Monday, November 02, 2009

Send fewer students to college

Marcus A. Winters says we should “send more students to college.” He is responding, in part, to my NR piece making the opposite case. My argument is that when 40 percent of college students fail to graduate in six years, and when about a quarter of employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s obvious we’re pushing too many kids into higher education.

Winters essentially (though not explicitly) concedes that now is not the time to ship more kids off to postsecondary institutions. He notes Charles Murray’s documentation of the fact that lots of today’s high-school graduates are not ready for college-level work. Winters disagrees, however, when Murray says there is very little we can do to change this.

I also objected when I reviewed Murray’s Real Education. I pointed out some research showing that high-quality teachers can improve student outcomes, suggesting that we can make a little bit of progress. Winters takes this line of thought much farther, making essentially an anti-Murray case: Schools are so powerful that, with the right reforms, they can significantly narrow, or even close, achievement gaps between various racial and income groups. He points to a study of New York City charter schools — which found that charter schools increase scores significantly relative to New York City public schools — as well as to the aforementioned teacher-quality research. Reforms like these, he implies, will lift almost everyone above the college-ready threshold, thus eliminating the ability-based objection to sending all high-school graduates to college.

Inner-city charter schools and teacher-quality initiatives are promising and deserve greater implementation, but I’m highly skeptical that they will prove to be the panacea Winters is looking for. In the past few decades, there have been countless initially promising solutions to this problem, none of which ended up doing much to help. I’d be surprised, albeit delighted, if these reforms more than marginally increased the proportion of high-school graduates who are college-ready. And that’s assuming teachers’ unions don’t kill them before they’re implemented.

The New York City study in particular isn’t as promising as Winters makes it out to be. For one thing, it involved exactly the kind of students that even Murray admits can benefit from better education: inner-city kids stuck in truly awful schools. What about all the kids who go to schools that appear perfectly fine, but who still aren’t college-ready when they graduate?

On the easy standardized-test questions Murray highlights, one of which Winters quotes, about half of eighth-graders don’t know the answers. Certainly, fewer than half of American children go to schools so bad that they’d be radically better off in charter schools. Winters seems unwilling to believe so many people could be so dull; I appreciate Winters’s faith that virtually all of humanity can learn complicated academic material, but I’m afraid I don’t share it.

Further, all the kids in the study had parents who cared enough to apply to charter schools (the control-group public-school kids had applied to charter schools but were denied by lottery). The change from a terrible public school to a charter school might not have as big an effect for kids whose parents don’t pressure them to take advantage of the new opportunities. Not to mention that one benefit of charter schools is that students get away from poorly behaved peers. If the program expanded so that everyone went to charter schools, these bad apples would come along with the others, and this advantage would weaken.

And even if all these studies’ results hold true across the board, and even if all levels of government work together to implement the reforms Winters envisions, it will be years before we see significant results. Only then can this analysis influence our policies regarding sending more kids to college. Until that point, we’re stuck figuring out what to do with the kids who graduate from the secondary schools we have now — and for many of those kids, college isn’t working.

Winters argues that in addition to being able to get more kids into college, we need to. Why? Because, he says, our economy has a strong, unmet demand for educated workers. He uses as evidence the fact that the “college wage premium” (the degree to which college graduates out-earn high-school graduates) has increased over the past few decades. The economic logic seems sound — if the price is going up and the supply is staying about the same, the demand is probably increasing. From this, it follows that if we can use public policy to increase the supply of college-educated workers, we should seriously consider doing so.

But if there’s such a high demand for college-educated workers, then why, even before the economy crashed, were 25 percent of college graduates in their 20s working at jobs that didn’t require degrees? (The proportion of graduates who utilize their degrees rises, by a few percentage points, until about age 32, but levels off thereafter.) As I pointed out in NR, people who graduate but don’t utilize their degrees get essentially no “college wage premium,” especially once you factor in the debt they’ve accrued and the years of work they missed while attending college.

A big part of the reason is that “college-educated workers” are not interchangeable. The college wage premium, and fluctuations therein, vary substantially by field of study. In other words, the economy doesn’t need more generic college graduates — and in fact refuses to hire many of them. Rather, it needs highly capable people in certain fields. It would probably be better to encourage students acquiring useless majors to switch to these lucrative fields than to send more kids to college across the board.

After all, when you send more kids to college, you’re scraping closer to the bottom of the college-eligibility barrel. The new kids will be less able and motivated, on average, than the ones who are already in college — and thus even more likely to drop out before finishing and to wind up in jobs that don’t utilize their degrees if they do finish.

Winters also takes the existence of the college wage premium to mean that students “acquir[e] knowledge and skills that employers prize.” This is fair enough when it comes to chemists and engineers; in cases such as these, a degree certifies that the student has learned a lot about the specific field in which he’ll work. But when it comes to less demanding fields, employers often use a degree as a simple screening mechanism: They figure that if an applicant is smart enough to graduate, he’s smart enough to learn the job. This is why, on career websites such as, job-seekers frequently come across listings that require four-year degrees but do not mention specific majors. (I’m doubtful that the “social skills” Winters says people learn in college are strong enough to justify employers’ completely refusing to consider non-grads.) In these cases, certification programs could replace degrees, saving students time and money.

As I said in my NR piece, today’s youth are trapped in a lengthy, expensive weeding-out process. About 60 percent of them attempt college; of these, about 40 percent fail to graduate within six years; of those who do graduate and find jobs, about a quarter work in non-degree-utilizing positions. If Winters’s proposal — reforms in secondary education that, unlike most previous reforms in secondary education, actually work — is carried out, that will significantly alter this landscape. I’m hoping for that day to come, but until it does, too many kids are going to college.


Islamists who want to destroy the state get £100,000 school funding from the British government

Members of a group regarded as an 'organisation of concern’ by the Home Office has secured large government grants for schools , reports Andrew Gilligan

Leading members of a group that wants to bring down the British state and replace it with a dictatorship under Islamic law have secured more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money for a chain of schools. Accounts filed at the Charity Commission show that the Government paid a total of £113,411 last year to a foundation run by senior members and activists of Hizb ut-Tahrir — a notorious Islamic extremist group that ministers promised to ban. The public money helped run a nursery school and two Islamic primary schools where children are taught key elements of Hizb’s ideology from the age of five.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, last night described the disclosure as “astonishing and outrageous” and accused the Government of “sleeping on the job”.

Hizb regards integration as “dangerous” and says that British Muslims should “fight assimilation” into British society. It wants to create a global Islamic superstate, or “caliphate”, initially in Muslim-majority countries and then across the rest of the world. It says that “those [Muslims] who believe in democracy are Kafir”, or apostates. It orders all Muslims to keep apart from non-believers and boycott “corrupt” British elections and political processes. It has a tiny following and its views are rejected by most British Muslims.

Hizb, which operates worldwide, insists it is non-violent and condemned the London bombings. However its website previously displayed a leaflet urging Muslims to “kill [Jews] wherever you find them” and at a rally in London earlier this year, Imran Waheed, its chief media adviser in Britain, said that there could be “no peace” with Israel, calling on Muslims to “fight” a “jihad… in the way of Allah” against it. Its anti-Semitism has resulted in the group being banned in Germany and on some British university campuses.

After the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Tony Blair, who was then prime minister, also promised to ban Hizb, describing it as “fanatical”. A ban has not been introduced but the Tories have pledged to outlaw the group and the Home Office continues to regard it as an “organisation of concern”.

The three schools — in Tottenham, north London, and Slough, Berks — are run by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, a registered charity. The foundation’s lead trustee is Yusra Hamilton, a leading Hizb activist who is married to Taji Mustafa, the group’s chief spokesman in Britain. At least three of the four trustees are Hizb members or activists, including Farah Ahmed, the head teacher of the Slough school, who has written in a Hizb journal condemning the “corrupt Western concepts of materialism and freedom”. On their website, the schools say their “ultimate goal” and “foremost work” is the creation of an “Islamic personality” in children The creation of an “Islamic personality” is a key tenet of Hizb’s ideology.

The schools’ history curriculum states that children are taught that “there must be one ruler of the khilafah [caliphate]”. The schools’ website says that “in the glorious history of Islam... the Sharia was the norm”. Children learn Arabic from the age of three. A spokesman for the foundation insisted that it was not a Hizb ut-Tahrir operation but involved “Muslim women from a wide variety of backgrounds”. The spokesman claimed that Mrs Hamilton resigned two years ago. However, Charity Commission records, accessed yesterday show that she remains the lead trustee.

In January 2009, Mrs Hamilton was described by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, as the “proprietor” of the Shakhsiyah Foundation’s Slough school. The Foundation’s annual report of December 2008 shows her as a trustee. Mrs Hamilton is listed on the electoral roll as residing just around the corner from the Foundation’s Tottenham school, with Mr Mustafa under his real name, Urutajirinere Fombo.

Contacted by telephone, he confirmed his identity as Mr Mustafa and said that Hizb did not “run” the foundation, but added: “We would certainly approve of those in the Muslim community who seek to establish good Islamic schools.” The Shakhsiyah Foundation spokesman said the government money, from Whitehall’s “Free Entitlement” and “Pathfinder” programmes, had been claimed by parents on behalf of the school.

However, a spokesman for Haringey council, which administered the grant, said this was incorrect and that the foundation had applied for the money.

The Tottenham school’s landlord, a moderate Muslim organisation, said it had serious reservations about its tenant. “They have a contract with us,” said Serkan Yumakci, a spokesman for the landlord. “But if we had known then what we know now, things would be very different.” Mr Yumakci said that Mr Mustafa had previously been a frequent visitor to the school but had now been asked not to come by the landlord.

A report out next week by the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think-tank, says that Hizb is creating a number of similar “front organisations” to win public money and enlist support from mainstream politicians. “Hizb is a fringe group but it is being given a public platform, legitimacy and funding by the very institutions it wishes to destroy,” said Houriya Ahmed, one of the authors of the report. “Just as everyone sees the BNP for what they really are, it’s time for us all to recognise how dangerous and divisive this group is.”

Outside a Victorian Gothic priory in Tottenham, which houses two of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation’s schools, boys spilt out at home-time in their royal blue uniform sweatshirts. Even the smallest girl wore the hijab. Most parents said they liked the school, but not all were aware of its links with Hizb. “We don’t really know about it,” said one father. Others, however, were more political. “Hizb ut-Tahrir is not an extremist group,” said one mother, Khadija. “They’re people who want to stop the US domination of the Middle East.” Was it a good school? “It’s a lovely school,” she said. “Because they love Islam.”

When the school realised there was a journalist outside, a teacher came to tell the parents not to talk to us. Some, however, ignored their orders. “To be honest with you, I don’t prefer this school,” said one father. “They don’t teach good English. Personally, I would say it’s not good for integration.” “It is a good school,” his daughter, aged about six, interrupted. Asked what she was taught, she replied: “Arabic.” ....

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: “We give that money to local authorities and they are responsible for ensuring that providers are appropriate.”

More here

Australia: Weapons maker funds new school curriculum

Leftists are fuming. Nobel peace-prize nominee Adolf Hitler condemned the "armaments madness of the world" too. See the actual prewar German election posters here

An Adelaide public school has come under fire for reaching a deal with the world's largest manufacturer of guided missiles to fund a new curriculum. The principal of Aberfoyle Park High School says the program will get students more interested in maths and science and encourage them to consider engineering as a career.

But critics argue it is helping US-based contractor Raytheon poach students into the defence industry.

Principal Allan Phelps says the $500,000 deal to co-develop the curriculum with Raytheon provides students with the best real-life learning examples possible. "The focus is on learning and teaching in maths and science," he said. The deal also funds about 250 new laptops.

It does not have the support of the education union's president, Coreena Haythorpe. "I think the question the community would be asking is whether you want a company that has been involved in global conflicts and developing missiles, working in education with our children," she said. Ms Haythorpe says schools should not have to resort to business deals and wants the Government to increase education funding.

South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith and Raytheon would not comment.


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