Monday, June 04, 2018

Funding education is about keeping America competitive

A "more money" advocate below.  "More efficiency" is not on his agenda.

He dismisses administrative bloat with a wave of his hand, despite the great growth in non-teaching staff.  Some figures about that would have been nice. 

Ceasing to teach rubbish "studies" subjects would also decrease the number of employees, with a big benefit to the bottom line.

 He also fails to see that conservative legislators are going to keep the purse-strings tight while the universities reinvent themselves as Leftist Madrassas

Critics of recent teacher walkouts dismissed the protests as a simple pay dispute. But salary grievances are just a symptom of larger problems in America’s education system. At a time of growing concern over America’s ability to compete in the global economy, public schools, once seen as an engine of social mobility and economic opportunity, are under increasing financial strain.

Teacher walkouts helped draw attention to funding problems for K-12 education across several states. But the situation is equally dire for America’s public colleges and universities. State governments have systematically divested from public education over the past decade. Between 2008 and 2015, higher education spending per student dropped in 46 states.

Importantly, the downward trend isn’t just a result of widespread austerity. Over that same period, higher education was the only major line item that saw cuts.

What’s the problem?

Shortfalls in state funding have to be made up for somewhere. Colleges and universities have opted for steep tuition hikes. Average tuition for four-year public institutions has increased over $10,000 since 2002. That’s about 65 percent.

Take Arizona, the scene of recent #RedforEd demonstrations. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report shows that Arizona made the fourth-largest spending cuts on higher education since 2007. Not coincidentally, tuition over that period almost doubled (increasing 90 percent).

The costs of higher education, once heavily subsidized by state governments, are now being passed on to students and their families. Unfortunately, American families can’t keep up. Tuition increases significantly outpace growth in household incomes. Thanks in part to the Great Recession, median incomes in the United States have barely budged over the past 10 years.

Hence, a sharp increase in student loan acquisition. Those unable to afford the higher price tag are turning to the federal government for aid. The Federal Reserve reports that total student loan debt exceeds $1.4 trillion. That’s the equivalent of 7 percent of current U.S. GDP — a record high.

As a result, Americans are leaving college with increased debt, or, in many cases, failing to complete their degrees.

How did we get here?

Incentives to cut higher education spending in favor of other fiscal priorities are plain to see. For one thing, the short-term political benefits of cuts outweigh the long-term costs. Faculty and administration salaries make for an easy political target. The tenure system, seen to protect inflated contracts, long has been a source of contention.

More recently, higher education suffers widespread criticism for “administrative bloat.” Never mind that evidence says otherwise. The argument is that universities are wasting money and need to get their fiscal priorities in order.

It’s no surprise, then, that state governments have found it politically expedient to cut higher education funding in favor of other fiscal priorities. After all, the costs of doing it won’t be fully visible until future generations.

The result has been a lost decade in higher education provision. Funding shortfalls have led to cuts in staffing, program offerings and scholarships. This means that colleges and universities aren’t just more expensive for the consumer. The “product,” in a word, is suffering.

What’s at stake?

The debate over education funding has larger implications. During the 2016 presidential election, we heard a lot about how America is lagging behind its global competitors, and President Trump hammered has this message. We are told that trade agreements such as NAFTA infringe unfairly on U.S. sovereignty. That other countries take away American jobs. That the trade deficit is unsustainable.

Yet, while elected officials point to problems overseas, they ignore the solutions at home.

The great promise of higher education — in the United States and around the world — is that it increases economic opportunities and spurs innovation. The hope is that education helps graduates climb the ladder of social mobility. Now that ladder has been kicked away from many families opting to forego college rather than take on additional debt.

One result is the current shortage of skilled labor. Fewer students are acquiring the skills needed to fill job openings, especially in key services industries. These sectors — information technology, finance, engineering — are among America’s last great comparative advantages. The ability of the United States to compete in global markets depends on keeping these industries fed with talent. And yet the economy is falling significantly behind.

The ill effects of these shortfalls are not yet fully visible. But history will show how severely state governments have miscalculated. If governments want to see the U.S. economy grow and remain competitive, they need to put the keys back in the ignition. As of now, higher education budget cuts have shut off the engine of economic innovation.


No. Oxford University is not racist

The diversity industry patronises black students and harms academia.

Oxford is one of the world’s great universities. It has been ranked the best university in the world by the World University Rankings for the past two years. Seven out of the last 10 prime ministers went to Oxford. In industry, science, law, media and much else, many of the country’s highest fliers graduated from Oxford. And it has secured its place at the pinnacle of academia by selecting only the most able and committed of students.

Yet for several years now, academic merit has been challenged by the politics of diversity. The Labour MP David Lammy has championed the view that demographics – particularly of ethnicity, social class and geography – are relevant to student admissions. Last October he accused Oxford of ‘social apartheid’, stating the student body ‘is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain’. And last week, in response to Oxford publishing its annual admissions data, he renewed his attack, describing the university as ‘a bastion of white, middle-class, southern privilege’.

This is where merit and diversity clash. Academic ability in 18-year-olds is not randomly distributed. Nature and nurture play a role. Some children are born into environments that stimulate academic curiosity. Some grow up wanting to emulate the educational successes of their parents. Some attend more academic schools which have teachers better at enthusing them to excel. Some are more able to devour onerous Oxford lecture notes. Each of these variables is more common in certain demographics than others. And if students were selected solely on the basis of merit, then Oxford would necessarily reflect those demographics.

In 2016, the percentage of A-level students achieving three A grades or better was 13. But for Chinese students the figure was 24 per cent. At the other end of the scale were black Caribbeans (three per cent). In the mid-point were white and mixed-race communities (each 11 per cent) and Asians (10 per cent), although within the Asian category students of Indian heritage did better (14 per cent).

This ethnically based differential in A-level achievement carries forward into degree performance. Controlling for entry qualifications, black students are between six and 28 percentage points less likely than white students to get a first- or upper-second-class degree. For example, within the graduate population that entered university with three As at A-level, 94 per cent of white students graduated with a first- or upper-second-class degree, whereas the figure for black students was 88 per cent. Thus, an institution like Oxford, if it were selecting solely on merit, would expect to have a disproportionately low number of black students as compared to, say, Chinese or white students.

In fact, Oxford has a disproportionately high number of black students, although you wouldn’t know this from the comments made by Lammy and others last week. He quoted the seemingly shocking statistic that, between 2015 and 2017, several Oxford colleges had failed to admit more than one or two black British students. This set the tone of the news agenda, prompting Oxford graduates to tweet their scorn at their old university. But, as ever, statistics are the last refuge of the scoundrel.

The idea that Oxford discriminates against black and minority-ethnic applicants is simply untrue. Only about three per cent of all applications to British universities are from students who identify as black, as distinct from Asians, mixed-race people or other non-whites. And since Oxford has 29 undergraduate-admitting colleges, some of which admit only 50 British students each year, it is not statistically significant that some admit only one or two black students each year.

In any case, Oxford should only admit black students who meet its minimum academic requirements – three A grades or better at A-level. But across all UK universities, only 1.8 per cent of black students achieved this minimum requirement. And yet the percentage of black students admitted to Oxford is 1.9 per cent. Accordingly, when allowance is made for grade attainment, black students fare better than white students.

Comparisons should also take into account the courses that students tend to apply for. Black students tend to apply for more competitive courses, such as medicine or law. When this is taken into account, as the Channel 4’s FactCheck noted, ‘a black applicant to Oxford is very slightly more (0.5 per cent) likely to receive an offer than the average applicant who applies for the same course and has the same predicted grades.’

Far from discriminating against black students, Oxford, by making allowances for grades and course choices, discriminates in favour of black students. This should surprise nobody, for the objective of campaigners like David Lammy is to challenge the meritocratic basis of Oxford’s selection process in favour of diversity. His critique of Oxford draws its strength from the fact that it is, as he put it, ‘utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain’. What bothers Lammy is that, to use his image, not enough children from ‘the 20th floor of a tower block estate’ go to Oxford.

He is not alone in this. Lammy now fronts a form of diversity politics that has become a mainstream concern for almost the entire political class. After Lammy wrote an article for the Guardian in 2010, called ‘The Oxbridge whitewash’, then prime minister David Cameron challenged Oxford over its black-student numbers.  In 2017, Lammy secured the signatures of 108 MPs, including Tory Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, to demand Oxbridge do more to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Last week there was scarcely a politician or academic who was prepared to defend a meritocratic system.

Whatever happens, Oxford will not entirely abandon its meritocratic approach. Those from backgrounds deemed ‘advantaged’ will continue to face a rigorous selection process, while those deemed ‘disadvantaged’ will be given a leg-up. This is what happens when merit yields to diversity: those from backgrounds deemed disadvantaged are favoured and treated as less capable of making it on their own. An easier place at Oxford may be good for children from ‘the 20th floor of a tower block estate’, if they don’t mind being patronised, but it certainly isn’t good for Oxford.


Why This Black High School Girl Is Publicly Speaking up for Student Privacy

Alexis Lightcap knows what it’s like to feel as if she has no voice.

“I completely lost my voice,” she says of her time in the foster care system. “I lost who I was.”

When she and her sister were adopted, though, her parents helped her rediscover her voice. “You have a say in this world, and you need to speak up for yourself,” they would tell her. 

But recent events in her school district have once again threatened to silence her. When her school district, Boyertown Area School District, made changes to its policies to grant access to students who identify as the opposite sex to the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice, it did not inform the students or the parents.

They were given no voice in the matter.

So Alexis is joining an ongoing lawsuit against the policies to speak up for herself and for the other students whose privacy was ignored by the policy change.

Alexis could have participated in this lawsuit anonymously. But she is choosing to publicly take a stand and to offer the perspective of a high school girl who is personally affected by this school district policy.

It’s the perspective that comes from walking into one of the bathrooms at school, where she saw the reflection of a man in the mirror. She was terrified and ran out of the bathroom. From there, she went straight to the school administration to report the incident. But her grade-level principal didn’t remedy the situation. He informed her of the new district policies and sent her on her way.

School administrators have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all of their students. Boyertown Area School District has failed this duty by only looking out for the interests of a few, and not the whole.

So Alexis is taking her voice back.

She is standing up for the privacy and safety of her fellow students, including her 13-year-old younger sister. She is standing up to say that there are solutions that protect the privacy and safety of all students, not just a few.

Alexis has lost her voice at the hands of government systems before – and she’s not going to let it happen again.


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