Nobel prizes grow in U.S. public schools

October 4, 2017

I’m an advocate of public schools. I graduated from public schools, I attended two state universities, Universities of Utah and Arizona, graduating from one. My law degree came from a private institution, George Washington University’s National Law Center. I’ve taught at public and private schools.

Public schools are better, on the whole. Public schools form a pillar of U.S. national life that we should protect, and build on, I find.

That’s not a popular view among elected officials, who generally seem hell bent on privatizing every aspect of education. We would do that at our peril, I believe.

We can argue statistics, we can argue funding and philosophy — believe me, I’ve been through it all as a student, student leader, parent, U.S. Senate staffer (to the committee that deals with education, no less), teacher and college instructor. I find fair analysis favors the public schools over private schools in almost ever circumstance.

Though I admit, it’s nice to have private schools available to meet needs of some students who cannot be fit into education any other way. Those students are few in any locality, I find.

There is one area where the quality of U.S. public schools shines like the Sun: Nobel prizes. In the 100+ years Nobels have been around, students out of U.S. public schools have been awarded a lot of those prizes. Public school alumni make up the single largest bloc of Nobel winners in most years, and perhaps for the entire period of Nobels.

I think someone should track those statistics. Most years, I’m the only one interested, and in many years I’m too deeply involved in other work to do this little hobby.

2017 seems to be off to a great start, spotlighting U.S. public school education.

Comes this Tweet from J. N. Pearce, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:

Followed by a Tweet from a Utah teacher, Tami Pyfer, noting that Kip Thorne is not the only Utah public school kid to win recently:

Two categories of prizes have been announced already in 2017, Medicine and Physiology, and Physics.

In both categories, the prizes went to three Americans. In Medicine or Physiology, for their work on circadian rhythms, the prize went to
Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young.

Physics Nobel winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. 2017 Physics Laureates. Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017

Physics Nobel winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. 2017 Physics Laureates. Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017

In Physics, for work on gravity waves, the prize went to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne.

Thorne, we already know, was born in Logan, Utah, and graduated from Logan High School. Rainer Weiss was born in Berlin, so it is unlikely he attended U.S. public schools — but I haven’t found a definitive answer to that question. All three of the Physiology or Medicine winners were born in the U.S. Michael Young was born in Miami, but attended high school in Dallas. Oddly, Dallas media haven’t picked up on that yet. Dallas has some good private schools, and some of the nation’s best public schools.

(That article from the Logan Herald-Journal notes Logan High School also graduate Lars Peter Hansen, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, in 2013.)

Nobels in Chemistry will be announced Wednesday, October 4; Literature will be announced Thursday, October 5 (this category award often goes to non-Americans); Peace will be announced Friday, October 6 (another category where U.S. kids win rarely); and the Nobel Memorial prize for Economics will be announced next Monday, October 9.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. Ill. Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. Ill. Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017.

If you know where any of these winners attended primary and secondary education, would you let us know in comments? Let’s track to see if my hypothesis holds water in 2017. My hypothesis is that the biggest bloc of Nobel winners will be products of U.S. public schools.

As I post this, the Chemistry prize announcement is just a half-hour away. Good night!

A video about the work of Kip Thorne, from CalTech:

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Just stay quiet: Poster hoax about the Pledge of Allegiance

September 15, 2013

Anybody send this to you on Facebook (100 times, maybe?)

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Clever, eh?  It repeats the McCarthy-era editing of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then comes up with this whopper:

. . . My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school, with my hand on my heart.  They no longer do that for fear of offending someone!

Let’s see how many Americans will re-post and not care about offending someone!

Not quite so long-lived as the Millard Fillmore Bathtub Hoax — which started in 1917 — but a lot more common these days.

Just as false.  Maybe more perniciously so.

Consider:

  1. Actually, 45 of our 50 states require the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.  The five exceptions:  Iowa, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming.  See any pattern there?
  2. None of the five states previously required the Pledge, and then stopped.
  3. None of the five states claim to not require the pledge in order to avoid offending anyone.  Oklahoma would be happy to offend people on such issues, most of the time.
  4. Reposting historically inaccurate claims, without fear of offending anyone, is no virtue.  It’s just silly.

The creator of that poster is probably well under the age of 50, and may have grown up with the hand-over-heart salute used after World War II.  That was not the original salute, and I’d imagine the author is wholly ignorant of the original and why it was changed.

Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 - 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia image and caption: Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 – 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia gives a concise history of the salute:

Swearing of the Pledge is accompanied by a salute. An early version of the salute, adopted in 1892, was known as the Bellamy salute. It started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Because of the similarity between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi salute, developed later, the United States Congress instituted the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem in the United States, instead of the Bellamy salute. Removal of the Bellamy salute occurred on December 22, 1942, when Congress amended the Flag Code language first passed into law on June 22, 1942.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance. Wikipedia image.

One might understand why the Bellamy Salute was changed, during war with Nazi Germany.

Arrogance and ignorance combine to form many different kinds of prejudices, all of them ugly.  The arrogant assumption that only “our generation” learned patriotism and that whatever goes on in schools today is not as good as it was “in our day,” regardless how many decades it’s been since the speaker was in a public school, compounds the ignorance of the fact that since 1980, forced patriotic exercises in schools have increased, not decreased.

Like much about our nation’s troubles, assumptions based on ignorance often are incorrect assumptions.  Consequently, they give rise to what is today clinically known as the Dunning Kruger Effect (or syndrome), so elegantly summed by by Bertrand Russell in the 1930s:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Humorously summed up by “Kin” Hubbard:

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

Ignorance is a terrible disease, but one easily cured, by reading.  We can hope.

More:


Gulen schools: A quiet Turkish invasion of U.S. education? Is this a problem?

September 7, 2013

I would have sworn I’d posted in these issues before, but looking back through the archives, I discover I haven’t.

An interesting, perhaps odd, religious cult with Islamic roots moved into the United States several years ago, and started setting up schools for the public.  Hitching on the radical right wing’s creation of public school-killing charter programs, and riding a wave of donations from devotees of the sect, the Gulen movement set up at least one foundation, floated some bonds to build facilities, and established charter schools.  There are 40 of these schools in Texas.

Dallas Morning News photo:  The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn't ready to open for students.

Dallas Morning News photo: The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn’t ready to open for students.

My first experience a few years ago came with notice of complaints in the Midland-Odessa area about Islamic schools in the area.

Texas Education Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said the TEA has not received any complaints or unfavorable reports about the schools, which have also received good reviews in U.S. News and World Report.

Local school district officials in Midland and Odessa seemed baffled by the claims.  The flap died down.  It was during one of the creationism eruptions in Texas curricula wars, though, and I called the schools to see what they taught in science.  I got hold of a fellow in Houston who claimed to be the science coordinator for the dozen or so schools then existing in Texas.  He said he was not Muslim, and he told me that the schools do not teach creationism.  In high school, they use the Kenneth Miller-authored texts, and teach evolution.

At that time a facility being constructed near our home, which I had assumed was part of the Wycliff Bible Translating Institute nearby, put up a sign advertising that it would be opening as a charter school.  The Harmony School of Nature and Science sits in the boundaries of Duncanville ISD, but was obviously aimed at pulling students from Dallas ISD and Grand Prairie — or anywhere else parents in Texas are willing to drive from.  I know a few people whose children attend the school, and basically, they like it.  The school seems particularly adept at dealing with very bright special-needs kids.

In efforts to provide a fully-rounded education, our local Harmony School helps sponsor a Cub Scout Pack, which is a program I fully support (don’t get me going on National PTA’s stabbing Scouting in the back . . .)

Not all is rosy.  Officials of the foundation that supports and guides the Harmony schools say their sole intent is to improve education in the U.S., and it’s difficult to find any kind of unsavory indoctrination going on, the reality is that Harmony is becoming a large education system in Texas (and other places) — and some complaints unusual in the U.S. War on Education, or War on Teachers, or War on Children, create ripples.  Some teachers have complained that Turkish nationals get out-of-proportion pay packages to teach in the schools, and that good teachers are being replaced with Turkish nationals.  Some conjecture that this is being done solely to get a lot of Turkish nationals and followers of this particular sect into the U.S. — an enormous, elaborate, and U.S. taxpayer-funded scheme to get around U.S. immigration laws.

Diane Ravitch‘s education blog — the most important education news outlet in the nation right now — carried a post yesterday about more controversy; here’s part of the post (you should read it all at Ravitch’s blog)

Sharon R. Higgins is a parent activist in Oakland, California, who manages multiple websites as a concerned citizen. One is “charter school scandals.” Another is the Broad Report. Third is a compilation of articles about the Gulen movement.

Sharon has long wondered why so many districts, states, and the federal government have turned over a basic public responsibility to foreign nationals, who hire other foreign nationals, and export hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Her concern is not nationalistic or xenophobic. It is about the civic and communal nature of public education.

She writes: “On Saturday I spoke at the “Expose the Gulen Movement” protest rally held on a farm in the rural, rolling hills around Saylorsburg, PA. We assembled less than two miles from the compound where Fethullah Gulen lives. Gulen is considered to be one of the two most powerful men in Turkey. This is the video of my speech, starting at 00:45 min.

http://new.livestream.com/…/AbdEylemVakti/videos/28766474

Earlier that day, Gulenist operatives had driven around to take down the signs that organizers had posted to help guide protesters to the rally. The day before, a man from “the camp” (Gulen’s compound) also attempted to bribe the owners of the farm in an effort to prevent us from using their place.  [continued at Ravitch’s site]

I offered my experience in a comment there, but the links snagged it — so I’m repeating it here, with the links restored:  My response at Dr. Ravitch’s blog:

Texas is wholly baffled by the Gulen movement, including especially the teacher-bashing GOP education “reformers.” Hypothetically, they favor the public-school-blood-sucking charters. But things are sometimes different on the ground.

In Texas, the schools are known as Harmony schools. We had a flap several years ago when some charter school advocates discovered, to their dismay, that the schools don’t teach creationism instead of evolution (point in favor of Harmony).

At the time, TEA and local district officials I spoke with were completely unaware of the size of the group establishing and backing the schools.

Today their website lists 40 schools across Texas ( http://www.harmonytx.org/default.aspx ) in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Brownsville, Midland & Odessa, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Laredo. Parents I know have been happy with the attention their kids get, and the care paid to science and math education. Complaints in Odessa some time ago centered around the Muslim teachers, but that flap died down.

But — is this trouble? — at least one school in Dallas County (about two miles from me) has been unable to get an occupancy permit to start school this year. Students are being bused to other locations, I understand — but code officials think it may be months before the building can be certified. Does this demonstrate a lack of financial planning and ability on the part of the foundation? Does this indicate animosity from Dallas code officials (public schools in Texas are essentially exempt from local code enforcement, and some districts, like Dallas, take unfair advantage of this; what I know of the difficulties at the new Harmony building are common, never-fixed features of schools in Dallas ISD — I don’t have the full story).

Here’s the notice on the school’s web page [since removed, I think; can’t find it this morning, but this is direct quote, verbatim]:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Even with all our best efforts, we have some additional inspections that will not be completed in time for the start of school Tuesday, September 3. Therefore, we have made alternative plans to accommodate our students for this week. Please drop off your students as you normally would here at the Harmony Nature Campus by 7:50 a.m. for elementary and 8:00 a.m. for middle and high school. We have reserved buses to safely transport students and staff members to the following Harmony Public Schools campuses within our district:

Grades K-3 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Fort Worth.
Grades 4-6 students will have classes at the Harmony Science Academy-Euless.
Grade 7 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Grand Prairie.
Grade 8 students will have classes at Harmony School of Innovation-Fort Worth
High School students will have classes at Hurst Conference Center.

*Harmony Science Academy Fort Worth – 5651 Westcreek Dr. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 263-0700
*Harmony School of Innovation Fort Worth – 8100 S. Hulen St. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 386-5505
*Harmony Science Academy Euless & Harmony School of Innovation Euless – 701 S. Industrial Blvd. Euless, TX – (817) 354 – 3000
*Harmony Science Academy Grand Prairie -1102 NW 7th St, Grand Prairie – (972) 642-9911
Hurst Conference Center: 1601 Campus Drive Hurst, Texas 76054

Dismissal will remain the same: elementary at 2:50pm and middle/ high school will be at 3:15pm at the Nature campus. There will be no afterschool club and aftercare this week.

Please complete and bring the attached permission slip tomorrow with your child. We will also have extra copies for you to sign in the morning. Students should not bring all their supplies tomorrow.

Some of those bus rides are about 30 miles.

Here’s information from the blog on city issues of the Dallas Morning News (this has not hit the education desk, I don’t think): http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/2013/09/southern-dallas-charter-school-that-failed-city-inspections-still-not-ready-to-open.html/

Interesting how this group from Turkey managed to figure out where below-radar-level is in all of these states.

Diane, with 40 — or more — schools in Texas, are you sure your total of 146 schools is correct? Has anyone checked the foundation’s 990 forms lately (I’ve not looked in a couple of years). Is there just one foundation, or several?

In Texas these schools are operated by the Cosmos Foundation.  These schools have won explicit support from Texas right-wing “education reformers” like Sen. Dan Patrick, demonstrated by legislation passing the Texas Lege this year,  and have implicit support from right-wing campaigns against Texas public schools which end up promoting Harmony Schools, which have a comparatively politics-free and religion-free curricula agenda.  One might wonder whether the Texas CSCOPE controversy, and the McCarthy-esque witch hunt to find communists among Texas teachers, is not a well-designed campaign to allow expansion of Harmony Schools and other charter school organizations whose very existence might provoke higher scrutiny and public controversy, were there not other political shiny objects distracting people.

There will be more to come; check the blogs noted above, and please check back here.

Update:  Harmony lists 40 schools in Texas with 24,247 students.  In student enrollment, that makes Harmony the 51st largest school district in Texas (out of 933), larger than Denton ISD (23,994), Birdville ISD (23,545), Pflugerville ISD (22,763), Judson ISD (22,040), and Midland (21,736), but smaller than McKinney ISD (24,442), Lamar ISD (24,637), Laredo ISD (24,706), or McAllen ISD (25,622).  Duncanville ISD is about half that size, at 12,902; Dallas ISD has 157,143 students, second to Houston ISD’s 204,245 students. (Schooldigger statistics)

Update, September 8:  Cosmos Foundation — the group operating Harmony schools in Texas — showed 2011 income of just over $168 million, according to the IRS 990 form available through the Foundation Center.

Update 2, September 8: Harmony Nature and Science notified parents late Saturday that the school will be open Monday — which means no buses.  Looking for news reports to confirm.  Here’s a screen capture of the announcement at Harmony’s website:

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

More:


Religious freedom for students in public schools — what is the law?

December 7, 2011

It's engraved in stone.  The First Amendment, at the entrance to the Bremen Public Library in Bremen, Indiana.  The Bremen Public Library serves the citizens of German Township in Marshall County, Indiana.  Photo from Bremen Library.

It’s engraved in stone. The First Amendment, at the entrance to the Bremen Public Library in Bremen, Indiana. The Bremen Public Library serves the citizens of German Township in Marshall County, Indiana. Photo from Bremen Library.

President Clinton directed the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General to inform  each school district in America about the law on religious freedom in public schools.  This was the law in 2000 when Clinton left office, and it still is the law.  This statement is still accurate. [And if that site stays weird or doesn’t work for you, check it out here at the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.]

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
THE SECRETARY


“…Schools do more than train children’s minds. They also help to nurture their souls by reinforcing the values they learn at home and in their communities. I believe that one of the best ways we can help out schools to do this is by supporting students’ rights to voluntarily practice their religious beliefs, including prayer in schools…. For more than 200 years, the First Amendment has protected our religious freedom and allowed many faiths to flourish in our homes, in our work place and in our schools. Clearly understood and sensibly applied, it works.”

President Clinton
May 30, 1998


Dear American Educator,

Almost three years ago, President Clinton directed me, as U.S. Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, to provide every public school district in America with a statement of principles addressing the extent to which religious expression and activity are permitted in our public schools. In accordance with the President’s directive, I sent every school superintendent in the country guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools in August of 1995.

The purpose of promulgating these presidential guidelines was to end much of the confusion regarding religious expression in our nation’s public schools that had developed over more than thirty years since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1962 regarding state sponsored school prayer. I believe that these guidelines have helped school officials, teachers, students and parents find a new common ground on the important issue of religious freedom consistent with constitutional requirements.

In July of 1996, for example, the Saint Louis School Board adopted a district wide policy using these guidelines. While the school district had previously allowed certain religious activities, it had never spelled them out before, resulting in a lawsuit over the right of a student to pray before lunch in the cafeteria. The creation of a clearly defined policy using the guidelines allowed the school board and the family of the student to arrive at a mutually satisfactory settlement.

In a case decided last year in a United States District Court in Alabama, (Chandler v. James) involving student initiated prayer at school related events, the court instructed the DeKalb County School District to maintain for circulation in the library of each school a copy of the presidential guidelines.

The great advantage of the presidential guidelines, however, is that they allow school districts to avoid contentious disputes by developing a common understanding among students, teachers, parents and the broader community that the First Amendment does in fact provide ample room for religious expression by students while at the same time maintaining freedom from government sponsored religion.

The development and use of these presidential guidelines were not and are not isolated activities. Rather, these guidelines are part of an ongoing and growing effort by educators and America’s religious community to find a new common ground. In April of 1995, for example, thirty-five religious groups issued “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law” that the Department drew from in developing its own guidelines. Following the release of the presidential guidelines, the National PTA and the Freedom Forum jointly published in 1996 “A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools” which put the guidelines into an easily understandable question and answer format.

In the last two years, I have held three religious-education summits to inform faith communities and educators about the guidelines and to encourage continued dialogue and cooperation within constitutional limits. Many religious communities have contacted local schools and school systems to offer their assistance because of the clarity provided by the guidelines. The United Methodist Church has provided reading tutors to many schools, and Hadassah and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism have both been extremely active in providing local schools with support for summer reading programs.

The guidelines we are releasing today are the same as originally issued in 1995, except that changes have been made in the sections on religious excusals and student garb to reflect the Supreme Court decision in Boerne v. Flores declaring the Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional as applied to actions of state and local governments.

These guidelines continue to reflect two basic and equally important obligations imposed on public school officials by the First Amendment. First, schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs solely because they are of a religious nature. Schools may not discriminate against private religious expression by students, but must instead give students the same right to engage in religious activity and discussion as they have to engage in other comparable activity. Generally, this means that students may pray in a nondisruptive manner during the school day when they are not engaged in school activities and instruction, subject to the same rules of order that apply to other student speech.

At the same time, schools may not endorse religious activity or doctrine, nor may they coerce participation in religious activity. Among other things, of course, school administrators and teachers may not organize or encourage prayer exercises in the classroom. Teachers, coaches and other school officials who act as advisors to student groups must remain mindful that they cannot engage in or lead the religious activities of students.

And the right of religious expression in school does not include the right to have a “captive audience” listen, or to compel other students to participate. School officials should not permit student religious speech to turn into religious harassment aimed at a student or a small group of students. Students do not have the right to make repeated invitations to other students to participate in religious activity in the face of a request to stop.

The statement of principles set forth below derives from the First Amendment. Implementation of these principles, of course, will depend on specific factual contexts and will require careful consideration in particular cases.

In issuing these revised guidelines I encourage every school district to make sure that principals, teachers, students and parents are familiar with their content. To that end I offer three suggestions:

First, school districts should use these guidelines to revise or develop their own district wide policy regarding religious expression. In developing such a policy, school officials can engage parents, teachers, the various faith communities and the broader community in a positive dialogue to define a common ground that gives all parties the assurance that when questions do arise regarding religious expression the community is well prepared to apply these guidelines to specific cases. The Davis County School District in Farmington, Utah,is an example of a school district that has taken the affirmative step of developing such a policy.

At a time of increasing religious diversity in our country such a proactive step can help school districts create a framework of civility that reaffirms and strengthens the community consensus regarding religious liberty. School districts that do not make the effort to develop their own policy may find themselves unprepared for the intensity of the debate that can engage a community when positions harden around a live controversy involving religious expression in public schools.

Second, I encourage principals and administrators to take the additional step of making sure that teachers, so often on the front line of any dispute regarding religious expression, are fully informed about the guidelines. The Gwinnett County School system in Georgia, for example, begins every school year with workshops for teachers that include the distribution of these presidential guidelines. Our nation’s schools of education can also do their part by ensuring that prospective teachers are knowledgeable about religious expression in the classroom.

Third, I encourage schools to actively take steps to inform parents and students about religious expression in school using these guidelines. The Carter County School District in Elizabethton, Tennessee, included the subject of religious expression in a character education program that it developed in the fall of 1997. This effort included sending home to every parent a copy of the “Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools.”

Help is available for those school districts that seek to develop policies on religious expression. I have enclosed a list of associations and groups that can provide information to school districts and parents who seek to learn more about religious expression in our nation’s public schools.

In addition, citizens can turn to the U.S. Department of Education web site (http://www.ed.gov) for information about the guidelines and other activities of the Department that support the growing effort of educators and religious communities to support the education of our nation’s children.

Finally, I encourage teachers and principals to see the First Amendment as something more than a piece of dry, old parchment locked away in the national attic gathering dust. It is a vital living principle, a call to action, and a demand that each generation reaffirm its connection to the basic idea that is America — that we are a free people who protect our freedoms by respecting the freedom of others who differ from us.

Our history as a nation reflects the history of the Puritan, the Quaker, the Baptist, the Catholic, the Jew and many others fleeing persecution to find religious freedom in America. The United States remains the most successful experiment in religious freedom that the world has ever known because the First Amendment uniquely balances freedom of private religious belief and expression with freedom from state-imposed religious expression.

Public schools can neither foster religion nor preclude it. Our public schools must treat religion with fairness and respect and vigorously protect religious expression as well as the freedom of conscience of all other students. In so doing our public schools reaffirm the First Amendment and enrich the lives of their students.

I encourage you to share this information widely and in the most appropriate manner with your school community. Please accept my sincere thanks for your continuing work on behalf of all of America’s children.

Sincerely,


Richard W. Riley
U.S. Secretary of Education



RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Student prayer and religious discussion: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious speech by students. Students therefore have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive activities. Local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.

Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction, and subject to the rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting. Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student activities and speech. Students may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials, however, should intercede to stop student speech that constitutes harassment aimed at a student or a group of students.

Students may also participate in before or after school events with religious content, such as “see you at the flag pole” gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event.

The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity.

Graduation prayer and baccalaureates: Under current Supreme Court decisions, school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies. If a school generally opens its facilities to private groups, it must make its facilities available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate services. A school may not extend preferential treatment to baccalaureate ceremonies and may in some instances be obliged to disclaim official endorsement of such ceremonies.

Official neutrality regarding religious activity: Teachers and school administrators, when acting in those capacities, are representatives of the state and are prohibited by the establishment clause from soliciting or encouraging religious activity, and from participating in such activity with students. Teachers and administrators also are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging antireligious activity.

Teaching about religion: Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture: the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects. Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies. Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.

Student assignments: Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.

Religious literature: Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities. Schools may impose the same reasonable time, place, and manner or other constitutional restrictions on distribution of religious literature as they do on nonschool literature generally, but they may not single out religious literature for special regulation.

Religious excusals: Subject to applicable State laws, schools enjoy substantial discretion to excuse individual students from lessons that are objectionable to the student or the students’ parents on religious or other conscientious grounds. However, students generally do not have a Federal right to be excused from lessons that may be inconsistent with their religious beliefs or practices. School officials may neither encourage nor discourage students from availing themselves of an excusal option.

Released time: Subject to applicable State laws, schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend. Schools may not allow religious instruction by outsiders on school premises during the school day.

Teaching values: Though schools must be neutral with respect to religion, they may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.

Student garb: Schools enjoy substantial discretion in adopting policies relating to student dress and school uniforms. Students generally have no Federal right to be exempted from religiously-neutral and generally applicable school dress rules based on their religious beliefs or practices; however, schools may not single out religious attire in general, or attire of a particular religion, for prohibition or regulation. Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled out for suppression, but rather are subject to the same rules as generally apply to comparable messages.

THE EQUAL ACCESS ACT

The Equal Access Act is designed to ensure that, consistent with the First Amendment, student religious activities are accorded the same access to public school facilities as are student secular activities. Based on decisions of the Federal courts, as well as its interpretations of the Act, the Department of Justice has advised that the Act should be interpreted as providing, among other things, that:

General provisions: Student religious groups at public secondary schools have the same right of access to school facilities as is enjoyed by other comparable student groups. Under the Equal Access Act, a school receiving Federal funds that allows one or more student noncurriculum-related clubs to meet on its premises during noninstructional time may not refuse access to student religious groups.

Prayer services and worship exercises covered: A meeting, as defined and protected by the Equal Access Act, may include a prayer service, Bible reading, or other worship exercise.

Equal access to means of publicizing meetings: A school receiving Federal funds must allow student groups meeting under the Act to use the school media — including the public address system, the school newspaper, and the school bulletin board — to announce their meetings on the same terms as other noncurriculum-related student groups are allowed to use the school media. Any policy concerning the use of school media must be applied to all noncurriculum-related student groups in a nondiscriminatory matter. Schools, however, may inform students that certain groups are not school sponsored.

Lunch-time and recess covered: A school creates a limited open forum under the Equal Access Act, triggering equal access rights for religious groups, when it allows students to meet during their lunch periods or other noninstructional time during the school day, as well as when it allows students to meet before and after the school day.

Revised May 1998


List of organizations that can answer questions on religious expression in public schools

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Name: Rabbi David Saperstein
Address: 2027 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 387-2800
Fax: (202) 667-9070
Web site: http://www.rj.org/rac/
American Association of School Administrators
Name: Andrew Rotherham
Address: 1801 N. Moore St., Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: (703) 528-0700
Fax: (703) 528-2146
Web site: http://www.aasa.org
American Jewish Congress
Name: Marc Stern
Address: 15 East 84th Street, New York, NY 10028
Phone: (212) 360-1545
Fax: (212) 861-7056
National PTA
Name: Maribeth Oakes
Address: 1090 Vermont Ave., NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 289-6790
Fax: (202) 289-6791
Web site: http://www.pta.org
Christian Legal Society
Name: Steven McFarland
Address: 4208 Evergreen Lane, #222, Annandale, VA 22003
Phone: (703) 642-1070
Fax: (703) 642-1075
Web site: http://www.clsnet.com
National Association of Evangelicals
Name: Forest Montgomery
Address: 1023 15th Street, NW #500, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 789-1011
Fax: (202) 842-0392
Web site: http://www.nae.net
National School Boards Association
Name: Laurie Westley
Address: 1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 838-6703
Fax: (703) 548-5613
Web site: http://www.nsba.org
Freedom Forum
Name: Charles Haynes
Address: 1101 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: (703) 528-0800
Fax: (703) 284-2879
Web site: http://www.freedomforum.org

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Poll: Almost 90% say Texas should teach “evolution only”

March 28, 2009

A television station in College Station-Bryan, Texas, KBTX (Channel 3, a CBS affiliate) ran a poll on what Texas schools should be doing about evolution in biology classes.  After hearing for days from the creationists on the State Board of Education that most people think creationism should be taught, the results are a little astounding:

Results: How do you think science should be taught in Texas schools?

Evolution only – 89.62%
Creationism only – 2.96%
Combination of both – 7.42%
Total Responses – 9126

It just goes to show what happens when people speak up, no?


Texas science under siege: Help if you can

March 27, 2009

More bad news than good news from the Texas State School Board:  Yes, the board failed to reintroduce the creationist sponsored “strengths and weaknesses” language in high school science standards; but under the misleadership of Board Chair Don McLeroy, there is yet <i>another</i> series of amendments intended to mock science, including one challenging Big Bang, one challenging natural selection as a known mechanism of evolution, and, incredibly, one challenging the even the idea of common descent.  It’s a kick in the teeth to Texas teachers and scientists who wrote the standards the creationists don’t like.

Texas Freedom Network’s blog headline tells the story:  “Science Under Siege in Texas.”

Do you live in Texas?  Do you teach, or are you involved in the sciences in Texas?  Then please send an e-mail to the State Board of Education this morning, urging them to stick to the science standards their education and science experts recommended.  Most of the recent amendments aim to kill the standards the scientists and educators wrote.

TFN tells how to write:

You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at sboeteks@tea.state.tx.us. Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

You don’t think it’s serious?  Here’s Don McLeroy explaining the purpose of one of his amendments:

Live blogging of SBOE activities today by Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, here, and by the Texas Freedom Network, here.


Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska on education

September 7, 2008

What is Sarah Palin’s record on education as Governor of Alaska?  One place to look would be her two State of the State addresses to the Alaska legislature, in which she laid out her plans for education.  These speeches do not indicate what was actually enacted into law in the following legislative session, but they offer a glimpse of what Palin hoped to do.

So here are the education sections of her speeches, without comment – except that at the end of the post, I include her office’s release of Alaska’s educational acheivement on standards measures, as recorded in 2008.

Alaskans?  How did she do?  Comments are open.

I especially invite comments on the contrasts between Sen. McCain’s acceptance speech and Gov. Palin’s speeches.

Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin on education in her 2007 State of the State address:

. . . First, my philosophy: More government is not the answer. But we all know government’s proper role is to help change the conditions to improve lives and economically stimulate communities. Government can’t make you happy, it can’t make you healthy, it can’t make you a productive member of society. Government’s role is to provide the tools.

One such tool is education. My commitment to education is unwavering.

My budget includes fully funding the “K through 12” foundation formula. In addition, I’ve included more than $200 million in new dollars to cover the increased retirement costs for local school districts, so that more local school district dollars get into the classroom, where the money belongs.

Remember, we’re facing a potential $10 billion dollar PERS / TRS retirement plan shortfall that affects local schools. Our $200 million dollar line item for school districts is part of the half BILLION dollar proposal to help the districts, local governments and the state alleviate the pension plan burden while we work with the Legislature on a long-term solution.

I’ve also committed to help provide local school districts with more predictability, for better planning by supporting “early funding of education.” So I’ll introduce a separate education appropriation bill and ask the Legislature to begin work on it immediately and ask that it’s passed within the first 60 days of the session. Our local school districts deserve to know what they have to work with early enough for them to create efficiencies through planning. They shouldn’t have to “pink slip” teachers in the spring, and make “last minute” rehire attempts in the fall.

But my vision for education is NOT only about funding – it’s about changing the way we think about, and operate our schools. It’s not the amount of money we pour into each child, but how we spend the money that counts.

We’ll look at successful education programs statewide and Outside that can be replicated, and we’ll look at new approaches! We’ve got to do something different. Our high school graduation rate is 61%. That’s unacceptable! Our vo-tech opportunities need to grow so that our kids stay in school and then fill the voids in our industries. And at the same time, we need to make sure those who want to go to college are ready.

We know that we need more mechanics, technicians, teachers, doctors, and nurses. We shouldn’t have to import our workforce when it’s growing up before us.

And so a centerpiece of my administration IS our commitment to a “world class education” system. Let’s take education and move beyond No Child Left Behind to ensure that “no ALASKAN is left behind.”

We’ll work with our Congressional delegation to ADAPT federal mandates to fit Alaska. I’m so thankful Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also committed to changing federal requirements so they make sense for the uniqueness here. Flexibility is needed, for rural schools, especially.

To meet our challenges, I’ve asked our departments to bring together the private sector, the Department of Labor, postsecondary institutions, and our wonderful alternative education choices, including home schools, to ensure that students have the skills to meet Alaska’s workforce needs. And, I will continue to ask families and individuals to take more responsibility.

You’ll hopefully find this theme consistent throughout my administration – cooperative efforts and personal accountability.  . . .

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivering her 2008 State of the State address, January 15, 2008 - Photo from Palins official website

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivering her 2008 State of the State address, January 15, 2008 - Photo from Palin's official website

Gov. Palin’s remarks on education in her 2008 State of the State Address, January 15, 2008:

. . . Challenges lie ahead, but let’s look back at the last year and at some accomplishments. In Education, we are shaping a three-year funding plan to finally shift the school debate from perpetual “money talk” to accountability and achievement! We are focusing on foundational skills needed in the “real-world” workplace and in college.  . . .

It is our energy development that pays for essential services, like education. Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” It’s a privileged obligation we have to “open education doors.” Every child, of every ability, is to be cherished and loved and taught. Every child provides this world hope. They are the most beautiful ingredient in our sometimes muddied up world. I am committed to our children and their education. Stepping through “the door” is about more than passing a standardized test. We need kids prepared to pass life’s tests – like getting a job and valuing a strong work ethic. Our Three-year Education Plan invests more than a billion dollars each year. We must forward-fund education, letting schools plan ahead. We must stop pink-slipping teachers, and then struggle to recruit and retain them the next year.

We will enable schools to finally focus on innovation and accountability to see superior results. We’re asking lawmakers to pass a new K-12 funding plan early this year. This is a significant investment that is needed to increase the base student allocation, district cost factors and intensive needs students. It includes $100 million in school construction and deferred maintenance. There is awesome potential to improve education, respect good teachers, and embrace choice for parents. This potential will prime Alaska to compete in a global economy that is so competitive it will blow us away if we are not prepared. Beyond high school, we will boost job training and University options. We are proposing more than $10 million in new funding for apprenticeship programs, expansion of construction, engineering and health care degrees to meet demands. But it must be about more than funds, it must be a change in philosophy. It is time to shift focus, from just dollars and cents to “caliyulriit,” which is Yupik for “people who want to work.” Work for pride in supporting our families, in and out of the home. Work for purpose and for action, and ultimately destiny fulfilled by being fruitful. It’s about results and getting kids excited about their future – whether it is college, trade school or military. The Lieutenant Governor and I are working on a plan to make attending Alaska’s universities and trade schools a reality for more Alaskans through merit scholarships.

Education achievement statistics from the Governor’s Office, 2008:

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