Friday, August 28, 2020

Ohio State University suspends 228 students for violating pandemic precautions even before classes begin

Even before classes began Tuesday, The Ohio State University temporarily suspended 228 students who officials said broke guidelines around social gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspension comes as K-12 schools, colleges and universities across the country contend with how to start and safely continue the academic year during a worldwide pandemic.

Ohio State, located in Columbus, is one of the largest in the country, with nearly 70,000 students.

Students moved back to campus starting August 12. At the time, the university sent out a note telling students they must wear a mask, practice social distancing, and that gatherings could not include more than 10 people.

In the note, Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers warned the university's student conduct team was in the process of opening dozens of cases that would likely result in interim suspensions.

Shivers also made clear that student organizations involved in unsafe gatherings could lose their university recognition and funding.

"Perhaps knowing about the action we are taking will influence your decisions and prompt you to encourage others to take this situation seriously" Shivers wrote in her Friday letter. "And remember that this is all about more than the individual. We have one shot at this -- responding to what so many of you asked for: an on campus semester at Ohio State."

The Office of Student Life is monitoring off-campus neighborhoods and is reporting students who might have broken rules, school spokesman Benjamin Johnson told CNN.


Whither Race-Neutrality in California?

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 209 by an impressive 56-to-44 percent majority. Prop 209 amended the state’s constitution to prohibit the granting of preferences based on race or gender. It inaugurated a series of campaigns, led by businessman and University of California Regent Ward Connerly, that by 2006 had established similar prohibitions in 10 states.

A few weeks ago, in a move perfectly in sync with the racial politics of 2020, the California legislature put a referendum on the November ballot that invites voters to repeal Prop 209. The new Proposition 16 would allow the state government, and state officials, to take racial and gender “diversity” into account in their decisionmaking. In other words, it would allow officials in state government and state universities to freely discriminate on the basis of race or gender.

Listen closely, and you will hear that race-conscious preferences to achieve “equal” racial representation is the principal substantive idea that advocates for change are advancing to combat America’s fundamentally “racist” nature. Increasingly, there is no pretense that this is about eliminating discrimination.

On the contrary, it is about institutionalizing discrimination to achieve racial proportionality.

The spirit is well-captured by a recent, full-page headline in the New York Times’ Arts & Leisure section that read, “Fix Classical Music. Now.” Inside, the Times’ classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini called for abolishing blind auditions—a reform that was instituted by most top orchestras in the 1970s and 1980s to overcome a history of discrimination against women. Tommasini conceded that blind auditions might have been useful in increasing the number of women in orchestras, but now, they have become an impediment to achieving racial diversity. This sort of logic can only end in the assignment of orchestral seats on the basis of race.

This is the same thinking driving Proposition 16—just substitute “Berkeley and UCLA” for “top orchestras.” The proponents of Prop 16 believe merit-based admissions amount to some sort of institutionalized racism because, at California’s most elite public schools, they produce too many Asian Americans and not enough Blacks and Latinos.

This year’s first big assault came in April, when the University of California’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to eliminate the SAT and ACT as factors in admissions decisions. UC’s Academic Senate—the voice of the UC faculty—had, a month before, issued a unanimous report urging that the SAT and ACT be retained. But to the Regents, standardized testing had become the academic equivalent of a blind audition—an outdated obeisance to the idea of “merit” in a world where full racial representation is the dominating goal.

To those of us who study affirmative action objectively, rather than ideologically, the pervasive obsession with diversity is only half of why the unfolding story in California is so depressing. The other half is the determination of university officials, legislators, and journalists to ignore the basic facts underlying racial preferences and race neutrality in the UC system. To see this, we need to briefly revisit what brought about Prop 209 and what happened when it passed.

In the mid-1990s, when the UC Regents were considering SP-1, a forerunner to Prop 209 that would eliminate race and gender as admissions factors, the university had been using preferences on an increasing scale—particularly at its most elite campuses—for over 20 years.

The practice was steeped in cynicism; administrators at my own law school were well aware that students granted the largest preferences were likely to have mediocre grades and fail the bar exam, but keeping the racial composition of the class “in sync” with the racial composition of the applicant pool was thought essential to keep the peace.

At the undergraduate campuses of Berkeley and UCLA, preferences for Blacks and Latinos were equivalent to two hundred points on the 1600-point SAT and half-a-point on a 4-point GPA scale. Administrators ignored the reality that these preferences placed minority students at a huge academic disadvantage. The results were scandalous. Blacks at UCLA and Berkeley had four-year graduation rate averaging only 15 percent; fewer than half of these students ever received a UC degree. Black and Latino GPAs lay mostly in the bottom fifth of their classes. And although hundreds of these minority students wanted a degree in STEM fields, they had only a one in three chance of obtaining one, compared to a 70 percent chance for Asian Americans and a 65 percent chance for whites.

Moreover, UC was doing nothing to “grow” the pool of high school students qualified for UC admissions. The number of black students applying to UC was 2,159 in 1989, and 2,149 eight years later, the last year of racial preferences.

The passage and implementation of SP-1 and Prop 209, which both took effect in fall 1998, had almost miraculous effects upon this picture. There was an immediate jump in the rate at which highly qualified African American and Latino students admitted to the UCs—particularly at Berkeley and UCLA—accepted offers of admission. The obvious implication, consistent with careful research, is that minority students were very attracted by the idea of attending a school where there would be no taint of preferences on their presence and, eventually, on their degrees.

UC administrators could not bring themselves to admit—much less promote—the remarkable successes of a policy they had publicly opposed.

Meanwhile, the university itself made a fundamental change in its approach to diversity. Since it could no longer merely use preferences of whatever size was needed to create the desired racial mix in the freshman class, UC began to develop outreach programs to build stronger applicant pools in low- and moderate-income communities. In other words, UC began to practice true “affirmative action” as it was originally conceived in the early 1960s. UC campuses built learning partnerships with poor-performing schools. Students were helped to understand in 9th grade the set of courses they would need to take to qualify for UC admission. The state invested more in high schools, and high school dropout rates for Blacks and Latinos fell nearly in half.

The UC system continued to use preferences, but these preferences were based on socioeconomic status, not race, and they were much smaller than the old racial preferences, thereby usually avoiding the mismatch problem.

The results were stunning. Black applications within California to UC, which as noted earlier stagnated from 2,191 in 1989 to 2,141 in 1997, rose to 3,108 in 2003, 4,153 in 2008, and 5,728 in 2012. Latino applications rose even faster—by a factor of five over the 15 years after Prop 209.

Four-year graduation rates for both groups more than doubled, GPAs rose, and successful persistence in science fields rose as well. The number of Blacks receiving UC bachelor degrees rose by over 60 percent from pre-209 cohorts to those admitted 10 years later, with STEM degrees by Blacks nearly doubling. Latino bachelor degrees rose nearly 100 percent, with STEM degrees up by over 125 percent.

These were the changes for the groups that, according to the opponents of Prop 209, would be decimated by Prop 209. For whites and Asian Americans, the improvements were much less dramatic, though improvements there were. For them, the biggest and best change was to be free of invidious discrimination.

There was only one problem in this picture: UC administrators could not bring themselves to admit—much less promote—the remarkable successes of a policy they had publicly opposed. Therefore, they could not push back against protesters who demonstrated against the declines in black enrollment at Berkeley and UCLA. Instead, they aligned themselves with the protest, instituted procedures that quietly (and illegally) reinstated preferences, and, this year, have supported the abolition of the SAT requirement and the repeal of Prop 209.

We are thus faced with a fall election that will test, more severely than ever, whether the common sense of voters, and their fundamental aversion to racial discrimination, will beat back the collective efforts of California elites to make a mindless “diversity” mantra drown out the clear story told by the facts.


The Dark Side of Distance Learning

Parents across America being forced to deal with the technological and administrative burdens of “distance learning” face severe consequences, even potential criminal charges, if they fail to meet these challenges.

One might think that actually getting a student to sit in front of a laptop for hours on end would be a victory in and of itself. Now, however, parents have the added stress of making sure nothing that might be seen on camera behind and around the child shows anything that could be considered politically incorrect, or that might trigger a report to the “authorities.” Failure to do so could result in a visit from the police. This is exactly what happened to the mother of a fifth-grade boy in Baltimore.

The student was a Boy Scout and his mother a Navy veteran. They made what turned out to be a serious mistake during a distance learning session, when they failed to realize that hanging on a wall behind where the boy sat for his video learning session were two BB guns, including a fabled “Red Ryder” model. This oversight was sufficient to trigger fear in the fifth-grade teacher on the other end of the video session, who quickly reported the “disturbing” images to her school principal. Up the chain of command the report went, from the teacher, to the principal, and to the police who were summoned to search the house for “weapons.”

Even more disturbing than the fact that a teacher apparently became traumatized at the sight of a BB gun on a bedroom wall, was the fact that, according to media accounts, the initial call came from “a concerned parent.”

The Baltimore incident typifies the “zero tolerance” policies that schools across the country have for years followed. These policies allow no room for reason or common sense, and which in this era of “distance learning” are being abused in deeply disturbing ways.

According to news reports of the Baltimore incident, the mother of the fifth grader herself posed a number of important questions to the school and to the police, none of which were answered as they should have been were we living in a society protective of individual privacy, rather than one that most highly values the power of government entities (in this case, public schools).

The boy’s mother asked the right questions -- who exactly is able to access the videos of her child as he complies with mandates that he sit in front of a computer video camera to “distance learn?” What happens to the video images and screen shots of the children? Why did the school officials call the police rather than simply phone the parent to obtain the facts and voice their concern?

The only reply from the school officials was that they followed their precious “policies,” including their view that the rule prohibiting students from bringing weapons to school applies equally to “distance learning.” In other words, if a rule prohibits bringing a gun to school, it also prohibits “bringing” it to a “virtual classroom” (also known as a “bedroom” if that is where the student’s laptop is set up). Despite the profoundly idiotic nature of such a policy interpretation, the teacher and principal at this Baltimore public school apparently believe the nonsense they were uttering.

As disturbing as is the privacy-invasive nature of this incident, and the implications for students and families wherever “distance learning” mandates are in place, it gets worse.

In Boston, for example (and almost certainly other cities), parents are being reported to the Department of Children and Families for alleged “child neglect” if students are not logging in to their “virtual” lessons for the requisite time. Despite there being any number of legitimate reasons why a student might not be properly logged in -- such as the parents not being fully cognizant of online learning protocols, or their having to rely on an older sibling to ensure the youngster remains on-line -- failure can result in visits from the authorities, and even criminal charges.

As with the Baltimore mother, parents in cities like Boston face the worsening nightmare of navigating the techno world of “distance learning” being administered by callous and unthinking bureaucrats with the power to have you thrown in jail at their whim.


Mass: Even in union-free charter schools, leaders are embracing a virtual start to the school year

As teachers unions statewide continue their push to keep classrooms closed this fall, another sector of public education, largely free of unionized teachers, has also jumped onto the remote learning wave: charter schools.

All 15 of Boston’s independently run charter schools have decided with little public fanfare to start classes in cyberspace — a broad consensus that suggests the reluctance to reopen classrooms this fall goes well beyond teachers union agendas. Only City on a Hill Charter School in Roxbury has unionized teachers.

Some charter leaders who initially were hoping to kick off school with a mix of in-person and remote learning said they have noticed increasing hesitation about reopening classrooms in their surveys and virtual town hall meetings.

Much of the unease, they said, was due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in some neighborhoods, apprehension about older students riding the MBTA, and uncertainty about how COVID-19 affects children.

“I think at the end of the day, the safety of our students, families, and staff has to come first,” said Kate Scott, executive director of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. “I know the numbers in Massachusetts are not the same as in Arizona and Florida, but some hyperlocal issues remain and things will probably get worse when college students come back.”

Scott added there were no good options for reopening school this fall — education can’t exist the way it did before March as long as the pandemic is around — but she added schools have a great opportunity to reinvent education, and the best first step is to create a robust virtual schooling experience for students and teachers.

Several Boston charter schools are planning to implement what they call “remote-plus,” in which they intend to reopen some classrooms to serve high-needs students. All are planning to give students learning remotely assignments they can do offline, such as hands-on projects or community service.

The charters are also stressing the need to provide students time for healing. A few, like Neighborhood House, are working to bring students back for outdoor activities — masks on and socially distant — so they can build stronger relationships with their new classmates and teachers and have a safe place to talk through issues.

Conservatory Lab Charter School in Dorchester is planning a two-week in-person orientation, before switching over to remote learning, so students can pick up musical instruments, learn the technology platforms they will be using, and create bonds with one another.

Some charter schools also needed time before opening classrooms to figure out transportation. Typically, the Boston Public Schools provide buses, but with physical distancing, it’s unclear if the district will have enough buses or when they might be available.

Going remote was a difficult decision for charter leaders, who are keenly aware of the harm prolonged school closures could cause their students, academically and emotionally. Boston charters overwhelmingly enroll students who are Black or Latino, many of whom live in poverty, and the pandemic is threatening to widen achievement gaps between them and their Asian and white peers.

But concern over safety in the age of the coronavirus also runs high in many of their students’ neighborhoods and communities. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color, and many charter students live in neighborhoods with high rates of residents testing positive for the virus, such as East Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

Meanwhile, many students are still grappling with the fallout from the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, while they also feel growing urgency to combat racism — making in-person schooling an ideal place to tackle both as a community.

Arianna Constant-Patton, an incoming senior at Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester, embodies many of the conflicting feelings students have about returning to classrooms amid the twin pandemics of coronavirus and racism.

“I feel like I’m treading water in the middle of a river and I can’t see the waterfall in front of me,” she said. “It’s not good.”

She said she is frustrated that classrooms won’t be reopening. She’s nervous about navigating the final stages of applying for college from home — a process already disrupted by the cancellation of SATs and campus tours — and how online schooling will affect the quality of her classes, her grades, and her patience, given they will have a full day of Zoom classes.

Yet the idea of returning to classrooms makes her uncomfortable, because she lives with her grandmother and doesn’t want to contract COVID-19 and transmit it to her. She also questions whether she could tolerate wearing a mask all day in school and how it would impede class discussions, especially when everyone is 6 feet apart.

Knowing the high stakes for their students, charter schools finalized their reopening plans earlier this month and at the end of July so they could refocus their energies on getting instruction humming by opening day.

Charters also are using this time to prepare for the eventual return of students to classrooms part time, hopefully sometime this fall, an effort that requires safety modifications to facilities, more adjustments to teaching, and potentially securing alternative transportation.

“We want to make sure teachers have the time to develop the lessons they are going to deliver in a virtual world that will be inspiring to kids,” said Shanna Varón, executive director at Boston Collegiate, stressing she doesn’t want students sitting in front of computers all day.

Some city councilors, like Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, had urged the Boston Public Schools to wrap up their reopening plans early so they could focus on implementation.

But instead Mayor Martin J. Walsh and school officials, who want to reopen classrooms, spent much of August engaged in a public battle with the Boston Teachers Union, which pushed for a remote start.

On Friday, city leaders announced at a City Hall press conference that schools would begin remotely.

Across the city on Friday, the independently run Boston Preparatory Charter School in Hyde Park was immersed in preparing for the new year. Staff were programming student laptops, teachers were inventorying science equipment, and construction workers were tearing down walls to create “supersize” classrooms for social distancing.

“What we are continuing to work on with our community is increasing the comfort to open in a hybrid manner,” said Sharon Liszanckie, the school’s executive director.

Liszanckie said she hopes to bring students back to classrooms a few weeks into the school year. Until then, the school will go strong with remote learning, she said. Students will take six Zoom classes a day, receive two targeted academic interventions, and will have access to online clubs and virtual office hours with teachers.

Other charter schools are also crafting virtual schedules that mirror a regular school day.

Still, some parents wish classrooms would just reopen.

“To be honest, remote learning when they first put it together was rough,” said Natalie Branch-Lewis, whose 13-year-old daughter is an incoming eighth-grader at Boston Prep. ”My daughter was like, ‘I don’t have to get up and go to school.’ She would sit there and turn off the Zoom camera.”

While her daughter was looking forward to returning to classrooms and socializing with friends, Branch-Lewis said she understands why Boston Prep decided to stay remote, noting the school did a good job communicating with families this summer, and she likes that they have developed a detailed plan.

Varón, of Boston Collegiate, vowed online learning this fall will be more vibrant than the hastily arranged remote learning of the spring.

“My great hope is that at the end of the school year we will feel grateful that we were pushed to do great things because of the crisis we are in,” said Varón, who added it won’t be easy as the pandemic drags on.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Middle School Lesson Portrays Police Officers as KKK Members

I received correspondence from a number of Todd Starnes Show listeners who were rightfully outraged over a middle school lesson that likened police officers to slave owners and the Ku Klux Klan.

The lesson included a cartoon that showed a police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man who is saying, "I can't breathe." A progression of other cartoons show the officer morphing into a slaveholder and a klansman.

The assignment was presented to middle school students in the Wylie Independent School District in Texas. And it drew a strong rebuke from the Fraternal Order of Police.

“I cannot begin to tell you how abhorrent & disturbing this comparison is, but what is more disturbing is that no adult within your school thought better before sending this assignment to children," FOP National Vice President Joe Gamaldi wrote in a letter to the school district.

I write about this sort of radical classroom indoctrination in my new book, "Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left From Killing a Nation." Public schools have become the engine driving the socialist revolution in America.

Gamaldi said his organization was alerted by concerned parents.

"What is more disturbing is that no adult within your school thought better before sending this assignment to children," Gamaldi said.

He said the Fraternal Order of Police would be glad to speak with teachers and students to explain what law enforcement is really about.

"Schools are supposed to be a place where the youth of America are taught acceptance and understanding, it is where we mold the future of our country, not indoctrinate them in the ways of division," Gamaldi wrote.

The school district issued a statement apologizing for the lesson and "any hurt that may have been caused."

“Wylie ISD is aware that a junior high social studies lesson taught at one of our schools included political cartoons that have been divisive in our community. These political cartoons portrayed in this lesson are not part of the district’s curriculum resources or documents. The assignment has been removed, and students will not be expected to complete it. We will continue to work with our staff to ensure content follows the state curriculum.”

An apology is not good enough.

The children have been indoctrinated either intentionally or unintentionally. Regardless, a great wrong has been done and it's going to take more than an apology to fix the problem.

The school district should launch an investigation to determine the teacher's true intent. And if the educator was attempting to teach the children that police officers are bad - he or she should be removed from the classroom.

Beyond that the school district should immediately invite the Fraternal Order of Police to lead a series of classes with the children to educate them on the role of law enforcement.

We must undo the anti-police brainwashing that occurred in the Wylie Independent School District.


Who Is Ruining Our Universities? Administrators!

American universities are not having their finest hour, partly because of Covid-19. But even after the pandemic, they will be weaker and less consequential than they were a decade or even a generation or two ago. Why? Who is to blame?

First, what’s the basis for my negative assessment?

Enrollments have shown the longest decline in modern American history, and polling shows public support and respect has declined;

While data are somewhat contradictory, collegiate student learning appears embarrassingly low given resources expended;

America’s primacy in basic research is starting to erode, which likely will continue as other nations markedly increase research spending;

Universities are abandoning operating principles used since the Enlightenment, or example, restricting politically incorrect speech, emphasizing ideology and group status instead of discovery, individual merit and hard work;

Schools have become excessively expensive and often show little regard for student needs, making them a less desirable financial investment.

There are a myriad of other problems, outlined by me recently in a 400-page book. But who is to blame? Is the problem largely external—for example inadequate funding or inappropriate state or federal mandates constraining university behavior? Or is the problem mostly internal?

I assign some blame to external forces (mainly governments, especially the Feds through student financial assistance programs) but more internally, to people directly associated with the university. That includes students, faculty, administrators, governing boards, alumni and “friends” (donors). All these groups cause occasional problems. Faculty do silly, often embarrassing things, and their unions sometimes make unreasonable demands. Students occasionally gravely misbehave, causing their school serious damage. Governing boards are perennially clueless about what is happening and are too willing to rubber stamp whatever the president wants. Alumni and friends continue to support universities, sometimes imprudently allocating their donations, but generally are more helpful than harmful.

That leaves the administration. Here there have been dramatic changes over time. When I started teaching in the 1960s, there were typically around two faculty for every non-faculty support person. Faculty were often very powerful. The demand for professors was growing faster than the supply, so faculty were pampered and had power. Today, there are more administrators than faculty at most schools. Professors are, figuratively, a dime a dozen. More decisions are made by the bureaucracy. The instructional share of budgets has fallen substantially. And the bureaucrats are mostly not academics, sometimes not valuing such cherished academic values as a quest for knowledge, discovery of new truths, and a passion for civil discussion and debate. Some administrators disparage basic principles of intellectual ferment, preferring that schools enforce politically correct ideologies more reminiscent of medieval universities than of modern institutions that are true marketplaces of ideas.

Excessive bureaucracy interferes with teaching and research functions and wastes faculty time. At many University of California campuses, faculty take the equivalent of a diversity and inclusion loyalty oath, demonstrating their commitment to expanding opportunities for groups with low rates of university participation. They are evaluated partly not by faculty peers but by others far removed from their area of expertise, sometimes even having veto power over hiring and promotions.

At my university, budget woes forced us to lay off several hundred faculty, in addition to secretarial, janitorial and related personnel, but I think not a single highly paid administrator was dismissed. Classes must go online for health reasons, but the football team can still play (as of this writing) home games; football is too important to cancel, health risks be damned. We can do away with teaching Russian, but still must have an Office of Strategy and Innovation with two administrators making more than the state’s Governor—positions non-existent a decade ago.

I recently received a note from my department chair saying that if I wanted to teach this fall, I had to produce a copy of my college transcript—from 55 years ago, to see if I am qualified to teach a class that I have already taught dozens of times. I probably provided a transcript decades ago, but the university is too lazy to look for it or threw it away. Such idiocy interferes with professors’ main job—disseminating and expanding knowledge. God help the next generation of both students and professors, who ARE the university.


COVID-19 Is Disrupting the Future of Higher Education

Over the last decade, higher education in America has faced an intense amount of scrutiny. Rising costs and increasing levels of student loan debt, coupled with falling academic rigor, have prompted some tough questions for America’s colleges and universities, but enrollment continues to climb.

Although alternative pathways to good-paying jobs have sprung up in recent years, most are still considered far outside the mainstream pathway of college as a route to a successful career. However, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to change different aspects of everyday life, one of its most lasting consequences could be how it changes the way Americans think about higher education.

The primary point of contention is the fact that the cost of attending a 4-year university has skyrocketed compared to the cost of attendance for previous generations. College tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s—outpacing any increases in the payoff graduates can expect from attending—and those rising costs have saddled millions with a substantial amount of debt.

Student loan debt now totals almost $1.6 trillion and is the second highest category of consumer debt, behind only mortgages. There are currently 44.7 million Americans paying off student loan debts and the median amount of debt is $17,000. Furthermore, unlike most other kinds of debt, student loan debt (often taken on in the late teens or early twenties) can rarely be discharged during bankruptcy proceedings.

Meanwhile, the academic rigor of the institutions has fallen precipitously. Grade inflation has increased unchecked for decades. A nationwide study of the history of college grading finds that an A grade was awarded in colleges nationwide 15 percent of the time during the early 1960s. However, an A is now the most common grade given and the percentage of A’s has tripled, to 45 percent nationwide. Currently, 75 percent of all grades awarded now are either A’s and B’s. This has meant that modern students rarely face incentives to work as hard as students from previous generations. According to economists Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, compared to today’s students, “students in the middle of the 20th century spent nearly 50% more time—around 40 hours weekly—studying.”

The data are easily corroborated by frequent anecdotes from veteran college professors. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ohio University professor Richard Vedder explained, “I’m part of the problem: I’ve been teaching for 55 years, and I assign far less reading, demand less writing, and give higher grades than I did two generations ago.” On a podcast, Brown University professor Glenn Loury described the distinctly different nature of grades and modern higher education compared to previous generations:

You can find an education in the university. You can find one at Brown. You can find one at Berkeley or Stanford. But you can also spend four years there and not learn a God-d*mn thing worth knowing and come out with a degree. Grade inflation. Grade inflation is a horrible corruption, in my opinion. ...

There’s no turning back, man. There is no turning back, but it’s–I now have to basically anticipate the possibility that a kid’s going to go home and take a bottle of pills or something if I give him a C.

You know, ‘You’ve ruined my life: I’ll never get in the law school, I’ll never get into medical school. Professor Loury, you can’t do this to me, you can’t do this,’ you know, whatever. And, I say, ‘Man, look at that paper that you wrote. You didn’t write a very good paper. I’m sorry.’ But, I end up with the B anyway, half the time, because I just can’t do it.

Despite these well-documented developments, the wage premium associated with obtaining a college degree remains high and millions of new students enroll each year. Furthermore, employers are increasingly requiring a college degree for positions that did not require one in the past (and likely do not require one now).

This phenomenon, known as degree inflation, severely and unnecessarily limits the potential for those without a college degree to access higher- or increasingly even middle-income career paths. Moreover, the practice is likely also disadvantageous for employers, who are both unnecessarily paying wage premiums for college educated workers, hiring workers who have disproportionally high turnover rates, and narrowing the field of potential employees. Relatively few employers have dropped these requirements, although there are some recent examples of top tier companies, such as Google and Apple, that have. Perhaps more will follow suit in the future, but for the most part, employers seem content to keep such requirements in place.

The result is a rather bleak status quo, with employers wasting resources, students saddling themselves with increasingly burdensome amounts of debt, and the institutions of higher education delivering less actual education to their students. All the while, the credential gap is fueling a deepening economic division between Americans. Rather than college delivering students a wage premium—as is often touted by proponents—a labor market penalty for non-attendance seems more accurate. But with employers insisting on a degree for desirable jobs and considerable government subsidies ensuring a seemingly endless supply of new enrollees, the cycle appeared unlikely to change anytime soon.

Then the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation. With (often very valid) concerns about spreading the virus and endangering both students and faculty, many colleges and universities are considering a transition from in-person classes to either entirely virtual classes or some sort of hybrid approach.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking how universities intend to operate for the Fall 2020 semester and has compiled a database of nearly 3,000 colleges. As of this writing, only 23.5 percent of colleges are planning to conduct classes either fully or primarily in person, with 26.8 percent reporting they plan to conduct classes either fully or primarily online, and a substantial 27 percent reporting that plans are still “TBD.”

With many universities closed for the Fall 2020 semester, a greater number of graduating high school students are already considering taking a gap year. Complicating matters further, a recent survey of US college students finds that 93 percent say tuition should be lowered if classes are online. The same survey also found that “75% of college students are unhappy with the quality of online classes and 35% have considered withdrawing from school.” While some colleges have lowered their tuition in response to moving classes to an online format, many have been quick to point out that moving classes online does not translate to lower costs for the institution.

For smaller colleges that can’t afford even relatively small drops in enrollment, the changes brought by the pandemic could mean that closing their doors permanently. While it’s too early to make sweeping claims about how the pandemic will change the nature of higher education in America, these trends suggest that students are more open to alternatives to the 4-year college pathway to employment than they have been in recent memory.

Fortunately, several promising alternatives have been gaining ground over the past several years and the disruption in typical higher education could be the catalyst that pushes such alternatives further into the mainstream.

One of the most successful alternatives is Lambda School, an online school that trains students to become web developers or data scientists. It first became popular with its pioneering use of income share agreements (ISAs) to offer students a way to enroll and learn the necessary skills for a successful career without paying tuition up front. Instead, payments are only made after the student becomes employed and earns above a certain level of income (aligning the incentive for both the student and the school). Lambda School offers a 9-month full-time program or an 18-month part-time program and has successfully placed its graduates in well-paying jobs at top tier companies, earning a reputation for being a highly effective alternative to the traditional 4-year college model. In response to the ongoing pandemic, Lambda School has even reduced its upfront tuition by 50 percent.

Another promising alternative is Praxis. Rather than offering a degree, Praxis offers a one-year program that includes six months of hands on skill building followed by at least six months of time building skills and a track record in a job. Participants can either pay upfront or defer payment until after they have landed a job—and Praxis will even return the cost of tuition if a graduate of the bootcamp is unable to find a job within 6 months. The focus is on building skills and gaining real-world experience that result in a starting point for a successful career while bypassing the credential-focused approach of traditional higher education. Already well-suited to students interested in taking a gap year, Praxis is an interesting up-and-coming alternative for those unsure whether the traditional 4-year college route would be a good fit for them.

The typical career pathway of getting a degree at a traditional 4-year college is not likely to change anytime soon, not least because the institutions of higher education enjoy so much taxpayer support. But as the pandemic continues to push students toward alternatives, the pitfalls of the traditional approach to higher education will become increasingly difficult to ignore.

As the scrutiny on the institutions of higher education builds and more Americans become disenchanted with the model, there may come a tipping point that results in a range of interesting and effective alternatives. The decisions made by students in the midst of the pandemic could be a significant step toward that future.


Segregation is back: NYU Students Demand Black-Only Student Housing on Campus

How many civil rights workers in the 1960s died trying to end segregated housing? It’s an academic question but very appropriate given what’s happened at New York University recently.

A couple of students circulated a petition that eventually got more than 1,000 signatures for NYU to designate racially-segregated housing for black and “black-identifying” students. Apparently, there are no “safe spaces” for blacks because NYU is “predominantly white.”

Fox News:

“NYU is a predominantly white institution, making it very difficult for Black students to connect or find community, especially when incidents involving racism occur,” Black Violets told Fox News. “It is not about exclusion, but rather creating a space where Black students can feel included.”

Simply saying it’s “not about exclusion” doesn’t mean it isn’t. If other races are not allowed to live there, it’s exclusion. It’s the very definition of exclusion. But we’re all supposed to pretend it isn’t? Sheesh.

The proposal proved to be too much, even for radical lefties.

Critics of such plans say such living arrangements would be akin to racial segregation.

“There is nothing progressive about the establishment of racially segregated housing at NYU,” Karsten Schneider wrote in a column for the World Socialist Web Site. “It is irrelevant whether the segregation being implemented is voluntary or mandatory. Racial segregation, in all forms, is entirely reactionary.”

Sixty years ago, the argument was a little less subtle: the races “don’t mix well” and whites and blacks would “feel more comfortable” living with their own race. How different is that from activists wanting to create “a space where Black students can feel included”?

The more things change…

Meanwhile, the milquetoast school officials needing to bend over backward to show how woke they are, said they would consider it.

“[Residential] Life staff have reached out to the authors of the petition to discuss how we might move forward with their goals,” an NYU spokesperson told Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper. “Given the COVID-related challenges to the student housing system for 2020-2021, these conversations would be aiming towards 2021-2022.”

A “themed engagement floor” for Black students is being pushed by a group called Black Violets NYU. “Marginalized groups” like queer students and international students already have access to such floors, Black Violets told Fox News in a statement.

Reason’s Robby Soave destroys the students’ argument for any kind of housing that separates the races.

But despite what the students said, the petition—which was signed by 1,000 people—inarguably uses the language of exclusion. It specifies that the housing must include “floors completely comprised of Black-identifying students with Black Resident Assistants.” If a proposal requires that certain floors only include back students, then it is a proposal for racially segregated housing.

Yes, but they’re not “excluding” anyone because they say they aren’t excluding anyone in their media statement. Doesn’t that count for anything? After all, there are no “quotas” in university admissions because we call them “targets” and “goals.”

Delusions on the left run very deep, For these students and, tragically, tens of thousands like them, they will go through life believing the world is one giant college campus, where people give a rat’s petunia about “safe spaces” and “marginalized groups.” They will remain oblivious to their own contradictions, their hypocrisy, and their biases.

And they will go into politics and the bureaucracy looking to impose their radical chic notions of race and class on the rest of us.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Two British Reforms America Should Copy

Two recent British policy briefs on academic freedom and university reforms provide some broad suggestions applicable to colleges, British or otherwise.

Policy Exchange, a center-right think tank, published “Academic Freedom in the UK: Protecting viewpoint diversity,” which highlights the disappearance of the conservative professor on campus. CIEO, a left-of-center think tank, published “Saving Britain’s Universities: Academic freedom, democracy and renewal,” which finds the flaw in universities to be incessant growth and over-marketization that distracts from their core missions.

Per Policy Exchange, the number of conservative professoriates, for example, has diminished to single digits, from roughly one third in the 1960s, across the board. That mirrors a similar change in the United States, where surveys show there are at least 10 times the number of Democratic professors to Republicans.

That echo chamber has resulted in diminished performances, notably in political predictions because universities are increasingly detached from the masses. The paper finds that contrary to popular opinion, this ideological disparity was a result of both active and tacit discrimination—from background checks, grant and scholarship applications, and committee memberships, to social ostracism and peer pressure on junior academics.

To fix it, Policy Exchange suggests legislation and dedicated university staff to protect academic freedom. Leveling the playing field to ensure viewpoint diversity would allow universities to be places where different ideas are encouraged, not prohibited.

The CIEO paper argues that over-marketization and over-expansion are pulling down British higher education. That has meant the degradation of academic standards and grade inflation, massive overproduction of soft-subject degrees, and graduates with no marketable skills.

The overt marketization has produced “Market Stalinism,” a mix of corporate buzzwords and massive bureaucracy, stifling intellectual freedom and degrading education standards. Quality, rigor, and merit are standards to undermine the satisfaction of students and parents—consumers to be catered to.

CEIO argues for the immediate shrinking of the higher ed sector through closures and mergers. Their paper also sees the need for market corrections to clean out the bureaucracy, legislative protections for free speech, and downgrading some universities to the British equivalent of community colleges.

The interesting thematic similarity between the two papers, on the right and left, is the demand for legislated security for academic freedom and viewpoint diversity. Though British higher ed is more centralized and has weaker speech protections than the First Amendment, both countries have struggled to uphold free speech.

In an increasingly stifling political culture, where viewpoint discrimination is not always overt, some legislative intervention (such as South Dakota’s academic freedom legislation) might bring back a semblance of equality, ideological diversity, and competitiveness without dictating course content. In that regard, these two papers provide further food for thought for academic reform movements in the United States.


UNC Will Not Require the SAT Next Year

On July 23, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted to temporarily waive the SAT or ACT requirement for college applicants.

The vote came after UNC administrators proposed that an “emergency temporary waiver” be approved so that students who are unable to take the test due to cancellations are not negatively impacted in the admissions process. They recommended the board “waive the standardized test requirement for students applying for admission in Spring 2021, Summer 2021, and Fall 2021.”

Before the full board voted on the proposal, it first had to pass a vote in the Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs Committee meeting. During the meeting, UNC staff noted that the two standardized testing bodies, the College Board and the ACT, have continued to cancel test-taking dates due to COVID-19. At the moment, there are no available “at-home” testing options for students. UNC staff also noted that the College Board has requested that colleges “equally consider students for admission who are unable to take the test due to COVID-19.”

The lack of testing has had a direct impact on North Carolina students. Kimberly Van Noort, UNC system senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, explained to the committee that, although North Carolina state law requires all public high school juniors to take the ACT each year in February or March, 9,000 students were unable to take the test this year because of the coronavirus.

During the meeting, two enrollment managers explained why they recommend temporarily waiving the testing requirement.

Louis Hunt, senior vice provost for enrollment management and services at North Carolina State University, informed the committee that a lot of public school students were unable to take the SAT or ACT in the spring. He also noted that a lot of private school and homeschooled students don’t have a test score at all. In addition, students who were planning on retaking the test to improve their score have been unable to do so.

“We’re concerned about being at a competitive disadvantage,” Hunt said, pointing to how other schools such as the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Duke University have opted to go test-optional. “If we’re requiring it [a standardized test score], we may put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “That’s the main thing we’re concerned about.”

Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill, agreed that being at a competitive disadvantage is “a significant issue.” However, he focused more on how students themselves are being impacted by the lack of testing availability. “This is the number one question we’re getting by phone and by email from students—questions about the testing requirement,” he said. “Students are mostly willing to do what we ask them to do, provided that they can do it.”

Farmer said many students “literally cannot fulfill the requirement that we’re asking them to fulfill” and that “it’s causing a lot of unconstructive worry for students and families.”

He said he’s in favor of constructive stress where students have to “stretch themselves and work and prepare.” But he argued that requiring test scores in the current climate imposes unconstructive stress on students. “The worry and stress that students are experiencing right now in North Carolina about testing is entirely unconstructive stress and I would like for us to be able to alleviate them of it,” Farmer concluded.

Several board members offered their thoughts on the issue. Isaiah Green, president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, said he fully supports the waiver policy. He said that “students have been asking for this kind of policy for a long time at this point.” He also argued that UNC risks “losing very talented students because they can just go to other schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT.”

Green said he hoped the temporary SAT waiver would eventually lead to a permanent policy change:

I’m completely in favor of—at least this temporary trial of the emergency waiver—and hopefully we can revisit it in the future [for] something more permanent.

But board member Steve Long argued that the proposed policy was too “drastic” and suggested that the system adopt a different strategy:

I think instead of waiving the requirement altogether, we just simply allow people, if they’re not able to get the test score, to sign a certificate that they have not been able to get a test score because of COVID-19. That would be much less drastic.

Long said that 24 states require high school juniors to take the ACT or SAT, including the District of Columbia and South Carolina. “There are a lot of students out there taking the test,” he said. He also noted that ACT has added three new test dates for fall 2020, and the College Board has also added a September test date.

Significantly, Long reminded the committee that it will be important for the UNC system to collect student testing data because of a three-year pilot program on changing admissions standards that the board adopted in March. The Martin Center wrote about the pilot program here.

“We have waived for three years this minimum admission requirement that we used to have,” Long said. “We’re going to need the data in order to determine whether or not we should continue to have a standardized score as part of our admissions requirements and one of things we’re going to ask is ‘what is the test score and what is the graduation rate?’ because that is going to be an important point for us.”

Board member Anna Nelson, who supported the March proposal to change the system’s minimum admission requirements, said in the July meeting that she supports temporarily waiving testing requirements. Nelson explained that she trusts the advice of Hunt and Farmer:

“They have a history and experience with this, they know how to use various tools in their toolkit,” she said, “and I trust that they will navigate this.”

Nelson also pointed out that a similar waiver policy is being adopted by other “very distinguished universities and colleges across the country,” adding that she thinks “there might be harm in having something that’s not in alignment with those [colleges’] policies.” “I would at the appropriate time make a motion to approve the one-year emergency waiver,” she concluded.

By waiving the testing admissions requirement, UNC is indeed following a nationwide trend.

Across the country, about 300 colleges are temporarily not requiring applicants to submit a standardized test score. UNC has also demonstrated the extent to which it “follows the crowd” when making key policy decisions. But, while following the crowd might be a “safer” option in terms of public opinion, the popularity of a policy doesn’t mean it is a good policy.

Boards and trustees are appointed not to simply fall in line with what everyone else is doing. They are appointed to make the best decisions possible by closely examining all the available evidence and ensuring that any decision aligns with the underlying academic goals of their institutions.

Colleges and universities across the country are getting rid of testing requirements altogether. Will UNC follow that trend?


Restoring Civic Education Can Help Revive America

Recently, Illinois state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford called for abolishing history classes throughout the state of Illinois because they “unfairly communicate history.” He argued that history teachers’ energies should instead be focused on the democratic process and dialogue. “It costs us as a society in the long run forever when we don’t understand our brothers and sisters that we live, work, and play with,” Ford said.

Full disclosure: I’ve taught history and political science for over 32 years, teaching both at all levels, though mostly at the AP level. What I’ve seen regarding history education is downright appalling at times, with required texts by debunked revisionists like Howard Zinn being force-fed to college students rather than offered as general historical inquiry or competing sources to offset bias. Primary source research by undergrad students is largely ignored except for a few scattered research assignments that reflect the professor’s political bias. When one considers that liberal professors outnumber conservatives 13:1 on college campuses—and junior professors by as much as 40:1—one can easily guess the politics professors want to see in student papers.

This is not teaching history but rather indoctrination, much like what the Prussian School of historians undertook in the mid-nineteenth century. Their purpose was to revise history with a decidedly Prussian bent so that Prussia would become the state the Germans would unite under rather than Austria. The most colorful of the Prussian historians was Heinrich von Treitschke, whose flourish with the pen and inspiring Teutonic tales helped make the Prussian dream a reality.

The point is that biased history and ideological revisionism is dangerous for our republic. What some consider one of the more benign subjects in both high school and college is turning out to be the most explosive, like a sea mine in an inlet bay. When you finally see it, it’s too late.

One example of this sea mine technique is the 1619 Project, a distorted and highly inaccurate account of American history that has been thoroughly debunked by such eminent historians as Gordon Wood. Studying American slavery is certainly not the problem. Instead, the problem is that “1619” is a one-sided account of history that reflects modern ideological biases rather than a dispassionate recounting of America’s past. It is distorted history being ramrodded down the throats of students who don’t know any better and will regurgitate what they are told, immersing themselves in content that is not only anti-American but simply wrong. So, on that score, I agree with Representative Ford: abolish it.

This does not mean that the old adage that history is told by the winner is wrong. But a proper teacher—one without bias and who will ensure that both sides of a controversial topic will be taught—is paramount in today’s schools. Students must be exposed to all sides of a given issue and come to a conclusion on their own. Sadly, this is not the case in many history classrooms as personal bias and political agendas that assuage the educator’s ego are more important than independent thought informed by all of the relevant facts.

One answer to this dilemma is to discard textbooks, which can be quite biased (they are often tailored to reflect the preferences of the regions with the highest number of sales). Instead, teachers should combine their expertise with putting an emphasis on primary sources and use excerpts from neutral texts.

But how can we ensure that teachers will check their bias at the door? The department head is responsible for enforcing neutrality in the classroom. Those who teach using biased methods must be held to account.

Representative Ford did get one thing right in his rather misguided statement. There should be a renewed focus on civics education. All too often, the civics component is rolled into an American history class. This is not sufficient. A single unit on civics is not enough as there is simply too much material to cover. Instead, passing a class that covers civics and political science should be mandatory for graduation. Only then will we as a nation begin to appreciate the importance of this grand American experiment, the most successful of its kind in human history.


Australia:  University entrance cutoffs expected to rise due to coronavirus crisis

A big leap in domestic demand is outweighing the drop in overseas students

University courses will be harder to get into, with ATAR cut-offs predicted to spike thanks to a skyrocketing demand for tertiary study and a cap on funded places.

Griffith University tertiary expert Stephen Billett said “without a doubt” the domestic student market would be more competitive given the loss of international students and the economic downturn of COVID-19.

And former Grattan Institute higher education program director and ANU professor Andrew Norton said amid COVID-19 there would be both increased tertiary applications and fewer people deferring entry, meaning minimum entry cut-offs for courses could soar.

It comes as the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre has already recorded a staggering jump in applications for university this year.

It experienced the most applications ever received on an opening day when admissions opened on August 4: 2918.

QTAC executive officer John Griffiths said the high applicant number was a good indicator there would be strong demand from the domestic market next year.

Dr Griffiths said there had been a 37.8 per cent increase in tertiary applicants compared with the same time in 2019, with a big increase from current Year 12 students.

About 6600 students had already applied for university admission next year and to receive their ATAR in December after registrations for both opened on August 4, he said.

Prof Norton said in recent years about 9-10 per cent of people who accepted university offers deferred by a year but it was expected fewer people would defer because of the impact of COVID-19 on travel and employment.

“So that will push a large number of higher ATAR students into wanting a place in 2021,” he said.

“And because ATARs are, in most cases, the interaction of supply and demand, that could well push up the minimum thresholds for some courses.”

Prof Billett said there would be greater competition for courses with “identifiable occupations”, on top of a trend of young people seeking “clean, well-paid and secure employment”.

Medicine and law might become more difficult to access, he said.

And courses in physiotherapy, dietetics, speech pathology, occupational therapy, and engineering could be the courses with a big increase in demand, Prof Billett said.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

America Needs a GED Equivalent for a College Degree

As higher education undergoes dramatic changes thanks to the coronavirus, reformers should aim higher than expanding online education.

Now is a propitious time to end the dominance of accreditation agencies in higher ed and create a GED-like equivalency exam for a college degree.

Many students want a traditional college life: living on campus for four years, attending classes, and socializing. But for the majority of students, what matters most is learning and getting a credential for a good job or ready for graduate education. These students genuinely desire knowledge but don’t always need other aspects of the traditional college experience. What they need is the paper to prove they’ve done the hard work without the debt that two-thirds of graduates currently take on.

For students who do not complete high school, there is the General Educational Development (GED) exam. Passing the GED (or a similar certificate of high school equivalency) equates to earning a high school diploma. We need something similar for a bachelor’s degree.

The first step to creating a bachelor’s equivalency is to co-opt—or make irrelevant—the national Council for Higher Education Accreditation and regional accrediting agencies such as the Higher Learning Commission.

Those agencies judge whether a college, to which parents pay a king’s ransom to educate their children, is legitimate. Though accreditors will approve the occasional online program, it must be connected to or owned by traditional colleges, which charge correspondingly high tuition. Why? Because the people who judge the legitimacy of educational programs are themselves from other academic institutions. The justification is that only academic experts should judge academic institutions, but the effect is to keep non-traditional competitors outside the moat. The accreditors are insiders guarding the gates to higher education. They are part of a trust or a cartel.

A deep problem with a cartel is its control of a market that keeps competition out. It’s time to make formal accreditation one stamp of legitimacy for education—not the only one.

Though accrediting agencies demand that academic programs implement program review and self-assessment, this author is unaware of any rigorous assessment of the accreditation enterprise itself. The accreditation process is focused mainly on inputs to education, such as faculty credentials, mission statements, faculty-student ratio, mechanisms in place to assess some student learning outcomes, facilities, and the like. Though this kind of evaluation does indeed promote high-quality education, it is indirect and fails to measure the attainment of each student in their field of study—allowing many to “slip through” with an inadequate education.

Could a motivated student study and learn on his own and then outscore a traditional college student on an exam? It would not matter if he could because employers, licensing authorities, and graduate schools demand a degree from an accredited institution. There is no path for a modern-day Abraham Lincoln to read law on his own and then sit for the bar exam.

Here is where the U.S. Department of Education could flex one of the truly legitimate muscles of the state: busting trusts. A rigorous standardized exam would be a strong substitute for students to take an independent path to a college degree without accreditation’s issues.

The Department could develop a standardized exam that covers core knowledge expected for a traditional bachelor’s degree and specialized knowledge expected in a major field of study, such as business administration, psychology, computer science, or history. Passing this assessment would equate to a bachelor’s degree, regardless of whether the student enrolled at a college. The Department of Education could require universities to accept this bachelor’s-by-exam (BEx) as equivalent to a traditional bachelor’s degree for admission to graduate and professional programs. If not, the Department could use its power to pressure colleges or encourage employers to see the BEx as legitimate.

Employers would probably be happy to accept the BEx as equivalent to a BA or BS, given the Department’s stamp of approval and the use of a comprehensive exam to be granted a BEx.

Where would those standardized exams come from? The Department could coordinate the development of tests (content and criteria), but private outfits like Pearson Education and Education Testing Service would be far more effective in creating the actual exams than would a federal agency. ETS offers the College Board’s SAT (and other) exams and Pearson Education develops the GED. These organizations are experts at developing rigorous assessments, with the help of academic experts, and delivering them.

Exams in core topics (part 1 of the BEx assessment) would test foundational knowledge of broad subjects such as world history, science, mathematics, humanities, and the arts. The candidate would demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the liberal arts that is expected of one who holds a bachelor’s degree. Developing these exams will involve a good deal of jostling among various interests but would ultimately boil down to a GED-like assessment of basic educational attainment, aimed at university-level knowledge.

ETS already provides exams in several disciplines. Those could be adapted to test candidates for specific knowledge in their chosen major and require candidates to demonstrate their specialized knowledge. These exams should go beyond current exams, which are intended simply to rank students’ potential for graduate study or to support program review and assume that students have already taken assessments during a traditional four-year program.

Testing for part 2 of the BEx in disciplines that require laboratory skills, such as chemistry, or studio skills, such as art, would include validated live demonstrations of relevant skills, possibly provided at local high schools or colleges for modest fees. Broadly speaking, creative and in-depth experiences in the student’s major, including research papers, computer programs, performances, and works of art, would have to be built into any assessment of education deemed equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.

How would independent students acquire the knowledge and skills required to pass those exams?

Tutors and mentors, whose only stamp of legitimacy is their record of success with previous students, could teach students to help them prepare for the BEx. Test preparation businesses such as Kaplan and commercial training companies such as New Horizons are already set up to support independent learners and would likely be eager to expand into this new territory. Online learning platforms such as Khan Academy would be useful. Students could also take courses at a local community college in harder subjects if they feel the need. Libraries are also useful here.

The important point is that students could prepare for the BEx exams however they would like and could start at any age, even during their high school years. They may pay thousands of dollars for tutoring, lab experience, and fees, but the total cost would be a fraction of the college costs that, for too many students, can approach $100,000.

Critics will point out that passing an exam is not the same as learning within a community of scholars, with its rich interaction and mutual growth. This is nonsense. To pass the BEx exams, which by their very nature would be extremely challenging, a candidate would interact with a wide community of other candidates via online or in-person discussions, tutors, and mentors as they work through various subjects. The academic “intensity” of preparing for these exams would likely surpass that of many traditional college experiences and would be a mighty stretch without rich interactions with many other souls.

The non-traditional pathway to earning the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree proposed here would demolish current bureaucratic and financial barriers to higher education for many students. As the song goes: we have the technology, and now we have more reasons than ever to pursue this approach.


Students, Faculty Punished for Speech on Social Media

Fordham University student Austin Tong has found himself in hot water over a protest picture on Instagram. In it, he posed with a gun to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The private university in New York City found that Tong’s post, as well as another where he criticized the response of left-wing activists to the homicide of retired St. Louis police chief David Dorn, violated university policies prohibiting “threats/intimidation” and “bias and/or hate crimes.” Tong has been placed on probation and will not be allowed to visit campus without prior approval, take leadership roles in student organizations, or participate in athletics.

He will also be required to complete complicit bias training and write an apology letter.

In response, FIRE sent Fordham a letter detailing how the university’s discipline of Tong over his posts are at odds with their stated mission to uphold free speech.

This isn’t the first time a university has punished students for their social media posts. Over the past months, FIRE has addressed several recent cases that violated First Amendment protections or a college’s commitment to free speech.

In May, FIRE wrote to the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC after a professor, John Tieso, was suspended for tweets dating back to 2018 that were critical of former president Barack Obama and senator Kamala Harris. Ignoring FIRE’s letter, CUA fired Tieso in June. Tieso has said that he will sue the university.

A professor at Weber State University in Utah, Scott Senjo, also received backlash over his tweets. After some of Senjo’s tweets supporting violence against rioters and criticizing congresswoman Ilhan Omar surfaced, WSU opened an investigation.

This problem is not exclusive to right-wing content, either. In January, Babson College professor Asheen Phansey was fired over a tweet responding to Trump’s threat to bomb 52 Iranian cultural sites. Babson’s tweet read, “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomeni should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? …Kardashian residence?”

These are just a few of the many recent instances of universities disciplining students and faculty for political speech on social media. While many of the universities are private, and therefore not beholden to the First Amendment, they assure students of their commitment to open speech and debate in their student handbooks. Too often, when controversy happens, colleges are quick to condemn and fire rather than engage with speech.


College Reform: Build Lifeboats to Escape the Sinking Ship

In their recent Martin Center policy brief, Joy Pullmann and Sumantra Maitra get much right about the activist professor problem in academia. These professors are dominating the profession in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible three or four years ago. Their control has led to an ideological monoculture, which suppresses freedom of thought and creative inquiry.

One need not look further than the job boards to see how the cycle perpetuates. Here is a sample of some of the positions advertised in my field (religious studies) this year:

A global liberation professor with expertise in “global theologies of liberation and de-colonial theory”

A Latin Patristics professor who can apply the insights of Augustine of Hippo to race, ethnic, and indigenous studies

An Asian religions professor working on “critical approaches to race, gender, sexuality, social hierarchies, and inequality, and power struggles and political movements.”

But as much as I support their diagnosis, I strongly disagree with their proposed solutions. They advocate for the same tactics as the activist professors in order to right the sinking ship of higher education.

I don’t believe that approach will produce any long-lasting reform. Instead, it will further stoke the animosity between liberals and conservatives on campus. A better way for reform lies in targeting accreditation, bypassing the governance issues completely.

Their first proposal is to limit public funds for activist disciplines through regulation.

How would they propose regulating such a quagmire? The federal government gives over $75 billion to higher education annually. State investments amount to another $87 billion. Not to mention the $1.5 trillion of government-backed student loans.

Let’s also not forget that universities have already been forced to hire administrators to keep up with the government rules that come with its monetary support. Most universities devote between 20 percent and 60 percent of their yearly budget to administrative costs. Compelling them to hire even more administrators to decipher those new “anti-activist clauses” in federal grants would only drive up the spiraling costs of education.

Second, they want governing boards to increase scrutiny on departments for ideological bias.

That sounds like another name for a diversity czar, the latest administrative fad at universities. The czar’s job is simple: monitor departments to see whether they are taking steps to actively promote diversity on campus and then “restructure” those that aren’t sufficiently abiding by their standards.

How would Pullmann and Maitra’s independent think tanks—tasked with “discovering, measuring, and producing reports” about ideological bias—be substantially different from the committees some Princeton faculty members now want to “oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication?”

I certainly agree that it is important to quell active discrimination against those who hold minority views in academia. Surveys suggest that only 4 percent to 8 percent of professors in the humanities feel comfortable self-identifying as conservative. Creating agencies to “review” academic research, however, would just lead to more overreach. Any board investigating ideological bias would, by default, be ideologically biased themselves.

Their third proposal is to return to a selective, traditional conception of academia.

While professors should have more say about what they teach, I strongly disagree that returning to a traditional academic model means focusing on vocational job training. The point of a liberal arts education has always been to educate the leaders of tomorrow. Students must be encouraged to major in history, philosophy, and literature even if they are not profitable fields. We only have to look at our current government to see the dangerous consequences of having elected officials with no understanding of our heritage and traditions.

Finally, Pullmann and Maitra want to crack down on ideology and limitations on academic freedom.

The University of Chicago has been a leader in this regard. As their former president Hanna Holborn Gray observed (a quote included in the report): “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.”

Looking at what happened at Williams College when they tried to adopt the Chicago Principles, it might be necessary to pass laws protecting academic freedom. Yet, I remain skeptical about turning to the government for a solution to a problem they have actively aided and abetted.

Rather than develop a strong-armed approach, reformers should instead focus on supporting business endeavors that offer sidelined scholars a platform to teach and present their research. Of course, bringing the free marketplace to higher education is easier said than done. Companies like Udemy—which allow anyone to create, upload, and sell online courses—are not allowed to issue degrees.

That trouble leads to the real problem with higher education: an overly stringent accreditation process.

Accreditation agencies are “independent” commissions that develop minimum standards for colleges. Their ostensible purpose is to hold universities accountable—to ensure that students are not wasting their money on diploma mills and other scams.

But here’s the kicker: the members of the agencies that determine whether universities are in compliance are from those very same institutions. And consequently, the rules they have established concerning tenured faculty, campus facilities, and governing boards make it very difficult for innovative challengers to enter the field.

Some of the main issues with accreditation include:

The process can take 5 or 6 years for new colleges. Also, institutions cannot begin the process until they have students. To attract students, however, an institution needs to show that it is accredited

It is expensive and time-consuming: it costs around $1 million to participate in a review

The agencies require “adequate” physical and technical infrastructure to support its operations. This penalizes newcomers who are either still in the building stage or experimenting with online models. Only 6 percent of regionally accredited colleges were newly accredited between 2007 and 2016.

So how do we get around that roadblock? A couple thoughts:

Focus on high school students

COVID-19 has presented education reformers with a wonderful opportunity—if they choose to take it. If high schools struggle to reopen this fall, parents will look for different options. Independent academics should be ready to offer their services. They can create online versions of Aristotle’s Lyceum and teach a classical liberal arts curriculum. In so doing, they will provide students with a vision of education that is devoid of an activist agenda and perhaps start a grassroots demand for reforming university curricula.

Rediscover the private junior college

Rather than lobby the government for policy changes, lobby philanthropists to set up private junior colleges like Deep Springs College, where equal emphasis is placed on classical study and work. Private junior colleges had their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, but most were wiped out with the rise of publicly funded community colleges.

With tuition costs skyrocketing, more people might begin to take more interest in two-year degree programs. Junior colleges also tend not to be subject to as many licensing regulations as four-year institutions. Thus, they have the potential to be a space for both pedagogical ingenuity as well as the revitalization of the classical liberal arts curriculum.

With the added pressures of COVID-19, the ship of higher education is sinking. Plugging a few holes as Pullmann and Maitra suggest won’t stop it from going down. It’s time to think about what lifeboats we need to deploy.


Nightmarish Biden/Harris ticket is the teachers union’s 'dream team'

The low teacher pay fabrication has been exploded more times than Wile E. Coyote.

“You don’t just have a partner in the White House, you’ll have an NEA member in the White House.” Referring to his wife Jill, presidential hopeful Joe Biden uttered those words at the virtual National Education Association convention in early July. He also expressed dissatisfaction with charter schools and said he wanted to triple funding for Title I schools, higher pay for educators, universal pre-k, etc. – all music to the ears of the teacher union faithful.

But as we all know, if elected, Mr. Biden will not be POTUS for long. The man is firmly entrenched on Senility Street, and his legendary gaffes have turned positively daft. When Biden – willingly or otherwise – steps aside, the reins would then be in the hands of Vice President Kamala Harris.

After Biden announced his VP choice, the National Education Association referred to the duo as the “Dream Team” and posted “6 reasons educators are excited about Kamala Harris.” It’s all the usual stuff – increasing k-12 funding, defaming current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asserting that “vouchers divert public school funding,” etc. Yup, all the gooey twaddle that does nothing at all for kids, but does get the NEA elite and their flock really excited.

More than anything, Harris has inserted herself as the Wizard of Ed, with all goodies flowing from the White House. The fact that federal programs like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Head Start were all ridiculously expensive and accomplished little, if anything, seems to be if no interest to her.
Teacher salaries are a big issue for Harris. In 2019, she proclaimed that “the United States is facing a teacher pay crisis.” Her evidence? “Public school teachers earn 11 percent less than professionals with similar educations (sic).” Her solution is to give teachers across the country an average yearly $13,500 pay bump.

The low teacher pay fabrication has been exploded more times than Wile E. Coyote. Teachers do indeed make less than some other professionals, but there are valid reasons for that.

The low teacher pay fabrication has been exploded more times than Wile E. Coyote. Teachers do indeed make less than some other professionals, but there are valid reasons for that. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers work on average 1,398 hours per year, whereas lawyers put in 2,036 hours per annum, almost 50 percent more time on the job. Dentists (1,998 hours/year) and accountants (2,074 hours/year) also work many more hours than teachers.

Additionally, salaries alone are not the whole story, as they don’t include the extraordinary perks that most teachers receive. When healthcare and pension packages are included, teachers are actually overpaid, according to a study by researchers Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine. They found that workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs “receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.”

The cost of Harris’ teacher pay plan would be prohibitive. As Mike Antonucci points out, the raise would cost taxpayers about $42 billion a year. Not only that, but teacher pensions are typically based on average salary over a period of time. This will greatly stress already underfunded state pension systems.

When Harris was running as a presidential candidate, school desegregation was a key issue. While short on specifics, she did say that busing was an important component and wanted resources for it. But busing has never been popular or effective, except to racial bean counters whose agenda has no room for educational quality. Children can spend hours on a bus, gaining nothing academically by doing so. To achieve greater integration and educational excellence, let’s get rid of the zip code-mandated government-run education system we have throughout most of the country. Since most neighborhoods are not well integrated, neither are the schools. But opening up a system of universal choice would allow parents to expand their education options. In fact, researcher Greg Forster reports that ten empirical studies have examined private school choice programs on segregation and nine found the programs reduced it, while one found no visible difference.

A recent American Federation for Children poll conducted by Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm, reveals that nationally 73 percent of Latinos and 67 percent of African-Americans back “the broad concept of school choice.”

Not surprisingly, Harris and her union friends are mum on these inconvenient facts.

Another idea from Harris that has the unionistas all atwitter is her calling for a federal ban on right-to-work laws, declaring, “I’d use my executive authority to make sure barriers are not in place to do the advocacy (unions) need to do.” Sounds as if, with the stroke of a pen she would try to knock out right-to-work laws for private sector workers in 27 states, as well as similar protections for government workers in all 50 states courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision. Of course, right-to-work laws have nothing to do with “barriers.” Unions are still allowed to function, but forcing workers to pay dues is not legal.

Both Biden and Harris have said they would pick a teacher to be their Secretary of Education. Randi Weingarten, as a former teacher – albeit briefly – and union leader, certainly fits their requirements. If that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will.


Monday, August 24, 2020

UK: We should never have closed schools

The A-level by algorithm scandal rolls on, lurching from crisis to chaos. Government messaging shifts randomly between an insistence that nothing will change and suggesting that if students are disappointed with their allotted grades, they can simply pick others. Just this weekend, reassurances about appealing lower-than-expected results were swiftly followed by Ofqual (the exams regulator) removing from its website all details of how the appeals process would work.

The devastating impact this has on the lives of all involved cannot be overstated. A cohort of 18-year-olds have missed the end of their school days with all the associated rites of passage, had summer holidays and festivals cancelled, and have been unable to get jobs in bars or restaurants, only to see their exam results turned into a political football. Some have lost university places and are now having to drastically rethink their future plans.

What has gone so badly wrong? Amid all the noise it’s easy to miss the fact that, across the board, A-level grades are actually up on previous years. The proportion of entries graded at A or above has increased to 27.6 per cent from 25.2 per cent last year. Results were deliberately kept in line with past performance in order to avoid grade inflation and, importantly, devaluing this year’s marks.

Even though results are up overall, almost 40 per cent of grades awarded fell below those predicted by teachers. If teacher assessments stand unmoderated, there will be a large increase in the proportion of students getting top marks. Ofqual has been critical of schools making ‘implausibly high judgements’. There are many reasons why teachers might be generous in making predictions. Exam results are used to judge the performance of both schools and individual teachers. Perhaps more significantly, teachers want what’s best for their pupils and exam success is seen as key to university, future employment prospects and self-esteem. Ofqual’s algorithm was designed to compensate for teacher generosity and to keep each school’s performance in line with previous years.

The problems this creates were surely predictable. The algorithm cannot discern whether a teacher is being generous to the bright students at schools that perform poorly or to the lazy students who attend high-performing schools. Instead, it bakes in pre-existing differences and then further exacerbates inequality by excluding schools with only a small cohort of A-level pupils from the algorithm’s workings. In such cases, generous teacher-assessed grades stand unmoderated. The upshot is that pupils at smaller schools – which are more likely to be fee-paying – have, in general, received the grades the teachers predicted for them while students at large sixth forms, particularly those in more disadvantaged areas, have been awarded lower grades.

The Department for Education and Ofqual are now, rightly, facing a barrage of criticism for their handling of this situation. Angry students and parents are demanding the national algorithm be corrected and reapplied. But no algorithm, no matter how sophisticated or how rigorously applied, could ever provide a fair measure of individual performance in the same way as an exam. The fact that all students sit the same exam, at the same time, under the same conditions, acts as a great leveller. It provides an opportunity for determined youngsters to prove their capabilities no matter what their postcode or which school they attended. Scrapping exams – and not the application of a dodgy algorithm – has denied an entire cohort this opportunity.

Cancelling exams was rarely questioned back in March when schools were closed. It was seen as inevitable – and perhaps for good reason. Over the past five months huge educational inequalities have been exposed. Whereas some, mainly private-school pupils, have received a full timetable of online lessons, others have barely received an emailed worksheet to complete. It would hardly have been fair to pitch pupils who had been taught up to the last minute against those who had gone for three months without any contact with a teacher, no wifi and not even an open library. Although, as we are now discovering, perhaps this would still have been more equitable than an algorithm.

Closing schools has led directly to the current results fiasco. But it is the very same people who demanded school closures back in March, and who had an almighty strop every time the prospect of reopening schools was mooted, who are now complaining most loudly about inequality and injustice. They let a cohort of youngsters down and now they have the cheek to complain. It truly beggars belief.

Schools were shut so casually because education carries so little value today. To government ministers, grades are simply about opening doors to university and employment. To some teaching-union leaders and commentators, exams are stressful, unfair and should be scrapped altogether. Almost no one argues that exam results provide a measure of what students know about a subject and that this is important in its own terms.

There is nothing inevitable about the current exam chaos. We could, right now, have a fair appeals system up and running. Results could have been released to schools at the beginning of this month, in time for teachers to flag up errors and appeal on behalf of individual pupils. Alternative forms of assessment could have replaced exams. Schools could have remained open to students in their final year of GCSE or A-levels. But all of these solutions would require valuing education and seeing 18-year-olds not as numbers on a spreadsheet or as vulnerable creatures to be flattered and appeased, but as capable and resilient young adults.

As we head into next academic year amid continued panic about schools and coronavirus, two things are clear: exams are the fairest method we have of assessing individual merit and we must do everything possible to keep schools open. Let’s hope students are not the only ones capable of learning lessons.


UK: The exams fiasco is just the beginning

You’ve got to feel for Gavin Williamson, who having presided over the corona exams fiasco may just go down as one of the worst education secretaries in history.

I mean, who could have foreseen the crisis that met him after A-level results were released last week – whereby the decision to cancel exams over the pandemic, and then award grades by algorithm, was revealed to have led to bright students from disadvantaged schools being penalised?

Well, everyone except him, as it turns out.

Indeed, the Class of 2020 crisis has unfurled with the grim inevitability of a slow-motion car crash, not least as a near identical crisis had unfurled in Scotland a week earlier, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.

Still, Gav barrelled into A-level results day last week insisting there would be ‘no u-turns’ and chiding the Scottish government for caving in to the backlash and reverting back to teachers’ predicted grades, thus fuelling grade inflation.

Days later, he followed in the Scots’ footsteps. And even before the Scottish results, many people were raising the alarm about the absurdities and injustices that would inevitably result from assigning grades by computer model.

Back in July, the Education Select Committee raised concerns about how the standardisation model, developed by exams and qualifications regulator Ofqual, might unfairly affect new and improving schools.

The Times reports today that Williamson was warned six weeks ago that the system could lead to hundreds of thousands of pupils being given the wrong results, disproportionately hitting disadvantaged kids.

Sir Jon Coles, a former director-general at the Department for Education, warned Williamson that the model would be at best 75 per cent accurate in predicting A-level and GCSE grades.

That, as it turned out, was optimistic: Ofqual’s own tests, the results of which were published last week, suggested it was only 60 per cent accurate.

The Guardian reports, meanwhile, that external advisers tried to warn Ofqual of the coming storm but were similarly ignored.

As we now know, while the standardisation process kept a lid on potential grade inflation, from teachers predicting overly optimistic grades for their pupils, bright poor kids were the collateral damage.

As Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies explains, the way in which the algorithm took into account a school’s prior exams record made it ‘impossible for students at historically poor-performing sixth forms to get top grades’.

It also favoured schools in which small numbers of pupils sit any individual A-level (ie, private schools).

But again, all this had been suspected for some time. As Sam Freedman, former DfE adviser, pointed out, Ofqual guidance, published weeks ago, acknowledged that standardisation would be unfair on bright students in poor-performing schools.

Williamson’s claim that he only clocked the issues with the algorithm at the weekend suggests he is either incompetent or lying through his teeth. There’s a case to be made for either.

His blundering attempts to contain the initial crisis seemed the work of a man who had no idea what he was doing. He suggested mocks should be used by students to appeal their results, only for teachers to point out this was a terrible idea, as different schools grade them in very different ways.

Ofqual seemed to agree. Its guidance for the appeals process, swiftly published and then unpublished over the weekend, directly contradicted Williamson, saying teachers’ grades were more reliable than, and so would take precedence over, mock results.

None of this does much to dispel the image of Williamson, nicknamed Frank Spencer after the accident-prone 70s sitcom character, as a serial bungler who is only kept in cabinet because, as a former chief whip, he knows where all the bodies are buried.

His previous exploits include telling Russia to ‘go away and shut up’ while Theresa May’s defence secretary, and being subsequently sacked for allegedly leaking from a meeting of the National Security Council.

The rank incompetence of Williamson is beyond doubt. It is hard to think how this crisis could have been handled any worse, unless one Chris Grayling (who recently lost a rigged election) had been at the helm.

Ofqual also deserves its fair share of responsibility here for shunning the concerns of outside experts in recent months. That it was people within Ofqual who were first pushing for a u-turn over their own algorithm is absurd.

This all looks like a colossal failure of nerve. Williamson et al were clearly convinced that individual injustices could be dealt with and that the knock-on effects of rampant grade inflation – as we see in today’s record-breaking GCSE results – could be worse.

But as Joanna Williams argued on spiked this week, the die was cast when schools were closed and exams were cancelled back in March. And let’s not forget, these were moves that the government’s harshest critics were also demanding.

Yes, the government has badly mishandled this, as it has so much over the past few months, but the cancellation of exams was always going to blow up in our faces.

It was always absurd to think that we could determine individual attainment by computer model, or that teacher-predicted grades are any substitute for proper examinations. Even now there are concerns about the unfair treatment of the pupils of teachers who weren’t quite so generous in their predictions.

The u-turn has only shifted the administrative chaos on to universities, and the longer-term impacts of these past few months on the younger generation are only starting to reveal themselves.

Even those who didn’t sit exams this year will have had their educational development severely set back by the decision to shut down our education system. And it will be poorer kids who will inevitably bear the brunt.

Williamson should go. His authority is shattered and his incompetence has been revealed for all to see. But ultimate blame for this mess lies with No10, who made the decision to close schools, to cancel exams, as well as to make this week’s u-turn.

It is one thing to close schools in a moment of global panic, it is quite another to keep them closed even as evidence poured in that they could be reopened safely, and to cancel exams, even though they were pretty much already conducted in a socially distanced way.

In Germany, exams went ahead across the country, despite protests from some students and teachers who raised concerns about safety and how the pandemic might hit attainment. In the end, several states reported results that were higher than usual.

In Britain, we have lived under a tyranny of presentism and panic for months. Entire sections of economic, civic and social life have been shut down, with little thought given to the obvious carnage and injustice this will unleash further down the line.

The exams fiasco is just the beginning.


Public School Libraries Commit to 'Anti-Racism'

After having spent half the summer informing our readers about the popularity of White Fragility and How to Be an Anti-Racist, the scene now shifts from the trendy "woke" crowd to libraries and schools as the academic year kicks off.

While practically all libraries were shuttered during the Wuhan flu outbreak, their umbrella group was apologizing for a past sin they likely weren't even aware of until the riots began. "The American Library Association (ALA) accepts and acknowledges its role in upholding unjust systems of racism and discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the association and the profession," the ALA wrote in a June release. "We recognize that the founding of our Association was not built on inclusion and equity, but instead was built on systemic racism and discrimination in many forms. We also recognize the hurt and harm done to BIPOC library workers and communities due to these racist structures."

Chastened enough that they felt the need for a mea culpa, individual libraries have been hard at work compiling book lists to assuage their guilt. But fear of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction has led critics to question the sincerity and goals of the ALA. At the same time, schools are rushing to re-educate their staff about this new paradigm.

Where libraries go, however, so do schools. Many students returning this fall will be tasked with reading one or more of these approved tomes, with discussions likely being led in a similar manner to these guidelines put out by, of all groups, the National Park Service. Its handy guide to the "'How to Be an Antiracist' Book Club" shows that "woke" people in government have way too much time on their hands. But it also shows how dead serious are those who believe that skin color supersedes the content of one's character and how committed they are to installing this view as our nation's predominant belief system.

It's no accident that these authors are targeting our young people with their latest appeal. And unfortunately, given the relatively recent indoctrination of their moms and dads, it won't take a lot of convincing — even if this initiative is all about righting wrongs none of us were around to commit.

No one questions that we need to continue to strive for a more perfect union. But our contention is that we've made a lot of progress on racial issues since the days of Jim Crow, even though some of the "advances" — such as erasing the father from many black families — have done a lot more harm than good.

Instead of these activist authors trying to place blame where it doesn't belong, perhaps a book built around the Golden Rule would be a more valuable lesson for all of us.


Australia: Curriculum ignores history value

Twenty-first century history is being made each day. The news is full of  statue-toppling anarchists and clueless looters, politicians making life and death decisions on COVID-19, increasing cyber crime and human rights abuses, loss of respect for longstanding international conventions of the sea and air … and the list goes on.

As times like these, there can be a realisation of a desperate need for knowledge and skills to examine ourselves and our past to reassure ourselves that people are capable of great goodness.

Only the sophisticated, inquiry-based study of human history can do this.

Down Under, reviewers of the Australian Curriculum have a tiny window of opportunity to make History the go-to subject that will finally stand tall alongside English, Mathematics and Science as signalled when those first four learning areas were prioritised back in 2011.

Unfortunately, like foreign languages and the arts, Australian education places History in the category of ‘nice to have’ but without widely accepted value ‘in the real world’.

This subject area suffers from some of the same issues as STEM and languages – too few highly trained teachers, and too little public support for intellectually rigorous education.

At its very best, the study of history — more than any other area of the curriculum — produces analytical thinkers, researchers with academic integrity and deep curiosity, competent writers and thoughtful debaters who marshal the evidence to explain the past, the present and the possible future.

But Australian education is reaping what we have sown — a weak, disjointed curriculum, lacking a powerful overarching national narrative (see Singapore for contrast) and clear, high standards.  This is particularly evident in History, with its inconsistent delivery, small enrolments in Years 11 and 12 and minimal alignment with the separate subject of Civics and Citizenship.

So who will write the history of these strange times? As the saying goes, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And history does tend to be written by the winners.

The revised Australian Curriculum needs to be a winner, especially in that most precious field of History.