November 9th, 2009 20:50 EST
Everyday is Unlucky in Some Schools
By Robert Holland
Today is 2009`s third Friday the 13th--a day so foreboding to some that they curtail activity to duck misfortune. No other year in this decade has brought more than two F13s.
But students, parents, and teachers whose fortunes are closely tied to government-run schools may well conclude that Friday the 13th is a recurring nightmare, much as in the movie Groundhog Day. Obtuse decrees from bureaucracies can make every day unlucky.
It must have seemed that way to student-athletes at La Guardia High School, who were well on their way to raising money through bake sales to pay for a new scoreboard when the food Nazis at the New York City Department of Education forced them to stop.
In the spirit of fighting fat, trans fats, salt, sugar, "and other unwanted food additives," bake sales are verboten in city public schools, decreed the educrats. Let them eat granola bars. And let taxpayers pay for amenities instead of kids taking the initiative to raise funds privately.
Bad luck emanating from bureaucratic wizards can take much more sinister forms than crumbled cookies. So-called "zero-tolerance" policies intended to prevent violence are a prime example.
It is entirely reasonable for officials to be vigilant in preventing students from bringing guns and knives to school. But common sense often eludes the rule-makers and enforcers.
The most celebrated recent case occurred last month in a Delaware school, where a 6-year-old Cub Scout got so excited about a neat new camping utensil tripling as a spoon, fork, and knife that he brought it with him to school for eating lunch. That got the child not only suspended from school but ordered off to reform school for 45 days, a punishment akin to a jaywalker being sent to prison to do hard labor.
Last February a Colorado district suspended the commander of a Young Marines Drill Team and threatened her with expulsion for leaving wooden, fake practice rifles in the back of an SUV. She and fellow students had been practicing for a U.S. Air Force Academy competition.
After public outcries, school authorities in both districts moderated their idiotic sentences to suspension time served. However, that`s no guarantee other innocent kids will be able to dodge Friday the 13th-style justice dispensed by bureaucrats acting with all the sensitivity of Jason in his hockey mask. Common sense gets suspended time after time.
Teachers encounter their own career-threatening monstrosities in the form of certification bureaucrats who determine whether their education-school credits are precisely the right ones and in sufficient number to allow them to start or continue teaching. Teachers commonly report that the required ed-school courses are shallow, arcane, or worse, and research has shown them to be without value in raising student achievement--but the certification mill grinds on nonetheless.
Parents experience Friday the 13th all the time when they ask for permission to transfer their child to a better school. That is usually a no-no when it means a district will lose money or bureaucrats will be inconvenienced. Even parents supposedly given a federal right under No Child Left Behind to transfer children out of failing schools have been turned down on grounds no better schools have room.
In the 40 states that allow independent managers to set up public charter schools, parents may have a choice. However, authorities protecting the education status quo constantly create barriers against charters growing to meet demand, notably, caps on how many may be opened. More than 365,000 students are on charter waiting lists.
The Obama administration is playing Chicago-style political hardball by telling states and localities they will lose their share of $4.35 billion in federal incentive money if they keep blocking the growth of charter schools.
The specter of Washington using money borrowed for "economic stimulus" as such a blunt instrument may be Friday the 13th scary in itself. But maybe it takes a Freddy to subdue a Jason.
Robert Holland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute in Chicago.