Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Biggest Obstacles To Moving America’s Public Schools Online

Sasha Cohen, 16, was pleased that his school day started an hour later than usual this morning. “I just wake up and there’s no commute,” he says. His public high school, Millennium Brooklyn, is a 45-minute subway trek from his Bushwick apartment.

But in many other respects, the remainder of the school year will pose big challenges for him and the 1.1 million New York City public school students who started their first online classes this morning. Late on Sunday, March 15, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s 1,800 schools would be closed at least until April 20. New York joins districts across the country that have shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sasha’s school is more tech-savvy than many. He already receives and turns in assignments using the Google Classroom web service and teachers post his grades there. But until the shut-down, he and the other 660 students at his high school learned the old-fashioned way, in brick and mortar classrooms with live teachers and face-to-face discussion with classmates.

Today he got assignments for nearly all of his eight classes. Only one, his French elective, held a virtual class for 25 minutes using Zoom conferencing software. “It was hard to ask questions because there were so many people and it just felt weird,” he says. He doesn’t yet know how many of his other teachers plan to conduct virtual classes. “It’s going to be hard because I don’t know if there will be anyone who can help me,” he says.

New York City and school systems across the country are in the midst of a massive experiment. Forty-six states have closed all their K-12 schools and today Virginia joined Kansas in announcing that its schools would not reopen this year. Most districts, like New York, have said they will offer classes online in the hope that students will stay on track.

But according to Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, a nonprofit that represents the nearly 14,000 school superintendents in the U.S., only 30%-40% of American public schools are prepared to offer online instruction. Schools, teachers and students face a long list of challenges, he says. “Kids have to have laptops, they have to be able to access the system, the system has to have software in place, the teachers have to be trained in order to give online instruction,” he says.

Fewer than half of American schools have so-called one-to-one laptop programs that loan computers to students for the school year. As for teacher preparedness to immediately offer effective online instruction, he says fewer than half have the requisite training. Hardly anyone knows how to teach young children online. “It’s just not going to happen at the elementary level,” he says.

Another huge issue: According to federal data, 14% of students age 6-17 live in homes with no Internet service.

In contrast to New York, throughout Washington state, school districts are not offering online instruction for credit. Tim Robinson, a spokesman for the Seattle public schools, explains that the district is legally required to give all students equal access to instruction. Since many students don’t have Internet connections, the district isn’t planning any online classes. Instead its site makes recommendations like reading for 60 minutes a day and it refers families to online resources including the Seattle public library and a math site called mathscore.

“We can’t do online learning,” says Robinson. “It’s an equity issue.” What about other districts that are moving ahead with remote instruction? Says Robinson, “Who’s going to pay for the computers? Who’s going to pay for the Internet access? Who’s going to pay for the teacher development?”

Domenech says that superintendents across the country are wrestling with all of these questions. The private sector is making donations of hardware and software and offering free internet service. More than a week ago, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced he was giving schools in the U.S. and several other countries access to his conferencing software for free. Fairfax County, Virginia is deploying school buses equipped with Internet connections as hot spots.

But a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also poses challenges for school districts. Some 14% of public school students receive help mandated by the law, which can require that children with special needs work with hands-on classroom aides. The Americans with Disabilities Act also guarantees protections to students with autism and other challenges. On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet suggesting that schools proceed with online learning even while taking the law into account. But Domenech says superintendents fear ambulance-chasing lawyers will sue districts that proceed with online education and don’t find a way to give students with disabilities the individualized help they are legally entitled to.

Denise Marshall, executive director of the nonprofit Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which supports IDEA, says her organization wants schools to move ahead with online learning during the pandemic. “We don’t want the equity issue to be used as an excuse not to provide services.”

Domenech has a call scheduled with Vice President Pence tomorrow, and he hopes that the federal government will issue clear legal protection to schools offering online education. Ideally, students with disabilities will get extra services when schools finally reopen, he says.

But he fears that even if schools do open in the fall, assuming scientists have yet to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, new infections could surface and schools will again be forced to close. “The situation we’re in is dire,” he says. “Online instruction in the best of circumstances isn’t going to compare to students being in school full-time.”


UK students' union calls on universities to cancel summer exams

NUS says some students could be disadvantaged if exams go ahead during coronavirus

The National Union of Students has called on universities to cancel or postpone this summer’s exams to avoid further stress and disruption to students’ lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

The NUS said disabled, international and poorer students would be significantly disadvantaged if universities go through with plans to hold online exams and assessments next term.

It said final-year students should be given a choice of how to complete their degrees, such as receiving an estimated grade based on prior attainment, doing an open book online exam, or taking their finals at the university at a later date.

“In the current climate, student welfare must come first,” said Claire Sosienski-Smith, the NUS vice-president (higher education). “It is vital that there are no compulsory exams this year.”

The NUS added that all exams for first and second-year students should be cancelled, while postgraduate students should get a six-month extension to their submission deadlines.

The demand comes after thousands of students across the country called for alternative assessments to be put in place to ensure their academic performance is not adversely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Many international students at Imperial College London face having to do their online exams in the middle of the night after the university notified them that “being in a different time zone cannot be used as a mitigating circumstance” and they must be “available at the correct UK time, wherever they are”. Some, including Chinese students, cannot access study materials due to internet censorship.

A physics student, who is quarantined in Shanghai, said he was unable to access Panopto lecture recordings for his revision because the site was blocked by China’s firewall. “Imperial College has made it more difficult than regular exams because now you have to deal with technology and censorship,” he said.

Max, not his real name, said Chinese students were also under great stress because relatives had died of Covid-19. “My grandmother passed away because of coronavirus,” he said.

The physics student said he might also face being quarantined for another fortnight when he returns to his family home in Wuhan, the centre of the Chinese outbreak, which would end around the time when his exams are due to start.

In a statement, Imperial College said: “We are putting additional support in place for students and we are updating our mitigating circumstances policy to take account of where a student does not have access to the equipment or facilities to undertake the assessment.”

Piers Wilkinson, the NUS’s disabled students officer, said the academic year should end now because universities cannot provide disabled students – who make up 13% of the student population – with the reasonable adjustments they are legally required to put in place due to the pandemic lockdown.

Wilkinson said most of the study support provided to disabled students could either only be delivered on campus or would be impossible to provide remotely. This included providing note-taking, sign-language interpreters, close captioning of lectures, and screen-readers that render text and image content as speech or Braille.

He added: “There is no way that disabled students can be on an equal level playing field as every other student during this pandemic. They should be allowed to suspend their studies until it’s reasonable and equitable for them to start again.”

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions, said universities were looking at various options to ensure students were fairly assessed. She added that “universities will try to be as accommodating as they can” to students’ varying needs for support.


The provision of early childhood education and care in Australia is broken and the Coronavirus has revealed the extent to which the system is flawed.  The sector is on the brink of collapse

Consider this.

For several weeks there has been uncertainty about how school should be delivered. Will they close? Should students attend? Are teachers safe?

There has been no uncertainty, however, about whether teachers or schools are needed. It’s understood both are, obviously, critical. The manner in which education is to be facilitated, in the short term at least, has been up for discussion but its existence is assured. As it should be.

When it comes to early childhood education & care the questions are the same but the answers are very different. Childcare centres aren’t government-funded like schools. Parents receive subsidies from the government that are passed on to centres and they pay any gap between the subsidy and the daily rate. Those subsidies and fees support the wages of the educators and all the associated operating costs.

But as Lisa Bryant wrote in The Guardian Australia on Monday, parents are currently withdrawing their children from childcare “in droves”.

“They are doing it because they are concerned for their children and because they are told to keep children home if possible. But mostly they are doing it because childcare is expensive. When families lose their income, childcare is an obvious place to cut.”

In these circumstances it isn’t surprising but the impact is potentially devastating. It means that unlike primary and secondary school teachers, who haven’t all been dismissed because students aren’t coming, many early childhood educators have already been let go.

Last week Goodstart Early Learning, one of Australia’s largest providers, had to lay off 4,000 casual educators. These are among the lowest-paid workers in the country so the idea of them being financially equipped to withstand this unexpected job loss is ridiculous.

It is also crushing to consider that, like primary and secondary teachers, educators and carers have been thrust unwillingly on to the front line of a highly contagious virus for weeks.

Centres and preschools haven’t been closed and while most other Australians have been told the safest thing to do is stay home, these employees have been told to keep turning up to work. Usually for a very basic wage with no loading for the health risk (or the value provided).

At least primary and secondary teachers haven’t needed to fret over their employment status while also panicking about the virus: early childhood educators and carers should be so lucky.

To lose their jobs after weeks of putting themselves at risk is incredibly insulting. As well as highly problematic.

Many childcare centres and operators in Australia may close for good because of the Coronavirus. That will be a disaster. For children, for educators and for parents.

When health workers can’t turn up to their jobs because they have no one to look after their children there will be an uproar - but it’ll be too late

Whatever happens now school won’t collapse, that much is clear. Early education and care shouldn’t either. It’s a critical function in society: it is a fundamental part of a child’s education and development and the best investment any country can make in its future.

And, yes, it is also important in an economic sense in that it facilitates the combination of paid work with family responsibilities.

There are, literally, millions of reasons that a nation cannot function without an early education system.

If there was ever definitive proof that Australia’s early childhood education and care system was broken, the idea that a virus could bring this vital sector totally to its knees is it.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Businesses Can Help America’s Education Crisis. Here’s How

American education faces a crisis. Making college free and helping students acquire short-term credentials might help. But in a rapidly changing workforce, where the premium on higher levels of education and adaptability skills is only increasing, these approaches won’t be nearly comprehensive enough to address the core problem. More Americans need the education and skills for the 21st-century economy.

For one, college enrollment is in decline. Just last semester, 60% of U.S. colleges failed to meet their enrollment goals. Juxtapose this against the fact that roughly 90% of the high-paying jobs in today and tomorrow’s economy require postsecondary degrees, according to Georgetown University labor economist Anthony Carnevale, while wages for those only requiring a high school diploma are stagnant or in decline.

The pipeline to college faces a problem. Elementary and secondary schools have serious problems with teacher recruitment and retention. States such as Illinois and Michigan have seen over a 50% decline in those who complete a teacher preparation program, according to the Education Commission of the States. Couple that with yearly rates of teachers leaving the profession exceeding 15% on average—and greater numbers in high-poverty schools—and the problem magnifies. That’s before even addressing the need for higher-quality teaching to enhance student achievement.

Higher-education institutions have a completion crisis, too. Since 2011, the total number of students in U.S. colleges and universities has fallen by 2.3 million, and those who remain are having a harder time completing. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019, only six in ten students completed a two- or four-year degree six years after high school; black student completion is half that. In community colleges, on-time completion rates for low-income students of color are in the single digits, with far too many taking non-credit-bearing remedial courses, which can cost the nation over $5 billion a year.

Increased public support is one answer to these problems, but any major new programs will compete for funding with health care and the environment. And spending alone absent innovation and a clear focus might disappoint. The good news is that potentially exciting data-driven solutions are available in the private sector. American businesses have good incentives to help: They are significantly impacted by troubled education performance. And, while the private sector is not fully to blame for income inequality, it can act to address it with a focus on improving education performance though meaningful public-private partnerships.

Here are three practical solutions businesses can act on now.

First, increase the pool of teachers by encouraging and supporting employees who seek an “encore career” through a transition into a teaching. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.6 million people over 55 in the tech sector alone. Survey data show many of them are interested in a second career. At IBM, a pilot program to both help employees transition out of the workforce and assist schools in finding top talent enabled 100 employees to become classroom teachers. For programs like this, the private sector and government can share the modest cost of teacher-education courses and time off for practice teaching. Extrapolating the IBM success across Fortune 500 companies, as many as 50,000 teachers a year, many with strong math and science backgrounds, could be recruited.

Second, in many school systems declining enrollment has left far too many buildings half-occupied and at risk of closure. Instead of bearing the cost of closing such schools, vacant space—which can be expensive to rent in cities like Chicago—can be used as “maker space.” Programs like this could offer significant benefits by locating private-sector innovators in schools in exchange for their agreement to mentor teachers and students and to provide job opportunities for parents. Similarly, not-for-profit organizations might also be located in vacant school space, providing guidance and support for students in exchange for free and reduced-cost space.

Third, at the higher-education level, public-private partnerships can step in to address enrollment decline. According to the Urban Institute and ProPublica, the majority of those over 50 are at risk of losing their jobs due to a lack of education and skills. Their research, based on a survey of 20,000 individuals, demonstrates that only one in ten of those workers who lose their jobs will go on to earn a wage anywhere close to what they had once earned. This population of nontraditionally employed workers could be attracted to higher education. With a cost-sharing arrangement between the public and private sectors, customized skills enhancement could be provided, much of it online, to hundreds of thousands of such nontraditional worker-students a year. For employers, this would eliminate both the cost of hiring and training replacement workers at higher wages and the added cost of laying off workers. And everyone would realize the benefit of enhanced tax revenue from more employees working longer and at higher wages.

Funding to make college more affordable should be on the agenda, too. Both Pell grants and federal work-study programs should be expanded, as should career and technical education and innovative programs like the grade 9 to 14 model called P-TECH. Creative solutions from businesses are not just necessary but essential. There will never be a better time to act. 


Left-wing professors in Britain getting rattled

Academics are issuing warnings about a UK organisation that is calling on students to report lecturers’ “political bias” for publication on its website. “Education Watch” is based on a US site that lists lecturers who have advanced what it calls “leftist propaganda”. Academics in the US have faced threats of death, rape and harm to their children after being singled out by “Professor Watchlist”.

Education Watch, on the website of Turning Point UK, was launched last month by the British arm of Turning Point USA, an organisation seen as Trump’s youth wing. Turning Point UK was given messages of support from MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel.

Education Watch, it says, is a tool for UK students to report lecturers for “leftwing bias”, which it claims universities are “overrun” with.

The website says any naming and shaming will be on a “case-by-case basis”. “So far, we are simply documenting the incidents without naming the teachers, though we may sometimes name the university or the school. However, if some incidents are serious enough, we may decide it is necessary to publicly name the individuals involved. This would not be our default approach, however – unlike in the US.”

But academics in Britain say that encouraging students to provide evidence of bias is highly dangerous.

“This is populist rightwing propaganda, encouraging the false idea that there are evil professors out there, indoctrinating young people, who need to be dealt with,” says Eric Lybeck, presidential academic fellow at Manchester University’s Institute of Education and a member of the Council for the Defence of British Education, who has been researching the organisation. “Turning Point UK and Education Watch have been transplanted to the UK very intentionally by rightwing groups in the US. They are pretending to be a student organisation, but they are not a grassroots organisation at all.”

One US academic who received a death threat says: “It is ridiculous that I have this additional threat in my life because of this, that I have to worry if my kids are safe. This is someone using their money to increase the chances of a hate crime against certain individuals.”

Hans-Joerg Tiede, of the American Association of University Professors, has been cataloguing the often “traumatic” impact on individuals of being on the Professor Watchlist and a similar site called Campus Reform, for four years. He says many academics – especially women – have received threats of murder and sexual assault or attacks on their children, via social media or email.

In two cases universities had to close for the day because of the perceived risk to staff and students.

Tiede says one professor was put on the list for a book chapter on how to teach maths in a way that works better for black and minority ethnic children. “She was inundated with death threats. She was Jewish and received antisemitic threats and threats of sexual assault. Instances like that are happening with some regularity,” he says.

Betsey Stevenson, associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, is at the top of the Professor Watchlist, and has been on it for two years. Stevenson worked in the Obama administration, but was listed on the site for some fact-based research on the gender distribution of examples in economics textbooks, arguing that this might be putting girls off the subject.

“If this was a student-led organisation you’d see the Watchlist highlighting the furthest left views, but that’s not what you see. This is such a random, scattergun list. It’s obvious it doesn’t come from inside universities.”

She adds: “UK academics should be cynical about this. There is no good intention here.”

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says she received death threats. “Sites like this are trying to control the narrative. They want to paint university education as being inherently liberal and evil.”

She adds: “I would say to UK academics, be careful about who might be trolling your Twitter feeds, and be careful when talking about issues like race or gender.”

Anthony Zenkus, a lecturer in social work at Columbia University, is on the Professor Watchlist for a tweet criticising capitalism. At first he thought the posting was silly, but now feels it is “insidious”. “The term watchlist is loaded. They are preying on fear, implying these ideas are dangerous.”

Turning Point UK was set up last year by George Farmer, a Tory donor and son of a Conservative peer, who stood as an MEP for the Brexit party.

The Guardian reported on the group’s apparent links to the far-right in February 2019. Farmer has since deleted all tweets on his Twitter account, in which he had called Jeremy Corbyn “Jew-hating Jeremy” and London mayor, Sadiq Khan a “Grade A twat”.

Last August Farmer married Candace Owens, an ultra-conservative activist, who until last year was communications director of Turning Point USA.

Like its American counterpart, Turning Point UK does not reveal its donors. Membership charges are in dollars, and in a tweet last week it thanked “our friend and ally” Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, for helping to establish the UK organisation.

On the website it describes itself as a “grassroots organisation” educating students about free markets, limited government and personal responsibility. There is also merchandise: for £12.68 you can buy a Nigel Farage T-shirt. So far no lecturers have been named on Education Watch UK, but a message on the website says: “We have received many reports of political bias in our education system. We will publish the examples we receive here.”

It also says: “There is a reason why people are getting nervous about this – as they should be. We are finally doing something, with the very small and limited resources we have, to actually push back against the leftist tyranny on campuses that is being pushed down people’s throats.”

Lybeck describes this as “an invented culture war”. “This is just crowdsourcing McCarthyism. In the US they have created this idea that there is this intellectual elite that disdains America and doesn’t share its values. I think if people want to use that playbook here it will be harder. But the money is there and they are trying.”

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, says academics are right to be fearful. “This is part of a wider movement that could be highly dangerous. It is a rightwing, populist, anti-education offensive and it has important allies at the highest parts of government both here and in America.”

Tanja Bueltmann, professor of history at Northumbria University and one of many academics who has expressed dismay at the launch of Education Watch, says: “It doesn’t matter if it comes from right or left – we don’t want a system of vigilantism.”


CATHOLIC schools across Australia have committed to extending school fee relief for families facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic

National Catholic Education executive director Jacinta Collins said Catholic schools have a long tradition of offering school fee relief and assistance to families facing financial difficulties.

“Catholic schools keep their fees as affordable as possible, but we know many families will be facing serious financial difficulties during this challenging time,” Ms Collins said.

“In each state and territory we are looking at ways to expand on the substantial fee relief arrangements already in place, to ease the financial strain on families, and to determine appropriate measures to best support the needs of families across the country.

“We saw recently through the bushfire season and ongoing drought, that some families are more affected than others, so we need to ensure that the right support and assistance goes to where it is most needed,” she said.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission’s executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry urged families to come forward.

“Catholic schools are acutely aware of the hardships being experienced right across the community and are doing all they can to facilitate the ongoing education of all students,” Dr Perry said.

“I urge any family facing difficulty with tuition fees to contact their school to discuss their situation.”

Ms Collins said financial relief is immediately available to families impacted by the pandemic.

“If families are affected by job losses, business closures or other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge them to speak to their school as quickly as possible, to get immediate relief and determine the level of assistance needed ,” she said.

“We appreciate how difficult it is for parents to come forward with financial concerns, but our schools will ensure each case is handled with care and discretion.

“We understand that many families are already under great pressure and strain, and we do not want them to be further burdened by school fee payments.”

In South Australia, families in Catholic diocesan schools who have lost significant income due to COVID-19 will receive a total school fee remission effective immediately, for an initial period of three months.

Catholic Education South Australia director Dr Neil McGoran said for the state’s regional and rural communities, the COVID-19 pandemic comes amidst a range of other challenges such as bushfires, drought, loss of key industries and increasing unemployment.

“Amongst all the worries that we have at this time – worrying about the payment of school fees should not be one of those things,” Dr McGoran said.

“All Catholic schools in SA are providing fee remissions to families financially impacted by COVID-19 and we will continue to monitor and respond to the impact on our families and our schools.”

Catholic Schools New South Wales chief executive officer Dallas McInerney said it was critical for families in the state’s nearly 600 schools to have certainty.

“Now, more than ever, our families need certainty and support,” Mr McInerney said.

“Catholic Schools NSW is actively considering how best to financially support our families at this time.”

“We are firmly of the view that no child should miss out on a Catholic education because of financial stress; this includes families seeking enrolment for their children for the 2021 school year.”

Helping education: “All Catholic schools in SA are providing fee remissions to families financially impacted by COVID-19 and we will continue to monitor and respond to the impact on our families and our schools.” Photo: Flickr.
In Western Australia, Catholic schools families on a health care card will receive automatic fee concessions, and immediate support would also be available for those who do not qualify for a health care card.

“The health care card discount applies to all year levels from Kindergarten to Year 12, and additional financial considerations are also available depending on each family’s circumstance,” said Catholic Education Western Australia executive director Dr Debra Sayce.

“For parents who do not qualify for the health care card discount, but who are experiencing financial difficulties, arrangements can be made to provide immediate support to assist with tuition costs.”

Ms Collins said Catholic schools would offer a blend of onsite and remote learning arrangements next term.

“Subject to government advice, we anticipate that, by Term 2, Catholic schools will be offering a combination of onsite schooling for the children of essential service workers and remote learning for students at home.”

Nationally, Catholic schools educate more than 764,000 students – or one in five Australian students – in 1,746 schools, the vast majority of which are low-fee schools.


Monday, March 30, 2020

UK school closures prompt boom in private tuition

Surge in demand for online tuition, while rich families take tutors into isolation with them

The private tuition industry is booming amid the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures and fears of infection driving unprecedented demand for online teaching.

UK tutoring firms said there had been a surge in online tuition in the past three weeks as parents anticipated and then responded to the decision to close schools indefinitely.

Meanwhile, several agencies said some wealthy families had requested tutors go into isolation with them on remote country estates or super-yachts.

Leo Evans, a co-founder of The Profs, a tuition firm that works with around 2,000 schoolchildren and 3,000 university students internationally each year, said: “There has been a hike in online tutoring related to existential concerns around the coronavirus and schools being shut.”

Evans said the number of daily users of its online classroom platform BitPaper had risen more than sixfold in two weeks, from 5,000 to 32,000 . “There were 11,000 hours of online classes on Monday, almost a fifteenfold rise from 750 hours on 2 March,” he said. “It’s absolutely exploded since the coronavirus.”

Hannah Titley, the founder of the Golden Circle, which has about 80 homeschooled and several hundred after-school students, said all lessons were now being taught online, compared with 10% a few weeks ago.

“There’s been a huge shift,” she said. “Most homeschooled students in London have transitioned to online learning this week, and those families who can are staying in the countryside. This week 16 new homeschoolers have joined. We have another 11 starting after the Easter break.”

Titley said a drop-off in demand for GCSE revision as a result of the cancellation of exams had been more than offset by demand for other tutoring. For example, private schools were continuing to assess key-stage three pupils, aged 11-14, and after Easter some schools will start A-level courses for those pupils who were due to do GCSEs this summer.

One of the Golden Circle’s clients, Claudine Ries, who lives in central London, has switched to online tutoring for her 16-year-old son who is studying for US exams.

She said: “We are trying to socially isolate by seeing fewer friends and staying away from large crowds. We switched to online tutoring mainly because we felt it would unnecessarily expose the tutors who need to travel to our house while they could be isolating themselves at home.”

Will Chambers, the founder of Bramble, an online tutoring platform, said the number of daily users rose by 1,125% in two weeks, to 2,500 on Thursday. Many of the new users were elderly tutors concerned that homeschooling could put them at risk of infection, he said.

Adam Caller, the founder of Tutors International, which caters to rich families, said he had received several requests from clients in the past few weeks for tutors to go into isolation with them at short notice.

“We’ve seen a sudden rush, especially from Switzerland,” said Caller. “They’re looking for tutors who are willing to come and be locked in. One family has relocated from an area affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in northern Italy to St Moritz in the Swiss Alps.

“Another family, from Dubai, want to go and hide on their super-yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s paying £24,000 a month to the tutor.”

Mark MacLaine, the founder of Tutorfair, said one tutor had gone into isolation with a family in upstate New York, and another family who had flown to the Caribbean to escape the outbreak were now receiving online tuition.

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MacLaine said the additional demand was a boost to Britain’s private tuition sector, worth an estimated £2bn. He said this year could be his highest earning yet because so many families were looking for private tuition due to the uncertainty over the next academic year.

“A few of my A-level students have decided to resit their exams next year but most want to keep working,” he said. “A couple of parents said they’ll have their kids resit their GCSEs in their A-level year if they have to.”


The National Education Association Endorses Joe Biden

Joe Biden earned a formidable labor endorsement on Saturday night: America’s largest union, the National Education Association, formally backed Biden as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and pledged to mobilize its 3 million members — most of whom are women — on his behalf.

In a statement calling Biden “a tireless advocate” for public education, NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said the former vice-president “understands that as a nation we have a moral responsibility to provide a great neighborhood public school for every student in every Zip code.”

“As president, he is committed to attracting and retaining the best educators by paying them as the professionals that they are as well as increasing funding for support staff and paraprofessionals,” she continued. “And Biden will fire Betsy DeVos and replace her with an Education secretary who comes from a public-school classroom and believes that educators must have a seat at the table when crafting education policy.”

The NEA’s Saturday vote concludes a nearly yearlong endorsement process, and its decision to back Biden now, on the eve of his first one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders, is significant. Union leadership has likely concluded that Biden’s front-runner status is about to become permanent.

The endorsement also comes relatively late in the cycle compared with the strategies of other unions. The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest educators’ union, jointly endorsed Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren in February. Its president, Randi Weingarten, later endorsed Warren in an individual capacity days later.

Both Biden and Sanders already enjoy substantial labor support. Earlier this March, Biden announced that he’d earned the endorsements of UNITE HERE and United Food and Commercial Workers locals in Michigan, Mississippi, Florida and Illinois. By that point, the former vice-president had also drawn the support of a number of Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union locals, and the formal endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, among others. Sanders, meanwhile, has earned plenty of labor support too, including endorsements from the American Postal Workers Union and National Nurses United and a number of powerful locals belonging to the AFT, UNITE HERE and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Endorsements are important, but they don’t always guarantee that a union’s rank-and-file members will vote the same way as their leaders. Sanders won the Nevada Democratic caucuses in no small part because members of the state’s powerful Culinary Union defied their leadership, who did not endorse a candidate but campaigned against Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over their support for Medicare for All. Teachers are also a consistent source of major donor support for Sanders. HuffPost reported in February that while Biden led an internal AFT poll in tandem with Warren, teachers are Sanders’s top donors by profession. At the time, Warren was the second most popular beneficiary of their financial support, and Biden was third.


Australian schools: Digital equity needed for success

For millions of young Australians, it’s home schooling from now on. As well as getting their heads around months of staying inside – often in small apartments with no easy access to big, green spaces – families urgently need to work out how to carry on with learning.

The Prime Minister and other leaders rightly point to the risks facing the educational progress of young Australians as the nation locks down. Given the data showing that many students are already up to three years behind their international peers in reading, mathematics and science, they cannot afford to miss a beat as they watch a very strange school year unfold.

The first of Australia’s two national goals for schooling refers to ‘excellence and equity’.  Excellence in education is already the subject of much debate, but the Covid-19 emergency will exacerbate equity issues, with no guarantee that all young learners can simply switch to high-quality online learning.

And school closures are happening at the same time as most businesses and organisations ramp up their technological capability to keep things going. This is potentially the greatest test of the $50+ billion national broadband network. Our average speeds have improved, but other countries are doing better, and this was probably a major factor for Japan and Hong Kong in their early decision to close all schools.

Ideally, for at least some part of each day, Australian students should be able to see and hear their teachers as well as their classmates. Schools will want to keep students connected and maintain a sense of belonging, otherwise motivation and achievement will go out the window.

But some schools are advising parents that live streaming of lessons cannot occur because of the variation in household internet services and devices.

Every child will need the right device and the necessary software. As in some universities, this might mean offering financial support to students who would otherwise depend on school computers, who cannot afford internet connection or who have a disability.

Enabling equitable access to smart digital technology would be an encouraging sign of the effectiveness of state and territory policies and funding strategies

Australia’s education ministers own Education Services Australia, a national company that claims a “unique combination of education and technology expertise to create and deliver solutions that can be used to improve student outcomes and enhance performance across all education sectors.” ESA built the Australian Curriculum website, among many other projects.

Never has there been a better time for that organisation to show what it can do.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Senate paves road to reopening economy with coronavirus relief bill, but when will states reopen schools?

By a vote of 96-0, the U.S. Senate has passed a $2.2 trillion legislative package, by far the largest in U.S. history, to keep tens of millions of Americans on payroll and expand unemployment benefits to those who are laid off while the country waits out the deadly Chinese coronavirus that poses additional risk to seniors and those with underlying conditions.

That way, when the virus passes, those businesses, particularly the 30 million small businesses that are struggling most of all right now, but also critical industries, will be able to rapidly reopen and we can get back to our lives.

President Donald Trump has offered April 12, Easter Sunday, as a national goal to begin reopening what he says are “sections” of the country where the outbreak is not so bad. Every state for the moment has effectively shut down their schools, creating a daycare problem for tens of millions of parents, many of whom are temporarily working from home or are furloughed.

To get the economy reopened, President Trump and his administration will have to work with governors in all 50 states, who have 50 different plans about how long everything should remain closed:

So, when it comes to reopening the economy, the first thing to do would be to reopen the schools in some capacity. Parents are likely to take that as a cue from local authorities that it is safe to return to work.

As it is, many states are mulling over cancelling the remainder of the school year, which Kansas, Oklahoma and Virginia have already done. The more that do, likely the longer the recession we are in will last, because it will be that much longer that people stay home. That is because, again, if schools are closed due to public health concerns, individual families in localities are going to listen to their local authorities.

Adding a layer of complexity, many localities are extending closures even beyond what the states are ordering. For example, Chicago public schools will be closed until mid-April, while the guidance currently says March 30 for Illinois. New York City schools are closed until April 20, although the state guidance is for April 1.

That’s federalism.

Two decisions likely to weigh in favor of skipping the rest of the school year are President Trump’s decision to waive standardized testing requirements for states. It opens the door for states to take the additional steps of cancelling the tests, as many have already done, and potentially to cancel school until September.

And the Senate bill financially incentivizes states and businesses to remain in stasis until the virus passes.

That said, not even New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cancelled school for the rest of the year, at least not yet, saying that there is a “smarter” way to respond to the coronavirus without shutting down the entire state’s economy. New York far and away has the most coronavirus cases at the moment, but so far not so many that the hospitals are yet overwhelmed. He promised his state could be considered a template for other states to follow in terms of how to mitigate risk without shutting everything down.

At the end of the day, all the federal government can do is issue recommendations to the states to follow, and to ease travel restrictions when the President believes it is safe to do so. President Trump and his task force are setting the tone that many states will follow.

Real consideration should be given by the President and states to the potential lifelong consequences of cancelling education for the remainder of the school year for students, as well as the economic impacts of those closures. These must be weighed against the virus’ trajectory, the rate of infection, hospitalization and fatality.

When we get to day 15 of the President’s coronavirus guidelines, the task force has promised a better read on where the virus is and where it’s going to be.

It will be up to the President to coordinate with state governors responsible for the closures, and to come up with reasonable recommendations to help our schools and economy to be reopened as soon as possible.

Recommendations for each state for reopening should be criteria-based and geared towards how to reopen while keeping the elderly and those with preexisting conditions safe.

Perhaps if we get to mid-April or the beginning of May and there are no new cases, maybe we can call that summer vacation and reopen the schools to finish their school years, with perhaps a two-week interlude between grades in September.

As it is, every state has closed their schools, and so long as that is the case, the country and the economy will largely remain on standby and the longer the recession we are in will last. Stay tuned.


A Scholar’s Lament

George Leef

Professor John Ellis has served on college faculties since 1963 and is now an emeritus professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He has witnessed enormous changes in higher education over his years and he finds those changes to be deplorable.

In his new book The Breakdown of Higher Education, Ellis explains how our system was subverted, why it matters, and what it will take to put it back on the proper track.

Americans, Ellis observes, used to have almost unlimited confidence in our colleges and universities. They were expected to provide advanced learning for serious students and a forum for the discussion of important national issues, which they did. Higher education simply wasn’t controversial; few books were written about it and hardly anyone offered harsh criticism.

Today, however, many people are deeply distressed at the state of higher education, mainly because it has become terribly politicized. Ellis writes that “advocacy has now replaced analysis as the central concern of the campuses” and says that “this rot has been growing for decades and appears to have reached a point of no repair.” He provides plenty of evidence to back up his charge that radical politics has become the dominant force at many schools.

One case Ellis highlights is that of Professor Bruce Gilley of Portland State. Gilley, a political scientist, wrote an article that was published in an academic journal, in which he argued that colonialism had some beneficial consequences for native peoples. That is certainly a debatable proposition and any scholar who read his paper would have been perfectly free to respond with counter-arguments. In an earlier day, that is all that would have happened.

But rather than arguing against Gilley, an outraged academic mob immediately demanded that his paper be suppressed.

More than 10,000 professors signed a petition demanding that the paper be withdrawn, and the journal’s editor even received death threats. Under severe pressure, the journal did retract the article (but in the spirit of academic freedom, the National Association of Scholars has republished it).

About the Gilley affair, Ellis writes,

What was truly astonishing about this episode was that here were literally thousands of people with professorial appointments who completely rejected the idea of academic thought and analysis.

Yes, it is astonishing that so many professors would resort to intimidation rather than reasoning when faced with something they disapproved of. But in the American academic world today, colonialism is one of the many issues about which there is only one acceptable view, namely that it was an unmitigated evil inflicted by whites on natives. Many faculty members who had neither read Gilley’s paper nor studied the questions it raised nevertheless felt free to demand that his work be expunged.

It is indeed chilling to realize that such behavior is now perfectly normal among the professoriate.

Another instance showing how an unscholarly, adversarial mindset has permeated our higher education system is the furor over an op-ed piece written by University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego. In their piece, they defended bourgeois norms and argued that the abandonment of such norms helps explain why “disadvantaged groups” are making little economic progress.

Again, rather than seeking to debate the argument Wax and Alexander advanced, the academic community reacted with sheer vehemence.

More than half of Wax’s law school colleagues signed a letter to the dean “condemning” the piece and stating that if it weren’t for tenure, Wax should be fired. Those professors did not deign to argue against Wax but simply declared her views to be intolerable. In their worldview, the only permissible explanation for the socio-economic troubles of minority groups is racism. Any “deviationism” (as Maoists used to put it) must be punished. Fortunately, Penn couldn’t fire Professor Wax but did punish her by taking away the first-year civil procedure course she had taught expertly for years. Too bad for students, but the mob had to be appeased.

American professors didn’t always act in this unseemly manner. Well into the 1960s, it had a liberal majority, but without the vast imbalance we see now nor today’s radical politics and intolerance. To be sure, there were many dedicated leftists, but they fought for their beliefs with arguments, not force. By example, our activist faculty now teaches students to act on emotion, not reason.

Ellis traces the transformation of the faculty to the 1962 manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which called for bringing socialism to the U.S. Its writers saw that their path required a takeover of American education, especially colleges, to control how young people were schooled. While we don’t yet have the fully socialist country the SDS envisioned, its project of dominating education with a faculty hostile to capitalism and our traditions of limited government has been exceedingly successful. Ellis points out that it took three strokes of good luck (from the SDS perspective, anyway) for that to occur.

First, the 1960s ushered in a period of enormous growth in higher education. That expansion required the hiring of great numbers of new faculty. As Ellis writes, “The number of new faculty appointments that were needed was greater than the total number of existing professors in the nation.” Many of the newly hired faculty were already invested in radical leftist politics.

Second, the Vietnam War led to campus protests that emboldened the faculty to embrace activism both in and out of the classroom.

Third, the mania for diversity that began sweeping through colleges and universities in the 1970s led to the creation of many new academic departments where the old rules of objectively searching for truth were tossed aside in favor of pushing an ideology. While the incessant focus on diversity is supposedly beneficial for black and other minority students, Ellis demurs: “Black students on the way to getting an excellent college education are being waylaid by political radicals intent on diverting them from that goal to use them for their own purposes.”

What, if anything, can be done to restore our higher education system? Ellis isn’t terribly sanguine.

In some states, there has been legislation to protect freedom of speech on campus. Unfortunately, such laws don’t get at the root of the problem and won’t accomplish much. Ellis explains,

Neither new nor old rules will ever be enforced while radicals control all the enforcement mechanisms. Students will know that they can rely on leniency if they break the rules because they know that campus authorities are essentially on their side.

How about imploring colleges to hire for intellectual diversity, adding some conservative or libertarian faculty members to offset the leftist dominance? While having some non-leftist faculty would be good for students, it won’t do anything to change the fact that the left has control of our colleges and will keep on using them to promote their views.

The one and only approach that will work, Ellis argues, is to stop feeding the beast the money it needs.

State legislatures have the power of the purse over their higher education systems and need to start exerting it. As a prelude, legislators who want to stop subsidizing leftist politics should establish fact-finding committees to enlighten the public as to the severity of the problem.

Ellis and his colleagues at the California Association of Scholars did exactly that with a 2012 study of the blatant politicization within the University of California system, but top administrators chose to ignore it and the big Democratic majority in state government likes things the way they are. But in conservative states, such an effort could open eyes about the problem of politicization and catalyze change.

At the individual level, parents and alumni also have roles to play. The former can choose not to send their sons and daughters to colleges that have largely become camps for political indoctrination, and the latter can stop sending them donations.

Professor Ellis has brilliantly exposed the fact of and reasons for the breakdown of American higher education. This book deserves a wide audience.


How North Carolina Colleges Are Responding to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has injected uncertainty into nearly every aspect of society—and higher education is no exception. As North Carolina’s leaders grapple with the challenges posed by curbing the virus’ spread, dramatic policy decisions are being made on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.

The following is a summary of what higher education leaders in North Carolina are doing and discussing in the face of national and state declarations of emergency.

Special Meeting of the UNC Board of Governors

On Friday, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors met in special session by conference call. After UNC system president William Roper gave his report, board member Marty Kotis asked him three questions about the virus’ impact on the campuses.

One of Kotis’ questions concerned how students’ lives were being “upended” by having to swiftly move off-campus. Students were notified on Tuesday that they had to move out by Saturday—with only some students being granted exemptions to remain in campus housing. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of students remain on each UNC campus.

“Have we addressed the residential tenants’ legal rights?” Kotis asked. He inquired whether students would get a refund for their meal and housing expenses. He noted that many students will need a refund because many depend on the jobs they have on campus and may have to pay additional housing and food expenses elsewhere.

Additionally, with all of the changes, Kotis wondered if it was realistic to expect students to be ready to start online classes by Monday, March 23.

“It’s surely understandable that people want their money refunded,” Roper responded. “We will quickly get to the point [of] how much is the refund, [and] how we are going to get it to them.”

On the note of residential students’ legal rights, UNC system legal counsel Tom Shanahan commented: “Among the things we will work through in the coming weeks and months is not just the refund process, but how particular housing contracts work…Housing contracts generally address instances in which the university can suspend and ask residents to move out.”

Kotis also worried about the system’s finances. He noted that university foundations, the fundraising arm of the institutions, will likely take a hit. He also pointed to a law that bars the system from borrowing for operating purposes. “Do we have any indication of the magnitude and the impact?” Kotis asked. “We are in the process of looking at our cash balances and this new operating environment that we’re in,” Roper said. He added that the system should have an answer in a few days.

“We are not out of cash, but we are carefully looking at this and we’re going to be giving instructions to the institutions on their operations probably next week,” Roper said. The legislature is not in session, but the system is making a priority list of policy recommendations to make to the legislature during its next session.

Finally, Kotis recommended that the system pause its capital spending projects and divert the money for more immediate needs such as hospital beds. He also pointed to how other colleges are repurposing dorm rooms as treatment centers, suggesting that UNC adopt similar measures.

Kotis’ suggestion to delay asking the legislature for operations and capital improvement funding was adopted by the board. During his report, Temple Sloan, chairman of the Committee on Budget and Finance, proposed that capital improvement plans be tabled:

In light of where we are in the current health crisis, I would like to make a special motion: A motion to table all items voted by the budget and finance committee yesterday. I believe the more prudent action is to reconvene the budget and finance committee within the next two weeks to review the items discussed yesterday and to put together a coronavirus relief package—a request for the legislature.

UNC President Answers Questions During Media Availability

After the board’s meeting, Roper and board chairman Randy Ramsey conducted a conference call with the media. Roper said that he was “delighted” that the board decided to table capital projects, as it gives the system time to determine what the immediate financial and resource needs will be in the coming weeks.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Conservative, Not Liberal, Cities Are Ending the White-Black Achievement Gap in Education

Walter Williams, below, doesn't know why, so much more information is needed on that.  Is there an intensive system of remedial eduction, for instance, or are blacks in those cities unusually affluent?

A recent report by Chris Stewart has shed new light on some of the educational problems faced by black youth. The report is titled “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.”

Stewart is a self-described liberal and CEO of Brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists who want to hold progressive political leaders accountable.

The report asks, “So how do we explain outstandingly poor educational results for minority children in San Francisco—which also happens to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country?” “The Secret Shame” reports that progressive cities, on average, have black/white achievement gaps in math and reading that are 15 and 13 percentage points higher than in conservative cities.

For example, in San Francisco, 70% of white students are proficient in math; for black students it’s 12%—a 58-point gap. In Washington, D.C., 83% of white students scored proficient in reading compared to 23% of black students—a 60-point gap.

Yet, three of the 12 conservative cities researchers looked at—Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth—have effectively closed or even erased the gap in at least one of the academic categories studied, achieving a gap of zero or one.

“The politically conservative Oklahoma City has even turned the tables on our typical thinking about race-based gaps,” says Stewart. Black students in Oklahoma City even have higher high school graduation rates than white students.

Had “The Secret Shame” study analyzed other cities, it would have found that educational outcomes for most black youngsters is a national disgrace.

As of 2016, in Philadelphia, only 19% of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 16% were proficient in reading. In Detroit, only 4% of its eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 7% were proficient in reading.

In 2016, in 13 of Baltimore’s 39 high schools, not a single student scored proficient on the state’s math exam. In six other high schools, only 1% tested proficient in math. Only 15% of Baltimore students passed the state’s English test.

National Assessment of Education Progress tests (also called the Nation’s Report Card) give further testament to the tragedy.

In Philadelphia, 47% of its students scored below basic in math and 42% scored below basic in reading. In Baltimore, it was, respectively, 59% and 49%. In Detroit, 73% scored below basic in math and 56% in reading. Below basic means that a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his or her grade level.

Then there’s gross fraud practiced by the education establishment. High school graduation rates for black students range from a high of 84% in Texas to a low of 57% in Nevada and Oregon. However, according to ACT data, the percentage of black students judged to be college-ready in English, math, reading, and science ranges from 17% in Massachusetts to only 3% in Mississippi.

One concrete example of this fraud is the fact that Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School has a graduation rate of 70% while not a single student tested proficient in mathematics and only 3% did so in reading.

“The Secret Shame” report didn’t say why the black/white achievement gap was smaller in conservative cities compared to their progressive counterparts. But permit me to make a suggestion.

An Education Week article reported that in the 2015-16 school year, “5.8% of the nation’s 3.8 million teachers were physically attacked by a student.”

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics show that in the 2011-12 academic year, there were a record 209,800 primary and secondary school teachers who reported being physically attacked by a student.

A National Center for Education Statistics study found that 18% of the nation’s schools accounted for 75% of the reported incidents of violence, and 6.6% accounted for half of all reported incidents.

These are schools with predominantly black student populations. My guess is that part of the reasons black academic achievement is greater in conservative cities is that schools are less tolerant of crime whereas schools in progressive cities make excuses.


Far Left takeover of Tulsa University is disastrous

Suffering from self-inflicted wounds, the University of Tulsa is sick and getting sicker. This is a case study in how “progressive” academic leadership can wreck a once-excellent university.

Last April 11, the university’s administration rolled out “True Commitment,” a radical restructuring that gutted the liberal arts, raised course loads, dissolved academic departments, and effectively turned the university into a technical and vocational school. I wrote about the turmoil that caused in this article for the Martin Center, but I’ll recap the events below.

A campaign of opposition to the restructuring formed immediately, sparked by the circulation of an article that appeared in City Journal on April 17. Concerned Faculty of TU (CFTU) was born at a meeting attended by four hundred people. Faculty votes in the colleges of Law and Arts and Sciences overwhelmingly rejected True Commitment. Students drafted a petition and held a funeral for the liberal arts. Facebook pages and a website were launched, and roughly 20 academic associations and societies wrote letters condemning True Commitment.

The administration quickly launched a venomous counterattack, attempting to muzzle and intimidate faculty and student critics. One low point was an Astroturf email campaign orchestrated by president Gerard Clancy. In September, four college deans and several other administrators denounced the “selfishness and negativity” of the “faceless faculty members”—or perhaps just the “anonymous message board troll”—known as CFTU. Clancy’s email of September 27 was the coup de grâce:

Several poignant moments occurred this week with many on our campus taking a stand: a stand in the name of our students; a stand for what is best for our community; and a stand against a nameless group that has attacked not only our university but many within it. To date, we have not engaged with a faceless entity.…I also appreciate and value the leadership I’ve seen this week as so many have denounced those who negate our value and hold us back.

Even as TU’s administrators deliberately poisoned the university community, the trustees erected a steel wall to protect them. Faculty Senate resolutions proposing alternatives to True Commitment, and finding that the administration violated constitutional provisions relating to shared governance, were deemed “inconsistent with the University’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws” by the board of trustees.

A faculty vote of no confidence that ran 4 to 1 against the president and the provost resulted in an immediate resolution of board support for both administrators. On December 10, board chair Frederic Dorwart told the Faculty Senate that the trustees need not involve them in any curricular decisions, and brazenly asked faculty to apologize for their role in the current crisis.

Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, in late December, Moody’s downgraded $85 million in TU bonds two steps to Baa3 (just above junk) with a negative outlook, in large part because TU’s net tuition revenue declined 24 percent from 2015 to 2019. The administration subsequently informed us that we would now be entering a period of “austerity,” as $14 million to $20 million would have to be cut from the operating budget over the next two years.

How did a university with a $1.2 billion endowment end up in such bad shape? For one thing, we are seriously top-heavy. TU employs over a dozen people with the title of VP or higher. A study by TU economics professor Matthew Hendricks found that, in 2015, the last year for which broad comparisons are available, administrative spending per student at TU was in the top 9 percent of 796 comparable institutions, while the percentage of total expenditures allocated to academic instruction was in the bottom 12 percent. (That year, only 27.6 percent of TU’s budget—compared with 59 percent of Washington University’s—went to instruction.)

Hendricks also found that TU has the second-largest non-instructional staff size per student in the nation. But while budget cuts should obviously begin with unnecessary staff, the administration may not be eager to erode its primary base of support.

More bad news followed the bond downgrade. On January 30, president Clancy resigned, explaining that he’d promised his wife he would quit “if my health was affected” by his job. (Whose hasn’t been?) Provost Janet Levit was named interim president, where Dorwart has said she will remain until the university achieves “financial stability.” The accounting professor who oversaw the process leading to True Commitment was named interim provost.

Clancy’s departure might seem like a victory, except that the elevation of Levit completes the hostile takeover of the University of Tulsa by the billionaire George Kaiser, a story I wrote about in The Nation. Kaiser is the controlling shareholder of the Bank of Oklahoma Financial Corporation (BOKF), the corporate trustee of half of TU’s endowment. Dorwart is BOKF’s general counsel and president of the George Kaiser Family Foundation; BOKF’s CEO is also a TU trustee. Clancy served on BOKF’s board; and Janet Levit’s husband Ken is the CEO of the Kaiser Foundation. The potential conflicts of interest posed by those ethical entanglements are dizzying to contemplate.

That’s not all. True Commitment closely aligns with Kaiser’s “progressive” focus on alleviating poverty and making Tulsa more economically robust. Clancy was part of an Obama-era HUD task force that called for universities to become “anchor institutions” focused on serving the local community. TU is now part of the Higher Ed Forum of OK, an anchor institution consortium. Clancy also chaired the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce in 2011; TU has invested in various Chamber initiatives to train workers and bring new businesses to Tulsa.

The university has effectively opted to pump out workers and managers who will fit interchangeably into a globalized and digitalized system of production.

Unsurprisingly, Clancy announced in 2016 that TU would henceforth focus on recruiting first-generation college students. His 2017-2022 Strategic Plan, introduced by a section called “Jobs as Central to Life,” makes it clear that what such students need above all is employment. The university has effectively opted to pump out workers and managers who will fit interchangeably into a globalized and digitalized system of production. This is part of a national effort to monetize “human capital” through the creation of a “talent pipeline” from grades K through 20.

TU’s trustees, mostly business owners and executives, are happy to see the university assume the costs of workforce training they would otherwise have to bear. They may also stand to profit from endowment funds flowing into the construction of a new Tulsa Cyber District in a federally designated opportunity zone just west of the university, a project that aligns with Kaiser’s plan to make Tulsa a national hub for cybersecurity. A clandestinely produced TU brochure calling for investment in the Cyber District advertises the services of a “business sector consortium” composed of “alumni and trustees in leadership positions in energy, banking, credit rating and financial security, global retail, trucking and aviation.” Cui bono? When I asked this question of administrators, the brochure disappeared from the internet.

By February 2020, students were prepared to reject Janet Levit’s leadership. They voted no confidence in the interim president by a margin of more than 3 to 1. Levit and the trustees have so far not even acknowledged the vote, much less responded to it, and the local press has not reported on it.

What is more, the administration is once again suppressing dissent. The vice president of student affairs was seen tearing down posters advertising the vote, and two outspoken members of CFTU—nicknamed “Cluster F**k TU” by administration supporters—are now being investigated for harassment because a spreadsheet labeling certain faculty members as “known sycophants” was inadvertently attached to an email.

TU’s Strategic Plan praises Karamay in Xinjiang, China as a “model city for the future, built from the ground up in the past decade,” that “has the ability to plan in [the] absence of tradition.” This is somehow appropriate to the iron fist of corporate progressivism that has emerged at TU. Karamay and Xinjiang are known for authoritarian surveillance, severe pollution from coal gasification and coal-to-petrol projects, and the forcible internment of Uighur and Muslim minorities in detention and re-education camps.

After Clancy took over in late 2016, TU plunged out of the ranks of the top-100 national research universities; 75th eight years ago, we are now 121st. When Kaiser and his associates seized control of the university in 2018, they set to work destroying core academic programs and dividing and demoralizing the university community. The cuts set in motion by the recent Moody’s downgrade are likely to be exacerbated by the financial impact of the coronavirus, and it is unclear in what form—or even whether—TU will survive. This is what happens when know-nothing corporatists impose a “progressive” vision on a proud, once-flourishing university.


Australia: Pupil free week from Monday so teachers can prepare for remote learning

QUEENSLAND will close schools from next week to all but the children of essential workers.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced schools would move to pupil-free days from next week, although anyone with a job would still be able to send their children to school.

“Next week Queensland schools will move to student free days ... schools will remain open to allow children of essential workers and vulnerable children to remain at school,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

The ruling applies to all schools, not just state schools.

It comes as independent schools had already moved online, with some bringing forward the end of term to offer alternative learning from home next week.

“Next week will give independent school staff valuable time to test and refine their alternative learning from home arrangements and undertake important preparations for what shape school education could take from Term 2. Independent School Queensland executive director David Robertson said.

He commended school principals and the dedication of all school staff in “working closely with their communities” and doing everything in their power to safeguard student and staff health and wellbeing and maintain learning.

The pupil-free days will allow teachers to remain at work and prepare future learning materials, Ms Palaszczuk said.

Education Minister Grace Grace said Queensland did have to “prepare for what the potential future may be”.

“So from Monday the 30th of March, we will be moving to student free days, but we do stress that schools will remain open for children of essential workers, that is those who are required in the workplace,” she said.

“It is vital we remain open for these workers because we don’t want to put pressure on the economy.”

“Schools are open for essential workers and workers required in the workplace ... and obviously vulnerable children will be catered for as well,” Ms Grace said.

“We are planning for all kind of scenarios... and that’s why next week is important for teachers to be given the time to plan the learning materials for what may be needed.”

Kindies will follow suit with pupil-free days next week so that teachers can prepare remote learning and activities for children as well.

Long daycare centres will be open but Education Minister Grace Grace asked parents to adhere to strict isolation requirements and that only the essential workers and workers required in their workplaces use daycare centres.

“Teachers will move to developing remote learning for students and all those learning materials for what may lie ahead,” Ms Grace said.

The Palaszczuk Government has until now maintained a national line that schools were safe to attend, although had told parents they may choose to keep their children at home this week if they were available to care for them there.

The Premier said the health advice that schools were safe had not changed.

“Let me give this very clear message to parents who will have their children at home next week: They should be learning from home, they should not be out in the shopping centres,” she said.

And she said they should not be visiting any grandparents with risk-factors for coronavirus.

When asked how long the measures would be in place and if they would continue after the term break, the Premier said they were preparing for “every scenario”.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said she was happy with the decision.

“By reducing the numbers of children at school, we can make sure our older and vulnerable teachers aren’t in classrooms and increase the amount of social distancing in our schools, so it’s the perfect solution,” she said.

The Queensland Teachers’ Union also welcomed the decision for students to be given pupil-free days and to move Queensland schools from “business as usual”.

“Teachers will be engaged in preparation and planning in their schools around remote and flexible delivery into the future should schools close as a consequence of the national response to the pandemic,” QTU president Kevin Bates said.

“Schools will continue to provide supervision for children of essential services workers and vulnerable children including those in out of home care, students with disabilities who do not have medical complications and children for whom no other appropriate care arrangements are available - for example if both parents are working and their child could be at school and supervised.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said the state could have lost up to 30 per cent of its health staff if schools had completely closed. “It’s incredibly important that our health staff continue to be able to send their children to school,” he said.

“Modelling by our hospitals suggested if they had been unable to do that it would have potentially impacted on 30 per cent of our health workforce.

“We are already working on the basis that a proportion of our health workforce will get sick and that we will need to cover them.”

“We can also cover those that don’t have alternative arrangements for their children’s learning so it’s incredibly welcomed by our hospitals and our health staff that they will be able to continue to access schools.”

Dr Miles urged parents considering asking grandparents to look after children to consider the health of the elderly and those most vulnerable to the virus.

The pupil-free days ruling comes after the Department of Education issued all Queensland schools with two-weeks worth of school work that can be delivered online and via paper copy.

Two-week units of school work for Prep to Year 10 was made available to all Queensland schools on March 17, with subsequent rollouts of content.

Packs of school work are already available to parents and students with various activities in line with the national curriculum for each year level and answers available for parents to help them with their child’s learning.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Novel Coronavirus Can Kill Colleges as Well as People


I am no public health expert, but if the novel coronavirus is pretty severe, as many experts are saying, like other institutions in society America’s colleges and universities will suffer. Classes may have to be cancelled, public lectures scrubbed, athletic contests (March Madness itself!) compromised (the latter a potentially huge loss to the NCAA).

But besides these obvious effects, there are several less obvious effects. Universities depend heavily on outsiders—taxpayers and private donors—for financial sustenance. If the coronavirus’s disruptive force triggers a significant economic downturn, certainly highly plausible, tax receipts will fall, leading, after some lag, to reduced state subsidies for public universities. There is a real probability the near 20% drop in stock prices from their peak will be sustained, maybe even worsened. This would particularly hit schools in three ways. First, endowments will lose value, in the long run necessitating some reduction in institutional financial support. Second, as the wealth of donors falls, university private contributions will also take a hit.

There is a third potential financial headache: a deterioration in the financial condition of pension funds to support present and future retirees. If stock prices fall 20%, other non-equity valuations stay constant, and endowments and pension funds have 60% of their money in equities, most will take about a 12% reduction in their value. Since some pension funds are on shaky grounds to begin with, this could lead to some real pain and suffering. One unintended consequence: some faculty and staff may defer retirement beyond original plans.

Moreover, this is obviously a global health catastrophe, and American universities are more dependent than previously on the international economy. Foreign students are an important revenue source—they were a lifesaver as some states reduced subsidies to schools after the 2008 financial crisis. It is hard to believe this will not have some negative impact on enrollments—the only issue is how much.

There are other international interactions as well. Many schools have promoted study abroad programs, sometimes even for profit (allowing instruction to be provided by lower cost educational providers overseas while students still pay American tuition fees). The perceived risks associated with prolonged absence from the U.S. will probably seem greater as horror stories spread about people getting sick from travel or quarantined in rooms with little outside contact.

To be sure, we do not really know whether the American impact this year will be measured in a few thousand sick individuals and a few hundred deaths, or a much bigger outbreak, possibly worst than the 1918 “Spanish” flu occurring at a time when transportation and communication costs were vastly higher, possibly reducing contagion a bit from what it would be today.

However, remember Plato: necessity is the mother of invention. Already schools that are closing like the University of Washington or Columbia University are using internet capabilities to increase existing use of online technology. Not all learning can be done effectively online, but certainly some can. Indeed, the health crisis-induced expansion of online learning might lead to a revelation: students can learn a lot of stuff as well online as by the use of the same technology that Socrates used over two millennia ago, talking to an audience (via lectures and oral discussion).

Still, there are some schools that are fragile financially for which this unanticipated development could be sufficiently large that it is their death knell—what if planned new students for next fall are reduced several percent, enough to push some tuition-dependent schools into closing? Maybe not very likely, but clearly plausible. Especially vulnerable are tuition-dependent schools without much endowment, including most HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), many non-selective state schools and some community colleges.

On a slightly more cheerful note to conclude an otherwise depressing epistle, when the economy turns downward with unemployment rising and incomes falling, college enrollments actually tend to rise—some students finding it hard to get good jobs decide to invest in their future earning capacity by attending college. So schools do not usually see big enrollment drops in the short run arising from downturns, even though their revenue is constrained by poor economic conditions.

Let’s hope this is much ado about next to nothing and the negative effects turn out to be minimal.


Even in a Crisis, Cancelling Student Loans is a Bad Idea

The Senate is at a standstill while public health and the economy are in a death spiral. What’s the hang- up? Student loan cancellation. Democrats in the Senate are attempting to tack a provision onto the pending stimulus package that would provide $10,000 of student debt cancellation to each borrower. This is nonsensical and irresponsible.

Quick action by the administration has put a pause on student loan payments and interest. That means that not a single borrower is on the hook to make a student loan payment for at least two months. And once the payment hiatus is over, borrowers facing hardship have the option to enroll in a variety of existing repayment plans that lower monthly payments to an affordable level based on income and that provide for forgiveness of persistently unaffordable debt. Borrowers with little or no income will pay nothing.

Government spending should be swift and generous, but it shouldn’t be targeted at student borrowers. College educated workers are among the highest earners in the economy and are the most likely to retain their employment and earnings during any downturn. That’s why loan forgiveness plans like those proposed during the Democratic primary would end up being hugely regressive in nature.

Instead we should be sending cash immediately, both through immediate cash transfers and an expansion of unemployment insurance. The estimated cost of the proposed student debt cancellation would be $370 billion. That’s enough to make an immediate cash transfer of $1,100 to every single American.

We needn’t quibble now over who should receive a check. We don’t yet know who will need help.  Instead of basing eligibility on past earnings, checks should be mailed immediately to every American. If we make the payments taxable, our existing progressive tax code will make sure that the cash stays in the hands of those who need it and is clawed back from those who don’t.

In a time of crisis, all ideas should be considered, but this one is far off the mark. It would be foolish for Democrats to hold up the other urgently needed aspects of a stimulus package in order to accomplish this foolhardy handout.


SAT tests canceled. College tours on hold. High school juniors struggle with life ahead

Spring is traditionally a big time for high school juniors preparing for college, with SATs to ace and transcripts to perfect.

Many had scheduled campus tours in April to narrow their college choices and impress admissions deans with their in-person visits. Spring athletes planned to show off to college recruiters filling spots on team rosters and budding scientists expected to boost their admissions chances by taking home top prizes in high school robotics matches.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put the brakes on that momentum and brought the usually hectic spring term of junior year to an abrupt standstill. High schools have been closed, tests canceled or modified, and college campus tours canceled, leaving many teenagers and their families frustrated and uncertain about the path forward.

“I’m definitely nervous for a lot of reasons,” said Nathan Brophy, 17, a junior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. “I was planning to visit a bunch of colleges on April spring break and that’s not happening. I’m not sure if I’m going to get my grades this semester. It’s just a lot, just in general. No one has answers for any of these questions.”

Brophy said some of his teachers have been better organized than others in the transition to online classes, and many of the resources he counted on to help him study for the Advanced Placement tests and SATs were school-based. Now, he worries that when he does take the standardized tests, he won’t do as well.

“It’s frustrating to not know how it’s going to happen,” said Anna Galer, 17, a junior in Easton. “I know it’s totally a first-world problem compared to what so many people are facing right now. But it’s also really hard to know that something I feel like I’ve worked so long for is getting screwed up.”

Galer said she and her mom were going to visit colleges in Ohio and New York over spring break in April. Now, she’s checking out virtual tours online, but it doesn’t give her the same sense of campus life or a gut feel about whether a college is the right fit.

She’s also worried that she will be juggling too much this summer, between her job at a camp, studying and taking the SAT test and other entrance exams, and visiting colleges. “When you’ve been thinking this is your plan,” Galer said. “It’s hard to do a 180.”

Some colleges have started easing their requirements to adjust to chaotic and uncertain times.

A handful of higher education institutions, including Case Western Reserve University, made standardized test scores optional last week citing the coronavirus.

“We would rather students focus as best they can on their academic subjects rather than worrying about the SAT or ACT,” Richard Bischoff, Case Western's vice president for enrollment management, told the publication Inside Higher Ed. “Testing has always been just one factor in our evaluation of applications, and we are confident that we will continue to make quality admission decisions for those students who are either unable to test or who choose not to submit test scores.”

Last week, the College Board, which administers some of the major standardized entrance exams, announced AP tests will be available as 45-minute, online exams that may be taken at home. Committees are already at work selecting questions for the online exams, according to the College Board.

“To be fair to all students, some of whom have lost more instructional time than others, the exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March,” the College Board said in a statement.

SAT tests have been canceled through at least May 2, in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The College Board in a statement on its webpage said SAT tests scheduled for early June have not yet been canceled, but the organization “will continue to assess its status with the health and safety of students and educators as the top priority.”

The College Board will schedule new testing dates as soon as possible, the organization said.

Colleges are going to have to make more concessions for students, said Michele Hernandez Bayliss, copresident and founder of Top Tier Admissions, a private college counseling firm.

Colleges that require students to submit their scores for a slew of standardized tests will have to scale back their expectations. Schools that make admissions decisions based in part on whether students visited the campus will have to reconsider that strategy at a time when tours have been cancelled and state governments have warned against traveling, she said.

“They’re going to have to make adjustments for everyone,” Bayliss said.

Families have been scrambling in recent weeks, and Bayliss and her business partner Mimi Doe have advised students to adopt a plan B. Lacrosse and softball players whose seasons have been cut short may have to cobble together family home videos of their games to submit to college coaches. Students who planned to compete in science fairs may want to consider making YouTube videos for younger children about their inventions, Bayliss and Doe said.

Elsa Martinez-Pimentel, the Massachusetts regional director for uAspire, which helps low-income and first generation students through the college financial aid process, said her organization has delayed efforts to get high school juniors prepared to fill out complicated federal forms that are necessary for grants and loans to attend college.

The organization had hoped to start the process this spring so high school students weren’t crushed by academic work, tests, and college applications in the fall of their senior year. But these juniors, many in Boston, are busy getting set for online classes after their schools shut down, she said.

The organization’s counselors and workers have also been deployed to reach out to high school seniors who are suddenly at home with no access to printers and with limited Internet capability trying to download last-minute parental tax information and fill out all their paperwork to make sure colleges award them the financial aid they need to enroll this fall.

“I think our juniors have a little more time to buy,” Martinez-Pimentel said.

Still, it can be difficult to regroup after students who have worked so hard find themselves suddenly stalled by the virus, students and counselors said.

Galer, the Easton student, said she wavers between being upset and resigned depending on the day. But she does take some consolation in knowing that she’s not alone.

“Everything that’s happening to me is happening to everybody across the world,” she said.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

With schools everywhere suspended, an education expert answers 4 questions about the upheaval

Most of the school systems that shut their doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak initially said these closures would be temporary. But health authorities warn that Americans may need to keep up their social distancing for months. Jon Pedersen, dean of the University of South Carolina College of Education, answers some key questions about how this unprecedented situation might affect the education of millions of children.

* Will kids learn anything while schools are closed?

Not all school systems are going to count schoolwork done while schools are closed toward grades. Educators will have to figure out how to motivate kids to do what it takes to keep learning. If dull worksheets don’t excite kids at school, then those worksheets really won’t work at home.

Teachers will have to be more creative and resourceful than ever with what they do while classes are suspended. For example, they can take students on virtual classroom field trips to places like the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Kids can see everything from wild bears in Alaska to classical music concerts through the Virtual School Activities website. They can learn how to conduct science experiments and make collages that look like kooky monsters at Fun Learning for Kids, which has a multitude of activities children will enjoy.

In addition, the New York Public Library has more than 300,000 books you can download for free.

There are also options for children with special needs, such as Educational Technology and Mobile Learning – a great resource for activities for dyslexic learners, autistic learners, apps for the visually impaired and apps for learners with writing difficulties. Parents will also have a role to play.

* Will anyone have to repeat a grade or not graduate as expected?

We don’t know how long this crisis will last. If it drags on, every state and school will have to decide whether students should move on to the next grade or graduate. Not promoting students or not graduating seniors would obviously have broad implications for all public schools, colleges and universities – including community colleges. There will also be fallout for families and the workforce.

It may be hard in part to see whether students are ready to move forward to the next grade because the federal government has authorized states to let public schools skip otherwise mandatory standardized tests this school year.

* When could lost time be made up?

There are options, some more challenging then others. For example, local districts could switch to year-round schooling, extend their current or upcoming academic year beyond the usual minimum of around 180 instructional days, lengthen school days and skip some holidays once things are back to normal.

There are precedents for those arrangements. Numerous schools already operate year-round or with longer school years in places like El Paso, Texas; Romeoville, Illinois; and Bardstown, Kentucky. And countless schools have had to extend the school year by days, weeks or more due to closures brought about by blizzards, hurricanes, floods and other disasters.

But whatever school leaders decide to do, it’s going to come with serious consequences and costs. Adding instructional time at a future date will cost more money.

And it’s not clear how school districts will be able to foot the bill.

* Are there any grounds for optimism?

Yes. I believe that the United States has some of the best teachers and professional educators in the world and we will come through this not losing ground.

Although I would not rule out some sort of extended school year for schools, I do believe that the rapid response of states, districts, schools and teachers have reduced the likelihood that extreme measures will be needed.

My colleague, the education professor Gloria Boutte, always starts meetings with a traditional Masai greeting: “How are the children?”

I think this is very appropriate to keep in mind. How are the children? How are they doing? What do we need to do as a community to ensure their success?

Together, we can make sure children succeed.


British schools tell employers: Keep as many kids as possible at home

Coronavirus efforts could fail if too many children stay in school, say education leaders

Only children of key workers – including medics, police and food distribution staff – are eligible for places from Monday.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, urged parents to “only leave your child at school if you have no other choice”.

“My appeal to the families of key workers is: this is not business as usual. Keep your family at home if at all possible. Leave the few spaces available for those that truly have no alternative.

“My appeal to companies and other employers: please do not interpret the key workers lists liberally for your own ends.

Government guidance, issued on Friday, listed the relevant occupations and children with “at least one parent or carer” who is considered critical to the Covid-19 response “can attend school if required”.

The National Education Union criticised the Department for Education’s guidance as not being clear enough and called for an urgent clarification, saying a strong message was needed to let parents know their child should only be at school if there was no alternative. Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said teachers were on the frontline. “They can only do this vital work if everyone plays fair,” she said.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “Tomorrow, all schools will be closed except for vulnerable children and those of critical workers. If your work is not critical in the response to coronavirus then please keep your child at home. This will help to halt the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

“We will be closely monitoring what is happening in schools and will ensure they get the support they need in the weeks and months ahead.”

Jules White, the head of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex, a secondary school with 1,600 pupils, was expecting between 90 and 100 pupils.

From his informal network of school leaders and teachers, as coordinator of the WorthLess? lobbying campaign over school funding, White said it was clear “schools are really busting a gut”.

“[There’s been] a lot of frantic work across this weekend, a lot of informal sharing … just real concern about getting it right and schools really wanting to step up, because that’s what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “I think largely parents are seeing schools in a difficult situation, and I think they are supportive.”

Simon Kidwell, the head of Hartford Manor primary school in Cheshire, and who sits on the NAHT national executive, said since the key workers list came out he had been plugging the message to parents”: “Is your job corona critical?”

He said: “First I briefed all the parents in the playground. I told them what our stance was. I used language like ‘last resort’ and ‘your family are safer’ if the social distancing is in their own home, rather than coming into our child care. We’ve had our phones on between 10am and 3pm over the weekend.”


Australia: Education experts say scrapped tests puts focus on future of schooling

NAPLAN testing has been scrapped for 2020, and new social distancing measures have cast doubt over how schools will continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The move came as Brisbane Girls Grammar School told parents it would deliver the final week of term remotely, as they prepare for the likelihood to do the same for all of Term 2.

In an extraordinary move the national benchmark test, NAPLAN, was yesterday cancelled by education ministers — for the first time since it began in 2008 — over fears of the extra anxiety caused by coronavirus and the stress it has already placed on schools.

State Education Minister Grace Grace said the current advice was that schools should remain open. "The valuable time of school leaders, teachers and support staff should be spent either providing continuity of learning for our students or preparing to deliver possible curriculum at home," she said.

Ms Grace also revealed school attendance had dropped 5-6 per cent compared to this time last year, blaming the reduction on children being sick (not corona-related) and parents needing to self isolate. Independent and Catholic education systems and unions advocating for teachers already swamped with work-load during the public health crisis supported the move.

And education experts have said the move brings the future of schooling into sharp focus with calls for non-essential education to be scrapped for the system already grappling with increased work-load, stress and panic of preparing for schools to close in the event of an outbreak.

OTU president Kevin Bates said cancelling NAPLAN was the right move given the massive disruption in the community and schools caused by COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said gatherings, not including schools, should limit crowds to one person per four square metres. Mr Bates said while the advice on social distancing had merit in the community, it would be impossible for schools to follow as they would need a school hall for each classroom. "It's another confusing message," he said.

QUT education curriculum and pedagogy expert Kelli McGraw said anyone who thought coronavirus would not disrupt learning was "kidding themselves" and more focus should be given to student well-being. An option would be to suspend a half-year report in schools which already "maxes out" teachers.

From the Brisbane "Courier Mail" of 21.3.20