the need for charter schools that open next to successful public schools and to examine the history of applicants for past failures, and are turning down the applicants. Since we are experiencing a perfect storm of wealthy businesspeople, non-profit foundations that push charter schools, and a compliant school board, don’t look for this story to appear anytime soon.

On Guns

I’ve been reading a Facebook debate about the right to bear arms, that is, to carry a concealed weapon and what restrictions could be or should be placed upon that Second Amendment right.

Let’s start with that amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Unlike the other amendments, the Founding Fathers who created the Bill of Rights thought it necessary to give a reason for the right being protected. We could speculate endlessly on why that was the case, but it really is immaterial to the arguments that rage in our times. The language, as written, plainly guarantees that people may own and carry guns.

The odd thing is that the writers got it wrong. Citizen militias have never been able to maintain the security of a free state. Think about it: millions of people gather together to stare down an army. They bring squirrel guns, antique firearms bequeathed down generations, assault rifles, and on and on. They are unable to carry out any effective military maneuvers because they have never trained for such. They would be easy pickings for a real army.

George Washington did not defeat Cornwallis with citizen soldiers. His victory at Yorktown was won with a trained army, one he fashioned with the assistance of the French General Lafayette and Polish military officers Pulaski and Kosciuszko. It was a professional army that delivered independence from Great Britain (with assistance from the French navy that drove the British navy away from Virginia at the time of the crucial battle), not a citizen militia.

The Civil War (or War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on your ancestry and location) called up state militias. But all were under the command of professional army officers, graduates of West Point. On both sides, the military was run by professional officers who undertook the great task of forming real armies. It was the only way they could hope to win the conflict.

Nevertheless, the Second Amendment grants the right to own and carry guns to ordinary citizens.

But no right, not even those guaranteed by these amendments, is absolute. The most famous example is given by Oliver Wendell Holmes in a Supreme Court opinion as the Court considered a case involving the most famous and cherished of rights: Free Speech:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

No right is absolute. So what reasonable restrictions might Congress place upon gun ownership and the right to carry?

I think our driver’s licenses is a good way to think about this. Automobiles can also be a deadly weapon, especially given the high number of hit and run fatalities my city seems to be experiencing at the moment.

In order to drive an automobile, a person has to be of a certain age, practice under a learner’s permit, and pass a test that demonstrates their knowledge of traffic laws and ability to control the vehicle.

Why not apply the same to gun ownership? Can we all agree that persons wishing to own guns should qualify through training and exams that they know the laws, what is allowed and what is not, and that they can handle a weapon appropriately?

This is not a restriction on gun ownership, but a regulation of gun ownership. Perhaps that militia reason suggests that the writers of the Bill of Rights knew that governments would have to be involved in the exercise of the right.

The right to gun ownership is not absolute. Convicted felons are not permitted to have firearms. But the right to gun ownership is protected by the Constitution.

One last word. The Facebook debate began with an essay that the Florida legislature is misguided in advancing a bill that would permit college students to carry guns on campus when college administrations have banned them. I support the right to own and carry guns. But that is in general society. The Constitution covers public areas, general arenas, and such. You do not have a right to carry a gun in my house or yard if I say no. Property owners have property rights and can make such rules. Businesses, like stores, can ban weapons if they choose. The same is true for schools and college campuses.

Or does someone want to argue that the three 14-year old students who brought guns into my school, in two cases loaded, have a right to do so?