Friday, July 18, 2014

Schools Dispense With History in Favor of Political Correctness

Former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin once said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Lenin understood how important education is to a young person’s worldview, and how intractable ideas can become. Lenin used education to the fullest, as do his heirs in the West.

The cultural revolution of the 1960s remains very much with us. In the last 50 years it has chipped away at the foundations of our nation, little by little, relentlessly, with an agenda of fundamentally changing this society. The nation of Barack Obama is no longer that of John F. Kennedy.

One institution that has undergone immense change is the public education system. Formerly, public schools were dedicated to educating youths and imparting in them an understanding of the history of America, its uniqueness in history and a knowledge and appreciation of the natural rights guaranteed by our Founding documents. Until socialism arrived, these had always been considered the acme of political philosophy and government organization. The goal was to prepare graduates as good citizens and informed voters.

But the Left has so completely changed both public schools and colleges that they have almost no relation to their earlier selves. The term “political correctness” originated in the old Soviet Union. It was used to control people’s speech and, ultimately, their thought. Today’s schools are a study in political correctness.

High schools frequently offer some variety of Advanced Placement (AP) tests in various courses. If students score well enough on a given test, they can earn credit for an equivalent basic course in college, thus shortening their time (and expenses) in school. The test most students take is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Theoretically, the better a student scores, the wider his or her choices of colleges after high school graduation.

Both the AP and the SAT tests are properties of a company called the College Board. As with schools, the College Board used to be dedicated to high standards both in curriculum and testing. But as the hippie generation with its perverse agenda has taken charge of these institutions, the College Board years ago fell in line, as a good comrade should.

Because of its unique position as producer of the tests that determine students' chances in college, the College Board has a great deal of power to shape high school curricula, including those of private schools, and to influence state standards. It’s therefore noteworthy that David Coleman, president of the College Board, is also the architect of Common Core. We’ve reported on Obama’s Common Core curriculum several times and its corrosive effect on not only the education of young people but also society at large.

Unfortunately, too few are aware of this clandestine attempt to nationalize and further corrupt America’s schools, from kindergarten through grad school.

The College Board recently released a very few sample questions for the new AP U.S. History Exam. Understandably, the College Board has always been very concerned about security to protect its latest test (historically, tests have been repeatedly edited to replace badly written questions and to add new, more topical ones). Illegal distribution of coming exams would require scrubbing an entire test cycle. This latest framework is being treated as a state secret. Samples of the test, however, have been released to certified AP U.S. history teachers who have been warned under penalty of law as well as loss of their AP teaching privileges to keep them secret. Since teaching AP classes is one of the most rewarding experiences high school teachers can have, don’t expect any leaks of the test’s contents.

This entire business is clearly an attempt to force these standards on states while the president keeps Americans distracted by his never-ending scandals. The entire American education system is being converted into a multicultural, one-culture-is-as-good-as-another propaganda machine. Some of the Founders, such as Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson and Constitution writer James Madison, are mentioned; that’s it – mentioned. They’re exposed as examples of Western class, gender and racial evil. And while teachers may chose to teach the Constitution as it is written, by doing so, they disadvantage their students because they know the real Constitution isn’t on the test.

Living up to its “Lone Star” nickname, Texas is the only state so far that’s really fighting this abomination. Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas school board, wants to introduce a resolution rejecting the new AP exam, but he’s been told that he must wait until September when doing so will be too late.

In 1788, Founder Noah Webster wrote in On the Education of Youth in America, “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” The sad fact is that unless more school boards and members of the public wake up and smell the stench, this advice will increasingly be ignored. And what follows isn’t pretty. Indeed, it’s a nasty seed that’s already proving very difficult to uproot.


Common Core is crony capitalism for computer companies

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Bill Gates insisted that his support for the Common Core education standards was purely philosophical—he was offended by the notion that anyone would suspect him of pushing a policy that helps his own bottom line. He has no reason to peddle Common Core, he said, except that he cares deeply about the state of education in the U.S. and sincerely thinks expensive new curriculum standards and rigorous standardized testing will improve U.S. schools:

    "I hope I can make this clear, I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education, and that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core. And I have no, you know, this is giving money away. This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had. You, you’ve, there is nothing, uh, it’s so, almost… outrageous to say otherwise in my view."

To that end, the billionaire philanthropist has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting Common Core through the advocacy efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But wait a minute—doesn't Gates work for a pretty big computer company, or something? Oh, and doesn't the testing component of Common Core require schools to upgrade their computer software? Who wants to bet that Core-aligned standardized testing requires Windows 8?

It does! As The Post's Valerie Strauss points out, a Windows web page actually recommends that schools hurry up and buy the latest Windows software in order to enjoy a smoother transition to tech-heavy standardized testing required by Common Core:

    This is not to say that that is what sparked or drove Gates’ personal interest in the initiative; he has said he supports the standards because he thinks they will improve public education, and it seems fair to believe him when he says that is his motivation (whether or not the premise is actually true).

    Still the fact remains that Microsoft is hoping to make some money from the implementation of the Core in classrooms.

As Strauss writes, this fact does not make Gates a liar. It seems likely he does indeed think that imposing a set of uniform standards on the states will improve students' educational outcomes. But it should underscore that massive, expensive public policy changes—even well-intentioned ones—carry ramifications for rent-seekers. (Indeed, many states only agreed to the standards because the Obama administration promised them federal grant money in exchange.)

I have already noted that Common Core looks like corporate welfare for textbook giants, since Pearson—the largest textbook company in the world—won a non-competitive government contract to design tests for half the states. It may also be crony capitalism for computer companies.

Whether or not Common Core helps Microsoft's bottom line is ultimately irrelevant to whether the policy is sound, of course. But when both Tea Party conservatives and teachers unions—as well as students, teachers, parents, and Louis CK—are complaining that the school years is being filled up with wonky high-stakes tests that are expensive to implement and impossible to prepare for, it's worth asking who proposed this bright idea. And why.


UK: Banning packed lunches: A slap in the face for parents

Last week, All Saints’ Primary School in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire announced it was to ban packed lunches for infants (children aged four to seven) from September. The move coincides with the introduction of free school meals for all infants. But by slapping on a ban, the school might as well put up a sign to parents saying ‘SORRY, WE DON’T TRUST YOU’.

The plan follows an inspection of packed lunches at the school (something which should still be shocking in itself, but has become common), which found that fewer than one per cent of the meals brought in by children met government nutrition guidelines. Such a statistic says more about the obsessive nature of the guidelines than it does about the quality of packed lunches; former childhood staples like crisps and chocolate are now treated as deadly poisons. And the food being offered by the school, if a sample menu is anything to go by, looks pretty stodgy. Does a turkey sub roll followed by a sweet pudding really amount to a healthier choice?

The ban looks unnecessary, too, given that school meals are now free for these young children. Most parents would probably not bother with a packed lunch if the school will feed kids for free. But the lack of choice means that parents who have their own individual reasons for giving children a packed lunch will now be denied that choice. Parents with fussy children may prefer to give them something they will actually eat. Parents who obsess about everything being organic and ‘pesticide-free’ will be denied a choice, too. There are all sorts of reasons why parents might choose the expense and hassle of a packed lunch over free school meals. A ban simply takes that decision away from them.

The school-meals crusade has been built on wild claims about dramatically improving educational performance, classroom behaviour and obesity rates, none of which stands up to much scrutiny. The result is the nationalisation of children’s eating habits and a slap in the face for parents.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Common Core Becomes Touchy Subject for Governors Group

Organization Leaves Education Standards Off Its Meeting's Official Agenda

The National Governors Association was one of the founders of Common Core, a set of academic standards aimed at raising student achievement. But as Democratic and Republican governors gathered here for summer meetings, Common Core wasn't on the official agenda, a sign of how the bipartisan idea has become a political minefield.

Three Republican-led states recently abandoned Common Core, concerned that national standards would allow President Barack Obama too much power to affect education policy. They include the state represented by the current governors' association chairwoman, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Now, the governors' group is staying out of the fray as states decide how to implement the Common Core into curriculum and whether to offer tests aligned to the new standards.

"Common Core has become a divisive issue in our nation, with the concern that the federal government is trying to mandate standards down to states," Ms. Fallin said Friday. "The governors are listening to their voters and their constituents back home who are concerned about the federal overreach into states, and each governor will do what's in the best interest of their states."

Complicating the issue is that both political parties are internally split over Common Core, making it harder for governors to find safe ground, especially if they are eyeing presidential bids in 2016.

The Republican Party is divided between business leaders who say the program would help build a more educated workforce and conservative activists wary that federal grants to states that adopt Common Core come with strings attached.

The Obama administration embraced Common Core by offering those financial incentives, but its allies in the labor movement want to delay provisions that would evaluate teachers based on test results. "Teacher voices have not been strongly enough represented in their development or their rollout," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which on Friday began debating a resolution at its annual convention condemning the implementation of Common Core standards.

The governors' association isn't taking a position on Common Core implementation, though the group was at the table when the standards were created in 2009. "I guarantee you there will be a lot of discussion this week about it among individuals and in governors-only meetings in terms of, 'Tell me what you are doing. What's the impact?' " said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican who has maintained his support for Common Core.

His state is one of several, along with North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Utah, that conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks is trying to pressure into dropping the standards. "We're watching the governors very closely on this," said Jacqueline Bodnar, a FreedomWorks spokeswoman. "This issue is provoking one of the strongest reactions we've gotten from our activists."

Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, was the first Common Core state to declare it would come up with its own standards, followed last month by South Carolina and Oklahoma. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah told reporters in March that states such as Indiana were essentially leaving the standards unchanged and merely rebranding them—a claim rejected by Mr. Pence, viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Mr. Herbert stood by his assessment in an interview Friday and said he wants to help correct the "misinformation" about Common Core. He asked: "Is there something wrong with the standards, of knowing what you need to be able to do by a certain grade level?"

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he isn't worried about states modifying Common Core as long as they maintain high academic standards and measure student achievement.

"There are concerns from the right and the left about whether we are over-testing kids and whether that is getting in the way of their ability to learn," he said. "I think we're going to go through this for a year or two."

One governor with potential national ambitions, Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal, is trying to pull his state out of Common Core testing, against the wishes of state lawmakers and the state education board. He also is facing backlash from former allies in the business community who see high academic standards as crucial to economic development.

"I hope these governors stay the course," said Paul Pastorek, the former schools superintendent in Louisiana under Mr. Jindal when he supported the standards. The governors group "was an original sponsor for good reason, because most people recognized that our standards are very inconsistent and often times very low."

In New Jersey, led by GOP Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mr. Jindal's potential rivals in 2016, opposition to Common Core is coming predominantly from the teachers union. A vote on a union-backed bill that would have delayed Common Core testing was called off this past week because Mr. Christie is unlikely to sign it and has indicated he would prefer to address concerns with an executive order

"This is one of the few pieces of legislation with co-sponsors who are very progressive and very conservative," said the bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. "It puts the governor in a place where he has to look at the issues very carefully."



Ofsted: top schools 'downgraded' for failing poor pupils

Top schools are being stripped of their “outstanding” status by Ofsted for failing to close the gap between rich and poor pupils, it emerged today.

For the first time, the education watchdog confirmed it had downgraded a number of schools in the last year because of concerns children from working class families had been allowed to lag behind.

It said weak leadership remained an “obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools” in England.

The disclosure was made in an analysis of the Coalition’s flagship “pupil premium” – extra cash handed to schools to specifically raise standards among poor children.

The policy – championed by the Liberal Democrats – will see around £2.5 billion spent by 2014/15, with each state primary school handed £1,300 per pupil and secondaries given £935.

According to Ofsted, the reforms are starting to have a “positive difference in many schools”, with cash “helping to increase outcomes” for children from the most deprived families.

The study said head teachers “know that their schools will not receive a positive judgment” unless they can show sustained improvements in results for poor pupils.

It said the achievement gap between working-class pupils and their peers was closing in all schools judged “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, but insisted some had still been downgraded because money had been misspent.

The report said that in a “number of previously outstanding secondary schools that have declined to good or below, inspectors have judged that the pupil premium funding was not being effectively spent”.

The study also showed continuing gaps in results between poor pupils and their wealthier peers, combined with concerns over a “postcode lottery”.

Ofsted said only 38 per cent of poor pupils gained five good GCSEs, including English and maths, last year compared with 65 per cent of their relatively wealthy peers. The gap was narrowing at a “very slow rate”, it said.

The report also raised concerns over “considerable variation” between local authorities, with more than three-quarters of poor pupils in Kensington and Chelsea, west London, gaining good GCSEs compared with just over 20 per cent in Barnsley – the worst performing area.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said: “One of the greatest challenges this country faces is closing the unacceptable gap that remains between poorer children and their better-off classmates when it comes to educational outcomes.

“I am passionate about improving the prospects of our least advantaged children so I am encouraged by the clear signs in today’s report that more effective spending and monitoring of the pupil premium is starting to make a positive difference in many schools.

“The success of London illustrates vividly that poverty should not be an automatic predictor of failure and so the government needs to tackle those parts of the country like Barnsley where poorer children are still getting a raw deal.”

The pupil premium is handed to schools for every child eligible for free schools – those with parents on benefits or earning less than £16,000 a year.

The report – based on an analysis of 151 Ofsted inspections – said there were “encouraging signs from inspection that the concerted efforts of good leaders and teachers are helping to increase outcomes for pupils eligible for the pupil premium”.

Most schools use the money to pay for additional teaching staff, booster classes, reading support and aspiration-building programmes. It is also used to fund after-school, weekend and holiday sessions, typically in English and maths.

But Ofsted said it would “take time to establish whether this increased focus will lead to a narrowing in the attainment gap between those eligible for the pupil premium and other pupils”.

Today’s report said that weak leadership and governance “remains an obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools, particularly in those judged inadequate for overall effectiveness”.

David Laws, the Lib Dem School Minister, said: “The pupil premium is transforming the life chances of pupils across the country, helping to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“This report shows that our reforms to make schools more accountable for how they spend the funding is revolutionising the way such pupils are given the best possible start to life... And where performance is an issue we are taking swift action to ensure all pupils are given the education they deserve."


Australia: School suspensions hits record high in NSW, system broken and in need of complete review

New NSW Department of Education figures showing a 35 per cent rise in the number of students being sent home from school for bad behaviour (SMH, p3), is a major concern because studies show the suspension system rarely creates positive outcomes for the pupil or the community, NSW's peak body for youth affairs warned today.

“We know suspensions are largely ineffective in improving student behaviour and in the majority of cases simply exacerbate root problems,” Youth Action Director Eamon Waterford said.

“What’s truly disturbing about this rapid recent increase is that suspensions used to be an option only in the case of violent or highly antisocial behaviour. But youth workers across the state are reporting a sharp rise in suspensions for 'persistent misbehaviour' in children as young as five.

"Youth workers are telling us they are encountering more and more students suspended for repeated truancy. You don’t have to be top of the class to recognise the logical blunder there.”

Mr Waterford said the suspension system was not just a problem for the students suspended.

“Suspension is a blunt tool and its impact ripples out widely,” Mr Waterford said.

“Struggling students sent home for 4 weeks are only ending up further behind in their classwork. This means that suspension is only further entrenching a young person’s lack of interest in school. This has impacts on long-term employment and increases the burden on our welfare system."

Mr Waterford said the NSW Government should use the startling statistics to immediately prepare for a complete review of the suspension system.

“The NSW Government should not waste this crisis – they should conduct a full review of the school suspension system,” Mr Waterford said.

“It doesn’t need to be too tricky. Thankfully, we already have a good idea of what works: and that’s good school counsellors and in-school youth workers. As things stand, NSW schools are chronically understaffed to support students in the school, which is why they’re being forced to suspend students.

“If we want better students, better citizens, and a better society we need to be actively addressing behaviour in schools – not just putting the problem out of sight and out of mind.”


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Student debt and the value of an education

In the face of rising tuition costs, which have more than doubled since 1982, more and more students are attending colleges, with Millennials being considered "the best-educated generation in history." Despite the mounting cost and swelling debt, America’s demand for education, particularly higher education, has not decreased, defying typical market expectations.

This is what economists call inelastic demand, when people continue to buy a good or service regardless of an increase in prices. Though the post-recession job market is still difficult, growing student debt ought not to lead us to forget the dignity -- and responsibility -- of each individual student.

When prices for goods and services rise, consumers often make sacrifices and adjust their spending. For example, as gas prices rise, families use carpooling or more efficient routes to and from the grocery store. But what are students sacrificing when they join the immovable market for education? Are they considering less costly options with lower tuition, or do they unthinkingly take out student loans, falling into serious debt as they enter their twenties?

On the financial side, it is hard to ignore the escalating amount of student loan debt in this country: the total has swelled to over $1.2 trillion and is rising each year. While many have described this as a crisis, a recent report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution focuses on the still intact financial wellbeing of the individual, rather than the daunting debt. Brookings finds that “the average growth in lifetime income among households with student loan debt easily exceeds the average growth in debt.” This suggests that the income increase equips borrowers to compensate for the rise in debt, drawing a timeline for graduates and claiming that in just 2.4 years the average increase in household income compensates for the average increase in student loan debt. However, the article fails to account for the similar inflation of the cost of living.

 In an effort to posit today’s borrowers as financially sound and remove the term “crisis” from the conversation, the Brookings report fails to note that even with a college degree, graduates face a tough job market. Even if the rise in income could supply the means to handle the burden of debt, the question remains: Is the value of a diploma still enough to justify its attainment?

Looking to the differences in employment rates and incomes, the Pew Research Center upholds the substantial worth of a college education, drawing many similar conclusions as the Brookings study. Pew notes the advantage of a college education over a high school diploma, but stresses that while a degree does offer an added level of security, it is not an all-expense paid ticket to a career. Both the unemployment rates of those with a college degree and those with only a high school diploma have increased, having doubled and tripled respectively since 1965, currently averaging at 3.8 percent and at 12.2 percent. While a college graduate may enter the job force better prepared, in 2013 “the average unemployed college-educated Millennial had been looking for work for 27 weeks,” while those with a high school diploma take four weeks longer. Despite the advantage, those holding college degrees are still often ill-equipped to battle the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Americans are right to believe higher education is an important attainment for society, but it is not a necessary purchase for each and every member. With this, parents, educators, community leaders, clergy -- even politicians -- must reiterate that a student loan is an investment, not simply a degree. At the same time, students must acknowledge the economic and moral component of debt. Their moral duty as students, as learners, cannot be overlooked.

A high school senior should seriously consider whether to head to a college dormitory, to training in a craft or trade, or to a full time job after graduation. Confronted with a greater opportunity and the tempting effortlessness to attend college, students still owe extreme diligence to the decision process. In past generations, the widespread mentality towards college was that it was a privilege, one that came at considerable cost. While various things have made funds for college more readily available in the past fifty years, such as the Higher Education Act of 1965, the ability for those from middle income households to attend college was still a relatively new concept, leaving intact the due respect for higher education. The current ease of receiving an acceptance letter and the subsequent loan offer should not erase that mentality.

Many people still believe in the quality of both life and mind that an education represents, and when offered and received correctly, it meets this expectation. “The term ‘education,’” writes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate,  “refers not only to classroom teaching and vocational training … but to the complete formation of the person.” It is this formation that drives Americans to continue to seek higher education, one unfazed by looming debt.

When an education is grounded in a proper view of human nature, a view rooted in human dignity, students are able to invest not only in their studies, but also in themselves. A college education must not merely be the means to a specific degree, but also the means to human flourishing. This does not diminish the responsibility of the university to provide a proper education for students before they embark on their careers. Rather it suggests a university achieves this best within a moral environment that promotes the integrity of each student. In the same way, a student is responsible for acting with integrity, whether it be through a consistent willingness to learn or the quality of his or her work.

If consistently done well, this would leave $1.2 trillion invested not in books or classrooms, but in people, who are thereby better equipped to promote a free and virtuous society. The market must accommodate, continuously providing an education that is worth the investment of both time and money. If pursued, a college degree must be more than a thoughtless decision to fall in line with the societal trend of higher education; it must be a personal choice to commit oneself to intellectual and spiritual growth.


Missouri governor vetoes teacher gun legislation

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns, asserting that the move could jeopardize student safety in public schools.

The veto by the Democratic governor sets up a potential showdown with the Republican-led Legislature, which could override Nixon if it gets a two-thirds vote of both chambers during a September session.

Nixon announced the veto with a written statement on the deadline day for him to take action on bills passed earlier this year.

"Arming teachers will not make our schools safer," he said. "I have supported and will continue to support the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resource officers, but I cannot condone putting firearms in the hands of educators who should be focused on teaching our kids."

The Missouri legislation called for allowing public school districts to designate certain teachers or administrators as "school protection officers," who would undergo special training to carry concealed weapons.

Supporters contend that armed school personnel could save students' lives by responding to an attacker without waiting precious minutes for police to arrive.

"I am disappointed this governor, who was all but absent during the process, has chosen to veto a bill designed to protect our children," said sponsor Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.

The Legislature began considering the measure after the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At least nine states passed bills last year authorizing armed school personnel and more than a dozen introduced similar measures this year.

The Missouri legislation also lowered the minimum age required to get a concealed weapons permit to 19 from 21 and allows permit holders to carry guns openly, even in cities that ban open carry. In addition, health care professionals could not be required to ask whether a patient has access to guns, and public housing authorities could not ban tenants from possessing firearms.

The bill passed the Missouri House in May by a 111-28 vote, two more than would be required for a veto override. The Senate's 21-7 vote fell two votes shy of that threshold, but three Republicans were absent.

With another veto Monday of legislation that would have barred minors from buying electronic cigarettes while also restricting further regulation, Nixon has rejected 33 bills approved by lawmakers this year, the most in one year since he took office in 2009 and among the most ever by a Missouri governor in a 12-month span.


California Students Given Good Grades for Holocaust-Denial Essays

Earlier this year, eighth graders enrolled in the Rialto Unified School District in Rialto, California were assigned a rather questionable essay assignment: Did the Holocaust happen, or was it "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth[?]" The district immediately apologized for the assignment once it came to light, and initially claimed that no students wrote that the Holocaust was a hoax. That allegation was wrong, as the San Bernadino County Sun newspaper discovered that over 50 students expressed doubt that the Holocaust happened in their essays, and were given high marks for their views.

    “I believe the event was fake, according to source 2 the event was exhaggerated,” one student wrote. (Students’ and teachers’ original spelling and grammar are retained throughout this story.) “I felt that was strong enogh evidence to persuade me the event was a hoax.”

    In some cases, students earned high marks and praise for arguing the Holocaust never occurred, with teachers praising their well-reasoned arguments:

    “you did well using the evidence to support your claim,” the above student’s teacher wrote on his assignment.

    The student received a grade of 23 points out of 30, with points marked off for not addressing counterclaims, capitalization and punctuation errors.

Students were given documents from and in addition to pieces of information from a Holocaust denial site. In one, the Diary of Anne Frank was presented as a hoax.

Administrators claim that the prompt was an exercise to improve critical thinking skills.

This is disturbing. There are plenty of ways to improve critical thinking and writing skills without having to wade in the territory of Holocaust denial. This assignment never should have been allowed in the first place. Teaching children conspiracy theories does nothing to help them educationally—and from the looks of the essays posted by the Sun, those students need all the help they can get.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Do credentials scandals support the signaling model?

Every now and then, the world suddenly learns that a perfectly competent worker faked his credentials.  Consider the case of MIT's former head of admissions:

    "Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology... admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials and resigned after nearly three decades at MIT. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.

    "I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since," Jones said in a statement posted on the institute's Web site. "I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the MIT community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities."


    Jones, 55, originally from Albany, New York, had on various occasions represented herself as having degrees from three upstate New York institutions: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, MIT officials said.

    A spokesman for Rensselaer said Jones had not graduated from there, though she did attend as a part-time nonmatriculated student during the 1974-75 school year. The other colleges said they had no record of her."

When credential scandals break, fans of the signaling model of education often run a victory lap.  Should they?  On the surface, credential scandals seem inconsistent with both the standard human capital model and the signaling model.  Remember: Both models predict that the more-educated will be better workers than the less-educated.  In the human capital model, educated workers are better because school instills job skills.  In the signaling model, educated workers are better because school certifies job skills.  From both perspectives, then, the fact that Marilee Jones could fake her credentials, then do a fine job for 28 years, is weird.

On deeper reflection, however, the signaling model makes credential scandals less weird than the human capital model.  In the human capital model, there is no need to fake credentials; the market knows what you can do, and pays you accordingly.  In the signaling model, in contrast, the market has to guess what you can do.  If the initial guess is unfavorable, a qualified worker may fail to even land an interview, much less a job.

So what?  Ponder a job-seeker's incentive to lie in the following two scenarios.  In the first scenario, you lack both credentials and the skills those credentials normally indicate.  In the second, you're a diamond in the rough - someone whose credentials understate their true skills.

Scenario #1: In the absence of deception, the market will correctly guess that you're not good enough for the job.  What does lying get you?  If your employer fires you as soon as he discovers your incompetence, you still get paid above your true market value for a few weeks or months.  Given a typical firing-averse employer, you may get paid above your true market value until the next recession.

Scenario #2: In the absence of deception, the market will incorrectly guess that you're not good enough for the job.  What does lying get you?  Your big break!  Your lie wins you an opportunity, and that opportunity allows you to win an employer's esteem - and start permanently earning your true market value.

The incentive to lie in Scenario #1 is plain.  But in Scenario #2, the incentive to lie is overwhelming!  If you're really a diamond in the rough, one well-crafted lie can change your life for the rest of your life.  Or at least 28 years.

If all this is true, why do firms so often punish credential fraud with termination?  "Credibility" is the obvious answer.  Forgiving credential fraud committed in the past is a great way to encourage more credential fraud in the future.

But this answer dodges the more fundamental question: Why should firms detest credential fraud so much in the first place?  In the human capital model, it's unclear.  When you pay workers for their actual productivity, there's little need to police what workers claim about their productivity, because so little hinges on such claims.

In the signaling model, in contrast, perception is all-important, because you pay workers for their perceived productivity.  Harshly punishing credential scandals sends a valuable message to all your present and future workers: "Never mess with my perceptions."

So yes, credential scandals do support the signaling model.  But instead of running victory laps, fans of signaling should carefully explain why these scandals are weird, and how their preferred model makes the weirdness normal.


'Stop trying to make girls take science': It goes against their human nature, claims psychologist

Attempts to encourage more girls to study the sciences ‘completely deny human biology and nature’, an academic has claimed.

Schools should stop trying to close education gender gaps because innate differences between the sexes mean they will always be drawn to certain subjects and careers, according to a Glasgow University psychologist.

Dr Gijsbert Stoet argued that Britain ‘probably needed to give up on the idea that we will get many female engineers or male nurses’.

Efforts to tackle gender inequalities were wasted because pupils with an aptitude for subjects such as physics, computing and engineering would choose them anyway, he claimed.

But his remarks, which fly in the face of campaigns by the Government and academic societies, drew a storm of controversy yesterday. The Institute of Physics attacked his position as ‘ridiculous’ and said it denied the strong influences of society and upbringing on women’s study choices.

Dr Stoet said it was ‘really hard’ to attract girls to subjects such as computing, telling the British Education Studies Association in Glasgow: ‘Girls will say, “Well, that’s boring, I’m just not interested in it”. ‘We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers.

‘Do we really care that only 5 per cent of the programmers are women? … I don’t care who programs my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want.

‘What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, “Yeah, well, I did it for the feminist cause”. Or do you want 3 per cent of female engineers who say “I really like my job”?’

His remarks were reported in the TES teachers’ journal. Dr Stoet went on to question the national focus given to girls’ struggles in subjects such as maths, when boys generally performed worse at school.

‘Nobody seems to be that interested that boys have problems. We have, as human beings, a natural tendency to see women as vulnerable and needing help. But if it’s a boy who needs help, he’s responsible for himself,’ he said.

Dr Stoet’s comments follow the launch of the Government’s Opening Doors campaign to ‘stamp out gender bias’ in schools, which it said is putting girls off taking maths and science A-levels.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss warned that England’s school system was affected by ‘science deserts’, where too few pupils – particularly girls – are taking subjects such as chemistry and physics. At half of mixed state schools, not a single girl is taking physics A-level, she said.

In a report last December, the Institute of Physics suggested 49 per cent of state schools were ‘reinforcing gender stereotypes’ in the advice given to pupils about A-levels.

The institute’s Clare Thomson said Dr Stoet was implying differences in male and female brains drove subject choices. But evidence suggests that difference within the sexes are bigger than differences between them, she said.

‘Broadly you can say women are more interested in this and men are more interested in that but there’s a huge amount of crossover,’ she added.

‘Just to say, “We should give up on this because that is the way it is”, is ridiculous. It also denies the influences of society and upbringing which we know are incredibly strong.

‘Young people make choices based on the information they have and the advice they have taken.’


Proof and campus rape: Standards for campus disciplinary proceedings

By Hans Bader

Yesterday, the New York Times published my letter to the editor about evidence standards in college disciplinary proceedings over rape and sexual harassment, titled "Proof and Campus Rape." The letter was too short to provide a detailed discussion of the subject, so I am adding more discussion below for the benefit of readers.

As I noted in the Times,

It is unfortunate that the federal government now seeks to restrict the due process rights of students accused of sexual assault or harassment. As your editorial notes, “the Department of Education recommended that universities use ‘preponderance of the evidence’ as the standard of proof instead of the higher ‘clear and convincing’ standard.” But that higher standard protected due process.

As a Yale Law Journal article noted in 1987, “Courts, universities and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.”

The White House Task Force you cite demanded that students “not be allowed to personally cross-examine each other.” That contradicts court rulings like Donohue v. Baker (1997), which concluded that cross-examination must be allowed in certain campus disciplinary hearings.

The White House and Education Department argue that despite these facts, the Title IX statute requires a lower burden of proof and limits on cross-examination. But they are wrong, and they misconstrue court rulings to make this argument.

In 2011, the Education Department ordered many colleges to change the burden of proof that they use in disciplinary proceedings over sexual harassment. (Under pressure from the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work, colleges are now routinely expelling or suspending students who are very likely innocent of sexual harassment or assault, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. They are also taking "interim measures" against accused students who have yet to be found guilty of anything, and the Education Department wants them to take such measures even against students who have never been formally charged with anything on campus.)

In doing so, the Education Department illegally legislated through administrative fiat, and undermined due-process safeguards. It also sought to eliminate cross-examination by the accused, which could reduce accuracy in campus adjudications, and could result in discipline based on constitutionally-protected speech in cases where verbal harassment is alleged.

Historically, most colleges used a “clear and convincing” evidence standard in student and faculty discipline cases, to safeguard due process. As James Picozzi noted in 1987 in the Yale Law Journal, “Courts, universities, and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.” (James M. Picozzi, University Disciplinary Process: What’s Fair, What’s Due, and What You Don’t Get, 96 Yale L. J. 2132, 2159 n. 17 (1987); see also Nicholas Trott Long, The Standard of Proof in Student Disciplinary Cases, 12 J. College & U.L. 71 (1985)). There was no exception for people accused of sexual harassment, who thus received the same due-process protections as everyone else.

But in an April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) rejected this traditional protection for students accused of harassment. It declared that schools cannot use a clear-and-convincing standard of proof typical in school disciplinary procedures for sexual harassment or sexual assault cases: “A school’s grievance procedures must use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination.” See Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence Background, Summary and Fast Facts. “Preponderance of the evidence” means that if a school thinks there is as little as a 51 per chance that the accused is guilty, the accused must still be disciplined.

The Education Department’s position was based on a misunderstanding of who is subject to Title IX, the federal law banning schools from committing sex discrimination. Title IX’s requirements apply to schools, not individual students.

The Education Department’s reasoning for imposing a low “preponderance” standard on school disciplinary proceedings was that this “is the standard of proof established for violations of civil-rights laws” in lawsuits brought in federal court. (It cited court rulings under another civil-rights law, Title VII, which also bans discrimination). Therefore, it claimed, preponderance must also be “the appropriate standard for” schools to use in “investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.’”

It was completely true, and completely irrelevant, that the preponderance of the evidence standard applies in lawsuits in general, as well as civil-rights cases. But that burden of proof applies to whether the school violated Title IX by behaving inappropriately, not whether students or staff engaged in harassment. Students cannot violate Title IX; only schools can be sued under Title IX, not individuals. (See, e.g., Smith v. Metropolitan School District (1997).) Moreover, Students “are not agents of the school,” so their actions don’t count as the actions of the school.

The mere existence of harassment by students isn’t enough for liability under Title IX. More is required. The school’s own actions in response to harassment must be culpable. As the Education Department admitted in its 1997 “Sexual Harassment Guidance,” “Title IX does not make a school responsible for the actions of harassing students, but rather for its own discrimination in failing to remedy it once the school has notice.” (62 FR 12034 (1997)). So to violate Title IX, an institution’s own actions must be proven culpable under a “preponderance” standard — not the mere occurrence of harassment.

Since an institution itself must behave culpably, not just the accused harasser, federal courts have held that there is no violation of the civil rights laws even if harassment occurs, as long as the institution investigates in good faith in response to the allegation of harassment. That’s true even if the institution ultimately refuses to discipline a harasser based on the reasonable belief that he is innocent, after applying a firm presumption of innocence.

For example, an appeals court reversed a jury verdict against the Postal Service for sexual harassment, even though harassment by Postal employees did occur, since the Postal Service had, after investigating the sexual harassment complaint, reasonably, but erroneously, failed to credit plaintiff’s allegations. As the court explained, “a good faith investigation of alleged harassment may satisfy the ‘prompt and appropriate response’ standard, even if the investigation turns up no evidence of harassment. . .[and] a jury later concludes that in fact harassment occurred.” See Swenson v. Potter, 271 F.3d 1184, 1196 (9th Cir. 2001), quoting Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 984 (4th Cir. 1997).

“Such an employer may avoid liability even if a jury later concludes that in fact harassment occurred” (see Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 984 (4th Cir. 1997)), and “an employer, in order to avoid liability for the discriminatory conduct of an employee, does not have to necessarily discipline or terminate the offending employee.” (See Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 414 (3d Cir. 1997).)

For example, an appeals court held that an employer did not have to discipline an accused employee where the evidence did not convincingly prove the existence of harassment, citing the absence of a corroborating witness. (See Knabe v. Boury Corporation, 114 F.3d 407 (3rd Cir. 1997).) That employer escaped liability despite requiring more than a close case for discipline, as a preponderance of evidence would mandate. A corroborating witness is not needed to show proof under a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.

Similarly, in another case, the appeals court rejected an attempt to hold an employer liable for harassment because it failed to discipline a harasser where it was genuinely unclear at the time whether he was guilty: “It would be unreasonable, and callous toward [the accused harasser’s] rights, for the law to require Wal-Mart to discipline [him] for events he denies, of which Wal-Mart could not find evidence.” (See Adler v. Wal-Mart, 144 F.3d 664 (10th Cir. 1998).) Thus, it can be perfectly reasonable, and thus legal, to give the accused a firm presumption of innocence, especially where the accused has no previous history of harassment.

Courts had said nothing since those decisions, or the Education Department’s 1997 harassment guidance, to suggest that schools violate Title IX just because students themselves are guilty of harassment under a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. Accordingly, the Education Department had no legal basis for its demands.

Indeed, court decisions since the Education Department's 1997 harassment guidance had made it harder to hold schools liable than the Education Department wished: decisions like the Supreme Court’s 1998 Gebser decision, which dismissed a Title IX lawsuit for failure to show both a school’s knowledge of harassment and its “deliberate indifference” to it. OCR claims that “this deliberate indifference” requirement is irrelevant to its own interpretation of Title IX, and applies only to Title IX lawsuits against schools, in which plaintiffs must show both a Title IX violation and deliberate indifference to get damages for harassment.

But even if that claim by OCR were true, it wouldn’t matter. Giving someone a presumption of innocence isn’t a “violation” of the civil rights laws in the first place, as the cases discussed above illustrate. Under the Education Department’s own 1997 guidance, it’s the school, and its action in response to the harassment, that must be culpable to violate the statute, not just the harasser’s own conduct. And it’s not in any way culpable for a school to give someone a presumption of innocence. No one has a “right” to discipline just because harassment happens: they only have a right to a reasonable response by their school in response to their complaint, which may or may not lead to disciplinary action depending on the evidence.

The Supreme Court also noted in its 1999 decision in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education that Title IX doesn’t give complainants a “right” to second-guess a school’s reasonable decisions about discipline, noting that there isn’t any “Title IX right” to “particular remedial demands” or “particular disciplinary action,” just because harassment has occurred:

“We stress that our conclusion here . . . does not mean that recipients can avoid liability only by purging their schools of actionable peer harassment or that administrators must engage in particular disciplinary action. . . the dissent erroneously imagines that victims of peer harassment now have a Title IX right to make particular remedial demands . . .courts should refrain from second guessing the disciplinary decisions made by school administrators,” who “must merely respond to known peer harassment in a manner that is not clearly unreasonable.”

Many reasonable school officials with expertise in civil-rights law have long supported using a higher burden of proof than a mere preponderance of the evidence, contrary to the Education Department’s recent demand. For example, Harvard Law School’s “Policy and Guidelines Related to Sexual Harassment,” drafted by a committee that included a professor who taught gender-discrimination law, and adopted by Harvard Law’s faculty in April 1995, until recently contained the following provision: “Burden of proof: Formal disciplinary sanctions shall be imposed only upon clear and convincing evidence.” The Education Department’s rule also conflicted with faculty collective bargaining agreements and university regulations mandating a clear-and-convincing standard. In 2011, Inside Higher Education gave one example, citing Ohio State University, “where the OCR began a compliance review in June after students alleged too high a burden of proof when considering whether to discipline those accused of sexual harassment, lowering that standard could require approval from the institution’s governing board.”

In addition to warning against “second-guessing” of school officials’ disciplinary decisions, the Supreme Court in Davis also emphasized that to successfully sue a school district for damages, a complainant alleging sexual harassment must also show that school officials were “deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment, of which they have actual knowledge.”

Applying that “deliberate indifference” standard, appellate judges ruled that where a school district does not discipline a harasser because it failed to conclusively determine that harassment occurred, it was not liable even where that failure to find guilt was “flawed,” and led to future harassment. (See Doe v. Dallas Independent School District, 220 F.3d 380 (5th Cir. 2000).) Thus, it is clear that giving someone a strong presumption of innocence is not the basis for a Title IX lawsuit, regardless of what the Education Department may think.

Even in the absence of these court rulings, the Education Department’s demands would be invalid, because they impose new legal obligations without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to publish rules and regulations in proposed form before imposing them on the public, and give the public an opportunity to comment before adopting them. Legal scholars have criticized the Education Department’s Dear Colleague letter for that very reason. For example, Cornell law professor Cynthia Bowman argued that Cornell University should not change its procedures in response to the Education Department’s demands, because the lower standard of proof mandated by the Department in its letter “has not been subjected to notice and comment.” Bowman observed that the Education Department’s directive was “not an administrative regulation, has not been subjected to notice and comment, and thus does not have the status of law.” “The consequences for someone expelled for sexual assault are enormous and will follow him throughout his life, leading to rejection by other schools, inability to qualify for the bar and a great deal of stigma,” Professor Bowman noted. “To impose those consequences on someone requires a rigorous standard of proof and many due process protections to ensure fairness.” “Indeed, there is general agreement among faculty at the Law School that the procedures being proposed [by the Education Department] are Orwellian,” she added.

Leading law professor Richard Epstein also challenged the legality of the Education Department’s demands, declaring that “the Department of Education is on a collision course with the Bill of Rights.” The Education Department’s position was criticized by lawyers such as former U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Jennifer C. Braceras; Wendy Kaminer; Robert Smith; former Massachusetts ACLU leader Harvey Silverglate; Ilya Shapiro; and Greg Lukianoff; groups like the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; and many civil libertarians and journalists.

As former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer noted, the Education Department is also discouraging colleges from allowing accused students to cross-examine their accusers: “students accused of harassment should not be allowed to confront (or directly question) their accusers, according to OCR, because cross-examination of a complainant ‘may be traumatic or intimidating.’” As OCR puts it, “OCR strongly discourages schools from allowing the parties personally to question or cross-examine each other during the hearing.” This is perverse, since the Supreme Court has described cross-examination as the “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” (See Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116, 124 (1999)). Moreover, courts themselves invariably permit cross-examination of complainants in sexual harassment lawsuits, so OCR can hardly claim that courts view cross-examination as intrinsically unfair to complainants, much less claim it is illegal. Yet OCR ludicrously claims to be merely restating existing legal obligations under federal court rulings in its “Dear Colleague” letter.

While there is no blanket right to cross-examine in campus disciplinary proceedings, the right to cross-examine was often afforded by education codes, collective bargaining agreements, or other contracts or regulations. Title IX did not require that these be disregarded. As the Supreme Court observed in the Davis case, it is a school is entitled “to refrain from a form of disciplinary action that would expose it to constitutional or statutory claims.” Moreover, in a few campus disciplinary cases, such as Donohue v. Baker (1997), judges ruled that cross-examination was constitutionally required on due-process grounds to test the credibility of the accuser.

The Education Department’s attack on cross-examination undermines accuracy in disciplinary proceedings. The subjective nature of the legal definition of harassment means that there is no category of cases in which cross-examination is more useful or essential to ensure due process. To legally qualify as sexual harassment under Title IX, or racial harassment under Title VI, speech must be severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile learning environment for the listener, and interfere with the listener’s education, both in subjective and objective terms, according to court rulings like the Supreme Court’s 1999 Davis decision. Transitory offense is not enough. If the accuser admits on questioning that she did not really view the offensive speech as being a “big deal,” or was not shocked or surprised by it, that probably rules out the existence of a subjectively hostile environment. Indeed, a federal appeals court dismissed a racial harassment claim for just that reason in Newman v. Federal Express Corp., 266 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 2001).

But a wrongly-accused person can’t establish that lack of a subjectively-hostile atmosphere without questioning the accuser, and may not be able to show that the accuser wasn’t greatly impacted by the speech without cross-examining the accuser about its alleged effect on her and her studies, such as whether she continued to enjoy her college experience after overhearing the allegedly “harassing” remarks.

There is a fine line between protected speech about unpleasant sexual topics and unprotected sexual harassment, and it is crucial that accused people be able to prove that their speech did not amount to sexual harassment. Even sexually vulgar speech on political issues is protected on college campuses, as the Supreme Court’s Papish decision illustrates. And perfectly civil, non-vulgar students have been subjected to disciplinary proceedings for sexual and racial harassment, in violation of the First Amendment, merely for expressing commonplace opinions about sexual and racial issues, like criticizing feminism or affirmative action, or discussing racial implications of the death penalty. (See the examples cited in the Amicus brief of Students for Individual Liberty in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, available at 1998 WL 847365.)

To fully defend themselves against sexual harassment charges over speech on sexual topics that doesn’t really amount to sexual harassment, people who are wrongly accused of sexual harassment will sometimes need to cross-examine their accuser to show that their speech did not really have any sexually harassing effect, and thus did not legally amount to sexual harassment, despite their accuser’s attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill.

The Education Department’s attack on cross-examination will lead to free speech violations, by resulting in students being convicted of harassment even when their speech did not create a subjectively-hostile environment, much less interfere with the accuser’s educational opportunities. If the speech has not created such an environment, it has not caused tangible harm, and cannot be banned merely because a hypothetical listener might have objected to it. One case illustrates this principle. In Meltebeke v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 903 P.2d 351 (Or. 1995), the Oregon Supreme Court struck down a religious business owner’s fine for religious harassment because the state agency’s harassment rule violated religious-freedom guarantees. Justice Unis, in his concurrence, noted the rule also violated free speech, and was unconstitutionally overbroad, because it only required that the speech create a hostile environment for a hypothetical reasonable person — not for the actual complainant, who did not need to experience a subjectively-hostile environment.

In another disturbing move, the Education Department’s letter also forbids colleges to allow students found guilty to appeal their punishment or finding of guilt, unless the college also allows complainants to appeal findings of innocence, and to challenge supposedly inadequate punishments: “If the school provides for an appeal of the findings or remedy, it must do so for both parties.” That conflicted with the practices of many campus disciplinary systems. There is nothing nefarious about allowing only the accused to appeal. Courts generally permit only defendants — not the prosecution or the complainant — to appeal the verdict in a criminal case.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Texas GOP Adds School Choice to Platform, Some Lawmakers Resistant

The Texas Republican Party added support for private school choice to its platform after several legislative sessions in which Republican leaders refused to advance school choice bills.

The new platform says the Texas Republican Party advocates policies that “allow maximum freedom of choice in public, private, or parochial education for all children.” The platform also denounces government regulation of private schools.

“Texas children can be forgotten in arguments over budgets and funding formulas, so it’s great to see that the Republican party chose to include school choice as a way to make sure that education policy is ‘child-centered,’” observed Michael Barba, an education researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Republican Leaders Kill Choice

The Texas legislature meets every two years. In its last session, in 2013, several GOP lawmakers thwarted several pieces of legislation that would have empowered parents to make educational decisions for their children.

Much of this legislation died at the hands of Rep. Jimmie Aycock (R-Killeen), chairman of the House Education Committee, and other rural Republicans. Aycock’s committee killed a Parent Trigger bill, which would give parents the power to demand reforms within poor-performing schools, although the bill had already passed by a wide margin in the Senate. The House Education Committee did not even allow a hearing for legislation creating a voucher program.

Aycock and other members of the Republican Party also supported legislation that limits the number of charter schools that can be created, an action which severely curtails school choice in the state.

Most of the 30 states that are controlled by Republicans, as Texas is in each legislative chamber and the governorship, have instituted private school choice programs. The only Republican-controlled states that have not are Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Michigan’s constitution forbids private school choice, and Alaska, Tennessee, and Idaho lawmakers have proposed such laws in recent sessions. Typically, rural lawmakers are less likely to support school choice because their constituents have closer community ties to local public schools.

“School choice is gaining momentum in several states around the nation, such a Louisiana, which now has school choice programs and a scholarship tax credit,” Barba said. “Both of these help shift the focus away from institutions to children. We hope that writing school choice into the party platform produces similar results in Texas.”

Future Looks Promising

One of the state’s strongest school-choice champions, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), is running for lieutenant governor, noted Allen Parker, president of the Justice Foundation. He is “campaigning on school choice at virtually every opportunity,” Parker said.

“I think enthusiasm is very strong,” he said.

Since Texas’s lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, he can influence legislation, Parker said. But some Republicans still oppose school choice, creating obstacles for future legislation, Parker said. The current Speaker of the House, Rep. Joe Strauss (R-San Antonio), “has been less enthusiastic,” he said.


UK: How a train ride with two foul-mouthed Waynetta Slobs taught me a very painful lesson about our failing schools

By Tom Utley

On the 22.45 home from London Victoria on Wednesday night, the thought occurred to me that I should record the altercation going on in the seats behind me and upload it to the internet, under the heading: ‘Two English ladies conversing on a train.’

With my iPad in my briefcase, I had the means to do so but, alas, I lacked the technological competence. I wish I’d known how to do it, because I have a strong feeling that the recording would have gone viral, offering innocent entertainment and food for thought to millions.

From the flow of their conversation — or shrieking match, to be more accurate — I gathered that the combatants were sisters, although when I risked a glance over my shoulder, I saw that they must have had different fathers, since one was white, the other of mixed race.

I’d say the white one, whose hair was pulled tightly back into a Croydon facelift bun, was in her mid-30s, while the other was in her late 20s. But I may be wildly wrong.

Enough to say that both faces bore the ravages of lives rough-lived, while their voices were indistinguishable, each sounding like Kathy Burke’s Waynetta Slob from Harry Enfield’s Television Programme.

It appeared that they’d been in town celebrating the birthday of one of them. Clearly, drink had been taken and the evening had not gone well.

By the time I settled into my seat, things had already got personal. I tried in vain to concentrate on Michael Frayn’s My Father’s Fortune — the novelist and playwright’s funny and profoundly touching memoir of his South London upbringing and grammar school education in the Forties and Fifties.

The pair were revisiting old grievances, as sisters sometimes do (though seldom so publicly or deafeningly), and the carriage was ringing with F-words, C-words, you-name-it words, that must have been audible throughout the Home Counties.

‘Member when I caught you shaggin’ my feller?’ yelled Sister A at Sister B. ‘Member vat, do yer, you effin’ c***, you feewfee animoo? Call yerself a sista? You’re a effin’ cow.’

Summoning all her dignity, Sister B denied that any impropriety had occurred, screeching back: ‘We wozzn’t effin’ shaggin’! We woz just lyin’ dan togevva. An ooze ve feewfee animoo, you dir’y effin’ c***, sharin’ awl our persnoo stuff wiv de owl effin’ trine?’

Sister A remarked that she didn’t give a f*** about the people on the train (we’d gathered that), challenging her tormentor to say whether she knew, or was likely to meet, any one of us.

And so the screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham . . .

By the time we reached my stop, everyone in the train — those who could understand English, anyway — was aware that one of the sisters had a ‘boo-i-foo, innocent little boy, wot you don’t deserve’, while the speaker who had questioned her sister’s worthiness to be a mother was to be permanently denied access to her angelic nephew, from that moment on.
And so the two ladies' screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham...

And so the two ladies' screaming went on, through Battersea Park, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common and Balham...

I said that all this was entertaining, but of course it was excruciating at the time. I mean, what’s a chap supposed to do in these situations?

Clearly, intervening in such family cat-fight was out of the question. It would only have made matters ten times worse if this ageing ex-public schoolboy had turned round and said: ‘I say, ladies, would you mind awfully keeping your voices down a little? I’m actually trying to concentrate on Michael Frayn’s profoundly moving memoirs.’ World wars have been sparked by less.
Then again, slinking off to the far end of the train, where the noise might have been less oppressive, would have seemed cowardly. There were plenty of others staying put in the carriage, braving it out, including women. I felt I ought to be on hand to offer them what puny protection I could if the row turned violent, as it threatened to.

On these occasions (and this fracas was by no means unique on my late trains home from work), I also feel an old-fashioned sense of responsibility as an Englishman to show my fellow-passengers — most of them foreigners — that we’re not all like these warring Waynes and Waynettas of the Great British underclass. So I stayed put, smiling apologetically at those opposite me, who smiled back, shaking their heads.

As we rolled our eyes in mutual sympathy, two of the week’s news stories played over in my head. One was the advice offered to schoolgirls by the editor of the Tatler, Kate Reardon, that good manners are more important than good grades when it comes to forging a career.

The other was the warning from Professor David Metcalf, head of the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee, that the British school system’s betrayal of less academically inclined pupils is forcing employers to look overseas to fill low-skilled jobs.

Too many school-leavers, he said, lack not only the rudiments of literacy and numeracy, but even the most basic skills to ‘look people in the eye and get out of bed’. As I listened to those shrieking harridans, I could understand all too well what both he and Ms Reardon meant.

All right, the sisters had managed to get out of bed, and to put more than a few drinks away, before the 22.45 left for Tattenham Corner. But who would employ such people, even to sweep the streets?

What is so staggering — and surely baffling to my foreign fellow-passengers on the train — is that these creatures, and so many like them, are the products of at least ten years’ formal education in one of the most developed countries on Earth.

What were they taught during all those years in the classroom, apart from a great many coarse terms for genitalia and bodily functions? One thing they obviously weren’t taught is that it’s deeply improper and inconsiderate, even when we’re the worse for drink, to yell about each other's sex lives at the tops of our voices in a crowded railway carriage.

Of course, I don’t know these strangers’ backgrounds — and I suppose it’s possible that they have jobs. All I can say is that I doubt it. They had welfare claimant written all over them, and they just didn’t look or sound the type who are determined to get on in life and do their best for their young through honest toil.

I also doubt very much that the financial circumstances in which they were brought up were anything like as modest as those experienced by Michael Frayn during the war, when he was crammed into a small house with his parents, sister, grandmother and various uncles and aunts under a roof with a large hole in it, blasted by a doodlebug. Austerity of that kind simply doesn’t exist in welfare Britain today.

All right, I grant you that Frayn was blessed with a excellent brain, a hard-working father and a loving mother (before her tragically early death, when he was 12) — luxuries I suspect were denied to those sisters on the 22.45.

But apart from those enormous advantages, what must surely have helped him most in life was an old-fashioned, disciplined and rigorous education, in the days when such a thing was widely on offer to the children of the poor.

Now, you’ll tell me that, unlike Frayn, those warring sisters on the train would never have got into a grammar school. And I’m quite sure you’re right.

But what was so significant about Sir David Metcalf’s remarks was his suggestion that the present education system, designed to even out the differences between the social classes, actually betrays the poorest and least bright most of all.

Everyone accepts that grammar schools offer a brilliant start to clever children. But isn’t it also possible that separate schools, geared specifically to dinning the three Rs, basic manners and vocational skills into the unacademic, would serve the underclass far better than comprehensives?

I just hope the Tories would find the courage to re-introduce widespread selection if they win the election next year. Until they do, it won’t surprise me at all that most of the passengers on my train home from work come from overseas.


UK: Cheer up, children – seven out of eight parents would fail the 11-Plus too! Survey reveals huge support for grammar schools - and one small problem...

They are Britain’s most sought-after schools, where parents would be delighted for their children to have  a place.  But few parents would themselves make the grade in the exam that pupils must pass to be admitted to a grammar or public school.

Just 12 per cent of parents – about one in eight – who attempted a test modelled on the 11-Plus scored more than 80 per cent – the approximate pass mark.  Some scored as low as one out of 20 in the test, devised by The Mail on Sunday.

Education experts say while a mark of about 80 per cent would typically gain admission to the top schools,  in some areas where selective establishments see 12 or more pupils apply for each place, pupils may need to achieve closer to 100 per cent.

A survey among the parents – a  representative sample from a range of backgrounds – also found overwhelming support for grammar schools, with 72 per cent saying they supported their existence in the UK.

In total, 500 parents were asked to complete a briefer set of challenging 11-Plus-style questions taken from the popular Bond Ten-Minute Test books, the study guides many of their children use to hone their exam skills.

Parent David Bennetts, of Wigan, scored five out of 20 on the English test. The 53-year-old, a mature student at the Open University studying health and social sciences, said: ‘I expected to do better but I found the questions a little confusing.  ‘It was quite difficult. It is a long time since I did an exam.’

Another, who preferred not to be named, scored just three out of ten in the verbal reasoning paper.  He said: ‘It was a bit embarrassing.  I haven’t come across that type of question before.’

Overall, two per cent got full marks on the test, while five per cent scored above 90 per cent. Just 12 per cent got more than 80 per cent correct and almost a quarter – 24 per cent – got 75 per cent of the questions right.

Robert McCartney, chairman of the National Grammar School Association, said pupils taking the 11-Plus in the UK would normally need to achieve a pass mark of between 75 per cent and 90 per cent.

But he said that while some regions such as Northern Ireland, where nearly a quarter of pupils win grammar places, were still well provided with academically selective state schools, the required pass rate shoots up in areas such as parts of Kent, where a few schools are so oversubscribed that most of their successful applicants score 100 per cent.

He added: ‘Adults, however, are unlikely to do as well as their children in such tests, because they are not familiar with them or so practised in taking such tests.’

He added that large swathes of the country have no grammar schools, and the results of our survey showing they remained very popular – despite the decision of successive Governments not to reintroduce academic selection in secondary schools – shows politicians need to rethink the issue.

Overall last year, 30,000 pupils in England took the 11-Plus for places in just 164 grammar schools.

There is also huge pressure on places at independent selective schools that use similar entrance tests – especially day schools in the South East.

Though comprehensive state schools are no longer allowed to select by academic ability, a number do use such tests for a proportion of their applicants, either because they have retained historic rights to do so or because they promote an area of excellence such as languages.

In our experiment, carried out by polling company Survation, the 500 parents were split into four groups, each answering 10-minute English, maths, verbal reasoning or non-verbal reasoning papers, the last two of which are widely used IQ-style tests.

The maths test proved the easiest, with 11 per cent scoring more than  90 per cent, while the English test was the hardest, with nobody achieving above 90 per cent. Mr McCartney said this reflected the fact that adults tended to retain their mathematical ability better than other skills.

A spokesman for Bond books said: ‘Bond not only provides the relevant content and skills resources that grammar schools are looking for, but also the exam techniques and question styles associated with the 11-Plus test to best help your child to succeed.’


Sunday, July 13, 2014

UK: Boys losing out in university gender gap: Nearly 95,000 more women apply for degrees to start this autumn

The gender gap in the race for university places is bigger than ever as young men become a ‘disadvantaged’ group on campus.

Nearly 95,000 more women than men applied to start degree courses this autumn as girls’ success at school translated into university applications.

Demand among both sexes rose this year despite £9,000-a-year tuition fees but applications from women grew faster, increasing four per cent against men’s three per cent.

Figures published by the University and Colleges Admissions Service show that 659,030 students submitted applications overall by the June 30 cut-off date – the second highest total on record.

It suggests demand for higher education is recovering following a sudden drop in applications sparked by the introduction of higher fees in 2012.

There had been signs that men were catching up with their female classmates in making applications to university but this year the trend reversed as women pulled further ahead.

Women made 376,860 applications – 94,690 more than men.

UCAS warned earlier this year that weak demand among men was becoming a more pressing issue that under-representation of youngsters from poor homes.

‘There remains a stubborn gap between male and female applicants which, on current trends, could eclipse the gap between rich and poor within a decade,’ said Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive.

‘Young men are becoming a disadvantaged group in terms of going to university and this underperformance needs urgent focus across the education sector.’

However men remain more likely to choose degrees in subjects which employers are increasingly demanding such as engineering.

The figures relate to applications to start degrees in the autumn. Those applying after the June 30 deadline will be encouraged to go through the clearing system.

The data also showed that university applications from international students are rising faster than home-grown students.

Demand from UK students rose three per cent while students from elsewhere in the European Union made five per cent more applications and those from the rest of the world six per cent more.  EU students made 45,380 applications and those from outside it put in 60,060.

Meanwhile degree courses which saw the biggest rise in demand were technology, which saw 13 per cent more applications, computer science, up 12 per cent and engineering, up 10 per cent.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the figures but warned that women still less likely to study courses such as engineering.

‘The increase in applicants applying for subjects such as engineering and computing is also welcome. Those subjects play a vital role in meeting the skills needs of UK employers in globally competitive industries.

‘However, it is still a concern that the number of women applying to study these courses remains disproportionally low when compared to the number of male applicants.

'Universities are aware of this and continue to work hard to encourage women into technology and engineering through their outreach activities.’


Be careful what you ask for

by Janet Roberts

I strongly oppose the new Common Core curriculum for K-12 and all-day kindergarten that are in the process of being implemented into Region 16. Contrary to what proponents are saying, Common Core will dumb down our students' education; it is important that parents and taxpayers understand this.

First, I will point out that Common Core is unconstitutional because it is a federal take-over of education when education is the responsibility of parents with their local communities. In addition, Common Core is bad for parents, teachers, taxpayers, as well as students.

To give some of my education background, I attended parochial school in elementary school where I received a great education. There were approximately 40 students in my classrooms and no teacher aides. My education was streamlined and proven to work. When my three grown children were school-age, I wanted them to have a faith-based education and chose to homeschool instead of putting them into a private school. In homeschooling, I used a simple-to-use, step-by-step program like I had when I was in elementary school with 40 students in my classroom.

Grades1-4 are the foundation years in education in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid. A half-day kindergarten was added to prepare students for Grade 1; it is recommended that no more than 30 minutes a day of structured learning takes place in Kindergarten. Anyone who has taught these foundation grades will tell you that beginning in Grade 4 the lessons start getting noticeably more time-consuming. This means that there is plenty of time in Grades 1-3 to complete the important reading, English, and arithmetic basic-requirements for these grades, which too many are not doing.

Many years ago I was alarmed when a newly-graduated student with a degree in elementary education from a reputable college remarked that she had to learn how to teach reading because she was never taught how to in college; this is a huge problem that can be fixed easily. Several years ago calculators were introduced into classrooms; this has created a big math problem that can be fixed easily, also.

Today, computers have been invited into the classrooms, and will be used exclusively with Common Core in all grades. This is a humongous problem! With this, parents will not be able to "see" what their children are learning. The data collection is outrageous. Furthermore, Common Core is more about indoctrination than education, leading our next generation into collectivism rather than individualism.

If you think more money is the solution to our failing education system, think again. The Region 16 school budget for 2014-2015 was passed in May. A total of $39,735,842 was budgeted for an estimated 2,350 students (from the 2013-2014 student count, which is declining yearly while the budget increases). That amounts to close to an average of a whopping $17,000 per-year per-student in K-12!

You can learn more about Common Core by watching Dr. Terrance Moore's one-hour video of January 9, 2014, called "Story Killers: How the Common Core Destroys Minds and Souls," found online. Also, go to for more information. I urge parents and taxpayers in Region 16 to join me now, before it is too late, in opposing Common Core for Grades K-12 and all-day kindergarten which comes with it; our future depends on it.


The top five most ridiculous student bans

The intolerant zeal with which British students’ unions have banned everything from pop songs to national newspapers has grabbed headlines over the past year. But ‘Blurred Lines’ and Page 3 are just the tip of the campus-censorship iceberg. Here’s the five most ridiculous student bans that may have passed you by.

5) Tequila club night closed down by Leeds University activists

The Tequila club night was the oldest and most popular student night in Leeds, running for almost 20 years. However, this long tenure didn’t stop it quickly succumbing to the steamroller of student censorship when, last year, it posted a promotional video on Facebook called ‘Fresher Violation’. The video included a number of ‘sexually aggressive’ comments from drunk patrons of the club night. Despite apologising and deleting the post within hours of it going up, the complaints came in hard and fast, with 100 students turning up to protest outside the club and an online petition to close the night gaining 3,000 Facebook ‘likes’. The media joined the storm, as the phrase ‘rape culture’ was used to mark the club night for slaughter. A police investigation sparked by the controversy ended in the night being closed down, and subsequent attempts to re-launch it elsewhere have been thwarted by the authorities’ threats of a license review.

4) University of Birmingham bans sombreros

Last November, the University of Birmingham’s Guild of Students put in place a series of restrictions on what students could wear to fancy-dress parties. Students donning sombreros and other ‘racist’ costumes found themselves turned away from student-run club nights. In one instance, a student was turned away for dressing up as ‘General Aladeen’ from the Sacha Baron Cohen film The Dictator. The irony of banning a costume inspired by a film that ruthlessly poked fun at the censorship of authoritarian regimes seemed to be lost on Birmingham’s union officers.

3) Leeds University bans sexist greeting card

A jokey greetings card comparing women to dogs was banned by Leeds University Students’ Union (LUU) at the beginning of this year. In a statement, LUU said the card was ‘offensive and degrading to women and against what LUU stood for’. The card, which bore the harmless, albeit not particularly funny, message of ‘Beware of the dog: she might look sexy in hot pants but she’s probably got Chlamydia’, was only the latest victim of a union which had already banned ‘Blurred lines’ and the Sun in quick succession. It was just the next step in the union’s crusade to prevent anyone on campus ever being offended. The basic principle of ‘buy it if you like it’ was disregarded in the noble effort to quash the oppressive power of a single greetings card.

2) Swansea University bans pole-dancing society

Swansea University Students’ Union (SUSU) banned a pole-dancing society last year, citing the activity’s ‘intrinsic link to the sex industry’. Dozens of students who had signed up to the club for its health benefits were told by a union spokesman that pole dancing ‘contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable’. One wonders if the students’ union reps at Swansea will continue their righteous crusade and impose further bans on activities ‘intrinsically linked’ to the sex industry – sexual intercourse, for instance.

1) University of Exeter bans Safer Sex Ball due to sex

In February 2013, the University of Exeter Students’ Guild had to cancel its controversial Safer Sex Ball after CCTV footage of a couple having sex during the event went viral. While it is unclear whether the couple in question were indeed practicing safe sex, it still did damage to the guild’s fledgling reputation, following previous allegations of sexist jokes in the guild magazine. A guild spokesman said: ‘The negative reputational damage has overshadowed the outstanding work that the committee and RAG [student-run charitable organisations] do to generate charitable funds and student opportunities.’ This didn’t prevent Exeter students from being disappointed that a bad joke, and a couple making the most of ‘student opportunities’, lost them the chance to receive a free Jack Wills condom.