Friday, September 08, 2017

Australia: An interesting media release

Despite all the ideologically-motivated effort that Left-leaning teachers and others put into getting girls into science, it is notable that the only entrant worth mentioning in the recent science competition were both of immigrant origin -- a Chinese and a Gujurati (North Indian).

I have noted on various occasions that different evolutionary pressures in different societies could well foster a different distribution of mental abilities in those countries.  The way Chinese and Indians dominate High School exam results in Australia certainly supports the view that Caucasians, Chinese and Indians are intellectually distinct populations and should be studied separately.  What is true of one may not be true of all.

 The current findings are certainly well in line with that view.  They certainly do not encourage the view that Caucasian girls have scientific potential on par with their brothers

Teen girl bags gold medal in International Science Olympiads

Science Olympiad girls sweep eight medals including one gold and break Australia’s record at the International Physics Olympiad

YiJie Neo, a Year 12 student from John Monash Science School in Melbourne, has won a gold medal in the International Earth Science Olympiad in France, bringing the Australian team medal haul to 17 at the UNESCO-sanctioned 2017 International Science Olympiads. 

YiJie competed against more than 100 students from 29 countries, and finished in the top 10 per cent of Earth Science students in the world. The competition involved two theory exams and four practical tests covering the topics of atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and astronomy.

Another Australian team member, Nishka Tapaswi, a Year 12 student from Hornsby Girls’ High School, set a new record by being the first girl to bring home a silver medal from the International Physics Olympiad, which was held this year in Indonesia. She competed against 400 students from 86 countries and was Australia’s sole silver medallist in the tough Physics competition.       

YiJie and Nishka were two of the eight girls and nine boys who made the teams to represent Australia at the 2017 International Science Olympiads in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics.

“This is an outstanding achievement for Australia. We are delighted that our female Science Olympians raised the bar in a field that has too few female representatives,” says Ruth Carr, Executive Director of Australian Science Innovations.

“Our impressive medal haul this year is testament to our Science Olympians’ hard work and the program’s ability to not only nurture Australia’s top science students’ passion and talent for science, but also to break down gender stereotypes in science-related fields,” says Carr.

The students spent a year in exams and intensive training before competing on the international stage. They outperformed 5,015 other students from more than 300 schools in the qualifying exams, making a shortlist of 93 to attend a two-week summer school at the Australian National University in preparation for the International Science Olympiad competitions.

The Australian Science Olympiad program is run by Australian Science Innovations and is funded through the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, with support from the Australian National University.

Via email

The fragile generation

Jonathan Haidt on the crisis of resilience on campus

Worrying things have been happening on US campuses of late. While most of us are now familiar with the campus censors’ vocabulary of ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘microaggressions’, authoritarian student behaviour has recently taken an even more sinister turn. At Middlebury College, Vermont, protesting students assaulted an academic who tried to protect speaker Charles Murray, because they considered Murray racist. In video clips Yale students were shown screaming at a professor who dared to suggest that Halloween costumes should not be policed for offensiveness. And at Evergreen College, Washington, when a professor refused to participate in a day of absence in which white students and staff were asked to leave campus for a day to raise awareness about race and equity, a student mob occupied the college president’s office and the campus ended up on lockdown.

Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, has been studying this new wave of campus culture for years, and has written several essays on the rise in demand from university students for the protection of their emotional wellbeing from words or ideas they dislike. He talked to me about the crisis of fragility on US campuses.

‘I’m very concerned about a phenomenon called “concept creep” – which has been happening to a lot of psychological terms since the 1990s’, he says. ‘When a word like “violence” is allowed to creep so that it includes a lot of things that are not violence, then this causes a cascade of bad effects. It’s bad for the students themselves because they now perceive an idea that they dislike, or a speaker that they dislike, as having committed a much graver offence against themselves – which means that they will perceive more victimisation of themselves. And it’s also really bad for society because, as we are seeing in a spectacular way in the United States this year, when each side can point to rampant occurrences of what they see as violence by the other side, this then justifies acts of actual physical violence on their side. And there’s no obvious end to this mutual escalation process.’

He adds: ‘Everybody involved in education needs to be dampening down violence and the acceptance of violence. Telling students that words are violence is counterproductive to that effort.’

While incidents of protests getting out of hand and the censorious policies of student bodies get a lot of press, Haidt points out that these problems do not involve the vast majority of students. ‘The political problems are mostly confined to elite schools where people live together for four years. The problems don’t seem to be arising very much at community colleges or places where people leave the college community to go to work or to go home to their families. So the problems are localised, especially in intense communities that co-create a particular moral order’, he says.

‘I don’t know if most college students, even at those elite schools, are more fragile. What we do know is that rates of depression and anxiety [have been] sky-rocketing since around 2011.’

Haidt says these issues are not related to the millennial generation, but to those born after 1995, who grew up with social media as the norm. He calls them the i-gen (the internet generation). This tendency towards vulnerability has a number of causes, he says, but there are three main ones: social media, rising national polarisation, and the decline in unsupervised (adult-free) time during childhood.

‘The widespread introduction of social media on a potentially hourly basis occurs after around 2009 or 2010. The iPhone is introduced in 2007, Facebook opens itself to teenagers in 2006. So it takes a couple of years before most teenagers are on social media, but by 2008, 2009, a lot are… The problem seems mostly to involve social-media sites, where a teenager puts out something and then waits to sees what dozens or hundreds of people say about it. That seems to be the most damaging thing – it leads to more anxiety and insecurity.’

On polarisation, Haidt says that cross-partisan hatred has been increasing in the US since the early 1980s, ‘but it’s much more intense now… There is a much fiercer battle going on, and there is more motive to charge the other side with crimes and to claim victimhood for your side. I think this is part of the “speech is violence” movement. It is part of a rhetorical move to convict the other side of more serious crimes.’

The third major cause has been the ‘general decline in unsupervised time and the rise of adult protection’, says Haidt. In the US in the 1980s, there were two high-profile abductions and murders of two young boys, and parents panicked, he says. ‘Now there never was much of a risk of abduction from strangers… But America freaked out and overreacted and stopped letting kids out of their sight.’ By the 1990s there were pictures of missing children everywhere – ‘as if it was an epidemic, but it never was an epidemic’, he adds. At the same time, there was more of an emphasis on anti-bullying, as well as a decline in unsupervised play. ‘Studies of how kids spend their time show that up until the early 1980s kids spent a lot of time outside playing without adult supervision, but by the early 2000s that has almost disappeared, especially for younger kids’, he says.

Ironically, this over-protection of children may have done more harm than good. ‘The key psychological idea in understanding the rise in fragility is the idea of anti-fragility’, says Haidt. ‘It’s a word coined by Nassim Taleb and it describes systems that are the opposite of fragile. If something is fragile then you need to protect it, because if it breaks then it’s broken and it won’t get better. But there are some things that if you protect them, they won’t get better; the immune system is the classic example. If you protect your kids from germs and bacteria then the immune system can’t develop and your kids will be immunologically fragile… So protection can sometimes be harmful if there is an anti-fragile system at work.’ He continues:

‘Kids need conflict, insult, exclusion – they need to experience these things thousands of times when they’re young in order to develop into psychologically mature adults. Every adult has to learn to handle these things and not get upset, especially by minor instances. But in the name of protecting our children we have deprived them of the unsupervised time they need to learn how to navigate conflict among themselves. That is one of the main reasons why kids and even college students today find words, ideas and social situations more intolerable than those same words, ideas and situations would have been for previous generations of students.’

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. ‘There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.’

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: ‘A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.’

He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. ‘Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.’

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: ‘I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years’, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting.

‘If you think about it as a mental-health crisis’, he explains, ‘then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.’ Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: ‘We have made our children too safe to succeed.’

‘A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right’

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. ‘If we can teach those three ideas to college students’, he says, ‘we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success’.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of ‘unsupervised time’. ‘We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.’

As for university students, Haidt references a recent quote from CNN commentator Van Jones. Jones said: ‘I don’t want you to be safe, ideologically.’ Building on this, he says universities should help students develop their ‘anti-fragility’.

‘We need to focus on preparing students to encounter intellectual and ideological diversity. We need to prepare them for civil disagreements. We need to be very mindful of mental illness, but otherwise need to minimise the role of adult supervision in their lives. College is a major opportunity, once they have left home, for them to develop anti-fragility and we must not deprive them of that learning opportunity.’


School Choice: Would Federal Support Be Counterproductive?

School choice advocates typically see President Donald Trump, who promised $20 billion in federal money for the cause, as their ally. This view is not unanimous, however. According to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger, a federally funded school choice program runs the risk of inviting government regulation that would ultimately stifle innovation at the state level and hamper private schools’ efforts to meet their students’ needs.

“He who pays the piper calls the tune, and federal control could ultimately impose the same regulations on once-independent schools that have stifled public institutions,” Alger writes in a Washington Post op-ed co-authored with Neal McCloskey of the Cato Institute and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation. The risk can be seen from the experience of federal aid to higher education.

If the feds are to promote school choice, they should limit this to expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund, broadening school choice for military families, and expanding it for the worst performing schools of all—Bureau of Indian Education schools. These moves, along with championing school choice and education savings accounts at the state level, “would go far to advance the cause of educational freedom and opportunity,” Alger and her co-authors conclude.


Thursday, September 07, 2017

High School Administrators Incented to VA-Style Fraud

In 2001, the U.S. Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind” Act, which promised to improve the academic performance of the nation’s K-12 schools in part by holding elementary and secondary school administrators to a higher level of accountability while also pouring up to $23 billion of federal spending annually into poorly performing local school districts. In 2015, the U.S. Congress updated that earlier law by passing the “Every Student Succeeds” Act, which purportedly raised the bar on academic rigor for elementary and secondary schools while providing administrators with more flexibility and rewards for achieving higher academic performance and increasing federal spending on local school districts up to $25-$26 billion per year.

Writing in Education Week, former New York City public schools teacher, principal and superintendent Bernard Gassaway describes how the combination of federal academic performance requirements and money are incentivizing local school administrators to adopt fraudulent practices that are inflating their school’s graduation rates while also falsely appearing to meet higher academic standards.

In the age of accountability ushered in by the No Child Left Behind law in 2002 and continued under 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act, many school officials are using fraudulent methods to inflate graduation rates.

As a direct result of a public thirst for schools to show progress, boards of education pressure superintendents, superintendents squeeze principals, principals ride teachers, and teachers stress students. The ultimate measure of progress for schools nationwide is high school graduation rates.

Public school officials use a variety of schemes to give the appearance of progress.

Gassaway goes on to describe several different schemes that local school administrators have used to juice their graduation rates. For example, one of these schemes involves a policy called credit recovery, where students can make up the failing grades they received during regular classes by completing handout assignments for extra credit, but without ever receiving any additional instruction or taking any additional tests to demonstrate that they have genuinely improved their understanding of the subject they failed.

Another dishonest practice involves falsely reclassifying students as having a disability, where the students are then allowed to receive additional time and assistance in completing assignments and exams. These same students may also have their overall graduation requirements relaxed, where they are allowed to get a high school diploma despite completing far fewer assessments of their academic performance than their general education peers.

Gassaway describes a third outrageous practice that involves getting failing students off the administrators’ books.

Lastly, when education officials cannot use any of the aforementioned tactics to get struggling students through high school, they transfer or push out students who are off-track for graduation—dropping the dead weight that is dragging down graduation statistics. Pushing students out is the most efficient way to increase a school’s graduation rate. Principals transfer overage and undercredited students to alternative schools.

That, too, is an abusive practice I’ve observed firsthand. Here’s how it works: Principals and guidance counselors tell students they must leave the school if they want to graduate. Students are persuaded to transfer to alternative schools under the guise that it is easier for them to earn credits and graduate. In some cases, those same school personnel even inform students that they are not allowed to return, thus rendering these schools no longer accountable for the students’ performance indicators.

In too many ways, the fraudulent practices that Gassaway describes on the part of local school district administrators directly mirror practices that were adopted by administrators at all levels of the Department of Veterans Affairs in the phony wait-list health care rationing scandal that cost hundreds of lives. And in far too many ways, for the exact same reason: the need to hit a goal established by the federal government to collect performance bonuses.

Except here, instead of hundreds and hundreds of lives lost through delayed and denied medical care, we have thousands and thousands of lives wasted with deficient public school educations.


School district apologizes after teacher bans 'Make America Great Again' shirts

A Georgia school district superintendent has apologized to students who were told by their high school math teacher they couldn't wear their "Make America Great Again" shirts in her classroom.

"Her actions were wrong, as the ‘Make America Great Again' shirts worn by the students are not a violation of our School District dress code," Cherokee County Schools spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an emailed statement.

The River Ridge High School math teacher was captured on video Thursday telling two students their President Trump apparel was not acceptable clothing because the campaign slogan has been linked to neo-Nazis in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Georgia state lawmakers like Rep. Earl Ehrhart told the AJC the incident was "shocking," while Rep. John Carson said the teacher's behavior was despicable. Rep. Mandi Ballinger added that she was glad the students' right to free speech had been upheld with the school's response to the situation.

The students will not face disciplinary action but the district would not comment on whether the teacher would be reprimanded, Jacoby continued.

"Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower is deeply sorry that this incident happened in one of our schools," Jacoby said. "It does not reflect his expectation that all students be treated equally and respectfully by our employees."


UK: Leading grammar school 'unlawfully' excludes pupils for failing to get top grades

A group of sixth form pupils have hired lawyers to take on one of the country’s leading grammar schools for throwing them out when they failed to achieve top grades.

Around 16 pupils who have just completed Year 12 have been told that their places for their final A-level year at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington, Kent, have been withdrawn after they failed to get the required three Bs.

Others were told they could remain at the school on a discretionary basis but were asked to sign a contract warning that if they did not get a minimum B grade in their mocks they may not be entered for their A-level exams and would have to take them privately, according to reports.

Lawyers acting for two of the families have lodged an application for permission to apply for a judicial review against the school’s governing body, naming Bromley, the local authority, as an interested party. A High Court hearing has been scheduled for September 20.

The boys in question, who both started at the school in Year 7, were told on July 17, just days before the summer holiday, that their places at the school had been withdrawn.

They are said to be devastated and are struggling to find schools that offer the same examining board.

“It’s like putting your old garbage out, one father told the Guardian. “He doesn’t know what to do. We are in limbo. School starts soon and we don’t even know where he’s going.”

After the boys’ solicitor contacted the school, the head teacher is said to have written to the two families stating that they were not permanently excluded but could return in September to study for a BTEC in health and social care, a subject in which neither pupil has expressed any interest or that the school is believed to teach.

When the claimants’ solicitor raised questions about the ”wholly unsuitable” proposal, the head responded with an email allegedly stating that such “ongoing attempts to bully the school were distasteful and inappropriate”.

Dan Rosenberg, a partner at Simpson Millar, who is representing the families, said: “The school is operating an unlawful policy.

“Proceedings have now been issued. As well as assisting our clients, these proceedings will hopefully assist others who may be affected now and /or in the future by the school’s policies and practices. 

“We hope the governing body will now reconsider the policy and its application, and further that the children affected can return to their A level studies at the start of term with their peers.”

He will argue that St Olave’s is failing in its duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and that its policy of excluding pupils unlikely to get the highest grades is “irrational”.

His skeleton argument also states that the school does not have the power to exclude sixth form pupils due to a perceived lack of academic progression.

St Olave’s is one of the highest achieving schools in the country. On its website it boasts that this year’s A-level students achieved 96 per cent A*/B grades;,75per cent of all grades were at A*/A, three percentage points up on last year, and 32 students gained straight A* grades in at least 3 subjects.

In 2016, the school was ranked sixth in the country in the Telegraph’s league table for state school A-level results

St Olave's did not respond to a request for comment.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Evergreen State Faces $2.1 MILLION Budget Crisis After Radical Students Go Berserk

The Evergreen State College is facing a $2.1 million budget shortfall and a five percent plunge in enrollment in the wake of this spring’s continuous stream of high-profile protests led largely by radical black students.

Officials at the taxpayer-funded campus in Olympia, Washington broke the bad news to the school community in an Aug. 28 memo obtained by The College Fix.

Student registration for the fall quarter at Evergreen State has decreased from 3,922 students to 3,713 students. Critically, most of the missing students are nonresidents who would pay substantially higher out-of-state tuition — $24,138 per year versus just $6,678 for Washington residents.

The missing tuition dollars aren’t the only problem for the public school. There’s also an ongoing state budget crisis, an unavoidable cost-of-living increase for employees and an expected increase in operating costs.

The cumulative financial effect for Evergreen State is a $2.1 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year (which began July 1). “This creates the need for significant budget cuts in the immediate future,” the Aug. 28 memo dryly explains.

School officials have already temporarily laid off 17 maintenance workers. More pink slips are looming.

Additional layoffs “will become impossible to avoid” “if the capital budget crisis at the state level continues indefinitely,” the memo states.

“In a college where 89 percent of the operating budget is in salaries and benefits, it is impossible to reduce the budget by substantial amounts without giving up positions. In anticipation of this, we will soon be announcing a hiring freeze,” the memo also says, according to The College Fix.

Students should not be alarmed about funding for diversity initiatives, though. “Our work in equity and inclusion is an important step in this process,” the memo assures.

The protests which engulfed Evergreen State in May and June involved a “Day of Absence” event “inviting” every white student, professor and administrator to leave campus for a day.

Intense protests occurred after Bret Weinstein, an Evergreen State biology professor, criticized the racially segregated school event. Weinstein was driven into hiding by student radicals for expressing his opinion.

Video footage of a confrontation involving malcontent students and school president George Bridges shows student protests shows students going berserk, obscenely screaming about “racist white teachers” and “white-assed administrators.” There are the obligatory “black power” slogans.

The video contains many memorable moments of the students’ interacting with their school administrators. They shout “fuck you, and fuck the police” repeatedly while maintaining that “whiteness is the most violent fuckin’ system to ever breathe!”

Protesters also accused various administrators of racism during a bizarrely combative campus meeting at which some protesters asked white students to remain in the back of the room.

In early June, Evergreen State administrators at responded to an anonymously-made threat of violence on campus by asking students to evacuate and canceling classes for three days.

In the wake of the cancelled classes, Evergreen State administrators sent an email kindly asking students to stop making vigilante patrols of the campus with bats, batons or other weapons.

In July, police in suburban New Jersey arrested a 53-year-old man, Robert Kerekes Jr., for allegedly phoning in a threat to go on a shooting spree at Evergreen State and in the surrounding “communist scumbag town.”

Administrators at Evergreen State paid approximately $100,000 to rent a nearby minor league baseball stadium for its commencement ceremony in the wake of the threats.

Evergreen State has traditionally held its spring graduation ceremony on a brick-laden campus quad that is actually called Red Square.

The actions by student radicals and the multitude of school employees who abetted them were almost universally condemned.

The World Socialist Web Site, a hard-left news outlet which promotes “revolutionary opposition to the capitalist market system” published a scathing editorial denouncing the student protesters at Evergreen State as race-baiting loons who fail to address any actual issues affecting “working class people of all races and genders"


The criminalization of school kids

When an angry middle-schooler swore at her vice principal, rolled her eyes, and tried to run down the hall, the police arrested her for disturbing a lawful assembly.

When an 8-year-old special-education student suffering from PTSD began running through the school flailing his arms wildly, authorities arrested and charged the child with assault and battery.

When a teacher and a police officer challenged a high school student who wasn’t carrying her school ID, the girl swore at them and tried to walk away. The officer handcuffed her and, when she struggled, charged her with disturbing a lawful assembly and resisting arrest.

These arrests took place in Massachusetts schools. They are not uncommon. Last year, approximately 500 K-12 students were arrested in the Commonwealth. It is part of a national trend.

Across the country, kids are being arrested in school for acting like . . . well, kids. Students, some as young as six, have been criminally charged for offenses including: throwing tantrums, slamming doors, kicking trashcans, tapping a pen, repeatedly burping, and flying paper airplanes.

The trend, often called the school-to-prison-pipeline, is attributed in part to zero-tolerance discipline policies that have increased suspension and expulsion rates, and to an increase in police in schools.

Fifty years ago, few police officers patrolled school halls. Today, more than 40 percent of US schools have assigned police, often called School Resource Officers (SROs). And, in too many schools, the staff has relinquished its disciplinary role to the SROs.

In Massachusetts, like much of the country, students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately arrested, reports the nonprofit Citizens for Juvenile Justice. Upwards of two-thirds of students arrested suffer from mental illness, according to a study by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

In the vast majority of these cases, arresting students does little good and much harm.

Arrests are traumatic, even if charges are dismissed. Arrested students describe feeling unsafe and unwanted in schools. They are three times more likely to drop out, even if their case never goes to trial, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. They are also more likely to re-enter the criminal justice system as adults. For students who end up in the courts, even if not found guilty, their criminal record dogs them into adulthood.

It is past time for the Commonwealth to rethink the role for police in schools. If we continue having SROs, they need to become experts in working with children.

Young people are not smaller versions of adults. Their brains are still developing — including the areas that connect to impulse control, risk taking, and judgment. Effective SROs need to understand this aspect of adolescent development. They also need training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, and identifying trauma.

Police forces want this training, as documented in a 2011 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. But departments often lack the funds. Yet, given the immediate costs associated with arresting and booking children, and the long-term costs on young people’s futures, investing in officer training more than pays for itself.

Beyond training, police also need community partners, particularly local mental health providers who can work with them and with students. And schools need clear policies that define the distinct roles of teachers and police in addressing discipline.

We already have a national model of success in the Commonwealth. Cambridge’s Safety Net Collaborative — an eight-year partnership among police, schools, and more than 20 nonprofits, and city organizations, which has created teams of police, social workers and others, who work to divert the city’s children from the courts. Since its inception the Collaborative has helped reduce arrests of Cambridge youth by 70 percent.

We also have programs like the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Strategies for Youth, which trains police across the country to better understand, respond to, and support youth. The organization has already held regional police trainings and worked with a handful of individual jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

The Legislature is considering a bill that could help transform school police programs by eliminating school arrests for “disturbing a lawful assembly,” establishing new standards for police training, and encouraging collaboration with community partners, including mental health crisis teams. The bill would also require schools to report student arrest data, enabling communities and the state to measure the effectiveness of individual programs and identify schools with unusually high arrest rates. A system for collecting data is already in place, since schools are already required to collect and publish data on suspensions and expulsions.

Massachusetts, which leads the nation in education, should also set the standard in dealing with behavior issues. We need discipline in schools. But criminalizing adolescence is the wrong solution — for students, for schools and for society.


Most Boston charter schools reject performance-based pay for teachers

When Sydney Chaffee became Massachusetts’ first national teacher of the year this spring, she received plenty of praise from the charter school where she worked, Codman Academy in Dorchester.

What she didn’t get from her school was a financial windfall.

At a time when many policy makers and education advocates are pushing performance-based pay plans as a way to motivate teachers to do more for their students, almost all of Boston’s 16 independent charter schools, including Codman, have rejected bonuses for a job well done.

Instead, most charter schools, which were designed to be laboratories of education innovation, rely on something more typical of unionized workplaces: a standard pay scale or simple cost-of-living pay increases.

Across the country, there is an ongoing debate among charter schools about the best approach to teacher compensation, amid growing skepticism that connecting pay to performance actually improves student achievement.

But most charter-school management organizations, which run a good chunk of charter schools nationwide, now use traditional pay scales, according to research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

“I thought we would see more in the way of performance-based pay because so many of these schools are big on outcomes,” said Robin Lake, the center’s director.

But she added, “I think people in general like a fair system. We’ve been in a lot of charters where people want to know that there is some predictability and that people are being treated fairly. Most of them are non-unionized schools, but are falling back on more traditional models of work rules.”

Policy makers have long viewed independent charter schools, which are public institutions that employ non-unionized teachers, as fertile ground to experiment with merit-based pay. They hoped charter schools would develop new approaches to compensation, such as rewarding teachers whose students do well on standardized tests.

If successful, such systems could then be replicated in traditional school systems, where teachers unions have opposed pay that is dependent on performance.

But charter leaders who are wary of a strict merit-based system cite many of the same reasons that union leaders do: Merit-based pay can be divisive — creating a culture of one-upmanship — instead of fostering the teamwork necessary to move a whole school forward.

Even the handful of charter schools that consider some degree of performance, such as student test scores or job reviews, are reluctant to call their approach merit-based. Instead, they describe it as a “blended” or “hybrid” system.

If Boston charter schools give out any kind of bonus to teachers, it’s usually for recommending a successful job candidate or for having worked a certain number of years.

Chaffee said she was not offended by not receiving a bonus from her school for winning the teacher of the year. (The award itself included a trip to the White House and a year of national travel, but no cash reward.)

“It’s not about money for me, and I don’t know any teacher who would tell you they are in the job for the money,” said Chaffee, who is a mentor teacher — a category created at Codman to help nurture younger talent. To be considered, teachers present a portfolio of their work, including student test scores, that demonstrates they have brought students to high levels of achievement.

Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits that have been pushing performance-based pay, said the absence of widespread adoption by charter schools could make it more difficult to persuade traditional schools to dole out bonuses and merit increases to their teachers.

But he said the state’s experiment with injecting performance measures into the pay scales of school systems it has taken over, such as Lawrence, could keep the movement going.

“I think there are some teachers, whatever they are paid, who will work just as hard to be effective, but I think for other teachers, it is an added incentive to do more,” he said.

While some studies suggest that performance-based pay works, a growing body of other research indicates that bonuses and merit raises have had little impact on student achievement or have been difficult to implement primarily because every subject doesn’t have a standardized test.

A study by RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif., found that giving bonuses to teachers in high-needs schools in New York City did not increase student achievement. Teachers were eligible for bonuses depending on whether their students’ standardized test scores increased at a high enough rate.

Although teachers told researchers the “bonus was desirable, the program did not change their teaching practices,” according to the study, which was released in 2011. RAND drew similar conclusions when studying teacher bonuses in Texas and Nashville.

Laura Hamilton, an associate director of RAND Education, a division of the corporation, said there is a growing understanding that pay for performance won’t change teaching. She said what holds greater potential is thoughtful performance evaluations.

“A lot of the original enthusiasm for performance-based pay as a way to change teaching, in and of itself, has diminished,” Hamilton said.

Pay has long been a sensitive issue in charter schools, which struggle to offer wages that are competitive with traditional, unionized school systems.

In Boston, the average salary for charter school teachers is roughly $55,000, according to a Globe review of payroll data. By contrast, the average teacher salary in the Boston Public Schools exceeds $90,000, according to the School Department.

Charter school leaders say they don’t have enough money to pay teachers more because too much funding is tied up in facility costs. (Charter schools do not qualify for state school construction money.)

Another reason for the disparity: Charter school teachers tend to be younger and less experienced than Boston Public School teachers.

When charter schools began opening in Boston in the mid-1990s, teacher pay was often a mystery among staff because compensation systems were not etched in stone, an arrangement that benefited good negotiators. But teachers would inevitably learn that some were making more than others, creating hurt feelings, charter school leaders and teachers said.

Some charter schools, like Brooke, which has campuses in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roslindale, and East Boston, tried out bonuses.

At Brooke, the bonuses, paid for under a special federal grant program, ranged between $2,500 and $10,000 and were based on a combination of schoolwide and classroom MCAS scores and teacher attendance. But Brooke was never enamored of the bonuses and saw some teachers defect to better-paying positions in traditional schools. A few years ago, the school scrapped the bonuses and created a pay-scale-like system that includes some performance measures and in some cases can result in generous pay raises as high as 16 percent annually.

That pay scale includes three categories of teachers. The top category is a master teacher, which is reserved for teachers who have demonstrated success in boosting student performance and working in a team. They also take on some additional responsibilities, including mentoring and planning teacher training, and receive the largest pay raises.

Jon Clark, codirector at Brooke, said the new system is better than bonuses.

“We have many teachers who have been with us a long time and earning more than they would at a district school,” Clark said. “We really think it makes sense to concentrate resources on teachers who are sticking with the profession and are highly effective. Hopefully we will get more there over time.”


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Penn Law School Professors Sign Open Letter Condemning Amy Wax

Nearly half the professors at the University of Pennsylvania law school have published an open letter condemning their colleague Amy Wax for her by now (in)famous op-ed on bourgeois values. The result? The quality of reasoned debate at the University of Pennsylvania has dramatically worsened, even below the already abysmal standards set by the graduate student and alumni screeds which preceded this latest open letter.

    The 33 signatories cut and paste the most offending phrases from Wax's op-ed and subsequent interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian: "All cultures are not equal"; various social problems would be "significantly reduce[d]" if "the academics, media, and Hollywood" would stop the "preening pretense of defending the downtrodden"; "Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans," because "Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior."

    Do the authors rebut these arguments? Do they offer counterevidence? No. Apparently the thesis of Wax's op-ed is so patently beyond the pale that it is enough for the signatories to assert: "We categorically reject Wax's claims." In the absence of any attempt at refutation, that is simply a case of virtue signaling.

    In a bizarrely coy conclusion, the protesting faculty assert that the "ideal of equal opportunity to succeed in education is best achieved by . . .  a commitment by all participants to respect one another without bias or stereotype. To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it."

    Translation: Please provide us with instances of Wax's alleged "hate speech" against minorities so that we can build the case for removing her from teaching mandatory first-year courses. That effort is already underway. The law school's chapter of the left-wing National Lawyers Guild released a statement last week saying that Wax's endorsement of "white supremacy" should disqualify her from teaching first-year courses. Hilariously, the NLG students also cite her "lack of academic rigor, intellectual dishonesty, and failure to support her opinions with evidence."

    No thinker in the law or social sciences is more rigorous than Wax, a B.S. summa cum laude in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, a Marshall Scholar in Philosophy, Physiology, and Psychology at Oxford, an M.D. cum laude with distinction in neuroscience from Harvard, an editor at The Columbia Law Review, and a former assistant to the solicitor general of the United States. Wax can reason circles around her critics, certainly around the knee-jerk name-callers who have come out in droves against her.

    The 33 Penn Law faculty members carefully affirm Wax's right to assert her opinions. They note that tenure insulates her from fear for her job. (Query: If she did not have tenure, would they call for her dismissal?) And the signatories are certainly within their rights to disagree with her op-ed. But their failure to offer any reasons for that disagreement speaks volumes about the nature of political discourse on college campuses, where it can now be safely assumed that some positions are so self-evident - those that purport to be "anti-racist" - that they do not need any explanation.

    Now the question is: Where is the rest of the faculty? Rather than taking the safe position of supporting free speech (which the dean has done), how about if someone actually rebuts the charge that to call for a restoration of bourgeois values is to endorse "white supremacy"?


In Defense of Amy Wax’s Defense of Bourgeois Values

by Jonathan Haidt

Since 2015 we’ve seen an increase in petitions and movements to denounce professors. Typically a professor says or writes something, then a group of students protests. The students demand that the professor be censured or renounced by the university administration, or by his or her colleagues. The event is amplified by social media and by secondary, agenda-driven news outlets, pressuring other professors to take sides and declare themselves publicly. (There is a different script for pressure from right-wing sources off-campus).

The two highest profile cases so far involved Erika and Nicholas Christakis, at Yale, and Bret Weinstein, at Evergreen. We also had the case of Rebecca Tuvel, a philosopher at Rhodes College, in which the pressure campaign did not come from students but rather from other professors.  In all of these cases the professor in question was on the left politically, and had said something that most professors did not find offensive. As far as I can tell, most professors outside of the immediate conflict zone supported the accused professors, thought it was inappropriate to subject them to punishment of any kind for what they said or wrote, and thought that these denunciation campaigns ultimately reflected badly on the academy.

Now, in late August, we have a case that may play out differently because the professor in question is a conservative who has made a conservative argument about poverty and culture. She made the argument a few days before the events in Charlottesville. Students at Penn have demanded that the university denounce her, and many of her colleagues did so.

Here are the basic facts. Amy Wax is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is also a longstanding member of Heterodox Academy. On August 9, Wax did what members of Heterodox Academy sometimes do: she challenged a widely held viewpoint. She published an op-ed at titled: Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture. (Wax had a co-author: Larry Alexander, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, but for simplicity, and because Wax is at the center of the controversy, I’ll focus on her.) Wax opened the essay with a list of declining social indicators (e.g., the opioid epidemic and the decline of male labor-force participation) and then asserted something that conservatives have been saying since the 1960s:

    The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture…. The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.

She then followed up with the phrase that has elicited most of the objections: “All cultures are not equal.” Here is the entire paragraph: 

    All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.

In response to the op-ed, a group of students and alumni, mostly from the anthropology department, wrote an open letter, a Statement on Amy Wax and Charlottesville, signed by 54 Penn students and alumni. They criticized Wax and Alexander for:

    extolling the virtues of white cultural practices of the ‘50s that, if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

The letter includes a call to action:

    This is the time for members of the University of Pennsylvania community who claim to fight systemic inequality to speak up, especially those anthropologists and scholars who claim an understanding of culture and who recognize culture talk’s deleterious potential as a vehicle for racism and sexism… We call for the denunciation, not of racism as some abstract concept “out there” — in Charlottesville, in America, by the poor uneducated white or by an individual racist ideologue — but for a denunciation of racism at the University of Pennsylvania. In particular we must denounce faculty members that are complicit in and uphold white supremacy, normalizing it as if it were just another viable opinion in our educational tenures at the University. We call for the University of Pennsylvania administration — Penn President Gutmann and the deans of each school — as well as faculty to directly confront Wax and Alexander’s op-ed as racist and white supremacist discourse and to push for an investigation into Wax’s advocacy for white supremacy.

This call to denounce Wax was answered by 33 of her colleagues at the law school—nearly half the faculty—who signed and published an Open Letter to the University of Pennsylvania Community. In it, the law professors affirmed Wax’s right express her opinions, but said:

    We write to condemn recent statements our colleague Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at Penn Law School, has made in popular media pieces… We categorically reject Wax’s claims.

Those are the basic facts.

I think it is important for the academic community to reflect on this case. In the wake of Charlottesville, all of us on campus might encounter passions among our students beyond even what we saw in the previous academic year, a year in which violence and the justification of violence became more common on campus. This year, we are likely to find many more professors accused of “white supremacy.” Professors and administrators may face many more campaigns designed to get them to sign open letters and collectively denounce colleagues. It is important, therefore, that we think about this case carefully and draw the right lessons. When and why should professors come together to denounce and condemn other professors? Of course we are always free to dispute each other; Wax’s colleagues could certainly have written essays or a collective essay debating her claims and pointing out flaws in her reasoning, but when is it morally and professionally appropriate to issue a collective public condemnation of a colleague?

I think such collective actions are only appropriate when colleagues have clearly and flagrantly violated their professional duties. I mean things like data fabrication or taking bribes to produce dishonest academic papers desired by a trade association. I would include writing a racist and hate-filled diatribe in that list, but is that what Wax did? She wrote an essay on the importance of culture for poverty-related outcomes, and the Penn students asserted, in their open letter, that such “culture talk” has “deleterious potential as a vehicle for racism and sexism.” The students are certainly correct that claims by a professor about the value of bourgeois culture could be misused by racists to say that one race is inherently superior to another. But does that make any discussion of cultural differences taboo? Does that make Wax a white supremacist for saying that culture matters for poverty-related outcomes, that not all cultures are equally good for escaping poverty, and that the 1950s American “bourgeois cultural script” was particularly good for that purpose? No, and here’s why.

The most intellectually exciting project I’ve done in the last ten years was to moderate a bipartisan working group composed of 14 of America’s top experts on poverty. We worked together for 15 months to analyze the existing research literature and write up a set of principles and proposals that we thought would actually work to reduce poverty and increase economic mobility. Our report, sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, was published in December 2016.

In poverty debates, scholars on the left generally emphasize economic and structural causes, including systemic or structural racism, and there is a lot of evidence that these causes matter. Scholars on the right, in contrast, generally emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, the cultivation of virtues and skills, and the benefits of marriage, and there is a lot of evidence that these factors matter a great deal too. In fact, research by one of our members (Richard Reeves) shows that for children born into the bottom quintile of the income distribution, if their parents are married, they are just about as likely to end up in the top quintile as to remain in the bottom. It’s not quite that simple; marriage doesn’t create perfect mobility by itself, but its antipoverty effects are very large.

It was thrilling to moderate the group because after some tensions in the early meetings, the group settled into an extremely productive relationship that allowed the insights of each side to emerge, get refined by challenge, and then contribute to an emerging and novel approach. Viewpoint diversity allowed us to see the full problem of American poverty and then offer a far more comprehensive set of remedies than if we had all been on the same political side.

Our group almost hit an impasse: some of the scholars on the left were hesitant to say that marriage itself matters (as opposed to long-term committed cohabitation); some scholars on the right were hesitant to say that long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) were a powerful way to break the cycle of poverty.  We finally agreed to say both, and we developed a clear formulation about the importance of creating better environments in which to raise children. We agreed to urge the importance of “delayed responsible parenting.” We knew that marriage promotion interventions are generally unsuccessful, but given the huge importance of marriage for the outcomes of children, we thought it was urgent to try to change social norms in poor communities. Here is how we put it (with emphasis on culture added):

    So what can be done? We’ve said that marriage matters. But past government efforts to encourage unmarried parents to marry have not proven very effective. Promoting marriage to strengthen American families isn’t primarily an issue of specific policies or programs in any case: it’s in large part a question of culture. Political leaders, educators, and civic leaders—from both the political left and right—need to be clear and direct about how hard it is to raise children without a committed co-parent. We’ve effectively reduced major public health problems, such as smoking and teen pregnancy, through changes in cultural attitudes facilitated by public information campaigns. According to a review of the research by contraception expert Adam Thomas, mass media campaigns about the consequences of unprotected sex have reduced unplanned pregnancies. We propose a campaign of similar scope to emphasize the value of committed coparenting and marriage. It’s not a small thing for leaders to be clear in this way—cultural norms are influenced by the messages leaders send. Major cultural norms have been changed many times before when leaders expressed firm and unequivocal views about even entrenched cultural attitudes, including norms surrounding civil rights and gay rights. Presidents, politicians, church leaders, newspaper columnists, business leaders, educators, and friends should all join in telling young people that raising kids jointly with the children’s other parent is more likely to lead to positive outcomes than raising a child alone.

In other words, Wax was correct, based on the available evidence and expert opinion, to argue that “a strong pro-marriage norm” would reduce poverty and blunt or reverse the pernicious social trends she described at the beginning of her article.

In our report we drew heavily on the work of Belle Sawhill, a widely respected expert on child poverty at the Brookings Institution. Sawhill herself had recently argued for the importance of culture change, and of having kids at the right time, to reduce poverty:

    The genie is out of the bottle. What we need instead is a new ethic of responsible parenthood. If we combine an updated social norm with greater reliance on the most effective forms of birth control, we can transform drifters into planners and improve children’s life prospects… The drifters need better educational and job opportunities, but unless we come to grips with what is happening to marriage and parenting, progress will be limited. For every child lifted out of poverty by a social program, another one is entering poverty as a result of the continued breakdown of the American family. If we could turn back the marriage clock to 1970, before the sharp rise in divorce and single parenthood began, the child poverty rate would be 20 percent lower than it is now….

    We need more (and better quality) child care and a higher minimum wage, as well as serious education and training for those who are struggling to care for their families. But government alone can’t solve this problem. Younger people must begin to take greater responsibility for their choices. The old social norm was, “Don’t have a child outside of marriage.” The new norm needs to be, “Don’t have a child until you and your partner are ready to be parents.” Whether or not it was a realistic norm in the past, it is now — precisely because newer forms of contraception make planning a family so much easier.

Again, marriage, and norms promoting marriage-like behavior, are among the most powerful known antidotes to American poverty.

Ultimately, all of us, including Sawhill and Wax, are building on the insights of sociologist (and later Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his  famous report on the state of black families, which he wrote while working for the Labor department during the Johnson administration. What is less widely known is that Moynihan wrote a private memo in a format suitable for his boss (Willard Wirtz, the Secretary of Labor) to give to President Johnson, underlining the absolute urgency of re-tooling federal policy to promote and not undermine marriage and family stability among African Americans. Moynihan argued that the decline of marriage was the “master problem,” the “principal cause” of the problems facing Black America, and he predicted that African Americans would not be able to attain equality if this problem was not addressed.

Unfortunately, Moynihan was roundly condemned as a racist for his analysis of the black family and the importance of marriage, and his advice was largely ignored. He was socially shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard. It wasn’t until several decades later that sociologists began saying (quietly) that he was probably right. Now Wax is being pilloried for broaching the same topic — for saying that marriage and culture really really matter, and that some norms, some cultures, are more conducive to success in modern America than others. Does anyone seriously believe that all cultures are equal–either morally (including the culture of Nazi Germany) or as packages of norms and practices that are likely to lead to success?

Wax is provocative. I have seen her speak, and she clearly enjoys challenging received wisdom. Until recently such vigor and fearlessness were considered virtues in the academic world. In today’s far more charged and perilous academy, many of us have become timid and try to avoid saying anything that might upset anyone–even things that we know to be true and relevant to the topic being discussed. Wax has not caved in to the new pressures on academic speech, and this explains some of the reaction to her writings.

So what should Wax’s colleagues do about her provocative essay? Are the Penn students correct that Wax is an “advocate” for white supremacy? If so then a group denunciation may be appropriate. Such accusations are common on the internet, but professors should not accept such wild charges about their colleagues without clear evidence. Slurs and guilt-by-association are not enough. Wax made an argument about culture and poverty—one that has been espoused in some form by some of the country’s top poverty researchers, one that appears to be correct in its general outlines, and one that perennially offends many people. This case is therefore an excellent way to test the courage and integrity of the modern academy: How should professors, deans, and college presidents respond to professors who say things that are true but that offend some people? What would Socrates, Galileo, and John Stuart Mill advise us to do?

I have gone to great lengths to show that Wax’s central claim about culture is probably correct. But the choice to denounce or not denounce should not really hinge on whether Wax was correct; it should hinge on whether she was making an argument in good faith using methods of argumentation that fall within the normal range of her part of the academy. There are no footnotes in a opinion essay, but in Wax’s other writings on family law it is clear that she knows and is informed by the relevant social science research. Do Wax’s colleagues believe that her essay in constituted a profound violation of professional ethics, akin to data fabrication or taking a bribe? Or do they just believe that she was wrong?

I said earlier that I think it is important for the academic community to reflect on this case. In the coming academic year, many of us will receive multiple emails from students and friends asking us to sign open letters and petitions denouncing each other. My advice is to delete them all. We already have bureaucratic procedures for investigating charges of professional misconduct. If you think that a professor has said or done something wrong then write an article or blog post explaining your reasons. But every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion.


Australia: Landmark enterprise agreement decision gives universities power over teaching unions

Aspiring students, many with their mums and dads in tow, had travelled from as far away as Dubbo to the University of Sydney Open Day to make some big decisions about the future.

But when they arrived last weekend, they found that many of the lecturers they were relying on for advice had abandoned information booths to join picket lines in protest against the latest university pay offer.

The withdrawal of labour on the biggest day of the university calendar, which attracts more than 30,000 visitors, was part of the traditional argy-bargy of enterprise bargaining.

But the tone of that bargaining shifted dramatically across universities around the country this week after Murdoch University in West Australia gave up on routine industrial tactics of negotiation and bargaining. It took the "nuclear" option.

It applied for – and won – the right to terminate the university's enterprise agreement with staff. It was a landmark decision for a public institution, and the Fair Work Commission's judgement has shocked university staff around the country. It is also expected to fuel greater militancy on the part of unions and employers.

Until now, the hardline industrial tactic had been reserved as a last resort within the private sector by businesses including transport company Aurizon, power company AGL and mining companies Peabody Energy and Griffin Coal.

The WA decision has strengthened the bargaining power of university management overnight, something federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham was quick to promote.

He is urging university leaders to follow Murdoch University's example to modernise work practices and save money while his government cuts their teaching budgets by 4.9 per cent in 2018 and 2019.

The WA decision has opened the way for up to 30 universities across the country to remove union control on management decisions, fixed-term contracts and staff discipline rules.

Birmingham thinks there is scope to lower rates of funding growth for universities based on their ability to absorb costs through more modern and efficient staffing structures. But while he is pushing for open slather, Labor wants new laws to restrict employers from terminating enterprise agreements so easily.

If an enterprise agreement is terminated, workers fall back onto award wages which are often much lower and conditions, won over many years of collective bargaining, can be lost. And Labor and the unions are worried about an increasing number of enterprise agreements which have been terminated in the last two years.

"It can put employees and unions in the position of having to start again and mount arguments for previously hard-fought improvements to their pay and conditions," Labor's workplace spokesman Brendan O'Connor says.


Monday, September 04, 2017

Is your child ready for kindergarten?

The rules should allow flexibility about this.  A smart kid should definitely NOT be held back but it may beneficial for a slower kid.  Smart kids in higher grades are normally found to cope well, both academically and socially -- and it gives them an extra year in the workforce

Both of my children have summer birthdays. Months before my oldest, Max, approached kindergarten, the questions from friends and family started. Everyone wondered if my husband and I were going to send him to kindergarten on schedule or hold him out until the following year.

The practice of delaying a child’s entry to kindergarten is called red-shirting, a term borrowed from collegiate sports where the youngest players sit out their freshman year to give them time to mature into better athletes. Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to the concept in his 2008 book “Outliers”: “In competitive situations, a person who’s relatively older than the others will probably be the one who wins.”

The practice of red-shirting has grown substantially over the years. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that more than nine percent of children are age 6 when entering kindergarten — nearly triple the rate in the 1970s. In affluent communities, where parents can afford an extra year of preschool, the number can be even higher.

Parents seem to wrestle most with the red-shirting decision when they have a son whose fifth birthday falls just before the cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility, which, in Massachusetts is generally around Sept. 1. If the child starts kindergarten “on time,” he will be among the youngest in his grade. If he is red-shirted, he will be one of the oldest. More than 70 percent of red-shirted children were born during the summer months, and it is twice as common among boys as among girls, according to economist Diane Whitmore Schazenbach.

“Parents who have college degrees are twice as likely to red-shirt their children as high-school graduates are,” says Schazenbach, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, who has conducted multiple studies on red-shirting.

“Generally, the research isn’t as clear cut as Gladwell suggests,” says Schazenbach, who used data from Project STAR, an experiment in which students were randomly assigned to classrooms prior to kindergarten entry. The random assignment of students to classrooms however, meant that pairs of children with the same birthday fell into different positions in their classroom distribution by the luck of the draw.

“The study shows that the benefit of being older at the start of kindergarten declines sharply as children move through the school grades. In the early grades, an older child will tend to perform better on standardized tests than his younger peers simply by virtue of being older,” says Schazenbach.

This makes sense: a red-shirted kindergartner has been alive up to 20 percent longer than his on-time counterpart, his brain has had that much more time to develop. The question becomes, does the benefit last? Schazenbach continues: “This initial advantage in academic achievement dissipates over time and appears to vanish by high school when the red-shirted student is at most 7 percent older than his peers.”

The younger students on the other hand, experienced positive affects from being in a relatively more mature environment: in striving to catch up with their peers, they also tend to do well. “Because older classmates tend to be higher achieving and better behaved, they model positive behavior, and the younger students achieve great academic gains from learning and competing with older ones,” she says.

The decision to delay a child’s entry to kindergarten is typically made in the spring prior to the start of a school year, when information can be limited and uncertain.

“It’s a poor predictor of what their skills will be in September or October,” says Martin West, an associate professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Their social and emotional development happens in spurts. A child can have dramatic progression in a matter of months, over the summer.

“In the region’s better-educated, more-affluent communities, there’s a perception that if parents don’t red-shirt a child with a summer birthday they will be placing him or her at a disadvantage,” says West. “But in our reading of the evidence it’s clear that they don’t need to feel that pressure.”

Still, even with that knowledge, the pressure can be hard to resist.

Erin Mancinelli wasn’t aware of the concept of red-shirting as her son — who has an August birthday — approached kindergarten until the spring of his second year of preschool when fellow parents started asking whether she was going to hold him back.

“As soon as people put the idea in your ear, you can’t not think about it,” recalls Mancinelli. “I was thinking he would be fine to start and his teacher thought he was ready.”

However, after a conversation with her father, Mancinelli’s opinion shifted. “My brother had a late August birthday and my dad reminded me that he always had trouble keeping up with his peers. My parents ended up having my brother do a post-graduate year before college so he could catch up,” she says. “Rather than having to do that it seemed better to delay his start now.”

Yet for a long time, Mancinelli regretted her decision. Her son seemed bored in kindergarten, and didn’t feel challenged in first grade either. At the start of third grade, however, the family moved from Sandwich to Falmouth. “He had trouble adjusting and for the first time, the work wasn’t as easy for him,” she said. “I was really glad he wasn’t a year ahead at that point.”

Schazenbach and West agree that the decision to red-shirt a child must be made on a case-by-case basis.

While the evidence of academic benefits to red-shirting may be unclear, some studies point to social boosts.

A study published in the National Bureau of Academic Research examined data compiled among Danish students, where most children enter kindergarten at age 6. The study asserts that giving children a leg up in maturity and social/emotional skills results in significantly lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity.

The social and emotional aspect was what Norwell mother Megan Bloomfield was focused on when she decided to delay her son’s kindergarten enrollment for a year. “We didn’t do it for academics — because it seems pretty tough to tell if your kid is going to be an academic star in preschool — or for sports,” says Bloomfield. “He was very quiet and very shy. I wanted to him to have another year to develop socially.”

Bloomfield’s son starts first grade this year and while Bloomfield says they struggled a little to keep him challenged in kindergarten, he was one of the most social kids in the class, a dramatic change from the prior year. “We didn’t hold him for what would happen in kindergarten or first grade,” says Bloomfield. “We did it for his whole school career.”

I ended up sending Max to kindergarten on schedule. He has always been strong academically and he excelled in kindergarten and first grade. Socially, however, the situation is more complex. Max is more of a watcher than a leader, he’s not always sure of himself in groups. I’ve wondered if this would be different had he been old for his grade, rather than one of the youngest.

Still, I feel that we made the right decision with Max. So much so, that my daughter, Emma, who turned five a couple of weeks ago, begins kindergarten this year.


A test for Harvard coming up

Controversial libertarian author Charles Murray is scheduled to deliver a speech next week at Harvard University, months after a similar appearance at Middlebury descended into chaos and violence when students interrupted his speech and injured a professor as she escorted him out of the building.

Murray, a political scientist, said Wednesday he is looking forward to speaking at Harvard and hopes the event will be calm. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Murray a white nationalist, a label he vigorously denies.

He said he feels much of the backlash he has experienced recently is actually anger that students feel after the election of Donald Trump as president.

“I think that there is a very large degree of protest that has nothing to do with anything that I’ve written,” he said. “It’s very uninformed.”

Murray, a 1965 Harvard graduate, is set to speak next Wednesday evening for about 45 minutes about libertarian approaches to limited government and his 2015 book, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.”

The author has drawn controversy for his 1994 book, “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” and his 2012 work “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” He has theorized that social welfare programs are doomed to hurt those they aim to help, and, most controversially, he wrote of ethnic differences in measures of intelligence.

Murray on Wednesday said many have misinterpreted his work on race and intelligence. He said “The Bell Curve” was intended to discuss whether IQ tests mean the same thing for different races but not draw a conclusion.

The location for next Wednesday’s event has not been disclosed by the group organizing it, the Harvard College Open Campus Initiative.

Conor Healy, a junior from Toronto who is president of the club, said the group exists to promote free speech and healthy debate. Healy said he finds Murray’s ideas interesting and believes his work is often misunderstood. He said he hopes students will question him vigorously.

“It’s better to have [controversial speakers] in the open and give students a choice to cross examine someone like Charles Murray,” said Healy, who studies government.

Healy also called the upcoming lecture an opportunity for Harvard students to prove they can behave better than those at Middlebury. He said Harvard is generally a place that encourages free speech, but there is a feeling that the school has an overall liberal bias that makes it taboo to discuss certain ideas.

“When you talk about free speech at Harvard, it is really less about the administration and more about the atmosphere on campus,” Healy said.

Murray has spoken several times at Harvard. When he came in 1995, the standing-room-only audience listened quietly to his speech, the Harvard Crimson reported at the time. The only disruption was at the beginning when about 40 members of Kennedy School minority action groups linked arms, stood up peacefully and walked out, according to the Crimson. Their seats were filled by others waiting at the door of a heavily secured auditorium.

It is unclear what type of protests might be in store for Murray this time. He said he hasn’t heard of any being planned. Some students have advocated for taking the opposite tack of those at Middlebury.

The group that organized the event said it purposely announced his visit shortly before it occurs to minimize opposition that could build. Only students with Harvard College IDs will be allowed into a location to be announced the day before the event. The group said it has reserved the space for two hours.

Murray said he has never before been the subject of the kind of violence that happened at Middlebury.

“It was very scary for about a minute and a half or two minutes, and that was when we were trying to get to the car,” he said.

He said the speech next week will be technical and academic, and he said he hopes for engaging questions. Murray said the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank where he is the W.H. Brady scholar, is covering his expenses, and neither Harvard nor the student group will pay him.

Murray was recently invited by faculty to speak at Assumption College in Worcester, but he said the school recently rescinded the offer. He said other speaking engagements were re-scheduled after Middlebury but none were canceled.

Murray called it “very sad” when schools shut down unpopular speakers. He said universities should pursue truth and cannot do so if they are also trying to further a social justice agenda.

“It’s bad to cut back speech of any sort,” he said.


Communist-style speech censorship at Cornell

In Communist regimes everybody was encouraged to report one-another for "deviations"

Cornell administrators are encouraging students who encounter "negative reactions" to the school's "Safe Place" project to report them to a "Bias Reporting Team member."

Campus Reform obtained flyers apparently created and distributed by the school's LGBT Resource Center. Among several questions the flyer asks and answers is, "What if someone discriminates against me because I support Safe Place?"

"Negative reactions tend to be very rare," says the answer. "If they do occur, report it to the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Life Quality via a Bias Reporting Team member, such as the Coordinator of the LGBT Resource Center."

According to the flyer, Cornell's Safe Place project aims "to affirm LGBTQ identities and lives and promote and affirmative and supportive environment," and "to use inclusive language, avoid stereotyping, and not assume everyone is heterosexual," among other goals. The website included on the flyer redirects to the university's LGBT Resource Center page. The last cached version of the site that does not link to a 404 page is from 2008, but bears the same logo.

Two points: First, discrimination is, of course, wrong, but the term "negative reaction" is extremely broad. For a school that, as an example, encourages students to practice using transgender pronouns, the term could easily encompass the speech of well-meaning students who simply don't accept progressive concepts of gender identity.

Second, pay attention to the sheer layers of bureaucracy in the flyer, asking students who encounter "negative reactions" to report them "to the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Life Quality via a Bias Reporting Team member, such as the Coordinator of the LGBT Resource Center."

The Coordinator of the LGBT Resource Center, who is a Bias Reporting Team member, which is part of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Life Quality? All this to report a "negative reaction" from a classmate.

Bureaucracies dominated by progressive administrators create and enforce these procedures. The broadness of the term "negative reaction" combined with the university's encouragement to students to report on their peers creates an infantilizing campus culture where students whose thoughts subvert progressive dogma are afraid to say so.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

What Does a College Degree Get You?

by George N Romey

Mr Romey is right. A college degree is a bad move for most people these days and a VERY bad move if you have to go into debt to get it. Even if you have a kindly father who pays your fees it is not necessarily a good move.  It means that you are out of the workforce for four years when you could have been earning money.

The obvious alternative is taking a trade apprenticeship. Plumbers and electricians are an aristocracy of labour and are usually among the high earners. But what say you are either clumsy or a bit of a snob so don't want a trade?  What then?

There is a way forward but you have to be interested in SOMETHING.  You go online and talk to people who do that thing  until you know a heap about it.  There are even MOOCs (online courses) that tell you university level stuff about various subjects.  Maybe take one of them.  You then apply for jobs in that field.  If you show that you really know your stuff without having studied it formally that will really impress a lot of employers.  Employers value keen-ness much more than a bit of paper. 

And if you are looking at government employment, cover yourself by investing in a diploma mill degree.  Bureaucrats don't give a damn so will probably give it a quick glance and tick the relevant box that says you are qualified.  They mightn't even want to see it at all.

But whatever you do, you must learn frugality if you want to have an easy life ahead of you.  You have porridge for breakfast instead of bacon & eggs, for instance.  I myself lived on tiny amounts of money when I was young and always had savings.  Now that I am well established I can have whatever I want.  And if you think you can get rich by spending a significant slice of your income on beer and cigarettes (to say nothing of drugs) you haven't got a clue.

So the options for the average person today are actually more limited than they once were. In my day, kids worked their way through college (I did), hopefully with a bit of support from scholarships, bursaries etc.  Nowadays, though, fees have become so expensive that kids from most families can't make that work -- unless Dad can chip in too.

So why is that?  Why have options become worse?  It is because of credentialism.  The formal requirements for most jobs have been jacked up beyong all reason.  To become a teacher in the old days, for instance, you just did a one-year apprenticeship and then taught stuff you were good at.  Now you have to have a 4 year degree.  So there is now a HUGE DEMAND for college courses.  And what happens when demand rises?  Prices rise.  That relationship is as old as the hills.

But, as I say, you can circumvent the blockages just by knowing your stuff  -- maybe with the help of a diploma mill degree. Twice in my life I got jobs for which I had no formal qualifications.

My son spent 8 years in the university system studying mathematics but got nowhere.  He didn't have the stellar ability that you need to get far in that field.  So he did a one year course in computer programming and is now a high earner.  He does sometimes think of what might have been if he had gone  into IT straight out of high school.

In a recent presentation on Youtube by economists Richard D Wolff he discussed a new Amazon warehouse that opened in Northern Massachusetts with financing and tax breaks from the state and with great fanfare.  The warehouse mostly automated had openings for jobs paying from $12 an hour to $14.75 an hour.  All of the jobs were 30 hours or less a week (presumably to avoid providing healthcare.)

The jobs on the upper end were team leader jobs that required a college degree.  So the college graduate likely with thousands in student loan and credit card debt was looking at about $23K a year.  Needless to say this would likely prohibit independent living unless there was a spouse making at least that if not more.

Unfortunately the jobs at the Amazon warehouse are representational of most jobs today.  Let's say we have two college graduates either living together or married working at Amazon.  Out of their $46K a year they will pay FICA, state taxes and possibly a local tax.  They will have rent (in Northern MA it runs about $1K a month for a one bedroom apartment), utilities, at least one car payment, student loan and credit card debt incurred while going to school and healthcare insurance not provided by Amazon.  Add into the mix gas, food and other expenses and you quickly see two people that probably don't have $100 sitting in a savings account.  One incident away from financial disaster.

If you want to understand our economy here is a hypothetical example based on a real world job.  Mr. Bezos made of billions and collects companies like some people collect antiques.  What's he going to do for customers when the bulk of Americans are finally squeezed into his type of employment?  Will the robots at Amazon Prime sit rusting waiting for orders that are now longer coming?

When I graduated from college in 1981 I started in banking a princely sum of $11K a year, probably adjusted for inflation close to $23K a year now.  Of course I had fully paid medical, dental vision, pension, paid time off and short term disability which would cover a full paycheck for up to 60 days.  Within 3 years with the same employer I was up to $25K a year.  Do you think Mr. Bezo's $14.75 an hour employees will more than double their pay within three years?  Likely not.


The higher ed bubble is bursting as vocational training gets a boost

For years, the message was to go to college. A college degree became essential for nearly any job and American youth have flocked into Universities at higher rates than ever before. But mounting debt and the struggle to find jobs has created a bubble that is ready to burst. Now, some states are starting to expand programs which promote vocational training and trade jobs, rather than sending everyone to college.

Millennials are the most college educated generation, but at the same time are finding themselves unable to enter the labor force. The value of a college degree has dropped substantial due to increased enrollment, while tuition soars alongside attendance. Graduates are finding themselves with an invaluable degree, mounds of debt, and an inability to find a job.

This bubble has finally burst.

In states like Iowa, more than half of the available jobs are middle skilled jobs requiring some form of vocational training, or jobs which require more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. Students entering college, rather than these careers have caused a skills gap across industries in the state’s labor force.

To meet labor force demands, The Houston Chronicle of Aug. 2017 explains, “More K-12 schools and Iowa companies are partnering to add and expand skilled-trades programs; from creating the Skilled Trades Academy in Des Moines to a pre-apprenticeship program in Boone that can reduce the amount of time it takes a student to complete a traditional apprenticeship.”

By instituting vocational programs and skills based training programs, states like Iowa are fighting to combat the growth of universities and provide students with additional options.

This has been a trend across state lines, California is now spending $6 million on a campaign to revive the reputation of vocational education, and $200 million to improve vocational programs directly.

This reputation revival is necessary, since vocational and trade based education has dramatically altered from its original scope. Judy Bass explained in Education Dive, that initially trade education remained focused in industries such as automotive, construction, and graphics; but today, skills training focus on engineering, robotics, telecommunications and fiber optics, criminal justice, biotechnology and computer technology. Even in the automotive industry, students receive training on up to date technology that can serve them across fields.

The United States should be training our children for jobs they can receive, not leading them to debt they cannot afford, because the reality is not everyone should go to college or even needs to. There are many students who can attend trade schools to learn skills that can support their lives immediately.

This would prevent students from simply wasting their degree, but rather putting the skills they learn to good use.

Bloomberg’s Richard Vedder writes, “The number of college graduates far exceeds the growth in the number of technical, managerial, and professional jobs where graduates traditionally have gravitated… [W]e have a new phenomenon: underemployed college graduates doing jobs historically performed by those with much less education. We have, for example, more than 100,000 janitors with college degrees, and 16,000 degree-holding parking lot attendants.”

States must combat this dilemma before labor forces collapse and graduates continue to accrue unpayable debt. Trade and vocational schools present the unique opportunity to get ahead of this problem. As always, expectations must be managed accordingly. The message should not simply be go to college but go somewhere that gives you a future.


Australian School sparks controversy with Donald Trump parody production

A PRIMARY school has come under fire for a politically-charged play that converts a theatre classic into a production about US president Donald Trump, a wall and taco-making immigrants.

The play — a take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado — has sparked complaints to the Village School in Croydon North.

The Herald Sun understands parents have pulled their children from the production and the school altogether.

Principal Tanya Heine rewrote the opera classic to include a malevolent King Trumpet whose “attitude’s queer and quaint, his edicts will make you faint”.

It includes Elsewhegians, who wear ponchos and sombreros, work all day for little pay and sing about stimulating the economy by selling tacos.

They plot to blow up a wall that separates their country from the land of Trump Dee Doo.

The script, seen by the Herald Sun, also references America’s gun crime, a security guard named Agent Orange and characters Abbot Me-Too and Trumble-Dum.

A Poor Patrol roams the streets and threatens Elsewhegians that “if you don’t (work faster) I’ll use my blaster”.

One concerned parent said the whole-school play was completely inappropriate for children as young as five.

“It has crossed a few lines but the principal is not backing down,” the parent said.

“There’s even been talk of painting the Trump Dee Dooians — the Americans — in orange face paint.

“If we were doing Obama characters we wouldn’t do black face.”

The play ends with the bomb plot thwarted and the Trump Dee Dooians won over with taco diplomacy.

“For the tacos are very yum yum, our anger we’ll bury and all will be merry,” they sing.

Ms Heine said she altered the original play because it was no longer politically correct and risked offending Japanese culture.

She claimed no “real cultures” were represented in the production.

“Our play this year is a lighthearted adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan, which includes contemporary references that are not in any way political,” she said.

“Anyone who sees the play will agree.

“The play is not about Donald Trump, it is about the Mikado and I have just named the characters so they have a contemporary reference.”

But Dr Kevin Donnelly, from the Australian Catholic University, said the play appeared unsuitable for primary school.

“Young children don’t have the intellectual ability to follow these arguments and debates,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be dealing with controversial political issues where there are differing opinions in primary school.

“The danger is that, unless its done in a balance and fair way, it comes across as biased and ideological.”