Friday, April 24, 2020

Where does education fit into the Bill of Rights and the Constitution?

YES, another victim of the Great CoronaVirus Pandemic and Panic. Among her many other crimes, the recent degree by that evil monster in the form of a human woman who rules Michigan with an increasingly iron rod includes some zingers.

It, among other things bans ALL “in-person” teaching for grades K-12 for ALL schools; public and private. According to a WND article, home schools are legally defined in Michigan as “non-public” schools, and EO 2020-35 orders those as well as the public schools closed. (The dictator has published more than 60 executive orders this year, micromanaging the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to live in “her” State.

This is, of course, being fought. In the courts. And at least somewhat “in the streets.” Though peacefully, so far: it is reported that as many as 30,000 vehicles participated in the “Gridlock” protest in Lancing on Wednesday the 15th, with perhaps 70,000 to 100,000 people participating. Reportedly, 300,000 people have signed petitions demanding the tyrant be removed from office.

I suspect that many homeschooling families are flat-out ignoring her illegal, immoral demands on “in-person” instruction. And probably in a lot more things.

The Great Lakes Justice Center is leading the legal battle. Among other matters, they point out the dictator is violating Michigan’s own State Constitution in MORE than just Michigan’s Bill of Rights. They point out that Constitution gives authority over public education in the State to the State Board of Education, NOT the governor. (Actually, Article VIII of the Michigan Constitution specifies a State Superintendent of Education, appointed and supervised by an ELECTED State Board of Education. (See below))

Even though parents may be using internet methods of instruction (and therefore skirting the “in-person” prohibition, they still run afoul of her megalomaniacal decree, for she dictates the content of the “other than in-person” education.

Great Lakes Justice spokesman David Kallman said (as quoted in the WND article): “The governor has no authority to direct nonpublic schools (i.e., private schools and home schools) to operate their educational programs and processes in any particular way. Further, parents have a fundamental constitutional right to raise and educate their children.”

While this is clearly a Ninth/Tenth Amendment matter, it is also a First Amendment – freedom of speech and association – matter. (That is sections 3 and 5 of the Michigan Declaration of Rights (1863 Constitution).) It is probably also a violation of section 4, religious liberty.

Which raises the even larger question: Where does the Constitution (or even the Common Law) state that ANY government body has control over how parents educate their children – or how ANYone is educated?

I submit that neither of these constitutions (US or Michigan) or the Common Law give ANY AUTHORITY TO GOVERNMENT to regulate or control ANY aspect of home or private schooling – the government is AUTHORIZED by the Michigan government to create and operate a public school system, and PROHIBITED from funding (or apparently, controlling, a sectarian school. (Although Section 1 of Article VIII says:    Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. Which means that the State is to ENCOURAGE religious AND private schools. Just not fund them.

And schooling at home, privately, and anything related to that is PROTECTED by freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and

That is a FAR cry from what the State of Michigan is letting its governor-tyrant do. Next week, they need 50,000 cars and trucks out shutting down state government the way she had shut down their lives.


Tenure Is Dying

At this writing no one knows the precise financial damage that the COVID-19 pandemic will inflict on American colleges and universities, and how much governments at the federal, state and local level will come to their aid (those governments themselves are seriously stressed from reduced tax collections and rising public assistance and costs).

One thing is likely: higher education is in for severe belt-tightening. Enrollments are likely going to decline—maybe a little, possibly a lot. State subsidy monies will likely decline given the financial blow governments are suffering. Private gifts will decline, as will, in time, endowment income (in the short run, schools will probably raid their endowments some to assist with cash flow shortfalls).

Cutting costs is difficult for colleges, partly because some costs are fixed by long term obligations, most importantly tenure for faculty and often large interest payments on bonds occurred during a building spree over recent decades. Falling revenues but less rapidly falling costs mean schools will be facing huge budget deficits.

Faculty tenure became a part of American universities in the early and mid 20th centuries when enrollments were growing robustly and the demand for college professors was substantial. In the golden years when I went onto the job market (in the 1960s), the demand for professors was growing faster than the supply of new ones, so young untried assistant professors like me got double digit annual salary increases and achieved tenure quickly—for me at 28.

Compare that with the 21st century academic environment. Higher education is a mature industry. Enrollments are stagnant or declining. Exuberant late 20th century growth of Ph.D. programs by schools seeking prestige and research grant monies led to an oversupply of scholars with newly minted doctoral degrees. A favorite undergraduate student of mine is just finishing his Ph.D. at Duke and, pre-COVID-19, signed a contract at Penn (Wharton School) to be an assistant professor this fall. If he is granted tenure in a few years, Penn will be making a commitment with a lifetime present value of several million dollars—a huge unfunded liability. Few schools can afford to do this anymore.

A tenured professor in a decent quality school probably typically teaches perhaps six classes a year and annually costs more than $100,000, counting fringe benefits, or about $17,000 a course (and sometimes twice that much). An adjunct professor with a doctorate might cost $4,000 a course. As schools suddenly are incurring huge budget deficits because of COVID-19, there will be a virtual freeze on hiring expensive tenured professors, and indeed incentive programs are being developed to bribe them to retire early. In some cases, schools are likely to declare financial exigency, allowing them to break the contractual tie and ease out tenured faculty. Hiring cheap adjuncts to preserve expensive tenured faculty makes little economic sense.

Tenure has been in relative, and probably now, absolute, decline for decades. Fewer than one-fourth of the faculty in 1970 taught part-time; now it is about one-half. This has led to the development of two classes of teachers: the academic aristocrats, well paid tenured professors with relatively light teaching loads; and the academic underclass, the contingent faculty with very high teaching loads and modest pay.

There are two traditionally good arguments for tenure. First, it is a major fringe benefit, a guarantee of job security, valuable to risk-averse academics. This lowers the salary that must be paid to attract professors—they receive deferred compensation by trading off some salary now for reduced risk of unemployment in the future. Second, tenure allows professors to speak unpopular thoughts—it enhances the diversity of viewpoints on campus, making colleges truly vibrant marketplaces of ideas.

The rise in political correctness has been accompanied by a decline in tolerance of alternative points of view—the First Amendment is not revered on campuses as it once was, which probably makes tenure more important than ever for promoting intellectual diversity.

The financial reality is this: colleges are going to have to change, for example by shedding massive administrative bloat or by having some classes taught online very cheaply by foreign academics working for a fraction of American academic pay. COVID-19 may hasten the demise of a distinctive academic institution, tenure.


Harvard grad students say remote teaching can bring ‘workplace abuses’

A month ago, Chance Bonar had never heard of Zoom, let alone taught a Harvard class using it. He’d never had to answer questions from students on an online chatboard during class, or edit a professor’s recorded lecture to post online.

But now the Harvard PhD candidate is doing all those things and more as he navigates the world of remote teaching during the pandemic. And that includes helping professors who are relying heavily on him and other graduate student teachers — known as teaching fellows — to help them figure it out, too.

“There’s this expectation that the younger future professors . . . have a better grasp on this technology than they do,” said Bonar, 27, who helps teach three courses at the Harvard Divinity School. “Especially in a time of a pandemic, it’s very obvious how much of the burden of teaching and scholarship falls on the teaching fellows.”

Graduate student teachers have been grappling with this added workload as they continue their fight for their first union contract, a contract that would be likely to provide protections for such increased duties. In fact, the university and the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers recently reached a tentative agreement following a virtual bargaining session in March; it states that grad students would not be required to teach more than two courses or work more than 20 hours a week.

Without a contract in place, however, there’s no mechanism to enforce this, or to provide additional compensation if they exceed the threshold.

Several schools are paying graduate student teachers extra during the pandemic. The history department at Pennsylvania State University gave its graduate students $1,200 apiece. At the University of California Berkeley, teaching assistants at the Goldman School of Public Policy, who are unionized, are being compensated for the four extra hours a week, on average, that they’re now working.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the graduate student union is calling for the school to pay student workers through the summer and guarantee job security for next year.

A Harvard spokesman did not respond directly to students’ concerns about additional workloads, but noted the university had sent a letter to faculty instructing them not to ask teaching fellows to take on “substantial additional time commitments.”

The union recently surveyed members to get a sense of what they were facing since classes went online March 23 and found a number of what one member describes as “workplace abuses.” Along with being expected to deal with technical issues, teaching fellows said they are often asked to teach multiple sessions to accommodate students in different time zones, hold longer office hours, and adapt experiments and projects.

One graduate teacher said he was asked to cover a lecture for a professor who didn’t feel comfortable using Zoom, said Max Ehrenfreund, a third-year graduate student in the History of Science department. If the contract were in place, he noted, the union would be filing grievances. “I’m happy to do the work to help my students get through this,” he said. “I do wish Harvard would show that it values that work.”

Heavy workloads are a sensitive subject for grad students to tackle on their own, said Cory McCartan, a first-year PhD student in statistics who is part of the union’s bargaining committee. The professors the teaching fellows work for are often their advisers, who one day will be writing them letters of recommendation and evaluating their dissertations. That makes it difficult for students to push back.

“If you don’t have the full-throated support of [your adviser], your academic career is going to be curtailed,” McCartan said. “

Much of the graduate students’ research has been put on hold due to the inability to do field work or access labs, creating the possibility they will have to stay in school longer than expected. Some also worry about losing their funding.

Harvard, along with many other universities, has granted professors on the tenure track an additional year to complete their tenure requirements, but no such extension has been offered to grad students. More than 1,000 Harvard grad students have signed a letter asking for their funding to be extended for a year. In most cases, Harvard PhD students’ tuition, health insurance, and living expenses are fully funded for five years — and more in some programs — by grants, stipends, teaching fellowships, and research assistantships.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow to think that I’d have to pay them more of my own money to stay here," said Thomas Plumb-Reyes, 29, a seventh-year PhD candidate in applied physics who was set to graduate in May but hasn’t been able to get to the lab to complete his dissertation.

Plumb-Reyes and his co-teachers are “rewriting everything on the fly” for their introductory physics class, including redesigning the final project, which typically would include building a spectrometer to measure light. With no access to materials in the lab, however, students are now trying to make optical measurements with what they can "scrounge around at home,” said Plumb-Reyes, noting that his workload has gone up at least 50 percent.

Harvard, whose roughly $41 billion endowment is the largest in the academic world, took steps to ensure that student workers didn’t lose access to health care or compensation during the spring semester, even if they couldn’t complete their work, the spokesman said. A letter sent to faculty asking them to “look out for” their student teachers also noted that professors might need to take over a section themselves to avoid working grad students too hard.

And yet, grad students say, the extra work is piling up.  Avriel Epps-Darling, a 30-year-old PhD student in education, spent her entire spring break getting her adolescent development course up and running online. She has had to figure out how to set up and manually assign students to breakout rooms each week on Zoom. And when students have technical difficulties, she is the one they contact. Epps-Darling also had to help redesign students’ final projects, in addition to taking two classes in the computer science department and working on her own research.

The professor Epps-Darling works for, Nancy Hill, a developmental psychologist who is also her adviser, said the abrupt transition to remote teaching created more work for everyone at first. But assignments have been reduced, which means the amount of grading has also gone down. “By semester’s end, it will have balanced out," she said.

Regardless, Harvard has not properly supported its graduate student teachers or responded to concerns about funding and job security, said Epps-Darling, who lives in a 500-square-foot apartment in Central Square with her husband, an attorney who works across the dining room table from her, and their 16-month-old son.

“It seems odd to me,” she said, “that the most wealthy university in the history of the world is having a hard time saying, ‘Hey guys, you’re going to be OK. We won’t let you go hungry or be forced to drop out.’ ”


Thursday, April 23, 2020

In Denmark, the Rarest of Sights: Classrooms Full of Students

LOGUMKLOSTER, Denmark — The cluster of red brick buildings in a remote part of southern Denmark looks unremarkable from the outside, but this week, its classrooms housed some of the rarest people during the pandemic in today’s Europe.


On Wednesday, 350 pupils returned to classes at the Logumkloster District School for the first time in a month, as Denmark became the first country in the Western world to reopen its elementary schools since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It has turned the Danish education system into a laboratory for whether and how schools can function in an age of contagion.

“It is a new world,” said Tanja Linnet, the school’s head teacher, as pupils arrived early on Thursday morning. “We used to make plans for if there was a terrorist attack here — but never this kind of attack.”

Other European countries have also gently eased restrictions on certain businesses and sporting activities in recent days.

But by allowing hundreds of children to congregate once again at thousands of schools across Denmark, the government has taken the boldest step toward something resembling normal life, in a measure that will be watched carefully around the world.

“That’s the dilemma of the whole world,” said Finn Christensen, the school’s deputy head. “When to open up?”

Denmark’s approach contrasts with that of Spain, where most children have not been outside in five weeks. With more coronavirus infections than any other country in Europe, Spain forbids children to even take a short walk on the street or exercise near their homes.

For the children at the Logumkloster District School, their return was often simply an exciting experience, after a month cooped up at home. “It is so nice to see my best friend again!” said Maja Petersen, a 7-year-old first grader coloring the red bits of the Danish flag.

To stop the spread of infection, parents weren’t allowed inside. Teachers couldn’t gather in the staff room. The children each now had their own desks, marooned two yards away from their nearest neighbor. During recess, they could play only in small groups. And by the time the school shut again at 2 p.m., they had all washed their hands at least once an hour for the past six hours.

“We usually jump and hug and fight and give each other high fives,” said Zakarias Al-Tibi, 10, pointing dolefully at his best friend, Jannik. “But we can’t do that any more.”

From an economic perspective, the argument for reopening schools is straightforward. It allows parents who are employed to focus more on their work, said Carl-Johan Dalsgaard, a professor of economics who is one of the four leaders of an independent body that provides economic advice to Danish policymakers.

“You are dramatically less efficient when you have to home-school your children and take care of them every day,” Professor Dalsgaard said.

The World Health Organization has cautioned countries like Denmark against reopening their societies too quickly for fear of reviving the pandemic before it is properly stamped out. The number of active cases in Denmark has dipped in recent days (it has recorded more than 6,870, with 321 deaths), and it has a far lower reported death rate than many countries in Europe. But death statistics can be incomplete during an outbreak, and disease experts warn the pace of new cases can easily pick up again.

Elsewhere in Denmark, these concerns led some parents to create Facebook groups protesting the reopening of schools, fearing their children were being sacrificed to save the Danish economy.

In the village of Logumkloster, where there have been no known victims of the virus, only a few parents decided against sending their children back to school. But several were conflicted about it.

“Our first reaction was: Isn’t it too early?” said Cynthia Paulsen, a cleaner whose 14-year-old son, Arthur, was among those requested to return this week. “Is this the right thing?”

Jesper Bendig initially opted against returning his 7-year-old, Noah. Mr. Bendig had no work to return to, having lost his job as a recovery driver at the start of the crisis. What if Noah passed the virus to his younger brother, who has kidney problems?

But by and large, parents at Logumkloster have been won over by the careful way that Ms. Linnet, the head teacher, and her staff have refitted the school at just a few frantic days’ notice.

The school’s floors have been covered with new markings, showing pupils how far apart they have to stand. Hand-washing has become a part of the school routine — the first stop for all pupils at the start of every day, and then on the hour thereafter. Tea ladies have the new task of touring the school with disinfectant, cleaning each door handle at least twice during school hours.

These changes have been guided by the government, but the government’s instructions have sometimes changed on an hourly basis. “Sometimes, we get an order at 9, and then at 10 we get a new one,” said Mr. Christensen, the deputy head.

And it’s unclear how long these emergency measures will last. “Is it for a week or two, or a month or two?” Ms. Linnet asked. “We don’t know.”


Freshman at University of Arizona sues fraternity 'for making him exercise on broken glass, abusing him with anti-Semitic slurs, beating him and splashing hot sauce in his eye as part of hazing ritual'

A former freshman at the University of Arizona is suing the college, the Arizona Board of Regents, Theta Chi Fraternity and more than a dozen fraternity chapter leaders, claiming he was subjected to brutal hazing involving broken glass and hot sauce, which left him with infections.

Hayden Roletter, 20, from California, filed a 33-page complaint against the defendants last week, alleging negligence, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of Title IX protections for students, and seeking $1million in damages.

According to the lawsuit, Roletter enrolled in the University of Arizona as a freshman in 2018 and the following spring pledged the Theta Chi's fraternity chapter on campus, known as Beta Iota.

His complaint, obtained by Courthouse News, alleges that 13 chapter officers and existing members subjected him and the other pledges to 'physical abuse... threats of violence, forced calisthenics, degrading and anti-Semitic verbal abuse, acts of servitude, forced interviews, prevention and deprivation of sleep and study time, and other conduct threatening the health and safety...'

The court filing describes in detail a fraternity meeting that took place on the night of April 12, 2019, during which Roletter was allegedly forced to exercise on broken glass and foul-smelling trash, was beaten, forced to eat hot sauce and had his phone taken away.

According to the complaint, in the midst of the 'hazing,' fraternity member Tyler Austin filled a shot glass with El Yucateco Habanero Sauce and splashed it in Roletter's eyes from inches away, causing the pledge to scream in pain and drop to the ground.

The hot sauce has a rating of over 5,000 units on the Scoville scale, which measures the spiciness of chili peppers.  

The lawsuit contends that the fraternity members failed to seek medical help for Roletter's injuries and carried on with the hazing acts - including exercises on broken glass and trash - after he was forced to leave the bathroom, where he spent 15 minutes rinsing out his burning eyes.

As a result of his treatment at the hands of the fraternity members, according to the complaint, Roletter suffered infections in his blood and eyes, blurry vision, scarring, and cuts to his palms and elbows requiring medical attention.

On top of his physical injuries, the California native also 'suffered emotional distress, mental anguish, anxiety, depression, embarrassment and fear of retaliation by other fraternity members,' the complaint alleges.

In the wake of the April incident, Roletter never completed his freshman year at UA because of his injuries, and also out of fear for his safety. He later transferred to another college. 

According to the lawsuit, the constitution and bylaws of Theta Chi state that 'the Fraternity prohibits all physical hazing, paddling, uncalled-for humiliation and public display in connection with Pledge education and pre-initiatory activities.'

In 2015, UA's chapter of Theta Chi was banned from campus for four years over hazing violations in which pledges were struck with paddles during initiation activities. 

Just months after the April incident, in November 2019, the University of Arizona and Theta Chi revoked the Beta Iota chapter's recognition and shut it down after receiving credible reports of hazing.

The loss of recognition is effective through May 2025.

The University of Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents are being sued for violating Title IX, which states: 'No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.'

According to the complaint, UA and the Board had knowledge of the 'dangerous and serious risks facing male students seeking to participate in the educational opportunities and benefits the University provided through Greek life.'


This university is offering credit for learning to play Dungeons and Dragons

A new course at a Vermont college will teach students how to play the popular tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons for credit.
The professor behind the project touts the "social" benefits of learning the game.

Castleton University in Vermont is offering college credit to students for learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Greg Engel, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department, will pilot a virtual course on how to play the popular tabletop game.

“There is strong evidence of the benefits of having healthy recreation opportunities. It’s something that isn’t built into our society. Making time for hobbies can help reduce stress, improve health, and performance in other areas, such as family, work and school,” Engel reasoned.

But the class will reportedly be simply on how to play the game rather than the game’s supposed psychological Importance.

“Dungeons and Dragons promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are transferrable to students' future academic work and their lives outside of the classroom. Learning to identify different ways to approach a problem is valuable for students who wish to enter the workforce or continue their studies in graduate school,” Engel told Campus Reform

He also explained that the game is “useful for creating communities and positive social interactions, which are known to improve student success.” Engel said that the goal of the one-credit course is to “help to create a greater sense of community on campus,” reasoning that “there is evidence of improved outcomes for students who have a sense of belonging and have connected with others on campus.”

Students at Castleton are divided over whether offering this class for academic credit is a good idea.

Delaney Whitehead, a sophomore Kinesiology major says “if enough people enjoy it or want to learn about it, why not put it towards academic credit. There are music and art classes that go towards academic credit.”

But others see the class as a waste of resources.

Amber Kimball, a sophomore health science major told Campus Reform that “I personally don’t think it should be [for credit]. I feel like it wouldn’t help us for ‘reality’.' There’s no real purpose for it. Sure, on your free time, but playing a game and getting credit doesn’t make sense to me.”

Another student Phil Kluge, a sophomore Sports Management and History Major, told Campus Reform that his school offering classes not related at all to academics lessens the value of his college education.

“I personally want a degree that is valuable and giving credit to classes like that would take credibility away from the school and the value of every degree that is being handed out at Castleton University. If you do that for a credit, you could also start FIFA or CS: Go classes and that really doesn’t have anything to do anymore with a valuable academic education,” he added.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Help Students Skill up
In the past few months, we’ve experienced massive changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have lost their jobs or been furloughed. Many of us who are working are working from home. Children, teenagers and college students have transitioned to online learning, with college students moving back home. With no change in scenery for those of us who are homebound, the days seem to both stretch forever and fly by.

It seems to be a time of contradictions.

In our home, all four of us are now working or learning from home. We are blessed to have high-speed internet and enough room for each of us to focus and work. Our college student has been graceful in her reentry into our daily life, and our high school senior has been stoic and realistic about the pandemic interrupting the spring semester of his senior year. We are grateful to be home and safe but also yearning to go out and connect with others again.

From an economic perspective, some service industries (restaurants) are struggling or failing. Other industries are ramping up — information technology and health care are struggling to keep up with demand in some sectors. Friends I connect with have a variety of experiences. Some are working nonstop; others are not working at all.

The transition to sheltering at home seems to be easier for introverts than for extroverts, but everyone is dealing with a different day-to-day world than they did a few months ago. Gone are the days of running to the store on a whim, or even gathering for a sports event or concert.

What we all have in common is living in a period of uncertainty. We are not sure when the peak will happen, when we will resume somewhat normal activities and how the economy will restart.

What we should know is that we can’t wait for others to figure everything out. Each of us needs to make individual progress by either changing our business model if we own or run a business that is faltering; adding products or offerings to our clients; or changing how we deliver our value-added services. Even if we can’t figure out what we can do today, we can all spend time and effort gaining new skills and knowledge so that when this crisis has passed (and it will), we will be ready.

For parents and teachers who want to help their students gain valuable skills during this time, the FoolProofMe website offers free online learning for both middle school and high school students. Financial knowledge has always been important to me. I can remember my mother writing on the back of her checkbook every penny (yes, literally down to the penny) that she spent.

While she taught me to track my own expenses, she did not teach me about how money could and should be used. That was because she did not know that then. But she learned that later in life when she joined a ladies’ investment club.

According to a survey carried out last year by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation, most Americans lack basic financial literacy. The survey asked the participants five questions covering a broad range of topics including “aspects of economics and finance encountered in everyday life, such as compound interest, inflation, principles relating to risk and diversification, the relationship between bond prices and interest rates, and the impact that a shorter term can have on total interest payments over the life of a mortgage,” according to the FINRA website.

These are basic questions that every American should be able to answer easily. FoolProofMe, whose mission is “to teach consumers the importance of using caution, questioning sellers, and relying on independent research before spending money,” provides “over 22 hours of free, online, video-driven, self-grading financial literacy instruction.”

I like the fact that the videos on the site don’t feature teachers lecturing but instead peers of the students. The high school curriculum takes 30 class days, and the middle school program features 14 class days.

The website also features specific topics including student loans, buying cars and buying homes. While we might be in the middle of a pandemic, we still have the ability to control what we do on a day-to-day basis — as for me, I’m attempting to skill up, not only myself but also my children. With 25 million middle school and high school students in the U.S., we have a great opportunity to drastically improve financial literacy. FoolProofMe, a project of the nonprofit FoolProof Foundation, gives everyone a chance to do this for free.


Campus shenanigans

America is reeling, facing the world’s highest COVID-19 deaths, soaring unemployment, the economy in melt down. Campuses are closed across the country; students are home with their parents or struggling to support themselves.

You’d have thought it might be time to hold back on the campus gender wars, but, oh no, the feminists aren’t going to let up on their campaigns.

Two weeks ago, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) wrote to the Education Department urging the bureaucrats to set aside the Trump administration’s moves to end campus kangaroo courts. The lawyers argued that at this time of national emergency it wasn’t appropriate to push forward “fundamentally flawed” changes to the rules.

This is simply their latest tactic in an almighty battle which has been taking place ever since Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy de Voss, announced in 2017 that the administration proposed changes to the tribunal system set up by Obama who used anti-discrimination, Title IX legislation, to require publicly funded universities to tackle sexual violence. The tribunals evolved into a grossly unfair system, leading to over 200 successful lawsuits against universities for failing to protect the due process rights of the accused.

Fourteen months after de Voss’ initial announcement, the proposed reforms to Title XIV were announced, which, although far from perfect, went some way towards addressing obvious deficiencies.

The battle was on. The NWLC tried a lawsuit to stop the changes which was eventually dismissed by the court. Then they tried every possible means to extend the period for public comments on the proposed changes, mounting a social media campaign telling De Voss to “keep her hands off Title IX”.

Next came an amusing little development. Take a look at the attached little Instagram video featuring Meredith Smith, a university bureaucrat, revealing the NWLC’s tactic of organising endless meetings between victim rights groups and administration bureaucrats, which serves to push the release date back. The aim is to stall until after the November 3 election, given that Joe Biden has promised to leave the current stacked tribunal system firmly in place.

All this latest news of the US campus struggle comes from SAVE, the excellent American lobby group which has spent years exposing what’s happening at their universities.

Email from Bettina Arndt:

Australia: A dozen students per classroom, disinfection after every lesson, no stationery or canteen: How pupils' school life will change forever after COVID-19

Children will be returning to school in Queensland for the first day of term two

Those few teachers and students who do go to school for term two will encounter a very different classroom to the ones they knew before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some children returned to school in Queensland for the first day of term two on Monday after five weeks of learning from home during state-wide lockdowns.

Queensland's policy was largely the same as New South Wales - that distance learning was preferred and schools were only for the children of those who must work outside the home during the lockdown.

Pupils in Queensland now have to bring their own stationery to school and use hand sanitisers as they walk between classrooms that will allow no more than 12 people per 52 sq/m room.

Schools have had to rearrange furniture in classrooms to maintain those social distancing protocols by keeping people at least 1.5m away from each other.

Frequent cleaning has also been recommended by state authorities with special attention placed on light switches, door handles, desks, toilets, taps and sinks.

The Gap State High School in Brisbane sent letters to parents with a full list of changes, The Courier Mail reported.

It had employed cleaners during the school day to disinfect classrooms, furniture and bathrooms during breaks.

At that school, a maximum of ten students will be assigned per classroom for all lessons throughout the day.

Students must bring their own food, as the canteen will be closed and pupils will not be allowed to leave school grounds to buy lunch.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stressed that schools are only open for vulnerable children and children of essential workers who are unable to learn remotely.

As a result, The Gap State High School will send attendance surveys to parents each fortnight so school authorities can decide how many teachers they need on site and how to ensure social distancing policies are being met.

'If you are working from home and incapable of supervising to ensure your child is getting online resource work happening then contact your principal,' Ms Palaszczuk said. 'But now is not the time to be sending your child to school if you don't meet those categories.'

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said sending the children of non-frontline workers to school would make social distancing protocols impossible to meet, jeopardising the safety of students and teachers.

'We want to make sure we can exercise social distancing, we want schools to be a safe environment because remember if there is an outbreak at a school, it will immediately be shut down and parents will have to cope with that.'

The new procedures are expected to run for five weeks and will be reevaluated on May 22.

It comes after Ms Palaszczuk announced that 5,254 laptops would be distributed to students across the state to ensure all pupils could continue their education from home.

Telstra donated 5,000 simcards and 4,000 dongles and hotspot devices to make sure all children had access to internet learning portals.

Up to 15 per cent of the state's students are expected to show up at school on Monday.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Educators Are Nervous About Kids Being Away From Public School Indoctrination During Shutdown

The past couple of months have certainly been a time of many adjustments for a lot of Americans. Some of us -- like myself -- haven’t really had our daily routines upset. My child is finishing up college and heading into whatever the real world will look like after.

Parents with younger children who are in school, however, have had new reality thrust upon them. Their kids are home, restless, and still need to learn. 20th-century technology is making it easier to set up online learning, but that can still be a little glitchy. There are a lot of teachers who aren’t very tech-savvy, which can bog down the process.

Either way, many parents are becoming more involved in their kids’ daily education than they’d perhaps ever planned to be.

Whether reluctant or enthusiastic new homeschooling parents, they’re going to be on the job for at least the rest of the school year. Who knows what is going to happen in the fall? We’re all hoping for the best, but many experts predict a second wave of infections in the fall, which could further disrupt school schedules.

All of this time away from the public school indoctrination mills is making some modern educators nervous. Mustn’t let the wee ones get too much exposure to mom and dad now, after all.

We were only a couple of weeks into the shut-down stuff when the Washington Post published an article written by a former teacher and education bureaucrat titled "Homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children."

As the coronavirus pandemic closes schools, in some cases until September, American children this month met their new English, math, science and homeroom teachers: their iPads and their parents. Classes are going online, if they exist at all. The United States is embarking on a massive, months-long virtual-pedagogy experiment, and it is not likely to end well. Years of research shows that online schooling is ineffective — and that students suffer significant learning losses when they have a long break from school.

Modern American public educators are always touting studies that claim they need to get their indoctrinating leftist paws on our children as early and often as possible. To hear them tell the story, a kid doesn’t stand a chance unless they get passed directly from the womb into the hands of strangers and left there until they finish college. My book Don’t Let the Hippies Shower examines and mocks this at length.

All of this hands-on parental stuff has the indoctrination machine terribly skittish. They fear that all of the brainwashing will be lost.

Harvard Magazine just published a piece covering an idea being pushed by some lunatic named Elizabeth Bartholet, who is calling for a ban on homeschooling now, which Paula wrote about yesterday:

Paula said:

It's ironic at a time when 56 million children in the U.S. are being homeschooled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that Harvard Magazine would publish an article calling for a ban on homeschooling.

The article by Erin O'Donnell, headlined "The Risks of Homeschooling," sets up one straw man after another to make the case that the government must step in to protect children from their own parents—who are presumed guilty and ill-qualified to care for their own children.

Elizabeth Bartholet, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, told the magazine that homeschooling deprives children of their right to a "meaningful education." She cites no law that requires a child to receive a "meaningful" education (because there is no such law in the U.S.) but defines it thusly: "But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints." (Nothing about reading, writing, and 'rithmetic in her formula, it ought to be noted.)

Paula easily debunks Bartholet's nonsense, which is unhinged and rooted in that academic disdain for church-y, family types.

What’s got some educators nervous is that they might be exposed. We may soon find out that American kids can, in fact, do very well without eight hours away from their parents every day and having their minds molded by some of the most far-left ideologues in the country.

Maybe we should ban Harvard instead.


How ‘Grievance Studies’ Corrupt Academic Scholarship

America’s colleges are rife with corruption. The financial squeeze resulting from the new coronavirus offers opportunities for a bit of remediation.

Let’s first examine what might be the root of academic corruption, suggested by the title of a recent study, “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.”

The study was done by Areo, an opinion and analysis digital magazine. By the way, Areo is short for “Areopagitica,” a speech delivered by John Milton to the British Parliament in 1644 in defense of free speech.

Authors Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian say that something has gone drastically wrong in academia, especially within certain fields within the humanities.

They call these fields “grievance studies,” where scholarship is not so much based upon finding truth, but upon attending to social grievances. Grievance scholars bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview.

The worldview they promote is neither scientific nor rigorous. Grievance studies consist of disciplines such as sociology; anthropology; gender studies; and queer, sexuality, and critical race studies.

In 2017 and 2018, authors Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian started submitting bogus academic papers to academic journals in cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies to determine if they would pass peer review and be accepted for publication.

Acceptance of dubious research that journal editors found sympathetic to their intersectional or postmodern leftist vision of the world proves the problem of low academic standards.

Several of the fake research papers were accepted for publication. The Fat Studies journal published a hoax paper that argued the term bodybuilding was exclusionary and should be replaced with “fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance.”

One reviewer said, “I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, and believe it has an important contribution to make to the field and this journal.”

“Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” was accepted for publication by Affilia, a feminist journal for social workers.

The paper consisted in part of a rewritten passage from “Mein Kampf.”

Two other hoax papers were published, including “Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks.” This paper’s subject was dog-on-dog rape.

But the dog rape paper eventually forced Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay to prematurely “out” themselves. A Wall Street Journal writer had figured out what they were doing.

Some papers accepted for publication in academic journals advocated training men like dogs and punishing white male college students for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence on the floor in chains during class and to be expected to learn from the discomfort.

Other papers celebrated morbid obesity as a healthy life choice and advocated treating privately conducted masturbation as a form of sexual violence against women.

Typically, academic journal editors send submitted papers out to referees for review. In recommending acceptance for publication, many reviewers gave these papers glowing praise.

Political scientist Zach Goldberg ran certain grievance studies concepts through the LexisNexis database to see how often they appeared in our press over the years. He found huge increases in the usages of “white privilege,” “unconscious bias,” “critical race theory,” and “whiteness.”

All of this is being taught to college students, many of whom become primary and secondary school teachers who then indoctrinate our young people.

I doubt whether the coronavirus-caused financial crunch will give college and university administrators—who are a crossbreed between a parrot and jellyfish—the guts and backbone to restore academic respectability.

Far too often, they get much of their political support from campus grievance people who are members of the faculty and of diversity and multicultural administrative offices.

The best hope lies with boards of trustees, though many serve as “yes men” for the university president.

I think that a good start would be to find 1950s or 1960s catalogs. Look at the course offerings at a time when college graduates knew how to read, write, and compute, and make them today’s curriculums.

Another helpful tool would be to give careful consideration to eliminating all classes, majors, and minors containing the word “studies,” such as women’s, Asian, black, or queer studies.

I’d bet that by restoring the traditional academic mission to colleges, they would put a serious dent into the COVID-19 budget shortfall.


Frustrated with homeschooling, parents declare: Class dismissed

It was music class that finally drove Melissa Mawn over the edge.

She was already dutifully arranging her quarantine workdays around the expectations of her three children’s math, English, and science teachers, surrendering her work station to their Zoom meetings.

Now, the music teacher was proposing a “fun activity” and Mawn’s thoughts immediately turned to the recorder — the piercing woodwind instrument that her twin 10-year-old boys are learning to play this year.

"I mean, we’re stuck here in the house, and I cannot have recorder class for an hour,” said Mawn, who is working full time from the Wilmington home she shares with her three children, her husband, and her in-laws.

“We have to live here and, like, not kill each other,” said Mawn, “and the recorder is definitely going to knock one of us over the edge.”

Mark the fourth week of school closures as the moment when parents began to crack. The state’s experiment in home schooling may have been interesting for a week or two, but as social media rants reveal, many parents are now fed up. Managing their children and their anxieties amid a global pandemic, and working from home if they still have jobs, some parents have begun resisting the deluge of demands coming from their children’s teachers.

Max Mawn sat with his mother Melissa outside their home in Wilmington. For Melissa, the demands of her three kids' teachers have gotten to be too much.CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF
“It’s just overwhelming. Everybody’s overwhelmed,” said Mawn, who aired her frustrations last week on a Facebook page for Wilmington residents.

“I understand a love for the arts but in a state of emergency, I can’t teach music and gym," she wrote. “My children can play outside, in their own backyard or ride their own bikes in our driveway. That will have to count for gym.”

Around the same time, Sarah Parcak, a renowned archeologist from Maine, was drafting a lengthy, expletive-filled Twitter thread reiterating what she’d already told her son’s teacher: First grade was officially over for the year.

“We cannot cope with this insanity,” Parcak wrote. "Survival and protecting his well being come first.”

The parent rebellion is not at all fun for teachers, who have found themselves in a no-win situation since schools were closed in mid-March. First, they were hounded by some hard-charging parents who expected more daily structure and an immediate and effortless switch to online instruction. Teachers had to quickly develop new coursework and ways of presenting it, and jet into families’ living rooms via video conferencing, where their every move would be scrutinized.

Now, with teachers more regularly holding classes online, parents are pushing back, saying the expectations are unmanageable — particularly for younger children who can’t handle the technology on their own and need a parent by their side.

One mother reported that her Dorchester nursery school is offering twice-a-day Zoom meetings for her toddler and preschooler — a gesture that she appreciates but that she considers more trouble than it’s worth.

The first time they participated, she said, “it was like a nightmare.” The 4-year-old did not understand: “Why can’t they hear me? Why can’t I talk?” she said. When the girl did get time to speak, she grew shy and clammed up.

“And five minutes later she wants to do it and the Zoom call is over and then she’s hysterical," the woman said.

One irony is that many parents have been schooled to limit young children’s screen times; now they’re being steered to it by preschool teachers.

It feels like some weird science fiction story, said the Dorchester mother.

“It’s like we’re trying to re-create the illusion of school and being together but it’s not working," she said, “and there’s an essential component missing and we would be better off accepting that this is life now and trying to do something else.”

Another irony is that working parents like her are paying dearly to participate in their children’s “circle time."

“I’m not paying $2,600 a month for you to do a video chat with my kids twice a day,” she said. “I’m paying for you to watch them and provide high-quality education so I can work.”

Keri Rodrigues, a Somerville mother who heads the National Parents Union, an education advocacy group, said many parents are in survival mode, having suddenly lost their income or begun working at home to maintain it, and they shouldn’t feel pressured about academics at the moment.

“Do not destroy the fabric of your family because you’re trying to please a school district,” Rodrigues advised. “We are living through a generational unprecedented crisis. Get your family through it without hating each other.”

Like Mawn, Rodrigues has three children and is fielding an onslaught of e-mails from each of their teachers in each of their subjects. Some point the students to assignments on Google Classroom. Others direct them to activities on private educational websites that require additional sign-ups and the management of yet more passwords.

“My kids are in first and second grade. They’re barely tying their shoes, let alone remembering all of these different passcodes for all of these different websites,” Rodrigues said.

Meanwhile, some of her boys’ teachers had never used Zoom before and their Google Classroom pages weren’t working, requiring intervention from the schools’ information technology professionals.

“By the time the district IT director is involved,” Rodrigues said, “I’m out.”

She recommends that parents do only what works for their children and feel empowered to make the decisions. As far as she’s concerned, she’s the superintendent now, Rodrigues wrote in CommonWealth last week.

“School is not open. You do not have control over my house,” said Rodrigues, who is also the founder of Massachusetts Parents United. “I appreciate your resources. I think they’re great. But if you stress me out, I’m not reading your e-mail.”

Mawn is picking and choosing her academic battles now, even — oops — missing the memo that one of her son’s Zoom classes was moved to a different day this week.

“The e-mails are killing us,” Mawn said. "I think it would have been easier if, every Monday, we got a letter saying . . . ‘We want to do those 10 things this week.’ Just one e-mail, please.”

She understands that the teachers have never handled a pandemic before. But could they not streamline the assignments?

“If I wanted to teach," Mawn added, “I would be a teacher."


Sunday, April 19, 2020

British graduates lose job offers during coronavirus pandemic

Two thirds of graduating students applying for their first job after university have seen their application withdrawn or put on hold due to the pandemic, according to a survey.

Most students are worried about how Covid-19 might affect their university marks and feel under pressure because of uncertainty caused by the crisis, the research showed.

A survey of more than 5,000 students by Bright Network, an online careers website, found that 80 per cent of final-year students graduating this year were concerned about the impact on their grades.

The market for graduate vacancies has slowed since the onset of the crisis.


Trump's School Lunch Changes Lead to a Pointless Food Fight

In January, President Donald Trump's administration announced changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, which was previously overhauled by former first lady Michelle Obama.

"The Occupant is trying to play petty with the food our babies eat," tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) in response to the changes. "Add it to the list affirming that the cruelty is the point with this White House."

Sam Kass, who served as executive director of Obama's Let's Move! obesity reduction program, proclaimed to The New York Times, "It's unconscionable that the Trump administration would do the bidding of the potato and junk food industries."

In truth, Trump's changes are relatively minor. They allow participating schools to more easily serve a la carte items, such as hamburgers, as snacks; they reduce the amount of fruit required at breakfast; and they change the types of vegetables required at lunch. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says these changes were made at the behest of school districts and could reduce food waste.

What's more, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that Democrats say Trump is undermining wasn't exactly built on flawless nutritional science. It required participating schools to serve low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk, despite scant evidence that whole milk leads to weight gain. Complying with the fruit requirement sometimes saw schools giving low-income children two whole bananas with breakfast, despite the fact that starchy carbs are cheap and readily available to low-income households, while high-quality proteins are harder to afford for families relying on assistance.

The National School Lunch Program dates back to 1946 and is intended to make it easy for schools to feed their poorest students. Though Obama's changes sounded good on the surface, they may have contributed to a decline in participation in the program, which peaked in 2011 and has been dropping ever since. Strict school lunch requirements are futile if kids don't end up eating what's offered—something this administration aims to fix.

While you won't hear this from either side, the continued federalization of subsidized lunch is probably a bad idea. Washington has a long history of publishing unscientific and outdated nutrition science, and it takes years to revise itself. While many school districts may, in fact, need financial help to feed their poorest students, making that money contingent on adhering to federal menus is a recipe for conflict and political point-scoring rather than serious policymaking.

Loss of international students set to blow $30b-$60b hole in Australian economy

The Australian economy faces a projected hit of up to $60 billion within the next three years while international students are blocked from coming here due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The blow from each six-month intake of foreign students lost could equate to the hit the economy took when Australia lost its entire car manufacturing industry.

The country’s eight most prestigious universities face the largest loss of revenue, because of their greater intake of international students, but smaller and regional universities are also likely to suffer severe financial consequences that could force them to shed staff and cut back on courses.

Modelling by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute projects that Australia’s university sector will lose between $10 billion and $19 billion between 2020 and 2023, depending on how quickly the nation’s borders are reopened to students.

A further $20 billion to $38 billion in wider benefits to the national economy would also be lost.

The overall projection could result in a hole in the economy of between $30 billion and $60 billion.

Mitchell Institute policy fellow Peter Hurley said each six-monthly intake of students missed due to travel restrictions would deliver an estimated economic blow equivalent to when Australia lost its entire car manufacturing industry.

“International university students are a pipeline, so if you miss a six-month intake it is revenue that is not going to be in the system for two to three years,” Mr Hurley said.

“It really is a worst-case scenario for universities.”

The revenue universities have drawn from international students increased by 137 per cent between 2008 and 2018, the institute’s report, Australian Investment in Education: Higher Education, states.

International university students spent $3.72 billion on fees in 2008 and $8.83 billion in 2018.

International student numbers grew 58 per cent in that time, meaning universities also increased their fees to international students.

“There are more of them and [universities] are charging them more,” Mr Hurley said of the sector's increasing reliance on international students.

Meanwhile, revenue from domestic students increased 43.2 per cent as student numbers grew 37.5 per cent, but without a comparable hike in tuition fees.

Victoria and NSW combined draw slightly more than two-thirds of total Australian revenue from international students, claiming $5.99 billion out of a sector-wide $8.76 billion in 2018.

Six universities made more than half of their student revenue from international students, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, the University of Queensland and Federation University in Ballarat.

Mr Hurley said the larger universities were in a healthy financial position before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and had resources to draw on during lean times.

Most smaller universities had less reliance on foreign students but also had less in reserve and would likely be forced to make tough decisions.

“They’re not going to go bust but they will have to cut costs – they will cut staff, they will cut courses,” Mr Hurley said.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Morrison government has guaranteed $18 billion in funding for universities' domestic education in 2020, pegging the support at expected student numbers before the hit to enrolments from the pandemic. Ordinarily, it would be revised down throughout the year if student numbers were lower than anticipated.

Universities have welcomed the government support but warned it does not address the "big hole" in revenue from the loss of international students.

International education providers have also been alarmed about long-term damage to Australia’s reputation after Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said it was “time to go home” for foreign students and workers who couldn’t support themselves.

Education consultant Claire Field said the lack of support being shown to international students by the Australian government right now could also do lasting reputational damage to the university sector.

"Our approach is in sharp contrast to the UK, NZ and Canadian governments, all of whom are extending to international students the same support they’re providing their citizens," Ms Field said.

Ms Field said international student enrolments plummeted by 20 per cent 10 years ago following a spate of attacks on Indian students, which attracted overseas media focus.

"If Australia doesn’t provide financial assistance to international students who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis I expect the damage to the sector to be far greater this time," she said.


Coronavirus exposes unnecessary, inflated costs of higher education

Colleges and universities across the nation have closed their doors, sent students home and transitioned to online classes during the coronavirus public health emergency. The adjustment was swift and relatively smooth, exposing an uncomfortable reality for the higher education business: Students can continue to get an education without lazy river waterparks, vegan culinary options, or “sex week” events that have become the “college experience.”

Higher education’s response to the coronavirus has exposed the fact that the system needs to be reformed and refocused to serve its original purpose: educating. As students and their parents adjust to learning online, they no doubt will question why they are paying $30,000 to $70,000 for their degrees. The answer is obvious, and the solution is simple. No, it isn’t forgiving the student loans and making college free, it’s cutting the fat and starving the beast.

As we’ve covered extensively at Campus Reform, universities are charging students exorbitant rates to subsidize events, amenities and services that do little to advance their educations, such as “diversity officers” and their $175,088 median salaries, or $10 million multicultural centers.

While the next generation is often criticized for its victimhood mentality, in this case, these young adults are, in fact, the victims of a broken system. In a modern economy where a college degree is a prerequisite for many jobs, students are left with little choice when it comes to signing up for decades of student loan payments just to have a shot at getting a job interview.

The way higher education has quickly transitioned to online learning may serve as a catalyst for making the necessary changes to bring the cost of a higher degree down by trimming the unnecessary line items and getting back to the goal: educating. That means hiring fewer non-academic administrators, building fewer amusement park-like attractions, and making sure the biology students working towards med school aren’t forced to first take courses such as “feminist history” and “angry white male studies.” There’s a reason tuition rates have gone up 163 percent since 1988, and it’s not that the cost of educating has increased. It’s the result of bloated university budgets.

In the coming months, hundreds of thousands of loan-strapped students will be introduced to online education for the first time. Many will wonder why they didn’t meet sooner. Gen Z and millennials have been ready for remote learning and working for years — in fact, they prefer it. They are tech natives fully accustomed to online communication. In a recent poll, 72 percent of college students said they’d prefer a job working remotely as opposed to going into the office.

The coronavirus could spark the change we need to bring down the cost of higher education. People are opening their eyes to the unnecessary extras and we’re already seeing students demand that their universities cancel student fees and other tuition costs. This new view of tuition bills could spur demand and subsequent supply for more affordable, online options as alternatives to traditional four-year, on-campus programs. As we all should have learned in Econ 101, choice drives prices down.

I’m not arguing to do away with college campuses and classroom learning — there are plenty of benefits to the traditional college experience. But students deserve more options when it comes to higher education, and they deserve to get an education at a reasonable cost.

The impact of coronavirus will certainly remain long after the epidemic passes. Our rattled nation will transition to addressing lessons learned and making changes. I believe we can come out stronger and better, and reforming our broken higher education system can be a silver lining.


Make American Colleges Grade Again!

With all the disruption of academic life and finances by Covid-19 (see my last three epistles), colleges are almost certainly going to need what the late Clayton Christensen called “disruptive innovation” this fall. The problem: with budgets almost certainly severely constrained (despite the Feds dropping some money out of airplanes, or the equivalent, over college campuses), how can you improve the educational product to attract students and serve society without spending money?

Enter Grace Greason, a writer for the Harvard Crimson and the Harvard Political Review and I suspect a Harvard undergraduate. In a wonderful article (providing the source for this post’s headline), Grace showed how debilitating grade inflation is at our nation’s leading universities. Grades below A- are a rarity at many schools, making it difficult for employers and others to distinguished between superb students and slackers.

While grade inflation is slightly less substantial at less selective admissions schools attended by the bulk of American college students, it is even a bigger problem there, especially for the best and brightest of their students. I have taught or attended several highly selective universities and liberal arts colleges, and my own experience is that the very best (top one or two %) of students at my mid-quality state school are as good as the average student attending highly selective schools like Harvard or Yale—and generally better than Harvard and Yale slackers getting 3.5 grade point averages without doing much work. Yet these very high quality individuals at schools like mine are hurt by grade inflation—4.0 GPA students are numerous—too many for the best to stand out to graduate schools and top-flight employers doing hiring.

But the biggest problem is that grade inflation is probably the largest single reason that today’s students on average spend more time partying than studying, reading, writing papers, etc. We greatly underutilize vital human resources. Time Use Survey and other data show the typical college student who spent 40 hours weekly on academic work in the middle of the 20th century spends about one-third less (27 hours) today. Students work less hard than their parents are working to send them to school. Working 40 hours a week on academics might net a student a 3.8 GPA instead of a 3.6 earned with normal study behavior—not enough better to justify 13 hours weekly more studying when partying or video-game opportunities loom. This leads to disappointment and worse among employers, generating high “underemployment” of recent college grads.

Grade inflation has been happening for many decades, but the big surge began around 1970, I think probably largely because of two phenomena. First and most important, student evaluations of professors became popular and meaningful, and professors thought (correctly) they could buy some degree of popularity by giving high grades. Second, some believe there was some raising of grades to reduce the possibility that students would be drafted during the Vietnam War, although personally I did not sense that factor at the time.

The elite schools have been somewhat embarrassed by the appearance of a lack of standards and accordingly have made some attempts to curb grade inflation, but those efforts typically failed after a number of years and they reverted back to the prevailing “high grades for all” standard. Part of the problem is schools don’t want to be out of line with their competitors. If the average GPA at Yale and Princeton is 3.90, but only 3.20 at Harvard, Harvard students and potential applicants might feel disadvantaged, and employers might shun their graduates. Just as in the Cold War, when neither the U.S. or the Soviet Union felt they could unilaterally disarm, necessitating arms agreements, so American universities unlikely will change their policies unilaterally.

There are two groups that probably could end grade inflation nationally: the regional accreditation organizations or the U.S. Department of Education. The seven regional accrediting agencies could agree on, say, a maximum permitted average GPA for all undergraduate students of 3.20 (I would prefer 2.8 or even 2.5, about what it was when I was an undergraduate at Northwestern), and perhaps we could gradually move to such a standard.

By making American colleges grade again, we can make American college students work again as well.


Australia: When a mother accused parents of having “blood on their hands”, Samantha Maiden knew things had reached a new level of weird

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that the debate on schools, kids, and COVID-19 in Australia descended into complete hysteria.

One minute the kids in my suburb were enjoying a few weeks of sunshine after smoke blanketed the city and closed the highway out to the beach.

The next, the coronavirus appeared on the horizon and parents seemed to divide into warring camps of those who wanted kids to stay at school and those calling for shutdowns.

Personally, it was only when I read a Facebook post from a mother accusing parents who wanted to send kids to school of having “blood on their hands” that it was clear things had got pretty weird.

Parents all over Australia are dealing with home schooling kids, and not all are loving it. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Parents all over Australia are dealing with home schooling kids, and not all are loving it. Picture: Jake NowakowskiSource:News Corp Australia

Another highlight - my 10-year-old son getting bailed up by a woman pushing a pram down at the local park and asked if he was in a “family group” with the other 10-year-old child at the basketball court. Unhappy with the answer, she started photographing them.

Like most Australians, my family supports the measures to introduce social distancing and close state and international borders. The border closures are vital and need to stay in place.

The debate over when to reduce restrictions around schools, however, is a minefield.

Many parents still believe that children are silent carriers of COVID-19 and schools are “petri dishes” with students infecting teachers.

Some parents and teachers are happy to keep schools closed indefinitely if it “saves lives”. But does it?

Some of the nation’s top scientific minds advising Australia’s COVID-19 response concede we simply don’t know yet if school closures have had a big impact at all.

But the early evidence here in Australia and China is that students are not big spreaders to adult teachers in school.

That’s why the argument “why can I teach a classroom of 30 kids but not go to a pub with adults?” is not a particularly good argument. It is different, according to the scientists who study the coronavirus.

For years politicians have been urged to listen to the science on climate change, but teachers and parents who don’t want to return to classrooms won’t listen to the experts on COVID-19 and schools.

The official medical advice has never changed: schools remain safe to stay open.

What changed is some states buckled under the pressure of parents and teachers’ unions to close schools.

Many parents took that as a message that schools are unsafe. They promptly voted with their feet and kept kids at home.

In some states, education ministers have proposed to re-open schools “when the health advice changes”, despite the fact it never advised to shut schools in the first place.

Around about the same time my son was getting bailed up by the basketball police in mid-March, the deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly gave a very simple explanation about what we know about COVID-19 and kids.

“We know from where the virus has broken out, very few kids get the illness,’’ he said.

“Those that get the illness are mainly mild, they don’t appear to be transmitted between children – in fact, it’s more likely that children will get it from their own parents and other people in their households. And closing schools, we know, does cause a major disruption to society and to families.”

Just four days later, schools around the country started to effectively shut down.

The idea of a sensible middle way, where you allow at-risk teachers to work from home and extend the same choice to families, was sacrificed on the altar of panic and fear.

So, don’t be fooled by the soothing tones of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s love letter to the nation’s teachers this week in his Facebook video.

The message was blunt: If supermarket workers, truck drivers and hospital cleaners can fight COVID-19 for the minimum wage by simply doing their day jobs, why are teachers still working from home?

The Prime Minister’s message was designed to get parents to ask more questions about why schools are closed.

Respecting teachers’ amazing work educating children and making the switch to distance learning should not preclude parents from questioning politicians’ decision to close schools.

Despite claims essential workers can send children to school if necessary, many parents I have spoken to say teachers actively discourage this. Certainly, this was also my experience.

But the real risk of the current arrangements is not inconvenience for parents but lifelong consequences for disadvantaged teenagers.

On the eve of a recession, some will leave school without even finishing high school and never return.

Others will be trapped at home with parents who may be struggling with unemployment, depression and substance abuse. These kids have a right to an education. They are safer at school.

As feared, many grandparents are being called on to help with homeschooling, just as authorities feared.

Just like the brawls over toilet paper in supermarket aisles, this is a debate that has sometimes seemed more driven by fear, emotion, and anxiety than science.

If you don’t want to send your kids to school, you remain free not to. But families who want their kids to return to classrooms should be offered the same choice.