I’m a participant in an online forum put on by Common Good this week about the age of zero tolerance for aspirin pills, bans on games of “tag,” and broken-thermometer lockdowns. From their description:
We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen — especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized — communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. School administrations have reacted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with extreme protectiveness; one school suspended a six-year-old for “pointing his finger like a gun and saying ‘pow,’” while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.
Also featured: Lenore Skenazy, Frederick Hess, Megan Rosker, and Nancy McDermott. From my contribution:
When they “err on the side of safety” in absurd ways, schools reflect trends in the wider society. … Already, by ten years ago, British commentator Jenny Cunningham could write that “A significant body of research evidence now indicates that there has been a drastic decline in children’s outdoor activity and unsupervised play. For example, it has been calculated that the free play range of children — the radius around the home to which children can roam alone — has, for nine-year-olds in the UK, shrunk to a ninth of what it was in 1970. Perhaps most damaging is that a climate has been created in which all unsupervised play is regarded as high risk, and parents or teachers who allow it are seen as irresponsible.” Cunningham notes that families now tend to see the risks of being hit by traffic or (far less likely) abducted by strangers as ruling out outdoor play. “Yet, despite the increasing levels of worry, in reality children have never been safer.” Sound familiar?
I go on to mention CPSIA, the wildly overreaching 2008 law regulating children’s products in the name of safety, and the proliferation of requirements that innocuous everyday chemicals be accompanied by material-safety-sheet paperwork. My conclusion: “If these are the trends in the outside society, how likely is it that schools will be able to resist?” (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty)
The Colorado Supreme Court, wisely resisting a national campaign of school funding litigation, has turned down a lawsuit arguing that the state is obliged under its constitution to step up school spending. [Denver Post, KDVR, opinion in State v. Lobato]
I’ve got a post up at Cato at Liberty about the Colorado decision, noting that although school finance litigators make a lot of noise about educational quality, they are actually on a mission of “control —specifically, transferring control over spending from voters and their representatives to litigators whose loyalty is to a mix of ideologues and interest groups sharing a wish for higher spending.” I quote from a section on school finance litigation that I wound up cutting from my book Schools for Misrule about the enormous impact such suits have had in other states:
Vast sums have been redistributed as a result. Lawmakers in Kentucky enacted more than a billion dollars in tax hikes. New Jersey adopted its first income tax. Kansas lawmakers levied an additional $755 million in taxes after the state’s high court in peremptory fashion ordered them to double their spending on schools.
The results have been at best mixed: while some states to come under court order have improved their educational performance, many others have stagnated or fallen into new crisis. Colorado is fortunate not to join their ranks. (& reprint: Complete Colorado)
P.S. From a Colorado Springs Gazette report, Jul. 31, 2011:
“Putting more money into a broken system won’t get a better results. There are improvements that could be made without money,” says Deputy Attorney General Geoffrey Blue. …
He points to a Cato Institute study that showed spending on education across the country has skyrocketed but test scores didn’t improve.
“That would mean that potentially every cent of the state budget would be shifted over to K-12 education,” says Blue, who heads the office’s legal policy and government affairs.
Ervin Mears Jr. has sued in Camden County, claiming his son Mawusimensah Mears, a sophomore, was kicked off the track team on the grounds of unexcused absences from practice. “‘Participation in extracurricular activities is a right,’ Mears said. Not allowing his son to participate constitutes bullying, harassment, and an ‘abusive school environment’ in which the sophomore’s rights to due process and freedom of speech were impeded, the suit says.” He wants $40 million. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Authorities have dropped charges against the Florida teen “who was expelled and charged with two felonies after conducting an unauthorized but harmless science experiment on the grounds of her school.” [Jesse Walker, earlier] And in the feel-good story of the day, former NASA astronaut Homer Hickam “awarded Kiera a scholarship to attend the United States Advanced Space Academy (ASA), a branch of the famous Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.” [Black Youth Project]
A Sixth Circuit panel declines to strike down a state law under which public schools will no longer withhold union dues from teachers’ salaries. The Michigan Education Association had claimed that Public Act 53 interfered with its First Amendment right to speak. [David Shepardson, Detroit News]
“No one was hurt. There’s no sign that [Kiera] Wilmot was up to something malevolent. The kid’s own principal [at Bartow High School] thinks this wasn’t anything more than an experiment, and he says she didn’t try to cover up what she had done. What punishment did you think she received? A stern talking-to? A day or two of after-school detention? Maybe she’ll have to help clean up the lab for a week? Nope. The budding chemist has been kicked out of school and charged with a couple of felonies.” [Jesse Walker]
More: “Scientists Back Kiera Wilmot by Tweeting About All the Stuff They’ve Blown Up” [Tim Elfrink, Miami New Times] Similarly: Ashutosh Jogalekar, Scientific American.
One of Lenore Skenazy’s readers, a kindergarten teacher in Wisconsin, says the list of things not allowed in the classroom without a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) at her school includes dish soap and baby wipes [Free-Range Kids; MSDS for dish soap from lakeland.edu and for baby wipes from schoolhealth.com]
The teacher’s union in Oregon is trying to get the legislature to repeal a voter-approved measure that warns electors in the state when a property tax hike is on the ballot. I’ve got more at Cato at Liberty (& Brian Doherty, Reason).
What could be more perfect than the tale of the Maryland 7 year old suspended from school for nibbling his breakfast pastry into the form of a gun? This: the school is now offering counseling to any students traumatized by the incident. [Lowering the Bar]
$30,000 in community fund-raising later, kids have a reason to be glum [Washington Post]:
Although parents worked with the Fairfax County Public Schools facilities department, purchased the equipment, hired a contractor and had the playground ready for recess, the school system suddenly deemed the play equipment too dangerous. Since Nov. 30 it has been off-limits, parents say.
Never mind that the same equipment is installed at more than 1,200 parks and schools across the country, including a public park in the county.
Update: District changes mind.
A prerequisite for a high school diploma in Arizona, if some lawmakers there get their way. [Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal]