Monday, January 09, 2017

Betsy DeVos: Opening The Hearts And Minds Of America
by Paul Hannosh
President-Elect Donald Trump’s new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is the best pick in the history of the Department of Education since its inception, in this veteran teacher’s opinion. With her school choice prescription, she is just the medicine that a failing educational system needs to restore it to health. Her long time support of the Charter school movement is one key reform element, but the one that will be transformational will be vouchers or tax credits for any private school a parent decides to send their child to.

The public school monopoly, headed by the National Education Association, is the greatest impediment to competition and reform and will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf and the view that children ultimately belong to the state rather than the parent. America is one of the few western nations that does not give aid to private k-12 religious schools, only to religious colleges. Betsy DeVos can change that oversight with the 20 billion dollar block grant that Trump has proposed to increase school choice. The one size fits all approach to education could become a thing of the past.

DeVos is also an advocate for the biggest trend in education, online learning and homeschooling, which can cater to a student’s individual needs from the convenience of their own home. In a Philanthropy interview, DeVos noted, “in the Internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished.” Betsy DeVos is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant swamp of educational decline where the purpose of education has been lost to modern notions of nihilism. It remains to be seen whether her reforms can re-excite the search for the good life and a certainty in knowledge that past cultures have provided for us. Author Ronald Nash, Closing of the American Heart, has diagnosed our educational problem as not financial or necessarily of the mind, but at its root it is a problem of the heart.

At a recent Charter school convention in San Diego, Dr. Howard Gardner, the author of Multiple Intelligences (the idea that intelligence is relative) was asked a question about whether truth is relative. Surprisingly, he soundly rejected the idea, stating that those who fall for the idea that truth is relative are really giving up on civilization.

Incorrectly, people accept relativism as being linked to tolerance and an open mind. On the other hand, if you believe that truth is not always just an opinion, but can be proven, you are looked at as narrow-minded. Allen Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, points out that “Today’s students have come to believe that the ‘true believer’ is the real danger . . . the point is not to correct mistakes (of the past) and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

Students can’t defend relativism when challenged because they have been indoctrinated. “What right do I have to say one culture is better than another?” This is not a true oppenness but a false one that has closed the American mind to the truth as it extinguishes the search for “the good life” and replaces it with nihilism. Relativism is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Gorgias stated that it is impossible to ever prove anything to be true. Gorgias was exposed as a sophist, but today the peddlers of sophistry are mainstream.

Even though this is the prevailing thought on most universities, it is an irrational belief system that commits logical suicide. If there is no truth then is that statement true? Even the relativist must appeal to some form of absolute truth. In the schools with hard science, this relativist notion is not as popular, but one thing a professor can count on is that almost every student believes that truth is relative.

In contradiction to the prevailing paradigm, truth is not just to be found in science but also also in morality. For example, the Soviet Union murdering millions of its own defenseless citizens was an absolute evil, not up for debate by any rational people. In fact, secularism and the totalitarian societies it has spawned have been the greatest threat to humanity beginning with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and moving through the disaster of Nazism and Russian and Chinese Communism. In comparison to other historical catastrophies, only the Plague beats out secularism for total number of deaths.

As Russell Kirk points out, “The great end of education is ethical. In the college, as at all other levels of the education process, the student comes to apprehend the differences between good and evil. It is this humane tradition and discipline which makes us true human persons and sustains a decent civil social order.” Our failed education system has given us several generations of culturally and morally illiterate students. The Education industry will deny the first but are actually proud of the second achievement. The secularists have won the war against religious traditional views and are standing in front of the school doorway to prevent reform.

Over the years, we have seen a deterioration of curricula and watering down of essential courses. Today the University of Wisconsin has replaced the classics of Western Civilization with such trivial classes titled, “The Problem of Whiteness” and other such comic book pop culture fads where students don’t learn the difference between love and sex, beauty and ugliness, and good and evil. Meaningless jargon invented by PHD’s, Political Correctness, focus on socialization and a moral emptiness of college life has replaced an appreciation for beautiful art, virtue and ancient truths.

The “neutral religion” of secularism has been substituted for the moral and religious values that once infused America’s public schools and thus the new religion has impoverished their souls. The Greeks understood that only educating the mind would simply produce an educated menace to society. Conservatives have slept while the enemy planted weeds in our wheat fields and today we have a crisis of the heart and mind.

One thing that Betsy DeVos can do to end the “politically correct sharia” that dominates the university is to insist on freedom of speech and advocate for more tolerance of conservative ideas. It used to be that schools gave tenure to professors so unpopular speech could be expressed. Instead modern Academia bans free speech in order to protect the “fragile egg-shell” minds of the students.

Suing the pants off of these close minded schools that violate the 1st amendment is one such strategy to correct the liberal bias on campus. Greg Luckianoff of FIRE (Foundational for Individual Rights in Education) is representing Haydon Barnes who was kicked out of school for criticizing a parking garage structure on his Facebook page. He was awarded nearly one million dollars which will help at least that school to take academic freedom more seriously as other college thought police take notice.

If we limit speech to only what people are comfortable with, then you wind up shutting down meaningful discussion and the whole purpose of higher education: to have a free exchange of ideas. One of the most transformational minds of western civilization, Socrates, today would have been banished as a threat to our youth for getting them to question the false orthodoxies prevalent on campus.



Stanley S. Litow

WHEN THREE FEMALE African-American mathematicians—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson—became unsung heroes at NASA during the 1960s space race, the US was engaged in a fierce competition to become the world leader in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. As told in the recently released movie Hidden Figures, the trio’s groundbreaking calculations for rocket trajectories required programming a complex, first-of-a-kind IBM computer that helped put astronaut John Glenn in orbit. Skip ahead 54 years, and the US is a world leader in scientific innovation and advanced technologies.

But in order for the US to remain at the forefront of innovation and not lag behind, we must address the disconnect between the skills required for 21st century jobs and young people’s ability to acquire those skills. Fixing this will require us to evolve our approach to public education and training. The latest results of the PISA exam, which assesses science, math, and reading performance among 15-year-olds around the globe, show American students noticeably behind in math scores (below the international average), with science and reading scores remaining flat. This is not a small problem.

In one way, Congress took a bold, bipartisan step toward reversing this downward trend and closing America’s skills gap last fall, when the House of Representatives voted 405-to-5 to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which had languished since 2006. The Perkins Act provides more than $1 billion in funding for career and technical education across the US. The bill aligns career and tech education programs with actual labor market demands. Updating this important legislation can and should be an early win for the 115th Congress and the incoming administration.

The House bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support because leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize the urgent need to better prepare students to succeed in college and career. Backed by hundreds of business, labor, education, and civil society leaders, this much-needed reform will enable the country to invest wisely and prepare America’s young people to fill the hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that already exist, and that do not always require a four-year college degree. These new collar jobs for holders of two-year degrees do not need to be created or brought back. They’re ready to be filled today by people with the right skills, and early action by Congress is essential.

But many of our young people lack the relevant skills or support to move from school to college to career. Too many of our traditional vocational training programs do not prepare students for meaningful careers. It’s time to link career and technical education to where the high quality jobs are now and where they will be in the future.

Passage of the Perkins Act can ensure that our nation’s essential career and technical education programs will equip graduates for current and future high-wage, high-growth jobs. A revised Perkins Act will help better meet the demands of the 21st century workforce by giving employers the ability to align education directly to needed skills, and blend experiential learning with academic training. The bill also calls for concrete performance metrics to reward success. Such an investment in America’s young people will yield long-lasting returns.

An innovative new educational model called P-TECH lets students earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree in a STEM field. Launched by IBM (where I am a vice president) along with education partners in 2011, P-TECH is a rigorous program that aligns strong STEM curricula with essential workplace skills such as problem solving, writing, and critical thinking. Located mostly in underserved communities and requiring no admissions testing or additional spending, P-TECH schools are already delivering tangible results. The program has expanded to 60 schools in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and IBM is working with states to create 20 more P-TECH schools over the next year. P-TECH’s measurable results prove that it can and will help thousands of youth achieve success.

In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for example, nearly 35 percent of students from the first P-TECH class are completing their “six-year” program in five years or less, moving directly into good new collar jobs, four-year college degree programs, or both—without the need for costly, non-credit remedial courses. With these kinds of results, it’s not far-fetched to envision skilled and motivated P-TECH graduates playing essential roles in America’s next moon shot.

If we are to enable a brighter future for American youth through innovative technical education programs, Congress must act quickly and send the Perkins bill to the President’s desk for early signature. This fundamental and sorely needed alignment is a win-win for our country. It puts our students on a path to success, and positions our businesses to compete and win in the global economy. Given support and opportunity, our young people can and will succeed.


Programs smooth college path for foreign students

Like many Chinese students, Snowy Chen had no intention of going to college in China. She dreams of working at a fashion magazine, Vogue maybe, so she set her sights on the United States.

But Chen,a bubbly 18-year-old, worried about her English skills and how she would manage in an American classroom, with its unfamiliar teaching style and baffling cultural norms. So Chen did what a growing number of foreign students are doing — two years ago she enrolled in something called a pathway program, which guaranteed her admission to Northeastern University if she passed intensive English classes mixed with some academic courses.

In the past five years, these programs have sprouted up on college campuses across the United States as a gateway for foreign students who might otherwise be rejected because they lack English proficiency. Third-party companies run many of the programs and admissions requirements are typically lower. Students can score much lower on English proficiency exams, and many programs do not require students to take the SAT or GRE. Some do not require teacher recommendations or essays.

If students earn high enough grades or pass an exam at the end of program, they can enroll in the university as a regular undergrad or graduate student, often with some college-level credits from the course.

Companies that operate the programs bill them as a win-win for colleges, yet, like many facets of the lucrative international student industry, they are controversial.

Some districts are turning to international testing for a perspective on how well programs are preparing students for college and beyond.

On one hand, the programs guarantee schools a steady stream of international students who diversify the campus and usually pay full tuition.

But they also allow schools to admit students with lower qualifications, and there is little outside research to show whether pathway programs are effective at bringing students up to speed.

All the while, the outside companies make money through a variety of arrangements, usually by taking a cut of the tuition students pay during the time they are in the pathway program.

Critics say such programs encourage colleges to lower their standards simply for the profit international students bring, but others say the programs widen access to equally bright students who simply lack English skills.

“It is intentional, actually, to lower some of the standards, so you can expand the pool of students,” said Rahul Choudaha, a researcher for NAFSA Association of International Educators, who is preparing a first-of-its-kind study about these programs.

Six companies dominate the market, including Kaplan, the well-known test prep company that also recruits students overseas and runs independent language schools in Boston and other cities.

For at least seven years, Kaplan ran Northeastern’s pathway programs, but now the university is in the process of assuming full oversight, administrators said. Northeastern said 7 percent, or about 800, of its current 12,000 international students came through its pathway programs, which cost about $24,000 per year.

Chen participated in a special pathway program, also run in part by Kaplan, in which her first year of Northeastern courses were taught in China. The university participates in a similar program in Nigeria, allowing students to come to the Boston campus once they successfully complete two semesters of the pathway program in their home country.

Students who attend the pathway programs on the Boston campus may live in the dorms and have access to other university services such as the gym and dining hall.

At Wheelock College, a small, financially struggling school in the Fenway, students need only score a 60 out of 120 on the TOEFL English-language exam, a test required by most schools for all international students, to join the program, and they are not required to submit an SAT score, personal statement, or letters of recommendation, according to its website. Annual tuition and other fees for that program total $49,000 for the year.

The Wheelock program, run by the British company Cambridge Education Group, brings about 60 students a year to the school annually thanks to its global network of 150 recruiters, the company said.

Students take most classes separate from other Wheelock students, then continue either at Wheelock or transfer to one of several local colleges with which the program has agreements.

“We give them so much support in their transition to American higher education,” said Kimberly Sizelove, center director of the Wheelock program, called On Campus Boston.

Such programs have become popular with mid-tier schools because the companies assume responsibility for recruiting foreign students. Northeastern, on the other hand, has now developed its own network of recruiters and doesn’t need Kaplan.

“[Smaller schools] really need international students, and they don’t have the resources to find them themselves,” said Lisa Besso, who formerly worked for the pathway company Study Group and is now a private consultant.

The University of Massachusetts hosts pathway programs on its Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell campuses that are run by the multinational company Navitas. The Boston program enrolled 236 undergraduates and 50 graduate students this fall, according to the school.

In that arrangement, Navitas collects about 70 percent of the tuition, which for undergraduates is about$32,000 annually, according to a copy of the contract obtained by a public records request.

But although schools and companies boast about the high success rates of the programs and how seamlessly students transition into the university afterward, students and a professor interviewed for this story expressed concern that isn’t always the case.

The professor, who asked not to be named because she still works in the field, said more than a few students flunked out of the Northeastern program and some who did not earn a passing grade on the exit exam were able to appeal and enter the university anyway.

Students said some of their pathway classmates saw the program as a way to skirt regular entrance requirements.

“For those people who are not good at English, the only reason they take the pathway program is they don’t want to take the TOEFL [English exam] because they know they won’t get a good score,” said Chen, the Chinese student who is now a third-year student at Northeastern living with three American roommates and studying journalism and theater.

Many pathway students go on to study business, science, or art, but many also matriculate into Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, a school originally designed for working professionals. It has lower entrance requirements and costs than other Northeastern colleges.

Sundar Kumarasamy, Northeastern’s vice president for enrollment management, disputes the idea that pathway programs allow the university to admit students who aren’t qualified. The program’s exit requirements prevent that, he said.

“Their performance is on par with any international student who is coming in,” he said in a phone interview.

Northeastern and UMass declined requests to visit a pathway class.

In addition to English, many pathway programs teach students about the norms of an American classroom, such as how to give presentations or complete group projects, which are uncommon in other countries, especially in Asia. Students said more than anything, those skills were useful to learn.

Still, many said they regret having paid the high costs of the program. One said it would have been cheaper to have re-taken the English exam multiple times to try for a better score, rather than pay around $12,000 per semester for the pathway program.

Letty Lei, an ambitious 36-year-old Northeastern student from Taiwan, completed the graduate student pathway program in Boston. She graduated last month with a master’s degree in leadership from the College of Professional Studies, with a concentration in project management.

“My suggestion is maybe you can try to just attend one semester” in pathways, Lei said. “You don’t need to spend so much time and so much money, but you can take advantage of this program.”


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