Friday, December 13, 2019

Hundreds of scholars protest Harvard’s decision to deny tenure to Latinx studies professor

"Studies" courses are mostly dumping grounds for dummies (sports admissions; legacy admissions; "diversity" admissions) so it's no wonder Harvard bosses feel no need for them

Harvard professor Lorgia García Peña has been described as a brilliant ethnic studies scholar and an excellent teacher by her colleagues and her students. But she was relatively unknown until a week ago, when Harvard’s administrators denied her tenure.

Now, the once obscure professor of romance languages and literatures has become a cause celebre, inspiring student protests, letters of support from hundreds of academics across the country, and a petition urging the university to reverse course signed by thousands of students, professors, and alumni.

García Peña’s case has become a rallying cry for Harvard students and alumni who have been pushing the university to establish an ethnic studies department for nearly 50 years and are frustrated by the slow progress. It has renewed criticism of Harvard’s complicated and secretive tenure system and the university’s commitment to faculty of color. And it has fueled unrest on a campus already on edge over a graduate student workers strike.

“The campus is kind of erupting in this moment of time,” said Alice Cheng, 21, a senior and member of the Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition.

García Peña is one of a handful of minority professors who have left or been denied tenure in the past two years, raising questions about how much support Harvard provides to faculty of color, Cheng said.

On Monday that tenure process — handled behind closed doors, as at most universities — was blasted by more than 200 academics from across the United States and other countries in a letter sent to the Lawrence Bacow, the university’s president.

“Harvard’s denial of Dr. García Peña’s tenure is a testament to the ways that Black and Latinx Studies continue to be ignored as sites of vital knowledge production in the academy,” said bell hooks, a feminist author and distinguished professor in residence at Berea College in Kentucky. She, along with Brown University political science professor Juliet Hooker, and filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner, joined other Latin American, Ethnic Studies, and African-American and Black Studies professors in criticizing Harvard for “grossly” miscalculating García Peña’s value.

They questioned whether the Ivy League school is equipped to evaluate the work of professors such as García Peña.

“We find this decision shocking both in its failure to properly evaluate the stellar merits of Dr. García Peña’s scholarship, but also in its refusal to recognize the invaluable contributions of this type of work to the larger academic community,” the letter reads.

García Peña is the author of “The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nations, and Archives of Contradictions” and according to her Harvard faculty page her scholarship focuses on Hispanic Caribbean literatures and cultures, migration, and race and ethnicity. García Peña declined to comment.

Harvard declined to comment on individual tenure decisions.

The decision of who is promoted for a permanent position at Harvard is a multiple-step process with the final decision made by Bacow, university officials said.

On Monday, Claudine Gay, the dean of Harvard’s faculty of arts and sciences, sent a communitywide message reiterating that she “unequivocally” backs building an ethnic studies department.

Gay, a professor of government and African and African-American studies, said the university is in the process of recruiting faculty and will then establish the department.

“This effort is at a delicate stage, and it needs support and nourishment from those who are invested in the future of ethnic studies at Harvard,” Gay said in her message. “Today, I am asking not for your patience, because I agree we have all waited long enough. I am asking for your resolve.”

But activists say that denying García Peña tenure sends the wrong message. García Peña is on the faculty search committee for the ethnic studies department.

Rosa Vazquez, 21, a senior who has taken two of García Peña’s classes and helped organize student protests, said Harvard was supposed to have hired new professors by the end of this semester, but that has been pushed back to next year.

Harvard has also lost four professors who focus on race and ethnic studies recently, and four potential new hires will only ensure that the specialized faculty numbers remain the same, Vazquez said.

“We haven’t felt that our histories are welcomed in the classroom and everybody is frustrated,” Vazquez said.

Jeannie Park, a Harvard alumna and member of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, said the university’s secretive tenure system has added to the controversy.

“The lack of transparency around how Professor García Peña’s tenure was vetoed at Harvard’s highest levels makes us wonder whether any ethnic studies professor can truly succeed and thrive there,” Park said. “And we worry that the few remaining ethnic studies faculty are wondering the same. How can we continue to encourage faculty to come build this program, when the university has treated ethnic studies scholars so poorly?”

Gaining tenure at Harvard, one of the country’s most elite academic institutions, has always been a fraught and complicated process. During the 2018-19 academic year, in the faculty of arts and sciences, just 11 of 18 eligible professors received tenure.

Faculty must provide a dossier of their work and recommendation letters from colleagues and specialists in the field. The university also seeks their own experts to evaluate a professor’s scholarship. The individual departments vote on a tenure decision, which is then reviewed by the dean. The case eventually reaches the provost and president, who can set up their own committee to consider a case. Faculty can also submit anonymous letters to the dean about tenure cases, according to those familiar with the process.

Harvard professors said that it is rare for the university president or provost to veto a tenure decision that has been approved by the department and the dean, but it does happen.  It is unclear why Harvard officials rejected García Peña’s tenure.

Activists have requested that Harvard release letters from Bacow, Gay, and the chair of the García Peña’s department about this decision and have called for greater transparency in promoting faculty.

Harvard rarely reverses a decision after tenure is denied, longtime faculty said. But Harvard students said on Monday they won’t give up and will keep protesting even after they return from winter break.

Students have been energized by the strike of graduate student workers who are fighting for better pay and job protections, said Cheng.

After 48 years of pushing for ethnic studies, there may be an opening for concrete progress, Cheng said.

“This is a moment of time for Harvard to listen to students and student demands,” she said. “There is potential for change.”


Live Nativity Scene Dropped From Grade-School Christmas Show
It wasn’t the Grinch who stole Christmas — it was the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Boys and girls at Chisholm Elementary School will no longer be allowed to take part in a live nativity scene during the school’s annual “holiday” show.

“After a thorough examination of the content of this year’s program, discussions with Chisholm administrators and parents, and on advice from counsel, changes were made to ensure the program’s content celebrates and respects the religious practices, customs, and traditions of the season while meeting the current legal standards," district officials told television station KOCO.

Edmond Public Schools officials dropped Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus after they received a threatening letter from the FFRF, a Wisconsin-based gang of notorious atheists, agnostics, and free-thinkers.

"Teaching students the biblical story of the birth of Jesus and having them regularly rehearse a performance of that story entangles the school with the Bible’s devotional message,” FFRF attorney Christopher Line wrote. “Such a performance would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school.”

The aggrieved atheists said the live nativity scene violated the U.S. Constitution.

“Please note that including a live nativity performance in a school’s holiday concert remains illegal even if participation in the nativity scene is ‘voluntary,’” the attorney wrote.

Atheists around the nation were overjoyed by the school district’s announcement that the Little Lord Jesus had been given the heave-ho.

“That’s a very formal way to say ‘Our lawyers told us our asses would be sued if we promoted the Bible during the concert, and we don’t want to be sued, so we’ll just sing "Jingle Bells.” Are we good now?’“ atheist Hemant Mehta wrote.

Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, denounced the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s bullying tactics.

"It’s a wonder any school district takes these complaints seriously when the organization that disguises their anti-religious allegations as constitutional violations takes out full page ads in the New York Times and buys national television ads that mock religion. Not only have they forgotten what the Constitution means, they even deny the historical reality of Christmas," Dys told the "Todd Starnes Show.”

Did you ever imagine you would live in a nation where it is against the law to celebrate the birth of Christ?

“Public school teachers encouraging students to re-enact a biblical story is inherently coercive,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor declared in a written statement. “It is even more concerning when the students involved are young and especially impressionable elementary schoolers.”

There’s really no polite way to describe the kind of evil that exists in this world — an evil that would propel godless goons to bully school children for celebrating the Reason for the Season.


Australia: Defeat for Gender-neutral toilets plan at Brisbane high school

The Queensland Labor party has always been fairly conservative and seems to be getting more so after the losses of Federal Labor in Queensland in the recent national elections

PREMIER Annastasia Palaszczuk says she will raise the issue of shared toilets at a new Brisbane high school with the Education Department, declaring boys and girls should have their own facilities.

Ms PalaszcZuk said the first she had heard of a plan to install gender-neutral facilities at the $80 million new Fortitude Valley State Secondary College was when she read it in The Sunday Mail.

"Look, I am happy to talk to the department about that," she said. "I think in our high schools we should have facilities available for both boys and girls." Asked whether she had a problem with the plan, she said "I will be making it very clear that you should have toilets for boys and girls."

Ms Palaszczuk, Who established an anti-bullying task-force last year, was asked whether she had concerns over bullying or other problem behaviours that could flourish in shared bathrooms. "Like I said, there has to be toilets for girls and toilets for boys."

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said young, impressionable teens needed privacy and protection. "I'm a mum of three teenage girls and it's deeply concerning to think that a 12-year-old girl would be in the same bathroom as a 17-year-old (boy)", she said. "When it comes to fitting out the bathrooms at schools, we need to make sure that girls have their bathrooms and boys have their bathrooms."

From the Brisbane "Courier mail" of 9 December, 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019

These ‘Founders’ Aim to Improve How Schools Teach History and the Constitution

Many students and educators agree that the history of America’s founding is sorely lacking in high school curriculums across the country.

The philosophy behind the founding and the United States Constitution often gets the boot when competing with STEM-focused subjects in today’s classroom.

But one Florida organization is hoping to change that with an after-school program for high school students designed to fill in details absent from typical curriculums.

“Learning specifically about the Constitution and all that it entails and how it was created the way it was, what the Founders were like—it was just fascinating for me,” James Evans, 17, a senior from Callahan, Florida, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “You have the ability to show that you’re engaged and you want to be civically literate, and I thought that was amazing.”

The U.S. Constitution Scholarship Foundation does more than just fill in some important blanks of the school curriculums of northeast Florida’s Nassau County. The organization prepares students for success after graduating high school and hosts educational events open to local residents.

Bill Amos and Howard Pines, both former business executives, started the foundation in 2016 with Al Watson after moving to a retirement community on Amelia Island along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Part of the foundation’s work involves outreach to rural areas of Nassau County, which has a population just under 86,000 and is in the Jacksonville metropolitan area.

“We basically decided that our teenagers needed to know more about the Constitution than what they got in middle school,” Amos said in a joint interview with The Daily Signal. “It would be a nice idea, given the attitude toward conservatism on most college campuses, to have a few students on college campuses who were intellectually equipped to argue back.”

“We still think that you can’t forget about what happened [in the past] or you lose it,” Pines said in the in-person interview. “When we’re talking to the teachers, there’s a lot of reasons to take our program.”

Amos and Pines are both donors to The Heritage Foundation, where America’s founding principles provide a lens for research, analysis, and commentary. The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.

From scholarships to guest speakers, the U.S. Constitution Scholarship Foundation has programs aimed at making these founding principles a fixture within Nassau County. 

The University of US

As the foundation’s core educational program designed specifically for Nassau County high school students, the University of US holds free after-school classes once a month during the semester, covering a broad curriculum of U.S. history.

For the 2019-2020 program, the University of US welcomed its biggest class since its founding in 2016, with 99 students enrolled.

Students from all four county high schools take the same courses together, and students say that learning with classmates who take education seriously fosters an environment of camaraderie.

For each class, a speaker covers topics ranging from The Federalist Papers to important Supreme Court justices. Some perks reward teens for giving up their weekday evenings, such as review games and pizza.

“We have several very prestigious speakers that incentivize kids to come, and they’re fantastic public speakers so they’re constantly keeping the kids engaged, constantly asking questions, having kids read sections of the Constitution out loud,” Evans said. “Everybody is all playing some sort of part in the lecture, and it’s not just the person up there talking and talking.”

Students often have time after class to mingle with speakers as well as with each other. It’s an opportunity to network with leaders in their community and build relationships with classmates.

For faculty members and guest speakers, the University of US is more than just a lecture series. Most classes are based on discussions and activities designed to get students engaged and interested in the material.

Karin Agness Lips, founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, teaches a class on the seven articles of the Constitution. After students already have had a long day in the classroom, she works to give them a reason to want to learn more about the Constitution outside high school.

“It was inspiring to see how much these high school students participated and cared,” Lips said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal. “It was an honor to see one generation that’s putting time and resources into making sure that the future leaders of our country understand the Constitution.”

After seven monthly classes throughout the school year, the University of US hosts a graduation ceremony for students who complete the program and pass a final exam. Some students decide to return the following year to network and solidify their understanding of the Constitution.


A New-Schools Strategy to Fix Higher Education

It would be easy to conclude, after a quick look at some topline findings about higher education in recent years, that a set of misguided practices and policies has distorted college enrollment, completion, and costs.

For example, a well-meaning college-for-all movement directed students into four-year institutions, but many of these young people were unprepared for college-level work or didn’t really want to attend. A well-meaning effort to make college more affordable led to massive subsidies that have become over a trillion dollars in student debt.

In hindsight, we can see that this approach devalued non-college postsecondary tracks, enabled higher education institutions to increase costs, saddled students with substantial debt loads, and left tens of millions of people with “some college” but no degree—and others with a degree that didn’t match employers’ needs. Worse, because these problems are systemic in nature, their consequences may linger. The inflation of costs shows no signs of correction; bloated administrative ranks preserve aggressive, politically progressive campus policies; many debt-ridden adults possess credits untethered to future jobs; and public opinion has soured on higher education.

We could try to solve these problems in a piecemeal fashion. But is there a systemic approach that could drive down costs and make the sector more dynamic and responsive?

Yes, possibly. State policymakers should launch an energetic “new schools” strategy; that is, develop policies that enable social entrepreneurs to create a constellation of higher education institutions.

A benefit of a new-schools approach is that it’s already been done. We would simply apply to higher education the K-12 lessons of chartering. Beginning in the 1990s, state policymakers passed charter-school laws that permitted non-governmental bodies to start different types of K-12 schools. This marked a dramatic change from decades of reforms that sought to modify existing institutions. Because extant schools and districts had generations of experience and policies leading them to do things in particular ways, a new sector of independent schools brought both immediate and longer-term benefits.

This new sector was able to provide a diverse collection of new options that families wanted and that the existing system wasn’t providing. It introduced a wave of urban college-prep middle schools, single-sex schools, arts-focused schools, public boarding schools, schools for students with particular learning disabilities, classical-curriculum schools, online schools, and much more.

And because schools in this new sector were more autonomous and new ones could start each year, the sector as a whole was nimble, capable of responding to changes in demand. It also exerted competitive pressure on the legacy system. Districts and district-run schools that weren’t meeting the needs of families lost enrollment. Unpopular schools closed and districts were forced to change.

The new-schools approach had another, less-appreciated benefit: It didn’t force all existing schools or operators to change. Centralized government reforms are often presumptuous; they suggest there is a uniform problem and that a uniform, government-designed solution is required. But in the K-12 scenario, some districts and schools were doing quite well. Many families loved their neighborhood schools and the democratic deliberation of local school boards. The new-schools strategy succeeded in part because it didn’t alter these institutions. Chartering was noncompulsory; no one was forced to start a school, and no one was forced to attend one. Market conditions facilitated reform.

Similarly, a successful new-schools strategy for higher education would recognize the virtues of traditional four-year and two-year institutions. Many of these perfectly fit millions of people. But those institutions are not perfect for everyone, nor are they necessarily sufficient to meet all of today’s or tomorrow’s postsecondary needs.

Indeed, many needs are not being met by traditional institutions—helping reskill out-of-work Americans; enabling young people with “some college” to access work-relevant coursework. But there are even more challenges that a jolt of innovation could address. For example, can large firms create subsidiary educational bodies to engage in more workforce development? Can high schools, local governments, and regional employers collaboratively develop new types of postsecondary schools? Can existing higher education institutions create a new generation of skunkworks-style training bodies tailored to specific needs?

The K-12 new-schools experience offers four broad lessons for state policymakers. First, there are many opportunities to be seized and many problems to be solved, so policymakers need a high tolerance for innovation. This will include different modes of delivery (brick and mortar, online, etc.), funding mechanisms (tuition, income-share agreements, social-impact bonds), credentials (degrees, certificates, micro-credentials, badges, licenses), and more. Competition-fearing existing providers will inevitably attempt to limit new entrants and new models. But policymakers should trust the crowd-wisdom of social entrepreneurs responding to the interests of individuals and employers.

There are many opportunities to be seized and many problems to be solved, so policymakers need a high tolerance for innovation.
Second, policymakers should streamline the process for new starts. Although states are not unfamiliar with new higher-education programs and institutions (e.g., program approvals, accreditation), such systems can be bureaucratic, risk-averse, and oriented toward the preferences of existing institutions. Policymakers may need to create alternative pathways—e.g., independent of commissions of higher education—to foster, assist, and sanction some number of new starts.

One major lesson from the charter-school movement has been that when school districts are put in the position of “authorizing” independent schools that will compete with the district’s schools, the new-schools sector will be smaller, less dynamic, and often the target of the district’s ire. It was essential to the K-12 new-schools approach’s success to create an “authorization” process that existed outside of traditional school districts (for example, in newly created boards or the state department of education).

Third, policymakers must recognize that two types of funding are necessary: Startup dollars so entrepreneurs can launch new programs, and ongoing operational dollars so new programs have access to a reliable stream of funds. In K-12, the latter was accomplished by policies that directed per-pupil dollars to the new schools that families were choosing. Dollars that would’ve otherwise gone to traditional district-run schools were rerouted to the schools that families preferred.

The lesson for policymakers is that federal and state streams of higher education dollars that routinely flow directly to existing institutions need to be allowed to flow to new providers. This would entail adjusting rules related to direct appropriations, grant programs, and loan and scholarship programs.

For early-stage dollars in K-12, policymakers crafted several programs. The federal government has a small charter school “start-up” program that provides seed money to founders who have been approved to launch new schools. Various states have “revolving” loan funds and credit-enhancement mechanisms to enable access to capital funds. If a state is genuinely committed to fostering the development of a new generation of innovative postsecondary schools, it must help social entrepreneurs finance their projects.

Lastly, since public resources are involved, states must develop accountability systems. We cannot have a new generation of low-quality postsecondary institutions that get state dollars and offer no return. But we also want new schools to have leeway in the services they provide and the outcomes they generate. Neither a no-accountability system nor a centralized, homogenized accountability system will do the trick.

The K-12 innovation of “authorizers” offers a promising model. The same entity the state empowers to approve new postsecondary bodies could be charged with developing outcomes-based performance contracts for those bodies. Contracts would lay out the conditions under which new programs could receive startup funds, access operational dollars, and retain the status of an approved educational institution. Key to such contracts is a focus on results, not inputs.

New providers should not be forced to follow a checklist of mandatory activities; instead, they should be held accountable for what they accomplish (e.g., retention, graduation, credentials earned, graduate employment rates, earnings). This flexibility enables new schools to innovate and focus their energies on producing key outcomes.

America has a healthy appetite for higher-education reform. Unfortunately, most proposals have a government-first mentality: They either aim to increase state funding or use new state regulations to alter the behavior of existing institutions. The better approach is to use a market-informed strategy—one that prioritizes innovation, choice, differentiation, and competition.

But for such market forces to be brought to bear, policymakers need to think in terms of market-creation. And that starts with a new-schools strategy.


Most Australian first-year university students can't do Year 5 maths - leading professors to drop the subject from business degrees

New research has found Australians are unable to do year five maths in their first year of university. Basic maths problems like rounding to decimal points or finding four per cent of a number were several problems which couldn't be solved by the students tested.

It was part of a research task among first year university students in Sydney who weren't studying maths but needed it for other courses.

The research was done by the Western Sydney University's Maths Department according to the Australian Financial Review.

The University's Leanne Rylands said the drop in education level is impacting university courses.

'We've been in a 30 year downward spiral. Universities are now teaching school level mathematics. Eventually it becomes too hard for people teaching classes like business studies so they leave out the maths part,' she said.

The state's education department announced it would be bringing maths back as a compulsory subject in October, after dropping it as a mandatory HSC requirement in 2001.

While the subject stopped being required for the people teaching our future generations of economists, accountants, and chemists back in 2014.

Key education ministers will meet in Alice Springs today to address another recent finding: Australian 15-year-olds are three years behind in maths compared with students in the highest performing OECD country Singapore.

The day long meeting will address why maths, science and reading skills are declining among Australian students. Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is hoping it will give him the power to overhaul the national syllabus.

'Teachers and principals tell me the current curriculum is overcrowded,' he said. 'Central to improving student outcomes must involve refocusing on literacy and numeracy and de-cluttering the curriculum,' he told Australian Associated Press.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

‘We’re proof old-school teaching works’, says British top teacher

If Australia can return to traditionalist teaching, with the teacher leading from the front of the classroom, in a condensed curriculum so there is depth of learning over breadth, education will be transformed.

That’s the vision of the principal of one of Britain’s most successful schools. Katharine Birbalsingh co-founded and heads Michaela School in Wembley, London and in just five years has produced academic results so startling she believes it is part of an education revolution.

This state-funded school prides itself on traditional teaching, eschewing trendy progressive child-based learning, and demanding students take individual responsibility for their actions. It is touted as Britain’s strictest school.

The result is 700 smiling, resilient and immaculately mannered pupils, all the more remarkable for the school’s poor socio-economic catchment area where boys from other schools will arrive at the school gates wearing masks and armed with knives to fight.

“A mistake people make thinking about schools that have a high level of discipline and expect a lot of the children, they expect they are being whipped and teachers are angry and mean, and forced to work, when the reality is if you divide learning by subjects — Eng­lish, maths and science — and the teachers teach … the children are incredibly happy and want to learn,’’ Ms Birbalsingh said.

In this year’s GCSEs, 54 per cent of all grades at Michaela School were level 7 or above, equivalent of A and A+, compared with the national average of 22 per cent. At the highest grades, 18 per cent were level 9s, compared with 4.5 per cent nationally. In maths alone 25 per cent of grades were level 9, an astounding result.

Why are these children performing four times better than the rest of the nation, even though they follow the same national curriculum? “We give them hope for a different type of future by actually teaching them,’’ Ms Birbal­singh said, stressing that teacher-led teaching and strong behavioural policies stand her school apart from others.

There is a consistent, school-wide policy about behaviour and homework. The school motto is Work Hard, Be Kind. Students move between classes in single file; there is a strict emphasis on respect, gratitude and kindness. Mobile phones are banned.

The Weekend Australian ­observed students having hot lunches in small “family groups’’ discussing NATO’s concept of countries supporting each other, and talking about which people are key supporters in their lives. Each student also has a specific task: get the hot bowls of food, pour the water, clear the plates. It’s a routine that ensures no bullying.

“The business of blaming the outside at the expense of taking personal responsibility is, I think, a part of the reason children fail in later life,’’ Ms Birbalsingh said.

“Adults who blame others and don’t take personal responsibility are unable to change their lives for the better. It is best to get children into the mindset. It is not their fault they are from poor homes and their dad is an alcoholic. But they are responsible for themselves. Life will throw all sorts of obstacles at you and life will be unfair. You need to make the most of your situation no matter how bad it is and however unfair it is ­because otherwise that’s your life gone. You only get one chance.’’

She added that “progressive” teaching methods favoured in Australia waste time because children have to guess answers, and teachers are dealing with poor behaviour because children who don’t come from homes with the information misbehave and “it all falls apart’’. Her focus on teachers standing at the front and imparting knowledge is considered “old-school’’ in many quarters, but Ms Birbalsingh tells detractors, “come to my school and observe’’.

“We teach English, maths, science, history, religion and French: we want them to know those subjects well. English, maths and science get more time and we don’t have any subjects once a week. Music and art is twice a week … ­because relationships between teacher and child are important.’’

Ms Birbalsingh believes students in Australia, as well as Scotland and Finland, have suffered declining standards because of teacher training in progressive learning with an emphasis on child-initiated learning. She said many schools and teachers think because progressive methods aren’t working they make the mistake of even more progressive methods, when they should adopt a traditional approach.


The Overhyped College Dropout ‘Scandal’

About 40 percent of Americans who enroll in college drop out before earning a certificate or degree. A high percentage of those who drop out are from poor families; they attended K-12 schools where academic standards were low and students who really tried to learn faced peer rejection for “acting white.” Still, some graduate and get into college. Then what?

In The College Dropout Scandal, author David Kirp, an emeritus professor of public policy in the University of California-Berkeley’s Goldman School, argues that what happens to those students should be regarded as a national scandal because the colleges that enrolled them often fail to get them “across the finish line” to their diplomas.

And because the dropouts are disproportionately poor and minority, our higher education system is increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Kirp, therefore, believes that our higher education system is not only letting down students but also letting down the entire country.

Professor Kirp, it must be noted, is a political activist who looks at education policy through “progressive” lenses. He served on President Obama’s transition team and helped draft the administration’s initiatives. In his first address to Congress in 2009, Obama set forth a goal of raising America’s “output” of college graduates so that we’d lead the world in this statistic. Kirp and the former president both regard college completion as essential to individual success.

Those who do graduate, he maintains, will earn far more over their working lives than those who don’t —he hauls out that deceptive “additional million dollars” figure to exaggerate the benefits of getting the degree. Even if it’s true that, on average, individuals who have college degrees earn a million dollars more, it does not follow that all or even a few of the dropouts would enjoy such financial success if they earned their credentials.

In fact, it’s clear that many graduates of four-year colleges don’t even earn as much as many high school graduates do, and then struggle to pay back their college loans. (See, for example, my article on a paper that inadvertently shows how untrue the “college degrees ensure success” mantra is.)

That’s not to say that some people aren’t better off with a four-year degree or at least a community college certificate, but we shouldn’t assume that earning a postsecondary credential would be a game-changing accomplishment for most or all of those who now drop out.

On the other hand, leaving college without a credential isn’t necessarily a tragedy that consigns the student to a low-income life of drudgery. In a recent article, the Martin Center’s Shannon Watkins looked into the belief that community college students who leave school without receiving a credential have wasted their time.

She found that University of Michigan professor Peter Bahr’s research shows that a substantial percentage of community college “dropouts” chose to leave school because they had accomplished the learning they wanted. It makes far more sense for people to go to college to fill their perceived skill and knowledge gaps than to get a credential for completing some formal educational program.

Kirp’s error is in thinking that leaving college is almost always a disaster, while staying in college just to get a degree is necessarily beneficial. His goal of maximizing the number of graduates creates the appearance of national gain in terms of educational attainment.

That gain, however, is largely an illusion: Many of the students will be worse off for having spent too much time and money on unnecessary schooling.

In his zeal to end the “scandal,” Kirp overlooks nearly all of the critics of the “Let’s Get as Many Americans Through College as Possible” movement, such as Charles Murray, Richard Vedder, Jackson Toby, Bryan Caplan, and Alison Wolf.

The only critical book that Kirp does mention is Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa—but in a strange way.  Arum and Roksa found that a high percentage of college students make little or no progress intellectually during their years in school. But rather than concluding that many students just aren’t interested in college studies, Kirp blames the schools. That they allow this lack of learning to continue shows, he argues, that they don’t really care about their students.

I can’t agree. Our colleges and universities provide an environment in which any student can learn a great deal if he wants to, but which also allows students with minimal academic preparation and interest to coast along to their credentials.  There are a few schools with such high standards that each student must make steady learning gains or flunk out (Cal Tech, for instance), but the vast majority have decided to make peace with the fact that a high percentage of students entering college do not want a rigorous education.

There is the root of our educational problem. From kindergarten through high school, a high percentage of young Americans develop little love of learning, but instead come to regard school as just something to endure. Most expect good grades for little work. Professor David Labaree nailed the truth in his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning when he explained that far too many American students only want educational credentials for the least amount of effort.

Montana State English professor Paul Trout made that same point in his essay “Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards,” writing,

“Of course, there have always been students who hated studying and were bored in class. What has changed is that more and more of them feel that way. Judging from recent works examining this emergent problem, that number has reached some sort of critical mass at the primary, secondary, and now college levels.”

The educational theory that students must be kept happy and feeling good about themselves has led to hordes of students who’ve gone through school without learning much and thinking that every educational level should place a light burden on their time and fun.

Perhaps it’s understandable that a grad school professor at an elite public university would have a naïve view of students who drop out of college. Not having actually had disengaged students, Kirp takes an idealistic view of dropouts—they’re hard-working “strivers” who can accomplish almost anything, provided that their schools make them feel they “belong” and clear away all unnecessary obstacles to their success.

The first story in the book illustrates the way Kirp and his “completion” allies look at students. A black student had enrolled at the University of Texas, a “rock star” kid with an SAT score of 1350 to 1400. The university put him in a summer program before his freshman year so he could get a head start on his engineering degree.

Sadly, he failed his first exam in calculus and immediately afterward his family overreacted by pulling him out of school. What happened? The night before the exam, his girlfriend had broken up with him and he couldn’t concentrate. The UT official who spoke with Kirp blames the university for not letting him know that he could have come to them, explained the situation, and gotten permission to take the test another time.

In that instance, giving the student leniency would have been perfectly sensible. The trouble is that colleges can’t have policies just for serious, “rock star” students. If your announced policy is that you’ll bend over backward for students who encounter any obstacles, the result will be that many of the students who aren’t serious will take advantage. While an occasional “rock star” student might be saved (and we don’t find out what happened to the guy who left UT; he probably went to another school and is doing fine), coddling students will mostly enable slackers to coast along. They’re very good at inventing excuses.

Nevertheless, Kirp does advance some good reform ideas. Colleges do make it needlessly difficult for students to transfer, especially from community colleges to four-year institutions. The traditional curriculum (especially mathematics) is too daunting for many students who will never need (and often haven’t yet mastered) more than arithmetic. “Flipped classrooms” are probably a big improvement over traditional lecture courses. And Kirp writes convincingly about new approaches to intake and transition that have been implemented at schools like Georgia State and the combination of Valencia College (a two-year school) and the University of Central Florida.

Our author is correct that colleges can do much to clear minefields that can prevent students from graduating. Unfortunately, he misses the bigger picture. For most of the dropouts, as well as many of those who manage to get their credentials, the thing they desperately need is the intervention of a mentor who will convince them that, with knowledge, they can become successful, self-reliant people. They need someone like Jaime Escalante.

Escalante was the immigrant math teacher who famously took students from one of the worst schools in Los Angeles and turned them into calculus whizzes. (Here is an excellent story about him, written by Jay Mathews after Escalante died in 2010.) The students Kirp is so rightly concerned about don’t need college credentials, which don’t ensure success (a point Arum and Roksa drive home in their follow-up book Aspiring Adults Adrift), but instead need teachers who will convince them that knowledge is the path to success.

If that breakthrough occurs in college, fine, but it would be better if it happened much earlier. Given the inertia within higher education (particularly the requirement that faculty members must have proper terminal degrees), I doubt that Kirp’s ideas will find much traction there.

Finally, let’s keep in mind that the more graduates we have, the harder it becomes for non-credentialed people to get jobs they could do. America suffers from a terrible case of credential inflation, with employers now demanding that applicants have college degrees to be considered for entry-level jobs that used to be done by people with a high school education, or less.

That’s the real scandal—that we have oversold higher education to the point where the lack of a degree disqualifies “the uneducated” from a wide array of jobs. Pushing the college completion agenda actually makes that worse.


Australia: Students are the biggest losers as self-interested academics and politicians tinker with the curriculum

Fake history being taught in the schools.  Bruce Pascoe is just a fantasist

Chris Mitchell

Two stories last week show why education journalism informed by the interests of students rather than the self-interest of politicians or teachers is critical.

A story on Wednesday highlighted again the poor performance of Australian school students in international testing. It came in the middle of a heated media debate about Bruce Pascoe's book "Dark Emu", now being studied in schools despite its contentious thesis and disputes about the author's aboriginality.

Senior members of all three tribes Pascoe claims he is descended from deny he is in any way linked to them. Several Aboriginal leaders reject the book's descriptions of an Aboriginal farm
culture and villages of up to 1000 people in stone huts before white settlement

The Saturday Paper's Rick Morton countered with an unnamed Aboriginal source last Saturday week defending Pascoe and his claims.

It's a great media stoush but surely the book's claims and Pascoe's identity need to be resolved for it to be suitable for school geography lessons. The academic left regularly cites cultural appropriation to de-platform authors, so Pascoe certainly needed Aboriginal identity to ensure the success of a book that has already sold 100,000 copies.

Yet a detailed 5500-word genealogical study by Perth writer Jan Campbell with 75 original documents suggests Pascoe's ancestors are English. A fact check by a professional genealogist is available on the website Australian History — Truth Matters. I have no problem with reconsidering Aboriginal life before European settlement. Much modern imagery about that life is based on our understanding of desert tribes rather than, for example, the Brewarrina, NSW, tribes who used fish traps or northern saltwater people with abundant sources of food.

Pascoe's work has not sprung from an intellectual vacuum. The Conversation website in June 2018 traced the many books that have reconsidered pre-settlement agricultural lifestyles going back to the work of Barbara York Main and W.K. Hancock in the 1970s, Eric Rolls in the 80s and Tim Flannery's The Future Eaters in 1994.

Particularly influential was Bill Grammage's The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia in 2012. This paper reported in May that Pascoe admits he borrowed heavily from Rupert Gerritsen's 2008 book Australia and the Origins of Agriculture. Gerritsen's brother Rolf, a professor of indigenous policy studies at Charles Darwin University, says "90 per cent of Bruce's book is taken from my brother's work". Rupert, convicted over an attempted terrorist bombing in Perth in 1972, died in 2013 without academic success.

Aboriginal women Josephine Cashman and Jacinta Price raised crucial cultural issues when they spoke on the Bolt Report in separate interviews about the eurocentricity of Pascoe's claims. Both women are proud of their hunter gatherer ancestry and dislike attempts to paint their forebears as farmers in the European mould. As Price said last Wednesday, if any of Pascoe's theories were true they would be referenced in some of the thousands of Dreaming stories that have kept Aboriginal people safely on this land since long before agriculture in Europe.

This is a perfectly legitimate field of academic and media dis-cussion but why teach it as fact to schoolchildren? It sounds like curriculum activism to me. The release last week of the latest round of PISA tests comparing results from students in 79 countries in reading, maths and science showed Australia had slipped again. As usual the educational left reduced the results to grumbles about government funding, teacher pay and class sizes. Labor tried to maintain the fiction the Coalition has cut education spending, when it is up tens of billions in real terms over a decade.

The real problems are the curriculum, the teachers, the students and their parents. The introduction of national requirements for teachers to report on indigenous, sustainability and Asian engagement criteria across the national curriculum has only worsened problems of curriculum clutter.

Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has shown another way with his support for direct instruction. His Hope Vale school on Cape York shows what can be achieved by committed teachers, even in an underprivileged area where many parents cannot read or write and where English may not be the first language. Here teachers stand in front of class and drill spelling, sentence construction and times tables into children so that this knowledge has what education academic Kevin Donnelly calls "automaticity".

Children are made to pronounce syllables and sound out words as they begin to read. The whole language reading method is rejected in favour of the phonics approach that has worked since reading started. Modern ideas of child-centred learning have no place here. The teacher is unambiguously in charge.

National education correspondent Rebecca Urban made a similar point last Wednesday. She quoted OECD education director Andreas Schleicher praising an English school "vilified for being the strictest in England". After visiting Michaela Community School in northwest London Schleicher said positive discipline and direct instruction were "creating happy and confident pupils with outstanding outcomes".

How many modern city homes are like those of Hope Vale if we are honest? How many middle-dass capital city parents use an iPad loaded with cartoons as a child minder rather than read to their kids before bed time? How many children ever see their own parents reading a book?

Teachers complain that too many students come to school exhausted after too much time on devices. Pasi Stahlberg, Finnish professor of education at the University of NSW, wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald last Thursday that even Finland, the poster child of educational standards, was slipping in PISA rankings because young Finns were spending too much time on devices and getting too little sleep.

On the role of teacher training, Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence gave the game away in 2012 saying on ABC Q&A, "(we know) that nobody is ready as a professional at the point at which they leave university ... so a pro-fession has to take a certain amount of responsibility for on-the-job training. (Our responsibility) is about teaching critical thinking." This is unlike the teachers colleges of the past that turned out teachers equipped to stand in front of 30 children.

The government should consider reversing the changes of Keating era education minister John Dawkins in 1987 and recreate the binary system of colleges of advanced education, including teachers colleges, outside the university sector. This paper at the time predicted the change would harm teaching and it has.

Governments should ensure we no longer accept teachers with ATARs below 50, and in some cases as low as 20, if we want to emulate the education culture that makes students thrive in Singapore and Shanghai. Most of all education bureaucrats wanting to drive political change — such as the way we think of Aboriginal life before colonisation — need to be purged.

We need equality of opportunity rather than the left's equality of outcomes. Educators who think Google and a calculator make traditional education obsolete need to get out of the way.

From "The Australian" of December 9, 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Warren Tells Poor Parents to Fix Their Own Schools

It's a foregone conclusion that whatever Democrat wins the nomination will, in large part, have the teachers' unions to thank for it.

Teachers put the NRA to shame when it comes to exercising their influence. They are the most politically active pressure group in the country and no Democrat is likely to win the nomination without a sizable percentage of them backing their candidacy.

So it's not surprising that Democratic candidates shamelessly pander for their votes -- even if that means embracing an education agenda that does demonstrable harm to America's poor and disadvantaged kids.

The largest teacher's union is the National Education Association. They released a series of interviews with various candidates, among them, Elizabeth Warren. In her bid for support, she proudly mentioned her opposition to expanding charter schools in Boston.

In one sense, Warren is correct. The fact that she opposed the Massachusetts initiative does prove how far she is willing to go to maintain teachers’-union support. But what it says about her willingness to follow evidence, and to value the needs of low-income parents, is deeply worrisome.

Boston has probably the most effective public charter schools in America, producing enormous learning gains for the most disadvantaged children. “Charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes,” reported a Brookings study. “The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.”

Researchers have asked and answered every possible objection: Boston’s charters are not “skimming” the best students, they do scale up, and they do not harm students left behind in traditional public schools. (Indeed, “charter expansion has a small positive effect on non-charter students’ achievement.”)

Charter schools are a clear and present danger to teachers' unions because of their emphasis on excellence and the fact that they clearly outperform public schools. The excuses used by unions to oppose them simply don't hold up to scrutiny.

But Warren is proud of her opposition to expanding a good idea to give more poor parents a choice in educating their kids.

“The educators said, uh-uh, this is about draining money out of the schools, and I fought on the side of the educators. Public dollars must stay in public schools,” she continues — following the union convention of defining charter schools, which have open enrollment and no tuition as not being “public.”

Here's what she told the NEA interviewer about what the parents of disadvantaged kids should do if they don't want their kids in public school:

“I had a lot of folks visit my office and say, ‘I love my charter school,’” Warren said in the video about constituents who wanted her to support expanding the charter cap. My question always was, ‘If you don’t like your public school, what’s going to happen to the rest of the children who are there?’ Because we don’t have an obligation to just a handful of our children. We have an obligation to all of our children.”

“If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Go help get more resources for it. Volunteer at your public schools. Help get the teachers and school bus drivers and cafeteria workers and the custodial staff and the support staff, help get them some support so they can do the work that needs to be done. You don’t like the building? You think it’s old and decaying? Then get out there and push to get a new one.”

If she had told a bunch of suburban parents that, they would have laughed her out of the room. As it is, what she said was cruel and shows just how much she will grovel before a powerful interest group to get their votes.


2020 Democrats are school choice hypocrites

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander — unless you’re talking about the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and education policy. The majority of the front-runners either attended private schools themselves or sent their own children to private schools, yet they’re fighting hard against programs that would grant similar options to the less fortunate.

Here’s their latest school choice hypocrisy.

For starters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently released an education plan that is radically anti-choice. It would ban many high-quality charter schools, end federal funding of charter schools, and make it even more difficult to open new charters. She also calls to end private school choice programs — programs that overwhelmingly serve low-income families.

But about a month ago, one of us uncovered that Warren sent her son, Alex, to expensive private schools starting in fifth grade when she was teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. Then, cellphone footage shows the senator lied about it to an African American woman, moments after giving a speech about the rights of black women, before her campaign finally admitted Warren's son attended private school.

Other Democratic candidates have also come out swinging against school choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, Mayor Pete Buttigieg denounced for-profit charter schools and is against vouchers because "they take away funding from public schools,” and Sen. Kamala Harris, who just dropped out of the race, said she’s “particularly concerned with expansions of for-profit charter schools” and said “our country needs an administration that supports public education, not privatization.”

But our new discoveries suggest these candidates are just as hypocritical as Warren.

It’s well-known that Mayor Pete Buttigieg exclusively attended private schools and that his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, taught at the private Montessori Academy in Indiana. What isn’t well-known is that Chasten’s Montessori school accepts students who use the state's tax credit scholarship program. Unfortunately, Buttigieg opposes private school choice programs that provide disadvantaged children with financial resources to attend his husband’s private Montessori school.

To top it all off, although Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not respond to requests about where his four children went to school, his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, attended a Catholic private school in Brooklyn.

Even though she's not campaigning anymore, Harris could run for president again in the future, and she still has power over private school choice in her role as a senator. Thus, it's still worth pointing out her school-choice hypocrisy.

Harris’s stepchildren attended Wildwood School, an elite private school in Los Angeles that costs nearly $44,000 in tuition and fees a year and has a student-teacher ratio of only 4 to 1. While her stepson graduated in 2013, before Harris married Doug Emhoff in 2014, her stepdaughter didn't graduate until 2017. The children may just be on educational paths chosen by their birth parents, but it’s still hypocritical to denounce education “privatization” when her stepchildren attended elite private schools.

Harris’s campaign did not respond to our inquiries (sent before she dropped out) regarding where she went to school, where her stepchildren went to school, or why private schools were the best choices for them.

These politicians must deal with a huge dilemma: they claim to want to help disadvantaged populations but are fighting against giving those groups more educational options. This dilemma is only magnified by the hypocrisy of candidates who had the privilege to exercise school choice for their own families actively seeking to stop private school choice programs that give the less fortunate the ability to do the same.

It’s great politicians have the freedom and ability to attend private schools and send their kids to private schools. We are happy for each of them. But it’s far from progressive to exercise school choice for your own politically powerful families while fighting against extending those options to poor families who desperately need educational options.


Australia: Gender-neutral toilets at Brisbane high school cause outrage

In a Queensland first, the all-new $80 million Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will not separate boys and girls’ bathrooms.

Instead, the Department of Education confirmed the school would be fitted with self-contained gender-neutral cubicles and shared basin areas. The only exception is the change room, which will have two male and female toilets.

Those toilets won’t open until later in 2020, but year 7 students starting next month will have access to 12 lockable, self-contained gender-neutral bathrooms.

The decision has not been taken lightly by parents and experts who have slammed the move as “ridiculous”.

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element,” education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell told The Sunday Mail.

“Being a teenager is a really big time of change, for boys and for girls, and kids have a right to feel safe.”

The seven-storey St Paul’s Terrace precinct will provide more than 50 lockable “floor to ceiling” unisex toilet cubicles.

On Sunday, Opposition education spokesman Jarrod Bleijie branded the decision a “very bad” move and a “recipe for disaster”.

“I reckon boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school,” Mr Bleijie wrote on Facebook.

“How about instead of this PC rubbish the government spend more time helping our teachers with workload issues, aircon our schools, declutter the curriculum, fix the school maintenance backlogs and better support our teachers in regional and remote Queensland. Labor have its priorities all wrong.”

According to the Department, the move is in line with modern, state-of-the-art, vertical high schools in other states, including South Australia’s Adelaide Botanic High School.

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meets contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety,” a department spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia. “Each unisex toilet cubicle is lockable in line with contemporary best practice and underpinned by safety considerations.”

The installation of gender-neutral toilets has sparked a massive divide, with some agreeing it was an “unsafe” move and others comparing them to disabled toilets, which are also shared.

“C’mon guys, nearly every accessible facility for disabled people is a unisex facility, and, last time I looked, nearly every household, you know where these kids live, has unisex toilet facilities. Get over it! There are bigger issues than this that deserve attention,” one person commented.

One woman said there was “no way” she would send her kids to a school with unisex toilets. “Especially being the mother of girls, not that it’s just girls sexually abused, then there is bullying and underage sex. Our schools really aren’t safe environments anymore,” the woman said.

Another person said it would be fine if the cubicles were all separate, but having shared hand basins would be a “real issue”.

“I can think back to when I was a teen and all my insecurities and embarrassment around boys, I would have been horrified to take a bowel movement while anyone of the opposite gender was in the room; not to mention that time of the month,” the Facebook user explained.

Clinical psychologist Dr Judith Locke told The Sunday Mail sharing facilities could lead to potential problems, such as girls feeling uncomfortable using the toilets while menstruating.

“If they are trying to change things to suit what we are experiencing in a modern society, we should allow opportunities to test them,” Dr Locke said, saying it was important the school takes on student feedback once it is in operation.

Fortitude Valley State Secondary College is the first inner-city state school to be built in Brisbane in over half a century.


Monday, December 09, 2019

Filthy bathrooms leave Boston students squirming

A truly disgusting tale about bathrooms below.  And, much to my surprise, the authors do articulate where the problem lies:  with blacks.  There are few such problems in white schools. Black impulsiveness and disrespect for others have predictable results.  So it is no wonder that in 20 years of trying, few if any improvements have been made. 

Black kids are just going to have to go to the bathroom amid the mess left by other blacks.  Only very close supervision of the bathrooms would make an improvement and that would cost money.  There is plenty of precedent for "in bathroom" supervisors in Europe, where they enforce the highest standards.  Much more frequent cleaning would be another semi-solution but that too would cost money

Eleven-year-old Louisiana vividly remembers sitting in her fourth-grade math class one afternoon two years ago, rocking back and forth and shaking one leg. She needed to distract her mind from her uncomfortably full bladder. It had been hours since she’d gone.

She has long relied on what she called the “pee dance” to help her avoid the bathrooms at Blackstone Elementary in the South End. Urine coated the floor and toilet seats. The sink faucets were broken. She avoided the space whenever, and however, she could.

But this time the pee dance failed Louisiana. Feeling a wetness in her pants, she called her teacher over to her desk and asked to go to the nurse’s office for a change of clothes.

“It was embarrassing,” said Louisiana, whom the Globe is not identifying by her full name because of privacy concerns. “I was too old to pee [on] myself.”

Louisiana shouldn’t be embarrassed, but perhaps Boston should. Filthy, unsanitary, and often lacking basics like toilet paper and hot water, the bathrooms of the city’s public schools are, far too frequently, in appalling condition. It is not a conventional measure of success or failure in the city’s schools, but it is a telling one: What does it say to the children of the schools that they are expected, as they strive to learn, to put up with such facilities? Or avoid them at all cost — and great discomfort?

The record of subpar performance, and utter failure, on this score is thick and disheartening, a Globe review found. Last year, city public health inspectors found problems — from nonflushable toilets to obnoxious odors — in 89 of 111 Boston Public School buildings they visited. A 2016 survey of more than 2,000 students, parents, and staff found that nearly two thirds rated the district’s bathrooms as “poor” or “fair.” And the vast majority of the more than 30 students, parents, and teachers interviewed in recent weeks by the Globe described the bathrooms as gross, even dangerous, citing the prevalence of missing soap and toilet paper, urine stench, and leaks — even feces and sanitary pads strewn on the floor.

Visits by Globe reporters to five schools over the last six months confirmed these generally drab and depressing conditions.

Data from the health inspections also suggest some inequities in access to appropriately maintained facilities. When inspectors visited the Higginson/Lewis K-8 School in Roxbury, where 93 percent of students are black or Latino, they found no toilet paper in 17 out of 18 stalls. By contrast, at the Kilmer K-8, where half the students are white, inspectors reported well-stocked toilet paper dispensers and no significant sanitary concerns.

Systemwide, shabby conditions are so commonplace that the Boston Teachers Union took the rare step of making clean, well-stocked student bathrooms one of its contract demands in 2017. “It’s a matter of public safety and health,” said Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang. “We shouldn’t have to advocate for things like that, but we did.”

Boston school officials said that custodians are now better trained and expectations are clearer: All bathrooms should be thoroughly cleaned and restocked every night and there are extra supplies on hand in each building. At some schools, bathrooms are “touched up” during the day. Tang said she has heard fewer complaints from teachers since the changes.

“All of our students deserve not only well-cleaned, well-stocked, and properly maintained restrooms, but clean and functional school building facilities,” said Jessica Ridlen, the district’s director of communications, in a statement.

After hearing some of the specific concerns, Ridlen on Saturday added that Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have committed to an additional $1.7 million in the upcoming school budget for custodial staff, on top of the $24 million allocated in the current year.

Boston school officials did not provide the Globe with data on their own regular bathroom inspections. But some of the best evidence comes from the children.

Nearly all of the two dozen students interviewed by the Globe, who come from 13 different schools, said they are not seeing — or smelling — much in the way of results from the district’s strengthened maintenance efforts. The bathrooms at Josiah Quincy Upper School in the South End consistently stink and feature profanity-laced graffiti on the walls, said Mohamed Harkous, a freshman there. “I’m not going near those bathrooms,” he said.

A dirty bathroom can have negative consequences far outside its walls, students said. They can’t concentrate in class when they’re distracted by the need to go. They can’t fully connect with school when they don’t feel respected. And they can’t stay healthy without regular access to soap and, well, basic relief.

The sorry state of Boston’s school bathrooms is not a total anomaly in the metro region or among large urban school systems. But parents, educators, and students who have had the experience of visiting school bathrooms in both the city and suburbs said Boston’s are particularly bad. Even students in some of the elite exam schools complain about it.

Fifteen-year-old Daisy Ogbesoyen described Boston Latin Academy’s restrooms in one word: nasty. They smell and there are mysterious shoebox-sized holes in the ceiling, she said. The “mirrors” are framed pieces of stainless steel scratched to the point where students can’t see their reflections. (When a reporter visited accompanied by a district communications staff member on a preannounced visit, the mirrors were scratched but the bathrooms were relatively clean. Two out of three soap dispensers in most bathrooms were nearly empty, even though it was only mid-morning. The rooms smelled like cinnamon air freshener.)

Perhaps the reporter’s presence made a difference, because cinnamon is not a scent that Daisy has ever encountered in the bathroom. She doesn’t drink much water during the day and tries to delay going to the bathroom until she makes it home at 2:30 p.m. “If I have to pee, I’m usually shaking my leg,” she said. “I’m not listening.”

Students said it’s not just about the gross factor for them: The discomfort of needing to go distracts from the work — and even fun — of school.

An 18-year-old at Josiah Quincy Upper School in the South End said the bathroom disorder — including overflowing trash barrels and the stench of menstrual blood — impede her ability to focus on schoolwork. (The student did not want to be named because she fears retribution from teachers and counselors at the school for speaking out.)

She routinely avoids the bathroom unless she has her period, when she carries hand sanitizer to clean her hands. There’s never soap, she said.

Worse, the custodian has of late been locking the bathrooms for two and a half hours of the school day for reasons that are unclear to her and her peers. Students, she said, have to borrow a master key kept in a teacher’s room. She has missed as much as 10 minutes of math class — her most challenging subject — while waiting for the key.

Boston Public Schools former spokesman Dan O’Brien said the district doesn’t have a policy regarding limiting access to bathrooms, or track how often it happens, but the “practice is certainly not encouraged.” District officials try to intervene when they learn of schools limiting bathroom access, he said. The Josiah Quincy’s co-headmaster Richard Chang did not return e-mails or phone calls seeking comment.

Eleven-year-old Nuriel Gutman said a urine stench emanated from the boys bathrooms and into the hallway at the Dennis Haley Pilot School in Roslindale, whose lower school campus he attended through fifth grade. There were no locks on the stall doors or soap in the dispensers.

He made a point of always going to the bathroom right before leaving his house in the morning. The strategy worked a lot of the time, but not always. “It comes to a point, you just have to will yourself not to go to the bathroom,” he said.

Boston students have been unhappy with school bathrooms for a very long time. Nearly 20 years ago, high school students campaigned to get soap, paper towels, and clean, working restrooms, according to Globe articles. The students won an agreement from the superintendent for janitors to sign a publicly posted checklist after cleaning and restocking bathrooms. Whether the custodians ever used those checklists isn’t clear, but they’re not around now, according to district facilities managers.

Boston school officials said they have been addressing the problem, particularly since the flurry of complaints in 2016 and 2017. After that, they provided more training for custodians, repaired ventilation systems for some bathrooms that were particularly smelly, and installed hand dryers to eliminate messy paper towels, among other things. “I don’t think we were doing the best that we could a couple of years ago,” said P.J. Preskenis, the district’s assistant director of facilities management. He believes the situation has improved but admits there’s still work to be done.

Most officials point to the age of Boston’s school buildings and the lack of investment in updating them as the main source of subpar bathroom conditions. The majority of Boston’s 125 schools were built before 1940 and haven’t been renovated adequately. With little financial help available from the federal government or state, Boston has deferred basic maintenance on buildings. (In 2017, Walsh pledged to spend $1 billion to modernize school buildings, but that would probably cover only the cost of building or renovating a few schools.)

Another problem, according to the custodians union, is staffing. Boston employs 390 full-time custodians to clean more than 125 buildings — around 30 fewer janitors than two decades ago, said Michael Lafferty, business representative for the Boston school custodians union. There were around a dozen more buildings back then. Many buildings, he added, have only one custodian, who is expected to do much more than clean. They shovel snow, maintain the heating and cooling systems, and open and close the buildings; they are paid around $55,000 a year, according to school officials. (There are also about 100 part-time custodians.)

When custodians go on vacation or get sick, there are only five “floaters” citywide to fill in, according to Lafferty. “Additional resources would help,” he said.

Ana Santos, a parent, has come to see bathrooms as an indicator of something larger about a school: a window into how well it’s run — and how much officials believe that the students there matter.

Santos, herself a BPS graduate, said there’s a stark contrast between bathrooms at her younger daughter’s school, West Roxbury’s Ohrenberger School, where nearly a quarter of the students are white — “it doesn’t smell like someone died in it” — and those at her older daughter’s school in Dorchester, where very few students are white.

West Roxbury parents have more time to advocate for their children since they are more likely to have flexible, white-collar jobs, according to Santos. And because the schools in West Roxbury perform better academically, they are higher on the district’s priority list, she added.

Santos recently visited TechBoston Academy in Dorchester for the first time to pick up her daughter. She likes the school’s curriculum and teaching approach, but thought the disorder in the bathrooms — including urine on the seats and overflowing trash bins — matched the disorder outside them. Rowdy crowds of kids roamed the halls even when class was in session.

The visit was the final straw: Santos decided on the spot that she would transfer her daughter to a new high school. “She’s not staying there.”


More Evidence Emerges That Federal Government Is Funding Worthless College Degrees

Americans have long suspected that, for many, a college degree simply isn’t worth the price.

American taxpayers—two-thirds of whom do not have a college degree—are likewise increasingly skeptical of the notion that they should pay off loans that someone else made the decision to take out.

With recently published College Scorecard data, American students and taxpayers have more reason than ever to reject the left’s “college for all” agenda.

The College Scorecard recently released program-level data on individual schools. Students can now go online and see how much debt the average student graduates with in a certain degree program, along with expected starting salaries.

The results indicate that choosing a major matters immensely, especially when relying on federal student loans to finance one’s education.

According to The Wall Street Journal, 15% of programs graduate students who carry more federal student loan debt than their annual income.

Interestingly, graduate programs—which are generally perceived to be good investments—are some of the worst offenders.

Students who graduate from the University of Miami Law School, for example, hold a median total debt of $150,896, but earn a starting salary of just $52,100. Even more problematic, students who obtain a master’s degree from New York University in film/video and photographic arts graduate with a median total debt of a whopping $168,568, but earn a median starting salary of $29,600.

Those findings are particularly concerning, considering that there is virtually no cap on how much students can borrow for graduate school under the PLUS loan program.

There is simply no reason that American taxpayers should be footing the entire cost of the bill upfront for degrees with such a low return on investment.

The new College Scorecard data provides not only valuable insights into the debt burden of college students, but also underscores the deep-rooted inefficiencies in our federal student loan programs.

Holders of bachelor’s degrees hold an average of $31,172 in student loan debt. However, depending on where a student goes to school and what their major is, earnings potential can be quite different.

For example, at the University of Miami, students who study mechanical engineering graduate with a median total debt of $20,500 and earn a median starting salary of $66,400. However, political science majors graduate with similar debt, $18,269, but earn a median starting salary of $37,500.

Providing the same loan to both of those student populations paints an inaccurate picture of their earnings potential. The private sector, by contrast, would take into account earnings potential before providing a loan to a student who may not be able to pay it back.

Unfortunately, American taxpayers are on the hook for students who are not able to make loan payments.

It is simply poor public policy for Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars to go toward degrees of such questionable value.

Indeed, a privately funded student loan market would have identified such programs early on and either ceased to provide loans for students who want to pursue, for example, a film degree at NYU, or simply charged higher interest rates commensurate with the likelihood of repayment.

Instead, our accreditation system, which accredits institutions in their entirety, shields students from seeing the true value of individual courses of study at a college or university.

Today, Americans are debating whether or not a college education should be tuition-free, with the cost of education transferred to all taxpayers. With overwhelming evidence that many colleges and universities are saddling students with significant debt, the debate should shift to whether or not federal policies are enabling a system that is failing students.

At the very least, policymakers should reform the federal student loan programs so that taxpayers are no longer financing programs that leave students worse off.


The battle to find teachers for Australian country areas

HUNDREDS of school teachers have been recruited from overseas and interstate to help plug a critical shortage sweeping regional Queensland. The Courier-Mail can reveal more than 270 teachers have been hired through the State Government's interstate and
Outsiders international recruitment campaign to fill the urgent demand in regional, rural and remote areas, where some schools have experienced an almost 100 per cent turnover of staff some years.

But despite the recruitment drive, teacher shortages are predicted to get even worse next year reaching acute levels in some partS of the state. And it's not just primary and secondary schools facing shortfalls; childcare centres are also struggling to attract and retain qualified teachers.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Mark Breckenridge said getting enough teachers to rural parts of the state was "a constant challenge". "There are a lot of reasons why, and one is that as the south-east corner population continues to grow, it sucks up a lot of the teachers," he said. "There are many innovative ways to try to encourage teachers to move, but I don't think anyone has got a real answer".  He said principals were fighting to use their scarce resources to get the best results for students in these areas.

A Department of Education spokesman said the interstate and international campaign had recruited more than 200 secondary teachers and more than 70 primary teachers. "Both beginning and experienced secondary teachers from interstate and overseas have applied to work in Queensland state schools," he said. "They are particularly attracted to the mentoring support and career development offered in Queensland."

From the Brisbane "Courier mail of 7 December, 2019

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Credibility Issue in Nutrition Science Is a Sign for All of Higher Ed

In recent years, psychology has dealt with a legitimacy crisis. Many influential psychological studies could not be reproduced by other psychologists, discrediting some key insights and weakening academic faith in the entire field.

Nutrition science has a similar problem.

The loudest critics argue that the methodologies relied on by researchers give bad data that are meaningless at best. Others worry that funding gives undue influence to the federal government, big business, or influential nonprofit associations. And some critics think nutrition science focuses on the wrong questions entirely about nutrition.

Defenders of the field say that the research methods used are reliable and improving with trial and error. They also argue that funding sources don’t have as much influence as critics fear.

Critics and defenders, however, both agree that nutrition science is an extremely challenging field for getting good data. It’s more like a social science than a hard science in that respect. The challenge for its defenders is building credibility. Whether they can also has implications for higher education research. Billions of dollars in taxpayer money go to colleges for research purposes, but the information that’s produced might not be socially useful.

To collect data, nutrition researchers often use observational studies. Those studies rely on participants self-reporting their eating habits, usually by completing a survey or keeping a food journal. The problem is that people can misremember what they ate. Even tracking what someone ate for a week is hard because people might forget a snack or change their eating habits because they’re being monitored.

Thus, with inaccurate survey data, what researchers tell the public to eat or to avoid can go back and forth. Eggs, for instance, have been healthy and unhealthy and healthy again. Fat has gone through something similar.

“The reason we know so little about what to eat despite decades of research is that our tools are woefully inadequate. Lately, as scientists try, and fail, to reproduce results, all of science is taking a hard look at funding biases, statistical shenanigans and groupthink. All that criticism, and then some, applies to nutrition,” Tamar Haspel, a food columnist for The Washington Post, wrote.

Other critics are more blunt.

“This data is meaningless,” Edward Archer, the chief science officer at EvolvingFX and former NIH research fellow and formerly at the Nutrition and Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said of observational studies. Archer doesn’t think those “memory-based methods” of research are helpful and prefers a different scientific approach in nutrition. “Replication…doesn’t help us,” he said. Rather than asking whether scientists can do the same work and get the same results, Archer wants researchers to focus on falsification instead. A scientific approach based on falsification would require trying to prove previous results wrong.

Changing the scientific paradigm, though, is a tall order. The U.S. Department of Agriculture. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institutes of Health spend about $5 billion annually on nutrition science research, Archer noted. If a researcher would publicly criticize the status quo, they could lose funding. As journalist Patrick Clinton wrote for The New Food Economy,

What happens if survey-based data suddenly become unacceptable? A lot of nutrition researchers will quickly discover it’s a lot harder to find funding, conduct studies, and publish the kinds of articles that provide tenure, job security, and prestige. And these endangered scholars are the peers who pass judgment on the articles that appear in peer-reviewed journals. They have a powerful incentive not to rock the boat.

But defenders of the status quo aren’t so radical about the need for change.

“There have been success stories, that seem to sometimes be overlooked with the ‘drama’ in the nutrition field,” Brenda Davy, a nutrition scientist at Virginia Tech, said in an email to the Martin Center. Memory can be fickle, but tracking behavior can be reliable, Davy wrote in a 2015 paper. The point isn’t to over-rely on one research approach, but to improve them.

Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), argued that nutrition science academics are aware of the field’s problems and actively work to improve it. “Research methods in general have improved tremendously over the last 20 years,” he said. The quality of the data researchers use has improved, along with their research methods, such as controlling for confounding variables and bias.

Davy argued that good nutrition science can be extremely challenging, but wrote: “Evidence-based nutrition is best served by considering the totality of evidence across multiple study types including nutritional epidemiological studies, randomized controlled trials of behavioral interventions, and controlled feeding studies.”

Not every problem in nutrition science is unique to it.
High-quality research methods aren’t the only areas of concern. The funding sources for research worries nutrition scientists and others. Marion Nestle, a nutrition scientist at New York University, is wary of any research funded by food companies, calling this research “marketing, not science” in an email to the Martin Center. Bauchner is less suspicious so long as academic independence is protected. “I genuinely believe there’s a way in which industry can fund nutrition research and that one can believe the science. I do think that there needs to be checks and balances,” he said.

Archer is more concerned about government funding, given the amount of money and influence the USDA and NIH have. “Being in that network means you get more money,” he said. The “academic industry-public policy network” can silence researchers who want to prove previous scientific findings wrong.

Not every problem in nutrition science is unique to it. Research methods across the social sciences suffer from the same credibility problems. Publishing pressures affect almost all researchers. And peer review is a weak point as well.

“I’m not sure this is a problem in my field that is any greater than other science fields,” Davy said. “Researchers are expected to publish in order to advance their careers (promotion, tenure), and to show that their research has impacts on the field. Publishing research, and obtaining grant funding, can be very competitive processes. It is also true that it can be more difficult to publish studies with negative findings, and that can lead to publication bias.”

Specialization also makes peer review difficult. Davy mentioned how hard it can be to find a few professors to review an article; they may not have the time or expertise to provide an academic journal with the skeptic eye it needs.

“I think that academia in general is in trouble,” Edward Archer said.

Paying academics for peer review could make them prioritize the work. Currently, peer review is done for free as part of a professor’s “service” commitment. Raising the standards for published research could also cause a change. Patrick Clinton has written about making p-values, a shorthand for how likely it is the result is a chance occurrence, more rigorous. John Ioannidis, a nutrition scientist at Stanford University, has argued for stronger standards along similar lines. JAMA has been willing to publish some strong critiques of nutrition science as a field (though not to the extent that Archer would like). Building public confidence could require more influential journals to embrace the critics and calls for radical change.

Nutrition science highlights a larger problem in higher education. If billions of dollars in funding haven’t promoted high-quality research, then the modern research university could have quality-control issues. Research methods can improve, but the pressure to publish and biases within academic publishing hurts all academics. Nutrition science might be a field with more difficulties than most, but university departments of all stripes could have a (taxpayer-funded) replication crisis on their hands.


Mass: Dead mice, crumbling concrete: Education reform won’t fix the sorry state of some schools

LYNN — Step into Kaitlyn Lausier’s basement classroom, and years of financial neglect in this once-prospering city can be seen everywhere: the long fluorescent tube lights, the bare brick walls, the flaking radiator that warns in English and Spanish not to touch its scorching sides.

Students have been burned by these iron-ribbed heaters at Pickering Middle School, where cramped underground quarters like Lausier’s have been pressed into service to relieve overcrowding.

Gateway cities like Lynn, midsize urban centers whose lower property values are a draw for lower-income households, are slated to be among the big winners in the sweeping school-funding reform bill signed into law last week by Governor Charlie Baker. Such districts are expected to see millions in fresh spending from the new law — a down payment meant to reverse yawning student achievement gaps fueled by years of underinvestment.

But Lausier’s basement classroom alone shows just how far Lynn has fallen behind. And even as city officials celebrate passage of a law that will dramatically increase spending on students, they must face a sobering truth: The extra money will probably do little to address Lynn’s tumbledown schools, complicating efforts to improve services to its surging ranks of low-income students.

One of Lausier’s most pressing concerns, for instance, emanates from an adjoining room that she said houses the century-old school’s ductwork.  “I would like to have that room cleaned out so it doesn’t smell like dead mouse in here all the time,” she said.

Hailed as a transformational overhaul of the state’s outmoded school-funding formula, the so-called Student Opportunity Act is poised to pump an additional $1.5 billion into school districts across Massachusetts over the next seven years. It specifically targets disadvantaged students in poorer urban districts like Lynn’s.

“This legislation is about making sure that every kid in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, regardless of where they live, where they go to school . . . has the opportunity to get the education they need to be great,” Baker said when he signed the bill at English High School in Boston.

While legislators have so far declined to estimate the projected increases for individual districts, state Senator Jason M. Lewis said the law would likely double per-pupil spending in many Gateway cities, a majority of which spend less per pupil than the state average. He added that Lynn’s spending is likely to increase from around $13,000 today to roughly $26,000 per student when the law is fully implemented.

The increase “is going to be much greater for districts with large numbers of low-income students and English learners,” said the Winchester Democrat, who helped craft the legislation. “Lynn is going to receive tens of millions of dollars more.”

But in the midst of an effort lauded by many as a once-in-a-generation push to close opportunity gaps that cleave the state’s poorer students from their more affluent peers, one glaring disparity has garnered scant attention: Gateway cities, home to many of the state’s poorest students, are significantly more likely to have very old schools, an enduring inequality in plain sight.

Statewide, fewer than 10 percent of schools are more than 100 years old, according to a 2016 survey. But that figure doubles to nearly 20 percent in Gateway cities.

The problem is even worse in Lynn, where roughly 40 percent of schools date from 1920 or before. Meanwhile, thousands of students have entered the district over the past decade — including more than 400 high-schoolers this year alone, according to school officials — pushing antique buildings to the breaking point.

Reports of execrable schools in Gateway cities are legion: mold and rodents in a New Bedford elementary school, classrooms with no windows in Holyoke. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed this year alleged a host of other ills, including leaky roofs, faucets that tested positive for lead, and classrooms where the temperature can reach 90 degrees.

And that’s to say nothing of Boston Public Schools: A report found a majority of the city’s schools need substantial renovations or repairs.

But unlike in Boston, where enrollment has declined over the years, many of the Gateway districts have experienced dramatic student growth.

In Lynn, where overcrowding mixes with deplorable building conditions, kids are being placed in danger. City officials say crumbling bricks crashed to the ground near a play area at the 121-year-old Tracy Elementary. Someone attempted to mend a rusted chain-link fence with duct tape at the 122-year-old Aborn Elementary. A 1907 window at the Pickering simply “fell out” during the school day a few years ago. No one was injured, but documents filed with the state warned that “if a class had been in the room, the results would have been catastrophic.”

Lewis, who noted the law promises the largest increase in state spending on school facilities, acknowledged it won’t address all of the urgent building needs across the state’s roughly 300 districts.

“It’s going to help, but we know that’s not the sole answer,” he said. “There are challenges here . . . particularly for Gateway cities and their ability to fund their school building projects.”

The law will add $200 million to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s annual spending cap. The authority helps finance everything from construction projects to roof repairs.

But with its previous cap of $600 million, it has lacked the capacity to meet the needs of the state’s roughly 1,800 public school buildings, approving just one-third of all applications in 2018. The law also calls for a reassessment of school construction financing, Lewis said.

“We know that there’s more of a need than we have the funds to remedy,’’ said the authority’s executive director, Jack McCarthy. “If we had unlimited amounts of money we could build all the new schools. But we don’t.”

In an era when school construction projects can exceed $300 million apiece, state aid goes only so far before municipalities must kick in a hefty contribution, usually via property tax hikes. That’s often a tough sell to voters, particularly in cash-strapped communities, which routinely strike down proposed projects.


Co-ed vs  ‘education apartheid’

Many progressive advocates would welcome single-sex schools becoming extinct as alleged “educational apartheid.”

Nevertheless, Australia has a long tradition of high-achieving single-sex schools, in both the government and non-government sectors, and many parents still choose this option.

Proponents argue single-sex schools “…increase student confidence, provide a safe place for student to develop their identities and could be the answer to the gender gap in academic performance.”

It’s not a big deal for most Australian parents. Our recent research found a school being single-sex or co-educational was in the top two factors for just 5% of parents when choosing a school — but for some parents, it is a deal-breaker.

There is evidence students achieve better results in single-sex schools. Analysis of NAPLAN data by the Australian Council for Educational Research indicates girls’ schools and boys’ schools perform better on average in both literacy and numeracy than co-ed schools, even after taking into account student socioeconomic background (this particular analysis was a classic of the ‘we don’t like the results, so let’s not tell anyone until halfway through’ academic genre).

Overseas, some research has shown single-sex schools have significant positive effects on science and maths results for boys but not for girls, while other studies have found precisely the opposite (girls benefit but boys don’t), and other research suggests there is no significant effect for either boys or girls. OECD research suggests that in some countries there is a difference and in others there isn’t.

So the relationship between single-sex schooling and academic achievement isn’t entirely clear. But there isn’t any evidence that co-ed schools have non-academic benefits, such as better socialisation or preparation for post-school life.

Given the disagreement, the solution is more school choice, not less. Parents are in the best position to decide what is best for their child, and ideally should have single-sex and co-ed options across school sectors.

We don’t want to turn single-sex schooling into another culture war. Let parents make up their own minds.