Education 2012: Year in Review

Monday, December 31, 2012
Bob Kellogg (

In 2012 many Christian colleges saw ObamaCare challenge their religious freedoms, schools made significant gains, student religious freedoms were increasingly being attacked, and at the end of the year the massacre of young children at Sandy Hook Elementary cast a pall over the nation at year's end.

School challenges to healthcare mandate

Dozens of Christian and Catholic universities filed lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services during 2012. They were seeking revocation of the administration's mandate to offer sterilization and contraceptives, which violate their moral and religious conviction.

There was an October breakthrough when the Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider Liberty University's challenge.

"This, for example, is a challenge against the employer mandate in general, across the board," explained Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel. "And if we win that, that guts ObamaCare because [it] cannot operate if the employer mandate is not in effect. It literally guts ObamaCare across the board."

In Decemnber, a federal appeals court sided with Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College saying it would hold the Obama administration to the promise of never implementing the current birth-control mandate. The court ordered a new rule to be implemented by next August.

In addition to infringing on religious liberties, Elizabeth Stelle of the Commonwealth Foundation said ObamaCare could also threaten the quality of education.

"You may have a much more limited pool now of folks you can bring in and teach because of these restrictions," she stated. "So I definitely think it could especially hinder the quality of education that you get from people who have real-world experience."

Popularity of school-choice programs

School-choice programs continued to show increasing popularity through the year. The programs include private schools, charter schools, voucher programs, scholarship tax credit opportunities, and online learning. A study released in September revealed that when the public was asked if it would support or oppose allowing students to attend private schools with tuition paid in part by the government, supporters outnumbered those opposed by 20 percent.

Not unexpectedly, such programs are being opposed in several states by teachers unions and state boards of education. Jeff Reed is with the Friedman Foundation for School Choice.

"This is something that we see in a number of states when school-choice options are proposed -- that typically, defenders of the status quo, [defenders] of the monopolistic public education system, try to challenge it," Reed noted. "That's been the case in Indiana. It's been the case down in Louisiana."

There are currently 32 publicly-funded private school-choice programs in 16 states -- and the number is expected to grow during the current school year.

Failing students, failing model

After decades of government intrusion into education, and hundreds of billions of dollars pumped into failed federal programs, a recent survey showed SAT reading scores were the worst in 40 years. Though assessments show some improvements in fourth-grade achievement, much of those gains were lost by the time those students reached the eighth grade. Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation said U.S. students still lag behind their global counterparts.

"What is not helping is continuing to increase federal control and spending over education," she told OneNewsNow. "That's been the way in which the U.S. education system has operated for the past half century now. We continue to throw more federal dollars at more federal programs in hopes that we will be able to see improvements in American education. That's been a failing model for half a century."

Attacks on religious freedom

Religious freedoms at public schools were still under attack from atheist and anti-religious groups in 2012. In Texas, there was a failed attempt to prevent cheerleaders from displaying religious messages on banners. In Oklahoma, efforts were made to squelch an after-school Kids for Christ program. In Montana, students singing sacred Christmas carols were said to be bullying others.

And in North Carolina, a first-grader was forced to remove a sentence from her poem which mentioned how her grandfathers prayed to God when they were soldiers. The poem was to honor them on Veteran's Day.

Matt Sharp with Alliance Defending Freedom: "To be told that because she made a reference to the fact that her grandfathers prayed while they were serving in these difficult battles and whatnot, and then to be told That's offensive; that can't be included if you want to be able to read it out loud to the rest of the members that would be attending the celebration -- I think would be very traumatic for this young girl."

Evil in Newtown, CT

Then the year in education ended in the worst possible way as 20 school children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On that day, Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut says it was impossible to fully comprehend the massacre.

"The community is in shock, the entire state of Connecticut is in shock, and we're all just trying to recover some sense of understanding about what happened today. And there's just a great deal of mourning."

The debate over gun control, school safety, blame, and prevention is expected to continue for months to come.

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