Thursday, June 06, 2013

Fighting education fanatics

Schools treat 5-year-olds like hardened criminals. It smacks of fanaticism

I've been wondering if it's parental malpractice to put your kids in public schools.  In fact, it seems like a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism.

Increasingly, parents are exiting public schools for private schools, online schools or homeschooling.

For a while, I've been wondering if it's parental malpractice to put your kids in public schools. More and more, it's gone beyond wondering. For example, last week the Washington Post reported a nasty case of abusive behavior by school officials in Calvert County, Maryland: A five-year-old who brought a cowboy-style cap pistol on a school bus -- orange-tipped, and something that no one could possibly mistake for a real gun -- was interrogated for two hours (an interrogation that was so long, or so stressful, that he wet his pants) and then suspended for 10 days. Who treats a five-year-old that way?

The Post reports: "The case comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about guns in schools across the country. Locally, children in first and second grade have been disciplined for pointing their fingers like guns and for chewing a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun. In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking about shooting a Hello Kitty bubble gun that blows soap bubbles."

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, another kindergartner was punished for bringing a tiny Lego gun -- the illustration in the Boston Herald places it next to a quarter coin -- with detention, and forced to write a letter of apology to the school bus driver. For bringing a tiny piece of plastic.

What's up with this? It's not based on any concern with safety. Lego guns, cap guns, bubble guns, nibbled Pop Tarts, and fingers are no threat to safety. And the wild overreaction in these cases says there's more going on here than simple school discipline. As I said, who treats a 5-year-old this way? It smacks of fanaticism.

In fact, it seems like a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism. I think it's about the administrative class -- which runs the schools with as little input from parents as possible -- doing its best to exterminate the very idea of guns. It's some sort of wacky moral-purity crusade. If a few toddlers have to suffer along the way, that's tough. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

But that raises two questions. First, what business do public schools have in trying to extirpate "impure" thoughts? Aren't we supposed to celebrate diversity? And, second, why should public schools decide that a longtime staple of American childhood, the toy gun, is suddenly evil?

When Horace Mann first campaigned to introduce compulsory public schooling, the model he chose was based on the schools in Prussia. Some of his critics objected: The Prussian system, they said, was based on the presumption that the government was smarter than the people. In America, presumption was precisely the reverse. Mann won out, but the result raises some questions about who's smarter.

The people running these schools are providing considerable evidence that they are not especially bright. Or, at any rate, that they have little respect for American culture. And the way they back down when these cases comes to light indicates that they know they're out of step with the public.

Which raises the question: Why are we giving them so much money? If public schools are places where kids can be persecuted for being kids -- especially if, gasp, they're boys acting like boys -- what's their claim on our support?

Increasingly, parents are exiting public schools for private schools, charter schools, online schools or homeschooling. (Hey, the guy who sold Tumblr to Yahoo for a billion dollars was homeschooled.) This steady stream of stories involving what can only be called institutional child abuse can only speed that trend along. And once large numbers of parents are no longer sending their kids to public schools, how long will the tax money keep coming?

That's the question I'd be asking myself, if I were running public schools. The people who actually are running them, however, seem to be oblivious. Fanatics usually are.


Adjustable rate student loans are not ‘market-based,’ and will not ‘fix’ higher education

On May 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1911, legislation that purports to avert student loan interest rates doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The truth, as usual, in Washington, D.C., is always slightly more nuanced. The hike in interest rates does not apply to existing loans given at a fixed rate. Instead, it applies to new student loans that are given as of July 1.

For those new loans, it creates an adjustable interest rate that will instead go into effect next year. The bill pegs student loan rates to 10-year treasuries plus 2.5 percent, and then would adjust every year based on wherever treasuries are. It would cap rates at 8.5 percent.

So, if the legislation went into effect today, rates for new student loans would still rise, to 4.6 percent. Then, if government borrowing costs rise next year, student loan rates would rise. If interest rates fall for treasuries, then so would rates for student loans.

No market, no fix

Supporters call this approach “market-based” but there has been no private market for student loans since the government nationalized the system in 2010. Moreover, action by the Federal Reserve to purchase $55 billion of treasuries a month under QE3 has had the effect of driving interest rates lower — a market manipulation of the first order.

This supposed “fix” also will do little to reform higher education finance. Student loan interest rates will not be assessed on any sort of risk-based formula, for example on the likelihood that the loans will be repaid.

Financial aid offices will still not consider what a student’s major is, or what the likely income a student will be as a result of that concentration. They will not care if a student is in fine arts or women’s studies or engineering or medicine. They will continue to be highly lax with lending standards whether the student is failing everything or acing classes.

They will not even consider the current alarming rate of delinquency on student loans. A recent report by the Department of Education indicates that 11 percent of the 37 million Americans with student loan debt — which totals more than $1 trillion nationwide — are delinquent 90 days or more.

Nor will they consider the skyrocketing cost of higher education that, ironically, is fueled by unlimited government finance. When there are no lending standards for colleges, institutions can charge as much as they want — and Uncle Sam will finance it, no questions asked. If graduates or dropouts wind up broke and unemployed, it’s no skin off the university’s nose.

Therefore, under HR 1911 there will exist the same loose lending standards that created the current education bubble in the first place. Like today, everyone will still get the same treatment, a one-size-fits-all system — albeit with an adjustable rate.

Incentivizing low rates

But aren’t adjustable interest rate loans risky? Congressional Democrats have seized on this aspect of the proposal, citing a Congressional Research Report that suggests if interest rates were to normalize, student loans could rise even higher than if Congress did nothing. And, if 10-year treasuries were to rise higher than 4.3 percent, that would certainly be true.

Except, 10-year treasuries have not been that high since 2007. With Fed chairman Ben Bernanke pumping money the way he is into treasuries markets, coupled with keeping the Federal Funds Rate near zero for more than four years now, rates have plummeted across the board.

That may be the biggest problem with adjustable rate student loans. Suddenly, there emerges a political constituency — individuals who borrow money for college — for artificially low interest rates. This will place additional pressure on the central bank to keep rates low.

Of course, there already is an even more important constituency for such policies — Congress itself. For every interest point the Fed allows treasuries rates to rise, taxpayers will owe an additional $167 billion on the $16.7 trillion national debt. The thinking goes, with the debt growing more than 7 percent a year, since the government cannot afford for interest rates to rise with market forces, the Fed won’t let them.

At some point, inflation might compel the Fed to tighten monetary policy. But with the current economic slowdown, massive inflation seems unlikely in the near future, so the Fed appears more likely to repeat Japan’s experience. That, coupled with a continued weak economy, suggests the Fed could perpetually double down on quantitative easing.

College not all it’s cracked up to be

The greatest irony is that young Americans might actually be better off if interest rates skyrocketed. The Department of Education study also found 30 percent of 20 to 24 year olds are not working or in school, indicating the value of a college degree is dropping dramatically in this depression.

If interest rates got sufficiently high, it might dissuade more people from taking on excessive student loan debt, which is no longer a guarantee of long-term employment.


British Universities suffered huge student shortfall after fees hike

Universities fell short of recruitment targets by almost 30,000 students this year amid fresh warnings that the British higher education system risks losing its global reputation.

Vice-chancellors warned that student numbers in England alone were nine per cent lower than official forecasts in 2012/13 following the introduction of a new tuition fee regime.

In a report, Universities UK warned that institutions could face “significant financial pressures” over the next few years because of a squeeze on funding and “constraints” on the number of postgraduates and undergraduates being recruited.

It was claimed that Britain could struggle “to retain its hard-won global competitive advantage” without an injection of funding.

The comments come after figures showed a rise in the number of British students opting to take courses at high-ranking universities in the United States.

Data obtained by the Telegraph showed that entry rates had increased at a number of leading institutions including Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Chicago and Michigan.

The rise coincided with a drop in the number of students recruited by universities in the UK. The number of school leavers admitted across the UK in 2012 dropped by 5.7 per cent, while admissions among mature students – those aged 21 and over – were down by 9.2 per cent.

But the study found that admissions declined even more sharply in England where students face tuition fees of up to £9,000-a-year – higher than elsewhere in the UK and almost three times the previous maximum.

It emerged that English universities admitted around 28,000 fewer students than expected – undershooting recruitment targets by nine per cent.

The report cited a fall in the number of 18-year-olds in the education system, combined with concerns that universities would face financial penalties for over-recruiting.

It also found a drop in postgraduate students and "significant" falls in the numbers of new entrants to UK universities from countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Prof Eric Thomas, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said there was evidence that the higher education system was being “constrained in terms of its ability to expand in a sustainable manner in the medium term”.

“This has long-term implications for the UK’s skilled workforce, productivity, and economic growth,” he said.

“Factors constraining the ability of universities to expand undergraduate and postgraduate provision will inhibit the future economic potential and competitiveness of the UK. These constraints must be overcome if the UK is to retain its hard-won global competitive advantage.”

The study – The Funding Environment for Universities – said many institutions were already charging £9,000 a year for their degree and will need to increase student numbers to boost revenue.

Some may need to invest in buildings and facilities at time when funding is squeezed to make sure they have enough room to expand in the future, it is claimed.

Failure to invest in this area would be a "significant step back" for the sector and would be detrimental to the UK's ability to provide a world-class teaching and research environment, the study said.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "UK universities are world-class, but across the world higher education is changing fast.

"Our reforms have laid the foundations for a better funded and more competitive sector, with a ring-fenced research budget, more resources for teaching, and a renewed focus on the quality of the student experience.

"We are delivering more choice to students by relaxing number controls and ensuring a more diverse sector.

"Our universities are drivers of growth, contributing an estimated £3.4 billion a year to the economy through services to business. With the demand for higher education growing worldwide, we are developing an industrial strategy for education exports to ensure the UK's universities can take advantage of the growing international appetite for learning."


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