"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, October 23, 2020

U.S. Neglects Tomorrow

In Aesop's tale of the ant and the grasshopper, the busy ant made preparations for the coming winter, while the flighty grasshopper played away the summer. When winter came, the ant was prepared with substantial food for the winter while the grasshopper was starving.

The United States seems determined to play the grasshopper when it comes to our future. We use up our energy without a thought of what will happen when it runs out -- and fossil fuels, no matter what other arguments one might make about them -- are a finite resource. We fill our landfills to bursting...and recycling is failing in its promise. We ignore the changing climate that is drying out the "nation's breadbasket" and burning up California's farmland. And, most important, we don't seem concerned with preparing our future citizens and leaders, our children.

In 1989 Carl Sagan said,
...we have permitted the amount of poverty in children to increase. Before the end of this century, more than half the kids in America may be below the poverty line.

What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them? This is stupid.

In the video above, Sagan claims that the US is 19th in the world in Infant Mortality. We haven't improved much -- if at all -- since then. Why? Because we don't spend as much money on our babies as other countries. We're a wealthy country yet we aren't investing in our future by taking care of our most important natural resource -- our children.

Without continued investment in our children, will we be able to maintain our lifestyle and standard of living? In 1996, Sagan wrote,
I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time – when the United states is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
Superstition and darkness -- take a look around.

U.S. ranks near bottom of advanced nations in child wellness — new report

If we don't take care of our children now how will that affect our future? Will we prepare enough doctors? enough teachers? enough people to support the society? Will we have more social unrest? more poverty? more violence? Will our economic gaps increase?

Which will have a greater impact on our daily lives...Jeff Bezos's $200+ billion net worth, or the more than 38 million Americans living in poverty?
The United States ranks near the bottom of dozens of advanced nations in terms of the well-being of its children, according to a report with data from before the coronavirus epidemic.

The rankings were published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF, which show that of 38 advanced countries for which data was compiled in a range of wellness markers, the United States was No. 36. (See ranking chart and full report below).

The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway topped the list, which takes into account data on the mental and physical health of children as well as their skills as measured by international exams. Mental well-being includes both life satisfaction as well as suicide rates; physical health includes rates of overweight and obesity as well as child mortality, and skills focuses both on proficiency in reading and mathematics as well as social skills.

But the report noted that in many of the advanced nations on the list, children are not doing well; in fact, in nearly half, more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Of 41 nations ranked on child poverty, the United States was fourth from the bottom.
What Does It Mean When Hardly Anybody Stands Up for the Basic Needs of Children and Public Schools?
I do not remember a time when the wellbeing of children has been so totally forgotten by the leaders of the political party in power in the White House and the Congress. This fall, school district leaders have been left on their own as they try to serve and educate children while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging across the states. School leaders are trying to hold it all together this fall at the same time their state budgets in some places have already been cut.

Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019

In order to prepare our children for their (and our) future, we'll need teachers. Are we investing enough in teachers? Are we providing an incentive for the "best and the brightest" to go into education? Are we addressing the nation-wide teacher shortage?

We have been living through a decline in the number of teachers being trained, even before the pandemic. Colleges and universities report fewer students are choosing education. This past week we learned that the University of South Florida will close down its education school. Will more universities follow USF's lead? Who will train tomorrow's teachers?
Key findings

• The teacher wage penalty has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty is how much less, in percentage terms, public school teachers are paid in weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers (after accounting for factors known to affect earnings such as education, experience, and state residence). The regression-adjusted teaching wage penalty was 6.0% in 1996. In 2019, the penalty was 19.2%, reflecting a 2.8 percentage-point improvement compared with a penalty of 22.0% a year earlier.

• The teacher wage penalty declined in the wake of recent teacher strikes but only time and more data will reveal whether teachers’ actions led to a decline and a turning point. The lessening of the teaching penalty from 22.0% in 2018 to 19.2% in 2019 may reflect pay raises enacted in the wake of widespread strikes and other actions by teachers in 2018 and 2019, particularly in some of the states where teacher pay lagged the most. Unfortunately, the data we have to date are not sufficient to allow us to identify the geographic locus of the improvements in teacher wages and benefits and any association with the recent wave of teacher protests and strikes. Only time will tell if this single data point marks a turning point in teacher pay...

• The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.

Isn't it time that we started to prepare for the future?


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

2020 Medley #23

Everything has changed,
It's not that simple,
Teachers are still disrespected,
Do we need charter schools?


Everything about teaching has changed.

We were already in the midst of a teacher shortage before the pandemic began. Now, when things are harder than ever for teachers, we're going to lose more if we don't take care of the teachers we have.

The current pandemic has an impact on everything we do. It impacts shopping, medical appointments, and school attendance. It affects children and their teachers...and, by extension, everyone who lives with, or interacts with, a child or a teacher. That might include infants and grandparents. It includes people with high-risk conditions like obesity, kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, diabetes, and sickle cell disease. Just because a child doesn't have a high-risk condition doesn't mean they couldn't transmit COVID-19 to someone in their family with a high-risk condition. Just because a teacher doesn't have a high-risk condition doesn't mean that they couldn't transmit COVID-19 to someone in their family with a high-risk condition.

Everything about teaching has changed...from attendance (face to face, virtual, or both), to eating a meal with students, to loss of planning and instructional time due to more time spent on keeping students and teachers safe. Teachers can no longer sit close to a student to help them read a passage, or hold a pencil, or search for a topic online or in a book. Teachers can no longer talk to a student privately if they're in a Zoom classroom, or if social distance has to be maintained. No more pats on the back, high fives, or fist bumps.

Everything about teaching has changed and teachers are expected to change everything they do with little or no help, with little or no additional resources, and with students who are traumatized beyond what they might have been before, by forced isolation, loss of loved ones to COVID-19, or lack of home stability.


John Thompson Reviews “School’s Out” About Pandemic

Most readers will label this article tl;dr. Still, it's important if only to document how difficult it is to come to a consensus about opening schools during a pandemic.

Politicians will holler "Open the schools," but it's not so simple. Parents have to get back to work. Kids should have a chance to be around other kids. Teachers need to be face to face with kids to build relationships. Those things are all true, but there are conditions that must be met to keep everyone safe. The hollering politicians often ignore local coronavirus numbers, calls to provide PPE for staff and students, and additional funding that returning to school with various safeguards in place will cost.

Did you know, for example, that the speed with which schools opened during the pandemic had more to do with a community's voting record than with the safety of the students, students' families, and staff?

Simple solutions don't work for complex problems.
When I first read Alec MacGillis’ School’s Out, I worried that he reached conclusions that were too optimistic, but it made me hopeful. After all, it was a co-production by ProPublica and New Yorker, and MacGillis had listened to numerous top public health experts. Upon rereading, and following his links, I’ve reached a more discouraging appraisal. The published research he cites actually makes the case for more caution, and against MacGillis’ implicit call to reopen schools more quickly for in-person instruction...

The big problem, however, wasn’t teachers’ new fearfulness. The problem was the realities created by Trump, “governors and everybody else” who made it impossible to safely reopen many schools. For instance, a Brookings Institution study “found that districts’ school opening decisions correlated much more strongly with levels of support for Trump in the 2016 election than with local coronavirus case levels.” That reality was bad enough. But, School’s Out didn’t to seem fully consider how much schools in urban areas which voted against Trump are poorer and, often, politically powerless.


How Are American Teachers Doing, Really?

Teachers are used to being ignored, underfunded, and generally treated with disrespect. The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed that.
What seems very wearing for a large number of teachers is the lack of support—doubly wearing because none of it is unexpected. We knew that pandemic schooling would be very expensive, but few additional resources have been forthcoming. We knew staffing would need to be expanded, but mostly it has not been. We knew that pandemic schooling would create whole new kinds of problems, but teachers have been left to solve those issues themselves. We knew that district leaders who had failed to build and maintain trust with their staffs would have extra trouble. We feared that too many teachers would be tossed into this storm and left to sort things out on their own, and in too many districts, that has come true. Disempowering teachers while offering a thin dose of toxic positivity doesn’t help. And through it all, far too many states and districts stick with the old top-down management model, failing to include teacher voices or insights in the crafting of policies, and in some cases deliberately silencing teachers who try to ask, “But what about—?” None of this is a surprise to classroom teachers, but it’s still discouraging.

Across the nation, a thousand odd contingencies have emerged, none of them planned for. Who’s responsible for reporting a child’s exposure, and how many degrees of exposure call for isolation? Parents have been more than willing to send symptomatic students to school. There are districts that forbid teachers to get a Covid test, because a test means automatic two-day isolation. Florida’s governor has forbidden the reporting of school Covid stats, and some schools have defied his order. In other districts, teachers are scolded for posting data from their school. In other districts, teachers are scolded if they try to provide more substantial classroom barriers. And some districts are delivering ultimatums to teachers—show up and risk exposure, take unpaid leave, or lose your job.


The Foundational Fallacy Of Charter Schools

Peter Greene brings up an important argument against charter schools. They're not needed.

If you have a public school with room for 1000 students, serving 800, what's going to happen when a charter school opens down the block. Will there be enough students for both schools? Will the community save money? The answer to both questions is no.

Fix public schools that need to be fixed. Fund underfunded communities and schools. Stop expensive and needless privatization.
Before we talk about the quality of education or the importance of [free ed], when it comes to charter schools, there's a much more fundamental fallacy that we must address first, a fallacy that addresses a premise of virtually every charter program launched in this country.

You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.

This really should not come as a surprise to anyone. When was the last time you heard of a business of any sort saying, "The money is getting tight, and we need to tighten our belts. So let's open up some new facilities."

UPDATE: What it's like teaching during a pandemic: Article and video.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Improve Reading Achievement. Teach More Social Studies


Using the "failing schools" trope has long been a tactic of school "reformers" to claim that privatizing education is necessary. It was called out again in an article in Hechinger Report where we were told that...
Only a third of American students are reading proficiently at grade level, according to national benchmark tests.
(The article continues by suggesting that the failure to teach phonics is the reason for the poor test scores, but that's a discussion for another time.)

This description of the apparent desperate condition of the nation's readers comes from the NAEP test, the Nation's Report Card. Diane Ravitch, a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, has frequently reminded her readers that "proficient" on the NAEP is equivalent to "a very high level of academic achievement," like a grade of A, and that a score of "basic" is not terrible.
When I served on NAGB for seven years, the board understood very well that proficient was a high bar, not a pass-fail mark. No member of the board or the staff expected that some day all students would attain “NAEP Proficient.” Yet critics and newspaper consistently use NAEP proficient as an indicator that “all students” should one day reach. This misperception has been magnified by the No Child Left Behind Act, which declared in law that all students should be “proficient” by the year 2014.
...and here, from her 2013 book, Reign of Error...
'Basic," as defined by the NAGB, is "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." In my view, the student who scores "basic" is probably a B or C student.
She also stated that the NAEP test does not represent a grade level test.
NAEP does not report grade levels (grade level describes a midpoint on the grading scale where half are aboce and half are below).
Of course we'd like all students in the US to read at an A level, but that's not a reasonable expectation, any more than it's reasonable to expect all major league baseball hitters to bat .300 each year, all NBA basketball players to have a 95% free throw average, or all professional quarterbacks to have a 70% average pass completion percentage.

The truth is that two-thirds to three-fourths of American students were reading at or above basic in 2019. That's not perfect, but it's much better than the implication that two-thirds of American children are failing to learn to read!


The Hechinger Report described research that reported that more prior knowledge, specifically, more knowledge of history, geography, and civics, can increase reading achievement.

As proof, the authors referred us to a September 2020 quantitative analysis done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute which suggests that...
...a focus on academic content—not generalized reading skills and strategies—will equip students with the background knowledge they need to comprehend all sorts of texts and make them truly literate.
The analysis found that...
  • Elementary school students in the U.S. spend much more time on ELA than on any other subject.
  • Increased instructional time in social studies—but not in ELA—is associated with improved reading ability.
  • The students who benefit the most from additional social studies time are girls and those from lower-income and/or non-English-speaking homes.
I'm overjoyed that the Fordham Institute, known for its "edu-reformist" and phonics-first tendencies, is promoting the development of students' knowledge base as a way to improve reading (specifically reading comprehension), but I learned about activating prior knowledge as a way to increase reading achievement when I was a student in 1974-1975.
I also learned about activating prior knowledge (aka schema) during my Reading Recovery training and experience beginning in the mid 1990s, and I learned the power of background knowledge during my Reading Recovery Teacher years as a teacher of Amish students. I found that I had to teach additional vocabulary to some of my Amish first graders who were unfamiliar with language associated with cities and the wider world. One student in particular, didn't know what the words "street" or "avenue" meant. He was familiar with words like "road," "lane," and "highway," but he had never heard words associated with cities. Part of this was his age, of course; Reading Recovery targets struggling students who are only six years old and in first grade. As he grew he might have gained wider experience, but in first grade, and coming from a bi-lingual, and exclusively rural culture, he didn't have a clue what those words were.
It's nice that the Fordham Institute is catching up with what experienced educators have known for years.
And now we resume your regularly scheduled blog post

The Hechinger Report article indicated that only social studies instruction had a significant instructional impact on students' reading achievement.
According to the researchers’ calculations, only social studies — among all the subjects — made a positive impact on reading over the long term. Indeed, for every half hour of additional social studies instruction a child received per day, his or her fifth grade reading scores were 0.15 of a standard deviation higher, on average. Standard deviations are statistical units that are hard to translate but this represents a relatively small increase in test scores. Certainly, social studies isn’t a silver bullet to fix reading but the result here suggests that it might help.

The researchers controlled for students’ socio-economic status, race, home language and many other other student and school characteristics. The boost to reading scores from taking more hours of social studies was true even among students of the same race and family income and who started with the same reading scores in kindergarten. The researchers also checked to see if teachers were giving stronger readers more social studies instruction because they didn’t need as much help with reading but they didn’t find any evidence of that.

Counterintuitively, more minutes of reading instruction were not associated with higher reading scores.
One thing to keep in mind is that all this discussion of student reading achievement is based on standardized test scores.

It's also (or perhaps more) important to help students experience the joy and wonder of reading as well as teaching them the mechanics of decoding. The best way to do this? Read aloud every day to your children and students, and give them the opportunity and time to read for fun.

See also:
Prior Knowledge Improves Reading Comprehension
How Does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

2020 Medley #22 - The Process of Science is Ongoing

Science is a way of knowing

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) provides resources for science teachers. A new series of lessons deals with the scientific method -- the process of science. The aim is to give students experience in using the scientific method for real-life decision making. The first lesson (see below) deals with helping students overcome misconceptions...

1. MISCONCEPTION: Science is complete, absolute, and unchanging.

2. MISCONCEPTION: Science can answer all questions.

The responses to those misconceptions are 1) as we gather more information, scientific conclusions can change, and 2) there are some things we don't know.

The value to correcting these misconceptions is obvious to anyone who has been living in the U.S. for the last nine months. The coronavirus pandemic has tested the scientific understanding of the American people -- and their leaders -- and found them wanting. The misconception that science is complete, absolute, and unchanging, has, for example, allowed millions of people to believe that wearing masks has no impact on their health and safety. How many times have you heard someone comment something similar to...
"We can't trust Dr. Fauci (or the CDC) because first they said that masks don't work and now they say they do. Which is it? They need to make up their minds."

The concept of changing our behavior based on the accumulation of more information seems foreign to the "anti-maskers," and their denial of the efficacy of facemasks is based on a simple case of believing the misconception that "science doesn't change."

The lessons from the NCSE will, hopefully, boost students' scientific literacy and protect them from establishing erroneous knowledge as their beliefs. As they grow they will understand that scientists who are helping to develop public policy might have to change their minds based on new evidence and additional data.

Science is a Way of Knowing
...the nature of science unit takes a misconception-based approach to teaching and learning. To combat misconceptions, students are given opportunities to examine evidence— for example, an online interactive that shows how face coverings prevent particle dispersion—to answer everyday questions like, Why wear a mask? This not only helps them counter the misconception they may be exposed to—“Masks don’t help prevent COVID-19”—but also equips them with the skills needed to analyze, assess, and, if necessary, debunk future misinformation.

Lesson One...
This lesson introduces students to a basic understanding of the scientific process in action.

Additionally, by the end of this lesson, the student will understand that, while an experiment may come to a conclusive end, the process of science is ongoing, continually evolving as new evidence emerges, and will recognize that science cannot answer questions that do not pertain to natural processes.

Backfire: Watching Madness in Real Time

The danger of not understanding that science can change leads to people who are unwilling to accept a change in position when confronted with new information. In fact, the research discussed here indicates that once people make up their minds, the presentation of facts in opposition to their beliefs will only exacerbate their error. Anything that opposes their current belief becomes "fake news."

Fortunately, the article also offers a way around this obstinacy.
What happens when you remove that element of choice and present someone with arguments that run counter to their worldview? In this case, the cognitive process that comes to the fore is Disconfirmation Bias, the flipside of Confirmation Bias. This is where people spend significantly more time and thought actively arguing against opposing arguments.

This was demonstrated when Republicans who believed Saddam Hussein was linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks were provided with evidence that there was no link between the two, including a direct quote from President George Bush. Only 2% of participants changed their mind (although interestingly, 14% denied that they believed the link in the first place). The vast majority clung to the link between Iraq and 9/11, employing a range of arguments to brush aside the evidence. The most common response was attitude bolstering – bringing supporting facts to mind while ignoring any contrary facts. The process of bringing to the fore supporting facts resulted in strengthening people’s erroneous belief.

If facts cannot dissuade a person from their pre-existing beliefs – and can sometimes make things worse – how can we possibly reduce the effect of misinformation? There are two sources of hope.

Christian Nationalists’ Rejection Of Science Is Exactly What We Don’t Need Right Now

An example of the inability to change ones mind despite new information and facts, is the insistance of some religious leaders (those of the "religious right" or, as this author calls them, "Christian nationalists.") on opening their churches and not following recommended procedures for limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
...the longstanding effort to water down or remove instruction about Darwinian evolution in public school science classes, but that’s far from the only way the Religious Right’s anti-science attitude manifests itself. Many of them also deny climate change and, as we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic, growing numbers have signed up with conspiracy theorists who either believe the virus isn’t a real threat or that the country is overreacting to it (despite the U.S. death toll, which has now topped 209,000).

This attitude led many Christian nationalists to insist that their churches should be able to remain open even in the face of public health orders curbing all large gatherings. Many derided recommendations from medical professionals such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance, and some extremist pastors went so far as to simply ignore these orders.

Such reckless behavior threatens all of us. Around the country, several events that took place in houses of worship have been identified as “superspreader” incidents. (Last month, authorities in Maine reported that seven people had died after a couple held a wedding reception and did not follow health guidelines. None of the seven had attended the reception.)


Thursday, October 1, 2020

2020 Medley #21 - If wrong, to be set right.

If wrong, to be set right.

To hear the current occupant of the White House talk, public education has been teaching anti-American propaganda for years. I suppose he thinks that there are no longer any lessons on how the Founding Fathers fought against the English or wrote of the rights to free speech or religious liberty. He apparently thinks there are only lessons on how those same men (and they were all men) were slaveowners. Perhaps he thinks that instead of teaching how Americans mobilized to fight the Axis Powers in WWII, public schools only teach about the McCarthy era paranoia or how Jim Crow supported the subjugation and murder of United States citizens. In other words, public schools, according to him, are teaching the bad things about the US and nothing else.

Are public schools supposed to ignore the three-fifths clause?
...or the fewer than 240,000 native Americans who were left on the continent out of a total population of between five and fifteen million after the "Indian Wars" of the 19th Century?
...or the imprisonment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans simply because of their ancestry?

Are public schools supposed to teach only the goals enumerated in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence and nothing of the centuries-long struggle to make those goals a reality for all citizens?

Rewriting American history doesn't make it true. Ignoring the flaws in our past (and present) isn't patriotism.

I quoted Carl Schurz in a previous post on this blog.
My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
Public education's curricula about the United States ought to include examples of when the country was "wrong" as well as examples of the people and patriots who tried to "set it right."

Patriotic Education and the Politics of Lies
For most K-12 students in the U.S., the education they receive in social studies and history is primarily idealized, incomplete, and patriotic education.

For fifty or sixty years, some have been chipping away at that distortion of history — the “I cannot tell a lie” George Washington of my education in the 1960s was mostly gone by my teaching career in the 1980s-1990s — and there has been a slow process of including the stories and voices traditionally omitted, women and Black Americans, for example.

The GOP’s Plan for Education: Whatever Trump Says
Trump has also sent clear signals about what he means by American exceptionalism.

Last month, the Education Department indicated its plans to seek and destroy diversity training in government departments, stamping out any instruction about white privilege or that paints the United States as “an inherently racist or evil country.”

Trump also called teaching about systemic racism “a form of child abuse.”

His desire to eradicate “divisive, anti-American propaganda” has extended to a threat to cut funding for any school found teaching The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning 1619 Project.

Is Trump’s Christian Nationalist ‘History’ Coming To A School Near You?
The purpose of history is to relate what happened and why. If we can learn from that or avoid repeating past mistakes, all the better, but the idea is not to mold people into patriots, persuade them to adopt “my country right or wrong” rhetoric or relate “miracle” stories.

Facing history square-on can be an uncomfortable task, but it’s a necessary one. It means that you deal with the good, the bad and the ugly – and that you avoid the temptation to turn famous figures into secular saints. When we talk about separation of religion and government, for example, we must grapple with the fact that many of the same founders who wrote eloquently about human rights and freedoms also embraced slavery and considered Blacks to be 3/5 of a person. Their moral flaws and contradictions are a vital part of the story. Telling that story isn’t meant to take away from their achievements but to remind us that we were a nation birthed in liberty only for some. To deny the stories of those who were not included isn’t teaching history; it’s a whitewash.
"...building a wall of separation between church and state..."

What’s At Stake At The Supreme Court: The Religious Freedom Rights Of Public School Students

Section II of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, penned by Thomas Jefferson and guided through the Virginia state legislature by James Madison in 1786, reads,
...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
The First Amendment's protection of religious liberty is based on the Virginia Statute, and the concept of religious freedom it brought to the young nation is responsible for people of all religions and none -- Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others -- coming to this country to escape religious persecution or bigotry in their native countries.

The Virginia Statute was a bold statement that broke with the European standard of a religious-based monarchy/government and state-sponsored religion. 

If we do away with the First Amendment restrictions on religion in America's public schools, whose prayer should the schools promote? Whose holy books should be taught as truth? Right now students and families of minority religions, and no religions, are protected by the First Amendment. 
Despite the age of the school prayer decisions and their clear command that public schools must not sponsor devotional activity, they are not always respected. Some misguided school officials attempt to meddle in the religious lives of students – and they are backed by Christian nationalist legal groups that have been working in the courts for decades to undermine the school prayer rulings...

American society is more diverse on matters of religion than it has ever been. Polls show that the number of Americans who call themselves Christian has dropped below 70%. At the same time, the number of self-professed “nones,” people who say they have no particular religion, is skyrocketing. Our country is also home to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Pagans and a host of other belief systems.

Any attempt to reintroduce school-sponsored prayer or worship, or teach religious doctrines like creationism in science classes, is bound to violate the rights of students and their families. But the Christian nationalist organizations that are determined to use the engine of the state to push their narrow version of faith onto as many impressionable children as possible don’t care. If their views prevail, our public schools could become religious battlegrounds.