Saturday, July 04, 2009

Is a college degree worthless?

The higher incomes that college education brings may not make up for the savings it consumes or the debt it adds early in the life of a typical student

The four-year college degree has come to cost too much and prove too little. It's now a bad deal for the average student, family, employer, professor and taxpayer. A student who secures a degree is increasingly unlikely to make up its cost, despite higher pay, as I'll show.

The employer who requires a degree puts faith in a system whose standards, you'll see, are slipping.

Too many professors who are bound to degree teaching can't truly profess; they don't proclaim loudly the things they know but instead whisper them to a chosen few, whom they must then accommodate with inflated grades.

Worst of all, bright citizens spend their lives not knowing the things they ought to know, because they've been granted liberal-arts degrees for something far short of a liberal-arts education.

I'm not arguing against higher learning but for it -- and against the degree system that stands in its way.

Sometimes things we believe for good reason our whole lives turn out one day to no longer be true, because circumstances have changed. In 2007, for example, I argued, to the anger of many, that renting had come to make more financial sense than homeownership. House prices have since fallen 27% nationwide, wiping out recent buyers who had less than that in equity.

With college degrees, I don't want to persuade families not to buy. I want to explain the injustice of the system and introduce a better alternative.

College grads start out behind: Consider two childhood friends, Ernie and Bill. Hard workers with helpful families, each saves exactly $16,594 for college. Ernie doesn't get accepted to a school he likes. Instead, he starts work at 18 and invests his college savings in a mutual fund that tracks the broad stock market.

Throughout his life, he makes average yearly pay for a high school graduate with no college, starting at $15,901 after taxes and peaking at $32,538. Each month, he adds to his stock fund 5% of his after-tax income, close to the nation's current savings rate. It returns 8% a year, typical for stock investors.

Bill has a typical college experience. He gets into a public college and after two years transfers to a private one. He spends $49,286 on tuition and required fees, the average for such a track. I'm not counting room and board, since Bill must pay for his keep whether he goes to college or not. Bill gets average-size grants, adjusted for average probabilities of receiving them, and so pays $34,044 for college.

He leaves school with an average-size student loan and a good interest rate: $17,450 at 5%. The $16,594 he has saved for college, you see, is precisely enough to pay what his loans don't cover.

Bill will have higher pay than Ernie his whole life, starting at $23,505 after taxes and peaking at $56,808. Like Ernie, he sets aside 5%. At that rate, it will take him 12 years to pay off his loan. Debt-free at 34, he starts adding to the same index fund as Ernie, making bigger monthly contributions with his higher pay. But when the two reunite at 65 for a retirement party, Ernie will have grown his savings to nearly $1.3 million. Bill will have less than a third of that.

How can that be? College degrees bring higher income, but at today's cost they can't make up the savings they consume and the debt they add early in the life of a typical student. While Ernie was busy earning, Bill got stuck under his bill.

My example is a crude one. I adjust neither wages nor investment returns for inflation, resulting in something of a wash. I don't take out for investment taxes, since it would take Ernie only a few years to move his starting sum into a tax-shielded retirement account, and both savers could add to such accounts thereafter. I assume 2007's income-tax distribution holds despite pending changes that will shift it in favor of Ernie's lower income. I'm comparing only savings, not living standards. Bill will presumably be able to afford nicer things than Ernie along the way.

But maybe not: I assume that Bill completes college in four years. More than 40% of students who enter a bachelor's program don't have a degree after six years, according to Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder, whose book "Going Broke by Degree" sounded an alarm over college costs in 2004.

Crucially, I also assume college-educated Bill will earn what his peers did in bubbly 2005, when bloated real-estate and stock prices stoked consumer spending, producing unusually large corporate profits and loose lending, and sending banks grabbing after grads at premium pay. The bubbles have since popped, and banks have shrunk.

"The economic downturn has worsened the cost problem," Vedder says. "There will be many more people for whom costs will exceed benefits."

More here

British council forced to drop fraud case against mother who 'cheated' to get son in school

Another episode in the battle parents in Britain have to get their kids into a safe school. Sending your kids to a school where other students (particularly blacks) arrive armed with guns and knives (and even machine pistols in some cases) is something most British parents go to great lengths to avoid. But the Leftist British authorities, with their usual hatred of success in others, do their best to force middle-class kids into sink schools. They send their own kids to private schools, of course

A mother accused of using a false address to get her son into a popular state school has escaped prosecution because of a legal loophole, the council who brought the unprecedented case against her said today. Mrinal Patel, 41, applied for a place for her five-year-old son Rhys at Pinner Park First School in Harrow, north London in January last year. She claimed on the form that she lived within walking distance of the school but after she was offered a place Harrow Council discovered that the address she submitted did not match that on her tax records.

Mrs Patel was due to appear in court next week but Harrow Council has dropped their case against her because they were unsure the Fraud Act 2006 would cover school admissions cases. Councillor David Ashton, leader of Harrow Council, said there seemed to be “a loophole” and they had withdrawn their action to avoid potentially hefty legal costs. “While we stand by the substance of our case, subsequent legal advice is that technical legal arguments over the interpretation of the Act could pose a risk to the success of the action,” he said.

The case will cast doubt on the power of councils to tackle the rising number of parents who cheat on their school admissions form to get their children into the best schools. "The difficulty is that there is no clear law of what sanction applies if parents puts false information on their application form,” Mr Ashton said.

Mrs Patel said she was relieved the council had dropped the case. “It’s been an extremely difficult ordeal and I’m happy to put the matter behind me,” she said. “I have from the outset denied the allegations and the council’s unconditional withdrawal of the proceedings confirms my innocence.” Mrs Patel said that when she made the application, she had been living at her mother’s address, within the school’s catchment area. She claims she was separated from her husband and had no intention of going back to her matrimonial home which is further away – but changed her mind four weeks later.

She acknowledged that she had wrongly stated on the application form that she had been living at her mother’s address for 14 years but said she had been under a lot of pressure at the time. "I still don't feel I have done anything wrong," Mrs Patel told Radio 4's Today programme. "My biggest mistake was that I didn't tell the council I had moved out [of her mother's flat] when I did. "When they rang to check with me and asked if I was still living there, I said no. “I totally understand how it may appear. I explained that to the council, I gave them my full circumstances. I was totally honest and truthful about them,” she said.

The school received 411 applications for 90 places available in September 2008. The council says it allocated places to children living closest to the school, up to a maximum distance of 0.685 miles.

Mr Ashton said; “This case was never about persecuting mothers who wish to do the best for their children. It was about defending the integrity of the school system against those who might seek to flout it. “We always seek to resolve issues over school admission by dialogue. However, we will continue to consider court action as a last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted.”


Friday, July 03, 2009

NY: 700 teachers paid to do nothing

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do. Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year. "You just basically sit there for eight hours," said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. "I saw several near-fights. `This is my seat.' `I've been sitting here for six months.' That sort of thing."

Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules. "It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow. "No one wants teachers who don't belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers' rights to due process," Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.

Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores. "The principal wants you out, you're gone," said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.

City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. "There's been a push to report anything that you see wrong," Forte said.

Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing. The Los Angeles district, the nation's second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York's 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being "housed" while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.

Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a "cluster office." "They just sit you in a room in a hard chair," she said, "and you just sit."

Teacher advocates say New York's rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere. Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work — office duties, for example — for teachers accused of misconduct.

New York City's reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.

Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six. The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don't belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health. "Most people in that room are depressed," said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: "I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing."

The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said. "There was a bar across the street," Saunders said. "Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours." Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees. "The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting," Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.

Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi. David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl's test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument. "It's sort of peaceful knowing that you're going to work to do nothing," he said.

Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn's Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, "supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight." He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing. He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel. "This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history," he said, alluding to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "They put us in prison and we write our `Letter From the Birmingham Jail.'"


Trendy British teaching is 'producing a generation of history numbskulls'

A generation of teenagers know almost nothing about the history of Britain because schools are sidelining knowledge in favour of trendy topics and generic skills, a university academic has warned. Professor Derek Matthews, an economics lecturer at Cardiff University, was so concerned at his students' lack of historical knowledge that he decided to investigate by setting them five simple questions. Over three years, 284 UK-educated first-years took the test, which demanded basic knowledge the professor believes 'every 18-year-old should know'.

But just one in six - 17 per cent - knew that the Duke of Wellington led the British army in the battle of Waterloo. And only one in ten could name a single 19th century British prime minister. In total, the students answered just 26.7 per cent of questions correctly - just over one in five. Students with A*s or As in history GCSE fared little better, answering just a third correctly. Those with A-level history got just two in five right.

In a later report on the 'death' of school history teaching, Professor Matthews said levels of ignorance among the young were an 'outrage' that 'should be intolerable'. His finding was highlighted by Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove as he pledged to 'completely overhaul' the curriculum to restore a focus on knowledge and ensure pupils are given a proper grounding in science, maths, British history and literature. This would entail tearing up the Government's planned new curriculum for primary schools that merges stand-alone subjects into six 'areas of learning'.

Mr Gove also pledged a major shake-up of the education watchdog-Ofsted amid fears it is losing focus on academic standards. The body will be ordered to bear down more heavily on weaker schools and move away from inspecting schools for success in promoting 'well-being' and other 'fuzzy, fashion-driven, intangibles'. 'Under this Government we have seen a decisive move away from valuing rigorous subject teaching and education as a good in itself,' Mr Gove told the Prince's Teaching Institute yesterday.

Professor Matthews, who lectures in economic history, tested firstyear undergraduates reading history in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He recounted in his report how students in a typical tutorial had never heard of the Reformation and did not know what was meant by the term Protestant. One thought Martin Luther was an American civil rights leader. His students were probably in the top 15 per cent of their age group for educational success.

'This implies that, all things being equal, 85 per cent of my undergraduates' age group know even less than they do. 'In other words, we are looking at a whole generation that knows almost nothing about the history of their (or anyone else's) country.' He added: 'This is an outrage and should be intolerable.'


Thursday, July 02, 2009

British teachers to be fired under new classroom licence plan

A good start -- but expect very weak-kneed enforcement

Teachers will need a licence to enter the classroom and face being banned if they cannot renew it every five years, the Government said yesterday. The radical move, in a White Paper put before the Commons yesterday, will be widely seen as an attempt to weed out incompetent teachers and to stop bad teachers being shunted from school to school. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, indicated that he expected some teachers to fail their renewal. “It may be that we will discover some teachers who do not make the grade, and some who aren’t relicensed,” he said.

Newly qualified teachers would get a licence to teach from September. All teachers returning to the profession will go through the process from September next year, and supply teachers will be targeted after that. Eventually all teachers will need a licence.

Experts have estimated that more than 20,000 teachers are not fit to do their jobs, with one or two in each school. Heads privately complain that it is virtually impossible to sack poorly performing teachers. Only ten teachers, out of a workforce of 500,000, have been fired for incompetence since 2001. Teaching unions attacked the plan for licences, saying that teachers already faced numerous accountability measures.

Mr Balls indicated his intentions in the Children’s Plan published in December 2007, in which he called on the General Teaching Council to root out teachers whose “competence falls to unacceptable low levels”.

Under the licence scheme, head teachers would provide written accreditation for teachers every five years, vouching for their ability, and the General Teaching Council would conduct an annual audit of about 5 to 10 per cent of teachers. The licence would go hand in hand with entitlement to professional development so that teachers could keep up with the latest teaching methods and technology.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Teachers’ capacity and practice are persistently under review. It is not clear to me that head teachers will welcome an additional responsibility to relicense their teachers every five years.”

The licence was one of several radical reforms announced by Mr Balls in the White Paper. These include report cards, which will grade schools from A to F across a range of measures, including academic performance, children’s wellbeing and parental satisfaction.

Local authorities will also be forced to consult parents about whether they are happy with schools, and set out a plan of action if the results are negative. Parents will have to sign up to the school’s behaviour rules and reiterate this commitment each year. If it is breached, they could face a courtimposed parenting order or a fine.


In One Room, Many Advantages

The 'little red schoolhouse' of legend, whatever its flaws, made more sense than the warehouse-schools of today

Tacked to my wall is a lithograph of the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. For many years, it graced my mother's one-room schoolhouse in Lime Rock, N.Y. Antiquarian relic or enduringly relevant image? The same question may be asked of the "little red schoolhouse" itself, whose reality and legend are the subject of "Small Wonder." Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University, sets out to tell "how -- and why -- the little red schoolhouse became an American icon." Mr. Zimmerman proves a thoughtful and entertaining teacher.

First, the chromatic debunking: One-room schools were often white and seldom red. The teachers were usually young unmarried females, pace the most famous one-room schoolteacher in literature, Ichabod Crane. They swept the floor, stoked the stove, rang the hand-bell and taught their mixed-age students by rote and recitation. The schools could be a "cauldron of chaos," in Mr. Zimmerman's alliteration, as tyro teachers were tormented by Tom Sawyers dipping pigtails in inkwells and carving doggerel into desks.

Yet these one-room schools, Mr. Zimmerman notes, were "a central venue for community life in rural America." They hosted plays and dances and box socials and spelling bees and Christmas pageants.

In 1913, Mr. Zimmerman says, "one-half of the nation's schoolchildren attended one of its 212,000 single-teacher schools." By 1960, progressive educationists, growing cities and the centralizing pressures of two world wars and a Cold War had reduced the total to just 1%.

The attempt to abolish one-room schoolhouses, whether by the carrot of state aid or the stick of government fiat, set off one of the great unknown political wars of U.S. history, pitting farm people who "invoked classic themes of liberty and self-rule" against the "mostly urban elites" who "would wage zealous battle against the rural one-room school." Typically, two Delaware school-consolidators informed the hicks that "modern education . . . is less romantic and more businesslike, more formal, more exact, more specialized, done according to tested methods and a standard schedule." Such grim exactitude sounded like prison to parents used to the comparatively anarchic and localized governance of rural schools.

Progressives worshipped "efficiency," Mr. Zimmerman observes, a word that to country people "conjured up a bloodless, impersonal system that buried small-town traditions and idiosyncrasies in a maze of regulations and policies." Big was better than small, asserted the consolidators. Riding the bus to a new school over "good roads" -- the highway and automobile industries lobbied for consolidation -- was superior to walking (how old-fashioned!) to a nearby school. A system in which parents and neighbors had a say in the education of a community's children was judged incapable of keeping up with the ever-accelerating improvement of the human species.

The propaganda mills worked overtime. New Deal photographers snapped pictures of decrepit one-room shacks and contrasted these premodern blights with the spotless (if sterile) multistory consolidated schools. City journalists who knew nothing of rural life (except that it was retrograde) fanned out over the countryside, filing stories suggesting that the young 'uns in Dog Patch were larnin' that the world was flat and toothbrushing was one of Satan's snares.

The one-room school was "neither as rundown as critics claimed nor as bucolic as defenders imagined," Mr. Zimmerman writes. But its champions understood its flaws. They were defending the principles of local autonomy and human-scale democracy. Mr. Zimmerman quotes a "rural mother" who lamented: "Individuality will be lost, the pride taken in 'our' school and 'our' teacher gone. Haven't the parents who bear the children anything to say?"

Not in the consolidated schools they didn't, except in PTA debates over which kind of brownies to sell at the bake sale. "Thousands of rural parents did resist consolidation," Mr. Zimmerman says; they struggled to save the one-room symbols of "their vanishing local communities." But true to Joni Mitchell's lyric, the rest of America didn't know what it had till it was gone.

By World War II, the little red schoolhouse whose razing had been a New Deal project became a symbol of homefront democracy. In the 1960s, some liberals praised the one-room school of yore as "the precursor to group learning" and "open classrooms" -- daily Bible reading not included. At the same time some conservatives extolled its alleged (and exaggerated) hickory-stick discipline.

Decades after consolidation had obliterated one-room schools, researchers discovered their advantages. The child in the small school is not just a statistic on a government chart. She receives "individual attention and recognition." She works at her own pace. She has, most important, a place. As Mr. Zimmerman remarks, recent alternatives to "the large, alienating modern school," from charter schools to homeschooling, have sought to foster "the snug, communal aspects of the one-room school." But the one-room-school model entails community control, which liberals and conservatives alike resist if the "community" sings from the wrong hymnal.

The idealization of the little red schoolhouse, Mr. Zimmerman concludes, reflects a rueful awareness that in modernity Americans "gained the whole world of technological conveniences and lost the soul of their communities."

Even after Mr. Zimmerman's unsentimental accounting of its defects, the one-room school shines in comparison with the over-large and remotely controlled warehouses in which too many children are educated today. Reading "Small Wonder," one wonders if Americans will ever tire of chasing after the gods of Progress and Bigness and rediscover the little things, red schoolhouses among them, that once gave us our soul.


Australia: "League tables" and NSW school-reporting policy

Below is an article from Jennifer Buckingham of the Centre for Independent Studies. Her line is very much that of the teachers' unions. She supports the covering up of some kinds of information about schools: Very disappointing from a free-market think-tank. At the foot of the article I reproduce a letter from a teacher who is also surprised by her views

The Federal Government confirmed last year that it would be making good on its election promise to introduce transparency measures for all schools, including publicly reporting school-level performance in national tests, year 12 results, and a range of other information.

The main concern the critics of this policy have is the potential for media outlets to mine this information to create and publish "league tables" - lists of schools ranked from "best" to "worst" by a single performance indicator. This has been the experience in other countries, and fears that it may happen here were realised when a Tasmanian newspaper recently published school rankings of the newspaper's own creation.

It is important to make one thing clear: school-performance reporting and league tables are not the same thing. School-performance reporting, done properly, is a way to empower parents and make them informed participants in their child's education.

Under the new federal reporting protocols, people will be able to look up any school and see how it has performed in national tests and get information about teacher and student characteristics, among other things. They can see how that school's performance compares with the state average and "like schools". By looking up several schools they will be able to compare the schools in their area, but this comparison will not be provided to them as a list or ranking. It is up to people to compare individual schools and draw their own conclusions.

League tables, on the other hand, are lists or rankings of schools based on a single indicator, without reference to context or location. They are a potential by-product of providing parents and the public with information. They are often misleading, are not useful and can be harmful to the schools at the bottom of the rankings. Some schools may deserve to be there, but others will not.

Opponents of school-performance reporting have used the spectre of league tables to argue against it, but this did not stop the state and territory education ministers agreeing on the policy. To comply with this federal agreement, NSW had to amend legislation put in place in 1997 that prohibited the publication of information that allowed schools to be compared on academic performance. Last week a bill was passed in the NSW parliament to do just that. The amendment will allow a new national federal agency, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, to publish the academic outcomes of individual schools.

The Greens argued fervently against the amendment, but obviously had already seen the writing on the wall. Knowing that the amendment would pass, the Greens introduced a clause to the amendment in the last half hour of the debate, which they had previously drafted with the help of the Coalition. The clause attempts to prevent the publication of league tables in "a newspaper or other document that is publicly available in this state". The clause also prohibits the identification of schools "in a percentile of less than 90 per cent in relation to school results, except with the permission of the principal of the school".

The Labor MP Penny Sharpe put up little defence, saying the clause was "well-intentioned but utterly futile". Sharpe argued that it was questionable whether print media would comply, and there was no jurisdiction over the internet. She also raised the possibility that it might also have negative consequences for school systems and associations publishing their own comparisons or school profiles.

There was little debate about the clause and it passed with a majority of five votes. This anti-league table clause seems, on the surface, to have discarded the bath water while retaining the baby. It would be nice to think legislation could solve misuse of information, but it is doubtful. In this case the compromise position may be unacceptable. If the clause is ineffective, school league tables will be published anyway.

This will mean a missed opportunity to draft legislation that might have been more effective in protecting schools from spurious claims about their performance by over-zealous media outlets.

Alternatively, the clause may be too effective, preventing any comparative information being produced even for a small audience, undermining the positive effect of the school-reporting policy. If misleading league tables can be avoided they should be, but not at the expense of parents' right to know. Time will tell if, in its haste to pass the amendment, the NSW parliament has betrayed this principle.


A polite letter to Ms Buckingham from a reader

I read your article in the SMH Online website and I had to look twice to be sure it said you were from the CIS that I subscribe to.

Your point appears to be that while you don't oppose the release of information for parents, you do object to it's publication in newspapers on the basis the information might be presented in a simplistic way. Indeed you quote an example from Tasmania. In my experience of league tables - i.e. Times Education Supplement - such league tables attempt to apply all factors in a weighted manner. I haven't seen an example of a one factor league table although I don't deny that it can happen.

You appeared to be arguing for laws which attempt to legislate against the misuse of information. That would appear to be dangerous ground for a fellow at the CIS whose philosophy I would have thought was that freedom of information is more important than protecting the public from its misuse. Where information is misused it is easily refuted and the source so discredited, I might have thought.

When it comes to education, in my limited experience, parents often do not make rational decisions anyway, but the provision of information on the multilevel performance of schools I would have thought to be a useful anitdote the present atmosphere of enforced egalitarianism that forced me, in 1959, to attend a run-down, indequately set-up junior technical high school with its cadre of motivated and unmotived, professional and incompentant, but generally poorer teachers than the intermediate technical school or even higher level high school that my efforts might have deserved before before Harold Wyndham had his way.

Fortunately, many of my classmates, who will be marking the 50th anniversary of our entrance to Jannali Boys' High School this year, went on to make a mark on our society, despite the handicap.

Encouraging schools to lift their game by publishing outcomes, I believe, can only serve to ensure that there should be no gap between state and private schools, and that they, and their teachers thus deserve the increased funding coming their way in Rudd's Education Revolution. As a profession I believe teachers, of whom I am now one, should have an obligation to use one month of their generous annual leave for upgrading their professional skills in the same way other professional are. But that's another story!

Again thank you for your thoughts on this matter. But I do hope they don't represent the position of the CIS!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Too much of a “good thing”

Even if the "stimulus" package doesn't seem to be doing much to stimulate the economy, it is certainly stimulating many potential recipients of government money to start lining up at the trough. All you need is something that sounds like a "good thing" and the ability to sell the idea.

A perennial "good thing" is education. So it is not surprising that leaders of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities have come out with an assertion that "the U.S. should set a goal of college degrees for at least 55 percent of its young adults by 2025."

Nothing is easier in politics than setting some arbitrary goal— preferably based on numbers— and go after it, in utter disregard of the costs or the repercussions. That is how we got into the housing boom and bust, by mindlessly pursuing ever-higher statistics of home ownership. The same political game can be played by making ever higher miles per gallon the goal for automobiles, ever more "open space," ever more— you name it.

Sometimes these open-ended political crusades can be given some semblance of rationality by referring to other countries that have bigger numbers in whatever is the goal du jour.

The representatives of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities point to the fact that, in countries like Canada, Korea and Japan, "more than 50 percent of young adults hold college degrees" while only 41 percent do in the United States.

No reason is given why one of these numbers is better than another. Apparently the implicit assumption is that education is a "good thing" that it is always better to have more of. But, if that is the case, why 55 percent rather than 75 percent, 95 percent or 100 percent?

Even food is not a "good thing" categorically, without limit. We can't live without it but, beyond some point, it causes obesity and shortens our lives.

A certain amount of education is undoubtedly very beneficial for some people but, at some point, enough is enough, even for geniuses. For each individual, depending on that individual's interests and dedication as well as ability, the time comes to leave the classroom and go out into the real world.

It is not just dummies who reach the point when it makes sense for them to "drop out" of education. Michael Dell of Dell computers and Bill Gates of Microsoft both dropped out of college, and neither of them seems to be doing badly.

Given the composition of the population as it is— which is always what we have to start with— what evidence is there that too few or too many are going to college?

As someone who spent years teaching at colleges and universities for students who ranked in the country's top 10 percent, I nevertheless encountered many students whose interest in intellectual matters was less than overwhelming, to put it charitably.

Many were bright enough but often gave the impression that they would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. Some of their teachers also thought that they should be somewhere else, doing something else.

During my first semester of teaching, my grading standards caused most students like that to transfer out by the second semester. Teaching the other students during the second semester was a sheer joy and I continued to get letters from them over the years, even after I had moved on to other institutions. In other words, the departure of the dead wood made the class better.

Far weightier evidence than anecdotal personal experiences, however, are the statistics on how many students actually graduate. The American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank, has recently published statistics on what percent of a given college's students manage to graduate in the course of six years.

There are colleges where at least four-fifths of the students graduate in that time and other colleges where at least four-fifths of the students fail to graduate in that time.

Considering the enormous costs of maintaining a student in college— whether that cost is paid by parents, the taxpayers, or the students themselves— an open-ended call for "more" seems like too many other open-ended commitments that have run up record national debts without any corresponding benefits.


Tenure and Academic Freedom

College campuses display a striking uniformity of thought.

All over the country, colleges and universities are feeling the financial crunch: Endowments are down, students can't afford to pay tuition, and some state legislatures are even trimming higher-education budgets. Unfortunately, thanks to the recent ruling of a judge in Colorado, some college administrators have just lost one way to keep their costs under control.

In 2003, the board of trustees of the Metropolitan College of Denver -- a public school in Colorado -- changed the school's handbook to make it easier to lay off tenured faculty in case of financial exigency. Under the current system at Metro College and elsewhere, some professors who have been at an institution for a period of about seven years are eligible for a job for life. They can technically be fired for gross misbehavior or incompetence. But once they've been granted tenure, a university is generally stuck with these teachers. And paying the salaries of tenured professors can add up, especially when a professor may no longer be teaching many classes either because of laziness or lack of student interest in his or her field.

In response to the handbook change, five Metro College professors sued. They claimed that the terms of their employment had been significantly altered. The state district court ruled in favor of the trustees. That decision was appealed -- with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) filing an amicus brief -- and in 2007 a state appeals court ordered a new trial. In its brief, the AAUP argued that "depriving the tenured faculty of a preference in retention places the tenured faculty at greater risk of being singled out" because of an administrator's or trustee's dislike for his teaching or research, or for positions taken on public issues.

The results of that new trial came down earlier this month. Rather than simply deciding that the change in the handbook altered what was a "vested right" of the professors, Denver District Judge Norman D. Haglund ruled that "the public interest is advanced more by tenure systems that favor academic freedom over tenure systems that favor flexibility in hiring or firing." He also noted that "by its very nature, tenure promotes a system in which academic freedom is protected."

Talk about judicial overreach. But does tenure, as the judge argues, actually protect academic freedom?

In the AAUP's 1915 Declaration of Principles, progressive educator John Dewey wrote that "if education is the cornerstone of the structure of society and progress in scientific knowledge is essential to civilization, few things can be more important than to enhance the dignity of the scholar's profession." That dignity, Dewey explained, was to be enhanced by tenure. To protect academics from arbitrary dismissal, as well as to attract smart people to the profession, schools offered a certain amount of job security.

But higher education has changed a lot in the past hundred years. And while there is no doubt that schools like Metro College serve a useful function -- teaching vocational skills and offering remedial classes to students who have failed to get a decent K-12 education -- its faculty is not exactly in the business of passing on knowledge essential to civilization. Some of the courses taught this year by the professors who sued include American Baseball History and Business Statistics. The school even offers a nutrition major. These are all fields of study that have fairly definitive answers. Faculty members don't really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them.

But what about those teachers who are pursuing higher truths? Has tenure really protected their ability to question and research freely? For the most part, no.

The truth is that tenure has served as an instrument of conformity since tenure votes are often glorified popularity contests. The fact that university professors donated to President Obama's campaign over John McCain's by a margin of eight to one is only the tip of the iceberg. Those professors who want tenure and disagree with the prevailing trends in their field -- or the political fashions outside of it -- know that they must keep their mouths shut for at least the first seven years of their careers.

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield once famously advised a conservative colleague to wait until he had tenure and only then to "hoist the Jolly Roger." But few professors are getting around to hoisting the Jolly Roger at all. Either they don't have a viewpoint that is different from their colleagues, or they've decided that if they are going to remain at one place for several decades, they'd rather just get along.

Is tenure to blame for the unanimity of thinking in American universities? It's hard to tell. But shouldn't the burden of proof be on the people who want jobs for life?


Australia: Queensland teachers can fail literacy, numeracy test

Talk about the blind leading the blind! It's bad enough that some kids go right through primary school without learning to read and write but having teachers that bad is really the end of the road. It shows how desperate the government is to find people willing to stand up in front of an undisciplined mob day after day

Graduate teachers will be allowed to repeatedly fail a new test of their literacy and numeracy skills and still be let loose in Queensland classrooms. The State Government will not cap the number of times the test can be taken and will register graduates as teachers as long as they eventually pass. The landmark new test, recommended by education expert Geoff Masters, is being introduced to improve the low standards of Queensland students.

Premier Anna Bligh said it was fair to allow graduates to sit the test repeatedly because they may be sick [Sheet! No matter how sick I am I can still spell!] or have other excuses for their poor showing. "I don't anticipate there would be any limit on the number of times someone can sit, as long as they can ultimately meet the standard," Ms Bligh said. "I think we understand that there are sometimes reasons why people don't do well in tests. They might know the information but might not be well that day. "You would still want to give them the opportunity to demonstrate that, but it wouldn't be the same test."

The Government is yet to figure out what would constitute a pass mark for the tests [It will undoubtedly be low], which will judge proficiency in literacy, numeracy and science. However, a trial will be conducted next year before the official introduction of testing for primary school teaching graduates at the end of 2011 at the earliest. Tests for high-school teaching graduates will be introduced at a later date.

Current teachers will avoid the tests but those transferring from interstate will have to sit the exam before they can practise in Queensland. The Queensland College of Teachers will be responsible for developing and administering the tests.

In his report, Professor Masters found there had been an "absolute decline" in literacy and numeracy between 2004 and 2007. Meanwhile, teachers are ramping up their campaign for higher pay, with a vote today likely to call for further industrial action. The Government has offered teachers a 12.5 per cent pay increase over three years. However, the union has insisted the amount was unacceptable. [The government should fire the lot of them and bring in local retired people to teach. They would know a lot more than the current crop of teachers]


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SCOTUS eases federal court oversight of Arizona English teaching program

The Supreme Court on Thursday handed a partial victory to Arizona officials who are challenging federal court supervision of a program to educate students who aren't proficient in English. By a 5-4 vote, the court reversed an appeals court ruling in a 17-year-old lawsuit intended to close the gap between students in Nogales, Ariz., who are learning to speak English and native English speakers.

Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority opinion, said a federal judge in Arizona must take another look at the program to see whether Nogales now is "providing equal opportunities" to English language learners.

Alito, joined by his conservative colleagues, was highly critical of rulings by both the judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that have kept Nogales and, more recently, the entire state under federal court supervision with regard to teaching non-native English speakers.

In 2000, a federal judge found that the state had violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act's requirements for appropriate instruction for English-language learners. A year later, he expanded his ruling statewide and placed the state's programs for non-English speaking students under court oversight.

Since then, the two sides have fought over what constitutes compliance with the order. Arizona has more than doubled the amount of funding that schools receive per non-English speaking student and taken several other steps prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act, a broader education accountability law passed by Congress in 2002. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, one of the state officials in Phoenix who defended the current system and asked for it to be freed from federal court oversight, expressed confidence that the state can demonstrate the program's compliance under current circumstances. "It's a major victory for the principle of self-government," Horne said of the ruling. "People rule themselves through their elected representatives and should not be ruled over by an aristocracy of lifetime federal judges."

State House Speaker Kirk Adams, one of the Republican legislative leaders who sided with Horne, said the ruling was "a breath of fresh air" that respects both federalism and separation of powers between branches of government. "Now we need to roll up our sleeves and get on with it and teach these children English," Adams said in a statement.

Tim Hogan, an attorney for the class-action plaintiffs, said that with the case going back to lower courts for further review, "we're going to have an expanded opportunity to put the efficacy of the state's current program at issue." "The message seems to be that we have to prove there's an ongoing violation of federal law. I welcome the opportunity to do that actually, to focus on the program that exists today, the four-hour models, and whether or not they're working," he added.

Arizona's current program for English-learning students includes daily four-hour instruction periods in English. The state Department of Education said Arizona has approximately 143,000 such students.

Alito said the courts need to be more flexible in evaluating the state's actions.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent for himself and the other three liberal justices, said the lower courts were thorough and correct. Thursday's decision "risks denying schoolchildren the English-language instruction necessary to overcome language barriers that impede their equal participation," Breyer said in a dissent that was longer than Alito's majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens also dissented.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were in the majority.


Roberts: SCOTUS seeks school rule clarity

Don't look to the Supreme Court to set school rules, only to clarify them when officials have abdicated that responsibility, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Saturday. At a judicial conference, Chief Justice Roberts was asked how school administrators should interpret seemingly conflicting messages from the court in two recent decisions, including one Thursday that said Arizona officials conducted an unconstitutional strip-search of a teenage girl. In 2007, the justices sided with an Alaska high school principal, ruling that administrators could restrict student speech if it appears to advocate illegal-drug use.

Chief Justice Roberts told the audience there was no conflict in the court's rulings, just clarity intended to deal with narrow issues that surface from government actions. "You can't expect to get a whole list of regulations from the Supreme Court. That would be bad," he said. "We wouldn't do a good job at it."

In the Arizona case, the high court said school officials violated Savana Redding's rights when they strip-searched her for prescription-strength ibuprofen. The court said educators cannot force children to remove their clothing unless student safety is at risk.

Chief Justice Roberts said administrators should take comfort in the 8-1 ruling, which also found that officials could not be held financially liable when carrying out school policy. "We recognized that they didn't have very clear guidance," Chief Justice Roberts said. "We laid down a rule about what they can and can't do, but we said they don't have to fork over damages from their own personal funds if they guess wrong."

He also defended the court's diversity - all nine justices are former federal appeals court judges. The issue has surfaced in light of Justice David H. Souter's decision to retire. Senators from both parties have said the court needs justices who don't come from the federal bench, or the "judicial monastery," as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has called it. Mr. Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin hearings next month on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to succeed Justice Souter; she, too, is an appeals court judge.

Chief Justice Roberts said the current justices have a range of legal experience despite their shared background on the appeals level. "I consider myself a practicing lawyer," the chief justice said, noting he was a judge for only a short time. He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2003 to 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated him to be chief justice. Other justices have academic and political experience, he said, adding that Justice Clarence Thomas ran a federal agency. "We're also a pretty diverse bunch," he said.

Asked about his desire for more consensus among justices in the court's opinions, Chief Justice Roberts said he wasn't suggesting that justices compromise, but that agreement gives clearer guidance. "The more we can speak with a broader degree of agreement, it looks a lot more like law," he said.


Computer studies unpopular with female students – but better than nursing

The report below is in my view a bit hysterical but it contains some interesting information

Research out of the US has found that while computer science studies are highly regarded by college-bound teenagers there is a substantial negative image of the profession – particularly among women.

The findings of a nationwide online survey of 1,406 college-bound teenagers provide a chilling expose of the challenges of securing a gender diverse workforce in the information technology profession in the years ahead. While 52% of respondents overall rated computer science a ‘very good’ or ‘good’ choice for a college major, just 32% of women felt this way. By comparison, nursing was considered a ‘very good’ or ‘good’ choice by just 28% of respondents.

Even more startling, 67% of male respondents felt computer science would be a ‘very good’ or ‘good’ profession to select compared to just 23% of females.

Not surprisingly ‘doing work that was interesting’ was found to be the most important element in selecting a career, closely followed by having a ‘passion for the job’. Given the idealism of young people this is perhaps both encouraging but not surprising. The fact that less than a quarter of respondents felt that ‘doing work you find challenging’ or ‘working in a cutting-edge field’ were important elements in selecting a profession requires some thought for those seeking to promote computer science degrees to university entrants.

The research also contained some interesting insights into what may be driving young people into or away from the computer sciences and with the comfort of males and females in engaging with, using and creating technology. A key finding of the research was that the strongest positive driver towards computer science or an openness to a career in computing is ‘having the power to create and discover new things’. Despite this only 35% of male respondents and 13% of females felt comfortable subscribing to an RSS feed.

Reconciling the promise and reality of computing has clearly someway to go – especially in the minds of the young. Digital natives may be comfortable with computers but they evidence no greater desire to specialise in the field of computing than the generation who produced the natives’ computers in the first instance.The push for the ‘democratisation’ of computing may need reconsideration too. In particular computing as a subject of formal education may need to extend further into the earlier years of schooling. It may also be helpful if the fringe crusade of neo-tech evangelists against proprietary computing ceased so that media attention may be focused on the significant and urgent issues that confront all forms of computing development.

While undoubtedly the majority of the population will continue to rely on a few to create the computing tools that enable their economic innovation, the need to increase that few is pressing. Many efforts have been made in the past to inspire computing careers; those efforts must be redoubled if we are to even hope for the promise of an information connected world.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Charter Schools Win a High-Profile Convert

Boston's mayor risks the ire of the teachers' unions

Tom Menino, the longtime Democratic mayor of this city, is not known for rocking the boat or for eloquence. But earlier this month he stunned many in the city when he gave a powerful speech about school reform.

The speech took aim at the lack of progress in dozens of low-performing, inner-city Boston public schools, many of which have not met adequate yearly progress for five years running.

"To get the results we seek -- at the speed we want -- we must make transformative changes that boost achievement for students, improve quality choices for parents, and increase opportunities for teachers," Mr. Menino said. "We need to empower our educators to quickly innovate and implement what works." With that, Mr. Menino abandoned nearly two decades of personal opposition to nonunion charter schools, which have been bitterly resisted by Massachusetts teachers unions and their political allies. "I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap," he declared.

"Betrayal," cried the Boston Teachers Union on its Web site, decrying the "glee" with which Mr. Menino's "sudden turnaround" was greeted by "anti-public school and anti-tax zealots." That's a typically hyperbolic reference to Massachusetts' growing legions of charter-school supporters, an ideologically-diverse group that includes the Boston Globe's liberal editorial page, a bipartisan group of state officeholders who've funneled billions in new revenue into the public schools, and at least 13,000 pro-charter Boston taxpayers -- the 5,000 families with children in charter schools and 8,000 on waiting lists to enroll.

But the inflammatory rhetoric of the Boston Teachers Union reflects the alarm triggered by Mr. Menino's speech. "He has really thrown down the gauntlet to the union," notes Linda Brown of the charter-school support group Building Excellent Schools. "He's responding to an enormous overcurrent and undercurrent of public pressure over the fact that nothing is changing in too many schools. He's used his political acuteness to see there's a perfect storm."

What flashed on Mr. Menino's radar screen so urgently? Political pressure, most notably from the Obama administration, which has explicitly linked charter-school expansion with access to $5 billion in new education reform funding.

"States that don't have the stomach or the political will, they're going to lose out," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press recently. "That's $5 billion, b-i-l-l-i-o-n, up for grabs," moaned Mr. Menino in an interview with me. "I've gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can't get reforms?"

Credit pride and anger for Mr. Menino's change of heart as well. While he is a prohibitive favorite to win a fifth term this fall, two of his challengers have pointedly endorsed charters and needled him on the lingering failures of many city schools. His palpable embarrassment over his inability to overhaul Boston's schools is compounded by the sight of -- in his view -- lesser cities forging ahead with uncapped charter growth.

Mr. Menino tried to accommodate union resistance to charters by experimenting with unionized "pilot" schools that allow limited managerial flexibility in making personnel and budget decisions. But those experiments are failing to improve education and unions remain opposed to charters.

"The straw that broke the camel's back," Mr. Merino told me, came when a principal of one of the struggling school accepted a grant from ExxonMobil to give teachers small bonuses when their students excelled. The unions "took us to arbitration," Mr. Menino said, essentially killing the bonuses. So for good measure the mayor included a call for merit pay in his blockbuster school-reform speech. "Every time we try to do a reform they stop it."

Vestiges of Mr. Menino's anticharter past and his cautious political instincts remain. He wants to convert 51 failing public schools to "in-district" charters under the control of the city. Initially these schools will be nonunion, but unions may be able to organize their teachers down the road. Still, if results don't improve or the unions block his plan, Mr. Menino vows to lobby for lifting the state's restrictive cap on the number of "pure" charter schools. "Charters are a vehicle to get the reforms we need," he says.

Resistance in the state legislature to charter expansion is already wearing out the patience of even sober civic leaders like Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, a large private philanthropy. Creating more charters "couldn't be a more urgent matter," he told a legislative committee recently, adding that further delay "borders on criminal."

The Boston Foundation recently released a study noting that students admitted to charter schools were doing much better than the children they left behind in regular public schools, and better than students in those pilot schools that the mayor supported. The report found, for example, that students in pilot schools did not improve above regular public school students in eighth grade math. Charter-school children vastly improved their scores.

With Mr. Menino now pressing for more charters, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick could soon be under tremendous pressure to do more than pay lip service to the idea. The governor has so far professed support for charters, then supported policies that hamstrung them. For example, he has called for easing caps on charter schools -- but only in the worst-performing districts and with restrictions that force them to toss aside the lottery system they use to select students and instead adopt quotas for special education and English-as-a-second-language students.

It's unclear if such charter policies will meet Mr. Duncan's federal-funding smell test. It definitely doesn't satisfy Ms. Brown of Building Excellent Schools. "He cannot keep kicking popular opinion and political sanity aside," she says.

For Mr. Patrick, whose poll ratings are sagging low enough for some to wonder if he can win re-election in 2010, all of this has to be worrisome. The pro-charter rhetoric from Mr. Menino -- who is usually ranked alongside Sen. Edward Kennedy as the state's most popular politician -- is a flashing warning light. He can continue to cave into the teacher unions. Or he can get in line with demands of the Obama administration and offer unqualified support for charter schools.

Mr. Menino, for one, is already well down that path. He says that his own children are eyeing Boston charter schools for two of his grandchildren next fall.


Racist Academic Liberals

Ward Connerly, former University of California Regent, has an article, "Study, Study, Study -- A Bad Career Move" in the June 2, 2009 edition of Minding the Campus ( that should raise any decent American's level of disgust for what's routinely practiced at most of our universities. Mr. Connerly tells of a conversation he had with a high-ranking UC administrator about a proposal that the administrator was developing to increase campus diversity. Connerly asked the administrator why he considered it important to tinker with admissions instead of just letting the chips fall where they may. His response was that that unless the university took steps to "guide" admissions decisions, the University of California campuses would be dominated by Asians. When Connerly asked, "What would be wrong with that?", the UC administrator told him that Asians are "too dull -- they study, study, study." Then he said to Connerly, "If you ever say I said this, I will have to deny it." Connerly did not reveal the administrator's name. It would not have done any good because it's part of a diversity vision shared by most college administrators.

With the enactment of California's Proposition 209 in 1996, outlawing racial discrimination in college admissions, Asian enrollment at UC campuses has skyrocketed. UC Berkeley student body is 42 percent Asian students; UC Irvine 55 percent; UC Riverside 43 percent; and UCLA 38 percent. Asian student enrollment on all nine UC campuses is over 40 percent. That's in a state where the Asian population is about 13 percent. When there are policies that emphasize and reward academic achievement, Asians excel. College officials and others who are proponents of "diversity" and equal representation find that outcome offensive.

To deal with the Asian "menace," the UC Regents have proposed, starting in 2010, that no longer will the top 12.5 percent of students based on statewide performance be automatically admitted. Students won't have to take SAT subject matter tests. Grades and test scores will no longer weigh so heavily in admission decisions. This is simply gross racial discrimination against those "dull" Asian students who "study, study, study" in favor of "interesting" black, white and Hispanic students who don't "study, study, study."

This is truly evil and would be readily condemned as such if applied to other areas lacking in diversity. With blacks making up about 80 percent of professional basketball players, there is little or no diversity in professional basketball. Even at college-level basketball, it is not at all unusual to watch two teams playing and there not being a single white player on the court, much less a Chinese or Japanese player. I can think of several rule changes that might increase racial diversity in professional and college basketball. How about eliminating slam dunks and disallowing three-point shots? Restrict dribbling? Lower the basket's height? These and other rule changes would take away the "unfair" advantage that black players appear to have and create greater basketball diversity. But wouldn't diversity so achieved be despicable? If you answer yes, why would it be any less so when it's used to fulfill somebody's vision of college diversity?

Ward Connerly ends his article saying, "There is one truth that is universally applicable in the era of 'diversity,' especially in American universities: an absolute unwillingness to accept the verdict of colorblind policies." Hypocrisy is part and parcel of the liberal academic elite. But the American people, who fund universities either as parents, donors or taxpayers, should not accept this evilness and there's a good way to stop it -- cut off the funding to racially discriminating colleges and universities.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Antisemitic professor ruled OK

No Charges but No End in E-Mail Fight. There's always untrammelled freedom of speech for Leftists. But don't DARE criticize Islam. That immediately makes you a "racist" and puts you beyond the pale

In a limited sense, the case of William I. Robinson is over. On Wednesday, he was notified that a faculty committee had found no "probable cause" to undertake a full investigation of complaints filed against him related to e-mail messages he sent to his students in which he compared Israelis and Nazis. Further, he was notified that the administration at the University of California at Santa Barbara had accepted the faculty members' analysis, and that the case was over -- without his ever having faced formal charges before a disciplinary committee.

Supporters of Robinson, a tenured professor of sociology, agreed with those findings. But they said that grievances filed over e-mail messages sent in January should have been seen immediately as baseless, and that allowing the case to linger for months endangered the academic freedom of Robinson and others. "We're pleased, but this decision is too late," said Yousef K. Baker, a graduate student and one of the organizers of the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB. "I don't think it is enough for the university just to say that this case is terminated. The university needs to be held accountable for the chilling effect that their tardiness in doing what they have done now has created."

In a statement, Robinson said that he is waiting for “a public apology from the university as a first step in clearing my name after it has smeared my reputation and undermined my professional integrity.” He added that he plans to file a grievance over how he was treated in the case.

The case has attracted attention far beyond Santa Barbara, with the American Association of University Professors last month calling on the university to "pause" its inquiries because of the academic freedom issues involved. Cary Nelson, national president of the AAUP, said Wednesday night that "although I am pleased that the Robinson case has been closed, I am also concerned that unnecessary investigations of faculty exercising their academic freedom are having a serious chilling effect on our more vulnerable or less courageous colleagues."

The dispute dates to an e-mail message that Robinson sent to the approximately 80 students in January in a course about sociology and globalization. The e-mail contained an article criticizing the Israeli military's actions in Gaza. Part of the e-mail was an assemblage of photos from Nazi Germany's persecution of Jews and from Israel's actions in Gaza. Students were invited to look at the "parallel images." A message from Robinson argued that Gaza would be like "Israel's Warsaw."

In February, the Anti-Defamation League's Santa Barbara office wrote to Robinson to protest the e-mail and to urge him to repudiate it. "While your writings are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, we rely upon our rights to say that your comparisons of Nazis and Israelis were offensive, ahistorical and have crossed the line well beyond legitimate criticism of Israel," the letter said. It went on to say that the "tone and extreme views" in his e-mail were "intimidating to students," and that using his university e-mail to send "material that appears unrelated to" his course violated university standards for faculty members.

Following that letter, two students in the course dropped the class and filed complaints against Robinson. One student wrote that she felt "nauseous" upon reading the e-mail, and felt it was inappropriate. A second student complaint accusing Robinson of being unprofessional -- also from a student who dropped the course after receiving the e-mail -- said that Robinson has "clearly stated his anti-Semitic political views in this e-mail."

Under Santa Barbara's faculty governance system, such complaints go to a "charges officer" and then -- if they are serious -- a committee may be formed, somewhat like a grand jury, to determine whether formal charges should be brought against the professor. Robinson and his supporters have maintained that the e-mail was so clearly covered by academic freedom that the faculty charges officer should have dropped the matter. Instead, a committee was formed to determine whether the charges merited consideration by the standing committee that considers such allegations and can recommend sanctions against a professor. It was that non-standing committee that determined that there was no need to bring charges for a full investigation. Under the university's rules, no official statement is released about why charges were not brought. But earlier memos suggested that the two rules Robinson was accused of violating were measures that bar faculty members from "significant intrusion of material unrelated to the course" and "use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student or to cause harm to a student for arbitrary or personal reasons." (Many of the documents related to the student complaints and various university communications about the situation may be found on the Web site of the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB.)

The position of Robinson and his supporters has been that Israel's conduct in Gaza was in every way appropriate as a topic for discussion in a class on global issues, and that the complaints filed against him were a simple case of students (and some pro-Israel groups) disagreeing with Robinson's analysis. Robinson could not be reached Wednesday, but last month he told Inside Higher Ed that the charges against him were "absolutely absurd." He noted that he is Jewish and said that he abhors anti-Semitism, and that his academic freedom is being violated by the university taking seriously charges that link his e-mail criticisms of Israel's government with anti-Semitism. "This is all because I have criticized the policies of the State of Israel."

Stand With Us, a pro-Israel group that has been organizing petition drives to back the idea of a full investigation of Robinson, issued a statement Wednesday night questioning the university's decision. "We are surprised and disappointed that UCSB chose not to uphold their standards for professional conduct, and that it has blurred the lines between responsible education and the peddling of propaganda. It is unfortunate that students will continue to be victims of partisan indoctrination and misinformation," said the statement, from Roz Rothstein, international director of the organization.

The Stand With Us Web site features analysis on why the group does not feel Robinson's e-mail should be protected by academic freedom.

"We applaud the UCSB administration’s decision to investigate whether Robinson abused the Faculty Code of Conduct guidelines. This investigation is critical for stemming the politicization of academia and the rising academic support for anti-Israel propaganda," says the Web site (in a posting that does not reflect Wednesday's news that the investigation is over). "The administration will be under intense political pressure from those who oppose the investigation. Let the administration know that there is also strong public support for their decision."

The Academic Senate at the university has passed a resolution to study how this investigation was handled -- and many faculty members have questioned whether the process used was appropriate, with many critics noting that pro-Israel groups have encouraged criticism of Robinson.

Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor for public affairs at Santa Barbara, said that because this case is a personnel matter, the university would have no comment on the case. He said that it was important to note that the university "places great importance on the defense of academic freedom," but that academic freedom "does not exempt a faculty member from the provisions of the faculty Code of Conduct," or limit the ability of people inside or outside the university to file grievances.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, blogged in support of the university's decision Wednesday. "Stripped of the jargon of sociology and the politicization of the issue by both sides, the question becomes whether or not the professor in what essentially amounts to a global politics class can give his opinions about global politics," he said. "While many of his critics would prefer to see the Professor Robinsons of the world denied this right, in the end, we all benefit from classroom and academic discussions in which the exchange of ideas is as free as possible."


ACLU finds black pupils disproportionately punished

Could it just be that they are disproportionately unruly? The extraordinarily high rate of violent crime emanating from adult blacks would suggest it to any sane mind. "The boy is father of the man", as the saying goes

A disproportionate number of African-American students in many Michigan school districts are being suspended and expelled for minor infractions, leaving those kids more likely to end up in prison, says a report out today from the ACLU of Michigan. “Everyone should be disturbed about the results of the report,” Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Michigan, said today at a news conference announcing the results.

The ACLU report

The group found that in many districts, while black students make up a small share of the student body, they make up a large share of students who are suspended.

In Ann Arbor Public Schools, for instance, 18% of the student body is black, but nearly 60% of the suspensions went to black students. In the Fitzgerald school district in Macomb County, about 26% of the population is black, but black students make up nearly 45% of suspensions.

In the Ann Arbor district, 83 black students were suspended during the 2006-07 school year for insubordination while 20 white students were suspended for the same reason. Fancher said some will make the incorrect assumption that black students simply misbehave to greater degrees than white students. But he said “the research shows otherwise.” [What research?]

Students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out, the ACLU says. And dropping out can lead to incarceration, given that 66% of Michigan inmates dropped out of high school.

Part of the blame, the group says, are zero tolerance policies in Michigan that have left many students being kicked out of school for minor infractions. Many are things that used to be handled in the principal’s office, but are now resulting in students being criminally charged, said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

Fancher told the story of two middle-school girls who were involved in a fight, then were handcuffed by a school resource officer and threatened with criminal charges. “This is a fight between two middle-school girls. Cops don’t belong in that. Handcuffs don’t belong in that,” Fancher said.

Among the speakers today was Desiree Ferguson, whose daughter was nearly expelled for bringing an eyebrow shaper to school. The incident, which happened in October 2007, happened when her daughter attended the Detroit International Academy. She now is a student at Detroit City High School.

Ferguson, a criminal defense attorney, advocated for her daughter and got the offense downgraded for having a dangerous weapon, which is an automatic expulsion, to possession of contraband. But she said it’s still on her daughter’s record and the incident impacted the girl’s “morale and self-esteem.”

Most parents, Ferguson said, won’t know how to fight the system the way she did. “It’s on behalf of these kids that I’m speaking out,” she said.