Saturday, May 23, 2020

Why a Return to Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Rules Would Be a Mistake

The battle over the Department of Education’s borrower defense to repayment rule, which governs student loan repayments when a student claims he has been defrauded by a university, has made its way to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Congress this week utilized the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Trump administration’s rewrite of the Obama-era rule.

As Politico reported:

House and Senate leaders on Tuesday enrolled the Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos’ new rule. That final procedural step now means that legislation will be presented to the White House for Trump’s signature or veto.

The Department of Education’s 2019 rewrite of the borrower defense to repayment rule brought commonsense reforms to the onerous Obama-era version of the rule.

Originally, the rule attempted to protect students from schools that had defrauded them, providing student loan forgiveness in full or in part.

Unfortunately, “fraud” in higher education is wildly difficult to define, and the Obama administration’s 2015 rewrite of the rule defines it so broadly that students could ask for their loans to be discharged if they thought they hadn’t received the education they were promised.

The Trump administration’s 2019 rewrite corrected that issue.

Taxpayers could be on the hook for student loan payments that are discharged under the rule. Given significant taxpayer exposure, the Obama-era borrower defense rule was rightly deemed by many as far too broad. DeVos has noted of that iteration, “All one had to do was raise his or her hand to be entitled to so-called free money.”

Importantly, the 2019 rewrite of the borrower defense to repayment rule would protect the due process rights of universities and American taxpayers from frivolous requests for student loan discharge.

American colleges and universities face significant financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s more important now than ever that the federal government not place burdensome regulations on schools under the guise of borrower defense.

The Trump administration’s revision of the rule gives universities their day in court when a claim is brought against them, unlike the Obama administration’s version, which operated under the presumption of guilt for a college.

Schools could be required to post a letter of credit and face Department of Education penalties before any proof of wrongdoing. The mere accusation of fraud was enough to suggest a school was guilty. 

It seems apparent that the Obama administration’s higher education regulatory efforts focused disproportionately on the for-profit sector, and the original borrower defense to repayment rule was no exception.

While increased accountability for taxpayer dollars is badly needed across the higher education sector, there’s a troublesome narrative that all bad actors in higher education reside in the for-profit sector.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., even went so far as to state on the Senate floor that “these for-profit colleges are the coronavirus of higher education.”

That extreme hyperbole underscores the open hostility that many lawmakers have toward proprietary institutions while turning a blind eye to the significant shortcomings of many nonprofit institutions.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have attempted to use higher education regulations to disproportionately target for-profit colleges.

The gainful employment rule, for example, which required schools to prove certain outcomes measures for students, only applied to for-profit colleges and to certain courses of study at nonprofits.

However, 60% of private nonprofit programs would fail the gainful employment rule, along with 70% of programs at public nonprofit institutions. The targeting of for-profit colleges under the guise of regulating “bad actors” simply doesn’t bear out in the facts.

The 2019 Trump administration rewrite of the borrower defense to repayment rule appropriately addresses the question of accountability.

Indeed, roughly 45 million Americans struggle with more than $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, with many graduating without the skills necessary to acquire a job, prompting increased scrutiny.

However, with hundreds of billions of dollars pouring into our universities each year through federal student aid programs, it is American taxpayers, rather than the universities, that pay the most significant price when students default on their loans.

DeVos has rightly taken taxpayer considerations into account with the 2019 borrower defense to repayment rule.

While some in Congress want to return to a regulatory environment that stifles growth and unfairly burdens quality schools and American taxpayers, the Trump administration should maintain a friendly regulatory environment, much like the president called for in his May 19 executive order on regulatory relief to support economic recovery.

Proper oversight respects due process and insulates taxpayers from student loan forgiveness. We should not backtrack on that smart regulatory reform.


Colleges plan for on-campus classes, even as scientists warn of risk for COVID-19

The leaders of major Boston-area colleges and universities say they are hoping to hold some or all of their courses on campus this fall, even as epidemiologists warn that colleges by their very nature might put students and faculty at risk for COVID-19.

“We are going to have to be more flexible than we’ve ever been in the way that we offer education,” Boston University president Robert Brown said Wednesday, speaking on a panel hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce where he and other campus leaders outlined how they plan to create safe campus environments this fall.

But experts in infectious disease said that will be a nearly impossible task.

“It’s going to be very challenging because some of the things that we know carry the highest risk of COVID transmission are those activities that colleges typically have lots of," said Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He pointed to the often crowded nature of classrooms, dining halls, dormitories, and parties.

“There are many reasons to try, and there are many challenges to surmount,” said Kevin Volpp, the health policy division chief at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “You need a really good plan, really flawless execution . . . and a little bit of luck to stay open.”

Brown and the leaders of Emerson College, Northeastern University, Bunker Hill Community College, and the University of Massachusetts system all expressed optimism that they can transform the age-old methods and traditions of campus life in unprecedented ways to meet the new, constant threat of the virus.

“It is our hope to have some in-person classes . . . in the fall term,” said Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College, in the heart of downtown Boston. Pelton said his administrators are still trying to determine the structure of the fall semester. An announcement should come in the next two or three weeks, he said.

Sax said that schools could face another set of challenges if a second wave of the virus strikes this fall after students have already returned to campus. The fear is that colleges would have to suddenly evacuate their campuses, repeating the drill they went through in the spring.

“We’re all kind of bracing ourselves for that and concerned about it,” he said about a second wave.

The college presidents said they are working on new housing arrangements, classroom schedules, and other precautions. But the experts concede that they can only go so far in attempting to change the behaviors of the estimated 140,000 students who come to Boston every year.

Brown said his university is working on developing its own testing facility. Students would be divided into small residential groups in the dorms that would decrease the amount of mixing between students, and classes would be reimagined so that some students could start the semester online then come to campus when they are able.

“There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty that we have,” Brown said. “It’s very hard to be very precise.”

Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern, who has vowed to work toward opening in the fall, said his school will do its own testing and contact tracing and reduce the density of spaces on campus, including dorms. To that end, the university has already secured 2,000 extra beds in area apartments and hotels, he said.

Northeastern officials announced Wednesday that some faculty, staff, and students working in critical research labs and administrative functions that are hard to perform off campus will begin a slow return to campus in coming days. But they have yet to specify how they will bring back their 14,000 undergrads.

Martin Meehan, the UMass president, said the state university system is preparing for “all options” and said he is eager to restart much of the system’s $683 million of research, calling that “a first step” in reopening.

Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill, said the majority of classes this fall will be taught online or in a hybrid format with a smaller number held in person. Some of the school’s support staff will continue to work from home to allow more physical distancing on campus, she said.

Much of the plan for Bunker Hill, which draws a majority of its students from an 8-mile radius around the Charlestown campus, depends on the city’s reopening plans and whether public transportation is safe and available by fall.

Scientists and health professionals remain skeptical about the ambitious plans to bring students back and said much will depend on the details.

Volpp, at Penn, is advising his institution and another college on the fall semester and said the questions administrators are tackling don’t have easy answers.

Colleges may be able to limit class sizes, require masks throughout campus, and reduce the number of students in a dorm. But can they ensure that students will live under such strict social distance requirements 24 hours a day? Volpp said that question remains unanswered.

Even if dorm rooms are all converted to singles, students must still share bathrooms, and research about the coronavirus has raised concerns about whether it can be spread through fecal aerosol droplets from flushing toilets, Volpp said.

“That kind of question creates challenges for college administrators,” he said. “It is a risk-benefit equation. It’s impossible to make this zero risk.”

College campuses are especially close-knit communities where students, faculty, and staff thrive on those daily interactions and conversations. But that unique environment may be their Achilles’ heel, experts said.

“College campuses are small worlds,” said Kim Weeden, a sociology professor at Cornell University.

Weeden, along with her colleague Ben Cornwell, studied student course selections at Cornell during the fall of 2019 and found that in a typical week, a student crossed classes with more than 500 other undergraduates and graduates. That excludes interactions they may have in the dorms, dining halls, or walking between classrooms.

Universities can change schedules so students take fewer classes during the week to reduce their interactions, Weeden said. But that’s only part of the solution.

“Course enrollments are just one piece of the puzzle” she said. “The really tricky questions come around housing and dining and transition between classes, where they have fewer levers to pull.”

Not all campus leaders have been so optimistic about returning. In an op-ed published in The Atlantic last week, Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, said schools are deluding themselves if they think they can safely reopen in a few months.

“We should not let our own financial and reputational worries cloud our judgment about matters of life and death,” Sorrell wrote.

Still, some public health experts said colleges can bring back students to some degree, and many are trying to figure out how many students and how.

Sandro Galea, the dean of the BU School of Public Health, said he expects institutions to adapt with smaller classes, fewer students in dorms, everyone on campus wearing masks, contact tracing programs, efforts to boost hygiene, and areas cordoned off to isolate those who may get the virus.

“Ultimately, it’s an issue of managing risk,” Galea said. “How do colleges and universities adapt to the risk?”

Gerri Taylor, a member of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 task force and a retired director of the Bentley University health center, said colleges will need this summer to determine whether they can safely open.

Some colleges still need to replenish their supplies of N95 masks and face shields, after donating them to hospitals during the height of the crisis, Taylor said.  They need that equipment pretty desperately,” she said.

For many colleges, the situation depends on the public health guidelines in place at the time, where the institution is in the country and its ability to isolate the campus, and the financial resources it has to do the testing, hire more clinicians, and buy the protective gear, Taylor said.

Ultimately, it may be more difficult for colleges in big cities that are hot spots for the virus, Volpp said.  “Colleges in Boston and colleges in New York will have bigger challenges,” Volpp said. “There is a lot of interest and strong desire to do it . . . but one thing that’s clear as you think through the challenges — it’s going to be a difficult road.”


Reading wars hit home during lockdown lessons

“Dogs say ‘woof’, cats say ‘meow’, what does the letter ‘a’ say?”

And so it began. Perched at the dining table, armed with a 257-page guide on teaching a child to read, I was about to try to do just that. My daughter, Margot, had been at school for two months when the niggling concerns about her reading progress began.

Aged 5½, she could read and write her name independently, but not much else. Despite years of reading to her, singing songs and learning rhymes — many of which were learned by heart — she had difficulty identifying all the letters of the alphabet consistently, while her ability to link the letters with their various sounds was hit-and-miss.

Her teacher reassured me that she was where she was meant to be for a foundation-level student. Still, I was haunted by a conversation I’d once had with a prominent education academic who suggested all the journalists she knew had their children reading by the time they started school.

One evening, I sat down with my daughter to read one of the readers sent home from school and noticed how her eyes were automatically drawn to the pictures. It was hardly surprising; the images were obnoxiously large, overshadowing the much smaller text. As I suggested she point at each word and try to sound out each of the letters, she ignored me and started blurting out what she guessed they might be based on the image.

Frustrated by my gentle attempts at bringing her attention back to the words, she told me crossly that Eagle Eye was helping her to read.

As an education journalist, I know all about this Eagle Eye character who encourages children to guess an unfamiliar word by looking at the picture. Along with pals Lips the Fish (“get your lips ready to try the first sound”) and Skippy the Frog (“let’s skip that word altogether”), these child-friendly characters are a common feature of classrooms that adhere to the balanced literacy approach to reading instruction.

Balanced literacy emerged from whole-language reading instruction, spawned in the late 1960s, whereby children were expected to learn to read whole words naturally, merely as a result of plentiful exposure to books and writing. While balanced literacy concedes that children may need some guidance, it is based on a problematic theory called multi-cueing, also known as three-­cueing, which surmises that a reader looks for meaning, structure and visual cues to help make sense of what is on the page.

Countless researchers from across the globe have dismissed multi-cueing as an ineffective system on which to base reading ­instruction lacking in any evidentiary basis. Yet cueing strategies are popular in many primary classrooms because children often experience some early success using picture cues and context to identify words, especially when aided by repetitive and predictable texts.

However, as Sir Jim Rose, whose landmark 2006 review of reading in the UK was key to the development of Britain’s Primary National Strategy for Reading, has pointed out, “children who routinely adopt alternative cues for reading unknown words, instead of learning to decode them, later find themselves stranded when texts become more demanding and meanings less predictable”.

Through my work I had written about many schools that had transformed their reading results and they typically shared one common feature: they had implemented a phonics program.

While the mere mention of the word phonics risks sparking an outbreak in the long-running reading wars, the debate has at least moved on from whether to teach phonics — the research says we should — to how it is best taught.

In Victoria, where I live, the­ ­Department of Education and Training promotes a balanced literacy approach to teaching reading, in which phonics is taught in ways deemed “meaningful to children”, such as reading books, having fun with rhymes and writing their own stories.

“Phonics instruction should take place within a meaningful, communicative, rich pedagogy, and within genuine literacy events,” the department’s Literacy Teaching Toolkit states.

With phonics in context, a typical lesson might involve the teacher reading with students and periodically stopping at a word to discuss the relationships between letters and sounds (known as phonemes). Occasionally there may be a lesson on a letter or sound, but they are not typically presented in a systematic, cumulative way.

In many other states, such as NSW and South Australia, public education authorities have endorsed a different approach called systematic synthetic phonics. Also known as “blended” phonics, it involves teaching a child about the individual letter-sound relationships first, then having the child combine or synthesise these sounds to form words. While learning to read successfully entails more than simply learning phonics skills — it also depends on the development of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension skills — major reviews of the teaching of reading in Australia, Britain and the US during the past 18 years have consistently identified ­phonics as a key component of an effective program.

The research also comes down on the side of synthetic phonics.

According to the NSW Education Department’s guide for schools on effective reading ­instruction: “There are a number of different approaches to teaching phonics, with varying levels of effectiveness. The most effective method is called synthetic phonics.” The document highlights results from a longitudinal study undertaken in Scotland that compared synthetic phonics with two analytic phonics programs.

At the end of these programs, children in the synthetic phonics group were reading around seven months ahead of children in the other two groups and were spelling eight to nine months ahead of the other groups.

Seven years on, those in the synthetic phonics group had extended their advantage further.

I was attracted to the simplicity at the core of the synthetic phonics approach; the way children were taught sequentially, starting out learning some simple letter-sound relationships, working towards the more complex end of the spectrum. For a parent with no teaching expertise, it seemed somewhat achievable. And with schools effectively set to close indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, I finally had the time to help my daughter learn to read.

Having asked several literacy specialists and teachers what programs they rated, I settled on one devised by US author Stephen Parker called Teaching a Preschooler to Read (also suitable for primary schoolers). Parker, a retired teacher, has a knack for using plain language to explain a pretty technical topic. The guide, aimed specifically at parents, maps out clearly what to teach, when to teach it and how.

My first task was to refamiliarise myself with what is known in literacy circles as the alphabetic code. As Parker explains, the alphabet itself is only part of the code, with the 26 letters symbolising 44 different sounds. There are 20 vowel sounds (such as the short A in apple or axe but also the longer A in acorn) and 24 consonant sounds (B in bat and D in dad but also “th” and “sh” and the “ng” in king).

A list of those 44 phonemes was my constant companion during the coming weeks, and I swear I started to have nightmares about mixing up those short and long vowel sounds.

Stage one of the program kicked off with teaching my daughter the five short vowel sounds as well as M, N and S .

With a new Sharpie I wrote each letter on an index card and we practised saying the letters and their corresponding sounds every day. We also started to pay more attention to letters in our environment. Walking down the street, I’d point to the number plates on cars and ask Margot whether she could spot any of “her letters”, as we’d call them, and sound them out.

With her confidence growing, we moved on to decoding simple two and three-letter words. As with the letters, I wrote them on the index cards. To make a game, I had her flip them over and attempt to sound them out.

“A-n … An!” She got it on the first attempt.

I asked when she would use such a word.

“I would like an apple,” she replied. I was quietly impressed.

She moved on to the next word.

“M-a-n … Man.” Again no problem.

“N-a-n … Nan.” Ditto.

And that brought us to the word “sun”. She looked at it, then looked at me with a strained ­expression.

“Snake,” Margot said. I asked her to try again, this time concentrating on each letter. “Sam! S-s-s-sit!” She was becoming frantic, reeling off any word she could think of that started with S.

We were done for the day.

The next time we sat down to practise phonics I introduced her to the Decoding Dragon. The invention of Melbourne linguist and author Lyn Stone, the dragon’s job was to chase away those Guessing Monsters, including the hit-and-miss Eagle Eye.

While I was no fan of Eagle Eye, I decided to redeploy him. I told Margot that Eagle Eye had a new job and would help her focus on each of the letters as the Decoding Dragon would help her to sound them out.

Our little sessions continued. Some days were great. Others — quite a few actually — were a grind. Small children have very short attention spans and I learned my daughter has quite a stubborn streak. Overall, I could see a trend of improvement and a growing confidence. Each time she successfully sounded out a new word, I’d place the index card into her “special word box”.

“Look how many words are in your word box!” I said one morning. “I know,” she said, “I’m killing it.”

I made a decision early on to be upfront with the school about tackling phonics at home and my intention to replace the predictable readers for decodable books.

The teacher was receptive and supportive, going so far as to recommend several online apps for decodable readers, many of which were free as a result of the pandemic. However, concerned about the amount of screentime we were already having, I decided to purchase a hard-copy set. At $420 for 60 readers, they weren’t cheap but I felt it was a necessary investment.

One morning I took to Twitter and mentioned how excited I was that the readers had arrived in the post, only to see first hand how divisive their use is in literacy circles.

With titles such as Pat the Rat, The Pan and The Map, decodables are designed so a novice reader can practice reading the words they have already been explicitly taught.

“A pan sits!” mocked one teacher. “Fit rats. No thankyou.”

“Read to your daughter with ‘real-world’ words,” demanded another.

I won’t lie; I don’t particularly love the books. The language is basic and sometimes seems stilted. They won’t win any literary prizes. But they are not aimed at me — a proficient reader — but at a child, for whom deciphering the strange squiggles on the page is a hugely laborious task.

Further, they are merely a stepping stone along the path to becoming a reader

We’ve been at this caper for two months now and have just moved on to stage two of the program, which involves introducing the letters D, P, G and T. In the meantime Margot’s teachers, who have been doing an exceptional job teaching the children remotely, have introduced the digraph “th” as well as a bank of common ­English words such as the, is, was and my.

With school set to resume next week, I find myself reflecting on her progress. Can she read independently? Not even close; we are still very much at the start of this process. But I no longer feel that underlying sense of guilt about whether I could be doing more to help her out.

The word box is getting quite full and my daughter can now read many of them automatically. At night, when I read her a bedtime story, she will stop me to point out words she knows.

The other day I told her she was starting to read like a grown up. “I know,” she replied, “The Decod­ing Dragon has been helping me.”


Friday, May 22, 2020

Rotten Education Isn't Preordained

Walter E. Williams
Black politicians, civil rights leaders and their white liberal advocates have little or no interest in doing anything effective to deal with what’s no less than an education crisis among black students. In city after city with large black populations, such as Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., less than 10% of students test proficient in reading and math. For example, in 2016, in 13 Baltimore high schools, not a single student tested proficient in math. In six other high schools, only 1% tested proficient in math. Citywide, only 15% of Baltimore students passed the state’s English test. Despite these academic deficiencies, about 70% of the students graduate and are conferred a high school diploma.

Ballou High School is in Washington, D.C. Five percent of its students test proficient in reading and 1% test proficient in math. In 2017, all 189 students in Ballou High School’s senior class applied to college. All 189 members of the graduating class of 2017 were accepted to universities. In November 2017, an investigation showed that half of Ballou’s 2017 graduates had more than three months of unexcused absences. One in five of the graduating class was absent more than present, therefore missing more than 90 days of school.

Examples of academic underachievement can be seen at predominantly black public schools across the nation, but that’s only part of the story. The strangest part of this is that poor academic performance is accepted and tolerated by black politicians, civil rights organizations and white liberals. Poor performance is often blamed on finances; however, the poorest performing schools have the highest per pupil spending. New York, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore rank among the nation’s highest in per pupil educational spending.

The underachievement story is compounded by the gross dishonesty of colleges that admit many of these students. I cannot imagine that students who are not proficient in reading and math can do real college work. In a futile attempt to make up for 12 years of rotten education, colleges put these students in remedial courses. They also design courses with little or no true academic content. Colleges have their own agendas. They want the money that comes from admitting these students. Also, they want to make their diversity and multiculturalism administrators happy.

Poor black education is not preordained. Dr. Thomas Sowell has examined schools in New York City and student performance on the NY State English Language Arts Test in 2016-17. Thirty percent of Brooklyn’s William Floyd elementary school third graders scored well below proficient in English and language arts, but at Success Academy charter school in the same building, only one did. At William Floyd, 36% were below proficient, with 24% being proficient and none testing above proficient. By contrast, at Success Academy, only 17% of third graders were below proficient, with 70% being proficient and 11% being above proficient. Among Success Academy’s fourth graders, 51% and 43%, respectively, scored proficient and above proficient, while their William Floyd counterparts scored 23% and 6%, respectively. Similar high performance can be found in some other Manhattan charter schools such as KIPP Infinity Middle School.

Liberals tell us that racial integration is a necessary condition for black academic excellence. Public charter schools such as those mentioned above belie that vision. Sowell points out that only 39% of students in all New York state schools who were recently tested scored at the “proficient” level in math, but 100% of the students at the Crown Heights Success Academy tested proficient where blacks and Hispanics constitute 90% of the student body.

There’s little question that many charter schools provide superior educational opportunities for black youngsters. The New York Times wrote, “Over 100,000 students in hundreds of the city’s charter schools are doing well on state tests, and tens of thousands of children are on waiting lists for spots.” But here’s New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s take on charter schools, expressing the interests of the education establishment: “Get away from high-stakes testing, get away from charter schools. No federal funding for charter schools.”

Black people cannot afford to buy into any attack on education alternatives. Charter schools across the nation offer a way out of the educational abyss.


Testing Affirmative Action

Even though Harvard won the first round in its battle with Students for Fair Admissions, a case challenging the university’s affirmative action policy, the judge did not address the deep and difficult issues that racial preferences involve. For lawyers and judges who will grapple with this issue in the future, we would like to advance some new ideas based on empirical research on the evaluation process.

The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that racial discrimination by the government is permissible only to meet a “compelling state interest.” Beginning with the Bakke case in 1978, the Court said that the educational benefits of a racially diverse student body could be a compelling interest.

In 2013, in its first encounter with Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court reiterated the educational value of diversity because it may produce “enhanced classroom dialogue and the lessening of racial isolation and stereotypes.”

However, the Court found that the lower courts hadn’t analyzed the university’s claims closely enough. It sent the case back for the lower courts “to determine whether the university had proved “that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits that flow from diversity.”

The lower courts decided that UT had made such a showing, and in Fisher II (2016), the Supreme Court accepted that finding by a 4-3 vote. It repeated that the standard of review in racial preference cases is strict scrutiny, which “requires the university to demonstrate with clarity that…its use of [a racial] classification is necessary…to the accomplishment of its purpose.’”

And it further stated that “no deference is owed when determining whether the use of race is narrowly tailored to achieve the university’s permissible goals.” Merely “asserting an interest in the educational benefits of diversity writ large is insufficient. A university’s goals cannot be elusory or amorphous—they must be sufficiently measurable to permit judicial scrutiny of the policies adopted to reach them.”

A university that employs racial preferences therefore has a continuing duty “to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary.” Each university that grants racial preferences has a heavy burden of proving that its program actually does produce such benefits.

We want to help courts objectively determine (1) whether universities’ affirmative action programs do produce such benefits, and (2) to what extent race is actually used in the admission decision process. George Dent is a professor of law and Hal Arkes is an expert in the field of judgment and decision-making (“JDM”). We employed knowledge from our fields to see whether the race preferences in admissions at UT and other universities currently satisfy the Supreme Court’s demand for proof that they are “narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits that flow from diversity.” We contend that they do not.

The JDM literature on evaluation distinguishes between holistic ratings and disaggregated ratings. As an example, the Olympic ice skating competition was once judged using two criteria: presentation and technical merit, each criterion being judged on a 1 to 6 scale. Because each criterion was scored separately, this scheme is termed “disaggregated.”

In such schemes, the disaggregated scores are combined to yield a final score. For example, each disaggregated rating could first be multiplied by a weight to indicate the importance the Olympic committee gave it, and the two resulting products could be added together. If the judges instead provided only a single score that took into account both criteria, the process would be “holistic.”

The University of Texas used a holistic “Personal Achievement Score” (PAS) to evaluate applicants. A reader assigns each applicant a single score based on the applicant’s potential contributions to the student body, including

the applicant’s leadership experience, extracurricular activities, awards/honors, community service, and other “special circumstances.” “Special circumstances” include the socioeconomic status of the applicant’s family, the socioeconomic status of the applicant’s school, the applicant’s family responsibilities, whether the applicant lives in a single-parent home, the applicant’s SAT score in relation to the average SAT score at the applicant’s school, the language spoken at the applicant’s home, and, finally, the applicant’s race.

Two important results from the JDM literature are as follows: (1) Disaggregated ratings generally make much more accurate predictions than do holistic ratings, even when the holistic ratings are done by experts; (2) Because it is so difficult to articulate accurately how much influence one has placed on each component of a holistic rating, disaggregating a holistic rating into its components will reveal precisely how much each component is responsible for a university’s admission decision.

The transparency of disaggregated analyses contrasts with the opacity of UT’s process. If a reader of an applicant’s file gives a PAS rating of 4, for example, it is impossible to know the basis for that rating. Was the work experience particularly influential to that rating? Perhaps it was the applicant’s race. With disaggregated ratings, it becomes easy to ascertain if race is merely a “factor of a factor of a factor” or is instead the dominating factor in university admissions decisions. We urge that judges in racial preference admission cases should insist that the university submit disaggregated ratings for scrutiny.

A method that many universities offer to show the educational benefits of student diversity are “self-report” studies. That is, they ask students if they learn better in racially diverse classes. Most students report that they do. The JDM literature shows, however, that self-report studies are of little or no value.

Each university that grants racial preferences has a heavy burden of proving that its program actually does produce such benefits.

For example, even the most naive undergraduate who takes the seven-week regimen at the University of Michigan’s Intergroup Relations, Conflict, and Community Program stressing the benefits of diversity will definitely know whether to endorse this self-report item: “The University’s emphasis on diversity fosters more group divisions than understanding.” Such “evidence” is not a good measure of the benefits of diversity.

On the other hand, it would not be difficult for a university to measure the true educational effects of diversity. It could simply run a course with multiple sections with different levels of racial diversity, give students from all sections the same tests, and see whether students in the racially diverse sections performed substantially better. Since improved classroom discussion is one supposed benefit of diversity, sessions of each section could be recorded and then rated by disinterested evaluators for the quality of discussion.

Remember that the burden is on the university to show “that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits that flow from diversity.” Courts should require universities to conduct serious studies and produce concrete evidence of actual educational benefits from their racial preferences in admissions. Unsupported claims that diversity promotes cross-racial understanding and breaks down stereotypes should not suffice.

The Supreme Court has held that courts must strictly scrutinize systems that give preferences to people based on their race. We believe that in doing that, judges need to insist on disaggregated data and evidence that the school has truly proven that “diverse” classrooms lead to better education. So far, they have not. There is no excuse for this failure.


BC intends to hold classes on campus, as other colleges wrestle with decisions on fall semester

Boston College intends to resume classes on campus this fall, school officials said Tuesday, becoming one of the larger universities in the area to announce plans to bring students back amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The news came as Boston University disclosed that it faces a budget shortfall of between $70 million and $150 million and will suspend contributions to employee retirement accounts for the next year. It is also considering furloughs and layoffs, president Bob Brown told the school.

Higher education officials across the country are struggling with how to conduct classes, and are asking faculty to prepare for multiple scenarios and sweating over predictions that the COVID-19 crisis could decimate their finances.

“This is painful," Brown wrote to BU faculty and staff. "It is not my desire to balance the budget by reducing the workforce, but it may well have to be part of the plan we put in place to protect the university’s future.”

The financial toll on universities is expected to be significant during the next academic year, even if they are able to bring most of their students back to campus. Money-making conferences and events have been canceled, and institutions must invest in coronavirus testing kits and safety equipment and increase the cleaning of dormitories and classrooms. If some or all of their students study from home this fall, colleges will lose money on room and board.

Brown said canceling retirement contributions will save the university $84 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

BU is developing plans for both in-person and online classes but hasn’t made a decision yet on how undergraduates, specifically, will start the fall semester. The university is uncertain about how many students will enroll, which is adding to its budgetary worries.

“We are a tuition-dependent institution; our ability to maintain our financial health will depend on the number of students who actually enroll in the fall and spring,” Brown said.

Boston College president William Leahy, meanwhile, couched his announcement about the reopening in caution, saying that administrators will continue to review the situation in coming months, but that the plan is for classes to resume on campus on Aug. 31.

“In its long history, Boston College has had to deal with a range of serious issues, including the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the attacks of September 11. Our university has already responded to the coronavirus with grace, generosity, and commitment; and I remain confident that it will continue to do so in the months and year ahead,” Leahy wrote.

Boston College had about 400 students remain on campus this spring after most others returned home in mid-March, according to college spokesman Jack Dunn. Many were international students who could not return home due to travel restrictions. That situation became an unexpected exercise in how to operate a campus safely during the pandemic, he said. Administrators learned how to create social distancing in the dining facilities, sanitize bathrooms and common areas in dorms, and use technology for meetings, Dunn said.

Leahy said the college’s health services department has already developed testing and isolation procedures in response to the virus and officials plan to continue to refine plans and policies as the fall draws near, particularly around contact tracing and treatment. The school has about 14,600 undergraduate and graduate students.

Michael Serazio, a communications professor at BC, greeted the news with relief. “I’m desperately clinging to that hope that we can have the students back on campus in fall,” he said Tuesday.

Serazio said the unprecedented switch to online education reminded him how much is lost when people are far apart.

“The energy, the conversation, the inspiration that takes place in a room together is essential, I think, to teaching and learning,” he said.

Marilynn Johnson, a history professor, said she is gearing up for a long summer of planning, because the college has asked its faculty to be prepared to teach online or in person. There is also a possibility, she said, that the semester would begin in person but end online, if cases of the virus spike again.

“Like most of the faculty, we’re concerned about what that planning involves,” Johnson said, adding that she expects more guidance from the administration over the summer.

One big question is Thanksgiving break, when students normally return home and, even in good times, often bring germs back to campus. Notre Dame University announced this week that it will open its campus this fall but start two weeks early so that students will not need to return after Thanksgiving.

In the fall, Johnson is teaching two classes of about 15 students each, one on violence in American history and the other about the history of social movements. She hopes they can meet in classrooms that hold twice that many people, so everyone can spread out.

“That wouldn’t be something that I would be terribly worried about, unless the virus really takes off again,” Johnson said.

Some of her colleagues plan to continue to teach online, she said, due to health concerns for them or their families.

Across the country universities are developing plans for the fall, though few have announced definitive decisions about whether students will be able to return on campus.

The California state university announced earlier this month that it would hold fall classes online.

University of Massachusetts Amherst chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy told students on Tuesday that he expected the classes to be a combination of online and in-person.

The campus, which enrolls more than 28,000 students, is trying to figure out how many students can safely be housed in the dorms and attend classes in person, while meeting the public health requirements, Subbaswamy said.

The university is looking at a variety of options, including whether to bring freshmen and seniors back — or perhaps those students who need to take laboratory or studio classes and must have access to equipment. The campus will likely have to be transformed and dining services may be offered outside in the early fall or students will have to manage with bagged meals to avoid congregating inside, Subbaswamy said.

Some UMass Amherst officials are working on proposals for how to ensure that students socialize safely at night and on the weekends, while other departments are ordering plexiglass to curtail the spread of germs, he said.

Among other area schools, the president of Northeastern is planning for students to return to campus in the fall, but the school will enact a range of new policies to help protect students and faculty from the virus, he has said.

Other schools have tentatively come to different conclusions. For instance, Cape Cod Community College has said its entire fall semester will be online. Others are still wrestling with the decision.

Will Holmes, a parent of an incoming freshman at Boston College, said Tuesday’s announcement was good news.

His son has spent the final weeks of his senior year of high school online and the prospect of starting college that way was daunting, said Holmes, who grew up in the Boston area, but now lives in California.

Holmes said he does not think BC would announce a plan to bring students to campus in the fall if it were not possible, but also understands that the situation might change by August.

"Fingers crossed that it ends up working out and it’s the smart thing to do," Holmes said.

But Timmy Facciola, who graduated this month from the college, said he is skeptical that BC can safely reopen.

Facciola said he is watching Harvard, a trend-setter in higher education, which has said it is preparing for many, if not all, of its classes to be delivered remotely in the fall.

“I think maybe BC was trying to just chime in and make an update and they know they can’t make a decision now,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the last call.”


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Back to School?

As the 2019-20 school year finishes the home stretch, it’s now obvious that kids will have to wait till fall before they see the inside of a classroom again. Or will it be longer? Comments made by pandemic guru Dr. Anthony Fauci during a Senate hearing last week were reported to suggest that he recommended not opening schools this fall.

During the hearing, Fauci noted that we shouldn’t count on a vaccine before then, though he is confident that a vaccine will be developed at some point. The media spun his words to indicate that Fauci recommended keeping schools closed in the fall. President Donald Trump publicly disagreed with that idea.

Trump wants schools opened. Except for the elitist establishment, we all do. The big issue, of course, is safety. It’s become impossible to build consensus on what constitutes “safe” and how to achieve it. Ultimately, each state may proceed as it sees fit, but many state and local agencies look to the federal government for guidance on what to do next.

The biggest concern is whether we have enough evidence or even the right evidence to make informed decisions. An article in Wired magazine laying out the case for reopening schools points to mounting evidence from around the world that children have been largely unaffected by COVID-19. In Europe, many kids are already back at school, where the institutions are regularly disinfected, and class sizes and lunch periods have been refigured to comply with social distancing.

Senator Rand Paul, a physician and COVID-19 survivor, pressed Fauci with facts shared in the Wired article and data from major health organizations regarding childhood mortality and the China Virus. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that only 1% of coronavirus patients were under 10 years old, and only 1% were aged 10 to 19 years old. Even in New York City, the epicenter for the virus in the U.S., only 10 deaths out of about 16,000 attributed to the China Virus have been those under the age of 18. More school children die of pneumonia each year.

Establishment-type elitists making the case for continued school lockdowns point to the concept that, while children may have a lower susceptibility to COVID-19, they have the potential to be carriers of the virus, bringing it home to older family members. However, the reasons why or to what extent are still unknown.

Still, maintaining an indefinite lockdown posture in the absence of medical absolutes we may never achieve is not doing our children or us any good. Long-term closure of schools has a negative effect on their understanding of important social dynamics, which are formed during school years. Long periods of being stuck at home can lead to depression and anxiety among kids as well as their parents, who must cope with their children’s stresses on top of their own. Increased mental-health problems and child abuse are the result.

Perhaps one of the most obvious points for getting kids back to school in the fall is because it will free up parents to get back to work — assuming they have that choice. Many parents have either had to leave their jobs or do home-based work while their kids are out of school. They can’t get back to business until their kids get back to school. Keeping children out of school also disproportionately affects lower-income families, who don’t have as many employment options, often can’t afford babysitters or nannies, or don’t have adequate computers and Internet connections for distance learning.

Rather than wait for a 100% all-clear to send our kids back to school, state and local governments should take this summer break to develop plans to create a safe and clean education environment. There are lessons to be learned by what some countries have done in Europe, and we owe it to our children to provide them the best education possible.


To Teach His Own: The Rise of Homeschooling

It didn't look like recess. It looked like an elementary school jail. Instead of carefree children running around outside, the images from French journalists are almost tragic: little boys and girls, each sitting glumly in their own chalk-outlined box. To some parents, it was a sobering picture of what public education might look like in the fall. But to millions of others, it was confirmation -- the time to homeschool is now.

There's very little about life that the coronavirus hasn't changed. For everyone in the world, it's been a transformative time -- but for parents of school-aged children, it's been especially disruptive. And while having these routines turned upside down has been challenging, it's not necessarily been negative. Moms and dads have had a chance to look at the traditional learning model and consider: is this really the best option for our kids? For all the frustrations about being stuck at home, it's finally forcing parents who might never have thought about public school alternatives to take stock of what their children are being taught and how well they're performing.

And guess what? The longer this goes on, the more parents seem convinced that at-home learning is better. In at least three new polls, anywhere from 15-40 percent of families say they're ready to make the switch to homeschooling after the lockdown is over. Now, maybe that's health driven, Mike Donnelly, senior counsel at Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) says, or maybe families have really started to embrace the flexibility and autonomy of learning at home. Either way, he told Sarah Perry on "Washington Watch," America could be looking at a "500 percent increase in the number of people homeschooling in the fall, which could top 10 million kids." The numbers, he agrees, "are stunning."

For a lot of parents, the uncertainty about what the school setting could look like in the fall is concerning. They've been told things are about to get more complicated with block schedules or half-days on, half-days off. "Add that to the mandatory sanitizing every 30 seconds," Mike points out, and it's all just a headache waiting to happen. It's all helping to drive surveys like RealClear Opinion Research, where the swell of people who support educational choice is exploding across every demographic.

Of the 40 percent of families who said they'd be more likely to homeschool or virtual school after the country re-opened, a slim majority -- believe it or not -- were Democrats. A lot of people, Mike agrees, have mistakenly thought of homeschooling as a "traditionally conservative model." But that hasn't been the case for a long time. If anything, school choice is becoming a more unifying issue. In this same poll, almost 60 percent of Democrats sided with Republicans in their overwhelming support of school choice. Asked if the consensus surprised him, Mike responded, "maybe a little bit."

"What we found over the years is that the homeschooling movement has diversified broadly. It's diversifying across income, ethnicity, philosophical [and] religious beliefs. You're seeing a transformation happening in this coronavirus. It seems like it's accelerating [the support]. And we're excited about that. I know that... there are people struggling for a lot of reasons right now... But, you know, this is a time when families can come together and become families. And I'm seeing that even with my own homeschool family, we're together a lot more than we ever have been."

Over the years, there've been a lot of misconceptions about homeschooling that HSLDA is trying to debunk. Before the pandemic, Mike points out, most people thought homeschooling was just about that: staying home. "That's just not true. We're as busy -- maybe busier -- than others." There's a whole three-dimensional level of learning with co-ops, outdoor activities, sports, and field trips that he hopes people will begin to see as part of the homeschool platform once some of the restrictions are lifted. Add that to the ability to control the messaging on hot-button topics like sex ed, biology, gender, creation, and sexuality, and it's no wonder homeschooling is winning every popularity contest.

For the far-Left, who's desperately trying to keep kids in the grip of their radical curriculum, the surge in homeschooling is their worst-case scenario. They know as well as we do: the future of the liberal agenda depends on generations of children living under the daily drumbeat of extreme indoctrination. "Public education remains the single biggest monopoly in America," Cal Thomas warns. At least in this sense, the rise of homeschooling, "the coronavirus might be a blessing in disguise."


Former centrist PM left Australia a dud school curriculum

In his recent memoir, A Bigger Picture, Malcolm Turnbull presents an ego-centred, delusional account of the way he single-handedly solved the school funding issue and ensured Australian students’ dismal performance in international tests would improve.

Wrong on both accounts. Not only was the Gonski 2.0 funding model flawed, inequitable and guilty of penalising low-fee schools, especially Catholic, but the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools also proved to be a dud calculated to dumb down the curriculum further, ensuring even lower standards.

Chapter 40 of the former prime minister’s book centres on the May 2, 2017, press conference announcing a new school funding agreement titled Gonski 2.0, named after the report’s chairman, David Gonski, and the intention to appoint Gonski as chairman of the education review.

Turnbull lauds the event as a political masterstroke as Gonski had been chosen by the ALP’s Julia Gillard when education minister to review school funding and the “I give a Gonski” slogan was a key plank in the left-leaning Australian Education Union’s campaign to attack conservative governments.

By securing Gonski’s involvement, Turnbull boasts: “I’d ensured that all those ‘I give a Gonski’ posters, banners, corflutes, T-shirts and hats were heading to the recycling bin. Because we didn’t just ‘give a Gonski’, we had his support: he was standing right next to me as we announced our new school funding policy.”

While Turnbull writes he had settled the funding wars as schools now had a model that was “genuinely national, consistent and needs-based”, nothing could be further from the truth.

Stephen Farish, the expert responsible for developing the methodology employed by Gonski 2.0 to quantify how much funding non-government schools received, admitted it “clearly isn’t working”. Under Turnbull as prime minister wealthy independent schools were treated the same as low-fee, less privileged Catholic schools.

Even worse, Simon Birmingham, the federal education minister at the time, and Turnbull knew the Gonski 2.0 funding model was inequitable as months earlier the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria had published a paper — Capacity to Contribute and SES Scores — proving the model reinforced disadvantage.

Significant is that the analysis and conclusions reached by the CECV paper subsequently were endorsed by a commonwealth review of school funding chaired by Michael Chaney that concluded the Gonski 2.0 model was so corrupted it had to be replaced by a more equitable way of deciding funding to non-government schools.

By ignoring the CECV’s paper, in addition to endorsing a flawed funding model, Turnbull also demonstrated how politically inept he was by igniting a nationwide campaign led by Stephen Elder, then executive director of Catholic Education Melbourne, arguing for a more equitable funding model.

In addition to launching Gonski 2.0, Turnbull announced the curriculum review to try to achieve excellence in Australian schools by identifying the most effective way to raise standards.

Describing Gonski’s experience and qualifications to determine how to overcome Australia’s academic underperformance as measured by international tests, Turnbull called Gonski “my old school friend, debating partner and neighbour” and “one of Australia’s leading capitalists and a director of banks”.

Not mentioned in Turnbull’s book is that the eventual report published in March 2018 was flawed, substandard and guaranteed to lower standards further.

Instead of explicit and rigorous year-level standards where students would be graded and evaluated in terms of performance, the review embraced costly and unproven educational fads such as progression points and developmental learning. Students would no longer pass or fail as the focus turned to formative assessment and personal growth.

The report also undervalued what American academic Jerome Bruner described as teaching “the structure of the discipline” in favour of content-free, vacuous so-called 21st-century generic competencies.

The review ignored findings by the National Research Council in the US in the acclaimed publication, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, that a “fundamental understanding of subjects” was essential if students were to become “self-sustaining, lifelong learners”.

Jennifer Buckingham, then a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, wrote at the time that “the solutions posed in this report will take us further in the wrong direction. If implemented, the Gonski 2.0 report will just be another chapter in the story of Australia’s sad educational decline”.

It’s understandable why failed politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull want to ensure their version of events dominates the historical record. But A Bigger Picture shows how he failed Australian schoolchildren.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Did You Know? For Shape of Post-Virus Higher Ed, Watch Public Colleges

Doomsday predictions for higher education are a dime a dozen. The grandest claims expect “a handful of elite cyborg universities” to reshape a college education. Less-dire guesses see an end to the “buffet” of programs, extracurriculars, and university revenues common today. And pre-coronavirus visions of the future expected a variety of disruptions that failed to bring down the traditional two- and four-year degree.

For those trying to get a handle on the coming changes in higher ed, though, they need to understand where students actually attend college. Small, private schools and elite universities aren’t leading indicators. Instead, look toward state four-year colleges and community colleges.

As the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center noted, about 18.2 million college students were enrolled in fall 2019. Almost 8 million students attended public four-year colleges and another 5.4 million attended public two-year colleges—about 74 percent of all students.

Only 3.8 million students attended private four-year schools and another 750,000 students chose a for-profit four-year school. Even if the entire private sector in higher ed disappeared, the only changes most students would notice is that campus parking lots and classes are more crowded.

For public regional colleges that educate the most students, though, all is not rosy. The economic downturn has led to dramatic budget cuts, forcing struggling colleges to make decisions they hoped to avoid. Fearful of scaring away students, most colleges say they will offer in-person classes. The California State University system, which teaches 500,000 students at 23 campuses, is the only major public system that has announced it will go online for fall classes.

But some experts think telling students in-person fall classes will happen is unwise. Kevin R. McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, called announcements for in-person classes—when the future is so uncertain—“a colossal mistake.” If students put down a deposit to take in-person classes, and then university presidents announce an online semester, it could make students and parents feel hoodwinked.

The public won’t have much information on fall enrollments for a few more months. When it comes in, though, higher ed observers need to be mindful of trends at public colleges to have an idea of what future changes will look like. Extrapolating from elite private colleges would be a mistake.


New Title IX Regulations Restore Due Process–But There’s a Battle Ahead

In the latest case where a male student sued his college over the unfair procedures it used to expel him, Colgate University in New York will go to trial. So ruled federal district judge Frederick Scullin on April 30. In his opinion, the plaintiff student had presented sufficient evidence of bias against him for the case to proceed.

The case began in October 2016. At that time, Colgate, like all American colleges, was operating under the Title IX regulations instituted during the Obama administration. Those regulations, dictated through a mere “Dear Colleague” letter rather than formal administrative rulemaking, decreed that colleges must abide by a new set of rules when responding to complaints of sexual assault or harassment (which was very broadly defined).

Those rules dramatically changed the way such cases were handled by stacking the deck against accused students, almost always male.

The Colgate case was typical.  As Judge Scullin observed, there was a strong odor of bias on the part of the school’s investigator against the defendant. Courts in many other Title IX cases have come to the same conclusion that fairness and due process of law were trampled upon by zealous administrators who were far more concerned with punishing accused students than in seeking the truth.

It is worth noting that many liberal civil libertarians denounced the blatant unfairness of the Obama administration’s Title IX regulations, including 28 members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, who sharply criticized the rules. In their letter, they wrote,

"The goal must not be simply to go as far as possible in the direction of preventing anything that some might characterize as sexual harassment. The goal must instead be to fully address sexual harassment while at the same time protecting students against unfair and inappropriate discipline, honoring individual relationship autonomy, and maintaining the values of academic freedom."

Those professors clearly saw that the Title IX regulations swung the pendulum too far to the side of the accuser and school authority. For example, the defendant student was not told the exact charges against him, was not allowed legal representation, was not allowed to see the evidence that the school was relying on, was not allowed to confront his accuser, and was given very little time to prepare his defense.

Early in her tenure as secretary of education under president Trump, Betsy DeVos suspended the Obama regulations and began the process of revising them in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act. On May 5, the new rules were released and the reaction was strongly divided.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan group that defends free speech and due process for students and faculty, applauded the changes. In an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, FIRE’s executive director (and also a member of the Martin Center’s board) called the revisions “a victory for campus justice,” observing that “More than 40 percent of top colleges don’t even specify that their equivalents of judges and juries must be impartial. This madness will end when the rules take effect.”

Similarly, the American Enterprise Institute’s director of education policy studies, Frederick Hess, wrote “DeVos gets Title IX right,” pointing out, among other sensible changes, that the new rules are even-handed with respect to appeal. Under the Obama rules, the accuser had a right of appeal if the decision went against her, but the accused was afforded no such right.

One of the most salient changes is that colleges are no longer expected to use a single investigator model for handling Title IX complaints.

Under the Obama regulations, schools were pressured to have one campus administrator (usually trained to favor the accuser) deal with the whole case, from fact-finding to determination of guilt. With the new rules, schools must use a three-person system—one officer to receive complaints, another to interview people and gather facts, and a third to decide the question of guilt and recommend sanctions and remedies.

Moreover, the training materials for those officials must be posted on the school’s website. (In the past, some colleges kept their training secret, knowing that the lack of fairness in them would lead to criticism.)

If the new rules are followed, they will protect colleges against lawsuits such as Doe v. Colgate. They’d no longer be held liable for violating the due process rights of accused students. A superb book to consult if you are interested in the details of some of the cases is The Campus Rape Frenzy by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr., which I reviewed here.

On the other hand, the new Title IX rules were bitterly attacked by some people and groups.

Catherine Lhamon, who now chairs the United States Commission on Civil Rights (and was chiefly responsible for writing the former regulations when she headed the Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration), fumed that secretary DeVos was “taking us back to the bad old days, when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.”

That is so obviously untrue that the purpose of Lhamon’s rhetoric must be to rally opposing forces rather than convince objective people that the rule changes are undesirable. She isn’t trying to spark a rational debate over the ideal way of enforcing Title IX, but to energize leftists to take up arms.

With less vitriol but still showing defiance, University of California president Janet Napolitano issued a statement declaring,

UC opposes these ill-conceived changes and in spite of them will continue our hard-won momentum through education, prevention, and processes that are fair and compassionate for all parties…We have come too far as a nation to halt our progress against sexual harassment.

Napolitano’s statement is reminiscent of the old Brezhnev Doctrine from the Cold War—that once a country had fallen under communist rule, it could never go back. In the view of feminists like Lhamon and Napolitano, the Obama Title IX rules were an advance for women (and never mind that many women deplore what the rules did to men in their lives) that must be preserved.

It is crucial to keep in mind that the Obama-era rules were designed to serve a political purpose. In their book, Johnson and Taylor explain that after the Democratic Party’s disaster in the 2010 elections, its strategists were looking for new issues to motivate their voting base—especially college-educated women—in 2012. One that fit their needs perfectly was the claim that college campuses were places of great danger for women because school officials did very little to crack down on “rape culture.”

That gambit worked very well for the Democrats in 2012, helping propel the president’s re-election. During Obama’s second term, huge numbers of jobs were created for Title IX administrators who saw their mission as exercising their power to correct what they regarded as the power imbalance between men and women. Doing justice in individual cases was much less important than pushing the narrative that women need strong rules to protect them against sexual harassment.

Tellingly, immediately after the new rules were announced, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden stated that if elected, he would overturn them and reinstate the Obama-era rules.

We should expect to see widespread resistance to the new Title IX rules. All of those aggressive administrators who enforce the rules won’t let themselves be reprogrammed like you might reprogram your Roomba. Many will resist, hoping desperately that the rules will be overturned (The ACLU has said it will sue to bring that about) or that Joe Biden is elected.

Title IX enforcement has been completely politicized and the battle over it will continue so long as our colleges are under Washington’s control.


Australia: Controversial character called the 'Genderbread Person' which teaches children that gender is decided in the brain and is not related to anatomy is dropped after a parent complained

Learning material teaching high school students about different gender identities has been pulled from one school.

An unnamed mother in regional NSW complained about the use of the 'Genderbread person' in her 15-year-old son's classroom.

The education tool is used to teach students that anatomy doesn't always determine gender.

The mother advocated against this after her son came home 'angry' over the material being taught in class.

She said she has written to state and federal health ministers but her school's principal. who called on Monday to apologise and reveal it had been removed from the school, was 'the first person in authority' to understand her.

'In over a year of feeling like I have been beating my head into a brick wall, at last a sensible response,' the mother told The Australian.

She said before this members of parliament had 'bounced her around like a hot potato'.

The woman believes the education material targets 'vulnerable children' like her eldest child.

Her child revealed he identified as a transgender boy rather than a girl.

The child's mother contributes the 19-year-old's gender identity to underlying depression.

She is furious the hospital gave her child the testosterone needed to transition.

'Gender and sex are being confused [in school] - it starts to introduce this confusion, especially with vulnerable young people like our daughter,' the mother told The Australian.

'Some parents I've spoken to have said their children who are on the autism spectrum have been sucked into this [trans identity] - these are kids who are looking for somewhere to fit in. Other parents, their kids have had sexual abuse.'

She said children like hers need support and therapy but not drugs.

Jack Whitney, Co-Convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, argues it is important to have a 'supportive learning environment that values diversity of all students'.

'We understand that education advocates and experts have long called for the inclusion of transgender and gender-diverse educational resources. As such the Lobby encourages the ongoing inclusion of these programs to ensure that the education children receive works towards a future where they are all able to thrive,' Mr Whitney told Daily Mail Australia.

'From our experience, the case reported in The Australian is often because a parent is apprehensive of what they don't know or understand, and their immediate response is to remove their children. However, we argue children have the right to an education that informs them of a world that is diverse and best prepares them to navigate the future.'

He said there is going to be unique needs for every child and it is important staff consult with students, their carers and family on these matters. 

A spokeswoman from the NSW Department of education said their personal development syllabus covers a range of topics such as human anatomy, personal identity, gender roles and expectations and sex-based harrasment and diversity. 

'Gender fluidity is not part of the NSW Curriculum. The department does not endorse the use of associated materials and schools have been made aware of this,' the spokeswoman said.

'The Genderbread resource was not developed by the NSW Department of Education. The school immediately withdrew this resource from future teaching and learning programs, following a request by the department to review its use.

'The Safe Schools program is not and never has been, part of the NSW curriculum. The NSW Department of Education does not promote this program or its resources.'


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

What a Wisconsin School District Wanted to Hide from Parents

As public schools shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, parents across the country find themselves homeschooling their children. For many, this is an eye-opening experience revealing exactly what their children are being taught at school.

Parents in one school district had this epiphany well before the shutdown. And it wasn’t positive.

When parents in Madison, Wisconsin learned that their children were being taught experimental theories about gender identity, they were understandably upset. Under a new school district policy, children as young as kindergarten were being exposed to the idea that gender “is a spectrum” and that you can choose your own gender based on how you feel.

Worse, part of the policies required teachers to assist and encourage children of any age in the adoption of transgender identities without parental notice or consent, and required teachers to actively deceive parents about their child’s struggle with gender identity disorder!

Something had to be done to protect these children and protect parental rights. That’s why 14 parents filed a lawsuit against the school district. Here’s what you need to know about this case.

Who: 14 parents of children in the Madison Metropolitan School District

A policy intended to “disrupt the gender binary” sounds like a political agenda you would see from a radical, left-wing activist group, not an idea that should be taught to young children in public schools. But in 2018, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) adopted such a policy for all of its schools.

MMSD’s new policy defines gender as “a person’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither” and includes lesson plans and books that affirm transgender ideology, such as the highly controversial I Am Jazz book for children in kindergarten.

Right after the policy changes in 2018, an elementary school played a video about a teacher’s gender transition for the whole school (kindergarten through fifth grade) without parental permission.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Part of this school district policy also requires teachers and administrators to actively deceive parents about their own children. According to the policy, if a child professes a different gender identity and is called by a different name at school than at home, school employees must revert to using the child’s birth name around the child’s parents to keep them in the dark.

This isn’t just a school policy. This is activism at the expense of young children who will be taught the largely experimental idea of gender identity in their formative years.

Parents knew they had to do something to protect their children and their rights.

What: Doe v. Madison Metropolitan School District

Parents are the first teachers of their children and should be the first to know about issues their child is having at school—especially when it comes to the possibly life-altering topic of gender dysphoria.

That’s why 14 individual parents from eight families filed a lawsuit challenging MMSD’s policy that requires teachers to hide information from parents and lie to them. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys along with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) asked a state court to halt MMSD’s policy.

“Whether a child with gender dysphoria should socially transition to a different gender identity is a highly controversial and consequential decision,” reads the complaint, “and is therefore the type of decision that falls squarely within parental decision-making authority.”

Also, Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, submitted an expert declaration in this case. “For a child to live radically different identities at home and at school, and to conceal what he or she perceives to be his or her true identity from parents, is psychologically unhealthy in itself,” writes Dr. Levine.

Experts and parents agree: this MMSD policy could harm children.

When: February 2020—present

WILL and ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents on February 18 and asked for a temporary halt to MMSD’s policy on February 19.

Where: Madison, Wisconsin

MMSD is the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin with over 27,000 students and 52 schools.

Why: To protect children and parental rights

Parents have the best interests of their children in mind. But policies like MMSD’s pit children against their parents when it comes to important questions about sex and gender identity.

Several studies have shown that of the children who experience discomfort with their gender but do not socially transition (begin to dress as the opposite sex and use a new name), 80 to 98 percent eventually desist or become comfortable with their biological sex. Yet, school officials from the MMSD want to encourage children to socially transition, putting them on a path toward puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

Elsewhere, some parents have already experienced situations like this. A man name Jay Keck found out school officials hid his daughter’s struggle with gender identity disorder from him. And others, such as 20 year-old woman Sydney Write, have spoken up about how they regret taking cross-sex hormones.

Children who struggle with gender dysphoria need their parents' support.

The Bottom Line

This school district policy harms children and violates parental rights, requiring teachers and school officials to be dishonest with parents about what their children are experiencing.

But it is parents who know what is best for their children, not school employees and administrators. And these parents will not allow their children to be used as pawns to further an ideological agenda.


SCOTUS tackles clash of Catholic schools, ex-teachers

The Supreme Court on Monday seemed divided over how broadly religious institutions including schools, hospitals and social service centers should be shielded from job discrimination lawsuits by employees.

The court heard arguments by telephone, with the audio available live, for a second week because of the coronavirus pandemic. The court has two days left of scheduled telephone arguments. Tuesday's arguments are high-profile fights over President Donald Trump’s financial records.

On Monday, the high court heard a case stemming from a unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision in which the justices said the Constitution prevents ministers from suing their churches for employment discrimination. But the court didn't rigidly define who counts as a minister.

Lawyer Eric Rassbach, representing two Catholic schools sued by former fifth grade teachers who taught religion among other subjects, told the justices that the women count as ministers exempt from suing.

“If separation of church and state means anything at all, it must mean that government cannot interfere with the church's decisions about who is authorized to teach its religion,” Rassbach told the justices.

But the court struggled Monday with who should count as a minister, with the court's four more liberal members expressing concern about broadening the current exception.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a member of the court’s liberal wing, told Rassbach that he was seeking an exception that was “broader than is necessary to protect the church.”

Justice Elena Kagan, meanwhile, asked whether a series of people working for religious institutions would count as a minister, including: a math teacher who begins class with a prayer, a nurse who prays with patients, a church organist and a cook who is not Jewish but prepares kosher meals. No, yes, yes and no, Rassbach answered.

“What's the connection, what are we supposed to draw from this?” Kagan asked, expressing concern about how the court should draw the line between who counts as a minister and who does not.

The court's conservatives, including Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed more comfortable giving broad latitude to religious institutions in defining who is a minister.

Thomas, one of several justices who went to Catholic schools growing up, suggested courts should stay out of the issue, asking: “How exactly would ... a secular court go about, determining whether an employee’s duties and functions are religious or whether they’re important?”

Five of the justices are Catholic, three are Jewish and Gorsuch attended Catholic schools but now attends a Protestant church.

The case before the justices Monday involves two schools in Southern California. Kristen Biel taught at St. James Catholic School in Torrance and Agnes Morrissey-Berru at Our Lady of Guadalupe in nearby Hermosa Beach. Morrissey-Berru's teaching contract wasn't renewed in 2015, when she was in her 60s, after she'd taught more than 15 years at the school. And Biel's contract wasn't renewed after she disclosed she had breast cancer and would need time off.

Both sued their former employers, with Morrissey-Berru alleging age discrimination and Biel alleging disability discrimination. A lower court said both lawsuits could go forward, but the schools appealed and have the support of the Trump administration.

Biel died last year at age 54 after a five-year battle with breast cancer. Her husband has represented her side in her place.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has been treated for cancer four times, suggested she'd side with Morrissey-Berru and Biel.

“What I find very disturbing in all this,” Ginsburg said at one point, is “that the person can be fired or refused to be hired for a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with religion, like needing to take care of chemotherapy.”

The court also heard arguments by phone Monday in an appeal by a Native American man who claims state courts have no authority to try him for a crime committed on reservation land that belongs to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The justices considered a case involving the same question a year ago, but Gorsuch didn't participate because he took part in the case when he served on the appeals court in Denver before becoming a justice in 2017. With only eight justices, the court was apparently evenly divided and so the justices took up a different case so the full group of nine could rule. On Monday, Gorsuch appeared to be a pivotal vote for the view that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation.


Philosophy student, 20, claims he faces expulsion from Australian university for 'exposing its ties to the Chinese Communist Party'

A fourth-year philosophy student at the University of Queensland is facing the threat of expulsion this week after speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party.

Drew Pavlou is an elected member of the university's senate and is now facing 11 accusations of 'prejudicing the reputation' of the institution.

The 20-year-old led a series of campus demonstrations last year, in support of Hong-Kong's pro-democracy movement.

He also posted messages to social media criticising China's authoritarian regime and denounced the university's close financial ties with the Communist Party.

However the University of Queensland claim the breaches are not for criticising China but for positioning the statement's as if they were on behalf of the university.

Mr Pavlou believes he is being unfairly targeted.

'I am being threatened with this unprecedented move because of UQ's particularly close relationship with the Chinese party-state; UQ enjoys perhaps the closest relationship of any university with the Chinese government in the Anglosphere,' he wrote in an article for Foreign Policy.

'In addition to funding and controlling a Confucius Institute on campus, the Chinese government funds at least four accredited UQ courses that present a party-approved version of Chinese history to students, glossing over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and mainland China.

'In addition to these state-backed courses, the Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, serves as an honorary professor at the university.'

Mr Pavlou recently took Mr Xu to court after being attacked at a rally by Chinese nationalists.

'In July 2019, I led a peaceful campus sit-in calling for UQ to completely cut ties with the Chinese state until Tibetans were freed, Uighur detention camps were closed, and Hong Kongers were afforded greater democracy,' he said.

'Masked pro-CCP heavies violently attacked our rally, assaulting me and choke-slamming other pro-Hong Kong students to the ground.'

Following the ugly incident, Mr Pavlou was named in a Chinese state media article by Mr Xu and accused of being 'anti-China'.

As a result, Mr Pavlou claims he then received death threats, unsettling phone calls and letters.

The University of Queensland said in a statement, it rejects the 'unsubstantiated' claims and is not attempting to prevent students from expressing their personal political views or trying to limit their right to freedom of speech.

'The University is an active defender of freedom of speech - it has adopted the principles of the French Model Code into its policy framework,' the statement said.

'Everyday life at UQ demonstrates our ongoing commitment to its protection and promotion.'

The university says any decision at the disciplinary hearing will be made on the basis of fact and evidence and that the process provides a fair and confidential course of action.

The University of Queensland has approximately 10,000 Chinese students bringing in about $150 million to the university in student fees each year.


Monday, May 18, 2020

COVID-19 and the Future of Educational Freedom

It is an odd juxtaposition that at a time when families are isolated in their homes, lacking the freedom to go about the ordinary routines of life, many are experiencing greater educational freedom. As cities shelve compulsory attendance mandates, curriculum directives, and annual testing requirements, parents are catching a glimpse of education without forced schooling.1 They are leveraging a multitude of online learning resources and spotting the ways in which their child’s creativity and curiosity rebound when allowed to explore more individualized curricula.2 Many parents are seeing that their children are happier, more focused, and more imaginative when not required to spend their days attending traditional school, and some of these parents may want to continue supporting their child’s learning at home post‐​pandemic.3 In this period of confinement and social distancing, families are discovering the expansive education opportunities outside of conventional classrooms.

Because of COVID‐​19‐​related lockdowns, hundreds of millions of young people have been discharged from traditional school settings.4 Some are following the same curriculum and attendance requirements that they otherwise would, but others have been unleashed from such strictures. Some families are using this unusual circumstance to withdraw their children permanently from local school districts, opting for independent homeschooling instead of the “remote schooling” that many municipalities are offering. One such parent shared with me the e‐​mail he sent to his school district’s superintendent officially withdrawing his son. “His mood and vitality flipped like a switch when we told him this remote schooling was over,” he wrote. “It also uncovered his apathy toward [traditional] schooling in general.”

The modern homeschooling movement began in earnest in the 1970s, first among countercultural leftists who were dissatisfied with government‐​controlled schools and chose not to send their children to them. The homeschooling population swelled during the 1980s and ’90s, particularly as religious conservatives began to educate their children at home and pushed for legal recognition of their right to do so. Over the past four decades, homeschooling numbers have soared to nearly two million students in the United States, moving from the sidelines to a mainstream education option.5 Today’s homeschoolers are more demographically and ideologically diverse than they were even a decade ago, and the homeschooling population is increasingly reflective of American society more generally.6 Although religion still plays a role in many families’ decision to homeschool their children, much of the recent growth in the practice comes from urban, secular families who value a more individualized approach to learning.7 According to the most recent federal data, more parents are choosing homeschooling out of “concern about the school environment”—specifically in regard to “safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure.”8

And then there’s the often dismal academic performance of students in government schools. The most recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the “Nation’s Report Card,” reveal that two‐​thirds of American students are not proficient in reading, and U.S. history and geography scores have declined as well.9 Although current research on homeschooling has its limitations, given its reliance on surveys and a lack of control studies, most peer‐​reviewed studies show that homeschoolers outperform their peers and have more positive life experiences, including greater career satisfaction and personal fulfillment.10 Another recent study shows that today’s homeschoolers take greater advantage of the resources in their communities and thereby cultivate more useful knowledge and valuable relationships than many of their traditionally schooled peers.11 On average, they more often visit local libraries and museums, and they attend more cultural activities, such as musical, theatrical, and athletic events.

As many are learning, homeschooling no longer requires a two‐​parent household in which one parent stays home to teach. Today, homeschoolers increasingly take advantage of hybrid homeschooling models; low‐​cost, in‐​home micro‐​schools; self‐​directed learning centers; virtual learning; community classes; and apprenticeship programs.12 These and other innovations make homeschooling a viable option for more families than ever. Education‐​choice mechanisms such as education savings accounts and tax‐​credit programs also help more families to choose alternatives to conventional schooling by defraying costs of learning materials, classes, books, tutors, and more.

The Future of Homeschooling

The government response to the COVID-19 pandemic clearly is accelerating the shift away from conventional schooling and toward homeschooling. A recent survey by EdChoice found that 52 percent of respondents have a more favorable view of homeschooling than they did before the outbreak.13 And with greater freedom to explore their interests, many children are learning to cultivate their passions and purpose like never before.

Although homeschooling has been legal throughout the United States for about thirty years, opponents of homeschooling continue to push for greater government oversight and even “presumptive bans” on the practice.14 If parents and policymakers wish to protect and promote liberty, they must push back against efforts to regulate or ban this educational approach. Given the impact of a good education on a child’s life trajectory, those concerned with freedom and progress will be hard‐​pressed to find an issue more important than defending the rights of parents and children  to decide how best to pursue this value.

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, protagonist Dagny Taggart witnesses children in a valley who learn outside of “educational systems devised to stunt a child’s brain,” noting that “they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery.”15 Although, during a lockdown, we can’t venture far, parents nonetheless have an opportunity to help rekindle such eager curiosity in their children, giving them the setting, resources, and confidence to make the discoveries that will enrich their lives and ours.


The Dire Economic Plight of College Students

Ineligible for most federal relief and with no jobs to graduate into, young people are on the brink of crisis.

As the government attempts to ease the economic pain caused by the coronavirus with stimulus packages and one-time checks, its response leaves one demographic to fend for themselves: Americans aged 18 to 25. College students and new graduates are too old for their families to receive the CARES Act “child bonus” of $500, and likely haven’t filed taxes to qualify them for the $1,200 stimulus check. This places them in a legislative loophole and leaves them uniquely vulnerable to economic hardship.

“There is virtually no support if a person graduating from high school or college is jobless,” says Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat, economics professor at Barnard College, in an interview with the Prospect. “We’re telling kids, go to college. Don’t get married early, don’t have kids early, go to college and get a career started before you start doing any of that stuff. Then these kids are doing everything we told them … and then we say, oh since you didn’t do any of those things, those are all of the things that all of our assistance is based on.”

Graduates who didn’t work full-time are also unlikely to qualify for any unemployment insurance, because they wouldn’t have met the earning minimums yet, despite paying taxes into the unemployment insurance fund, Ananat explains. Many workers who make federal-level minimum wage may also find themselves in that position as well. Unlike other Western countries where you can claim unemployment because you’re unemployed, Americans can only claim that benefit when they have lost their jobs. While the CARES Act added the category of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to catch workers who fall through the normal eligibility cracks, many states have not updated their unemployment systems to allow jobless workers to access it.

The only program these “new entrants” into the workforce may qualify for is SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps.

“I think a lot of college students really need the money right now,” says Demauris Dixon, a senior at Western Illinois University. “I feel like [Congress] needs to know what college students are really feeling and should let college students have a voice. We should have a bigger outlet for students to speak on. I think anything that’s taking up someone’s time like schoolwork is a job, in my opinion, so it wouldn’t hurt to give college students money for [this situation] that’s going on out of our control.”

The absence of attention on college students may spring from the fact that Congress has the wrong idea of who college students are. “I don’t think it’s entirely political … But it is very hard for people to not think of a college student as a privileged person,” Ananat says. “In the popular imagination, if you say college student, they think of a frat boy.”

By contrast, a 2019 survey of college students found that almost 50 percent of college students are food insecure, and about 10 percent reported having to temporarily live with a relative or a friend, an indication of housing insecurity. Ananat explains that people are working to change the privileged image of college students, but as post-secondary-school degrees have become more important and the institutions more diverse, the stereotype hasn’t kept up with reality.

For many in the United States, the higher overall earning potential from university degrees makes up over time for the cost and debt needed to graduate. However, with the economy locked down to stop the spread of the virus, anyone who didn’t have a job lined up already will struggle to transition into the labor market. Even some graduates with secured full-time offers or internships have reported that their offers are being revoked or start dates delayed, according to surveys from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Although this affects all students hoping to gain work experience this summer, seniors approaching graduation are especially vulnerable. Dixon, who will graduate after the summer session at Western Illinois, planned to work during the summer months, as he does every year. In addition to his part-time gig as a rapper and performer in Chicago, he was hoping to find a post in his areas of study, either broadcast journalism or performance art. Instead he’s finding that music venues will be closed until 2021, and media outlets are shutting their doors because of financial difficulties.

“Of course right now, all the students are back home. They’re in school and they’re at home, which is novel,” Ananat says. “Where they are now is almost certainly where they’re going to stay after the Zoom meeting where they graduate. They’re going to stay in the same room they were before and during that Zoom meeting. There’s none of that transition right now from student to graduate.”

The uncertainty is being felt in campus recruiting offices across the country. Recruiters are switching to virtual recruiting tools, but only 39 percent of offices believe they will stay in line with their schedules, while another 38 percent are unsure how this will affect their operations, according to a NACE survey from the beginning of May. The survey also says that almost 50 percent of college career centers have implemented spending freezes.

Amid uncertainty, some universities are trying to fill the gap with emergency grants. “My university is trying to help out, but I think it should be a federal thing and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be,” Dixon says. “Students need [support] just as much as anybody.”

Not all institutions are able to assist students, and some may be worried about their own longevity as well. Community colleges are particularly vulnerable to budget cuts or closures when state governments need to balance budgets, as some states hit with the coronavirus are already doing.

“We are in very unknown territory because we haven’t had anything like this in 100 years. Economists are trying to learn as much as they can from the 1918 flu, which is a big stretch,” Ananat says. “There’s some optimism that if somehow they invented a treatment tomorrow that made this into the common cold, this might be a pretty quick recovery. The problem is we just don’t know how long this will take to recover from, and where we’ll have setbacks.”


Australian tutoring industry slumps, with least-coached cohort to take next tests

Students sitting next year's selective school and opportunity class tests could be the least-tutored cohort to undertake the competitive exams, as fewer students receive academic coaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive of the Australian Tutoring Association, Mohan Dhall, said the tutoring industry had taken a "massive hit" as centres were forced to suspend face-to-face teaching and parents paused discretionary spending during an economic downturn.

Leila Bunguric used to tutor face-to-face. She now runs her business online from her Lugarno home.
Leila Bunguric used to tutor face-to-face. She now runs her business online from her Lugarno home.CREDIT:BEN RUSHTON

The majority of centres have lost between 30 and 50 per cent of students since late March. Some have salvaged businesses by moving online and seen demand for digital services surge. A small minority have continued in-person tuition while others have closed altogether.

"Most centres have seen a massive downturn in student numbers and are struggling to get by," Mr Dhall said. This could give rise to the "least-coached" cohort sitting the next round of competitive entry tests to selective schools and opportunity classes.

"There will definitely be a difference in how students go. But I think that’s a healthy thing," he said.

Dux College, with centres in Bondi Junction and Parramatta, moved online but attendance dropped by 40 per cent.

"This is due to both students' financial situations being impacted, and their preference for face-to-face classes. There are also as much as 80 per cent fewer new inquiries than this time last term," a spokeswoman said.

Fifty per cent of Alchemy Tuition students stopped tutoring in the two weeks following lockdown restrictions in late March. New bookings were also down 30 per cent in April.

"We are an in-home service and even as far back as February we had some parents cautious of having people come in to their home," chief Nic Rothquel said. "As family budgets tighten up, they are less willing to spend the money on extra support."

Mr Dhall said he anticipated a slow recovery for the industry. "On the other side, there will be fewer good operators. Those who understand learning well will thrive, but a lot of businesses will not continue," he said.

Leila Bunguric runs separate online and face-to-face tutoring businesses. She has observed a small decline in face-to-face appointments but a surge in digital interest. "The website has had an increase in sales and schools requesting access to our resources," she said.

But Mr Dhall said while some businesses had moved online effectively, most were traditional in the way they tutor. "Some are doing three-hour online classes where the tutor is speaking at them, with notes on PDF," he said.

"Kids are experiencing very mixed results from online learning. The transition has been hotchpotch at best, or ill-considered and reactive. It then becomes a disappointing learning experience."

Some centres are optimistic. Kumon coaching college has been providing digital instruction while distributing paper worksheets through pick-up or postage services.

Its enrolments were down 10 per cent in April, but it expects to see an increase in demand when schools go back. "Parents will naturally be concerned that their children’s progress in maths and English has possibly declined throughout this disruptive period," a spokesman said.

Other operators are stepping into the vacuum left by the closure of many tuition centres, offering free content, online resources or scholarships to new students.

Tony Hanlon, national director of teaching at North Shore Coaching Colleges Australia, said there had been a drop in attendance but it had been "really great to trial new delivery modes".

Majeda Awawdeh, founder of Global Education Academy, said while some parents had been hesitant about online delivery, they were getting new enrolments from interstate.