Friday, February 14, 2020

Bank Reverses Decision, Picks Schoolkids Over LGBT Activists

Seven hundred kids. That’s how many students would have lost their scholarships—and a chance at a better life—if Fifth Third Bank hadn’t come to its senses.

Instead, after a week of uncertainty, the company sat down with Florida parents and pastors and decided not to listen to Florida’s cultural bullies. It’s one thing for a company to support LGBT extremism. It’s quite another, the bank agreed, to hurt needy children in the process.

Most kids had already left school for the weekend when they got the good news: One of the biggest contributors to the Florida voucher program wasn’t dropping out after all.

Fifth Third Bank—who’d joined Wells Fargo in abandoning the scholarships—had gotten an earful from the local community. And, after a few days of protests, rallies, and nonstop phone calls, the business finally relented: Its $5.4 million investment in school choice for the state would go on—regardless of what the Orlando Sentinel and a handful of liberal lawmakers think.

It was a major reversal for the bank, who threw the program into complete chaos earlier in the month—all because parents had the option of using those scholarships for religious schools, who (not surprisingly) have religious beliefs.

Democratic state Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith apparently object to that and have been harassing corporate donors to drop their contributions over those schools’ biblical views on marriage and sexuality.

Local parents, pastors, and politicians were furious—including a good number of their Democratic colleagues. Members like state Reps. James Bush III and Al Jacquet couldn’t believe their party would actually use children as pawns to appease the LGBT Left.

“We have children that need these opportunities,” Bush said. When there’s a chance for parents to have a choice that will help their kids, “we should afford them that opportunity.”

So when Fifth Third’s leaders finally listened to reason and reinstated their donations, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who’s been an outspoken champion of the program, was thrilled.

“I am glad to see Fifth Third Bank putting students and their families above destructive identity politics,” he said. “It shows people can raise their voice and overcome the insane ‘woke’ agenda that drives our politics and culture. School vouchers provide opportunities for low income and special needs students, and I am proud of all the Floridians that stood up for these children.”

Other leaders from both parties, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, also praised the company for seeing the bigger picture.

As principals like Lakisha Robinson know better than anyone, this option is sometimes the only option for parents. Her Victory Christian Academy is right smack-dab in the inner-city of Orlando, an “oasis in the desert,” as she calls it.

“We’re almost all minori[ties],” Lakisha explains. “We have mostly African Americans … in an area that’s mostly impoverished.” When parents have the choice between a failing school or a private one, “it’s a whole other ballgame.”

But Victory, like other schools in the program, is “unapologetically Christian,” so having bullies at the door is nothing new.

“We catch a lot of different heat in this area,” Lakisha explained on “Washington Watch.” But the reality is, Lakisha explains, no child is forced to go to their school—parents choose it. And they do so, she points out, even when they aren’t Christians themselves because “they love the positive environment of the academy” and its proven success.

Sure, she agrees, they could get more money being a charter school (which is what a lot of liberals have tried to push Victory toward), but that would mean surrendering their values.

They [wouldn’t] allow us to use our Christian curriculum or … allow us to keep ‘Christian’ in our name. And we want it to be Victory Christian Academy, not Victory Academy.

The state’s voucher program is one thing that helped her school keep its identity and offer a high-class education. “It means more to us to stand firm on God’s principles.” These needy neighborhoods, she insists “need the Word of God more than anything.”

And the results speak for themselves. In these past 18 years, students are graduating and getting into good universities.

“These are first-generation college students,” she says. Their lives—and the lives of their families—will be forever impacted because of this program. If Fifth Third Bank can see that, surely Wells Fargo can too.


3 High School Girls File Lawsuit to Preserve Fairness in Women’s Sports

Three brave high school girls in Connecticut have done what many of their much older counterparts have been unwilling to do… They have asked the simple question: Do female athletes deserve the right to compete on a level playing field?

The answer should be common sense. That’s why Title IX was created, after all—to provide women and girls with equal educational and athletic opportunities. But those opportunities are being stripped from these high school athletes. And now they are speaking out.

You see, in 2017, they started facing a different kind of competition. That’s the year that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) changed its policies to allow male athletes who identify as female to compete as girls.

That’s why these three girls are taking a stand. Last year, they filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. And while the Department of Education agreed to investigate this CIAC policy, these female athletes are taking extra steps to ensure that the athletic opportunities of women and girls are preserved.

Today, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, they filed a lawsuit against the CIAC.

Let me introduce you to these brave high school girls—who have been personally harmed by being forced to compete against male athletes.

At the 2019 Indoor Track & Field State Championships, Selina finished one place away from qualifying for finals and two places away from qualifying for the New England Regional Championships in the 55-meter dash. But two of the sprinters that finished ahead of her, placing first and second, were male athletes. Because of that, Selina lost out on the opportunity to compete in front of college scouts at the New England Regional Championships. Instead, she had to sit on the sidelines.

In June 2019, Alanna won the 400-meter dash at the New England Regional Championships—as a freshman! Thankfully, in that event, she hadn’t been forced to compete against any male athletes, so she earned her rightful spot. But a male athlete did compete in, and win, the 200-meter dash. Alanna placed third in that event, instead of runner-up. Alanna has a promising track career in front of her. But she knows that being forced to compete against male athletes could threaten her future opportunities to win championship titles and even earn scholarships.

Chelsea is one of the top female sprinters in Connecticut. But she has been denied the title of state champion four times because the CIAC has allowed male athletes to compete as girls. Last year, she had the unexpected opportunity to compete on a more level playing field after a male athlete was disqualified for a false start. Chelsea went on to win the state championship and the New England Regional Championships in that event.

These Girls Deserve #FairPlay

Selina, Alanna, and Chelsea are not the only girls in Connecticut that have been impacted by this CIAC policy. In fact, two male athletes in Connecticut have taken 15 state championship titles that previously belonged to nine different girls. And they have taken 17 individual meet records that previously belonged to 13 different girls.

The reality is that there are significant differences between males and females. Comparably talented and fit males have more muscle mass, greater bone size, and even more heart and lung capacity—which makes them stronger and faster.

The CIAC policy ignores this reality. And it is female athletes that are paying the price—losing out on championship titles, state records, and even scholarship opportunities.

Girls like Selina, Alanna, and Chelsea should be in the spotlight for their athletic talent and success. Instead, they have faced adversity from teammates and coaches simply for standing up for common sense.


Free speech: It’s time for a higher education shake-up in Australia

It is with much humility that I ­announce my candidature for the forthcoming vacancy of chief executive of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

TEQSA wields extraordinary power to decide what institution can call itself a university or college. It is responsible for enforcing the Higher Education Standards Framework, which includes requirements ranging from admissions and course design to facilities and infrastructure. This framework also requires that a university articulates “a commitment to and support for free intellectual inquiry in its academic endeavours”.

But in recent years TEQSA’s leadership has become a free-speech denier. It has repeatedly played down concerns from parliamentarians, academics, students and the broader public about the ability to express a wide array of opinion at our universities. Like practically every regulatory body, TEQSA has become captured by its sector and a certain left-wing, misnamed “progressive” perspective.

TEQSA chief executive Anthony McClaran will step down at the end of next month to take up the vice-chancellorship of St Mary’s University in London. The federal government must avoid simply appointing an individual from the sector, someone who will continue business as usual. It needs new leadership from outside the groupthink that epitomises higher education.

Across the English-speaking world, universities are becoming hotbeds of ideological extremists which reject the legitimacy of alternative perspectives. Across the past four years, in the Institute of Public Affairs’ Free Speech on Campus Audit, I have extensively catalogued how university policies and actions undermine freedom of expression. This has been acknowledged, even by its critics, as they point to the key report that first brought attention to free speech issues at universities.

Last year, the government released a review into free speech by former High Court chief justice Robert French. This report pointed to substantial issues within existing policies, including many previously raised by the IPA. It recommended universities adopt a model free-speech code, partly in the spirit of the University of Chicago. While some universities have acted, such as the University of Sydney, most have not. This is despite an IPA poll of university students last year finding that three in five students say they have been prevented from voicing their opinions on controversial ­issues by other students.

Nick Saunders, the chief commissioner of TEQSA, told Senate estimates last year that TEQSA would not be playing a “regulatory role, in the sense of imposing penalties” on universities that failed to adopt French’s code. Saunders also played down the possibility of future enforcement on the basis that he did not think freedom of expression on campus was an issue. All carrot and no stick (billions of dollars of public money without any responsibility) make for a ­pathetic lack of freedom of expression at our universities.

Last year, Peter Ridd was found to have had his freedom of speech impinged by James Cook University after it sacked him for criticising the quality of his colleagues’ work on the Great Barrier Reef. Ridd was awarded $1.2m after winning the unfair dismissal case. Despite the significance of the precedent-setting case, TEQSA has also yet to mention Ridd. TEQSA has also refused to issue a guidance note on freedom of expression or academic freedom, ­despite maintaining an extensive note on “diversity and equity”. This guidance typically focuses on every type of diversity other than diversity of viewpoint.

Free speech is not the only challenge facing our universities. They appear to be ferociously dependent on foreign funds, leading to substantial influence opportunities for the Chinese Communist Party. This is epitomised by the Confucius Centres and the slow reaction to thuggish pro-CCP students last year at Hong Kong democracy protests, particularly at the University of Queensland. There are also concerns that ­dependence on overseas students has lowered educational quality.

Gerd Schroder-Turk, an academic at Murdoch University, claimed universities, including his own, admitted international students who did not meet English language standards. “Admitting students who don’t have the right qualifications, or right prerequisites, or correct language capabilities, is setting them up for failure,” Schroder-Turk said. Academics are then pressured to pass these students, including many who stand accused of cheating, despite an inadequate quality of work.

Once again displaying the lack of tolerance for contrarian opinions, Schroder-Turk was sued by Murdoch University for daring to critique its approach. The response by TEQSA to these issues has been wholly inadequate.

Meanwhile, the “replication crisis” continues, with half of all published academic articles likely being unreplaceable and false. There are also concerns about students being sold degrees costing tens of thousands of dollars despite getting limited educational value or a high-paying job at the end. Many students simply drop out, leaving themselves with large debt and no degree to show for it.

The extent of red tape imposed by TEQSA makes it almost impossible to start up competitor universities that would bring real competition to the sector, thereby decreasing tuition costs and ­increasing educational quality.

The appointment of TEQSA’s next chief executive is a perfect opportunity for the Morrison government to give the Australian university sector a significant shake-up. And I am the person to do it.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Welfare for college students? Why we need to rethink student aid indirect costs

Most Americans would be shocked to realize that two-thirds of the federal student aid money allocated to students at public colleges and universities goes for things other than tuition and fees. These so-called indirect costs of attendance include food, lodging, books and supplies, transportation, health care and miscellaneous other expenses such as the purchase of a computer, clothing and even study abroad program charges.

Each college or university that participates in federal student aid programs develops a “cost of attendance” budget for each academic year. Separate budgets are designed for dependent and independent students, undergraduate and graduate students, and on-campus and off-campus residents. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has provided guidelines for institutions to use in developing their unique cost of attendance budgets. 

The College Board lays out the rationale for including indirect costs of attendance in the student financial aid programs. They note that “people pay for housing, food and other living expenses whether or not they are in college. However, a significant cost of going to college is forgone earnings from the time devoted to school instead of the labor market.” Department of Education regulations attempt to control these expenses by prohibiting postsecondary institutions from awarding student aid in excess of costs of attendance. This all sounds well and good, but as is the case with all government programs, the devil is in the details.

Let us start with on-campus housing. A quick check on the websites of five major universities in Washington, D.C., reveals a wide disparity in the least and most expensive per-semester prices of a two-person dormitory room. The lowest price at Georgetown University ($5,390) is 62 percent higher than the $3,312 that Howard University charges. The remaining three institutions (American University, George Washington University and the University of the District of Columbia) cluster between $4,765 per semester and $5,002 per semester. Since the total amount of eligibility for federal student aid equals the cost of attendance minus expected family contribution, students at universities charging more for dormitory beds typically will trigger higher student grant and loan awards than those at institutions with comparable tuition costs that charge less for housing. 

There is no limit to the total amount of grant and loan aid a student can receive to pay these charges. Even if a student reaches the full limit for Pell Grants and subsidized direct loans, there are other loans available to fill in any gaps, especially for graduate students.

An important factor in on-campus housing charges is the built-in profit margin for colleges and universities. Housing charges take into account building supplies, maintenance, utilities, depreciation, administration and occupancy rates, adding in a targeted margin of profit. In many instances, there is a double profit incurred because the university has contracted out its residency program to private corporations. As noted in a 2017 article in Forbes magazine, there are many benefits to having experienced housing developers build and efficiently manage modern campus housing facilities.

In 2015, the University of Georgia system entered into a $538 million contract with Corvias to run the state university system’s campus system. Nonetheless, from a federal taxpayer’s point of view, the federal budget for student aid is incurring double overhead for the profits earned by Corvias and other housing companies, and the university’s own profit margin. Students who borrow money to pay for such charges are incurring more debt.

A loophole exists for some undergraduates and all graduate students living with their parents.  Normally, undergraduate students under age 24 are considered to be “dependent,” meaning that their parents’ income is factored into the financial aid eligibility formula. Exceptions are made for younger students who are veterans, married or legally emancipated. Undergraduates who are 24 or older, and all graduate students regardless of age, are considered to be “independent,” meaning that their aid eligibility is calculated without regard to parental income and resources. 

Accordingly, an undergraduate over 24 who is living at home rent-free, and all graduate students in similar situations, can borrow the full cost of attendance for off-campus residents. The lack of controls to contain these costs produces greater student debt and lower benefits to taxpayers.  Granted, such examples may be relatively few, but they illustrate the lacunae in the programs’ constructs.

Other indirect cost allowances also tend to drive up the bill for students and taxpayers alike. The cost of textbooks grew to the point where Congress attempted in 2008 to control prices. As reported by CBS News, the textbook costs rose 186 percent between 1998-2006, and the problem has continued ever since. Part of the problem is attributed to publishers bundling course materials into higher-priced packages. Another is that text selection is up to professors, who focus more on relevant content than price. But as any economist will confirm, prices of subsidized goods will rise to take full advantage of the value of the subsidy. Indirect cost allowances do not have limits on how costly required texts and course materials may be. They also have no limits on whether a student purchases a $500 computer or a $2,000 computer to aid in their studies.

Finally, there seems to be no integration of federal student aid programs and various federal welfare programs. A low-income student may qualify for SNAP food assistance and federally subsidized housing and still simultaneously qualify for food and housing allowances for purposes of obtaining student aid. Many students may be borrowing money because they are not aware of their eligibility for these other welfare programs. Others may actually receive such benefits and also take out student loans. I am not trying to resurrect the welfare queen stereotype of the past, but rather note that both taxpayers and students may be incurring excessive long-term costs.

With outstanding student loan debt having reached crisis proportions at $1.5 trillion and counting, the time has come for a thorough examination of indirect costs of attendance. With possible Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation coming before Congress in the next year or two, a broader discussion is needed. Even radical alternatives should be on the table, such as separation of programs offering direct tuition credits and those subsidizing costs of living, two very different things.


Christian school excluded from state program
Just weeks before the 2018 school year began, a group of low-income parents in Maryland got some shocking news.

These parents had enrolled their children in Bethel Christian Academy using financial aid from the state’s voucher program for low-income kids. For these parents, the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program, known as BOOST, made it possible for their children to benefit from a faith-based education in a diverse learning environment. It was a godsend…

Until the state suddenly banished Bethel from the BOOST program.

In a move reeking of anti-religious hostility, the government barred Bethel from the program just because the school mentioned its Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality in its student handbook.

Government hostility toward people of faith is wrong, unconstitutional, and has no place in our society.

But some anti-religious activists and government officials are punishing those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, like Bethel, as well as those who believe that a person’s biological sex is unchangeable or that unborn babies deserve legal protection.

The state’s actions against Bethel left parents scrambling. One working mother had to send her children to a different school, which she says is nowhere near as good as Bethel.

It didn’t matter that Bethel fully complied with every aspect of the state’s program requirements.

It didn’t matter that Bethel has a track record of providing excellent education for more than 35 years.

And it didn’t matter that Bethel hasn’t and won’t turn down a student based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The state is so blinded by its hostility toward Bethel’s religious views that it’s choosing to harm low-income families and bully a respected Christian school. This is disgraceful.

To make things even worse, the state has demanded that Bethel pay back over $100,000 from the two years it participated in the program.

This is a serious financial hardship for Bethel, and it limits their ability to serve low-income students.

Thankfully, Alliance Defending Freedom was able to help Bethel file a lawsuit against the state of Maryland.

Via email from ADF --

School Reports A Six-Year-Old Girl With Downs Syndrome To Police For Making A ‘Finger Gun’

Zealotry leads to stupidity. Schools have demonstrated this over and over again. The latest example comes from a school district in Pennsylvania where a six-year-old girl with Downs Syndrome pointed her finger at a teacher and said: “I shoot you.” Pursuant to school policy, the teacher reported the girl to the principal who called in the poor girl’s mother.

The principal also assembled the “threat assessment team.” In a brief moment of clarity, sanity and common sense, the principal and threat assessment team assessed that the six-year-old girl was . . . not a threat. However, the moment of sanity was not to last. They reported the girl to the police nonetheless.

There is now a police report with her name on it in connection with a threat to shoot a teacher. Since the girl is a juvenile, the report should be safe from prying eyes. Let’s hope so.

The girl’s mother has the forbearance of a saint. She wrote in the comments section of the news report: “I am the mother in this story. And I want to make it clear that I do not in any way blame the teacher or principal for how this situation was handled. As the school district stated in its statement, they were simply following policy.

The purpose of my going public is to change the school policy so that this does not happen again. It's not in any way to ridicule the teacher or principal at my daughter's school. In fact, they have both done an incredible job supporting my daughter and our family in many other instances. I think this is truly a perfect example of why it's so dangerous to enact policies that tie the hands of our teachers and principals so that they can't make appropriate decisions on the ground to keep all our students safe.”

It's a good thing we live in a digital age or I would run out of ink chronicling the many ways in which panic and zealotry over gun violence, racism, sexual assault, harassment, and other issues have led to rigid policies that elevate punitive measures over common sense.

Recently, I’ve written about an African American security guard who was fired for telling a student not to call him the n-word (because he used that word in telling the student not to call him that), a 10-year-old girl who ended up on a sexual predator watch list for “pantsing” a classmate on a school playground, 10-year boys who have been charged as sex offenders for aggressive verbal behavior towards girls in a game of tag, and a college student who was suspended for sexual assault after a “hearing” that an appellate court called a “kangaroo court” saying that they were “at a total loss why anybody interested in a fair and accurate outcome would do something like that.”

I nominate the mother of the girl with Downs Syndrome for Secretary of Education. She is exactly right that it is “dangerous to enact policies that tie the hands of our teachers and principals so that they can't make appropriate decisions on the ground.”

These days, people are scared of a lot of things. And people seem prepared to assume the worst about other people, including school kids. This is a good time to think about the virtues of old-fashioned values like due process, moderation, and judgment. None of the things discussed in this post should have happened. In several cases, the person making it happen didn’t want to do it but was forced to by “zero tolerance” and related policies.

Part of the problem is that nobody wants to be seen as soft on issues of guns, racism, etc. So, people are afraid to oppose zero-tolerance policies targeting the things that people are afraid of. Fear feeds fear. Meanwhile, the very kids whom society is supposed to be protecting suffer the consequences of adults’ unwillingness to put themselves on the line for exercising judgment rather than following inflexible rules.

Surely, rules can be written to protect schools from gun violence that still allow a teacher to distinguish between a six-year old’s finger and a gun.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Did You Know? Trade Schools Showing Strong Enrollment Growth

As students are pushed to attend college more than ever before, many of them are beginning to push back. Many students struggle with that predetermined outcome of their lives and have become more open to other options such as vocational education or trade schools.

For people with some college or an associate degree, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent at the end of 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers used to hands-on labor or IT work have been thriving. Firms in the 1980s and 1990s faced a shortage of skilled workers and tradesmen, but vocational education has grown throughout the 21st century to meet this shortfall. In 1999, only 9.6 million students were in a trade school, but by 2014, this number increased to 16 million, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Forbes magazine interviewed “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe in 2018 and noted that “over 80 percent of construction firms have reported they are having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire.”

Those high-paying jobs are left empty as high school graduates line up for a four-year degree. Rowe has since been an advocate or trade school, starting a scholarship program to fund students in a vocational program. The “Work Ethic Scholarship Program” recognizes those who understand the meaning of hard work and emphasizes its importance.

The Department of Education published a report that noted the projected growth in the jobs that don’t require a four-year degree:

Transportation industry employers are expected to hire and train roughly 4.6 million workers, an equivalent of 1.2 times the current workforce, to meet the needs of growth, retirement, and turnover in the next decade. Preliminary analysis indicates that projected annual job openings are 68 percent larger than annual completions of related educational programs across selected transportation occupational groups. This highlights a significant skills gap that must be addressed to meet expected industry demand.

Although a college education is still necessary for specific careers, The Atlantic states that some careers now “require specialized training in technology that bachelor’s programs are usually too broad to address.” One result has been that many vocational-education programs enroll students who already completed a bachelor’s degree so that students can learn coding and other tech skills. As the infrastructure, construction, and transportation fields are growing faster, four-year degrees are becoming less of a necessity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau has projected that the “construction sector is to add 790,400 jobs from 2014 to 2024 to reach more than 6.9 million.” While that number does not make up for lost jobs since 2004, progress is certainly occurring.

If high schools introduce their students to the possibility of trade schools, young people can have more informed ideas about what to do after they earn their diplomas.


The Myth of the Entrepreneurial University

Politicos and pundits praise American universities for their entrepreneurialism. Founders of tech companies get honorary degrees and give commencement speeches. Student orientations include sessions bragging about the startup resources students have on campus. Schools even create “entrepreneurship” majors and entrepreneurship centers within their business schools.

But how much of that startup acumen is rhetoric and how much is grounded in fact? University marketers and grant-writers rely on people not being able to question their claims here. So long as they can draw some connection between the university and student go-getting, the school will claim some kind of credit. Then, administrators justify new centers, apply for more federal grants, lobby for more public funding, and pour more resources into building their “prestige.”

But compare the entrepreneurial output of universities with the closest alternatives for brilliant young people, and the narrative crumbles.

The Thiel Foundation launched a fellowship program in 2010, backed by PayPal cofounder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The idea behind the program was simple: Thiel had bet big on brilliant young people like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and Patrick Collison (founder of Stripe, an online payments service). How could he find more people like that?

If one buys into the university administrator narrative, one would expect to trip over Zuckerbergs, Collisons, and smaller-scale successes at elite college. Those campuses, however, focus on attracting major corporations like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Apple, and Google to recruit on campus. Students who would start innovative companies instead get caught up in competing for corporate jobs with their peers. Entrepreneurship takes a backseat to a job with prestige.

Student founders can be seen on those campuses, but they’re the exception, not the rule. The Thiel Fellowship acted as a honeypot for them—about 20 finalists join the program annually.

A decade after Thiel announced his Fellowship, the results have surpassed what most colleges could claim. Thiel fellows have founded several billion-dollar-plus companies, employ thousands of people, and are responsible for progress across industries like hiring software, design software, remote-work software, hospitality, robotics, self-driving cars, cryptocurrencies, anti-aging research, legal support access, and many other sectors.

Take any major research university in the United States and compare its recent graduates since 2010 with Thiel Fellows. Few come close, despite the colleges teaching thousands more students every year than the group of 20 in the Thiel Fellowship. Consider that those schools graduate thousands of students every year, yet a program that graduates fewer than two dozen people annually includes the likes of Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), Dylan Field (founder of Figma), Austin Russell (founder of Luminar), Eva Shang (founder of Legalist), and Laura Deming (founder of Longevity Fund), among others.

Universities don’t specialize in entrepreneurship, even if they create majors and centers devoted to it. In the best cases, they work as honeypots where entrepreneurship is a function of smart people being near other smart people. Universities specialize in credentialing, first and foremost. Students enroll primarily to get credentials, not to learn skills that make them entrepreneurs. That difference should be no surprise to anybody steeped in the economics of higher education—both Bryan Caplan in The Case Against Education and Richard Vedder in Restoring the Promise show that most of the gains from education come from signaling and that skills taught in school are rarely retained.

I’ve seen this firsthand with my own experience working with student entrepreneurs on campus and at entrepreneurship centers around the country.  Students who study practical majors like computer science or interesting majors like philosophy and the classics are more likely than entrepreneurship majors to have a business idea worth building. That is a selection effect, of course. The types of people attracted to history majors or philosophy majors in college are also likely to take on the big problems that venture capitalism funds in startups. The PayPal mafia was made up of philosophy majors and computer science geeks obsessed with sci-fi and reinventing money. If they had just been interested in payment processing, it’s unlikely the company would have gotten so big in an early stage of the internet. Steve Jobs was obsessed with making computer use beautiful and accessible to the average person.

Universities don’t specialize in entrepreneurship, even if they create majors and centers devoted to it.
Entrepreneurship centers can be a space on campus for students with entrepreneurial inclinations, but spinning up “entrepreneurship majors” just doesn’t bear the fruits of venture-funded technology startups in my experience. Venture-funded technology startups need to address big, multi-billion dollar problems. That takes big thinking about what problems the world faces.

Majoring in philosophy and liberal arts and computer science don’t magically make people think big about the world, though. The selection effect is at work here. Students with interesting ideas and a desire to build these ideas select into computer science, or music, or philosophy programs, not entrepreneurship programs. When something like the Thiel Fellowship gives them the chance to skip college and get to work, they thrive.

Similarly, competent young people with the drive and ability to build products and get customers select into elite universities—the universities don’t make them entrepreneurial. Elite schools are good at being honeypots for interesting, intelligent, and competent young people to meet. Those young people become cofounders and build technology, products, and services that later become companies. But only if they have the time and freedom to work on those projects which interest them.

Thiel and his team at the Foundation understood this. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both made huge progress on Facebook and Microsoft, respectively, during Harvard’s “reading days,” a period in which students did not have to attend class and could study before finals. The Thiel Fellowship works as a sort of extended reading days for Fellows. They don’t have to worry about keeping up with their fellow students or their GPAs and can instead focus on building technology and products that people want.

That analysis has been borne out in my experience on campuses. It is not elite campuses with busy students that have the most entrepreneurial activity; rather, colleges that give their students the freedom to work on what they want to bear entrepreneurial fruit. I’d rather spend an afternoon at Olin College than at MIT if I am looking for entrepreneurial students working on new technology not because of some class requirement, but because it interests them.

Universities can learn from the success of the Fellowship. Rather than forcing students to attend more undergraduate classes and making them compete with each other for the prize of a Goldman Sachs or Facebook internship, they can give students the freedom to experiment, to build, to fail, and, ultimately, to succeed. Bring back and extend reading days, open up opportunities for independent studies, encourage gap years, and promote co-ops during which students immerse themselves in the workforce.

Those kinds of reforms, not “entrepreneurship centers” and new majors, encourage students to start businesses and build products.


GPA or SAT? Two Measures Are Better Than One

At a time when only 41 percent of college students graduate in four years—and only 56 percent in five years—colleges and universities across the country are phasing out the only truly objective measure of academic excellence and student success in the application process: standardized tests.

Next month, for example, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG) is set to vote on a policy that would significantly diminish the role of test scores in the admissions process.

To do so, however, would be a blow against academic standards for the 16 UNC schools.

Currently, in order to even be considered for admission at any UNC institution, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 and an SAT score of 880 or an ACT score of 17. (Meeting the minimum standards does not guarantee students admission to any of the sixteen UNC institutions.) Those standards, however, might be revised by a BOG vote.

The proposed revisions are subtle, but significant: instead of requiring GPA and test scores, the new policy would require a minimum GPA of 2.5 or an SAT score of 1010 (or ACT score of 19).

The proposed policy comes as a controversial pilot program nears its conclusion. In 2014, the board passed a resolution to establish a program to test whether students’ GPA was a better predictor of academic success than standardized test scores. Three UNC system schools participated in the pilot study: Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), Fayetteville State University (FSU), and North Carolina Central University (NCCU).

Students were admitted to the pilot program based on a sliding scale that weighted GPA more heavily than SAT scores, but the test scores couldn’t fall below 750. To be eligible, pilot students’ GPA had to increase by 0.1 with each 10-point SAT score decline. There are now 5 cohorts totaling almost 1,100 students. The last cohort will be admitted this fall.

The pilot was set to last three years from fall 2015 through fall 2017, but in 2018 the board voted to extend the pilot another three years (through fall 2020). However, several board members opposed the extension. During a full board meeting on May 24, 2018, board member Steve Long was concerned that the pilot program was a “whittling away of our minimum admission requirements.”

But system employees have assured board members that the program, and any resulting policy recommendations, are not intended to lower academic standards. Indeed, nearly two years later, in a January meeting of the Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs Committee, Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer for the UNC System, emphasized that the new policy would not lower standards. The proposal, she says, is “simply a modification to allow more flexibility for the institutions.”

During the meeting, van Noort and her colleagues discussed the pilot’s findings—which were compiled in a report presented to the committee. According to the report, the academic outcomes of the pilot students were very similar to those of the non-pilot students. Both groups had similar GPAs of 3.2, had similar retention rates, and completed a similar number of credit hours.

On the face of it, the pilot’s findings seem to justify modifying the system’s minimum admissions requirements. Why require students to meet minimum standards for both GPA and test scores when the pilot students—who didn’t meet minimum testing requirements—did just as well as the rest of the student body?

Furthermore, the system is not (at the moment) proposing a “test-optional” policy. Every student who is eligible to apply based on his or her GPA must still submit his or her test scores. As committee chair Anna Nelson noted: “[The SAT or ACT] remains a tool in the admission officer’s tool belt” when making admissions decisions. The only difference is that students won’t have to meet a baseline test score to be eligible to apply. If there were any negative student outcomes in the future, administrators would be able to analyze whether there was any connection to low test scores.

Even so, several compelling reasons should stop the board from approving the policy recommendation.

Meeting a low bar doesn’t indicate success

The fact that the pilot students had similar academic outcomes to the rest of the student bodies at each of the universities does not necessarily mean success. That’s because the universities themselves are in large part failing to graduate their students. For example, each of the three universities that participated in the pilot has dismal graduation rates.

In fact, between 2014 and 2015, ECSU and FSU’s graduation rates decreased: ECSU went from 20.6 percent in 2014 to 19.4 percent in 2015 while FSU went from 22.7 percent in 2014 to 21.4 percent in 2015. The graph below compares the pilot students’ graduation rates with non-pilot students at each school (a comparison of graduation rates was not included in the report presented to the board in January):

The fact that the pilot students performed similarly to the regular student bodies shouldn’t be a cause for celebration. If system officials wanted to measure the predictive power of GPA over test scores, why didn’t they conduct the pilot at higher-ranked UNC schools where the majority of students do graduate? By running the pilot in schools where graduation rates are already very low, it virtually guarantees that pilot students will not perform worse than an already failing student body.

The academic performance of the three schools points to a need for stricter standards, not more “flexible” ones. Indeed, the poor graduation rates suggest that admissions officers at those universities have not exercised enough discretion in ensuring that the students they admit are academically prepared. If the schools struggle to graduate students under the current minimum standards, why give them even more latitude to exercise their misjudgment?

The reality is, there are a number of perverse incentives for schools to boost enrollment. For one, more enrollment means more funding from the state. Secondly, increasing rural and low-income enrollments make the schools appear more diverse—a label that schools will go to great lengths to attain.

The UNC system also puts a great deal of pressure on universities to meet lofty enrollment goals as part of its five-year strategic plan. For example, by 2021, FSU is expected to increase low-income enrollments by 11.2 percent. ECSU is expected to increase rural enrollments by 63.2 percent. Since low-income and minority students were heavily represented in the pilot group, a more flexible admissions policy would help the system meet its enrollment goals.

But the new policy—although it might make the schools look more diverse—would likely hurt the low-income and minority students they claim to serve. That’s because low-income and minority students often graduate at lower rates than the rest of a given student body. At ECSU, for example, lower-income Pell Grant students had a 2015 graduation rate of 17.2 percent, but non-Pell Grant students graduated at a rate of 28.3 percent. It is widely known that students who do not graduate from college struggle the most with student loan debt.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Berkeley Weeded Out Job Applicants Who Didn't Propose Specific Plans To Advance Diversity

The university's litmus test is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

The University of California has been requiring prospective faculty members to affirm that they support diversity. This was Orwellian in its own right—reminiscent of the university system's 1950s loyalty oaths, which required faculty to attest that they were not members of the Communist Party.

It now appears that at one campus, UC-Berkeley, the diversity initiative goes much further than previously understood. Whether a candidate has proposed a specific, concrete plan to advance diversity is now being used as a litmus test for some positions. No candidate who fails the test can even be considered for employment.

Abigail Thompson, a UC-Davis math professor and department chair, sounded the alarm regarding the modern-day loyalty oaths in a December Wall Street Journal piece. Thompson wrote that increasing diversity is a laudable goal but requiring prospective hires to pledge fealty to the concept seems like forcing them to subscribe "to a particular political ideology."

Sure enough, a report on Berkeley's diversity initiative—recently publicized by Jerry Coyne and John Cochrane—shows that eight different departments affiliated with the life sciences used a diversity rubric to weed out applicants for positions. This was the first step: In one example, of a pool of 894 candidates was narrowed down to 214 based solely on how convincing their plans to spread diversity were.

Berkeley's diversity rubric shows just how much specificity was expected. Three aspects of the applicants' diversity statements were graded on a five-point scale: knowledge of diversity, experience in advancing diversity, and a plan for advancing diversity in the future. The highest possible score was thus a 15. Discounting the importance of diversity, failing to specifically discuss gender and race, and making only vague statements (such as "the field of History definitely needs more women") were listed as the kinds of things that would earn the lowest possible score.

Organizing or speaking at a diversity workshop earned high marks. (Merely attending a workshop wasn't nearly enough.) Being "happy to help out" with diversity initiatives was bad—good candidates should insist on coordinating the initiatives themselves, and must demonstrate that they "intend to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college and also their field."

UC-Davis seems to take a similar approach. The Pacific Legal Foundation's Daniel Ortner writes that search committee members first review candidates' diversity statements, and that "candidates who do not 'look outstanding with regard to their contributions to diversity'" are explicitly rejected. Think about what this means: The foremost job qualification is a sufficient commitment to spreading diversity.

According to Ortner,

Berkeley rejected 76 percent of qualified applicants without even considering their teaching skills, their publication history, their potential for academic excellence or their ability to contribute to their field. As far as the university knew, these applicants could well have been the next Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk, or they might have been outstanding and innovative educators who would make a significant difference in students' lives.

And there is reason to believe that the results at UC Davis were similar. A recent letter from the vice chancellor to the UC Davis faculty reveals that in at least some schools, more than 50 percent of the applicants were eliminated solely because of their diversity statements.

Ortner told The College Fix that the mandatory diversity plans for new faculty might be unconstitutional, and he is considering a lawsuit. But whether or not the university's initiative is permissible, it's astoundingly misguided—a striking example of the bureaucratic capture of higher education.


UK.: Cambridge students say they could be ‘triggered’ by soldiers

The British Army has committed its worst atrocity yet: hurting students’ feelings.

Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) has said that the presence of soldiers at its annual freshers’ fair could ‘trigger’ students.

A motion to ban armed-forces personnel from carrying weapons at the freshers’ fair passed this week by 55 per cent. Stella Swain, the CUSU welfare officer who proposed the motion, said that the presence of soldiers could damage students’ mental health.

Cambridge University Students’ Union has said that having military personnel at freshers’ fair is “alarming” for attendees and could “detrimentally affect” their mental health.

Army bods have hit back. Colonel Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the Telegraph that the students were being ‘pathetic, to say the very least’.

CUSU’s move was part of a broader campaign to ‘demilitarise’ the university.

What is most striking here is not these students’ opposition to the military per se (Britain has certainly embroiled itself in numerous bloody conflicts), but the way in which their opposition to the military takes the form of complaints about their hurty feelings.

It is extraordinary that ‘the potential to detrimentally affect’ the ‘mental welfare’ of Cambridge students, as one SU officer put it, can even come up in discussions of British militarism. Cambridge students must be among the most pampered and privileged young people in the world. The narcissism is astonishing.

Perhaps these students can take some comfort in the military’s recent efforts to go woke. A recent Ministry of Defence (MoD) report emphasised the army’s desire to be more diverse and to be ‘recognised as a force for inclusion in wider society’.

Last year, the army launched a PR campaign of posters and TV ads calling on ‘snowflakes’, ‘selfie addicts’, ‘class clowns’, ‘phone zombies’ and ‘me me me millennials’ to sign up. One poster says: ‘Snowflakes – your army needs YOU and your compassion.’

The British army has been struggling to attract new recruits in recent years. In October, reports showed they were more than 5,000 short of their target of 82,500 full-trained troops.

And if that’s not enough, the army also plans to go green by phasing out fossil fuels in its trucks and tanks. Senior general Sir Mark Carlton wants the MoD to be ‘on the right side of the environmental argument, especially in the eyes of that next generation of recruits’.

But if today’s students are triggered by the mere sight of soldiers and guns, then these efforts are unlikely to pass muster.


Mother is horrified after discovering her four-year-old daughter's gruelling preschool schedule - complete with 'progressive' meals, meditation and lessons in maths and engineering

A mother who sends her four-year-old daughter to a $125-a-day preschool has been left shocked after discovering her gruelling daily schedule.

The Australian mother-of-two had dropped her daughter off at school when she decided to ask her teacher how she was performing in class, only to be told 'she has no concentration in all subjects'.

Confused at the teacher's response, the mother found the 'preschool routines' where she noticed an intense timetable listing the strict requirements her daughter had to follow between 7am to 6.30pm.

Her daily subjects included history, maths and engineering, creative arts, science and technology and PDHPE from 9am to 12.40pm.

After her 'progressive lunch', the students head into a meditation between 1.30pm to 2pm before they learn about 'news, letters and booklet' from 2.05pm to 3.45pm.

Some daycare centres offer 'progressive' mealtimes, where there are no strict eating schedules and children have food when they're hungry.

The kids get a 'free discussion time between 3.45pm to 4pm, a 'progressive afternoon tea' from 4pm to 4.30pm, and 'after school care' until 6.30pm.

'Is this what preschoolers are meant to be learning in a long day centre every day in their class? Or is it just me thinking this is really ridiculous,' the mother said in a Facebook group.

'Yesterday as I was dropping off my four year old, I asked the new hired head teacher with primary education degree how my daughter is going. She kept shaking her head, and said: "She's not doing well at all".

'And I said "oh really? In what ways and in which subjects?" And the teacher replied: "In all subjects. She has no concentration in all subjects".'

The mother said she was 'shocked' to hear the feedback, especially 'from a long day care and preschool where I pay $125 a day'.

But everything made sense once she saw her daughter's 'routine'.

'I looked at her schedule and no wonder why my four-year-old has no concentration,' the mother said.

Some daycare centres offer 'progressive' mealtimes, where there are no strict eating schedules and children have food when they're hungry.

During progressive morning or afternoon teas, children are given the option to eat snacks in a small, intimate group setting.

Teachers usually announce that snacks are available to eat, they place them on a table and allow children to come, sit down and eat items when they want them. A lot of children actually eat more food this way when their play isn't directly interrupted.

Other parents were shocked to see the extensive schedule, with many comparing the timetable to high school where students are aged between 12 to 18.

Many said children under the age of five should be focusing on 'play-based learning'. 'It's preschool, let them play,' one mother said.

Another said: 'This is a bulls*** routine. When do they get to be kids?'

One said: 'The teacher has forgotten where she is teaching. This looks like my high school kids' timetable.'

And another said: 'A four-year-old has limited concentration anyway, that's a harsh routine. I'm all for kids going to school at four to five, but they should be learning to socialise, interact, learn through play and enjoy their early school years. This looks ridiculous to me.'

Other parents who work in preschools described the routine as a 'joke'.

'I am an early childhood teacher and I have no words. Play play play play. Children need play... I would seriously consider providing this feedback to the director, and changing centres. Please,' one said.

Another preschool teacher who works at a daycare centre said their daily routine looks like 'nothing like that' as they only focus on 'basic learning'. 'Poor kids must be so confused and exhausted,' she said.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Trump is right to call them 'government schools'

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump said, “no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school." Although reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post have already taken issue with the terminology, Trump is absolutely right to call them “government schools” instead of "public schools." Here’s why.

Trump was referring to schools that are run by the government. Although the federal government does not directly operate individual schools, they are controlled by school districts, which are local government entities. These schools are also funded by a mix of federal, state, and local tax dollars that come with large amounts of regulations from various government agencies.

Calling these schools “public” is inaccurate for a few reasons. For one, these schools are not open to all members of the public. Because children are generally assigned to schools in the United States by residence, government-run schools regularly exclude students based on their ZIP codes.

In fact, several parents have been fined and even sent to jail for trying to get their children into better government schools by lying about their residences. Government-run magnet schools often use selective admissions processes. The government also compels us to attend schools and pay for their services regardless of how satisfied we are with the product.

Furthermore, government-run schooling is not a “public good,” according to the economic definition. A “public good” is both nonexcludable and nonrivalrous, and government-run schools fail both conditions. Schools can (and do) exclude people, and there are only a limited number of seats in each classroom.

It’s also not clear that government schools are even providing a meaningful “public benefit” since many of them consistently underperform despite getting more money year after year.

Using the term “government school” is also beneficial because it provides clarity to discussions about the education system. Because privately run charter schools are considered “public schools” by the Department of Education and many other government and nongovernment entities, using the term “public school” in conversations requires unnecessary clarification.

“Government school” is the most accurate term to use. The schools are government-run and government-funded. This fact makes people who defend the government-run school system very uncomfortable. But instead of trying to hide the fact that the government runs our schools, defenders of the status quo should think about why the truth about our education system makes them feel so uncomfortable.


Affordable College Is Here

At TEL Library we’ve taken a major step toward reducing the cost of college with the launch of our Courses-on-Demand program. Through this program, students anywhere in the U.S. can take college courses that are entirely self-paced and allow students to start anytime they desire. The all-inclusive cost of these courses is $44 per credit hour, which includes all fees and course materials.

For those waxing nostalgic about the good old days when college was affordable, this is better than the good old days. Inflation-adjusted to 1970 dollars, our pricing translated to $6.68 a credit hour, and that’s without a dime of state or federal subsidy.

TEL Library is a non-profit educational publishing and technology organization located in Oklahoma City. Our mission is to make a quality college education affordable for anyone, anywhere, at any time. We aren’t an accredited college, but rather partner with regionally accredited colleges and universities to provide online and blended college general education and advanced high school courses. We piloted our courses with 998 students in 2019 and are now making them available to the public through our Courses-on-Demand program.

Our Courses-on-Demand program is designed for people who are

Current college students taking a few courses through TEL to speed up degree completion and lower the total cost (e.g. summer school),

High school students wanting college credit independent of their high school’s dual credit program,


Non-traditional students taking a few courses to ease into, or finish up, a degree program, and

Life-learners wanting a structured learning experience.  Anybody 13 or older can enroll.

Currently, we have 16 courses available, such as U.S. History I, Chemistry, Literature & Composition, and Quantitative Analysis. By fall 2020, we’ll have added three more courses, and by fall 2021, we should have a complete catalog of general education courses. That’s more than 80 credit hours, or well over two years of college.

With the Courses-on-Demand Program, students enroll online to take TEL courses, which have been reviewed and approved for college credit by partner universities. Courses may vary somewhat by partner college based on the partner college’s academic standards and institutional mission. Students are not eligible for financial aid or partner college support services (e.g. counseling services, professional development activities, internships).

Upon successful completion of a course, a partner university awards credit to the student and provides a transcript reflecting the letter grade earned. Credits from these courses count toward a degree at the partner university, or can generally be transferred to another regionally accredited college.

The student pays $99 per course for a 3-credit-hour course. That $99 includes all course materials and instruction, as well as technology and exam proctoring fees. In addition, the student pays the partner college a $200 annual enrollment fee that covers up to six courses, then $33 for any courses above the six-course limit. If the student only takes one course in the year, their cost is $299, or $100 a credit hour. For six courses and up, the student pays $44 a credit hour. That means a student can take a year of college for $1,320.

Our initial partner college is Greenville University in Illinois. We will be adding additional partners in the future. All partner colleges for the Courses-on-Demand program are regionally accredited colleges. That accreditation is important for purposes of easy transferability. Course credits from a regionally accredited college are almost universally accepted by colleges anywhere in the United States.

Some colleges limit the number of credit hours they will accept from other institutions, but this is not a problem for our students. Except for some of the toniest of private institutions, colleges generally accept two or more years of transfer credit toward a degree. The most common problem with course-transfer is that some courses do not align precisely with a similar course required at a particular college. In such cases, the student still receives credit for their transferred coursework but may also have to take the college’s required course. Given the fairly generic coverage of general education courses, this is usually not an issue for our courses.

TEL Library courses are for almost everyone except those who aren’t willing to study. Each course requires 145 to 155 hours of study. While our content is rigorous, it is also understandable. Our lessons are intentionally designed to provide a clear context for each course concept, and then move students through the stages of information elaboration, relevance, agency, and mastery. That design allows students to absorb the information more readily and apply it in meaningful ways. Courses consist of 10 to 15 modules, and each module contains 4 to 6 lessons.

Courses have multiple assessment methods to move students toward comprehension. Each lesson contains a formative self-check quiz that students can take as many times as they wish for study and review. Each module contains a short auto-graded quiz over the lessons in that module. Communication and English Composition courses require five written essays or recorded speeches that are human graded. All other courses have a summative midterm and final exam.

TEL Library courses are for almost everyone except those who aren’t willing to study.

These auto-graded exams are proctored online through integration with MonitorEDU. Online proctoring allows the student to take the exam anywhere they have an internet connection. MonitorEDU provides 24/7 live exam proctoring using a computer or smartphone video camera and screen-capture technology to assist the student with any technical question—and to monitor for cheating. The process is extremely convenient for the student and less susceptible to cheating than a traditional in-class exam.

Each course also contains multiple mastery assignments customized to each course. Those mastery assignments could be lab reports, recorded presentations, and written essays. Mastery assignments are graded by course instructors and also engage students in self and peer evaluation.

Through integration with Peerceptiv’s research-validated technology, each course provides a mix of instructor, self, and peer grading. (E.g., in the U.S. History I course, the five mastery assignments walk the student through the process of researching and writing a formal essay.) The first three assignments are graded by the instructor, but also use detailed evaluation rubrics to give students an objective framework to provide peer feedback to each other. That peer-review process promotes content mastery through reflection and individual ownership of learning. The final two assignments are graded only by the instructor, using structured rubrics for evaluation and feedback.

TEL courses promote content mastery through reflection and individual ownership of learning. That’s why we encourage students to set goals for their learning and apply course concepts to their own individual circumstances. In addition, courses are aligned with 21st-century skills and competencies via TEL Mastery Standards. Course exams and mastery assignments are mapped to individual TEL mastery standards (e.g., Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Computation, Technology Application, and Self-Management), allowing the students to track their progress on skills needed for the modern working world.

TEL Library course requirements are straightforward and easy to follow. When students have questions, they can contact TEL Support quickly via chat, email, or phone. We respond to student issues within 4 business hours and grade written exams and assignments within 72 hours.

In a nutshell, our Courses-on-Demand are top-quality, yet radically affordable. It’s part of our commitment to making education “good enough for the richest, yet cheap enough for the poorest.”


Intellectual freedom at Australian universities? Only if your values are ‘aligned’

The university year began with a rumbling noise that all is not well with intellectual freedom in this country. What started as a small story at a Queensland campus has become a very big one that demands attention if we care about the future of the current generation of young Australians, the next generation, and the trajectory of freedom in this country.

Generation Liberty is home to a group of young Australians, part of the Institute of Public Affairs, who are committed to understanding and promoting the way in which freedom has enriched people across the history of civilisation. As a board member and now chairman of the IPA, I have come to know many members.

They are an eclectic bunch mostly under 25. So good luck to those creepy fiends of identity politics who try to filter these young people by sex, sexual orientation, racial and religious traits. This futile search will throw up these common threads only: they are curious contrarians. They engage in furious debates, don’t take themselves too seriously and are willing to listen to others. They want to learn things they haven’t always been taught at school or at university, the history of Western civilisation, warts and all, the ebbs and flows of freedoms and its impact on people.

Last month, Gen Lib, as we call it, applied to have a stall at Market Week, an extended part of O Week at Queensland University of Technology, which runs in late February. By email in late January, Alisha Pritchard from QUT’s student guild declined Gen Lib’s application, telling it the committee had “decided that your brand does not align with our values”.

In the days that followed, Drew Pavlou, a student who sits on the University of Queensland’s senate, started a petition to ban Gen Lib from UQ’s market day activities too. Pavlou describes himself as a human rights campaigner. He has tweeted a video of himself supporting Hong Kong protesters at UQ. Alas, his lack of support for intellectual freedom at home creates a serious credibility problem for him. In other social media posts Pavlou has called for crushing dissent, burning books and said Gen Lib members “need to be bullied into submission.”

What on earth are they afraid of? This year, Gen Lib intends to run a book club for students that will include Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Mark Twain’s The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Gen Lib also will chat about what we call Big Fat Books, including The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Atlas Shrug­ged by Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has the authority to direct the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in the exercise and performance of its powers. Picture: AAP
Which book frightens QUT’s student guild or the student representative on the UQ senate’s peak governing body so much that they don’t want students knowing about Gen Lib?

When news broke of this censorship of Gen Lib, QUT’s student guild ran for the hills, claiming a litany of other reasons for Gen Lib’s exclusion. But remember its first response to Gen Lib: “Your brand does not align with our values.”

At one level, this is a story about a group of students who have not been taught about the empowering forces of intellectual freedom, let alone the history of freedom across a few thousand years of Western civilisation.

But it is part of a much bigger story that includes a vice-chancellor, too. Following questions from this newspaper to the Education Minister, QUT vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil released a statement last week saying that O Week gives priority to guild-affiliated clubs, and Gen Lib could affiliate and apply next year. In any case, “the available area for stalls during O Week is currently at capacity”, she said.

Then came some pure puffery. “QUT does not operate on the basis of left or right-wing bias: the effectiveness of all we do here relies upon remaining open to a variety of contesting viewpoints and to the merits of evidence,” Sheil said.

Was Sheil misinformed about the facts or was she being disingenuous? Either way, the university’s leader failed to address the fact that the student guild at QUT rejected Gen Lib’s application for Market Week, not O Week, and on the basis that its brand did not align with their values.

On Wednesday afternoon, QUT backed away from its first statement. Peter Gatbonton, QUT’s manager of student engagement, emailed an invitation to Gen Lib’s Theodora Pantelich, inviting them to be part of O Week.

What happened to no space? Maybe like a late guest pulling out from a wedding reception the chaps from the Socialist Alternative couldn’t make it after all.

Seriously, are we meant to be grateful that QUT administrators caved in to pressure and managed, after all, to find space for the ideas of freedom at QUT’s O Week?

Perhaps, in her private moments, the vice-chancellor of QUT wonders how the heck it reached this dismal state of affairs among her students. In truth, the responsibility rests with university administrators like her. Rarely from the goodness of their hearts or the brilliance of their minds do VCs defend intellectual freedom. They tend to do it once forced, when exposed, and shamed. Like here.

Vice-chancellors love talking about deliberately ambiguous concepts such as “diversity” and “inclusion” rather than a bedrock principle called intellectual freedom. Worse, they have overseen the cementing of these woolly words on campus to shut down div­erse views and students who challenge the orthodoxy feel excluded.

We know this from a survey of students conducted by the IPA last year. Rather than listening to the public exhortations of VCs, we asked students about their experience at universities. Forty-one per cent of them said they felt unable to express their opinions at university. This is what transforms a small story about a student guild at QUT into a very big story about the strangulation of intellectual freedom. The story gets bigger still. It includes a set of laws that are lame and a regulator that has had no discernible impact on improving intellectual freedom at Australian universities.

Start with the Higher Education Support Act 2003. As a condition of receiving federal money from taxpayers, it provides that “a higher education provider … must have a policy that upholds free intellectual inquiry in relation to learning, teaching, and research”. Then there is the HES Framework 2015 that says: “The higher education provider has a clearly articulated higher education purpose that includes a commitment to and support for free intellectual inquiry in its academic endeavours.” This framework requires a university “governing body … to develop and maintain an institutional environment in which freedom of intellectual inquiry is upheld and protected”.

Now for the regulator. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is empowered to enforce the HES Act and the HEC Framework so taxpayers and students know publicly funded universities are carrying out their core mission to educate their students.

TEQSA’s own report card is woeful. Like VCs around the country, TEQSA’s chief commissioner, Nick Saunders, has mentioned intellectual freedom, including when asked at a Senate estimates inquiry, but there is scant evidence of a regulator genuinely committed to holding universities to their core mission of intellectual freedom. If this is yet another rogue bureaucracy ignoring its remit from government, the government has a chance to appoint a new kind of bureaucrat. TEQSA chief executive Anthony McClaran is leaving his role at the end of next month. The search for a new boss may be the chance to boost the heft of this body.

But, then again, maybe the law needs reforming. After all, requiring a policy on paper about intellectual freedom is meaningless; what matters is enforcement. This story, then, is also about the federal government. A series of them, in fact. Intellectual freedom has been on the slide for decades, going back to the atrocious treatment of Geoffrey Blainey at the University of Melbourne in 1984 when he aired his view that the Hawke government’s 40 per cent intake of poor immigrants from Asia could threaten the country’s social cohesion unless managed properly. He was hounded off campus as a racist. Blainey is not a racist; he is one of Australia’s finest historians.

There has sometimes been a bit of talk from politicians, prime ministers too, and a bit of legislative tinkering such as Julia Gillard’s changes to the HES Act in 2011. But still, today, too many university campuses are not known as places of learning where intellectual freedom thrives. If they were, a student guild running stalls for new students wouldn’t dream of banning a Gen Lib stall on the basis that its brand did not align with the guild’s values. If intellectual freedom were taken seriously, a vice-chancellor would not put up with this baloney on their campus. And neither would the regulator or our government.

The Education Minister has the authority to direct TEQSA in the exercise and performance of its powers. Isn’t it time then for a ministerial kick up the regulator’s backside? If not now, when? What will it take for that to happen?

Remember, too, that thousands of Australians are still waiting for the Morrison government to support intellectual freedom by supporting Peter Ridd, who was sacked by James Cook University for challenging the quality of climate science.

Instead, Education Minister Dan Tehan has plans to tweak this, and tinker with that, tightening up the government’s “compact” with each publicly funded university to include universities reporting on their approaches to supporting freedom of intellectual inquiry on campus. That’ll fix things, then.

Another more difficult, but not impossible, route to intellectual freedom is to remove sources of public funding from universities that fail at that core mission.

A baker’s mission is to bake. A lawyer gives legal advice. A plumber will fix your plumbing. Yet we need laws, regulators, compacts and codes to convince university administrators their core job is to offer intellectual freedom on campus.

No wonder Generation Liberty is thriving, attracting curious young people hungry for what publicly funded universities fail to offer them. It is a safe bet that, far away from student guilds and VC offices, our values about freedom align very closely with millions of Australians.


Sunday, February 09, 2020

Exam school test administrator clashes with BPS over use of admissions test

Bostonians are still chasing after the snark of black educational competence.  Only by destroying all assessment will they ever find it.  They are moving towards that.  Ideology will have a hard job trumping reality but Leftists do it routinely in their own minds so maybe one day they will be able to force that upon everybody. Brave New World!

Boston Public Schools have for years misused the test results that help determine admissions to its coveted exam schools in a way that makes it harder for “underrepresented” students to gain entry, according to the organization that administers the controversial exam.

As a result, the Education Records Bureau decided last spring to sever its relationship with the city’s school district — its largest client — after 25 years, according to an e-mail the Globe obtained from the organization’s president Tom Rochon. The e-mail was sent Tuesday to some of the bureau’s other clients, including 30 independent schools in the Boston area that use the test in admissions decisions.

“District leaders have not yet chosen to make this information public, but when they do so we want to be sure you have the necessary background,” Rochon wrote. He said his organization has been trying to get the district’s attention on the issue over the last eight years.

Boston school officials, however, strongly maintain that they are the ones who walked away from the relationship in search of a fairer and more equitable test. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who joined the district in July, said that she has “often and publicly” noted that this is the final year of the district’s contract with the Education Records Bureau. Under the current year-long contract, the district is paying the organization about $600,000.

"Boston public schools is committed, and actively working, to expand equitable access to our exam schools,'' Cassellius said in a statement.

The fairness of the admissions process to the three exam schools — Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science — has been a contentious subject in recent years. Several civil rights groups and community organizations have argued that the admissions process, based half on student grades and half on their scores on the test, called the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), has disadvantaged low-income students, particularly Blacks and Latinos.

And now, the test’s administrator appears to be confirming some of those fears. The district’s “misapplication of ISEE scores has been one factor in perpetuating admissions outcomes that disproportionately affect students belonging to underrepresented groups,” Rochon wrote. The dispute raises questions about who is more to blame for a potentially biased process — the test creator or the district that uses the test.

Civil rights leaders called the letter’s revelations “damning” to Boston public schools and City Hall, saying the district appears to have knowingly left in place an admissions process biased against students of color. Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP , demanded an investigation into Boston’s exam schools process, saying the city needs “a moratorium on any test for exam schools admissions until that investigation is completed.”

“This is a shocking development in our fight for exam schools equity,'' she added.

Cassellius said her administration will release a request for proposals within the week for a test that has been shown to be free of bias and is more aligned with state standards than the ISEE. Boston’s contract with the records bureau expires June 30.

“Almost immediately upon my arrival in Boston, it was brought to my attention that there were concerns that the ISEE test was potentially creating barriers for some students seeking admission to BPS’ exam schools, particularly underrepresented students,” Cassellius said in the statement.

Black and Latino students combined make up just 20 percent of the student body at Boston Latin, the most competitive of the three schools, compared to 72 percent of the school district. They constitute 66 percent of the students at the O’Bryant and 47 percent at Boston Latin Academy.

Previous public debate about the test has focused on the fact that it is not aligned with most Boston public schools’ curriculum — or state standards—and as a result privileges private school applicants, who are disproportionately white and whose schools frequently sync their teaching and curriculum to the test. It also provides an advantage to wealthier Boston Public Schools students whose families can afford to hire private tutors or others to help prepare them for the ISEE.

"Given that it’s an exam that is completely foreign to students and requires parents and outside resources to help prepare them, it doesn’t make sense as a tool for identifying which students are going to be able to succeed in a rigorous academic environment,” said Joshua Goodman, an associate professor at Brandeis University. Goodman authored a 2018 study that found the school system’s reliance on the ISEE potentially blocked thousands of students of color from accessing the exam schools. The study recommended using Massachusetts’ standardized test, the MCAS, to boost diversity at the schools.

But Rochon spelled out other problems in his e-mail, claiming that for years the records bureau has asked district leaders to use the test scores in an “appropriate way” — for instance stopping their practice of summing student results in the different sections (verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, mathematical achievement, and reading comprehension) into a single score.

Instead, Rochon said in an interview, that the four sections are intended to be considered individually as part of a broader assessment of an applicant’s merits — which ideally would take into account their past educational experience. Too much emphasis on a summary test score can disadvantage students from more marginalized groups. But Rochon added that “it is obviously up to the citizens of Boston to decide how to weight academic achievement ... with the really important issues around equity and access.”

Charlie Drane, vice president of enrollment at the private Boston College High School, said his school uses the ISEE exam, along with factors including teacher recommendations and grades, when judging applicants for seventh grade.

School counselors consider students’ backgrounds when weighing their ISEE scores, Drane said. For example, if a student is a recent immigrant with limited fluency in English but has excellent teacher recommendations, the school may not give much weight to a low reading score on the ISEE. If "his recommendations say he’s a hard worker, he’s going to do great here and we’re going to go after him,” Drane said.

Rochon said the organization offered over the last eight years to fund research studies for BPS to determine the fairest way to weight the test scores. “But we were always rebuffed,’’ Rochon wrote. After what Rochon describes as the most “recent refusal,” the bureau notified Boston officials in April 2019 that they would cut ties within a year.

Boston school officials acknowledged that the Education Records Bureau approached them about funding a study. But Cassellius said the district, already eager to find a new test, declined the bureau’s offer to avoid giving undue advantage to “any one particular vendor.”

School officials provided copies of exchanges between Rochon and district leaders shortly after Cassellius took charge. In one e-mail dated in August, the superintendent said she was "hesitant to do any collaboration with a vendor that could eventually seek advantage on a future RFP.”

District officials said they had no record of the bureau reaching out to them about studying the test process several years ago. They added that they have recently studied whether weighting one subject over another could lead to a more equitable process and found that it would have no impact on exam school demographics.

The blame for the controversy falls on both sides, said Michael Contompasis, who served as headmaster at Boston Latin School from 1976 to 1998, and again on an interim basis from 2016 to 2018. Contompasis said the bureau pushed the district to study the test’s fairness after a string of media reports questioned whether it was biased against Black and Latino students.

“The district should have done a validity study on the exam when it was first asked," he said. "It should be something that is periodically done.” And the bureau should have raised their concerns more forcefully well before severing ties.


Higher Education in an Increasingly Diverse Culture

Howard Mumford Jones, an English professor at the University of Michigan and later at Harvard, long ago commented that American colleges and universities echoed rather than critiqued contemporary culture. In our increasingly diverse culture, is it any wonder higher education today more resembles a cacophony than an echo? While the major functional difference between a university and a college has been that the former places a higher premium on research while the latter focuses more on pedagogy, all students should benefit from exposure to ideas that prepare them to live responsibly enough to make the world a better place for their having been part of it. In this Information Age, the nature of globalism pushes humanity toward a form of moral relativism beyond historical context to the point it renders truth ambiguous if not irrelevant. Thomas Hobbes warned that a world with a multitude of choices devoid of essential truth could lead to lives “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” Higher education done right can avoid that.

Higher education should accrue to standards attendant to individual and public integrity, respectful of human rights, and instill a willingness to live responsibly for the common good. Without these, no society, especially a democratic republic, can survive for very long. I spent nearly four decades of my professional life in military service and in teaching; a great portion of it simultaneously. As an intelligence officer, I learned to search for truth — the lack of which can prove fatal. Truth cannot be based on the degree of pleasure it brings or reflects. As an educator, I found the pedagogical function of a college or a university is to prepare students for responsible citizenship. In an increasingly diverse society, it is incumbent on institutions of higher education to bear the burden of pursuing and perpetuating knowledge undergirded by definitive truth.

A century ago, long before the advent of the turbulent 1960s, when as a student I first dove into the waters of higher education, this was not as vital as it is today. In American society before the 1950s, individual character was formed by three powerful institutions: church, family, and school. Since then, the weakening of church and family have left a heavier burden on our schools.

Concerning the church, a 2019 survey indicated 65% of Americans self-identify as Christians; down from 85% in 1990, 81% in 2001, and 12% lower than the 78% reported in 2012. Furthermore, a 2018 poll indicated only 20% of Americans regularly attend religious services. Constant cleavages among Protestant denominations over social-justice related issues left much of American Christendom polarized between a large number of social activist congregations and a smaller number of more conservative iterations. There are rifts along similar lines in Catholicism and Judaism. None of this is healthy.

What about families? Currently, married couples make up 68% of all households with children under 18 years of age, compared to 98% in 1950. In many of those homes, both parents work, leaving childrearing to K-12 schools and after-school care. A lot of these families gather only for dinner and then adjourn to television, computer games, or internet and social-media chattery, diminishing opportunities for moral and ethical guidance.

Given this situation, schools are expected to provide for individuals what used to be accomplished at home or in Sunday school. What is undertaken in many schools depends on the quality of teachers. That is where higher education becomes critical. Among today’s unpleasant truths is that college and university classrooms may function as the last resort where individuals can learn anything about ethics, morality, personal integrity, and the eternal truths long ago propounded by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in the Athenian academy where students were imbued with concepts attendant to responsibilities of citizenship.

Higher education underwritten by the pursuit of truth through academic excellence is where the values attendant to Western civilization must be presented and then infused into the next generation. Analogously, colleges and universities should provide students a calm pool for a vigorous swim through a current of ideas and concepts to prepare them for careers in the professions, business, or various forms of public service. Those four years between childhood and citizenship are the best, perhaps the last, opportunity for the next generation to acquire those aspects of spirit and mind enabling happy and successful lives as responsible American citizens in what will be an increasingly complex world. A diverse, multi-cultural society inimical to — or ignorant of — the ideals that emerged from Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome is unlikely to produce responsible citizens needed to perpetuate a democratic republic.

This is why Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, where I taught for over a decade, and places like it — and these are few — are so critical.


Outcomes before inputs in education

Each new school year elicits mixed emotions for parents and children, ranging from excitement to anxiety. For policymakers, the new year needs to be greeted with a steely-eyed determination to lift schooling performance for the benefit of the four million Australian students in school, and ultimately for the national good.

That means putting aside the habitual mudslinging, buck-passing and tinkering at the edges by policymakers of both parties and at each level of government. Too often, politics has clouded education policy — perhaps more so than any other major portfolio — much to the disservice of students, families and educators.

The way forward must necessarily start with a candid, sober understanding of what has gone on in the past and be followed by a clear vision for the future. Holding up a mirror to the school system will be confronting but it’s past time for an honest accounting of success and failure.

Any serious introspection will note the inconvenient truth that, everywhere in education policy, performance has become a dirty word — for students, schools and teachers — while productivity and getting education bang for the buck are long gone as policy priorities.

Last year the OECD-run Program for International Student Assessment revealed that Australian students’ test results, particularly in mathematics, have continued to slump considerably. All the while, education ministers across the country have boasted about providing “record funding” to schooling.

It is easy to see that a cabal of vested interests and the same old players hold tight control of policymaking, particularly in relation to assessment, competition and performance management. The losers every time are students, taxpayers and even teachers.

It’s no secret that student assessment isn’t what it used to be, and PISA shows we’re certainly a class below high-performing countries when it comes to setting high expectations at school. There is a national commitment to “learning progressions” — which privilege students making progress rather than achieving to an expected standard.

That means those who start behind the curve are likelier to lag behind their peers and have their career opportunities hindered — since employers will invariably want the best candidate for the job, not the most improved.

There is also a push to do away with end-of-school examinations and exit scores on the basis that testing is simply too stressful and ranking a student’s performance might shatter their fragile confidence. But tests are just that — a test of performance under pressure, much like what happens daily in adult life and work.

National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy reporting remains under constant fire. Its opponents say it’s unfair to measure a school’s performance according to such arbitrary and summative measures as test results in basic literacy and numeracy. State education ministers routinely flirt with the idea of scrapping the tests altogether or hiding the results from the public.

However, watering down competition around performance is no recipe for improvement. Quite the opposite: it licenses an accountability-free protection racket, ripe for slackers.

But it is teachers who may be most let down by an inadequate performance management system. Once in the classroom, staff performance is not assessed consistently, independently or objectively, and principals often feel their hands are tied — both for teachers who exceed expectations and for those who don’t meet the bar. Teachers don’t enjoy the benefits of further development from the basic performance management practices found in just about any other Australian workplace.

There is virtually no nexus between pay and performance for teachers, and wage increases are doled out across the board, thanks to centrally determined pay deals with the unions.

If teachers aren’t working in an environment requiring, encouraging and helping them to meet high standards, is it any wonder that students don’t perform?

An aspiration for school policy, characterised by an unapologetic and unrelenting drive for higher performance and productivity, should be an obvious imperative, no matter one’s political persuasion. It also means putting to bed the naive assumption that simply spending more will deliver better outcomes. We’ve already tried that, to no avail.

If doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity then repeatedly spending more money on the same thing for the same results makes policymakers look utterly braindead. All the Gonski “needs-based” funding in the world won’t improve education outcomes without a change in performance culture throughout the system, root and branch.

A new vision for school funding should be outcomes-based. Simply dishing out funding based on inputs (the number and demographics of students), rather than outcomes, doesn’t make for a productive education nation.

Market-based incentives can be used to cultivate greater competition, stimulating the drive for better performance and productivity.

Most school funding goes to paying staff. If this pay were performance-based (particularly in terms of student achievement), it could revolutionise the culture within schools. A renewed focus on performance would flow through to students’ attitudes towards learning and assessment. It’s well documented that highly motivated students, with high expectations set for them, are much likelier to do well.

It’s often said that a country’s education system is a predictor of its future economic prosperity, since human capital is key to national productivity. Last month’s national accounts revealed a persistent, long-term slide in Australia’s labour productivity results, spelling bad news for future economic capacity. It’s no coincidence that productivity has collapsed, as the education system has shirked performance for too long.

The new year is as good a time as any to chart a new policy course. At a national level, the interests of the country and its students must finally be put ahead of the unaccountable, vested interests that have been a dead weight on Australian schooling. For the sake of our future productivity and prosperity, education policy in 2020 needs a jolt of market-based reform — accountability with high expectations, competition, and performance management.

Glenn Fahey is an education research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and was an expert witness to the Inquiry into Measurement