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U.S. District Judge Robert L. Echols issued his ruling yesterday on the ACLU vs. Wilson County Schools (aka Lakeview Elementary). The Tennessean headlined their story this way:

Prayer group can’t get special access at school

Judge says Wilson public school supported religious activity

The ACLU, predictably , claimed victory. The Tennessean linked to Judge Echol’s 59 page MEMORANDUM, but NOT to the Judge’s four page ORDER. It’s easy to see why when you read them. In the MEMORANDUM, the Judge identifies a number of impermissable incidents, where the Lakeview School System may have crossed the line, largely by inaction and giving too much leeway to the group, “Praying Parents.”

But if you read the Judge’s ORDER, what is remarkable is the affirmation of the wide range of activities conducted by the “Praying Parents” that the Judge ruled were acceptable and protected under the 1st Amendment “Free Exercise of religion” clause.

Here are the significant points:

(3) The individual Defendants and their successors and all parties’ officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys acting in concert or participation with them are hereby permanently enjoined, restrained, and directed as follows:

3(b) The Praying Parents group may meet on Lakeview School property in the same manner as other groups are allowed to meet on Lakeview School property . . .

3(c) The Praying Parents group may have direct access to the Lakeview School teachers’ lounge and the mailboxes of Lakeview School administrators, teachers and staff in the same manner as other groups . . .

3(d) The Praying Parents group may distribute materials about their activities and advertise their activities through flyers, posters, “Eagle Eye” notices, and announcements in the same manner and to the same extent as other groups are allowed to distribute materials about their activities . . .

3(e) Lakeview School kindergarten teachers may include in their instruction about the origin and history of the Thanksgiving holiday and the culture of the Pilgrims a short, generic prayer blessing as an example of the type of Thanksgiving prayer that may have been said by the Pilgrims . . .

3(f) Lakeview School kindergarten teachers may include a nativity scene, accompanied by the singing of religious carols, in the annual Christmas program . . .

3(g) Lakeview School may permit the See You At The Pole™ event and the National Day of Prayer event to take place on school property during non-instructional hours . . .

This is not exactly the “victory” that the ACLU and the plaintiffs sought. In each of those six areas, the ACLU and the plaintiffs had sought to have the activities of the “Praying Parents” and Lakeview School prohibited. In fact, Judge Echols ruled in a clear and direct fashion that the activities were permitted.

I shall be praying that the ACLU secures many more such “victories” as this one. They can have the headlines. The “Praying Parents,” regardless of what the Tennessean might say, have had their activities affirmed and protected by a federal judge. Well done, Judge Echols!

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

This is not your daddy’s research paper! The times, they are a-changin’. Teaching students to write even a short research paper is a much more complicated task now than it used to be. The standard texts still haven’t caught up to the realities of the age of the internet. The luddite solution – rejecting the internet as a research tool – ceased to be an option several years ago. But using the internet is fraught with dangers. It takes a certain level of experience, and detective skills to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. The detective skills are what we need to be teaching students. They need to know, and practice, how to evaluate an internet source.

Did Fleming Rescue ChurchillAlong comes an excellent book on precisely this topic – by an accomplished writer of children’s biographies and non-fiction, James Cross Giblin. The book is written as a first-person narrative by Jason, a fifth grade boy. In 64 pages Giblin has us follow along as Jason works on an assignment to write a three-page biography of Alexander Fleming, the inventor/discoverer of penicillin. Jason starts with traditional sources, encyclopedia articles and library books. And then he also does some internet searching. On the internet, he finds a great anecdote describing how Fleming’s father saved the young Winston Churchill, and as a reward Lord Randolph Churchill agreed to pay for Fleming’s education. The only problem is that the anecdote may not be true. Most of the book is devoted to Jason’s efforts to evaluate the story and how he goes about deciding whether to include it in his assignment or not.

Cyndy was so impressed with the lessons communicated that she’s considering assigning this book as a first reading assigment for her 9th grade academic writing class. The book does an excellent job of presenting the issue of “urban legends” and internet sources, while offering very practical suggestions about how to track down a story of doubtful provenance (via snopes.com and urbanlegends.com among others).

THESE are the skills we need to teach our children. In the olden days (when I was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth), the library bestowed a certain trustworthiness on source books. If the librarians had selected the book for the library shelves, it was probably reliable. That was certainly naive, but it did make life easier. In the wild west frontier towns of the internet, there are no gatekeepers or librarians. And so our children need an introduction to the problems of unreliable sources and they need practice and guidance in developing internet-savvy research skills. Teaching them to use google is not enough. They will have to be more sophisticated than that.

This book is an excellent way to help them learn how to navigate the brave new world. Did Fleming Rescue Churchill? is a 64 page hardback, $16.95 and can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press. Henry Holt is the publisher, and I’m REALLY hoping they will bring this out in paperback quickly. But don’t wait. It’s worth having in your toolbox now.

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

PS: Giblin’s other books are excellent reads as well:

Terribly immodest of me, I know… Click below to hear an excerpt from the Rush Limbaugh show on Thursday, 5/22/2008 where he reads from a post by Warner Todd Huston (of StopTheACLU.com) and quotes from the comments I made about the validity of public school diplomas vs. homeschool diplomas.


Hat tip to dittohead Ernie Blevins for the audio file and to Kay Brooks for editing out the pertinent three minutes!

Here’s a sampling of the incoming links on this topic:

Tennessee Mandates Low Quality Graduates Be Employed Over

20 hours ago by noreply@blogger.com (Bill Smith)
Ken Marrero at “Blue Collar Muse” reports that. Recently, the Tennessee State Board of Education ruled diplomas issued to home-schooled students from religious based schools were invalid as proof of the successful completion of High
ARRA News Service – http://arkansasgopwing.blogspot.com/References

Good enough for government work

22 May 2008 by Kay Brooks
The DOE’s characterization of private school (Category IV diplomas) as worthless made it national this afternoon as it moved from our own TennConserVOLiance writers to Warner Todd Houston at StopTheACLU and then on to Rush Limbaugh’s
Kay Brooks – http://kaybrooks.blogspot.com/References

Tenn. Declares Only Dumbest Kids Wanted for State Jobs

22 May 2008 by Warner Todd Huston
It’s true. The State of Tennessee has officially declared that from this point forward it will accept only less educated student applicants for state, county and city jobs in the Volunteer State. Why would the kindly folks in Nashville
Default Site Weblog – http://americanewsjournal.com/index.php/site/index/

TN State Education Board Fails Research Test …

22 May 2008 by Blue Collar Muse
Editors Update and RePost: Thanks to Rob Shearer at Red Hat Rob and Warner Todd Huston, this story has received national attention. Rush Limbaugh read extensively from WTH’s post on the matter and mentioned both Warner and our own Rob
Blue Collar Muse – http://conservablogs.com/bluecollarmuse

Not worthless

21 May 2008 by Kay Brooks
Councilman Eric Crafton and his Save Our Students aren’t the only ones who can crunch the education statistics. Red Hat Rob Shearer has spent considerable time today going through the State of Tennessee Department of Education’s website
Kay Brooks – http://kaybrooks.blogspot.com/

Tennessee Makes Move Against Homeschooling

21 May 2008 by zee
It appears that my worst suspicions about public education are continuously confirmed these days. So, it isn’t really much of a surprise that the state of Tennessee prefers their employees to come from the dumbed down ranks of students
Road Sassy – http://roadsassy.com

Tenn. Declares Only Dumbest Kids Wanted for State Jobs

21 May 2008 by Warner Todd Huston
-By Warner Todd Huston. It’s true. The State of Tennessee has officially declared that from this point forward it will accept only less educated student applicants for state, county and city jobs in the Volunteer State.
American Conservative Daily – http://www.americanconservativedaily.com/References

Homeschoolers – under attack all over?

20 May 2008
We had a small concern going on around here in NH where the Democratic (highly leveraged Teacher Union support) with an encircle and envelope strategy. Well put by Consent of the Governed:. The Live Free Or Die State wants to regulate
granitegrok – http://granitegrok.com/

Socialist “Curriculum” cannot penetrate home schools…therefore

19 May 2008 by Jenn Sierra
Rob Shearer, of Contending with the Culture, reports:. The Tennessee Department of Education has recently defended its decision not to recognize homeschool diplomas with the assertion that because they were prohibited from having
Ft. Hard Knox – http://forthardknox.comReferences

Tennessee Education Board Fails Research Test19 May 2008 by Blue Collar Muse
Recently, the Tennessee State Board of Education ruled diplomas issued to home-schooled students from religious based schools were invalid as proof of the successful completion of High School should it be presented for employment
New Media Alliance – Blue Collar Muse – http://thenma.org/blogs/index.php/bluecollarmuse

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

My good friend BlueCollarMuse had an excellent post on the topic of the TN DOE vs. Homeschool diplomas on May 19th on conservablogs.com: The post is titled TN State Education Board Fails Research Test …

His friend, Warner Todd Huston picked up on the issue and added some insightful commentary on May 21st on stoptheaclu.com. The post has the provocative headline,Tenn. Declares Only Dumbest Kids Wanted for State Jobs.

Today, May 22nd, Rush Limbaugh picked up on the story and read Mr. Huston’s post on the air, commented on it, and is now linking back from his website to stoptheaclu.com (with a transcript of his on-air comments). Scroll down to story #12.

This afternoon (still 5/22/2008), Neil Boortz also picked up on the story. I don’t know if he said anything on the air, but he’s now linking back to the stoptheaclu.com post by Huston as well. Scroll down to the bottom of the page – it’s in the fifth paragraph from the bottom.

Kay Brooks summarizes all of the saga on her blog here – along with some very nice excerpts and additional comments.

I’ve got a feeling the Tennessee Department of Education is not enjoying this very much… [heh]

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

This is a tale of 54,041 high school diplomas. That’s the number of public high school diplomas awarded in Tennessee last year (2006-2007). There are 324 public high schools in Tennessee. The public high schools are operated by 119 public school systems. There are 137 public school systems in Tennessee, but only 119 of them operate high schools.

I got curious this week about tracking down median ACT scores for Public vs. Private vs. Homeschool high school graduates. It turns out, even in the age of public data on the internet that this is not an easy question to answer. If the data to answer this question already exists somewhere on the internet, it’s extraordinarily well hidden. I spent several days searching for it… and I’m pretty handy with google. I did discover a blog in Kentucky which contained interesting articles commenting on the meaning of median ACT scores released for that state. Kentucky’s scores, released by ACT, Inc. of Iowa, give the median for ALL high school seniors, public, private, and homeschool. From the ACT data alone, you cannot tell how the public schools are performing, because ACT will not disagregate the data. Tennessee ACT scores are released in the same format as Kentucky.

But, it turns out, in Tennessee at least, there is a way to calculate median ACT score for the public schools. And if we know the number of public school students who took the ACT, and their median score, then we can calculate the median score for the remaining non-public school students.

In 2007, the median ACT for all students in Tennessee taking the test was 20.7. This is slightly below ( a half a point) the national ACT median score of 21.2. A half a point difference between two individual scores is probably not terribly significant. There are too many variables that can’t be controlled between two individual scores to ever be able to know why one student scored a half a point higher than another. BUT, comparing the median scores of two significantly sized groups IS meaningful… because all the individual variations offset and cancel each other out. 48,113 students took the ACT in Tennessee in 2007. 1,300,599 students took it nationwide. Comparing the averages for those two very large populations does tell us, with a pretty high degree of confidence, that Tennessee students did not perform quite as well as the national average.

But those 48,113 Tennessee students include public school, high school, and homeschool students. I have an inquiry in to ACT, Inc. asking them for the disaggregated data for those three groups, but they haven’t responded to me. The data would be very helpful in discussing some pretty pressing public policy questions about education. I don’t think it’s an accident that ACT doesn’t make the data readily available. I have the feeling that the data are not very flattering to public school administrators. And I suspect that’s why ACT hasn’t made them available.

But in Tennessee, there is another source of data about public school ACT scores – the Tennessee Department of Education itself. The Department has an online database that reports the number of students who took the ACT and the median composite score by school system. Actually, the online database has a great deal more information than that, but the median composite ACT scores are what I was interested in.

I don’t know whether it’s intentional or not, but the Tennessee DOE does not report the statewide median ACT score, nor does it make it easy to calculate, but all the pieces are there, on their website – they just have to be assembled.

So, I spent about four or five hours today, using the free wifi at University Pizza & Deli in Chattanooga, to pull up and copy off the median composite ACT scores for all 119 public high school systems in Tennessee. 35,725 public school students (out of 54,041 who graduate) too the ACT in 2007 – about 66.1% of the graduates. The median composite ACT score for all of them was 20.30. Since there were a total of 48,113 students who took the ACT in Tennessee, we can subtract out the public school students and the remaining 12,388 students were non-public school (private schools and home schools). And since we know the median composite ACT score for ALL students in Tennessee was 20.7 and the median for the PUBLIC school students was 20.30, we can calculate what the median composite score for the non-public schools was: that median composite ACT score in 2007 was 21.85.

So, we can now end the speculation and report with confidence that in 2007, in Tennessee, ALL students averaged a 20.7 composite ACT score, PUBLIC SCHOOL students averaged a 20.30 composite ACT score, and PRIVATE SCHOOL students averaged 21.85 composite ACT score. In other words, in 2007 private schools and home schools averaged 1.15 points higher on the ACT than the public schools. But of course, it’s the private school diplomas that the Department of Education thinks are suspect.

Since I had to compile the data for all 119 systems in a spreadsheet, I’ll post all of the data here – so that others can check my calculations, and so that the data will be available to everyone interested.

There are a number of other interesting observations about the public high schools that can be made from the data.

For example, here are the 10 public school systems in Tennessee with the HIGHEST median composite ACT scores:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 Maryville City 321 76.9% 247 23.67
2 Oak Ridge City 321 68.8% 221 23.53
3 Kingsport City 400 82.8% 331 22.74
4 Greenville City 209 66.5% 139 22.68
5 Williamson Co. 1,966 80.6% 1,584 22.54
6 Tullahoma City 239 77.4% 185 22.35
7 Johnson City 398 73.1% 291 22.34
8 Pickett Co. 46 58.7% 27 22.11
9 Alcoa City 107 74.8% 80 22.01
10 Knox Co. 3,257 66.6% 2,168 21.97

And here are the 10 public school systems with the LOWEST median composite ACT scores:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 Fayette Co. 187 65.2% 122 15.80
2 Memphis City 5,741 67.9% 3,898 17.56
3 Hancock Co. 62 38.7% 24 17.96
4 Haywood Co. 170 71.2% 121 17.98
5 Lake Co. 51 70.6% 36 18.11
6 Grainger Co. 241 53.1% 128 18.41
7 W. Carroll 79 54.4% 43 18.47
8 Campbell Co. 299 58.2% 174 18.63
9 Union Co. 196 53.1% 104 18.63
10 Hardeman Co. 234 56.0% 131 18.66

Here are the Here are the 10 public school systems in Tennessee with the HIGHEST percentage of graduating seniors who take the ACT:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 McMinn Co. 292 92.5% 270 20.33
2 Union City 77 88.3% 68 19.93
3 Kingsport City 400 82.8% 331 22.74
4 Williamson Co. 1,966 80.6% 1,584 22.54
5 Bradford City 41 80.5% 33 19.18
6 Oneida City 83 79.5% 66 20.58
7 Shelby Co. 2,561 78.5% 2,010 21.72
8 Madison Co. 679 78.2% 531 19.27
9 Tullahoma City 239 77.4% 185 22.35
10 Huntingdon City 70 77.1% 54 20.20

And here are the Here are the 10 public school systems in Tennessee with the LOWEST percentage of graduating seniors who take the ACT:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 Hancock Co. 62 38.7% 24 17.96
2 Fentress Co. 60 41.7% 25 19.92
3 Sequatchie Co. 116 44.8% 52 19.71
4 Greene Co. 488 45.7% 223 20.06
5 Trousdale Co. 91 47.3% 43 19.12
6 Johnson Co. 156 47.4% 74 19.81
7 Meigs Co. 94 48.9% 46 20.37
8 Washington Co. 656 50.8% 333 20.68
9 Bledsoe Co. 102 51.0% 52 20.73
10 Jefferson Co. 449 52.1% 234 20.52

Here are the 10 public school systems in Tennessee with the LARGEST number of graduating seniors who take the ACT:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 Memphis City 5,741 67.9% 3,898 17.56
2 Davidson Co. 3,601 64.1% 2,307 19.11
3 Knox Co. 3,257 66.6% 2,168 21.97
4 Shelby Co. 2,561 78.5% 2,010 21.72
5 Rutherford Co. 2,328 66.1% 1,539 20.91
6 Hamilton Co. 2,322 68.0% 1,580 19.60
7 Williamson Co. 1,966 80.6% 1,584 22.54
8 Sumner Co. 1,691 62.9% 1,063 20.81
9 Montgomery Co. 1,644 59.9% 984 21.23
10 Wilson Co. 1,040 67.9% 706 20.70

And here are the 10 public school systems in Tennessee with the SMALLEST number of graduating seniors who take the ACT:

TENNESSEE REGULAR % TAKING 2007 ACT Composite
SCHOOL SYSTEM DIPLOMAS ACT n median
1 S. Carroll 31 58.1% 18 20.28
2 Van Buren Co. 37 62.2% 23 18.83
3 Richard City 37 70.3% 26 20.15
4 Bradford City 41 80.5% 33 19.18
5 Pickett Co. 46 58.7% 27 22.11
6 Hollow Rock-Bruceton City 47 57.4% 27 20.22
7 Lake Co. 51 70.6% 36 18.11
8 Fentress Co. 60 41.7% 25 19.92
9 Hancock Co. 62 38.7% 24 17.96
10 Huntingdon City 70 77.1% 54 20.20

The only significant sized sample of homeschoolers with ACT scores that I could find were 1997, 1998, and 2004 data released by ACT (cited on the HSLDA website). ACT reported that in 1997, 1,926 homeschoolers had a median composite ACT score of 22.5. ACT reported that in 1998, 2,610 homeschoolers had a median composite ACT score of 22.8. ACT reported that in 2004, 7,858 homeschoolers had a median composite ACT score of 22.6. These data are remarkably consistent over time AND they are significantly ABOVE the national averages. But remember, according the the Tennessee Department of Education, it is the homeschooler’s diplomas that are suspect.

Now, don’t you feel like you know the public school system in Tennessee much better?

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves. Comments encouraged and solicited. Once again: here is the data. Or should that be, “here ARE the data…”

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

bible timeline cover

bible time line inside

Rose Publishing Company has long been one of my favorites. The company was started in 1991 by a Sunday School teacher and a public school teacher and has systematically expanded their line of charts, maps, and pamphlets. While the charts and maps are marketed primarily for classrooms, the pamphlets are well designed for individual use – in fact, they’re sized just right to slip inside the cover of your Bible. Greenleaf has just added 48 of the Rose pamphlets to our website. Here are the titles:

Here are some pamphlets on Biblical concepts & themes:

In addition to the Bible reference pamphlets, there are several very nice pamphlets dealing with church history:

Finally, there are 13 pamphlets that summarize key issues in apologetics: comparing Christianity with various competing worldviews, religions, and cults:

And finally, there are two pamphlets on Abstinence & Dating that are very concise & effective in communicating with young people:

Each of these pamphlets is only $3.99, and can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press. We’ve set up a separate category for the Rose Reference Pamphlets, as well as including many of them in our Bible section.

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

The Tennessee Department of Education has recently defended its decision not to recognize homeschool diplomas with the assertion that because they were prohibited from having anything to do with the selection of a curriculum, teachers, or textbooks in the church-related schools which “umbrella” homeschoolers they had no way to tell what a homeschool diploma represented.

So, the current status in Tennessee is that anyone from a public school (or a private accredited school) who presents a diploma in order to be hired as a daycare worker, police officer, fireman (or any other position which state law requires a high school diploma for) will be automatically accepted. Anyone who presents a homeschool diploma will be automatically rejected.

I have some news for the Department of Education officials. When a public school graduate presents a diploma, no one has any way to tell what it represents either. Did the ertswhile young graduate have an A average or a D- average? There is no minimum GPA requirement for graduation from a public high school in Tennessee. See the graduation requirements here on the Department of Education website for confirmation.

The final requirement on that page requiring a score of “proficient” on the three Gateway exams (Biology I, English II, Algebra I) has been altered, by the way. The Gateway exams are gone. They will be replaced with ten standard state-wide end-of-course tests that all public school students will be required to take. But the new tests won’t be high-stakes must-pass gateway exams. Instead, they will count as 25% of the student’s final grade in each of the ten designated courses.

Which only exacerbates the problem of how do you know what a public school diploma represents? Apparently it represents 20 courses, spread over four years (five per year) distributed over English, Math, Science, & Social Studies. In these four categories, only English is required to be taken in all four years of high school. So all you really know about a public school graduate with a high school diploma is that they at least passed 20 courses.

I don’t know of ANY private school, church-related school, or homeschool anywhere in Tennessee that requires LESS than 20 courses before they award a high school diploma. And yet, homeschool diplomas are automatically rejected by the Department of Education, while public school diplomas are automatically accepted.

In TN, 92% of high school graduates take the ACT test. In 2007 (the last year for which data was available) the average composite score for Tennessee high school grads was 20.7. Nationally it was 21.2.

And homeschoolers? The latest and largest study is from 1998, but since the ACT is so closely controlled statistically, it is possible to compare test scores from year to year. Here’s an excerpt from the ERIC clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation:

Home school students did quite well in 1998 on the ACT college entrance examination. They had an average ACT composite score of 22.8 which is .38 standard deviations above the national ACT average of 21.0 (ACT,1998).This places the average home school student in the 65th percentile of all ACT test takers.

The superior performance of home school students on achievement tests can easily be misinterpreted. This study does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools. It should not be cited as evidence that our public schools are failing. It does not indicate that children will perform better academically if they are home schooled. The design of this study and the data do not warrant such claims. All the comparisons of home school students with the general population and with the private school population in this report fail to consider a myriad of differences between home school and public school students. We have no information as to what the achievement levels of home school students would be had they been enrolled in public or private schools. This study only shows that a large group of parents choosing to make a commitment to home schooling were able to provide a very successful academic environment.

The full article is Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998, by Lawrence Rudner, published in the peer-reviewed EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.

There are specific ACT results for homeschoolers in Tennessee for only one year:

YEAR : 2005
Homeschoolers : 20.7
All Students: 20.5
( ACT report, TN, 2005, page 17)

For some curious reason, ACT no longer reports the homeschool ACT scores separately in its reports for 2006 and 2007.

So, in summary: Homeschoolers as a group have superior performance on every nationally normed test for which data are available, significantly above the public school average. Homeschoolers in Tennessee, as a group, have average ACT scores at or above the ACT scores for all students.

AND YET… the Department of Education somehow BELIEVES that they can’t accept a homeschooling diploma because they don’t know what it represents. Given the incredibly wide variation of skills an achievement that can accompany a public school high school diploma, something about the pot, the kettle, and the color black occurs to me. Class…? Class…? Anyone…? Bueller…?

Colleges and universities across the country have faced this problem for years. What does a high school diploma mean, anyway? Their solution? Require all applicants to take the ACT.

Now, if the POST Commission on police officers and the Department of Human Services regs on daycare workers need to be revised to require ALL applicants to take an ACT test in order to validate and help agencies evaluate their high school diploma, that would be fine.

But DO NOT single out homeschool or church school graduates as if their high school diplomas were suspect, while the public school diplomas are not.

Homeschoolers have every bit as much data to substantiate the success of homeschooling as anything the public schools can point to. For the Department to automatically reject homeschooler’s diplomas is insulting. It could not possibly survive a legal challenge.

If the Department will not overturn their arbitrary and capricious policy, then homeschoolers should pursue remedies in the courts, or in the legislature.

But I am NOT willing to concede that homeschoolers should have to meet any additional testing burdens that are not also imposed on all other high school graduates. A homeschool diploma deserves every bit as much credence (I’d argue more so) than a public school diploma.

The Department of Education’s actions amount to an unsubstantiated, unprofessional, and unjustified attack on homeschooling.

The Department of Education has 1,000,000 students in public schools in Tennessee. Do they really want to pick this fight with homeschoolers?

- Rob Shearer
proud homeschooling dad
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Vice President, Tennessee Association of Church Related Schools.

Since its favorable passage eight days ago by the House Education Committee, HB1652 (the bill to direct the Department of Education to resume recognizing homeschool and church-related school diplomas) has been languishing in the House Calendar & Rules Committee. This Committee is where all bills go when they receive committee approval. Calendar and Rules decides when to schedule floor votes on bills that have been reported out by other committees. The Calendar and Rules Committee (like all the other House committees) is appointed by Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. Here are the members:

Larry Miller, Chair D-Memphis
John Hood, Vice-Chair D-Murfreesboro
Nathan Vaughn, Secretary D-Kingsport
Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, Stratton Bone, D-Lebanon, Rob Briley, D-Nashville, Tommie F. Brown, D-Chattanooga, Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown, Glen Casada, R-Franklin, Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta
Lois Deberry, D-Memphis, John J. DeBerry, Jr., D-Memphis, Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, Ulysses Jones, Jr., D-Memphis, Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, Mark Maddox, D-Dresden, Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroad
Michael McDonald, D-Portland, Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, Gary Odom, D-Nashville, Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, Phillip Pinion, D-Union City, Randy Rinks, D-Savannah, Les Winningham, D-Huntsville

There are 25 members of the committee, 21 Democrats and 4 Republicans. That, unfortunately, might be a fair estimate of the odds of getting HB1652 brought to a vote on the floor. The Democrats control the Tennessee House of Representatives with a 53-46 majority. But, with control and the election of the speaker, they are able to effect such oddities as the stacking of the Calendar and Rules Committee with a 21-4 Democrat majority.

I would STRONGLY urge all homeschooling families to call and email the members of the House Calendar and Rules Committee and respectfully request that they release HB1652 for a vote by the full House of Representatives. You might remind them that the bill is co-sponsored by a Democrat (Rep. Dennis Ferguson) and a Republican (Rep. Mike Bell). There is a good summary of the bill and its history at Kay Brooks’ TNHomeEd site.

For the prospects of the Republicans being able to achieve a majority of the House of Representatives in November 2008, I refer you to this analysis by Steve Gill.

Remember, if this bill does NOT pass, then the Department of Education will have succeeded in invalidating the high school diplomas of thousands of homeschool and church-related school graduates.

For everyone’s convenience, here are the email addresses of all 25 members of the Calendar and Rules Committee: (yawl do know how to do cut & paste, right?)

rep.larry.miller@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.hood@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.nathan.vaughn@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joe.armstrong@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.stratton.bone@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.rob.briley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.tommie.brown@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.frank.buck@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.glen.casada@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.charles.curtiss@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.lois.deberry@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.deberry@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.craig.fitzhugh@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.ulysses.jones@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mike.kernell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mark.maddox@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.steve.mcdaniel@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.michael.mcdonald@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jason.mumpower@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jimmy.naifeh@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.gary.odom@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.doug.overbey@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.phillip.pinion@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.randy.rinks@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.leslie.winningham@legislature.state.tn.us

- Rob Shearer

The Department of Education has so far succeeded in declaring all homeschoolers’ high school diplomas to be invalid.

Bill Hobbs has a nice summary of what the Department has done:

Cindy Benefield, the Tennesseee Department of Education Executive Director of Field Services, who oversees the state’s homeschooling office, recently declared that a diploma from a church-related school is “not worth the paper it is written on.” That is not just the idle opinion of one uninformed bureaucrat, but has become Department policy. Bredesen’s education commissioner, Tim Webb, told four legislators in April that until the legislature passes a law stating that the diplomas given by church-related schools are acceptable, they aren’t acceptable for certain kinds of employment.

And the state is now preventing people who hold diplomas from church-related schools or home schools from holding certain jobs. For example: a police officer in Roane County, who holds a diploma from a church-related school, then graduated the police academy with perfect grades, has been demoted and prohibited from continuing to serve as a police officer – even though he also graduated from the local community college. The Rockwood police officer has been forced to take a desk job until he takes and passes the GED because the Department of Education says his 2001 diploma from a church-related school is invalid.

The fallout goes beyond that one officer. Suspects he has arrested may be set free because he can not appear as a witness in the case because the state, which regulates the profession, says his diploma is invalid.

Church-related schools (CRS) have been issuing high school diplomas since at least 1975 – and until now, they’ve always been accepted, never been challenged. The bigger irony in this is that the Tennessee university system and the Lottery scholarships continue to accept CRS diplomas. It’s a fair assumption to predict that the Department of Education would like that practice to stop as well.

Rep. Mike Bell’s bill to reverse this stunning policy change escaped the House Ed Committee without being hijacked, but it is now sitting in the Calendar & Rules Committee where it may be quietly allowed to die. If that happens, the Department will have succeeded in disenfranchising thousands of high school graduates by bureaucratic fiat. There are upwards of 40,000 homeschool students in TN. Probably 3,000 of them graduate from high school each year. The Department’s actions not only invalidate the diplomas of this year’s graduating class, they retroactively invalidate the diplomas of thousands who have graduated over the past thirty years.

What’s happening is an outrage. We have a shortage of good police officers. We have a shortage of good daycare workers – but the Department of Education can’t stand it that someone out there might be getting an education outside their control.

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

Wise GuyWise Guy is one of the more unusual children’s books I’ve ever run across. The illustrations and narrative are written for young people aged 8-12, but there is a deceptive depth to this book that will delight older students as well as helping the occasional adult who is reading it out loud (or to themselves). Along with the engaging illustrations – which make life in ancient Athens look quite pleasant there is a second boxed narrative in smaller type which complements the larger font story. These smaller boxed notes give a little deeper and fuller account of the ideas presented in the pictures. One of the unusual features of the book is that is based entirely on the ancient sources from classical Greece. We get a nuanced introduction to Socrates personality as well as the key ideas and outline of his thought on knowledge and ethics, as well as his attitude towards the Greek gods and mythology. His skepticism about the gods is, of course, what led to his trial and execution, presented (without being morbid or maudlin) on the last two pages of the book. The final two-page spread is a delightful caricatured rendition of Raphael’s School of Athens, with Socrates and a host of modern thinkers whom he influenced arrayed on the steps around him. Most younger readers won’t recognize them at first, but adults and older students will enjoy seeing the connections that are made. Wise Guy is a hardback, 32 pages, 9″ x 11″ color on glossy stock. $16.00 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Marco PoloThe Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman is a well-written, carefully balanced assessment of one of the most controversial writers from the Middle Ages. Marco Polo’s tales were so outlandish that they were dismissed by many at the time (and by many still today) as wildly exaggerated or even fabricated. For example, he said he had seen rocks that burned – a fantastic tale that Europeans dismissed. Of course, what he had seen was coal – which was plentiful in China, but virtually unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. Still many of his claims remain unsubstantiated. Marco (and his cousin and his uncle) spent twenty-four years in China, learning the language, making a living as merchants, and winning the favor and confidence of The Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan ( a descendant of Ghenghis Khan). Freedman does an excellent job of describing their journey, and the remarkable adventures they had while in China. And Freedman includes a page-long discussion of the influence that Marco Polo had on a later explorer, Christopher Columbus. Here is what Freedman has to say: “Marco’s book seems to have fired the imagination of Christopher Columbus. He used his well-thumbed Latin translation as a guidebook, scribbling notes in the margins and underlining passages about gold, jewels, and spices, when he sailed west across the Atlantic, expecting to rediscover the land described by Marco Polo. When Columbus reached Cuba, he believed that he was at the edge of the Great Khan’s realm and would soon find the Mongol kingdom of Cathay.” Freedman’s forte is young adult biography. He has twice had books finish as finalists for the Newbery Medal (The Wright Brothers and Eleanor Roosevelt) and in 1988 won the Newbery Medal itself for Lincoln: A Photobiography. He and his publisher do not neglect the visual in this book either. The full-page chapter-heading paintings by Russian painter Bagram Ibatoulline are stunning. Ibatoulline is able to adapt his style in masterful fashion as he moves from medieval illumination to Chinese silk painting. Also included in the text are dozens of archival illustrations which appeared in the numerous hand-written copies of Marco Polo’s book that circulated in the century before printing. The Adventures of Marco Polo is a hardback, 64 pages, 10″ by 10″. The text junior high to high school and adult. $17.99 direct from Greenleaf Press.

- Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

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