Friday, September 19, 2014

Should we judge a potential partner on their degree?

Gaynor Sbuttoni, an educational psychologist, tells me: “It can be useful but it’s not the be all and end all. Obviously education does affect the person you are, so from that angle you might prefer to be connected with someone who has a similar education background. But if you think about it, there are lots of couples from different educational backgrounds - they get together and it works.”

Her only concern is that, in some relationships, a stark educational difference might lead to problems: “The danger is if it’s an unbalanced relationship, and [one person] considers themselves to be lesser by having a ‘poorer’ education.”

This is something experienced by a friend of mine. She went to a top university and when she met her (now ex) boyfriend, he was intimidated. He’d been to a community college but never progressed to university. Though he was on a similar intellectual level to her – they both loved discussing politics – he had a chip on his shoulder about it.

That complex never faded and, after a year, they split up. She blames it on the difference in their education.

Jo Barnett, a dating coach, isn’t surprised. She thinks education is pretty important when dating, as two people who have been to university are likely to have more in common: “You have got shared experienced, you’re going to be on a similar wavelength. I know people do look at that criteria,” she says.

But Barnett thinks that the trend is reversing and that we're less judgemental now.

With the emergence of social media and budding tech entrepreneurs, she says: “What’s more important is what you’re currently doing and what you want to be doing. People judge very much on the now. If I come across someone who’s studying to be a doctor, marvellous, but you’re still not working.”

Of course, it’s all very well trying to find common ground with someone you’re dating. But what about when you're making education the sole focus of your search?

A friend, Rebecca, 25, tells me she found herself becoming obsessed with people’s professions and education when she was using an online dating site earlier this year.

“I have judged in the past and I felt really bad about it," she says. "But I don’t have more info to go on. If I’m making decisions based on a limited amount of information there has to be a checklist.”

I think there’s a danger in going too far. When you are just swiping through people’s profiles on your phone, you can forget they’re a real person. They may have gone to a prestigious uni but do you actually think they seem nice? It’s easy to ignore the obvious pitfalls when there’s so much choice.

Sbuttoni agrees: “Is it right that you judge the papers someone receives as a measure of their educational successes? And if you’re deciding to quantify a person by their education, what is that? How valuable is that to you?

“You don’t actually get to know a lot about the person you’re dealing with by their education. The person’s capability of emotion is much more important in a relationship that what their actual education is.”

She's right. A degree isn't going to keep you together through the highs and lows.

"We all judge – it’s normal,” says Barnett. “The struggle is using the restraint not to judge.

“I think [people who judge on education] should realise they’re not doing themselves any favours because you’re dismissing people you don’t know.”

 If you’re focusing so closely on the superficial, you’re closing yourself off from other options.

Yes, you might meet someone who has a similar life experience to you, but - isn’t that kind of dull? Maybe – shock horror – you might just have more fun with someone who has a different story to tell.


Teachers Hope to Erase Union Dues That Deny Free Speech

Fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Friedrichs doesn’t support a new state law allowing self-identifying transgender children in the public school system to choose which bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities they will use.

Allowing these students to occupy the same private space with classmates who don’t share their biological traits, Friedrichs believes,  puts the interests of a few ahead of those of the many — and is potentially embarrassing and damaging for other students. She says she feels the same way about permitting transgender children to join all-male or all-female teams as they see fit.

Frankly, she says, “it’s hard for me to protect the modesty of other children.”

Friedrichs, a 27-year teaching veteran who works in Anaheim, Calif., also thinks it is a mistake for the state teachers union to push so hard for tenure to protect bad teachers. She supports school choice for parents because it helps poorer families get more out of the educational system.

And she backed Proposition 8 — the 2008 ballot initiative that upheld marriage in California as the union of a man and a woman — because she believes it is bad for society.

Yet, Friedrichs spent money to advocate the “transgender student” bill. She also spent money to push for more protections for tenured teachers, and to oppose school choice and Prop 8.

Why would she pay to advance policy positions she opposes?  Because, as a teacher in a big union state that doesn’t revere the “right to work,” she must.

Friedrichs used to belong to the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the powerful National Education Association. She volunteered for the teachers union in her school and attended CTA’s state conferences.

But she left when their disagreements began to pile up.  “If the union is on one side of a debate, it’s a sure bet that I’m going to be on the opposite side,” Friedrichs quips in an interview with The Daily Signal.

So she joined the Christian Educators Association International, a non-profit group that represents Christians in public schools.

Under current law, Friedrichs still must, in her words, “spend part of my workday paying for political activism that I don’t support and that I think is actually harmful to education.”  This is wrong, she says. And she’s going to court to prove it.

Taking On the Teachers Unions

Friedrichs and nine other California teachers — along with the  Christian Educators Association International — sued the CTA, several local unions and the NEA.

The teachers’ claim: Union rules and state law violate the First Amendment by requiring them to fund speech and advocacy they don’t support.

California is an “agency shop” state. Teachers pay about $1,000 per year in union dues even if, like Friedrichs, they don’t belong to the union.

Non-members can apply to be reimbursed for the portion of their dues that goes to political advocacy, usually $300 to $400. But it is not easy, and it brings scrutiny and stigma from the union.

Moreover, the teachers union itself decides how much to spend on political activities. It sends a letter with the figures each year, and non-members have six weeks to submit an official objection and then get in line for a rebate.

This process grew out of the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which said public employees who object to political expenditures still have to pay all their dues up front but could receive a refund later. This “opt out” arrangement later was extended to include private unions in a 1986 ruling, Communication Workers v. Beck.

The Christian plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA argue the opt-out arrangement doesn’t sufficiently safeguard their free speech rights.

“The union decided what is political and what isn’t,” Rebecca Friedrichs says.  “We are only allowed to opt out of the overt political portion of the dues, and the union decided what is political and what isn’t,” Friedrichs says, adding:

We disagree with their assessment. Teachers are afraid to opt out because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of being a fee payer. They lose their liability insurance, and they are labeled by union leaders. That’s why we need an opt-in system, so the dues [for advocacy] are voluntary.

‘It’s the Unions Who Are Free-Riding’

This all began in the mid-1900s, when the U.S. Supreme Court  “carved out an exception to the First Amendment” for labor law, says Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights:

In an effort to maintain labor peace, the court reasoned it was necessary to outlaw ‘free riders’ who might object to the union stance but still draw benefits from collective bargaining.

CTA, the state affiliate of the National Education Association,  argues the premise of Friedrichs’ case is flawed because union membership is voluntary and the refunds safeguard teachers’ free speech rights. 

“Individuals who chose to join pay union dues,” NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien says. “We are proud that some 3 million educators have chosen to join together to form NEA.”

But Friedrichs — who spoke in August at The Heritage Foundation as part of a panel on Americans who want to leave unions  – isn’t persuaded. Nor do she and the other plaintiffs see merit to the “free rider” argument.

“There’s a big difference between what the union views as a benefit and what I view as a benefit,” Friedrichs says. “It is the unions who are free-riding on me. They are using my money for their agenda.”

Karen Chavez-Cuen, another plaintiff, has taught elementary school music for 20 years in the Chino Valley Unified School District. In an interview with The Daily Signal, she says the opt-out system is flawed because much of the bargaining process itself is “inherently political.”

Take tenure protection, Cuen says:

The union is just relentless in pushing for more protection for ineffective teachers, and it’s impossible to fire them. And the rest of us have to cover for them and undo the damage to our kids. It’s fine that I get a refund, but there’s a make-believe distinction between what’s political and what’s not.

The case has reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The complaining teachers have asked the court to expedite the case to the Supreme Court on the basis that only the nation’s highest court has the authority to overturn its own precedent. The Ninth Circuit has yet to rule on that request.

‘Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful?’

Meanwhile, an organization called Privacy for All Students is working to place a referendum on the November ballot that would allow voters to overturn the law providing for transgender students to have their choice of facilities. The law, officially titled the School Success and Opportunity Act, is commonly referred to as “The Bathroom Bill.”

Because of  a dispute over the validity of certain signatures, it isn’t clear the proposed referendum will qualify for the ballot.

“We have options for transgender students such as adult bathrooms that could be available to them whenever needed,” Friedrichs says. “But it’s hard for me to protect the modesty of other children because of a bill that has been pushed with my money.”

If the case is fast-tracked to the Supreme Court next year and the plaintiffs receive a favorable ruling, it would mean the union would have to solicit voluntary contributions for political causes such as transgender rights.

“What we are asking for is pretty straightforward,” Karen Chavez-Cuen says.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the only people joining the union and making donations were the ones who wanted to do so voluntarily?” Cuen says. “And wouldn’t be wonderful if the people who didn’t want to join and make these contributions had that freedom? What we are asking for is pretty straightforward.”


Obama’s Latest Hostile Takeover Target: Private Career Colleges

The Obama administration’s latest college crusade claims it will help students. In reality, it’s a hostile takeover attempt by government of the private for-profit career college sector that will hurt students, taxpayers, and the economy.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledges that the “majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive.” Yet he insists that students must be protected from debt he says is foisted on them by a relative handful of bad actors.

Rather than hold those select institutions accountable through existing laws, since 2010 Duncan has been attempting to use his department to gain control of the private for-profit career college sector, which is the fastest growing nationwide increasing from 200,000 students in the late 1980s to 2 million as of 2010 (pp. 2, 5, 7-8).

This isn’t the Obama administration’s first attempted takeover of higher education.

Thanks to an Obamacare provision the U.S. Department of Education took over direct lending to students. Duncan insisted that the feds would be more efficient and cost-effective than private lenders, but costs actually went up. In recent years the Obama administration has also pushed interest rate freezes on federal student loans, which have done nothing to make a college education more affordable.

The administration’s latest takeover scheme is attempting to impose onerous regulations on all private for-profit career colleges.

Back in 2010 the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a set of proposed “gainful employment” rules requiring private for-profit colleges to meet mandated loan repayment rates and debt-to-earnings levels before their students could qualify for federal student aid.

In 2011 the department unveiled the final gainful employment regulations, which deemed students’ employment “gainful” only if it was “in a recognized occupation.” The regulations further mandated that at least 35 percent of former career college students must be repaying their loans; the estimated annual loan payments cannot exceed 30 percent of their disposable income; or the estimated annual loan payments cannot exceed 12 percent of former students’ total earnings.

The regulations were supposed to go into effect on July 1, 2012, but they were struck down the day before by Federal Judge Rudolph Contreras for being “arbitrary and capricious.”

In 2013 the Obama administration revived its crusade against what Duncan called “predatory” career colleges with proposed mandates that are no less arbitrary or capricious than their predecessors. Under the new proposed regulations unveiled earlier this year, for students to qualify for federal aid for-profit career colleges must prove the estimated annual loan payments of graduates do not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary earnings, or 8 percent of their total earnings, and the default rate for former students does not exceed 30 percent.

Duncan justified the move saying that “of the for-profit gainful employment programs the Department could analyze and which could be affected by our action today, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found that this claim didn’t come close to passing the Pinocchio Test:

Could attending a for-profit institution actually result in a three-out-of-four-chance of earning less than a high school dropout?...In straining for a striking factoid, the Education Department went too far.

Department of Education officials insist that 90 percent of career college students losing aid will find suitable alternatives, but independent research concludes the figure will be far lower.

Should the Obama administration succeed and gainful employment regulations take effect next year, more than 4 out of 10 students currently enrolled at private for-profit career colleges could lose access to federal financial aid. Over the next decade as many as 7.5 million students could lose access.

And who are these students?

Most of private career college students are older adults, more than half (51 percent) are low-income, and 80 percent of them are the first in their families to attend college (pp. 9 and 23). Moreover, close to half of all career college students (49 percent) are high-risk students, compared to less than 20 percent at public and not-for-profit institutions.

Compared to public institutions private for-profit career colleges enroll more women and minorities, not to mention more than one-quarter of military family members (28 percent).

These students seek out private for-profit career schools precisely because the public and non-profit sectors aren’t the right options for them, including not offering the desired degree programs or flexible schedules that help them balance family and career responsibilities. Forcing these students into schools and programs the feds (and their union allies) prefer won’t help them or taxpayers.

The net taxpayer cost of a private for-profit college student is $183 compared to more than $13,000 per public college student (2013 Fact Book, p. 40). If private for-profit options aren’t available, many of these students would have to transfer to public colleges at cost taxpayers nationwide an additional $1.7 billion annually. In the long-run gainful employment regulations could cost students and taxpayers even more.

As many as 23 million skilled and educated workers are needed over the next decade, and private for-profit career colleges specialize in offering degree programs in the highest-growth occupational fields (2013 Fact Book, pp. 37-39).

At a time when 90 million Americans are undereducated, 12 million are unemployed, and family incomes are down, a government takeover of education through gainful employment regulations is the last thing American students, taxpayers, or our economy needs.


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