The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recognized Northern Arizona University (NAU) as the October 2005 "winner" of its Speech Code of the Month award. Please hold your applause, though - the award is given to colleges whose speech codes run afoul of the First Amendment.
The speech code prohibits "stereotyping" and "negative comments and jokes." It also includes a laundry list of prohibited topics that might be offensive, such as one's veteran status or sexual orientation. Yet, the First Amendment protects all sorts of speech - including crude and offensive comments.
With its vague language and broad sweep, NAU's policy may be silencing speech rather than encouraging it. While the university may teach its students about manners, university policies must still measure up with the First Amendment.
Of course, universities should protect students against harassment. The Supreme Court has explained that harassing speech may be limited when it is "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit." Unfortunately, NAU's policy isn't so limited in its reach. By prohibiting "stereotyping" and "negative comments," the university bans speech that, while potentially offensive, is protected under the Constitution.
NAU is a public university funded by taxpayers where all voices-not simply the politically correct-must be welcome. It is a hallmark of a free society. Having received its "distinguished" award, perhaps NAU will start over and design a speech code that truly welcomes a wide diversity of speech on campus.
-Northern Arizona University: "Safe Working and Learning Environment Policy"
- East Valley Tribune: "NAU's restrictive speech code is an unconstitutional disgrace"
-Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "Speech Code of the Month: Northern Arizona University"
-United States Supreme Court: "Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999)"
On paper, Arizona's charter law allows multiple charter authorizers: the Arizona State Board of Education, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, and local school districts.
In practice, however, the Arizona State Board of Education stopped sponsoring new charter schools three years ago in a self-imposed moratorium, and local schools districts-limited in part by boundary restrictions-sponsor just 6 percent of Arizona's charter schools. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Arizona has just one authorizer left: the State Board for Charter Schools, made up of 14 political appointees.
Those 14 appointees sponsor 85 percent of Arizona's existing charter schools and are the last real standing body determining which charter schools can expand, and if any new charters will be granted. Today, the State Board approves about half as many applications as a decade ago. More rigorous application requirements may explain part of this decline, but leaving chartering in the hands of a single, politically-appointed board is unwise.
More charter authorizers are needed. Several of the state's top-ranked charter schools report two and three applications for every open spot. Permitting additional authorizers, including non-state agencies such as private universities and colleges, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses like Intel and Google, would help remove chartering from the political process and give more quality schools a chance to open.
-Arizona State Board for Charter Schools: School Search
-Progressive Policy Institute: A Decade of Public Charter Schools in Arizona
- Arizona Republic: "State's rules stifle charter schools, threaten success"
Republic columnist Jon Talton recently used his Sunday column to describe a school-choice program that passed the Arizona Legislature with bipartisan support as "right-wing utopianism." ("As Democrats go, Napolitano makes a good Republican," Oct. 9). Researchers familiar with the academic work on choice programs have tired of such ill-informed rhetoric.
Citing the example of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I challenged Talton to back up his claim in a friendly contest: Produce two control-group studies showing that academic performance declines in a school-choice program, or that parents become less satisfied once participating in such a program. The prize: a free steak dinner.
When Mr. Talton failed to produce, I extended the same offer to the whole community. Mr. Talton's fellow Republic columnist Richard Ruelas replied in a column headlined, "School choice hurts, steaks are tasty."
Let's begin with the subjects upon which Mr. Ruelas and I agree. First, Mr. Ruelas is a clever writer. Second, steak is indeed tasty. Third, Mr. Ruelas also said that school choice is a myth for low-income families.
That is all too true: buying a house in the suburbs remains the most common form of school choice and is decidedly biased against children in low-income families, a powerful reason to expand, not withhold, choice.
Mr. Ruelas' response essentially consisted of declaring himself the author of two non-existent studies and then noting that he likes a baked potato with his steak, leaving one to wonder, "Where's the beef?"
Because Mr. Ruelas is a paid columnist attempting to disguise himself as a researcher, allow me to explain the difference between control-group and imaginary studies. Control-group studies use random assignment to divide subjects into experimental and control groups to allow measurement of the impact of a particular variable, which, in this case, is school choice. Control-group studies represent the "gold standard" of social-science research.
Control-group studies allow us to get away from the sort of armchair theorizing of the sort offered up by Talton and Ruelas. As noted originally, the consistent conclusion of such evaluations on school-choice programs is that parents are much more satisfied with the school their child attends, and students demonstrate varying degrees of academic gains. None of these studies shows any academic harm to students or a decline in parental satisfaction.
For example, a 1998 Harvard study found school-choice parents "very satisfied" at significantly higher levels regarding school safety, teaching, parental involvement, class size, school facility, student respect for teachers, teacher communication, extent to which their child can observe religious traditions, parental support for the school, discipline, clarity of goals, staff teamwork, teaching, academic quality, and sports programs.
Another control-group study led by a Georgetown scholar found that 46 percent of the private-school parents participating in a privately financed school-voucher program gave their school an "A" compared with just 15 percent of the control-group parents. The research goes on.
Forty-eight percent of Arizona fourth-graders scored "below basic" on the most recent national reading exam. Arizona's lawmakers, no doubt, view decisions about education policy as deadly serious business, even if others do not.
Control-group studies by Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown researchers trump the sort of no-substance ad hominem attacks offered by opponents. I am happy to give Mr. Ruelas another chance by extending the deadline an additional month.
I suggest calling the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, or the National School Board Association. They have legions of lobbyists and researchers who dislike school choice, and they can offer all sorts of imaginary fears and windy rhetoric on the subject, but nothing in the way of high-quality evidence.
Moynihan warned that "ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance." Mr. Ruelas' glib response certainly qualifies. If opponents of choice can offer no proof to back their assertions, they deserve neither my steak nor anyone's confidence.
This piece originally appeared in the Arizona Republic, Sunday, November 13, 2005
The government will spend an estimated $100,000 on a child's education by the time he finishes high school. For most Americans, that will be the greatest public expenditure ever made on his behalf. Unfortunately, the quality of that education is often less than it should be.
In a report released Tuesday, November 15, by the Goldwater Institute, Heritage Foundation education policy analyst Dan Lips proposes a reform that could change that.
Instead of channeling education funding through the public education system, the government would deposit funds directly into an Education Savings Account for each child. Parents could draw on those funds to pay tuition at public schools, private schools, or to pay for other qualified education expenses such as tutoring.
Akin to popular Health Savings Accounts that give patients more control over their health care spending and decisions, Education Savings Accounts could give parents more control over where and how their children are educated and open up more educational opportunities for students. Because unspent funds can be rolled over from year to year and used for college, the accounts would also help control the inflating costs of education.
ESAs follow in the tradition of parent-directed education reforms first recommended by Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. That tradition includes innovations such as charter schools, school vouchers, and education and tuition tax credits, which are in widespread use in Arizona and other states.
-Goldwater Institute: "Education Savings Accounts: A Vehicle for School Choice"
-The Heartland Institute: "Time to Consider Education Savings Accounts"
-The Heartland Institute: "Education Savings Accounts Could Expand School Choice"
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