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October 25, 2006 [feather]

From today's New York Times:

The Bush administration is giving public school districts broad new latitude to expand the number of single-sex classes, and even schools, in what is widely considered the most significant policy change on the issue since a landmark federal law barring sex discrimination in education more than 30 years ago.

Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.

The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.

Single-sex education isn't right for everyone--but it is clearly right for some. The more choice that exists at the public school level, the better this country can meet its commitment to educate its citizens.

Unfortunately, some advocacy groups don't see it that way, and think it's more important to enact their ideological hobbyhorses on the lives of children than to let families decide what's best for their kids:

While the move was sought by some conservatives and urban educators, and had backing from both sides of the political aisle, a number of civil rights and women's rights groups condemned the change.

"It really is a serious green light from the Department of Education to re-instituting official discrimination in schools around the country," said Marcia Greenberger, a co-president of the National Women's Law Center.


Nancy Zirkin, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an umbrella organization representing about 200 civil rights groups, said the new regulations "violate both Title IX and the equal protection clause of the Constitution."

"Segregation is totally unacceptable in the context of race," she said. "Why in the world in the context of gender would it be acceptable?"

It seems to me that the premise behind single-sex public schooling centers on choice, not force, and that parents who choose it for their children are acting within a framework of constitutionally-protected free association, not segregation. Readers are invited to discuss.

Erin O'Connor, 4:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

October 13, 2006 [feather]
More on policies

I've had occasion to look at a lot of college and university policies on dissent, protest, disorderly conduct, and so on of late for a project I'm working on. Usually those policies are tucked in along with related statements on academic freedom, free expression, and so on, and at times, as I noted in my post on SUNY, some very interesting--or disturbing--wording crops up.

I've been looking at Swarthmore's "Statement of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Code of Conduct" this morning, and found some language on students' academic freedom and professors' obligations toward students that I like a lot:

Students are entitled to an atmosphere conducive to learning and to even-handed treatment in all aspects of the teacher-student relationship. Faculty members may not refuse to enroll or teach students on the grounds of their beliefs or the possible uses to which they may put the knowledge to be gained in a course. The student should not be forced by the authority inherent in the instructional role to make particular personal choices as to political action or his own part in society. Evaluation of students and the award of credit must be based on academic performance professionally judged and not on matters irrelevant to that performance, such as personality, race, religion, degree of political activism, or personal beliefs.

The principles stated here seem so self-evident as not to need stating--but as plenty of examples gathered by organizations such as FIRE, ACTA, and others attest, such statements do need to be made, and grievance procedures do need to be in place for students who believe they are encountering viewpoint discrimination in the classroom. Swarthmore says, "If a student has a grievance against a faculty member that cannot be resolved directly through the faculty member involved, the student should take her or his concerns to the department chair. If the grievance remains unresolved, the student should contact the provost."

The scenarios envisioned by Swarthmore's provisions recall the recent scandal at Columbia regarding the Middle East studies faculty's treatment of Jewish students (Columbia responded in part by deciding to institute grievance procedures of the sort mentioned above). They also recall last spring's Berkeley course designed to recruit students to work on a pro-affirmative action political initiative whose results would then be presented to campus administrators and used to conceptualize Berkeley's own diversity plan. They also implicitly take seriously the experiential impressions of students, many of whom, as ACTA found in a study conducted in 2004, feel their professors inappropriately bring their politics into the classroom and the grading process.

So, good for Swarthmore. More schools should put such language on the books.

Erin O'Connor, 9:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 8, 2006 [feather]
SUNY rewrites First Amendment

As a public university, SUNY Binghamton is required to uphold the First Amendment rights of students--which it acknowledges: "The tradition at Binghamton, a public university, is that the full exercise of First Amendment rights is encouraged and protected," states the Student Handbook. But SUNY administrators are not content to stop there. They go on to inform students that the First Amendment is actually a speech code, one that uniquely suits the university's specific ends: "The expectation is that these rights are practiced with respect and responsibility, and with the recognition that abusing the rights of any one person or group ultimately endangers the rights of all. Obscene speech or conduct--that which appeals to prurient interests, is patently offensive, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value--is not protected by the First Amendment." One wonders what the courts would have to say of this patently self-serving misrepresentation of students' rights. Speech codes usually at least have the virtue of being obviously recognizable as speech codes. In this instance, a public university has presented its speech code in the worst possible faith, as a reasonable explanation of the First Amendment.

Erin O'Connor, 8:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)