Friday, June 05, 2015

Kick the sex cops off campus

Universities have one responsibility – to educate

This week, the UK’s top universities, assembled under the auspices of the Russell Group, have been criticised for not recording allegations of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. This follows on from the story of a former Oxford University student who lost a legal case against the university after she accused it of failing to investigate her claim that she was sexually assaulted by another student. She claimed that Oxford ‘creates a hostile environment’ in which women are in danger of sexual assault and harassment.

These news reports arrive against a backdrop of ongoing claims that ‘rape culture’ has infested university life. In 2010, for example, the National Union of Students (NUS) released its Hidden Marks report, which claimed that one in seven women had experienced a ‘serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student’. The claim that sexual assault is now rife on campus was reiterated this week by the NUS national women’s officer, Susuana Antubam, who said ‘universities are not doing enough to acknowledge and confront the problem’.

Yet these shock-factor stats, so often trotted out by the NUS and other sex-patrolling SU types, are completely misleading. The Hidden Marks report only surveyed 2,000 women across the whole of the UK, and the questions asked were engineered towards producing the most extreme results possible (the definition of sexual harassment in the survey included things like being quizzed about your love life). The sample was also completely self-selecting, meaning student-activist types who shared the survey’s warped perspective probably made up the bulk of the respondents.

So let’s be clear here. Rape is a serious crime. But it is not the same as unwanted sexual attention. The first is an act of violence and the second is a form of unacceptable behaviour. If the two become conflated in a discussion of the supposed prevalence of sexual assault, this diminishes the severity of rape. Rape is carried out by an individual who has decided to inflict harm on another individual. Sexual assault or harassment now seems to encompass anything that is not contractually agreed and stamped with a students’ union’s seal of approval.

In a recent interview with Reason, pro-sex feminist Camille Paglia restated her argument for ‘the freedom to risk rape’, an argument she first made in the 1960s against US universities using the in loco parentis doctrine to control female students’ lives. The same in loco parentis arguments are being remade today by universities keen to create a protective climate. Yet, unlike Paglia’s generation, students today are being encouraged by their peers in students’ unions to embrace this control rather than protest against it.

Paglia’s seemingly shocking statement is actually pretty sensible. For women to be completely free and equal, they must embrace risk. Besides, the risk of rape is not something that any woman at university should worry about. There is not a rape epidemic on university campuses. The lack of any clear evidence to suggest that there is a pandemic of sexual violence on campus shows that the idea that women are unsafe is rooted in political fashion rather than fact.

Moreover, rape is a crime that should be dealt with by the police, not a university. The only thing universities should be responsible for is giving students an education. The current demand that universities play parent infantilises young adults and, most crucially, reduces individual freedom. You are an adult when you go to university and, therefore, your general wellbeing is your own responsibility.

If you are raped, your first port of call must be the police, to report the crime. If you are unsure whether you were raped or not, you weren’t raped – the very nature of rape means there can be no doubt. If someone oversteps the line, you can deck the guy, throw your drink at him, or tell him to fuck off. You should deal with it yourself there and then, not go crying to your university. There is no epidemic of sexual assault on campus, so if you happen to be unlucky enough to come across a few arse-grabbing guys who haven’t had a slap yet, then why not be the one to give them an education?

Paglia is right to argue that women need to take more risks, but women are at more risk brushing their teeth than they are at university. Students should argue for universities to back off and butt out of all aspects of student life that aren’t concerned with knowledge and learning – university management should certainly butt out of the bedroom. Students should close down all student-life centres, burn all the sexual-harassment surveys, kick out all the welfare officers, laugh at the consent workshops, and, most importantly, get a grip.


Young American liberals are losing the ability to argue

Censorship on campus – and elsewhere – is dumbing down political debate

The American left faces a grave threat – from within. Young liberals aren’t being taught how to argue.

On 9 May, Duke University professor Jerry Hough commented on a New York Times article, which blamed the Baltimore rioting on racism (or, as the NYT itself described it, ‘the century-long assault that Baltimore’s blacks have endured at the hands of local, state and federal policymakers’).

Hough’s most controversial statements centred on why, in his words, ‘Asians who were oppressed [as much as blacks] did so well and are integrating so well, and the blacks are not doing so well’.

Hough continued: ‘[Asians] didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard… Every Asian student has a very simple, old American first name that symbolises their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolises their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous [and] black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.’

Duke University responded: ‘The comments were noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse.’ (My emphasis).

But if Hough’s comments are racist, repugnant or simply incorrect, should we dismiss them as unfit even to discuss, let alone debate or refute? Were Asians and blacks discriminated against equally, or did blacks face greater challenges? Do Asians really have simple American names, and blacks strange new ones? (Here’s one take). Do Asians integrate while blacks insulate? Is it fair to ask blacks to integrate into a society that has long oppressed them?

But students won’t have these conversations. The liberal establishment dismisses Hough’s comments as the racist ramblings of an old white fool. Perhaps that’s right. But here’s the problem: if no one confronts such ideas, they will not go away.

‘[N]o one has said I was wrong, just racist’, Hough writes. Another Duke professor, Michael Munger, argues that universities educate conservative students by challenging them, while liberal students get a pass. As the chair of indignation studies (whatever that is) told Munger, ‘I don’t really need to spend much time with the liberal students because they already have it right. I spend most of my time arguing with the conservative students.’

Derision, rather than refutation, seems to be the norm of discourse in mainstream politics as well. Accordingly, opposing views are seen as a sign of some moral defect, not genuine disagreement. Earlier this year, for example, a prominent Democrat compared delaying the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general (she’s the first African-American woman to be given the role) to Jim Crow segregation. Elsewhere, questioning certain sexual-assault statistics makes one a ‘rape apologist’; proponents of traditional marriage are dismissed as ‘bigots’; and even President Obama is called sexist for arguing with Senator Elizabeth Warren about a trade bill (he called her ‘Elizabeth’).

Progressives think their vitriolic name-calling undermines their opponents. But Munger has it right: ‘The absence of [dissent] is harmful, not so much to those who would agree with the dissenting voice, but to those who are thus denied the chance to collide with error.’

A recent study suggests the Republican Party is the strongest it has been in decades. Should this trend continue, should liberals lose the minds and hearts of Americans, should prejudice not die but fester, then progressives need only look in the mirror to find whom to blame.


I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me

by Edward Schlosser

I'm a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

What it was like before

In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street's recklessness had destroyed the economy.

The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

"What about Fannie and Freddie?" he asked. "Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn't get anything, and then they couldn't pay for them. What about that?"

I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn't it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let's talk about whether that was effective, okay? If you don't think it was, how could it have been?

The rest of the discussion went on as usual.

The next week, I got called into my director's office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I "possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story." The story in question wasn't described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week's class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.

Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then ... nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.

That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.

Now boat-rocking isn't just dangerous — it's suicidal

This isn't an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to "offensive" texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students' ire and sealed his fate.  That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn't the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that's considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, "Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated." Hurting a student's feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.

In 2009, the subject of my student's complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn't hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student's complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student's emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search. The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there's a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don't even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn't just dangerous, it's suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won't upset anybody.

The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don't get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I'm not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they're paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?

This phenomenon has been widely discussed as of late, mostly as a means of deriding political, economic, or cultural forces writers don't much care for. Commentators on the left and right have recently criticized the sensitivity and paranoia of today's college students. They worry about the stifling of free speech, the implementation of unenforceable conduct codes, and a general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort.


I agree with some of these analyses more than others, but they all tend to be too simplistic. The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed's current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.

This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that "is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ ... ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them." Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change.

Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action.  Rebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which "particular experiences can never legitimately speak for any one other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity." Personal experience and feelings aren't just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it's no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses.

(It's also why seemingly piddling matters of cultural consumption warrant much more emotional outrage than concerns with larger material implications. Compare the number of web articles surrounding the supposed problematic aspects of the newest Avengers movie with those complaining about, say, the piecemeal dismantling of abortion rights. The former outnumber the latter considerably, and their rhetoric is typically much more impassioned and inflated. I'd discuss this in my classes — if I weren't too scared to talk about abortion.)

The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world's problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say. All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

So it's not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period. Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand. As Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times, these refusals can shut down discussion in genuinely contentious areas, such as when Oxford canceled an abortion debate. More often, they affect surprisingly minor matters, as when Hampshire College disinvited an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Leftist Censors Strike Again --  at a Las Vegas high school

School administrators have denied Angelique Clark the right to form a Students for Life club at West Career and Technical Academy

I have often maintained that threats to freedom of expression in this country come predominantly — probably exclusively — from the political left. The censoring of a pro-life student club in a Las Vegas high school is a recent egregious example.

Angelique Clark, a sophomore at West Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, says the Clark County School District denied her application to charter a pro-life club as a chapter of Students for Life of America, the nation's largest youth pro-life organization. The district, according to Clark, said, "It was too controversial, and it would be too exclusive, and it would leave out pro-choice people."

Fox News reported that in a statement, the school district said that all the school district's clubs must have a faculty adviser before being allowed to form an official club and that Clark's proposed club did not. But Fox affiliate KVVU reports that it obtained a copy of Clark's charter application, dated December 2014, and it in fact does include a faculty adviser's signature.

The plot thickens.

I received an email from a representative from Students for Life, which said the school's vice principal told Clark that abortion is too controversial. Yet according to the email, this school has a Gay-Straight Alliance club. The vice principal also allegedly told Clark that there are "far more qualified" people to talk about abortion than a 16-year-old high-school sophomore. Wow.

Let's examine some of the school's alleged claims for denying this application. How about its claim that the proposed club would be too controversial and exclusive?

The constitutional right to free speech was designed to protect so-called controversial speech. Why would we need to protect speech that offends no one or that no one disagrees with?

Are people who make such arguments really that intoxicated by their own ideology that they can't understand that if governmental authorities get to decide what is and isn't permissible speech, you don't have freedom at all? Or do they not care? As they consistently demonstrate, they are not about freedom but about coercing the universal acceptance of their views and suppressing all dissent.

Their ideological blindness is clearly demonstrated not just by their willingness to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance club, with no apparent concerns about its potentially controversial nature, but by their obliviousness to their inconsistency.

The scary thing about the way these ideologues think — and this isn't an isolated case — is that they don't even recognize competing interests that must be weighed: free speech vs. ostensibly avoiding any angst in the school caused by controversial subjects. They doubtlessly have such contempt for the pro-life cause that they summarily dismiss the notion that it is protected speech within the school district's mini-tyrannical domain.

Concerning the gay-straight club, they are so convinced of its cause that they automatically disregard any possible suggestion that it is also a controversial subject. It is sobering that these people are so deluded with Orwellian thought that they don't see themselves as censoring speech; they just simply redefine speech as that universe of propositions they happen to agree with, and ideas outside their universe are not protected.

How about the claim that it would be too exclusive because it would leave out pro-choice people? This is so ludicrous that it shouldn't require a rebuttal. What clubs don't encourage people with common interests or common causes to join? Is the gay-straight alliance not similarly exclusive? Are not all such clubs exclusive as the school administrators are defining it? Clubs, by definition, are groups whose members have something in common and therefore, also by definition, are in some ways exclusive.

Apparently, for people of the worldview espoused by this school administration, a gay-straight club is not similarly exclusive, because in their minds, a club that supports camaraderie among gay people and straight people is inherently inclusive. But what about people who don't agree with the platform such clubs endorse? Well, to the leftist ideologues, it is objectively unreasonable and usually evil to oppose anything such a group would endorse, just as those who disagree with the absurdly apocalyptical claims of extreme environmentalists are branded "deniers." And remember hearing proponents of same-sex marriage recently saying that speech opposing it is "hate speech" and not protected? It's the exact same type of thinking.

Again, the problem is not just that these leftists want to censor certain opposing views; it's also that they don't see their own tyranny, hypocrisy, intolerance and exclusiveness.

What about the claim that Angelique Clark isn't qualified enough to opine on the subject? Don't you see how this bizarre idea flows from the same warped ideological mindset? Since when did one have to be an expert on something to have a right to advocate it? And who decides?

The answer is the political left. Because leftists believe that the pro-life position is inarguably wrong, they apparently attribute Clark's endorsement of it to her youthful ignorance. What else could explain their embarrassingly ridiculous statement that she can't form a club because other people would be more qualified to articulate the ideas it would advance? Applying that standard, the school should have to ban all of its athletic programs because its athletes aren't so good as college or professional athletes.

I have no expectation that my arguments here will be viewed as reasonable by people who would agree with the horrifying thinking of this school administration, but I would never deny their right to think or express their views, nor would any conservative I've ever met.


Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Strict Regulation Leads to Information Overload

This month the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the Higher Education Act, which was originally passed in 1965. The primary topic for the duration of the two hour hearing was the collection and dissemination of data from colleges and universities.

The federal government mandates that institutions of higher education release a lot of data. Colleges and universities collect data, report it to the federal government, and make it available to the public. Some of that information is vital for high school students in their search for the right college or university, and some isn’t.

What information is most important? Is that information readily available to students, or is it buried in 900 page binders and needlessly confusing reports? These are questions the 22 senators addressed, lead by Chairman Alexander and aided by the testimony of four individuals with experience in the field.

Chairmen Alexander read a letter from a university president attesting that there is more regulatory pressure now than ever before, and reported statistics saying 90% of workers in higher education administration find the current regulations burdensome. Chairman Alexander also held up thick binders to provide a visual for the amount of information schools are required to collect. And they looked heavy.

The general consensus seemed to be that when too much information is collected, the process becomes over-complicated, and the information of real importance becomes lost. High school students should be able to easily access important statistics about the colleges and universities they are considering, including information about financial aid, admissions rates, and retention and graduations rates, without sifting through junk numbers.

What is more, Dr. Mark Schneider, Vice President and Institute Fellow at American Institutes of Research, admitted that the obsessive collection of data carries privacy concerns. We have previously seen the dangers of the federal government invading the privacy of students by collecting data at the K-12 level in association with Common Core. The federal government has no business with the personal and potentially sensitive information of students. We should all be wary.

Are we really willing to sacrifice our privacy for data that’s unimportant to the government and unhelpful to high school students? As a college student myself, I think the answer should be a resounding no. We need a less complicated system, fewer mandates, and easier access to important statistics for high school students looking at colleges and universities.

Dear federal government, relinquish your hold on institutions of higher education, and let them do their thing! Excessive regulations are holding back schools and students.


Better Late than Never: Christie Turns on Common Core

Say what you will about Republican governors, eventually they catch on. Well, most of them do, anyway (I’m looking at you, Jeb.)The latest addition to the ever-expanding number of governors turning against Common Core education standards is New Jersey’s own Chris Christie

In a recent speech, Christie spoke about a desire to wrest power “away from the bureaucrats in Washington, DC” when it comes to education, arguing that New Jersey should be able to create its own standards to suit its residents. Christie’s conversion is admittedly tempered by his calling for standards that are “even higher” than Common Core, but at least he recognizes how badly things go wrong when you put the feds in charge of state issues.

With this reversal, Christie joins the ranks of Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee, all of whom initially supported Common Core, but turned against it when they saw its devastating effects on state education systems.

Back in 2013, Christie dismissed Republican opposition to the standards as a “knee-jerk” reaction against anything Obama wanted to do. It’s gratifying to hear that he has seen the light, learning that conservatives can actually have some pretty thoughtful positions.

It’s a testament to just how bad the federal government was bungled education policy that even governors with less than conservative records in other areas are recognizing that Common Core doesn’t work. The federal government has no authority to dictate education policy at the state level, but through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind) the Department of Education has been bullying states into adopting standards against their best interests. That type of coercion has to stop if states are ever going to be truly free of Common Core’s effects.

It’s not surprising that Christie has taken the opportunity to clarify his position on Common Core now. Public support for the standards is declining and the issue is likely to be a major deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election. Anyone who hopes to do well in the GOP primary would be wise to vocally oppose them. It is still unclear whether Christie intends to run, but here’s hoping his newfound distrust of the standards results in some education reform legislation coming out of New Jersey in the near future.


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

WV teacher threatened with fine for violating Michelle O’s school snack rules

Students and parents are rallying to the defense of a teacher who is accused of violating federal school snack rules.

The Williamson PreK-8 teacher, who was not identified, would give her students “wrapped candy” as a reward for their hard work and good behavior.

Because the practice was an alleged violation of the federal rules championed by first lady Michelle Obama, Mingo County Schools Director of Child Nutrition Kay Maynard “placed a call to officials at the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to report the incident,” the Williamson Daily News reports.

Maynard also spoke to Williamson PreK-8 principal Shannon Blackburn, telling him about the possibility of a monetary fine for the teacher.

When news spread, parents and student mobilized, collecting pennies to pay the potential fine on the teacher’s behalf.

Administrators at the WVDE decided the teacher’s violation was not a “deliberate attempt” to break Michelle Obama’s rules and said instead of fining the teacher, they required the department to “develop a corrective action plan to include training on child nutrition policies.”

By participating in the National School Lunch Program, the school district must adhere to edicts handed down from Washington, D.C.

Those rules state that food, such as “wrapped candy,” cannot be used as “a reward and it cannot be withheld as a punishment.”

Administrators with Mingo County Schools claim the federal rules were developed “to help educators encourage students to make healthy decisions.”

If they’re not strictly followed, schools can be required to return federal school lunch money, be penalized for state and federal food service programs, or make all schools in the county vulnerable to similar punishment.


A Summer Break From Campus Muzzling

Commencement season brings a respite from the sinister childishness rampant on campuses. Attacks on freedom of speech come from the professoriate, that herd of independent minds, and from the ever-thickening layer of university administrators who keep busy constricting freedom in order to fine-tune campus atmospherics.

The attacks are childish because they infantilize students who flinch from the intellectual free-for-all of adult society. When Brown University’s tranquility of conformity was threatened by a woman speaker skeptical about the “rape culture” on campuses, students planned a “safe space” for those who would be traumatized by exposure to skepticism. Judith Shulevitz, writing in The New York Times, reported that the space had “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies.”

The attack on free expression is sinister because it asserts that such freedom is not merely unwise but, in a sense, meaningless. Free speech is more comprehensively and aggressively embattled now than ever before in American history, largely because of two 19th-century ideas. One is that history — actually, History, a proper noun — has a mind of its own. The other is that most people do not really have minds of their own.

Progressives frequently disparage this or that person or idea as “on the wrong side of history.” They regard history as an autonomous force with its own laws of unfolding development: Progress is wherever history goes. This belief entails disparagement of human agency – or at least that of most people, who do not understand history’s implacable logic and hence do not get on history’s “right side.” Such people are crippled by “false consciousness.” Fortunately, a saving clerisy, a vanguard composed of the understanding few, know where history is going and how to help it get there.

One way to help is by molding the minds of young people. The molders believe that the sociology of knowledge demonstrates that most people do not make up their minds, “society” does this. But progressive minds can be furnished for them by controlling the promptings from the social environment. This can be done by making campuses into hermetically sealed laboratories.

In “The Promise of American Life” (1909), progressivism’s canonical text, Herbert Croly said, “The average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to a serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat.” National life should be “a school,” with the government as the stern but caring principal: “The exigencies of such schooling frequently demand severe coercive measures, but what schooling does not?” “Unregenerate citizens” can be saved “many costly perversions, in case the official school-masters are wise, and the pupils neither truant nor insubordinate.” For a survey of today’s campus coercions, read Kirsten Power’s “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.”

In “Kindly Inquisitors” (1993), Jonathan Rauch showed how attacks on the free market in speech undermine three pillars of American liberty. They subvert democracy, the culture of persuasion by which we decide who shall wield legitimate power. (Progressives advocate government regulation of the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech.) The attacks undermine capitalism — markets registering the freely expressed choices by which we allocate wealth. And the attacks undermine science, which is how we decide what is true. (Note progressives' insistence that the science about this or that is “settled.”)

For decades, much academic ingenuity has been devoted to jurisprudential theorizing to evade the First Amendment’s majestic simplicity about “no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” We are urged to “balance” this freedom against competing, and putatively superior, considerations such as individual serenity, institutional tranquility or social improvement.

On campuses, the right of free speech has been supplanted by an entitlement to what Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education calls a right to freedom from speech deemed uncongenial. This entitlement is buttressed by “trigger warnings” against spoken “micro-aggressions” that lacerate the delicate sensibilities of individuals who are encouraged to be exquisitely, paralyzingly sensitive.

In a booklet for the “Encounter Broadside” series, Lukianoff says “sensitivity-based censorship” on campus reflects a broader and global phenomena. It is the demand for coercive measures to do for our mental lives what pharmacology has done for our bodies — the banishment or mitigation of many discomforts. In the social milieu fostered by today’s entitlement state, expectations quickly generate entitlements. Students are taught to expect intellectual comfort, including the reinforcement of their beliefs, or at least those that conform to progressive orthodoxies imbibed and enforced on campuses. Until September, however, the culture of freedom will be safe from its cultured despisers.


Higher Education Is Not Just an Investment

It's recreational too

As college graduation season begins, you can anticipate seeing news stories about the terrible plight facing today’s graduates. Many of these stories will focus on students’ heavy debt burdens and poor job prospects, and call the investment in higher education a failure. Young grads do face difficult challenges, but the problem is not that their “investment” doesn’t pay off.

To be sure, the rising cost of higher education is a serious problem. The average annual tuition and fees at private colleges and universities has risen to $31,000, roughly 76 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since the year that most of graduates from the Class of 2015 were born. At public colleges and universities, the average cost of $9,100 represents a 141 percent increase.

Seventy percent of this year’s 3.5 million graduates have amassed student-loan debt in order to meet the high cost of higher education. The average student loan debt is a whopping $27,000. This reality will undoubtedly lead some pundits to ask: “Is college worth the investment?”

But the question is based on a false premise. College is not just an investment in human capital to improve future earnings. Often, it provides consumption goods, too.

These goods might take the form of recreational amenities, such as climbing walls and lazy rivers. But they can also include courses, or even majors, focused on topics like art appreciation -- and a variety of other subjects -- that are pleasurable and foster long-term cultural enrichment, but which do little to increase earnings.

Unfortunately, massive government subsidies to higher education make the bundling of human capital investment and consumption for young adults a bad deal for society. For students and parents who understand the difference between the two, it can be a great deal. But taxpayers pick up a portion of students’ education and consumption expenses, too.

The high cost of tuition and all-too-common low return on higher education spending is both an outcome driven by market forces and a consequence of government interventions.

As families become wealthier, they tend to demand more leisure and consumption for their children. Colleges and universities are happy to supply it. Government subsidies, however, distort this tradeoff, and neither the families nor the institutions face market prices. The subsidies also increase the demand for higher education, which drives up tuition, and the schools become incentivized to oversupply consumption goods.

Once we recognize that much educational spending and student debt are for financing consumption rather than investment, we can gain a clearer perspective on the problems facing recent college grads.

My point isn’t meant to downplay the problems that college graduates face. The unemployment rate for young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 is 9.5 percent, more than twice the rate for adults aged 25 years and older. Student loan debt, much like credit card debt from Vegas vacations and other consumption, is difficult to manage if you can’t find gainful employment.

Also, the government has made it harder for recent graduates who are employed to meet their financial needs. Obamacare, for example, forces young healthy people to buy higher priced insurance that subsidizes the premiums of the old and sick. Young adults are also forced to pay into Social Security and Medicare, programs that will likely go bankrupt before they can collect benefits.

So to the Class of 2015, I feel bad for you that government has helped to inflate the cost of your degrees and taxes you in ways that make it harder to meet your student loan payments and other financial obligations. But it’s been a fun four (or more) years for you. Now it’s time to get to work and pay up.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Universities Should Be Unsafe For Political Correctness

The current code word being tossed around to protect political correctness from competition in the marketplace of ideas is "unsafe."

"I feel unsafe" has become the argument stopper on many university campuses. Efforts have been made to shut down controversial events or speakers, some of which have succeeded, at MIT, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University, Oxford, Hampshire College, Smith College, and other great universities, on the grounds that students would feel "unsafe." Students must, of course, be and feel physically safe in their dorms, classrooms, and campuses. That's what university and city police are for: to protect against physical assaults and threats. But no one on a university campus should be or feel safe or protected when it comes to the never-ending war of ideas.

An important role of the university is to challenge every idea, every truth, every sacred notion, even if challenge makes students (or faculty) feel intellectually uncomfortable, unsettled, or unsafe. There must be no safe spaces in the classroom or auditorium that protect members of the university community from dangerous, disturbing or even emotionally unsettling ideas.

There can be rules of civility that prevent shouting down opposing views, but these rules must be content-neutral, applicable in equal measure to politically correct and politically incorrect speech. Universities must not have acceptable ideas that are given greater protection that unacceptable ones. All ideas must compete on an equal footing in open marketplaces.

But what about ideas that really do make certain individuals or groups feel intellectually or emotionally unsafe -- ideas such as opposition to gay marriage, to a woman's right to choose abortion, to race-based affirmative action, to religion in general or to particular religions or religious practices, to Zionism or anti-Zionism? It is especially these unpopular ideas -- some of which were quite popular in the recent past -- that today need protection against the forces of political correctness that seek to stifle dissent in the name of safety.

So long as there is no realistic, imminent threat to physical safety -- such as an incitement to commit violence against gays, women, blacks, Jews, etc. -- the university must assure the safety of the politically incorrect speaker, student, faculty member, administrator or employee. The answer to bad speech must be good speech; the response to false ideas must be true ideas; the protection against dangerous ideas is effective rebuttal, not censorship.

The university should be an uncomfortable place for comfortable ideas. It should be a dangerous place for all deeply felt ideologies. It should be an unsafe place for political correctness or incorrectness. Ideas must live and die on their merits and demerits, so long as those espousing them are kept safe from physical intimidation or threats.

The line between physical safety, on the one hand, and intellectual or emotional safety, on the other hand, will not always be clear or easy to administer, but doubts must always be resolved in favor of freedom of expression, even against claims of unsafety, because it is far too easy to argue that safety is being endangered in ambiguous circumstances. For example, one professor has talked about "the violence of the word" -- a metaphorical concept that could spell the end of controversial speech on campus. I don't doubt that some people really do feel subjectively unsafe when their conventional wisdom and deeply felt worldviews are challenged, but freedom of expression is too valuable to surrender to subjective feelings. Before speech may be stifled in the name of safety, rigorous objective standards should have to be met.

Freedom of dissent on many university campuses is quickly becoming an endangered species. Many constituent groups support free speech "for me but not for thee." Ideas that they express come within the ambit of free expression, but opposing ideas that make them feel unsafe are now included in the amorphous category of "harassment."

The real world into which students graduate is not always a safe place. Students must be prepared to face the cruel realities of obnoxious views that make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other awful "isms" still exist in many parts of our own country and in the world. We have the right to try to defeat these pernicious and dangerous ideas in the marketplace. But we cannot censor them in the real world. Nor should we try to protect our students from them as they prepare to enter that world. Instead, members of the university community must learn the best ways to respond to ideas they detest within the framework of a free and open marketplace.


Sens. Cruz and Lee: Expand School Choice For Low-Income Parents

As Congress considers reauthorization of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) want to expand school choice by allowing low-income parents the opportunity to send their children to any public or private school of their choice.

Their bill, entitled the Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Students Act (S.306), which was introduced in the Senate on January 29, calls for a three-fold reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which was passed in 1965 and reauthorized as NCLB in 2002.

“All students should have access to a high quality education. This legislation will empower parents to invest more in their child's education and allow parents to choose what school best meets their child's needs,” Lee stated.

Sen. Cruz concurred. “The rich and middle class have had school choice from the beginning of time,” he said. “This fight is about ensuring that every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, or zip code has the same opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs and will help them achieve their very best.”

According to Senator Lee’s website, the first provision of the bill would allow federal Title I funds to follow low-income students to any public or private school of their choice. In 2015, the federal poverty guideline is $20,090 for a family of three.

The second provision of the bill would remove contribution limitations on Coverdell Education Savings Accounts - the lone tax break available to parents to cover educational expenses for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Section 201 also calls for a recognition of home school expenses as qualified educational expenses, and redefines a private school to include a home school.

The third provision of the bill expands tax-exempt “529” accounts, which allow parents to save for future educational expenses, to pre-K-12 education.

A companion bill (H.R. 5477) was introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) in the House. “Our current education system works for many. But it is failing too many others,” Messer said on the House floor in September. “Some may say our current system is the best we can do, but deep down we all know we must do better.”

Fifty years ago, ESEA was enacted by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson, who said that “our first national goal” should be “full educational opportunity” for all students.

But that goal has not been reached, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card,” which measures three levels of academic achievement: basic, proficient and advanced.

“In 2014, 18 percent of students performed at or above Proficient in U.S. history, 27 percent performed at or above Proficient in geography, and 23 percent in civics,” according to Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Scores from the 2013 NAEP showed similar results in reading and math. Only 26 percent of the nation’s students tested at the proficient level or higher in math, while less than half (38 percent) were considered proficient in reading.


UK: Should teachers have a teaching qualification

I should declare my biases here.  I have a Ph.D. but no teaching qualification.  Yet I taught successfully at two High Schools.  From what I know of them I actually despise teacher training courses

By Richard Cairns, headmaster at Brighton College

Few people in our lives have a greater impact on us than our teachers: the teacher who nurtured within us a life-long passion for history or music or French, the sports master who convinced us that we could play cricket or netball, and the form tutor who picked us up when we were feeling down and made us feel better about ourselves.

Good schools are only as good as their teachers. And, unsurprisingly, every international survey tells us that the single most important factor in educational outcome is the quality of teaching.

Little wonder, therefore, that we heads see the appointment of teachers as one of the most important things we do. Get it right and our pupils fly. Get it wrong and our pupils flag and fail.

So how do we find the teachers who will educate and inspire the next generation? The Labour Party would have you believe that we do this by insisting on all teachers having a formal postgraduate certificate of education. For them, that is the acid test of whether a teacher is suitable or not. I take a different view.

I am looking for two things: firstly, strong subject knowledge and secondly, an ability to connect with, and inspire, children. The first seems self-evident to me. I cannot see how anyone can teach a subject they have little knowledge of themselves. How can you challenge and inspire young people intellectually if your own understanding of the subject matter is shallow, patchy or non-existent.

Yet politicians who rail against unqualified teachers seem blind to this, ignoring the shocking reality that in England, 50 per cent of maths teachers and 70 per cent of physics teachers do not even have a degree in the subject they are teaching. Yet, because they have a teaching qualification, they are ‘qualified’.

The second factor in any appointment is the ability to connect with children and to inspire them. Do you really need a certificate of education to do this effectively?

Far better, as we do at Brighton College, that we employ charismatic people with strong subject knowledge whom we then support and train in the classroom in accordance with their needs.

And it is that approach that has allowed me to recruit so many brilliant teachers, many of whom have had valuable experience in other professions: a lawyer with a First from Oxford in history and politics, now inspiring children with a love of both subjects; a nuclear physicist giving his pupils an insight into how physics is actually applied in the real world; an economist with degrees from Cambridge and the LSE whose pupils regularly tell me how inspiring he is; an aid worker turned geography teacher who can talk with authority about reconstruction in Nepal because he has seen it with his own eyes; and a drama teacher who has appeared in Game of Thrones.

These are just some of the 47 teachers on my staff who would not be allowed to teach in most state schools; knowledgeable, inspirational, ‘unqualified’ men and women who are changing children’s lives.


Monday, June 01, 2015

A Modest Proposal for Education Reform

Before he passed away recently, John M. Templeton, the distinguished physician and philanthropist, questioned: “Should we tolerate a public educational system with its entrenched self-interest which virtually every inner-city parent knows is destroying any hope or possibility of their children achieving meaningful opportunity in a 21st-century economy?” A growing number of parents say no. Now critics of the public school system are coming forward with alternatives to it, and many of them are parents, often parents of disadvantaged students, usually parents that fear for the fate of their children in schools in the inner city.

Stephen Moore, an economist at The Heritage Foundation, writes in The Wall Street Journal about the grim scene at a Washington, D.C., public school where a father, concerned about his son’s attendance there, walked in past “two police cars … (an) everyday routine. … There was violence. Fighting. Disrespect and drugs.” The father complained to the principal about what he saw, and she “shook her finger” at him and admonished, “Don’t tell me how to run my school.”

That is precisely the response I would expect from a modern-day unionized public school principal. The father would have been received more cordially if he had complained not about the chaotic environment of the principal’s school, but about the police presence out in front. Had the principal not heard about Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore, Md.?

I think Templeton asks the right question: Should the public tolerate an educational system that is “destroying any hope or possibility” of its students being prepared to live normal lives? What is more, Moore has the answer, to wit, increased state support for vouchers, which would allow the unions to maintain their failing system, but also would provide alternatives for parents interested in their children’s well-being.

Now, from Atlanta — recently the scene of a shocking cheating scam in which teachers and principals were complicit and are headed for jail — comes a plan for alternative state funding of the school system that would provide widespread reform. It would incentivize parents to get involved with their children’s education and thereby strengthen one of the crucial building blocks of society: the family. Moreover, it would expand the types of schools available to families, from religious schools to irreligious schools, from progressive schools to traditional schools. All that would be necessary is for the schools to meet reasonable accountability standards.

Glenn Delk wrote about the plan last week in The American Spectator. Here is the plan in a simplified form. The state legislature passes a law allowing families to establish an Education Savings Account for each child, placing up to $8,000 per student into a tax-free account. The money is there to use purely for educational purposes. Any funds left unspent in a year may be rolled over to the next year or for college.

Additionally, the state applies for a waiver from the federal government so the state can apply the $1 billion it already gets to Education Savings Accounts of $10,000 each for the state’s poorest children. What is more, the state spends $8,000 per student from the $8 billion it has already set aside for students without regard for family income. Thus, the state could fund one million students without increasing funding.

If you assume that the 150,000 students currently attending private schools would qualify, then 850,000 public school students would qualify. Assuming 100,000 of them use federal funds, and 850,000 public school students use state funds, that leaves 650,000 public school students to attend schools run by traditional school districts, with $8 billion in local property tax funding.

Delk foresees a revolution in the funding of K-12 schools throughout the country, as he cites plans similar to his being discussed in other states. He sees better-educated students, stronger families and fewer outbreaks of the nihilistic violence we have seen in Baltimore. Truth be known, we have seen these outbreaks since the 1960s. They follow a familiar pattern, but they begin with too many young people who are ignorant. Improve education for them, and you improve their job prospects in the 21st century, as Templeton suggested. I think it is worth a try.


Colleges and Universities Have Grown Bloated and Dysfunctional

American colleges and universities, long thought to be the glory of the nation, are in more than a little trouble. I’ve written before of their shameful practices — the racial quotas and preferences at selective schools (Harvard is being sued by Asian-American organizations), the kangaroo courts that try students accused of rape and sexual assault without legal representation or presumption of innocence, and speech codes that make campuses the least rather than the most free venues in American society.

In following these policies, the burgeoning phalanxes of university and college administrators must systematically lie, insisting against all the evidence that they are racially nondiscriminatory, devoted to due process and upholders of free speech. The resulting intellectual corruption would have been understood by George Orwell.

Alas, even the great strengths of our colleges and universities are threatening to become weaknesses. Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing.

American colleges, dating back to Harvard’s founding in 1636, have been modeled on the residential colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. The idea is that students live on or near (sometimes breathtakingly beautiful) campuses, where they can learn from and interact with inspired teachers.

American graduate universities, dating back to Johns Hopkins' founding in 1876, have been built on the German professional model. Students are taught by scholars whose Ph.D. theses represent original scholarship, expanding the frontiers of knowledge and learning.

That model still works very well in math and the hard sciences. In these disciplines it’s rightly claimed that American universities are, as The Economist recently put it in a cover story, “the gold standard” of the world. But not so much in some of the mushier social sciences and humanities. “Just as the American model is spreading around the world,” The Economist goes on, “it is struggling at home.”

Consider the Oxford/Cambridge residential college model. Up through the 1960s, college administrators acted in loco parentis, with responsibilities similar to those of parents. Men’s and women’s dorms were separate and mostly off-limits to the other sex; drinking and drug use were limited; cars were often banned.

The assumption is that 18- to 21-year-old students were, in important respects, still children. The 1960s changed all that. Students were regarded as entitled to adult freedoms: unisex dorms and bathrooms, binge drinking, a hookup culture.

But now the assumption is that adult-aged students must be coddled like children. They are provided with cadres of counselors, so-called “trigger warnings” against supposedly disturbing course material and kangaroo courts to minutely regulate their sexual behavior.

Most colleges and universities abroad and many in this country (notably for-profit and online) don’t use the residential model. Students live with parents or double up in cheap apartments and — horrors! — commute, like most employed adults.

The residential college model, with its bloated ranks of coddler/administrators, has become hugely expensive and increasingly dysfunctional. It’s overdue for significant downsizing.

The Ph.D. university model is also metastasizing. A plethora of humanities and social science Ph.D. theses are produced every year, many if not most written in unreadable academic jargon and devoid of scholarly worth. Most will probably be read by only a handful of people, with no loss to society. But some worthy scholarship will be overlooked and go unappreciated.

A glut of Ph.D.s and an ever-increasing army of administrators have produced downward pressure on faculty pay. Universities increasingly hire Ph.D.s as underpaid adjuncts, with low wages and no job security.

The last half-century has seen a huge increase in the percentage of Americans who go to college and a huge increase in government aid to them. The assumption was that if college is good for some, it’s good for everyone. But not everyone is suited for college: witness the increasing ranks of debt-laden nongraduates.

And the huge tranches of government money have been largely mopped up by the ever-increasing cadres of administrators. Do students get their money’s worth from the masses of counselors, facilitators, liaisons and coordinators their student loans pay for? Or would they be better off paying for such services only as needed, as most other adults do?

As Glenn Reynolds of has written convincingly, the higher education bubble is now bursting. Colleges are closing; college applications and graduate program enrollments are declining; universities are facing lawsuits challenging the verdicts of their kangaroo courts.

Naturally, administrators seek more money. But the money pumped into these institutions is more the problem than the solution.


Is a College Education Still Worth the Cost?

With debt soaring for college loans and the current generation of post-graduate college students being hogtied by their loan burdens, the question of how much sense this all makes comes to one’s mind. Well, a couple of noted individuals did a detailed analysis of that and came to their own conclusions.

Jaison R. Abel, research officer, and Richard Dietz, Assistant Vice-President for Regional Analysis of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, cast their eyes on this issue. Unfortunately, repeated requests for an interview were turned down. Their study -- named Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs? -- brought to mind one immediate question which is why the New York Fed looked at this issue in the first place.

They came to the conclusion that “once the full set of costs and benefits is taken into account, investing in a college education still appears to be a wise economic decision for the average person.” Once you review their charts and graphs you may come to the same conclusion. The unanswered questions still remain that may make it not so for many college attendees.

Their findings stated that on average, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn well over $1 million more than high school graduates during their work career. A question that would be nice to get answered is whether that is because of the college education or because of the nature of the individuals involved? Certainly many professions restrict your entry into them without a college degree, but that does not mean that the person who succeeds in college succeeds in life financially because of the college degree. We do not have to lurch to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg (both Harvard University dropouts) to know that people who attend even superior colleges don’t often need to attend college to be financially successful in life. When the population of college attendees typically includes the smartest and most motivated people in our country, it follows that they would have higher lifetime earnings than the population as a whole.

But also notice the authors noted that the average earnings are $1,000,000 higher. Let us consider over a 40-year career that would be about $25,000 per year. There certainly are many people who will have either zero increased earnings or something like $10,000 per year on average. Those increased earnings will increase to a higher level as their careers propel forward, leaving these degree holders with little or no increased earnings in the first few years of their career and many harnessed with $60,000 to $100,000 of debt for student loans. I have counselled two young adults in recent weeks with debt exceeding $150,000 for advanced degrees.

This mountain of debt has been documented as being a stall on this generation acquiring homes because of the burden that decreases loan capacity. Also, for many of these people, their burden of debt is stifling them from taking risks to start their own businesses. Both of these issues, home purchases and business starts, are reflective of the costs of college, the debt incurred to attend college, and the resulting sometimes meager increased earnings culminating in casting a giant shadow on the future of many of these young graduates.

One of the questions I wanted to address to the authors of the study was whether people receiving some of the proliferation of degrees that leads them to unknown careers was really worth the time and money to attend college. They did include a section entitled Does Your Major Matter? They clearly stated that certain majors have a greater economic return, while they likewise stated that other majors still gave a great rate of return on investment. What we don’t know is how many of those degrees end up being totally useless because jobs are not available in any shape or form.

As a society we have put a tremendous distorted premium on attending college. Many high school students are told through societal norms that their lives will be a failure if they do not attend college. We have completely de-emphasized training for jobs that are lucrative, but not needing of a college degree. Many of those positions have gone begging in our current environment.

We currently have a person considering running for president for the first time since President Harry Truman who did not graduate from college. Governor Scott Walker attended college for three years, but did not finish. Not finishing college has brought some to question his qualifications to be president. Last time I checked that was not one of the items listed in the Constitution. And the doubters have discounted that his vast experience in government over the last 20+ years might actually be more important than that last year of college. A typical analysis was done by Albert Hunt in Bloomberg entitled Can Walker be President without a College Degree? A discussion like this crystalizes the distorted emphasis on that magical piece of paper.

The authors should have been open to a deeper analysis. It would be nice to address the trillion dollar noose around the neck of college grads for the cost of college. But none of that was done and more needs to be looked at before we continue to give this unbridled premium to colleges -- societally and financially.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Here’s the Data to Prove School Choice Is Working

Private school choice initiatives have become increasingly common across the United States. Far from being rare and untested, private school choice policies are an integral part of the fabric of American education policy.

In the United States today, 56 different school choice policies exist in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, and the number of choice policies has approximately doubled every four years from 2000 to 2012.

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program remains the nation’s only federally sponsored private school choice initiative. It provides scholarships worth up to $8,000 in grades K-8 and $12,000 in high school to low-income children in D.C. to attend any of more than 50 participating private schools.

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When the Opportunity Scholarship Program was launched in 2004, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences selected me to lead the initial government evaluation of this pilot program in parental school choice. Demand for scholarships exceeded supply, so most applicants faced a lottery to determine if they would receive an Opportunity Scholarship, permitting us to use a “gold standard” experimental research design to determine what impact the program had on participants.

Students in our pioneering study graduated from high school at a rate 21 percentage points higher than they otherwise would have as a result of using an Opportunity Scholarship. In scientific terms, we are more than 99 percent confident that access to school choice through the Opportunity Scholarship Program was the reason students in the program graduated at these much higher rates.

“Graduating from high school is an economic imperative.” Those are not my words, but those of President Obama, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

Each additional high school graduate saves the nation an average of $260,000 thanks to increased taxes on higher lifetime earnings and lower law-enforcement and welfare costs.

Thus, the 449 additional high school graduates obtained through operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program during its pilot produced a return on investment of $2.62 for every dollar spent.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship is not the only private school choice program to demonstrate a clear and dramatic impact on boosting educational attainment.

My research team similarly found the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program significantly increased the rates of high school graduation, college enrollment and persistence in college for the low-income students participating in our nation’s oldest urban private school choice program.

Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution determined that a privately funded K-12 scholarship program in New York City significantly increased the rate at which black and immigrant students enrolled in college. Increasingly and consistently, researchers are finding that private school choice programs like the Opportunity Scholarship Program enable students to go farther in school.

Private school choice policies are an integral part of the fabric of American education policy.

Evidence that students achieved higher test scores because of the Opportunity Scholarship Program was only consistently conclusive in reading and for three subgroups of students: females, students with relatively higher performance at baseline and students transferring from better-performing public schools. Our study uncovered no program impacts on student math scores. Parents were more satisfied with their child’s school as a result of the Opportunity Scholarship Program and rated the schools safer.

When a previous Congress closed the Opportunity Scholarship Program to new students and reduced its funding, parents in the program put actions behind their words of praise for the program.

Parents rose up in peaceful protest, participating in rallies, writing letters to Congress and testifying at congressional hearings, to save the program. Ultimately, they triumphed, as the Opportunity Scholarship Program was reauthorized and expanded in 2011 with passage of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, or SOAR, Act. That entire amazing story is captured in a book I recently co-authored with Dr. Thomas Stewart called “The School Choice Journey: School Vouchers and the Empowerment of Urban Families.” 

The research record from the carefully studied pilot period of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is filled with good news.

Students graduated from high school at much higher rates because they used a scholarship. The program appears to have had a positive effect on student reading test scores, though we can only have a high level of confidence about that impact for certain subgroups of students. Parents have been empowered and report their children are in better and safer schools.

Importantly, D.C. parents view the program as one worth fighting for. Policymakers should give all of these facts careful consideration when they plan the future of District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.


Top $40,000-a-year Manhattan school racially segregates children in controversial program that's meant to teach kids about race

A top private school in New York City has a number of parents in uproar with cries of segregation after launching a program to tackle racism which divides eight-year-olds into groups by the color of their skin.

The Fieldston Lower School, a $40,000-a-year liberal institution on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has adopted the controversial approach to addressing prejudice by putting third to fifth-graders in 'affinity groups' - of other students of the same race or ethnic background, according to an article in New York Magazine.

The intention is that students will openly discuss race among others in their ethnic groups then return to the full, racially-diverse classroom to share their feelings.

The program, which is mandatory for all students, takes place one class a week over five weeks.

According to Fieldston's school website, students of color make up about 34 per cent of the student body. Faculty and staff of color are about 15 per cent.

There were deep concerns about dividing children by racial group with some parents mentioning the Holocaust, a pre-Civil Rights American society and Japanese internment in emails.

According to NY Magazine, a parents' meeting at the school in January to discuss the program led to heated outbursts from parents over the new program.

One Jewish parent who was raised in the South said the Ku Klux Klan had burned down his synagogue when he was a child and so to have Jewish children join the 'white affinity group' was to deny the prejudices that exist against Jews.

Some parents at the school have taken up a petition online to have the racial and ethnic affinity groups-program removed from Fieldston Lower's curriculum.

Cristina Melendez, who identifies as 'ethnically Dominican and racially black', and has a daughter in the second-grade at Fieldston, was among a large group of parents who support the classes.

She told New York Magazine:  'I understand that parents say, ''I don’t want my kid to pick a box''. But the boxes are already being picked for her left and right...

'I want to tell you that I’m black. I’m a Latina black woman. I am going to pick, and this empowers my kid to pick. And she’s going to be perceived from that moment on, hopefully, as the person she wants to be. That’s not limiting. That’s not putting my kid in a box. That’s empowering.'

Fieldston is not alone in its attempt among educators to address race with children at a younger age, at a time when the U.S. has experienced widespread protests and riots over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers.

A project of The Southern Poverty Law Center launched a program called 'Teaching Tolerance' last year which 16,000 teachers have since downloaded.

The Anti-Defamation League provides training for kids and teachers in schools.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School was founded in 1878 to educate the city's working class children. It is a progressive establishment which includes courses in ethics and philosophy in the curriculum and puts a strong focus on community service.

The school no longer offers AP coursework, in an effort to go above and beyond teaching-to-the-test, and chooses to implement more innovative and challenging classes instead.


Parental Choice Could Help Curb Willful Defiance in School

Students attending Oakland Unified Public Schools will no longer be suspended for willful defiance, a broad category of misbehaviors such as swearing at teachers, texting in class, or refusing to take off hats in the classroom. A number of other California schools districts, including those in San Francisco and Los Angeles, are also dropping willful defiance from their lists of suspendable offenses, according to published reports.

The decision is being hailed by some civil rights groups, who note that African-American students are disproportionately suspended from school for such offenses. These groups and others also argue that alternative discipline policies that do not interrupt students’ learning time should be explored instead.

To be sure, discriminatory discipline policies should never be tolerated in school; however, the discipline struggles confronting government-run schools are largely a problem of their own making—particularly in California where parents’ choices over where their children attend school is sorely constrained.

Ideally, all parents—regardless of income or address—should be free to choose the education provider they believe is best for their child. Parents choose schools based on academics, an educational approach that reflects their beliefs, and safety, which includes school climate and discipline.

By artificially constraining parents’ choices over where their children attend school, assigned schools lose one of the leading supports to schools’ and students’ success: parental support.

We value what we choose more than what’s foisted upon us. When parents can’t (or don’t have to) actively choose their children’s schools, many of them may simply start believing that education—and the good behavior required for children to learn—is somebody else’s problem.

In a competitive education climate, schools feel powerful pressure to distinguish themselves. Not only does such pressure include promoting their particular curricula and teaching approaches, it also includes their disciplinary policies.

Some parents may prefer stricter disciplinary policies, which could include school uniforms and signed codes of conduct. Other parents may prefer a more relaxed disciplinary approach, which involves more meetings with counselors or school staff.

Regardless of the preferred approach, were parents freer to choose their children’s schools, if and when student behavioral problems arose, then parents, teachers, and school officials would be more likely to be on the same side, all working together for the benefit of the student.

That scenario, far more than recurring drastic shifts between zero-tolerance and kumbaya, let’s-all-just-get-along approaches, would prevail—to the benefit of everyone involved, students first and foremost.

As public school districts struggle to adapt to shifting mores about appropriate student discipline policies, officials should be advocating for greater parental choice in their children’s education.

At a time when public school civil rights complaints are at an all-time high, it’s worth considering the contribution that parental choice in education can make toward equitable, actionable, school disciplinary policies in California and nationwide.