Friday, July 10, 2020

Charter Schools and Their Enemies

Thomas Sowell has just published “Charter Schools and Their Enemies.” He presents actual test scores of students in traditional public schools and charter schools on New York State Education Department’s annual English Language Arts test and its mathematics test.

Sowell gives the results of student tests in charter schools such as KIPP, Success Academy, Explore Schools, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, as well as the traditional New York City public schools.

On the English Language Arts test, a majority of charter school students, most of whom were black or Hispanic, tested proficient or above. Their achievement ratio was nearly 5-to-1. On the mathematics test, 68% of charter schools’ 161 grade levels had a majority of students testing proficient. In the traditional public schools, 177 grade levels, just 10% had a majority of their students testing proficient.

In April 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that 57% of black and 54% of Hispanic charter school students passed the statewide English Language Arts compared to 52% of white students statewide. On the state math test, 59% of black students and 57% of Hispanics at city charter schools passed as opposed to 54% of white students statewide.

Sowell says:

In a realm where educational failure has long been the norm—schools in low-income minority neighborhoods—this is success, a remarkable success. What is equally remarkable is how unwelcome this success has been in many places. What has been especially remarkable is that it has been the most educationally successful charter schools that seem to have drawn the most hostility, both in words and in deeds.

The most common form of that hostility are simple legal limits set on the number of charter schools permitted without regard to whether charter schools are producing good or bad educational outcomes.

The education establishment, having the nation’s most powerful labor union, has the ears of political leaders. They see a huge loss potential if more parents are able to opt out of poorly achieving public schools.

For example, in New York City there are more than 50,000 students on waiting lists for admission to charter schools. The per-pupil expenditure tops $20,000 a year. If all the students on the waiting list were able to be admitted to charter schools, that would translate into a billion-dollar loss by the traditional public schools.

A substantial decline in traditional public school attendance would mean fewer teachers employed. That would mean declining union dues since most charter school teachers are not union members.

Charter schools’ rate of growth since the 1990s has been significant. From 2001 to 2016, enrollment at traditional public schools rose 1% while enrollment in public charter schools rose 571%.

Sowell points out that not all charter schools are successful. Failing charter schools can have their charters revoked, cutting off access to public funds. That is in stark contrast to failing and corrupt traditional public schools that continue to dine at the public trough.

Successful charter schools are the real threat to traditional unionized public schools. No charter school in Sowell’s study has been more successful than Success Academy charter schools in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the South Bronx—and none has been more viciously attacked in words and in deeds.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio explicitly campaigned against charter schools, saying: “I am angry about the privatizers. I am sick and tired of these efforts to privatize a precious thing we need—public education.

In another venue, Sowell said: “We keep hearing that ‘black lives matter,’ but they seem to matter only when that helps politicians to get votes, or when that slogan helps demagogues demonize the police. The other 99% of black lives destroyed by people who are not police do not seem to attract nearly as much attention in the media.”

At a 2016 meeting, the NAACP’s board of directors ratified a resolution that called for a moratorium on charter schools. Among the NAACP’s reasons for this were that it wanted charter schools to refrain from “expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate” and “cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

That is a vision suggesting that no black children receive decent educations until all black children receive decent educations. Black people cannot afford to entertain such a vision and other attacks on educational success.


Teacher Blames 'Western Imperialism,' 'Colonization' for Concept of 2+2=4

Brittany Marshall, a self-described teacher and Ph.D. student, took to Twitter this past weekend to voice her displeasure about the concept of 2+2=4, saying the “idea” of the simple math equation is merely “cultural.”

1984 called. It wants Room 101 back.

“Nope the idea of 2+2 equaling 4 is cultural and because of western imperialism/colonization, we think of it as the only way of knowing,” wrote Marshall (HT: Disrn). Never mind that the Arabic numeral system we use is not, you know, “Western.”

Marshall goes by the pronouns “she/her” and describes herself on Twitter as a “teacher, scholar, social justice change agent, Chicagoan, PhD student, architecture enthusiast, wannabe math person, BLM always…”

Just the kind of person you want teaching your kids, right?

Her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts have been set to private, but a bio included in a directory of Rutgers Ph.D. candidates says that her area of specialization is “Mathematics Education.”


Betsy DeVos Takes on Dems and COVID-19 Science-Deniers in the Teachers' Union to Reopen Schools

Education Secretary Besty DeVos said she expects schools to be fully operational for the 2020 fall term. It is not the first time she has opposed teachers’ unions and Democrat politicians. However, this time DeVos has science on her side.

While I am a big fan of local control of education and school operation, I have to support Secretary DeVos here. There is so much disinformation about COVID-19 and political maneuvering that state and local governments must understand the accurate data regarding the virus and children. DeVos’ declaration may serve to elevate this conversation as the corporate media will have to cover it.

In an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tuesday night, Secretary DeVos echoed comments made by President Trump earlier in the day. The president expressed his desire to have schools open, noting both the declining death rate and the recovering economy:

Both the president and Secretary DeVos have science on their side. They are also demonstrating more concern for children than the teachers’ unions or Democrat leaders. In her interview, DeVos called out adults who are engaged in fear-mongering and correctly said there was no scientific basis to keep children out of school.

“We are looking at this very seriously, this is a very serious issue across the country,” DeVos said. “Kids have got to continue learning and schools have got to open up. There’s got to be a concerted effort to address the needs of all kids, and adults who are fearmongering and making excuses simply have to stop doing it and turn their attention to what is right for students and for their families.”

She took note of Florida, where the State Education Commissioner has given parents and students a wide range of options, including full-time in-person instruction for the coming school year. She also echoed the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which advocated for schools opening and offered guidance to do so. Their colleagues in the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health agreed, with 1500 members signing a letter stating that continued closures risk “scarring the life chances of a generation of young people.”

The AAP guidance is far less restrictive than what the CDC  put out and is based on what we have learned about the virus and children. However, even the AAP’s recommendations are far more stringent than what other nations are doing based on the available data.

Research shows that children play a small role in the transmission of COVID-19. This was confirmed by a study from the Netherlands Ministry of Health:

Worldwide, relatively few children have been reported with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Data from the Netherlands also confirms the current understanding: that children play a minor role in the spread of the novel coronavirus. The virus is mainly spread between adults and from adult family members to children. The spread of COVID-19 among children or from children to adults is less common.

Based on their contact tracing and research, the agency put out the following guidelines:

Children up to and including 12 years of age do not have to keep 1.5 metres apart from each other and from adults. This also applies to childcare and primary education.

Young people aged 13 until 18 years old (i.e., 17 years old and younger) do not have to stay 1.5 metres apart from each other. In secondary schools, this applies to all pupils, regardless of their age.

In secondary vocational education (MBO) and higher education, all students should stay 1.5 metres apart, regardless of their age.

Since adults play a greater role in the spread of the novel coronavirus, teachers need to stay 1.5 metres apart from others as often as possible.

Author Alex Berenson also appeared on Carlson’s show. Berenson has been following the science since the beginning of the pandemic and is also a vocal supporter of schools resuming operations. He told the host it was challenging to find a data point that supported keeping schools closed or the type of pandemic theater the CDC recommends.

Berenson believes a primary concern of school districts in reopening is legal liability. He noted there had been some idiosyncratic deaths among children, 29 according to the CDC, but that COVID-19 will be a target for lawyers. He supported a proposal by GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that included liability protection for schools made before Berenson’s appearance on Carlson’s program.

While he noted that the political environment might impede this legislation, Berenson said the same type of liability was extended to vaccine makers because of rare fatal events in children. He indicated that it would make sense in this case as well.

During the opening segment, Carlson noted how many other countries are opening their schools with the leadership of the medical community. German and Australian medical experts have called for reopening schools. Both countries have done so, Germany with no restrictions. Likewise, France has reopened with no pandemic theater. The host and Berenson reviewed several other countries that opened schools, including Sweden, whose primary schools never closed. To date, there has been no significant outbreak related to transmission in school, even when there are no restrictions.

In June, 56% of parents favored children returning to school full time this fall. If parents understood the very low risk returning to the classroom represented for their children, that percentage would likely rise. Not only for the educational benefits but the social and mental health benefits as well.

Tucker Carlson notes American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s opposition to reopening. He explained that this opposition will prevent some schools from opening. This is both tragic and unnecessary according to the data from around the globe. Same for Democrat politicians who are impeding the process. He asserts, looking at the data, that this can only be attributed to Democrat electoral politics. And as he noted, your children are paying the price.


Thursday, July 09, 2020

UK: The rise of woke segregationism

Black students don’t need to attend black universities to succeed.

Segregation is back, only this time it’s woke. Incredibly, while most of us look at Apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow-era America with unalloyed horror, today’s radicals see something to emulate. Not so long ago, the idea of a university that took account of race when considering student admissions, academic hires and even the content of the curriculum would have been thought abhorrent in the UK; now just such a plan is backed by the University College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students.

The idea for a Free Black University is the brainchild of Melz Owusu, soon to be PhD student at the University of Cambridge and former sabbatical officer at the University of Leeds. After launching a GoFundMe campaign Owusu is now calling on universities to ‘redistribute’ money her way. The plan is for an institution focused solely on the needs of black students with a decolonised curriculum taught through online lectures ‘exploring radical and transformational topics’ together with a virtual library of radical readings; a journal and podcast as well as an annual conference for black radical thinkers. All of this is needed, Owusu argues, because existing universities are ‘built on colonisation – the money, buildings, architecture – everything is colonial’. The consequence for black students is that: ‘They fail. They experience racism all the time and the university doesn’t necessarily deal with that in the best way, or deal with it at all.’

But is this true? Jo Grady, the general secretary of UCU, certainly seems to think so. In a damning indictment of her union’s members, she claims black students have to confront ‘a university system that is at best ambivalent towards you, and at worst openly hostile’. It has become widely accepted that BAME students are less likely to gain entry to top universities, more likely to drop out of higher education, and less likely to leave with a good degree. However, none of this stands up to scrutiny.

As Wanjiru Njoya and Doug Stokes point out, according to the 2011 national census, non-white people make up roughly 13 per cent of the UK population. Yet 20 per cent of all students in the UK are from BAME communities. Among league table-topping Russell Group universities, this figure rises to 21.6 per cent. There hardly seems to be a colour bar on students entering higher education.

So what about academic achievement? In 2017/18, 29 per cent of white students came away with first-class degrees compared to only 13.5 per cent of black students: apparently clear evidence of an ethnic attainment gap. But look more closely: 21 per cent of Asian and 25 per cent of mixed-race students also got firsts. And when we move down a rung the gap narrows considerably: 47 per cent of white students got a 2.1 degree compared to 42 per cent of black students, 44 per cent of Asian and 49 per cent of mixed-race students. Take into account factors such as the type of university attended, prior attainment, subject choice and parental income and even this tiny ethnic attainment gap becomes non-existent.

So, are BAME students who perform well at university beating the odds while battling constant racist abuse? According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in the three-and-a-half years up to January 2019, universities received an average of just 2.3 complaints of racial harassment from staff and 3.6 from students. This equates to 0.006 per cent of students and 0.05 per cent of staff lodging complaints. Which is hardly surprising. British universities must be among the most liberal and least racist places on Earth. At the last election, over 80 per cent of staff expressed their intention to vote for either Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party. Hotbeds of right-wing nationalism they are not. Inclusion and diversity workshops, awareness-raising programmes, decolonisation training and unconscious-bias testing abound.

Yet Owusu claims a Free Black University is needed because, ‘we hear from black students all the time that they leave university traumatised’. In response, she proposes a ‘members’ space for black academics who need support’ as well as ‘a space of community and care for black students, connecting them with black therapists, counsellors and community healers to offer a range of support’. It’s almost as if the more universities do to raise awareness of racism, decolonise everything and challenge all perceived microaggressions, the more some black students experience higher education as traumatic.

Sadly, segregation has become fashionable. It was back in 2016 that students first called for LGBT-only halls of residence on campus. US universities increasingly offer living and recreational facilities solely for the use of black students. Defenders often nod to the highly successful historically black universities in the US. But these universities were established out of necessity at a time when black people were prohibited from attending most colleges. Today’s calls for segregation are less a demand for equality and more an expansion of the campus safe space.

Those backing the Free Black University wrongly assume that black students need black tutors, black classmates and a black curriculum in order to succeed. This insults the many black students who have not only succeeded in higher education, but who have also gone on to make significant contributions to global scholarship. The word ‘university’ comes from the Latin ‘universitas’ meaning ‘the whole, total, the world’ – at best, universities should offer access to humanity’s collective knowledge to all who want to pursue it, irrespective of their skin colour. We can’t let woke segregationists disrupt this aspiration.


The danger of ‘decolonising’ education

A curriculum should enrich and challenge young minds, not indoctrinate them.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the movement to ‘decolonise’ university education has picked up pace. Activists are calling for course curricula to be revised and made more representative, and for the differences in the attainment of BAME students to be addressed.

Those in charge of Britain’s elite universities are clearly worried. Hence vice chancellors have been falling over themselves to wear their universities’ anti-racist credentials on their sleeves. Oxford University has already published an open letter urging black students who feel traumatised by the killing of George Floyd to apply for a reduction in workload and special consideration in their exams. Meanwhile, a statement from King’s College London declares that ‘Racism and racial discrimination have no place at King’s’. Neither, it seems, does the truth.

In truth (and this matters) BAME participation in universities has been increasing in recent years. In 2018, the BBC reported that BAME students are actually ‘punching above their weight when it comes to representation at university’. For example, it revealed that while black people account for about four per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds in England and Wales, black students ‘make up eight per cent of the UK university population’. Or take Oxford University specifically. It revealed that more than 22 per cent of undergraduate students starting in 2019 were Britons from BAME backgrounds – up from 18 per cent on the previous year’s UCAS admissions statistics.

With admissions data refuting the idea that universities are institutionally racist, campaigners have focused on racial differentials between those getting first- and second-class degrees. Figures for 2019 show that despite the huge increase in the number of BAME students over the past decade, 71 per cent of Asian students and just 57 per cent of black students gained an upper second or first in their undergraduate degree, compared with 81 per cent of white students.

But a more compelling explanation for the discrepancy than simply shouting ‘institutional racism’ would require looking at a range of other variables. These could include such factors as socio-economic status and prior educational experience, and internal factors such as family attitudes to education and informal forms of support. This is a more painstaking and difficult process, and it is likely to yield a more complex account of degree outcomes. But it would also provide an account that could yield some proper recommendations.

Sadly, such an attempt to understand the reasons for racially discrepant degree outcomes seems beyond campaigners. Instead, they seem to think that the main problem is that BAME people do not see themselves represented in the UK education system in general, from the national curriculum to the literary canon. As the group Black Curriculum put it in a letter to UK education secretary Gavin Williamson, black people need to see themselves, as black people, in what they read in the curriculum. ‘Learning black history should not be a choice but should be mandatory’, the letter reads. ‘Our curriculum should not be reinforcing the message that a sizeable part of the British population are not valued.’ The claim here seems to be that if a member of a racially defined group does not see his or her group’s experience reflected in the curriculum, he or she will feel devalued or psychologically harmed in some way.

The problem with this view is that it endorses a reductive and deterministic model of both education and identity-formation. Indeed, the metaphor of education as a mirror in which you expect to see your racial group’s experience reflected back to you, common in decolonising discourses, fundamentally confuses education with more therapeutic practices. Because, at its best, education is not about therapy. It is about expanding and deepening pupils’ capacities to become more autonomous thinkers, able to make better judgments for themselves. This process is not always comforting or comfortable. But when approached in good faith on all sides, it can be transformative at the level of the individual pupil.

Through the educational transactions between teacher and pupil, greater self-consciousness can be achieved. A pupil can develop a sense of individuality, as someone who knows and thinks for himself. Advocates of decolonising education are actually rejecting this richer concept of self-identity for a weaker understanding of identity, in which one simply sees oneself as part of a racial group.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t consider revising the school curriculum. We should, but not solely or mainly in response to political pressure. That’s because responding in this way is nearly always bad for education. For example, in the wake of the riots in the UK in the early 1980s, the government commissioned the 1985 Swann Report. It advocated anti-racist training in order to weed out unconscious bias, and attempted to introduce new educational content on the basis of ethnicity alone. Why not, the report suggested, use Hindu Rangoli patterns when teaching geometry in maths? How this would help a pupil understand either geometry or Hinduism remains unclear to this day. And more recent attempts to diversify the English literature GCSE course in response to political pressure have resulted in books being included that, in the words of Bennie Kara, a headteacher and founder of Colouring in the Curriculum, ‘lack imagination and scope as texts . . . where’s the challenge?’.

And therein lies the problem. In a ‘decolonised’ education system, in which every approved identity group is to see itself, there will be even less to challenge individual pupils intellectually, irrespective of their ethnicity.

A curriculum should enrich and challenge young minds, not indoctrinate them. So review curricula by all means, but we cannot let the process be dominated by activists, whose aims are not primarily educational.

If vice chancellors have anything to apologise for, it should be for their inability to stand up for education and knowledge. The principles that determine curriculum changes are important. But if those principles are purely political, be they from the left or from the right, then they are unlikely to create a better education system. And that is what we all want: a better, rather than decolonised, education.


Campus kangaroo courts in Australia

Bettina Arndt

I am still up to my ears working to expose the most grievous example of unfair administrative decision-making in relation to sexual misconduct – through my ongoing investigation of our campus kangaroo courts.

Over the past few months my diligent volunteers have done a great job sending letters, firstly to Vice Chancellors and more recently to university boards, asking questions about how they are tackling the issue of investigating and adjudicating sexual assault on campus – particularly in the light of Dan Tehan’s instruction, via TEQSA, that universities should get out of this territory.

Many have passed on to me the glowing letters they have received in response, as the university administrators claim all is hunky dory, with accused young men being offered procedural fairness and having all their rights protected. That’s so much hogwash.

Over recent weeks I have talked to the parents of a final year student who had his degree withheld for over a year after a sexual assault allegation. Despite no proper investigation, his accuser’s degree was promptly awarded while his life was in limbo.

Another student was excluded from all university premises after being caught with a drunken girl who’d partially undressed him. Then there was the mother whose student son now faces criminal charges even though his accuser admits she thought she was having sex with another student. At a fourth university, a young man is being humiliated by accusations of sexual assault and harassment being circulated on social media by his ex-girlfriend. This is the same university which has suspended male students for singing bawdy songs at a college event. 

Across the board our universities are selling out young men through administrative decision-making which denies them proper justice. With the lawyers and researchers helping with this project, I’m putting together documentation to show how few of our universities allow access to lawyers to protect the accused during the secretive investigations being conducted on our campuses. How very few allow proper examination of the evidence, let alone opportunity for cross-examination.

 Unlike our criminal courts, none of this administrative decision-making has proper oversight. The decisions to steal these young men’s degrees, derail their careers, shame and humiliate them are made by unnamed people, behind closed doors, with no public scrutiny.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Liberal Logic Eats Itself: Harvard Students Win Push for Single-Sex Campus Organizations

The Fly Club, one of the exclusive final clubs at Harvard University

This goes back to 2017, when the university authorities were suffering heartburn over the university's long tradition of all-male "final clubs", which were claimed to be misogynist

The hypocrisy and sheer anti-male hostility in this is mind boggling. Feminists worldwide campaign for safe spaces for women.  Why must there be no safe spaces for men?  What is a "safe space" for women is apparently a "gender-discriminatory organization" for men.

Why the university has caved and removed its restrictions is a bit obscure.  The rationale seems to be that there are now no longer two sexes and that the male/female division is wrong.  So a ban on one sex is wrong

In a twist of irony that could happen only to the Left, Harvard College has rescinded its sanctions on single-sex campus organizations -- which it implemented to promote inclusivity -- after a recent Supreme Court ruling redefining “sex” to include “gender identity” rendered the sanctions discriminatory.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court decided that protections against sex discrimination of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also protected LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. The ruling, in which the majority opinion was authored by Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, stunned conservatives who asserted that equating sex with sexual orientation would jeopardize single-sex environments like women’s sports and shelters.

But while the full fallout remains to be seen, the ruling has had the opposite affect at Harvard, which was forced to reinstate single-sex clubs. 

According to the Harvard Crimson, the college announced a set of sanctions in 2016 which applied to members of certain clubs and single-sex Greek organizations. These sanctions prevented students in those groups from holding student-group leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and college endorsement for certain prestigious fellowships.

“Harvard College is committed to ensuring an inclusive student social life on our campus,” wrote Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller in a 2018 email. “While we understand the cultural significance of these groups, our policy clearly states that we do not recognize single gender social organizations or fraternities and sororities, and therefore they are not recognized by Harvard College.”

As a result, Greek houses affiliated with national organizations were forced to disaffiliate, turning into new, gender-neutral social clubs instead: Kappa Kappa Gamma became the “Fleur-de-Lis,” Delta Gamma became the “Kali Praxi,” Alpha Epsilon Pi became “The Aleph,” and Kappa Sigma the “K.S. Club,” to name a few. The groups saw recruitment interest drop by half following the sanctions, which received intense scrutiny and pushback from students.

The new rule caused the national organizations of the former sororities and fraternities to bring two lawsuits against Harvard, ironically asserting that the college’s policy of recognizing only co-ed organizations is discriminatory, coercive, and unconstitutional.

“Harvard’s discriminatory policy has done enough harm already,” national Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council leaders wrote in a statement. “It has decimated Harvard women’s groups and created a culture of fear and distrust. Harvard should stop discriminating against its students on the basis of sex, immediately.”

But upon the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County in June, Harvard announced they would drop the sanctions, allowing single-sex clubs on campus once again. According to an email from Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, the court’s reasoning would impact the college’s policy and result in a legal loss for the college.

“In essence, [United States District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton] accepted the plaintiffs’ legal theory that the policy, although adopted to counteract discrimination based on sex, is itself an instance of discrimination based on sex,” Bacow wrote. “It now seems clear that Judge Gorton would ultimately grant judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor in the pending lawsuit and that Harvard would be legally barred from further enforcing the policy.”

Sororities and fraternities were quick to cheer the news.

“This is a huge victory for those who choose to stand up to power for the simple right to belong to a single-sex leadership organization without worry of being sanctioned for that choice,” said Gail Owen, president of Kappa Kappa Gamma. “In a much broader sense, this means that women can be free to join with other women who share in Kappa’s mission to learn, grow and inspire positive change without the threat of sanctions for choosing to do so.”

Harvard’s chapter of Alpha Phi also celebrated the news.

“We are so happy that Harvard has recognized something that we have long known,” the sorority said in an Instagram post. “Female voices have a right to be heard and deserve a place on our campus, and we cannot express how much today’s decision means to us.”

Whether Harvard students realize it or not, their fight to reinstate the college’s single-sex organizations admits that there are inherent differences between men and women and that clubs have the right to discriminate in who they welcome into their organization. For a notoriously liberal campus, that sounds pretty conservative.


Why We Must Advocate for Better Civics Education in Our Schools

The sharp decline in civic knowledge among America’s youth is a growing concern. The violent turmoil of recent weeks, including the destruction of statues and memorials, has made it an urgent issue.

Justice can only be achieved if America remains a nation governed by the rule of law, committed to the founding belief that all men are created equal. But ignorance of America’s founding among today’s youth has led many of them to seek justice in ways that will lead to tyranny.

A major source of the problem is that the nation’s Founding principles are being undermined not only in colleges and universities, which have drifted steadily leftward, but even in K-12 education, where students are taught inaccurate, revisionist versions of history, such as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

To address this problem, The Heritage Foundation recently hosted a conversation, Advocacy for Better Civics Education in Our Schools, which focused on programs and initiatives that can help restore the proper teaching of American history and civics. This conversation featured four distinguished panelists:

Tom Lindsay, distinguished senior fellow of higher education and constitutional studies and director of the Center for Innovation in Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Elizabeth Schultz, Fairfax County School Board member, emeritus, and education and public policy expert.
Beth Feeley, freelance writer and editor at the Woodson Center.
Janine Turner, founder and co-president of Constituting America.

Angela Sailor, vice president of Heritage’s Feulner Institute, began the discussion with a quote from Ronald Reagan:

‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’

Burke noted that only 39% of all native-born Americans can pass the U.S. citizenship test. Even more alarming is what the data says about the sharp generational decline: Among native-born senior citizens, 74% pass the citizenship test, while a mere 20% of native-born Americans under the age of 45 can pass it.

Burke flagged one particular pitfall in the current approach to civics, known as “action civics” (also known as civic engagement or project-based learning civics). This methodology emphasizes “doing” civics over learning civics.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently completed a large-scale survey of action civics across the country. It found that the majority of civics classes are teaching students how to protest in favor of progressive political causes.

According to Burke, “There is no appreciation of the Founding documents, except to dismiss them as the sham rationalizations of white male property holders. We need to be wary because action civics is a movement that is pushing hard for wide-scale acceptance. We know our students are civically illiterate. Let’s first teach them what our principles are, and then, there are very proper ways for them to go out and ‘do civics.’ But understanding the Founding has got to be in the driver’s seat.”

In response, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has made it a priority to strengthen civics education in Texas. It is introducing legislation that would require students to study the founding documents and started a summer institute that equips high school civics teachers with resources and strategies for teaching those documents.

Schultz stressed the importance of engaging with school boards. Across the nation, 90,000 school board members play a critical role in educating the 51 million children in K-12 education. School boards help shape the curriculum and shape the education our children receive.

She warned that Fairfax County, the 10th-largest school district in the country, condones the teaching of revisionist history. Field trips to important national landmarks and historic sites have been canceled because the reference to America’s colonial history may make some “uncomfortable.”

Schultz encouraged participants to serve on school boards and actively support and advocate for leaders who understand our history.

As a parent, Feeley engaged in education advocacy to protect her children from social justice programs that teach students left-leaning views on race relations. Three years ago, her local high school proposed to hold a left-wing program on race. In her view, it was indoctrination, not education, and she felt a need to speak out to bring more balance to what they were proposing to teach the kids. The controversy that ensued became a national news story.

“Our little group of parents learned the hard way how valuable it is to have a network in place to deal with such situations,” Feeley said.

She and other parents formed New Trier Neighbors to connect conservatives in her area and to educate others on what is happening in schools and local government.  Now they have a mailing list of about 2,000 people that they can communicate with when issues arise.

Feeley also collaborates with Bob Woodson and the Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites, a project launched to refute The New York Times’ 1619 Project and its grievance-based narrative on race.

1776 Unites works to assemble independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who define America by its past failures, notably slavery. The initiative offers alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity.

Turner, an actress best known for her role as Maggie in the popular series “Northern Exposure,” started Constituting America in 2010. When her daughter was 10 years old, Turner recognized that something needed to be done to save civics in education, so she reached out to her friend Cathy Gillespie. Together, they formed the organization, which enables Turner to go to schools around the country to teach the Constitution and what it means to students.

The panelists agreed with Burke, who closed by saying, “The stakes in this struggle couldn’t be higher. The philosophy taught in the classroom in this generation will be the philosophy practiced in the legislature in the next generation.”


Reopen the Schools!

These big disruptions to the education system are not necessary to fight COVID-19.

At a recent meeting to discuss back-to-school procedures amid the ongoing pandemic, officials representing a school district in Wake County, North Carolina, detailed a complicated plan that would require bus drivers to administer temperature checks to students.

Any student who failed the check would be denied entry onto the bus, and a parent would be summoned to come get them. But bus drivers can't leave kids alone at bus stops, so the entire bus would have to stay put until the child was retrieved.

"Bus driver should remain on the bus to continue supervising other students on the bus, while also visually monitoring the student," declared the proposed guidance. "Bus remains with the student until they have been picked up by their parent/guardian or until another transportation official arrives to supervise the student."

It should be obvious that this plan—which is maximally disruptive for all students, parents, and employees involved—will never work. You can easily imagine kids spending all day on a bus, their restlessness and frustration mounting, as the driver waits in vain for an adult who either couldn't be reached or can't leave work.

As educators across the country begin to plan how classes will function in the fall, many proposals to make schools safer from the virus involve heavy degrees of unreality: children in masks throughout the day, classrooms half empty to accommodate social distancing, playgrounds closed, heavy reliance on virtual instruction, and so on. These precautions are largely unworkable—it's no more reasonable to expect children to wear masks and avoid interacting with each other all day than it is to make the bus wait hours if somebody fails a temperature check.

They are also at odds with the current scientific consensus about the coronavirus: that the risk to young people is minimal, and that they do not seem to spread the virus easily.

There is much that we don't know for certain about COVID-19. But the available evidence suggests that reopening schools as close to normal as possible is the most pragmatic approach. In Wired, David Zweig has presented a compelling case that the U.S. should follow Europe's lead and let students go back to school with minimal disruption:

Let's review some facts: Children are, by and large, spared the effects of the virus. According to the latest data from the CDC, infants, little kids, and teenagers together have accounted for roughly 5 percent of all confirmed cases, and 0.06 percent of all reported deaths. The Covid-linked child inflammatory syndrome that received fervent media attention last month, while scary, has even more infinitesimal numbers. "Many serious childhood diseases are worse, both in possible outcomes and prevalence," said Charles Schleien, chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health in New York. Russell Viner, president of the UK's Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, noted that the syndrome was not "relevant" to any discussion related to schools.

There is also a wealth of evidence that children do not transmit the virus at the same rate as adults. While experts note that the precise transmission dynamics between children, or between children and adults, are "not well understood"—and indeed, some argue that the best evidence on this question is that "we do not have enough evidence"—many tend to think that the risk of contagion is diminished. Jonas F. Ludvigsson, a pediatrician and a professor of clinical epidemiology at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, reviewed the relevant research literature as of May 11 and concluded that, while it's "highly likely" children can transmit the virus causing Covid-19, they "seldom cause outbreaks." The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, suggested last month that "it does seem from what we know now that children are less capable of spreading" the disease, and Kristine Macartney, director of Australia's National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, noted a lack of evidence that school-aged children are superspreaders in her country. A study in Ireland found "no evidence of secondary transmission of Covid-19 from children attending school." And Kári Stefánsson, a leading researcher in Iceland, told The New Yorker that out of some 56,000 residents who have been tested, "there are only two examples where a child infected a parent. But there are lots of examples where parents infected children." Similar conclusions were drawn in a study of families in the Netherlands.

This is hardly surprising, given that closing the schools in the first place does not appear to have been a sound strategy for containing the coronavirus. Studies in JAMA Pediatrics and The Lancet have found ample reason to doubt whether school closures saved a significant number of lives. As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum pointed out in a review of the scientific literature, closures "have (a) little effect and (b) are probably nowhere near worth the tremendous impact they have on both parents and kids."

That's an important point: Reducing the amount of time that children spend at school is terribly burdensome for many parents who rely on school's day care effect. Keep in mind that public schools are funded through taxes. It's hardly fair for the state to confiscate vast sums of money from its citizens, in part for the purpose of child care, and then suddenly cease offering this service while keeping the money. States that want to make it possible for people to return to work—for the economy to reopen—really need to prioritize schools: They are among the first elements of public life that must return to a semblance of normality, and the risks seem comparatively low.

It won't be possible to have a completely normal school year, of course. Officials should axe egregiously risky activities—no indoor pep rallies, for instance—and adult school employees might very well opt to wear masks or take other precautions, especially if they are elderly or immunocompromised. Wherever possible, district officials should make it possible for at-risk employees to work from home, or even to take the semester off. But they should not force kids to stay at home, clinging to the delusion that distance learning under these circumstances is anything other than an horrible burden on parents, and they should not force kids to hermetically seal themselves in bubbles when they do return to class.


Tuesday, July 07, 2020

UK: University quotas will undermine education

Proposals to add social-disadvantage scores to applicants’ grades should be rejected.

American universities are in a mess over equality. Almost everywhere, a smorgasbord of admissions tweaks, diversity programmes and plain old-fashioned quotas – imposed with a heavy hand by a burgeoning bureaucracy of equality enforcers – ensure that affirmative action often trumps the pursuit of knowledge, and that this or that officially disadvantaged class is let in with lower grades.

Last week, the influential education think-tank EDSK, rather surprisingly, called on UK universities to go at least partly down the American path. Indeed, in one respect it went further, saying the whole admissions process should be government-imposed from the top down, with all funding withdrawn from any institution that does not sign up.

Under such a scheme, universities would set entry grades and maximum numbers for every course, but would then play no further part in admissions. A government body would collect the grades and then set mathematical discounts based on various forms of social disadvantage. Applicants would make a ranked choice – those who made the grade (discounted where necessary) would be allocated automatically to their preferred course. There would be a lottery to deal with over-subscription and a clearing system to fill unallocated places up to the maximum. All other entry tests or interviews would be banned.

EDSK deserves respect as one of the more thoughtful think-tanks (last year, for example, it sensibly suggested that government money should follow the student wanting to learn and not the institution wanting bums on benches). Further, its recent report has some good ideas. Banning applicants’ personal statements – in practice neither personal nor written by applicants – is long overdue. And maximum numbers, added to the suppression of the unconditional offers made at the behest of the marketing men, will rightly remove the incentive to see learning as a commodity to be sold like sandwiches or soap.

Nevertheless, the proposals to remove universities’ autonomy in the admissions process must be resisted. First, this will impose a dreadful sameness on all universities. At present, colleges may vary subtly. Some, for example, may prefer candidates who are purely gifted in their subjects, while others want students with a wider interest in life. This will go. Making all applications depend only on public examinations will prevent universities and colleges from being able to pick the students most suited to them. And the same is true of a ban on university-specific tests for subjects like medicine or law. Barring these is likely to lead to more students unsuited to these courses and, in the end, more dropouts.

Secondly, the idea of standardised disadvantage scoring (which EDSK suggests might be based on such things as past school-exam performance, an applicant’s experience of being in care, or how deprived their home postcode is deemed to be) is a blunt instrument at best. Care when young followed by successful fostering isn’t the same as leaving care at 18 and shouldn’t be treated in the same way. Similarly, postcodes may well vary according to which end of a street you live on, but it seems odd that your prospects of going to university should do so.

Thirdly, university education is (or should be) a people business. How to teach, who is likely to benefit from university teaching, and who will do well and add to the university community are matters that call for large amounts of human judgment. Yet the basis of the EDSK’s thinking here is diametrically opposed to this. Indeed, it is spectacularly misanthropic. It seems to suggest that humans, prone to error and rife with all sorts of bias, must be eliminated as far as possible from the whole process of decision-making. Unfortunately, whatever this may do to boost equality on a bureaucrat’s spreadsheet, selection by centralised software and admission by algorithm do not bode well for the actual, messy, hit-and-miss business of encouraging intelligence and promoting scholarship.

And, indeed, this leads on to the real difficulty. This lies precisely in the comforting-sounding words at the beginning of the report – ‘fairness, transparency and equity’ – which then pervade it and inform its conclusions. EDSK rightly trashes the idea of scholarship as a commodity like coffee or computers, needing just the magic of the market to create a knowledge consumer’s nirvana. But unfortunately, making fairness and equity the guiding principles of education is equally pernicious.

The underlying assumption, put shortly, is that university education is an officially sanctioned advantage and springboard to success, rather like being made a prefect at school or promoted in the civil service, which therefore has to be distributed according to strictly equitable and socially inclusive principles.

Except it isn’t. A good university is a place to read a subject you are interested in, not simply to be taught it to get a diploma. It is a place to study spontaneously and at times quirkily and without direction. It is not about clocking in for the student contact hours you have bought to achieve the learning outcomes in the course description. Unfortunately, regarding university education as a kind of prize to be distributed on equitable or social-justice grounds is likely to attract and promote exactly the latter kind of student.

No one doubts EDSK’s good intentions. But if it has its way, we will end up with a cohort of students arriving at their chosen institution, bringing with them a sheaf of exam results and an awareness that they have been chosen for social advantage. This is not likely to encourage the kind of intellectual curiosity or fascination with study for its own sake that makes a university thrive.


David Starkey forced to resign from Cambridge college over 'damn blacks' slavery comments

Just one adjective condemned him.

The celebrity historian Dr David Starkey’s career lies in ruins, with him set to lose all his academic titles and book deals, after he made comments about slavery in which he referred to “damn blacks”.

Dr Starkey, who rose to prominence in the early 2000s for his writing and documentaries on Tudor politics, argued in an interview that slavery cannot be considered genocide because “otherwise there wouldn't be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain”.

On Friday he lost his academic positions at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and Canterbury Christ Church University, while his role as a visiting fellow at the University of Buckingham has been placed under review.

Lancaster and Kent universities both said they were reviewing his honorary graduate status.

The news came as Dr Starkey’s publisher, HarperCollins, which was expected to publish two more of his history books, said it was cancelling their release.

Hodder and Stoughton, which has published the historian in the past, said it would never work with him again.

The Mary Rose Trust, a charity that runs a museum in Portsmouth, yesterday accepted Dr Starkey’s resignation from its board, while he faced calls for his CBE to be stripped from him.

“He’s been saying this stuff for years, said Dr Louise Raw, another historian. “It’s only because of the work of #BlackLivesMatter that it’s being taken more seriously.” Personally believe he should lose his CBE too.”

Dr Starkey’s various sackings follow widespread anger over comments he made about slavery in an online discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an interview with the conservative commentator Darren Grimes, the historian claimed: "Slavery was not genocide,” adding: “Otherwise there wouldn't be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there? "An awful lot of them survived."

Dr Starkey went on to discuss the relationship between slavery and the British Empire. "As for the idea that slavery is this kind of terrible disease that dare not speak its name, it only dare not speak its name, Darren, because we settled it nearly 200 years ago," he said.

"We don't normally go on about the fact that Roman Catholics once upon a time didn't have the vote and weren't allowed to have their own churches because we had Catholic emancipation."

A clip of the interview was posted online and generated hundreds of angry comments, many of which condemned the historian as a racist. Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, called the comments "appalling".

Mr Grimes has since acknowledged he “should have robustly questioned Dr Starkey about his comments” and has removed the clip from his website.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Dr Starkey’s employer and vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham, condemned the historian for his comments. “It’s just not acceptable, what he said,” he told The Telegraph.

“With freedom of speech goes responsibility. It’s not an absolute right,  and you cannot thoughtlessly provoke and incite and inflame, particularly at such a sensitive time.  “The absence of any apology from him, I think is extremely disappointing.”

Canterbury Christ Church University, who sacked Dr Starkey on Friday morning, said his comments were “completely unacceptable”.

Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge underlined its own opposition to racism and said honorary fellows had a responsibility to “uphold our values”.

Dr Starkey previously provoked outrage after appearing on television in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots to say “the whites have become black” and condemn ''destructive, nihilistic gangster culture”.

The BBC received almost 900 complaints, which Dr Starkey said showed the subject of race had become “unmentionable”. He has since appeared on several of the corporation’s programmes, including Question Time.


Australia: NSW curriculum review is a fail

Despite the Berejiklian government’s  ‘back to basics’ rhetoric, the NSW curriculum review is proposing a radical overhaul that isn’t based on evidence, but will make life more difficult for teachers and students.

The curriculum definitely needs to be improved. But while many of the minor proposals of the latest review are sensible, the suggested major changes will make matters worse.

The most radical proposal is to move away from the normal year-level curriculum to an ‘untimed’ curriculum, so it will “not specify when every student must commence, or how long they have to learn, the content of each syllabus.”

This would remove any absolute standard for what all students should be expected to achieve in each year; yet another downward notch for the already-low expectations in our school system.

Teachers’ work in the classroom will be made harder because apparently they will need to — somehow — deliver lessons to students working on different syllabi within the same class, depending on their progress. It’s already a constant challenge to teach lessons to students with differing abilities and progress when covering the same syllabus.

How could a teacher possibly be reasonably expected to teach many different topics at the same time in one class and track each student’s progress against different standards? It’s a recipe for even more red tape for teachers, who already suffer from a heavy administrative burden.

Proof that this idea isn’t a practical one is that the review cannot point to any high-achieving school system, anywhere in the world, that has an ‘untimed’ curriculum. Not one.

Another proposal is that the HSC will have less emphasis on exams and introduce a “major project” for each Year 12 student.

But take-home assignments like this are far less fair than exams in demonstrating proficiency of a subject. For example, students from disadvantaged backgrounds would have less access to parental help or tutors at home for their major projects. This would undermine the integrity of the HSC — which is arguably the most rigorous Year 12 certificate in Australia — and negatively impact disadvantaged students in particular.

The review itself acknowledges these potential equity problems, and the best it can say in response is that they are “probably not insurmountable.” So that’s alright, then?

The NSW government’s response to the proposals for an untimed curriculum and major projects for the HSC has been “support in principle” but “further advice will be sought.” We can only hope this is bureaucratic code for “not going to happen.”

A review is one thing, government policy is another. The NSW government has only itself to blame if it implements the review’s recommendations and school results fail to improve — or continue to worsen — despite more taxpayer funding.


Monday, July 06, 2020

The Time Is Now: Abolish the Department of Education

The present essay is an attempt to make the case for the elimination of the Department of Education.

Why pick on that Department? There are two reasons. One, it was established 31 years ago. We got along without it up until the year of our Lord 1978; we can get along without it now.

But why not pick on Veteran’s Affairs and Homeland Security? They came along even later, so, following a “last in, first out” argument, they should be abolished first. Sorry, they will have to wait. Each department deserves its own moment in the sun.

The second reason for choosing the Educrats for elimination is that they are now in the news, and every op-ed writer worth his salt knows full well there is a journalistic prohibition about writing on any topic that does not have a “peg.” No one, it would appear, ever wants to hear about anything not already heavily discussed in the media.

So, what’s up with the Department of Education? Why are they now hogging up all that ink? First, a little background.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, those accused of rape or sexual harassment on campus were dealt with approximately as they would have been in any other non-university context. There would have been due process, the presumption of innocence, the right for the defense to confront the accuser, the right to an unbiased judge, the right for the defendant to hire a lawyer, and other such hoary traditions of justice.

The underlying principle, then, was that it was better that 10 criminals go unpunished, than one innocent person be found guilty.

But in 2011, a “Dear Colleague” Title IX letter came from the Obama administration. It swept away virtually all of those ancient protections for the accused. Here, the even-handed procedures of the courts were deemed too favorable to accused rapists and harassers at universities. This is more than curious; in the past, left-liberals had insisted upon the right of legal aid for the poor. Evidently, that does not apply to the accused on campus. Are there no poor male students?

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, pretty much rescinded all that and “turned back the clock” to the pre-“Dear Colleague” institutional arrangements. Those of us who believe that justice is justice is justice, whether on the mean streets or the campus quad, certainly welcome this alteration. Yet, that positive change is not enough to save the Department from abolition.

The Department of Education should disappear, simply, because each university, each business, each person ought to be able to impose whatever rules of justice they wish on all people and institutions they deal with voluntarily. Suppose I set up a grocery store and announce that if there is any altercation between me and a shopper, the matter will be settled with the flip of a coin, or dice, or chicken entrails, or tea leaves, or based on my own subjective interpretation. Do I or do I not have the right to impose that rule? Of course I do—at least in a free society. If you, gentle customer, do not want to abide by that, take your business elsewhere.

The same applies to every institution, including those of higher learning. DeVos, well-intentioned as she may have been, was imposing a one-size-fits-all rule on some 4,000 colleges and universities in the nation.

Obama’s Dear Colleague letter threatened to withhold funds from schools that disobeyed him. But the same charge can be made against DeVos’ new rules. Both are in the business of imposing their view on what is right with the threat of withholding other people’s money from recipients.

We got along without the Department of Education before 1979 and we can do so again. The value of a college education will not disappear if the federal government takes a hands-off approach.

Both DeVos and Obama are educational “authoritarians.” Both want awesome power over the educational decisions of thousands of universities.” Just because the DeVos’ concept of justice is by far the more reasonable one does not mean she has the right to impose on all voluntary transactions. With the Department of Education in place, Obama-era guidelines will return when the Democrats next occupy the White House. Without the Department, universities will be able to compete with one another based on their standards for misconduct and justice as well as on the basis of the more traditional educational issues.

Suppose both Obama’s and DeVos’s strictures were struck down and free enterprise reigned in this vital part of our economy. All institutions of higher learning were now allowed to adopt whichever policy they desired in this regard. Which would pass the market test?

Undoubtedly, DeVos would win, hands down. Other things equal, many parents would be unlikely to send their male children to an Obama University; instead, they would select a DeVos College. This difference might tip the balance and lead in the direction of all-female student bodies for those which employed the Obama rules. But many customers prefer co-education. This effect would mitigate in favor of DeVos rules.

The annual budget of this department is some $81 billion. I know of some taxpayers who would rather keep those funds in their own pockets.


Ivy League College Decides to Embrace Black Lives Matter in a Problematic Way

Cornell University student Avery Bower blasted the Student Activities Funding Commission (SAFC) for donating $10,000 to the Cornell Students for Black Lives fundraiser. According to Bower's letter to the editor in the Cornell Sun, this was the largest sum of money given to any student organization, even though the university didn't officially recognize the group. After all, the group was formed a short two weeks prior.

Bower, rightfully, takes issue with three main points: 1) that student funds are being used for the fundraiser that will eventually be divided among Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Communities United for Police Reform, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Southside Community Center and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice; 2) students had no prior knowledge of the decision; 3) SAFC supported an overtly political organization.

While organizations put in years of hard work and dedication to work their way up to performance tier status, Cornell Students for Black Lives has springboarded beyond the upper echelon of student organizations. Despite not even being a registered student organization, they have received $2,500 more than the highest tier student organization receives in an entire semester. In just one donation to their fundraiser, they are now better funded than any performance tier organization on campus. Yet this money was not given as funding to a registered organization, it was a donation to a fundraiser organized by students. Even more questionable, the SAFC, entirely funded by students’ activity fees, used your money to do it. The SAFC ought to answer for this unprecedented use of student funds.

Cornell Students for Black Lives stated two weeks ago that the money raised will be evenly divided among five political activist organizations: Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Communities United for Police Reform, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Southside Community Center and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice. The issue of racial justice is a matter of universal concern and for many it is extremely personal. All these organizations have pledged themselves to this noble cause. However, this does not give the SAFC license to support organizations with overtly political objectives. These organizations speak for a variety of radical objectives well beyond the scope of racial justice, and the SAFC has made the dubious decision to endorse their actions with students’ funds.

Bower stated he took issue with the SAFC endorsing Black Lives Matter, something he would oppose if it was done for a right-leaning organization, like the National Rifle Association or the Federalist Society.

"The student activity fees we pay are meant to fund just that: Cornell student activities. This fee is not mandatory so that students in charge of the SAFC can fund political causes, no matter how worthy they are deemed," Bower wrote.

The student also brought up a solid point: students are free to donate their money to whatever causes they choose to support. Using mandatory student funds when the political beliefs don't represent every single student shouldn't even be on the table.

"The decision to donate was made by the SAFC leadership, a group of students trusted with responsibly allocating our money. Money meant to fund the over 500 registered student organizations at Cornell, not charities and political action committees from outside the Cornell community," he explained. "The SAFC has broken the trust of every student who is required to pay the fee when they chose to make a clear and deliberate statement by donating to this fundraiser. At best it is making a political statement using the money of unwilling participants, at worst it is a deliberate mismanagement of student activity fee funds."

It's not surprising that student government organizations are using mandatory funds to pick and choose what causes they find worthy. Sadly, social justice warriors tend to get their start in schools and on student government boards. It's their way or the highway. But if a pro-gun group asked for funds for targets and range fees, would that be approved? If a pro-life group asked for funds to post on-campus displays of what aborted babies look like? Would those funds be approved? Doubtful.

It needs to be all or none: either every political stance gets collective money thrown at it or no organization does. It can't be cherry-picked.


Education: Australia risks squandering a lucrative export - and a diplomatic opportunity

There are a few things Australia is really good at. Most of them are resources, given to us through good fortune and geographical circumstance, we dig them up and send them all over the world, earning about $180 billion a year in the process.

A look down the top 10 list of Australia's exports - a roll call of the country's areas of comparative advantage – puts education at number three, tourism at number five, and mostly rocks in between.

Iron ore makes good steel but does little for exporting Australia's values or influence. Education does. Now it appears we may be squandering it.

Historically, the flow of people for educational exchange in Western democracies is seen as a way of transferring democratic values to non-democratic regions of the world.

There is no larger non-democratic market than China. At Australia's top universities they account for 60 per cent of all international enrolments, or 110,000 students. It is a massive market – worth $3.1 billion a year to the top 10 universities alone − and with many international students coming from more privileged backgrounds than average, a huge strategic opportunity to influence the potential future leaders of industry and government.

On Friday, the Business Council of Australia's Asia Taskforce published a report that found the single greatest post-COVID-19 opportunity for the Australian economy lies in Asia. China is the only G20 economy and along with Vietnam, one of the few economies in the world currently forecast to show growth in 2020.

"Australia must maintain a comprehensive and multi-faceted economic relationship with China in a strategy which focuses on the national interest but based on the principle of “China and” rather than “China or," the taskforce said.

"A challenge for Australia is that China has a different political system and is becoming more
assertive on the international stage as its economy grows. At the same time, China will remain our largest trading partner and a significant foreign investor in Australia, and thus a significant contributor to much of our prosperity for the foreseeable future."

The key to harnessing that growth is people. Particularly those who understand how business operates in both China and Australia, many of whom are likely to be Chinese students who have studied here themselves.

Unfortunately, the flow-on effects of increasingly heated diplomatic rhetoric from politicians on both sides into the community is undermining that opportunity, as is a spike in discrimination against Chinese students and Chinese-Australian migrants during the coronavirus.

China has ratcheted up the tension in its increasingly shaky relationship with Australia, with the government now urging its citizens not to travel here.

Researchers from Stanford University in California this week released research that found Chinese students who study in the United States are more predisposed to favour liberal democracy than their peers in China. It is not unreasonable to expect similar tendencies to appear in those heading to Australia.

But the study of more than 300 Chinese first-year undergraduate students in 62 universities across the US found once they encountered anti-Chinese discrimination, it significantly reduces their belief that political reform is desirable for China and increases their support for authoritarian rule.

"Strikingly, we find that encountering xenophobic discrimination is more likely to increase support for autocracy among students who are more predisposed against the Chinese regime and less supportive nationalistic Chinese policies," researchers Yingjie Fan, Jennifer Pan, Zijie Shao, and Yiqing Xu found.

"Altogether, this means that xenophobic discrimination blocks and perhaps unravels the micro-foundation of the effects of education on transferring democratic values."

Two years before the coronavirus ravaged the global economy, Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane warned the China debate was “threatening to spill over into a general suspicion of Chinese-Australians,” Australia was "flirting with danger” and “intolerance has been emboldened”.

Asian-Australians reported almost 400 racist attacks since the beginning of April, according to a Per Capita survey.

It is jarring to be considering this now as Hong Kong goes through a violent and distressing erosion of its civil liberties driven by the very top of the Chinese Communist Party, but China thinks in decades, not years. It is likely that our engagement with our largest trading partner will have to continue in some form after its most liberal territory is suppressed.

To be sure there are valid reasons for alarm rising in the Australian community about Chinese government’s growing influence and ambitions in the region. It has waged campaigns of disinformation, attempted to manipulate Australian politics, hacked computer networks, is expanding its military reach in the Pacific and repressed, often brutally, ethnic minorities at home.

But the tenor of the conversation in Australia has now reached such a point that two of Australia's foremost foreign policy experts were denounced by Michael Danby, a former member of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, for briefing a Labor shadow cabinet on the need for “sensible engagement” with China.

The two experts were Allan Gyngell, a former foreign policy adviser to Paul Keating and head of the Office of Nat­ional Assessments and Dennis Richardson, the former head of ASIO and Australia's ambassador to Washington.

Both suggested that a rising group of claw-branded Parliamentarians known as the Wolverines, who aim to aggressively curtail China's influence, may be counterproductive.

Danby was incensed. “It reeks of someone trying to reinforce ideological conformity," he told The Australian.

In other words, shut down the debate, there is no room for nuance on China.

"The list of compradors to be dragged before the Committee on UnAustralian Activities over not adhering to the correct line on China is getting longer by the day!," Richard McGregor, a senior fellow with the Lowy Institute posted on Twitter.

In the midst of all this, business is largely being cowed. Until Friday, the public has heard very little from the BCA or the Australia-China Business Council since bilateral diplomatic ties went into the freezer earlier this year. Big names such as Seven Group chairman Kerry Stokes and miner Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest go out and take the hits (with a heavy dose of self-interest) before retreating under a swell of anti-China sentiment. For every big business there are thousands of small businesses underneath that rely on China.

They cannot take part in the debate lest they are accused of reinforcing ideological conformity.

The Stanford University study suggests that while nuance is out of fashion, it might be the best chance Australia has of sending back well-informed former students to China with ideas that it may benefit from in the long term.

Those students that were not exposed to discrimination but were made aware of criticisms of the party did not tend to gravitate back towards authoritarianism.

"We find no increase in support for authoritarian rule when Chinese students encounter non-racist criticisms of China, the Chinese government, and China’s political institutions made by Americans," the study found.


Sunday, July 05, 2020

Closing Schools Was a Grievous Error

Education leaders across the country are trying to determine whether and when they can safely reopen K-12 schools. What everyone needs to realize is that for students under 16 years of age schools never should have been closed. These students should return to their classrooms for summer school right away.

Older students also can return to school but need to observe the same precautions as adults under 65: washing hands, not touching their faces, and so forth.

Sweden never closed schools for those under 16 and public health authorities in neighboring Norway and Denmark now acknowledge that Sweden made the correct decision.

Globally, according to a research review published recently in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, the number of Covid-19 deaths prevented by school closings has been vanishingly small. The same can’t be said about the closings’ educational effects, which have been devastating.

Regular public schools were not prepared to switch to distance learning. Teachers were not trained; equipment was not in place, and as UNESCO put it in a report on school closings’ adverse effects, parents were “unprepared for distance and home schooling.” This was “especially true for parents with limited education and resources.”

During the lockdown, only one-fifth of the school districts surveyed by the Center for Reinventing Public Education—including districts in many of America’s most populous cities—required their teachers to provide live online video lessons to students.

Validly measuring student performance was even more challenging. Scheduled tests, especially those serving as gateways to selective colleges or validating promotion to higher educational levels, were disrupted. Online exams risked being unfair to students without the needed computer technology and internet connections—and may have made cheating all too easy. Giving pass/fail grades for online work encouraged lazy students not to do much of anything and punished hard-working students by not giving them letter-grades reflecting their accomplishments and efforts.

We know from both research and experience that students learn only if they spend enough high-quality time on task. They need to concentrate on what they need to know, within a well-designed curriculum. Their efforts need to be focused on studying that leads to their mastery of the subject-matter. Most children need a skilled and knowledgeable in-person teacher to accomplish this and, according to a study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, do not do as well in an all-virtual setting.

A survey of public-school students in Broward County, Florida on online learning during the lockdown found that 48% did not foresee completing their school work for the week, 45% had trouble focusing, 40% spent less than three hours per day on schoolwork, 81% joined video classes only a few days a week, and 52% didn’t feel motivated enough to do schoolwork. And that’s in a district with considerable experience with online learning.

Usually, as Fordham Institute president Michael J. Petrilli points out, only those who are “high-achieving, self-motivated learners” with considerable family support at home succeed in schooling that is online only. This is not to deny that a number of programs that blend online and classroom learning performed well pre-Covid-19. It is instead to emphasize that with the current state of the art there are drawbacks to education that is completely virtual.

The shutdown also has increased the existing achievement gap between children from well-educated families and those from less-educated families. We already have, under regular conditions, a “slide” in skills and knowledge after summer vacation. That summer slide hurts children from less well-educated households the most. We know from a Canadian study that prolonged teacher strikes (say, four weeks) can dramatically reduce student performance, particularly in math. The effects of the lockdown will be worse than the summer slide.

Because of the lockdown, a study from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute shows, students will begin the 2020-21 school year with about 70% of what they should have learned in reading this year and with less than half of what they should have learned in math. The loss in math will be even worse in lower grades.

Those who are worried about re-opening shouldn’t be panicked. Multiple studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of children under 16 are at low risk for contracting the virus. If K-12 students do get it, they typically have mild cases. The vast majority of U.S. teachers also are under the age where they are considered high risk for getting Covid-19, as has been pointed out by number-crunching historian Guy de la Bédoyère.

Children have been super-spreaders for some diseases (such as the flu), but not Covid-19, according to the Swiss health ministry and a report from Australia. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere already have re-opened their schools. This has not resulted in any notable increase in Covid-19 cases among students, parents or staff.

There is, however, a new, very rare childhood respiratory disease (multi-system inflammatory syndrome) that seems to be associated with coronavirus. The key is detecting these rare cases, not letting them divert us from re-opening.

The school lockdown has been a grievous error. We now must find ways to live with the consequences. Children should return to their classrooms now if their school has its protective practices worked out and attend make-up classes in brick and mortar buildings during the summer. They should be given tests to see where their learning needs to be re-started. Many may have to repeat this past year’s grade next fall.

Children have only one childhood in which to master skills and knowledge so they can fulfill their potential. Contrasting the tiny public-health risks with the devastating educational deprivation, it is imperative that public officials let America’s children return to school now.


The NEA’s Massive Money Grab and the Facts

Last week I reported on the American Federation of Teachers plea for more money to flow into government-run schools because of the Covid-19 crisis. Not to be outdone, the National Education Association has now weighed in, claiming that untold billions will be needed because “the nation stands to lose 1.89 million education jobs over the next three years, according to a new analysis.”

In its reopening guidelines, the union uses the word “invest” frequently because it insists the pandemic has “brought unprecedented challenges to our schools, our economy, and our nation’s families….” And their plan goes beyond just ensuring that teachers keep their jobs. For example, the union says that “policymakers must invest not only in education but also in addressing issues surrounding education: mortgage and rent cancellation for families in economic crisis; school-based community food programs; increased local hiring to provide jobs for unemployed adults….”

The point is that the unions have always claimed that we need to spend more on government-run schools. But now, with the advent of a pandemic, they are in overdrive.

Importantly, Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, brings things back to earth in “The Schools That Cried ‘Wolf’,” a spot-on National Review piece. While Hess acknowledges the seriousness of the effects of Covid-19, he suggests that it’s difficult to take all the doom-and-gloom seriously. For example, he writes that long before the current crisis, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl “was urging his teachers to strike in order ‘to get the basics for [Los Angeles] students.’ Of course, Caputo-Pearl neglected to mention that the Los Angeles Unified School District was spending $18,788 per student, average teacher pay in Los Angeles was $78,962, and many of the district’s frustrations were due to UTLA’s unwillingness to adjust employee benefits, which had grown an astounding 138 percent between 2001 and 2016.”

Hess adds, “…the U.S. today boasts a teacher for every 15 students, and a school staff member for every eight — none of which suggests classrooms are ‘overcrowded’ (unless it’s because staff keep bumping into one another).” It was not always this way. The above photo shows my 3rd grade class picture in 1956 – before education became featherbedding central. Please note: 43 kids, a teacher and no aide. The school had a principal but no AP. We all learned.

Kennesaw State University economics professor  Benjamin Scafidi finds that the number of teachers increased nationwide about 2.5 times faster than the uptick in students between 1950 and 2015. Even more egregious is the fact that the hiring of other education employees – administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers, etc. – rose more than 7 times the increase in students. Scafidi writes, “If the increase in ‘all other staff’ alone had matched student enrollment growth between FY 1992 and FY 2015—the most recent staffing data available—then a cautious estimate finds American public schools would have saved almost $35 billion in annual recurring savings. That is $35 billion every single year from 1992 to 2015, for a cumulative total of $805 billion over this time period.”

As you can see from the inflation-adjusted figures, we have increased our education spending over 17-fold in the last century. Also, using data from the Digest of Education Statistics, the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, found that we tripled our spending between 1970 and 2010 – and had absolutely no academic progress to show for it.

Sadly, too many people buy into the lies, in large part because major American newspapers support the union narrative. Hess notes, “As researchers Arthur Peng and Jim Guthrie observed a decade ago, ‘If one relies on newspaper headlines for education funding information, one might conclude that America’s schools suffer from a perpetual fiscal crisis, every year perched precariously on the brink of financial ruin, never knowing whether there will be sufficient funding to continue operating.’” As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Most recently, Corey DeAngelis and Matthew Nielsen revealed that The New York Times, Washington Post, and Philadelphia Inquirer have all made false funding assertions that would shame Pinocchio.

The classic film On the Waterfront portrayed union power at its rawest. In the 1950s, the unions typically got their way using nothing less than brute force. But today the tactics are different. In “Pretty Boy Floyd,” Woody Guthrie sang, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The unions are well entrenched in the “fountain pen” camp and the American taxpayer is in their crosshairs.


Australia set to ease virus visa hardship for foreign students

Australia appears set to address international students’ visa gripes just as a resurgence of coronavirus cases on both sides of the Tasman Sea threatens to neutralise Antipodean universities’ upper hand in the race to revive student flows.

Times Higher Education understands that the Australian government may announce new visa arrangements next week, bringing rules for foreign students more in line with those in competitor countries.

The plans are expected to include fee waivers for students forced to extend their stay in Australia because of the pandemic, and to clarify whether online classes count towards the period of study required to qualify for post-course work rights.

This would coincide with a retreat from plans to fly in select groups of international students on a trial basis, in New Zealand as well as Australia. In New Zealand, the education minister, Chris Hipkins, has ruled out a return of overseas students in July or August.

In early May, Mr Hipkins encouraged universities to produce a “concrete proposal” for international students to be readmitted into the country, initially under carefully managed quarantine. But in a late June letter to representative body Isana New Zealand, he scuttled any hope of this happening in time for the start of the second semester.

“International students remain a priority group in the government’s planning for any managed border entry arrangements,” he wrote. But he warned that there were “many details to be worked through, including quarantine and isolation arrangements, monitoring processes and how the costs can be shared by those arriving”.

New Zealand declared itself coronavirus free less than a month ago, arousing optimism that it could boost its share of international students on the back of its successful pandemic management.

But nerves emerged about its ability to safely manage the entry of people from Covid-19 hotspots, particularly when two returnees from the UK tested positive for the disease after being released from quarantine for compassionate reasons.

Similar doubts have surfaced in Australia, after sloppy management of hotel-based quarantine led to a coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne and forced the Victorian government to put 36 suburbs back under lockdown.

This has raised doubts over plans to fly in foreign students – particularly a scheme to jet in some 800 students to Adelaide.

The federal government has said that it will approve such plans only in states that allow untrammelled travel from interstate. South Australia has now scrapped plans to open its borders to Victorians in mid-July.

Ironically, New Zealand and Australia are stepping back from schemes to bring in international students just as universities in northern hemisphere competitor countries – where the coronavirus is far more prevalent – pursue plans of their own.

With Australian educators struggling to harness the country’s mostly successful pandemic management to their advantage, the release of the long-awaited student visa flexibility package will be welcome news.

The International Education Association of Australia said such concessions had been a long time coming. “After three and a half months of advocacy, education providers are frustrated at delays but hopeful that Australia will be in a more competitive position soon,” said chief executive Phil Honeywood.

The UK has increased the competitive pressure, announcing that it will allow international doctoral students to stay for three years after they graduate. However, Australia still trumps the UK on this measure, granting foreign PhD graduates up to four years’ post-study work rights.