If Scripture is authoritative, it should guide not only religion on Sundays, but politics, economics, and academics the other six days of the week. That's the premise of the Saint Louis Statement, a position paper issued by some friends of mine.
They were concerned about the many Christian schools and churches that buy into relativist, collectivist, and leftist ideas in disregard of biblical teachings to the contrary. We can all think of examples. (Colorado Christian University, sponsor of this blog, thankfully is not one of them; not in the least.)
The statement, entitled "The Bible, the Republic, the Economy, and the Academy," is posted here. Those of us already listed as signers welcome comments and discussion, as well as anyone wishing to add his or her signature.
Given the difficult, courageous, and ultimately successful legislative battle they just waged, the supporters of Colorado’s landmark teacher tenure reform bill –SB-191- should not be denied a brief moment of celebration over an initiative that is already winning high praise across the nation. Nonetheless in the cold light of morning they must surely be aware that the greatest obstacles to the implementation of this potentially transformational law yet lie ahead. They should also be under no illusions about the skill and tenacity which teacher unions will exhibit in their continuing opposition to SB-191. Similarly they should be aware of the sad fate of other past reform initiatives that began with much fanfare but ended in failure. As with all complex and far-reaching legislation “The Devil is in the Details” for SB-191. As it begins the journey from Governor’s signature to statewide implementation in 2013-14 SB-191 will move from the bright spotlight of media attention and public awareness to the less illuminated precincts of an intricate process of recommendations by the governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness defining “what is an effective teacher”, review and approval of same by the State Board of Education and the Legislature, and pilot programs in several school districts in 2012-13. At each stage of this process SB-191 will be susceptible to “improvements” and at each stage union influence will be anything but absent. Another major obstacle is the matter of who will pay for this reform. Without question the lure of millions of federal dollars attached to the Race To The Top program (RTTT) was a substantial motivator for cash strapped Colorado to pass SB-191. Visions of the six hundred million dollars divided between Delaware and Tennessee in the first round of funding understandably weighed heavily with legislators completing a season of brutal budget cuts and anticipating even more severe cuts next year. While SB-191 will certainly burnish Colorado’s reform credentials, future RTTT funding is no slam dunk. It should be remembered that a major reason cited by the U.S. Dept. of Education in its’ awards to Delaware and Tennessee was those states had near 100% pledges of support from their local teacher unions.
As the Washington Post pointed out in an article entitled “In Race to the Top, It Helps to Wear the Union Label” several other reform friendly states- including Colorado- were marked down precisely because they lacked such pledges. Very instructive is the recent experience of Florida where the legislature passed a sweeping teacher quality bill which included merit pay and the phasing out of tenure. The President of the Florida Teachers Union (FEA) bluntly warned that the State’s application for round two RTTT dollars was doomed if that bill became law. Soon thereafter Republican Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill giving as one of his reasons that he didn’t want to jeopardize Florida’s chances for RTTT funding.
Among those testifying against SB-191 was the President of the National Education Association. In the NEA’s view they may have lost a battle in Colorado, but they know they will get another turn at bat in Washington where political appointees will set the rules, select the reviewers, name winners, and allocate dollars in all future rounds of RTTT funding. In this context one is reminded of the words of the legendary teacher union leader Albert Shanker when his opposition to teacher reform was criticized as “not thinking about the kids.” Said Shanker with brutal candor, “I’ll start worrying about the kids when kids start paying dues to the union.” In the end however those legislators who voted for SB-191, particularly those Democrats who courageously crossed the aisle at considerable risk to themselves, did not do so for the money, or political advantage, or because this was a perfect piece of legislation. Rather they acted because it was a reasonable address to one of the greatest deficiencies plaguing American public education- the lack of effective mechanisms of teacher assessment which strike a decent balance between the rights of educators and the needs of children. In doing so they manifested something we used to call civic virtue. For this they deserve not just our praise, but more importantly our strong support as they seek to shepherd this still fragile initiative forward to successful realization.
Centennial Fellow William Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Baltimore Sun.
('76 Contributor) On Feb. 23 I had the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Finance, Colorado General Assembly, in support of HB 10-1296, sponsored by Representative Spencer Swalm and Senator Josh Penry. Joining me to testify in support of the bill were Jacque Graham, Principal at Inner City School and Theresa Gallegos, whose child benefits from an ACE scholarship.The idea behind HB 1296 came from former U.S. Senator Hank Brown, and it would provide low-income families with an annual $1,000 tax credit for enrolling their child in a private school. The bill would also provide a grant of $1,000 to any public school that loses a student to a private school as a consequence of the tax creditRegrettably, the bill was killed on a Party line vote, six to five, despite the compelling testimony of Jacque Graham and Theresa Gallegos, and the leadership of Representative SwalmIt is unfortunate, as the bill would have given low-income families a tremendous financial incentive to send their child to a private school, reduced public school class sizes as more children took advantage of the tax credit, and provided public schools with a $1,000 grant to help them give the children that remain behind a better quality education. The bill would have even had a positive fiscal impact on our state, with a savings of $4.9 million in the first year, $8.7 million in the second year, and as much as $36 million in ten years, according to the official fiscal note prepared by Legislative Council.It's hard to imagine rejecting a bill that would do so much:* Provide a much-needed financial benefit to low-income families;* Allow low-income children to attend quality private schools;* Support public schools with a $1,000 grant for not teaching a child who left for private school;* Save the State of Colorado millions of dollars during one of the worst recessions in our history and at a time when the Legislature is proposing to cut K-12 education spending.During the hearing several comments stood out to me as particularly alarming:* The full-time lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association (the teacher's union) testified against the bill, stating that the legislation "doesn't support public education." This statement perfectly sums up what is wrong with the CEA. The lobbyist was right that the bill's intent was not to support public education, even though it would have provided each school $1,000 for every child they lost. The bill was intended to support children, not the bureaucracy of our public education system... and shouldn't that be the point?* Other representatives who voted "no" agreed with the CEA lobbyist, saying the bill "undermined" public education. I never would have imagined that giving a public school $1,000 for every child that leaves their school would be seen as undermining public schools. After all, most of the children who would choose to leave would do so because the public school wasn't effective. Talk about rewarding failure!While it was frustrating to watch this bill go down in defeat, I was proud to represent the Alliance for Choice in Education and share with the committee some of the amazing things that are happening through our organization. ACE will continue to provide these low-income children with immediate relief from failing public schools, and we will continue to support efforts to extend school choice to every child in Colorado.The author is executive director of the Alliance for Choice in Education, a Denver-based scholarship program to help disadvantaged parents choose better schools for their children.
(CCU Faculty) Last November, New Jersey and Virginia, two states with Democratic Governors, elected Republicans to replace them. In Virginia, it was an open seat, while in New Jersey, the incumbent John Corzine was defeated.
As the administrations of Governor Christie of New Jersey and Governor McDonnell of Virginia begin to take shape, there is great hope for education reform from these new Republican governors. Each Governor-elect has picked a supporter of school choice plans to head his department of education.
In Virginia, Gerard Robinson has been selected to serve as the next Secretary of Education. Robinson has been serving as the Director of the nonprofit Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO). Seeking widespread reforms, the BAEO’s mission statement emphasizes that they seek to: “increase access to high-quality educational options for Black children by actively supporting parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working-class Black families.”
In New Jersey, Governor Christie has named former Jersey City Mayor and two-time candidate for Governor Bret Schundler to be his education commissioner. As mayor and candidate, Schundler has been a vocal advocate for education reforms, including support for school vouchers, charter schools and merit pay for public school teachers.
Representatives from the teachers’ unions in New Jersey are quoted in the New York Times, stating that Bret Schundler is “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education.” The nomination of neither Robinson nor Schundler to head these state education departments would have occurred had the democratic candidates succeeded last November. Teachers’ unions have based their support for democratic candidates on opposition to vouchers, charter schools and school choice.
Hopefully, these republican administrations will be able to implement real school reform in these states by allowing citizens to make choices about the schools their children attend. School choice plans that give parents and their children options encourage competition, which in turn demands improvements in quality, while at the same time seek reductions in cost.
Much has been said about the dumbing down of America. One look at the “Let’s Make A Deal” health-care reform process in Washington shows we need better problem-solving skills. Yet helping students learn to problem-solve and “learn to learn” is something almost all schools are failing to do, according to Jack Elliott and Larry Hargrave in a Denver Post opinion piece on Dec. 19.
My jaw dropped when I read their article. They discussed how teaching our students cognitive skills will improve the capacity of students to learn the learning skills many of our students need to improve in order to provide higher level cognitive skills and help more students graduate instead being left behind. Rather than a curriculum-based philosophy, they suggest a student-oriented approach that improves learning skills.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to our psychologist who gives the type of test that shows the skill sets our teen students have or not: short term memory, long term memory, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math fluency, and decoding to name a few. Her testing also shows how a student learns best: auditory, visually, or kinesthetically. I asked her what she would think about testing struggling students not on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) so we could differentiate classes by student weaknesses and needs instead of MAPs scores. (MAP is a computer based assessment that informs us as to where students’ skill levels fall. We place students with like MAPs scores into classes.) She was both supportive and intrigued.
My next visit was with our principal. She liked it and wanted to meet further on this. With the information from not only this editorial, but the authors’ website, cog1st.org, I hope that we can not only put this program in place through assessment, but provide staff development to assist our educators in implementation!
Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter with an MA in educational leadership and policy studies and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.
In an audacious power grab, the Colorado Supreme Court recently embraced, by a 4-3 decision, a judicial doctrine that would relegate the other two branches of government — and the voters — to a perfunctory role.
The high court's activist majority used Lobato vs. State not only to intrude on the legislature's constitutional authority to determine funding for public schools; it also self-servingly suggested that no policy decision is off-limits to judicial review.
So much for separation of powers, consent of the governed, or checks and balances. In fact, the Lobato ruling leads to the obvious question: "What's left to check or balance the court?"
The majority opinion, written by Justice Michael Bender, represented such a stark — and sometimes disingenuous — departure from established precedent that Justice Nancy Rice, who frequently sides with the activist majority, instead joined two originalist justices in dissent.
A collection of school boards and parents initiated the lawsuit in 2005, contending the legislature should increase K-12 education spending by as much as $500 million a year — as if the state could find $500 million under the couch cushions.
Two lower courts dismissed their claims, finding that the state constitution provides no quantifiable standard — other Amendment 23, which the legislature has thus far implemented — to determine funding sufficiency. Thus, the courts ruled that K-12 spending is a "political question" which the constitution specifically places within the authority of the legislature and beyond the court's purview.
However, the supreme court's majority selectively quoted and distorted the law and its own precedent. Even more significantly, the majority argued that courts can render judgments even when the law is silent, provides no quantifiable standard or confers specific authority to another branch of government.
Bender's decision devotes five pages mostly to quote law school textbooks and journals — which have no force of law — to argue that the "political question doctrine … should be abolished."
Incredibly, Bender — joined by Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey and Justices Alex Martinez and Gregory Hobbs — reasons that failure to hear the plaintiffs' claims would "give the legislative branch unchecked power." Is the majority so infatuated by judicial supremacy as to forget that the legislature is routinely checked by the governor's veto and by citizens' initiatives?
In her dissent, Justice Rice demonstrates that a judge can be liberal in applying the law while still acknowledging that even the courts must be constrained: "Chief Justice Marshall noted that without the restraints imposed by the political question doctrine . . . the other departments would be swallowed up by the judiciary."
Rice — joined by Justices Nathan Coats and Allison Eid — argues that, when the constitution says "the general assembly shall . . . provide for . . . a thorough and uniform system of free public schools," authority is clearly conferred upon the legislature and not the courts.
She also scolds the majority for twice distorting the court's 1982 Lujan ruling on school finance.
Bender asserts that Lujan explicitly established the court's authority to review public school finance. Rice corrects the record to show that the Lujan court said, "[O]ur sole function is to rule on the constitutionality of our state's system" (emphasis added) not "whether a better financing system could be devised."
Rice goes one better in dismantling the majority's argument that "the Lujan court engaged in a rational basis review of whether the state's system violated the 'thorough and uniform' mandate." She retorts: "This is simply untrue – the Lujan court never references any test for 'thorough and uniform,' uses the words 'rational basis,' or posits any standard of review."
In fact, the Lujan court left those determinations to the legislature because it was "unable to find any historical background to glean guidance regarding the intention of the framers."
That's the important distinction between originalist judges — who believe their job is to apply the laws as written and to seek guidance from those who authored them — and activist judges — who believe their job is to twist the law to suit their own political agenda and to consult unelected, unaccountable academics for inspiration.
Ironically, Bender, Mullarkey and Martinez stand for retention in November 2010. Perhaps then voters will exercise their own "checks and balances."
Mark Hillman served as senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
Besides nannying, mowing the occasional lawn and the seemingly full-time job that basketball and soccer demand, neither of us had really<!--more--> had a “real” job until this summer when we worked for a prominent Denver businessman and private investor.
While the majority of college students were basking in the freedom that comes with summer vacations, we were inside an office doing research on the Denver Public School system. Although at first, the topic seemed dull and as arid as the Colorado weather, after digging in, we both started to become emotionally enticed by the subject. Did you know that almost half of DPS students do NOT graduate?
This figure came as shocking to us; we both attended private, religiously affiliated schools and graduating was the only viable option for us. While both of us had been exposed to the occasional troublemaker-type drop-out or the befuddled kid who didn’t take enough P.E. credits, neither of us had any idea that the chance of a kid graduating from is really a coin-toss. We were even more discouraged when we found that Denver has one of the best big-city public school systems in the United States. What has gone wrong in the public school system?
The passionately compassionate businessman we worked for believes that outdated and politically corrupt teachers unions are the culprits; they prevent individual schools from having effective control over their staff, abdicate the power of the principal to make informed decisions for their school, and protect the jobs of impassionate, ineffective, and just plain bad teachers. We both have been blessed to have many inspiring, zealous and talented teachers, who are probably one of the biggest contributors (next to our parents and the fear of being grounded) to our academic achievements. Teachers can motivate and encourage their students towards success- both in and out of the classroom.
So why the shortage in good teachers, we ask? The teachers’ unions are run by and for the benefit of the teachers that are late in their careers. Accordingly, they are motivated to pay the new teachers as little as possible, allowing the older teachers to get paid more and vest in larger retirement benefits at the end of their careers. It is also almost impossible to fire a teacher after they receive tenure, which happens after three years on the job. As a result, less than 1% of teachers in DPS receive unsatisfactory ratings each year, and only a handful of DPS teachers have been terminated over the last several years. See data here.
However, the blame cannot be thrown entirely in the teachers unions’ or even the bad teachers’ corner; parents and family life play a big role in a student’s success. John and Rama Pfannenstein never missed a single parent-teacher conference in either daughter’s entire academic career. When in high school, they recalled that one teacher even commented that they didn’t need to be there; “its usually the parents who should come that don’t show up.” Maybe they only liked to hear all the good things about their bright and charming daughter (says Kari Ann tongue in cheek), but we think the real reason they attended 14 years worth of conferences is because they genuinely care and take interest in their children’s academic pursuits.
Opening the car door or walking in the kitchen every day after school and being pummeled by questions like, “how was school today?” or, “did you learn anything interesting?” is really just an excited attention and the recognition of the importance of an education; even though they were usually answered with a curt, “fine” or, “no, not really.”
Roommates Rally is the byline of Kari Ann Pfannenstein of Denver and Corinne Smith of Virginia, sophomores at Washington & Lee.
One hundred students from high schools far and wide are with us on the CCU campus this week for "Freedom 101," a short course on free-market economics conducted by the Foundation for Economic Education, New York-based granddaddy of all the libertarian and conservative think tanks, with the assistance of Prof. Tamara Hannaway of the CCU business school. Here's a firsthand report from the FEE blog. Here's the latest from Hannaway on how liberty fuels prosperity, in the June Centennial Review, page 3.
In the fall of 2004, Wesley Busch was a kindergarten student at the Marple Newtown School District in Marple, Pennsylvania. Each week, one of the students in his class would be the featured student in a classroom unit entitled “All About Me.” During their assigned week, students were asked to design a poster (favorite things to do, favorite things to eat, places to go, etc.) and on the final day of the week, one of the child’s parents was asked to come to class and bring something of importance to share. Often this would include bringing a favorite book to read for the class.
Wesley Busch and his mother Donna Kay Busch decided that what Wesley would like to share would be from his favorite book, the Bible. So on the assigned day, Mrs. Busch showed up at the school, prepared to read 5 verses from the Book of Psalms. Before reading, she informed Wesley’s teacher of what she was planning and the teacher immediately notified the school Principal who informed Mrs. Busch that he would not allow her to read the verses, as it would be breaking the law concerning the separation of church and state and thus violate the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.
Mrs. Busch filed suit against the school district, claiming violations of Wesley’s rights under both the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, including claims of denying her son’s rights of free speech and expression and free exercise of religious faith. The Busch’s lost in Federal District Court and on June 1, 2009 the lower court’s ruling was upheld by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia.
The opinion of the 3rd Circuit Court largely relies upon the belief that had Mrs. Busch been able to read the verses from Psalms, she would in effect by “proselytizing” in the school room, thus violating the Establishment Clause, as public schools are government entities and they should not endorse faith. Referring to the Lemon Test (developed by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman), a three-pronged checklist is used to determine whether or not a law violates the Establishment Clause. For this case, the pertinent test concerns the second prong: “The principal or primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion.” This test, as interpreted by the courts since the original decision in 1971, requires state neutrality towards religious faith.
When we consider the “All About Me” assignment and look specifically at the question of a student bringing in a favorite book for reading, should the school be permitted to censor what is permissible? When the school does allow Green Eggs and Ham to be read but does not allow 5 verses from Psalms, is it being neutral towards religion or is it discriminating against faith? An important distinction must be realized: having a student or parent read from a favorite book is not the same as if a teacher or other school employee were to do so. There is a significant difference between individuals expressing their faith in the school room as opposed to teachers in a public school setting.
We are, of course, left to wonder, what would have happened were the student to have brought in Heather Has Two Mommies or Daddy’s Roommate? Would these books have been permitted in spite of their clear agenda and attempt at persuasion? More often than not, the courts in recent years have allowed “proselytizing” when it promotes anything but religion. This, of course, is not neutral but in fact discrimination against religion.
The verses that Mrs. Busch intended to read were Psalm 118: 1-4 & 141 Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; because his mercy endures forever.2 Let Israel now say, his mercy endures forever.3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endures forever.4 Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endures forever.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.
(Washington, DC) Thomas Krannawitter's "Citizenship for New Americans" and Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" were the prep readings for our delegation from Colorado Christian University as a weeklong study trip to this world capital began today.
Prof. Bill Saxby, CCU humanities dean, and Prof. Stan Dyck, history department chairman, are leading the group of 16 students representing 10 different majors. I'm along to offer context from my experience as an appointee of Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and to explore Centennial Institute opportunities for future internships and onsite learning.
The week's theme of "America in the 21st Century World" will be developed in briefings for our group by the Center for Security Policy, the Institute of World Politics, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Alliance for Vigilance (which monitors radical Islam), the Dutch Embassy, and the Pentagon. We'll also spend time at the US Capitol with Rep. Pete Hoekstra and former Sen. Hank Brown, meet with executives from the Washington DC Examiner and Fox News, and confer with the Christian Embassy, a ministry to political leaders.
CCU's Washington Week is new this year, and enthusiasm in the group is high. We'll return to Denver on Friday evening. A student writer-videographer team will chronicle most of the above events. Watch for further reports here on the '76 Blog.
Note: We're staying at a Capitol Hill dorm as guests of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. Here's the view looking west from their rooftop deck.