Saturday, May 09, 2020

The Nation's Report Card
The Department of Education just released results of the quadrennial National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in U.S. history, civics and geography given in 2018 to thousands of American eighth-graders: “Grade 8 Students’ NAEP Scores Decline in Geography and U.S. History; Results in Civics Unchanged Since 2014.”

The tests were administered from January to March 2018 to a nationally representative sample of 42,700 eighth-graders from about 780 schools. The news is not very good. Only 24% of students performed at or above the “proficient” level in civics. Worse yet, only 15% scored proficient or above in American history and 25% were proficient in geography. At least 25% of America’s eighth-graders are what NAEP defines as “below basic” in U.S. history, civics and geography. That means they have no understanding of historical and civic issues and cannot point out basic locations on a map.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos referred to the recent national report card as “stark and inexcusable.” She blamed “antiquated” education methods for low test scores among the nation’s eighth-graders. That’s nonsense. I’d bet the rent money that eighth-grade students of earlier periods, say during the 1920s, ‘30s and '40s who were burdened with “antiquated” education methods such as having to learn algebra and geometry, identifying parts of speech and memorizing poems like “Old Ironsides” could run circles around today’s eighth-graders, high school graduates and perhaps some college graduates. I think we need to bring back these authentically antiquated education methods.

Part of the solution to our education problem is given by Dr. Jeffrey Sikkenga, professor of political science and executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. He said: “Students need to go back to America’s past and ask it questions, starting with our Founding. They need to study great documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s 'Gettysburg Address,’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Not just read about them in boring textbooks, but read the documents themselves, for themselves. Have great conversations with those great minds — discover for themselves the story of America in the words of those who lived it.”

The school climate, seldom discussed, plays a very important role in education. During the 2017-18 school year, there were an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 65% reported having at least one nonviolent incident. Schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement officer. About 90% of those law enforcement officers carry firearms.

I bet that decades ago, one would be hard put to find either armed or unarmed police officers patrolling the building. For example, between 1950 and 1954, I attended Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia. The only time we saw a police officer in the building was during an assembly where we had to listen to a boring lecture on safety. Today, police patrol the hallways. Another school in north Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion High School, once had 94 security cameras, six school police officers and two metal detectors. Students had to walk through the metal detectors to enter the building and were often searched by police officers. It was on the list of those most persistently dangerous schools in Pennsylvania.

Aside from violence, there are many instances of outright disrespect for teachers. First- and second-graders telling teachers to “Shut the f-— up” and calling teachers “bitch.” To note the attitude of some school administrators, a New Jersey teacher was seriously assaulted by a student. When she asked her principal to permanently remove the student from her classroom, the principal told her to “put on her big girl panties and deal with it.”

Years ago, the behavior of young people that we see today would have never been tolerated. There was the vice principal’s office where corporal punishment would be administered for gross infractions. If the kid was unwise enough to tell his parents what happened, he might get more punishment at home. Today, unfortunately, we’ve replaced practices that work with practices that sound good and caring, and we’re witnessing the results.


As Budgets Tighten, Colleges Still Vulnerable to Ransomware

Colleges and universities around the country are proving to be easy prey to hackers with ransom demands. In Massachusetts, Cape Cod Community College was defrauded of $800,000 last year, while Colorado’s Regis University paid an undisclosed amount to regain access to their files after a ransomware attack—and still did not get access back.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that, once it infects a computer system, allows attackers to lock out victims until they pay a ransom to regain access. With budgets getting tighter for public and private colleges in the wake of the coronavirus, funding IT security could slip through the cracks.

In many ways, a college is an ideal target for hackers. Even a small one has hundreds of people connecting to its network, and many campuses have old machines with out-of-date software used by students and the public. It only takes one person clicking on the wrong email to compromise the entire system. Colleges are “a prime environment for these attacks,” Jared Phipps, a cybersecurity expert, told Inside Higher Ed.

When a college’s IT system gets compromised, the ransom amount can vary considerably. When the admissions-tracking system at Grinnell, Oberlin, and Hamilton Colleges (which they share) was hacked, aspiring freshmen were offered the chance to see their files for around $4,000, which was later discounted to $60.

In contrast, when for-profit Monroe College was the victim of a ransomware attack, hackers demanded $2 million. Crowder College in Missouri saw a similarly high price tag of $1.6 million to regain control of its system. The University of Calgary and Carleton University in Canada and Los Angeles Valley College paid ransomware demands that cost the schools up to $35,000, according to the cybersecurity company Acronis.

Not all schools that get attacked are naïve about the threat of hackers, either. The Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey is known for the strength of its cybersecurity courses, but hackers still attempted to infiltrate its system. Stevens, however, was able to stop their system from being compromised.

When a college gets attacked, it can attract a lot of media attention, but post-secondary institutions are not the only targets. Around 500 K-12 schools in the United States, Zdnet noted, were affected by cyberattacks through September of last year, including 15 public school districts comprising over 100 schools. After three public school districts in Louisiana were victimized, Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency so the state could access federal funds and resources to shore up their IT security.

When a school succumbs to an attack, cybersecurity experts recommend not paying ransoms, according to the University of California-Berkeley Information Security Office. If schools do pay, experts worry that successful attacks will encourage hackers to target more places with vulnerable IT systems. The hard lesson of experience also cautions colleges not to cave: as Regis University showed, even if a school pays, they don’t always get access restored.

What college leaders need to do, according to UC-Berkeley, is to create a contingency plan in case a ransomware attack succeeds.

Schools should maintain separate file backups and have a recovery plan in place. They also need to keep operating systems and antivirus software up-to-date and restrict users’ permissions to install software. Multifactor authentication, where someone logging in needs to enter a code sent to another email or their phone after entering their password, can also reduce a system’s vulnerability to attacks, as Inside Higher Ed noted. Colleges need to take steps to make a successful attack less likely, but they can’t count on prevention to always work.

The number of attacks appears to increase over the year and cluster around the beginning of the school year, Zdnet noted. However, determining the number of attacks that target educational institutions is almost impossible, as no one tracks the number of attempted or failed attacks (if they’re even detected), and the number of attacks often depends on who is doing the counting.

For example, one cybersecurity firm counted 500 attacks while another reported over 1,000. For example, Armor reported 72 attacks affecting 1,039 schools in 2019 while Emsisoft reported 89 attacks affecting 1,233 schools.

Though difficult to track, the federal government is taking cybersecurity increasingly seriously. Last year, Congress passed a bill requiring the Department of Homeland Security to establish Cyber Incident Response Teams, which became law in December. It created “a permanent group of security specialists that agencies and industry could call on when their IT infrastructure gets compromised,” journalist Jack Corrigan noted. The CIR teams have the potential to help colleges who face IT attacks they can’t weather on their own, though Congress won’t have any data on the teams’ effectiveness for four years (when the Department of Homeland Security is required to provide a report).

While the federal government is taking cybersecurity seriously and requesting $18.8 billion for it for 2021, including $2.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. State and local governments and affected schools are putting less money into this critical area.

Many state and local governments don’t have dedicated cybersecurity budgets, and the news isn’t much better at colleges or universities. According to the 2019 Campus Computing Survey, 67 percent of college IT directors said that their budgets haven’t recovered from cuts made after the 2008 recession. Without increased budgets, government and college IT departments can’t retain employees for long, resulting in lost productivity from constantly training replacements.

Some schools that have been affected by cyberattacks and ransomware have learned from their mistakes and taken action. Regis University not only rebuilt its computer systems but merged its Anderson College of Business with the College of Computer and Information Sciences because the process revealed that students could benefit from understanding how a large organization is managed and relies on information technology, according to a Regis press release.

Their ransomware attack has also given them the opportunity to turn media attention into a marketing opportunity. Earlier this year, it hosted a cybersecurity conference called “Stronger Together” that focused on prevention strategies to stop cyberattacks. The conference’s main theme was that it’s only a matter of time before a business, institution, or government agency is affected by a cyberattack.

As colleges become ever more reliant on the internet and the number of devices on campus increases, providing more ways for malevolent actors to cause chaos, college leaders need to consider how they’ll react in a crisis.


Australia: Universities in turmoil as dirty little secrets come out

These are tumultuous times for Australian universities. This week alone, at the University of Adelaide, the vice-chancellor has taken “indefinite leave” and the chancellor has resigned. In unrelated moves, other VCs signalled their intent to move on even before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Michael Spence is leaving the top job at the University of Sydney at the end of the year. There are departures by other university leaders, including at the University of Queensland.

Is it foolish to hope for different, improved leadership at our major universities? Certainly, if incoming VCs are smart, they will turn their attention to domestic students who have long been ignored in favour of cash cows in China. But to understand what stands in the way of providing Australian students with an excellent university education, one needs to first understand the entrenched problems at our biggest tertiary institutions.

This week, Inquirer spoke to someone who knows first-hand how universities are run, what their motivations are and what has gone wrong in the past 15 years. This insider, a high-flying professor of media and communications, says Australia’s major universities essentially are run by two people. Their names are Joe Stalin and John Elliott.

The communist dictator needs no introduction. But Elliott might; the rambunctious Australian businessman became famous in the 1970s and 80s for his aggressive pursuit of money and for not giving a “pig’s arse” about his critics.

The professor is speaking only slightly tongue in cheek when she says universities are beholden to the worst forms of authoritarianism and laissez-faire economics.

Before unravelling that, first understand that this prominent professor says she would normally put her name to what she tells Inquirer “in a heartbeat”. Except for one thing: “I would get sacked,” she says. “My contract says that I cannot bring my university into disrepute so if I put my name to this, my job would be in jeopardy. And I have a mortgage to pay.”

Put another way, these are escape clauses for poorly run universities to avoid scrutiny by people in the know.

But back to Stalin and Elliott. Stalin’s authoritarian fist was particularly evident in a tutorial room at the University of Technology Sydney for first-year communications students. A few weeks ago, a young student — we will call him David, as he doesn’t want to get blackballed by university administrators — decided to quit his communications degree. He sent a thoughtful and honest email to his lecturer and tutor explaining why. He said he hoped the feedback would be used in a constructive way so future students might discover intellectual curiosity rather than authoritarian censorship.

David wrote that he “found the course and tutor extremely prescriptive in opinion, presenting very niche ideological standpoints as absolute objective fact, (and) this was reinforced by a proactive effort by you to shut down any opposing point of view. Anytime I suggested anything that went against the consensus, I was shut down and even laughed at.” The young law student says he enrolled in communications expecting respectful, philosophical discussions about our political systems. It didn’t turn out that way.

Going by David’s experience, tutorials should be renamed dictatorials about identity politics, victimhood and shame. Instead of encouraging students to think, listen, learn and discuss issues, the tutorial room in David’s communications degree became a place where his different views were mocked and ignored as “inherent ignorance (from) a white male”.

Speaking to Inquirer this week, he said even putting aside the silly politics of the course, what are students going to do with guff about the whole world being a battleground where every smaller group is oppressed by a “dominant group”? Maybe get a job at the ABC?

“Never in my entire life did I expect to be alienated from class discussion because of my skin colour or my gender, especially in a class supposedly attempting to break down such barriers. I cannot believe that in this day and age my identity was held paramount in deciding if I was correct, not what I had to say. I wonder what the response would have been had I suggested a fellow student’s opinion was inherently invalid purely because she was female,” David wrote to his lecturer. The lecturer wrote a cursory response, saying she was pleased that he was able to withdraw without incurring course costs.

Monolithic thinking is dangerous, particularly at universities. If tutorials cannot accommodate a genuine diversity of views, including those of David, then universities don’t deserve a dime from taxpayers.

Alas, it’s not just little Stalins running dictatorials who are dumbing down a university education for Australian students.

As the professor of media and communications tells Inquirer, the greedy corporatist agenda of university administrators, relying on a gravy train of international students, mostly from mainland China, is also lowering standards at universities that crow about their rankings.

She says chasing fees from international students has been under way for 15 years, with foreign agents acting for our universities to arrange “huge parties and junkets” for potential overseas students and also the “doctoring” of English language tests. The professor says she has seen hundreds of foreign students arrive with band 6 scores — meaning competent — on the standardised speech, reading and writing tests known as the International English Language Testing System. She would give them no more than a band 3, which is “extremely limited” according to IELTS.

These results have big ramifications for foreign students who are out of their depth, struggling in a foreign country away from families, without the skills to learn properly. And the consequences for local students are equally poor.

“Masters and postgraduate students’ programs, which are the money-spinners to attract foreign students, have been dumbed down often to a point where the standards expected are below that of what we expect of undergraduate students,” she says.

While her heart goes out to struggling foreign students, she says students with insufficient English language skills mean “domestic students are frequently irritated, particularly with group assignments. They are paying a lot of money for a postgraduate course and many definitely feel they are not challenged enough.”

These dirty little secrets about foreign cash cows and dumbed-down courses, previously whispered about among lecturers and students, deserve to be exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic as the tap of money from international students dries up.

“Without in anyway being xenophobic, reliance on international students is the wrong answer. It’s an add-on, that’s all. We should be really focusing on how we educate Australians, and thinking about what we need to build a strong economy and society,” says the professor.

Our best universities could start the post-COVID reform process by treating domestic students better. One young man recently reapplied to enrol in a full-fee masters program at one of Australia’s grandest sandstone universities. His marks were a tiny fraction away from the entry mark for the course. Within minutes of sending a thoughtful and polite email seeking admission, explaining special circumstances that would have lifted his score over the threshold, he was effectively told to rack off.

Smart businesses wouldn’t be so brazenly rude and dismissive about new full-fee paying customers when they are running under capacity because of the economic lockdown. Our small businesses are eagerly trying to attract customers in new ways, adapting wherever they can. But our cashed-up major universities run by overpaid VCs have grown arrogant and complacent. They would rather go cap in hand to the federal government pleading for more taxpayer money after they have raked in Chinese money to fund research papers to bump up their rankings to attract more foreign students. All the while they have dumbed-down standards, leaving local students without a quality education. It’s a disgrace.

Having worked in Australian universities for 20 years, at very senior levels, the professor says “the level of bureaucracy is insane, the systems are not serving … the students. It’s a plague on our house.”

Perhaps when our politicians, who collect taxes and spend our money on our behalf, understand what has gone wrong at our major universities, VCs of taxpayer-funded universities will feel a moral imperative to step up with better leadership, improve standards and ensure that Australian students are getting the very best education.


Friday, May 08, 2020

Closing schools for covid-19 does lifelong harm and widens inequality

In the streets of Amsterdam children spend the “corona holiday” whizzing around on scooters; their peers in Madrid are mostly stuck at home with video games; those in Dakar look after younger siblings. The one place they are not is at school. Over three-quarters of the world’s roughly 1.5bn schoolchildren are barred from the classroom, according to UNESCO, a UN agency. In most of China and in South Korea they have not darkened school doors since January. In Portugal and California they will not return before September.

Schools have striven to remain open during wars, famines and even storms. The extent and length of school closures now happening in the rich world are unprecedented. The costs are horrifying. Most immediately, having to take care of children limits the productivity of parents. But in the long run that will be dwarfed by the amount of lost learning. Those costs will fall most heavily on those children who are most in need of education. Without interventions the effects could last a lifetime.

For these reasons Singapore in 2003 cut its month-long June holiday by two weeks to make up for a fortnight of school closures during the SARS epidemic. Closing schools even briefly hurts children’s prospects. In America third-graders (seven-year-olds) affected by weather-related closures do less well in state exams. French-speaking Belgian students hit by a two-month teachers’ strike in 1990 were more likely to repeat a grade, and less likely to complete higher education, than similar Flemish-speaking students not affected by the strike. According to some studies, over the long summer break young children in America lose between 20% and 50% of the skills they gained over the school year.

Closures will hurt the youngest schoolchildren most. “You can make up for lost maths with summer school. But you can’t easily do that with the stuff kids learn very young,” says Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University. Social and emotional skills such as critical thinking, perseverance and self-control are predictors of many things, from academic success and employment to good health and the likelihood of going to jail. Whereas older children can be plonked in front of a computer, younger ones learn far more when digital study is supervised by an adult.

Then there are those who are missing crucial exams. Germany is reopening schools for final-year high-school students who face exams soon. But most countries are not willing to do that. China has postponed its Leaving Certificate exam (GAOKAO) until July. Britain and France have cancelled this year’s exams. Grades will in part be decided by teachers’ predictions of how a student might have performed. This fuels fears about inequality, as some experts worry teachers unconsciously discriminate against disadvantaged children and give them unfairly low marks.

Statistics Norway estimates “conservatively” that the country’s educational shutdowns—from crèches to high schools—are costing NKr1,809 ($173) per child each day. Most of that is an estimate of how much less today’s schoolchildren will earn in the future because their education has been disrupted. (It is assumed they are learning roughly half of what they normally would.) The rest is lost parental productivity today.

Of course schooling has not stopped completely, as it does during holidays. Nearly nine in ten affected rich countries are providing some form of distance-learning (compared with fewer than one in four poor countries). But video-conferencing has its limits. For poorer children, internet connections may be ropey. Devices may have to be shared and homes may be overcrowded or noisy. Of the poorest quarter of American children, one in four does not have access to a computer at home.

Less well-off children everywhere are less likely to have well-educated parents who coax them to attend remote lessons and help them with their work. In Britain more than half of pupils in private schools are taking part in daily online classes, compared with just one in five of their peers in state schools, according to the Sutton Trust, a charity (private schools are more likely to offer such lessons). In the first weeks of the lockdown some American schools reported that over a third of their students had not even logged in to the school system, let alone attended classes. Meanwhile, elite schools report nearly full attendance and the rich have hired teachers as full-time tutors.

Ashley Farris, an English teacher at Kipp high school in Denver, Colorado, says several of “her” kids are virtual truants. Her school worked hard to get students computers and Wi-Fi access, but the digital gap is only part of the story. Some must work to make up for parents’ lost wages. Others must look after younger siblings.

Closures in Britain could increase the gap in school performance between children on school meals (a proxy for economic disadvantage) and those not on school meals, fears Becky Francis of the Education Endowment Foundation, another charity. Over the past decade the gap, measured by grades in tests, has narrowed by roughly 10%, but she thinks school closures could, at the very least, reverse this progress. At least over summer, teachers are not on tap for anyone. In the current lockdown some students can still quench their thirst for education not just with highly educated parents but also with teachers; others will have access to neither.

Primary school is normally a crucial opportunity for gaps that emerged in early-years development to start narrowing, or at least to stop widening. That opportunity is now being missed. For a glimpse of the cost to the unluckiest young children, consider the Perry pre-school project of the 1960s, a study conducted in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which found that a control group of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not attend pre-school suffered lifelong consequences.

Mr Doepke estimates that by the autumn the sizeable group of American children whose learning loss started when schools closed might have lost as much as a year’s learning. Since every year of education is associated with an increase in annual earnings of roughly 10%, the consequences for those children become clear. “I fear we will see further inequality and less social mobility if nothing is done,” he adds.

What can be done to limit the costs? Finland started distance learning only when it was satisfied that almost every child would be able to take part. South Korea extended its school holiday to prepare teachers and distribute devices where needed. “For my school of 1,000 students, just 13 borrowed tablets because they had several siblings in their house,” says Hyunsu Hwang, an English teacher at Inmyung Girls High School, in Incheon. Teachers now use a mixture of real-time interactive classes, pre-recorded material and homework-based digital classes. When schools began to reopen on April 9th, official attendance was 98%.

School systems where children are used to having to teach themselves will do better, reckons Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, a club of rich countries. “The real issue is if you’ve been spoon-fed by a teacher every day and are now told to go it alone, what will motivate you?” In Estonia and Japan students are used to “self-regulated activities” ; across the OECD the share is nearly 40%. But in countries such as France and Spain, such autonomy is rare.

In the end, the only way to ensure all children get an education is to reopen the doors. At the Alan Turing primary school in Amsterdam, it quickly became clear that 28 of its 190 pupils could not take part in online classes. The school now opens its doors for 15 from this group three mornings a week and has found other ways to help the remaining 13, such as arranging for them to get assistance from their neighbours. “At first it felt like we were doing something illegal,” says Eva Naaijkens, the headmistress, “but how can you accept a situation where a number of children just drop out?” She estimates that, working remotely, her teachers can impart perhaps 40% of the education they would normally.

As well as letting final-year secondary-school students facing exams resume classes, Denmark has also begun to reopen crèches and primary schools. It has made a priority of the very young for several reasons. The early stage of learning is crucial. The burden toddlers place on parents is heavy. And the risk of young kids getting or spreading the virus appears low.

Around the world many parents will be hoping their children’s schools can also safely reopen soon. Some children may have mixed feelings about swapping extra Xbox time for geography lessons. Tough luck: holidays have to end sometime. For the future well-being of whippersnappers scooting around the streets of Amsterdam, it is good news that Dutch primary schools will partially reopen on May 11th.


The Nation’s Report Card Shows a Sorry State for Eighth-Graders

The Department of Education just released results of the quadrennial National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in U.S. history, civics, and geography given in 2018 to thousands of American eighth-graders: “Grade 8 Students’ NAEP Scores Decline in Geography and U.S. History; Results in Civics Unchanged Since 2014.”

The tests were administered from January to March 2018 to a nationally representative sample of 42,700 eighth-graders from about 780 schools. The news is not very good.

Only 24% of students performed at or above the “proficient” level in civics. Worse yet, only 15% scored proficient or above in American history and 25% were proficient in geography. At least 25% of America’s eighth-graders are what NAEP defines as “below basic” in U.S. history, civics, and geography.

That means they have no understanding of historical and civic issues and cannot point out basic locations on a map.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos referred to the recent national report card as “stark and inexcusable.” She blamed “antiquated” education methods for low test scores among the nation’s eighth-graders. That’s nonsense.

I’d bet the rent money that eighth-grade students of earlier periods, say during the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s who were burdened with “antiquated” education methods such as having to learn algebra and geometry, identifying parts of speech, and memorizing poems like “Old Ironsides” could run circles around today’s eighth-graders, high school graduates, and perhaps some college graduates. I think we need to bring back these authentically antiquated education methods.

Part of the solution to our education problem is given by Jeffrey Sikkenga, professor of political science and executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. He said:

Students need to go back to America’s past and ask it questions, starting with our founding. They need to study great documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address,’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Not just read about them in boring textbooks, but read the documents themselves, for themselves. Have great conversations with those great minds—discover for themselves the story of America in the words of those who lived it.

The school climate, seldom discussed, plays a very important role in education. During the 2017-18 school year, there were an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents in U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 65% reported having at least one nonviolent incident.

Schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement officer. About 90% of those law enforcement officers carry firearms.

I bet that decades ago, one would be hard put to find either armed or unarmed police officers patrolling the building. For example, between 1950 and 1954, I attended Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia. The only time we saw a police officer in the building was during an assembly where we had to listen to a boring lecture on safety. Today, police patrol the hallways.

Another school in north Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion High School, once had 94 security cameras, six school police officers, and two metal detectors. Students had to walk through the metal detectors to enter the building and were often searched by police officers. It was on the list of those most persistently dangerous schools in Pennsylvania.

Aside from violence, there are many instances of outright disrespect for teachers. First- and second-graders telling teachers to “Shut the f— up” and calling teachers “bitch.” To note the attitude of some school administrators, a New Jersey teacher was seriously assaulted by a student. When she asked her principal to permanently remove the student from her classroom, the principal told her to “put on her big girl panties and deal with it.”

Years ago, the behavior of young people that we see today would have never been tolerated. There was the vice principal’s office where corporal punishment would be administered for gross infractions. If the kid was unwise enough to tell his parents what happened, he might get more punishment at home.

Today, unfortunately, we’ve replaced practices that work with practices that sound good and caring, and we’re witnessing the results.


Coronavirus Australia: Parents shut-out of QLD school grounds

Queensland parents won’t be allowed onto school grounds to deliver young children to their classrooms from next week.

The state will begin a staged return to normal school operations from Monday, with the coronavirus crisis easing.

The first to return will be students in prep, and years one, 11 and 12, along with kids at kindy.

All other grades will return a fortnight later, on May 25, as long as the initial test run goes smoothly.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the staged return should be safe, as long as there are robust protocols to prevent the virus from spreading again.

“The parents won’t be able to go into the school gates,” she told the Seven Network. “(Schools) will be putting in place very clearly where parents can drop off the kids.

“They will leave the car, go in the front gate. For the junior years, we need to make sure they’re as close as possible to the classrooms.”

School staff will have to maintain the 1.5m social distancing rule. But that’s not true for students when they are inside classrooms because it’s been deemed impractical.

For now, there’s no plan to reopen boarding schools, after Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she’d not yet been able to envisage safe protocols to limit risks from things like communal eating and showering areas.

The Queensland Teachers Union says staff face a frantic time to prepare classrooms, work on lesson plans, deliver remote learning, and supervise kids who are still in school - all at the same time.

Other challenges include the absence of teachers who are either vulnerable themselves, or who care for people who are. “That’s several thousand workers that won’t be available,” Mr Bates told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“These are the issues we’re going to have to work out over the next four days.”

The premier has already said it will be at least June before Queensland’s borders, restaurants and cafes reopen, given active hot spots in NSW.

But talks will begin this week with the hospitality sector about when a return to more normal trading might occur.

“June’s a good ambitious target … I can’t say whether it’s early June or late June,” the premier said yesterday.

Queensland has recorded three more coronavirus cases to take the state’s tally to 1038. The new cases relate to people who had recently returned from London and Los Angeles while another had been on an overseas cruise.

Of the 1038 confirmed cases, just 52 are active with 46 located in southeast Queensland.


Thursday, May 07, 2020

If Academia Gets a Bailout, It Should Come With These Conditions

The coronavirus pandemic threatens America’s colleges and universities with a catastrophe. The higher education establishment wants the federal government to save them—but they want the money so they can continue to waste money on useless administrators, train students to hate America, and facilitate the extension of Chinese soft power into our country.

America’s students have suffered long enough from our predatory colleges and gone into debt to pay for hollow credentials. Hard-working students shouldn’t be made to suffer further because of the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, there’s enough good left in our colleges that they’re worth saving. But we shouldn’t support students or colleges with a blank check.

We should target our help to the neediest students—and our schools have to reform themselves.

The National Association of Scholars has just published Critical Care, which lists a series of reforms that America’s universities should undertake as a condition of receiving coronavirus bailout funds from the federal government. Our senators and representatives can use Critical Care as a guideline to marry generosity and high expectations toward our colleges and students.

Above all, regular bailout recipients must cut administrative overhead by 50%. Small colleges, with fewer than 1,000 students, must cut administrative overhead by 10%. The higher education establishment will fire professors wholesale and cut student aid to the bone before they voluntarily fire one administrator. Congress must insist that colleges slash administrative spending.

Bailout recipients also need to support the generation of students who have gone into debt-serfdom for the hollow credential of a B.A. Colleges taking taxpayer relief must establish student loan buyback programs and extend students’ new loans at low, capped interest rates. These colleges will also have to accept partial responsibility for student loan defaults. They must also cease to give college credit for remedial courses, which give students debt and no prospect of a good job.

Congress should tie bailout funds to real priorities, so colleges don’t divert them to hiring another Diversity Dean. Congress should reserve bailout money to provide payroll support for faculty and graduate students in practical disciplines critical to national security, such as emergency medicine, pulmonary disease, and virology. It should also reserve bailout money for apprenticeships and faculty payroll support in vocational education for vital careers such as medical assistant, laboratory technician, and police officer. Congress should also direct relief funds to community colleges, which provide the democratic backbone for America’s higher education.

America’s colleges and universities have drifted scandalously from the pluralistic search for truth toward narrow-minded “progressive” illiberalism, they hire their administrators and faculty from a tiny band of “social justice” zealots, and they wink their eyes at mob violence to enforce campus orthodoxy. Schools that receive bailout funds will need to guarantee student and faculty liberty. Congress should require all bailed-out colleges to protect intellectual freedom and due process. Congress should further require public universities to guarantee students’ and faculty’s First Amendment rights, as well as intellectual diversity and institutional neutrality. There’s no point giving money to colleges that have turned themselves into finishing schools for trust-fund antifa.

American universities have also drifted scandalously away from one of their core missions—to educate young Americans and to serve the American national interest. They must refocus on educating American students by limiting both the number of foreign students they accept and the amount of tuition they receive from foreign sources. They must cut off all connections with China, America’s great and hostile rival, above all by ending any connection with Confucius Institutes or the Thousand Talents Program. They must prohibit “sanctuary campus” policies, cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies, and cease to hire or admit illegal aliens. Colleges that receive bailout money must rededicate themselves to their civic mission.

America’s richest universities must pay their own way. The 100 wealthiest private colleges and universities, each of which has an endowment of more than $600 million, should not receive any bailout money from the federal government.

The National Association of Scholars offers Critical Care as a first word. We expect the vigorous free debates of the American public and American policymakers will improve it. But we strongly believe that any bailout of American higher education ought to possess conditions at least this rigorous.

The American people are generous to their schools. But they should only be generous to colleges and universities that are prudent stewards of their money, defenders of American national interests, and guarantors of liberty.

Critical Care outlines what our colleges and universities should do to deserve the taxpayer’s dime.


Alaska’s snowflake school board

Its banning of The Great Gatsby reminds us that censorious college kids didn’t spring from nowhere

Some snowflakes in the US have decided that classic works by F Scott Fitzgerland, Maya Angelou, Joseph Heller, Ralph Ellison and others are unsuitable to be read by students and must be immediately removed from the curriculum. Only this time we’re not talking about pimpled college kids, saying that words on a page are acts of violence against them and that their mental safety is threatened by having to read great literature.

This is censorship of a more quaint vintage – news that an Alaskan school board has pulled from its classrooms Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Heller’s Catch-22 and Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings over their supposedly inappropriate content. In particular, they’re upset about ‘sexual references’ (Gatsby); ‘bad language’ (Invisible Man); ‘racial slurs’ and ‘violence’ (Catch-22); and ‘“anti-white” messaging’ (Caged Bird).

The school board of Mat-Su Borough in Alaska voted by five to two this week to pull the titles from the curriculum. ‘The question is why this is acceptable in one environment and not another’, school board vice-president Jim Hart said at the meeting. He added that it would not be seen as acceptable ‘if I were to read these in a corporate environment’. Well, maybe. But that would probably have less to do with the content of the books and more to do with him insisting on reading on the job.

Much like his kindred spirits on campus, Hart presented these books as a threat to the mental health of students in the district, arguing that it would be unfair to expect teachers to guide students through the potential mental anguish of reading them. ‘These are teachers, not counsellors’, he said. And much like every other act of petty censorship, the move has spectacularly backfired. Local bookstores reportedly sold out of the titles within hours of the announcement, and the local teachers’ union has said it will fight the decision.

School boards, libraries and parents’ groups taking offence at literature and agitating for it to be banned is, of course, nothing new. The justifications for such censorship have just changed a bit over time. In the 1880s, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by Concord Public Library in Massachusetts over its ‘coarse’ vernacular language. By the 1980s, it was being removed from school curricula due to its use of ‘racial language’ (namely, its frequent use of the n-word).

The range of books raged against over the years serves as a reminder that you can be offended by anything if you just put your mind to it. In 2001, some fundamentalist Christians tried to stage an actual book-burning of that ‘Satanic’ Harry Potter series. And in 2012, the Hunger Games trilogy came top of the American Library Association’s list of books people tried hardest to ban that year, in this case due to its allegedly ‘anti-family’ messages and violence.

But despite the more old-school, pearl-clutching feel to the Alaska story, the justifications for the bans were remarkably similar to those now made for more ‘woke’ forms of censorship. Once would-be censors presented certain books or films as morally damaging – as encouraging bad ideas, bad language and sexual impropriety. Now, they present them as mentally damaging, so much so you apparently need a counsellor to help you through them. In a similar vein, college students have in recent years called for the likes Gatsby and Huck Finn to be slapped with ‘trigger warnings’ to protect the ‘emotional safety’ of vulnerable students.

Woke censors might like to see themselves as more edgy than the uptight ‘think of the children’ types of past (and present), but they are actually pretty similar. Indeed, both share a remarkably low view of human beings and a remarkably philistine view of literature. In turn, while many tend to think that pious intolerance is a largely new twentysomething, leftish phenomenon, college kids clearly haven’t plucked their censorious ideas out of thin air. Snowflakes, we’d do well to remember, come in all shapes and sizes.


Australia: Pro-China University bullies student critic

The University of Queensland is going to extraordinary lengths to silence its most effective critic, a 20-year-old philosophy student who has campaigned against the university’s tight links with the Chinese Communist Party.

Drew Pavlou came to public attention in July last year when, while leading a protest in support of Hong Kong democracy activists, he was assaulted by men who gave every impression of being heavies working for the Chinese state.

He then was targeted by a torrent of online hate and death threats from patriotic Chinese students. China’s consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, praised the violence, drawing a rebuke from Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Pavlou decided to seek a protection order against the consul-general through the courts.

Pavlou’s safety was threatened further when China’s state media vilified him, in effect giving official blessing to patriotic thuggery. He was no longer safe on campus.

How has the university responded to these events, surely one of the most worrying assaults on free speech?

None of the pro-Beijing students or the thugs who assaulted Pavlou has been disciplined. Xu, whom UQ had appointed an adjunct professor, appears to be as welcome as ever at the university.

Instead, irritated by Pavlou’s robust criticism, pranks and sarcasm, UQ seems to have decided to intimidate him into silence.

In February, Pavlou posted a mock Facebook announcement of a forthcoming “UQ Confucius Institute Panel: Why Uyghurs Must Be Exterminated”. A bit of undergraduate humour? Not for the mandarins at UQ.

University lawyers Clayton Utz wrote a letter to Pavlou that itself reads like a prank. It accused him of “making false statements” because, in fact, the Confucius Institute has no involvement with “the alleged event”. There follows a page and a half listing the rules and by-laws it claims he has viol­ated, and ends menacingly: if he fails to remove the post and will not agree to refrain from making “false and misleading” statements, then the university “reserves the right to commence proceedings”.

Pavlou complied with the first demand. But then UQ sought the nuclear option. On April 9, the disciplinary board delivered a 186-page document detailing 11 charges. Pavlou has been summoned to a secret meeting at which, if he cannot explain himself, he can expect to be expelled.

Most of the allegations are trivial to the point of risible. UQ somehow manages to construe jokes, obvious hoaxes and social media badinage as forms of harassment and bullying or acts that prejudice its reputation. It’s true Pavlou’s activism is often provocative and his criticisms sharp, at times over the top, but whatever case the disciplinary board might have had is vitiated by the series of frivolous allegations against him, the effect of which is to indicate the board itself is engaged in harassment and bullying.

The first allegation is that he used a rude word on Facebook (closely monitored by the university) to describe students enrolled in the bachelor of advanced finance and economics. The university claims this constitutes “discriminatory, harassing or bullying behaviour … towards these students”.

It is laughable. Can they produce one student among several hundred aspiring corporate executives who read Pavlou’s Facebook page and felt discriminated against, harassed or bullied? If they could, would anyone take them seriously?

Pavlou deleted his mock “Why Uyghurs Must Be Exterminated” announcement but the university won’t let it go. It claims “a member of the public” (either a fool or a satirist) complained the planned event was “absolutely disgustingly racist and fascist” and they’d be there to protest, and claims Pavlou’s post harmed the university’s reputation by “indicating to the public that UQ supports an ‘extermination’ of the Uyghur people”.

Seriously. One begins to suspect that Pavlou has a secret sympathiser on the board conspiring to make the “allegation notice” so outlandish as to be laughed out of court.

But the next allegation takes a more sinister turn. It’s alleged that Pavlou was guilty of behaviour that “unreasonably disrupted staff or students” when at 12.30pm “on or about 26 February 2020” he took a pen from a shelf at the university stationery shop, wrote something with it, put the pen back and left the shop paying only for three sheets of card.

This kind of surveillance and reporting to authorities has more in common with Beijing’s Orwellian social credit system than what we’d expect on an Australian campus. It’s clear that someone high up at UQ decided, through exasperation or vindictiveness, to “throw the book at Pavlou”.

If UQ wants to counter criticism of its China links it has vast resources with which to do so openly, both within the university and more broadly. Instead, it has set up a kangaroo court hoping to browbeat an undergraduate into submission or to expel him.

In the context of UQ’s documented discomfort with Pavlou’s political activism — especially his highlighting of links between the university, its vice-chancellor and various agencies of the Chinese Communist Party — the threat of expulsion can be read only as an attempt to silence legitimate political activism on the campus.


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Higher Education Must Serve a Higher Cause

Dulles, Virginia – Scott Zangas is in his junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, studying cyber security, but like most college students in America, he is doing so from home this semester. Scott’s father used to tell him to “hang on to your dreams.” It’s one of the few memories Scott has of his dad, Robert, a Marine who lost his life in Iraq 16 years ago. And the dream Robert had for his children, before he gave his life for our country, was that they would earn a college education that would help them realize their aspirations.

This week Freedom Alliance began our annual process of renewing college scholarships for nearly 500 students to whom we provide educational assistance. These scholarships will help students like Scott pursue their degree in the Fall semester, either on-line or on campus, depending on how their institutions respond to the coronavirus. But just as important, each scholarship honors the student’s parent who gave life or limb for our country.

Clearly, this has not been a typical spring semester. It was a major disappointment to students when they were told to pack up and go home in February and March. To be fair, it’s hard to fault schools for taking such drastic steps when the fear of community spread clashed with the reality of the dense population of students in classrooms, dorms and dining halls.

But since the initial decision to clear campuses, higher education trustees and administrators are sacrificing student interests and instead opting for self-preservation tactics, defending billion-dollar endowments, and instituting professor protection programs.

At Freedom Alliance, our scholarships are awarded to students like Scott – the sons and daughters of America’s military heroes. Their eligibility for our scholarship is the sacrifice their parent made for our country. Their parents lost limbs in vicious explosions. They lost motor skills as a result of traumatic brain injuries. They lost their lives defending us.

No promise was made to these heroes – they didn’t need one. They put their faith in us, their fellow Americans, that their families would be cared for should something happen to them. And for those whose kids are now in college, a better job can be done on their behalf as institutions of higher education progress on the COVID-19 front.

First, online instruction has its limits and should be viewed only as a temporary fix. In an informal survey Freedom Alliance conducted with our scholarship students, 81 percent said online classes have been implemented at their school “for the remainder of the school year.” But for many, virtual classes are an unwelcome change. “I hate online classes,” one student said. Another confessed web-based courses “are making life miserable,” and a third reported, “online studying is causing stress.” These comments align with a College Reaction/Axios poll conducted in April which found that 77% of college students say distance learning “is worse or much worse than in-person classes.”

Students want a quality education and value for their investment. “I did not sign up for online curriculum for good reason,” a displaced student explained in our Freedom Alliance survey. “The lectures are harder to follow, and it seems like professors are going through the motions. I do not feel like I am receiving anywhere near the quality of education I would normally receive in a classroom setting.”

Second, the frustration of having to take lower quality online courses, is compounded by being charged full tuition for a lesser product. Taking classes from their parents’ living room doesn’t provide the campus experience they paid for like office hours, access to professors or teaching assistants, study groups, libraries and labs.

At least a quarter of Freedom Alliance’s 500 scholarship students have majors which require lab work – subjects like nursing, engineering, biology, and others. The loss of lab time frustrates their ability to learn.

Third, students are being denied refunds for campus housing from which they were forced out. Clearly, at universities across America, Business and Ethics Departments are failing to coordinate with one another. Schools won’t refund room and board fees because administrators treat them the same way Congress treats Social Security – as a Ponzi scheme – spending the fees on unrelated costs. Instead, schools should deposit room and board fees in a reserve or escrow account until the service has been provided.

COVID-19 is forcing change on college campuses. As schools implement these changes, they should give customer service a higher priority. Is that such a hard lesson for academics to learn?


Bring education into the 21st century with flexibility for families

The COVID-19 crisis has severely affected the lives of virtually everyone, and K-12 families, students, and teachers have not been spared. It has become abundantly clear during this crisis that America’s K-12 system lacks the necessary flexibility and parent choice needed for our students to be successful in today’s world.

Homeschooling has become increasingly popular over the years. Before the pandemic, more than 2.5 million K-12 students were being homeschooled, and that number was growing at around 5% per year. Because of quarantines, millions of parents and students became instant homeschoolers, which was made more difficult because too many public school districts were slow or even reluctant to transition to online learning.

Initially, many school districts cited disability laws as a reason they couldn’t ramp up and conduct online learning. To her great credit, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos very quickly said that districts could not use disability laws as an excuse to avoid educating students and issued clarified federal guidance.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the nation’s largest school districts with 190,000 students, schools were closed on March 13. The district announced online learning would not even begin for another month. On April 14, the day it was to begin, the system crashed, and online learning was postponed.

It isn’t just the public school districts’ inability to transition effectively. According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet at home. That number is 30% for lower-income households. Overall, 17% of teenagers are unable to do some or all of their homework because they don’t have reliable access to a computer or the internet. This is known as the “homework gap.”

The CARES Act that Congress recently passed included a $30 billion Educational Stabilization Fund, with just over $13 billion for K-12 and the rest for higher education. Sadly, only a portion of the funds are intended for K-12 distance learning for students, although governors will have $3 billion in discretionary funds that can be applied in a number of ways to help directly with student learning.

Congress was right to appropriate funds for education during this crisis, but a substantial portion of those funds should have been in the form of direct aid to families, including lower-income families whose children attend private schools. Families could be using these funds for education technology and materials and ideally for summer courses so students will be better prepared to advance to the next grade in the fall.

It’s important to note that private school families should be a bigger concern for policymakers. There are 5.5 million students in private schools today. If all of these students were in public schools, the cost would be at least $75 billion annually. Of these 5.5 million students, conservatively, about 1.7 million are in lower-income families. Many of these families will struggle to pay tuition, putting the survival of too many private schools at serious risk. The closure of hundreds of private schools would be an absolute tragedy for families and students. Moreover, it would be a financial disaster for school districts that would have to spend billions of dollars absorbing additional students into the public system.

States are already hemorrhaging money because of the economic slowdown, and they should be thinking boldly about how they can maximize educational opportunity and quality during and after this crisis. For example, there are nearly 2 million available private school seats around the country, and the vast majority of these schools could successfully educate children for less than the average per-pupil expenditure in public schools. Providing a scholarship or an Education Savings Account for 80% of the per-pupil public school expenditure would save states tens of millions of dollars.

The teachers’ unions solution to the crisis is to ask for the moon and shovel a bunch of new money right into the status quo. Mind you, this is a status quo where nearly two-thirds of fourth and eighth-grade students are not proficient in reading or math and where families have to spend billions to remediate public high school graduates. The teachers’ unions have asked the federal government for an additional $200 billion in relief for education and another $100 billion for infrastructure. The more sensible approach for policymakers is to take the shackles off the K-12 system, pull it into the 21st century, and give families greater educational freedom, flexibility, and choice.

If additional federal funding for education is forthcoming, and if states want to ensure educational opportunity and quality in the face of budget challenges, policymakers must reject the status quo and consider bolder policies. What about creating federal or state Education Savings Accounts or microgrants controlled by families for educational purposes? What about tuition tax deductions for lower-income private school families? What about enacting Education Freedom Scholarships legislation and boosting the charitable deduction for individuals and corporations to fund them? What about taking a page from 2005, when Sen. Ted Kennedy worked with Republicans and the White House to provide vouchers for 150,000 displaced students as a result of Hurricane Katrina?

There are plenty of good ideas out there if policymakers at the federal and state level are willing to empower families in the face of this crisis. Now is the time to think boldly, put partisan divisions aside, and focus solely on what will help K-12 students.


Advocacy Group Reflects on Why More Parents Are Warming to Homeschooling

As stay-at-home orders have been issued across the country to contain the spread of coronavirus, many parents have found themselves in a role they never anticipated—serving as teacher.

Log on to any social media site and you are bound to run into parents sharing their wild tales from the sudden adjustment. And while it's been a shock to some, according to a recent survey by EdChoice, a majority now have a more favorable view of homeschooling, with 28 percent saying they have a "much more favorable" opinion and 24 percent having a "somewhat more favorable" view.

This is welcome news to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the oldest and largest advocate for homeschool freedom in America, which has seen a "tremendous amount of interest" recently, Jim Mason, HSLDA's Vice President of Litigation and Development, told Townhall.

To assist parents during this time of transition, HSLDA has created a resource called to give parents the "tools, tips, and practical resources to create a positive growth-oriented school-at-home environment," according to its website.

Prior to the pandemic, the number of homeschooled children in the U.S. stood at roughly 1.8 million, according to the National Center for Education Statistics—a number that could grow after school lockdowns end.

"We hope in the long term many people being introduced to the idea of teaching their kids at home will actually discover the joy that brings, and for those interested, we'll be providing more practical help on how to move from being from home in this unexpected time to actually choosing to homeschool in the future," Mason said.

"There are a lot of people who will take a second look at homeschool who might not have otherwise," he added, noting the increased interest HSLDA's educational consultants are seeing.

Contrary to the stereotype that the homeschooling community consists mostly of a fundamentalist religious population, the movement is quite diverse, with parents choosing this education option for a variety of reasons.

According to a 2017 National Center for Education Statistics study, the highest percentage of homeschooled students had parents who listed a concern for the school environment, which includes safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure, as the reason for choosing to homeschool. Other reasons dealt with desires to provide moral and religious instruction, a non-traditional approach to their child's education, dissatisfaction with academic instruction, because a child has special needs, and more.

"Lots and lots of people from all kinds of ideological backgrounds choose to homeschool today," Mason explained, noting the rise in upscale urban families who are making the decision to homeschool, as well as an increasing number of black, Asian, and Hispanic families who are seeing homeschooling as a viable education option for their children.

And still, despite the increased interest and the fact that homeschooling has been legal in all 50 states for more than 30 years, there are always the outspoken detractors. Most recently, criticism has been loudest from Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet and a now-cancelled summit at the university that was supposed to discuss the "controversial practice" of homeschooling.

In her Arizona Law Review article, Bartholet "recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling, with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool."

Mason narrowed such antagonism toward homeschooling down to "competing worldviews."

Bartholet's arguments present "the statist view of the parent-child relationship," he explained, which is most challenged by homeschooling.

"Homeschoolers have completely detached themselves from the oversight and control of the bureaucrats, not completely, obviously, but the notion that parents have the audacity to take on the raising, nurturing, and educating of their own children is an affront to the statist worldview," he said.

Indeed, HSLDA has been protecting homeschooling rights in courts and legislatures from such statist views since its inception more than 35 years ago.

HSLDA's team of lawyers are constantly monitoring legislation in all 50 states and from the federal government. Just last month, they argued a case in the Supreme Court of Virginia after a local school district passed a policy that added evidentiary requirements onto an existing statewide homeschooling statute, going so far as to threaten a family with prosecution for not complying.

"We asked them to strike that policy down," he said.

"There are legislative threats and then there are local bureaucratic threats," Mason added. "It's not uncommon that all over the country right now local school districts are attempting to impose requirements on homeschool that are not lawful."

While HSLDA doesn't always go to court over these issues, they do always push back, he said.

"Homeschooling is a challenging, fulfilling opportunity to experience the joy of watching your own children learn," Mason said.

And in a free society such as ours, no one ought to be able to trample on that right.


Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The kids are not all right

When easing lockdowns, governments should open schools first
The costs of keeping them closed are too high

Covid-19 has shut the world’s schools. Three in four children live in countries where all classrooms are closed. The disruption is unprecedented. Unless it ends soon, its effect on young minds could be devastating.

During some epidemics keeping children at home is wise; they are efficient spreaders of diseases such as seasonal flu. However, they appear to be less prone to catching and passing on covid-19. Closing schools may bring some benefit in slowing the spread of the disease, but less than other measures. Against this are stacked the heavy costs to children’s development, to their parents and to the economy

A few countries, such as Denmark, are gradually reopening schools. Others, including Italy, say they will not do so until the autumn. In America, despite recent calls from President Donald Trump for schools to open, most states plan to keep their classrooms closed for the rest of the academic year—and possibly longer. That is a mistake. As countries ease social distancing, schools should be among the first places to unlock.

Consider the costs of barring children from the classroom. No amount of helicopter parenting or videoconferencing can replace real-life teachers, or the social skills acquired in the playground. Even in the countries best prepared for e-learning, such as South Korea, virtual school is less good than the real thing.

Poorer children suffer most. Zoom lessons are little use if your home lacks good Wi-Fi, or if you have to fight with three siblings over a single phone. And whereas richer families often include well-educated parents who prod their offspring to do their homework and help when they get stuck, poorer families may not.

In normal times school helps level the playing field. Without it, the achievement gap between affluent and working-class children will grow. By one estimate, American eight-year-olds whose learning stopped altogether with the lockdown could lose nearly a year’s maths by autumn, as they fail to learn new material and forget much of what they already knew.

School matters for parents, too, especially those with young children. Those who work at home are less productive if distracted by loud wails and the eerie silence that portends jam being spread on the sofa. Those who work outside the home cannot do so unless someone minds their offspring. And since most child care is carried out by mothers, they will lose ground in the workplace while schools remain shut.

In poor countries the costs are even greater. Schools there often provide free lunches, staving off malnutrition, and serve as hubs for vaccinating children against other diseases. Pupils who stay at home now may never return. If the lockdown pushes their families into penury, they may have to go out to work. Better to re-open schools, so that parents can earn and children can study.

The obvious rejoinder is that shutting schools brings benefits. Covid-19 can be deadly. Parents do not want their children to catch it or to give it to grandma.

In fact, though children are highly susceptible to flu, covid-19 is different. Two studies from China that trace the contacts of infected people find that children are at worst no more likely to catch the disease than adults—and possibly less so. If they do get it, they are 2,000 times less likely than someone over 60 to die.

Nor is there evidence that children who do end up catching the disease are silent spreaders who pass it on to their families. Researchers in Iceland and the Netherlands have not found a single case in which a child brought the virus into their family. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Union’s public-health agency, said last week that child-to-adult transmission “appears to be uncommon”.

Some of these conclusions are based on small samples. Perhaps children have not been seen to transmit the disease because schools were shut early rather than because they pose no special threat. Perhaps they will start to spread it in the playground.

Schools should thus re-open in stages. The youngest children should return first, to crèches and primary schools. They have the thirstiest brains and seem to be the least at risk. They also demand the most of their parents, since few have grasped the principles of self-directed learning. Little children are unlikely to keep their distance from anyone. Classes should be split in half so that they can attend on alternate days.

Those facing exams should come next. Several countries have cancelled important tests; others have postponed them. Older students may be more at risk than the youngest ones but they are also more able to follow new protocols. Social distancing is possible in high schools, particularly if class sizes are reduced.

School openings will need to be monitored. Scientists should adjust the rules if necessary. Children who must stay at home should be contacted directly by the school. Teachers will need support. Those most vulnerable to infection, such as diabetics, should be able to teach remotely. The rest will need guidance on hygiene and social distancing. They should be tested regularly for covid-19.

Governments are understandably wary of being called bossy: no politician wants to give orders that may be widely disobeyed. France is considering reopening schools but making attendance voluntary. The trouble with this approach is that it may entrench educational inequality. A recent poll there suggests that 48% of well-off families would send their children back; only 17% of poor ones would. Under Britain’s lockdown, more than 500,000 vulnerable children have been allowed to go to school, including those with special needs; just 5% have turned up.

The best approach would be to apply attendance rules sensitively. Insist that education is compulsory, but don’t fine frightened parents willy-nilly—especially if they have extra reasons to fear infection. As classes return, parents will see that it is safe, and come round to the idea of sending their own children. Governments should help children make up for lost lessons with free summer schools, shorter holidays and longer school days.

Reopening schools may feel like a rash experiment with young lives. In fact it is an exercise in risk-balancing. Schools are the most powerful engines of social mobility in any society. Let the children in, and let them learn.


COVID-19 campus closures lead to questions about university overreach

With educational institutions increasingly closing their campuses and moving to online classes in response to COVID-19, university regulations on off-campus conduct raise fresh questions about the scope of university power over students.

For example, at Indiana University, campus police have broken up off-campus parties attended by IU students, threatening disciplinary action against students who violate government social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. At the University of Dayton in Ohio, police in riot gear broke up students partying after the university suspended classes and campus housing. Also, at Clemson University, administrators promised disciplinary sanctions against students who continue to flaunt a ban on large gatherings.

Violations of local and state law, as well as disruptions to the normal operations of the university, are grounds for university discipline in virtually every code of student conduct. However, when it comes to university rules untethered to illegal acts, it remains an open question how far these rules can extend to ensure student safety during a pandemic.

The scope of these rules merits heightened scrutiny when they conflict with the university’s obligation to uphold students’ constitutional and statutory rights. Students have the First Amendment right “to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends” — from fraternity parties to meetings for local community organizations. As students’ interactions become increasingly limited to online contacts, the institution’s interests in protecting safety may, in some cases, diminish, limiting their ability to penalize or police student expression.

That institutions may assert dubious safety rationales that burden students’ rights is not merely theoretical. In the name of student safety before the COVID-19 outbreak, FIRE has seen universities ban students from communicating with one another over social media; punish students for seeking to form an off-campus, non-university affiliated group; and, in a particularly egregious instance of administrative overreach, level Title IX charges against a student at another college. (We’re looking at you, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.)

In these circumstances, where university restrictions impinge upon constitutional rights, we’ve criticized schools for imposing regulations having little to no relationship with the ills supposedly addressed. This reflects a central principle of American constitutional law: If the government seeks to restrict liberty, especially the core freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the restriction must actually further the alleged goal. When universities assert dubious or pretextual safety rationales to justify rights restrictions, it damages their credibility for when legitimate safety concerns actually require incremental burdens on expressive or associational rights.

As governments home and abroad take extraordinary repressive measures in response to COVID-19, FIRE is keeping a sharp eye on universities that do the same. FIRE remains ready to push back against undue restrictions on students’ rights, and we will continue to monitor as circumstances evolve. To that end, we encourage students and faculty who believe their rights have been violated by their universities to reach out to us.


Australia: Year 12 given priority as schools plan return - but not all parents are happy

NSW public high schools are encouraging year 12 students to return to school full-time from next week as independent schools increasingly resume normal classroom operations.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants students at school one day a week from May 11 but high schools are prioritising year 12, with many providing full-time classroom teaching from next Monday.

Newtown Performing Arts High has written to parents telling them school resumes full-time for year 12 from May 11, while Killara High is open "each day for those year 12 students who wish to attend".

Other high schools − Sydney Girls, Tempe and Greystanes − have allocated at least three or four days.

Their decision comes as a growing number of independents schools, including St Andrew's Cathedral School, are asking year 12 students to return five days a week from next week.

Headmaster Dr John Collier said: "Parents have overall received this very well."

But parents across the state have mixed views about the safety of returning to school and using public transport. Those with year 12 students were more concerned about the loss of up to six weeks of HSC preparation time.

Anne-Maree Williams from Peakhurst said she was glad to be sending her 18-year-old son Jack back to his secondary Catholic college because he was in his crucial final year.

"He needs to be back in the classroom with his teacher and learning with his mates because it is the most important year," she said.

Keeli Cambourne from Nowra said she was keen for her son Archie Lasker, 17, to return to complete his HSC and wishes schools had not gone into lockdown.

But a mother from Ryde, an area that has experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, said her daughter in year 7 was"really unhappy about going back to school".

The mother, who did not want her name published, said her daughter felt like children were "being used like guinea pigs", and that it was impossible to socially distance in the high school corridors.

A Southern Highlands mother of two teenage boys, who also did not want her name published, said she liked the idea of her sons returning for social reasons, but felt anxious about the potential health risk. "I will send them and follow the rules. But I'll feel anxious," she said.

A spokesman for Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said: "We deliberately gave our 2200 NSW public schools the flexibility to implement the return to classrooms in a way that benefits all their students. These individual school plans are examples of principals using this flexibility to provide for all their students while prioritising their HSC students."

NSW P&C Federation president Tim Spencer said parents had very mixed views about sending their children back and many saw online learning from home as "treading water".

The Australian Parents Council, which represents parents of children at independent schools, said "many are fearful about sending their children back to school for face-to-face teaching".

President Jenny Rickard said she had received mixed views from parents but "predominantly it is expressing concern".

Parents were also concerned about risks associated with the risk of infection on public transport.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said teachers were concerned and "looking closely" at infection outbreaks in New Zealand and Victoria where a teacher at a primary school has tested positive for coronavirus.

The concerns of teachers and parents were raised as federal Education Minister Dan Tehan admitted he had overstepped the mark and withdrew his comments after accusing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of a “failure of leadership” for not reopening schools.

Melissa Socrates from Sydney's northern beaches said while she had faith in government assurances that it was safe for her to send her three children back, she still felt slightly worried about the safety risk.

"I am relatively comfortable with them going back. I'm a little bit apprehensive but I'm comfortable with the way the schools are approaching it in terms of the social distancing and staggering the years coming back," she said.


Monday, May 04, 2020

The Myth that Americans Were Poorly Educated before Mass Government Schooling

Early America had widespread literacy and a vibrant culture of learning

Parents the world over are dealing with massive adjustments in their children’s education that they could not have anticipated just three months ago. To one degree or another, pandemic-induced school closures are creating the “mass homeschooling” that FEE’s senior education fellow Kerry McDonald predicted two months ago.

Who knows, with millions of youngsters absent from government school classrooms, maybe education will become as good as it was before the government ever got involved.

“What?” you exclaim! “Wasn’t education lousy or non-existent before government mandated it, provided it, and subsidized it? That’s what my government schoolteachers assured me so it must be true,” you say!

The fact is, at least in early America, education was better and more widespread than most people today realize or were ever told. Sometimes it wasn’t “book learning” but it was functional and built for the world most young people confronted at the time. Even without laptops and swimming pools, and on a fraction of what government schools spend today, Americans were a surprisingly learned people in our first hundred years.

I was reminded a few days ago of the amazing achievements of early American education while reading the enthralling book by bestselling author Stephen Mansfield, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What It Meant for America. It traces the spiritual journey of America’s 16th president—from fiery atheist to one whose last words to his wife on that tragic evening at Ford’s Theater were a promise to “visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior.”

In a moment, I’ll cite a revealing, extended passage from Mansfield’s book but first, I’d like to offer some excellent, related works that come mostly from FEE’s own archives.

In 1983, Robert A. Peterson’s "Education in Colonial America" revealed some stunning facts and figures. “The Federalist Papers, which are seldom read or understood today even in our universities,” explains Peterson, “were written for and read by the common man. Literacy rates were as high or higher than they are today.” Incredibly, “A study conducted in 1800 by DuPont de Nemours revealed that only four in a thousand Americans were unable to read and write legibly” [emphasis mine].

Well into the 19th Century, writes Susan Alder in "Education in America," "parents did not even consider that the civil government in any way had the responsibility or should assume the responsibility of providing for the education of children." Only one state (Massachusetts) even had compulsory schooling laws before the Civil War, yet literacy rates were among the highest in our history.

Great Britain experienced similar trends. In 1996, Edwin West wrote in "The Spread of Education Before Compulsion in Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century" that “when national compulsion was enacted ([in 1880], over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate.” More than a century later, “40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit[ted] to difficulties with writing and spelling.”

Laws against the education of black slaves date back to as early as 1740, but the desire to read proved too strong to prevent its steady growth even under bondage. For purposes of religious instruction, it was not uncommon for slaves to be taught reading but not writing. Many taught themselves to write, or learned to do so with the help of others willing to flout the law. Government efforts to outlaw the education of blacks in the Old South may not have been much more effective than today’s drug laws. If you wanted it, you could find it.

Estimates of the literacy rate among slaves on the eve of the Civil War range from 10 to 20 percent. By 1880, nearly 40 percent of southern blacks were literate. In 1910, half a century before the federal government involved itself in K-12 funding, black literacy exceeded 70 percent and was comparable to that of whites.

Daniel Lattier explained in a 2016 article titled "Did Public Schools Really Improve American Literacy?" that a government school system is no guarantee that young people will actually learn to read and write well. He cites the shocking findings of a study conducted by the US Department of Education: “32 million of American adults are illiterate, 21 percent read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read well enough to manage daily living and perform tasks required by many jobs.”

Compulsory government schools were not established in America because of some widely-perceived failure of private education, which makes it both erroneous and self-serving for the government school establishment to propagate the myth that Americans would be illiterate without them.

As Kerry McDonald wrote in "Public Schools Were Designed to Indoctrinate Immigrants," the prime motivation for government schooling was something much less benign than a fear of illiteracy. Her remarkable 2019 book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, explains the viable, self-directed alternatives that far outclass the standardized, test-driven, massively expensive and politicized government schooling of today.

If you’re looking for a good history of how America traveled the path of literacy to a national education crisis, you can find it in a recent, well-documented book by Justin Spears and associates, titled Failure: The History and Results of America’s School System. The way in which government short-changes parents, teachers, and students is heart-breaking.

I promised to share a passage from Stephen Mansfield’s book, so now I am pleased to deliver it. Read it carefully, and let it soak in:

"We should remember that the early English settlers in the New World left England accompanied by fears that they would pursue their “errand into the wilderness” and become barbarians in the process. Loved ones at home wondered how a people could cross an ocean and live in the wild without losing the literacy, the learning, and the faith that defined them. The early colonists came determined to defy these fears. They brought books, printing presses, and teachers with them and made the founding of schools a priority. Puritans founded Boston in 1630 and established Harvard College within six years. After ten years they had already printed the first book in the colonies, the Bay Psalm Book. Many more would follow. The American colonists were so devoted to education—inspired as they were by their Protestant insistence upon biblical literacy and by their hope of converting and educating the natives—that they created a near-miraculous culture of learning.

This was achieved through an educational free market. Colonial society offered “Dame schools,” Latin grammar schools, tutors for hire, what would today be called “home schools,” church schools, schools for the poor, and colleges for the gifted and well-to-do. Enveloping these institutions of learning was a wider culture that prized knowledge as an aid to godliness. Books were cherished and well-read. A respected minister might have thousands of them. Sermons were long and learned. Newspapers were devoured, and elevated discussion of ideas filled taverns and parlors. Citizens formed gatherings for the “improvement of the mind”—debate societies and reading clubs and even sewing circles at which the latest books from England were read.

The intellectual achievements of colonial America were astonishing. Lawrence Cremin, dean of American education historians, estimated the literacy rate of the period at between 80 and 90 percent. Benjamin Franklin taught himself five languages and was not thought exceptional. Jefferson taught himself half a dozen, including Arabic. George Washington was unceasingly embarrassed by his lack of formal education, and yet readers of his journals today marvel at his intellect and wonder why he ever felt insecure. It was nothing for a man—or in some cases a woman—to learn algebra, geometry, navigation, science, logic, grammar, and history entirely through self-education. A seminarian was usually required to know Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French and German just to begin his studies, instruction which might take place in a log classroom and on a dirt floor.

This culture of learning spilled over onto the American frontier. Though pioneers routinely moved beyond the reach of even basic education, as soon as the first buildings of a town were erected, so too, were voluntary societies to foster intellectual life. Aside from schools for the young, there were debate societies, discussion groups, lyceums, lecture associations, political clubs, and always, Bible societies.

The level of learning these groups encouraged was astounding. The language of Shakespeare and classical literature—at the least Virgil, Plutarch, Cicero, and Homer—so permeated the letters and journals of frontier Americans that modern readers have difficulty understanding that generation’s literary metaphors. This meant that even a rustic Western settlement could serve as a kind of informal frontier university for the aspiring. It is precisely this legacy and passion for learning that shaped young Abraham Lincoln during his six years in New Salem"

Not bad for a society that hardly even knew what a government school was for generations, wouldn’t you say? Why should we blindly assume today that we couldn’t possibly get along without government schools? Instead, we should be studying how remarkable it was that we did so well without them.

When I think of the many ways that government deceives us into its embrace, one in particular really stands out: It seeks to convince us how helpless we would be without it. It tells us we can’t do this, we can’t do that, that government possesses magical powers beyond those of mere mortals and that yes, we’d be dumb as dirt and as destitute as drifters if we didn’t put it in charge of one thing or another.

When it comes to education, Americans really should know better. Maybe one positive outcome of the virus pandemic is that they will rediscover that they don’t need government schools as much as the government told them they do. In fact, we never did.


No One Has a Right to an Education

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times is celebrating a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that a good education is a constitutional right and, therefore, that states have a legal duty to provide it to children. The court’s decision and the Times’ celebration of it only goes to show how America’s welfare-state way of life has warped and perverted sound thinking with respect to the nature of rights and the purposes of the Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution called into existence a limited-government republic, a type of governmental system by which the federal government’s powers would be limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. If a power wasn’t enumerated, then it could not be exercised.

There is no grant of power in the U.S. Constitution to provide education to anyone.

Despite its name, the Bill of Rights also does not grant anyone the right to an education or, for that matter, any other right. The first ten amendments should really have been called the Bill of Prohibitions. Rather than giving people rights, they prohibit the federal government from infringing on rights. Our ancestors understood that such rights as life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness don’t come from government. They come from nature and God and, therefore, preexist government.

Freedom entails the right to live your life the way you choose, so long as you are not violating other people’s rights through violence or fraud. Thus, as long as you’re not engaging in murder, theft, rape, and other such crimes, freedom entitles you to make whatever choices you want, even if everyone else disapproves of them.

Thus, no one has the right to initiate violence or fraud against another person because to do so violates his right to live his life the way he chooses. If someone does violate the rights of another person, that’s when government steps in and arrests, prosecutes, convicts, and punishes the malefactor. That’s in fact one of the legitimate functions of government.

Thou shalt not steal

Let’s assume that I accost you in a dark alley and rob you of $5,000. I am very poor and my child is not getting a good education in public schools. I use the $5,000 to pay the tuition for a private school that has accepted my child.

Do I have a right to do that? If you subscribe to the reasoning of the Sixth Circuit, I do. Remember: the Court is saying that my child has a right to an education. If he’s not getting it in public school, then what’s wrong with my stealing your money and using to get my child his education? I’m just exercising my child’s “right” to a good education.

Now, granted, neither the Court nor the Times would countenance private stealing, even stealing that fulfills a perceived “right” to an education. But their reasoning does countenance political stealing that in principle is no different.

If a child has a “right’ to an education, then someone has to be forced to provide it. That would be the state. But no state government has money of its own. They all get their money through taxation, which is based on force. Thus, under the Sixth Circuit’s reasoning, the state is required to forcibly take money from its citizens — i.e., politically steal from them — to fulfill the “right” of children to an education.

And what if no one wishes to teach? Under the Sixth Circuit’s reasoning, a citizen doesn’t have the option of saying no. If no one wants to fulfill a child’s “right” to an education, then teachers would have to be conscripted — that is, forced — to teach. Refusal to do so would amount to violating someone’s “right” to an education.

The welfare state

And why stop there? If people have a “right” to an education, then why not also a right to housing, clothing, food, a car, a television set, a computer, and other things? Why not just have a giant taxing scheme that sucks trillions of dollars out of the income of the citizens and provides a gigantic pool of money to dole out to people to fulfill their “right” to be provided for by the state?

Oh, I forgot! That’s the system we already live under. That’s what the welfare state is all about!

Interestingly, the Sixth Circuit and the Times limit their reasoning to children. But there are lots of adults in the United States who are illiterate, at least in English. Why don’t they have a right to an education too? Where in the Constitution does it say that only children have a right to an education? Shouldn’t the states be required to set up tax-funded education institutions and bureaucracies to fulfill the right of adults to an education?

Rather than decree that people have a “right” to an education, what the Sixth Circuit should have done is declare the state’s compulsory school-attendance law unconstitutional as a violation of liberty, which is a natural, God-given right protected by the Constitution. After all, the Fourteenth Amendment is clear: No state shall deny any person liberty without due process of law.


School folly in Australia

If the Ruby Princess has been Australia’s single most avoidable slip-up on spreading coronavirus infections, the most unnecessary stuff-up in the societal and economic response has been the way students have been shunned from schools. Most students are yet to return to classrooms they never should have left.

We have known since the virus first arrived on our shores — and research and experience have only reinforced it since — that, unlike common colds and influenza, COVID-19 rarely infects children, their symptoms tend to be mild and they don’t seem to spread it. This serendipitous reality means schooling need not be disrupted beyond handwashing and distancing measures, special arrangements for vulnerable or older teachers, and efforts to limit interactions between parents, teachers and other adults.

There are plenty of test cases with infections detected among students and teachers in a handful of schools in various states where they have been controlled. In South Australia schools were never shut and there was only one case — a student infected by a teacher — and it was resolved with no further infections.

The clear and consistent advice from the chief medical officer has been to proceed with schooling but, under pressure from teachers’ unions, state governments have given students the Dusty Martin “don’t argue”. Fittingly, Victoria has been most delinquent, with NSW and Queensland not far behind. Students have suffered most, but the restrictions have seriously encumbered parents and added to our societal sclerosis. The states should admit their mistakes and resume schooling on Monday.

As we all struggled to come to grips with the vagaries of this pandemic, schools were wise to invest in online schooling plans in case we lost control. They deserved time at the end of the first term to make those preparations — but, having done that, you get the sense they feel obliged to put those plans into action.

Certainly, it would be unfair for teachers to run two streams, one for classrooms and the other online. It needs to be one or the other and, on the facts as we know them, it should be the classroom. Some political and media commentary has been deliberately or unforgivably ignorant; complaining about contradictions such as why it might be safe to go to school yet unsafe to go to a cinema.

Such smartarsery ignores the importance of schooling, the lower susceptibility of young people, the controlled environment of schools and the whole intent of the measures: they are not primarily about protecting people from life-threatening situations but are aimed at slowing the spread of a virus that mainly threatens the elderly.

Fatality rates for people aged under 50 are a fraction of 1 per cent, and deaths under 20 years of age are unheard of, except for rare instances with serious pre-existing conditions. So, arrangements for schools, workplaces, shopping, entertainment and sport have been about slowing the spread of a highly infectious disease, not hiding from a deadly threat.

Studies show anything up to 50 per cent of those infected may never know it, while more than 80 per cent of those who develop symptoms won’t even need to consider hospitalisation.

When he declared that playing golf was “not worth someone’s life” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews became the epitome of this wrongheaded fearmongering.

Families should not be huddled at home as if to avoid a killer virus; they are doing no more than their civic duty to slow the spread of a virus that mainly threatens others. It is the elderly and the sick who have most to fear.

The more we control the situation, the better we protect the vulnerable and ensure our health system copes. Teaching schoolchildren should not be more dangerous than running a supermarket checkout or selling sandwiches.

If we tried to generate a list of people with the requisite experience in managing the medical, public health, economic, business, social, and law enforcement aspects of a coronavirus pandemic, we would come up with no one. We are making this up as we go along. Those who are certain that other nations have succeeded where we have been left wanting are having a lend. We just cannot be sure yet.

There is plenty of expertise to be drawn on; medicos, scientists, economists, bureaucrats, police and politicians used to multifaceted policy problems. But the global scale, rapidity of spread, closure of businesses, deliberate suppression of economic activity, and calculated imposition of social isolation are all unprecedented on their own merits, let alone as a clutch of simultaneous dilemmas.

Much of the media targets Don­ald Trump over the disaster that has unfolded in New York City and elsewhere. But, so far, the death rate per million people is worse than the US in Italy, Bel­gium, The Netherlands, Spain, France, Britain, Sweden and Ireland. We have yet to see this play out in the developing world. This pandemic is likely still in its early stages.

If we are forced to live the next year or longer without a vaccine, who is to say what strategy will be revealed as superior?

Countries with higher death rates will have developed broader exposure and community immunity that could stand them in good stead, so that countries such as ours might be left wondering how long we can afford to drag out the process.

Alternatively, if treatments and vaccines become available within months, other nations will have suffered health system crises, unnecessary deaths and economic pain in an excruciating trifecta that countries such as ours have avoided.

But, crucially, we have the choice — we have bought time and options to work out next steps. This is the true measure of Scott Morrison’s success.

After resisting the overeager shutdown merchants early on, the government now faces pressure from the other end. The supposed hardheads are urging the government to let it rip, suggesting the way we have avoided a crisis renders our preventive measures excessive, even though they see in Milan, New York and London what could befall us.

Risk mitigation is a devilishly difficult practice for public assessment. Think of Shane Fitzsimmons, who headed NSW’s Rural Fire Service for a decade. It was his job for more than a decade to minimise the bushfire risk and maximise the ability to protect lives and property.

Yet in the wake of the worst bushfire season his state has seen, where limited fuel reduction, bad planning and miscued control burns all played a role in the devastating and deadly outcome, he has been lauded as a hero.

In the pandemic fight, Morrison and the premiers faced media predictions just two months ago of hospitals being overwhelmed within days and a death toll of 150,000 or more.

With fatalities yet to reach 100, and daily national new infections sometimes not reaching double figures, the criticism is now about overreacting. Go figure.

Citing bolstered bed capacity not yet required as proof of over-reaction, you might as well argue that because most fire trucks extinguish only one blaze a fortnight, the fire department must be over-resourced. Perhaps if NSW had cleared wider fire breaks around national parks, forced property owners to clear around houses in bushfire-prone areas or thrown more resources into extinguishing blazes that burned for weeks in national parks, the state would have faced less trauma and tragedy, and Fitzsimmons would have been attacked for overdoing precautions.

Six weeks ago we were disturbed about where this would lead and I wrote: “This pandemic is a terrible dilemm­a for policymakers: at one end of the spectrum, they could be destroying small and large businesses (the life’s work of their owners) and tossing people into unemployment in an effort to stem a disease that might be best dealt with by protecting the elderly and the frail; at the other, they could allow a pandemic to smother our society, overwhelm our hospitals and lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths.”

We can see already that Morrison and his state and territory colleagues in the national cabinet have saved us from the latter scenario. Job well done.

Their challenge now is to remove restrictions as quickly as possible, to reactivate society and the economy behind secure national borders, without allowing the virus to run riot and destroy all that we have preserved. Every day of isolation exacerbates the economic and social pain.

The strong bias must be towards freeing up the economy, getting people back to work and protecting the vulnerable.

Getting back to school would be the best start.