Department of Education

Surprise: The New York Times offers balanced look at Betsy DeVos' Christian high school

Surprise: The New York Times offers balanced look at Betsy DeVos' Christian high school

Life still surprises: Where I expected full-on Kellerism -- reporting in which certain "settled" matters are declared unworthy of balanced coverage -- The New York Times offered, well, some degree of balance when writing about a controversial public figure and the intersection of education and faith.

Journey with me now, gentle reader, to the western Michigan shores of Lake Macatawa, where we find the city of Holland and the alma mater of one Betsy Prince, who in 1975 graduated from Holland Christian High School.

As Betsy Prince, the now 59-year-old graduate might not attract much public attention, and certainly not for where she attended high school.

However, as Betsy DeVos, now the U.S. Secretary of Education, there's plenty of interest in such details. As shown in the video clip above, DeVos isn't always warmly embraced by her hearers and is a controversial figure.

Take it awayNew York Times:

The students formed a circle around the Rev. Ray Vanderlaan, who draped himself in a Jewish ceremonial prayer shawl to cap his final lesson to graduating seniors in his discipleship seminar at Holland Christian High School.
“We’re sending you out into a broken world, in part because of my generation,” the minister told the students. Referring to God, he exhorted them to “extend his kingdom.”

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Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

The U.S. Supreme Court decided March 6 to punt on its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement, sending the Gloucester County School Board case back to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review. The high court had scheduled this Virginia case for oral arguments March 28, but the incoming Donald Trump administration has for the time being rescinded the Obama Administration policy the 4th Circuit relied upon.

The evolving situation merits close Godbeat attention due to the major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive over other issues. With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBT movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights.

The basics for reporters: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That redefined “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. The new contention that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

In the Virginia case, an anatomically female high schooler who is transitioning wanted to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security, including access to locker rooms and showers that were not raised in the Virginia dispute.

A major chunk of U.S. organized religion has reacted in unison against the Obama policy and 4th Circuit ruling.

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Why was DeVos fight so bitter? In this case the cultural warfare was totally logical

Why was DeVos fight so bitter? In this case the cultural warfare was totally logical

So how did Betsy DeVos end up being the wicked witch of the Calvinist Midwest?

That's one way of stating the main topic of this past week's "Crossroads" podcast, which was recorded a day later than normal for technical reasons. Click here to tune that in, please.

In addition to talking about the hammer and tongs warfare over the DeVos nomination to serve as Secretary of Education, host Todd Wilken and I also talked about the fact that the whole subject of alternative forms of education in America -- think charter schools, homeschooling, etc. -- is not something that breaks down into easy left vs. right categories, when it comes to politics and religion. Click here to see my earlier post on that.

But the key to the DeVos war was that there was really nothing unusual about it, for reasons that Ross Douthat explained in a column for The New York Times. The bottom line was the bottom line: It is hard to name a culture wars army that provides more muscle and campaign funding to the modern Democratic Party than the public educational elites and the unions that serve them. We are talking about millions and millions of dollars, year after year after year.

Here is Douthat, who as always is guilty of linear, logical thinking:

... Somehow it was DeVos who became, in the parlance of cable-news crawls, Trump’s “most controversial nominee.” Never mind that Trump’s logorrheic nationalism barely has time for education. Never mind that local control of schools makes the Education Department a pretty weak player. Never mind that Republican views on education policy are much closer to the expert consensus than they are on, say, climate change. Never mind that the bulk of DeVos’s school-choice work places her only somewhat to the right of the Obama administration’s pro-charter-school positioning, close to centrist Democrats like Senator Cory Booker. None of that mattered: Against her and (so far) only her, Democrats went to the barricades, and even dragged a couple of wavering Republicans along with them.
DeVos did look unprepared and even foolish at times during her confirmation hearings, and she lacks the usual government experience. But officially the opposition claimed to be all about hardheaded policy empiricism. A limited and heavily regulated charter school program is one thing, the argument went, but DeVos’s zeal for free markets would gut public education and turn kids over to the not-so-tender mercies of unqualified bottom-liners.

DeVos is the living symbol of everything the educational establishment hates, a woman with zero personal ties to public schools and years of experience in fighting for alternatives -- especially for the poor and those caught in substandard urban school zones. As I noted in the podcast, of course Democrats went to the mattresses to stop her from becoming secretary of education. Her nomination was something like proposing Elton John as the next leader of Focus on the Family.

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More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

Crux, you had me at "varied Catholic responses."

Just about every transgender rights article I've ever read has drawn caricatures: a hidebound, monolithic bureaucracy against earnest activists who bravely state their rights. Yesterday's Crux story is different: It cites intelligent, articulate viewpoints on more than one side.

You can see the difference right in the lede:

A controversy over transgender rights at schools and public facilities in the United States that’s been dubbed the "bathroom wars" has drawn varied Catholic responses, with bishops expressing concern over a trio of disputed government actions at the local, state and federal level, and a Catholic gay rights group supporting increased access for transgender people.

No other story I've reviewed on this controversy has carried Catholic Church views on the so-called bathroom wars. Nearly all the stories major in politician quotes; most quote liberal activists; some quote their conservative opponents;  one or two have asked a pastor or two. The largest division of Christianity, the Catholic Church, is always ignored. Except for Crux yesterday.

The article focuses on North Carolina, the battleground of laws, lawsuits and boycotts. Crux explains Charlotte's ordinance that allowed people to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify. Crux also cites HB2, the state law that overturned the ordinance and prevented any other cities from passing similar measures.

And the 1,500-word indepth has more than sound bites. It gives lots of space to a statement by both of North Carolina's bishops, Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte:

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Here is a new federal data base reporters can mine for religion angles

Here is a new federal data base reporters can mine for religion angles

On September 12th, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled its revamped College Scorecard (click here to see it), a trove of online data to guide parents and students on where to enroll that can also be a source of religion angles. The Obama Administration wisely scrapped its controversial plan for a college rating system, something of a mission impossible, and instead compiled hard numbers that citizens can judge for themselves.

The broad economic context was analyzed that same weekend by National Public Radio’s Adam Davidson, writing in The New York Times Magazine. For example, median income adjusted for inflation has remained nearly flat since 1974 while tuition at private universities has roughly tripled, and has quadrupled at public universities. Meanwhile those pricey college degrees have increased in importance for many careers. As the new Web site proclaims, “On average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates.”

Much of this information was already available in those ubiquitous college guidebooks or the College Navigator site from the government’s National Center for Education Statistics. But the new site crunches Internal Revenue Service data to report graduates’ earnings 10 years out and how many are managing to repay student loans.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the field’s journalistic bible, notes an important gap: Those newly added numbers cover only students who received federal loans or grants. Also, they lump together all students at an institution while earnings vary wildly depending on academic subject. The American Council on Education complains that the feds produced this setup without any review by outside experts.

No religious campuses are among the feds’ list of 23 schools commended for low cost leading to high incomes.

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