Friday, February 13, 2015

Education Reform as Envisioned by Bobby Jindal

Some Republican presidential hopefuls are singing songs that are music to conservative ears. The latest comes from Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who along with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has released a research paper entitled “America Next.” The Republican pair promote major reforms to undo the government education catastrophe.

Jindal outlined his three-pronged reform plan beginning with an exquisitely apt analogy: “Would you trade your brand-new car for an Edsel? Or your iPhone for an antiquated mainframe computer the size of your living room?”

“[M]any American children,” says Jindal, “face a similar situation each day when they head to school.” They don’t receive a quality education due to “[a]rchaic obstacles – a tenure system first developed early in the last century, and an education bureaucracy in Washington created as part of the Great Society five decades ago.”

“Reform along the principles outlined in this paper,” reads the introduction, “will restore the balance in education toward parents and teachers, and away from the bureaucracies.”

The first objective is education choice – allowing parents to control their children’s schooling. Schools, most teachers and unions resist this idea with every tool at their disposal. Nevertheless, Jindal says money spent on education should “follow the child” rather than following bureaucrats' demands. “No one cares more, and knows better, about children than the parents who bore and raised them.”

Put parents in charge, and schools must compete to retain children. Good public schools will become better and bad ones fail, while charter and other non-traditional schools thrive. While vocational courses have largely disappeared, these practical courses appeal to many high school students. The same holds for art and technology. Money directed by the parents will result in its being better spent.

More than 60% of staff in the average school district are not teachers. Though educationists want smaller classes, studies have shown that school size is much more important. With parents in charge, the number of small schools would grow dramatically, causing a proportional decline of non-teaching positions, thereby saving taxpayer money. One of the best-received parts of Jindal’s plan is educational savings accounts that give people with modest incomes a chance to send their kids to the best schools.

The second prong of the plan involves backing Big Government’s big nose out of neighborhood schools. Not so long ago, schools operated on a largely neighborhood model and performed far better. As late as the 1960s, a high school diploma was a ticket to the job market where the vast majority of adults established themselves in careers while their college friends were still in school.

But along came the “Great” Society, introducing frequent and ever deeper intrusions into states' education systems. Federal dollars became the hook that kept schools on the line, and school quality decreased as spending increased. Now, addicted to federal money, schools are coerced into following federal mandates. “Common Core,” says Jindal, “represents Exhibit A of why federal control needs to revert back to states – and ultimately to local school boards wherever possible.” He also urges the reduction of government data collection, restoring student privacy rights and sharing more information with parents.

The third proposal involves “liberating teachers” by ending forced union membership, making evaluations more practical, giving principals more autonomy in running their schools, ending tenure and seniority, and restricting collective bargaining to salaries rather than petty complaints.

States generally require two years of education courses at an accredited college to earn a teaching credential. Yet education courses are notoriously easy and so full of socio-babble that many highly qualified individuals are driven away.

Jindal proposes “reforming training, preparation and certification requirements.” Training should be relevant and meaningful and should require fewer courses. Emphasis should be on preparation. “[We] should remove impediments to entry, but make permanent retention a tougher bar to achieve (referring to teacher tenure).” Teaching shouldn’t be a job that someone takes because there’s nothing else to do. Teaching should be a passion.

The plan concludes that we have “a moral imperative to provide a quality education to each child.” Yet as Jindal admits, these reforms face stiff opposition from unions and their alter egos, the Democrats.

Nevertheless, progress is occurring. Jindal highlights improvements in his own state of Louisiana, including the rising graduation rate in New Orleans and the plummeting number of failing schools. There are other positive signs as well: 10 states have no tenure, charter schools and homeschooling outperform public schools and earn more support every year, and parents finally recognize that schools are failing and want them fixed. If 2016 is good to conservatives, including the election of a conservative president, we just might see some of these reforms after all.


Women’s Colleges Left Trying to Decide What ‘Women’s College’ Means

By Katherine Timpf

This kind of thing used to be pretty straightforward: Women’s colleges are for women. But as liberals go to great lengths to rid themselves of traditional binaries, schools defined by the gender of their students are having to decide what to do about applicants who define their gender for themselves.

This week, Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania, decided it makes the most sense to simply take biological sex out of the equation and allow anyone who identifies as a woman to go. In other words: Even if you were born a man, you can go as long you identify as a woman now. On the flip side, if you identify as a man now, you can’t go even if you were born biologically female.

Some women’s colleges are leaving it even more open. For example, Simmons College, in Boston, allows not only those applicants who were born male and now identify as female, but also those who were born female and now identify as male. It also accepts applicants who identify as neither female nor male but consider themselves some combination of both genders or as “gender neutral” entirely. And others, like Barnard College, have no policy and are still deciding what to do.

One thing is for sure: As “gender identity” becomes more complex, so do the decisions women’s colleges have to make. After all, even a decision like Bryn Mawr’s doesn’t cover every situation. For example: What if a student starts at the school as a woman, but midway through decides to start identifying as or even medically transitioning into a man?

In October, the New York Times covered how this specific situation was handled at another women’s college, Wellesley. One student had simply checked off “female” on the official application but then began to identifying himself as a “genderqueer” male named Timothy once on campus. Wellesley has had transitioning students before, so Timothy was not only allowed to stay but didn’t face any problems at all. That is, until he tried to run for class diversity officer and students started a petition saying he wasn’t qualified because he was a white man now.

Yeesh. Of course, this is just one example — there are endless scenarios that present questions about what to do now that people view gender outside of traditional binaries. Even apart from those who consider themselves transgender or gender neutral, there are also people who are “gender fluid” — that is, they consider themselves to be different genders at different times. What about them?

It’s one thing to say that it is up to an individual to decide how to identify – after all, it’s his/her/eir/pers/their/vis/sir/[name]’s life, right? But what about entire institutions that have always relied on the idea of these binaries?

Most progressive activists will tell you that the times are changing and therefore the institutions need to change too. But what seems to be less clear is how.

That question is troubling many of the feminist alumnae of women’s colleges. Some say that turning someone away from an all-women’s school because of gender is obviously an injustice because Come on people, it’s 2015! Others argue that allowing men in any capacity into these colleges isn’t social justice but rather anti-feminist, since it taints what used to be a safe, women-only space and risks rendering it a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

But if gender is a spectrum, what does “women-only” even mean? These colleges are being tasked with setting institution-wide, gender-based policies with specific distinctions, while also being told that gender is a spectrum and no real objective definitions exist.

Perhaps these schools will become “anyone-but-people-who-were-born-male-and-still-consider-themselves-male” colleges, or perhaps the idea of a “women’s college” will just become obsolete altogether.


What happened to teenagers paid to drop out of university?

HOW’S this for a proposition? A mega-rich American entrepreneur will give you $100,000 to drop out of university and pursue your dreams. Sound too good to be true?

Well, the co-founder of online payment system PayPal, Peter Thiel, has offered that very deal for the past five years.

In 2010, sensing a crippling stagnation in the US economy, he set up the Thiel Fellowship with the aim of giving youth a path to a successful career that sidestepped the need for a four-year university degree.

Mr Thiel, who was also one of the first investors in Facebook, said that university courses were stifling the potential of young entrepreneurs, while loading them up with a crippling amount of debt.

His foundation aimed to pay 20 teenagers a year to ditch their college course and pursue their own business idea.

Those selected are given invaluable connections and are guided by thinkers, investors, scientists, and businesspeople.

Mr Thiel’s generous offer sparked a national conversation in the US: Is college a waste of time and money?

Mr Thiel argues that university degrees can often be a poor investment for young people because they are too expensive, encourage conformity and fail to teach the entrepreneurial skills the business world requires.

He says that people feel a societal pressure to attend university if they want a successful career, but he is keen to free bright thinkers from this convention.

Speaking on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, Mr Thiel said his foundation had been a success on because it had started an important debate about the “education bubble”.

“Student debt is over $1 trillion in this country, and much of that money has gone to pay for lies that people tell about how great the education they received was,” Mr Thiel said.

He has contrasted university campuses with the type of innovation found at Silicon Valley, the home of new technology in the US. Mr Thiel argues that Silicon Valley is bursting with the type of fresh ideas that are lacking in the higher education sector.

On the other hand, figures show that people who pursue tertiary education are on average much better off.

So, who’s right? Does university make you better off overall, or should people think twice about taking on a degree?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education examined the Thiel Fellowship scheme this week and found it had produced mixed results.

The fellowship has taken on 83 participants since it was launched, including students from the US’s most prestigious universities, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton. The fellows have raised $72 million collectively and produced $29 million in revenue.

The Chronicle spoke to nine of the 24 entrepreneurs who took part in the first two-year program, and most reported that the experience was a positive one.

Many said the beauty of the program wasn’t the $100,000 boost but the networks they were introduced to.

But, crucially, a handful of them enrolled in university after they completed the program, which challenges the central idea of the fellowship.


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