District drops preference for “non-Christian” teachers

When hiring teachers, “special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith,” reads the teachers’ union contract in Ferndale, Michigan. Earlier in the contract, however, a clause bans discrimination based on religion, notes Michigan Capitol Confidential.
The “non-Christian” language is “antiquated” and will be deleted, said a spokeswoman for Ferndale Public Schools. “The district does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion or other related issues,” she said.

Apparently, the language was added in the late ’70s. My guess is that someone noticed an increase in Muslim students and thought it would be nice to hire some Muslim teachers. But are Asian-American teachers underrepresented relative to the number of Asian-American students? I doubt it. And I’m sure there are plenty of female teachers in Ferndale. Why not “special consideration” for men?

It’s not clear that students learn more from a teacher of the same race, ethnicity or religion. But I’d have no problem with a school district that gave special consideration to applicants from the students’ neighborhoods and cultures. Should that kind of discrimination be OK?

Suspended learning

Reformers should support the Obama administration’s effort to “reduce the overuse of suspensions and expulsions,” argues RiShawn Biddle in a Dropout Nation podcast. Harsh discipline pushes troubled kids out of school, he argues. And it doesn’t work.

Setting racial quotas for discipline will have a “disparate impact” on disruptive students’ classmates, writes Hans Bader. Their classroom safety and learning time will be sacrificed. 

Like crime rates, student misconduct rates aren’t the same across racial categories, Bader writes.

 The Supreme Court ruled many years ago that such racial disparities don’t prove racism or unconstitutional discrimination. But in guidance released last week by the Education and Justice Departments, the Obama administration signaled that it will hold school districts liable for such racial disparities under federal Title VI regulations. In the long run, the only practical way for school districts to comply with this guidance is to tacitly adopt unconstitutional racial quotas in school discipline.

Schools can be held liable for “racially disparate impact” for non-racist policies that unintentionally lead to more minority suspensions, writes Bader.

Many schools adopted zero-common-sense policies to avoid charges of racial bias. The new policy opposes zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion. It also discourages calling the police for school misbehavior, a growing trend.

The feds have no authority to set school discipline policies — unless they’re protecting minority or disabled students from discrimination. Of course, they could recommend more sensible and flexible discipline policies without bringing race into it, but they want to do more.

Los Angeles Unified is relaxing its zero-tolerance discipline policy, reports NPR. The district won’t issue “school police citations and court appearances for minor offenses such as fighting, loitering, underage drinking, and defacing desks and walls.” Instead, schools will try “restorative justice.”

Feds won’t tolerate ‘zero tolerance’

“Zero tolerance” policies — adopted to ensure uniform punishments — are too harsh, says the Obama administration, which issued an advisory on school discipline.

“Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out of school suspensions, expulsions and even referral to law enforcement and then you end up with kids that end up in police precincts instead of the principal’s office,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than non-disabled whites, according to federal civil rights data. That’s fueled the campaign for more flexible school discipline.

The recommendations encourage schools to train teachers and staff in classroom management and conflict resolution, offer counseling to students, teach social and emotional skills and avoid using security or police officers to handle routine discipline issues.

Training school administrators to make common-sense decisions about school safety. . . Can it be done?

Under “disparate impact doublespeak,” schools must make punishments fit the percentages, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, on Flypaper.

. . . schools still “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies” that were adopted with no intent to discriminate “but nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”  Ordinary English users can be forgiven if they find themselves scratching their heads asking, “How could evenhanded and neutral policies actually be discriminatory?  Doesn’t discrimination require someone, you know, actually discriminating?”

. . . If we accept the guideline’s assumption that disruptive behavior should be evenly distributed across racial groups, Asian students are woefully underpunished.

Students who want to learn will be the losers, he predicts. Federal bureaucrats will be “winners since these guidelines give them another pretext to meddle in local schools.”

Too much Spanish = hostile environment?

An Arizona nursing student claims she was suspended for complaining that classmates disrupted classes by speaking Spanish. In her lawsuit, Terri Bennett, 50, said classmates spoke Spanish during lessons — apparently translating for non-English speakers — and primarily spoke Spanish during labs, clinicals and other activities. That made it hard for her to learn and created a “hostile environment,” she complained. In addition, the Pima Community College nursing program director called her a “bigot and a bitch,” she charged, before suspending her on charges of intimidation (arguing with an instructor about a test answer), discrimination and harassment.

Students complained that Bennett was harassing and intimidating them for having private conversations in Spanish, David Kutzler, the nursing program director, told the Daily Caller.  He denies calling Bennett a “bigot and a bitch.”

Feds to students: You can’t say that

The Obama administration’s move to “dramatically undermine students’ and faculty rights at colleges across the country” is another government scandal, writes Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in the Wall Street Journal.

The Education Department and Justice Department rewrote the federal government’s rules about sexual harassment and free speech on campus in a May 9 letter to the University of Montana. To retain federal funding, colleges and universities must punish

“unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” otherwise known as speech.

Till now, sexual harassment had to be “objectively offensive” to a “reasonable person.” That’s gone. Anyone who claims to be offended is a victim of harassment. Furthermore, colleges must respond to “student-on-student harassment” off campus and on, and may discipline the accused before the harassment charge has been investigated.

Last week’s letter is part of a decades-long effort by anti-”hate speech” professors, students, activists and administrators to classify any offensive speech as harassment unprotected by the First Amendment. Such speech codes reached their height in the 1980s and 1990s, but they were defeated in federal and state court and came in for public ridicule.

Still, a FIRE survey of 409 colleges this year found 62 percent maintain speech codes that violate First Amendment standards. Students aren’t the only victims.

In 2011, the University of Denver suspended a professor and found him guilty of sexual harassment because his class discussion on sexual taboos in American culture (in a graduate-level course) was considered too racy. Last year, Appalachian State University suspended a professor for creating a “hostile environment” after she criticized the university’s treatment of sexual-assault cases involving student-athletes and screened a documentary critical of the adult-film industry.

The government’s sweeping definition of sexual harassment will extend to other forms of speech, Lukianoff predicts.

At Tufts in 2007, a conservative student publication was found guilty of harassment for criticizing Islam. The same happened to a professor at Purdue University at Calumet in 2012, who faced a four-month investigation.

University administrators live in fear of discrimination and harassment lawsuits and costly investigations by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, Lukianoff writes. You could call it harassment.

Pregnancy bias — in a women’s studies class

A pregnant college student asked if she could make up tests or assignments missed due to medical appointments or labor. Her women’s studies professor said no. A dean told her to drop the class. Stephanie Stewart sued City University of New York for pregnancy discrimination, winning back her scholarship, repayment for the make-up class and a new policy protecting pregnant students.

UK study: Female teachers give boys lower grades

At least in Britain, female teachers mark boys more harshly than outside examiners, according to a London School of Economics study.

Expecting lower grades from female teachers, boys worked less in their classes, the study found. Girls think — incorrectly — that male teachers will favor them and work harder for them.

“Students from low-income families and minority ethnic backgrounds do not believe in systematic teacher biases,” researchers reported. They found no evidence of grading bias based on socioeconomic or minority status.

The subtly racist peanut-butter sandwich

A peanut-butter sandwich could be racist, according to Verenice Gutierrez, reports the Portland (Oregon) Tribune.

Last year, a teacher used peanut-butter sandwiches as an example in a lesson.

“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.

“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”

And maybe this is incredibly patronizing.

Guitierrez, along with all of Portland Public Schools’ principals, will start the new school year off this week by drilling in on the language of “Courageous Conversations,” the district-wide equity training being implemented in every building in phases during the past few years.

Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance.

Scott teachers met in the first week of school to read a news story and discuss its inherent “white privilege.” A few teachers had the courage to object to the school’s lunch-time drum class, which is open only to Hispanic and black boys. About 65 percent of students are black or Hispanic.

At least one parent has a problem with the the class, saying it amounts to “blatant discrimination and equity of women, Asians, whites and Native Americans.”

“This ‘club’ was approved by the administration, and any girls who complained were brushed off and it was not addressed,” the parent wrote anonymously.

“When white people do it, it is not a problem, but if it’s for kids of color, then it’s a problem?” responds Gutierrez. “That’s your white privilege, and your whiteness.”

When white people create an explicitly whites-only school class or club . . . ? Does that happen in schools?

 

Obama, the education president

Obama’s Education Record includes some success stories — and soft spots, write Mike Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt in Education Next.

His Race to the Top (RttT) initiative catalyzed a chain reaction of legislative action at the state level, securing key reforms on issues ranging from charter schools to teacher evaluations to rigorous standards. His stimulus and “edujobs” bills seemed to maintain a critical level of investment in the public schools during a time of difficult budget cuts and financial strain. His administrative action to provide flexibility on No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions bypassed a paralyzed Congress and partially fulfilled his campaign promise to lift the law’s yoke off the backs of decent but maligned schools. . . .

. . . both the Common Core State Standards effort and the move toward rigorous teacher evaluations could lead to dramatic increases in student achievement, if implemented faithfully by states and school districts. Neither of these reforms would have been adopted so quickly, in so many places, were it not for the president’s leadership.

But the stimulus wasted a lot of money, they write. Race to the Top states have back-pedaled on reforms.

And Washington keeps tightening the screws on the states, while promising flexibility. Race to the Top required states to “develop plans that complied with federal guidelines set forth in excruciating detail.”  No Child Left Behind waivers required more hoop jumping. Now the Education Department has declared that “a disproportionate percentage of white students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitutes evidence of racial discrimination.”

“Obama and Duncan have been good on education reform” compared to their Democratic predecessors, write Petrilli and Eberhardt.  But “the administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education system bailouts, on the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and on the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers.”

 

Race-based scholarships create teachers’ dilemma

Race-based scholarships have created a dilemma for Greg at Rhymes With Right. Students are told that the Texas Caucus of Black School Board Members is offering a scholarship to all African American seniors who have a 3.0 average or above. He wonders:

As a teacher, is it ethical for me to provide a recommendation for scholarships that exclude students from consideration based upon race?

No school would promote a scholarship exclusively for white students, he writes. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to make it harder for students to pay for college by boycotting race-based scholarships.