Thursday, July 07, 2011

The College Scam

What do Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have in common? They're all college dropouts.

Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Peter Jennings have in common? They never went to college at all. But today all kids are told: To succeed, you must go to college.

Hillary Clinton tells students: "Graduates from four-year colleges earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, an estimated $1 million more."

We hear that from people who run colleges. And it's true. But it leaves out some important facts. That's why I say: For many people, college is a scam.

I spoke with Richard Vedder, author of "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much," and Naomi Schafer Riley, who just published "Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For."

Vedder explained why that million-dollar comparison is ridiculous: "People that go to college are different kind of people ... (more) disciplined ... smarter. They did better in high school." They would have made more money even if they never went to college.

Riley says some college students don't get what they pay for because their professors have little incentive to teach. "You think you're paying for them to be in the classroom with you, but every hour a professor spends in the classroom, he gets paid less. The incentives are all for more research." The research is often on obscure topics for journals nobody reads.

Also, lots of people not suited for higher education get pushed into it. This doesn't do them good. They feel like failures when they don't graduate. Vedder said two out of five students entering four-year programs don't have a bachelor's degree after year six. "Why do colleges accept (these students) in the first place?"

Because money comes with the student -- usually government-guaranteed loans.

"There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor's degrees," Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It's hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those. These days, many students graduate with big debts.

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who got rich helping to build good things like PayPal and Facebook, is so eager to wake people up to alternatives to college that he's paying students $100,000 each if they drop out of college and do something else, like start a business. "We're asking nothing in return other than meetings so we make sure (they) work hard, and not be in school for two years," said Jim O'Neill, who runs the foundation.

For some reason, this upsets the left. A writer called Thiel's grant a "nasty idea" that leads students into "halting their intellectual development ... maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich."

But Darren Zhu, a grant winner who quit Yale for the $100,000, told me, "Building a start-up and learning the sort of hardships that are associated with building a company is a much better education path." I agree. Much better. Zhu plans to start a biotech company.

What puzzles is me is why the market doesn't punish colleges that don't serve their customers well. The opposite has happened: Tuitions have risen four times faster than inflation. "There's a lot of bad information out there," Vedder replied. "We don't know ... if (students) learned anything" during their college years.

"Do kids learn anything at Harvard? People at Harvard tell us they do. ... They were bright when they entered Harvard, but do ... seniors know more than freshman? The literacy rate among college graduates is lower today than it was 15 or 20 year ago. It is kind of hard for people to respond in market fashion when you don't have full information."

Despite the scam, the Obama administration plans to increase the number of students getting Pell grants by 50 percent. And even a darling of conservatives, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, says college is a must: "Graduating from high school is just the first step."

We need to wake people up.


Dozens of Atlanta educators falsified tests, state report confirms

Dozens of Atlanta public school educators falsified standardized tests or failed to address such misconduct in their schools, Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday in unveiling the results of a state investigation that confirmed widespread cheating in the city schools dating as far back as 2001.

Some of the cheating could result in criminal charges, Deal said.
"I think the overall conclusion was that testing and results and targets being reached became more important than actual learning for children," Deal said. "And when reaching targets became the goal, it was a goal that was pursued with no excuses."

Falsifying test results made the schools appear to be performing better than they really were. But in the process, students were deprived of critical remedial education and taxpayers were cheated, as well, Deal said.

Investigators said 178 teachers and principals working at 44 schools were involved. The educators, including 38 principals, were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a key standardized test or they knew -- or should have known -- what was going on, according to Deal's office.

Deal's office said 82 of the educators acknowledged involvement, according to the report. Six principals declined to answer investigators' questions and invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Deal said. Whether to bring criminal charges will be up to prosecutors, Deal said.

Georgia State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge and Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the governor's Office of Student Achievement, released a joint statement Tuesday condemning "unethical behavior." "Some educators, including those in leadership positions, chose their own interests over helping students entrusted to their care," the statement said.

"While this story has dominated the headlines over the last couple of years, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the educators in Georgia are ethically sound and work diligently with the best interests of their students in mind."

The investigation's findings have been forwarded to the state teacher licensing board, Deal said. That agency could take disciplinary action against the educators involved.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was briefed on the report, said the investigation "confirms our worst fears." "There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system," Reed said in a statement. "Further, there is no question that a complete failure of leadership in the Atlanta Public School system hurt thousands of children who were promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards."

The cheating was brought to light after marked improvements in the district's performance on the 2009 statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency test (CRCT) revealed a pattern of incorrect test answers being erased and replaced with correct answers.

Investigators compared the results with test results from other Georgia schools and found that such patterns did not occur normally, Deal said. That the district's CRCT results fell in 2010 further confirmed the findings, according to the report.

Beverly Hall, who was superintendent of the district when the cheating scandal surfaced, has since resigned. Hall won accolades for the district's apparent successes during her tenure.


Parents' fury as British school tells pupils: 'You don't need to take part in sports day if you don't want to'

The thrill of competitive running on school sports days has been a spur for many future Olympic athletes. But at one politically correct primary school, children are being excused from such pressures.

Parents were astonished when a teacher with a loud-hailer announced all pupils could ‘opt out’ of the sprints if they wished and asked mothers and fathers to ‘respect their decision’. A significant number of the children remained sitting on the grass, drinking fizzy drinks while watching the action.

It was not the only departure from tradition at Newby and Scalby Primary School in Scarborough. Instead of an egg and spoon race, pupils took part in an egg balancing event in which they ‘raced’ one at a time against the clock to score team points rather than against each other.

To add to the protective nature of the event, any parents hoping to record their children’s exploits for posterity faced further disappointment as the head banned all photography for fear the images could be uploaded on to the internet and seen by paedophiles.

Commenting on the controversy, one parent said: ‘It was crazy. They will be asking the kids if they want to opt out of doing their sums next, or whether they want to learn to read and write.

‘In this competitive age, children need to be competitive. ‘Some of them just ended up sitting on the mats drinking fizzy drinks for the rest of the afternoon. I had never seen anything like it before. People were muttering and looking at each other. There was a lot of discontent in the ranks.’

The school has about 425 pupils aged five to 11 and sports days for each year are held on separate days because of the numbers involved. All the sports days are believed to have had the voluntary running race policy.

A parent who attended the event for nine-year-olds said up to 100 family members were there and many complained to each other. Most of those who refused to take part were boys.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘It’s a new one on me. There are some weird things going on in education. For health reasons you would think they would be making them do this.’

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: ‘The school is proud of its record of children’s involvement in sport. ‘The events are organised so that all children take part, including those with disabilities.’


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