Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why are America's institutions of higher learning so fearful of debate?

John Stossel

This week, I held a bake sale -- a racist bake sale. I stood in midtown Manhattan shouting, "Cupcakes for sale." My price list read:

Asians -- $1.50

Whites -- $1.00

Blacks/Latinos -- 50 cents

People stared. One yelled, "What is funny to you about people who are less privileged?" A black woman said, angrily, "It's very offensive, very demeaning!" One black man accused me of poisoning the cupcakes.

I understand why people got angry. What I did was hurtful to some. My bake sale mimicked what some conservative college students did at Bucknell University. The students wanted to satirize their school's affirmative action policy, which makes it easier for blacks and Hispanics to get admitted.

I think affirmative action is racism -- and therefore wrong. If a private school like Bucknell wants to have such policies to increase diversity, fine. But government-imposed affirmative action is offensive. Equality before the law means government should treat citizens equally.

But it doesn't. Our racist government says that any school receiving federal tax dollars, even if only in the form of federal aid to students, must comply with affirmative action rules, and some states have enacted their own policies.

Advocates of affirmative action argue it is needed because of historic discrimination. Maybe that was true in 1970, but it's no longer true. Affirmative action is now part of the minority special privilege machine, an indispensable component of which is perpetual victimhood.

All the Bucknell students wanted was a campus discussion about that. Why not? A university is supposed to be a place for open discussion, but some topics are apparently off-limits.

About an hour after the students began their "affirmative action" sale, the associate dean of students shut it down. He said it was because the prices charged were different from those listed on the permissions application. An offer to change the prices was rejected. Then the club's application to hold another sale was rejected. Ironically, the associate dean said it would violate the schools non-discrimination policy! He would authorize a debate on affirmative action, but nothing else.

How ridiculous! Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has come to the students' defense. "Using this absurd logic, Bucknell would have to require its College Democrats to say nothing political on campus unless they give equal time to Republican candidates at their events, or its Catholic Campus Ministry to remain silent about abortion unless it holds a debate and invites pro-choice activists to speak," FIRE's Adam Kissel said. "While students are free to host debates, they must not be required to provide a platform for their ideological opponents. Rather, those opponents must be free to spread their own messages and host their own events."

Right. My affirmative action cupcake "event" led to some interesting discussions. One young woman began by criticizing me, "It's absolutely wrong." But after I raised the parallel with college admissions, she said: "No race of people is worth more than another. Or less." But do you believe in affirmative action in colleges? I asked. "I used to," she replied.

Those are the kind discussions students should have.

Affirmative action wasn't the only issue that brought conservative Bucknell students grief. When they tried to protest President Obama's $787 billion "stimulus" spending last year by handing out fake dollar bills, the school stopped them for violating rules against soliciting!

According to FIRE, Bucknell's solicitation policy covers only sales and fundraising, which the students were not engaged in, but the school rejected the students' appeal, saying permission was needed to distribute "anything, from Bibles to other matter." Absurd! The Bucknell administration tells me it stopped the anti-stimulus protest because the students had not registered to use that busy campus space. FIRE disputes that.

"Distributing protest literature is an American free-speech tradition that dates to before the founding of the United States," Kissel said. "Why is Bucknell so afraid of students handing out 'Bibles (or) other matter' that might provide challenging perspectives? Colleges are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, but Bucknell is betraying this ideal."

It is, indeed. Why are America's institutions of higher learning so fearful?


MA: Boston rethinking small-school experiment

They're just flailing in the dark in Bosdton. They won't admit that their educational theories are all wrong

Boston schools underwent a radical experiment in the past decade: Four large neighborhood high schools were shuttered and replaced with more than a dozen smaller ones.

The thinking was that smaller schools could deliver a better education. A few years into the effort, funded with millions of dollars from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mayor Thomas M. Menino proudly declared it to be “a model for the rest of the country.’’

But now the approach, championed by former superintendent Thomas W. Payzant, appears to have fallen out of favor with the city’s current school chief, Carol R. Johnson. She sees the small schools as a costly venture in an era of declining city revenue, and believes many have yielded lackluster results.

Last month, Johnson proposed shutting down the three high schools at the Hyde Park complex, citing low performance. The recommendation has rekindled a debate over what school size best fosters learning in an urban environment.

The Hyde Park closings follow her 2008 decision to place a small high school at the former South Boston High on academic probation and merge two small high schools in Dorchester.

Backers of small schools say Johnson is giving up too soon and is basing decisions on incomplete data. The Boston experience contrasts sharply with New York City, where school leaders this fall trumpeted a new report declaring the success of their small-school conversions.

Theories abound as to why Boston’s school system has not achieved similar results as New York’s, from poor initial execution to subsequent years of budget cutting.

Meanwhile, defenders of Boston’s small high schools dispute Johnson’s characterization of academic failure and high operating expenses. Johnson, in presenting her Hyde Park closure plan, has not released any data that compare the performance and spending levels of each city high school.

“I don’t think it’s even debatable at this point that urban school systems need small-high school options,’’ said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, a public-private partnership between the business community and education establishments that focuses on workforce development. “If we put a returning dropout student in a large high school, they are gone. If we put them in a small school that addresses their circumstances, they stay.’’

Irvin Scott, the School Department’s chief academic officer who oversees high schools, said the small-school conversions have had varying degrees of success and Johnson is committed to small high schools. He defended Johnson’s recommendation to shutter Hyde Park, arguing that the complex does not have at least one academic-standout school like the other three high school complexes.

“The small schools have had a huge impact on climate — more personalization, fewer fights among students — but some have not necessarily realized the academic achievement gains that people hoped for,’’ Scott said.Continued...

Throughout the past decade, urban districts across the country replaced large failing schools with smaller theme-based academies, hoping to strengthen relationships between students and teachers.

In Boston, each of the 12 small schools carved out of the former South Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury high schools serves about 300 or 400 students. Each is built around a different theme, such as public service, the sciences, or communications.

The city still operates several large comprehensive high schools, such as Brighton and East Boston, where enrollment exceeds 1,000 students. It also operates several other small high schools at stand-alone sites.

The last major study on the city’s conversion of large high schools into smaller ones was completed in June 2008 by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. in New Jersey, which was commissioned by the Boston Plan for Excellence, an education nonprofit. The report found lackluster MCAS scores at the small schools, but improvements in attendance, fewer suspensions, and better academic performance.

Some small-high school supporters question the study’s conclusion because the authors had only two years worth of MCAS data available for the seven small high schools at the Hyde Park and West Roxbury campuses, which opened in fall 2005.

“What is really kind of heartbreaking to me is the district has to close schools and is doing it without an updated data analysis,’’ said Lili Allen, program director at Jobs for the Future, a Boston organization that works on education issues and oversaw about $25 million in grants from the Gates Foundation, much of which went toward Boston’s small-school effort.

A Globe review of graduation rates and MCAS pass rates on the 10th-grade English and math exams found mixed results among the big and small high schools. A review of per-student spending found that small high schools were not the most costly to run.

The recent New York study, which examined more than 100 small high schools and 20,000 students, is gaining attention among supporters of small schools here. The study, conducted by the independent research group MDRC and believed to be the largest ever, found that New York’s small high schools had notably higher graduation rates than its other high schools.

Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC, said that because his organization’s study focused only on New York he could not draw conclusions about Boston’s experience. But he said there was a lack of data nationwide to assess the overall impact of replacing large high schools with smaller entities.

The Gates Foundation has stopped funding small-school efforts like those in Boston, finding it more effective to target spending on such projects as teacher training and national academic standards.

“Have small schools wildly changed the equation? We would say it’s somewhat mixed, and our funding strategy reflects that,’’ said Christopher Williams, a Gates Foundation spokesman, who nevertheless noted the foundation was pleased with New York’s results.

During the previous decade, Payzant, determined to fix Boston’s ailing high schools, pushed aggressively in opening the smaller schools, according to some people involved in the conversions. He opened each school largely by dividing up the current staff and students in the buildings. He also started the schools with all grade levels instead of phasing in the grades, in what became known as the “big bang theory.’’

By contrast, New York hired new teachers, enrolled new students, and gradually added grades over the course of a few years. That enabled New York to create a new academic culture from day one, the opposite of Boston’s strategy.

“It was like building a boat while you are sailing it, but we figured it out, said Linda Lipkin, founding director of curriculum, assessment, and placement at Social Justice Academy, one of three schools that replaced the old Hyde Park High.

The other two are the Community Academy of Science and Health and The Engineering School.

Johnson’s recommendation on Oct. 6 to shutter the Hyde Park building stunned the three schools, which were expecting to consolidate back into a single school.

Amid protests by students, staff, and parents, Johnson decided to keep the Community Academy of Science and Health open. She plans to relocate the school, however.

On one recent afternoon, students and staff members from the two schools still slated for closure gathered around several tables in the library, where garbage bags covered bookcases because the school has no librarian. They defended their test scores and spoke of years of budget cutting.

At The Engineering School, where a third of the approximately 330 students have severe special needs, teachers said splitting those students apart next year could be traumatic for them. “It’s very hard for our students,’’ said Trudy Brennan, a special education teacher. “They are asking questions every day.’’

Although the clocks and public address system don’t work and many computers are broken, the building itself appeared to be in good condition. Sun poured through tall windows in the hallways, which were well kept.

“They are pushing us to the wayside,’’ said Nathanael Kelly, 17, an Engineering School senior. “Our school has made significant strides. The potential in our school is not being fully realized.’’


UK: Violence at Tory HQ overshadows student fees protest

I obviously don't agree with the violence but the Liberal-infuenced plans are an abomination. Saddling students with debt for 30 years in simply unconsciencable. There would have been no rally without such oppressive plans. One can only hope for a major rethink

There have been violent scenes as tens of thousands of people protested against plans to treble tuition fees and cut university funding in England. Demonstrators stormed a building in Westminster housing the Conservative Party headquarters, smashed windows and got on to the roof. Outside, a crowd of thousands surged as placards and banners were set on fire and missiles were thrown.

Student leaders condemned the violence as "despicable". They say about 50,000 people took part in a march through Westminster earlier.

This siege of Millbank Tower was a violent break-away from what had been a noisy but good-natured march.

As demonstrators crowded around the building, some masked and hooded, the mood began to turn ugly. Missiles began flying towards the large plate glass windows, with only a thin line of police, with metal truncheons raised, guarding the building's entrance. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, they were slowly but relentlessly hemmed against the front of the building.

As protesters surged, a succession of windows were smashed and then demonstrators flooded into the building entrance. Security guards scattered and the handful of police inside were completely overrun. A few yards away, in surreal calm, guests carried on eating in the adjacent Pizza Express.

Inside the building, demonstrators wearing police hats danced on tables. A protester ripped a security camera from the ceiling and danced in triumph, slogans were spray-painted on walls.

The level of anger and the swiftness of the violence seemed to have caught everyone by surprise. According to Scotland Yard, 14 people have been injured, including seven police officers. No-one was seriously hurt.

The vast majority of demonstrators had been peaceful, a statement said, but "a small minority" had damaged property. At one point, a fire extinguisher was reported to have been thrown from the roof.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "I am appalled that a small minority have today shamefully abused their right to protest. "This is intolerable and all those involved will be pursued and they will face the full force of the law. "The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has assured me that there will be a vigorous post-incident investigation."

One of the protesters who got on to the roof was Manchester student Emily Parks. "It shows how angry people are," she told BBC News. "Why is our education being cut? Why are tuition fees going up here when in other parts people have free education? People have felt the need to take matters into their own hands."

President of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter: "This was not part of our plan"

Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi was inside the building while the protest was taking place. She said police had responded "in the circumstances that they felt best. "This was clearly a protest where people had a legitimate right to protest on issues that they felt very strongly, and it is a shame that a small minority of those protesters ruined it for the rest of them."

Demonstrators were also cleared from outside the Liberal Democrat headquarters, where a car window has been smashed.

Elsewhere, the massive rally had passed off peacefully. Hundreds of coachloads of students and lecturers had travelled to London from across England for the demonstration in Whitehall, with 2,000 students also travelling from Wales.

The NUS is threatening to try to unseat Liberal Democrat MPs who go back on pre-election pledges they made to oppose any rise in tuition fees.

Higher education funding is being cut by 40% - with teaching grants being all but wiped out except for science and maths. The government expects the costs of teaching other courses to be funded by tuition fees. It proposes that tuition fees should rise from 2012.

The plan is for a lower cap at £6,000, with universities able to charge up to £9,000 - triple the current cap - in "exceptional circumstances". Ministers insist their plans offer a "fair deal for students".

Earlier on Wednesday, at Question Time in the Commons, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had a fiery exchange with Labour's Harriet Harman over fees. He was accused of hypocrisy, because the Liberal Democrats opposed tuition fees in the election run-up. But he said Labour had made U-turns itself over fees, which it brought in in 1997, and said the party had no clear alternative policy.

Ms Harman said Nick Clegg was "going along with a Tory plan - to shove the cost of higher education on to students and their families".

Twice, Mr Clegg sidestepped her request that he specify the size of the cut to university teaching grants - a figure she said was 80%.

Universities Minister David Willetts said the new system would be fairer than the present one, offering more help to the poorest students.

Students would not have to pay anything "up-front" and as graduates, would only have to pay back their tuition fee loans once they were earning £21,000 or more.

Among the crowds at the rally in London were about 400 students from Oxford. Oxford University Student Union President David Barclay said: "This is the day a generation of politicians learn that though they might forget their promises, students won't.


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