Friday, July 31, 2020

Hysterical Left Ignores CDC, Demands Schools Stay Closed

The teachers unions are very far Left and make extortionist demands, which may drive more kids to alternative education.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has been excoriated by Democrats and teachers unions for demanding that schools reopen this fall. He stands accused of ignoring the science and putting America’s 57 million school children in mortal danger.

Yet now that the CDC has issued new guidelines for opening schools, the outcry from Democrats and teachers unions has only become more hysterical.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” CDC Director Robert Redfield argued. “School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”

Having previously stated that he would “absolutely” send his grandchildren back to school, Redfield’s statement is also in line with the 67,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics, which last month issued a public statement “strongly advocat[ing]” for reopening schools.

The wisdom of the CDC and the AAP’s position is obvious to anyone who has bothered to look at the data on the coronavirus and children. According to the CDC, “As of July 17, children and adolescents account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.” In other words, less than 1/1000th of COVID deaths are children and adolescents.

Though scientists don’t know why yet, the data also show that even when infected with COVID, children rarely die from it. Children rarely transmit it to adults either, so teachers are at very low risk of infection from children.

Yet Democrats and teachers unions continue to be science deniers, fighting vigorously against a return to in-person schooling.

That doesn’t, of course, keep them from making ridiculous, extortionist demands, from an additional $116 billion in federal education funding (more than the U.S. spent to rebuild Europe after WWII), to reduced class sizes, reduced work hours, banning new private schools, to defunding the police, Medicare For All, and new taxes on the rich.

Clearly, Democrats and teachers unions have taken to heart former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s admonition to leftists to “never let a crisis go to waste.”

Leftists see a golden opportunity to hold the American economy hostage to their demands. After all, if schools don’t reopen, tens of millions of Americans can’t return to work, depending as they do on schools to watch their children during work hours.

Showing just how deeply political the Left has made this decision, NBC News published an op-ed by high-school teacher Anne Lutz Fernandez, who repeated the false claim that White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that “science should not stand in the way of” schools fully reopening. That lie was so blatant that CNN anchor Jake Tapper felt compelled to publicly rebuke his media colleagues for repeating it — before NBC did it again.

After melodramatically declaring “teachers did not enlist to die at work,” Fernandez says, “The federal government can make schools safer and help students learn, whatever form their learning must take, by researching the effects of COVID-19 on children, maintaining science-based guidelines, filling pandemic-related budget gaps and providing additional funding needed to meet safety guidelines.”

Except, as we mentioned, the research on COVID-19 and children is clear and overwhelming.

As for the alleged “budget gaps,” the Census Bureau reported last year that per-pupil spending in America had increased for the fifth consecutive year, with state and federal spending on education at $694.1 billion in 2017, up 3.7% from the year before. For perspective, the U.S. spends more on education (second highest in the world in per-pupil spending) than the entire GDP’s of Hong Kong and Ireland, though we get horribly mediocre academic results for all that spending.

Amazingly, Democrats and teachers unions don’t seem to grasp the damage they’re doing … to themselves. The longer they refuse to open schools, the more parents are forced to turn to private and religious schools or homeschooling. In fact, since the initial lockdowns, millions of parents have realized that homeschooling is a much better option.

How ironic would it be if leftist extortion tactics became the catalyst for parents to finally demand school choice en masse?

In the long run, this could be a tremendous benefit for the nation. Far too many of our “public” schools have become little more than government-run progressive indoctrination centers, churning out legions of academically incompetent social justice warriors who can’t read, can’t spell, and know no history, but who are marvelously self-assured that they know best how to run the economy and public policy.

Maybe, as the satirical Babylon Bee writes, “A concerning rise in test scores, independent thinking, and intelligence has been attributed to public schools being shut down across the nation.”

Imagine that — children learning reading, writing, arithmetic, and an accurate history of the United States, rather than the radically anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-religious pablum they are current force fed in public schools.

What a marvelous change that would be.


Charters Close the Achievement Gap, Says Thomas Sowell

The economist Thomas Sowell turned 90 on June 30. He has made a career out of judging public policies by their actual results rather than their stated intentions and wished-for effects. As befits one of the great minds of our era, he celebrated his 90th birthday by doing what anyone would do on such an occasion, namely, by publishing a book—Charter Schools and Their Enemies, from Basic Books—analyzing charter schools, their effects, and those who oppose them.

Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that play by different rules. Importantly, they aren’t bogged down by cumbersome union contracts like the ones that make it prohibitively expensive to fire teachers. They are also accountable to the people who matter most: students and those students’ parents. If they don’t deliver results, they don’t succeed.

The first half of the book is commentary and analysis. The second is a set of data appendices that would allow readers to reconstruct the quantitative basis for his argument and, possibly, show that he is wrong.

Measuring charters’ effect is more complicated than just comparing simple averages because the pool of students who go to charter schools is very different from the pool of students who stay behind—they are chosen by lottery, but differences might still be contaminated by selection bias (the kinds of families that opt for charters might be very different from the kinds of families that don’t). To get around this, Sowell addresses each of the potential confounding factors that could explain seemingly-superior charter performance. He works to match like schools with like schools, preferably those where charters and traditionals operate out of the same building.

Sowell’s quantitative analysis is a few notches below what you would expect from a technical journal like the Economics of Education Review, but he still makes a pretty convincing case for a book published with a trade press. The well-organized data appendices are gifts to undergraduate statistics and econometrics students looking for a simple data playground. Sowell’s critics who might not trust his analysis can start with the data on which he bases his case.

Charter school critics argue that charters drain traditional public schools of the most motivated students and families. Sowell summarizes research by the Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby showing that students who lose the charter school admission lotteries don’t do as well as those who win, suggesting that at least some of what we observe is a treatment effect of charter schools. Moreover, a 2008 paper in the Journal of Urban Economics shows that charters improve outcomes for students left behind.

After looking at the data, Sowell concludes that charter schools look like a very effective weapon against the “achievement gap” between white students and black students, pointing to the example of one predominantly-black charter school with average household income of $49,000 had higher test scores than wealthier schools with average household incomes some five times higher.

Sowell makes much of different kinds of “accountability.” There is accountability to inputs, procedures, and byzantine rules—the bureaucratic vision of monopoly education that Sowell says is based on wishful thinking. Then there is accountability that counts—or that should, at least—accountability to families for actually educating children. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and people are overwhelmingly trying to get their children out of traditional schools and into charters where they are available.

So why don’t charters meet universal acclaim? Curiously, why is it that so many people who typically think of themselves as squarely on the side of “the children” have lined up against them when it comes to quality schooling? Sowell advises readers to follow the money, quoting former teachers’ union official Albert Shanker (1928-1997): “I’ll put it this way: I’ll start representing schoolchildren when schoolchildren start paying union dues.” It’s an ugly quote, but it summarizes an even uglier reality.

Critics will argue that charters and other school choice initiatives are not magic bullets, but this doesn’t strike me as much of an argument because there are essentially never magic bullets in just about any context. Considered in isolation, just walking for thirty minutes every other day isn’t a “magic bullet” for weight loss. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. Similarly, if charters use fewer resources to deliver better—or even similar—results, expanding access to them is still a good idea.

The achievement gap gets a lot of press in education research circles, and its causes are complex. Thomas Sowell has celebrated his 90th birthday by pointing his prodigious analytical skills at an elephant in the room. He’s fond of saying that there are no solutions, only trade-offs—but the evidence he brings to bear on the charter question suggests that expanding charter school access is a trade-off worth making


When Done Right, the Benefit of Reopening Schools Outweighs the Risk

This coming fall, my wife and I find ourselves stumped like so many other parents out there: what do we do with our three boys if the schools aren’t open?

Through our own hard work, we’ve been blessed to be able to afford childcare and distance learning measures that go above and beyond what the public system can offer. But what about so many parents out there – single parents going it alone, moms and dads out of work trying to make ends meet? With unemployment soaring, who is standing up for them and their precious children who deserve an education?

Science and medicine are on their side. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that we should start with – not merely consider –the goal of having students physically present in the classroom this upcoming school year. Any parent, myself included, can readily tell you that trying to keep squirming children active and engaged in front of a Zoom screen is not possible. Not only is keeping kids home ineffective, as a health professional and former public health official, I know that it’s also dangerous. Prolonged absence from schools means that terrible ills such as abuse, learning disabilities, mental health issues, and food insecurity slip through the cracks without the watchful eye of caring teachers. Moreover, these tragedies disproportionately affect minority and disadvantaged students.

While the science may tell us that kids belong in school, special interest groups and out-of-touch politicians tell us they know better. Whether it’s arrogance or ignorance, these elites are on the precipice of making sweeping decisions that could set children back for years.

So, what should be done? It starts with being honest: there is simply no way to eliminate the risk of the virus entirely before the school year starts. Rather, we must work to mitigate it and tip the scale in favor of education over the quantified and mitigated risk.

It’s already happening. This summer, private day cares and camps reopened by adapting to a new process – social distancing, masks, screening questions and daily temperature checks to name a few. To date, there is no data to support that the virus has spread in my home state of New Jersey due to their reopening or that children have been disproportionately affected. For our public schools, the conversation should not be whether schools reopen; it should be how to reopen them safely through risk mitigation efforts. We must start to accept this and plan for process changes now. It’s a small price to pay for the invaluable benefit school provides to both parents and our children.

Americans are understandably scared in the wake of the great human and economic toll that COVID-19 has taken on our country. From my experience as a former public health official, I have the humility to admit that mere discussion of supportive facts and figures may not be enough to assuage those who have seen their lives ravaged by this terrible disease. On the other hand, I can also see how political leaders make the mistake of communicating almost exclusively through emotion to a weary public that is desperate for some certainty. As Americans we must pivot, not freeze. We must implement stopgap process changes with the same ingenuity that has fueled the miracle of the American Dream for over 200 years. This is a basic risk-reward calculation, and for our kids and parents, we owe it to us all to make the brave and science-supported choice to send our kids back to school this fall.


GOP Relief Bill: Schools Would Lose Two-Thirds of Aid Money if They Don’t Physically Reopen

Schools that don’t plan to physically reopen, or at least offer some in-person learning in the fall, would lose two-thirds of the relief money set aside for K-12 education under Senate Republicans’ relief bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on July 27 unveiled the much-anticipated HEALS Act, which would provide $70 billion to K-12 public and private schools, as well as $5 billion in funds for governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

According to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Miss.), who crafted the HEALS Act’s education provision, a third of the $70 billion relief fund would go to all schools, regardless of whether they plan to bring students back to classroom or not. The remaining two-thirds, however, would be available only for schools with a state-approved physical reopening plan.

While making it clear that most of the relief money will be directed toward schools that are set to fully reopen, the act doesn’t specify whether schools that reopen with a mix of in-person and online learning could still get their cut.

The act would also grant schools with protections from legal liability, a measure championed by McConnell to discourage “insubstantial lawsuits relating to COVID-19” while “preserving the ability of individuals and businesses that have suffered real injury to obtain complete relief.”

The qualification requirements laid out in the HEALS Act are in line with President Donald Trump’s push to have schools reopen this fall. Earlier this month, Trump threatened to cut off funding for those that don’t.

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS,” he wrote on Twitter. “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

Democrats, on the other hand, voiced strong opposition to tying K-12 education relief funds to school reopening. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said last week that Republican lawmakers were “using student safety as a bargaining chip.”

“Democrats have a plan to give schools the resources they need to keep their campuses safe and to keep students learning, whether in-person or online, while the president is irresponsibly trying to bully schools into reopening no matter the risk,” Murray said. “I hope Senate Republicans don’t stoop to that level just because the president wants to.”


Thursday, July 30, 2020

When Did Parents and Students Lose Freedom of Choice?

United Teachers Los Angeles demands that schools remain closed unless police are defunded, charter schools eliminated, government health care imposed and a statewide wealth tax implemented. Faced with such heavy-handed political demands, many parents have been taking a hard look at independent non-government schools. This prompts a meditation on educational choice, based on the example of college athlete-students.

No law forbids students from marketing their name and image, but when athlete-students get to college they are suddenly forbidden to market themselves. The NCAA takes over that function, sharing the considerable monetary rewards with television networks and the various universities. The athlete students, shorn of the ability to market themselves, are paid in kind, through tuition. Their freedom to market themselves has been taken away.

No law specifically bars parents from selecting a school, but when their child is ready, the parents find themselves restricted to the school the government wants their children to attend. If parents choose an independent school, their tax dollars still fund the government K-12 system, generally speaking a collective farm of mediocrity and failure. The process is bound to differ in various states, but somewhere along the line, freedom of choice was taken away. This should signal a new approach.

Advocates of educational choice are not making a demand for something new or creating some new right. Rather, the political and educational systems have severely restricted the basic right to choose the parents and students already had. The onus to change is on the system, and this is not a difficult matter.

As in higher education, public educational dollars should fund the student, not the system. Parents and students, not politicians and bureaucrats, should decide where students attend school. Politicians should strive to restore the basic right to choice a failed system has taken away.


Is Our Defense of Florida’s New K-12 Standards Biased? Fordham Institute Should Look in the Mirror

Last week, Amber Northern, a senior vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, penned a rebuttal to the Independent Institute’s evaluation of Florida’s new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) standards. As the author of the foreword to that evaluation, I decided to respond to some general statements of Northern’s rebuttal here. I will not address, in any depth, her criticism of the English language arts (ELA) and mathematics reviews themselves—that is left to the authors of those, if they so choose.

Northern describes two of Independent’s evaluation authors as “Common Core opponent” (myself, foreword) and “Common Core critic” (James Milgram, mathematics). This is true, as far as it goes, and is intended to imply that we cannot be objective judges because of that—hence our evaluation and judgment are automatically suspect. Yet, strangely, when Northern describes David Steiner and Ashley Berner, Independent’s ELA reviewers, she “forgets” to mention their PRO Common Core past, which should serve to make their evaluation and judgment doubly authoritative, since they now highly praise Florida’s standards over the Common Core.

Even more strange—one may even call it hypocritical—is the fact that all the reviewers from the Fordham Institute evaluation who found Florida’s standards to be “poor” are long-time supporters and promoters of Common Core. Moreover, the very sponsor of their evaluation, the Fordham Institute, has received over seven million dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2010 to promote Common Core standards. Yet Northern now dares to imply that our evaluation is likely biased.

Speaking of Fordham Institute’s bias, Northern goes on to write:

Fordham has been publishing reviews of state standards for almost twenty-five years. … Our expert reviewers have always developed upfront the comprehensive criteria by which they then assess the content, rigor, clarity, and specificity of state standards. They do that before they lay eyes on the first set of standards, in part to hold themselves accountable to a rigorous external benchmark. That means they don’t grade on a curve relative to the quality of standards in other states.

There are a couple of problems with her statement.

First, although this may have been (somewhat) true between 1998 and 2010, before Common Core existed, Northern conveniently “forgets” to mention that in 2018 Fordham replaced its evaluation criteria to tailor them to Common Core and, at the same time, replaced all of its previous team of reviewers with a new team made up of only Common Core fans. In other words, Fordham’s “objective” and “rigorous” criteria serve to evaluate everything against Common Core, which is held as a reference. This, in fact, was also observed by our evaluators. Naturally, anyone who departs from Common Core—even intentionally, as Florida did—is automatically penalized by Fordham.

Second, if one considers it for a moment, even the notion that one can determine up-front evaluation criteria for sight-unseen standards is ridiculous on its face. How can one determine what should go into each grade? By fiat? By the Bible? Once one reads proposed standards, one can opine about their clarity, coherence, depth, or rigor, but attempting to decide “how clear,” or “how coherent,” or “what content belongs where” the standards are supposed to be before reading them is a fool’s errand. It assumes that there is a single God-given way to write “good” standards. It also shows basic misunderstanding of how educational standards are written and evaluated.

Finally, Northern’s comments on the actual evaluations of ELA and math are nit-picky, and she seems unable to see the forest for the trees. She also seems to misunderstand Independent’s ELA review when it comes to its rejection of disciplinary literacy, as well as math problem-solving. But I’ll leave it to others to respond to all of that.


Renewed Sanity on Campus? Yes to Free Speech, No to Football?

This is truly an annus horribilis, with our nation suffering not only from a massive pandemic but also with the very foundation of our society under internal attack on multiple fronts. This has hurt higher education in many ways. But a couple of unrelated events this past week gave me a little hope that sanity has not completely disappeared from American, including collegiate, life.

The Harper’s Magazine Letter

A healthy number of prominent academics were on the list of nearly 150 signatories to a letter to Harper’s bemoaning growing intolerance of free expression and divergent ideas. Among other things, they said, “The free exchange of ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted....More troubling...institutional leaders...are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms....professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study....”

This refreshing challenge to the worst manifestations of the Cancel Culture was signed by famous writers (notably J.K Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Gloria Steinem), but also by a host of well known academic scholars: Noam Chomsky (M.I.T.), Nicholas Christakis (Yale), Francis Fukuyama (Stanford), Atul Gawande (Harvard), Jonathan Haidt (NYU), Anthony Kronman (Yale), Deidre McCloskey (Illinois-Chicago), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Salman Rushdie (NYU), and Ronald Sullivan (Harvard) to name just ten.

Well intended and morally justifiable protests sometimes build a momentum of intolerance and terror, as the French Revolution taught us (for the relatively few among us who still read and respect tales of our past). The Jacobins started out as democratic, anti-monarchical reformists who became, quite literally terrorists, and some of the Harper’s group may be concerned about that experience.

The Cancel Culture Comes to Football

Sometimes health and safety issues trump other interests. To borrow from the Bard, “To Open, or Not to Open: That is the Question.” Most schools are planning on reopening in some fashion, and in recognition of the fact that interaction between faculty and students, and students with each other, is at the heart of the collegiate experience, schools are appropriately struggling with trade-offs between safety and good health on the one hand, and fully achieving their mission on the other.

But collegiate sports are another matter. The U.S. is the only major nation where colleges have athletic teams that are an important part of campus culture. If football is not played commercially, the college experience goes on. Football is an important American entertainment—I eagerly attend or watch games and scour weekly rankings. But it is not a necessity, rather what John Stuart Mill once called a “superfluity” of life.

The denizens of the Ivy League have done crazy things recently (see earlier posts), but they did this one right, canceling fall sports. Kids playing football are not social distancing, nor are those watching the events. As bad, perhaps, as gathering in crowded bars. For schools like Harvard to ban live instruction (as they have) this fall, but allow contact sports to continue with an audience, would make a mockery of efforts to contain Covid-19.

Then something happened that temporarily turned the anno horribilis almost into an annus mirabilis: the Big Ten cancelled about 25 percent of its fall football games, the non-conference events where Big Ten teams devour less proficient teams from lesser leagues to pad their win-loss record and provide the wannabe powerhouses some cash for the humiliation. Probably they are trying to stave off total cancellation like the Ivy League, but it is at least a tacit recognition that campus life can go on without football.


Australia: NAPLAN, attendance and aspiration best indicators of High school final results

Researchers have developed a system that predicts students' final High School marks with more than 90 per cent accuracy using information such as their year 9 NAPLAN results, their HSC subject choice and their year 11 attendance.

The University of Newcastle academics say their findings raise questions about whether the final two years of school that are now devoted to HSC courses and exams with predictable results could be better spent on deeper learning and more focused career preparation.

But critics argue using NAPLAN to determine students' future would just shift Higher School Certificate stress from year 12 to year 9, and say the HSC is not just about ranking and testing students, but also giving them a strong education regardless of their social background.

A team led by Professor John Fischetti, pro vice-chancellor of the university's faculty of education, developed a system that analyses information about students, such as NAPLAN results, family background, aspiration and attendance, to estimate how they would fare in their HSC.

After feeding in the results from 10,000 students across 10 years in 14 subjects, Professor Fischetti found it could predict students' exact HSC mark in each subject with 93 per cent accuracy.

The researchers began with 41 different variables, but narrowed them down to the most influential 17, which included the amount of time students had spent in Australia, their school's demographic index, and whether the students chose HSC subjects that challenged them.

"We anticipated that [the most influential factor] would be their marks all the way through, their teacher marks, assigned marks," Professor Fischetti said. "But it actually turned out that the year 9 NAPLAN, your year 11 attendance, and your year 11 course selection were most influential. We factored in some demographic information, but those three became critical."

Professor Fischetti said the analysis showed the importance of students mastering literacy and numeracy, which is tested by NAPLAN. English language skills were also important, as was aspiration, shown by a willingness to choose subjects that challenged them.

"It puts the pressure on, that primary education really does cover on [literacy and numeracy]," he said. "If students leave primary school weak in them, they struggle to catch up. It doesn't mean it's impossible, but we found it's that 7 per cent [whose result cannot be predicted]."

Professor Fischetti argued the approach to the final two years of high school could be changed, to give students greater depth in their learning or focus on their passions, rather than study for an exam in which their results were predictable.

His comments come as a new, federally commissioned report on post-school pathways has recommended students curate a learning profile, focusing on non-scholastic skills as well as academic results, as a way of reducing focus on the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which is based on HSC results.

"[The HSC] is not wasted time, but we haven't taken advantage of it in the ways we could," he said. "Our exit outcome is a score on an exam, not the habits of learning."

However, Tom Alegounarias, a former chair of the NSW Education Standards Authority and president of its predecessor the Board of Studies, said educators had always been able to predict the likely outcomes of students.

"Some students achieve results that are not predicted, and that's an important part of a meritocratic process," he said. "Particularly for disadvantaged students, we should not be defining their prospects even in part as a function of their socio-economic background."

Greg Ashman, author of The Truth About Teaching, said year 9 NAPLAN assessments were not high-stakes tests at present. "As soon as they are used to determine university entrance, you'll have all the pressures of year 12, only three years earlier," he said. "It also seems unfair on students who may improve over those three years and it creates a licence for those who are so inclined to learn little in that time."

Professor Fischetti said students spent 10 years gathering the knowledge and skills they would need to do well in year 9 NAPLAN, so it would not involve the same pressure as a two-year, high-stakes HSC program.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

As public schools go all virtual in fall, parents eye private schools that say they will open their campuses

Once again the Left harm those they purport to help. 

Leftist  governors and Leftist teachers' unions have been very reluctant to tell their teachers to go back to work.  The evidence shows that reopening the schools is very safe for all concerned so why?

It's another demonstration of their hatred of their own society.  Keeping the schools closed messes up a lot of people and they like that. They seem completely unembarrassed that they will hurt  the poor by it -- whom they pretend to side with.  It is the kids of the poor who rely on public schools.  So they will get a truncated education. 

Private schools, by contrast generally have a better relationship with their teachers so will open as soon as possible.  So middle class children who go to private schools will get an education while poor kids do not.

The whole episode shows how hollow is the Leftist pretence of compassion for the poor.  If they feel that way, they would be energetically re-opening their schools

Valerie Kindt wants to return to work full time. Kindt, the mother of a rising third-grade son, scaled back her hours to part time at an international nonprofit organization in April so she could guide her son through his daily four hours of remote-learning lessons at his D.C. public school. But she thinks this is a pivotal time in her career and fears what being a part-time employee will mean for her professionally.

So she is taking a gamble for the fall: She is pulling her son out of their beloved public elementary school and putting him in a private school that, for now, says its campus buildings will be open full time for in-person learning in September.

Kindt says she realizes that she’s making a bet and that she may end up in the same situation as she was at the public school: All virtual learning from home.

But she said she expects that private schools will eventually be able to switch to in-person learning quicker than public schools, making it a worthwhile gamble for her.

“If they do close I am back to square one,” Kindt said. “It again means I will not be able to go back to work.”

While most of the region’s public school districts say their campuses will remain closed for the start of the fall semester, many private schools — which can charge more than $45,000 a year in tuition and fees — are still planning to bring students into classrooms for at least part of the week. It’s a situation that could exacerbate existing inequalities, with wealthier students attending classes in person at private schools, and everyone else using public schools’ distance learning, which left many students behind in their academics.

In D.C. wards hit hardest by Covid, sending children back to school is a risk some families won’t take.

The fact that these private schools may offer some in-class instruction has fueled an uptick in enrollment inquiries from families who can afford to make the switch.

“As of July 22, pretty much across the board, schools are planning for some sort of in-person learning in the fall,” said Amy McNamer, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, which supports 76 private schools in the region. “And I have to add this big caveat that that could change,” she said.

In online forums, parents are asking one another for advice about private schools, saying they fear that virtual learning at their public schools will be a disaster.

We are “looking at private options,” one Fairfax County Public Schools parent wrote on the online forum DC Urban Moms, seeking a private school with a strong virtual-learning program. “We had been considering it even before the pandemic but now it’s clear.”

McNamer said private schools are better equipped for in-person learning. Their campuses are typically bigger and class sizes were already smaller — sometimes just 12 students in a class — before the pandemic, allowing students to better keep their distance during the school day.

“Our schools are able to make decisions for one institution and one community only and that allows them to change course quickly,” McNamer said.

It’s unclear, however, how most teachers feel about returning. Unlike public schools — whose unions have pushed for schools to reopen virtually — the teachers at these private campuses are not unionized. Hundreds of private school teachers from across the country, including in the Washington region, have circulated online and anonymously signed a statement calling on schools to reopen virtually. Private school teachers and staff said in interviews that they think their schools are reopening because administrators do not want to lose tuition-paying parents who might withdraw from the school, and they fear they will have no protections if they are not ready to return.

For parents who can afford it, a solution for the fall: Bring teachers to them.

We “believe that it is our duty to share publicly that placing our students into classrooms this fall is an unsafe, pedagogically unsound, and ultimately unethical course of action,” the statement reads.

President Trump’s son Barron, 14, attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal — a private school with a sprawling campus in Maryland that serves 645 students from preschool to high school. Trump said during a briefing that he was comfortable with his son going back into the classroom. St. Andrew’s has told families in a letter posted on its website to expect either all distance learning in the fall or a hybrid model, where elementary school students could attend in-person classes every day and older students would switch between distance and in-person learning.

In Northwest Washington, the Sheridan School says it plans to bring its 226 elementary and middle school students back to classrooms five days a week. In Baltimore, the all-boys Gilman School says elementary school students can come to campus every day, while high schoolers can return three days a week.

The Archdiocese of Washington said in a letter to families it has set guidelines for the region’s Catholic schools for reopening, and schools are now working on their individual fall plans.

In the Washington region, many parochial schools have said they will open their doors.

Clyde Davis Jr. sends his son, a rising seventh-grader, to Holy Trinity: An Episcopal School in Prince George’s County. Davis was laid off from his job in the beverage industry and said he has been able to supervise his son during distance learning. He said his son is an independent student and has not fallen behind in academics.

Davis, a D.C. resident, said the school plans to offer at least some in-person learning during the fall, but he plans to keep his son at home. He may allow his son to return for the first days to reunite with friends, but with coronavirus case numbers rising, he is not ready to send the boy back to the school building just yet, fearing for the safety of students and teachers.

“There was a part of me that thought if they go virtual, I might as well send him to public school,” Davis said. But he is sticking with the private school.

The current situation for many of the region’s elite private schools is a far cry from the doomsday scenario that some anticipated at the beginning of the pandemic. Sidwell Friends received a $5.2 million Paycheck Protection Program loan and told The Washington Post in May that it anticipated declining enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year and other revenue streams to dry up. In a recent email, a Sidwell spokesman wrote that “we are grateful that interest and enrollment remain steady.” Sidwell has not yet announced plans for the fall.

Owen Daly, director of secondary school admissions at Gilman, said the school has received more inquiries about enrollment since the surrounding Maryland public school districts have announced an all-virtual start to the academic year.

 “For Gilman, and a lot of the schools, the challenge is that our school is fully enrolled so it’s not like we can accept a lot of these families even though we would like to help them,” Daly said.

Because of donations from alumni, the school is able to hire more teaching assistants and staff, allowing students to remain in small, socially distanced cohorts on campus and maximizing in-person class time, Daly said. Parents may select an all-virtual option and the school is still figuring out which staff members would be willing to return to in-person classes.

“It’s a lot of money to invest in elementary school education and we want to make sure that we are providing the best education possible — safely,” Daly said.


CDC releases updated guidelines in favor of reopening schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Thursday released new guidelines with a heavy focus on reopening schools in the fall, saying children are less likely to experience severe symptoms or spread the virus in schools.

Under the new guidelines, the CDC recommends that schools follow a certain level of precautions based on the amount of community transmission in their area. The CDC advises that unless there is substantial, uncontrolled community transmission in an area, schools should reopen to some extent.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement announcing the guidelines. “School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”

Redfield has previously said that he would “absolutely” send his grandchildren back to school.

The CDC’s recommendations include socially distancing school children through cohorting or pods as well as a number of other measures to limit possible transmission of the coronavirus.

“Schools should be prepared for COVID-19 cases and exposure to occur in their facilities,” the guidelines read, adding that schools should be prepared to coordinate with their local health departments.

According to the CDC, there are few reports of children being the driving force of transmission within families. It said that as of July 17, children and adolescents account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.

"The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children," the guidelines read.

The guidelines recommend against screening all students for coronavirus symptoms because children experiencing COVID-19 symptoms may be sick with something else and should not be in school if they are experiencing symptoms at all.

"Parents or caregivers should be strongly encouraged to monitor their children for signs of infectious illness every day," the guidelines read. "Students who are sick should not attend school in-person."

Poll: Large majority say schools should reopen either all or...
The guidance comes as top Trump administration officials have signaled they see the resumption of in-person classes as a top priority. President Trump previously threatened to defund schools that did not reopen for fall classes.

"Reopening our schools is also critical to ensuring that parents can go to work and provide for their families," Trump said during a press conference Thursday. "It's a tremendous problem. It's a tremendous problem. Schools have to open safely."

Lawmakers are currently mulling a stimulus bill that could potentially include funds for schools to implement social distancing measures.


Perdue Campaign Slaps Ossoff With Fact-Check on False Claim About SCHOOL Act

Georgia Senate hopeful Jon Ossoff got caught peddling another lie about GOP incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) on Monday. Sen. Perdue introduced legislation last week that creates grant programs for schools to reopen safely by encouraging education systems to work in conjunction with health experts and the CDC guidelines to develop safe reopening strategies. The Georgia Republican’s SCHOOL Act legislates funding for schools to be equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies, and gives local schools the autonomy to reopen as they see fit.

Ossoff appears to have not read Sen. Perdue’s legislation. He falsely claimed that the SCHOOL Act would hold funding hostage from schools that do not open immediately, which is simply untrue. Sen. Perdue’s legislation lacks a federal mandate for reopening, and instead gives schools the jurisdiction to move forward as they feel is appropriate; the funds that would be legislated by the SCHOOLS Act incentivize schools to hopefully reopen safely, and connects systems with the counsel of health experts, but in no way demands that schools reopen outright. Ossoff said that all schools should receive federal funding to boost reopening efforts, without pressure to fully reopen, but that is exactly what Sen. Perdue’s legislation does:

“Sen. Perdue should go back to the drawing board. And put forward a proposal that equips those school districts that can’t yet reopen or have to defer physical reopening the equipment and technology they need so that kids can still learn from home,” he says.

Sen. Perdue’s campaign slapped the Democratic nominee with a blistering fact-check on his false claims about the SCHOOL Act:

“It’s puzzling that Jon Ossoff would be against a good faith proposal that gives our schools, teachers and parents the tools they need to reopen safely now and in the coming weeks.” said Perdue for Senate Senior Spokeswoman Casey Black. “The SCHOOL ACT uses guidelines recommended by the CDC, pediatric healthcare experts, and local school officials and provides the resources to reopen with confidence. Politics shouldn’t get in the way of protecting our kids and teachers. It’s shocking that we even need to have this debate, but apparently Jon Ossoff doesn’t get it, or even worse, doesn’t care.”

The safe reopening of schools should be a bipartisan agreement. Sen. Perdue’s legislation allows schools to reopen on their own timetable, in consultation with expert advice and with no-strings funding from the government to help with safe reopening. The SCHOOL Act does just what Ossoff says is necessary, but yet again, the Georgia Democrat chooses partisanship over the best interests of those he hopes to represent in the Senate.


Florida State Student Government Ousts Student for Catholic Beliefs

In June, the Florida State University Student Senate voted to remove then-president Jack Denton for the indefensible crime of sharing his Catholic beliefs. Now, Alliance Defending Freedom has sent a letter to school administrators appealing the student senate’s decision to oust him.

In a private GroupMe text conversation with fellow Catholic students, Denton suggested that, Reclaim the Block, and the ACLU advocate for causes opposed to Catholic teaching and that Catholic students may wish to avoid supporting them financially. When asked by a member what specifically he was referring to, Denton replied that “ fosters ‘a queer-affirming network’ and defends transgenderism.” The ACLU, he continued, “defends laws protecting abortion facilities and sued states that restrict access to abortion.” Reclaim the Block, he stated, “claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PD’s budgets. This is a little less explicit, but I think it’s contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good.”

Denton was not operating in his official capacity as student senator in the forum, reported Catholic News Agency. But that didn’t stop one student in the group chat from taking screenshots of the messages and sharing them publicly on social media without Denton’s permission. The condemnation was swift. Students mocked and misrepresented his comments. One penned an op-ed in the school newspaper claiming that Denton’s sentiments “show that he holds values which are antithetical to FSU’s anti-discrimination policy and could make our school’s most marginalized students feel unwelcome and unsafe” and that his leadership position sent “a clear message” of bigotry. Another began an online petition asserting that Denton made “transphobic and racist remarks” and called for his removal because such behavior “will not be tolerated in any form at any level at FSU.”

The petition garnered more than 7,600 comments. The Student Senate held a vote of no-confidence on Friday, June 3 over Zoom in which the governing body ousted Denton from office with 86 percent of the vote. Denton had served in the FSU Student Government Association for three years, including serving as president.

“No student should fear retaliation for peacefully sharing his personal convictions,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, in a press release. “Public universities should be fostering real diversity of thought, not discriminating against individuals based on their religious convictions or political beliefs. Under the guise of creating a ‘safe space,’ FSU students banded together to cancel Jack’s First Amendment freedoms and silence Jack because of his religion, in violation of the school’s SGA Ethics Code and the Student Body Constitution.”

To compound the situation, Denton has been unable to bring his case to the Student Supreme Court because the Student Senate will not confirm the nominees for temporary justices. According to a letter sent by ADF to the vice president for student affairs, the Student Senate has stalled the confirmation process “for the purpose of derailing Mr. Denton’s complaint.” Furthermore, the letter asserts that student senators vetted a potential nominee with Denton’s case in mind, asking the nominee how she would have ruled as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Obergefell v. Hodges and Bostock v. Clayton County, and expressing concern and frustration over her “limited knowledge” of the LGBTQ+ community since there was “such a sensitive case on the docket.” ADF requested that the university schedule a hearing for Denton’s appeal by July 29.

Ironically, students have called for Denton’s replacement, Ahmad Daraldik, to be ousted as well after anti-Semitic Instagram posts surfaced immediately upon his appointment. The comments, which included “F--k Israel,” “Stupid Jews,” and compared the Israeli government to Nazi Germany’s genocide against the Jews, made international headlines including the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. A petition calling for his removal has received more than 10,400 signatures but, so far, Daraldik remains president. 

Conservative and religious students are increasingly coming under fire for their beliefs. Just this week, Townhall reported that Austin Tong, a student at Fordham University, was placed on disciplinary probation for the remainder of his college career and prohibited from setting foot on campus after he posted a picture of slain police officer David Dorn and expressed support for the Second Amendment. Tong is now suing Fordham. Perhaps Denton will do the same. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Why the CDC Is Stressing the Importance of Schools Reopening This Fall

COVID has created another new and intense debate: should schools reopen in the fall? If you watch CNN, you’d think to send kids back to school was akin to the death march to Bataan. It’s not. In fact, the socioeconomic impact of a whole generation of kids not learning for a year is probably more devastating than anything COVID could dish out. Accountability standards are spotty with this online learning protocol school boards are adopting. In some locations, like Nashville, around 30 percent of the 86,000-student body doesn’t have a home computer. In New York City, there are horror stories about how we really cannot gauge if students there learned…anything.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a pretty thorough post about why it’s key for kids to return to school. First and foremost, kids don’t appear to be heavily impacted by this virus. Transmission among kids is also low. And yes, that New York Times piece about schools being possible areas of spread from South Korea was flawed as hell. It’s par for the course, given another panic piece about churches being a mecca source for transmission. The CDC was quite clear about the risks for kids at school. It’s low. And the dangers for keeping them out of school (via CDC):

The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children.  Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.  To put this in perspective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.[5]  Although relatively rare, flu-related deaths in children occur every year. From 2004-2005 to 2018-2019, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 to 187 deaths.  During the H1N1pandemic (April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010), 358 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC. So far in this pandemic, deaths of children are less than in each of the last five flu seasons, with only 64.† Additionally, some children with certain underlying medical conditions, however, are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.*

Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low.  International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low.  Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed.  There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members. This is consistent with data from both virus and antibody testing, suggesting that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community. No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students, particularly in the context of appropriate mitigation measures similar to those implemented at essential workplaces.


Extended school closure is harmful to children.  It can lead to severe learning loss, and the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs. Following the wave of school closures in March 2020 due to COVID-19, academic learning slowed for most children and stopped for some.  A survey of 477 school districts by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education found that, “far too many schools are leaving learning to chance.” Just one in three school districts expected teachers to provide instruction, track student engagement, or monitor academic progress for all students, and wealthy school districts were twice as likely to have such expectations compared to low-income districts.

We also know that, for many students, long breaks from in-person education are harmful to student learning.  For example, the effects of summer breaks from in-person schooling on academic progress, known as “summer slide,” are also well-documented in the literature.  According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, in the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 39 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 50 percent of their school-year gains in math. This indicates that learning losses are large and become even more severe as a student progresses through school.  The prospect of losing several months of schooling, compared to the few weeks of summer vacation, due to school closure likely only makes the learning loss even more severe.

Disparities in educational outcomes caused by school closures are a particular concern for low-income and minority students and students with disabilities.  Many low-income families do not have the capacity to facilitate distance learning (e.g. limited or no computer access, limited or no internet access), and may have to rely on school-based services that support their child’s academic success.  A study by researchers at Brown and Harvard Universities assessed how 800,000 students used Zearn, an online math program, both before and after schools closed in March 2020.  Data showed that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about half, with the negative impact more pronounced in low-income zip codes. Persistent achievement gaps that already existed before COVID-19, such as disparities across income levels and races, can worsen and cause serious, hard-to-repair damage to children’s education outcomes. Finally, remote learning makes absorbing information more difficult for students with disabilities, developmental delays, or other cognitive disabilities.  In particular, students who are deaf, hard of hearing, have low vision, are blind, or have other learning disorders (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)) and other physical and mental disabilities have had significant difficulties with remote learning.

There’s also an increased risk to children regarding child predators. They sure don’t want these kids to go back to school. The data points to one thing: it’s safe for kids to go back to school with standard COVID precautions. The dangers of keeping them locked up for another year seems like the worse option by more than a few touchdowns.


UK: How to defend free speech on campus

It is truly a sad state of affairs when a government has to insist that universities that need bailouts to manage the economic impact of Covid-19 will first have to ‘demonstrate their commitment’ to freedom of speech.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said that his government’s decision to provide financial support for struggling English universities will depend on the universities’ willingness to uphold free speech.

What is happening here? Throughout modern history it was the university that sought to uphold free speech against encroachment by governments. Until relatively recently, the commitment to freedom in all its forms was far more robust on campuses than in any other part of society.

When I began my career as an academic in 1974, I had no doubt that we enjoyed a wide degree of freedom to express even the most controversial of views. We felt reassured that the freedom to argue and debate was seen as being integral to academic life.

That was then. Today, in relation to freedom of expression, the relationship between the university and the world outside has been reversed. Linguistic policing and the ethos of censorship are flourishing on campuses. Indeed, these trends are now far more deeply embedded in the academy than in the rest of society. An academic with controversial views is far more likely to get a fair hearing in a pub or at public gatherings than inside many senior common rooms.

Tragically, higher education in the UK has become estranged from the values of freedom. When I was a student, many of us devoted considerable effort to testing the prevailing intellectual boundaries and to widening the scope for freedom. Today, many student activists seem to devote far more energy to the goal of constraining free speech. And yet, despite this, many members of the academic community have managed to convince themselves that the ‘free-speech crisis’ on campus is a myth.

There have been numerous reports about the scourge of No Platforming and cancel culture in universities. But a far more insidious development has been the growing tendency among students and academics to censor themselves. The fear of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong words has encouraged far too many sensible people to keep their heads down. Time and again I receive emails from academics praising me for taking a stand on free speech but also saying that they are reluctant to voice their views because of the possible negative consequences.

It is unlikely that Gavin Williamson’s measure of attaching funding to freedom of speech will have the desired consequences. Illiberal sentiments are deeply embedded in contemporary campus culture. There are no quick-fix solutions for encouraging people to embrace the value of free speech.

Nevertheless, at least Williamson is sending out a signal that, in a democratic society, freedom of speech, a foundational value of democracy, ought to be taken seriously by academics. Perhaps more people on campuses will be prepared to open their mouths if they feel that their institutions are at least formally committed to free speech.

Governments cannot impose freedom on institutions that have little appetite for it. Nor should they attempt to do so, for official intervention in academic life could further undermine the integrity of university life. However, in principle, governments have the right to insist that institutions that expect public funding should have a responsibility to uphold values that are integral to democratic public life. No doubt academics will rightly resent being lectured by government, but this is a problem of their own making

In the end, the future of free speech on campus depends on the attitudes of those in the academic community. The question at stake is this: are they going to squander the precious legacy of freedom and tolerance fought for by previous generations, or are they going to take matters into their own hands and reaffirm the core values of academic life?


For Our Kids' Sake, Open the Schools

The Left's no-school stance is becoming less tenable and less family-friendly.

The first two sentences of Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed were a masterpiece of straightforward simplicity: “Schools should open in the fall. It’s critical for meeting the educational and social needs of children.”

It’d be hard to improve on those 17 words, and Gottlieb doesn’t. Instead, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration spends the rest of his column walking an epidemiological tightrope — a tightrope that’s suspended just six inches off the ground. We now know that, despite the well-known caveats, schools are the best place for most children, and probably the safest place, too. But beyond Gottlieb’s forceful “Schools should open” viewpoint, he seemed unwilling to take a side in this critical discussion.

Missing from Gottlieb’s piece is the latest news out of the United Kingdom about the risk to teachers of being infected by their students — a risk that at this point seems to be, well, nonexistent. As the Times of London reports, “There has been no recorded case of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil anywhere in the world, according to one of the government’s leading scientific advisers. Mark Woolhouse, a leading epidemiologist and member of the government’s Sage committee, told The Times that it may have been a mistake to close schools in March given the limited role children play in spreading the virus.”

Are there any other parents out there — parents who watched their kids struggle through week after week of sleep-inducing online coursework — who think, like Dr. Woolhouse, “that it may have been a mistake to close schools in March”?

James Freeman, also writing in The Wall Street Journal, poses an excellent question in his headline: “Do teachers have an excuse for missing class?” Freeman also cites the UK study, and then he adds, “Around the world, citizens have perhaps become more wary lately of the claims of epidemiologists. But at a minimum this report puts new pressure on lockdown advocates to produce evidence of alleged harms to justify school closures. This also creates a rather awkward moment for U.S. teachers unions and their media friends.”

Awkward, indeed, because the unions and their media enablers have been disingenuously prattling on about the safety of “the children,” when the science seems to say otherwise. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear this cabal wasn’t concerned about the kids at all; that it was instead sowing chaos and confusion within American families all across the nation in an effort to hurt Donald Trump and help Joe Biden. Call it the Left’s BIG Lie about getting back to school.

The president, meanwhile, has made his position perfectly clear. And he’s willing to put his family’s skin in the game.

Of course, the president is not alone here. In an NBC News interview last week, “five top pediatricians across the country” were unanimous on this point: “The benefits of being in the classroom far outweigh the risk of getting the disease.” And when asked directly about letting their own children go back to school, they responded: “I will. My kids are looking forward to it.” “Yes, period.” “Absolutely. As much as I can. Without a hesitation, yes.” “I have no concerns about sending my child to school in the fall.” “I would let my kids go back to school.”

As for the larger medical community, the American Academy of Pediatrics has seen enough of online learning to know what’s best for the kids. Recently, it issued this clinical guidance: “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”

With each passing day, the Left’s anti-science stance becomes less tenable and less family-friendly. Remember this on November 3.


Here's how we can lift the standards of school teachers

Matthew Bach

An increased respect for school teachers may be one of the few welcome effects of this pandemic.

During the period of online learning (unfortunately still ongoing for most in Victoria) teachers did brilliantly to adapt, delivering innovative lessons.

Meanwhile, parents had a taste of just how challenging their children could be at school. More than a few were relieved when classes reopened. There is no doupt most teachers are excellent dedicated, expert and genuinely interested in the students they teach.

As a teacher and school leader before entering the Victorian parliament, I know this first-hand. But, as in any profession, a small number of teachers is not up to the mark. Most of us know someone who fell into teaching because their preferred career option didn't work out, or who always struggled academically yet is in charge of a classroom full of young minds.

One history teacher I used to work with thought, like Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Armaliese van Diemen, that James Cook led the First Fleet. And while teaching religious studies I had to explain to a colleague that he was wrong to teach his students that Catholics weren't Christians. He wasn't trying to make some theological point; he just wasn't too bright.

It has been worrying to learn that one in 10 student teachers fails to meet the most basic standard in literacy and numeracy. The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students, which was introduced in 2016, in time will prove to be a useful tool to improve teacher quality. So will increased Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores for teaching courses -- not that either is a silver bullet.

When I first started secondary teaching I remember how struck I was by the almost complete autonomy I enjoyed: no appraisal, no key performance indicators, no meaningful oversight. I could teach whatever I liked, however I liked. As long as students and parents did not complain about me, I could do as I pleased.

This teacher autonomy is part of the culture of schools. But it has to change, as it has started to change — in a positive way — in the better private schools.

Far from the clutches of the powerful public education unions, some independent schools have started to introduce meaningful systems of staff appraisal. The best models include regular lesson observations by a school leader, with structured feedback; student surveys on teacher performance; targeted professional development guided by a mentor; and goal setting, with progress reviews.

This can be done, in my experience, in a collegial and supportive way. The many excellent teachers can be affirmed, encouraged and - enabled to be the best they can be. Underperformers can be supported to improve or perhaps weeded out.

This type of change, especially in state schools, will be difficult But we can't ignore the facts. The performance of Australian students in the critical areas of literacy, numeracy and science has been going backwards for years — at least since the Program for International Student Assessment first started publishing its reports in 2000. Teacher quality is not the only reason for this. From personal experience I know most teachers to be hardworking, quality educators. But if our goal is to provide every Australian kid with a great education, improving teacher quality must be a major part of the conversation.

From "The Australian" of 22.7.20

Monday, July 27, 2020

Sacrificing Children to Progressive Politics

How kids have become collateral damage in the quest to "fundamentally transform" America

California governor Gavin Newsom along with other states has ordered schools to be closed to in-person instruction this fall. Against the wishes of the majority of parents, millions of students will continue to be cooped up at home, trying to learn from “virtual” curricula with hit-and-miss instruction and support. An educational system mediocre in the best of times has now descended into a dystopian world redolent of the old Soviet Union: Teachers pretend to teach, while students pretend to learn.

Education, our most important social institution already long corrupted by ideological fads and deteriorating standards, is heading for complete collapse in order to serve the political and pecuniary interests of the progressive technocracy: Removing Donald Trump and the Republicans from power so that the Democrats can achieve their long-term goal of “fundamentally transforming” the United States. Children are just collateral damage.

Of course, these decisions to sequester the cohort least vulnerable to the virus are being sold as the result of “science” and a concern for “safety.” But across the world evidence from real science shows that kids in school pose little danger to themselves or others. Hence the American Academy of Pediatricians “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” As this spring’s experience in educational sequestration has shown, the AAP continues,

Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.

Moreover, we all know that multiplying the amount of time that children spend in front of screens worsens an already existing problem. Viewing electronic images for several hours a day has physiological as well as psychological effects, apart from the issue of content and the often-malign messages it sends. To a certain degree, experience filtered through electronic images is inhuman: it flattens our experience and shapes it according to the requirements of transmission and presentation. Worse, it necessarily omits what Lionel Trilling called the “buzz of implication,” the dense context of nonverbal cues and reactions that surround live communication. That’s why emojis were invented: to try and capture in an email that context that the words alone can’t communicate, and the absence of which alters tone and distorts the intended meaning.

This dense network of existential conditions for genuine human connection is very important for teaching. Just gathering a group of people in one room at an appointed time enhances learning. A community is established, with networks of connections between and among the students, and between the students and the teacher. Every minute students and teacher give and receive nonverbal signs of approval, affirmation, disappointment, boredom, excitement, and correction. These signs regulate the process of learning and give it an immediate impact. Very little of this visual dynamic can be captured from an electronic image and words alone. There’s no substitute for the intricate, complex reality of human connections in real time and space.

For children, these real experiences are a critical part of their character development and socialization. School is where we make friends or enemies, find our first boyfriends and girlfriends, have our first conflicts and fights, and first learn, successfully or not, how to adjust to a world that is more various, complicated, dangerous, and fulfilling than we ever imagined, not to mention indifferent to our egos and feelings. The worlds on a screen, whether video games, tweets, videos, or canned curricula cannot substitute for that world. Instead, they distort and dehumanize it.

Indeed, our earliest writings about education from ancient Greece focus on the need for personal, real-time interactions between teachers and students. Socrates is the exemplar of this style of pedagogy. Rather than just asking student questions, which is what most “educators” mean when they speak of “Socratic pedagogy,” Socrates’ method was more probing, even aggressive than the therapeutic pablum of most of today’s teachers. More important, experiencing Socrates’ powerful charisma and mind, so different from his shabby, ugly appearance, inspired his listeners with the love and pleasure of learning, and the habit of looking beyond the superficial to discover truth and value. No speaker today no matter how brilliant can completely duplicate that experience on a video. Again, there’s no substitute for human reality.

So why are so many governors and others so eager to deny children these critical experiences of actual human reality? Politics, of course. For four years the Dems have mounted a concerted effort to demonize Donald Trump and cripple his administration. It began in the last days of the Obama administration, when dubious rigged “investigations” were launched on flimsy grounds. The Mueller investigation was supposed to deliver the predicates for removal of the president, but it found no crime remotely close to being actionable.

Then came the “quid-pro-quo” confection of third-hand office gossip and preposterous standards of presidential conversations with fellow heads of state. Once that collapsed with the absurd articles of impeachment for nonexistent crimes, then came the pandemic and the predictably feeble attempts to blame Trump for early comments about the virus similar to those made by experts, and Democrat governors and Congressmen. And all the while the media were inventing and amplifying these lies and quarter-truths, shamelessly repeating them even when they were proven to be lies and distortions.

But the most important mechanism for damaging Trump during the pandemic is the authority of governors to impose the lockdowns, which brought to a near halt a booming economy that would have been the president’s most important achievement come November. So when the lockdowns began to ease and the economy to improve, the anti-Trump factions misused already dubious statistics about the number of new cases and deaths to shut down the economy again. Closing the schools is just a way to inflict even more pain on ordinary voters who have to deal with finding day-care so they can work, assuming they have any work. Thus the “any means necessary” Dems added the anxiety and baleful consequences of un- or underemployment to those of the virus the media have been hyping for six months now––a hysteria, by the way, also bad for kids.

What we are witnessing is the true nature of the progressives. For a hundred years they have yearned for autocratic powers so they can create their utopia of “social justice” and absolute “equality.” In fact, from the bloody streets of Portland to the diktats of governors, from the cancel-culture mobs baying for the jobs and reputations of dissenters to the bougie anarchist punks of Antifa and the calculating hustlers of Black Lives Matter––the reality and aims of progressivist Democrats are clear: power and its perks.

In short, tyranny: The tyranny that sparked the creation of the United States, the tyranny the Founders’ brilliant Constitutional order warded off by dispersing power so we the people could live in ordered liberty. It testifies to how passionately the progressives want to dismantle that order that they will callously sacrifice the well-being of our children to achieve their goal.


Michigan school fires popular teacher for factually saying "Trump is our president"

Varsity baseball coach and social studies teacher Justin Kucera said Walled Lake school district officials hauled him into a closed-door meeting after he indicated his support for President Trump’s speech to reopen schools. He told the Washington Free Beacon the Walled Lake Western principal and district superintendent gave him an ultimatum: be fired or resign.

“I was required to meet with [human resources], the superintendent, and my principal [on July 10]. They initially took my statement on why I tweeted those tweets and they told me they would have a decision about my future employment in the upcoming days.

When they completed the meeting, I was told I had the option to either be fired or resign.” Kucera said.

Neither the school district nor the principal responded to requests for comment.

Kucera said the statement that cost him his job was intended to unify, rather than divide.

“I know a lot of people are just rooting for Trump to fail, and I don’t think that anybody should do that,” Kucera said. “Agree with him or not, you should want the president to do well. I apologized that [my tweet] brought so much negative attention, but I’m not sorry for what I said.”

Kucera was a popular figure at the high school before the episode, according to parents and former teachers. Even his detractors lauded him on social media as they condemned the tweet. One student said she would need to find a new “favorite teacher” after seeing the missive. Multiple sources said that the teacher never brought politics into the classroom.

Bryant Hixson, a recent Walled Lake Western graduate, said his political views have no impact on how he views his coach and teacher.

“Prior to Mr. Kucera’s tweet, I cannot recall an instance where he shared his political affiliations while teaching or coaching,” Hixson said. “My political views have no impact on how I feel towards Mr. Kucera. Mr. Kucera has always been supportive of me as my AP World History and student leadership teacher and as my baseball and basketball coach.”

A parent of two Walled Lake Western boys told the Free Beacon—on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution—that Kucera was an apolitical figure who coached his son in baseball and basketball and taught his sons AP History and student leadership.

“Justin coached my son his entire high school career and also was his AP History teacher and student leadership teacher for two years. I know Justin very well,” the parent said. “If there’s one thing that I would commend Justin for is, he always tried to stay apolitical. He always tried to stay right down the middle, avoid [political] conversations, and let the students make their own call based on their own life experiences.” The father of two believes Kucera lost his job because administrators caved to a mob that had little to do with the school district.

Other Walled Lake teachers have expressed their political views without any repercussions. Paulette Loe, a now-retired Walled Lake Western teacher, encouraged students to read an article from the Atlantic about “how to beat Trump” while still employed. Nicole Estes, a kindergarten teacher in the district, called Trump a “sociopath” and a “narcissist” on Facebook in 2016 and is still employed at Keith Elementary School. Neither Loe nor Estes responded to requests for comment.

The teachers’ union representative that accompanied Kucera at the meeting did not respond to a request for comment.


We Should Fund Students Instead of School Systems

Don't force schools to reopen, but don't force families to pay for closed schools either

School closures have affected at least 55 million K-12 students in the U.S. since March. As we march closer to the fall, a debate about reopening brick-and-mortar schools is heating up. President Donald Trump and others are pressuring all schools to reopen in the fall. Teachers unions and other groups are saying that schools should stay closed unless we pour over 100 billion new federal dollars into the system. Both sides are missing the mark.

Those calling to reopen schools have legitimate concerns. Millions of American families have structured their employment and living situations around the school calendar. Keeping schools closed would create disproportionate economic hardships for single-parent households and two-parent households that rely on two incomes.

Some school districts, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, have offered families the choice to send their children to brick-and-mortar schools for 2 days a week or 0 days a week. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that most students will only attend in-person classes 2 or 3 days a week. But those kinds of options do little to help parents return to work full-time.

That’s not the only problem. New national data suggest that most government school districts failed to provide meaningful education remotely. A June 2020 report by the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that only 1 in the 3 school districts required teachers to deliver instruction during the lockdown. Recent data suggest students have already lost ground academically because of these kinds of systemic failures.

Between the complete closures of some schools and the poor performance of schools that have implemented distance learning, taxpayers are paying a lot of money for inadequate education for their children. Nor was the status quo before COVID-19 anything to celebrate. The U.S. has increased inflation-adjusted per-student spending by 280 percent since 1960, and we currently spend over $15,000 per child each year. Meanwhile, the Nation’s Report Card shows that only 15 percent of U.S. students are proficient in U.S. history and 2 out of every 3 students are not proficient in reading.

Reasonable people can argue about whether we are getting an acceptable return on investment. But why should anyone have to continue paying the same amount for schools that aren’t even open?

The American Federation of Teachers claims that government-run schools across the country need over $116 billion to reopen safely. That’s an enormous amount of money. It’s about twice the total amount the federal government allocated towards K-12 education in the most recent school year. It’s also close to the amount the U.S. dedicated to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. What’s more, the federal CARES act has already provided over $13 billion to assist in reopening schools. Only 1.5 percent of that money has actually been used by states. Where is all of the money going?

The debate thus far hasn’t taken the preferences of families—the customers who are actually paying for all this education—into consideration.

Many families are reporting that they want virtual learning for their children next year. A new national study found that 53 percent of Latino families are considering not enrolling their children in school this year. A June Gallup survey similarly found that 44 percent of families want full- or part-time distance learning this fall. And a recent USA Today poll found that 60 percent of parents are “likely” to pursue home-based education this fall.

Already, teachers unions have made it hard for parents to enroll their kids in quality distance learning programs. The teachers union in Oregon successfully lobbied to prevent families from enrolling in virtual charter schools. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators similarly lobbied to prevent families from accessing virtual charter school options in the spring. More recently, the California legislature just passed a bill that prevents education dollars from following students to virtual charter schools this school year. And it’s not like they’re demanding to do the teaching themselves. The Los Angeles teachers union struck a deal with their district that prevented teachers from being required to work more than 4 hours each day during the lockdown. None of these efforts make any sense unless the purpose is to protect a monopoly from competition.

Families obviously need more options right now. But, at the same time, top-down mandates to reopen all schools are not the optimal solution. Reopening requirements likely differ by region and individuals on the ground have the best information needed to make good decisions about their own communities. And if public schools can’t reopen, or aren’t equipped to provide adequate education online, families shouldn’t be forced to pay for them. Think of it this way: If a Walmart doesn’t reopen, families can take their food stamps elsewhere. If a school doesn’t reopen, families should similarly be able to take their education dollars elsewhere.

If the federal government is to provide any additional stimulus funding for K-12 education, a significant portion of that money should go directly to families, an idea just proposed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Families could use those dollars to offset the costs of home-based education or to cover private school tuition and fees. However, as Dr. Lindsey Burke has proposed, states could also implement this kind of student-centered solution without unnecessarily involving the federal government.

Putting power into the hands of families would give schools incentives to provide their children with a good education. In fact, a national survey by Common Sense Media found that students in private schools were over twice as likely as students in government schools to connect with their teacher each day during lockdown. This is probably because private school leaders know that they will lose their customers—and their funding—if they don’t meet their needs. Schools that provide shoddy remote learning, do not provide flexible scheduling arrangements, or do not sufficiently address student safety will lose students and their funding.

That’s how the education system should work. We should fund students instead of systems. The power should always be in the hands of families instead of bureaucrats. Proponents of educational freedom have always known this. But the powerlessness of families and their children caught up in pandemic politics makes it clearer now more than ever before.


Are American Universities Losing Their Lead in Scientific Research?

Like many Americans, I have been critical of American universities on many grounds: they are far too expensive and bureaucratic, teach too little, suppress free expression, etc. But I have also thought that university scientific research in America, while far from perfectly efficient, has been quite fruitful and productive. Indeed, America’s reputation for having many of the world’s best universities derives largely from its distinguished record in research, mainly in the sciences and engineering. That high reputation in research has contributed importantly to America’s economic prowess. It is no accident that Silicon Valley is built around great universities like Stanford and Cal Berkeley.

Indeed, an excellent case can be made that the 20th century was the American Century in higher education because of its extraordinary growth in cutting edge research. In the first three decades (to 1930), fewer than 10% of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences (thereby excluding the prizes for literature or peace) had a strong American association. By contrast, in the last three decades of that century, more than 60% of the winners of scientifically related Nobel Prizes had a strong American involvement (as graduate students or professors at American universities).

Yet after peaking at around 70% in the 1990s, that proportion has fallen some in the 21st century. Twenty nineteen is fairly typical: of the nine Nobel laureates in the STEM disciplines, five (56%) have American affiliations, with others coming from the U.K., Switzerland and Japan. While a surprising amount of basic research is carried on in non-academic settings (one recent Nobel Laureate worked most of his life at Bell Labs), universities are the home of most important discoveries, and they derive most of their funding from the federal government, although there is a good deal of unfunded research outside the sciences that the universities fund themselves, partially by awarding faculty relatively low teaching loads, sabbatical leaves, etc.

Yet there is a problem: after robust expansion in spending by such federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and others in the last half of the 20th century, funding growth has stagnated, sometimes even declining, in recent times. American exceptionalism has been built around discovery, exploration and entrepreneurship, a large element of which is scientific research. Yet, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, inflation-adjusted non-defense R&D spending by the federal government actually fell between fiscal years 2010 and 2019, during a period of one of the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history.

Until recently, we have even had to depend upon the Russians to get Americans to the International Space Station to conduct research. The nation of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, and great university researchers immigrating from other countries, scientists like Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and Albert Einstein, is starting to lose its science/technological primacy to other countries where university research spending is growing rapidly.

I talked to Lauren Brookmeyer, speaking for the Science Coalition, a group of about 50 major research universities, the other day. That organization is aggressively promoting the passage of something called the RISE (Research Investment to Spark the Economy) Act, providing about $26 billion to universities for research. The Science Coalition is promoting it as an anti-recessionary stimulus measure—creating science-related jobs.

I am a fiscal conservative who thinks the practice of dropping money out of airplanes (or the equivalent) to stimulate the economy is, generally speaking, a recipe for disaster, adding to the horrendous federal debt that ultimately is likely to severely hurt future generations. But I also think the economy needs to promote investment in our technological infrastructure to promote future prosperity, and to fight the loss of scientific primacy to the Chinese and other nations.

Moreover, Congress should let the scientific community and merit govern the distribution of additional research assistance, not the whim of politicians seeking to promote their own job security more than the national interest. Let scientists, working with agencies like NSF or NIH, distribute the monies.

There are some reforms in the process of distributing research funds, such as lowering and standardizing overhead allocations (reducing funding of university administrative bloat) that are desirable, but this is an area where federal funding directly promotes a core academic mission: the creation of knowledge.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Private religious schools more likely than public schools to reopen in fall

Private religious schools are the most likely schools to open in the fall, even as the majority of public schools are considering remaining closed or pushing off their start dates.

In the past week, many Catholic dioceses, which together run a massive network of schools across the country, announced that they intend to bring their students back for in-person classes. Although a majority of people oppose opening schools, private schools have a better shot at doing it safely, chiefly because of their smaller class sizes, according to Myra McGovern, spokeswoman for the National Association of Independent Schools.

But many religious schools planning to reopen in the fall have framed their determination as a decision that factored in not only their health concerns but also a persistent worry that social pressure will prod governments to require their closure. Many churches became embroiled in coronavirus-related religious liberty litigation this spring after governments rolled out far-reaching shutdown plans.

In Minnesota, where in May a coalition of Catholic bishops and Lutheran faith leaders defied Gov. Tim Walz’s shutdown of in-person church services, Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced this week that Catholic schools will open in the fall. Similarly, Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, said in a statement to parents that, unless the state offers a compelling reason to remain closed, schools will move forward with in-person learning.

“What we would like to assure you, is that our schools are planning to re-open in the fall in our traditional face-to-face mode, unless legitimate authorities do not allow it,” he wrote.

Catholic schools across the country have released their plans for the fall, with many emphasizing the psychological benefits of in-person learning. Like most dioceses planning to go back in the fall, the Massachusetts Diocese of Fall River is allowing parents to opt their children out of in-person learning, but the diocese hopes children will return.

“We worry, quite frankly, about the mental health impacts,” said Steve Perla, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Fall River, near Boston, in a letter to parents last week.

“These kids have been isolated,” he added. “We know they want to see their friends and get back to see their teachers. We think it’s important for their social and mental health that they have an opportunity to go back to school.”

Other private religious schools are using the uncertainty about the fall as a way to recruit parents who otherwise would send their children to public schools. The Diocese of New Hampshire announced in early July that it will offer tuition breaks to people who transfer their children into their schools before Aug. 31.

The diocese is making its pitch as a source of relief to parents overwhelmed by the prospect of potentially homeschooling their children for another semester.

“We want as many young people as possible to join our wonderful communities,” Alison Mueller, the diocese’s director of marketing, told the Union Leader. “We’ll see them in class, in person, this fall.”

Other faith-based groups, as well as non-religious private schools, this month have made similar announcements.

But even as many private schools gear up for a fall semester, public schools reopening is an open question nationally. The Trump administration has pushed hard for all schools to reopen, threatening to withhold federal funding from those who do not comply. President Trump weighed in on the issue as well.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump tweeted. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall. If not open, why would the Federal Government give Funding? It won’t!!!”

At the same time, many leaders in large public school districts, often underfunded or disorganized, have voiced concerns that resuming classes abruptly would be a health disaster. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said that the Senate is working to secure more funding for schools to go back in the fall.

“I think all the evidence indicates that distance learning for kids is not as good, they’ve already lost part of the last semester, we need to find a way to safely get back to work,” the Kentucky Republican said.


Misusing Editorial Power to Censor Unpopular Research

Academic freedom is under assault by people who want to control research and speech. One of their strategies exploits the gatekeeping functions of journal editors to censor unpopular ideas.

The leading open-access journal in the field of intelligence research, the Journal of Intelligence, has a policy listed on its website since 2018 that states, “The journal will not publish articles that may lead to or enhance political controversies and the editors will judge whether that is the case.” In other words, the journal’s editors will reject manuscripts that could be politically controversial—regardless of the quality of the science.

On May 15, 2020, two colleagues of mine received a desk rejection from the journal stating:

It is an estimate from my part that your article may lead to or enhance political controversies. I believe that the motivation as described in the introduction of your manuscript and the mixed language (performance, skills, cognitive ability, cognitive competency, IQ) used to refer to the findings may lead to interpretations and conclusions which are politically controversial. This is neither an evaluation of the quality of your work (which would require a scientific review process), nor am I saying that your results should not be communicated in some way. However, in my estimation, the manuscript as submitted does not fit with policy of the journal.

The manuscript reported average cognitive test scores among different ethnic groups in a sample of 83,155 British adults. The authors (Bryan Pesta and John Fuerst) obtained data from six nationally representative samples of native-born British and immigrant examinees to estimate the magnitude of the differences in test performance.

Regardless of what one thinks of this research topic, to summarily reject the manuscript because it might cause controversy is censorious, subjective, and an obstruction to the pursuit of knowledge.

Desk rejections are certainly within the purview of a journal editor’s duties, especially when manuscripts do not meet minimum standards of scholarly quality for the journal (e.g., small sample sizes, invalid measurements). Additionally, some non-scientific considerations (such as page limits, publication budgets, and legitimate limits on a journal’s scope) can influence publication decisions. Those parameters foster scholarly communication by ensuring quality and a match between the journal’s articles and its readers’ interests.

However, when a decision is based on non-scientific considerations that do not foster open scholarly communication, this is censorship.

The editor who rejected Pesta and Fuerst’s manuscript explicitly stated that the rejection came from the decision to avoid political controversy. The censorious nature of this policy and decision is obvious: By prioritizing political tranquility over scientific truth, the editors robbed the scientific community of the opportunity to evaluate the data for themselves and arrive at their own conclusions

Perhaps the editor felt he was doing the scientific community and perhaps the community at large a service by protecting it from this potentially harmful scholarship. But this could also be viewed as a paternalistic abuse of power that lets the editor decide what information other people can handle.

It is acceptable for an editor to desk-reject manuscripts that lack sufficient detail for a study to be replicated, or if the statistical results are mathematically impossible. In these cases, there is no harm to scholarly communication because standards can be applied uniformly and without regard to the manuscript authors’ conclusions.

However, when quality standards are adjusted so that controversial, unorthodox, or disfavored conclusions are held to a higher level of scrutiny than favored ideas, then this becomes a backdoor censorship procedure.

This method of censorship may be tempting to editors because it has the appearance of scientific rigor—and can be easily disguised as such. But having unrealistically high standards of quality for controversial work can produce the same outcome as an outright ban.

Differing standards of quality result in a distorted body of literature where socially favored findings are published more often and in more prestigious journals while controversial or disfavored results are marginalized to low-level journals and non-peer-reviewed outlets, such as blogs and pre-print servers. That biases the literature (and thus perceived empirical truth) to appear more politically palatable than is warranted by actual reality. Moreover, it is possible that a systematically biased science might also create political conflict, making such censorship attempts self-defeating.

Beyond the censorious nature of the policies that prioritize non-scientific considerations when evaluating scholarly manuscripts, such policies are wholly subjective.

What are the standards for whether a manuscript “may lead to or enhance political controversies?” How will the editors—who are human and cannot know the future—make such a determination? Which topics are sufficiently controversial and what is the minimum standard for the level of controversy that warrants censorship? At what point does avoiding controversy become enforcing groupthink?

The desire to avoid controversy is not a valid motive for editors to reject a manuscript—at least not for a scholarly journal that seeks to promote the truth.

Indeed, the Journal of Intelligence’s archives show that the policy has not been applied consistently. A study about score gaps on achievement tests (frequent proxies for intelligence tests) among demographic groups in Brazil was published in February 2019. A study published three months later showed sex differences on various tests and a variability difference favoring males; similar results in other studies have led to controversy at other journals. Another article reported higher test anxiety among Hispanics than whites and examined how test anxiety can have differential effects on these two groups.

It is not clear why those articles were deemed non-controversial and worthy of publication while Pesta and Fuerst’s manuscript was too controversial for peer review—let alone publication.

Finally, a policy that seeks to avoid controversy before publicizing the truth is problematic because it privileges the status quo. If editors avoid publishing about political controversies, it makes a journal complicit in perpetuating poor policies or even an undemocratic dictatorship. Politically inconvenient findings that could function as a catalyst for change and a better society would be suppressed because of the aim to “avoid political controversy.”

Applying the Journal of Intelligence’s policy to a totalitarian country shows the problem clearly. This is not merely a theoretical exercise. The Journal of Intelligence is owned by the publisher MDPI. While the company’s headquarters are in Basel, Switzerland, the publisher has four offices in three Chinese cities. It is legitimate to wonder whether the communist regime in China can pressure MDPI in order to censor dissent under the guise of avoiding controversy.

The desire to avoid controversy is not a valid motive for editors to reject a manuscript—at least not for a scholarly journal that seeks to promote the truth. While there are legitimate non-scientific reasons to reject manuscripts, editors should apply these standards uniformly and ensure that such considerations foster scholarly communication.

But I fear that editors who wish to control the dialogue in their fields will take the wrong lesson from this example. This controversy erupted because the staff at the Journal of Intelligence was forthright about why Fuerst and Pesta’s manuscript was rejected. If the editors had instead claimed that the manuscript was rejected because of a lack of methodological quality, then no one would have ever known about their censorious behavior.

Hopefully, the editors will not decide that the controversy occurred because they “said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet.” If my analysis moves the censorship underground, then scholarly inquiry will be damaged and distorted further.

I call on the editors at the Journal of Intelligence—and all scholarly journals—to disregard any potential for controversy when evaluating work submitted to their journals. Controversy is often the price for scholarly knowledge.

Moreover, controversial topics may be the ones most in need of scholarly examination so that controversies can be put to rest, and societies can progress and develop empirically based policies. As Tong and von Hippel (2020) stated, “…The history of discovery is also the history of the world becoming safer, healthier, and richer…There is no reason to believe that we are at a unique discontinuity in human history, whereby future discoveries will have more cost than benefit.”

While the desire to avoid controversy is understandable, it is a goal that can hinder discovery and withhold or delay the benefits of scientific knowledge from those very societies that editors believe they are trying to help.


The Future of the Humanities Is Not one of Decline

Rumors of the humanities’ decline have been greatly exaggerated, a new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences says.

While the popularity of specific majors has changed, overall, the humanities as a whole are still attracting a strong number of students. Most importantly, the study didn’t find any evidence for a decline in the number of tenure-track positions or a replacement of full-time faculty with adjunct faculty.

The number of faculty per department varied from about four in folklore studies to 23 in English departments, but a full 77 percent of humanities faculty were employed full-time, and 62 percent of all humanities faculty were tenure-track.

The humanities have many problems, but a mass student exodus or the “adjunctification of the humanities” are not existential threats.

In general, the number of tenure-track positions was flat during the 2017-2018 period surveyed by the report, with linguistics departments reporting slight increases in tenure-track faculty and combined linguistics and literature departments seeing a slight decrease. Communications and non-English languages and literature had the fewest tenure-track faculty in their departments.

According to Steven Mintz of Inside Higher Ed, about half of humanities faculty were women, though the numbers varied among disciplines. According to the study, almost 90 percent of women and gender studies faculty were women, while less than 30 percent of philosophy faculty were.

Inside Higher Ed also reported that the number of humanities degrees has fallen, although students taking humanities classes held steady at 6 million. The top departments were history, English, and anthropology, with about 1,000 undergraduates annually. The bottom departments were musicology, race and ethnic studies, classical studies, folklore, art history, history of science, women and gender studies, and American studies, with 400-500 students in their classes over the course of the academic year. Frustratingly, the AAAS declined to publish the numbers they were using to compare enrollment and degrees.

Writing in The Atlantic, Benjamin Schmidt argued that the humanities were declining because students prefer to study subjects that they think will lead to better job prospects.

Similarly, Mintz also noted that humanities departments were mostly experiencing growth in non-traditional disciplines like communications, linguistics, and other majors instead of traditional ones such as history, English, or philosophy. In some ways, the growing disciplines are more “vocational” than “scholarly,” reflecting Schmidt’s idea. Students aren’t uninterested in the humanities, but they are more aware of the cost of college and want a degree that gives them a start on a good career.

Jason Brennan, a philosophy and business professor at Georgetown University and co-author of Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education, said that there were two possibilities for why people believe the humanities are in trouble.

“You work at a university and see that a lot of classes are now taught by adjuncts, and it’s true that the job market is bad,” Brennan said in a Martin Center interview. “The more cynical version is that newspapers like Inside Higher Education and The Chronicle of Higher Education have an advocacy mission.”

Brennan said that it’s true that more classes are now being taught by adjuncts, but emphasized that those classes are usually ones that full-time faculty don’t want to teach, such as composition classes or extension classes for the general public. He said that one possibility for the seeming proliferation of adjuncts is that there are far more humanities PhD students and doctoral programs than in other disciplines, leading to a glut of young people with doctorates competing for entry-level academic jobs. He said that schools were expanding doctoral programs as a way to get more funding, making the school more expensive and prestigious.

There is some evidence for that. The AAAS study found that there were at least 124,000 graduate students in the fall of 2017. About 73 percent of departments offered research funding, and many subjects saw statistically significant increases in the number of departments supporting researchers—however, far fewer departments offered research funding to part-time, non-tenure-track faculty. While information regarding the numbers of doctoral programs was hard to come by, American universities are still churning out more PhDs than the market can absorb, according to Brookings.

Brennan added that for-profit universities also like to employ adjuncts over other forms of faculty. While non-humanities graduate students might earn their PhD and go into the private sector or other ventures, humanities graduates teed to stick around academia. Thus, their voices may be amplified when universities have a shortage of good, long-term job positions.

Brennan added that the reason the humanities job market seems bad is partially because academic jobs are advertised differently, and partially because humanities departments produce more PhDs than they do jobs.

The demographics of college students have changed over the years, Brennan noted. He said that in the 1960s, students tended to come from wealthier and better-connected backgrounds, so they could study things for fun without compromising their job prospects.

“Universities have been doing the same thing since 1066,” Brennan said.

The world has changed since then. The glut of humanities graduates struggling for jobs make each year seem like a disaster during hiring season. Students taking a few humanities courses, or majoring in the field with an eye toward a non-academic job, are less disturbed. The future of humanities higher ed isn’t a field of adjuncts, but the job market of 50 years ago isn’t the job market today. So far, schools haven’t adjusted.


‘Pandemic Pods’ Are Fundamentally Reshaping K-12 Education

The practice of organizing “pandemic pods,” in which parents team up with other families in their neighborhoods or social circles to hire teachers for their children, is getting more and more popular by the minute.

With many school districts around the country planning not to reopen classrooms this fall—or, at best, planning to offer some combination of virtual and in-class instruction—families are clamoring to secure education consistency for their children as the school year quickly approaches.

So what, exactly, do these pods look like?

Families work together to recruit teachers that they pay out-of-pocket to teach small groups—“pods”—of children. It’s a way for clusters of students to receive professional instruction for several hours each day.

Some parents are using their pod arrangements to hire teachers who will supplement the online classes being provided by their school districts.

As Laura Meckler and Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post observe, pandemic pods are “a 2020 version of the one-room schoolhouse, privately funded.”

In the case of one northern Virginia family that Meckler and Natanson profiled, the parents pay around $500 per month to get in on an arrangement with other families in their neighborhood to share a teacher they are hiring for their pod of children.

As one mother named J Li wrote in a viral Facebook post last week, thousands of parents are “scrambling” to form pods through “an absolute explosion of Facebook groups, matchups, spreadsheets, etc.”

J Li describes the pod phenomenon as “clusters of three to six families with similar aged (and sometimes same-school) children co-quarantined with each other, who hire one tutor for in-person support for their kids.” The tutor may serve as a full-time teacher for the pod of students, or may only teach on a part-time basis or outdoor classes.

“Suddenly teachers who are able to co-quarantine with a pod are in incredible demand,” J Li said.

One pod tutor interview by Meckler and Natanson, Christy Kian from Broward County, Florida, formerly a private-school teacher, said she will earn more this year teaching two families (with four total children) than she did in her prior teaching position.

She said as soon as she had set up the arrangement with those two families, she was immediately contacted by five others.

As noted by J Li:

This is maybe the fastest and most intense, purely grassroots [sic], economic hard pivot I’ve seen, including the rise of the masking industry a few months ago. Startups have nothing compared to thousands of moms on Facebook trying to arrange for their kids’ education in a crisis with zero school-district support.

I swear that in a decade they are going to study this… trends that would typically take months or years to form are developing on the literal scale of hours.

The pods approach is analogous to microschooling, which only recently, through providers like Prenda, had started to take root. Similar to homeschooling co-ops, microschools allow small groups of students to work together in flexible learning environments alongside older and younger students, sharing resources and teachers.

The pandemic pod is catapulting microschooling to the forefront of education provision during quarantine. As Meckler and Natanson write:

Alexandra Marshak, who lives in Manhattan with her husband and two young sons, is exploring a learning pod with three other families. The original idea was that parents would take turns teaching, rotating hosting duties. But then one parent suggested they rent a studio apartment for the venture. They are also now considering hiring a professional to do the teaching. Marshak, who is out of work, said she’s concerned about spiraling costs. But at this point, she said, ‘Everything is on the table.’

Podding is also similar to the “cottage school” concept. As the hosts of explain,

Our cottage school is made up of four families with 16 kids between us all! We meet once a week for about 24 weeks of the school year to learn together.

One aspect that makes a cottage school different from other homeschool co-ops is its size. It’s purposefully small—cottage-like! It allows us to have encouragement and support from each other as we teach our kids.

Paradoxically, the teachers unions may be enabling this free-market, parent-driven reform of K-12 education to unfold.

The Los Angeles teachers unions, for example, released a list of demands last week that they want to see fulfilled before blessing the school reopening of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country. Those demands included everything from raising taxes and “Medicare for All” to eliminating charter schools and defunding the police.

While union policy demands are leading district schools to remain closed, podding is reinforcing the old adage that the market finds a way.

Understandably, equity and access concerns have arisen as quickly as podding itself.

For parents who cannot afford to pay out of pocket to contribute to a neighborhood pod, providing resources through education savings accounts will be a crucial support moving forward.

Several states across the country have provided, or are considering providing, emergency education savings accounts to families, allowing them to take a portion of their child’s public education funds to private tutoring or online options of choice. Freeing up those dollars is the policy reform needed to make access to pods, microschools, and cottage classes in reach for all families. 

It’s time for policy to catch up with families.