Thursday, April 12, 2007

Equipoise ... Not

I wanted to point out something that somebody mentioned recently. The Maryland State Superintendent of Schools decided not to stop last month's pilot testing of the new sex-ed curriculum in Montgomery County. In her opinion, Dr. Grasmick wrote:
It is my view that the Appellants arguments are equally matched by the local board’s response. In my view, the likelihood of success on the merits, at best, rests in equipoise.

Later in her opinion, she wrote:
In my view, the Appellants’ arguments on the merits are equally matched by the local board’s response to those arguments.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have tried to talk about this as if the superintendent considered their arguments to be as good as the school district's. So, if they can just have a big "trial," they can really make their point ... and win.

But look. The superintendent wrote about three things in this document, which is linked HERE, if you want to follow along.

The first analysis had to do with "Likelihood of success on the merits." In this section, she looked at the legal arguments, and decided that the CRC's arguments "at best" equalled the county's. This was the equipoised part.

Round one: tie.

The next section was about the "Balance of harm." This section considered questions like, does opting-out of the test classes mean students miss the whole health section, is opting-out traumatic, should the schools be teaching more about anal sex (which the CRC is asking for), does opting-out label a person as homophobic, etc.

Her answer sides with the school district on balance of harm:
I have balanced the possible harm to students against the harm to the local board if this field test were stayed and have concluded that staying this field test would be detrimental to the students, teachers and parents of the Montgomery County Public School System. The lessons at issue here have been under development since May of 2005. Four medical consultants worked with the MCPS staff in developing the lessons. A 15 member Community Advisory Committee reviewed the lessons and provided feedback. They met nine times, for many hours, to review and revise the lessons... It is important for all of them to know whether a sufficient number of parents will provide permission for student participation; whether the lessons actually work in the classroom; whether the lessons are balanced and fair; how students react to the content of the lessons; and, ultimately, based on the field test results, whether to move forward toward full implementation.

After she had ticked through each of the complaints and dismissed them, she concluded the curriculum seems to have been developed competently, and it is does not appear that anyone will be harmed if the school district goes ahead and tries it out in the classroom test.

Round two: MCPS.

The third section had to do with "Public interest." She didn't bother wasting any time with this one:
One of serious problems in our schools today is bullying and harassment. Indeed, in 2005 the General Assembly directed school systems to report all incidents of harassment against students based on race, native origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or disability... The lessons at issue here address harassment problems as they relate to sexual orientation and gender identity. They emphasize tolerance and acceptance. They address ways to deal with bullying and harassment and how to prevent it. I believe it is in the public interest to field test those lessons to determine whether to move forward with full implementation of a curriculum designed, in part, to reduce bullying and harassment.

She is clearly on MCPS's side as far as the public interest goes -- these classes should be taught, because they serve the public interest in reducing bullying and harassment.

Round three: MCPS.

The CRC can claim the decision was close, and they can sit on the edge of their chairs waiting for the state school board to tell the county that they are incompetent to develop their own classes, but ... I wouldn't hold my breath. The superintendent's opinion strongly favored the school district on two items, and tied on one -- the legal topic, which she as an educator is not expected to be expert in. And even there, that "at best" is significant; she judges that the CRC has "at best" an even chance of winning on the legal arguments.

We saw the CRC's lawyer asking for money at their recent meeting, so they can make this hearing into a spectacle. But they have no case, really, and their only hope is to try to bluff the school district or wear them down with threats of dragging the legal pettiness out over a long time.

The question, it seems to me, is whether they can persuade the big deep-pockets Family Blah Blah organizations to put up a bunch of cash, to bet on something that won't win if it gets an open hearing. I wouldn't second-guess these guys, but it seems to me, that's the question. If it goes forward as a routine matter, they don't have a chance. If they actually have a hearing in front of the school board or a judge, they'll be laughed out of the room -- MCPS was too careful this time, there isn't any opening. If they make a big show out of it, as they are threatening to do, it will end up embarrassing them and the entire religious right (think Dover) and will cost a lot of money. Their only hope is the small chance they can get the school district to back out before it comes to a public hearing. Can they get backing for that kind of crazy plan? Just depends on how desperate the guys with the money are.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They are now looking for activist judges (or currently, the state school board) to overturn the ordinary legislative process."

The county school board is not a legislative body. They are part of the executive branch, implementing legislative acts. According to state officials, their interpretation of COMAR, passed by the real legislature, is not necessarily correct.

April 13, 2007 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Aren't judges that overturn decisions of elected representatives "activist judges?" Hah!"


Those that try to write law are.

Deciding whether the executive branch, elected in this country, is correctly interpreting the law is precisely the role of the judiciary.

April 13, 2007 10:36 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks, digger, I'm planning to post something about that story today, but in the meantime I am going back and forth with Penn Camera over a new Canon A630 that gives a "lens error."


April 14, 2007 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Here's a excerpt for the AP story on this abstinence study, concerning the nature of the programs studied:

"Common topics included human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes focused on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem."

As we've discussed numerous times here, abstinence programs based on self-esteem aren't effective. The successful programs are based on societal norms.

In short, kids can't be convinced to forgo self-indulgence for the sake of self-esteem but they often can if they are convinced they are part of a larger societal structure. It's the story of our times.

April 14, 2007 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So old anon, do us all a favor and name one such abstinence-only sex education program based on societal norms that has been used in American public schools. Then cite the study that found that program was effective at reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates while increasing success at abstinence.

April 14, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

There was just a news story on WTOP saying that kids who had abstinence only sex ed were just as likely to have sex as kids who did not. HHS wouldn't comment(duh)

April 14, 2007 5:56 PM  

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