Friday, June 19, 2020

President Trump Calls School Choice the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

Yesterday President Trump unveiled his Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities. His comments were not limited to law enforcement. Rather, he spoke holistically about how to improve communities through investment, school choice, and economic improvement.

“In order to make real progress on public safety, we have to break old patterns of failure. Many of the same politicians now presenting themselves as the solution are the same ones who have failed for decades on schools, jobs, justice, and crime.”

He then articulated how his administration had taken a multi-faceted approach to uplift minority communities:

Criminal justice reform through the First Step Act
Long-term funding for historically black colleges and universities

Expanded affordable healthcare options

Opportunity Zone legislation to encourage jobs and investment in poor urban and rural communities

Lowest minority unemployment rates across the board and pledged to do it again post lockdown

Then he discussed his administration’s support for school choice. “School choice is the civil rights statement of the year, the decade and probably beyond. Because all children have to have access to quality education. A child’s zip code in America should never determine their future.”

Adding school choice to the election talking points and highlighting the administration’s stalwart advocacy for it gives the campaign the perfect wedge issue and the perfect foil.

For a wedge issue, according to the group Democrats for Education Reform, the party is split along both racial and generational lines about school choice.

Joe Biden: "When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system. We've got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot. That's why I oppose vouchers."

This is a clear difference between the campaigns that can be capitalized on. Democrats have traditionally received about 94% of the donations from the nation’s two largest teacher’s unions. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers oppose vouchers and other school choice programs.

The Democrat party line is going to remain that dumping more money into failing public schools is the solution. Because that’s worked out so well to this point.

Because of the race and generational divide regarding school choice, this may help President Trump with younger black voters who already approve of him at higher rates than expected:

The data collected from April 2-May 13 by the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, an initiative that conducted weekly surveys of thousands of potential voters for nearly a year, found that 29% of percent of black voters ages 30-44 and 21% ages 18-29 have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of President Trump. This compares to just 14% of black voters 45-64 and 9% of those 65 and older.

Trump has also selected an issue with the perfect foil. Namely, America’s worst mayor, New York City’s Bill de Blasio. To resolve the racial disparities in New York’s top public high schools, de Blasio has implemented radical restorative justice policies that have made struggling schools less safe. His School Diversity Advisory Group has also proposed eliminating all selection criteria for these magnet schools.

Meanwhile, one of the most successful charter school systems resides right in his backyard. Success Academy Charter Schools operate on a pure lottery for admissions and take students from some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York City and surrounding areas.

Teaching 17,000 students across 45 locations, Success Charters are the seventh-largest district in New York State. They enrolled approximately 1 in 60 public school students in New York City in 2019. They also outperformed every school district in the state on New York State exams. Smaller districts that were far less diverse with much higher average household incomes did not even come close.

Yet in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York, the Success Academy Charters have to get petitions signed and to try and force him to increase classroom space. Or hold rallies on the city hall steps to get adequate space in Queens. Even when faced with significantly underutilized school buildings, de Blasio wouldn’t budge.

If the nation’s worst mayor had two synapses that fired effectively, he would be inviting the administration of Success Charters to fix his broken inner-city schools. Instead, he makes it more difficult for them to operate effectively and installs public school policies that lower the bar behaviorally and academically for students to achieve some lofty goal of equity.

It is a tragedy for New York City students and effective education. By elevating Success Academies’ success and the challenges they face from a radical Democrat mayor, the Trump campaign can accomplish two goals. First, providing a best practices educational model for other inner-city charges to follow. Second, it would give a megaphone to the parents and administrators of Success Academies to talk about the difference school choice has made in the lives of the students.

The holistic approach to community improvement outlined by President Trump is the correct one. It is also a direct counter to the radical calls to defund and dismantle police departments. Through reasonable law enforcement reform and elevating an issue like school choice in the campaign, it is an argument that can be won in time for November.


UK: Oxford college wants Rhodes statue removed

A recommendation will be made to remove the statue of 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes from an Oxford University college, its governing body says.

Oriel College has been under pressure for several years from the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which argues the statue glorifies racism and is an insult to black students.

"First, this is a moment for celebration," said Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a South African graduate student at Oxford and #RhodesMustFall campaigner.

The campaign was reinvigorated by the global wave of anti-racism protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and on June 9 a large demonstration took place outside the college.

In Britain, the Black Lives Matter protests have ignited a debate about monuments commemorating the nation's imperialist past.

Rhodes, a mining magnate, was a central figure in Britain's colonial project in southern Africa, giving his name to Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, and founding the De Beers diamond empire.

He expressed racist beliefs and implemented racial segregation measures that paved the way for apartheid.

A student at Oriel in his youth, he endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed more than 8000 students from around the world, including former US President Bill Clinton, to study at Oxford.

The governing body of Oriel said it would launch an independent commission of inquiry into the issues surrounding the statue, to which it would recommend that it be taken down.

Oriel said the commission would examine the Rhodes legacy and how the college's present commitment to diversity could "sit more easily with its past".

The #RhodesMustFall campaign began in South Africa in 2015, culminating in the removal of a statue of Rhodes at Cape Town University. But Oriel said in 2016 it would keep its own statue as "an important reminder of the complexity of history".


Australian University to admit students in 2021 even if they don't get a High School result this year due to coronavirus disruptions

Almost any scholastic aptitude test is a better filter for tertiary success than final exam results anyway.  Just an IQ test would exclude most of those unlikely to succeed.  Even parental income or parental attainments would make a good rough filter

A whole lot of factors can influence final High school marks so they have never been an efficient entrance criterion.  They are used because they are seen as "fair".  Good riddance to them as long as some other filter is used to keep out those unlikely to cope at university.

I suspect that they will in fact accept anyone who applies and can pay.  That would be most unfair to the less able

Another Australian university has announced it will accept year 12 students impacted by the coronavirus lockdown even if they don't obtain an ATAR score.

Swinburne University will offer an ATAR-free pathway to its most popular courses for all students that finish high school in 2020.

Students will be able to enrol in bachelor degrees such as business, science, design, arts, engineering and media, with just a recommendation letter from their high school confirming they meet the minimum English requirements.

In normal circumstances there are a limited number of places for each university course and students' ATAR scores determine whether they will secure an offer of enrolment in their chosen field of study.

Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Chris Pilgrim said although the transition from high school to university is always challenging, year 12 students have 'faced a year like no other' and deserve a shot at university even without an ATAR.

'We know that students in 2020 continue to rise to the occasion and achieve exceptional results, and that completion of VCE remains of utmost importance, Professor Pilgrim said.

'But we also understand it has been a unique year of study for many and we want to support students to continue their studies into 2021.'

Universities across Australia are experiencing a massive decline in profitability as the number of international students plummets due to COVID-19 border closures.

Foreign students make up about one third of Swinburne's total revenue and their absence this year means the university expects to see a deficit of $51million.

In 2021 and 2022, they've flagged losses totalling $101million.

Overall, the Australian university sector is bracing for a $16billion retraction over the next four years.

'We guaranteed them over $18 billion worth of funding as part of our COVID-19 package, and we'll continue to talk with the sector about increases in demand and how we best can meet those,' education minister Dan Tehan told ABC Radio National.

'We'll continue to work with the sector to make sure that this demand can be met ... Understanding, of course, that there are, huge, huge demands on the Budget at the moment, and we've got to make sure that everything we do is done in a very sustainable way.'

'We have to remember, that the international education sector provides 250,000 jobs to this nation, and we want those jobs back as we grow our economy, as we come out of the coronavirus pandemic,' Mr Tehan said.

Swinburne will begin offering university places for 2021 as early as August.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Boris Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals after Rashford campaign

Boris Johnson has been forced into a U-turn over providing food vouchers for some of England’s poorest families after a campaign launched by the footballer Marcus Rashford threatened to engulf his government in another crisis.

In an embarrassing about-face, the prime minister said that on Tuesday he had called the England and Manchester United striker to explain the reversal, and made the remarkable claim that he had only become aware of Rashford’s interest in the issue earlier in the day.

Yet 24 hours before, No 10 had rejected the footballer’s plea for it to keep paying for the £15-a-week vouchers over the summer, and ministers had been sent out to defend the government’s position. But with Conservative MPs threatening to rebel against the government, Downing Street retreated and announced a new £120m “covid summer food fund” for 1.3 million pupils in England.

Appearing at the coronavirus daily briefing on Tuesday, Johnson said he had called Rashford, 22, to congratulate him on his campaign. “I thank him for what he’s done,” he said.

Rashford, who has written about the food poverty he experienced as a child, said of the reversal on Twitter.: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”

The policy change was announced just hours before the government was expected to argue against feeding hungry children during the summer at an opposition day debate.

Until then, Downing Street had argued it would not award free school meal vouchers in England outside term time.

Asked if Rashford’s pleas had helped to change Johnson’s mind, his spokesman said: “The prime minister welcomes Marcus Rashford’s contribution to the debate around poverty, and respects the fact that he has been using his profile as a sportsman to highlight important issues.”

He said families entitled to free school meals would receive a one-off voucher at the end of the school term, worth £15 a week for the six-week school break, which they could spend in supermarkets.

Scotland and Wales would also continue with the voucher programme, while Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said she would be proposing that the scheme be extended over the summer “if the necessary finances can be secured”.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, who wrote to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, last week about the need for a change in policy, thanked the footballer.

“Today’s announcement will help many families, but there will still be 4 million children living in poverty, a number that could increase following the covid crisis.”

Johnson faced pressure from senior Conservative backbenchers including the former minister George Freeman and the chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon. One senior party source said that more than 30 backbench MPs had told whips they were considering voting against the government.


Is the University of California Committing Suicide? Equity vs. Excellence

What is the best public university in America? According to US News, it is not even close. In its latest rankings of national universities, six of the 50 best schools were campuses of the University of California (UC)—as many as for all other public American universities combined. Forbes ranks UC at Berkeley the 13th best school in America, tied with Ivy League heavy hitter Columbia, and above such prestigious private schools as the University of Chicago, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins.

While undoubtedly some of UC’s prestige comes from its extraordinary research prowess, much of it emanates from the fact the school has implicitly said “we admit only the best, the brightest, and the hardest working of our state’s population.” In 1960, California, heavily influenced by UC President Clark Kerr, developed a Master Plan ordaining the very best students (generally the top one-eighth of their high school graduating class) would be admitted to UC, while good but less superior students (in the top one-third of high school graduates) would go to the California State University system; less capable students would go to community colleges with a possibility of transferring to the better universities upon demonstrating superior performance.

Over time, applications to UC soared. While there was some increase in capacity (the newest UC campus was created in 2005 at Merced), demand exceeded supply, and, like every other prestigious school, UC put increasing emphasis on SAT or ACT test results of students in determining admission. Even the least selective UC school, Merced, turns down well over one-fourth of those applying (UCLA, by contrast, rejects about five of every six applicants).

While some studies show high school performance is the best single predictor of college success, generally they also say that SAT/ACT scores are an important secondary predictor. Indeed, an admissions task force of faculty from all UC schools in January went farther, concluding, “At UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first year GPA (grades) than high school grade point average....” However, the faculty task force recommendation to keep testing was ignored. A school relying exclusively on high school grades might select the best students 60% of the time, but combining grades with test results would improve the accuracy of their selection dramatically, perhaps to 90%. Very few students drop out of highly selective schools using SAT-type testing, because the grade/testing combination usually finds the best and brightest successful students.

Ignoring the faculty, the UC Board of Regents unanimously decreed the phasing out of the use of the SAT and ACT tests over several years, under heavy pressure from various organizations. A 31-group coalition said “Eliminating the SAT and ACT will support talented Latinx, black, Asian American Native American Pacific Islander (AANAPI) and other historically underrepresented students.... Black, Latnix, Native American, and subgroups of Asians students are too often denied access....”

It appears to me that those calling for change, including thenUC Regents, believe there should be racially/ethnically-determined admissions quotas, independent of the ability of students to excel academically. More bluntly, too many Asian-Americans are currently being admitted, and too few blacks and those of Hispanic heritage. To the anti-testers, perceived equity concerns should trump traditional efforts to get the best and brightest students academically.

I think this is an exceedingly dangerous and slippery slope to negotiate, and UC is going further than other prominent schools. It values racial/ethnic concerns over academic ones and makes a mockery out of faculty control over academic standards. As to equity: is turning down an Asian-American immigrant with a high SAT score ranking 5th out of a class of 250 in order to accommodate, say, a lower-scoring native-born African-American student ranked 30th in her class of 250 at a much lower quality high school “equitable?”

Aside from the anti-academic excellence, anti-faculty, and racist aspect of the decision: it is another attempt to get around Proposition 209, approved by the California voters, making it unconstitutional to discriminate for or against persons based on racial or gender characteristics. While promoting economic and social mobility for lower income persons is a venerated American value, doing so in this fashion appears morally suspect and justifiably may hurt the reputation of the University of California.


Is a Law School Meltdown Coming?

Watching TV ads for plaintiff trial lawyers wanting to cash in on other people’s misery doesn’t exactly endear me to the legal profession, but it does increase my already serious infatuation for The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, who once said (Henry VII, Part 2) “let’s kill all the lawyers.” That said, we are a nation ruled by law, and a massive breakdown of that bedrock principle, threatened in recent days, scares most Americans. We need lawyers, and lots of them, to enforce the rules and laws that allow for a prosperous, orderly society.

Enter Covid-19 and the possibility that law schools will forgo in-class legal education this fall. Already Harvard Law has said its fall courses are going to be taught remotely. How does this impact law students facing tuition and other fees often in the $50,000 range or even more? The apparent answer, based on a survey of 1,651 law students: “considerably.”

Asked if they would “reconsider continuing your legal education” in an era of social distancing and remote learning, more than 30% of students answered yes, and nearly 40% more said, “no, but I may take a hiatus until things return to normal.” More than 20% said they are reconsidering their career path. Some 87% said they thought their education would be overpriced if they had to continue it remotely. And most were concerned about rules in nearly all states restricting the ability of lawyers educated online to take the bar exam. The American Bar Association, which is the cartel that largely controls entry into the legal profession, seemingly hates online learning. Additionally, a large majority of current students found their own vocationally important summer internships interrupted.

Most damning, some 56% of those polled said their education last semester was “less effective” because of remote learning, while only 37% said there was “no change” going from in-person to remote learning. Most students feel they lose something in not facing in person the intense intellectual interchange between students and professors that characterizes legal education, and helps prepare students for something most other college graduates do NOT face (but perhaps should): a very high stakes examination that literally will determine whether they can practice the trade in which they were trained.

Mehran Ebadolahi is a UCLA/Harvard Law graduate who runs TestMax, a company that helps prepare students for the LSAT, bar examination, and some other key tests. Most relevant, he is responsible for the survey results reported above. While the TestMax database may not be a perfectly random sample of law school participants, it is pretty large. Mehran, whom I interviewed, is the personification of the American Dream. Born in Iran with one Jewish and one Muslim parent, he moved to the U.S. at the age of one, graduated with high grades from UCLA, did poorly (a 148 score) on the LSAT, but persevered until he got a 174 on that test and into Harvard. He has challenged the old, paper and pencil, in-person test preparation model, TestMax growing substantially with the passage of time. My hunch is his survey respondents probably fairly closely match that of law students generally.

I suspect most law schools are going to realize the implications of this survey and push hard to reopen next fall, particularly as mounting evidence exists that younger people seem to be far less likely to be lethally impacted by the novel coronavirus than older adults. The health arguments against live instruction may be seriously overstated. Law schools have enormous fixed costs and are mostly exceedingly tuition-dependent. Even with risks, the live show must go on for most of them or, in a few cases, they literally may die.

A comment from a friend and former student who is entering law school this fall, however, provides a small element of optimism: “I am actually salivating at the prospect that 30% of my peers would consider a career change… When I go to sell my labor on the job market after I finish school, fewer other prospects would play into my favor.” Maybe others will think the same thing, so actual enrollment declines come fall will actually be less than currently anticipated. As with the rest of higher education, this fall is critical.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

I Must Object

A rebuttal to Brown University’s letter on racism in the United States

Last week, in the aftermath of the national fury that has erupted, and continues, over the apparent killing by a Minneapolis police officer of a black man, George Floyd, while he was being taken into custody, a letter appeared in my inbox from Christina H. Paxson, president of Brown University, where I teach. The letter, sent to thousands of students, staff, and faculty, was cosigned by many of Brown’s senior administrators and deans.

“We write to you today as leaders of this university,” the letter begins, “to express first deep sadness, but also anger, regarding the racist incidents that continue to cut short the lives of black people every day.” It continues:

The sadness comes from knowing that this is not a mere moment for our country. This is historical, lasting and persistent. Structures of power, deep-rooted histories of oppression, as well as prejudice, outright bigotry and hate, directly and personally affect the lives of millions of people in this nation every minute and every hour. Black people continue to live in fear for themselves, their children and their communities, at times in fear of the very systems and structures that are supposed to be in place to ensure safety and justice.

I found the letter deeply disturbing, and was moved to compose the following response, which I shared with a colleague. I’m happy now to share it as well with City Journal’s readership.

Dear ____:

I was disturbed by the letter from Brown’s senior administration. It was obviously the product of a committee—Professors XX and YY, or someone of similar sensibility, wrote a manifesto, to which the president and senior administrative leadership have dutifully affixed their names.

I wondered why such a proclamation was necessary. Either it affirmed platitudes to which we can all subscribe, or, more menacingly, it asserted controversial and arguable positions as though they were axiomatic certainties. It trafficked in the social-justice warriors’ pedantic language and sophomoric nostrums. It invoked “race” gratuitously and unreflectively at every turn. It often presumed what remains to be established. It often elided pertinent differences between the many instances cited. It read in part like a loyalty oath. It declares in every paragraph: “We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident.”

And just what truths are these? The main one: that racial domination and “white supremacy” define our national existence even now, a century and a half after the end of slavery.

I deeply resented the letter. First of all, what makes an administrator (even a highly paid one, with an exalted title) a “leader” of this university? We, the faculty, are the only “leaders” worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas. Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks? It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?

They write sentences such as this: “We have been here before, and in fact have never left.” Really? This is nothing but propaganda. Is it supposed to be self-evident that every death of an “unarmed black man” at the hands of a white person tells the same story? They speak of “deep-rooted systems of oppression; legacies of hate.” No elaboration required here? No specification of where Brown might stand within such a system? No nuance or complexity? Is it obvious that “hate”—as opposed to incompetence, or fear, or cruelty, or poor training, or lack of accountability, or a brutal police culture, or panic, or malfeasance—is what we observed in Minneapolis? We are called upon to “effect change.” Change from what to what, exactly? Evidently, we’re now all charged to promote the policy agenda of the “progressive” wing of American politics. Is this what a university is supposed to be doing?

I must object. This is no reasoned ethical reflection. Rather, it is indoctrination, virtue-signaling, and the transparent currying of favor with our charges. The roster of Brown’s “leaders” who signed this manifesto in lockstep remind me of a Soviet Politburo making some party-line declaration. I can only assume that the point here is to forestall any student protests by declaring the university to be on the Right Side of History.

What I found most alarming, though, is that no voice was given to what one might have thought would be a university’s principal intellectual contribution to the national debate at this critical moment: namely, to affirm the primacy of reason over violence in calibrating our reactions to the supposed “oppression.” Equally troubling were our president’s promises to focus the university’s instructional and research resources on “fighting for social justice” around the world, without any mention of the problematic and ambiguous character of those movements which, over the past two centuries or more, have self-consciously defined themselves in just such terms—from the French and Russian Revolutions through the upheavals of the 1960s.

My bottom line: I’m offended by the letter. It frightens, saddens, and angers me.


How Young People Make Decisions in Choosing College

For years, college-for-all was the dominant narrative of pundits, parents, and high school guidance counselors. And most people interpreted that directive to mean that everyone should attend a four-year university.

That’s starting to change. I hear more every day about apprenticeships, community colleges, certificate programs, and coding academies. But students still need guidance when making crucial decisions about what they will learn and how they will enter the labor market.

That’s where a new book by Michael B. Horn and Bob Moesta comes in. Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life, published last fall, provides a new framework for thinking about postsecondary education options. As the authors say in the introduction, they want potential students to ask a foundational question about education: Why?

Why are you seeking more education in your life? Or why should you? What is the progress you are trying to make?

When asked, students usually answer that they’re going to college “to get a job.” New America Foundation’s 2015 College Decisions Survey questioned 1,011 U.S. residents ages 16-40 who were either prospective college students or enrolled in their first semester of college. New America reported:

[T]he top reasons to decide to go to college among the reasons listed in the survey are: 1) To improve employment opportunities (91 percent); 2) To make more money (90 percent); and 3) To get a good job (89 percent). In fact, 7 out of 10 students describe each of these items as very important.

But students (and potential students) don’t always make decisions that comport with their stated preferences. Many students choose colleges and universities with bad track records in terms of graduate employment. And others end up underemployed because they chose majors with low demand.

Horn and Moesta say that one reason for the disconnect is that students’ reasons for choosing a college are actually “more complicated” than just improving their employment opportunities. Unlike many college boosters, they also realize that for many people, college doesn’t work and for other people, college ends up not paying off. That understanding helps the authors give more realistic advice.

Horn and Moesta offer their own survey of more than 1,000 students as well as 200 detailed stories of individuals making college choices. The bulk of the book, entitled “Helping Learners Make Better Choices,” is devoted to such individuals. It starts with a section about getting into the “best school for you” and ends with “Five Principles for Your Learning Journey,” the most important of which is “Your Learning Journey Will Last A Lifetime.” The personal stories and advice are tailored for students and parents trying to make better education decisions.

The book’s most important insight comes from Bob Moesta’s Jobs to Be Done theory, which was created in conjunction with the late Clayton Christensen more than 20 years ago. Christensen described the theory in his foreword to the book: “In a nutshell, people don’t buy products or services because they fall into a particular demographic category. Rather people hire services to get a job done in their lives so they can make progress.” Those “services” include education.

In the context of this book, the theory explains that people choose a school with five things (or “jobs”) in mind:

Getting into “their best” school
Doing what’s expected of them
Getting away
Stepping it up
Extending themselves
The authors explain that knowing which “job” students want their college experience to do can help them figure out what success looks like.

For education reformers, the last section of the book is most relevant: “Helping Educators Design for Better Choices.” In particular, it encourages education providers to think about the “job” students want to accomplish instead of just assuming they know what students need. Once universities discover what students are trying to get done, they can tailor what they’re doing to fit those “jobs.”

That’s not an easy task. Students who want to do different jobs often need “fundamentally different experiences to be successful and satisfied,” said Horn and Moesta. Students who want to step it up care about “convenience, customer service, speedy completion times, and credentials.” But students who want to get into their best school are often focused on the university experience such as “sports teams, climbing walls, and interaction with faculty around the meaning of life.” A university that tries to deliver on both of these “jobs” at the same time and in the same way will often fail at both.

They suggest that universities’ organizational structures should be among the first things that change since they aren’t focused on students’ “jobs” at all. Instead, universities are organized the way they are—in academic departments—in order to do a “job” that professors want to do: publish and get tenure. They’re not organized in ways to “optimize the flow of students through the requisite experiences.”

The book provides several examples, including Southern New Hampshire University and a new school called Wayfinding Academy in Portland, Oregon to illustrate what applying the Jobs to Be Done theory institutionally looks like in action.

Both students and university leaders have a lot to learn from this book. Asking “why” is the first step.


Defund the colleges, not the police

Martin Hutchinson

There has been a cry among the college-educated left this week to “defund the police.” For normal citizens, especially those living in big cities, that is a terrible idea – the crime rates of the 1970s and 1980s are not something they want to return to. However, it is clear that much of the unhappiness and unrest among Millennials and Gen-Z derives from the problem that there are now more college graduates than what were traditionally considered “college-level jobs.” If we are to defund something, therefore, would it not make more sense to defund the colleges?

The left, who now wish to defund the police, also get upset about the 1819 “Peterloo Massacre” and write indignant books about the brutality of the regime that produced it. Yet that unfortunate event stemmed directly from the lack of an urban police force. It occurred in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester, where a gigantic crowd, estimated at 60,000 (probably too high a figure, since the 1821 Census population of Manchester was only 126,000) assembled to hear a speech from “Orator” Henry Hunt and petition for relief of the depression that had hit the Manchester cotton industry. (That depression had two causes: deflation from resumption of the Gold Standard and a massive trade depression, the “Panic of 1819” in the United States, with which Manchester had large commercial links.) Keeping order was the responsibility of the Chief Magistrate, a foolish man called William Hulton (whose family were later to kill 20 times Peterloo’s casualties in their family-owned coal mines in the second worst mining disaster in British history. An accident-prone gene-pool.)

Having no police force, Hulton took the dubious decision to arrest Hunt during the meeting, and sent in the Yeomanry, a scarcely-trained militia on scarcely-trained horses, to do so. The militia rode into the vast crowd, where they and their horses panicked, and they started laying about them with their swords. The crowd then panicked; the militia and the crowd’s panic killed about 15 people, but injured hundreds more. Order was restored by the 15th Hussars, a “regular” Army regiment, which being much better disciplined, dispersed the crowd without significant further casualties.

After this disaster, Lord Liverpool’s government, which has been rather unjustly blamed for it for 200 years, introduced the “Six Acts” regulating public meetings. A few years later the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, invented modern police, the Metropolitan Police Force, initially for London, but rapidly copied by large provincial cities such as Manchester. With a capable police force and a more sensible Chief Magistrate, the casualties of “Peterloo” would presumably have been avoided.

Today, we can see an experiment in defunding a police force in the recent history of Detroit, where the city’s bankruptcy caused a partial defunding of the police force. While much of the city was reduced to near-anarchy, the middle-classes, according to a “Vice” story last year, hired a private security force, VIPER, supported by local residents and businesses, to deter criminals by a show of force. VIPER uses black and chrome vehicles topped by strobe lights, and paramilitary tactics. While VIPER is fully multi-racial, if you’re a low-level hoodlum you’d probably rather be stopped by the remnants of the Detroit police.

As the Peterloo and VIPER examples show, conventional policing, if done correctly, protects the malefactors as well as the residents by controlling the force used against them. The one useful de-funding that might take place is of police unions, which protect the malefactors among the police, leaving them free to err again. Camden, New Jersey, appears to have removed police unions by dissolving and re-forming its police force; its example would seem one to follow.

While defunding the police is not a good idea, defunding colleges looks much more sensible. The percentage of U.S. adults with 4-year college degrees is currently 35%, up from 5% in 1960, and the rise in Britain has been even steeper. However, the number of jobs for which a college degree is desirable has not increased in parallel. The New York Fed noticed as long ago as 2012 that a large percentage of college graduates were working in jobs that did not require a college degree, and even with full employment before the coronavirus, some 41% of college graduates were “underemployed” in 2019. That is an enormous waste of resources; nearly half the people who devote four years of their lives and untold amounts of money to getting a 4-year college degree receive no return on their investment.

In Britain, the expansion of universities came in two phases. The first, in the 1960s, produced a lot of “plate glass” universities that were mostly heavily dominated by the left but some of which, for example Warwick University, evolved into capable scientific research institutions. The second expansion was achieved by a stroke of prime minister John Major’s pen in 1992, when he re-designated all the lower-tier technical colleges as universities. The technical colleges had been providing a useful service similar to U.S. community colleges, without engaging in high-level research. Once they had been re-designated they gave themselves airs, bloated their administrative staffs, devised politicized courses and fourth-rate research operations, and soaked up a vastly increased amount of the nation’s education budget.

Major’s own career, leaving school at 14 and becoming prime minister, was an indication that a complete lack of education was indeed a disadvantage in the very top jobs, but a decent high-school qualification would probably have been sufficient for the usual prime ministerial functions, although it would doubtless have left him with the huge chip on his shoulder that was a further disqualifying factor to his success. In any case, the results of Major’s action decisively disproved his belief that by forcing twice the number of students to waste years of their life at universities you can get double the number of qualified graduates. In practice, about 5% of British graduates are qualified for high-level jobs, the same percentage as in 1950. The remainder would do much better to leave after high school, or possibly take a year or so of vocational training that gives them a leg-up for a job in an industry where there is a continuing demand for labor.

Contrary to what the experts have been telling us for the last 50 years, technology is not increasing the demand for university degrees and will not increase it in the future. Manufacturing has been outsourced to China; it is likely that it will have to be de-outsourced again over the next decade or so. However, the manufacturing jobs thereby created will not require university degrees. Instead, they will require very specific skills, better learned in an apprenticeship program, which can be combined with “distance learning” courses to firm up any skills that have been neglected in America’s and Britain’s lamentably low-grade high school systems. Certainly, there is no additional need for innumerable modestly skilled liberal arts and sociology graduates; such people are fit only to be government bureaucrats, and the fewer of those we have the better.

The workforce of tomorrow will not in general need college degrees, although about 3-5% at the top should continue to attend the best colleges, to acquire the very top-level skills of Silicon Valley’s best minds, or to train as future professors and full-time intellectuals. The remainder will do much better to rely on distance learning, picking up the skills they need through Khan Academy or some similar service. There should be a plethora of one-year courses available, mainly for mid-career life changes – you cannot rely that an industry or occupation that seems attractively expanding at 20 will still exist by the time you retire at 70.

With most colleges swept away, high schools will have to step up. Skills that are genuinely needed by a large percentage of the workforce will have to be taught properly in high schools, rather than left to colleges to sort out. For example, calculus, left in most U.S. school systems to the senior year of high school, when most students are busy with college applications, should be studied on an elementary basis in the freshmen year of high school. That way, students will have more than 3 years to get used to integrating calculus concepts into their quantitative thinking and will be properly trained to use calculus techniques in their future lives. I will leave it up to the reader’s imagination to consider what courses high schools could drop to make way for this new emphasis; I am sure we could all devise long lists.

Police forces perform a vital function; without them our society would return to barbarism. Colleges, on the other hand, have been grossly over-expanded and are mostly unnecessary, indeed undesirable for a comfortable existence in the world we inhabit. Furthermore, they have recently devoted themselves to trammeling young minds into channels of political correctness, limiting the information they process and leading them to favor the worst options for society’s future. As barriers to fully informed thinking, colleges are thus not merely a waste of money but a menace to society. Information needs to be free, and by de-funding colleges we can make it so.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Classes on weekends, no spring break: Colleges scramble academic schedules for upcoming year

A growing number of New England colleges are shifting their academic schedules for the upcoming year, sending students home for the fall semester before Thanksgiving, canceling spring break, and holding classes on holidays and the weekends.

Emerson College announced Wednesday that most classes in the fall will incorporate both in-person and online components, but students will not return to Boston after Thanksgiving break. Clark University in Worcester also announced that fall classes would end before the Thanksgiving break and, in order to accommodate that schedule, students will have to take classes on Labor Day and skip the fall break. Clark will also offer both in-person and online classes and, due to the longer break between the fall and spring semesters, the university said on Wednesday that it will offer a winter intersession with online classes.

Earlier this week, Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire also reworked its calendar to begin in mid-August and end classes before Thanksgiving. Saint Anselm will also have a longer break between the fall and spring semester to avoid students returning to campus during the height of the flu season, when scientists expect a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Colleges across the country are reshaping their academic calendars to address the public health risks posed by the pandemic. Notre Dame and Tulane University have announced similar plans, where students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving break.

As part of Emerson’s plan to bring students back to campus, it will launch a program called “One Emerson Flex Learning,” the college is adjusting its academic calendar to accommodate a “de-densification of classrooms, residence halls, and offices.”

“The vast majority of our students and their parents have expressed a strong desire to return to living and learning on campus,” President Lee Pelton wrote in a community e-mail. “Flex Learning is our approach to serve the various and diverse needs of our students, faculty, and staff during these unprecedented times, while preserving our commitment to a robust and vibrant campus experience.”

Repopulation of Emerson’s downtown campus will be staggered, starting mid-August when roughly 15 percent of the college’s staff will return. Classes will begin online on Aug. 31 to accommodate off-campus students moving into apartments, and the first day of in-person classes will be Sept. 2.

Because of the coronavirus, students and faculty will spend less time in Boston this year, finishing the semester online, Emerson said in its e-mail to students.

Following Thanksgiving break, all classes, review sessions, and final exams will be conducted remotely. After final exams, the college will offer an optional online winter term, although it is unclear whether that will come at an additional cost for students.

Emerson said it has plans for COVID-19 screening, contact tracing, and tracking supported by digital technology, and limiting capacity in stairways, elevators, and hallways. Face covering will be required in all campus spaces, including classrooms and residence halls, and they will be supplied by the college.

“No doubt, the Fall 2020 term will look and feel different from past semesters at Emerson, as it will at almost every college or university across the nation,” Pelton wrote.

Pelton said he anticipates the spring term will be “more traditional.”

Emerson’s online and in-person plan is similar to other Boston area school.

On June 1, Boston University announced that it would give its more than 18,000 undergraduate students the choice of in-person and online classes this fall under a program it has dubbed “Learn from Anywhere.” Later in the week, Northeastern University released similar plans, launching a program called “NUflex,” which will allow both students on campus and those living elsewhere to participate in classes.

In an e-mail to the Clark community, outgoing president David P. Angel and its new incoming leader David B. Fithian warned that while the university is trying to firm up its plans, the situation remains uncertain.

“The pandemic is far from over, and new information is emerging constantly about its evolving scope even as society strives to reopen and the intense pursuits for a vaccine continue,” Angel and Fithian wrote. “Should changes in the situation require it, the University will be prepared to adapt, including if in-person courses are not possible and the fall semester must be completely online.”


Student Religious Liberties Act Heads to Ohio House for a Concurrent Vote

The Ohio Senate just unanimously passed HB 164, The Student Religious Liberties Act, which protects prayer and religious expression in public schools. Sponsored by Representative Tim Ginter, the bill ensures students in Ohio’s K-12 public schools cannot be discriminated against because of their faith.

“No student should be forced to check their faith at the door just because they walk into a public school,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values. “The Student Religious Liberties Act ensures that all Ohio students – of any faith or no faith – are not penalized or rewarded because of their Christian beliefs.”

“We are thankful for the leadership of Senate President Larry Obhof, Majority Leader Senator Matt Huffman, and Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner. This important bill puts Ohio directly in line with the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that protects prayer and religious expression in school. It is a time-tested approach to ensuring religious freedom is protected, and public schools are able to maintain orderly and diverse environments.”

At least 10 other states have enacted similar legislation, and it has been proven to provide protections for all students of faith.

The bill now heads over to the House for a concurrent vote, and then up to Governor Mike DeWine.

Email from

Anonymous Berkeley Professor Shreds BLM Injustice Narrative

An anonymous history professor at U.C. Berkeley has penned an open letter against the current narratives of racial injustice underpinning the BLM movement and ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd.

Its authenticity was confirmed by Kentucky State University Assistant Professor of Political Science, Wilfred Reilley, who says he was sent a copy of the letter along with Stanford University economist Thomas Sowell.

Dear profs X, Y, Z

I am one of your colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. I have met you both personally but do not know you closely, and am contacting you anonymously, with apologies. I am worried that writing this email publicly might lead to me losing my job, and likely all future jobs in my field.

In your recent departmental emails you mentioned our pledge to diversity, but I am increasingly alarmed by the absence of diversity of opinion on the topic of the recent protests and our community response to them.

In the extended links and resources you provided, I could not find a single instance of substantial counter-argument or alternative narrative to explain the under-representation of black individuals in academia or their over-representation in the criminal justice system. The explanation provided in your documentation, to the near exclusion of all others, is univariate: the problems of the black community are caused by whites, or, when whites are not physically present, by the infiltration of white supremacy and white systemic racism into American brains, souls, and institutions.

Many cogent objections to this thesis have been raised by sober voices, including from within the black community itself, such as Thomas Sowell and Wilfred Reilly. These people are not racists or 'Uncle Toms'. They are intelligent scholars who reject a narrative that strips black people of agency and systematically externalizes the problems of the black community onto outsiders. Their view is entirely absent from the departmental and UCB-wide communiques.

The claim that the difficulties that the black community faces are entirely causally explained by exogenous factors in the form of white systemic racism, white supremacy, and other forms of white discrimination remains a problematic hypothesis that should be vigorously challenged by historians. Instead, it is being treated as an axiomatic and actionable truth without serious consideration of its profound flaws, or its worrying implication of total black impotence. This hypothesis is transforming our institution and our culture, without any space for dissent outside of a tightly policed, narrow discourse.

A counternarrative exists. If you have time, please consider examining some of the documents I attach at the end of this email. Overwhelmingly, the reasoning provided by BLM and allies is either primarily anecdotal (as in the case with the bulk of Ta-Nehisi Coates' undeniably moving article) or it is transparently motivated. As an example of the latter problem, consider the proportion of black incarcerated Americans. This proportion is often used to characterize the criminal justice system as anti-black. However, if we use the precise same methodology, we would have to conclude that the criminal justice system is even more anti-male than it is anti-black.

Would we characterize criminal justice as a systemically misandrist conspiracy against innocent American men? I hope you see that this type of reasoning is flawed, and requires a significant suspension of our rational faculties. Black people are not incarcerated at higher rates than their involvement in violent crime would predict. This fact has been demonstrated multiple times across multiple jurisdictions in multiple countries.

And yet, I see my department uncritically reproducing a narrative that diminishes black agency in favor of a white-centric explanation that appeals to the department's apparent desire to shoulder the 'white man's burden' and to promote a narrative of white guilt.

If we claim that the criminal justice system is white-supremacist, why is it that Asian Americans, Indian Americans, and Nigerian Americans are incarcerated at vastly lower rates than white Americans? This is a funny sort of white supremacy. Even Jewish Americans are incarcerated less than gentile whites. I think it's fair to say that your average white supremacist disapproves of Jews. And yet, these alleged white supremacists incarcerate gentiles at vastly higher rates than Jews. None of this is addressed in your literature. None of this is explained, beyond hand-waving and ad hominems. "Those are racist dogwhistles". "The model minority myth is white supremacist". "Only fascists talk about black-on-black crime", ad nauseam.

These types of statements do not amount to counterarguments: they are simply arbitrary offensive classifications, intended to silence and oppress discourse. Any serious historian will recognize these for the silencing orthodoxy tactics they are, common to suppressive regimes, doctrines, and religions throughout time and space. They are intended to crush real diversity and permanently exile the culture of robust criticism from our department.

Increasingly, we are being called upon to comply and subscribe to BLM's problematic view of history, and the department is being presented as unified on the matter. In particular, ethnic minorities are being aggressively marshaled into a single position. Any apparent unity is surely a function of the fact that dissent could almost certainly lead to expulsion or cancellation for those of us in a precarious position, which is no small number.

I personally don't dare speak out against the BLM narrative, and with this barrage of alleged unity being mass-produced by the administration, tenured professoriat, the UC administration, corporate America, and the media, the punishment for dissent is a clear danger at a time of widespread economic vulnerability. I am certain that if my name were attached to this email, I would lose my job and all future jobs, even though I believe in and can justify every word I type.

The vast majority of violence visited on the black community is committed by black people. There are virtually no marches for these invisible victims, no public silences, no heartfelt letters from the UC regents, deans, and departmental heads. The message is clear: Black lives only matter when whites take them. Black violence is expected and insoluble, while white violence requires explanation and demands solution. Please look into your hearts and see how monstrously bigoted this formulation truly is.

No discussion is permitted for nonblack victims of black violence, who proportionally outnumber black victims of nonblack violence. This is especially bitter in the Bay Area, where Asian victimization by black assailants has reached epidemic proportions, to the point that the SF police chief has advised Asians to stop hanging good-luck charms on their doors, as this attracts the attention of (overwhelmingly black) home invaders. Home invaders like George Floyd. For this actual, lived, physically experienced reality of violence in the USA, there are no marches, no tearful emails from departmental heads, no support from McDonald's and Wal-Mart. For the History department, our silence is not a mere abrogation of our duty to shed light on the truth: it is a rejection of it.

The claim that black intraracial violence is the product of redlining, slavery, and other injustices is a largely historical claim. It is for historians, therefore, to explain why Japanese internment or the massacre of European Jewry hasn't led to equivalent rates of dysfunction and low SES performance among Japanese and Jewish Americans respectively. Arab Americans have been viciously demonized since 9/11, as have Chinese Americans more recently. However, both groups outperform white Americans on nearly all SES indices - as do Nigerian Americans, who incidentally have black skin. It is for historians to point out and discuss these anomalies. However, no real discussion is possible in the current climate at our department. The explanation is provided to us, disagreement with it is racist, and the job of historians is to further explore additional ways in which the explanation is additionally correct. This is a mockery of the historical profession.

Most troublingly, our department appears to have been entirely captured by the interests of the Democratic National Convention, and the Democratic Party more broadly. To explain what I mean, consider what happens if you choose to donate to Black Lives Matter, an organization UCB History has explicitly promoted in its recent mailers. All donations to the official BLM website are immediately redirected to ActBlue Charities, an organization primarily concerned with bankrolling election campaigns for Democrat candidates. Donating to BLM today is to indirectly donate to Joe Biden's 2020 campaign. This is grotesque given the fact that the American cities with the worst rates of black-on-black violence and police-on-black violence are overwhelmingly Democrat-run. Minneapolis itself has been entirely in the hands of Democrats for over five decades; the 'systemic racism' there was built by successive Democrat administrations.

The patronizing and condescending attitudes of Democrat leaders towards the black community, exemplified by nearly every Biden statement on the black race, all but guarantee a perpetual state of misery, resentment, poverty, and the attendant grievance politics which are simultaneously annihilating American political discourse and black lives. And yet, donating to BLM is bankrolling the election campaigns of men like Mayor Frey, who saw their cities devolve into violence. This is a grotesque capture of a good-faith movement for necessary police reform, and of our department, by a political party. Even worse, there are virtually no avenues for dissent in academic circles. I refuse to serve the Party, and so should you.

The total alliance of major corporations involved in human exploitation with BLM should be a warning flag to us, and yet this damning evidence goes unnoticed, purposefully ignored, or perversely celebrated. We are the useful idiots of the wealthiest classes, carrying water for Jeff Bezos and other actual, real, modern-day slavers. Starbucks, an organisation using literal black slaves in its coffee plantation suppliers, is in favor of BLM. Sony, an organisation using cobalt mined by yet more literal black slaves, many of whom are children, is in favor of BLM. And so, apparently, are we. The absence of counter-narrative enables this obscenity. Fiat lux, indeed.


Monday, June 15, 2020

UCLA Professor Suspended and Under Police Protection After Refusing To Exempt Black Students From Final Exam

Gordon Klein, an accounting professor in the Anderson School of Business has taught at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for almost 40 years.  He is now suspended and under police protection in his home.  The reason? Klein refused to exempt black students from his final exam and sent a pointed rebuttal to students asking for the “no harm” exam. Parts of the response was certainly mocking in tone, more so than I would have considered appropriate.  The school has launched a formal discrimination investigation. However, the suspension, investigation, and death threats against Klein reinforce the fear of many in the academy of a raising orthodoxy on campus and a lack of support for faculty involved in controversies.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a group of students asked Klein for a “no-harm” final exam that could only benefit students’ grades as well as shortened exams and extended deadlines.  They cited recent “traumas, we have been placed in a position where we much choose between actively supporting our black classmates or focusing on finishing up our spring quarter . . . We believe that remaining neutral in times of injustice brings power to the oppressor and therefore staying silent is not an option.”  They specifically noted that this was not “a joint effort to get finals canceled for non-black students”  “but rather an ask that you exercise compassion and leniency with black students in our major.”

Klein wrote back to one student that he was being asked to make a distinction that he could not possibly make. This is the entirety of the message:

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not. My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how you think I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me: Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition? Thanks, G. Klein

The controversy led to immediate demands for the professor to be fired.  Thousands have signed a petition that declares Klein must be fired for his “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response” and “blatant lack of empathy and unwillingness to accommodate his students.”

UCLA has launched an investigation that could lead to such termination and issued a statement that “We apologize to the student who received it and to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.”  It has also agreed to extend all exams, presumably for all students.  I think that the extension of the time was a good idea for the school as a whole and I can certainly understand the school objecting to the tone of the response at a time of great unrest and trauma in our society.  However, the email was a poorly crafted effort by Klein to object to what he viewed as an unworkable, race-based system of accommodation.  One can certainly disagree with those objections, but the principle of academic freedom is to allow such views to be stated without fear of termination.

UCLA is also dealing with another demand for termination after Political science lecturer W. Ajax Peris, read aloud MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which includes the n-word. He also showed a documentary to the class in which lynching was discussed.  This might have been inappropriate in Klein’s accounting case but Peris was teaching the history of racism.  Students demanded that he stop the discussion but he apologized for any discomfort and continued his lecture.

The Political Science Department condemned Peris and  referred Peris to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office for an investigation. UCLA will host a town hall for students in Peris’ classes to discuss the “controversy.” While Peris has apologized in a writing and video, students are demanding his firing.

Such actions are applauded by many faculty who have supported the increasing limits on free speech and academic freedom on campus. There has been a startling erosion of such protections for those with opposing views at universities and colleges.  Many faculty are intimidated by the response in these controversies and fear that supporting academic freedom or free speech will result in their being labeled racist or lacking of empathy. In three decades of teaching, I have never seen the level of intolerance for free speech that we are seeing across the country.  As I noted, there are valid objections to raise in these incidents, but the response of universities is clearly designed to send a message to other academics that they cannot expect the protections of the universities in such controversies.


A Pretty Creepy Proposal to Track Coronavirus at Our Schools

The school year ended prematurely, but what about the fall. Surely, no parent is really looking forward to yet more months of home-schooling. We’ve all seen the Instagram posts. People are losing it. And that feeling should be morphing into anger, as we learn with every passing day that the coronavirus wasn’t a big deal. It doesn’t spread easily on surfaces anymore, the face mask protocol is a fiasco, its mortality rate is less lethal than the seasonal flu. The outbreak is over. The curve has been flattened. It’s time to end this nonsense. There is no better event to undercut what we’ve been told in the past three months than during the unrest caused by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.

Before, it was 'stay home and save lives.' Don’t be selfish, help medical workers. Now, it’s ‘why aren’t you outside protesting racism, you selfish bastard.’ I’m done. Done. Anything new about COVID, I’m going to ignore. And now the World Health Organization says asymptomatic people aren’t responsible for new infections. That’s why we were told to stay home. The asymptomatics can touch things and spread it unknowingly. Well, both of those arguments have been torched. So, in reality, the George Floyd protest advocacy, plus the WHO and CDC study pretty much deliver a double-tap to the whole lockdown narrative. It’s over. Everyone should go out, shop, and do whatever. And the kids should go back to school.

Yet, in keeping with overreaching government actions, we have this creepy proposal to track this virus. Let’s just put beacons on our kids that tracks their every move (via Wired):

When student return to school in New Albany, Ohio, in August, they’ll be carefully watched as they wander through red-brick buildings and across well-kept lawns—and not only by teachers.

The school district, with five schools and 4,800 students, plans to test a system that would require each student to wear an electronic beacon to track their location to within a few feet throughout the day. It will record where students sit in each classroom, show who they meet and talk to, and reveal how they gather in groups. The hope is such technology could prevent or minimize an outbreak of Covid-19, the deadly respiratory disease at the center of a global pandemic.

Schools and colleges face an incredible challenge come the fall. Across the world, teachers, administrators, and parents are wrestling with how to welcome pupils back into normally bustling classrooms, dining rooms, and dorms, while the threat of the coronavirus remains ever-present.

Many plan to proceed gradually and carefully, while keeping kids spread out as much as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reopening schools recommend staggered schedules that allow for smaller classes, opening windows to provide more air circulation, avoiding sharing books and computers, regular cleaning of buses and classes, and requiring masks and handwashing. Many see some form of distance learning continuing through next year.

Yeah, to those folks who think this was a ploy in an exercise in the expansion of government power, please keep sipping that goblet. It’s looking like that more and more every day. Electronic beacons on our kids. Yeah, I’m sure parents would love that (sarc.)


To grade or not to grade?

There will be no F’s in Michael Maguire’s freshman classes at Boston Latin Academy this term.

At Charlestown High, Francis Pina agonizes over the prospect of giving some of his struggling ninth-graders an "incomplete'' for the spring.

In remote classrooms across the state, normally tough teachers are relaxing their rigor, students are getting multiple chances to redo assignments, and a letter grade has mostly vanished, at least for now.

In Massachusetts, where schools closed in March due to the pandemic, state education leaders have urged districts to institute some form of a credit/no credit system, and not hold students back because of work missed this spring.

Yet local policies are varied: Some school districts, including Worcester, are awarding students “points” instead of letter grades this quarter; others, including Brockton, are letting students pick their highest grade from an earlier term; and some are adopting the state’s recommended credit/no credit system. (At many schools, credit, or a “pass,'’ indicates that 60 percent of the remote learning assignments were done.)

The policies have frustrated some families who say a pass-fail approach dilutes the hard work of students who’ve successfully completed their online assignments and reliably showed up for Zoom class. But they’ve also caused concern among teachers who agonize over the fairness of doling out an “incomplete” to a student who may be dealing with sick relatives, unreliable Internet and computer access, or new obligations at home.

At the high schools, juniors especially worry about how they might fare on their college applications under a pass/fail system. Some, such as Josh Schreiber, at Wayland High School, worked hard to lift his grades this semester, a period when college admissions officers start taking close notice of applicants’ high school record. His school switched the rules in April. Now, the third and fourth quarters are combined and assessed on a pass/fail basis, with a pass granted to students who “meet or exceed expectations,” according to the school’s website.

“I consider myself to be a pretty good student,'' said Schreiber. “I work hard, and with the ‘pass/fail’ it’s really hard to stay motivated, because you really don’t have to do very much to pass, and you’re not rewarded at all for doing all the work.”

James Perkins, whose daughter is a junior at Natick High School, also expressed frustration over the decision to scrap letter grades. Second semester is a pivotal period for juniors, he said. While he understands the need to take into account the unequal online learning experiences of students, Perkins adds that “bringing down one student does not lift another student.”

In many cases, school officials wrote and revised new grading policies multiple times over the spring — four times in Natick’s case — as they learned more about the effects of the pandemic and of school building closures on their students. School leaders say that when they finally settled on an approach, usually in late April or early May, they knew not everyone would be satisfied.

“I feel badly that students who had really good grades as of March 12 may feel like they’ve lost those grades,'' said Brian Harrigan, principal at Natick High. But “it just became clear to us that the system was broken,” he said. Grades from the first semester will remain intact, Harrigan said, and their grade point averages will not change.

Several district leaders said they couldn’t fathom traditional grading because they lacked essential infrastructure necessary to continue teaching students over much of the spring.

In Brockton, years of budget cuts and layoffs stripped the school system’s technology department bare. Roughly 80 percent of the district’s 1,400 teachers were not trained on how to run a virtual classroom, and more than half of the district’s 17,000 students did not have a device or Internet access at home, said Superintendent Mike Thomas.

When Brockton schools closed March 12, many students disappeared, with school staff unable to reach them, Thomas said.

“We’ve been hit really hard with this, so the last thing we wanted to be is punitive on our grading policy,” Thomas said.

Under Brockton’s policy, students can keep the grade they had earned prior to school closure, and even improve those grades by continuing to do some work. For the final term of the school year, which began May 4, students will earn credit (which can be replaced by their highest grade from a previous term on the transcript) or no credit. Those who don’t get credit will be steered to online summer school or remediation in the fall, Thomas said.

“There will be no failing grade,” he added.

Worcester school officials also said they thought they needed to take a generous approach. More than 3,500 of its 25,000 students did not have Wi-Fi access when schools closed and the district took several weeks to distribute laptops.

"We did not want penalize anybody for not having access or connectivity,'' said Superintendent Maureen Binienda.

Instead, most students will earn points — from zero to four — for the final stretch of the school year.

While several top-performing students critiqued the more lenient approaches, others said they appreciated the flexibility.

“I think a lot of students were really happy to see that we’re going to pass/fail,’’ said Astrid Umanzor, the senior class secretary at Revere High School, adding that the absence of grades makes it easier "to manage during this difficult time.”

Despite the new grading policies, some Boston teachers say they worry that even an incomplete might be too harsh, depending on the student’s circumstances.

Grading will be fairly complex for students in grades six through 12. This year, the third and fourth terms, stretching from early February through the end of June, will be merged into one, said Matt Holzer, headmaster at the district’s Green Academy, who helped develop the grading guidelines.

The new third term grades will be based on a combination of students’ performance in school from Feb. 3 to March 16; online learning March 17 to May 1 (which will be weighed less heavily since it occurred before the district had a formal distance learning plan); and more formal remote learning in May and June, according to the school department’s remote learning plan.

Teachers can give students a pass, an incomplete, or a letter grade— including, potentially, an F. High school students still must meet credit requirements in all subject areas to graduate, although no students will be held back, Holzer said.

The final grade is a weighted average of all three terms, although that grade cannot be lower than the grade a student had at the time of the shutdown, he added. So a student cannot be given an F solely based on performance in the spring.

Teachers say they are finding their own ways to follow the grading guidelines and want to err on the side of generosity considering the challenges many students face.

“I grade very lightly [these days],” said Maguire, the Latin Academy teacher. “I don’t fail a student if they didn’t quite get it.

Maguire has taught Latin at the school for the past 27 years. Before schools closed, his students were working on translating Julius Caesar’s reports to Rome. He has since lightened the workload, with students delving into the more relatable mythology of Daedalus and Icarus. This term, he will base grades on student assignments, quizzes, and a long-term project. No one will get an F, he said.

“I’m learning how to do this, too,” he said. "So I don’t take any of my faults and project it.”

Maguire’s colleague José Valenzuela teaches seventh-grade history to more than 100 students at Latin Academy and Advanced Placement human geography to about 30 juniors and seniors.

As of now, 11 of his students are on their way to an “incomplete” for the third term. Yet the only one of the 11 who might get an incomplete for the entire year is a student who had been failing class long before schools closed down.

Regardless of what grades are doled out, "next year, teachers are going to have a big job ahead of them to make sure that no students fall through the cracks,'' Valenzuela said.

Lea Serena, a second-grade teacher at Boston’s Mather Elementary School, said last month that she was agonizing over what to do about three students who have not been participating since schools closed. Usually, students who are absent for this long would be given an incomplete. But that didn’t feel quite right now, she said.

A parent of one of the missing students never used a computer. Another mother, a native of Cape Verde, barely speaks English. Serena, who is of Cape Verdean heritage, tried extensively to communicate with the woman, even enlisting her own mother’s translation help.

Following weeks of effort, an aide went to the mother’s house and helped her son sign on. Serena ran into the other two students in person last week when she was running errands — although she has yet to see them online.

After much deliberation, she has decided not to give out any “incompletes” this term.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Colleges on Life Support Face Three Choices: Death, Merge or Survive

Covid-19 is accelerating a previously slow reduction in the number of American schools offering bachelor’s degrees. I am not alone in predicting hundreds of them may close in the next few years. Falling enrollments and shaky finances even before the pandemic had weakened schools, many of which the coronavirus will kill through further enrollment declines, falling state subsidies, etc. Massive federal subsidies and/or a much sooner than anticipated return to campus normalcy may render that pessimistic forecast erroneous, but neither seem terribly likely.

At the same time, many troubled colleges are aggressively fighting back. For example, my school, Ohio University (OU) was not, pre-Covid-19, on life support, but it was materially weakened and suffering enrollment decline. The oldest university in the Midwest with a gorgeous campus with some buildings nearly two centuries old, OU has announced it is reducing staff by about 400, roughly one-third faculty, one-third unionized support staff, and one-third campus administrators.

Like many schools, OU will pivot to a new, smaller normal. For example, the economics department where I teach had 17 faculty this year, but will have only 14 next fall. Teaching loads will inch upwards for some. The university is furloughing nearly everyone else, forcing them to accept modest pay cuts. That, plus use of some reserve funds, will insure OU’s survival. Hopefully, it will also remedy more fundamental problems that had already weakened it (inattention to basic teaching and research priorities, a de-emphasis on academic excellence) and live to finish a third century of service.

But hundreds of other schools face a more dismal fate. Three things happen to colleges that cannot sustain themselves. Very often, they simply die—they cease operations. In the last year or so, for example, two schools existing since before the Civil War, Green Mountain College in Vermont and MacMurray College in Illinois announced they are closing, and the president of Wells College in New York said recently it will almost certainly face the same fate if the pandemic prevents its opening in the fall.

A second option is to merge with a fiscally stronger nearby institution, losing autonomy and a separate identity, although sometimes maintaining some institutional attributes (including the physical campus). The most recent example of that is Pine Manor College in Massachusetts, once a women’s school, merging into Boston College. Both are located in relatively upscale suburban Boston. A few years ago, struggling Urbana University in Ohio merged into Franklin University in Columbus, although that life support is now being withdrawn, so Urbana is permanently closing down.

Sometimes a school announces it is closing and occasionally actually does close for a short time, only to undergo resurrection engineered typically by wealthy alumni. In 2015, a moderately affluent Virginia women’s college, Sweetbriar, announced it would have to close, but a fundraising campaign by alumni has kept it going, although enrollments are anemic. A few years earlier, a well known progressive school, Antioch College, had closed, only to reopen three years later. It exists today with a modest number of students. Another school with an avant-garde reputation, Massachusetts’ Hampshire College, openly solicited a merger offer a couple of years ago, but after an alumni uproar then recanted and remains a small independent college after some additional alumni support from prominent graduates like Ken Burns.

The pandemic is pushing more schools to first try the OU solution of massive budget reduction and, if that does not succeed, to move towards closure. The two most vulnerable types of schools: small liberal arts colleges similar to those mentioned above, with localized reputations and very modest endowments; and secondary state universities in similar circumstance that have faced major enrollment declines in recent years. Particularly at risk are schools in such low population growth Eastern and Midwestern states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, although the threat extends to the far reaches of the nation. Even before the pandemic, for example, I spoke of the University of Alaska’s huge budget reductions and rethinking of its mission. Indeed, to date few state schools have died, but I think the pandemic may lead to a large number of institutions, especially branches of major flagship schools, to close (the University of Wisconsin is moving aggressively in that direction).


Boris Johnson pledges 'massive' summer school 'catch-up operation' to help pupils recover from lockdown BEFORE classes start properly again in September

Pupils in England will undergo a 'massive summer catch-up operation' following months out of the classroom after the Government U-turned on its promise to get primary school children back before the holidays.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced there would be a 'big summer of catch up' to help children 'make up for lost time' in their education amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Johnson went on to confirm that education secretary Gavin Williamson would be 'setting out a lot more' next week about the 'massive catch-up operation' and recovery plan.

The PM's promise came after the Government faced a backlash over schools, with some experts describing the approach as an ‘absolute tragedy’. As well as abandoning the idea of getting all primary pupils back before summer, ministers have also been forced to admit that a full return for all pupils may not be possible in September.

The problems have been blamed on the two-metre social distancing rule and official guidelines that limit class sizes.

Ministers ditched their primary schools’ pledge on the same day zoos were given permission to reopen – leading some to question the Government’s priorities.

Yesterday, two former Tory education secretaries spoke out, with Justine Greening accusing ministers of ‘levelling down’ and Damian Hinds demanding ‘creative thinking’ to solve the problem. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that every day children were away from school was a ‘tragedy’.

Meanwhile, education committee chairman Robert Halfon called for a ‘national education army’ of retired teachers to help pupils make up for lost time. Senior Tory backbencher Tobias Ellwood called for the two-metre rule to be reduced, saying it would enable schools to resume more smoothly.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson insisted that he 'fully intends' that all children will be back in classrooms by September this year after abandoning plans to get more primary school children back in class before England's summer break.


UK: School age children more likely to be hit by lightning than die of coronavirus

Experts said previous generations had dealt with the issue by allowing youngsters to pick up infections when they were less dangerous

School children under the age of 15 are more likely to be hit by lightning than die from coronavirus, new figures suggest, amid mounting pressure for the government to get more to get pupils back into classrooms as quickly as possible.

Scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford have called for "rational debate" based on the "tiny" risk to children and have suggested that if no vaccine is found in the future then it may be better for younger people to continue with their lives, while shielding the more vulnerable.

It comes as the government was accused of "losing the plot" after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, scrapped the Government's target of getting all primary school pupils back in the classroom before the summer holidays.