|Click to enlarge
illustration: P.S . MUELLER
Feds Fund Voucher Support
People for the American Way, a public policy watchdog organization, has uncovered a number of grants from the U.S. Department of Education to pro-voucher organizations. In the past three years, the department has doled out more than $75 million to groups including the Black Alliance for Education Options, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options, the Education Leaders Council, and the Center for Education Reform. The groups share a pro-privatization and pro-voucher perspective.
"This administration is sending millions of taxpayer dollars to groups that have been built by an interconnected network of right-wing foundations dedicated to privatizing education in America," said People for the American Way President Ralph G. Neas.
For more information, visit the organization's website at www.pfaw.org.
The United Kingdom's largest teachers' union will vote in mid-December on whether to boycott their national standardized tests, called the SATs.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary Doug McAvoy told the BBC, "[T]here is a compelling educational argument for getting rid of the SATs. I don't think it will be difficult to persuade parents and governors that these tests are useless and there are ways of assessing pupils that are better for pupils, teachers, and parents."
Head Start Bill 'Unworkable'
A group of early childhood experts called testing language in a proposed Senate bill for Head Start reauthorization "unworkable" and "unscientific," following a look at the bill in October.
Dr. John Meier from California State University, Dr. Lonnie Sherrod from Fordham University, and Dr. Susanne A. Denham from George Mason University issued a joint statement on Oct. 28 outlining their concerns about the bill.
"The make-or-break emphasis on testing in the bill is simply the wrong way to go," the doctors wrote. "The bill ignores the fact that the three- and four-year-old children who attend Head Start are in a state of significant developmental flux."
Forty leading children's advocacy groups have denounced key parts of the Head Start bill, which would also shift control of some Head Start programs to the states.
TV Hurts Reading
Children who live in homes where the TV is always on may have more trouble learning to read than other kids their age, according to a study released in October by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children's Digital Media Centers.
The report found that only 34 percent of kids ages 4-6 whose families keep the TV on most or all of the time can read, compared to 56 percent in homes where TV and video games are on less often.
"Watching TV is far inferior to playing with toys, being read to, or playing with adults," said Dr. Henry Shapiro of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Watching TV without a parent is a junk experience."
Free Speech Win
In early November, the ACLU in New Mexico settled a suit against the Albuquerque Public School District for suspending two teachers after they posted anti-war literature in their classrooms.
Carmelita Roybal, Allen Cooper, and counselor Ken Tabish put up anti-war posters, peace rally flyers, and student-made artwork against the war
in their classrooms. Administrators suspended all three in March, citing an Albuquerque Public Schools policy that requires showing both sides of a controversial issue. In April, the teachers filed suit against their schools for violating their right to free speech.
District policy now requires mediation between teachers and administration before suspensions or other disciplinary actions.
For the second time in five months, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle vetoed a series of initiatives that would have significantly expanded vouchers in Milwaukee, home of the largest publicly funded voucher program in the United States.
In July, Doyle used his line-item veto power to remove voucher expansion legislation from the state budget. In November, he vetoed a package of bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have eliminated the cap on the number of participants, expanded the program beyond the city limits to the entire county, and raised the income limit for participants. Doyle also vetoed a bill that called for a 12-year study of the program because the bill would have allowed private schools to opt out.
Since its inception in 1990, Milwaukee's voucher program has received nearly $350 million in public funds. "We should work together to improve schools for all children, not just the few in private schools," said Doyle.
Judge Halts Colorado Voucher Law
On Dec. 3, a Colorado state judge issued an injunction against Colorado's voucher program, saying it compromises local control by school boards.
Colorado was the first state to pass a voucher law since the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Cleveland voucher program does not violate the separation of church and state provision of the U.S. Constitution.
Colorado's state constitution requires local school boards to control the education they fund. But under the state voucher program, private schools receiving public money would not have been accountable in the same way public schools are.