Friday, April 03, 2020

Higher Education Will Never Be the Same—And That’s Not All Bad

The coronavirus, combined with the public and private reactions to it, has affected every aspect of Americans’ lives, including the ways they learn. From pre-K to graduate seminars, many classes are moving online for the duration of the pandemic and perhaps beyond. That may spur pedagogical reforms that will lead to the creation of more Emersonian independent thinkers, people who can quickly find, analyze, and synthesize available data to come to reasoned conclusions on important matters—a resource that seemed in mighty short supply when the coronavirus hit the proverbial fan in mid-March.

Many colleges and universities will evidently have to tighten their belts for some time. Counterintuitively, it would be the lack of resources rather than a surfeit of them that could spur positive change among our very costly but not very effective schools.

Business, education, and policy leaders tend to think in terms of inputs. Achieving goal X will require inputs that cost at least a certain amount. That common approach, which often spends more than anticipated for something less than the stated goal, will be forestalled for the foreseeable future. Budgets will be tight at public and private schools (the former due to state government budget cuts and the latter due to endowment and donation losses because of the stock market crash). Planned educational “essentials” like rock climbing walls, expanded sports stadiums, and new buildings for administrators will have to be put on hold and possibly canceled altogether.

If, as seems likely, a recession or depression hits, student applications may well increase. They have in previous downturns because people who are out of work have a lower opportunity cost of time. But schools shouldn’t count on revenues increasing since many applicants will need more financial aid than they previously would have. In addition, universities that are reliant on foreign students (who often pay full tuition) will be stressed due to travel restrictions and cautious parents keeping their children closer to home.

On the plus side, biology and nursing departments and medical schools may find themselves flush with grants and donations—but likely at the expense of other programs. Universities may urge private donors left on the fence by the stock market crash to donate to promote public health education and research, money that pre-COVID-19 would have gone to general, or other specific, ends.

The nation will benefit to the extent that targeted donations actually improve future health care delivery, but too often more money does not lead to better outcomes. Already, professors from poetry to physics are scrambling to grab a piece of the expected windfall. Such rent-seeking, as economists call it, create deadweight losses, in this case, political and research efforts expended solely to seize COVID-19 funding for department X or program Y, some of which could not define or even spell epidemiology a month ago and that still cannot discern the difference between a positive economic demand and a negative supply shock.

As Richard Vedder has pointed out, the financial strain may bankrupt some schools outright, while sending others into a debt spiral as they borrow to cover lost revenue and to ramp up online teaching capacity. (One small college that recently announced its closure is MacMurray College in Illinois.) I would not be surprised to see the various university ranking services add more weight to pandemic preparedness, which will induce universities to try to outspend each other in those areas to improve their relative position in the rankings.

Tight budgets can be a good thing because they force leaders to make difficult decisions and to focus on what is most important.
Spending on preparedness is better than spending on sports or other frills or administrators of dubious necessity, but the race to outdo competitors in artificial rankings often leads to irrational overspending, a.k.a. a race to the top (or bottom depending on one’s perspective). One imagines administrators are already cooking up new fees to fund the acquisition of mask and toilet paper stockpiles.

Tight budgets can be a good thing because they force leaders to make difficult decisions and to focus on what is most important. A big federal bailout would forestall such a reckoning by allowing universities to continue spending recklessly on projects not closely connected to pedagogy and student learning.

Thankfully, other, less-costly, more student-centered responses remain open, including the one that I outlined in a Martin Center article a year ago. The core idea is for universities to invest in their students instead of the stock market by lending them their tuition. For starters, loans to productive people retain their value much better than stocks do. While SLABS (student-loan asset-backed securities) may or may not plummet in price in the coming weeks depending on federal legislation and COVID-19’s course, loans made directly from universities to students would likely hold up well during downturns, if only due to widespread unemployment insurance and federal subsidies to workers. Moreover, they would not be “marked to market” as stock portfolios are.

Obviously, the present moment is an inopportune one to convert an endowment mostly composed of beaten-down corporate shares into one mostly composed of loans to students. But an innovative approach like this, already successfully employed by Hillsdale College, could attract enough new money to fund a pilot program for students with marginal income and credit who otherwise might attend a less-expensive institution, or none at all. Also, most universities can borrow more cheaply than students can, creating a “spread” that could help all three parties—institutional lenders making safe loans at, say, 2 percent, students obtaining loans at a below-market rate of, say, 6 percent, and universities pocketing the difference, minus expenses.

Moreover, such a lending program could work wonders helping to recruit new students and retain old ones. Students and parents would not have to worry about finding financing in troubled times but, more importantly, is the signal such a program would send. The main insight behind the proposal, after all, is to more closely align the incentives of universities with those of their students who, obviously, will succeed or fail together.

As stock valuations improve, which they eventually will, universities with successful pilots can convert more and more of their endowment to loans to students. Soon, they will have strong incentives to find ways to improve student outcomes at the lowest cost possible, without accreditors or government bureaucrats adding costs or constraining innovation. Surely, we will not all live happily ever after, but we will all be happier when universities routinely produce graduates with the most marketable skill in history: The ability to think rationally and independently, which also happens to be the most important civic skill as well.

Lending to their own students is just one of many routes institutions of higher education could take in the post-COVID-19 world—provided that federal and state governments allow innovations to occur. But if Washington just showers cash on colleges, they will soon be back to business as usual, which means imposing a high cost on the country while failing to turn out high numbers of what the country needs most right now: Emersonian independent thinkers.


American Professors Whitewash Islamic Terror

Muslims have at times allied with Europeans, sometimes even against fellow Muslims; as such, why see any Muslim attacks on Europe as ideologically driven—as jihads (“holy wars”) against the infidel? Why not see them all as generic wars? Such is the academic world’s main apologia against the notion that Islam’s military expansion throughout history was driven by a theological mandate.

Thus, weeks before my recent lecture on the topic of my book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, at the U.S. Army War College, another speaker was brought in to present an “alternative view.” That speaker was John Voll,* professor emeritus of Islamic history and past associate director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (This center was “gifted” 20 million dollars from Prince Alwaleed—a Wahhabi who suggested that the 9/11 attacks were based on America’s position “toward the Palestinian cause”—for the express purpose of improving Islam’s image in the West.)

According to the Army War College’s advertisement:

In contrast with the well-known story of Muslim-Christian military conflict, less well-known is the long history of Muslim-Christian alliances and cooperation, even in times of conflict. Voll will address risk of misunderstanding when the history of clashes between Islam and the West is viewed in broad generalizations. Voll will focus his discussion on alliances and conflicts in the modern era...
Weeks after he presented, Voll reasserted these themes in a less-than-honest Army Times report that depicted him as “a more mainstream speaker … who CAIR-Philadelphia did not object to” (as opposed to me):

Voll does not agree with Ibrahim’s view that Christians and Muslims are almost inevitably at odds. Extreme advocates of this “Clash of Civilizations” hypothesis tend to deal with only half of the historical record of relations between the West and Islam, he said in an email.

“While the history includes many wars and conflicts, that history also includes many experiences of cooperation and alliances,” Voll explained. “To ignore the history of Muslim-Christian cooperations and only emphasize the conflicts is to present a misleading narrative that opens the way for dangerous misunderstandings of world history in general and current global affairs in particular.”

Is this true? Yes and no. Yes, Muslims have (infrequently) allied with non-Muslims, in this case, Europeans. No, this does not prove that the exponentially greater, perennial attacks on every corner of Europe were not ideologically driven by jihad. It merely proves that Muslims are pragmatic—which Islam endorses—and willing to ally with whomever best serves their interest.

For instance, in its announcement, the Army War College noted that “Voll will focus his discussion on alliances and conflicts in the modern era, to include the history of the Anglo-Egyptian relationship, and the enemy-ally transitions of the Sanusiyyah and the Angle-American powers of World War II and the Cold War.

Why the “modern era”? Could it be that, as opposed to the twelve centuries of Islamic raids on Europe (circa. 634-1830, when Barbary was subdued), Muslims have been remarkably weak vis-à-vis infidel Europe beginning in the late modern era and therefore had much to gain by allying with them?

Relying on the late modern era—the last two centuries which Voll bizarrely claims represent “half of the historical record of relations between the West and Islam”—to explain the totality of Islamic/European relations (nearly fourteen centuries) is, of course, one of the oldest tricks relied on by Islamophilic academics: presenting rare exceptions (alliances with non-Muslims) to the rule (jihad against infidels) as the rule itself.

This is well epitomized by the recent book, Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War Between the Muslim World and the Global North, by William Polk, a retired professor of history at Harvard (my complete review here). Despite its ambitious subtitle, only some 30 of its 550 pages deal with the first millennium (when jihad was the norm—not that Polk mentions it even here); 95 percent is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—the “modern era.” As with Voll, this lopsided approach allows Polk to present Muslims as, not just occasional allies of the West, but its eternal victims as well.

However, as much more balanced historians such as Bernard Lewis put it:

We tend nowadays to forget that for approximately a thousand years, from the advent of Islam in the seventh century until the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Christian Europe was under constant threat from Islam, the double threat of conquest and conversion. Most of the new Muslim domains were wrested from Christendom. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were all Christian countries, no less, indeed rather more, than Spain and Sicily. All this left a deep sense of loss and a deep fear.
“We tend nowadays to forget” these troubling facts precisely because those most charged with reminding us—the professional historians of Islam, the Volls and Polks of American academia—go out of their way to suppress them.

Moreover, Islam’s modus operandi has always relied on circumstances. When Muhammad was weak and outnumbered in his early Meccan period, he preached peace and made pacts with infidels; when he became strong in his Medinan period, he preached jihad and went on the offensive. This dichotomy—preach peace when weak, wage war when strong—has been instructive to Muslims throughout the centuries.

Indeed, when it comes to making life easy for Muslims, particularly vis-à-vis infidels, Islamic law (shari‘a) is remarkably lenient, via the doctrine of taysir (ease). It is why millions of Muslims—who under strict shari‘a are banned from willingly relocating to infidel nations—are flooding the prosperous West: it is beneficial to them, even if they hate and occasionally abuse their hosts (which, for some clerics, validates their presence as a form of jihad).

At any rate, ignoring the first millennium of Muslim/European history—when Islam was frequently stronger than Europe, and therefore regularly waging jihads on it—and focusing only on the last two centuries—when Islam has been much weaker than and therefore often “friendly” to the West—is truly what “present[s] a misleading narrative that opens the way for dangerous misunderstandings of world history in general and current global affairs in particular,” to quote Voll, though in reverse.

* As an amusing side note, I actually sat in on one of Voll’s courses on Islamic history at Georgetown University nearly two decades ago. An apparently too challenging or contentious question I asked concerning what he was saying ended, I distinctly recall, with a curt response and a very dirty look—and my deciding not to sign up for his class.


Cambridge finalists will be given 'safety net' in exams as university insists it is not 'dumbing down' degrees

(A bachelors degree in England is normally awarded after THREE years)

Cambridge University finalists will be given a “safety net” in their exams as the institution insists it is not “dumbing down” degrees due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time in the university’s 800 year history, exams will largely be completed online rather than by hand.

Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro-vice-Chancellor for education at Cambridge said he has done all he can to ensure that the new format of exams will be rigorous and fair, but added that “there are no precedents on which we can rely” for the current situation.

He explained that final year undergraduates will be given a “safety net” which means that as long as they pass their exams, they will not receive a degree class that is lower than the class they were awarded in their second year exams


Thursday, April 02, 2020

COVID-19: Is It Academic Armageddon?


First let me relate how the last week has had a revolutionary impact at my rather typical school, Ohio University.

A couple weeks ago, the faculty at my university were furious at potential significant budget and staffing reductions resulting from declining enrollments and rumors that non-instructional/research units were only going to be lightly affected. To add to the intrigue and drama, the provost, ostensibly the university’s second-highest-ranked individual, was eased out of his job with almost no notice.

Fast forward to now. Traditional classes have been canceled for the rest of the year and the faculty have been forced to move without any preparation to online instruction. Students have been told they are only to return to campus from spring break to retrieve their possessions. They were told they will see some rebates on their room and board fees, but how much is not yet determined. This is happening all over the country, from Harvard in the East to Stanford in the West. At the University of Texas, the first COVID-19 positive test came not from a student but from the wife of the president of the university. At the national level, President Trump has already announced sharp reductions in interest charges on student loans (many held by individuals long out of school).

Universities struggle with change. They lack information often on key metrics. How much are students learning? Which majors are most productive for society? Are the marginal benefits of the fourth year of undergraduate training so low that we should move to three-year bachelor’s degrees? Moreover, the incentive structure does not favor big change. Highly successful private business entrepreneurs and employees get huge financial rewards, and unsuccessful ones often lose their jobs. That seldom happens in higher ed. Also, there is a resistance to innovation—why learn to teach online when I enjoy face-to-face student interaction, and no one is forcing me to change?

Adding to the problem are enormous fixed costs in higher education. A large number of employees have legally enforceable lifetime employment contracts. A campus Edifice Complex and over-exuberant expectations of growth have led to significant indebtedness at some schools.

Right now, the short and intermediate-term impact on the current health crisis seems extremely negative. Orderly learning is disrupted, budgets are thrown out of whack, admissions projections for next fall become murky: will kids gone from campus for prolonged periods doing online learning bother to return? Schools on the margin fiscally might even be pushed into closing, a big and somewhat perverse dose of what the late Clayton Christensen called “disruptive innovation.”

The residential schools are perhaps hardest hit. They run massive food and lodging operations in addition to delivering educational services. Will kids sent home now, perhaps in their freshman or sophomore years, return next fall? Parents might say, “we don’t want you living in a dormitory with a strange kid and possibly contracting a disease. We want you home.” Students might lose some of their attachment to their new community of friends in fraternities, and in activities like sports or band, etc.

Yet, remember, this is America, for heaven sakes! We excel in conquering adversity, from the time George Washington and his motley band of citizen soldiers persevered at Valley Forge, to attacks on the World Trade Center early in this century. How did universities survive World War II? Enrollments dropped dramatically nationally. Universities downsized, and used their facilities to aid and train soldiers. That lasted for years. Presumably this current health threat will be shorter-lived. Old ways can change: as Rahm Emmanuel said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Force innovation: online replacement of class instruction is obvious, but as reader Dr. Douglas Oliver of the University of Toledo has suggested, go further. For example, have residential universities sell dorms, pay off related indebtedness, use surplus cash to get through the current crisis, but be barred from getting back into a business they don’t belong in, namely housing students.


University of Arizona Students Say Finishing Courses Online Is “Expecting Too Much”

An online petition demanding that the University of Arizona end spring classes has garnered more than 8,800 signatures from students.

The university had already announced a delayed start of spring classes and moved as many as possible online out of concern for students’ health. However, the UA online petition objected, “This is not an effective solution in this time of crisis.”

Maritza Almanza, a sophomore studying psychology according to Campus Reform, started the petition, which states:

We, the students of the University of Arizona, need all classes for the Spring 2020 semester to be cancelled by Saturday, March 21st. We need an optional pass/fail system* implemented for all Spring 2020 classes, and for every student to be given a passing grade for every class.... Although online classes help slow the spread of the virus, they still require intellectual and sometimes emotional labor.

This labor should not be the focus of students right now. They should be self-isolating and focusing on their health, so they don’t get the virus. It’s unreasonable to expect students to still be productive in a time of crisis.... Students should be planning how to survive the virus and quarantine themselves, not how they’re going to pass their classes.

The petition was updated because not every student wanted a pass/fail grade. Still, it concluded on a defiant note:

We need all classes to end, all students to pass, and all students to be reimbursed. Willfully, The Students of the University of Arizona

Perhaps this kind of petition isn’t surprising in the entitlement era of “free” college for all. But it’s a real missed opportunity to advocate for postsecondary reforms that would outlive the COVID-19 outbreak—including moving more courses online, which could help make college courses more affordable and accessible for a greater number of undergraduates.

There are several other sensible reforms as well.

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Richard Vedder, author of Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, recently argued that higher education’s high fixed costs could spell “academic Armageddon” for many universities coping with the COVID-19 outbreak:

A large number of employees have legally enforceable lifetime employment contracts. A campus Edifice Complex and over-exuberant expectations of growth have led to significant indebtedness at some schools.... The residential schools are perhaps hardest hit. They run massive food and lodging operations in addition to delivering educational services.

While many postsecondary institutions struggle with innovation and change, Vedder rightly notes:

Yet, remember, this is America, for heaven sakes! We excel in conquering adversity.... How did universities survive World War II? Enrollments dropped dramatically nationally. Universities downsized, and used their facilities to aid and train soldiers. That lasted for years. Presumably this current health threat will be shorter-lived.... Old ways can replacement of class instruction is obvious, but ... go further. For example, have residential universities sell dorms, pay off related indebtedness, use surplus cash to get through the current crisis, but be barred from getting back into a business they don’t belong in, namely housing students.


Australian Islamic school shortchanges its teachers

Members of the Independent Education Union NSW/ACT Branch in the Islamic School of Canberra have today won the right to take industrial action, as long running enterprise agreement negotiations continue to stall.

The IEU has been calling for school management to pay salaries and conditions in line with those received by teachers in other schools in the ACT and other Islamic schools in NSW.

The union has been in negotiations with the School Board for a new enterprise agreement since 2016, after the previous agreement expired in 2013. The school was sold in 2018 by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to Islamic Practice and Dawah Circle Inc.

Initial discussions with the new school management were cordial, but negotiations stalled at the end of 2019 when the employer applied to terminate the enterprise agreement. The IEU notified a dispute to the Fair Work Commission about the school’s failure to bargain in good faith and applied for a Protected Action Ballot Order on behalf of its members.

“Staff employed at the school are an extremely dedicated group of employees who have stuck it out for their students during a very difficult period,” said IEU organiser Lyn Caton.

The teachers have today confirmed their concern and dissatisfaction by returning unanimous support for taking industrial action.

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam says he has “nothing but praise for the members at the Islamic School of Canberra, who have collectively indicated their desire to achieve parity with like schools.”

“Members at this school have the full support of the union in their ongoing struggle to achieve fair wages and conditions.”

Valuing teachers and support staff is a responsibility of all school employers.

Via email

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Biggest Obstacles To Moving America’s Public Schools Online

Sasha Cohen, 16, was pleased that his school day started an hour later than usual this morning. “I just wake up and there’s no commute,” he says. His public high school, Millennium Brooklyn, is a 45-minute subway trek from his Bushwick apartment.

But in many other respects, the remainder of the school year will pose big challenges for him and the 1.1 million New York City public school students who started their first online classes this morning. Late on Sunday, March 15, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s 1,800 schools would be closed at least until April 20. New York joins districts across the country that have shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sasha’s school is more tech-savvy than many. He already receives and turns in assignments using the Google Classroom web service and teachers post his grades there. But until the shut-down, he and the other 660 students at his high school learned the old-fashioned way, in brick and mortar classrooms with live teachers and face-to-face discussion with classmates.

Today he got assignments for nearly all of his eight classes. Only one, his French elective, held a virtual class for 25 minutes using Zoom conferencing software. “It was hard to ask questions because there were so many people and it just felt weird,” he says. He doesn’t yet know how many of his other teachers plan to conduct virtual classes. “It’s going to be hard because I don’t know if there will be anyone who can help me,” he says.

New York City and school systems across the country are in the midst of a massive experiment. Forty-six states have closed all their K-12 schools and today Virginia joined Kansas in announcing that its schools would not reopen this year. Most districts, like New York, have said they will offer classes online in the hope that students will stay on track.

But according to Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, a nonprofit that represents the nearly 14,000 school superintendents in the U.S., only 30%-40% of American public schools are prepared to offer online instruction. Schools, teachers and students face a long list of challenges, he says. “Kids have to have laptops, they have to be able to access the system, the system has to have software in place, the teachers have to be trained in order to give online instruction,” he says.

Fewer than half of American schools have so-called one-to-one laptop programs that loan computers to students for the school year. As for teacher preparedness to immediately offer effective online instruction, he says fewer than half have the requisite training. Hardly anyone knows how to teach young children online. “It’s just not going to happen at the elementary level,” he says.

Another huge issue: According to federal data, 14% of students age 6-17 live in homes with no Internet service.

In contrast to New York, throughout Washington state, school districts are not offering online instruction for credit. Tim Robinson, a spokesman for the Seattle public schools, explains that the district is legally required to give all students equal access to instruction. Since many students don’t have Internet connections, the district isn’t planning any online classes. Instead its site makes recommendations like reading for 60 minutes a day and it refers families to online resources including the Seattle public library and a math site called mathscore.

“We can’t do online learning,” says Robinson. “It’s an equity issue.” What about other districts that are moving ahead with remote instruction? Says Robinson, “Who’s going to pay for the computers? Who’s going to pay for the Internet access? Who’s going to pay for the teacher development?”

Domenech says that superintendents across the country are wrestling with all of these questions. The private sector is making donations of hardware and software and offering free internet service. More than a week ago, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced he was giving schools in the U.S. and several other countries access to his conferencing software for free. Fairfax County, Virginia is deploying school buses equipped with Internet connections as hot spots.

But a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also poses challenges for school districts. Some 14% of public school students receive help mandated by the law, which can require that children with special needs work with hands-on classroom aides. The Americans with Disabilities Act also guarantees protections to students with autism and other challenges. On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet suggesting that schools proceed with online learning even while taking the law into account. But Domenech says superintendents fear ambulance-chasing lawyers will sue districts that proceed with online education and don’t find a way to give students with disabilities the individualized help they are legally entitled to.

Denise Marshall, executive director of the nonprofit Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which supports IDEA, says her organization wants schools to move ahead with online learning during the pandemic. “We don’t want the equity issue to be used as an excuse not to provide services.”

Domenech has a call scheduled with Vice President Pence tomorrow, and he hopes that the federal government will issue clear legal protection to schools offering online education. Ideally, students with disabilities will get extra services when schools finally reopen, he says.

But he fears that even if schools do open in the fall, assuming scientists have yet to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, new infections could surface and schools will again be forced to close. “The situation we’re in is dire,” he says. “Online instruction in the best of circumstances isn’t going to compare to students being in school full-time.”


UK students' union calls on universities to cancel summer exams

NUS says some students could be disadvantaged if exams go ahead during coronavirus

The National Union of Students has called on universities to cancel or postpone this summer’s exams to avoid further stress and disruption to students’ lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

The NUS said disabled, international and poorer students would be significantly disadvantaged if universities go through with plans to hold online exams and assessments next term.

It said final-year students should be given a choice of how to complete their degrees, such as receiving an estimated grade based on prior attainment, doing an open book online exam, or taking their finals at the university at a later date.

“In the current climate, student welfare must come first,” said Claire Sosienski-Smith, the NUS vice-president (higher education). “It is vital that there are no compulsory exams this year.”

The NUS added that all exams for first and second-year students should be cancelled, while postgraduate students should get a six-month extension to their submission deadlines.

The demand comes after thousands of students across the country called for alternative assessments to be put in place to ensure their academic performance is not adversely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Many international students at Imperial College London face having to do their online exams in the middle of the night after the university notified them that “being in a different time zone cannot be used as a mitigating circumstance” and they must be “available at the correct UK time, wherever they are”. Some, including Chinese students, cannot access study materials due to internet censorship.

A physics student, who is quarantined in Shanghai, said he was unable to access Panopto lecture recordings for his revision because the site was blocked by China’s firewall. “Imperial College has made it more difficult than regular exams because now you have to deal with technology and censorship,” he said.

Max, not his real name, said Chinese students were also under great stress because relatives had died of Covid-19. “My grandmother passed away because of coronavirus,” he said.

The physics student said he might also face being quarantined for another fortnight when he returns to his family home in Wuhan, the centre of the Chinese outbreak, which would end around the time when his exams are due to start.

In a statement, Imperial College said: “We are putting additional support in place for students and we are updating our mitigating circumstances policy to take account of where a student does not have access to the equipment or facilities to undertake the assessment.”

Piers Wilkinson, the NUS’s disabled students officer, said the academic year should end now because universities cannot provide disabled students – who make up 13% of the student population – with the reasonable adjustments they are legally required to put in place due to the pandemic lockdown.

Wilkinson said most of the study support provided to disabled students could either only be delivered on campus or would be impossible to provide remotely. This included providing note-taking, sign-language interpreters, close captioning of lectures, and screen-readers that render text and image content as speech or Braille.

He added: “There is no way that disabled students can be on an equal level playing field as every other student during this pandemic. They should be allowed to suspend their studies until it’s reasonable and equitable for them to start again.”

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions, said universities were looking at various options to ensure students were fairly assessed. She added that “universities will try to be as accommodating as they can” to students’ varying needs for support.


The provision of early childhood education and care in Australia is broken and the Coronavirus has revealed the extent to which the system is flawed.  The sector is on the brink of collapse

Consider this.

For several weeks there has been uncertainty about how school should be delivered. Will they close? Should students attend? Are teachers safe?

There has been no uncertainty, however, about whether teachers or schools are needed. It’s understood both are, obviously, critical. The manner in which education is to be facilitated, in the short term at least, has been up for discussion but its existence is assured. As it should be.

When it comes to early childhood education & care the questions are the same but the answers are very different. Childcare centres aren’t government-funded like schools. Parents receive subsidies from the government that are passed on to centres and they pay any gap between the subsidy and the daily rate. Those subsidies and fees support the wages of the educators and all the associated operating costs.

But as Lisa Bryant wrote in The Guardian Australia on Monday, parents are currently withdrawing their children from childcare “in droves”.

“They are doing it because they are concerned for their children and because they are told to keep children home if possible. But mostly they are doing it because childcare is expensive. When families lose their income, childcare is an obvious place to cut.”

In these circumstances it isn’t surprising but the impact is potentially devastating. It means that unlike primary and secondary school teachers, who haven’t all been dismissed because students aren’t coming, many early childhood educators have already been let go.

Last week Goodstart Early Learning, one of Australia’s largest providers, had to lay off 4,000 casual educators. These are among the lowest-paid workers in the country so the idea of them being financially equipped to withstand this unexpected job loss is ridiculous.

It is also crushing to consider that, like primary and secondary teachers, educators and carers have been thrust unwillingly on to the front line of a highly contagious virus for weeks.

Centres and preschools haven’t been closed and while most other Australians have been told the safest thing to do is stay home, these employees have been told to keep turning up to work. Usually for a very basic wage with no loading for the health risk (or the value provided).

At least primary and secondary teachers haven’t needed to fret over their employment status while also panicking about the virus: early childhood educators and carers should be so lucky.

To lose their jobs after weeks of putting themselves at risk is incredibly insulting. As well as highly problematic.

Many childcare centres and operators in Australia may close for good because of the Coronavirus. That will be a disaster. For children, for educators and for parents.

When health workers can’t turn up to their jobs because they have no one to look after their children there will be an uproar - but it’ll be too late

Whatever happens now school won’t collapse, that much is clear. Early education and care shouldn’t either. It’s a critical function in society: it is a fundamental part of a child’s education and development and the best investment any country can make in its future.

And, yes, it is also important in an economic sense in that it facilitates the combination of paid work with family responsibilities.

There are, literally, millions of reasons that a nation cannot function without an early education system.

If there was ever definitive proof that Australia’s early childhood education and care system was broken, the idea that a virus could bring this vital sector totally to its knees is it.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Businesses Can Help America’s Education Crisis. Here’s How

American education faces a crisis. Making college free and helping students acquire short-term credentials might help. But in a rapidly changing workforce, where the premium on higher levels of education and adaptability skills is only increasing, these approaches won’t be nearly comprehensive enough to address the core problem. More Americans need the education and skills for the 21st-century economy.

For one, college enrollment is in decline. Just last semester, 60% of U.S. colleges failed to meet their enrollment goals. Juxtapose this against the fact that roughly 90% of the high-paying jobs in today and tomorrow’s economy require postsecondary degrees, according to Georgetown University labor economist Anthony Carnevale, while wages for those only requiring a high school diploma are stagnant or in decline.

The pipeline to college faces a problem. Elementary and secondary schools have serious problems with teacher recruitment and retention. States such as Illinois and Michigan have seen over a 50% decline in those who complete a teacher preparation program, according to the Education Commission of the States. Couple that with yearly rates of teachers leaving the profession exceeding 15% on average—and greater numbers in high-poverty schools—and the problem magnifies. That’s before even addressing the need for higher-quality teaching to enhance student achievement.

Higher-education institutions have a completion crisis, too. Since 2011, the total number of students in U.S. colleges and universities has fallen by 2.3 million, and those who remain are having a harder time completing. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019, only six in ten students completed a two- or four-year degree six years after high school; black student completion is half that. In community colleges, on-time completion rates for low-income students of color are in the single digits, with far too many taking non-credit-bearing remedial courses, which can cost the nation over $5 billion a year.

Increased public support is one answer to these problems, but any major new programs will compete for funding with health care and the environment. And spending alone absent innovation and a clear focus might disappoint. The good news is that potentially exciting data-driven solutions are available in the private sector. American businesses have good incentives to help: They are significantly impacted by troubled education performance. And, while the private sector is not fully to blame for income inequality, it can act to address it with a focus on improving education performance though meaningful public-private partnerships.

Here are three practical solutions businesses can act on now.

First, increase the pool of teachers by encouraging and supporting employees who seek an “encore career” through a transition into a teaching. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.6 million people over 55 in the tech sector alone. Survey data show many of them are interested in a second career. At IBM, a pilot program to both help employees transition out of the workforce and assist schools in finding top talent enabled 100 employees to become classroom teachers. For programs like this, the private sector and government can share the modest cost of teacher-education courses and time off for practice teaching. Extrapolating the IBM success across Fortune 500 companies, as many as 50,000 teachers a year, many with strong math and science backgrounds, could be recruited.

Second, in many school systems declining enrollment has left far too many buildings half-occupied and at risk of closure. Instead of bearing the cost of closing such schools, vacant space—which can be expensive to rent in cities like Chicago—can be used as “maker space.” Programs like this could offer significant benefits by locating private-sector innovators in schools in exchange for their agreement to mentor teachers and students and to provide job opportunities for parents. Similarly, not-for-profit organizations might also be located in vacant school space, providing guidance and support for students in exchange for free and reduced-cost space.

Third, at the higher-education level, public-private partnerships can step in to address enrollment decline. According to the Urban Institute and ProPublica, the majority of those over 50 are at risk of losing their jobs due to a lack of education and skills. Their research, based on a survey of 20,000 individuals, demonstrates that only one in ten of those workers who lose their jobs will go on to earn a wage anywhere close to what they had once earned. This population of nontraditionally employed workers could be attracted to higher education. With a cost-sharing arrangement between the public and private sectors, customized skills enhancement could be provided, much of it online, to hundreds of thousands of such nontraditional worker-students a year. For employers, this would eliminate both the cost of hiring and training replacement workers at higher wages and the added cost of laying off workers. And everyone would realize the benefit of enhanced tax revenue from more employees working longer and at higher wages.

Funding to make college more affordable should be on the agenda, too. Both Pell grants and federal work-study programs should be expanded, as should career and technical education and innovative programs like the grade 9 to 14 model called P-TECH. Creative solutions from businesses are not just necessary but essential. There will never be a better time to act. 


Left-wing professors in Britain getting rattled

Academics are issuing warnings about a UK organisation that is calling on students to report lecturers’ “political bias” for publication on its website. “Education Watch” is based on a US site that lists lecturers who have advanced what it calls “leftist propaganda”. Academics in the US have faced threats of death, rape and harm to their children after being singled out by “Professor Watchlist”.

Education Watch, on the website of Turning Point UK, was launched last month by the British arm of Turning Point USA, an organisation seen as Trump’s youth wing. Turning Point UK was given messages of support from MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel.

Education Watch, it says, is a tool for UK students to report lecturers for “leftwing bias”, which it claims universities are “overrun” with.

The website says any naming and shaming will be on a “case-by-case basis”. “So far, we are simply documenting the incidents without naming the teachers, though we may sometimes name the university or the school. However, if some incidents are serious enough, we may decide it is necessary to publicly name the individuals involved. This would not be our default approach, however – unlike in the US.”

But academics in Britain say that encouraging students to provide evidence of bias is highly dangerous.

“This is populist rightwing propaganda, encouraging the false idea that there are evil professors out there, indoctrinating young people, who need to be dealt with,” says Eric Lybeck, presidential academic fellow at Manchester University’s Institute of Education and a member of the Council for the Defence of British Education, who has been researching the organisation. “Turning Point UK and Education Watch have been transplanted to the UK very intentionally by rightwing groups in the US. They are pretending to be a student organisation, but they are not a grassroots organisation at all.”

One US academic who received a death threat says: “It is ridiculous that I have this additional threat in my life because of this, that I have to worry if my kids are safe. This is someone using their money to increase the chances of a hate crime against certain individuals.”

Hans-Joerg Tiede, of the American Association of University Professors, has been cataloguing the often “traumatic” impact on individuals of being on the Professor Watchlist and a similar site called Campus Reform, for four years. He says many academics – especially women – have received threats of murder and sexual assault or attacks on their children, via social media or email.

In two cases universities had to close for the day because of the perceived risk to staff and students.

Tiede says one professor was put on the list for a book chapter on how to teach maths in a way that works better for black and minority ethnic children. “She was inundated with death threats. She was Jewish and received antisemitic threats and threats of sexual assault. Instances like that are happening with some regularity,” he says.

Betsey Stevenson, associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, is at the top of the Professor Watchlist, and has been on it for two years. Stevenson worked in the Obama administration, but was listed on the site for some fact-based research on the gender distribution of examples in economics textbooks, arguing that this might be putting girls off the subject.

“If this was a student-led organisation you’d see the Watchlist highlighting the furthest left views, but that’s not what you see. This is such a random, scattergun list. It’s obvious it doesn’t come from inside universities.”

She adds: “UK academics should be cynical about this. There is no good intention here.”

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says she received death threats. “Sites like this are trying to control the narrative. They want to paint university education as being inherently liberal and evil.”

She adds: “I would say to UK academics, be careful about who might be trolling your Twitter feeds, and be careful when talking about issues like race or gender.”

Anthony Zenkus, a lecturer in social work at Columbia University, is on the Professor Watchlist for a tweet criticising capitalism. At first he thought the posting was silly, but now feels it is “insidious”. “The term watchlist is loaded. They are preying on fear, implying these ideas are dangerous.”

Turning Point UK was set up last year by George Farmer, a Tory donor and son of a Conservative peer, who stood as an MEP for the Brexit party.

The Guardian reported on the group’s apparent links to the far-right in February 2019. Farmer has since deleted all tweets on his Twitter account, in which he had called Jeremy Corbyn “Jew-hating Jeremy” and London mayor, Sadiq Khan a “Grade A twat”.

Last August Farmer married Candace Owens, an ultra-conservative activist, who until last year was communications director of Turning Point USA.

Like its American counterpart, Turning Point UK does not reveal its donors. Membership charges are in dollars, and in a tweet last week it thanked “our friend and ally” Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, for helping to establish the UK organisation.

On the website it describes itself as a “grassroots organisation” educating students about free markets, limited government and personal responsibility. There is also merchandise: for £12.68 you can buy a Nigel Farage T-shirt. So far no lecturers have been named on Education Watch UK, but a message on the website says: “We have received many reports of political bias in our education system. We will publish the examples we receive here.”

It also says: “There is a reason why people are getting nervous about this – as they should be. We are finally doing something, with the very small and limited resources we have, to actually push back against the leftist tyranny on campuses that is being pushed down people’s throats.”

Lybeck describes this as “an invented culture war”. “This is just crowdsourcing McCarthyism. In the US they have created this idea that there is this intellectual elite that disdains America and doesn’t share its values. I think if people want to use that playbook here it will be harder. But the money is there and they are trying.”

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, says academics are right to be fearful. “This is part of a wider movement that could be highly dangerous. It is a rightwing, populist, anti-education offensive and it has important allies at the highest parts of government both here and in America.”

Tanja Bueltmann, professor of history at Northumbria University and one of many academics who has expressed dismay at the launch of Education Watch, says: “It doesn’t matter if it comes from right or left – we don’t want a system of vigilantism.”


CATHOLIC schools across Australia have committed to extending school fee relief for families facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic

National Catholic Education executive director Jacinta Collins said Catholic schools have a long tradition of offering school fee relief and assistance to families facing financial difficulties.

“Catholic schools keep their fees as affordable as possible, but we know many families will be facing serious financial difficulties during this challenging time,” Ms Collins said.

“In each state and territory we are looking at ways to expand on the substantial fee relief arrangements already in place, to ease the financial strain on families, and to determine appropriate measures to best support the needs of families across the country.

“We saw recently through the bushfire season and ongoing drought, that some families are more affected than others, so we need to ensure that the right support and assistance goes to where it is most needed,” she said.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission’s executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry urged families to come forward.

“Catholic schools are acutely aware of the hardships being experienced right across the community and are doing all they can to facilitate the ongoing education of all students,” Dr Perry said.

“I urge any family facing difficulty with tuition fees to contact their school to discuss their situation.”

Ms Collins said financial relief is immediately available to families impacted by the pandemic.

“If families are affected by job losses, business closures or other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge them to speak to their school as quickly as possible, to get immediate relief and determine the level of assistance needed ,” she said.

“We appreciate how difficult it is for parents to come forward with financial concerns, but our schools will ensure each case is handled with care and discretion.

“We understand that many families are already under great pressure and strain, and we do not want them to be further burdened by school fee payments.”

In South Australia, families in Catholic diocesan schools who have lost significant income due to COVID-19 will receive a total school fee remission effective immediately, for an initial period of three months.

Catholic Education South Australia director Dr Neil McGoran said for the state’s regional and rural communities, the COVID-19 pandemic comes amidst a range of other challenges such as bushfires, drought, loss of key industries and increasing unemployment.

“Amongst all the worries that we have at this time – worrying about the payment of school fees should not be one of those things,” Dr McGoran said.

“All Catholic schools in SA are providing fee remissions to families financially impacted by COVID-19 and we will continue to monitor and respond to the impact on our families and our schools.”

Catholic Schools New South Wales chief executive officer Dallas McInerney said it was critical for families in the state’s nearly 600 schools to have certainty.

“Now, more than ever, our families need certainty and support,” Mr McInerney said.

“Catholic Schools NSW is actively considering how best to financially support our families at this time.”

“We are firmly of the view that no child should miss out on a Catholic education because of financial stress; this includes families seeking enrolment for their children for the 2021 school year.”

Helping education: “All Catholic schools in SA are providing fee remissions to families financially impacted by COVID-19 and we will continue to monitor and respond to the impact on our families and our schools.” Photo: Flickr.
In Western Australia, Catholic schools families on a health care card will receive automatic fee concessions, and immediate support would also be available for those who do not qualify for a health care card.

“The health care card discount applies to all year levels from Kindergarten to Year 12, and additional financial considerations are also available depending on each family’s circumstance,” said Catholic Education Western Australia executive director Dr Debra Sayce.

“For parents who do not qualify for the health care card discount, but who are experiencing financial difficulties, arrangements can be made to provide immediate support to assist with tuition costs.”

Ms Collins said Catholic schools would offer a blend of onsite and remote learning arrangements next term.

“Subject to government advice, we anticipate that, by Term 2, Catholic schools will be offering a combination of onsite schooling for the children of essential service workers and remote learning for students at home.”

Nationally, Catholic schools educate more than 764,000 students – or one in five Australian students – in 1,746 schools, the vast majority of which are low-fee schools.


Monday, March 30, 2020

UK school closures prompt boom in private tuition

Surge in demand for online tuition, while rich families take tutors into isolation with them

The private tuition industry is booming amid the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures and fears of infection driving unprecedented demand for online teaching.

UK tutoring firms said there had been a surge in online tuition in the past three weeks as parents anticipated and then responded to the decision to close schools indefinitely.

Meanwhile, several agencies said some wealthy families had requested tutors go into isolation with them on remote country estates or super-yachts.

Leo Evans, a co-founder of The Profs, a tuition firm that works with around 2,000 schoolchildren and 3,000 university students internationally each year, said: “There has been a hike in online tutoring related to existential concerns around the coronavirus and schools being shut.”

Evans said the number of daily users of its online classroom platform BitPaper had risen more than sixfold in two weeks, from 5,000 to 32,000 . “There were 11,000 hours of online classes on Monday, almost a fifteenfold rise from 750 hours on 2 March,” he said. “It’s absolutely exploded since the coronavirus.”

Hannah Titley, the founder of the Golden Circle, which has about 80 homeschooled and several hundred after-school students, said all lessons were now being taught online, compared with 10% a few weeks ago.

“There’s been a huge shift,” she said. “Most homeschooled students in London have transitioned to online learning this week, and those families who can are staying in the countryside. This week 16 new homeschoolers have joined. We have another 11 starting after the Easter break.”

Titley said a drop-off in demand for GCSE revision as a result of the cancellation of exams had been more than offset by demand for other tutoring. For example, private schools were continuing to assess key-stage three pupils, aged 11-14, and after Easter some schools will start A-level courses for those pupils who were due to do GCSEs this summer.

One of the Golden Circle’s clients, Claudine Ries, who lives in central London, has switched to online tutoring for her 16-year-old son who is studying for US exams.

She said: “We are trying to socially isolate by seeing fewer friends and staying away from large crowds. We switched to online tutoring mainly because we felt it would unnecessarily expose the tutors who need to travel to our house while they could be isolating themselves at home.”

Will Chambers, the founder of Bramble, an online tutoring platform, said the number of daily users rose by 1,125% in two weeks, to 2,500 on Thursday. Many of the new users were elderly tutors concerned that homeschooling could put them at risk of infection, he said.

Adam Caller, the founder of Tutors International, which caters to rich families, said he had received several requests from clients in the past few weeks for tutors to go into isolation with them at short notice.

“We’ve seen a sudden rush, especially from Switzerland,” said Caller. “They’re looking for tutors who are willing to come and be locked in. One family has relocated from an area affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in northern Italy to St Moritz in the Swiss Alps.

“Another family, from Dubai, want to go and hide on their super-yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s paying £24,000 a month to the tutor.”

Mark MacLaine, the founder of Tutorfair, said one tutor had gone into isolation with a family in upstate New York, and another family who had flown to the Caribbean to escape the outbreak were now receiving online tuition.

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MacLaine said the additional demand was a boost to Britain’s private tuition sector, worth an estimated £2bn. He said this year could be his highest earning yet because so many families were looking for private tuition due to the uncertainty over the next academic year.

“A few of my A-level students have decided to resit their exams next year but most want to keep working,” he said. “A couple of parents said they’ll have their kids resit their GCSEs in their A-level year if they have to.”


The National Education Association Endorses Joe Biden

Joe Biden earned a formidable labor endorsement on Saturday night: America’s largest union, the National Education Association, formally backed Biden as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and pledged to mobilize its 3 million members — most of whom are women — on his behalf.

In a statement calling Biden “a tireless advocate” for public education, NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said the former vice-president “understands that as a nation we have a moral responsibility to provide a great neighborhood public school for every student in every Zip code.”

“As president, he is committed to attracting and retaining the best educators by paying them as the professionals that they are as well as increasing funding for support staff and paraprofessionals,” she continued. “And Biden will fire Betsy DeVos and replace her with an Education secretary who comes from a public-school classroom and believes that educators must have a seat at the table when crafting education policy.”

The NEA’s Saturday vote concludes a nearly yearlong endorsement process, and its decision to back Biden now, on the eve of his first one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders, is significant. Union leadership has likely concluded that Biden’s front-runner status is about to become permanent.

The endorsement also comes relatively late in the cycle compared with the strategies of other unions. The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest educators’ union, jointly endorsed Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren in February. Its president, Randi Weingarten, later endorsed Warren in an individual capacity days later.

Both Biden and Sanders already enjoy substantial labor support. Earlier this March, Biden announced that he’d earned the endorsements of UNITE HERE and United Food and Commercial Workers locals in Michigan, Mississippi, Florida and Illinois. By that point, the former vice-president had also drawn the support of a number of Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union locals, and the formal endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, among others. Sanders, meanwhile, has earned plenty of labor support too, including endorsements from the American Postal Workers Union and National Nurses United and a number of powerful locals belonging to the AFT, UNITE HERE and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Endorsements are important, but they don’t always guarantee that a union’s rank-and-file members will vote the same way as their leaders. Sanders won the Nevada Democratic caucuses in no small part because members of the state’s powerful Culinary Union defied their leadership, who did not endorse a candidate but campaigned against Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over their support for Medicare for All. Teachers are also a consistent source of major donor support for Sanders. HuffPost reported in February that while Biden led an internal AFT poll in tandem with Warren, teachers are Sanders’s top donors by profession. At the time, Warren was the second most popular beneficiary of their financial support, and Biden was third.


Australian schools: Digital equity needed for success

For millions of young Australians, it’s home schooling from now on. As well as getting their heads around months of staying inside – often in small apartments with no easy access to big, green spaces – families urgently need to work out how to carry on with learning.

The Prime Minister and other leaders rightly point to the risks facing the educational progress of young Australians as the nation locks down. Given the data showing that many students are already up to three years behind their international peers in reading, mathematics and science, they cannot afford to miss a beat as they watch a very strange school year unfold.

The first of Australia’s two national goals for schooling refers to ‘excellence and equity’.  Excellence in education is already the subject of much debate, but the Covid-19 emergency will exacerbate equity issues, with no guarantee that all young learners can simply switch to high-quality online learning.

And school closures are happening at the same time as most businesses and organisations ramp up their technological capability to keep things going. This is potentially the greatest test of the $50+ billion national broadband network. Our average speeds have improved, but other countries are doing better, and this was probably a major factor for Japan and Hong Kong in their early decision to close all schools.

Ideally, for at least some part of each day, Australian students should be able to see and hear their teachers as well as their classmates. Schools will want to keep students connected and maintain a sense of belonging, otherwise motivation and achievement will go out the window.

But some schools are advising parents that live streaming of lessons cannot occur because of the variation in household internet services and devices.

Every child will need the right device and the necessary software. As in some universities, this might mean offering financial support to students who would otherwise depend on school computers, who cannot afford internet connection or who have a disability.

Enabling equitable access to smart digital technology would be an encouraging sign of the effectiveness of state and territory policies and funding strategies

Australia’s education ministers own Education Services Australia, a national company that claims a “unique combination of education and technology expertise to create and deliver solutions that can be used to improve student outcomes and enhance performance across all education sectors.” ESA built the Australian Curriculum website, among many other projects.

Never has there been a better time for that organisation to show what it can do.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Senate paves road to reopening economy with coronavirus relief bill, but when will states reopen schools?

By a vote of 96-0, the U.S. Senate has passed a $2.2 trillion legislative package, by far the largest in U.S. history, to keep tens of millions of Americans on payroll and expand unemployment benefits to those who are laid off while the country waits out the deadly Chinese coronavirus that poses additional risk to seniors and those with underlying conditions.

That way, when the virus passes, those businesses, particularly the 30 million small businesses that are struggling most of all right now, but also critical industries, will be able to rapidly reopen and we can get back to our lives.

President Donald Trump has offered April 12, Easter Sunday, as a national goal to begin reopening what he says are “sections” of the country where the outbreak is not so bad. Every state for the moment has effectively shut down their schools, creating a daycare problem for tens of millions of parents, many of whom are temporarily working from home or are furloughed.

To get the economy reopened, President Trump and his administration will have to work with governors in all 50 states, who have 50 different plans about how long everything should remain closed:

So, when it comes to reopening the economy, the first thing to do would be to reopen the schools in some capacity. Parents are likely to take that as a cue from local authorities that it is safe to return to work.

As it is, many states are mulling over cancelling the remainder of the school year, which Kansas, Oklahoma and Virginia have already done. The more that do, likely the longer the recession we are in will last, because it will be that much longer that people stay home. That is because, again, if schools are closed due to public health concerns, individual families in localities are going to listen to their local authorities.

Adding a layer of complexity, many localities are extending closures even beyond what the states are ordering. For example, Chicago public schools will be closed until mid-April, while the guidance currently says March 30 for Illinois. New York City schools are closed until April 20, although the state guidance is for April 1.

That’s federalism.

Two decisions likely to weigh in favor of skipping the rest of the school year are President Trump’s decision to waive standardized testing requirements for states. It opens the door for states to take the additional steps of cancelling the tests, as many have already done, and potentially to cancel school until September.

And the Senate bill financially incentivizes states and businesses to remain in stasis until the virus passes.

That said, not even New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cancelled school for the rest of the year, at least not yet, saying that there is a “smarter” way to respond to the coronavirus without shutting down the entire state’s economy. New York far and away has the most coronavirus cases at the moment, but so far not so many that the hospitals are yet overwhelmed. He promised his state could be considered a template for other states to follow in terms of how to mitigate risk without shutting everything down.

At the end of the day, all the federal government can do is issue recommendations to the states to follow, and to ease travel restrictions when the President believes it is safe to do so. President Trump and his task force are setting the tone that many states will follow.

Real consideration should be given by the President and states to the potential lifelong consequences of cancelling education for the remainder of the school year for students, as well as the economic impacts of those closures. These must be weighed against the virus’ trajectory, the rate of infection, hospitalization and fatality.

When we get to day 15 of the President’s coronavirus guidelines, the task force has promised a better read on where the virus is and where it’s going to be.

It will be up to the President to coordinate with state governors responsible for the closures, and to come up with reasonable recommendations to help our schools and economy to be reopened as soon as possible.

Recommendations for each state for reopening should be criteria-based and geared towards how to reopen while keeping the elderly and those with preexisting conditions safe.

Perhaps if we get to mid-April or the beginning of May and there are no new cases, maybe we can call that summer vacation and reopen the schools to finish their school years, with perhaps a two-week interlude between grades in September.

As it is, every state has closed their schools, and so long as that is the case, the country and the economy will largely remain on standby and the longer the recession we are in will last. Stay tuned.


A Scholar’s Lament

George Leef

Professor John Ellis has served on college faculties since 1963 and is now an emeritus professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He has witnessed enormous changes in higher education over his years and he finds those changes to be deplorable.

In his new book The Breakdown of Higher Education, Ellis explains how our system was subverted, why it matters, and what it will take to put it back on the proper track.

Americans, Ellis observes, used to have almost unlimited confidence in our colleges and universities. They were expected to provide advanced learning for serious students and a forum for the discussion of important national issues, which they did. Higher education simply wasn’t controversial; few books were written about it and hardly anyone offered harsh criticism.

Today, however, many people are deeply distressed at the state of higher education, mainly because it has become terribly politicized. Ellis writes that “advocacy has now replaced analysis as the central concern of the campuses” and says that “this rot has been growing for decades and appears to have reached a point of no repair.” He provides plenty of evidence to back up his charge that radical politics has become the dominant force at many schools.

One case Ellis highlights is that of Professor Bruce Gilley of Portland State. Gilley, a political scientist, wrote an article that was published in an academic journal, in which he argued that colonialism had some beneficial consequences for native peoples. That is certainly a debatable proposition and any scholar who read his paper would have been perfectly free to respond with counter-arguments. In an earlier day, that is all that would have happened.

But rather than arguing against Gilley, an outraged academic mob immediately demanded that his paper be suppressed.

More than 10,000 professors signed a petition demanding that the paper be withdrawn, and the journal’s editor even received death threats. Under severe pressure, the journal did retract the article (but in the spirit of academic freedom, the National Association of Scholars has republished it).

About the Gilley affair, Ellis writes,

What was truly astonishing about this episode was that here were literally thousands of people with professorial appointments who completely rejected the idea of academic thought and analysis.

Yes, it is astonishing that so many professors would resort to intimidation rather than reasoning when faced with something they disapproved of. But in the American academic world today, colonialism is one of the many issues about which there is only one acceptable view, namely that it was an unmitigated evil inflicted by whites on natives. Many faculty members who had neither read Gilley’s paper nor studied the questions it raised nevertheless felt free to demand that his work be expunged.

It is indeed chilling to realize that such behavior is now perfectly normal among the professoriate.

Another instance showing how an unscholarly, adversarial mindset has permeated our higher education system is the furor over an op-ed piece written by University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego. In their piece, they defended bourgeois norms and argued that the abandonment of such norms helps explain why “disadvantaged groups” are making little economic progress.

Again, rather than seeking to debate the argument Wax and Alexander advanced, the academic community reacted with sheer vehemence.

More than half of Wax’s law school colleagues signed a letter to the dean “condemning” the piece and stating that if it weren’t for tenure, Wax should be fired. Those professors did not deign to argue against Wax but simply declared her views to be intolerable. In their worldview, the only permissible explanation for the socio-economic troubles of minority groups is racism. Any “deviationism” (as Maoists used to put it) must be punished. Fortunately, Penn couldn’t fire Professor Wax but did punish her by taking away the first-year civil procedure course she had taught expertly for years. Too bad for students, but the mob had to be appeased.

American professors didn’t always act in this unseemly manner. Well into the 1960s, it had a liberal majority, but without the vast imbalance we see now nor today’s radical politics and intolerance. To be sure, there were many dedicated leftists, but they fought for their beliefs with arguments, not force. By example, our activist faculty now teaches students to act on emotion, not reason.

Ellis traces the transformation of the faculty to the 1962 manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which called for bringing socialism to the U.S. Its writers saw that their path required a takeover of American education, especially colleges, to control how young people were schooled. While we don’t yet have the fully socialist country the SDS envisioned, its project of dominating education with a faculty hostile to capitalism and our traditions of limited government has been exceedingly successful. Ellis points out that it took three strokes of good luck (from the SDS perspective, anyway) for that to occur.

First, the 1960s ushered in a period of enormous growth in higher education. That expansion required the hiring of great numbers of new faculty. As Ellis writes, “The number of new faculty appointments that were needed was greater than the total number of existing professors in the nation.” Many of the newly hired faculty were already invested in radical leftist politics.

Second, the Vietnam War led to campus protests that emboldened the faculty to embrace activism both in and out of the classroom.

Third, the mania for diversity that began sweeping through colleges and universities in the 1970s led to the creation of many new academic departments where the old rules of objectively searching for truth were tossed aside in favor of pushing an ideology. While the incessant focus on diversity is supposedly beneficial for black and other minority students, Ellis demurs: “Black students on the way to getting an excellent college education are being waylaid by political radicals intent on diverting them from that goal to use them for their own purposes.”

What, if anything, can be done to restore our higher education system? Ellis isn’t terribly sanguine.

In some states, there has been legislation to protect freedom of speech on campus. Unfortunately, such laws don’t get at the root of the problem and won’t accomplish much. Ellis explains,

Neither new nor old rules will ever be enforced while radicals control all the enforcement mechanisms. Students will know that they can rely on leniency if they break the rules because they know that campus authorities are essentially on their side.

How about imploring colleges to hire for intellectual diversity, adding some conservative or libertarian faculty members to offset the leftist dominance? While having some non-leftist faculty would be good for students, it won’t do anything to change the fact that the left has control of our colleges and will keep on using them to promote their views.

The one and only approach that will work, Ellis argues, is to stop feeding the beast the money it needs.

State legislatures have the power of the purse over their higher education systems and need to start exerting it. As a prelude, legislators who want to stop subsidizing leftist politics should establish fact-finding committees to enlighten the public as to the severity of the problem.

Ellis and his colleagues at the California Association of Scholars did exactly that with a 2012 study of the blatant politicization within the University of California system, but top administrators chose to ignore it and the big Democratic majority in state government likes things the way they are. But in conservative states, such an effort could open eyes about the problem of politicization and catalyze change.

At the individual level, parents and alumni also have roles to play. The former can choose not to send their sons and daughters to colleges that have largely become camps for political indoctrination, and the latter can stop sending them donations.

Professor Ellis has brilliantly exposed the fact of and reasons for the breakdown of American higher education. This book deserves a wide audience.


How North Carolina Colleges Are Responding to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has injected uncertainty into nearly every aspect of society—and higher education is no exception. As North Carolina’s leaders grapple with the challenges posed by curbing the virus’ spread, dramatic policy decisions are being made on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.

The following is a summary of what higher education leaders in North Carolina are doing and discussing in the face of national and state declarations of emergency.

Special Meeting of the UNC Board of Governors

On Friday, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors met in special session by conference call. After UNC system president William Roper gave his report, board member Marty Kotis asked him three questions about the virus’ impact on the campuses.

One of Kotis’ questions concerned how students’ lives were being “upended” by having to swiftly move off-campus. Students were notified on Tuesday that they had to move out by Saturday—with only some students being granted exemptions to remain in campus housing. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of students remain on each UNC campus.

“Have we addressed the residential tenants’ legal rights?” Kotis asked. He inquired whether students would get a refund for their meal and housing expenses. He noted that many students will need a refund because many depend on the jobs they have on campus and may have to pay additional housing and food expenses elsewhere.

Additionally, with all of the changes, Kotis wondered if it was realistic to expect students to be ready to start online classes by Monday, March 23.

“It’s surely understandable that people want their money refunded,” Roper responded. “We will quickly get to the point [of] how much is the refund, [and] how we are going to get it to them.”

On the note of residential students’ legal rights, UNC system legal counsel Tom Shanahan commented: “Among the things we will work through in the coming weeks and months is not just the refund process, but how particular housing contracts work…Housing contracts generally address instances in which the university can suspend and ask residents to move out.”

Kotis also worried about the system’s finances. He noted that university foundations, the fundraising arm of the institutions, will likely take a hit. He also pointed to a law that bars the system from borrowing for operating purposes. “Do we have any indication of the magnitude and the impact?” Kotis asked. “We are in the process of looking at our cash balances and this new operating environment that we’re in,” Roper said. He added that the system should have an answer in a few days.

“We are not out of cash, but we are carefully looking at this and we’re going to be giving instructions to the institutions on their operations probably next week,” Roper said. The legislature is not in session, but the system is making a priority list of policy recommendations to make to the legislature during its next session.

Finally, Kotis recommended that the system pause its capital spending projects and divert the money for more immediate needs such as hospital beds. He also pointed to how other colleges are repurposing dorm rooms as treatment centers, suggesting that UNC adopt similar measures.

Kotis’ suggestion to delay asking the legislature for operations and capital improvement funding was adopted by the board. During his report, Temple Sloan, chairman of the Committee on Budget and Finance, proposed that capital improvement plans be tabled:

In light of where we are in the current health crisis, I would like to make a special motion: A motion to table all items voted by the budget and finance committee yesterday. I believe the more prudent action is to reconvene the budget and finance committee within the next two weeks to review the items discussed yesterday and to put together a coronavirus relief package—a request for the legislature.

UNC President Answers Questions During Media Availability

After the board’s meeting, Roper and board chairman Randy Ramsey conducted a conference call with the media. Roper said that he was “delighted” that the board decided to table capital projects, as it gives the system time to determine what the immediate financial and resource needs will be in the coming weeks.