Friday, August 23, 2013

Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal

Matt Taibbi

The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education - saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy

In the early 2000s, a thirtysomething scientist named Alan Collinge seemed to be going places. He had graduated from USC in 1999 with a degree in aerospace engineering and landed a research job at Caltech. Then he made a mistake: He asked for a raise, didn't get it, lost his job and soon found himself underemployed and with no way to repay the roughly $38,000 in loans he'd taken out to get his degree.

Collinge's creditor, Sallie Mae, which originally had been a quasi-public institution but, in the late Nineties, had begun transforming into a wholly private lender, didn't answer his requests for a forbearance or a restructuring. So in 2001, he went into default. Soon enough, his original $38,000 loan had ballooned to more than $100,000 in debt, thanks to fees, penalties and accrued interest. He had a job as a military contractor, but he lost it when his employer ran a credit check on him. His whole life was now about his student debt.

Collinge became so upset that, while sitting on a buddy's couch in Tacoma, Washington, one night in 2005 and nursing a bottle of Jack Daniel's, he swore that he'd see Sallie Mae on 60 Minutes if it was the last thing he did. In what has to be a first in the history of drunken bullshitting, it actually happened. "Lo and behold, I ended up being featured on 60 Minutes within about a year," he says. In 2006, he got to tell his debt story to Lesley Stahl for a piece on Sallie Mae's draconian lending tactics that, curiously enough, Sallie Mae itself refused to be interviewed for.

From that point forward, Collinge – who founded the website – became what he calls "a complaint box for the industry." He heard thousands of horror stories from people like himself, and over the course of many years began to wonder more and more about one particular recurring theme, what he calls "the really significant thing – the sticker price." Why was college so expensive?

Tuition costs at public and private colleges were, are and have been rising faster than just about anything in American society – health care, energy, even housing. Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family's annual income. Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody's released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.

After the mortgage crash of 2008, for instance, many states pushed through deep cuts to their higher-education systems, but all that did was motivate schools to raise tuition prices and seek to recoup lost state subsidies in the form of more federal-loan money. The one thing they didn't do was cut costs. "College spending has been going up at the same time as prices have been going up," says Kevin Carey of the nonpartisan New America Foundation.

This is why the issue of student-loan interest rates pales in comparison with the larger problem of how anyone can repay such a huge debt – the average student now leaves school owing $27,000 – by entering an economy sluggishly jogging uphill at a fraction of the speed of climbing education costs. "It's the unending, gratuitous, punitive increase in prices that is driving all of this," says Carey.

As Collinge worked to figure out the cause of those cost increases, he became focused on several highly disturbing, little-discussed quirks in the student-lending industry. For instance: A 2005 Wall Street Journal story by John Hechinger showed that the Department of Education was projecting it would actually make money on students who defaulted on loans, and would collect on average 100 percent of the principal, plus an additional 20 percent in fees and payments.

Hechinger's reporting would continue over the years to be borne out in official documents. In 2010, for instance, the Obama White House projected the default recovery rate for all forms of federal Stafford loans (one of the most common federally backed loans for undergraduates and graduates) to be above 122 percent. The most recent White House projection was slightly less aggressive, predicting a recovery rate of between 104 percent and 109 percent for Stafford loans.

When Rolling Stone reached out to the DOE to ask for an explanation of those numbers, we got no answer. In the past, however, the federal government has responded to such criticisms by insisting that it doesn't make a profit on defaults, arguing that the government incurs costs farming out negligent accounts to collectors, and also loses even more thanks to the opportunity cost of lost time. For instance, the government claimed its projected recovery rate for one type of defaulted Stafford loans in 2013 to be 109.8 percent, but after factoring in collection costs, that number drops to 95.7 percent. Factor in the additional cost of lost time, and the "net" projected recovery rate for these Stafford loans is 81.8 percent.

Still, those recovery numbers are extremely high, compared with, say, credit-card debt, where recovery rates of 15 percent are not uncommon. Whether the recovery rate is 110 percent or 80 percent, it seems doubtful that losses from defaults come close to impacting the government's bottom line, since the state continues to project massive earnings from its student-loan program. After the latest compromise, the 10-year revenue projection for the DOE's lending programs is $184,715,000,000, or $715 million higher than the old projection – underscoring the fact that the latest deal, while perhaps rescuing students this coming year from high rates, still expects to ding them hard down the road.

But the main question is, how is the idea that the government might make profits on defaulted loans even up for debate? The answer lies in the uniquely blood-draining legal framework in which federal student loans are issued. First of all, a high percentage of student borrowers enter into their loans having no idea that they're signing up for a relationship as unbreakable as herpes. Not only has Congress almost completely stripped students of their right to disgorge their debts through bankruptcy (amazing, when one considers that even gamblers can declare bankruptcy!), it has also restricted the students' ability to refinance loans. Even Truth in Lending Act requirements – which normally require lenders to fully disclose future costs to would-be customers – don't cover certain student loans. That student lenders can escape from such requirements is especially pernicious, given that their pool of borrowers are typically one step removed from being children, but the law goes further than that and tacitly permits lenders to deceive their teenage clients.

Not all student borrowers have access to the same information. A 2008 federal education law forced private lenders to disclose the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) to prospective borrowers; APR is a more complex number that often includes fees and other charges. But lenders of federally backed student loans do not have to make the same disclosures.

"Only a small minority of those who've been to college have been told very simple things, like what their interest rate was," says Collinge. "A lot of straight-up lies have been foisted on students."

Talk to any of the 38 million Americans who have outstanding student-loan debt, and he or she is likely to tell you a story about how a single moment in a financial-aid office at the age of 18 or 19 – an age when most people can barely do a load of laundry without help – ended up ruining his or her life. "I was 19 years old," says 24-year-old Lyndsay Green, a graduate of the University of Alabama, in a typical story. "I didn't understand what was going on, but my mother was there. She had signed, and now it was my turn. So I did." Six years later, she says, "I am nearly $45,000 in debt..... If I had known what I was doing, I would never have gone to college."


Daniel Boone Nixed by Educrats

To build the new utopian America, first the old America must be completely extirpated. That means erasing our heroes and cultural icons, so that they won’t remind us of who we used to be. Consequently, frontiersman Daniel Boone is now deemed offensive:

Is a cartoon-like college mascot reminiscent of Daniel Boone — right down to the legendary coonskin cap — racist, sexist or otherwise offensive?

Officials at the University of Denver seem to think so. They’ve announced they won’t reinstate “Denver Boone,” who was retired in 1998 as mascot for the UD Pioneers, despite calls to bring him back. …

“Boone was a polarizing figure that did not reflect the growing diversity of the UD community, but rather was an image that many women, persons of color, international students and faculty members found difficult to relate to as defining the pioneering spirit,” Chancellor Robert Coombe said in a March letter to the school community.

Numerous Facebook postings by students who wanted Daniel Boone back were ignored by PC educrats.

“It was really about moving forward,” Theresa Mueller, a spokeswoman for the University of Denver, told

Moving forward toward what? What kind of future does a society have if it lets itself be ruled by people who find it offensive?

Davy Crockett will be next to get airbrushed out of our culture; after all, he racistly shot Mexicans at the Alamo. Not long after will follow the Founding Fathers.


WH: Obama's College-Cost Proposals 'Not Going to Be Popular With Everybody'

President Obama is about to propose "fundamental reforms that would bring real change to the way that we pay for college education in this country," a White House spokesman said on Wednesday. 

Those reforms "are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interests of middle-class families," White House spokesman Josh Earnest

But the White House refused to give details: "Well, you have to wait til Thursday," Earnest told reporters. "I don't want to give away the secret now."

President Obama's next bus tour begins on Thursday. He's traveling to New York and Pennsylvania to "talk about his vision for ensuring a better bargain for the middle class," Earnest said.

"He's going to talk a little bit this week about college affordability," the spokesman added, repeating President Obama's contention that a college education is essential to ensuring that middle-class families have access to economic opportunity.

Earnest noted that average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled over the last three decades, while family incomes have "barely increased," he said. "The average student today graduates with more than $26,000 in student debt,"  he said.

Data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Education Department, shows that in-state tuition at community college jumped almost 6 percent, to an average of $3,131 last year; in-state tuition at a public, four-year college averaged $8,655, up 5 percent; and private, four-year school tuition and fees averaged $29,056, a 4 percent increase.

Add room, board and fees into the mix, and the numbers for four-year colleges are much higher. (According to one survey, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. is the most expensive college in the nation, costing a total of $61,236 for the 2012-2013 year. N New York University was second, at $59,337.)

The NCES found that 71 percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid in the 2011-12 school year, up from 66 percent four years earlier.

"Increasing federal student aid alone will not control the cost of college," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement issued on Tuesday.  He urged "state policymakers and individual colleges and universities to do their part in taking action against rising college tuition. Together we can take collective action to help make college more accessible, affordable, and attainable for middle class Americans across the country."

At the White House on Tuesday, Earnest told reporters that Americans who are college-educated tend to earn more and find jobs more easily.

He also referred to NCES statistics showing that 42 percent of students received federal grants in 2011-2012, up from 28 percent from four years earlier, and 40 percent received federal loans, an increase of 5 percentage points.

"Now there's also a study that was published today that shows that the federal government is doing more than ever to open up the door to a college education to middle-class families, that the federal government is providing more assistance than ever before," Earnest said.

"But government assistance can't keep up with skyrocketing costs. So what the president believes that we need to do is we need to fundamentally rethink and reshape the college -- the higher education system and we need find a way to build on innovation.

"So the president on this bus tour will lay out some fundamental reforms that would bring real change to the way that we pay for college education in this country.

"Now, the proposals that the president is going to lay out are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interests of middle-class families. And the president is looking forward to having that discussion over the course of Thursday and Friday, in addition to riding on a bus."


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Common Core Teachers Taught to Praise Wrong Answers Like ’3 x 4 was 11’

Apparently, under the new Common-Core standards, correct answers don’t really matter. At least that’s according to a “curriculum coordinator” in Chicago named Amanda August. “Even if [a student] said, ’3 x 4 was 11,’ if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer really in, umm, words and oral explanation, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we’re really more focused on the how,” said the common core supporter and typical liberal, Amanda.

Of course this reasoning explains quite a bit regarding our nation’s 16 trillion dollar debt, and Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that Obamacare was a “deficit reducer.” When you consider that our finest economic leaders in the Federal Reserve, and the White House, think spending more money will result in fewer deficits, teaching that 3 x 4 = 11 (if you explain it well) isn’t really much of a stretch.

The left has long sought to bolster self-esteem by downplaying wrong answers in education. Everyone gets a ribbon; a truly disastrous lesson to teach when not everyone is capable of getting a job. And while the how is important in any lesson plan, in the end, the answer should still be correct. Amanda’s students are going to be in for a world of surprise when their first employer decides that doing the job correctly is more important than demonstrating “with words” an employee’s fundamental failure to grasp the concept of their task.

To the credit of the presumably leftists audience, someone asked if teachers will still be correcting students on math tests. The simple fact that someone had to ask the question should demonstrate the atrocious nature of American education reform. The question “are we still going to correct wrong answers” would seem incomprehensible in a system of honest instruction. Amanda, however, stumbles through a very entertaining non-answer:

“We want our students to compute correctly but the emphasis is really moving more towards the explanation, and the how, and the why, and ‘can I really talk through the procedures that I went through to get this answer; and not just knowing that it’s 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?”

Well. . . Amanda, if they answered “11”, my guess is they won’t be able to answer “how do I know that” to a satisfactory degree. Well, 3 + 4 = 7, and both 3 and 7 are prime numbers. This leaves only 4 left, so we add it to our answer of 7 which is, of course, 11. Another prime number. . . How’d I do? Do I pass? What kind of world do we live in when math becomes a philosophical essay, and not a system of numbers, arithmetic, and simple truths? Well, it’s the same type of world that gives ribbons out to “honorary mentions” and lets every child star in the Christmas “winter” musical.

And this is at the center of Common-Core. At its heart is not an intent to better our failing school system (after all, you don’t do that by praising kids who get basic multiplication wrong) but to instil an altruistic sense of self-worth and liberal flexibility. To the American left, school should be an instrument to instruct children that they can be anything they want, and that the most important thing is life is that you get an “A” for effort.

Of course, I wanted to be an astronaut. . . And it doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you can’t answer the multiplication problem “3 x 4”, you’re not very likely to move into the highly competitive world of extraterrestrial exploration (although you could run for congress as a Democrat).

Amanda’s purported concentration on making sure children understand what they are taught certainly has its place in the classroom. . . Right behind getting the right answer. But don’t worry: People like Amanda will soon be writing up your child’s lesson plans.


Would Thomas Jefferson Approve of Today's Public Education?

Yes, Jefferson foresaw that public education would teach a broad range of basics. But no, he didn't imagine that academia would be run by the federal government or that it would turn into limited indoctrination camps for political correctness and secular progressivism.

There was nothing more important for Jefferson than the education of the public. For him, the preservation of our very republic was dependent upon it.

As far back as 1787, he wrote to James Madison: "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."

And in 1810, after two terms as president, he penned, "No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free & good government."

In 1816, he further noted: "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. ... I believe (the human condition) susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is effected."

And in 1822, only four years before his death, Jefferson said, "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man."

Jefferson believed that the cost of ignorance for our communities and our country would be much more than the costs to educate the people. Again, he wrote, "Now let us see what the present primary schools cost us, on the supposition that all the children of 10, 11, & 12 years old are, as they ought to be, at school: and, if they are not, so much the work is the system; for they will be untaught, and their ignorance & vices will, in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences, than it would have done, in their correction, by a good education."

The Library of Congress' website, under the title "Well-informed people can be trusted with self-government," explains: "The ability of people to govern themselves was a major goal of education in Jefferson's mind. The new Federal Constitution of the United States '& a submission to it' proved to Jefferson that 'whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.'"

On this basis, Jefferson espoused a broad range of education: "A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest."

Jefferson defined education's scope in this respect: "The objects of this primary education determine its character and limits. These objects are To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing; To improve by reading, his morals and faculties; To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed. To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary schools, whether private or public, in them should be taught reading, writing and numerical arithmetic, the elements of mensuration ... and the outlines of geography and history."

Educating the public with the basic subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic is about the extent to which Jefferson would agree with our modern public education system.


Australia:  Principals given out-of-school expulsion powers

School principals will be able to suspend or exclude students for offences they commit outside of school hours under new legislation introduced in Parliament on Tuesday.

Provisions under the Strengthening Discipline in State Schools Education Amendment Bill will also empower principals to suspend or expel students who are facing or have been convicted of criminal charges.

It means students who have been charged with a serious offence – as prescribed in the Children's Commissioner's Act – including rape, drug trafficking, armed robbery, torture, kidnapping and attempted murder, can be suspended until the charge is dealt with.

The bill, which expands a principal's power for acts committed beyond the school gates, also means a principal can suspend or expel a student from school for conduct outside of school "provided the conduct adversely affects, or is likely to adversely affect, other students or the good order and management of the school or where the student's attendance at the school poses an unacceptable risk to the safety or wellbeing of other students or staff".

Students will be provided with an educational program during their suspension.

Bullying and other anti-social behaviour, outside school hours and its property, could also be grounds for punishment.

In introducing the bill to Parliament, Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said principals understood their school community and knew what was best for it and should be given the powers to act accordingly.

"This provides a balance between enhancing principals' powers to operate in accordance with local circumstances while guiding consistent decision making that affords appropriate levels of natural justice and ensures the safety and wellbeing of students and staff is paramount," he said.

Under the Education Act as it currently stands, disciplinary options are limited to part of lunch breaks or short periods after school. The amended bill removes time limit restrictions for detention and includes options for Saturday detention and community service.

Short term suspensions can now be up to 10 schools days, up from five, meaning a long term suspension will now be between 11 and 20 days.

School principals will no longer require written submissions when expelling a student, however parents will still have the option to appeal a decision with the director-general.

"These reforms support the reforms under [the] Great Teachers = Great Results [policy] by strengthening principals' powers and addressing limitations contained in the present legislative framework around school discipline," Mr Langbroek said.

The education amendment bill has been sent to parliamentary committee for review, however Mr Langbroek expects it to be passed before the end of the year in time for the first school semester next year.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Don’t Fix No Child Left Behind, End It

Children are taught the value of perseverance. It’s a virtue, they are told, to keep working until the job gets done. But sometimes the opposite is needed: The candor to reassess and recognize when it’s time to throw in the towel. Since 2007, Congress has been debating whether to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

Last week the House passed the Student Success Act, which attempts to restore more control over education to states, schools, and parents. It eliminates or consolidates dozens of federal programs in an effort to reduce the federal footprint and encourage a more “appropriate” federal role in education.

Rather than push ahead with reauthorization, Congress should retire NCLB and take a fresh look at government’s role in education.

NCLB is the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which was a key program in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. It directs federal funds to a variety of programs intended to improve education for disadvantaged students. NCLB was supposed to be different from previous reauthorizations because it mandates annual statewide testing for students and that test results for all student sub-groups be made public. NCLB requires “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) targets for student proficiency in reading and math, and penalties for schools and districts that fail to meet those targets.

According to NCLB, this coming year, for example, 100 percent of American public school children, regardless of income, race, disability, or native language, are supposed to be proficient in reading and math. No state is even close.

Rather than mete out the various penalties, the Obama administration has given 39 states waivers. It’s understandable why the Administration doesn’t want to punish schools for not meeting unrealistic education goals, but this waiver approach is flawed. The federal government should instead move to tackle the bigger problem of federal micromanagement of schooling by scrapping NCLB and returning local control over education to parents in states and localities.

Americans share the desire to ensure that all children receive an excellent education. But that doesn’t mean the federal government has the solution. In fact, NCLB—like most other federal efforts to dictate education policy—has proven a costly, confusing waste of time and money.

The administrative burden of complying with NCLB was an estimated 7.8 million hours at a cost of more than $235 million in 2011 alone. Worse, there is scant evidence that this expensive red tape has improved student learning. Achievement results before and after NCLB’s implementation show no appreciable improvement in students’ educational outcomes and no sustained narrowing of the achievement gap.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 17-year-olds have risen just one and two points, respectively, in math and reading, since the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the average high school graduation rate remains stuck at around 75 percent—the same as it was in the mid-1970s, in spite of the many attempts from the federal government to improve education.

Nearly 50 years of failure is enough. There is no reason to believe that giving the federal government more time and more money will improve student outcomes. It’s time for a new approach.

First, Congress should prohibit any NCLB program from being reauthorized. All related program funding should be returned to the states with no federal strings attached—the most flexible plan of all.

Second, no piece of federal education legislation should be enacted until the U.S. Constitution is amended giving Congress express authority to pass education-related legislation. The president and his education secretary must stop bypassing Congress, unilaterally issuing waivers, and doling out taxpayer dollars for the administration’s pet policies, most notably Common Core national standards.

Finally, state lawmakers should enact and expand parental choice programs. Today, 250,000 students nationwide are benefiting from parental choice programs, up from 50,000 in 2001. Rigorous scientific research proves parental choice works; parental choice saves money; parental choice is constitutional; and, best of all, parental choice programs change children’s lives for the better.

Public policy should be based on hard evidence—not just noble intentions. NCLB has failed and may be hindering the state-level, parent-driven innovations that create real educational opportunities for all students.

Washington needs to stop tinkering with old federal education laws and recognize that getting out of the way and allowing taxpayer dollars to fund what works for each student is the best way to improve education throughout the United States.


California lawmaker pulls son from class over transgender law

A Republican state lawmaker says a new California law allowing transgender students to choose which restroom and locker room they use is part of the reason at least one of his sons will not return to his local public school this fall.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who lives in the Southern California mountain community of Twin Peaks, described his family's decision in a column published on WND, a conservative website.

He wrote that under the bill from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the privacy rights of California students "will be replaced by the right to be ogled" and will encourage inappropriate behavior among hormone-driven teenagers.

"While trying to address a concern of less than 2 percent of the population, California is now forcibly violating the rights of the other 98 percent," Donnelly wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law Monday, making California the first state to put such transgender protections into statute.

Donnelly told The Associated Press on Friday that his 13- and 16-year-old sons, who attend Rim of the World Unified School District in the San Bernardino Mountains, were "horrified" to learn they might have to share a restroom with female students.

He is pulling one son out of middle school, while another son is uncertain if he will return to his public high school. The decision is one that his family already had been discussing before the bill was approved.

"If it doesn't change his school experience, he may still stay," Donnelly said of his high-school student. "We don't know yet how this policy is going to affect our town."

A message left with the school district's superintendent's office was not immediately returned.

The law, which will take effect Jan. 1, gives students the right "to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities" based on the gender they identify with as opposed to their birth gender. Those programs also include sports teams.

Supporters said it will help reduce bullying and discrimination against transgender students and note that the state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has had such a policy for nearly a decade.

But detractors say allowing students of one gender to use facilities intended for the other could invade the other students' privacy.

Donnelly, who is exploring a bid for governor next year, said he is hearing concerns from a growing number of parents across the state. Some of those parents have told him they also plan to remove their students from public school, although he said the parents he has spoken with have declined to speak publicly about their decision.

Donnelly's comments Friday came as two conservative groups opposed to the law, the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute and Capitol Resource Institute, filed language for a ballot referendum with the state attorney general's office seeking to repeal AB1266.

The justice institute also is distributing a form that parents can send to school districts, stating that their child's rights include the right to privacy from students of the opposite gender in situations such as changing clothes.

Brad Dacus, the institute's president, said the organization has drawn significant interest from parents who are upset by the new law. He said the form "puts the school district on notice that students aren't surrendering their rights to privacy."


Oxbridge ‘hegemony’ will end, says head

It's certainly true that there are some good London universities but they don't have the cachet of Oxbridge now and it is hard to see why they will in the future  -- JR

A group of universities will become a “super Ivy League” and break the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in university league tables, a leading headmaster has said.

Tim Hands, incoming chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of top private schools said that several London universities had already narrowed the gap and the end of the Oxbridge “hegemony” would benefit young people, according to The Times.

He said: “We are going to have a super Ivy League of Imperial, UCL, LSE, and then Oxbridge won’t be so apart, which must be good for our society. We are already getting towards it.”

Dr Hands is Master of Magdalen College School, in Oxford, which is sending 47 pupils to Oxford and Cambridge this year and has some of the best A-level results in England.

But he said: “If we can get rid of the Oxbridge hegemony it will be so much better for young people. Just as the 11-plus divided people into sheep and goats, anything that makes people at 18 think they are sheep and goats is bad or must be in danger of being bad.

"So if we could have a perception that there is a wider set of top universities, that will have to be good. And there are many signs that is happening.”

Dr Hands said he regularly tells parents of his pupils that Oxford and Cambridge are “not the be-all and should not become the end-all”.

He said: “Parents and pupils do tend to see those universities — after all, they have their own term, Oxbridge — as being apart, in a league of their own. I think that can be very harmful to young people’s self-perceptions and to parents’ aspirations.”

Data from The Times Good University Guide does not show any change in the gap between Oxford and Cambridge and Britain’s other universities.

When the guide was launched in 1993 the gap between them and third place, then held by Imperial College, was 40 points.

In last year’s guide, the gap between Cambridge and the London School of Economics, in third place, had widened to 80 points.

But many academics predict that research funding, which tends to be focused on science and medicine, will largely go to a league of universities that include Imperial, UCL, King’s College London and Manchester.

Last spring the Russell Group of Britain’s biggest research universities expanded from 20 members to 24 as it included Durham, Exeter, York and Queen Mary University of London.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Boys and girls are not men and women, or women and men

Gov. Jerry  Brown signed Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s AB 1266 yesterday. As a result, the Chronicle’s Ellen Huet reports, “Transgender students in California public schools will be allowed to participate in school groups and use school facilities based on their gender identities, in a change that turns a policy several school districts already follow into statewide law.”

I urged Brown not to sign the bill in this column. For one thing, the law overrides parental consent. For another, it steamrolls over the feelings of students who may not want a transitioning student in their gym shower:

    "AB1266 directs schools to ignore biology and let children decide how they want to self-identify. No student, including elementary school pupils, would need his or her parents’ permission to change their gender identity."

Most important, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to encourage children to change their gender identity before they even know how to read. It forces the public schools to treat children as if they are authorities on what should be an adult decision. And what happens if a child changes his or her mind?

Let me add, I think that advocates are naive if they believe that admission into sports’ teams and showers equates acceptance.  In an area where children might do better to tread lightly, AB 1266 threatens to turn unsure first-graders into transgender advocates. Scary.


Report claims laptops may actually hinder kids in classrooms

Laptops may actually hinder students ability to learn, providing a distraction and even affecting students sitting near their owners, according to a stunning new Canadian report.

With laptops and tablet computers pervading the modern classroom, the report suggests that paper and pencil might be less distracting overall.

"We really didn't think the effects would be this huge," explained McMaster University researcher Faria Sana, who co-authored the study with fellow doctoral student Tina Weston. "It can change your grade from a B+ to a B-."

For their study, published earlier this year in the journal Computers & Education, Sana and Weston gave some students laptops to take notes, and asked them to complete a few unrelated tasks in their spare time. Other students were told given No. 2 pencils and the same tasks.

The test scenario was meant to ape a real classroom, Sana told the Canadian Press Association.

"We really tried to make it pretty close to what actually happens in the lectures,” she said.

Those students who multitasked on their laptops performed significantly worse than the pencil pushers -- and surprisingly, the effect even reached to students sitting near the laptop users.

“Those who were seated around peers who were multitasking also performed much worse on the final test," Sana said.

With the pervasiveness of tech in today’s classrooms, students have known to grow distracted, surfing the Internet, playing games, or updating Facebook profiles rather than paying attention.  And that’s the problem, the researchers said.

"A lot of students spend quite a big chunk of time in class doing things that are not related to the academic environment or aren't directly related to the course or the lecture," Sana said.


Seven Illinois Public Universities Hit With Credit Downgrades

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the credit ratings of seven public universities in Illinois.

Illinois state government already has the worst credit rating of any state in the nation. And the largest city in Illinois – Chicago --  recently saw the credit rating on more than $8 billion of its general obligation debt dropped a nearly unprecedented three levels at one time by Moody’s.

The downgrade of Illinois universities, announced August 9, came with a warning that further downgrades of university credit ratings could come if the state government does not resolve problems in its worst-in-the-nation government pension system, conservatively estimated to have $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The downgrades affect the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Only Northern Illinois University was able to maintain its rating. Most of the $2.24 billion in debt the universities currently hold belongs to the University of Illinois, which has $1.56 billion in debt.

If any of the universities borrow more money, they likely would have to pay higher rates of interest because of the lower credit ratings. This soon could happen. The University of Illinois is preparing a $77 million bond sale to fund a renovation project at its hospital in Chicago.

Moody’s pinned much of the blame for the lower credit ratings on the state’s dismal pension situation.

“If pension reform is passed, UI may need to fund a portion of its pension expense,” Moody’s wrote in its report on the University of Illinois, which saw its rating decline from Aa2 to Aa3. “If pension reform fails to be enacted, we expect continued pressure on state operating appropriations.”


Monday, August 19, 2013

The police state mindset in our public schools

Once upon a time in America, parents breathed a sigh of relief when their kids went back to school after a summer’s hiatus, content in the knowledge that for a good portion of the day their kids would be gainfully occupied, out of harm’s way and out of trouble. Those were the good old days, before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon and schools, aiming for greater security, transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, instead of making the schools safer, we simply managed to make them more authoritarian. It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school. Nowadays, students are not only punished for transgressions more minor than those—such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight—but they are punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.

As a result, America is now on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation—one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. Indeed, as I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police. In fact, the majority of schools today have adopted an all-or-nothing lockdown mindset that leaves little room for freedom, individuality or due process.

For example, when high school senior Ashley Smithwick grabbed the wrong lunch sack—her father’s—on the way to school, the star soccer player had no idea that her mistake would land her in a sea of legal troubles. Unbeknownst to Ashley, the lunchbox contained her father’s paring knife, a 2-inch blade he uses to cut his apple during lunch. It was only when a school official searching through students’ belongings found the diminutive knife, which administrators considered a “weapon,” that Ashley realized what had happened and explained the mistake. Nevertheless, school officials referred Ashley to the police, who in turn charged her with a Class 1 misdemeanor for possessing a “sharp-pointed or edged instrument on educational property.”

Tieshka Avery, a diabetic teenager living in Birmingham, Alabama, was slammed into a filing cabinet and arrested after falling asleep during an in-school suspension. The young lady, who suffers from sleep apnea and asthma, had fallen asleep while reading Huckleberry Finn in detention. After a school official threw a book at her, Avery went to the hall to collect herself. While speaking on the phone with her mother, she was approached from behind by a police officer, who slammed her into a filing cabinet and arrested her. Avery is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the school.

Unfortunately, while these may appear to be isolated incidents, they are indicative of a nationwide phenomenon in which children are treated like criminals, especially within the public schools. The ramifications are far-reaching. As Emily Bloomenthal, writing for the New York University Review of Law & Social Change, explains:

"Studies have found that youth who have been suspended are at increased risk of being required to repeat a grade, and suspensions are a strong predictor of later school dropout. Researchers have concluded that “suspension often becomes a ‘pushout’ tool to encourage low-achieving students and those viewed as ‘troublemakers’ to leave school before graduation.” Students who have been suspended are also more likely to commit a crime and/or to end up incarcerated as an adult, a pattern that has been dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline.”"

Moreover, as suspensions and arrests for minor failings and childish behavior become increasingly common, so does the spread of mass surveillance in our nation’s schools. In fact, our schools have become a microcosm of the total surveillance state which currently dominates America, adopting a host of surveillance technologies, including video cameras, finger and palm scanners, iris scanners, as well as RFID and GPS tracking devices, to keep constant watch over their student bodies.

For example, in May 2013, Polk County School District in Florida foisted an iris scanning program on its students without parental consent. Parents were sent a letter explaining they could opt their children out of the program, but by the time the letter had reached parents, 750 children had already had their eyes scanned and their biometric data collected.

Making matters worse, these iris scanning programs are gaining traction in the schools, with school buses even getting in on the action. As students enter the school bus, they will be told to look through a pair of binocular-like scanners which will either blink, indicating that the student is on the right bus, or honk, indicating that they’ve chosen the wrong one. This technology is linked with a mobile app which parents can use to track their child’s exact whereabouts, as each time their eyes are scanned the parent receives a print out with their photo and Google map location, along with a timestamp. Benefits aside, the potential for abuse, especially in the hands of those who prey on the young, are limitless.

It has been said that America’s schools are the training ground for future generations. If so, and unless we can do something to rein in this runaway train, this next generation will be the most compliant, fearful and oppressed generation ever to come of age in America, and they will be marching in lockstep with the police state.


CA: New state law opens doors for transgender students

Transgender students in California public schools will be allowed to participate in school groups and use school facilities based on their gender identities, in a change that turns a policy several school districts already follow into statewide law.

AB1266 will ensure that schools respect students' gender identity concerning sports teams, locker rooms, restrooms and all other "sex-segregated" programs and facilities. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, was introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

State law already prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure say the extra clarity in the law will go a long way in making a growing population of transgender students feel comfortable and safe at school.

"Being accepted or not accepted at school makes all the difference in the world for these kids," said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco organization that sponsored the bill. "That's in terms of both their abilities to succeed in school in the short term and their long-term health and well-being."

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1. Advocates hope that school districts will look for guidance from districts like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which already have long-standing policies to accommodate transgender students.

"We're in the middle of a very historic change," Minter said. "For the past few years, we've started to see more families supporting and accepting their transgender children. More of those students are being themselves at school as well. It's an issue that schools are increasingly seeing and dealing with. That said, it's going to be a relatively small group of students - a very small, discrete and vulnerable group of students."

Most school districts, even in more conservative parts of the state, want to know how to implement the law fairly, advocates said.

"I would say there's been more confusion and fear and some resistance," Minter said. "School officials care about kids. They care about their students. They want to do the right thing, but some school officials have been confused. They have no understanding of what the law requires or what it means not to discriminate."

A similar policy already applies to school athletics. School athletics programs must allow students to play on teams in accordance with their gender identity and not the gender on their school records. Those bylaws were approved unanimously in May 2012 by the California Interscholastic Federation, the organization that oversees school athletic leagues.

The new law underlines the CIF's current policies, said the organization's executive director, Roger Blake. Some school officials and parents fear the rules will be abused, but many don't realize the rules have already been in place.

"There's transgender kids playing sports right now," Blake said. "I haven't seen the world come to an end."

San Francisco Unified School District passed the state's first policies concerning transgender students in the early 1990s. Students who identify consistently and exclusively as a gender other than their birth gender have been allowed to participate in groups and use facilities associated with their gender identity for years, said Kevin Gogin, the district's director for safety and wellness.

"Our district has continued to meet the rights of our students who are gender variant and/or transgender, and our district has met the rights of our students who are not. It's never been an issue for us," Gogin said. Other districts in and out of the state have contacted San Francisco schools for guidance on implementing similar policies.

Opponents said the law is ripe for abuse because it does not have a legal requirement for how one determines gender identity. NCAA rules call for athletes to have undergone a year of hormone therapy to play on a team of that gender, but Blake said medical professionals advised that most students are too young and underdeveloped for hormone therapy.

Other opponents were concerned that the bill would harm some students. State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County) said students "now may be subjected to some very difficult situations and their parents to even more objectionable situations."

But for transgender students, the news is thrilling - and a relief.

"I'm very excited that it's passed," said Eli Erlick, an 18-year-old transgender woman who just graduated from Willits Charter School in Mendocino County. "This will help so many students in California - and I really hope this will inspire other states to create similar policies."

As a youth advocate for transgender students, Erlick hears from hundreds of transgender students who tell her about the struggles they face when the school fails to let them participate in classes and other programs because of their gender identity.

"These students are really forced to choose between fighting for the right to live as they are and the schools forcing them to live as a person that they aren't," Erlick said. "This bill will fix that problem."


Federal income-based repayment plan encourages skyrocketing law school tuition

A recent item in The Washington Post explains “how Georgetown Law gets Uncle Sam to pay its students’ bills,” averaging $158,888 over three years, taking advantage of perverse incentives in a federal student-loan program. A federal income-based repayment plan forgives the student loan debt of law students who go to work for the government or a “public interest” law firm 10 years after they graduate, as long as they pay a small percentage of their income in the first ten years after graduation towards paying off part of their student loans. Typically, much of those law students’ loans are not paid off by the end of 10 years, and thus are forgiven at taxpayer expense. But Georgetown has figured out a way to take things even further and make taxpayers pick up the entire tab through creative accounting. Under its Loan Repayment Assistance Program, a student can get his law degree “absolutely free of charge,” and entirely on the taxpayer’s tab. As the Post notes:

    "Georgetown has found a very clever way to exploit recent reforms to federal student loan programs so as to greatly reduce the price of law school for students without costing the school anything either. Georgetown Law students who use LRAP use loans from Grad PLUS — the federal government’s student loan program for grad students — to fund the entire cost of going to law school. That includes not only tuition and fees but living expenses like housing and food. Grad PLUS has no upper limit on the amount you can borrow, so there isn’t any constraint on how much you take out.

    Once out of school, the students enroll in an income-based repayment program, in which, if they’re working for a nonprofit, the federal government forgives all loans after 10 years. For that 10-year period, however, the borrower has to pay a share of their income. But under LRAP, Georgetown commits to covering all of those payments.

    Upon first glance, it looks like what’s happening is that Georgetown is paying for part of the cost of law school and the federal government is forgiving the rest. But as Jason Delisle and Alex Holt at the New America Foundation discovered, Georgetown’s cleverer than that. The tuition paid by new students — tuition they’re often paying with federal loans — includes the cost of covering the previous students’ loan payments.

    So Georgetown is ultimately paying its share with money its students borrow from the federal government. The feds are paying back themselves. At no step in the process does Georgetown actually have to pay anything. The feds are picking up the entire bill."

Here’s an over-simplified example of how Georgetown’s scheme works:

    "Let’s say that, without this program, Georgetown would be charging $10 for tuition. Let’s suppose further that, without this program and just using the normal federal income-based repayment program, these students would end up paying, on average, $5 over the 10 years before their loans are forgiven.

    Now suppose Georgetown proposes this program, wherein instead of the student paying the $5, Georgetown pays the $5. It then increases the starting tuition to $15 to cover the new expense. Under normal student loan programs, that would mean that students would have to pay more back because they would need to take out a larger loan to cover the increased tuition.

    But under income-based repayment, your payments vary with your income, not the size of the loan, so you still only have to pay back $5 before the loan is forgiven. So Georgetown gets $15 from the federal government, using $10 for education and using the other $5 to pay back the loan (or an equivalent earlier loan) before it’s forgiven. So the federal government is paying for all of this. Neither Georgetown nor the student pays a cent.

    Of course, the real version doesn’t end up costing just $15. . . the average LRAP student gets $158,888 in federal money. Not loans, but money they don’t have to pay back. So the program amounts to a massive educational grant to Georgetown law students, who are likely to make more as lawyers than the vast majority of Americans."

What is truly scary about this clever scheme to milk the taxpayers is that it could quickly catch on at other universities, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Georgetown and other universities could easily use these same accounting gimmicks to make taxpayers pay the cost of all law students, including those who go to law school solely to get rich and bring lawsuits that enrich themselves. As The Washington Post notes, “there’s nothing, in principle, limiting this to students who go into public interest. For students who don’t go into public interest careers, the federal income based repayment program only forgives debt after 20 years, and because private-sector lawyers make more, the income-based payments will be larger than for public interest lawyers. But if Georgetown wanted to, it could jack up tuition enough to cover 20 years worth of big payments on loans taken out by alums who go into the private sector. Their students would have to take out much bigger loans,” but the increased loan debt would all be written off after 20 years, entirely at taxpayer expense. As the Post observes, “Georgetown isn’t doing this yet. But it, or any other graduate or professional degree program in the country, could do it if they so chose. If federal policy stays the same, there’s nothing stopping grad schools from having the federal government fully fund them.”

There is no reason for Georgetown not to increase tuition perpetually faster than inflation, as long as the perverse incentives contained in the federal GRAD Plus program exist.

We earlier discussed how counterproductive federal financial aid policies like the 90-10 rule already encourage colleges to jack up tuition. Last year, the Obama administration made matters worse, effectively throwing gasoline on the raging fire of college tuition increases. It announced a new financial aid policy that will effectively bail out low-quality, high-tuition law schools and graduate schools at taxpayer expense, by enabling them to increase tuition and still attract students. These changes are the product of a revised income-based federal student loan repayment program that went into effect last December. The administration’s revised “Pay as You Earn” program allows eligible student-loan borrowers to cap monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, and have their federal student loans forgiven after 20 years — or just 10 years, if they go to work for the government. An earlier version of the program capped payments at 15 percent and offered forgiveness after 25 years. For students who foolishly attended third-rate but expensive colleges and law schools, this could wipe out part of their debt, at taxpayer expense, since their salaries in the low-paying jobs they end up with will be insufficient to pay off all of their massive debt in 20 years if they pay only 10 percent of their leftover income towards repaying their student loans.

In the short run, this will primarily benefit those eligible students. But in the long run, the primary beneficiaries will be low-quality but expensive colleges and law schools, which will be able to raise college tuition through the roof, since no matter how much debt their students run up in college, it will be written off after 20 years, effectively capping the cost to students, but not taxpayers, who will bear an ever-increasing share of students’ college expenses.

As Peter Schiff, the President of Euro Pacific Capital, laments, this plan:

    "will ensure students are able to commit to higher levels of federally backed student loans. By limiting student obligations to repay, and by passing more of the repayment burden onto taxpayers, colleges and universities will be able to continue to raise tuitions at a rate that outpaces nearly every other cost center in the American economy. The move will come as a great relief to the education establishment who otherwise may have needed to cut or cap tuitions.

    The Obama plan limits repayment obligations to just 10% of “discretionary income” which it defines as total income above 150% of the federal poverty level . . . The plan also limits the term of obligation to 20 years. . . A less successful graduate who earns say $50,000 per year, on average over the 20-year obligation period, would have a repayment burden of just $1,500 per year, or just $30,000 over the life of the loan. Any loan amounts above those totals will be forgiven.

    As a result, students need not fear the inability to repay large loans. . . . the less a graduate earns, the greater the amount of loan forgiveness. For the majority of students, who don’t become very high earners, it will make little difference if loan amounts are $90,000, $180,000 or even more. . . .

    These policies could remove all barriers for larger and larger loans, which will then allow universities to charge higher and higher tuitions. . . .The day of reckoning in which the higher education system would have had to offer programs that fit into the budget of average Americans has been postponed, if not entirely eliminated.

    Of course the losers in this new arrangement will be American taxpayers who will be on the hook for the unpaid balances. Recently, college loan debt passed credit card debt as the largest, non-mortgage, source of debt in the United States. . . . If college students were willing to rack up this much debt under the assumption they would have to actually pay it back, imagine how much debt they will be willing to amass now that they realize they do not? As a result, expect college tuition increases to not only continue but to accelerate."

Law school tuition has already risen nearly 1,000 percent after inflation since the late 1950s. Now, things will get worse.

Under the Obama administration’s new income-based repayment plan, the federal government will write off most of the loans of the students who chose to go to low-quality, high-tuition law schools, and they will not even have to repay what they are capable of paying, since their payments will be limited to less than 10 percent of their income. (By contrast, prudent students who attended cheaper or better law schools will not receive the same benefit, since their loan payments are already smaller compared to their incomes. Law school tuition is funded disproportionately by student loans, loans graduating low students at lower-tier law schools will not be able to pay back with just 10 percent of their income over 20 years. As law professor Brian Tamanaha notes, at 20 expensive low-tier law schools, most students never will be able to fully repay their student loans, since most graduates of these schools don’t find good jobs.)

These law schools will respond to the administration’s new program by increasing tuition even faster, since the increased tuition will be paid not by students, but by the American taxpayers when the borrowed tuition is later written off (moreover, the law schools can use increased tuition to attract students by “loading up their campuses with even fancier facilities,” and also pay their administrators a fortune. One fourth-tier law school paid its dean $867,000 per year).

This taxpayer subsidy for low-quality law schools is especially unfortunate, because such law schools are in many respects economically harmful, and many law schools teach their students so few practical skills (as candid law professors have admitted) that their students would be better off studying for the bar exam on their own, rather than attending law school (alas, the option isn’t available, since most states require students to attend law school before taking the bar exam, even though I found my time at Harvard Law School to be mostly a waste. Never mind that students can learn how to be good lawyers without ever going to law school).

Colleges have been able to increase tuition much faster than inflation, year after year, secure in the knowledge they can rake in ever-rising government subsidies and skyrocketing tuition. Meanwhile, college students are learning less and less.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Don't Know Much About Geography

In Sam Cooke's classic 1959 hit "Wonderful World," the lyrics downplayed formal learning with lines like, "Don't know much about history ... Don't know much about geography."

Over a half-century after Cooke wrote that lighthearted song, such ignorance is now all too real. Even our best and brightest -- or rather our elites especially -- are not too familiar with history or geography.

Both disciplines are the building blocks of learning. Without awareness of natural and human geography, we are reduced to a sort of self-contained void without accurate awareness of the space around us. An ignorance of history also creates the same sort of self-imposed exile, leaving us ignorant of both what came before us and what is likely to follow.

In the case of geography, Harvard Law School graduate Barack Obama recently lectured that, "If we don't deepen our ports all along the Gulf -- places like Charleston, South Carolina; or Savannah, Georgia; or Jacksonville, Florida ..." The problem is that all the examples he cited are cities on the East Coast, not the Gulf of Mexico. If Obama does not know where these ports are, how can he deepen them?

Obama's geographical confusion has become habitual. He once claimed that he had been to all "57 states." He also assumed that Kentucky was closer to Arkansas than it was to his adjacent home state of Illinois.

In reference to the Falkland Islands, President Obama called them the Maldives -- islands southwest of India -- apparently in a botched effort to use the Argentine-preferred Malvinas. The two island groups may sound somewhat alike, but they are continents apart. Again, without basic geographical knowledge, the president's commentary on the Falklands is rendered superficial.

When in the state of Hawaii, Obama announced that he was in "Asia." He lamented that the U.S. Army's Arabic-language translators assigned to Iraq could better be used in Afghanistan, failing to recognize that Arabic isn't the language of Afghanistan. And for that matter, he apparently thought Austrians speak a language other than German.

The president's geographical illiteracy is a symptom of the nation's growing ignorance of once-essential subjects like geography and history. The former is often not taught any more as a required subject in our schools and colleges. The latter has often been redefined as race, class and gender oppression to score melodramatic points in the present rather than to learn from the tragedy of the past.

The president in his 2009 Cairo speech credited the European Renaissance and Enlightenment to Islam's "light of learning" -- an exaggeration if not an outright untruth on both counts.

Closer to home, the president claimed in 2011 that the Texas had historically been Republican -- while in reality it was a mostly Jim Crow Democratic state for over a century. Republicans only started consistently carrying Texas after 1980.

Recently, Obama claimed that 20th century communist strongman Ho Chi Minh "was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson." That pop assertion is improbable, given that Ho systematically liquidated his opponents, slaughtered thousands in land-redistribution schemes, and brooked no dissent.

Even more ahistorical was Vice President Joe Biden's suggestion that George W. Bush should have gone on television in 2008 to address the nation as President Roosevelt had done in 1929 -- a time when there was neither a President Roosevelt nor televisions available for purchase. In 2011, a White House press kit confused Wyoming with Colorado -- apparently because they're both rectangular-shaped states out West.

Our geographically and historically challenged leaders are emblematic of disturbing trends in American education that include a similar erosion in grammar, English composition and basic math skills.

The controversial Lois Lerner, a senior official at the IRS -- an agency whose stock and trade are numbers -- claimed that she was "not good at math" when she admitted that she did not know that one-fourth of 300 is 75.

In the zero-sum game of the education curriculum, each newly added therapeutic discipline eliminated an old classical one. The result is that if Americans emote more and have more politically correct thoughts on the environment, race, class and gender, they are less able to advance their beliefs through fact-based knowledge.

Despite supposedly tough new standards and vast investments, about 56 percent of students in recent California public school tests did not perform up to their grade levels in English. Only about half met their grade levels in math.

A degree from our most prestigious American university is no guarantee that such a graduate will know the number of states or the location of Savannah. If we wonder why the Ivy League-trained Obama seems confused about where cities, countries and continents are, we might remember that all but one Ivy League university eliminated their geography departments years ago.

As a rule now, when our leaders allude to a place or an event in the past, just assume their references are dead wrong.


Who Teaches The Teachers?

The Kansas City Public Library recently hosted a presentation by and conversation with National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) President Kate Walsh. The discussion focused on the NCTQ’s new release, “Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Prep Programs.” The study was supported in part by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

According to its release:

The Review looked at 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers.

Overwhelmingly, it found that U.S. colleges and universities are turning out first-year teachers with inadequate knowledge and classroom management skills. On a four-star scale, less than 10 percent of rated programs earned three stars or more.

One startling finding that Walsh highlighted: There often are higher academic standards to play football than to get into a school of education. In fact, many of the report’s findings were damning of schools of education, including in Missouri and Kansas.

Walsh saved her most pointed comments for early education approaches to teaching reading. She said many schools do not emphasize the proven methods for teaching reading. Too often education students are told they will figure out their own methods of class management and reading instruction, even when there is research indicating some approaches are better than others.

University of Missouri administrators may have expected they would perform poorly, as they actually denied researchers access to teacher syllabi, claiming they were intellectual property and protected under federal copyright law. A judge has ruled in favor of the school’s refusal. That’s right, the university system did not want to share even an outline of what it teaches its students, the same outlines that are distributed to students at the beginning of the course.

That is too bad, but their resistance won’t last long. NCTQ will be conducting a study of education schools each year and publishing the results in partnership with U.S. News & World Report, which has become the standard-bearer for university ratings. Missouri will eventually have to share with everyone exactly what it teaches its would-be teachers. We can’t move forward without knowing where we are right now; universities should support this. Moreover, students should have access to this information when deciding which college they would like to attend.


GCSE students collecting A* grades 'like Boy Scout badges': Number has QUADRUPLED in just nine years

The sheer scale of GCSE grade inflation under Labour has been laid bare by new figures.  There has been a fourfold increase in the numbers of pupils achieving more than ten A*s in nine years.

Thousands of teenagers have been routinely collecting a raft of top A* grades, like ‘boy Scout or Girl Guide badges’, experts say.

In 2003, the number of pupils in England gaining more than ten A* grades – meant only for exceptional students – was just 379. But by 2012 that had risen to 1,577.

The figures, coming ahead of this years’ GCSE results next week, show there has also been a doubling in the number of students racking up at least seven A*s. That is up from 9,176 to 18,620.

The number achieving at least two A*s has gone up by 50 per cent and there has been a 40 per cent rise in those getting at least one A*.

The figures revealing how the qualification has been devalued over the last decade came to light as part of data released by the Department for Education yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act.

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the figures reveal ‘blatant’ grade inflation.

‘A* was brought in for exceptional achievement so that we could distinguish between those who were doing extremely well and those who were outstanding,’ he said yesterday.

‘The fact that some candidates are clocking up a host of them like boy Scout or Girl Guide badges means they haven’t been doing their job properly.’

‘Children have been getting inflated ideas about their capabilities and in many cases would have been disappointed by what they could actually do at A-level and university.

It’s good that this has now been recognised and the Government and Ofqual are getting on top of the problem,’ he added.

The A* grade was introduced in 1994 when it was awarded to just 2.9 per cent of entries.

Last year, almost two decades of grade inflation ground to a halt when 7.3 per cent of entries were awarded an A* – down 0.5 percentage points on 2011.

There was also a fall in the proportion of A* to C grades, the first since GCSEs were first awarded in 1988.

It followed a directive to exam boards from standards watchdog Ofqual that they must do more to contain grade inflation.

Pupils passed 69.4 per cent of GCSEs at grades A* to C last year, down 0.4 percentage points on 2011.

The figures come as hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country brace themselves for a further stalling in GCSE results next week.

Grades are expected to dip, particularly in science, amid a toughening up of papers.

Damian Hinds, Conservative MP for East Hampshire, said: ‘The Government is getting rid of modules, scrapping excessive coursework and stopping grade inflation in its tracks.

'Yet Labour opposed every one of these measures. It’s becoming clearer than ever that a vote for Labour is a vote for dumbing down.’