Monday, February 03, 2014

Colleges and Congressmen Are Why Your Degree Is Worthless

As the spring semester rolls around, college graduates will be thrust into the workforce. With their pedigree from a fine institution of higher learning, and economy ready to receive them, they will surely be able to find employment! The American Dream, a beautiful one at that. Too bad it really won’t apply to most graduates.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 44% of college graduates are underemployed, or working in jobs that they don’t need a degree for. College was originally only available to children of immense privilege. To some degree, that is still true. College Board has determined that a “moderate” budget at a private college for the 2013-2014 academic year is $44,750. With the cost of education often so high and the process of applying so meticulous, many potential students whose parents aren’t formally educated can’t assist them in applying to or attending college. Still, we have made great strides in including people from multiple countries, races, socio-economic classes, and religions into higher education. This, broadly, should be applauded. But the method in which it has been done should not.

College is a business, first and foremost. Let’s look a portion of the financial statements of a mid-sized college to prove this:

Without getting bogged down in this statement (it doesn’t help that most college programs probably don’t instruct students how to read this anyways since college doesn’t teach you much of anything practical anymore), let’s focus on the most important part: operating revenues, specifically, tuition.

It’s the first item, since it’s the largest, and largely explains the way college works the way it does. Between tuition and fees, schools take in $350,262,879 in net revenue. This is revenue after they factor in all the scholarships awarded. Now their operating revenue may be $471, 543,898. However, their operating expenses are $437,121,562. What does this mean? They’re only turning a bit under a 10% yearly profit. Being that tuition is the largest item, this means they can’t afford to lose many students at all. To put this in perspective, given this college’s tuition, if they lose 1,000 students from 2012 to 2013, (given there are twenty five thousand of them, that’s not really hard at all) they’re in the red and running a deficit.

So now that we’ve highlighted the fact that you need to continuously drive enrollment, what do colleges do? Perhaps provide students with meaningful degree programs that are competitive in the worldwide market? Attract world-class professors and garner the interest of top tier students to perform groundbreaking research? Well…maybe a few schools, but not many. Instead, you have what was supposed to be a school turning into a circus. Pop artists, ridiculously unprofitable sports programs, movies, free events, carnivals, confusing degree programs (Nannying at Sullivan University). But most of all, ensuring, by any means possible, more federal student lending.

College meant something when a large percentage of the country wasn’t educated past high school, if that. It doesn’t mean much now that a significant portion of the country goes on to get a bachelors degree and means even less when the school is more concerned about getting tuition dollars than funding good programs. The worst part, however, is the fact that many of these students will have a hard time paying off these loans. Too many degree programs don’t offer entree into careers that merit taking on the debt required to earn them.

In student lending, the education lobby has convinced well-meaning people that higher education automatically translates to middle-class earnings. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t bear this out. Over $1 trillion of oustanding student debt has been accounted for in the third quarter of 2013, in contrast to the declining dilenquincies for mortgage, credit card, and auto debt according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In an effort to extend college to everyone, the federal government has managed to create yet another potential crisis for which citizens, borrowers and taxpayers alike, will be on the hook.


School Choice and Common Core: Mortal Enemies

The freedom-enhancing, life-improving power of school choice is more than a theory for me. It's more than a talking points memo or teleprompter speech. Unlike many of the politicians paying lip service to National School Choice Week this week, the issue of expanding educational opportunity and freedom for all is something I live, breathe, practice and witness every day.

My mother was a public school teacher who taught in a majority-minority district in New Jersey for more than two decades. She and my father worked hard to put their own children in a mix of public and private Catholic schools. My own two children have been enrolled in private schools, religious schools and public schools. After a great deal of research, we moved from the East Coast to Colorado to escape the corrupted, dumbed-down curriculum of an overpriced private girls' school.

Life lesson: It's not just government schools that are the problem. Many supposedly "elite" schools indulge in the senseless pedagogical fads that infect monopoly public schools.

Every family in America deserves maximized, customized choices in education. It is the ultimate key to closing that "income inequality" gap the politicos are always gabbling about. Yet, the White House and Democrats beholden to public school unions and their money are the ones blocking the school choice door.

We were blessed to find a community of parents and public school educators in Colorado Springs who embrace high standards, academic excellence and strong character education for students of every race, creed and class. Competition in the secondary-school marketplace provided a desperately needed alternative for educational consumers who wanted more and better for their kids.

For the past four years, our kids, now 13 and 10, attended a high-achieving public charter school that caters to a truly diverse student body.

Our 13-year-old is now in 8th grade at the charter school. This year, we opted to homeschool our youngest. We cobbled together a 5th-grade curriculum with excellent materials from the Calvert homeschool series, Memoria Press and classic Saxon Math. Another nearby public charter school offers a homeschool collective once a week.

Family participation is not an afterthought. It's the engine that drives everything. The dedicated parents, grandparents, foster parents and legal guardians I've met in the charter school movement and homeschooling community see themselves as their children's primary educational providers. Not the U.S. Department of Education. Not the White House. Not GOP politicians cashing in on top-down "education reform."

After several years of educational satisfaction, however, we've encountered another sobering life lesson: There is no escape, no foolproof sanctuary, from the reach of meddling Fed Ed bureaucrats and cash-hungry special interests who think they know what's best for our kids.

Big-government Republicans such as Jeb Bush and flip-flopping Mike Huckabee pay lip service to increasing school choice and supporting charter schools, private schools and homeschooling. Yet, they have been among the loudest GOP peddlers of the Common Core "standards"/textbook/testing/data collection regime thrust upon schools who want nothing to do with it.

"Alignment" with the new regime means mediocrity, mandates, privacy invasions and encroachments on local control and educational sovereignty. I've seen it in my daughter's polluted math curriculum. We are not alone. The threat is not just in one subject. It's systemic.

Derek Anderson, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., wrote to me last fall about the existential threat his charter school faces. "Ridgeview Classical Schools is a K-12 charter school that offers a classical liberal arts education to approximately 800 students. We were established in 2001, and we have generally been one of the top three schools in Colorado since opening," he said. "Our most significant issue with Common Core and the PARCC exams is that we feel we will lose the autonomy and other protections granted to us when Colorado adopted its Charter Schools Act in 1994."

As I've noted, PARCC is the behemoth, federally funded testing consortium (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that raked in $186 million through President Obama's Race to the Top program to develop nationalized tests "aligned" to the top-down Common Core program. Anderson and informed administrators, educators and parents like him understand: "PARCC is truly the enforcement mechanism that will coerce schools into adopting the Common Core curriculum. We cannot do this. It is entirely against the mission and philosophy of our school." It is, in short, sabotage. Anderson calls it an "almost existential dilemma. Our mission and philosophy are irreconcilable with Common Core's."

Homeschool mom of six and blogger Karen Braun of Michigan sees the threat to her choice, too. Her trenchant message: "True school choice allows a parent to choose any school that meets their child's needs, not just those that adopt Common Core State standards and assessments."

No fully funded school voucher system in the world can improve the educational experience if Fed Ed controls the classroom and homeschool room. Coerced conformity kills choice.


New British rules: teachers should punish children with litter duty

Unruly pupils will be forced to pick up litter, tidy classrooms or mop dining hall floors, under a major overhaul of school discipline to be announced next week.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will set out for the first time a list of government-approved punishments, including “community service” sanctions, such as weeding school grounds and cleaning up graffiti.

New guidance from the Department for Education, which will be sent to every state school in England next week, are intended to ensure that more teachers take a “tough" line with disruptive pupils.

According to official figures, more than 700,000 children are being taught in schools where behaviour in the classroom and playground is not good enough.

A recent survey found that almost one third of secondary school teachers do not feel confident about using the powers they have to discipline children who behave badly.

Mr Gove is concerned that many heads and teachers are confused about their own legal powers to punish children and fear being sued by parents or falling foul of health and safety laws.

The new Department for Education guide will contain a menu of potential punishments for the first time. These include traditional sanctions such as “writing lines”, issuing no-notice detentions for the same day, and searching pupils without their consent for illicit items such as knives or alcohol.

The recommendations also make clear that teachers have the legal authority to use “reasonable force” to remove an unruly child from a classroom when necessary.

Mr Gove said while pupils' behaviour had generally improved, with fewer children being excluded for abuse and assault in recent years, teachers must not be “afraid” to impose punishments when children misbehave.

“The best schools already ask pupils who are behaving poorly to make it up to their teachers and fellow pupils through community service,” he said. “I want more schools to follow their example by making badly behaved pupils pick up litter or help clear up the dining hall after meal times.

“Standards of behaviour are already improving in schools but there is much more still to do.

"These new guidelines will give teachers the confidence to be tougher on bad behaviour and ensure every child has the chance to learn in a controlled, orderly environment.”

The minister believes that sanctions such as requiring children to report to the school gate early in the morning can be as effective at improving discipline as praising and rewarding pupils who behave well.

The existing government guidance to schools clearly sets out the legal backing for punishing children but stops short of outlining potential sanctions.

The new list of recommended punishments includes:

:: School-based community service – such as picking up litter or weeding school grounds, tidying a classroom, helping clear up the dining hall after meal times, or removing graffiti;

:: Writing lines or an essay;

:: Loss of privileges – for instance the loss of a prized responsibility or not being able to participate in a non-uniform day;

:: Being “on report”, requiring a pupil to attend early in the morning and at other scheduled times.

Mr Gove has been in conflict with classroom teachers’ unions, who have mounted industrial action over pay, pensions and jobs, but many school staff are expected to welcome the new clarity over discipline.

Peter Barnes, head of Oakgrove School in Milton Keynes, said he imposed “community service” punishments on badly behaved pupils to “head off” problems before they get out of hand.

“Some teachers do get worried about setting tough sanctions and so updated guidelines are a good idea as they show we are supported at the highest level when tackling bad behaviour.

“Everyone will know where they stand. We have a very strong ethos of discipline in our school. Pupils, teachers and parents are aware of our behaviour policy and we have introduced a policy of community service where pupils who break the rules perform a task that benefits the school.”

David McFadden, headmaster of the London Oratory School, said the new guidelines were “a vote of confidence in the wishes and needs of teachers across the country”.

“School staff need a compass by which to enforce good behaviour - this is best done by combining rewards for proper behaviour with strong sanctions for poor behaviour,” he said.

Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation of thirteen academies, backed the decision to promote punishments that “contribute to the community spirit and wellbeing of the school”.

“A school’s results can only be as good as the behaviour of its pupils. It is therefore important that teachers are aware of the range of sanctions available to them,” he said.


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