Friday, September 28, 2018

Federal Education Programs Are Bloated and Failing. Now, Congress Wants to Give Them More Money

Here we go again. Congress plans to ignore the glaring education policy errors of the past five decades—and, worse, spend even more money on them.

As policymakers place the finishing touches on the Labor-Health-Education bill—a spending measure that funds education programs at the departments of Education and Health and Human Services—Americans stand to have more of their hard-earned dollars spent on policies that don’t work.

In fact, the entire spending package encompasses $178 billion in expenditures, $11 billion more than the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

Lawmakers should formulate good education policies that actually help students and protect American taxpayers, instead of seeking the approval of special-interest groups, such as teachers unions.

Although education spending skyrocketed in the past five decades, education outcomes remain the same. Instead of improved student outcomes, increased education spending has been accompanied by a lopsided increase in school staffing and administration.

For example, an 8 percent increase in the size of the student body since 1970 has been accompanied by a 138 percent increase in nonteaching staff over the same time period.

Instead of eliminating waste and bloat, federal policymakers propose to buttress bad policy by spending $71.4 billion on federal education programs—$2.6 billion more than in fiscal year 2017.

The federal government should eliminate duplicative and unhelpful programs instead of reinforcing them. For instance, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers are ineffective and failing to positively affect participants academically and behaviorally.

Even though the Trump administration’s budget rightly sought the program’s elimination, the Labor-Health-Education appropriations package would increase its funding to $1.2 billion.

David Muhlhausen, formerly of The Heritage Foundation, wrote, “Of the 12 behavioral outcomes assessed by the evaluation, six measures indicate that 21st Century Community Learning Centers produced more harm than good. Overall, teachers found participating students to have disciplinary problems that were confirmed by student-reported data.”

The Head Start program is another prime example of wasteful and poor policy. Although Congress plans to increase funding for the federal child care program to $10.1 billion (an increase of $200 million), research shows that Head Start has little to no lasting positive effect on participants. Moreover, despite funding boosts over the past few years, the program served slightly fewer participants between the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ own research found that Head Start participants performed lower than their peers in kindergarten math and “by third grade, Head Start had little to no effect on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting outcomes of participating children.”

My colleagues Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen wrote: “[Health and Human Services] has released definitive evidence that the federal government’s 48-year experiment with Head Start has failed children and left taxpayers a tab of more than $180 billion. In the interest of children and taxpayers, it’s time for this nearly half-century experiment to come to an end.”

The federal government’s large footprint in education has failed to make lasting positive effects, in part due to its sweeping programs, which fail to address the needs of local communities.

Policymakers should work to reduce the federal government’s intervention in education, instead of increasing it and implementing policies that do more harm than good.

Where else is the federal education footprint getting bigger?

Title I funding will increase to $15.9 billion, which is $400 million more than the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment program was eliminated in the Trump administration’s budget, but funding was increased to $1.170 billion.

TRIO, which provides federal funds to enhance college readiness, stands to see its budget increased by $50 million to $1.060 billion.

In the past two years, Pell Grants, which service 8 million students, will have increased by nearly $300 per student to $6,195.

At the very least, if the federal government continues to supplement state education spending, states should be able to use federal dollars as they see fit, instead of being required to accommodate ineffective or duplicative federal programs. State policymakers are more aware of local needs and concerns than Washington officials.

Congress should eliminate ineffective and duplicative federal programs instead of boosting their budgets. The Trump administration recognized the need to do that in its budget proposals, yet Congress seems bent on going in the opposite direction, increasing taxpayer spending on programs of questionable effectiveness.

It’s time to end the federal education spending spree and restore state and local control of education.


After less than 10 years in the classroom, Common Core could soon be on its way out

The Obama administration introduced Common Core in 2010, imposing burdensome new standards and tests in an attempt to create uniform educational content across the nation. Despite loud objections from parents, teachers, school leaders, and state officials, 46 states ultimately adopted the standards due to a combination of funding carrots and regulatory sticks.

But over the past few years, states have begun to reclaim their authority to set educational standards. Approximately a quarter of participating states have either downgraded their participation or withdrawn completely from the two new testing consortia introduced by Common Core.

One of those consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career—once had 20 state participants but now has fewer than four. Florida, for instance, an early adopter of Common Core, withdrew from the test consortium after finding that, among other issues, testing would occur over a 20-day period.

Maryland became the most recent state to roll back Common Core testing when officials there found that it overburdened teachers and didn’t help families.

How exactly? As The Baltimore Sun noted, it required schools to “clear their schedules for several weeks each spring, disrupting classes, and provide computers for students to take the tests in grades 3 through 8, as well as twice in high school.” Teachers lost valuable class time and encountered extensive disruptions.

Moreover, the test results were not delivered until the summer after the end of classes, thus limiting the ability of teachers to use the scores to improve classroom practice.

Maryland now plans to replace Common Core partnership tests with the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program—a shorter program that delivers test results sooner. While it remains an open question how much of a genuine departure from Common Core this represents, Maryland is at least taking the first step in reclaiming its autonomy by defining how it will assess student progress.

After all, states are much better suited to evaluate students according to standards that parents care about. National standards like Common Core give priority to national testing, but most parents typically ascribe little value to such large-scale assessments. According to an American Enterprise Institute study, parents rank school safety, values, healthy environment, and curricula as significantly more important than school performance on state tests.

In fact, national standards don’t actually help families or local schools improve their education—they only help number-crunching officials who distribute funding. My colleagues, Lindsey Burke and Jennifer Marshall, have written that parents can gain more useful information from classroom assessments and conversations with teachers about their child’s education.

Moreover, Common Core standards actually encouraged mediocrity rather than higher academic achievement. As Burke and Marshall have noted, “The rigor and content of national standards will tend to align with the mean among states” since the national standards will be plagued by “the same pressures that detract[ed] from the quality of many state standards.”

Educators also say federal standards and assessments limit their own autonomy and capacity to innovate in the classroom. In his book “The Tyranny of Metrics,” Jerry Z. Muller writes, “Many teachers perceive the regimen created by the culture of testing and measured accountability as robbing them of their autonomy and of the ability to use their discretion and creativity in designing and implementing the curriculum of their students.”

By returning education to the local level, teachers and parents can work together to create the system that works best for their children.

Rather than following Washington’s dictates, states should reassert their standards-setting and assessment authority to better enable schools to respond to local families and teachers.

Maryland’s decision to replace these tests is a step in the right direction as the state works to re-establish how it will conduct assessments. Freed from the constraints of Washington, states can then look to each other for best practices and innovations while working with local communities to produce results.

One way states can solidify their own educational standards is by strengthening school transparency measures modeled after the independent reviews that are common in higher education, such as the Princeton Review or College Board. This would empower parents with clear information about school performance, enabling them to hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of their children, particularly when empowered with education choice options.

Maryland has not yet released the costs of its new tests, but other states that have similarly withdrawn from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career paid a hefty price to replace it. For instance, Florida spent $220 million on a new test, meaning taxpayers there are still paying to get out of Common Core.

More states should follow Maryland’s path and extricate themselves from the massive federal overreach that is Common Core. Greater transparency coupled with real choice in education—not centralized government—will strengthen education in states across the country.


Australian Catholic University moves up in rankings

Australian Catholic University (ACU) has been ranked in the top 500 of universities worldwide, in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2018, announced on Wednesday 26 September.

This is the third consecutive year ACU has risen in the rankings, indicative of its improving research strengths.

The University climbed from joint 30 position last year to rank 25 out of 35 Australian institutions.

The THE World University Rankings is an annual league table of the top universities in the world. It assesses universities under the criteria of teaching, research, citations, industry income, and international outlook.

ACU’s strong performance included improved scores for research and citations, with ACU positioned in the top 400 for research and top 500 for citations worldwide.

ACU Provost Professor Pauline Nugent said the results were a welcome acknowledgement of the commitment the University had made to priority areas in health, education and theology and philosophy.

 “It is very encouraging to see that our steady growth and a determination to focus on areas that are fundamental to our mission and core values are having an impact.”

“The University has set out to achieve excellent outcomes, by investing in quality research and programs that will deliver genuinely valuable results for others,” she said.

ACU is increasingly making its mark internationally, with other notable rankings such as:

Positioned 501-600 in Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

A top 100 Asia Pacific (APAC) university, recognised as a leader in higher education in the region (Times Higher Education Asia-Pacific University Rankings 2018)

Recognised as one of the world’s top young universities, included in the top 50 of Generation Y and ranked 101-150 globally (Times Higher Education Young Universities Rankings 2018)

Ranked in the top 100 for a number of subjects:

sport science (26 ARWU)

nursing (41 ARWU)

education (51-75 ARWU)

theology, divinity and religious studies (top 100 QS Subject Rankings)

These results follow closely behind the University’s strong performance in the most recent Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assessment – with 94 per cent of all ACU research judged to be at or above world standards, and ACU placed equal first in Australia in five Fields of Research.

ACU is a public, not-for-profit university funded by the Australian Government. It is open to students and staff of all beliefs. Its research institutes and faculties focus on the priority research areas of education, health, and theology and philosophy.

Media release from

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Teacher who was 'fired for refusing to give 50% credit to students who didn't even do their homework' leaves poignant goodbye on her whiteboard

A Florida history teacher says she was fired for refusing to give half-credit to students who didn't turn in their assignments - and now her farewell message to her class is going viral.

Diane Tirado says West Gate K-8 School in Port St Lucie had a 'no zero' policy, requiring teachers to give students no less than a 50-per cent grade on assignments.

Tirado, 52, tells television station WPTV that she was fired on September 14 when she refused to follow the policy after several students didn't turn in a homework project she had assigned two weeks earlier.

Before leaving, Tirado left a handwritten message on a whiteboard for her students that read:  'Bye kids. Mrs. Tirado loves you and wishes you the best in life! I have been fired for refusing to give you a 50% for not handing anything in. [Love] Mrs Tirado.'

The teacher then took a photo of her missive and posted the image on her Facebook page, where it has been shared more than 740 times.

'I’m so upset because we have a nation of kids that are expecting to get paid and live their life just for showing up and it’s not real,' Tirado told the TV station.

After her post drew national attention, Tirado again took to social media on Tuesday to share her thoughts on the controversy.

'The reason I took on this fight was because it was ridiculous,' she wrote. 'Teaching should not be this hard. Teachers teach content, children do the assignments to the best of their ability and teachers grade that work based on a grading scale that has been around a very long time.

She continued: 'reachers also provide numerous attempts to get the work collected so they can give a child a grade. By nature, most teachers are loving souls who want to see students succeed.

'We do above and beyond actual teaching to give them the support they need. Are we perfect? NO. We make mistakes like all other human beings, but I know teachers work their butts off to help children to be the best people they can be!!!'

No specific cause was given in her termination letter from the principal at West Gate school, since Tirado was still on probation.

The married mother-of-one has worked in education for many years but was hired to teach eighth-grade history at West Gate only on July 30.  

The principal deferred comment to the school district. A spokeswoman for St. Lucie Public Schools says there is no district policy prohibiting teachers from giving a grade of zero.

The West Gate student and parent handbook contains a grading rubric that includes the line, written in red all-caps: 'NO ZERO'S-LOWEST POSSIBLE GRADE IS 50%'

The rubric, however, allows for an 'Incomplete' grade that is the equivalent of 0 per cent, according to the table included in the handbook, which Tirado argues creates confusion.  


Walter Williams: University Corruption

I'm thankful that increasing attention is being paid to the dire state of higher education in our country. Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has just published "The Diversity Delusion." Its subtitle captures much of the book's content: "How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture." Part of the gender pandering at our universities is seen in the effort to satisfy the diversity-obsessed National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, each of which gives millions of dollars of grant money to universities. If universities don't make an effort to diversify their science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) programs, they risk losing millions in grant money.

A UCLA scientist says, "All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by 'changing' (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?" Mac Donald says, "Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind."

Diversity-crazed people ignore the fact that there are systemic differences in race and sex that influence various outcomes. Males outperform females at the highest levels of math; however, males are overrepresented at the lowest levels of math competence. In 2016, the number of males scoring above 700 on the math portion of the SAT was nearly twice as high as the number of females scoring above 700. There are 2.5 males in the U.S. in the top 0.01 percent of math ability for every female, according to the journal Intelligence (February 2018).

In terms of careers, females are more people-centered than males. That might explain why females make up 75 percent of workers in health care-related fields but only 14 percent of engineering workers and 25 percent of computer workers. Nearly 82 percent of obstetrics and gynecology medical residents in 2016 were women. Mac Donald asks sarcastically, "Is gynecology biased against males, or are females selecting where they want to work?"

"The Diversity Delusion" documents academic practices that fall just shy of lunacy at many universities. Nowhere are these practices more unintelligent and harmful to their ostensible beneficiaries than in university efforts to promote racial diversity. UC Berkeley and UCLA are the most competitive campuses in the University of California system. Before Proposition 209's ban on racial discrimination, the median SAT score of blacks and Hispanics at Berkeley was 250 points below that of whites and Asians. This difference was hard to miss in class. Renowned Berkeley philosophy professor John Searle, who sees affirmative action as a disaster, said, "They admitted people who could barely read." Dr. Thomas Sowell and others have discussed this problem of mismatching students. Black and Hispanic students who might do well in a less competitive setting are recruited to highly competitive universities and become failures. Black parents have no obligation to make academic liberals feel good about themselves by allowing them to turn their children into failures.

Many readers know that I am a professor of economics at George Mason University. A few readers have asked me about "Black Freshmen Orientation," held Aug. 25 and advertised as an opportunity for students to learn more about the black community at George Mason University. GMU is not alone in promoting separation in the name of diversity and inclusion. Harvard, Yale, UCLA and many other universities, including GMU, have black graduation ceremonies. Racial segregation goes beyond graduation ceremonies. Cal State Los Angeles, the University of Connecticut, UC Davis and UC Berkeley, among others, offer racially segregated housing for black students.

University administrators and faculty members who cave to the demands for racially segregated activities have lost their moral mooring, not to mention common sense. I'm sure that if white students demanded a whites-only dormitory or whites-only graduation ceremonies, the university community would be outraged. Some weak-minded administrators might make the argument that having black-only activities and facilities is welcoming and might make black students feel more comfortable. I'm wondering whether they would also support calls by either white or black students for separate (themed) bathrooms and water fountains.


Terror school: Why returning jihadis could soon be teaching Australian children under a radical new plan to fight ISIS - as authorities admit the threat is 'as high as ever'

Australian jihadis could soon be teaching the country's youth under new plans unveiled by one of Australia's leading counter-terrorism strategists.

Former NSW Police deputy commissioner and UN investigator, Nick Kaldas, said the government should consider employing some of the 400 Australians who are in hiding overseas after fleeing to fight for Islamic State.

The radical new thinking, which Mr Kaldas said comes at a time when the terrorist threat is 'as high as ever', means they could be 'deployed' as mentors to dissuade young people who were considering turning to extremism.

While admitting the concept was controversial, he said it offered a better alternative than prosecuting those who had gone to fight under ISIS' black flag. He said: 'It may be useful to consider using them as an example and have them talk to those who may follow their path. 'To say "it's not that good, it's not what you think it is, it is a horrible thing to do,"' he told The Daily Telegraph.

'I know that would be controversial but I think there could be some uses in having people who have done it come back repentant - and share those mistakes with others.' 

Mr Kaldas' proposal comes after five Australian jihadists who had travelled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State were stripped of their citizenship last month.

Included in those five was Neil Prakash - a senior ISIS figure behind bars in Turkey on terror charges.

One other Australian, Khaled Sharrouf, is believed to have been stripped of his citizenship after joining Islamic State.

The former police deputy chief was in talks with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 about running his own ministry to combat terrorism.

The ministry, which would be similar to the UK's Home Office or the US' Homeland Security, would co-ordinate Australia's authorities in countering the terror threat.

Mr Kaldas also said the implementation of intelligence sharing between public and private law enforcement sectors could help Australian authorities fight terrorism better.

He added it was imperative that high-profile landmarks like the Sydney Opera House were in constant communication with police over possible threats - rather than being kept in the dark.

Around 230 Australians have joined the Islamic State, of which 90 have been killed in combat.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The transgender war has no place in the classroom

A 12 year-old in Texas, born male, decided to transition and live as “Maddie.” Unsurprisingly, this led to bullying at school. What made this story unique was that parents of children at Maddie’s school were bullying the student as much as the peers — online and in person. The bullying got so bad that Maddie's family may move.

Of course, bullying anyone is worthy of condemnation. Both the transgender bathroom issue and the bullying that often results in some parts of the country reveal a new and very specific problem: Kids are taking their transgender issues to school because that’s where they spend the majority of their time, which creates anxiety and fear in some parents and children. Yet school is not the appropriate place to resolve these issues. School should be a place for fun and learning. Schools have become a lab, mixing social and political experiments together, at great cost to taxpayers, families, and society.

Fighting the transgender battle in school is a distraction.

Even though the number of children who identify as transgender is still quite small, transgender issues continue to proliferate in schools, creating unnecessary distractions. (Some studies say about 0.7 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds living in the United States are transgender; according to the Williams Institute, 0.6 percent of the entire population identifies as transgender.) Or rather, children continue to come to school, announce they are transgender, and then schools feel compelled to accommodate this special desire, often to the point that it is a distraction.

For example, several schools are being forced to either correct or create new policies about transgender students, after previous ones (or none at all) prompted protests. Officials had to adopt a new transgender policy at Great Hearts Academies in Arizona after a board member for the national advocacy group GLSEN said “the former policy was written in a way that explicitly harmed students whose gender identity didn't align with the gender assigned to them at birth.”

What was wrong with this terrible policy? It provided a list of rules that included:

Using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex listed on the student's birth certificate.

Following the "uniform code and grooming standards of their sex" as listed on their birth certificate.

Participating in single-sex athletic activities that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate.

Staff referring to students by the name listed in school records, which is based on birth certificates or by a nickname agreed upon by the student and their family.

Staff using personal pronouns consistent with the student's gender listed on their birth certificate.

The school’s new policy protects “the privacy of all students” and includes the following guidelines.

All students will receive the same level of care and respect.

Students may use single-sex facilities that correspond with their current school records. Single-occupant restroom and locker/changing rooms are open to use by all students.

No student will be forced to use a single-sex restroom or locker/changing room facility against their wishes.

Students are eligible to participate in athletic activities based on requirements of the specific league or ruling body.

Other schools have taken time and resources to focus on transgender policies. Minnesota’s Department of Education introduced an entire “transgender toolkit” to ensure that the handful of transgender students in Minnesota schools would feel safe and included.

Schools should be spending resources choosing and honing curriculum and specifying emergency procedures. How about creating toolkits and holding conferences about the way children learn? In short, school is the wrong place to coddle a movement; it’s the place to develop a child’s mind.

Responses to transgender issues sparks fear or uncomfortable feelings for many students.

As the story about 12-year-old Maddie (and others like it) show, parents and children are starting to feel marginalized for being cisgender. Granted, some are responding poorly — like I said, bullying is never okay — but it highlights a very real phenomenon: Parents and children feel uncomfortable, even fearful, because being transgender defies biological reality.

It’s a form of gaslighting, and it can elicit a strong response in some people. Also, the bathroom issue violates the privacy rights of others, accompanying the fear many parents feel.

The transgender issue is new and uncharted territory. Many people believe this issue defies biological reality. One study even said the increase of people calling themselves transgender is due to peer pressure. Because this is an undeveloped and unexamined issue — and because it goes against what seems biological, healthy, and natural — it creates anxiety and fear. It causes parents and students to feel even more protective.

Fighting the transgender battle places an unwarranted burden on schools.

Since the transgender battle has entered schools, it has placed a significant, unwarranted burden on them in terms of finances and resources at taxpayer expense. As schools have felt compelled to roll out new policies, new rules, modify bathrooms, and hold meetings, all of these activities cost money, time, staff, and other resources.

The ACLU has made suing schools for transgender bathroom transgressions its own cottage industry, forcing schools to spend money to defend themselves in court or to settle. A Wisconsin school district agreed to pay $800,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a transgender student.

A transgender student at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., sued the St. Johns County School Board over claims of discrimination and won.

A Pennsylvania school district settled a lawsuit with three students who sued over their bathroom policies. Collectively, fighting these lawsuits, settling, and paying out, cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Schools need to focus on facts, not feelings.

Since schools have become the battleground of the transgender war, it has created casualties on both sides. Transgender students feel marginalized, cisgender students feel privacy rights are violated, biology is ignored. A school’s purpose is to educate children in a fun, compelling, safe environment. A school’s purpose is to prepare children for adulthood by sending them into the world armed with facts, information, and a love for learning and knowledge.

As the transgender “crisis” has entered schools, it has forced them to acknowledge issues that belong well outside their wheelhouse and to engage in a debate over something that defies reality.

Ideally, schools should focus on facts, not feelings, and gender dysphoria itself is largely a feeling — a feeling that the body and the mind do not match up. Gender dysphoria as a feeling often passes as children mature and with appropriate therapy. Stories abound of adults who regret giving into their dysphoria by transitioning. Unfortunately, many schools are encouraging children to transition for fear of backlash from the transgender lobby.

Author Camille Paglia, who identifies as transgender, observed similarly: “It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender.”

For many children, the only chance they have at a solid education is in the public school system. Some children do not have other significant outside influences beyond their school and home. It’s imperative children continue to receive the best education the system can give them, however flawed the system may be.

Schools need to place parameters on this issue.

Schools should not be a battleground for social experiments. Underneath the transgender toolkits, bathroom battles, and transgender bullying is a rift between progressives and conservatives. The former want to engage in this battle in the school system because it’s a soft place to land — who would deny children their right to feel however they want?

The latter are beginning to realize more than ever that the transgender lobby just keeps pushing the envelope. This has led not to more equality, more humility, or more grace, but the opposite: Now the vast majority of society, which remains cisgender, is starting to get angry as they are forced to acquiesce to yet another demand.

Schools should make district-wide, or perhaps statewide, policies ensuring that there is a facility for transgender studenets to use that is simple, conventional, and drama-free. Perhaps convert a bathroom on either end of the building or in the school office to single-sex use. (The argument that transgender children feel embarrassed using a separate or office bathroom is moot here. The children are already announcing to an entire school they are transgender. The onus is not on the school system to ensure that their announcement be accommodated as a special request.) The school should change their policies up front as a kind of liability waiver so the threat of a lawsuit is no longer applicable. Then schools should go about educating children.

Transgender issues permeating schools is an ongoing distraction, a costly venture, and one that defies the very purpose of schools. Schools should no longer be a battleground for this social experiment.


UK: Students want to be taught not box-ticked

When diversity and inclusion are the watchwords, the real purpose of universities is obscured

As new university students across the country begin their freshers weeks, likely to be filled with bar crawls, drinking games and ill-thought-out registrations for student societies — skydive club anyone? — I wonder if they will spare a moment to think about the social inclusion ranking of their new academic homes.

This is a new ranking introduced in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, which looks at the proportion of students from comprehensive and non-selective schools in each university. I don’t imagine many freshers will be too preoccupied with it, but the heads of Oxford University certainly will, as the university came bottom for social inclusion. This means that only four in ten of Oxford students come from comprehensive or non-selective schools. The same was revealed for Cambridge and Imperial College London. Overall, eight in ten pupils go to such schools.

Commenting on the ranking, David Lammy, the Labour MP, said it was “evidence that Britain’s finest universities remain gated communities for the privileged”. This is not the first time top universities have been accused of lacking diversity.

Last year, more than 100 MPs wrote to Oxford and Cambridge universities urging them to do more to recruit students from under-represented backgrounds. This was a response to Freedom of Information requests made by Mr Lammy which revealed that 13 Oxford colleges had not made a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period. A study published earlier this year showed that the proportion of black students admitted to Oxford University in 2017 was less than 2 per cent.

Data such as this always needs putting in context. Oxford University is rated number two overall in the Good University Guide and asks for a minimum of three A grades at A level for admission. Analysis by Channel 4’s FactCheck showed that the percentage of black students at Oxford University in 2017 was 1.9 per cent, which was very similar to the percentage of students in 2015 who received three As at A level who were black: 1.8 per cent.

Overall, the number of students has been on the rise for years, with almost 50 per cent of our student-age population in England now going to university. Figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England showed an increase in the number of students from educationally disadvantaged areas in the academic year 2015-2016. There was also a significant increase in black and minority ethnic (BME) students, who made up 29 per cent of all entrants to full-time first degrees in 2015-16, despite accounting for 18 per cent of the 15-year-old population in the 2011 England census.

On the whole, university is becoming more accessible for students of diverse backgrounds. This is great news. But Oxford and Cambridge’s poor social inclusion rankings mean they will be expected, with other top universities, to focus their attention on gaining a more diverse student body. But is this really the role of a university?

Calling on our higher-education institutions to move their focus towards a diversity box-ticking exercise is to misunderstand what a university is for. But it appears over the past few years that both universities and students have lost sight of that role.

Last week, as the new academic year began, Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, wrote to university heads asking them to prioritise their students’ “mental health and wellbeing”. This won’t have come as a surprise to most people, considering the constant reports from campuses of safe spaces and stories of using therapy dogs to get through exam stress.

University lecturers are now routinely asked to be conscious of students’ sensitivities by including trigger warnings in any lectures that might include potentially difficult or traumatic material. In July, professors at Bath University were advised to stop using the expression “as you know”, lest it be deemed patronising or made those who didn’t know feel stupid. And that’s just one example of many in which students and professors are told to prioritise personal sensibilities over education.

I don’t remember it being like this when I went to university, not so very long ago. I graduated in 2008 from the University of Liverpool. I went to university for two reasons: the love of my subjects (French and Spanish) and a desire to improve my knowledge of them, and to get my first real taste of independence.

During my time there, I don’t remember any suggestion of safe spaces or of special wellbeing or exam de-stressing activities: we just went to the pub.

Had anyone asked me during my student years what improvements I might like to see in my university, I wouldn’t have given a thought to social inclusion rankings or access to therapy. Instead, I would have liked more contact hours with tutors and for our shabby old languages building to have had a refurb.

Demanding that universities focus on diversity box-ticking and the wellbeing of their students wholly misses the point of these institutions. University is a unique experience and it isn’t for everyone. It’s an opportunity to strive for academic excellence while learning how to function as an independent adult. We should let students take care of looking after themselves and ask our universities to focus on providing the highest possible standard of education.


Australia: Bettina Arndt names to shame Sydney University’s ‘free-speech bullies’

After being targeted by demonstrators at Sydney University, journalist Bettina Arndt has hit back with tactics that could force the protest leaders to give her a written apology and undertake anti-bullying training.

Arndt has lodged a formal complaint with vice-chancellor Michael Spence accusing five named students of breaching the university’s code of conduct by trying to prevent her giving a talk questioning the existence of a rape crisis on campus.

Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday backed calls for universities to do more to protect free speech and said they were supposed to be the epicentres of free speech.

“It is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory if you have to ask governments to come in and maintain free speech at universities,” Mr Porter said. “This buck stops firstly with the universities themselves.

“Some universities do better than others so why can’t they all lift themselves to the optimal standard of enhancing free, open and civil public debate on campus,” he said.

Dr Spence defended Sydney’s University’s approach to free speech, saying a variety of views was regularly expressed. “The picture that sometimes appears in the flyers of the culture warriors — of our university as a camp of indoctrination in which free speech is inhibited — is simply unrecognisable to those who work and study here,” he writes in today’s opinion page.

“On any given day, on almost any issue, there is a diversity of views presented on campus, in the classroom, in student groups, and by organisations to whom the university provides a platform.”

If Arndt succeeds in showing student demonstrators engaged in bullying and intimidation to prevent her talk, penalties under Sydney University rules include an oral or written apology, anti-bullying training and a “management plan” that would need her agreement.

In an email to Dr Spence, Arndt wrote on Friday that she could supply witness statements and a video of the September 11 incident in which police were called when demonstrators tried to prevent her from speaking at an event organised by the student Liberal Club.

The video shows key people “encouraging protesters to block the entrance to the venue and harassing, abusing and physically intimidating students trying to attend the lecture”, she wrote.

“I am calling for action to be taken to enforce the university’s bullying policy. “I ask the university to take action against the students who demonstrated and encouraged abusive behaviour towards me and towards Liberal Club members and my audience.”

This comes soon after a similar incident at La Trobe University and a warning from former High Court chief justice Robert French that universities faced the risk of legislative intervention unless they provided a robust defence of free speech on campus.

Arndt called on Dr Spence to initiate complaint proceedings under clause 4 of the university’s code of conduct, which says students must not unreasonably impede access to lecture theatres and must not become involved in harassment or bullying.

If her complaint is upheld, clause 17 of the university’s policy on bullying, harassment and the prevention of discrimination says breaches of the policy may result in action that includes an apology and a management plan containing agreed actions by the parties.

In a separate email with Liberal Club president Jack O’Brien, Arndt asked Dr Spence to refund the $475.20 that the Liberal Club had been required to pay for security. “The security officers ended up calling in the riot squad because they were unable to protect us nor hold back the violent, abusive protesters,” they wrote.

Education Minister Dan Tehan has suggested to university vice-chancellors that campus activists should be required to pay for security but in today’s opinion page Dr Spence argues against that proposal.

Arndt told The Australian the Liberal Club had paid for security services that the university was unable to provide.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Texas education officials finally OK Mexican-American studies course

After four years of battles over ethnic studies textbooks and courses in a state with a booming Latino population, state education officials gave final approval to adopt a Mexican-American studies course that can be taught statewide.

Although the State Board of Education OK’d the course with no discussion at its board meeting Friday in Austin, the issue of teaching Texas students about the influence of Mexican-Americans has dominated much of the board’s discussion for more than four years.

The board has gone to blows over adopting a textbook that critics describe as offensive for describing Mexican-Americans as lazy and omitting or downplaying contributions of Mexican-Americans. Later, the board tentatively agreed to create the framework for a Mexican-American studies course — although teachers could already teach such a class — but fought over the name of it after conservative board members wanted to change the name of the course to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.” The final title is “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.”

Standards for the high school social studies elective course will go into effect in the 2019 school year.

The board also gave initial approval to a slate of changes to the social studies curricula, including reinserting references to the “heroism” of the defenders of the Alamo and ensuring Moses remains in the section on influences of America’s founding.

Sections tentatively removed include the mandatory teaching of Helen Keller in the section on citizenship and “holding public officials to their word” in a civics section.


NZ: Students stage mass walkout over principal’s truancy speech

The minority who walked out obviously could see that she was referring to them.  I'm guessing that they were mostly Polynesians

MORE than 100 high school students have stormed out of class in protest of their principal’s comments about truancy at school.

Graffiti reading “f*** you Mrs Crawford” had also sprung up since the speech by principal Virginia Crawford last week at the school in Hamilton, on New Zealand’s North Island.

According to the New Zealand Herald, last Thursday Ms Crawford gave a speech saying students who wagged were “highly likely to go to prison, either commit domestic violence or be a victim of domestic violence, be illiterate, be a rape victim, be a suicide victim, be unemployed for the majority of their life, have a major health problem, die at an early age, have an addiction, gambling, drugs or smoking”.

The speech was secretly recorded by a student and uploaded to YouTube where it quickly went viral.

There have also been reports of unrest, with graffiti and vandalising of school property.

Student Cody Barron, 16, said the speech had since divided the school, with people either supporting her or upset at what she said.

“It’s definitely divided the school. Everyone’s split apart. Some people are setting off fire alarms, costing the school like $3500.” He said it had only happened once — on Friday — but he expected it to happen again.

“There’s also been a lot of tagging. Targeting Ms Crawford. “The graffiti read “f*** you Mrs Crawford,” he said.

However, while many disagreed with her sentiments, some senior students have backed the principal, stating her message has been misunderstood by students.

Older students at the school gates said she used “shock tactic” language to get her message across.

Lauese Faaosofia, 17, said he was embarrassed by the protest as it made the school look bad.

“These guys are making our school look bad, smoking, what the hell? Our school is good, it’s the people, as you can see, wagging. She was trying to give us a message not to wag. These kids here, Year 9, they don’t even know what they’re here for.”

The Year 13 student said he supported the message Ms Crawford was trying to send about not wagging school.

Fellow Year 13 student Carlos Tuimavave was also frustrated by the protest, stating a lot of the students were younger and just looking to get attention.

He believed students had misinterpreted Ma Crawford’s speech and said she had to use emotive language to get her message across.

“I support Ms Crawford … most of these kids here are juniors. What they didn’t understand about [the principal’s] speech was the message she was sending. She could have used better context within her speech with the use of consequences and stuff … but if she said something like, ‘you wag and you’re gonna get a detention’, no one would care. No one would listen.

“Obviously she got her point across if this is the outcome. Obviously her point got across to every student here.

He said the students should “just be grateful that we have a principal who cares about us enough to worry about our futures”.


Australia: Leyonhjelm wins on income-based school funding

Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm has welcomed the Government’s decision to fund non-government schools based on the income of parents, rather than the average wealth of the parents’ neighbours.

“For several years I have been outlining to education ministers how funding for private schools can and should be based on the income of parents rather than the average wealth of the parents’ neighbours.  I have also outlined how taxpayer privacy can be maintained.

“I am delighted that the Government has finally worked it out.

“Income-based funding improves the degree to which school funding is needs-based.  The schools educating poor kids will get more than schools educating rich kids.

“The fact that the additional funding favours non-government schools over government schools also enhances needs-based funding.

“Currently a non-government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school receives only 80 per cent of the funding of the government school.  Any move that whittles away at this baseless bias against non-government schools is great.

“The Government should go further and completely eliminate this rule. A non‑government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school should never receive less taxpayer-funding just because it is a non-government school.

“The Government should also start funding government schools based on the income of parents, and rich parents who send their children to government schools need to be charged meaningful school fees.

“This is fair, and would achieve more education bang for the taxpayer buck.

“The Government is moving towards the Liberal Democrats’ policy of schooling vouchers that are sector-blind, means‑tested and needs-based.  It should go all the way.”

Media release

Monday, September 24, 2018

Why Is College in America So Expensive?

The outrageous price of a U.S. degree is unique in the world.

The business of providing an education is so expensive because college is different from other things that people buy, argue Feldman and his colleague Robert Archibald in their 2011 book, Why Does College Cost So Much? College is a service, for one thing, not a product, which means it doesn’t get cheaper along with changes in manufacturing technology (economists call this affliction “cost disease”). And college is a service delivered mostly by workers with college degrees—whose salaries have risen more dramatically than those of low-skilled service workers over the past several decades.

College is not the only service to have gotten wildly more expensive in recent decades, Feldman and Archibald point out. Since 1950, the real prices of the services of doctors, dentists, and lawyers have risen at similar rates as the price of higher education, according to Feldman and Archibald’s book. “The villain, as much as there is one, is economic growth itself,” they write.

This all makes sense, if we just focus on the U.S. But what about the rest of the world? These broader economic trends exist there, too. So why does college still cost half as much, on average, in other countries?

One oddity of America’s higher-education system is that it is actually three different systems masquerading as one: There is one system of public colleges; another of private, nonprofit institutions; and one made up of for-profit colleges.

The biggest system by far is the public one, which includes two-year community colleges and four-year institutions. Three out of every four American college students attend a school in this public system, which is funded through state and local subsidies, along with students’ tuition dollars and some federal aid.

In this public system, the high cost of college has as much to do with politics as economics. Many state legislatures have been spending less and less per student on higher education for the past three decades. Bewitched by the ideology of small government (and forced by law to balance their budgets during a period of mounting health-care costs), states have been leaving once-world-class public universities begging for money. The cuts were particularly stark after the 2008 recession, and they set off a cascading series of consequences, some of which were never intended.

The easiest way for universities to make up for the cuts was to shift some of the cost to students—and to find richer students. “Once that sustainable public funding was taken out from under these schools, they started acting more like businesses,” says Maggie Thompson, the executive director of Generation Progress, a nonprofit education-advocacy group. State cutbacks did not necessarily make colleges more efficient, which was the hope; they made colleges more entrepreneurial.

Some universities began to enroll more full-paying foreign and out-of-state students to make up the difference. Over the past decade, for example, Purdue University has reduced its in-state student population by 4,300 while adding 5,300 out-of-state and foreign students, who pay triple the tuition. “They moved away from working to educate people in their region to competing for the most elite and wealthy students—in a way that was unprecedented,” Thompson says.

This competition eventually crept beyond climbing walls and dining halls into major, long-term operating expenses. For example, U.S. colleges spend, relative to other countries, a startling amount of money on their nonteaching staff, according to the OECD data. Some of these people are librarians or career or mental-health counselors who directly benefit students, but many others do tangential jobs that may have more to do with attracting students than with learning. Many U.S. colleges employ armies of fund-raisers, athletic staff, lawyers, admissions and financial-aid officers, diversity-and-inclusion managers, building-operations and maintenance staff, security personnel, transportation workers, and food-service workers.

The international data is not detailed enough to reveal exactly which jobs are diverting the most money, but we can say that U.S. colleges spend more on nonteaching staff than on teachers, which is upside down compared with every other country that provided data to the OECD (with the exception of Luxembourg, naturally).

In addition, most global rankings of universities heavily weight the amount of research published by faculty—a metric that has no relationship to whether students are learning. But in a heated race for students, these rankings get the attention of college administrators, who push faculty to focus on research and pay star professors accordingly.

Likewise, the new data show that U.S. colleges currently have a slightly lower ratio of students to teachers than the average for the developed world—another metric favored in college rankings. But that is a very expensive way to compete. And among education researchers, there is no clear consensus about whether smaller classes are worth the money.

In the beginning, university administrators may have started competing for full-freight paying students in order to help subsidize other, less affluent students. But once other colleges got into the racket, it became a spending arms race. More and more universities had to participate, including private colleges unaffected by state cuts, just to keep their application numbers up. “There is such a thing as wasteful competition,” Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University professor and the author of Unequal Colleges in the Age of Disparity, wrote me in an email.

All that said, it’s also true that state budget cuts were uneven across the country. Today, in-state tuition in Wyoming is about a third of the cost of Vermont, for example. In places where higher education has not been gutted and the cost of living is low, an American college degree can still be a bargain—especially for students who don’t mind living at home and are poor enough to qualify for federal aid. Taking into account living expenses, says Alex Usher of the consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates, a student at a public university in Mississippi will likely end up with similar out-of-pocket costs as a student in Sweden.

Usher, who is based in Toronto, is one of the few researchers to have looked carefully at the costs of higher education globally. And much of what he finds is surprising. In 2010, he and his colleague Jon Medow created a clever ranking of 15 countries’ higher-education systems—using a variety of ways to assess affordability and access. Reading the report is like peeling an onion. The first layer focuses on the most obvious question: the affordability of college based on the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses divided by the median income in a given country. By this metric, the U.S. does very poorly, ranking third from the bottom. Only Mexico and Japan do worse.

But the U.S. moves up one place when grants and tax credits are included. “Your grants are actually really generous compared to everybody else,” Usher says. Tuition is higher in the U.S., so the grants don’t fully cover the price, but 70 percent of full-time students do receive some kind of grant aid, according to the College Board. From this perspective, sometimes called “net cost,” Australia is more expensive than the U.S.

Next, looking only at our public colleges, the U.S. rises higher still, ranking in the middle of the pack in Usher’s analysis, above Canada and New Zealand. This data is from 2010, and things may look less rosy if he were to redo the study now, Usher cautions. But still, he sounds weirdly hopeful. “The public system in the U.S. is working as well as most systems,” he says. “Parts of the U.S. look like France.”

The problem, of course, is that other parts of the U.S. look more like a Louis Vuitton store. America basically contains 50 different higher-education systems, one per state, each with public, private, and for-profit institutions, making generalizations all but impossible. The U.S. does relatively well on measures of access to college, but the price varies wildly depending on the place and the person. Somehow, students have to find their way through this thicket of competition and choose wisely, or suffer the consequences.

The more I studied America’s baffling higher-education system, the more it reminded me of health care. In both spaces, Americans pay twice as much as people in other developed countries—and get very uneven results. The U.S. spends nearly $10,000 a person on health care each year (25 percent more than Switzerland, the next biggest spender), according to the OECD’s 2017 Health at a Glance report, but our life expectancy is now almost two years below the average for the developed world.

“I used to joke that I could just take all my papers and statistical programs and globally replace hospitals with schools, doctors with teachers and patients with students,” says Dartmouth College’s Douglas Staiger, one of the few U.S. economists who studies both education and health care.

Both systems are more market driven than in just about any other country, which makes them more innovative—but also less coherent and more exploitive. Hospitals and colleges charge different prices to different people, rendering both systems bewilderingly complex, Staiger notes. It is very hard for regular people to make informed decisions about either, and yet few decisions could be more important.

In both cases, the most vulnerable people tend to make less-than-ideal decisions. For example, among high-achieving, low-income students (who have grades and test scores that put them in the top 4 percent of U.S. students and would be eligible for generous financial aid at elite colleges), the vast majority apply to no selective colleges at all, according to research by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery. “Ironically, these students are often paying more to go to a nonselective four-year college or even a community college than they would pay to go to the most selective, most resource-rich institutions in the United States,” as Hoxby told NPR.

Ultimately, college is expensive in the U.S. for the same reason MRIs are expensive: There is no central mechanism to control price increases. “Universities extract money from students because they can,” says Schleicher at the OECD. “It’s the inevitable outcome of an unregulated fee structure.” In places like the United Kingdom, the government limits how much universities can extract by capping tuition. The same is true when it comes to health care in most developed countries, where a centralized government authority contains the prices.

The U.S. federal government has historically been unwilling to perform this role. So Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals—and for college classes. Meanwhile, more and more of the risk gets shifted from government onto families, in both sectors.

At the very least, the American government could do a better job sharing information about the quality of colleges in ways everyone can understand, Schleicher says. “You can’t force people to buy good things or bad things, but they should be able to see what the value is.”

Spending a lot of money can be worth it, if you get something awesome in exchange. “America has the best colleges and universities in the world!” President Donald Trump exclaimed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. Former President Barack Obama said the same thing before him.

But is it actually true? No meaningful data exist on the quality of universities globally. America does have a disproportionate number of elite colleges, which accept fewer than 10 percent of applicants, and these places do employ some brilliant scholars who do groundbreaking research. But fewer than 1 percent of American students attend highly selective colleges like those.

Instead, more than three-quarters of students attend nonselective colleges, which admit at least half of their applicants. No one knows for sure how good these colleges are at their core job of educating students. But in one of the only careful, recent studies on adult skills, the OECD’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Americans under age 35 with a bachelor’s degree performed below their similarly educated peers in 14 other countries on the test of practical math skills. In other words, they did only slightly better than high-school graduates in Finland. America’s college grads did better in reading, performing below just six other countries, but dropped off again in another test, scoring below 13 other countries in their ability to solve problems using digital technology.

If American colleges are not adding obvious and consistent academic value, they are adding financial value. Americans with college degrees earn 75 percent more than those who only completed high school. Over a lifetime, people with bachelor’s degrees earn more than half a million dollars more than people with no college degree in the U.S. In fact, no other country rewards a college degree as richly as the United States, and few other countries punish people so relentlessly for not having one. It’s a diabolical cycle: Colleges are very expensive to run, partly because of the high salaries earned by their skilled workers. But those higher salaries make college degrees extremely valuable, which means Americans will pay a lot to get them. And so colleges can charge more. As Carey, the End of College author, summarizes: “Students are over a barrel.” 

Still, the return varies wildly depending on the college one attends. One in four college grads earns no more than the average high-school graduate. Associate’s degrees from for-profit universities lead to smaller salary bumps than associate’s degrees from community colleges, which are cheaper. And two-thirds of students at for-profits drop out before earning their degree anyway, meaning many will spend years struggling with debt they cannot afford to pay off—and cannot, under U.S. law, off-load through bankruptcy.

This convoluted, complicated, inconsistent system continues to exist, and continues to be so expensive because college in America is still worth the price. At certain colleges, for certain people. Especially if they finish. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and almost everywhere else, it isn’t.


UK: How I was hounded off campus for saying ‘women don’t have penises’

Angelos Sofocleous

What harm can it do saying that women don’t have penises? Quite a lot, actually, if my experience is anything to go on. After sharing a statement with that message on Twitter, along with a screenshot from a Spectator article, the backlash was swift. Less than a month after sending that tweet, I had lost my position as president-elect of Humanist Students as well as my role as assistant editor of Durham University’s philosophy society’s undergraduate journal, Critique. I was also given the boot as co-editor-in-chief of Durham University’s online student magazine, the Bubble. All for saying something that many people would surely agree with.

The reaction against me was extreme, yet it was far from exceptional. On campus, the subject of gender is now off limits for those who fail to fall into line with the new orthodoxy: that being a man or a woman is fluid. Anyone who says otherwise is liable to find themselves hounded into silence.

The reaction against me was extreme, yet it was far from exceptional. On campus, the subject of gender is now off limits for those who fail to fall into line with the new orthodoxy: that being a man or a woman is fluid. Anyone who says otherwise is liable to find themselves hounded into silence.

It won’t come as much of a surprise that the National Union of Students is leading the charge on this front. Today, the NUS announced its response to the government’s consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Among the NUS’s more barmy proposals was calling for an end to ‘coercively assigning gender at birth’. Is it a boy? Is it a girl? In future, it seems we might have to wait to ask the child itself when it grows up.

At Durham university, as well as at other universities, it would be easy to think that the importance of never causing offence is all that matters. This remains the case even when upholding this focus gets in the way of facts, or the right of people to hold differing views on contentious subjects, such as gender. This is why my innocuous tweet resulted in such a fierce reaction. I was told that the reason for my firing from the student journal was because I had ‘belittled trans experiences’. The explanation for my removal as editor of Bubble was worse: my position at the magazine, I was told, required me to be impartial. Being impartial, however, requires having no views at all. At least when it comes to gender.

Worryingly, such views are not only confined to our universities, though. TERFs – a slur used by activists against ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ – who resist the idea of self identification of gender, are hounded off Twitter and routinely targeted online, and in person. The government is also hardly helping matters here by refusing to accept there is even a debate to be had on this subject. When the equalities minister Penny Mordaunt announced the government’s consultation on gender, she said the starting point is that ‘Trans women are women’. But what about those who don’t agree with that statement? In my case, I have found out the hard way: for those who fail to adhere to the new orthodoxy on transgenderism, the punishment is swift.


Australia:  University free speech charters must be more than mere words

Federal education minister Dan Tehan has proposed that Australian universities be required to adopt new codes to protect freedom of thought and expression.

This is in response to the growing campus activism against free expression; typified by last week’s disgraceful scenes at Sydney University, when left-wing students violently tried to stop social commentator Bettina Arndt from making a speech questioning the idea of a ‘rape culture’ at universities.

Tehan’s proposal would be a timely initiative to help our universities avoid the kind of full-blown free speech crisis occurring in universities in North America.

But to prove effective and uphold the principles of rational inquiry and civil debate that all universities should stand for, university freedom codes or charters cannot be toothless tigers—all platitudes and no action.

Universities that don’t defend freedom of thought and expression should have some of their $17 billion in public funding cut by the federal government, as is starting to happen in other countries.

We simply cannot rely on universities to defend free speech when the anti-free speech culture in contemporary universities is so deeply mired in political correctness and identity politics.

At Sydney university, more than 100 academics have opposed working with the Ramsay Foundation to teach students about the history of Western civilisation because this would supposedly violate the university’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion.”

This is the same rationale offered at American universities to justify ‘no platforming’ certain speakers.

So-called controversial thinkers and writers are denied the right to speak on campus because they are accused of allegedly promoting racist, patriarchial or homo- or trans-phobic ideas claimed as ‘offensive’ or ‘hurtful’ to some students.

The dire implications of this for free speech prompted the University of Chicago to conduct a special inquiry into freedom thought and expression in 2015.

The resultant Stone Committee Report—which Tehan’s university freedom charters should take a leaf from—rightly argued that concerns about students being exposed to ideas they disagree with or deem offensive should never justify shutting down free and open inquiry, because universities should guarantee “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”

Tehan should also look closely at the new approach to defending free speech on campus in the Canadian province of Ontario, which requires universities to develop free speech policies as a condition of taxpayer-funding.

More importantly, the Ontario government’s commitment to promoting free speech on campus not only has teeth, but also practical bite: universities that do not develop, implement, and comply with free speech policies will face funding cuts.

It might be pitiful to think that universities need to sign up to a freedom charter—let alone be threatened with financial penalties—to defend freedom of thought and expression. And this is not to advocate that government uses public funds to censor universities.  Instead it is about universities fulfilling their traditional obligations as institutions of intellectual freedom.

But if we are going to address the anti-free speech culture on campuses, the government—on behalf of all citizens and all taxpayers—needs to hold universities to account to protect the free speech of all.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

California city is latest to redo ‘sexist’ school dress code

The relaxed new dress code at public schools in the small city of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: Midriff-baring shirts are acceptable attire, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-banned items such as micro-mini skirts and short shorts.

As students settle into the new school term, gone are restrictions on ripped jeans and hoodies in class. If students want to come to school in pajamas, that’s OK, too.

The new policy amounts to a sweeping reversal of the modern school dress code and makes Alameda the latest school district in the country to adopt a more permissive policy it says is less sexist.

Students who initiated the change say many of the old rules that barred too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language calling such attire ‘‘distracting’’ sent the wrong message.

‘‘If someone is wearing a short shirt and you can see her stomach, it’s not her fault that she’s distracting other people,’’ said Henry Mills, 14, an incoming freshman at Alameda High School who worked with a committee of middle school students, and teacher advisers to revise the policy. ‘‘There was language that mainly affected girls, and that wasn’t OK.’’

Dress codes have long been the territory of contention and rebellion, but the reversal in Alameda shows a generational shift that students and teachers say was partly influenced by broader conversations on gender stemming from the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct and a national resurgence of student activism.

Approved by the school board on a trial basis over summer break, the new dress code is stirring back-to-school discussions about what role schools should have in socializing children.

There are sharply critical voices of the new dress code.

Math teacher Marie Hsu said she’s all for equity but that the new rules send an unintentional message that it’s fine, even appropriate, to ‘‘sex it up.’’


Homeschooling in the UK increases 40% over three years

Across the UK 48,000 children were being home-educated in 2016-17, up from about 34,000 in 2014-15.

Mental health issues and avoiding exclusion are two reasons parents gave for removing children from classrooms.

The government will publish new guidance on the "rights and responsibilities on home education" but councils want more monitoring powers.

They are concerned about the quality of the education homeschooled children receive as well as "safeguarding" issues, such as the ability to properly protect children from abuse or maltreatment.

Dr Carrie Herbert, the founder of a charity for children outside mainstream education, said the rise in homeschooling suggested "something quite tragic about the state of the education system".

She said she was concerned some parents might also feel pressured into home-schooling their children to avoid exclusion or prosecution over poor attendance.

"I'm not sure it's very useful anymore to put 30 children in one classroom with an adult all doing the same thing in the same way at the same time," said Dr Herbert, of The Red Balloon charity.

"We should really be thinking more 21st century and outside the box about this and teaching online in real time can help do this."

While they make up just 0.5% of the school age population for England and Wales, the large rise has prompted calls from councils and education bodies for more statutory monitoring powers of homeschooled children.

There is no legal obligation for children to attend school but the law says they must receive an education.

They can be taught by parents or private tutors and the guidance from both the English and Welsh education departments is that it must be a "suitable education".


The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) in England wants parents and carers who home-educate to be obliged to register with their local authority and for inspectors to be able to take action if they find a problem.

Councils should have resources to ensure homeschooled children receive "a good standard of education, delivered in a suitable learning environment and that they are safe," the ADCS said in a report in December 2017.

Safety of pupils was also raised in a study by Norfolk County Council.

Its children's services reported an "unprecedented year-on-year rise" in home-schooling with 1,309 (1.1%) of its school-aged pupils being home taught during the 2016-17 academic year.

"Given that children by the nature of being home-educated can be essentially 'invisible', an inability to make timely and appropriate contact with these families has an inherent risk attached," they said.

In Wales just over 1,800 out of about 430,000 children, about 0.4%, were homeschooled in 2016-17.

In Scotland, just 0.1% of children are home-educated, 969 in total.

The department of education in Northern Ireland saw just 293 pupils being home educated out of a possible 343,082, representing less than 0.1% of the school-aged population in 2017.


It’s official: Australia spends more than enough on schools

The education debate at the next federal election is shaping up to be about the magnitude of future school funding increases: the Coalition want a big increase, Labor want an even bigger increase, and neither provide any evidence that it’s necessary.

But the latest data highlights the futility of more school spending. The annual OECD Education at a Glance report was released last week, and in breaking news that should shock no one, Australia spends much more on schooling than the OECD average and several top-performing countries.

So… our falling education results on international tests can’t be attributed to not spending enough taxpayer money.

Australia spends a higher dollar amount per student in both primary and secondary than the OECD average, and some top-performing countries like Japan and Finland. Furthermore, Australia spends 3.8% of GDP on school education, higher than the OECD average of 3.5%. And 13.5% of total Australian government expenditure is on education, compared to the OECD average of 11.1%, despite absurd claims to the contrary.

The OECD figures are from 2015, which means they do not take into account the larger recent ‘Gonski funding’ increases in Australia. So they likely understate how much Australia spends compared to the rest of the world. Of course, we can still argue about how school funding can be better distributed or if some schools are underfunded. But our total spending amount is enough.

Another interesting finding of the OECD report is regarding equity of education outcomes by student socioeconomic status, with Australia being at or slightly above the OECD average for equity. This is consistent with previous research findings and undermines the ubiquitous claim that the non-government school sector causes ‘social segregation’. Australia has a relatively high proportion of students attending non-government schools, about 34%, more than double the OECD average of around 16%. And yet this hasn’t led to more student inequality (even if we accept that equity of student academic performance should be the key metric, which is arguable).

Australia can do better. But more spending and blaming non-government schools isn’t the solution.