Friday, February 07, 2020

Empower Parents to Shield Students from Bullying

Public schools throughout Michigan have a problem keeping students safe.

A 2018 Wallet Hub analysis, for example, ranked Michigan as having the sixth-worst “bullying prevalence” issue in the country, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2018 edition of the Indicators of School Crime and Safety and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, also published in 2018. As tempting as it may be to blame Detroit for Michigan’s low ranking, bullying and other safety issues are as bad—or worse—in high schools statewide.

A Child Safety Account would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to the safe schools of their choice within or beyond their designated public-school districts—including public district, charter, and virtual schools—as well as private and parochial schools.

More than 1 in 10 Detroit public high-school students reported being bullied in 2017, both at school (15.7%) as well as electronically (11.7%). Statewide, more than 1 in 5 Michigan high-school students reported being bullied at school (22.8%), and nearly as many reported being electronically bullied (19.6%).

Not only is bullying devastating for victims, mere exposure to peers being bullied hinders other students’ learning, increases their sense of helplessness and diminishes their feelings of support from their parents and adults at school.

Additional CDC and NCES findings reveal numerous other safety risks high school students in Detroit and statewide face. An alarming 7.7% of Detroit public high school students and 6.5% of all Michigan high-school students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school. Moreover, 14.3% of Detroit high-school students reported being in a fight at school, as well as 7.9% of students statewide.

Being victimized in these ways can take a tragic toll on students. More than 1 in 5 Detroit and Michigan high-school student victims seriously considered suicide, 20.2% and 21.3%, respectively. Worst of all, 13.7% of Detroit high-school students and 9.4% of their peers throughout Michigan attempted suicide.

Other students report that they skip school because they feel unsafe, including 10.4% of Detroit public high school students and 8.2% of all Michigan high-schoolers. Michigan state data indicate these percentages are even higher.

A jaw-dropping 62% of students at Detroit Public Schools Community District were considered “chronically absent” in the 2018 –19 school year, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school. This is much higher than the state average of 19.7%—not that over 290,000 chronically absent schoolchildren across the Wolverine State is something to write home about.

Adding insult to injury, 25% of Michigan public school teachers are considered chronically absentee, missing at least 10 school days each year. These absences are costly and negatively impact student achievement, especially the achievement of low-income students.

Michigan can ill afford the devastating effects of unsafe schools on students and their learning given its staggeringly low academic achievement.

Statewide, just 31% of students score “proficient or better” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress by the time they reach eighth grade. Results for Detroit eighth-graders are far worse. Only 5% of them score “proficient or better” in math and only 6% in reading. These are the worst scores of any large city in America.

Despite federal efforts to promote student safety, clearly the status quo isn’t working.

Since the 2003-04 school year, students have been allowed to transfer to another public school under the Unsafe School Choice Option provision of what is now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—but only if their current public schools meet the state definition of a “persistently dangerous” school. Because states’ definitions are so narrow, fewer than 50 American public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year. In fact, Michigan’s definition is so narrow, no public school has ever been deemed persistently dangerous.

From the youngest ages, children are told not to bully. Yet bullying continues throughout high school, as Jonathan Enyinnah writes.

Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are allowed to transfer them to safer schools, which is current policy. That is why The Heartland Institute recommends states create a Child Safety Account (CSA) program. CSAs are a type of education savings account (ESA) for parents who believe, for whatever reason, their child’s school is unsafe. Here’s how the two programs work.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Parents then use a state-provided debit card to access the funds to pay for resources that support their child’s unique educational program, such as tuition at a private or parochial school, tutoring, online classes, transportation, specialized therapies, textbooks, and even college courses while still in high school. Typically, unused ESA funds may be rolled over from year to year and can be saved to pay for future education expenses, including college tuition.

A CSA would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to the safe schools of their choice within or beyond their designated public-school districts—including public district, charter, and virtual schools—as well as private and parochial schools. CSA funds could also be used to pay for homeschooling expenses.

Under Heartland’s CSA program, students would be eligible if their parents had a “reasonable apprehension” for their children’s physical or emotional safety, including bullying, hazing, or harassment. Parents could also determine their child’s school isn’t safe after reviewing the incidents-based statistics schools would be required to report.

Unlike prevailing federal and state policies, Heartland’s CSA program doesn’t limit families’ options to public schools. Research shows private-school students are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs, such as CSAs, improve the mental health of participating students.

Copious other empirical research on school choice programs finds they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment at lower cost than traditional public schools. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Limiting families’ options to district public schools also makes no sense since more than one-third of American parents fear for their child’s physical safety at school—a nearly three-fold increase since 2013. That figure jumps to almost half of all parents earning less than $50,000 annually (48%). What’s more, concern over school safety is the leading reason homeschooling parents give for choosing this option. Similarly, 21% of Michigan public charter school parents reported that the safety of their child’s previous school was one of the main reasons they opted for a charter school, according a 2018 Mackinac Center for Public Policy survey.

The Michigan education system’s failure to protect children and provide parents with reasonable alternatives is precisely why a CSA program is so desperately needed. As things currently stand, Michigan is a private school choice desert. The state’s district model allows only wealthier families to transfer their child to a safer school when they feel it is imperative. The freedom afforded to those families should be afforded to all Michigan families. Every child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe school environment.


Every American child should have a choice when it comes to school

The foundation to achieve the American Dream is anchored in hard work, perseverance and, most importantly, a quality education. Every child in America that has a meaningful chance to learn, can unlock the gateway to success.

America’s antiquated approach to education is failing our country’s youth, and Washington is crippling our ability to provide a world-class education to every American child. When we fail to set America’s children up for success, we fail as a nation.

Many incredible public and private schools are preparing students to succeed. Most kids have the potential to access an education that will allow them to pursue remarkable success. But, far too many kids, especially in our nation’s poorest cities, are not allowed to capitalize on that opportunity. We must remain committed to revitalizing the American dream, and that means revitalizing our broken education system.

Too many of our children are assigned by the government to schools that simply don’t work for them and their parents don’t have the economic means to do anything about it. They’re stuck with no real options and often become just another statistic. Zip codes and invisible lines drawn by government bureaucrats are constraining the success of our children.

Advocates of this failed status quo are quick to highlight good graduation rates, but they ignore the fact that our students still continue to lag behind their peers worldwide. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that 28 countries outperformed U.S students in math and 17 outperformed U.S. students in reading.

The most recent “Nation’s Report Card” found that two out of three students can’t read as they should. And inner-city, low income, and minority children perform even worse. Nearly half of fourth-graders who qualify for free and reduced lunch are functionally illiterate.

Only about half of America’s high school students took the ACT college entrance exam last year. Just a quarter of them are college-ready in multiple subjects.

The education establishment terrified of losing control to parents and students has ripped the American Dream away from forgotten families across the country, prolonging the cycles of poverty, crime and despair. The Trump administration continues to promote policies that provide low-income students and all students with the tools freedom necessary for long term economic security. Our policies can help end this devastating cycle and empower students to thrive and fulfill their American Dream.

The politically powerful should not deprive children of a great education, and no child in America should be on a waitlist for success.

Forty-three states have public and private school choice programs, which allow parents to decide how and where their children learn, regardless of school zones. Nearly 500,000 students are enrolled in private school choice programs, and more than 2.5 million students enrolled in public charter schools nationwide. Yet, more than one million students are on waitlists to attend public charter schools of their choice. In Pennsylvania, special interest groups motivated Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to veto a bill that would have helped 50,000 waitlisted kids to pursue the education that was right for them.

The politically powerful should not deprive children of a great education, and no child in America should be on a waitlist for success. That is why President Trump has called on Congress to pass Education Freedom Scholarships. The bill currently before Congress is a federal tax credit that would provide families with more educational opportunities. The proposal will bolster state efforts by providing $5 billion to state-based scholarship programs. The legislation would empower parents to send their kids to the desired public, private, religious, public charter, home, or magnet school that they feel best meets the needs of their children.

Families in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin, which have school choice programs, will greatly benefit. Other states will also be encouraged to step forward and leave the failed status quo behind and put America’s children first!

The truth is that families who can afford private school tuition or who have the means to move out of a bad school zone already have education freedom. All American families need that freedom. States across the country are empowering families to enhance their child’s education. Americans should rally behind President Trump’s plan to ensure that every child has a chance to achieve the American Dream.


DeVos on Slavery, Pro-Choice, and School Choice

Let's choose what is right for our children. The right to life and education.

Slavery, abortion, and education all mixed into one conversation. What a mixture of highly “toxic” politically correctness in one setting; political kryptonite for the Left. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke recently at Colorado Christian University’s annual president’s dinner at the Museum of the Bible. She pulled no punches. DeVos was drawing comparisons between the debate of abortion rights and the abolition of slavery.

I see the comparisons. Slave masters of the South wanted their “choice” to extend slavery into the western regions. They wanted the “choice” to prevent slaves from reading. They wanted the “choice” to use free labor to build their empires.

DeVos exclaimed, “[President Abraham Lincoln] too contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it.” She added, “Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil.”

Leftists use the word “choice” to benefit their own agenda. To minimize the extortion of a woman having an abortion they proclaim “pro-choice.” However, when considering the real power of giving a woman a choice for the education of her child, they oppose school choice.

DeVos called out the “irony” of supporting a woman’s choice to have an abortion but opposing mothers who want to enroll their children in nontraditional public schools, charters, or religious private schools.

Low-income families do not mean low IQ families. If anything, low-income families should be the main ones trying to prepare their children to go down a different road educationally. Parents aren’t stupid. If a mother attended a low-performing school and realizes the potential for her child, shouldn’t she be given a choice?

Leftists have made women believe their “choice” to have abortions is more significant than any other choice. Read that again. Choosing a high-performing school for the education of your child should be what “pro-choice” is about. Instead, leftists say “choice” involves ending a child’s life, legacy, and opportunity to be educated.

DeVos added, “Lincoln was right about the slavery ‘choice’ then, and he would be right about the life ‘choice’ today. Because as it’s been said: Freedom is not about doing what we want. Freedom is about having the right to do what we ought.”

Let’s end the slavery of children being forced to go to low-performing schools because of their zip codes. Let’s end the slavery of children being forced from the wombs of their mothers because of convenience.

Let’s choose what is right for our children. The right to life and education.


Thursday, February 06, 2020

School Choice Week: A Reflection

While the impeachment trial continues in the Senate and the House plays partisan games with bills like the upcoming PRO Act, people outside of Washington in “real America” wonder what politicians are actually doing for them. For the answer, this week, they should turn to champions of school choice across the nation, in celebration of National School Choice Week.

Contrary to leftist rhetoric, “school choice” is not code for ending public schools. It is not code for cutting teacher pay. It is, plainly and simply, allowing families a choice of schooling for their children. Due to a lack of any school choice in many areas of the country, low- and middle-class families are often effectively all but required by law to send their children to whichever public school is associated with their address. Unfortunately, such public schools are not always the best choice.

For all of the ills of the District of Columbia., it has gotten a few things right on school choice. First is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for K-12 for students from low-income families in the city to pay tuition and other fees at qualified private schools. Second is the public school choice available to families who send their students to public schools in the city. Put succinctly, public school choice allows families to send their students to public schools outside of their neighborhood boundaries. This is the most basic type of school choice and is common sense when considering the implications of such a policy.

Whether it is public school choice or private school choice, a family may choose a different school than the neighborhood or in-district public school for any number of reasons, not simply school performance as many -- especially those opposed to school choice -- tend to believe. Any factor could contribute to another school being a better fit, from location to programs to size. The government should work to ensure that the maximum number of these reasons are able to be addressed, in order to better the lives and futures of our nation’s students.

Consider, for example, a single father or mother with two children ages 7 and 16 who may much prefer his or her children to go to the same K-12 school with on-campus extracurricular activities near his or her place of work, instead of juggling two bus schedules for schools miles apart from each other. Or, consider a family with a special needs student who would be far better served in the public high school across town than by the high school two blocks down the road.

Needless to say, there is nobody who knows the educational needs of a student better than that student and his or her family. On that basis, it is simple to understand why we need to empower those very actors to choose the best educational options for students, not leave them helpless at the hands of government bureaucrats who take their tax dollars and give only what is in too many instances an unsuitable education.

From private school vouchers and charter schools to public school choice and opportunity scholarships, the options abound for how to go about making expanded school choice a reality in our country. Constituents of every background should raise their voices to say that school choice matters, and legislators from every state and every level of government should listen.

National School Choice Week may be coming to an end, but the futures of students across America are continually beginning, and will forever be. This is a cause worth fighting for.


Conservative Cities Better for Minority Students' Education

The educational gap between white and minority students is highest in progressive cities.

A recent study found that, contrary to popular perception, leftist-dominated cities across the country are actually faring much worse than conservative cities at closing the gap between white and minority students in educational achievement.

The study, entitled “The Secret Shame How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All,” observes, “Progressive cities, on average, have achievement gaps in math and reading that are 15 and 13 percentage points higher than in conservative cities, respectively.” Moreover, “Three of the 12 most conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim and Fort Worth — have effectively closed or even erased the gap in at least one of the academic categories we examined.”

“Meanwhile,” says civil-rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “in our own ‘progressive’ city of Minneapolis, the report showed that the shameful gap in math achievement between black and white students in K-12 is 53 percentage points, while the gap in math between brown and white students is 45 points.” Armstrong continues, “Similarly, in reading, the gap between black and white Minneapolis students is 53, while the gap between brown and white students is 47. Compare that with ‘conservative’ Jacksonville, Fla., where the reading gap between black and white students is 30; and the math gap is 27.”

This educational gap cannot be blamed on a lack of resources, as leftist cities on average spend more per student than do conservative cities.

So, what conclusion do the study’s authors come to? Well, being committed leftists, they refuse to lay the blame for the gap on progressive ideology, though they also can’t deny the data. They write, “We did not consider any policy or practice as a cause for the larger achievement gaps between racial subgroups. But our results demonstrate that there is a negative difference between our most progressive and most conservative cities, and it can’t be explained away by factors such as city size, racial demographics, spending, poverty or income inequality. In cities where most of the residents identify as political progressives, educational outcomes for marginalized children lag at a greater rate than other cities.”

Try examining the worldview behind the competing ideologies and recognizing that the valuing and promotion of individual responsibility and personal development rather than group identity and social justice just might have something to do with closing the education gap. Just a thought.


Why Elizabeth Warren's redistribution plan for forgive student loans is so very wrong

By now, millions of Americans have seen the exchange between Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and the angry father who confronted her at a campaign stop in Iowa, regarding her promise to cancel outstanding student-loan debt. Unfortunately, there are also millions of other Americans who either don’t understand or aren’t particularly concerned with why this exchange was taken to heart by so many of their fellow citizens. It’s because moral obligation has, for almost all intents and purposes, been tossed on the ash heap of history.

“I just wanted to ask one question,” the father began. “My daughter is getting out of school. I’ve saved all my money. She doesn’t have any student loans. Am I going to get my money back?”

“Of course not,” Warren answered.

“So you’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money and those of us who did the right thing get screwed? My buddy had fun, bought a car, and went on all the vacations. I saved my money. He makes more than I did. I worked a double shift. So, you’re laughing at me,” he continued, as Warren shook her head in denial. “Yeah, that’s exactly what you’re doing. We did the right thing and we get screwed.”

“I appreciate your time,” Warren responded before the man briskly walked away.

Sen. Warren might appreciate many things, but the extra time and effort that millions of Americans put in to do the right thing — rather than taking the easy way out — isn’t one of them.

Yet based on the current ethos of the nation, why should she? If there’s one thing Warren and her fellow Democrats know, it’s that there’s a cohort of Americans who have been carefully nurtured to believe they are, above all else, “victims.” Victims of a nation characterized by Democrats — depending on which group of constituents they are addressing — as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, nativist, or just plain bigoted. One where irredeemably evil rich people made their fortunes solely by screwing over wholly virtuous lower- and middle-class Americans.

Lower- and middle-class Americans who deserve redress, because “fairness” demands it.

Thus, Warren’s plan, estimated to cost $640 billion, would be underwritten by a 2% “wealth tax” on individuals earning greater than $50 million, which Warren claims would raise enough money to fund the cancellation of student-loan debts and universal pre-K. It would forgive $50,000 of student-loan debt for individuals in households earning less than $100,000 per year, while individuals in households earning more than $100,000 would receive a reduced amount of loan forgiveness, based on a sliding scale.

Bernie Sanders also has a plan. He would eliminate all education-related debt underwritten, guaranteed, or insured by the federal government, regardless of the borrowers’ current income.

Fox News columnist Justin Haskins points out some inconvenient truths about the issue, noting that only about 10% of students default on their loans and that the federal government already has several programs for canceling student debt. There are also income-based repayment plans, tying monthly student-loan payments to household income, rather than their total debt amount, and a program that provides loan forgiveness after 10 years of on-time, income-based repayments to those who work for a nonprofit organization or for the government.

Haskins also explains that the status quo fuels the crisis because the federal government ultimately guarantees student loans, allowing colleges to raise their costs with impunity, while various programs of debt reduction or forgiveness incentivize unwise borrowing decisions by parents and students.

Thus, he suggests “reforms” that would mitigate both. “Until we fix the foundational problems at the root of the student debt crisis, this important issue will never be resolved,” he concludes.

In reality, there is only one “foundational” problem here, one that has plagued this nation for decades: the virtual elimination of moral obligation that begets personal responsibility.

Columnist Katherine Timpf gets to the heart of the issue. Even if Warren had offered to pay back the Iowa father, “this man’s own suggestion for how to make things fair would still leave him (in his words) getting ‘screwed,’” she writes. “When he references the sacrifices that he and his family had to make to pay for his daughter’s college, what he’s implicitly saying is that his choice to be financially responsible has cost him things that money cannot replace.”

In Timpf’s case, it meant a series of life decisions that included withdrawing from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism after she had been accepted, because she realized “I’d never be able to repay the $80,000 loan I’d have to take out out to attend my dream school.”

Instead, she chose to pursue unpaid internships to advance her career. She also made other choices with which millions of her fellow Americans are intimately familiar. They included going “months without a single day off,” “waking up at 4 a.m. and not getting home until after 11 at night,” and living in an apartment building that was “so dilapidated that you could effortlessly break into the front door with a credit card, so poorly run that I’d have no water without warning, and so downright filthy that I once had scabies and fleas in the same week.”

Thus Ms. Timpf, who currently writes for National Review and appears on Fox News, has little patience for the Democrats’ siren song. “I don’t think that I should have to pay for someone else making an irresponsible decision when they could have made a responsible one,” she writes. “What’s more, talking about this issue only in terms of money truly minimizes the fact that, really, it’s about so much more.”

It most certainly is. If freely undertaken contractual commitments with regard to student loans can be tossed aside, what other commitments or promises can be dispensed with when one finds them “problematic?” Mortgages? Car loans?

In a nation where one-third of marriages end in divorce, the out-of-wedlock birthrate is now 40%, more “adults” ages 18 to 34 are living at home with their parents than with a spouse, and 15% of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 still aren’t working despite a good economy, it should surprise no one that shirking obligations and/or avoiding commitments altogether resonates, especially when politicians deliberately obscure the reality of cost transfers — or insist those transfers to Americans with greater wherewithal constitute “social justice.”

Once concepts like “fairness,” “social justice,” or “free” anything are conflated with genuine morality and personal responsibility, all vote-buying schemes become viable. Add the aforementioned embrace of victimhood to the mix, and such concepts are construed as noble.

Does the American electorate wish to continue expanding a safety net — one that’s precipitated the lion’s share of our $23 trillion national debt — already covering a large number of able-bodied people who can rationalize anything and whose entire journey through life is traveled on the path of least resistance? And, with regard to college-loan forgiveness, relatively well-off Americans who don’t wish to abide by their freely made obligations?

President Trump once said a nation without borders is no nation at all. Neither is one where free-riding is promoted as justice and compassion.


Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Study Reveals the Absurd Conformity of Higher Education

A recently released study confirms the suspicion that American higher education has become absurdly and ruthlessly monolithic in terms of political ideology.

The study found that the ratio of college professor donations to Democrats as opposed to Republicans was 95:1.

Besides federal agency employees, few other industries outside working for the Democratic National Committee or the media are so strongly skewed toward Democrats and the left.

The authors of the study, Heterodox Academy Research Director Sean Stevens and Brooklyn College Professor Mitchell Langbert, admit to some uncertainty on the numbers.

But even if the disparity in donations isn’t quite so high, it’s still clearly extreme and highly problematic, as the researchers explain.

“Researchers have raised concerns that ideological homogeneity may lead to questionable research practices,” Stevens and Langbert wrote. “This concern is grounded in research on confirmation bias, group polarization, motivated reasoning, and the tendency for these phenomena to be even more pronounced among the highly educated. As well, partisan polarization has been leading to Republicans’ increasing skepticism about higher education.”

Beyond problematic research is the larger problem that, at all but a handful of Americans colleges, young Americans are being dropped straight into left-wing indoctrination centers.

Anyone who has recently attended a college or university knows that even if one avoids politics and the humanities in their coursework, most campuses are pervasively left-wing. From professors, to administrators, to the most vocal students, rarely does one find a campus with even a tiny bit of ideological balance.

Unfortunately, this trend has been clear for a long time.

After all, William F. Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale,” which highlighted the left-wing excesses at the prestigious university, more than a half-century ago. Yale was hardly alone.

Despite that warning, college environments aren’t improving.

Many campuses are now hostile to free speech, not only catering to a rigidly left-wing environment, but actively stifling any kind of dissent.

It’s not hard to see why so-called “cancel culture” is becoming deeply ingrained in our society. This just mirrors what’s already happening in our schools.

Convincing these institutions that intellectual diversity should be prioritized is clearly not working. If anything, it seems campuses are becoming more uniform, not less.

Then, on top of the ideological issue is the increasing problem of student debt and the question of whether the cost of going to school matches the value the degree ultimately brings.

Taxpayers, most of whom never had the privilege of attending college, are now being asked to bail out those who did attend largely on their dimes.

The bailouts are billed as a boon to students, but the biggest beneficiaries are the colleges.

The losers are pretty much everyone else.

Why should we let colleges off the hook en masse when it’s the perpetual promise of more federal dollars that caused costs to skyrocket in the first place?

Again, the burden of this bailout will fall on the middle class, not universities.

We should reconsider the reasons why Washington funds postsecondary institutions and whether the current system is an appropriate federal role.

Instead of handing what amounts to a blank check to these schools—and allowing them to pile up debt on the backs of graduates and eventually the taxpayers—we should start cutting the cord.

Washington has overstepped its bounds in many different ways with higher education policy, and we are now experiencing the effects of a government run amok.

As my colleague, Arthur Milikh, who is the associate director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in a provocative essay for National Affairs, perhaps left-wing dominance of higher education should make us question why we continue to pour so much money into it as we have done for generations.

The reality is that higher education has become increasingly financially bloated, ideologically rigid, and often fails to even protect the basic constitutional rights of students.


Free to Succeed: A Brief History of School Choice

Perhaps it’s the title, but at first glance, Milton Friedman’s 1955 essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” seems unassuming. To many Americans, the role of government in education is self-evident and impregnable. So, given public schools are run by the government, an essay on the government’s role in education seems like it would be both obvious (and boring). 

In reality, Friedman’s argument was neither obvious nor boring. In “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman argued that basic free-market principles—such as competition and consumer freedom—should be reintroduced into the education marketplace.

Friedman’s argument was not necessarily new or radical. For the first eight decades after the American Revolution, parents were the primary drivers of what and how their children learned. According to Market Education, written by the late Andrew Coulson, this “unofficial school choice” later dissolved amidst burgeoning anti-Catholic immigrant sentiment and a massive push for mandatory, state-funded, public education.

By the time Friedman wrote “The Role of Government in Education,” state governments essentially had developed monopolies on education, with children assigned to public schools within the district boundaries where they lived. This iron triangle of public schooling—government administration, compulsion and financing of education—had weakened important market forces and limited parents’ power to control their children’s education. Private schools offered an alternative to public school system, but many low- and middle-income families could not afford to pay both the taxes that support public schools and the tuition required of private schools. 

So although the history of American education reflects aspects of school choice, education freedom had nearly disappeared by 1955. Children attended their neighborhood public schools even if those schools were a poor fit.

Friedman’s essay argued that parents, not the state, should makes the decisions when it came to their children’s education. Instead of government officials mandating students attend given schools, competition between schools would encourage greater innovation, efficiency, and effectiveness. Parents, untethered from arbitrary school district boundaries, then could vote with their feet. As Friedman put it: “Parents could express their views about schools directly, by withdrawing their children from one school and sending them to another, to a much greater extent than is now possible.”

Friedman’s essay also proposed a voucher program, where the state would take the money that wouldhave been spent to educate students at public schools and give it to parents to cover tuition at a private school of their choice. Fundamentally, he argued to separate the financing of education from the delivery of services.

Friedman’s ideas were first implemented in Wisconsin in 1989 when state Assemblywoman Polly Williams authored the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, —the first modern-day private school choice legislation. The bipartisan legislation enabled low-income minority families to use vouchers to pay for tuition at the city’s private schools.

Later, 18 states and the District of Columbia launched similar voucher programs. The same number of states now offer tax-credit scholarships, which enable individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for donating to nonprofits that fund private school scholarships.

In 2011—dubbed “the year of school choice” because 12 states passed legislation that either created new school choice programs or expanded programs that already existed—Arizona implemented the county’s first education savings account option.

Education savings accounts allow parents to use taxpayer funds to pay for tuition, tutors, textbooks, and other education expenses. Friedman had suggested this as well during a 2003 interviewin which he spoke of issuing “partial vouchers.”

Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, and North Carolina have since followed Arizona’s lead and implemented their own Education Savings Account options.

Around the same time Milwaukee passed the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, public charter schools—another key player in the fight for school choice—started to take off. Public charter schools operate with greater autonomy and at less cost than their traditional public school counterparts. Because they are independent from traditional public school curriculum requirements, charter schools can tailor their environments and curricula to their students’ needs. 

Despite these gains, pushback continues. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that dealt with tax-credit scholarship programs. The case’s ruling, which is expected this summer, could shape the future of the school choice discussion in the United States.

But Friedman’s legacy endures, and this year’s National School Choice Week is a reminder that progress continues, but by no means is the fight for authentic education freedom over yet.


2 Gay Students Are Suing a Seminary. Here’s Why It Matters

A man and a woman, both in same-sex marriages, have sued Fuller Theological Seminary for discrimination after it expelled them over their same-sex marriages.

Fuller, located in Pasadena, California, is the nation’s largest interdenominational seminary. The lawsuit represents a move that Christian organizations have anticipated in light of same-sex marriage. The lawsuit could become a landmark First Amendment case.

Nathan Brittsan, a pastor and expelled student who is in a same-sex marriage, added his name to a lawsuit against Fuller earlier this month. He joins Joanna Maxon, who filed a lawsuit in November after Fuller expelled her in 2018 for also being in a same-sex marriage.

The two claim that since Fuller receives federal funding, the seminary is violating Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which says that no person can be discriminated against under any education program receiving federal financial aid on account of sex.

The Obama administration had interpreted “sex” to include discrimination on the basis of assigned sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and transgender status. The Trump administration has rolled back those interpretations, however.

While the seminary is religious in nature, it offers a wide range of degree programs and does not require students to adhere to a statement of faith. Fuller has not applied for or received a religious exemption from the requirements of Title IX.

Brittsan and Maxon are making a full-fledged case that they have been discriminated against. “This is a civil rights case about two students who were expelled from their graduate program for one reason: They married someone of the same sex,” a portion of the amended complaint reads.

But Fuller insists this lawsuit violates the school’s First Amendment rights. Fuller hired the well-known religious liberty firm Becket to defend it in court.

Becket attorneys liken this case to one they previously tried, and won, at the Supreme Court in 2012: Equal Employment Opportunity v. Hosanna-Tabor, a case about ministerial exceptions to federal laws.

In that case, a commissioned minister and teacher sued Hosanna-Tabor, a Lutheran church and school in Michigan, for discrimination after she had been fired for “insubordination and disruptive conduct,” a violation of the church’s teachings.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Hosanna-Tabor, protecting the ministerial exception that ensures churches have the right to choose their own leaders and carry out their religious beliefs without government interference.

In the opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.”

This case raises significant questions: Does expelling a student for entering a same-sex marriage count as discrimination for legal purposes? And if Fuller has discriminated, should it lose access to federal funding? If so, how would that bode for the hundreds of other similar Christian schools?

If sexual orientation, and for that matter gender identity, were protected classes under federal law, then this would qualify as discrimination. But federal civil rights law does not protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Fuller did not discriminate.

Even if it did, however, the plaintiffs’ argument may have to pass extra scrutiny because they are suing not just any school, but a seminary. Courts tend to defer a great deal to religious institutions when it comes to matters of conscience.

Traditional Christian teaching holds that sex should be between a man and a woman within the bonds of a covenant marriage relationship. As outdated, traditional, and bigoted as that may sound to some, this is a closely held religious belief, and most Christian organizations do not consider it discriminatory to hold or live by such beliefs.

If this lawsuit succeeds, it would set a new and worrisome precedent that organizations like Fuller can no longer expect to operate according to their consciences. It could strip Christian colleges and seminaries of the ability to be true to their convictions and foster a faithful Christian community.

It is certainly understandable that the plaintiffs do not want to be expelled from the seminary they chose to attend. But the seminary is a private institution, and those who voluntarily attend the seminary can be held to its ethical standards.

Fuller has a right to be Fuller, and these plaintiffs have the right to be themselves. It is imperative that our laws continue to protect the ability of schools like Fuller to carry out their missions in good conscience, even if that means removing noncompliant students from their rolls.


Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Honor School Choice Week by expanding ‘open enrollment’ programs nationwide

In honor of National School Choice Week, parents, politicians, and education reformers are gathering across the nation this week to support programs that give families and children the opportunity to access an education that’s right for them. Over 51,000 school choice-related events will be held nationwide this year.

These events are sorely needed. Many families have few educational options besides a geographically assigned public school, trapping low-income families and forcing them to send their children to failing schools or those that aren’t the right fit for them. Sadly, school choice’s most prominent opponents include misguided Democratic politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat hypocritically sent her children to elite private schools that most parents couldn’t afford while campaigning to keep school choice unavailable for the masses.

Of course, it’s the elite who already have unlimited school choice. Wealthier parents can easily place their children in private schools or relocate to localities with better public schools. As a result, politicians who oppose school choice only really oppose it for the poor and working class.

And, while school choice comes in many forms, the least controversial form of school choice, “open enrollment,” is often overlooked. Open enrollment is the simple notion that families should be able to send their children to the public school of their choice and not simply the one tied to their ZIP code or assigned by school district administrators.

Studies have shown that families seek alternative public schools for a variety of reasons. From escaping bullying to seeking special programs in areas such as the performing arts to wanting more competitive schools with better track records, parents and students should be able to choose the school that is best for them.

School choice is also popular among minorities.

African American students in Floridian public charter schools are more likely to attend college and score 4% higher on reading tests than their peers attending traditional public schools. In the case of Hispanic students, the average test score difference is a whopping 12%. In fact, school choice is such an important issue that an analysis found 100,000 votes from black mothers supporting a pro-school-choice candidate, Ron DeSantis, played a decisive role in Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial election going in the GOP’s favor.

When public schools are forced to compete with each other to attract and retain students, they’re given incentives to offer better education services and opportunities. That’s why California’s public schools responded to students leaving under that state’s open enrollment program by analyzing data, holding meetings to address concerns, and implementing reforms. The results? Improved test scores and graduation outcomes for public schools that lost and gained students alike. Who could oppose that?

Today, 43 states have some form of open enrollment, but these programs have a long way to go.

Most states give school districts significant discretion to refuse interdistrict admissions. In Tennessee, this has resulted in school districts denying transfers despite having the capacity to accommodate the students. In states such as Texas, some districts charge interdistrict transfer students exorbitant tuition rates that rival private schools. This is done as a way to prevent transfers. Elsewhere, open enrollment is limited by arbitrary rules such as Arkansas’s 3% cap on how many transfers a district can allow.

Abolishing these bureaucratic restrictions and reforming school finance so taxpayer education dollars follow each child to the school of their choice would help ensure that these programs are as effective as they can be and deliver unparalleled benefits and opportunity.

This week’s school choice events are a reminder that open enrollment isn’t an issue of Left versus Right. It’s an issue of right versus wrong.


School Choice Lets Parents Pick Safer Schools

Parents look for many things in a school: strong academics, engaging extracurricular activities, and quality teachers who offer one-on-one help to their kids.

But increasingly, parents are adding safety to their list: They want a school where their children will feel safe.

Safety is a growing concern for parents. A 2017 Gallup survey found that 3 in 10 parents are concerned for their children’s safety at school. And it’s no wonder, given what kids are experiencing.

In the District of Columbia, more than 30% of middle school students reported being bullied at school, nearly 10% of high school students say they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, and more than 15% experienced physical fights on school property.

Another 10% said they missed school because they felt unsafe at school or during their commute.

It’s no surprise that parents, such as those surveyed in Florida and Indiana, ranked school safety as one of the top three most important school characteristics.

And when parents grow concerned, policymakers begin to take note.

Last year, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., proposed a bill introducing child safety accounts. These accounts would help D.C. children who are the victims of bullying, sexual harassment, or violence to pay for tuition, tutoring, books, transportation, and therapy so that they could move to another school.

Since D.C. is under the jurisdiction of Congress, these accounts are an appropriate federal measure.

This proposal would build on existing school choice options in Washington, D.C., including the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to children from low-income families to attend a private school of choice.

The D.C. proposal takes a cue from Florida, where the Hope Scholarship Program allows students who are bullied or the victims of physical attacks to transfer to a school of their choice.

Charter schools are another solution for parents looking for safe schools.

It’s well known that charter schools don’t have the same safety problems that traditional public schools have. One recent study found that charter schools were much more likely to report that certain safety problems, such as students abusing teachers and gang activities, “never occurred.”

In Denver, researchers found that school safety was third among 18 factors that parents considered when applying to the city’s charter schools. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, teachers ranked safety as the fourth most important reason (out of 10) for seeking employment at a charter school.

Parents want their children to learn and grow in safe school environments. The expansion of charter schools, education savings accounts, and other school choice options means giving power to parents to choose schools that are the right fit for their children.

Consistent with Robert Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, parents will prioritize school safety over other school characteristics like academic achievement. As Milton Friedman noted in his book “Free to Choose,” “Parents generally have both greater interest in their children’s schooling and more intimate knowledge of their capacities and needs than anyone else.”

National School Choice Week is an opportunity for policymakers to trust to families to make the best choices for their children’s educations.


Court Decision Erases a Huge Student Debt—Is that Good or Bad?

For years, a contentious and sometimes emotionally heated debate has raged over the issue of letting people discharge their student loan debts in bankruptcy. A recent decision opens the door for individuals with high levels of student debt to have their burdens discharged in bankruptcy.

Should we cheer?

Until 1976, the bankruptcy law made no distinction between student loan debt and other kinds. In that year, however, Congress amended the law so as to mostly exclude student loan debts from bankruptcy, even though the level of college debt was vastly lower than it is today. On average, college cost only around $2,300 per year back then, but Congress saw fit to eliminate the temptation for graduates to file for bankruptcy to wipe out even the low amounts of debt that students were accumulating.

Congress did not make it impossible to discharge college loan debt in bankruptcy, but put impediments in the way. Student loan debts could only be considered for bankruptcy discharge only if the debtor filed an “adversary proceeding” in court to demonstrate that repaying the debt imposed “undue hardship.”

The law deterred many from seeking to escape their student debts, but some still tried. One was Marie Brunner, who sought relief from her college debts in 1987. Just 10 months after her loan payments began, she filed for bankruptcy. A sympathetic bankruptcy judge in New York granted her wish to be free of the payments, but the federal district court reversed that ruling and, when Brunner appealed to the Second Circuit, it upheld the district court’s reversal of the initial ruling in her favor.

In its decision, the Second Circuit held that Brunner had failed to show that she was under any undue hardship due to her loan obligations. Although she did not currently have a job, she hadn’t shown that finding employment in her field was unlikely. Furthermore, she had not sought a deferment of the payments.

The court announced that student loan debts should only be dischargeable if this three-part test was satisfied:”(1) That the debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a ‘minimal’ standard of living for herself and her dependents if forced to repay the loans; (2) that additional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant period of the student loans; and (3) that the debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans.”

That language came to be known as the Brunner test and most of the federal appeals courts have adopted it. Although a small number of student debtors have succeeded in persuading courts that they met the test, it has been widely regarded as an almost insurmountable barrier to using bankruptcy to wipe out student loan debts.

But a decision by federal bankruptcy judge Cecilia Morris on January 7 has people rethinking the conventional wisdom that there’s no escape from student loan debts short of death.

The case involved Kevin Rosenberg, who accumulated $116,000 in debt to earn degrees from the University of Arizona and then Cardozo Law School. After completing his law degree in 2004, he worked briefly in the legal profession, but soon decided that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. He met with some success, but since 2008 has suffered from financial hardship. Rosenberg couldn’t pay down his student loans, which had ballooned to over $221,000 by 2019. Facing a negative cash flow every month, he petitioned for bankruptcy.

His case came before Judge Morris, who concluded that he should be allowed to discharge his student loan debts since they did impose undue hardship on him. In her decision, Judge Morris argued that the courts have made bankruptcy relief for student debtors much harder than Congress intended. She wrote, “Brunner has received a lot of criticism for creating too high of a burden for most bankruptcy petitioners to meet. The harsh results associated with Brunner are actually the result of cases interpreting Brunner.”

With that ruling, Judge Morris set off a wildfire of discussion about using bankruptcy to eliminate student loan debts.

Commenting on the Rosenberg decision, New York bankruptcy lawyer Peter Frank was quoted, “All of us have been discouraged from attempting to discharge student loans because it appeared that the law was too high to climb for most debtors other than those with disabilities.”

Professor Richard Fossey, writing on his “Condemned to Debt” site, stated, “Hundreds of thousands of student loan debtors who do not qualify for relief under the bastardized Brunner standard will be eligible under the Rosenberg ruling.”

And Attorney Joe Patrice praised her decision as “a moment of sanity” and excoriated the student loan industry for “molding a legal regime to protect the pound of flesh it extracts from students.” (Never mind that no one is forced to take out college loans.)

We shouldn’t talk about bankruptcy until we have first adopted a “skin in the game” requirement for schools.

It is possible that Rosenberg will be reversed on appeal, as the initial bankruptcy decision in favor of Brunner was, but what if the decision stands? What if student loan advocates get their wish and hundreds of thousands of Americans with heavy debt burdens go into bankruptcy court and persuade judges that their repayment obligations are imposing undue hardship (a highly subjective standard) on them? Wouldn’t it be a good thing if those who, like Rosenberg, are drowning in student debts, could escape them and lead normal lives, buying homes and cars and starting families rather than living in their parents’ basements?

Let’s hold the applause. Bankruptcy for student loan debtors solves their problems, but exacerbates the nation’s.

Our problem is that we have created strong incentives for people to borrow excessively for college (and grad school) costs. Permitting borrowers who face “undue hardship” to wipe out their educational debts simply shifts the cost burden from those borrowers to the taxpayers.

Few politicians or judges give any thought to the steadily mounting debt burden that the United States is facing. As Eric Boehm notes in his recent Reason article, since the inauguration of Trump, we have added a staggering $4.7 trillion to the national debt. The consequences of that debt will have a huge impact on the nation in the coming decade and every dollar we add to it, including bankruptcy for students who borrowed too much, increases the pain we’ll experience.

While some politicians advocate changing the law so that student loans will be dischargeable in bankruptcy just like other debts (as we read in this piece in The Hill) and others (most notably Democratic contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) want the federal government to forgive most college debts, neither approach addresses the great blunder of turning money for college into a federal entitlement.

Enabling almost everyone to borrow for college has swelled student bodies with throngs of academically weak and disengaged young people who derive little benefit from being in college while allowing schools to raise the cost of attendance. The easier we make it to escape paying off student loans, the more we encourage careless borrowing for dubious degrees.

The big question for our political leaders isn’t how can we help people like Kevin Rosenberg, but rather how can we keep cases like his from happening again and again? We shouldn’t talk about bankruptcy until we have first adopted a “skin in the game” requirement for schools and done all we can to encourage non-debt alternatives like income-share agreements.

If any good comes of the pro-debtor decision in Rosenberg, it will be to get Americans to question why the federal government should be in the business of college lending in the first place.


Monday, February 03, 2020

The New American Academy: Break Out the Crayons and Play-Doh

The idea of a campus “safe space”—a university-sanctioned oasis where students can go to destress and feel at ease—has had its share of ridicule. And it’s not hard to see why: It is often hard to distinguish between a college safe space and a preschool daycare.

For example, in April 2019, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a “Week of Balance” for students. The week’s events were packed full of therapeutic activities including “coloring and origami therapy,” “sweet treats,” “yoga and crafting,” and engaging in a “cathartic primal scream” followed by an ice cream outing.

But safe spaces aren’t just temporary rooms that disappear after the semester ends. Entire centers on university campuses are often designed as permanent safe spaces for select student groups. In fact, former UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt and many others believe that entire campuses should be a safe space. And “safety” doesn’t just mean protection from violence or abusive behavior; for an environment to be safe it must also protect students from stress and discomfort.

At first, the existence of campus “safe spaces” might seem laughable or excessive, but ultimately harmless. However, as the new documentary No Safe Spaces shows, the ideological forces driving the calls for university-wide safe spaces are anything but benign.

No Safe Spaces is narrated by comedian Adam Carolla and radio talk show host Dennis Prager. With hints of comedy and entertainment, the film highlights some of the most egregious affronts to free thought on and off college campuses.

The documentary, which has been in the making since 2017, premiered on October 25, 2019. The first week of its release at a single theater in Arizona, the film had a record-breaking opening. The film is now in 71 theaters, including in Fayetteville, Greensboro, and Greenville, North Carolina.

The film’s description reads:

The First Amendment and the very idea of free speech are under attack in America today. A growing number of Americans don’t believe you have the right to speak your mind if what you have to say might offend someone, somewhere. They advocate for “safe spaces” in which people won’t be offended by ideas they may find troubling. But is that what America is about?

One of the film’s central aims is to demonstrate how college activists’ zealous censorship of unpopular ideas and frantic need for comfort has infected nearly every facet of American culture. Fittingly, the documentary’s tagline is: “What happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.”

The film consists of interviews with academics, authors, celebrities, and journalists who have been silenced or faced backlash for expressing their views.

Many of those who appear in the film may be familiar faces, such as Cornel West, Tim Allen, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Ben Shapiro. Each one has faced protests, sometimes violent, by radical activists who attempted to shut down their speaking engagements altogether. In 2017, for example, the University of California at Berkeley had to spend about $600,000 on security so that Shapiro could speak on campus.

Former Evergreen State University professors Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying also make an appearance. In the film, they relate how student activists threatened them with physical violence when Weinstein refused to be forced off campus because of the color of his skin.

The film also highlighted the unfair treatment of Canadian student Lindsay Shepherd who was chastised and shamed by diversity administrators at Wilfrid Laurier University for showing a video of Jordan Peterson in her class. By playing the video, which featured a debate about the use of transgender pronouns, Shepherd was accused of violating the university’s gender and sexual violence policy.

When Shepherd asked how she violated the policy, she was told that she harmed transgender students by encouraging discussion and remaining neutral on the issue. In their view, Shepherd should have prefaced the video by stating that Peterson’s ideas are wrong and unethical. During the tense exchange, which Shepherd recorded, one administrator told her: 

[This] has created a toxic environment for some of the students… These are very young students. Something of that nature [debating transgender pronouns] is not appropriate for that age of student; they’re very young adults; they don’t have the critical tool-kit to be able to take it apart. This is one of the things we are teaching them. This is why this is something that has to be done with a bit more care.

Dave Rubin spoke about the documentary on his show The Rubin Report: “It was like watching all of the things I’ve been talking about [on the Rubin Report] for the last couple years— all pieced together,” he said.

During an interview with Prager in the documentary, Rubin warns that the censorious tendencies of activists don’t just target conservatives. He pointed out that even though Brett Weinstein and Lindsay Shepherd are left-leaning, they are nevertheless “purged” when “they say one thing that upsets the left.” He continues:

If there’s someone watching this right now who is a hard-core progressive… guess what? If you have any spark of individualism in you; if you have anything about you that is interesting or different, they will come to destroy that, too.

To provide comic relief and tie together all the interviews and commentary, the film also features cartoon and parody clips. Unfortunately, the film was given a PG-13 rating partly due to a 30-second cartoon segment featuring an animated embodient of the First Amendment named “Firsty.” During the segment, Firsty sings a little ditty about the rights he protects. At the end of the song, however, Firsty suffers a violent death from a drive-by shooting. The clip, of course, illustrated how people’s First Amendment rights are frequently violated.

“We’re making this movie, but the truth is it’s impossible to parody what actually takes place,” Prager said on Tucker Carlson’s news show. He pointed to how Harvard University stopped charging students a library late fee—which is 50 cents a day—because they “have witnessed firsthand the stress that overdue fines can cause for students.”

But Prager could have just as easily pointed to the infamous “cry closet” at the University of Utah. The closet was an art exhibit in which stressed-out students could have a ten-minute cry with stuffed animals. Since then, some have suggested that cry closets be installed in colleges across the country.

As No Safe Spaces demonstrates, mob violence, political correctness, and suppression of speech often go hand-in-hand with a campus culture that infantilizes college students. In the end, No Safe Spaces captures the essence of the argument made by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of The Coddling of the American Mind:

Attempts to shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort are bad for the students…bad for the workplace…bad for American democracy…Rather than trying to protect students from words and ideas that they will inevitably encounter, colleges should do all they can to equip students to thrive in a world full of words and ideas that they cannot control.

Indeed, as Corolla said before Congress, placing someone in a zero-gravity environment—free of contradictions and struggles—only sets them up for failure. If our higher education leaders truly want to prepare a generation of responsible leaders, it’s time to put away the crayons.


A new mob at Sarah Lawrence College

Hope for Gen Z?

Samuel J. Abrams

Last year, a progressive student mob came for my job and the faculty and administrators of Sarah Lawrence College did not support me. This week, a student mob again encircled my office — this time because they craved viewpoint diversity.

The media portrays America’s students as overwhelmingly ‘woke’ activists obsessed with social justice protests. In reality, Gen Z college students look far more positive. America’s students are intellectually curious, and they want more from college, than is offered by the progressive monoculture encouraged by some professors and many administrators.

After my 2018 op-ed documenting the liberal imbalance of our college administrators and calling for more viewpoint diversity on college campuses, a group of anonymous students, the Diaspora Coalition, took over a building at Sarah Lawrence. They demanded I apologize for my op-ed’s purported harm to the community, and that my tenured-professorship be ‘put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color’.

I never issued any form of apology for my research, my data or for raising valid and real concerns about the lack of viewpoint diversity at Sarah Lawrence and on college campuses generally. I did, however, want to better understand the political outlook of students, to see if this ‘coalition’ was typical. It turns out that most students are nothing like this group.

My research shows that the vast majority students are not interested in learning how to be social activists. Under 10 percent of incoming students think that they will participate in protests or demonstrations. Instead, they prefer various forms of community service. Further, survey data demonstrates that incoming students are not ideologically monolithic. Just 6 percent identify as ‘far-right’ or ‘far-left’. The majority of students are ideologically middle-of-the-road and centrist. Extreme they are not.

Large numbers of students regularly state that they cannot freely express unpopular opinions. But in a recent survey, over two-thirds of students agree with the idea that ‘dissent is a critical component of the political process’. A similar number of incoming students believe they possess ‘openness to having [their] own views challenged’ and an ‘ability to discuss and negotiate controversial issue’. Overall, this suggests that students not only know that there is a problem with the progressive, ‘harm’ narratives that now pervade the campus. The students also want to empathize with and understand others.

These empirical findings about moderation and openness to ideas translated into real world behavior at Sarah Lawrence this week. Despite the incidents at Sarah Lawrence regarding my writings about intellectual diversity, almost 10 percent of the student body visited me in our 48-hour ‘shopping period’, asking about how to register for my upcoming course on the 2020 election.

The course, which is open to the entire school with no pre-requisites, is designed to tackle big questions about the sociopolitical state of the nation, and ask how various narratives will play out in the upcoming election cycle. The readings are deliberately designed to bring in contrasting ideas and world views from a range of scholars and commentators, from J.D. Vance and Sarah Smarsh to Charles Murray and Arlie Russell Hochschild, as well as Tim Carney, Thomas Frank, Jose Antonio Vargas and Thomas Chatterton Williams.

In each information session, the room was mobbed. Students filled the chairs. They sat on the floor five rows deep. They spilled out into the hallway. This happened in each session for two full days.

The students weren’t worried about last year’s progressive horde, or how they would be viewed for taking a class with me. In fact, many students directly addressed the question of viewpoint diversity head-on in emails and statements to me, such as: ‘I want this class because I don’t want to be told what and how to think’, and ‘I know there is more to the story, I want to see both sides of the political world.’

In addition to social science students, I had aspiring dancers, artists and poets come by. Almost all shared in a variation on the refrain, ‘I want to make sure I’m educated on both sides of the political spectrum especially in our current situation.’

I responded by telling the students that politics is more complicated than a binary choice, and that I looked forward to exploring this with them. The fact is, students wanted to learn from a multiplicity of authors and be exposed to more than one narrow leftist view. This response reflects the openness of Gen Z. Their hearts and minds are still up for grabs. Their openness presents a direct challenge to the extreme liberalism and progressivism of administrators and many faculty.

This new ‘mob’ gives me hope for higher education. The young people at Sarah Lawrence and elsewhere know that something is wrong and that a correction is absolutely necessary. Students have successfully demanded and compelled change in past eras, and I hope they demand intellectual and ideological balance more often now and in the future. Given their interest in hearing from all sides, it appears that they are poised once again to shift our colleges and universities in the right direction.


Preventing Suicide by Higher Education

From the birth of the modern conservative movement, dissidents concerned with civic and liberal education have tried almost everything to reshape America's universities: from refusing to donate to their alma maters (as William F. Buckley prescribed), to funding tenure-track positions, forming independent centers on campuses to host outside speakers, organizing external supplementary seminars to make up for what students do not get in the classroom, and creating new academic departments. Despite 70 years of increasingly sophisticated efforts, conservatives are now begging on many campuses merely to be heard.

America's universities have been progressivism's most important asset, its crown jewel. For over half a century, they have served as the left's R&D headquarters and the intellectual origin or dissemination point for the political and moral transformation of the nation, especially through the sexual revolution and the identity-politics revolution. Universities have trained the new elites who have taken society's helm and now set its tone through the other institutions thoroughly dominated by the left: the mainstream press, mass entertainment, Fortune 500s, and tech companies. Universities have also brought to rural and suburban America these moral revolutions, converting generations of young people to their cause. Universities are arguably the most important institution in modern democracy — no other institution has such power to determine the fate of democracy, for good or ill.

Universities were meant be the one fixed place in democratic society insulated from the ceaseless motion of democratic life, with its petty passions, consumption, and moral and intellectual fashions. They were meant to serve as the guardian of the mind and its greatest fruits. In previous eras, segments of society (especially the clergy and the aristocracy) were devoted to protecting learning and a tradition of books. But democracy does not support such classes, and it was originally hoped that the universities would assume this role. Regrettably, they are no longer animated by their original purpose of serving republican self-government or the freedom of the mind. As such, they must be treated as political entities.

That the freedom of speech is under attack on many campuses should not be surprising, given that the freedom of the mind, of which speech is the expression, is rarely understood as their purpose any longer. Without that purpose, most American universities no longer serve the public good for which they were created and for which they continue to be publicly funded. Their transformation, which in turn has led to the transformation of the nation, has taken place with the unwitting assistance of American taxpayers — and amounts to defrauding the public. If citizens are compelled to pay for others to go to college, it should be to the benefit of the entire nation — forming good citizens and advancing useful sciences, rather than teaching the rising generation that the nation is irredeemably evil. Taxpayers have funded the research, bankrolled the student loans (including generous forgiveness programs), and allowed the universities and their enormous endowments to operate without paying taxes. These funding sources are the operational life blood of universities, but they can no longer be justified. In fact, it seems likely that the nation would be better off if the vast majority of America's more than 3,000 colleges and universities closed down.

An executive order signed by President Trump on March 21, 2019, gives administrators in 12 executive-branch agencies that issue research grants broad discretion to withhold funding from universities that suppress "free inquiry" and "undermine learning." This is a worthwhile half-step to chastening them. But given where things stand, bolder, more aggressive action is needed. If the universities are going to be rebuilt, only external force, rather than pleading or slight policy modifications, will work. Success in this could bring generational change.


Modern democracies have a special need for universities in a way that other regimes do not. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Letter to M. D'Alembert on the Theater concludes with a scene from Sparta where three generations — the frail, those in full bloom, and the young — sing together a song whose verses articulate the place of each generation in their ancestral order. Such a people does not need modern universities, as their existence is ordered by their traditions, laws, and gods. Our Enlightenment-informed republic, however, requires the production of citizens in accord with it. We cannot be a nation of war-like men guided by ancestral gods; we need citizens capable of commerce, modern science, rights-based self-rule, and political prudence. Perhaps most critically, our universities must actively correct certain vices stemming from the nature of our regime, seeking to forfend the mass production of souls modeled on mass tastes, suited mainly for intellectual and moral conformity, consumption, and industriousness alone.

The first traditional purpose of our colleges and universities is civic education, which aims to preserve the nation by creating citizens suited to it. Through civic education, citizens are prepared for political self-rule by developing rational habits of mind, the capacity for forming political judgments, and a moral character capable of self-restraint and toleration. Civic education also teaches reverence for something beyond the very strong forces silently guiding democracies, especially public opinion, with its overwhelming capacity to determine all tastes, objects of worship, and moral horizons. Civic education thus attempts to preserve images of human greatness against the sea of intellectual and moral conformity, while instilling at least a modicum of reverence and affection for the nation and the tradition upon which it is built — its history, its greatest individuals, and its contributions. Individuals are thus trained to become parts of a whole. Our natural-rights republic does not require mindless assent but can (and should) be defended rationally.

The second purpose of our universities is modern natural science. The origin of this goal is found in the works of René Descartes and Francis Bacon. Modern natural science, distinct from ancient science, is concerned with two different ends according to its inventors. The first is unlocking the inner secrets of material nature in order to increase human powers and thereby relieve man's estate. The second is articulating a comprehensive opinion of the material world and thereby ridding man's mind of reliance on natural and conventional prejudices.

The scientific enterprise requires large institutions, public respectability, and the employment of a multitude of minds that would otherwise be badly used in what Descartes calls scholastic "disputations." Moreover, because of the brevity of a single life, Descartes writes, "one man alone cannot perform all the experiments that can be useful." Generations of scientists must accumulate and build up scientific knowledge in order to penetrate more deeply the laws of matter. And since no one man is sufficiently wealthy to take on this expensive enterprise, entire nations must be engaged.

The power of the new nations created on the basis of Cartesian and Baconian Enlightenment depends on the new power of science. Alexander Hamilton, second only to Benjamin Franklin in his understanding of this aspect of the modern project, discusses in the Federalist Papers the extent to which industrialization and commerce, based on science, will be America's main comparative advantage against other nations, since conquest and empire, which contradict the natural-rights teaching, are not feasible sources of wealth and power for republics.

Science applied to industry is for Hamilton both defensive and offensive: It compels other traditional nations to compete on America's terms — scientific and commercial — a battleground on which we have great advantages. It is defensive because the effectual truth of science and industry will weaken other nations' attachments to traditional pieties, which can inflict harm on us. Moreover, since the genie of modern science is now out of the bottle, and other nations, some of them enemies, possess it and threaten to out-compete us, the United States has no choice but to succeed in this area.

But modern science is not and should not be the university's highest goal. In important ways, modern science exists uneasily alongside both civic education and liberal education, the highest goals of the university. Liberal education is concerned primarily with philosophical self-knowledge, which consists in confronting our own contradictions and errors: the prejudices that come from our own times (like the authoritative opinions that order the lives and self-understanding of most), and the prejudices given to all by nature. This purpose includes the quiet questioning of the modern scientific account of material nature as the final, comprehensive view. In this sense, the university's duty is to resist becoming merely utilitarian; that is, devoting itself wholly to serving the public's needs or demands, and thereby becoming its flatterers.

Today, these three ends are either corrupted or on their way to corruption in the great majority of America's universities. In their confusion about or open rebellion against these ends, America's universities too often create students in the opposite vein: ideologues with technical skills, despisers of tradition without insight (not to mention wisdom), or scientists without perspective. These problems are hardly new and have been the centerpiece of the conservative critique of higher education for more than half a century. What is new, however, is the thoroughness of the corruption, the impossibility at this point of changing course through conventional means, and the extent of the pernicious effects of these institutions on the nation as a whole.


Allan Bloom's remarkable 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind, is still unmatched in its treatment of the problem of America's universities. According to Bloom, beginning in the 1940s but blossoming in the 1960s, many American academics superficially and gleefully appropriated the tenets of Friedrich Nietzsche and his followers (especially Freud and Weber) in adopting a thin relativism suitable for democracy. Moral and intellectual relativism, these academics argued, would lead to a tolerant and open social order called multiculturalism. But relativism had two effects. The first was the thinning out of all cultures and opinions to make them serve the genuine goals that guided these academics: moral permissiveness and a conflict-free existence. The second, unanticipated, though truer outgrowth of relativism — which yielded the opposite of its first goal — was the elevation of "commitment," or unyielding moral attachment in the absence of an intelligible justification of its truth.

The contemporary manifestation of commitment is called "identity," and it is expressed especially through race and sexuality. Identity, as it is broadly understood today, is an unfalsifiable, self-created opinion of oneself or one's group that others must recognize, accommodate, and celebrate. Identity has become sacred, placed beyond questioning or criticism. But the sacredness of identity applies only to allegedly oppressed or marginalized groups. These are allowed to possess an identity, while the alleged oppressors must not only be denied an identity but must perpetually atone for the oppression stemming from it. Herbert Marcuse's goal of getting universities to teach that "history was the development of oppression" has not only succeeded — it is now publicly financed.

These doctrines stand in stark contrast to natural rights, the foundational teaching of America. Natural rights mean that human beings belong to a common humanity, not to an identity group. As such, all human beings have the same rights, which can be grasped rationally. Since all human beings possess rights, a political common good is possible, as is mutual understanding and rational persuasion. Deep commitments, to the contrary, imply real conflict.

A generation after Bloom's writing, identity fanaticism, having first gained institutional support in the universities, and now in the Democratic Party, has turned to demanding conformity and punishing dissenters. The next logical outgrowth of identity politics is suppression of free speech, as speech is the expression of a free, questioning mind. An example of this fanaticism is captured in a letter written by Williams College students to faculty members who supported the adoption of the University of Chicago statement in defense of free speech on campuses. For these students, enforcing the freedom of speech is merely a reflection of "white fragility" and "discursive violence," and is thus primarily supported by "white faculty," the oppressor group. This letter reflects beliefs widely held by faculty and students across the nation's universities. If universities once understood their purpose as seeking intellectual clarity, now rational questioning of identity theories is itself an act of violence.

In fact, raising the basic contradictions of dangerous and anti-republican theories in the spirit of honest intellectual inquiry has become impossible on most campuses — perhaps the only place in American society where such thinking could take place. How it is, for example, that deeply meaningful identity can emerge from an act of will remains unanswered. Nor can one ask why marginalization itself leads to a special knowledge of justice, rather than to distortion; and if marginalization grants access to the truth about justice, marginalization would then imply superiority in terms of human goods like moral purity and knowledge. Nor can one ask how meaningful identity can be present during the struggle against identity-denying oppression without identity being defined exclusively in terms of opposition and therefore lacking positive content. Finally, as these doctrines are applied to politics, should one conclude that the rights of the oppressor group should be taken away?

Without the moderating force of reason, fanatical identity attachments often terminate in anger and the desire for punishment. Since rational inquiry (or perhaps religious belief) could have once openly moderated these passions, in its absence, the new identities become these passions, and come to dominate the nation. The net effect is fanatical group attachments without a common good.

Writing in the late 1980s, Bloom's book presumed a high concentration of scholars devoted enough to seeking the truth in their fields — scholars whose minds were sufficiently open to the value of truth — so as to care about liberal education. These regrettably have largely disappeared. And Bloom did not witness the radicalization of university administrators, beginning in the early 2000s, who have doubled down on the identity-politics project. Indeed, the purpose of such university administrators, now found on nearly all campuses, is to forcefully secure the dogmas of identity politics and spread them to the nation by teaching students obedience to them.

Not only students' minds but their characters are formed by these new doctrines. Liberal education should cultivate the capacity for self-criticism, the opposite of self-satisfaction, which coheres with republican citizenship or opens them to philosophical self-knowledge. But teaching that all of history is merely oppression has the opposite effect: It creates the sense that the allegedly liberated individual or group is somehow on the cusp of history, and therefore possesses deep knowledge and insight, and it promises that rebellion leads to inner wholeness and honor. This spirit forecloses the capacity for subordinance to higher reason or belief in a political common good.

Moreover, asserting that human happiness is gained through non-rational identity creation — rather than self-exploration, attachment to one's nation, family, or romantic love — creates no wisdom for life, let alone philosophic wisdom, and leaves many young adherents confused and unhappy. Future citizens, statesmen, and free minds cannot emerge from such teachings. For instance, neither love nor families form as a result of teachings about a global patriarchal conspiracy against women. What forms instead is a war between the sexes, an ethic of using and being used, which, in turn, fails to form the virtues of character that are the groundwork from which love grows. Having destroyed any sense of belonging to a just order, what remains is anger and vengeance, the satisfaction of which determines one's self-respect. Students are often left to understand that there is no nation, love, or even gender — only open self-creation and, ironically, dogmatic conformity to this doctrine.

Institutions that aggressively advance such teachings and form young people on such a model are intensely hostile to the core ideals of American life. And such institutions should not be supported with public funds. Universities' tax-exempt status, we might recall, is granted only on account of the promise that they serve the public good. By this criterion, it is time to reconsider that status. The condition of our universities has degenerated to such a degree that action is required. Those still concerned with civic and liberal education have two specific levers of power at their disposal at the federal level: Federal research money can be revoked, and student loans can be returned to the private domain.


Sunday, February 02, 2020

Florida governor announces official end to Common Core and outlines new standards

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that he has officially ended Common Core in his state and outlined new standards that he says “embrace common sense.”

“When I took office, I made a pledge to the citizens of Florida to overhaul our educational standards to remove all vestiges of Common Core and return to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic,” the Republican governor said in a press conference.

“It really goes beyond Common Core to embrace common sense.”

Conservatives have long been opponents of the controversial Common Core teaching practices, and many believe the reform harms innovation, school choice, and, ultimately, students.

Some of the changes being made to the school system in Florida include an elevated focus on math facts, increased focus on the “correct” answer and not the method, and placing reading at the core of the development process. The state will also pay for students to take the ACT or SAT.

"The great thing about these new standards is that each and every part is very clear and to the point, whereas old standards may have three steps. This one has one step,” Seth Federman, a member of the Florida Council of Teachers of English, said about the new rules.

The state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, was at the press conference and also expressed support for the change.

“We want to produce students who are excellent thinkers and who are prepared for the world and who can go out there and grab a job and wrestle with the great questions of life, synthesize large volumes of information, make a great decision," he said.

Not all the reactions to the governor’s press conference were positive, however.

The state’s teachers union said that not enough attention was being given to providing teachers with the resources they need.

“The Department of Education should be focused on what happens in the classroom," Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said. "The teachers and the teaching that goes on and giving teachers the time, the resources, and the funding."


How Historically Black Colleges and Universities Aid Military Preparedness

At a Heritage Foundation panel discussion Jan. 23, Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford explains how historically black colleges and universities can be beneficial to entire families. (Photo: Willis Bretz for The Heritage Foundation)

Historically black colleges and universities have been an integral part of the U.S. military’s competitive edge, according to participants in a panel discussion Thursday at The Heritage Foundation’s inaugural forum on HBCUs.

The panel discussion—hosted by James Carafano, a national security expert at The Heritage Foundation—laid out the role HBCUs play in ensuring military readiness and national security in the face of growing international challenges.

Marshall Williams, the Army’s principal deputy assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, said the quality of personnel is key for the U.S. military right now, because we can no longer count on our wealth advantage compared with our chief rivals.

“We live in trying times right now,” Williams said. “The world has become far more complex. Russia and China, our near-peer adversaries, have improved their large-scale ground combat capabilities, long-range capabilities, through significant advancements and investments in technology.”

This is the first time in our history, he said, that money isn’t our advantage and that we can’t outspend our opponents.

Where the U.S. does have an advantage is with our people, Williams said.

“We will win against our enemies by having the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. That’s how we’re going to do it,” he said.

By strengthening individuals, the U.S. military becomes the most capable force in the world, Williams said.

“There is no doubt that HBCUs are a valuable and powerful resource for our nation in terms of education of young African Americans and giving them the tools to help our country to compete globally,” he said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, a former chief of staff for installation management for the Army, echoed the importance of personnel.

“Certainly, when we talk about global readiness, military preparedness, the secret sauce, I believe, is our people,” Bingham said. “[W]hen we talk about global competitiveness and being able to have that military preparedness that gives us the edge over our adversaries, it’s really about our people, and certainly HBCUs are an integral part of that pool of talent.”

Ronal Butler, president of Woodbridge, Virginia-based Networking & Engineering Technologies Inc., said preparation for the kind of readiness needed in the armed forces goes beyond the classroom, and workforce development is essential for students integrating into real-life, high-pressure situations.

“What happens is, we’ve got students who come out, they’ve got the textbook knowledge; they think they understand what’s going on,” Butler said. “But then, when you actually see a monitor, and see all the countries that are hacking into a particular military base per hour, then you understand—’Wow! School kind of got me ready, but this workforce is going to teach me a lot more of what I need to prepare for.’”

Army Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford said historically black colleges and universities do a particularly good job of preparing people to serve in the armed forces. He explained how he was nurtured as a first-generation college student during his time at South Carolina State University.

Importantly, he said, HBCUs give students important qualities that prepare them for leadership.

“You become very resilient at historically black colleges. You learn the power of resiliency. You learn the power of overcoming challenges,” Crawford said.

Just as importantly, he added, he learned to be deeply competitive during his time at an HBCU.

“What you will find in an HBCU graduate is almost an insatiable appetite to be competitive, ultimately to win,” Crawford said.

In his case, the importance of the school, he said, is that it led to other family members going to college and succeeding.

“When I think about the enduring legacy of an HBCU, it’s not that I got an opportunity to be a first-generation college graduate. It’s not that I had the opportunity because I had powerful mentors who grabbed me along the way,” Crawford explained.

“The enduring legacy of an HBCU is that my other three siblings all went to college. Their children all went to college. My children had the opportunity to go to college.”


Schooling at home becomes more popular in Australia

THE number of Queensland kids being homeschooled has almost doubled over the past five years and thousands more could be illegally flying under the radar.

Education Queensland data reveals that 3411 school-aged children and teenagers are being homeschooled — up from 1770 in 2015.

But Queensland University Technology home education expert Dr Rebecca English said it did not show the true numbers. She said.research suggested there could be thousands more illegally homeschooling. "They're still homeschooling but just don't tell the department about it which I believe is quite worrying." She said.  A change in the departmental process to register as a home educator became more difficult in 2018.

However, a department of education spokesman said parents had a legal obligation to ensure their school-aged child was enrolled in school or registered in home education. "The parent's application must be accompanied by documentation verifying the identity of the parent, the identity and age of the child and a summary of proposed educational program that shows evidence of high-quality education," he said.

Ipswich mother Kathryn McGowan said instead of sending her son Patrick to mainstream school, she had enrolled him in distance education because home education registration was too. complicated.

As a teacher, Ms McGowan said she knew her five-year-old son was not ready for mainstream school.

From the Brisbane "Courier Mail" of 30 January, 2020