Category: Education

Science Educators Raise Alarms about Revised K-12 Standards

By Melissa Sevigny

The standards for teaching Science, and History, to Arizona schoolkids are undergoing their first revisions in more than a decade. A committee of 100 educators, parents and community members hammered out the Science document in a year-long process. But the Department of Education made unexpected last-minute changes, shifting from big ideas to vocabulary words and watering down the concept of evolution. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, some experts are alarmed.

If you think back to your grade school science classes and Schoolhouse Rock episodes, you might remember memorizing a lot of vocabulary words.

But science is more than words. It’s about wonder, curiosity and experimentation. The new Arizona Science Standards are meant to encourage a messy, hands-on approach to science. The Department of Education’s revisions [shown in green, here] shifted the focus—backward.

“As a professional, as a science educator, I just could not support teaching students this incorrect idea of what science is,” says Lacey Wieser, the department’s former director of K-12 science education. She resigned rather than implement the changes made during an unprecedented internal review.  

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MIT Now Has a Humanist Chaplain to Help Students With the Ethics of Tech

By Isabel Fattal

Even some of the most powerful tech companies start out tiny, with a young innovator daydreaming about creating the next big thing. As today’s tech firms receive increased moral scrutiny, it raises a question about tomorrow’s: Is that young person thinking about the tremendous ethical responsibility they’d be taking on if their dream comes true?

Greg Epstein, the recently appointed humanist chaplain at MIT, sees his new role as key to helping such entrepreneurial students think through the ethical ramifications of their work. As many college students continue to move away from organized religion, some universities have appointed secular chaplains like Epstein to help non-religious students lead ethical, meaningful lives. At MIT, Epstein plans to spark conversations about the ethics of technology—conversations that will sometimes involve religious groups on campus, and that may sometimes carry over to Harvard, where he has held (and will continue to hold) the same position since 2005.

I recently spoke with Epstein about how young people can think ethically about going into the tech industry and what his role will look like. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

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IL Elementary School Principal Promotes Christianity in Flyers to Staff

By Hemant Mehta

This is the kind of flyer that La Harpe Elementary School (Illinois) Principal Lila McKeown hands out to teachers at staff meetings

That’s a lot of Jesus for one public school…

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says there are plenty of other examples of religious propaganda where this came from, and they’re calling on McKeown to stop it before a lawsuit needs to be filed. In a letter to Superintendent Dr. Ryan Olson, attorney Ryan Jayne writes:

As a government entity, La Harpe Elementary is constitutionally prohibited from promoting or endorsing religion… When Principal McKeown regularly promotes Christianity to teachers, and distributes passages from the bible at official district-sponsored events, employees will conclude that their government employer is endorsing religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.

FFRF also notes that McKeown allows the Gideons to distribute bibles to students during the school day, which is absolutely illegal. (Passive distributions outside instructional time may be fine, but if you want to allow that, you better be ready for Satanists to offer some coloring books, too.)

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DeVos Moves to Loosen Restrictions on Federal Aid to Religious Colleges

By Erica L. Green

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a lifelong advocate of Christian education, moved on Wednesday to loosen federal regulations on religious colleges and universities, after a Supreme Court decision that restricted states from denying some kinds of aid to religious institutions.

The measure is part of a sweeping deregulatory agenda for the Education Department announced on Wednesday by the White House budget office, which outlined several rules and regulations for the department to scrap or amend. Among those are rules that restrict faith-based entities from receiving federally administered funding.

“Various provisions of the department’s regulations regarding eligibility of faith-based entities and activities do not reflect the latest case law regarding religion or unnecessarily restrict religion,” said Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman. “The department plans to review and to amend such regulations in order to be more inclusive.”

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OR School District Allegedly Made LGBTQ Students Read Bible Verses as Punishment

By Hemant Mehta

The North Bend School District in Oregon is being accused of two wildly discriminatory practices.

According to a letter sent back in March from the Oregon Department of Education to District Superintendent Bill Yester, one LGBTQ student was allegedly told to read Bible passages as punishment while others in the school were supposedly discriminated against after reporting harassment.

The hope was to reach a private settlement between the two sides within a month of that first letter, but it never happened. Now there will be a hearing on May 24 to discuss the issues.

In a written statement to The World, the North Bend School District said that these alleged events occurred over the course of several years, “most of which had not been brought to the district’s attention.”

“The district participated in the ODE investigation process, resulting in preliminary finding that… discrimination may have occurred,” the statement said.

“May” have occurred? The evidence that the problems did occur seems reliable enough:

Even though the district denies [using Bible reading as a punishment] in a letter sent on Aug. 23, while the investigation was ongoing, ODE stated in the March 6 letter that the building administrator contradicted that claim. In fact, he acknowledged in an interview with ODE that he required students to read the Bible for punishment. Not only that, but the building administrator’s supervisor confirmed this.

There was also substantial evidence that using the Bible as punishment had a “chilling effect on LGBTQ students’ use of the district’s complaint process.”

The building administrator plays a role in the other accusation as well. His child (“Student 4”) reportedly yelled out a slur at two same-sex students holding hands. The District told the administrator to “discuss the matter” as a parent, which suggests a more formal punishment wouldn’t be in play.

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LA Senate Passes Permission-Slip Prayer Bill So Teachers Can Pray with Students

By Hemant Mehta

The Louisiana Senate has unanimously passed a bill that will allow teachers and coaches to pray with students while on the job. If it becomes law, you can bet it’ll be the subject of a number of lawsuits since federal law prevents staffers from participating in student-led prayers.

State Sen. Ryan Gatti is behind SB 512, a bill that would let staffers pray with kids as long as it doesn’t interfere with their work and as long as every parent or legal guardian of the students in attendance “has submitted a signed request that the employee may participate in the gathering or pray with his child.”

Gatti believes this requirement will allow the bill to succeed where other attempts have failed.

… Sen. Gatti is cautiously optimistic that the measure will pass Constitutional scrutiny.

“Our approach is different and should work,” Sen. Gatti told BossierNow, then added: “No promises.”

“No promises” is right, because the problems are evident.

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TN School District Can’t Decide If It Needs to Rescind “Billy Graham Day”

By Hemant Mehta

The Claiborne Board of Education in northeastern Tennessee must be itching for a lawsuit because they announced last month that November 7 would now be known as “Billy Graham Day” in the district. Each school “would be free to celebrate the life of the famous evangelist, in any way it so chooses.” (November 7 is his birthday.)

But why would a public school district declare a special day for a man known primarily for spreading Christianity? Unlike, say, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., you can’t seriously make a case that Graham was a widely revered and respected man who just happened to be a preacher. He was, first and foremost, an evangelist. (And one who dabbled in anti-Semitism, no less.)

The board’s lawyer James Estep III must have had the same reaction because he informed the board weeks later about how they would have to rescind the honor. Estep explained how the district had already lost a major church/state battle in 1988 and this latest offense could result in an even steeper fine down the road.

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Senate committee approves bill to let Louisiana teachers pray with students

By Wilborn P. Nobles III

Members of Louisiana’s Senate Thursday (April 19) supported another bill that would allow teachers to pray with students in public schools. Senate Bill 512 is now moving to the Senate floor after an education committee voted 5-1 in favor of it.

The Senate bill would expand upon existent law that allows school employees to volunteer to supervise voluntary, student-initiated, student-led prayer. The law currently allows school staff to only participate in the gathering if it occurs before or after the employee’s work day.

Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, the bill’s sponsor, introduced the proposal in the Senate on April 2. He stressed to senators Thursday that his bill allows a school employee to participate in student-initiated prayer during the work day only if participation does not interfere with their assigned work duties. The employee will be able to do so upon the request of one or more students, Gatti said.

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How Liberty University Built a Billion-Dollar Empire Online

By Alec MacGillis

It was the start of the 2017 Fall Family Weekend at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. 47 years ago in Lynchburg, Va., and the lines were especially long to get into the basketball arena for the mandatory thrice-weekly student convocation. There was a festive feel in the air — as usual, a live band kicked things off with some Christian rock.

Penny Nance, a newly named Liberty trustee who is the head of the socially conservative group Concerned Women for America, took the stage to say that with Donald Trump in the White House, the country was much closer to overturning Roe v. Wade and putting “true limits on the abortionist’s hand.” Tim Lee, a Texas preacher and evangelist who lost his legs in the Vietnam War, gave a sermon bemoaning “homosexuals and pornographers,” declaring that one problem with “pulpits today is that they’ve got a lot of girlie men in them.” A young man in front of me in a Nautica T-shirt clapped and shouted, “That’s right!”

Liberty is spread out on more than 7,000 acres overlooking Lynchburg, a former railroad-and-tobacco town on the James River below the Blue Ridge Mountains. The student body on campus is 15,500 strong, and the university employs more than 7,500 people locally. Throughout the university grounds, there is evidence of a billion-dollar capital expansion: mountains of dirt and clusters of construction equipment marking the site of the new business school; the $40 million football-stadium upgrade, to accommodate Liberty’s move into the highest level of N.C.A.A. competition; and the Freedom Tower, which at 275 feet will be the tallest structure in Lynchburg, capped by a replica of the Liberty Bell.

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School vouchers will not help military family children

By Jason Lemieux

As a military veteran, I’m honored to have served a country that provides an education for every child. When I was an enlisted Marine, I served with lots of young parents. I saw how deeply they wanted a bright future for their kids. That’s why I’m so disturbed that some members of Congress want to raid Impact Aid to pay for a private school voucher scheme that won’t benefit most military families.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signaled support for a voucher scheme that would take money from the very schools that serve the children of active-duty military personnel and divert it to private, largely religiously affiliated schools. It’s part of the Trump administration’s plan to “voucherize” education, and it would lead to a serious loss of resources for a special subset of public schools that operate near military bases.

The Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act, the proponents of which are hoping to tack onto the next defense budget, would give military families funds to send their children to private schools, which tend to be religious in nature, or for other education-related expenses. Whatever you feel about tax money going to underwrite a religious education — and to my mind it’s a violation of church-state separation and bad public policy — you should be concerned that the money for the program would come out of something called Impact Aid.

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