Sunday, December 05, 2010

Is America's college debt bubble ready to explode?

It should

Hans Bader

College tuition has skyrocketed much more than housing did during the housing bubble, in percentage terms. 100 colleges charge $50,000 or more a year, compared to just 5 in 2008-09. College tuition has surged along with federal financial-aid spending, which indirectly rewards colleges for increasing tuition. College financial-aid policies punish thrifty families, so that “parents who scrimp and save to come up with the tuition are in effect subsidizing the others."

“University administrators are the equivalent of subprime mortgage brokers,” notes Facebook investor Peter Thiel, “selling you a story that you should go into debt massively, that it’s not a consumption decision, it’s an investment decision. Actually, no, it’s a bad consumption decision. Most colleges are four-year parties,” he says, an assessment shared by prominent law professor Glenn Reynolds.

My wife is French. She spent twice as much time in class at her second-tier French university as I did in my flagship American university (the University of Virginia), and more time studying, too (even though I was studious by American standards, and as a result, later went on to attend Harvard Law School). France spends less per student on higher education than we do, to produce a more literate and knowledgeable citizenry.

Vast amounts of money are spent by American colleges on useless administrators and politically-correct indoctrination. For many people, college no longer pays off as an investment.

Much of college “education” is a waste of time. I learned more practical law in six weeks of studying for the bar exam and a couple summers of working for law firms than I did in three years of law school. I spent much of my time at Harvard Law School watching “Married With Children” or arguing with classmates about politics, rather than studying (much of what I did study was useless). Even students who were high on drugs had no difficulty graduating.

(Higher education is no guarantee of even basic literacy. When I worked at the Department of Education handling administrative appeals, I was dismayed by the poor writing skills of the graduate students who lodged complaints against their universities).

I used to work for a polling firm, and found that people with a couple years of college were frequently factually dumber about the world around them, and more politically-correct, than people who had not attended college at all, in their responses to public-opinion surveys. An electrician with no college degree is far more likely to know who his Congressman is and to understand the economy than some liberal-arts college dropout.

When law schools claim almost all of their graduates find jobs, what they don’t tell you is that they include low-paying, part-time and temporary jobs in non-legal fields in making that claim. Sending excessive numbers of people to college results in even unskilled jobs being performed by people with college degrees.


Anger as British schools drop Christian assemblies in favour of multi-faith sessions or 'moments of reflection'

Such assemblies once offered moral guidance

Christians have criticised the growing number of schools which have dropped their traditional assemblies in favour of multi-faith sessions or ‘moments of reflection’ which include children staring at rocks, meditating or discussing the news.

More than 140 primary and secondary schools across Britain have won the right to opt out of the legal requirement to provide a daily act of worship which is ‘broadly Christian’ in character.

Several hold Islamic assemblies with readings from the Koran, while others hold sessions giving weeksequal prominence to all faiths and sometimes incorporate events such as Black History Month and Chinese New Year.

The disclosure that so many schools have ditched the Christian service has upset traditionalists. Mike Judge, of The Christian Institute, said: ‘It is part of an attempt to airbrush Christianity from public life. Of course it is important to be sensitive to other faiths but I think all children should be made aware of our Christian heritage. It is as much part of our island story as 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

‘A lot of Muslim parents don’t mind their children learning about the nature of Christianity. I think it’s a question of other people being offended on their behalf.’

Schools which no longer feel a Christian assembly is relevant to their pupils can seek permission to opt out from their local authority Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), which is made up of council representatives and local faith representatives.

Schools must provide an alternative form of worship. The highest number of opt-outs, which are also known as determinations, are in areas where there are a large number of ethnic minority residents.

Bradford, West Yorkshire, which has a large Muslim community, has the highest number of opt-outs at 47. In 40 of these schools pupils attend one assembly a week which is devoted to Islam and four other sessions which have a multi-faith approach. In the other seven schools there are five multi-faith sessions.

An increasing number of schools in London are also changing the nature of their assemblies. In the past five years 37 schools in the London borough of Brent have made successful applications to their local SACRE committees.

In Ealing, where 12 schools have opt-outs, one school head proposed introducing a ‘thought spot’ with children reflecting on a single object on a table such as
a candle, a rock or an artefact.


British Labour party's failure on schools exposed: Billions spent, but standards plunge to a new low

If you base your policies on wrong theories, you will not get the results you expect

Britain plummeted down the world education league under Labour, despite the millions poured into schools. A major international study will reveal next week that in less than a decade our schools have nosedived in rankings of teenagers’ performance in reading, maths and science.

Previous studies have shown how the UK slid 16 places in maths between 2000 and 2006 and ten places in science and reading, leaving our schools trailing smaller nations such as Estonia and Liechtenstein.

Education experts are predicting that the latest snapshot of school standards, which is being published on Tuesday, will fail to show an improvement. There are claims our place in the tables – based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in 64 nations – could be worse than in 2006.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development created its Programme for International Student Assessment in 2000. In that year, Britain came seventh in reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. Three years later our schools were ranked 11th, 18th and 12th respectively.

By 2006, Britain had fallen further, to 17th, 24th and 14th. Education Secretary Michael Gove has used previous international studies to attack Labour’s record. He is likely to renew his assault when the latest findings are published next week.

The findings will cause renewed concern that extra resources ploughed into schools since 2000 have been swallowed up in red tape and ill-conceived initiatives. Tony Blair’s mantra when he came to power in 1997 was education, education, education. But a recent analysis suggested that schools’ productivity – taxpayers’ value for money – slumped by 6.7 per cent between 2000 and 2009. Over the same period, education spending nearly doubled from £35.8billion to £71billion.

One of the architects of Labour’s numeracy strategy – designed to raise maths standards in primary schools – said he believes next week’s international study ‘won’t be good for England’, although it would continue to be ahead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Professor David Reynolds told the Times Educational Supplement: ‘Little has happened that would have changed what was a downward trajectory in England’s performance.’

The professor, now an education academic at Plymouth University, said 15-year-olds who took the latest OECD tests would have benefited from Labour’s multi-billion pound initiatives aimed at boosting performance in the three Rs. But he added: ‘I don’t believe the strategies necessarily had the kind of legs that one might have expected.’

Professor Reynolds admitted efforts to improve patchy maths knowledge among teachers had come ‘a wee bit late’.

Other critics say next week’s rankings will also cast fresh doubt on year-on-year increases in GCSE and A-level grades.

Ministers want to introduce a set of school league tables to help parents judge standards for five-year-olds in school reception and nursery classes. At present they are assessed on 13 subjects, but these are only published at national and local authority level.


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