Friday, May 29, 2020

Key Education Recommendations for Reopening the K-12 Classroom

Homeroom has taken on a literal meaning over the past two months. Parents, while always their children’s first and foremost educators, have had to fully embrace homeschooling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And although that has been working great for many families – some 40% now say they’re more likely to continue homeschooling even when schools reopen – for others, it is either not the right fit for their child or doesn’t work with their job requirements.

Many families rely on that custodial function of the physical K-12 school to enable them to go to work. And although teleworking is likely to become a more prominent feature of American life moving forward, many families are eager to reunite their children with their teachers and classmates in person, in their public, charter, or private schools. Governors, school districts, and principals should plan to reopen schools safely as soon as possible.

The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission recently released a comprehensive set of 264 recommendations to guide America through this pandemic, while protecting both lives and livelihoods. The work of local school leaders in the public and private sectors will play a critical role in helping America get back to work, and the economy back on track.

What follows is a list of 10 recommendations put forward by the commission geared specifically toward K-12 schools across the country.

In these trying times, we must turn to the greatest document in the history of the world to promise freedom and opportunity to its citizens for guidance. Find out more now >>

1. K-12 schools should act proactively in concert with state and local health officials to assist school administrators in making reopening decisions. School leaders should review all aspects of the school’s facilities and operations, looking for ways to best prevent transmission. That includes student transportation to and from school; class schedules, density, and layout; rotation of teachers instead of students; pedestrian traffic patterns; and the use of personal protective equipment and hand sanitization. They should implement thorough cleaning and sanitization guidelines for all surfaces, especially eating areas, locker rooms, and bathrooms.

2. State and local governments should allow K–12 schools to open this fall and selectively quarantine any students, faculty, or staff who show COVID-like symptoms by sending them home. Districts that have low incident rates should begin plans to reopen, and all school districts should have emergency response plans (including quick transitions to online learning) if they are forced to close again. If a student is sent home due to illness, or if a school has to close, the school should continue to provide online instruction for students who are sent home. For parents who choose to keep their children at home, schools should continue to offer online instruction while enabling students to demonstrate proficiency in mandatory subjects.

3. State and local governments should make decisions based on data for the local district, and even the specific school, not the entire state. If the cases in a single school that is not geographically connected to another school or schools rise beyond the number deemed appropriate by health professionals, in-person operations in an entire state or district do not need to be suspended.

4. State and local governments should consider suspending in-person operations schoolwide only if a school’s COVID-19 cases increase beyond an acceptable number as determined by health professionals. In the event of a local outbreak, school personnel should consult with health officials as to whether social distancing rules should be applied to certain events, such as athletic events, but such disruptions should be implemented only on an as-needed basis.

5. States should help families return to work and students maintain education continuity by making education funding student-centered and portable. Families across the country are currently unable to access the public schools they pay for through their tax dollars and are looking for continuity in their children’s education. In order to help families maintain education continuity, states should restructure per-pupil K–12 education dollars to provide emergency education savings accounts (ESAs) to students, enabling them to access their child’s share of state per-pupil funding to pay for online courses, online tutors, curriculum, and textbooks so that they can continue learning.

6. States with online schools lift any barriers to access, including caps, enrollment restrictions, or grade prohibitions for students in grades K–12. Every student should have equal access to online education regardless of zip code or district boundary, and all students—regardless of academic need or socioeconomic circumstance—should have access to online education options.

7. Congress should provide spending flexibility with existing education dollars. The CARES Act passed in April allowed schools flexibility to carry forward unused Title I spending and repurpose existing professional development spending for online instruction. Congress should build on this flexibility and allow states to use all of their existing federal education dollars for any lawful purpose under state law.

8. Congress should make federal funding portable for children from low-income families and children with special needs. Congress should immediately make funding authorized under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) student-centered and portable, allowing children with special needs to access learning services to which they are entitled under federal law. Similarly, Congress should allow federal Title I dollars for low-income districts to follow students to private online education options of choice.

9. Congress should also support the education of military-connected children. The children of active-duty military families currently do not have access to the public schools nearest to the base to which their parents are assigned. Congress should provide the children of active-duty military families with education savings accounts, enabling them to access online tutors, online courses, textbooks, and curricula to provide educational continuity during this time.

10. Congress should expand access to 529 savings accounts. Congress should allow Americans to access their 529 savings plans for homeschooling expenses. Currently, 529 saving plans can pay for a broad range of education-related costs, such as college expenses and, more recently, private elementary or secondary school tuition. Yet homeschooling expenses are excluded from the eligible uses of 529 savings accounts. Immediately expanding qualified expenses to include homeschooling—reflecting the fact that nearly every American family currently has to homeschool as a result of COVID-19—would be a timely and targeted policy.

Students can’t afford to have their education put on hold, and parents, as taxpayers, should have access to the money that is spent on behalf of their children in schools across the country. These 10 recommendations will help quickly get American education back on track, safely and more effectively than ever.

For the complete list of recommendations, visit the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission’s website at


College admissions cheating is sleazy, but it shouldn't be a federal case

LORI LOUGHLIN and Mossimo Giannulli threw in the towel last week. The married couple, a Hollywood actress and a fashion designer, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal. Abandoning their year-long attempt to get the charges dismissed, they accepted a plea deal under which Loughlin would serve two months in prison and pay a fine of $150,000. For Giannulli, prosecutors recommend five months behind bars and a $250,000 fine.

I won't be shedding any tears for Loughlin and Giannulli. Their behavior, it is clear, was dishonest and disgraceful. What isn't clear is why this had to be turned into a federal matter.

Like the dozens of other rich celebrities and CEOs charged in the case, Loughlin and Giannulli were accused of swindling their children's way into college with the help of ringleader Rick Singer. So far, more than 30 of the parents named by the FBI and the US Attorney for Massachusetts have pleaded guilty. They made payments to Singer's "charitable" foundation; he used the money to facilitate cheating on the kids' college entrance exams, or to bribe coaches to designate the students as highly sought-after athletes. Loughlin and Giannulli, for example, paid $500,000 and got their daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as recruits for the USC crew team, even though neither girl had any rowing experience. Another actress, Felicity Huffman, paid Singer to have someone rig her daughter's SAT scores.

So rich parents spread money around to grease their kids' way into elite colleges they might not have gotten into on their own merits. It was underhanded. It was deceitful. It was also the kind of thing that many rich parents have been doing for their kids since the beginning of time.

But was it a crime against the United States of America?

It is hard to see how this case ever legitimately justified a sweeping federal prosecution. For tampering with tests and college applications, the parents could have been pursued in state court. The colleges themselves could have sued the parents and Singer for suborning coaches and bribing proctors.

Why did the federal government need to get involved? Myriads of illegal crimes and conspiracies — opioid smuggling, counterfeiting, healthcare fraud, human trafficking, identity theft — are indisputably public threats. Combating such offenses, plus the scourge of public corruption, often requires deploying the intimidatingly immense resources of the FBI and the Justice Department. But to nail a few dozen rich couples because they cut corners and paid bribes so their children could attend tony colleges? Was that really a national priority? Or was it overkill driven by a desire to score juicy press coverage?

"Since J. Edgar Hoover's time, the FBI has been obsessed with chasing headlines that made them appear like righteous avenging angels," says investigative journalist James Bovard, who has made a career of exposing government overreach. Those headlines are amply justified when the crooks being taken down are Ponzi schemers like Bernie Madoff, gangsters like Whitey Bulger, terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or racist mass killers like Dylann Roof. It is harder to see what the public gains, apart from the schadenfreude of seeing a rich celebrity fall humiliatingly from grace, when the feds make it their goal to lock up movie actresses like Loughlin and Huffman, who aren't a danger to society.

Most of the "Varsity Blues" defendants have been convicted of committing (or conspiring to commit) "honest services fraud," which is banned by a notoriously vague statute that makes it illegal "to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." It was passed by Congress in 1988 to make it easier to convict corrupt public officials (mere dishonesty being easier to prove than actual bribery or extortion), and it's sometimes used by prosecutors to reach fraud in corporate settings. But the statutory language could theoretically reach any transaction that involves logrolling or string-pulling. In a 2009 opinion, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia warned that aggressive prosecutors could use the nebulous "honest services" hook to go after "a mayor for using the prestige of his office to get a table at a restaurant without a reservation."

US attorneys have wide latitude in deciding when and whether to prosecute potential crimes, and they are obliged to exercise that discretion wisely. Would the feds have pursued this case if they didn't know the public would eat it up? The "Varsity Blues" parents behaved badly, but this was overkill.


An Australian university that unlawfully sacked a professor for criticising colleagues for their research on the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef is back in court

James Cook University is appealing the Brisbane Federal Circuit Court's finding that it contravened the Fair Work Act when it dismissed Peter Vincent Ridd in 2018.

Judge Salvatore Vasta made 28 findings in April 2019 against the university, which censured Prof Ridd for remarks against a coral researcher, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The university was later ordered to pay Prof Ridd more than $1.2m for lost income, lost future income and other costs.

Before sacking the geophysicist, the university alleged Prof Ridd had violated its code of conduct during an August 2017 interview on Sky News when he remarked some of the university's research could "no longer be trusted".

It also alleged Prof Ridd wrote of a researcher in an email to a student: "It is not like he has any clue about the weather. He will give the normal doom science about the (Great Barrier Reef)".

Judge Vasta found the university's actions, including the dismissal, were unlawful.

"Incredibly, the university has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom," he wrote in his findings.

"In reality, intellectual freedom is the cornerstone of this core mission of all institutions of higher learning."

Freedom of expression and the interpretation of the university's code of conduct were the focus of the appeal submissions on Tuesday.

The university's lawyer, Bret Walker SC, said the university was responsible for enforcing standards of behaviour to protect intellectual freedom and the code of conduct.

Mr Walker said staff had the right to intellectual freedom and the right to express certain views but not bully, harass or intimidate others.

"Freedom .... is not without limit, restriction or standard," he told the court.

The two-day hearing continues.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stay Positive When Considering the Future of Education

Make no mistake, no one is thrilled with how education is currently operating in America. Parents are eager to send their kids back to school, frustrated by the lack of effective leadership from their district, and/or by having to spend weeks serving as full-time teacher, parent and employee. And schools are eager to welcome students back, knowing that what they’re offering kids right now likely doesn’t come close to meeting the quality standards it should.

As frustrating as these times are for parents and teachers, we cannot allow this widespread implementation of emergency “distance learning” reflect poorly on online education as a whole.

In tried-and-true virtual schools, parents are educational partners, not teachers. Curriculum, while still in line with state standards, is optimized for online learning. IEPs are implemented and followed through on. Students are given a schedule, and they are held accountable. And no one is “socially distanced” at all, as students are regularly interacting with their classmates during live sessions, on assignments, at science and career fairs, and in clubs like cooking, debate, FBLA and National Honor Society.

We especially cannot allow policymakers to walk back the progress they’ve made on making online education options accessible to families nationwide, because let’s face it – things aren’t just going to snap back to normal by September. Even when schools do reopen, there are going to be many parents, students and teachers wanting to return, but rightfully wary of the associated risks.

Take, for instance, a student whose parent has cancer, or a teacher whose elderly parent lives with them. Are we going to force those students and teachers to return to school, their only other option a lackluster repeat of what they’re currently experiencing?

The answer needs to be no. We need to protect parents,’ students’ and teachers’ right to choose what kind of learning and teaching works best for them right now. Not knowing what the next week, month, or season will look like, we need more, better options – not a select few offered by schools that are new to this space.

Effective online learning takes time and thoughtful planning, training and delivery. It’s taken us 20 years to get to a place where we are seeing students not just survive their K-12 online education, but thrive within it.

Online education is for anyone, but we realize that even under normal circumstances it isn’t for everyone. Some students’ needs can be better met online, while others can be better met in a brick-and-mortar school. Unfortunately, the misfires of many school systems in this experimental period are adding fuel to an old fire that pits in-person instruction against virtual.

It simply shouldn’t be a matter of either/or. Online and in-person instruction have coexisted with great success for years now, as online schools serve as a safe haven for students who were bullied, who suffer difficult or even debilitating medical conditions, or who want to get a head start on their career.

At the end of the day, that’s the point: We all want each and every student to thrive in school. Some aren’t thriving under their district’s makeshift online learning models and can’t wait to get back to school, but some are – perhaps because their district had a distance learning plan already in place. It’s for all students that we must leave negativity out of the conversation about the future of education.


The CDC Provides Draconian Guidelines for Reopening Schools Without Reading Its Own Research

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has weighed in on the topic of reopening schools. It appears CDC staff wrote the guidelines without reading their own research. It is almost as if they would prefer hazmat suits become the fall fashion rage for those under 18.

The CDC guidelines are not mandatory, but they don’t seem to be based in current research or reality. Let’s start with the so-called ‘Guiding Principles’:

Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.

More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).

Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

Measuring the Risk: CDC staff should know that, according to the CDC statistics, the incidence of severe illness in children is near zero and generally attributable to preexisting conditions. Senator Rand Paul went through the data during a Senate hearing and Dr. Fauci had to grant his premise:

If these guidelines for reopening schools are intended to protect teachers, regular education classes generally keep them naturally distanced from the class with short face-to-face interactions. A significant number of them are also in a low-risk age group. The CDC’s updated fatality rates project a 0.05% mortality rate for people ages 0-49. This does not seem to make a compelling case to completely change how schools operate.

Focus the Effort

Rather than reconfiguring the way schools operate, it would be a better use of scarce resources in a strained system to focus on appropriate accommodations for at-risk students and teachers. Perhaps a teacher with a pre-existing condition can lead virtual classrooms for children whose parents choose to continue with homeschooling. At-risk students could participate in these classes or attend facilities that have a different schedule and precautions as the CDC recommends above.

But the idea that you are going to control students mixing with other children outside their class after is patently insane. As is the idea that they are going to stay six feet apart. Does anyone at the CDC have children? They are social creatures who share stuff, hug each other, and whisper secrets.

Further, many parents rely on school district-provided transportation to schlep their children to and from school. This would include interactions with children from other grades and classrooms.

More of the CDC reopening schools guidelines seem to go directly at surface transmission of the coronavirus. Eliminating communal spaces, the prohibition of shared objects, and eliminating the use of playground equipment are on the list.

The CDC’s own research concluded that surface transmission is highly unlikely because transmission seems to be a product of the amount of viral exposure and the length of time. Surfaces are unlikely to house the number of virus particles required to transmit an infection and the individual is not in contact with them long enough.

This does not mean that increased sanitation of surfaces should not be in order. This is contained within the CDC guidelines for reopening schools and it is appropriate. But the idea that a child is likely to catch COVID-19 from a trip across the monkey bars or a zip down a slide seems laughable.

This equipment is also outside in the sun. DHS research has found that the sun reduces the half-life of the virus to a minute or two and this effect is enhanced by heat above 70 degrees. It almost seems like the school playground would be a very safe place for children to be. And recess or free time increases learning and overall health and decreases behavior problems.

The guidelines for reopening schools also have children marching down one-way corridors and encouraged to wear masks. If the goal is to make children into little reservoirs of anxiety who think the world at large is a terribly dangerous place, let’s do that. Because the climate cabal hasn’t gone far enough toward creating little balls of neuroses. How about no.

If a child lives with an at-risk adult, he or she can mask at home with other family members. This framing would be much less stressful because it would be about protecting someone else. Grandma has a heart problem, so we want to make sure she doesn’t get sick. Parents can explain this in an age-appropriate way and model the behavior.

The Kids Are Alright

Finally, the chance of children being a large factor in COVID-19 transmission seems to be exceptionally rare at best. In Iceland, where DeCode Genetics has done extensive testing and genetic analysis of patient virus samples, researchers could not find one case where a child infected an adult. A child in the U.K. came in contact with roughly 170 people after contracting COVID-19 on vacation and infected no one. Not even his siblings. Further:

On Thursday, the picture was further muddied by coverage of a large review of 78 available studies conducted by the UK Royal College of Paediatrics, which said: “The role of children in transmission is unclear, but it seems likely they do not play a significant role.”

Not really that muddy. Especially when additional information is added:

In Iceland, where 6% of the population was tested, none of the 848 children tested were positive. In a town in Italy where 2.6% of residents had the new coronavirus, 0% of children under 10 years tested positive.

Get Realistic

So instead of complete remaking school, which may not even be possible, the CDC could concentrate on a few basic things:

Give grants for districts to install UV-C lights
Recommend strict policies around ensuring the ill, staff and students, stay home

Focus epidemiologists on appropriately identifying risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease

Ensure educators and parents are taught about risk factors so that individuals and institutions can make healthy decisions for at-risk staff and children

Encourage time outside during the school day

Encourage good hygiene habits

Ensure proper notification procedures are in place should a case of COVID-19 be identified

We are going to be living with this virus for the foreseeable future. Children need to have the option to return to schools and daycare as parents are returning to work. The current CDC guidelines for reopening schools g do nothing but reinforce the panic porn culture that has become all-too-common in managing COVID-19.

We can do better than this and effectively manage public health without terrifying our children.


California’s Common Core Apologia

In a recent blog, Dr. Michael Kirst, past president of the California State Board of Education between 2011 and 2019, attempts to defend his record of Common Core implementation in California during that period.

His first point goes to the fidelity of NAEP as a measuring tool, since it is not perfectly aligned with Common Core. Indeed it is not—purposely! NAEP was not designed to be aligned with any particular state standards and that has been true for decades. This hasn’t blocked states from exhibiting improvements over time, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in spurts. But the results on NAEP almost never—never!—declined.

Under Common Core, in the 2015, 2017, and 2019 administration of NAEP scores broadly and significantly declined across most states, including California.

Yet Dr. Kirst starts by blaming the national yardstick that has served us faithfully for decades. What does that say about the quality of his “rebuttal”?

Then Dr. Kirst turns to argue that California has made significant improvement since Common Core. His evidence? A 10% improvement in grades 3 and 4 over four years of SBAC administration. What was politely glossed over is the fact that half of this change occurred between the first administrations, when young students first confronted new ways to answer computer-based items with new formats and a new interface, and the second administration when they had an opportunity to practice and adjust to them. If we remove the first SBAC administration, the change from 2015 to 2019 are rather unimpressive 5-6% in early grades that declines to essentially zero or even slightly negative by grades 8 and 11.

Yet this raises another question. Is SBAC test even valid, both facially (do its items sample actual subject matter content?) and psychometrically (does item format allows us to reliably interpret the results, give the new fancy and untested formats introduced by it?). The answer is nobody knows, as no external experts were given access to validate that test.

Here is the little we do know—since California abolished under Common Core almost any continuous measure of achievement.

During Common Core, California students taking Algebra I in grade 8 dropped from 54% in 2013 just before Common Core started, to 18% by 2019. A two thirds drop in six years!

And here are California NAEP scores for that period. With the exception of fourth grade reading, the results are flat or negative.

Incidentally, we also know that successful Black AB Calculus takers dropped by almost half between 2014 and 2018, and successful Black BC Calculus dropped by one third. That is what we know about California achievement from objective sources since Common Core took over in 2014.

We don’t know how many students successfully took Algebra 1 in middle and high schools—that test was eliminated in Calfornia under Common Core. We don’t know how many students successfully took Geometry or Algebra 2—those tests were eliminated under Common Core. We don’t know how many students are truly ready for the California State University System—that customized test for CSU was replaced by some arbitrary passing score on SBAC.

So we don’t know a lot. The public can no longer track what is really occurring in California education. Clear test-based accountability has been replaced by meaningless colorful dashboards based on the single unvalidated test: the SBAC.

So this is California reality, rather than the tiny improvement sliver Dr. Kirst attempts to present as the whole picture. But what about the future? Kirst promises that things will just get better, instructional materials exist (well, they existed at least since 2014, many of them free), and the future is bright.

Is it?

In 2011, the authors of this article talked with Dr. Kirst to make sure he understood the problems with the Common Core validation by David Conley, and that the previous California standards were judged superior. Nothing was done.

In 2013 Kirst was informed by us in detail as to why the New Generation Science Standards were inferior to the then-current California science standards. This was at the time of a scathing report in June 2013 from the Fordham Institute showing the NGSS to be, effectively, content-empty. Kirst assured us that he was aware of these drawbacks and that California would not adopt NGSS.

In September 2013 Dr. Kirst presided over the adoption of NGSS for California.

Today in California, after 8 years of Dr. Kirst’s state board presidency, we have a system that has no external accountability, where everything is being based on an internal secret test. We have inferior science standards and a system that has seemingly declined in performance. Denigrating NAEP, the only external measure left, is not a very good argument.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The death of schools?

By Sean Gabb, a British libertarian

Since about 1980, schooling of all kinds has been made into a concerted means of indoctrination. The cultural leftists have captured both the classrooms and the curriculum. I will not elaborate on this claim. Some will argue over terminology, some over the merits of the capture, but hardly anyone denies the broad fact. One of the main functions of modern schooling is to bring about and to protect a radical departure from the old intellectual culture of this country.

Much of this departure has been achieved by preaching in the classroom. But it is supplemented by a growing bureaucracy of surveillance. The teachers themselves are watched, and they can be punished for dissenting from the established discourse. There is, for example, the Government’s Prevent strategy, which applies to the whole state machinery. Its purpose is to identify and root out anyone defined as a “political extremist.” Anyone identified as such is effectively banned from working with children and young people, and probably in the state sector as a whole.

Another feature of the Prevent strategy is that anyone working with children and young people must himself become a spy. Any student who speaks or behaves out of turn must be reported. In 2015, the Safeguarding Children Board of the London Borough of Camden published Keeping Children and Young People Safe from Radicalisation and Extremism: Advice for Parents and Carers. Its aim was to “help parents and carers recognise when their children may be at risk from radicalisation.” How to spot “radicalisation”? The signs include “showing a mistrust of mainstream media reports and belief in conspiracy theories”, “appearing angry about government policies, especially foreign policy”, and “secretive behaviour and switching screens when you come near.”

For the avoidance of doubt, I disapprove of any preaching in a classroom funded by the taxpayers. If made a head of department, I would warn my teachers against telling the students his own views on sex or politics or anything else. Again for the avoidance of doubt, if, as a teacher in any kind of school, it came to my attention that they were plotting a crime, I would report my students to the relevant authority. My objection is that the present system is both one-sided and Orwellian.

It is one-sided because only some personal views are banned from the classroom. Take the case of Robert Haye, a Seventh Day Adventist and science teacher. In 2013, he denounced homosexuality as disgusting and a sin. He was banned indefinitely from teaching. That he was black was deemed no defence. Yes, I would have dispensed with his services – though stopping him from teaching elsewhere would never be on my agenda. That I do not share his opinion is beside the point. But Mr Haye would have faced no disciplinary action had he preached instead from some approved text on sex or politics, or on “the climate emergency,” or even on the wickedness of voting Conservative. As for spying on students, I once sat in a meeting where a teacher suggested alerting the safeguarding authorities to one of his students who was outspoken in his dislike of the European Union. I do not for a moment believe this suggestion would have been made had the student’s opinion been on the other side.

The system is Orwellian because it collects and stores information that it should be no one’s business to collect and store. I do not think any specific use is made of the information – not unless it is evidence of a crime. Even then, much of it cannot be used because of the data protection laws, or is lost when hardware or software are upgraded. But the knowledge that they are, or may be, under surveillance has a chilling effect on what people say, and perhaps eventually on what they think. It makes some into hypocrites and others into sheep. And this is an evil in itself. The system would be just as objectionable if, after some populist revolution, it were made into a means of indoctrinating children with the joys of Brexit and a noninterventionist foreign policy.

A further objection is a centralised and prescriptive National Curriculum. Too many subjects are squeezed into the classroom. These are often taught – and must often be taught – as almost random collections of facts. They are then tested and ranked almost to death. Students are awash with homework and course work and long projects that leave little time for private study and reflection.

Then we have the marketising of schooling. I will be charitable to Tony Blair and his minsters. They probably believed that introducing private enterprise would improve the quality of education. I do allow that many schools, about a decent as they can be in their general circumstances, have taken advantage of academy status, and to their benefit. Turning from these, however, private enterprise, as it has been introduced, makes almost everything worse. If you come to my Centre for Ancient Studies, you are the customer. My job is to give you what you want. If I fail to deliver, or you decide that Greek or Latin as I teach it is not after all what you want, you withdraw. If you send your children to many of the new academies, you are not the customer. The State is the customer. Your children are so much material for giving the authorities what they want. If omnipresent surveillance is wanted, omnipresent surveillance will be given. If performance in league tables is required, children and their teachers will be worked like slaves, regardless of whether this contributes in any reasonable sense to education.

These academies are subject to the same corruptions as any other private business with a contract from the State. As much money as can be is concentrated at the top. Compliance is given to the letter of any requirement, the spirit forgotten. Much teaching is delivered by part-time contractors, who are managed by outside agencies – outside agencies, often with personal ties to the academies. Those teachers who are given regular contracts of employment must sign up to the usual declarations of corporate love.

On this point, I was once invited for a whole term to take the place of a classics teacher who was off sick. I had to fill in a long application form. One of the questions was:

What do you feel sets the xxx xxx apart from other schools and Academy groups?

My answer:

I am sure it is an excellent educator. After some research on the Internet, I have seen nothing negative about it that deserves attention. It is one among many of the public-private partnerships that have delivered an increasing share of England’s education since the Blair Government decided this was the best way to improve education standards.

I was told at my induction meeting that this was not the sort of answer normally welcomed from an applicant. It was an untruth even so. A minute’s research had flagged up a scandal about the fiddling of inspection data. There was another scandal about “off-rolling” – this being the deliberate exclusion of weaker students from sitting their GCSEs, thereby improving average performances. The students were made to dress in silly uniforms that got sniggers in the street. If I saw them speaking out of class, it was in hushed whispers that trailed off when I was seen to be close. The staff had to wear black at all times. They were equally scared of those above them. The lessons were as joyless as can be imagined. After a few stony silences, I gave up on my usual tendency to jokes and irrelevant digressions. I worked out my time. I took the money and left. Since I am lucky enough to offer niche subjects that allow me to pick and choose my clients, I never went back. I think of that experience as often as I hear some politician enthusing about how standards have risen.

I went to what I knew at the time was a wretchedly bad school. Scott Lidgett Comprehensive School in Rotherhithe was a place filled with a thousand violent imbeciles. I will not call the teachers the sweepings of their profession. Some were, though more had simply given up trying. I made my seven years there tolerable by playing truant for much of the three central years. When I did attend, I learned almost nothing that I could not, and did not, get for myself by reading the textbooks. The only exception was mathematics, where a teacher introduced me to geometry. I became rather good at this, and it set me on a path that eventually led to David Hume. But I remember my first day in that place, and I remember the last. I have never had any doubt which was better.

I was lucky. I spent my three years of truancy in various libraries. No child ever wastes his time in miscellaneous reading. Everything comes in useful somewhere, even if as background for something else. My focus on the Ancient World was decidedly not a waste of time. In those years of complete freedom, I gained the skills and confidence that would carry me through O-Levels and A-Levels and through university. A combination of intellectual arrogance and what I am now assured is autism may have limited my worldly success. However, I owe nearly everything I have become to my time not spent at Scott Lidgett.

The Coronavirus panic has now given to millions of children a similar opportunity. The Internet is the greatest and most democratic library that ever existed. The riches of five thousand years are heaped before anyone who will only lean forward and take them. I grant that the leaning forward is what counts the most, and not all will take, or be able to take, the opportunity. If it can be improved, though, the world cannot be perfected. There is a case for making sure that everyone can read and write and use the four functions of arithmetic. But this is something that should be achieved at primary school, and only if families do not feel able to do better themselves. After that, all children should be left in the care of their families. Children, with the guidance of their parents, should be left to make their own ways in life. This may mean continued learning – perhaps even schooling, or perhaps some mixture of schooling and other learning. It may mean some other preparation for the future. Granted a decent primary education, these other ways do not exclude a later return to learning.

Those who want one will find an education regardless of circumstances. Most schooling is an interference with their personal growth. Schooling is not the same as education. The suspension of schooling since the end of March, and its likely continued disruption for at least the next year is a liberation that all children should welcome. And it is a liberation that anyone of conservative or libertarian inclinations should welcome.

I do not imagine that state schooling will die all at once. There will be some kind of return in September. But the lawyers and insurance companies, and scared parents and teachers, will for a long time make this incomplete. Children will be called into school for a few days a week, or every second week. There will be a continued migration on-line of learning. The present chaos of provision will stabilise. The compulsory attendance laws have already been relaxed, and I do not think they will be enforced again with their old rigour.

As for surveillance and control, these have been weakened. The more the life of a nation is focussed on the home, the more opaque that nation becomes to inspection. The bureaucracies of surveillance and control will not be disbanded – not unless really big cuts are needed to state spending to compensate for the present orgy of subsidies and welfare. Every so often, they will find something to write into their performance reports. But we can hope they will soon have been crippled beyond recovery.

Now, I may seem to have wavered on the value of schooling as education. Sometimes, I denounce it. Sometimes, I admit its potential value. Here is my reasoning. I doubt the value of schooling as it has so far been provided. I see limited value in crowding several dozen children into a room and giving them something, and giving it at the same speed, that not all of them may want. This explains much of the disruption and absenteeism that is one of the excuses for those bureaucracies of surveillance and control. But let us suppose that most schooling were to remain on-line, and that it were to be voluntary. Let us further suppose that schools were no longer constrained by classroom space, and students by geographic location. Let us suppose that students could choose from a range of providers – one subject here, and delivered in this way, another subject there, and delivered in that way. Let us possibly suppose a voucher scheme, in which the State would pay for lessons from any provider meeting certain basic standards of honesty and competence. Grant all or most of this, and schooling would become more aligned with education. There would be no more boredom, no more bullying or disruption, no more surveillance, no more irrelevance. Education would become for a greater number what it has always been for a lucky few – something that turns on a light in the mind that never goes out, something that contributes to the happiness of individuals and the wealth of a nation.

I will close by repeating that the Coronavirus panic will, sooner or later, be seen as a disproportionate response that has damaged businesses and jobs and even the pretence of balanced government finances. At the same time, it is useful to look beyond the immediate costs. One of the benefits may be the accelerated decline of a schooling system that has its origins in the enlightened despotisms of the eighteenth century, and that has never been suited to the needs and wants of a free people.


How Colleges Get Rid of Conservative Admins: An Example from UNC

When I accepted an administrative position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, friends warned me that I would not fit in as a conservative. I dismissed their concerns as hyperbole, an instance of believing universities are more politicized than they actually are.

After eight long months, however, I had to admit that they were right. The political atmosphere in the college bureaucracy does not tolerate political disagreement and is overwhelmingly left-leaning.

Administrators keep large universities running and help students access the extra services for which they pay. University staff handle finances, work in human resources, or, in my case, serve as program administrators. Most of my job was focused on marketing events and making sure vendors get paid. I would do the small behind-the-scenes work that keeps a program running.

Though those basic duties are non-political, the office environment can be anything but.

That point was brought home to me when, one day, my supervisor walked into my office and said, “I just can’t stand you anymore. You don’t fit in here and you don’t even seem to realize it.”  I was dumbfounded.

She expressed concern with my general demeanor and my desire to take classes—which is an employee benefit at all UNC system campuses. Nor was it the first time she admonished me for enrolling in classes, advising that it would be “better for the department” and those I worked with if I waited until I had more experience in my job to take classes.

She refused to cite any specific issues with my job performance, even after three meetings between herself and my program director. Additionally, she reprimanded me for attending a meal with a visiting lecturer—which the department offers as a benefit to faculty and staff—and warned me that I needed to “learn my place.”

Of greater concern, she took issue with me talking to students about my religious and political views and threatened to have me removed from my job if she got another complaint that I shared my views.

What few conversations I had with students were with friends after work or at events specifically designed to foster dialogue on campus. Just a few weeks prior to that conversation with my supervisor, the program I coordinated partnered with the Listen First Project and Living Room Conversations to host an event to encourage healthy dialogue among the campus community.  She would never specify what was said or done to cause an issue, so I am still not sure if any complaints about me were actually made.

Talking politics or religion is not generally good practice at work, especially when holding a view that contradicts majority opinion. I was always very cautious about who I would share my views with, though no one is shy about sharing their opinions and beliefs at Chapel Hill.

If a student or coworker would ask me directly, I was happy to share my beliefs with them. As a Christian and seminarian, I am very open about my faith and was approached about it twice by curious students, who spoke with other students I knew. At one point, I even had two students commend me for my neutrality on an issue.

Another flashpoint for my supervisor was offering support to a campus student group.

Having been actively involved with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) as an undergrad, I connected with Chapel Hill YAL students and offered to be their advisor, thinking it a good way to give back and contribute to the intellectual community on campus. To my supervisor, doing so was apparently too much to tolerate. She claimed that being YAL’s advisor would cause the UnKoch My Campus movement to criticize our department.

Our program maintained a politically neutral stance and had this reputation on campus, something of which the program director and students were particularly proud. To truly remain politically neutral, however, workers need an environment where they are not pressured by supervisors to believe or not believe certain things. Political neutrality isn’t only refusing to endorse political candidates. It also involves accepting political differences and respecting others.

While at Chapel Hill, for example, my department hosted a series of speakers who shared the belief that gender does not exist. Grad students would often wear shirts expressing support for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton when tutoring students or at events. Professors would make outlandish comments to students about how awful Republicans or conservatives are. I sat in on two sessions of a graduate course in the department and, during both of them, the professor made blatantly political asides such as “some people are just thoughtless or vile. Remember, people voted for Ben Sasse.”

Other administrators were also quick to share their political opinions. After the death of David Koch, a coworker made a joke about how they were celebrating the death of “such an evil, despicable old bastard” and invited me to join. Students walking down the hall laughed; “Hell yeah,” one student said.

A strong insistence on political neutrality while in the office would be just. Many workplaces don’t approve of political discussion during business hours, and Chapel Hill serves students and professors who shouldn’t feel pressured to think one way or another. However, Chapel Hill’s administrators do not insist on political neutrality at the university. They do not even see it as a norm that is desirable.

My problem wasn’t unique to my department. When I talked with my program director and others in the appropriate chain of authority, nobody wanted to get involved. The bureaucratic culture at Chapel Hill does not actually insist on neutrality; instead, it favors the expression of liberal and progressive views and disapproves of anything else.

I was not alone in my experiences. I heard stories from students and administrators about how they were made uncomfortable and excluded for their beliefs. One student said the journalism school staff could be just as callous, citing a time when an administrator was worried about the student’s journalistic ethics because she wanted to intern for a conservative news outlet.

We as a people are better than this—our public universities should be too.

Even with First Amendment protections guaranteed by the North Carolina Free Speech Law (State Law 2017-196), campuses can still be restrictive and harmful to intellectual pursuits on campus. As pointed out in a Martin Center article, there is still work to be done on campus.

Shortly after my conversation with my supervisor and program director, I resigned from UNC. Upon leaving, I confronted this supervisor about how her words affected me, to which she was short and vapidly apologetic. She refused to acknowledge that she was out of bounds. “We are just administration. To them [faculty], we are just holding the purse strings and in their way,” she said. “Nobody wants to hear our opinions or thoughts.”

Perhaps she is right. Yet it is clear that Chapel Hill will let some opinions be, while others will be pushed off campus.


Rethinking College Education in America

A perfect storm has hit America’s universities. To adapt to new economic realities and to serve the needs of the American people, we need to make some dramatic changes.

By Edward Ring • May 11, 2020
In an interview last month at the Hoover Institution, the estimable Victor Davis Hanson, speaking in character, made a typically provocative comment. “For what we are paying for every provost of diversity and inclusion,” he said, “we could probably hire three professors of electrical engineering.”

That can be fact-checked. And the results are illuminating.

On the Public Records Act-enabled online database “Transparent California,” take a look at these 2018 search results for job titles that include the word  “inclusion,” or “diversity.” Note that taxpayers funded a position for Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, that bestowed a total pay and benefits package worth $468,919 in 2018.

Compare that to the faculty of UCLA’s School of Engineering, where two assistant professors (Jonathan Kao and Ankur Mehta) along with an associate professor (Chi On Chui), altogether collected pay and benefits in 2018 of $564,123. That’s pretty close. At UCLA, at least, you can definitely hire two electrical engineering faculty members for the price of one diversity don, and quite nearly three.

To be fair, perhaps an apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at UCLA’s top engineering faculty member. The chairman of that department is Gregory Pottie, who made $312,027 in 2018, only two-thirds what Kang made. But Pottie is running an engineering department. That takes technical expertise and produces graduates who keep the world running. What does Kang do?

Read UCLA’s “Sample Candidate Evaluation Tool.” Or read UCLA’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Statement FAQs” that presumably comes from Kang’s office. It’s toxic drivel, undermining UCLA’s ability to hire the most qualified applicants for faculty positions or admit the most qualified students.

These departments of “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” now operating in every major college and university in America, and at stupefying taxpayer expense, are indoctrinating students to equate their academic failures to systemic discrimination, a preposterous lie that only serves to weaken the character of anyone who believes it, while at the same time lining the pockets of the diversity bureaucrats who spew such filth.

Experts on this topic include not only Victor Davis Hanson but Heather Mac Donald, scholars whose impeccable research drives stakes through every seductive shibboleth ever conjured by the diversity careerists who are worse than useless; they are destroying academia. In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal titled “Would You Care if a White Man Cured COVID-19,” Mac Donald wrote:

Mandatory diversity statements are now ubiquitous in hiring for science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. An Alzheimer’s researcher seeking a position in a neurology lab must document his contributions to ‘diversity, equity and inclusion.’ At the University of California, Berkeley, the life sciences department rejected 76% of the applications it received last year because they lacked sufficiently effusive diversity, equity and inclusion statements. The hiring committee didn’t even look at the failed applicants’ research records.

Rethinking “Diversity,” Rethinking College Education
The COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of what you may think about its origins, its lethality, or the response, has delivered a body blow to business as usual in American higher education. The economic model that operated up until a few months ago is broken forever.

During the now fatally disrupted 2019-2020 academic year, over 20 million students were enrolled in American colleges and universities. More than 1 million of them were foreigners, and nearly 370,000 were from mainland China.

Typically attending the most prestigious schools and pouring billions in tuition into them, Chinese enrollment had already begun to decline as U.S.-China relations have deteriorated. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned that trickle into a flood. It’s probably a good idea that Americans aren’t training Chinese scientists anymore, but it’s a financial disaster for many of these posh institutions.

The irony is deep: premium tuition rates paid by Chinese students have been funding, among other things, a bloated and overpaid diversity bureaucracy that bends all of its considerable powers toward undermining everything good about higher education in America, and in doing so, dangerously weakens America’s ability to hang on to its now tenuous lead in global technological innovation.

Higher education in America is at a crossroads. Foreign enrollment, with all the premium tuition rates it guaranteed, is diminishing. Meanwhile, growing numbers of Americans are realizing not only that they are never going to be able to pay off their student loans, but that the educations they received have only qualified them for “nonessential” and low-paying employment.

And through all the years leading up to this, the diversity bureaucracy successfully agitated to admit into college members of “protected status groups” and “underrepresented minorities,” despite the fact that their SAT scores and other critical indicators of academic aptitude clearly indicated they were not sufficiently qualified. Many of those who did not drop out received watered down degrees.

Data backs up these assertions. National Center for Education statistics on college enrollment show that in 1970, 31 percent of college-age Americans attended college. By 2017 (most recent data), that had risen to 45 percent. The actual number of degrees granted in 1971 was 839,000; by 2017 there were not quite 2 million college graduates. What they studied is even more revealing.

Using data from the National Center for Education, college degrees can be divided into three general categories. The first is STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—for which, in the United States, there is a chronic shortage of graduates.

Next, there are what might be termed “practical and vocational” degrees—agriculture, business, education, law enforcement, legal professions, health care, and public administration.

Finally, there are the degrees for which few good jobs exist—English literature, ethnic and gender studies, history, liberal arts, and social sciences.

America’s class of 2017 graduates earned 1.1 million practical degrees, and apart from business majors (381,000) of which there is an oversupply, most of these graduates are going to find a decent job. But the number of unmarketable degrees, 479,000, greatly exceeded the number of STEM degrees awarded, 377,000, and about 17 percent of those STEM degrees were earned by foreign students.

Keeping America’s Public Universities Financially Solvent
A perfect storm has hit America’s universities. To adapt to new economic realities and to serve the needs of the American people, dramatic changes have to be made. And in publicly funded colleges and universities, these changes could be made overnight by changing the conditions of receiving public funds. What needs to change isn’t complicated.

First, fire all diversity, equity, and inclusion employees. Nationally, this will save billions in taxpayer money. Second, remove all references to race and ethnicity on college applications; maybe even devise a way to eliminate the ability of admissions offices to know the sex of the applicant.

Next, set a ceiling on admissions and degrees awarded in English literature, ethnic and gender studies, liberal arts, and social sciences. Make this new ceiling reduce the number of degrees available in these majors by at least 50 percent.

In order to restore academic excellence to these still vital fields of study, make SAT scores the sole criteria for student applicants to compete for these limited spots. Since the faculty will also have to be reduced in these disciplines, require all faculty to reapply for their positions and evaluate them based on their knowledge of the Western Canon. Perhaps better yet, just make all of them take an SAT test, to eliminate those with marginal scholastic aptitude.

Finally, with some of the money that is saved, expand the capacity of America’s STEM departments across the nation. Admit all those students with high SAT scores who, to date, have been passed over in favor of foreign applicants or lower scoring members of protected status groups.

This is an anti-racist solution. It calls for blind college applications using objective criteria. If members of “underrepresented groups” believe their SAT performance is substandard because of discrimination, they need to understand that an entire parasitic bureaucracy has developed to nurture this useless narrative, and it hurts them more than it helps them.

Some racism no doubt remains here and there in America. But did racism stop Asian Americans from logging academic and household income achievements consistently exceeding those of white Americans? Does racism explain why Nigerian immigrants are the most successful ethnic group in the United States?

Underrepresented minorities can believe that they are victims, but perfect proportional representation in all aspects of society will never be achieved, and the harder you try to enforce it, the more tyrannical and corrupt society will become. They need to look to the things within their own communities and within their own lives that they can change, such as rates of single-parent households, which is a critical factor in predicting a child’s success later in life.

Overall, Americans are realizing that college is not necessarily a wise choice for everyone. There are trades that pay exceedingly well, yet have trouble attracting new apprentices. There is military service. And there are ways to use online resources to get educated these days that don’t require four years of college, and cost a pittance by comparison.

Near the end of his discussion at the Hoover Institution, Hanson offered a disturbing warning. He said, in reference to the American economy, “I don’t think we’re prepared yet in the areas we need to be to be autonomous from China.” He is right. Tough choices are ahead. But for those willing to work hard, it is also a tremendous opportunity.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Families, Not Bureaucrats, Are the Real Education Experts

Most of the nation’s schools have closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and there’s no certainty on whether they’ll be open next school year.

In this sense, we’re essentially all homeschoolers now.

The pandemic’s effect on the education system is forcing millions of families to evaluate their current schools and the merits of homeschooling. And perhaps because of this re‐​examination, government school monopolists are attacking homeschooling — just as everyone is doing it.

Let’s give families a real opportunity to make decisions — allowing them to take their children’s education dollars to wherever they think they can get the best education and environment, whether that’s a public school, a private school or through homeschooling.

For some enemies of educational freedom, the fundamental issue is about who is in the best position to decide how children should be educated.

One of the major threads in the criticisms of alternatives to public schools — from private schools to homeschooling — is the suggestion that families, especially low‐​income families, are somehow incapable of making good decisions for their own children and that those decisions should, therefore, be in the hands of the government.

For example, in a recent article calling for a ban on homeschooling, Harvard University’s Elizabeth Bartholet claimed that “many homeschooling parents are simply not capable of educating their children.”

However, this view that the government knows better than families is deeply flawed.

Parents are legal stewards of their children, with responsibility for their well‐​being.

The nature of the parent‐​child relationship, including both the amount of, and kind of, time spent together gives parents superior knowledge about their children. In addition, parents are given the most credit when children are raised well, and parents also pay a social price when kids are uneducated or misbehave.

Parents are assumed, rightly, to be responsible for the upbringing of their kids; thus they have particularly strong incentives to do it well, even if parenting is challenging.

The Supreme Court recognized this point in Pierce v. Society of Sisters in 1925, a case that not only weakened a state monopoly on education but also established the constitutional status of parental rights. Writing for the court, Justice James Clark McReynolds wrote, “The child is not the mere creature of the State.”

Parents are not perfect, and arguing that they have better knowledge and incentives than education bureaucrats is not to say that families will never make mistakes. Families simply are more likely to get it right and are in a better position to learn and respond when they get it wrong.

In the realm of education, we see these ideas play out in a number of ways. First is the emphasis on parental choice. Homeschooling, or even formal private schooling, might not be the optimal choice for every single child. Rather, the point is that families are in the best position to determine what sort of educational structure is best for their kids.

This might explain why the most rigorous evidence consistently shows that home school students generally fare better academically and socially than their otherwise similar peers attending government schools.

The school shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic are forcing millions of parents to figure out if homeschooling can work better than government schooling.

In fact, a new EdChoice‐​Morning Consult poll of 510 parents of school‐​age children finds that 56 percent of parents have a more favorable view of homeschooling and just 26 percent have a less favorable view of homeschooling as a result of COVID-19.

Parents are not perfect, but they generally know what’s best for their kids. Unfortunately, the hubris of the educational establishment in thinking that distant bureaucrats know better that parents will likely continue to condemn too many children to suboptimal educational experiences.

The coronavirus pandemic and significant economic downturn may force states and school districts to change their funding systems. Let’s give families a real opportunity to make decisions — allowing them to take their children’s education dollars to wherever they think they can get the best education and environment, whether that’s a public school, a private school or through homeschooling.

Let’s fund students, not systems.


Public Schooling Isn't All That Essential After All

While some of America's most demagogic politicians try to exploit the COVID-19 outbreak, some Americans are trying to make the most of their de facto state of house arrest.

Government-imposed lockdowns have resulted in the shutdown of a number of schools across the nation. During this period some schools have gone online, while others have closed up indefinitely. Society is conditioned to believe that children cannot possibly be able to receive an education under such circumstances. After all, education can only take place in a classroom, at least in the social planners’ view.

However, some families are daring to do the unthinkable by experimenting with homeschooling. Counter to the opportunistic political class, which views every crisis as a moment to undermine people’s liberties, a number of homeschooling proponents have flipped the script to promote homeschooling. What better time to do so, when most families are stuck at home and don’t even know when schools will open up again.

Even in times of uncertainty, people have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to experiment and try different methods without the tutelage of central planners. Unfortunately, we live in a political culture in which voluntary alternatives to state-dominated institutions never show up on the chattering class’s radar. Public education happens to be one of the rituals in the American civic religion that one dares not question lest one is burned at the stake of public opinion.

When people start experimenting outside educational norms, ivory-tower elites feel almost obliged to nudge their disobedient subjects back to the government schooling plantation. Harvard Magazine had to make sure that the rubes did not stumble upon the benefits of homeschooling by publishing a piece skeptical of the practice. The article put particular emphasis on Elizabeth Bartholet’s perspective, the faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, and her call for “a presumptive ban on the practice” in the Arizona Law Review. Bartholet invoked some of the most egregious forms of newspeak by suggesting that homeschooling is “essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18.” In her ever so enlightened view, the very thought of homeschooling is “dangerous.”

There’s a lot to break down in Bartholet’s antihomeschooling screed, but let’s focus on her assertion that homeschooling is “authoritarian.” This notion is risible. Such claims don’t even pass a laugh test when considering that the majority of the curriculum in contemporary public schools puts forward progovernment narratives when it comes to taxation, social welfare programs, war, and every other pillar of the modern-day managerial state. Parents voluntarily making educational arrangements in their children's best interests is the polar opposite of authoritarianism, unless the definition of the word changed in our sleep.

Also, what does Bartholet have to say about the current public education system taking children away from their parents and subjecting them to more than fifteen thousand hours of school time over their K–12 careers? Some politicians don’t even think this amount of time locked up in school is enough. For example, California senator Kamala Harris proposed extending the school day to ten hours. Curious minds would like to know what Bartholet thinks about Harris’s idea. I, for one, would not hold my breath at this point. For the high priests of public education, more time interacting with the state represents virtuous behavior, whereas unplugging from the public education grid is tantamount to heresy in the managerial priesthood’s view.

Academics such as Bartholet should spare us the sanctimonious hand wringing over the dangers of homeschooling. Bartholet is concerned that homeschooling is an impediment to a child’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to “be protected from potential child abuse.”

Education reformer John Taylor Gatto has demonstrated in his life’s work that public schooling is anything but education. In fact, he has a book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction in which he eloquently makes the case that public schooling is designed to create malleable cogs in the machine and discourage any form of independent thinking.

As far as child abuse goes, I’d invite Bartholet to take a look at what’s taking place in America’s allegedly “safe” government schools. During the 2017–18 school year, approximately 962,300 violent incidents took place across the nation according to a study from the Institute of Education Studies. In this report, violent incidents consist of rape, other forms of sexual assault, robbery, physical attacks, and threats of physical attack.

Similarly, the Associated Press found approximately seventeen thousand cases of sexual assault committed by students from 2011–15. Moreover, the number observed in that period does not portray the full extent of the problem, because a significant number of sexual assaults are unreported. For example, some states don’t even track the stats, and those that do record have different standards for how they categorize sexual violence.

Although public schools may be “safe spaces” for politically correct curricula, they do not guarantee safe environments for students’ physical and mental health. According to a study from the US Department of Health and Human Services, 49 percent of school children in grades 4–12 reported being subjected to bullying by other students on a monthly basis, while 30.8 percent reported that they themselves engaged in bullying. How’s that for constructive socialization?

Allow me to come down somewhere in the middle: some children will require traditional schooling models, albeit in a privatized setting. On the other hand, other students will thrive in homeschooling environments. Markets serve to satisfy the demands of diverse sets of consumers, not the political desires of central planners. For the political left, who claim to be “pro-choice” and “diverse,” they sure love sticking to one-dimensional models for education. The idea of nonstate education is not a radical proposition.

Throughout American history, countless Americans have built parallel educational institutions without the central direction of the state. Americans have always found ways to get around government-imposed obstacles and will continue to do so despite the draconian measures that state governments have taken during the current pandemic.

American homeschooling has increased considerably in the last two decades despite the government barriers in place and the social pressure that naysayers exert to make sure America’s youth don’t veer away from the government schooling conveyor belt. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled students doubled from 850,000 in 1999 to 1,800,000 in 2012. Such numbers will likely grow as more families begin experimenting with education at home.

I tip my hat to the homeschoolers. They’re the ones who are engaging in revolutionary acts by categorically rejecting the public school industrial complex. Hopefully, more Americans learn about the benefits of homeschooling while government shutdowns continue and millions of Americans are kept under house arrest. As for Bartholet, she can continue decrying homeschooling all she wants. The good news is that markets don’t care about the opinions of ivory-tower elites. Regular people are the ones in charge, and they determine how services will be provided. As long as Bartholet’s idea of homeschooling prohibition does not become a political reality, she can continue yammering on about the supposed authoritarianism of homeschooling in the confines of her Ivy League pedestal for all I care.

Millions of homeschoolers and other Americans who opt for nonstate education programs will go on with their lives without having to worry about what some Harvard elite has to say about their educational choices. Once the pandemic subsides, we should start focusing more of our time on a different public health problem. That is government schooling. I’ll gladly support a permanent lockdown of government schools; that way, we can prevent the statist mind virus from spreading even further.


Australia: Smart school funding a problem-solver

As is customary, new changes to school funding have carved up winners and losers. To finally put to bed, it’s time for a market-based makeover.

New Department of Education data shows how much schools’ funding will alter under the new means-testing ‘direct measure of income’ system. Reforms almost always increase the funding pie, but this shakeup doesn’t increase the pie so much as change the way it’s sliced up.

Parents who choose schools with higher median incomes are expected to chip in more, as they should generally. But the new ‘direct measure’ approach is no cure-all either.

First, the subsidy is based on the median parents’ income across the whole school, rather than what each parent actually earns. Second, parents’ income level isn’t always the perfect guide to how much parents can afford to pay in fees — for some, assets or help from family members would make a better proxy.

And, third, parents’ incomes don’t necessarily measure a child’s educational advantages — which is what school funding ultimately is supposed to address in the first place.

But it’s not necessarily fair to call these failures of the new approach though. There are simply so many flaws with school funding that tweaking around the edges just won’t cut it.

For a start, any subsidy should be paid to parents directly, not to schools — cutting out the middlemen in administration who re-calculate what goes to schools.

The amount of subsidy should be based on each students’ and families’ needs, not their schools’ needs. While the Gonski formula is notionally based on a child’s needs, there’s not necessarily any nexus to supporting individual students’ learning needs.

And the subsidy should be genuinely means-tested for each household, not the schools’ median.

We already provide welfare payments directly to households, adjusted to income and assets tests. Why not provide families with school-aged children a cheque each year equivalent to a basic, means-tested amount to spend directly on schooling?

Schools could then set their fees based on demand factors — like how popular they are and how much parents are willing to pay. Parental choice would keep fees in check, since schools with excessive fees will be less attractive. And public schools could offer market-based fees too; perhaps with some regulation to make sure they remain within reach of locals.

Parents could choose to pay more than the cheque’s amount — much like they do already — but the subsidy would be better targeted. And parents might use the cheque to pay for additional out-of-school support too to provide for their child’s needs. That’s far more transparent, competitive, and efficient than anything currently on the table.

School funding can be improved — not by spending more, but by spending it more wisely.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Addressing common misconceptions about the new Title IX regulations

The Department of Education finalized its new Title IX regulations less than two weeks ago, and already, a lot of misinformation about them has been published in various forms of media. We can’t address it all here, but we wanted to at least clarify some points that many commenting on the regulations are getting wrong.

Often, misinformation about the law proliferates because people don’t have the time or energy to check original sources. Commentary doesn’t always include citations, and sometimes people think they won’t be able to read or understand legalese anyway. On the second point, they’re usually wrong. So when in doubt, readers: Be skeptical of any source that doesn’t quote and link to the regulations themselves, and go back and read them yourselves.

Without further ado, here are some commonly shared incorrect or misleading statements about the regulations:

The regulations mandate that sexual harassment cases be treated differently from racial harassment cases.
The regulations require that federally funded educational institutions — all but a few colleges and universities across the country — respond a certain way to sexual misconduct, and these requirements do not all apply in non-sexual misconduct cases. ED isn’t instructing schools to treat non-sexual misconduct cases differently, per se; it just can’t create obligations for how institutions handle non-sexual misconduct allegations in Title IX regulations, because Title IX governs sex discrimination only. Under the new regulations, institutions will no longer be required or encouraged to provide respondents in sexual misconduct cases fewer free speech and due process rights than they have been providing respondents in non-sexual misconduct cases.

With respect to the definition of harassment, for example, critics argue that sexual harassment will have to reach a higher threshold before schools can and must punish someone engaging in sexual harassment compared with racial harassment.

[T]here are many sources of misinformation out there, including individuals and organizations that should know better.

It’s easy to see where this misinformation comes from: In the spring of 2013, the Department of Education promoted an unconstitutionally broad definition of sexual harassment — “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct” — although it publicly backed away from this definition just months later. As FIRE explained at the time, the Supreme Court of the United States established the legal definition of student-on-student (or peer) sexual  harassment in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education: conduct “that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

Moreover, in its 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, issued by President Bill Clinton’s Department of Education the day before President George W. Bush was inaugurated, ED’s Office for Civil Rights addressed requests “to provide distinct definitions of sexual harassment to be used in administrative enforcement as distinguished from criteria used to maintain private actions for monetary damages.” It declined to do so, explaining that “schools benefit from consistency and simplicity in understanding what is sexual harassment for which the school must take responsive action. A multiplicity of definitions would not serve this purpose.”

The new regulations’ definition of hostile environment harassment tracks the Davis standard: “Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” So if critics have a problem, their problem is with the Supreme Court, or perhaps with the Clinton administration, not with the current Secretary of Education.

In any case, courts have been applying the Davis standard to racial harassment cases for almost Davis’ entire existence. When ED instructed institutions to punish “any unwelcome [speech] of a sexual nature,” it didn’t make the same instruction with respect to racial harassment. As a result, institutions were left with the impression that they should be punishing a far broader spectrum of sex-related speech than race-related speech. The new regulations simply clarify that both types of harassment should be assessed according to the Davis standard.

FIRE would be very pleased to see the regulations’ procedural safeguards guaranteed in all serious, non-academic misconduct cases.

Similarly, with respect to the standard of evidence, schools are already treating sexual and racial misconduct cases differently, and the regulations explicitly allow institutions to treat them the same way. In a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, ED mandated for the first time that all institutions governed by Title IX use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases — but again, it made no such mandate with respect to race-related cases.

As a result, most colleges maintain a bifurcated system where sexual misconduct cases are dealt with differently from all other cases, including racial harassment cases. Some schools, inclined to require “clear and convincing evidence” for a responsible finding, have been using a higher standard of evidence for non-sex-related cases than for sex-related cases since 2011. ED’s rescission of this 2011 mandate and finalization of the new regulations gives institutions a path (and ED has encouraged institutions) to use the same standard for both types of cases.

Finally, with respect to the adjudication procedure aside from the standard of evidence, the same is true. Many institutions already provide live hearings for non-sexual misconduct cases, but not for sexual misconduct cases. This may be in part due to a 2014 report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, which encouraged schools to use a single-investigator model for sexual misconduct cases. Under the new regulations, these schools will give students facing non-sexual misconduct cases and students facing sexual misconduct cases more similar opportunities to defend themselves and challenge the evidence against them in a meaningful hearing.

FIRE would be very pleased to see the regulations’ procedural safeguards guaranteed in all serious, non-academic misconduct cases. (In fact, FIRE has worked with legislatures to enact bipartisan legislation that provides consistent, robust safeguards in campus proceedings whenever there is a potential penalty of 10 or more days of suspension or expulsion on the line.) But for now, the regulations at least help ensure that respondents in sexual misconduct cases possess many safeguards they are often granted already in non-sexual misconduct cases.

Much more HERE 

Could Homeschooling Really Grow by 500 Percent?

There are about 2.5 million homeschooling children in the United States today. But what if there were 8 million more kids homeschooling in the fall?

There is reason to believe this could happen.

An EdChoice public opinion poll suggests that more than half of parents with school-age kids have a more favorable view of homeschooling after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Reason Foundation Facebook poll conducted by Corey DeAngelis suggests that about 15 percent of all children could be making the switch to homeschooling in the fall. And a May 14, 2020, Real Clear Opinion poll of over 2,000 registered voters found that as many as 41% of parents are more likely to homeschool this fall.

It seems certain that parents and students will consider many different “new” options this year.  This can only be more so as reports are making parents think twice about sending kids back to schools that will be mandating temperature checks, hand sanitizer, face masks/shield, social isolation, and staggered classes upon reopening. In France, some children are being told to draw their own 6 foot by 6 foot chalk squares where they can “enjoy” their recess.  In England some teachers have suggested “spraying pupils with disinfectant”.  All of this suggests that this coming school year will be anything but “back to school” as usual.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are about 57 million school-aged children in the United States. Of these kids, about 50 million were enrolled in public schools, and 7 million were enrolled in private schools. In 2017, Education Week estimated that the number of children enrolled in public charter schools was 3 million.

If we use the lower percentage of possible “switchers” in the Reason poll, then about 7 million public school students, 420,000 public charter school and about 1 million private school students will be homeschooling later this year. That would be a whopping 8.5 million more homeschooled students. Adding the 2.5 millions of current homeschoolers gives us over 10 million students homeschooling this fall. 

10 million kids homeschooling in the United States? Wow. That would be a jump of about 500 percent. If these polls are even remotely close, we are looking at major shifts that will have effects rippling all over in interesting and hard-to-predict ways.

For example, with fewer students in school, schools might have fewer teacher positions leading to possible staff reductions. Furloughed teachers might find work tutoring out-of-school kids or finding jobs with the new spate of start-ups taking advantage of the new demand of parents for out-of-school learning opportunities.  Entrepreneurial start-up Outschool is looking to hire 5,000 teachers to meet the new demand. States seeing decreased revenue from taxes due to the economic impact of the shutdown measure might be glad to see less students showing up in the hallways so that their government budgets might be spared some of the per-pupil funding. Most of these costs would be borne by families which might put some pressure on policy makers. Tax credits would be one way to recognize this financial burden. Ten million homeschoolers equals a total “savings” of about $127 billion at the average per pupil funding rate of just over $12,000.

What might this mean for children?

For the 10 million plus kids who would be learning outside the four walls of the public, private, and charter schools there could be a lot more freedom and a lot less pressure. They and their parents will choose their own curriculum. They and their parents will choose their own flexible schedules. They will do education in a more life-integrated way, on their own timeline and on their own terms. Kids will have more time to play. To read. To explore things that interest them. To learn more at their own pace. To socialize in healthy ways, with less negative peer pressure and school-related issues like bullying.

Some have lamented this possible increase, worrying that more homeschooling will be bad for children.   But the numbers show that the opposite is more likely true.

Vanderbilt University Dr. Joseph Murphy’s comprehensive literature shows that homeschooling produces individuals who are at least as well educated and well socialized as their public or private school counterparts—a lot of research shows even better results. Homeschooling grads are more politically tolerant than their public or private school counterparts, says Dr. Albert Cheng’s empirical study. Dr. Lindsey Burke found that a majority of research point to superior academic outcomes for homeschooling. Homeschooling is diverse contrary to the assertions of others that homeschooling is only done by “ white conservative Christians”.

Harvard Law School graduate, author, Supreme Court clerk, and homeschool graduate Alex Harris says, “education was woven into everything we did in my family. There was always something to read and talk about around the dinner table. My parents never seemed to miss an opportunity for instruction. They were particularly adept at identifying what I was most passionate about, and then using that as a tool for teaching . . . They wanted us to love learning.”

What’s not to like about that?

Who could have ever imagined that we would experience a global pandemic that would put 1.5 billion children in 190 countries out of school? Who would have imagined that entire countries and states would virtually shut down their economies?

If that can happen, why couldn’t there be 10 million kids happily homeschooling this fall?

Even if some or even many of the new homeschoolers transitioned back to regular schools when things calm down and return to some normalcy – 10 million homeschooled children would have a significant (positive) long-term impact on how America does school.  Based on how homeschooling has stacked up so far, that would be just fine for the kids, their families, and their country.


Australian universities face an existential dilemma from loss of income

Time for efficiency reforms

Australian universities are "some of the most creditworthy entities in Australia and the world", ratings agency S&P Global says in a report on the effects of COVID-19 on this country's higher education.

This should put universities in a good place for what will be a punishing 12 months to come. The Group of Eight conservatively estimates a revenue downturn of $2.2 billion for 2020.

Already universities with small cash buffers, among them La Trobe University and Central Queensland University, are flagging redundancies.

S&P Global says universities have healthy balance sheets and low debt levels. But that's putting it kindly.

Critics of the university sector refer to lazy capital tied up in buildings and land holdings, which in some cases are used for only the 28 weeks a year when students are actually on campus.

And without shareholders to keep an eye on costs, payrolls have expanded in a heavily unionised workforce.

Robert Leeson, a professor of economics at Notre Dame university in Perth and biographer of the classic-liberal economist Friedrich Hayek, says Australian universities would benefit from some "creative destruction" of their own, reducing the ranks of middle management and making them more efficient.

As the post-coronavirus reality begins to bite, some policymakers are arguing for structural reform in higher education.

National lead partner for education at KPMG, and a former vice-chancellor at the University of Canberra, Stephen Parker, says the last real reform in higher education was 30 years ago when education minister John Dawkins let colleges of advanced education merge with universities.

S&P Global analysts said there was an appetite in Canberra for university reform.

Its recent report said: "We anticipate that when the pandemic is over, there will be greater political pressure on Australian universities to diversify or reduce their reliance on foreign students."

Some industries facing revenue shortfalls after COVID-19 are talking about mergers to get economies of scale and a more stable revenue base. But Australian universities are already large by global standards.

The vice-chancellor of Monash university, Margaret Gardner, doubts that growth by merger is the future for Australian universities.

She says she can't see the policy setting that would underpin mergers. In any case, universities are already very large. Monash has nearly 70,000 students, making it massive by comparison to British and US universities. Professor Gardner says in some senses it is already "merged" with other universities – through joint research projects with domestic universities and by collaboration with overseas institutions.

Also working against mergers is the fact that universities define themselves by their relationship to local communities.

Monash has a strong identity with communities in Melbourne's south-east, not the least because of the massive health market it serves with research and clinical services.

Gardner agrees that universities are going to change but says "the notion that Uni X merges with Uni Y is a very big question that intersects across community and government interests."

If consolidation through mergers is off the table, one way to get greater efficiencies would be a series of more simple alliances doing things such as shared back office, joint tenders for research or submissions to government.

Professor Parker points out the great universities of California are part of a state alliance.

The former vice-chancellor of Deakin University and interim vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, Jane den Hollander, says alliances are already on the agenda of university councils.

All five universities in WA are members of the Forrest Research Foundation and this might be a good model for sharing costs and ideas, she said, without losing the structure of individual universities.

Another arrangement might be a federated model that brings together universities with a shared "market type", for example Geelong in Victoria with Newcastle and Wollongong in NSW.

"I'm interested in what regional universities do. Universities are to some extent the first pillar of the community," she says, echoing Gardner. "The big question is not just what happens in the capital cities. How do we nurture the regional role of the university?"

There are some long-established alliances, for example the Regional Universities Network or the Australian Technology Network, but these are more to do with marketing than local communities, shared resources or cost-cutting.

Working with business

The most likely university model for collaboration is with business.

This growth-oriented strategy is well established. Long before the government started pushing universities with tools such as performance funding to produce job-ready graduates, business has been moving onto campuses.

Monash University works with GlaxoSmithKline on pharmaceuticals, the University of Newcastle works with Brambles on printed solar collectors, and Sydney University is partnered with Telstra, Microsoft and Rio Tinto.

Edith Cowan University has 12-week work-integrated attachments for science students, and the University of Queensland commercialises research via its spin-off company UniQuest. UniQuest's first patent application for what was to become the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine was lodged in 1991.

The University of NSW Torch Innovation Precinct ("We invite you to join us moving from mining and manufacturing to mass innovation and mass entrepreneurship"), which opened in 2016 and is focused heavily on China, is a "good model for driving growth", UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs says. "It's not going to release spare cash. But it covers its costs and it means we can do additional research."

Professor Jacobs says he has been "hammering" the link between university and business for five years. Universities get cash flow and job-ready graduates and businesses get intellectual property.

COVID-19 has also proven the possibility of some cost savings. UNSW Sydney thought it was at capacity three years ago, the vice-chancellor says. Now that idea is "up for review".

Collaboration, between universities or with business, looks like the best option for universities trying to maintain growth in the face of falling international enrolments.