Friday, May 01, 2020

How Political Ideology Is Pushing Religion Out of Religious Studies

Many academic disciplines have gotten “woke” in recent years, especially in the humanities and social sciences. For the most part, this transformation has occurred in plain view as colleges created departments for (and offered degrees in) “Women’s and Gender Studies,” “Black Studies,” “LGBTQ Studies,” “Latino Studies,” and the rest of the intersectionality parade.

One discipline, however, sports an innocent-sounding moniker—“Religious Studies.” Studying religion would seem to be immune to the current trends in higher education, focusing instead on theological concerns.

That impression, however, is inaccurate. Religious studies—one of the most “woke” disciplines on America’s college campuses—is an ideological wolf in sheep’s clothing, luring students, parents, and alumni into a false sense of security.

In the innocuous guise of religious studies, many colleges and universities are promoting a leftist political agenda.

I discovered this recently when a local college invited a “religious studies” scholar to deliver a lecture on faith that turned out to be a Marxist critique of capitalism, with not a single word about God or the Bible. This episode was eye-opening, but unfortunately not an aberration.

To my surprise, the field of religious studies is no longer primarily about religion, but rather a radicalized amalgam of socialism, LGBTQ activism, and identity politics. Hundreds of schools, both private and public, offer degrees in “religious studies,” including many of the nation’s leading universities. No longer the exclusive domain of seminaries, divinity schools, and Bible colleges, religious studies is even taught at most Ivy League schools.

Perhaps because of the limited job market, relatively few students major in religious studies, but it is a popular elective. At Yale, for example, while the volume of religious studies degrees has declined to a trickle, enrollment in undergraduate courses offered by the religious studies department has increased over the past decade. A Yale official admitted that one reason for the increased popularity of religious studies classes is that they no longer focus primarily on Christianity and Judaism, and instead explore “a wide variety of cultural and religious traditions.”

Now, in the words of the Yale Daily News, “there is…no single dominant religious tradition in the curriculum.” The ecumenical—even secular—nature of religious studies is what appeals to students at Yale, one of whom explained that “The field itself really studies people; it studies everything.”

In other words, religious studies has become a potpourri of the latest progressive fads.

That transformation is both recent and profound. Historically, ordained clergy performed religious studies instruction at many colleges and universities, often from an explicitly devotional perspective, typically emphasizing the Bible and Christian doctrine. Even after this practice was discontinued at public institutions due to legal challenges, the perception remained that “religious studies is indistinguishable from religious practice.”

When religious studies was expanded to include other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, and then reimagined as a secularized comparative approach, it became an inter-disciplinary subject lacking any meaningful religious component. In the process, it became the perfect vehicle for indoctrination. One religious studies scholar admitted that his goal is to “train students to interact with the world in a responsible and informed way.”

This is the state of religious studies in a nutshell: The field is an academic invention with no established tenets, methodological consensus, or fixed pedagogy. A blank canvas disconnected from religion, religious studies has become a free-wheeling gestalt of leftist sociology, economics, history, anthropology, and philosophy. As such, it is the ideal platform for aspiring academics wishing to avoid a more rigorous specialty with recognized scholarly standards.

Religious studies courses are empty vessels ready to be filled with the instructors’ favorite flavor of progressive ideology. Students willing to parrot the professors’ views can bag a few easy credit hours.

Broad generalizations about religious studies must acknowledge that the field is not monolithic. The faculty and curriculum at, say, Liberty University are quite different than those at Yale. Overall, however, the professoriate teaching religious studies is quite skewed to the left, as evidenced by the field’s leading trade association, the American Academy of Religion. Founded in 1909 as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools, the organization sponsors an annual meeting—held in conjunction with Society of Biblical Literature—that it boasts is “the world’s largest gathering of scholars interested in the study of religion.”

The content of the joint AAR/SBL annual meetings, which attract upwards of 11,000 attendees, is very revealing.

In light of the economic populism evident in the Progressive-era Social Gospel movement, one might expect religious studies scholars to exhibit some modestly reformist attitudes, but the field is pre-occupied with radical LGBTQ themes. The annual meetings are organized in large part by AAR committees called “program units,” some of which have an explicit LGBTQ emphasis, such as “Gay Men and Religion,” “Lesbian-Feminisms and Religion,” and “Queer Studies and Religion.” Not surprisingly, the AAR/SBL annual meetings reflect this emphasis.

Religious studies courses are empty vessels ready to be filled with the instructors’ favorite flavor of progressive ideology.
The 2016 meeting featured more than 40 LGBTQ events. The presentations included these topics: “Ruth as Undocuqueer: Re-Reading the Book of Ruth at the Intersection of Queer and Postcolonial;” “Sarah, Sodom, and the Queering of Time in Genesis 18-19;” “Daniel 11:37 and the Invention of the Homosexual Antichrist;” “The Gospel and Acts of the Holy Ghost: Queer Spectrality, Affective Homohistory, and Luke-Acts;” and “Crucifixion’s Idolatrous Resonance: Animality, Slavery, and Sexuality in Pauline Rhetoric.”

The 2017 meeting, held in Boston, was similar, including a presentation on “Queering Martin Luther.” The agenda, however, was dominated by condemnation of President Trump. According to one report, “Trump was named in the AAR/SBL program 27 times. A book of essays, Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump, was among the hottest sellers at the religion publishers’ exhibition hall…Trump was denounced as a danger to the values of free inquiry, diversity, inclusion and respect.”

The Boston meeting was also noteworthy for featuring a talk by the notorious Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour.

Earlier in its history, when the organization still focused on religion, the annual meetings were quite different. When the un-woke antecedent to AAR met in 1932, the proceedings included a “half-a-dozen addresses with such titles as ‘Recent Excavations in Palestine,’ ‘The Bible and Modern Education,’ ‘A School Principal’s Reactions to the Problems of Biblical Instruction,’ and so forth.” In other words, actual religious studies, focusing on the Bible. But in recent decades, the AAR has taken a hard-left turn, outpacing even the rest of the academy.

In addition to the LGBTQ agenda, religious studies scholars promote a litany of issues that coincide with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party: Marxism/socialism, immigration reform, climate change, criminal justice reform, and identity politics. The ideologues who preach this secular gospel of social justice are supported by a flotilla of sympathetic publications, such as The Immanent Frame, Religion and Politics, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Sojourners, and Religion Dispatches.

The connection to religion is often very loose, bordering on non-existent. One woke religious studies scholar describes herself this way: “I am a scholar of religion with particular interests in the history of capitalism and labor; religion in the Americas; feminist, queer, and critical race theory; and theory and method in the study of religion.”

On many university faculties, there is overlap between religious studies and, for example, African American studies. At Princeton, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., a former president of the AAR, chairs the Department of African American Studies while also serving on the faculty of the Department of Religion. At the University of Texas, religious studies scholar Ashley Coleman Taylor describes her interests as “Black Feminism, Black Genders and Sexualities, Pragmatism, Queer of Color Critique, Africana Religions, Puerto Rican Studies, Atlanta Studies.” She is on the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies but also teaches in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. The disciplines are seemingly interchangeable.

Two decades ago, historian D.G. Hart called religious studies a “field in search of a rationale.” Hart opined further that religious studies, when unmoored from religious practice, became “rudderless, a discipline in search of an identity.” Sadly, in today’s woke academy the field has found a purpose—camouflage for progressive activism.


No Child Left Behind by Coronavirus Closures

Now that we are months into quarantine for COVID-19 with no immediate end in sight, school districts across the nation have begun accepting the reality that they won’t be returning this year. As of April 26th, 43 states, along with 4 U.S. Territories, and the District of Columbia, “have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year, affecting approximately 45.1 million public school students.” These sudden and mass closures have forced schools to reevaluate everything.

As with other sectors of society, the deregulation that has come to education out of necessity proves that much of the centralized way our government controls education is unnecessary. The best example of this is doubtless the mass abandonment of high-stakes standardized testing that has come as a result of COVID-19.

When states decided to close schools for nearly a quarter of the year, one of the first problems that required a solution was grading students. How can teachers and administrators ensure that students are meeting educational standards? More importantly, how can schools ensure that graduating students should be eligible for a diploma?

Since the Bush administration passed No Child Left Behind, high-stakes state testing has been the bedrock of our educational system. Rather than empower teachers and local administrators to do what's best for their students, this system relies on a one-size-fits-all approach to measure educational achievement. In short, such policies have been an abysmal failure, favoring centralized control over a student-first model. While some states have already begun to rethink their approach to high-stakes testing, it seems that the COVID-19 closures may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for this outdated system.

In some states, like Texas and Florida, the Governors have already waived state testing for the 2019-2020 school year, with several others considering the same. In doing so, these states have vested the local school districts with the responsibility of determining their own standards for grading and graduation, empowering the local governments. School districts have taken various approaches, but nearly all have placed the decision in the hands of those who know their students best: teachers, counselors, and school administrators.

In San Angelo, Texas, where I attended K-12, the San Angelo Independent School District has established a new system of grading policies that is centered around treating each student as an individual. Students who were passing at the end of the third quarter, and regularly attend online classes during the fourth quarter (which is pass/fail), will automatically pass. Those students who were failing at the end of the third quarter, and/or do not attend online classes, are put on the bubble.

For those students on the bubble, the school will convene a three-person committee consisting of the teacher of the respective class, the student’s counselor, and a school administrator like a vice principal. This three-person committee will engage in a holistic review of the student’s record and make a determination about whether or not the student should receive credit.

While such a system is far from perfect and erected with haste, it is far superior to the previous system that relied almost entirely upon all-or-nothing standardized state testing and high-stakes final exams. The most important consideration for school districts is to address the diversity of home life situations of their students. Determining advancement eligibility based on this holistic model better allows schools to address these diversities of experiences among their students. No student should be punished for having a difficult home life. Eliminating high-stakes tests in favor of holistic examination has the potential to help those students that need it the most, especially when they are stuck at home.

Though these orders only apply to the current year, and states may very well return to high-stakes testing next year, it nevertheless represents a significant step away from bad policy. Hopefully, this year will serve as a proof of concept, showing that these tests were unnecessary to begin with.

Commentators and pundits have regularly lamented about the plight of the Class of 2020. But, if current trends continue, the Class of 2020 is set to be a pivotal turning point in American education. Hopefully, state and local governments will recognize the benefits of empowering their teachers and will codify these changes permanently.


Finland will reopen schools and daycare centres after May 13, having kept them mostly closed since March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin said children would return to school gradually, starting on May 14 for a little more than two weeks, before their summer break begins as usual at the start of June.

Pupils at upper secondary and vocational schools will continue to study remotely, she added.

The spread of the coronavirus has showed signs of slowing in Finland, with the number of cases per capita well below those of neighbouring Sweden, Norway and Estonia.

Education Minister Li Andersson said there were no longer grounds for keeping the schools and daycares closed.

"It is clear that a long period of remote teaching may have negative impacts on children's learning and wellbeing," Andersson told a news conference.

By Wednesday, 206 people had died in Finland and it had 4906 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare said about 200 cases of infection had been found in children under 16 years old in Finland but none of them had been hospitalised.

The institute's Director of Health Security Mika Salminen said more evidence had emerged during the school closure to prove that children played a very small role in spreading the virus.

"Also children don't generally infect adults," Salminen said in reference to the coronavirus, adding there was little evidence of such cases.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Harvard will reopen in the fall, but whether it’s remote or on campus is uncertain

Harvard University officials said Monday that the school is preparing for many, if not all, of its classes to be delivered remotely when the fall semester starts in early September, an acknowledgment that it may be unsafe for students to immediately return to campus.

Harvard said on Monday that it briefly considered delaying the start of the academic year until spring 2021, but ultimately rejected that idea.

University classes will begin on schedule Sept. 2, but whether students are on campus or learning virtually remains uncertain, Harvard provost Alan M. Garber wrote in a message sent to the community Monday afternoon.

“Our goal is to bring our students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and staff to campus as quickly as possible, but because most projections suggest that COVID-19 will remain a serious threat during the coming months, we cannot be certain that it will be safe to resume all usual activities on campus by then,” Garber said. “Consequently, we will need to prepare for a scenario in which much or all learning will be conducted remotely.”

Harvard’s announcement left many questions unanswered, including whether online classes would cost less for students than in-person instruction.

Universities are under increasing pressure from rising freshmen, returning undergraduates, and graduate students and their families to offer some understanding of what the fall semester could look like amid the pandemic. A group of incoming freshmen at Harvard sent an open letter to university president Lawrence Bacow last week asking him to postpone the fall semester if it is going to be online because low-income, first-generation students would be at a disadvantage learning remotely without in-person interactions.

Other college and university presidents are also weighing if and how they can reopen their campuses in the fall.

“Every university I know of is engaged in a huge planning effort,” said Larry Ladd, a higher education consultant in Falmouth. “It’s more intense and more complicated, in part because you don’t know how many students are going to show up.”

Boston University said it plans to have a decision by July and is considering several options, from a phased-in start to delaying in-person classes until January.

Merrimack College, in North Andover, has told students that it plans to open as a residential campus in the fall, although it is considering alternatives, including delaying the student return by a month or more. Merrimack officials said remote learning would only be an option if public health and state officials mandated it.

Yale University will announce its decision about the fall semester by July. Stanford University officials are considering several recommendations that will be presented to their president in late May, including delaying the start date until the winter quarter.

On Monday, the University of Pennsylvania told parents and students that it was "planning for a likely combination of in-class and virtual teaching (particularly for large lectures) depending upon the circumstances.”

In an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday, Brown University president Christina Paxson wrote that reopening colleges and universities in the fall should be a “national priority” and called for putting appropriate testing, tracing, and containment practices in place now. Many institutions face financial catastrophe if they don’t start the next academic year this fall, Paxson wrote.

“The basic business model for most colleges and universities is simple — tuition comes due twice a year at the beginning of each semester,” Paxson wrote. “Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent. Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue.”

Unlike the decision to close campuses and shift to remote learning, which occurred swiftly across the country in the space of about a week in March, higher education experts expect that the approach to the fall semester will vary.

Urban and rural schools may come to different decisions, experts said, and they will be guided by the rules of individual states. Individual colleges and universities will also have to consider whether they have the financial ability to provide only online education or postpone start dates.

Many institutions are considering hybrid models if it remains unsafe to have hundreds or thousands of students back on campus, living in dormitories, sharing bathrooms and dining halls, sitting in lecture halls, and partying on and off-campus on the weekends. Some colleges are looking at breaking up large lecture classes or shifting them online.

Colleges may also bring back segments of the college to campus for a few weeks at a time for in-person learning and activities and then send them back home to continue with remote instruction, Ladd said.

That could mean dorms that traditionally house 200 students could be repurposed for social distancing and serve 50 students at a time, he said.

“My prediction would be the best that could happen is a hybrid sort of instruction with modified residency,” Ladd said.

In its announcement Monday, Harvard said it will bring students back on campus in September if it has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, reliable and convenient viral testing, robust contact tracing procedures, and facilities for quarantine and isolation.

But Garber, the provost, also cautioned that the fall semester plans for the undergraduate college may differ from those at the graduate and professional schools. Harvard’s graduate schools, such as the Kennedy School, rely heavily on international student enrollment, and it is unclear whether it will be safe for those students to travel to the United States from their home countries or if they will be able to get the appropriate visas.

Harvard graduate schools may be forced to offer more online educational opportunities if students can’t get to Cambridge.

“Because our schools have different approaches to learning and research, aspects of the fall semester will likely vary among them,” Garber said

Garber added that Harvard is planning for a “notably different” remote learning experience from what the university rushed to provide this spring. College students now scattered across the country and globe have grumbled that the online, video-conferenced classroom experience has fallen short of in-person classes.

“With more time to prepare, we are confident we can create a better, more engaging experience for the fall, should many of our activities need to be conducted remotely," Garber said. “Rather than seeking to approximate the on-campus experience online, we can focus our efforts on developing the best possible remote educational experience.”

Garber said if students cannot return to campus in the fall as usual, the university will also consider ways to offer extracurricular activities and research experiences remotely.

Garber did not say when Harvard will make a decision about how the fall semester will shake out.

Also left unanswered is whether the university will charge students the same tuition for remote learning and what staffing levels will be in the fall. Harvard is paying its dining workers, custodians, and security officers through the end of May.

“The consequences of any major decision for a large and complex university like Harvard are themselves complex and highly uncertain,” Garber wrote.


Loss of international student fees could decimate UK research

As university researchers race to find a way out of the coronavirus pandemic, top institutions are warning that losing at least half their international students will blow a huge hole in their research budgets and lead to cuts in vital scientific projects.

Many universities are anticipating a loss of between 80 and 100% of their usual intake of international students as a result of the virus, with most agreeing a reduction of at least half seems inevitable. This is an enormous hit in cash terms, with some institutions braced for potential losses of more than £100m.

But it is all the more painful because universities have been relying on the surplus from international students’ higher fees to subsidise vital research.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, says: “The rhetoric around the budget was all about making Britain a great global science nation, but without international students, that can’t happen.”

Vice-chancellors say that almost every university will be in financial jeopardy if the government refuses to give them any support.

Prof Colin Riordan, of Cardiff University, a member of the elite Russell Group, says: “Any university that hasn’t got substantial reserves will be at risk. There is barely a university that will be able to last without significant help from the government. Lots would struggle to last beyond a year or so. At the very least, we need some help to buy us some time.”

Last week the Treasury was said to be blocking an appeal by the vice-chancellors’ group, Universities UK, for a multibillion-pound bailout. Without it, the group says some institutions will certainly go bankrupt.

A report by London Economics for the University and College Union found that universities faced a £2.5bn black hole from the loss of tuition fees, and without government intervention, 30,000 jobs would go.

Hepi has found that on average every international student pays £5,000 more than it costs the university to teach them. The thinktank says universities typically spend most of this surplus on propping up research, a crucial activity because most funding bodies only pay around three-quarters of what it costs the university to carry out a research project.

“International students subsidising research is a huge deal,” Hillman says. “What happens if all that goes? It’s quite simple. You do less research.”

Riordan agrees. “Universities are playing an absolutely pivotal role in the crisis, in understanding what is going on and developing routes out of it. Research is critical to that. But at the same time that research is being propped up by a revenue stream that is massively threatened by the virus.”

The most prestigious universities say they are being hit with a double whammy because they are the most dependent on international student fees, and also are doing far more research than other universities. Another Russell Group head says some members would need to take in “several thousand extra home students” to make up the lost revenue, “which they just can’t do”.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, says the extent to which international students support research is “not widely understood”.

Riordan says that there is “profound pessimism” in the big research universities about how the crisis could play out if the government fails to step in.

Universities UK is lobbying ministers for a multibillion bailout package to stave off financial disaster for many institutions. Among its requests is a plea for government to double research support funding from £2bn to £4bn a year, as well as providing extra assistance for universities relying on high numbers of international students.

One senior academic close to Westminster told the Guardian that any help from the government would almost certainly come with strings attached. One condition might be to push struggling modern universities at the bottom of the sector to shift towards shorter and cheaper vocational courses at pre-degree level. This would be controversial, moving back in the direction of the pre-1992 system, when there were polytechnics and universities.

Hillman, who used to be a government adviser, says: “There are definitely people in Whitehall who think that what should happen at the end of this crisis is a reshaped HE sector with some universities looking more like polys, with less emphasis on degrees.”

However, he says this would be a “dangerous” mistake because, although Britain is lagging behind countries such as Germany on vocational skills training, persuading more people to stay on and gain skills after GCSE should not mean depriving young people of the chance to get a degree.

“Many students in universities are doing vocational training anyway. They aren’t sitting around learning Latin, they are training to be pharmacists or nurses, and this crisis has shown us how important those advanced skills are.”

Before the coronavirus crisis, the Treasury was pushing for a student numbers cap to control spiralling costs of unpaid student loans. Now UUK is calling for a one-year cap, with institutions limited to recruiting no more than 5% more students.

The idea is that this would stop prestigious universities from hoovering up thousands more home students to compensate, with universities lower down the food chain struggling to fill places and facing ruin.

But Ian Dunn, provost at Coventry University, a modern university heavily reliant on international student recruitment, says institutions at the top may still increase their numbers significantly. “When we last had a cap in 2012 it was set at 1% of the last year’s intake. Now we are talking about 5%. If that is based on the optimistic projections that many institutions put forward, it could mean some places could still take 10 or 15% more students than last year.”

He says that if even 10 large universities at the top do this, that would have a big knock-on effect lower down the chain.

Riordan can understand the anxieties lower down the sector, but says: “If the outcome is that there isn’t enough money to support crucial research, then clearly everyone will try to get as many students as they can.”

Prof Anne Carlisle, vice-chancellor of Falmouth University, says that even though her university is not as reliant on international students as other institutions, it is bracing itself for an impact on recruitment. “We are still anticipating a scenario in which fewer UK students decide to enrol because of the uncertainty – though I feel the worst thing a student could do right now is defer, or not complete their degree, and join the unemployment queue.”


Coronavirus Australia: Deal could hold key to PM’s own kids returning to school

In a dramatic escalation of the fight to get teachers back into the classroom, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce a plan to put some “sugar on the table” and allow private schools to bring forward up to 25 per cent of their annual funding.

And the deal could hold the key to his own daughters Abbey and Lily returning to their Sydney private school after the Prime Minister complained he could not send them back until normal classroom teaching resumed.

The Prime Minister has insisted he would send his kids back to school “in a heartbeat’’ this term as long as the school was offering proper classroom teaching.

“I mean, they were sitting in a room looking at a screen, that’s not teaching, that’s childminding,’’ he said. “And schools aren’t for childminding. Schools are for teaching and they’re for learning.”

Sources have told that the NSW Government could be plotting a course towards a similar June 1 deadline for a majority of kids back at school, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirming: “We will see a return of face-to-face teaching from 11 May, and then will consider accelerating a full return to school as soon as possible.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan wrote to private schools on Tuesday night, noting recent claims that some private schools could be forced to close as cash-strapped parents fall behind in fees or switch to the public system. He is proposing to allow private schools to bring forward funding they would otherwise secure in July.

Schools can use the cash to purchase COVID-19 supplies including hand sanitiser and ‘deep clean’ classrooms.

In the letter obtained by, Mr Tehan insists that the medical advice is clear: it is safe for students to return to classes.

“There is very limited evidence of transmission between children in the school environment and … on current evidence, schools can remain fully open,’’ he writes.

“The purpose of this payment option is to financially assist … schools in their response to COVID-19, while also encouraging them to re-engage with their students in a classroom-based learning environment.”

To be eligible for the first payment of 12.5 per cent, private schools must comply with the condition of approval imposed on 9 April 2020 to be open for physical campus learning in term 2 and to have a plan to fully re-open classroom teaching by 1 June 2020.

For the second payment of 12.5 per cent, schools need to commit to achieving 50 per cent of their students attending classroom based learning by 1 June 2020.

NSW Catholic Schools CEO Dallas McInerny said for those schools that had offered parents fee relief the offer could prove attractive.  “There are educational and economic reasons why we want kids back in school. I think from week 3 you will start to see more of our schools heading back to full tilt,’’ he said.

“The main constraint is the availability of staff. Some Catholic schools have responded very generously with fee relief for families affected by COVID-19 and for those schools, this could prove attractive.”

Independent Schools Association CEO David Mulford said increasingly parents wanted children to return to classes. “I think there’s a growing sense parents want children back at school now,’’ he said.

“Noone has ever said it’s going to be the best solution, online learning. Some people thrive and others don’t. Some subjects thrive on it and others don’t.”

But the proposal is set to spark a furious backlash from teachers’ unions, who warn the rush back to classes is “risky” and could spark a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

According to the Independent Education Union representing teachers at private schools in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the current case to reopen schools to all students is a high-risk strategy.

Dr Adele Schmidt said current calls for schools to reopen ignored established research regarding the potential for students to infect scores of contacts with a disease in a given day.

“So much is still unknown about this disease and a shift back to ‘business as usual’ in our schools is a fraught and dangerous one – relying on claims that have not been well tested nor peer-reviewed about the infectivity of COVID-19 in students and students themselves as infection agents,” Dr Schmidt said.

“While early data on transmission of COVID-19 in New South Wales schools would appear to confirm that transmission among children is less common than for influenza – we don’t yet have robust data on virulence of the coronavirus in question.”


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Avoiding an educational disaster

With the governor’s cancellation of the rest of the school year, Massachusetts districts must do more to prevent severe setbacks in student learning.

By the beginning of every fall semester, children have lost some of their progress from the previous academic year, a phenomenon so familiar to educators that it has its own name: the summer slide. So imagine the potential setback for homebound kids if they get what could amount to a five- or six-month loss of learning time this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Charlie Baker’s decision Tuesday to close schools for the rest of the year in Massachusetts, with education continuing online only, was the right call, and it provided a timely contrast to other GOP governors recklessly rushing to open their states prematurely. It provides helpful clarity to districts across the Commonwealth so they don’t have to make piecemeal decisions. Now the stakes are higher for school districts, which need to ensure that the coronavirus disruption that’s certain to last much longer than a summer break does not stunt students’ education.

In other words, there can’t be a shutdown slide ― and, despite the difficulties, teachers, school districts, and the state need to ensure that learning continues as much as possible.

Many school districts and teachers have already adapted to that new reality with impressive speed, creating online learning programs, assigning students projects they can complete remotely, and even coordinating with TV stations on educational programming synched to school curriculums. And parents, often to their chagrin, have become de facto home-schoolers.

But for students, the experience is uneven. Some kids don’t have access to broadband Internet, some parents can’t tutor their kids, some districts aren’t attempting to teach any new material, and the discrepancies appear to be breaking down along familiar racial and economic lines. Data compiled by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education show that out of the state’s 20 largest school districts, only four have been teaching new material during the coronavirus shutdown. Those emerging disparities could exacerbate the state’s existing educational chasm between high-achieving suburban schools and underperforming urban districts.

While summer vacation isn’t totally analogous to the current situation, research into the summer slide does underscore the dangers. While studies have found that it affects all children, in particular in math, income-based readings gaps intensify over the summer. One group of researchers warned children could wind up a full year behind as a result of the pandemic.

So what can districts and teachers do? Some of the options that ought to be on the table include continuing some online classes over the summer (sorry, kids). More far-reaching ideas, which would probably require federal funding, include hiring a vast number of tutors.

Here’s what’s not okay: accepting treading water as the best the state’s schools can do during a shutdown of unknown length. As the Globe reported Thursday, the state’s guidance emphasizes “reinforcing skills already taught this school year”; language with more specific recommendations was removed from an early draft. That’s at variance with Rhode Island, where the state has told schools to continue coursework and also required districts to submit detailed plans for remote teaching.

It’s disappointing that the Baker administration watered down its initial proposal. Even worse, though, is the reasoning the state’s largest teachers union has offered. Merrie Najimy, the head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said that continuing with learning would widen the achievement gap, since affluent districts were better positioned to implement remote learning.

Of course, that’s true: Not only are they better prepared, they’re also likely to keep up the classroom’s tempo with or without a mandate from the state. And that’s exactly why the state can’t allow urban districts to fall behind. The answer to closing achievement gaps can never be to expect high-achieving schools to slow down; it has to be to lift up lower-performing ones. DESE is working on new guidance for learning during the coronavirus, and, hopefully, it will set higher expectations for all the state’s schools.

At the same time, the state will need practical health guidelines on how and when to reopen schools. It’s safe to assume coronavirus will still be a problem in the fall — the director of the Centers for Disease and Prevention, Robert Redfield, recently warned of a potential second wave of infections starting later this year — but at some point, in-person schooling needs to resume. Denmark, which has already reopened its schools, did so with a series of precautions, including spacing desks two yards apart and enforcing frequent hand-washing.

Baker’s order closing the schools in Massachusetts was widely expected but still provided a measure of certainty. Districts now have to rise to the challenge of keeping students on track during a prolonged shutdown, while the state needs to figure out how to balance the risks of reopening physical schools with the duty to educate all the state’s children.


May opening of elementary schools, daycares 'a necessary decision,' says Quebec education minister

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge detailed how elementary schools and daycares will gradually reopen, starting on May 11 outside the greater Montreal region — though class sizes will be limited, and high school students will be staying home.

For daycares and elementary schools on the island of Montreal, in Laval and surrounding suburbs, the reopening date will be May 19.

This timeline will only roll out as planned, Premier François Legault said earlier Monday, if hospitalizations from COVID-19 remain the same or continue to decrease.

"This decision to go back to school is a necessary one for education," Roberge said, citing mental health reasons, access to food and the importance of continued learning for students with difficulties.

All other schools — high schools, colleges and universities — won't physically reopen until late August. But it's legally mandatory for teens up to 16 years of age to be in school in Quebec.

"A teenager who is at home must continue their schooling, and their parents must accompany them in that," Roberge said.

As for elementary schools, classes will be limited to a maximum of 15 students, and the two-metre distancing rule will have to be respected wherever possible. That may mean moving some classes into vacant high schools for the time being to ensure there is enough space, Legault said.

On school buses, the rule will be one child per bench seat and recess periods will be rearranged to minimize the amount of kids playing outside at one time.

Students who have health conditions that could put them at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19 are not to return to school, Roberge said.

The minister is also recommending that teachers over the age of 60 remain at home, saying they will be able to work from home.

Starting May 4, and upon invitation from their children's schools, parents will be able to come to school to collect their children's educational materials — as well as additional tools for remote learning, such as laptops and tablets with internet access.

Also starting next week, the entire education network will have access to free training on methods of teaching from distance-teaching.

For now, the premier said at his daily briefing Monday, the situation with COVID-19 is "under control."  There is still space in hospitals that have been all but emptied to make way for an influx of COVID patients, and there is a plan in place to gradually reopen the economy.

The premier said the decision to begin loosening coronavirus restrictions by reopening elementary schools was made, in part, because the risk of younger children developing complications from COVID-19 is very low.

"Children who have health problems or parents who have health problems should keep their children at home," he said.

He also said keeping schools closed for months at a stretch posed considerable risk to the well-being of some children, especially those with learning difficulties.

"I think it's good that they see their friends again, that they see their teachers again. I don't see children cooped up from 12 to 18 months."

Legault said schools now have two to three weeks' notice to make changes that comply with physical-distancing rules.

He stressed that the concept of herd immunity was not on the province's list of reasons to reopen schools since there is no proof as yet that those who have been infected and recovered from COVID-19 are free of risk of becoming sick once again.

Roberge said the Education Ministry worked closely with other ministries and public health to create the plan to reopen schools, and followed the lead of certain European countries.

Daycare services for teachers first
There are 305,000 Quebec children who use daycare services, however, the return to daycare will also be staggered.

Since the pandemic was declared and daycares were all but closed, the priority was to continue to provide services for the children of health-care workers.

Now, the children of school staff will be able to send their children to daycare, starting on May 4


Australia: Solely digital learning isn’t fair or sustainable

If the best that can be said for digital education is that it’s useful for some months during an unprecedented pandemic, then there probably isn’t much to be said for it normally.

While it’s generally good to look on the bright side, it would be incredibly naïve to think the current situation for Australian schools presents more opportunities than threats.

The research on the efficacy of education technology is inconsistent.

Even in normal times, it is not clear that tech helps students to learn – and these are not normal times. It may benefit some highly motivated learners, but others will be worse off.

Making the transition for millions of Australian students to digital learning is arguably necessary as a temporary, emergency measure. But there is no strong evidence it is more effective than face-to-face classes.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Goodbye Meritocracy, Hello…What?

Is meritocracy just? Just a short time ago, it was commonly accepted that it is the fairest way to determine who wins and who loses in the competition of college admissions. Now, it is one of the most hotly debated questions in higher education. Some believe it is just, as it encapsulates the American dream of “work hard and achieve your educational goals.” Others, however, believe meritocracy is inherently unjust and view it as a cut-throat system rigged against the lower and middle classes.

So, how much should innate intelligence and academic performance factor into who gains admittance into college? Some answer that it should have everything—or at least almost everything—to do with getting into college. After all, it seems highly intuitive that colleges should admit only those students who are the most likely to flourish on their campuses while maintaining high standards.

But a growing number of people wonder whether other non-cognitive factors such as students’ extracurricular activities, life experiences, and ethnic backgrounds should be given greater weight. Others reject the concept of merit-based admissions altogether.

These issues and more were discussed and examined at a February 19 panel event at UNC-Chapel Hill,  organized by the university’s new Program in Public Discourse.

The event, entitled “Meritocracy in Higher Education,” featured four panelists: Anastasia Berg, editor of The Point, New York Times columnists Ross Douthat and Thomas Chatterton Williams, and New York University professor Caitlin Zaloom.

Williams was the only participant who supported meritocracy. The others raised three main objections against meritocracy. The first was offered by Zaloom. She prefaced her objections by stating that “meritocracy is the way into higher education—and really— government.” As such, she believes it is inherently unjust to require people to meet a set of arbitrary standards to climb the social, political, and economic ladder. She said she dislikes the idea of measuring people “on a scale of human value” and is concerned that participation in government is “dependent on achievement based on a hierarchy of values that someone may or may not have subscribed to in the first place.”

The most recurring concern among the panelists, however, was that a meritocratic system unfairly privileges the rich and well-connected. Indeed, some of the panelists claimed that gaining admission into a prestigious university isn’t about intellectual accomplishment, but economic advantage.

For example, Berg claimed that there is a “huge correlation” between students’ socioeconomic status and their ability to perform well on tests. Zaloom also argued that low-income students are shut out of elite universities. She said that the advantages of an elite education are “not equally distributed.” Zaloom continued: “We all know that the way to get your kid into college is to pay for a tutor, etc.”

Yet, despite Harvard’s high admission standards, Berg—a Harvard graduate—does not think the institution’s academics are particularly rigorous. She mocked the university’s introductory math course entitled “The Magic of Numbers,” and argued that there isn’t anything special about the institution’s teachers or classes. She said that the reason to go to Harvard isn’t to receive a stellar education but to gain social and political capital.

Berg, Douthat, and Zaloom expressed concern that a disproportionate number of wealthy people are admitted into prestigious universities because they see an Ivy League education as the golden ticket into the upper or “ruling class.” To them, the result of meritocratic college admissions is a society that stifles social mobility and destines the lower class to be forever ruled by the rich.

The third criticism, voiced by both Berg and Douthat, was that Ivy League and other prestigious colleges drain talent and ambition from local communities and concentrate the highly educated in dense geographic areas, mostly on the coasts. “The college-educated cluster together in geographic hubs in ways they did not 50 or 60 years ago,” Douthat said. “With that division comes economic and cultural stratification that is linked to populist disturbances on the right and the left alike.” He also disliked the idea of a “cognitive elite” that rules over the rest of the country. “Do we really want to be ruled by people with 1600 SATs?” he asked.

While there was no shortage of criticisms leveled at meritocracy, the critics didn’t propose many concrete alternatives to how college admissions should be conducted. Of the solutions that were offered, Berg’s was the most concrete—and also the most radical. She suggested that merit-based admissions be replaced with a lottery system.

“What would happen if you had a lottery admissions?” Berg asked rhetorically. “What effect would it have globally on the experience of people going to college?” She provided the answers:

First of all, everybody would calm down in high school…We would have an actual equal distribution of this amazing resource, we would have a much better way of having an actual representative population within colleges, and finally I think we’d have some chance of people appreciating the amazing privilege of higher education…we forget that it’s not something that we can perfectly earn.

In addition, Berg suggested that colleges need to rely on “human practical judgment” in college admissions by conducting in-person interviews. She also emphasized that academics, not administrators, should be the ones to make admissions decisions—arguing that they are better able to discern students’ full potential. Such an approach, in her view, is better than the “algorithm of the administrator,” by which she means the admissions officer who reviews test scores.

Berg’s proposal, clearly, is absurd. Her suggestions are a misguided attempt at social leveling—one that will do more harm than good. For one, her lottery-admission idea is unworkable because it disregards the fact that people are not equal in talents and interests—a point made by Harvard professor Steven Pinker in this New Republic article:

People vary in their innate and acquired intelligence, their taste for abstraction, their familiarity with literate culture, their priorities in life, and their personality traits relevant to learning. I could not offer a course in brain science or linguist theory to a representative sample of the college-age population without baffling many students at one end and boring an equal number at the other.

Furthermore, Berg’s other suggestion of replacing objective test-based measures of student aptitude with a more personal evaluation won’t have the egalitarian results that she imagines. On the contrary, abandoning objective measures in favor of a holistic evaluation of applicants disadvantages talented minority applicants who rely on standardized tests to demonstrate their ability—an argument made by Williams.

Williams, who is African American, said that his father grew up in the Jim Crow South, which certainly was not a meritocracy. Years later, he taught Williams and his other son “that knowledge and effort are the two most important powers of the oppressed.”

However, Williams explained that he couldn’t showcase his hard work simply by earning good grades. During his K-12 education, Williams did not have the opportunity to attend “a fancy prep school” that offered AP courses and resume-worthy extracurricular activities. He explained that even if he had a perfect GPA, it wouldn’t look as impressive as a perfect GPA from a competitive private school.

As such, Williams argued that the SAT was the only objective measure by which he could demonstrate his academic ability. Doing well on the SAT made him confident that he “wasn’t getting a handout” and that he could do as well as others who had more advantages than he had. Because of his test scores, he was able to attend and thrive at Georgetown University and New York University without feeling as if he did not deserve his spot. “It provides a lifeline for people who need to improve their circumstances,” he said.

Unlike Williams, Douthat was not so confident about merit-based admissions, and even suggested that systemic structural changes are necessary to make the admissions process more fair.

And while Douthat was clearly the biggest name on the panel, he was also the most incoherent.

“I think the inner logic of meritocracy is vicious and terrible, careerist and horrifying,” Douthat said. However, at the same time he admitted that he wasn’t sure that the alternative of getting rid of meritocracy was a good solution either. His argument doesn’t make sense. If something is truly “vicious and terrible…and horrifying,” it should be easy to find better solutions: “Horrifying” is a low bar to surpass. Much of his criticism of meritocracy stems from his fears about politics:

We have a scenario where there are two questions: One is, are there ways to successfully either devolve or claim from below forms of power in our society that aren’t dependent on credentialism?

Douthat’s argument seems inconsistent. In his previous comments, he expressed concern about the rise in populism, which by definition is a way for ordinary people without high-end credentials to gain power against an elite. He continued:

And two: Is there a different kind of education that we could give to our meritocrats that might better equip them to govern the Western world slightly more effectively than the way it’s been governed in the last twenty years or so?

He is rather late to the game on this one. That question was answered long ago—yes, we need to stop educating young people to be socialists and moral relativists. And again, it seems strange that one would want to discard a basic principle of a free society—meritocracy—in order to make government operate “slightly more effectively.”

But his incoherence did not end there. While wondering if we should change the way our elites are educated to improve government, Douthat seems willing to accept that some institutions, like Harvard, aren’t really in the business of educating students. He suggests that their main goal is merely to “form elites” by functioning as a competitive social networking club. This is a valid critique, identifying a problem in need of correction. But Douthat thinks the Ivy League and other prestigious colleges should openly acknowledge this, and therefore should not prioritize merit in admissions. Instead of calling for reform, he seems content with Harvard’s academic mediocrity as the new normal. How, exactly, will that improve anything? And the world does not stay in one place; accepting mediocrity today means an inevitable gradual slide to even lower standards tomorrow.

There has been a groundswell of support in recent years for ending meritocracy in higher education. Perhaps the rise in anti-meritocracy rhetoric is due to the fact that people have lost sight of the ultimate goals of higher education: The acquisition and furthering of knowledge and the pursuit of the truth. While higher education can serve other goals, including opening the doors to the “elite class,” those other goals should be secondary to its primary educational mission.

In the end, admittance into universities like Harvard should be based primarily on demonstrated academic fitness and should be considered a noteworthy achievement—one that reflects the rigor and excellence such an education will demand of and impart to students. Instead of criticizing the advantages a Harvard education affords, critics should demand that it live up to the ideals of intellectual excellence it represents.

All in all, if the critics of meritocracy can’t present better arguments for ending it than Zaloom, Berg, and Douthat, maybe we should keep trying to let the hardest-working and most-talented people win, as best we can.


What Provosts Get Wrong: A Failed Case for Campus Speech Restrictions

Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus: one might expect a book urging those who dismiss today’s college students’ complaints about institutional racism, persistent sexism, and other societal ills to take them more seriously. To engage with their arguments and to try to empathize with them, rather than ignoring or lambasting them, even when they engage in what seems to many people like unjustified histrionics.

What Snowflakes Get Right is not that book. In fact, on completing NYU comparative literature professor (and former vice provost) Ulrich Baer’s book laying out his views on campus free speech, one can’t help but be struck by its near-total lack of empathy for anyone who disagrees with his political viewpoint, or whose interpretation of the principles of free speech and equality differ from his own, extremely arguable, views.

The result is a book that does nothing to change the minds of those not already disposed to agree with the author, and almost seems intended to alienate them. Baer repeatedly cites Donald Trump’s election, in lurid terms, as a justification for universities to forbid speech that creates “inequality.” Every example paints his ideological opponents in a bad light, and those who agree with him in a positive one.

Perhaps the book is merely meant to stiffen the spines of left-leaning critics of free speech who may be having a hard time justifying their demands for censorship when it’s gobsmackingly obvious that neither the left nor the right have pure motives. But it’s also possible that it is the natural result of Baer’s belief that it’s both right and admirable to refuse to debate certain topics unless the other side has already agreed to some or all of your contentions.

While one should generally be loath to come to such a conclusion, it can’t be ruled out in this case because the fundamental premise of Baer’s book is that there are some arguments that students, and members of minority or marginalized groups more generally, simply should never have to encounter.

Baer argues that while universities should be places where topics are discussed and debated, those who wish to debate certain views, which he repeatedly labels as discredited, obsolete, or both, should be excluded, especially if they are expected to come from off-campus speakers who wish to speak on campus. He writes that on campus, “[s]peech that crosses this line is speech that disputes the inherent equality of all students based on group belonging.”

From this sentence alone, it’s clear that Baer’s version of equality is not the “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” kind of equality that is still revered by untold millions of Americans. Rather, this version of equality specifically builds in the “intersectional” understanding of individual identity as being determined by the combination of one’s membership in an ever-evolving number of identity-based groups. Regardless of whether or not one accepts this definition, to say it is arguable is to engage in considerable understatement. But for Baer, accepting this premise, or at least not challenging its precepts, is the bare minimum qualification for a speaker to be allowed to get his or her foot in the door.

That may be easier to understand if one considers that Baer accords a nearly magical power to speech that he deems racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. To express such views, he repeatedly argues, is not merely to offer bad arguments for discredited and obsolete ideas, but to actively force members of the targeted groups to “prove their humanity,” and by doing so quite literally make them unequal. The most virulent bigots, even those who to all appearances seem the most pathetic of people, are actually enormously powerful. And why in the world would someone try to see things from the perspective of those who are both evil and powerful?

Understanding this perspective is key to understanding Baer’s book, because his ultimate answer to “what snowflakes get right” seems to be that they are correct to demand that people who “deny their humanity” be silenced. Otherwise, they themselves will be unable to benefit from America’s promise of freedom of speech, while bigots, Nazis, and Donald Trump freely enjoy their First Amendment rights.

So, what beliefs and people, specifically, does Baer believe deny the humanity of students, and therefore warrant restriction? Sadly, Baer, in keeping with most of those who write on this topic, does not give us a convenient and easily accessible list. But he does leave breadcrumbs here and there. Donald Trump is an obvious member of Baer’s blacklist of individuals, of course, and is joined by Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopolous, and Ben Carson.

As for beliefs that must be excluded from campus discussion, these include “claims that some human beings…are illegal or unworthy of legal standing,” denial of the “rights of transgender people for legal equality and protection against discrimination,” arguments that women are less skilled in abstract thinking, and many others, stated in terms of varying clarity.

None that I could find would be stereotypically considered to be “left-wing.” If you really needed a heuristic to guess what ideas Baer would restrict from campus—and you might, as Baer was once a college administrator, and many of them demonstrably think the same way he does—you’d probably get 90 percent of the way there simply by assuming that his blacklist includes anything to the “right” of what a conservative talking head on mainstream media would say.

Baer understands the arguments made by both conservative and liberal advocates for free speech, though again, in keeping with his strangely blinkered partisanship, he does not really seem to grasp that free speech advocates from both right and left agree about much more than they disagree about when it comes to the issue. (If this were not true, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, could not exist, as our staff is made up of liberals, conservatives, and everything in between.) If you wonder how Baer thinks this is working out for our campuses, the title of his chapter discussing this, “An Unholy Alliance,” is a helpful clue.

A treatment of all of the problems with Baer’s book and argument would be longer than the book itself. Some are real head-scratchers, such as where Baer suggests that a law school would decline to host “someone who argues against judicial autonomy.” (Really? I went to law school and I highly doubt that.) Others are likely to elicit a snort, such as when Baer says that college administrators are “almost always trained and experienced in the process of vetting ideas for inclusion in debate,” which is why they are supposedly qualified to determine who may speak.

But most of his arguments are no different than those swatted away by John Stuart Mill 160 years ago in chapter 2 of On Liberty—and make no more headway against Mill now than they did then. (In fairness, Baer mentions and even briefly cites Mill, so presumably Baer just disagrees with him.)

One comes away from What Snowflakes Get Right with a sense of puzzlement. Why write a book arguing that people shouldn’t have to argue about some things, and do it in a way so poorly designed to change minds? Baer is an accomplished and intelligent professor, but he simply is not equal to the task of justifying the restriction of differences of opinion, on college campuses of all places, of some of the most hotly debated issues in our society. I suspect there’s no one out there who is.

But in the end, those looking for a convincing answer to the book’s titular question will not find that answer within its pages.


New school rules in Australia

Strict new rules have been introduced as children return to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students in New South Wales will be banned from using playground equipment and bubblers when they return to their classrooms for term two next month.

They will also be banned from sharing food or pens, according to Department of Education rules.

Schools will also have to post any new COVID-19 cases that affect their school to their Facebook page to keep parents and caregivers informed, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Teachers will have to watch young students wash their hands to ensure they are doing it properly.

Hand sanitiser will be available in all classrooms and provisions are in place for at-risk teachers to work from home.

Drop off, pick up, recess and lunchtimes will also be staggered to ensure social distancing.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced this week the plan for children to gradually return to schools from May 11.

The plan will see students return for one day a week to ensure they comply with social distancing measures.

The education department plans to increase the number of days students are at school in a staged way and hope to have all children back at school full-time by Term 3.

During the first stage of on-campus learning, parents will be encouraged to keep their children home except on their allocated day of face-to-face learning. Initially, about a quarter of a school’s students are expected to be on site at any one time. 

Classes will be split across schools, allowing schools to appropriately social distance students and teachers.

'We are grateful to all families who kept their children home from school at the end of Term 1 and to teachers who worked tirelessly to deliver education online,' Ms Berejiklian said.

'This allowed us critical time to prepare our schools to develop better online learning options and for considering additional hygiene measures to allow schools to return.

'We know that nothing is more important than a child’s education, and we must begin to return our students to their classrooms in a considered way.'

Most students began remote learning in March after the Premier asked parents to keep their children at home.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Colleges Must Cut Administrative Costs to Survive This Crisis

In 1628 the Swedish warship Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage—and promptly sank in Stockholm harbor. The ship was grotesquely top-heavy and foundered as soon as it began to take on water.

American higher education is also grotesquely top-heavy. Deans and Provosts have multiplied like rabbits. In the past forty years, the growth rate in the number of administrative staff has been five times that of professors. For a generation and more, American higher education has been sinking slowly beneath the burden of administrative costs.

Our colleges and universities, weighed down at the top, were never likely to do well in heavy weather. Now comes the coronavirus gale, wreaking economic devastation across America, and hundreds of colleges may go bankrupt. A decade’s worth of hard times may be compressed into the next two years.

We must take emergency action to save our colleges. The absolute priority is to jettison as many administrators as necessary, lest they sink their host institutions. Since administrators make spending decisions, policymakers outside of higher education must set rules that create strong incentives for colleges to chuck the bureaucrats. The bureaucrats themselves will cling to their jobs and hope the colleges somehow survive despite their dead weight. They shouldn’t be allowed to endanger the survival of our colleges and universities.

Vast numbers of administrators can’t be fired now, because colleges and universities are forced to employ them to satisfy regulatory requirements imposed by the Department of Education and the accrediting organizations. I’ve argued elsewhere that the Department of Education should declare an immediate “regulatory holiday,” to free colleges and universities to fire any employee without worrying about these external regulatory requirements. The regulatory holiday should be fast-tracked for every college on the brink of bankruptcy. Any college that declares itself in financial distress should be allowed an emergency application for a regulatory holiday, and that application should be approved within five business days.

If there are any legal challenges to the regulatory holiday, the Department of Education should also fast-track a resolution agreement with an individual college that provides an immediate plan to put the regulatory holiday into practice. This resolution agreement, which should allow maximum freedom to colleges and universities, would provide a model for every other college and university to follow.

Large numbers of administrators, especially at the large research universities, also process research grants from other branches of the federal government — the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

The federal government needs to assemble an interdepartmental committee to devise a plan to relieve universities of as many as possible of the administrative requirements required for processing research grants. It makes no sense to limit the regulatory holiday to the Department of Education, when so large a proportion of higher education administration is tied to grants from other federal departments.

Federal and state governments should consider providing substantial tax relief to all professors teaching full-time in the classroom — but not to any higher education administrators. This targeted tax relief should allow colleges and universities to hire professors at a lower salary than administrators, and thus encourage colleges and universities to shed administrative jobs rather than professorial ones.

State governments must also engage in immediate oversight to make sure that the public university systems target all necessary spending cuts so as to reduce the number of higher education administrators and preserve the number of teaching faculty. In recent years, states such as Alaska and Wyoming have responded to drastic economic downturns by imposing strict budget cuts on their higher education systems. State legislators and governors around the country should seek advice from their peers in Alaska and Wyoming about how to legislate such budget cuts. Boards of Regents, chancellors, university presidents, and deans in the public university systems should likewise seek advice from their Alaska and Wyoming peers about how to implement substantial cuts in state spending.

The Department of Education, federal departments disbursing research dollars, accrediting agencies, and state governments have all tolerated or contributed to higher education’s administrative bloat. All of them now must provide strong medicine to higher education to reduce its bloat.

Our colleges and universities will not survive this crisis without a healing purge of their bureaucracies.


Oxford University 'replacing private school pupils with rich overseas students

The University of Oxford has been accused of “replacing” British private school pupils with wealthy overseas students who pay more fees and are seen as less politically “toxic”.

The decrease in offers to private school pupils has come at the same time as an increase in offers to overseas students, an analysis of admissions data by The Telegraph found.

Since 2014, Oxford has made 127 fewer offers to British private school students, while making 106 more offers to overseas students and 81 more to EU students. Some 178 more offers were made to British state school pupils.

While UK and EU students pay up to £9,250 per year in fees, international students generally pay at least treble this. A history degree costs £27,285 per year for overseas students, while medicine costs £34,025....


Australia: 'The risk is in the staff room, not the classroom': Scott Morrison takes a swipe at teachers' complaining about going back to work - telling them they are no different to supermarket staff and bus drivers

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised the teachers' unions for protesting the return to classrooms.

Mr Morrison has urged states to urgently reopen schools on advice from Australia's top health adviser - saying that students do not pose a risk of spreading coronavirus.

But Mr Morrison’s insistence that classrooms are safe has drawn mixed reactions, with some unions threatening to stand firm against returning to normal operations.

In some states, teachers' unions have continued to urge families not to send children to school.

'I mean, we’ve got people who are going to work in supermarkets every day,' Mr Morrison told Sky News.

'We’ve got people who are doing jobs all over the community, driving buses, and they’re doing great work and they’re turning up to work to do those things.'

Mr Morrison said the risk for teachers was 'not in the classroom; their risk is in the staffroom'.

There is mounting evidence to back the medical advice that children are less prone to catching and spreading COVID-19.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said NSW Health has done a large study including testing children with no virus symptoms and found no evidence they were transmitting the disease.

'This is quite different from influenza, where we know they are sometimes super-spreaders and can spread the virus,' he told reporters on Friday.

'Most children who have contracted the virus in Australia have contracted it in the family home ... not contracted it in the school environment.'

The health advice says appropriate workplace safety measures should be taken to protect teachers, including cleaning door handles, desks, computers, hand-rails and playground equipment several times a day.

The advice also says classroom furniture should leave as much space between students as possible and children should be encouraged to keep 1.5m apart from others when entering classrooms or during break times.

Teachers have been told to keep 1.5m apart from each other in staff rooms, but Scott Morrison said the measure does not apply to students in classrooms.

'The four square metre rule and the 1.5m distancing between students during classroom activities is not appropriate and not required. I can't be more clear than that,' he told reporters.

Mr Morrison also emphasised there was no requirement for minimum floor space per person, unlike other enclosed areas such as shops.

However, unions have slammed the Prime Minister's advice as contradictory, and are adamant social distancing measures are vital to ensure the safety of their members.

In a statement, the Australian Education Union said the social distancing guidelines 'provide little clarity about how governments are going to ensure a safe working environment for teachers, principals and support staff'.

'It is still not clear how governments expect schools to manage social distancing for adults. It is contradictory to have one set of rules for adults outside of the school gate and another inside,' the union's federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

They also hold concerns the requirements around regular cleaning and making sure soap or hand sanitiser is freely available are not being met.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates indicated he was open to observing the government's notion to gradually reopen classrooms, but more information was needed on why schools are exempt from the 4sqm rule.

The QTU will consult with the state government and examine the findings of the NSW study on Monday. 

The Queensland government will review its decision to close classrooms to all students other than those from families of essential workers and vulnerable children on May 15.

In Victoria, all students are encouraged to learn from home for term two, but schools will remain open for vulnerable children and children of essential workers.

AEU Victorian president Meredith Peace slammed Mr Scott Morrison's directive.

'It is ­bizarre that the Prime Minister has been ­telling us for six weeks how important social distancing is but today he has basically said that it no longer matters for students or teachers,' she said, The Australian reports.

'Throughout this pandemic we’ve been worried that many seem to be neglecting the health and safety of teachers, and these comments only reinforce that. While we’re as keen as anyone to return to normal life, including a return to school, we must plan that return carefully to ensure the ­safety of both staff and students.' 

In a full-page newspaper advertisement published on Friday, the State School Teachers' Union of WA urged parents too keep their children home if possible - against the government's advice.

The union made reference to physical distancing guidelines issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, claiming they can be adhered to when schools have limited numbers 'but not when they are full'.

Education Minister Sue Ellery condemned the advertisement as 'misleading'. 'The AHPPC advice has been from the beginning, and is now, that because of the low risk of transmission, schools are safe for staff and students and should stay open,' she told 6PR radio.

'There is reference to distancing but it's about very specific things.'

In Western Australia, classes will open for all government school students from Wednesday but attendance will not be enforced.

SSTUWA president Pat Byrne later issued a statement claiming the union's position was 'consistent with the state government's approach'.

'Teachers support the managed return of face-to-face teaching, as part of an approach which is consistent with the gradual easing of school distancing requirements by government,' it said.

'Support them by keeping your kids home if you can - then we can make schools as safe as possible until we can all be back at school together.'

NSW schools are due to return for one day a week from May 11, the third week of term two, with a gradual progression to full-time learning as restrictions are eased.

South Australian students will ­return to school next week.

The school debate runs alongside other government initiatives to relax COVID-19 restrictions.

On Friday, the national cabinet ­released ten principles to make workplaces safe, and is focusing on strategies to get people back playing sport.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Congress to Blame for Ivy League Bailout Kerfuffle

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was Congress’s typically ham-handed way of throwing (massive amounts of) money at a problem without laying down good guidelines or thoroughly weighing the consequences. As Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, said of the Small Business Administration’s beleaguered lending program, “When you do things in an emergency situation, they’re going to be far less than perfect.” Government, er, imperfection was demonstrably at play with the $14 billion in bailout cash for institutions of higher learning, including well-endowed Ivy League schools.

Understandably, much of the public ire has been directed at the Ivy League. All eight schools have enormous endowments — Harvard ($41 billion), Yale ($30 billion), Princeton ($26 billion), University of Pennsylvania ($15 billion), Columbia ($11 billion), Cornell ($7 billion), Dartmouth ($6 billion), and Brown ($4 billion) — yet were slated for nearly $62 million in collective aid. Harvard’s endowment, for example, is nearly three times the size of the entire federal aid program for higher education. Someone with a brain at one of those ivory towers should have said, “Hey, maybe we don’t need millions of dollars in bailouts.”

Unfortunately, it took public ire and direct rebukes from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump for some of these schools to either withdraw aid applications or reject or return money already awarded.

Yet government shouldn’t get a pass when it comes to such screwed-up programs. Congress passed a faulty law. It’s true some schools shouldn’t have applied, but they were legally eligible. As DeVos noted, “Congress required by law that taxpayer Emergency Relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth.” In that sense, why wouldn’t the Ivy League schools take their cut?

DeVos argued for balance: “Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most. It’s also important for Congress to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions.”

There’s no question that many colleges and universities are struggling mightily, just as the nation’s businesses are. The University of Michigan, for example, says it faces losses of $1 billion and will cut executive pay and faculty salaries, among other things. We suspect the greater danger lies ahead for small schools, and especially private institutions.

There’s already growing support for a second round of aid that will likely dwarf the first round. As with government aid to individuals and businesses, this is understandable given that government mandated the closures in the first place. That doesn’t mean future generations won’t get the bill.

Correction: Stanford is not an Ivy League school, though it was referenced in news reports about these bailouts. The article has been amended to remove it.


Harvard Smears Homeschooling Parents and Their Children

In what has to be one of the most outrageous, misguided—frankly, garbage—pieces of elitist propaganda this year, Harvard Magazine and Harvard Law School have teamed up to attack homeschooling, of all things, in a clearly coordinated one-two punch.

Both attacks are baseless, stereotypical, and fundamentally flawed because they are rooted in the dangerous belief that the state has more authority over a mother’s child than she does.

In the May issue of Harvard Magazine is a piece by Erin O’Donnell headlined “The Risks of Homeschooling.” Sure, on its face, that sounds benign enough. I homeschooled my four children for six years, and I’d grant there are a few risks to that education model, just as there are to public and private schools.

Turns out, the article doesn’t weigh pros and cons to homeschooling, which now is being tried by countless Americans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the article lacks any nuance whatsoever and instead acts as a vehicle for a biased onslaught of secular statism against parental rights.

O’Donnell launches her hit piece on homeschooling with the premise that children have rights equal to or greater than their parents, and the state actually has more rights than the homeschooled child’s parents do. She begins by quoting Elizabeth Bartholet, an authoritarian, radical professor of public interest law who says she “recommends a presumptive ban” on homeschooling.

Bartholet, also faculty director of  Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, says that “homeschooling violates children’s right to a meaningful education and their right to be protected from potential child abuse,” and that parents have “authoritarian control over their children.”

Bartholet observes, wrongly, that since there are so few regulations, parents may not teach their children anything, or in fact may be abusive.

Bartholet was one of several professors who organized an anti-homeschooling conference at Harvard Law School scheduled to take place in June. A description of the conference, which is invitation-only, says: “The focus will be on problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling.”

One solution offered on the conference site for the problems created by homeschooling is, again, simply to ban it altogether.

The problems with this Harvard Magazine piece and the scheduled conference at Harvard Law School are multifaceted.

O’Donnell’s article peddles stereotypes about parents using homeschooling as a guise for abuse, which is incredibly rare, and paints homeschool parents as incompetent and stupid, which is also incredibly flawed. Statistics show parents who homeschool actually tend to be more educated and wealthier than parents who don’t.

The magazine cover is my favorite part: The illustration shows a boy imprisoned in a “house” made of books as his public and private school friends frolic happily outside. The books are, of course, titled Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and—my personal favorite—the Bible.

Not only did the fantastic illustrators at Harvard Magazine spell “arithmetic” wrong (as “artithmetic”) and later correct it, but the insinuations are obvious: Homeschooled children are imprisoned by religious zealots who educate their kids at home because they fear the outside world, with all its secularization and happy children.

Again, few things could be further from the truth. Statistics show parents who homeschool actually do it so they can provide a more academically rigorous education than the one their kids would receive elsewhere. They don’t do it solely for religious reasons.

And as far as play and exercise: My 13-year-old, who was homeschooled until sixth grade, looked at it the illustration and laughed. He misses the days when he could get school done in four or five hours and play outside the rest of the day.

O’Donnell’s article also insinuates children who are homeschooled graduate dumber, which, again, statistics refute. Homeschooled kids end up with higher grade point averages, score higher on standardized tests, and get accepted into top schools—like Harvard.

In fact, parents homeschool for precisely the reason the article presents: They want to keep their children from progressive indoctrination that’s as biased as it is flawed.

Beyond all of this nonsense is the article’s single largest flaw, which is so obvious it’s hard to believe the thesis passed the inspection of a decent editor: These Harvard elitists don’t bother to hide their disdain for traditional family, parental rights, or the topic of homeschool education, which has increased in popularity in the United States over the past decade.

Despite this increase, by the way, fewer than 5% of children are homeschooled in the United States. From reading this article, though, you’d think homeschooling was the predominant model of education because it’s painted as such a pervasive threat.

Children do not belong to the state, at least not in America. Parents have the right, an inherent gift from God, to care for their little people until they are old enough to care for themselves.

It is the parents’ responsibility, nay, privilege, to teach their children everything from how to use the bathroom to how to do long division to how to process emotions and how to drive a car.

Parents can and should do everything they can to instill their values and pass down their beliefs, whether they choose to send their kids to school, educate them at home, or a mix depending on the year and season of life.

Typically, I’m not surprised by leftist propaganda. But when it comes to Harvard University, I am surprised and disappointed. Harvard should know better. After all, the university accepts homeschool students and expects them to thrive.

It’s humanist garbage to peddle an article and a conference that presume children are the property of the state and that homeschooling is dangerous and must be banned. And the garbage is where this belongs.


'This is not a one-off hit': Sydney universities cut courses and casual staff

Western Sydney University has warned staff it will cut casual workloads next semester as it faces mounting financial shortfalls over the next three years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes amid mounting concern about casual workforces across the state's universities, with Sydney University slashing 30 per cent of its arts courses and one-third of casuals at the University of NSW reporting they've lost work.

"This is not a one-off hit," WSU Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover told staff via video link on Thursday. "The challenge is bigger in 2021 [and 2022] than it is in 2020."

The university has flagged a $90 million shortfall in 2020, which could grow to between $120 and $130 million in 2021 and 2022 as travel restrictions remain in place and anticipated growth fails to materialise.

University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Paul Wellings on Thursday also revealed a shortfall of $90 million linked to COVID-19 restrictions, which he said would have "compounding effects for subsequent years".

Wollongong executive leadership will take a 20 per cent pay cut for 12 months and freeze non-essential external recruitment.

Professor Glover said WSU would compensate by increasing domestic student numbers and reducing expenditure, including by cutting its casual budget in semester two while courses were predominantly delivered online.

Casual staff will be prioritised for work on new six-month online courses created by the federal government's higher education relief package, but Professor Glover said the scheme did not "go far enough for the sector at the moment".

"We don’t believe the Commonwealth has done enough to support international students," he said, noting WSU was considering reducing fees for international students.

But Professor Glover said the University of Sydney and UNSW were in a more difficult predicament, facing budget shortfalls of $470 million and $600 million respectively this year.

Sydney University's arts and social science faculty has been told to cut its courses by almost a third next semester to reduce the cost of casual staff as revenue plummets due to COVID-19.

Academics have been asked to target courses that were not essential to the progress of a degree, even if students had already enrolled in them.

Resources needed to be focused on core units to focus on the quality of subjects still on offer, and to save money "to ameliorate the impact of a downturn on staffing into 2021", one school within the faculty was told in an email. "The 30 per cent reduction will have impacts on student choice, staff teaching and the availability of casual work."

A report compiled by the University of NSW Casuals Network showed that one in three casuals at the university had lost work this month, costing them an average of $626 a week, and 42 per cent were working unpaid hours.

Higher education workers do not qualify for the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme.

A spokeswoman for Sydney University said the reduction of courses offered by the arts and social sciences faculty was unrelated to COVID-19, and was designed to ensure the school could "operate sustainably in the medium to long term".

The university had also asked managers to look at workloads. "We anticipate we will contract fewer casual teachers for semester two than previously projected. To date, we have no plans to terminate anyone’s employment," she said.