Friday, November 13, 2020

Could Law School Be the Worst Higher Education Investment?

For decades, law school was a growth industry. Back in 1970, there were 146 law schools with an enrollment of 78,000 students; by 2013, there were 201 schools, enrolling 139,000 students. Enrollment peaked in 2010 at 147,000. (For the current year, it seems that enrollments will probably remain level with last year.)

By 2015, we were seeing articles such as this one in the Wall Street Journal: “Fewer and Fewer Students are Applying to Law School.” A number of law schools have closed since 2017, including Valparaiso, Whittier, Savannah, Arizona Summit, and Charlotte. More are on thin ice.

Evidently, many prospective law students were figuring out that the high cost of three years of study necessary to earn a JD just wasn’t worth it in a glutted market and were choosing other paths after college.

Just how right they were is highlighted in a new study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation entitled, “Objection! Law schools can be hazardous to students’ financial health.”

The study’s author, Andrew Gillen, explains the approach, “a debt-to-earnings test called Gainful Employment Equivalent (GEE). GEE compares the earnings of recent graduates with the typical borrower’s student loan debt to determine if students can afford their student loan payments.”

What he’s doing is following the method of the “Gainful Employment” regulations that were in place during the Obama administration. Under those regulations, schools could lose eligibility for federal funds if their average student loan figures were too high compared with student earnings after graduation. (Those regulations were only applied, however, to for-profit institutions, when the problem of excessive debt was also found at many public and non-profit schools. Under Trump, the regulations were suspended.)

Following the old Gainful Employment regulations, Gillen divides law schools into three categories: pass (where the typical graduate’s debt payments are no higher than 8.6 percent of earnings), probation (between 8.6 percent and 12.8 percent) and fail (more than 12.8 percent of earnings).

So, how did law schools fare?

Shockingly, 73 percent of the schools for which Gillen was able to get data (168 schools) fail.

Many of the schools that failed are smaller, but that doesn’t affect the overall picture very much. As Gillen writes, “An astounding 68% of law school graduates attended a program that fails GEE.”

In other words, a heavy majority of law school graduates will face so high a burden of debt that their schools would have been targeted under the Obama regulations if the regulations had been applied across the board.

North Carolina’s law schools don’t do well under Gillen’s analysis. Campbell, Elon, NC Central, Wake Forest, and even UNC fail. (For Duke, the data weren’t available.)

In an appendix, Gillen shows how his GEE figures vary across a wide array of academic fields, and law comes in dead last. Even programs in Design and Applied Arts, Social Work, Psychology, Health and Fitness, and English have substantially more “pass” results than in law.

What is going to happen once college students hear about these results, results that loudly confirm their apprehensions about going to law school? Except for the small percentage of schools that are in the “pass” or “probation” categories, enrollments will probably plunge, and the list of defunct schools will increase steadily.

The root of the problem is that law school costs substantially more than most students can afford to finance on their expected earnings after graduation. So why don’t school administrators find ways to reduce that cost? They can and many have nibbled at the edges, for example using somewhat more adjunct faculty and cutting back on library expenses.

Such nibbling, however, doesn’t cut very much. The big problem is that under American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation rules, law school has to be a three-year program—90 credits. A law school could lower the cost of getting a degree tremendously if it could allow students to graduate with, say, 60 credits. It would focus on the courses that are most important for the bar exam and subsequent legal practice. Many students would find that prospect attractive.

But if any school did that, it would lose its ABA accreditation. And that would be fatal in most states since no one is permitted to take the bar examination without first having graduated from an ABA-accredited law school. North Carolina is among the 44 states that require a degree from such a law school. There are good reasons to change the law.

The very high cost of law school is no problem for those graduates who find high-paying jobs, but most of America’s legal needs don’t come from wealthy people and big business. They come from ordinary people who are poor or middle-class. But they don’t have the means to pay lawyers hefty fees to handle their cases, and that often means that they have to go without an attorney.

Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode has long recognized that we have a serious access-to-justice problem in the U.S. She is quoted here as saying, “We are overlawyered and under-represented…In this country, over four-fifths of the legal needs of the poor are unmet and half of the legal needs of people of modest means are estimated to be unmet.”

The main reason for that problem is the cost of law school. Many lawyers can’t afford to work with poorer clients and that will become a more pronounced problem as enrollments fall and schools go out of business.

The ABA’s high cost, elitist vision of law school needs to give way to a free market in legal studies. North Carolina ought to be a path-setter in this regard. It should change its law to permit individuals to take the bar exam whether they have graduated from a traditional, three-year, accredited law school, attended a non-accredited law school, or merely “read law” as Abraham Lincoln did.

Many lawyers will privately admit that law school was mostly a waste of time and money, and a few will say it in public. For instance, Hans Bader writes here that

I learned more law in two months studying for the bar exam than I did in three years in (Harvard) law school, including basic principles of law (in real estate and family law) that I was never even taught in law school.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a few states have even waived the requirement of state bar membership for people to practice law. That might sound risky, but bar membership is no more a guarantee of legal competence than accreditation is a guarantee of quality in a college or university.

Gillen is to be congratulated for having put hard numbers behind the mass of anecdotal evidence to suggest that law school is far too costly in relation to the earnings that most graduates can expect. Since the ABA is unlikely to change its standards, it’s up to the states to release legal education from its shackles.

It Was a Mistake to Close Schools, UK Study Concedes

On March 12, 2020, the memo went out from the pen of Carter Mecher, bioterrorism expert advising the Veterans Administration. It went out to public health officials and others from around the nation. Close the schools. Pull the trigger now. And it happened, and with it, civic freedoms we have long taken for granted – freedom to travel, operate businesses, go to the movies, even leave our homes – were taken away.

They shut the schools. Then it was like dominos falling, one by one. The businesses had to close so that people could watch the kids at home. The shopping centers had to close because otherwise the kids would just gather there. The churches too. Entertainment venues were shut. Even parks closed. The stay-at-home orders followed from the school closures. In many ways, the whole legitimacy of lockdown hinged on the merit of the school closure.

A small group of pro-lockdown scientists cheered, as their decade-and-a-half-old dream of conducting such a social experiment was finally becoming a reality.

The school closures had a disproportionate effect on working women. They left their jobs to care for the kids, attempting to help them navigate the strange new world of Zoom classrooms and do assignments via email. Men stayed working in jobs as the primary breadwinners.

As the Washington Post reports:

The pandemic recession [lockdowns] has been dubbed a “she-session” because it has hurt women far worse than men. The share of women working or looking for work has fallen to the lowest level since 1988, wiping out decades of hard-fought gains in the workplace.

On Friday, the Labor Department’s jobs report showed that the economy has gained back just over half of the jobs lost in March and April, but the situation remains dire for women. There are 2.2 million fewer women working or looking for work now than in January, vs. 1.5 million fewer men, according to the Labor Department data.

In nine months of this hell, one might suppose there would have been a clear test of whether and to what extent severe outcomes from catching the virus were really associated with school attendance. It has finally arrived, and the news is not good for the lockdowners.

It is by now obvious (and has been since February) that almost no children are in danger from the virus. The age/health gradient of the virus affects almost exclusively the elderly with comorbidities. The children might have been helpful in achieving good public health goals and burning out the virus, rather than losing almost a full year of quality schooling thus far, to say nothing of the trauma of mandatory masks and being taught that their friends are potentially pathogen-carrying enemies.

The kids would have been fine but what about the staff and adults? Does locking up the kids in homes really keep people safe and dial back the infectiousness and mortality associated with SARS-CoV-2? How might one test this? One simple way could examine the difference in disease outcomes between domestic environments in which kids are present versus those where they are not.

This seems like an obvious test. Finally just such a study has appeared, as released by the prestigious medical journal Medxriv: “Association between living with children and outcomes from COVID-19: an OpenSAFELY cohort study of 12 million adults in England.”

It is the largest study yet conducted (35 authors) of Covid risk to adults from contact with children, and it has a not-so-surprising conclusion, at least for those who have followed the science so far. It discovered no increase in severe Covid-related outcomes for adults living with children. It demonstrated a small increase in infections but without bad outcomes. In fact, the study demonstrated fewer deaths associated with adults living with children at home than home without children.

To quote from the study directly:

This is the first population-based study to investigate whether the risk of recorded SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 differ between adults living in households with and without school-aged children during the UK pandemic. Our findings show that for adults living with children there is no evidence of an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes although there may be a slightly increased risk of recorded SARS-CoV-2 infection for working-age adults living with children aged 12 to 18 years. Working-age adults living with children 0 to 11 years have a lower risk of death from COVID-19 compared to adults living without children, with the effect size being comparable to their lower risk of death from any cause. We observed no consistent changes in risk of recorded SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 comparing periods before and after school closure.

What does this imply?

Our results demonstrate no evidence of serious harms from COVID-19 to adults in close contact with children, compared to those living in households without children. This has implications for determining the benefit-harm balance of children attending school in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wording seems a bit abstract, consistent with the genre of this style of writing. To put it in English, fear of bad Covid outcomes was never a good reason to shut the schools. Which is to say: this was a huge mistake. It is shocking to consider what has been lost, how the children have been treated, how brutalized are the parents who have paid so much in taxes or in private school tuition. It is robbery not only of money but also of education and the good life.

AIER has in general agreed with John Ioannidis’s claim from mid-March. These policies were put into place with no solid evidence that they would mitigate the virus or improve on medical outcomes.

From the beginning, the lockdowns were a policy in search of a rationale. In all these intervening months, none has been forthcoming. And we are only now seeing the solid research proving that the skeptics were correct from the beginning. The only question now is whether and when the “experts” that produced this astonishing failure will admit their error. Perhaps the answer is: when the media start reporting on it.

'Unviable': Australian university proposes cutting humanities and education courses

La Trobe University has proposed scrapping or reducing about a dozen disciplines in the arts and education, telling staff on Wednesday that it is no longer financially viable to teach these subjects.

The proposal comes as the university confronts a revenue downturn in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing it to shed hundreds of positions.

Staff at La Trobe, who have also agreed to take a 10 per cent pay cut to avoid deeper job cuts, were told that unprofitable disciplines from the schools of humanities and education could not continue in their current state.

Those that face being discontinued include creative arts, Hindi, Indonesian and modern Greek studies. Planning and community development and philosophy would be scaled back.

The bachelor of arts would also be offered as a purely online degree at La Trobe's regional campuses, staff were told.

In the school of education – where La Trobe last month celebrated leaping 42 places to 62nd in the Times Higher Education World University rankings by subject – the bachelor of technology education faces being scrapped entirely, as would the master of applied linguistics and the master of teaching English to speakers of other languages.

The number of subjects offered in outdoor education would also be reduced.

The cuts to disciplines were described as horrifying and "the byproduct of a broken higher education system" by tertiary union leader Sarah Roberts.

Ms Roberts, the National Tertiary Education Union's Victorian assistant secretary, said: “It’s deeply horrifying that what we all imagined might come to pass as a result of the pandemic has now crystallised at La Trobe. That is, liberal arts courses are being cut because they don’t generate the revenue that more vocational courses do."

Ms Roberts called on the university to consult further with staff and the community "before going ahead with its radical proposal".

La Trobe University said in a statement that the schools of humanities and education had reviewed their course and subject portfolios and found a number that were financially unsustainable.

Some of the changes would also involve a loss of jobs, requiring further consultation with staff, the university said.

"For both schools, these are proposals only and potential impacts will depend on the outcomes of the consultation," it said.

"Any impacted courses and subjects will be taught out for existing students or suitable alternatives offered."

La Trobe University vice-chancellor John Dewar said the humanities disciplines in question have had "consistently low enrolments for the last few years and in the current circumstances the university can't afford to cross-subsidise them".

Disciplines being cut in the school of education were heavily enrolled in by international students, who are blocked from entering the country, Professor Dewar said.

"The context of course is COVID and the fact that like every other university we’re facing a significant downturn in revenue this year, next year and probably some time beyond that," he said.

The university forecasts a revenue shortfall in 2020 and 2021 of between $265 million and $335 million.

It is one of just a few Australian universities that signed up to the Jobs Protection Framework, a deal between universities and the National Tertiary Education Union in which staff accepted pay cuts on the condition the university would limit job cuts.

Universities Australia has projected the Australian higher education sector could lose $19 billion in the next three years due to the loss of fee-paying international students.

Professor Dewar said the changes to education disciplines would require about five involuntary redundancies, while any possible job losses in the humanities would go out to staff consultation.

The university’s decision to sign up to the Jobs Protection Framework had spared it from having to cut hundreds of jobs, he said.

“Involuntary redundancies are unavoidable at some point but we have done an amazing job of getting as far as we have without making a very many people involuntarily redundant.”




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Biden and Trump: ‘Higher Education: What’s That?’

Written as the tumultuous and consequential 2020 electoral campaign was winding to a close, I note that almost no discussion of the role of our universities in American life had occurred during the campaign. Trump partisans could have spoken about the lack of ideological diversity in American universities and argued that federal policies largely enacted by Democratic congresses and administrations had caused the tuition explosion that put so many into massive student loan debt.

Biden supporters could have spoken about how higher education holds the key to economic progress, and that offering free college would work to reduce income inequality, especially between races. They could have called for a massive expansion of the Pell Grant program and other ways to expand college access.

Yet very little was said during the campaign about any of these things (or such other issues of policy disagreement as foreign policy). Contrast that to 2016, when, for example, Hillary Clinton would speak about higher education access in many stump speeches. The conventional explanation for the neglect of higher education in 2020 was that Covid-19 crowded out discussion of most issues. It became Joe Biden’s major talking point, to the point that he spoke about virtually nothing else in the latter days of the campaign, if national news accounts accurately reflect his actual campaign utterances. Perhaps something was said by one of the candidates during the two presidential debates, but if so, I do not recall it and it certainly was not consequential.

But part of the reason for the non-emphasis on higher education may be its decline in importance in American life. The proportion of the American population attending college this fall is probably almost 20% smaller than it was a decade ago, partly because of the coronavirus but at least equally because of other factors, including an increasing skepticism that a university degree is a good value proposition.

Particularly relevant are the increasing negative attitudes of Americans towards colleges and universities. Polling data show declining public support. Campus protests and the ascendant Cancel Culture has infuriated conservative Americans and annoyed many moderates, while polling data show somewhat smaller but real erosion in support among liberals. Americans of all stripes have found massive fee increases until recently hard to accept, particularly as they read of conspicuous consumption in some aspects of collegiate life, such high salaries of football coaches and ever more luxurious recreational and housing facilities.

Both Trump and Biden themselves are university graduates (Trump: University of Pennsylvania, Biden: University of Delaware and Syracuse for law school) who sent their adult children to good, expensive private universities (Trump’s: Penn and Georgetown, Biden’s: Georgetown, Yale, Penn, Syracuse and Tulane). Some 20 of the 21 presidents in office since 1900 were college graduates, the sole exception being Harry Truman. In the last one-third of a century, not only did every major candidate for the presidency have a college degree (at a time when a majority of adult Americans still did not), but increasingly they attended elite Ivy League schools like Yale, Columbia, Penn, even England’s Oxford. If elected, Biden would be the first non-Ivy League educated president of the 21st century. America has been becoming a bit like England, where an Oxbridge degree is commonplace amongst Prime Ministers, and personal acquaintance with the academic aristocracy is a near-must.

Wannabe presidents are degree laden as well. I researched the four leaders of each political party in Congress, as well as the governors of the 10 most populous states. All 18 were college graduates, most having a graduate or law degree; two-thirds attended at least one private school (Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf had degrees from three, including a Ph.D. from MIT).

America’s political leaders are highly educated and their public consciousness was largely formulated in their collegiate years, but they face an electorate that, while more educated than ever, is also having more reservations about how higher education works in America. Still, modern American intellectual thought and its increasingly progressive (some would say radical) strains has arisen largely out of the campus environment, so sympathetic politicians will probably see that the universities receive all the public support they need, and perhaps even more than they deserve.

Notre Dame Requiring COVID-19 Tests After Students Storm Football Field

Notre Dame is requiring coronavirus tests for its students, even prohibiting their departure from the area pending test results, after thousands of fans stormed the football field Saturday night to celebrate their victory over Clemson.

University President John Jenkins sent out a letter Sunday to students condemning their actions and detailing the testing requirements.

“As exciting as last night’s victory over Clemson was, it was very disappointing to see evidence of widespread disregard of our health protocols at many gatherings over the weekend,” the letter read.

“Because we are now even more concerned about the potential for contagion in your home communities as you prepare to travel home at the end of the semester, the University will place a registration hold on the record of any student who fails to appear for testing when asked to do so,” Jenkins continued.

Students who fail to appear for testing or who leave the South Bend, Indiana, area before getting their test results would have a registration hold put on their account, meaning they could not register for spring semester classes.

“There will be zero tolerance for any gatherings that do not comport with our health and safety guidelines, on or off campus” the letter said. “Those found responsible for hosting such gatherings will face severe sanctions.”

Before the campus-wide letter was sent out, a video showed Jenkins standing on the sidelines wearing a mask and clapping while students rushed the field Saturday night.

Jenkins faced criticism for attending the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination at the White House Sept. 26, where he was photographed not wearing a mask and shaking hands with multiple people. He tested positive for coronavirus days after attending the event.

Jenkins later issued an apology.

“I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden,” he wrote. “I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so.”

Australia: Tutors could become a fixture of NSW schools to close education gap

An ambitious plan to hire thousands of tutors to bring students up to speed after the COVID-19 shutdown could become a fixture of the NSW public school system if it succeeds in narrowing the education gap.

The $337 million, 12-month scheme, which will be funded in next week’s state budget, will equate to an average of $130,000 and 1700 tutoring hours per school.

The Department of Education will consult teachers and use the results of school assessments such as the check-in tests held this year and NAPLAN in 2021 to determine which schools and students need most help.

Retired teachers, casuals and university education students can apply for about 5500 tutoring jobs from this week, and will be paid according to their experience.

Learning gaps were already significant before the pandemic, and have long been one of the biggest challenges facing schools. By year 3, disadvantaged students are 10 months behind those from advantaged backgrounds.

But modelling suggests the gap may have widened by up to five weeks due to seven weeks of remote learning earlier this year.

When asked if the program could continue after its allocated 12 months if it succeeded in reducing the gap, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said she would be closely monitoring its effectiveness.

“We have record funding going into our schools, there’s opportunity to look at how that money is being spent," she said. “If this is something that is successful that we could look at tailoring with existing funding arrangements then absolutely we’re open to having that discussion.”

After NAPLAN was cancelled this year, three quarters of public schools participated in check-in assessments for years 3, 5 and 9. After positive feedback, the Department of Education will create more assessments for different years.

That data, plus consultation with teachers and principals, would help the department decide how to distribute resources, Ms Mitchell said.

“We’ll look at the size of the school, and we'll also look at the need of the school - what the data shows us in terms of where the gap is in the learning and how much extra support is needed to catch up,” she said.

“We’ll give some flexibility to school communities to how they roll this out. We know small group tutoring is proven to be very effective. It might take place within the classroom setting supporting the teacher, it might take place before or after school.”

The plan - which has also been adopted by Victoria - was first proposed by the Grattan Institute in June, after its modelling showed the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in NSW grew by six per cent due to COVID-19.

Students 'need $1.1 billion to close remote-learning gap'
The institute’s school education fellow, Julie Sonnemann, said research had found that intensive tuition in groups of between two and five, held three to four times a week over 12 weeks, could increase student learning by five months.

She said NSW's tutoring funding should be focused on core learning areas such as literacy and numeracy, and give priority to students who are in transition grades such as kindergarten, year seven, and years 11 and 12 .

Dr Sonnemann also said tutors should be required to use teaching methods with a strong evidence base. “This is a great opportunity to understand what works, to help students experiencing disadvantage catch up, and, longer term, to tackle the much bigger equity issues we’ve struggled with,” she said.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get an understanding of how to close the equity gap.”

The NSW Teachers Federation, which called for extra teacher hours to help the COVID-19 recovery, welcomed the plan. “We will work with the government to ensure the most effective implementation,” said president Angelo Gavrielatos.

Craig Petersen from the Secondary Principals Council said he was yet to see detail, but “in principle, it’s got the potential to be enormously helpful.”

Mr Petersen said the check-in assessment showed literacy and numeracy may require attention, and schools might need to pay particular attention to students beginning year 11 to ensure they have mastered concepts they need for the HSC.

“I think it needs to be as flexible as possible within some guidelines so we can ensure we are getting our best value for money from what is a significant investment,” he said.

Ten per cent of the funding will be directed to non-government schools in greatest need. The head of Catholic Schools NSW, Dallas McInerney, estimated about half of Catholic schools would qualify for funding.

"Its encouraging that there’s policy responses which are going to buffer the effect [of COVID-19] on NSW students," he said.




Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Closing Australia’s education divide will take a generation, landmark study finds

More pretence that all students have equal potential. The "divide" is the poor achievements of Aboriginal and working class children. In the USA the "gap" is between black and white pupils. And huge efforts and many bright-eyed ideas have been used to close that gap -- to no effect. So it would be optimistic indeed to think that things might be different in Australia

They are not. All sorts of efforts have been made to improve Aboriginal education but just getting Aboriginal children to attend school is a major difficulty. School is just not attractive to them and the parents don't care

And the basic thing underlying the gap is the same in the USA and Australia: the difference in Average IQ. IQ is highly correlated with educational success and both Aborigines and American blacks score abysmally on it. There is simply no way out of that situation

One of the most comprehensive studies of Australia's education system has found postcodes and family backgrounds impact the opportunities available to students from pre-school to adulthood, with one in three disadvantaged students falling through the cracks.

Sergio Macklin, the deputy lead of education policy at Victoria University's Michell Institute, released the report Educational Opportunity in Australia, which calls for immediate extra resources to help disadvantaged, Indigenous and remote students.

"Educational success is strongly linked to the wealth of a young person's family and where they grow up," Mr Macklin said.

"I think Australia's really letting down students from low-income families, Aboriginal students and those in remote areas."

The report critiques progress on last December's Alice Springs Education Council meeting where, in the wake of Australia's poor performance against its international counterparts, education ministers pledged to deliver a system that produced excellence and equity.

Last year's poor results on equality of education have now been exacerbated by remote learning, with some students without internet or stability at home falling weeks behind their peers.

"The children and young people that were being worst served by the education system are probably the ones that are being most affected by it," Mr Macklin said.

"So you'll see employment stress in families dramatically increased student vulnerability."

The report followed the progress of more than 300,000 students from school entry through primary school, into high school and onto early adulthood.

Mr Macklin believes the problem will take a generation to fix.

The report found disadvantaged students were more than twice as likely as their peers to not be in study or work by the age of 24.

The national average of students missing out on either work or study is 15 per cent, but this rises to 32 per cent of students from the lowest SES backgrounds, 38 per cent from very remote areas and 45 per cent among Indigenous young people.

"I think what this report highlights is that we're losing young people's opportunities in adulthood — and that's a real problem for young people," Mr Macklin said.

"But it's also a real problem for Australia. It puts a handbrake on our recovery efforts from the COVID recession."

Australian homes are now the biggest in the world and set to get even larger as more people work from home

Queensland homes are getting bigger as COVID-19 encourages more people to work from home and seek bigger dwellings in outer suburban or regional areas.

Latest research from CommSec shows that Queensland built the third-largest homes, including houses and apartments, in the country last financial year with an average floor area of 194.3 sq metres. Only Victoria and Western Australia had larger homes.

All new homes built in 2019-20 (average floor area, square metres)

Western Australia 218.5
Victoria 217
Queensland 194.3
South Australia 193.3
Northern Territory 181.8
ACT 178.3
Tasmania 174.8
NSW 171.8

Source: CommSec

CommSec chief economist Craig James said COVID-19 had caused more families to look for bigger homes and others to add extra rooms to their existing homes.

Mr James said the data shows Australia is again building the biggest houses in the world 235.8 sq m as opposed to 233.1 sq m in the US.

“The recent trends to butler’s pantries, mud rooms and home theatres has given more families justification to build bigger homes,” Mr James said. “More Aussies could embrace working from home in a bigger way, opting to move out of apartments in, or near the CBD, in preference for a larger home in a regional or suburban area.”

CommSec’s Mr James said COVID could lead to greater cohabitation, such as children returning to the family home, resulting in the need for more space.

“The trends from COVID-19 are still emerging.” he said. “If a vaccine were found in coming days and weeks, then there may be a return to pre-virus normalcy. However, it certainly does appear that so many norms have been challenged.”

Mr James said Australian homes were larger than those built in the 1980s and 1990s and are 27 per cent larger than those constructed 30 years ago.

Issues with China in Australia

A public hearing held over three weeks ago as part of the Senate inquiry into issues facing diaspora communities in Australia has sparked ongoing controversy after Senator Eric Abetz repeatedly demanded that three Chinese-Australian witnesses “unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] dictatorship”.

His demands were made in the context of the Party’s persecution of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang and its extra-territorial attempts to intimidate and silence Uyghurs living in Australia.

The trio — Wesa Chau (a deputy lord mayor candidate for Melbourne), Ormond Chiu (a research fellow at think tank Per Capita) and Yun Jiang (an ANU researcher and co-editor of China Neican) — made it clear they did not endorse the Party or its actions and re-affirmed their support for universal human rights and democratic values.

But they rightly refused to be hectored into making blanket public condemnations, arguing that this amounted to an unfair “loyalty test” based on ethnicity.

The exchange has only served to highlight the undue pressures some Chinese-Australians face. These pressures cut both ways.

It is intolerable that some citizens cannot criticise the CCP without being stalked and harassed and/or fearing for family members back home. It is equally intolerable that others may feel they need to self-censor or stay silent to avoid being tarred as a CCP sympathiser.

And from a national security perspective — as Natasha Kassam and Darren Lim recently argued — such a line of questioning may make it harder for security agencies to investigate foreign interference, if it alienates rather than engages the very communities that are not only the most targeted by such interference but also the most important to countering it as a major source of knowledge, understanding and intelligence.

We must ensure that genuine concerns about CCP interference do not lead to over-reactions that undermine liberal values and community cohesion, undercutting ritual claims that Australia is one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world.

Joel Fitzgibbon refuses to rule out running for Anthony Albanese's job after quitting Labor frontbench and savaging party for being too woke

The 58-year-old MP for the New South Wales coal-mining seat of Hunter said he has 'no intention' of trying to oust leader Anthony Albanese but would if enough colleagues asked him to.

'I have no intention of running for the leadership. I would have to be drafted. And in the current climate, I'm not so sure I could be confident of that occurring,' he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon quit after colleagues raised concerns he has been undermining Labor's climate change policy by consistently backing fossil fuel industries, particularly gas and coal.

Since Bill Shorten's election loss in 2019, he has argued that Labor should limit its climate change ambition to win back regional, working class voters.

'The Labor Party has been spending too much time in recent years talking about issues like climate change, and not enough time talking about the needs of our traditional base,' he said.

'If you want to act on climate change, the first step is to become the government. And to become the government, you need to have a climate change and energy policy that can be embraced by a majority of the Australian people.

'That is something we have failed to do for the last seven or eight years.'

Mr Fitzgibbon said he warned Mr Albanese that he would quit the frontbench 18 months ago - and said he would not challenge for leadership.

'Anthony Albanese has my support. He will lead us to the next election. I set myself a timetable 18 months ago and I was determined to stick with it,' he said.

The 58-year-old, who suffered a large swing against him in the 2019 election, said Labor has effectively become too 'woke' and has alienated working class voters in order to win inner-city votes.

'I think there has been a cultural shift and too much of an emphasis on our more newly arrived base, and not sufficient emphasis on our traditional base,' he said.

The MP said he wanted to 'take the Labor Party back to its traditional roots, back to the Labor Party I knew when I first became a member 36 years ago.'

He wants to the party to focus on 'blue-collar workers, the people who have traditionally voted for us in very large number but somehow haven't been voting for us in large number over the course of possibly the last decade.

'I've seen them come up to the polling in high viz, carrying LNP how-to-vote cards, carrying One Nation cards and I ask myself how it all went so terribly wrong.'

Mr Fitzgibbon, who has previously threatened to quit if Labor adopts a 2030 emissions target that he finds too ambitious, will step down as shadow minister for agriculture and resources to become a backbench MP.

The move has sparked speculation he will try to oust Mr Albanese, who is trailing Scott Morrison in the polls, before the next election, due in May 2022. Asked if Mr Albanese can win the next election, he said: 'Albo can win if he listens to Joel Fitzgibbon more.'

The MP said he regrets not running for leadership in 2019. 'I don't believe I would have won that contest, but I think a contest would have been good for the rank-and-file and the industrial wing of the party,' he said.

'And it would have been an opportunity for me to develop a mandate for my determination to take the Labor Party back to its traditional roots.'

Mr Fitzgibbon suffered a 14.2 per cent swing against him on primary votes at the May 2019 federal election.

His coal-mining seat of Hunter is now marginal, with a three per cent buffer after preferences, for an electorate Labor has held continuously since 1910.

Labor's 45 per cent carbon emissions reduction target by 2030 was received badly in the Hunter and the regional Queensland seats of Dawson, Flynn and Capricornia.

'If you begin demonising coal workers, coal generation workers, you're immediately demonising oil and gas workers, power generation workers. And by the time that message gets through, you're demonising manufacturing workers, and it goes on and on,' he said.

It comes as the Opposition attempts to put pressure on Scott Morrison to adopt a net zero emissions target following Joe Biden's election as US President.

Mr Morrison has refused to follow others including China, South Korea, Japan, the UK, New Zealand and the European Union in setting a net-zero carbon emissions target to combat global warming.

Former Vice President Biden's election victory means the US - the world's second largest polluter after China - will in January have a leader that also favours a net zero 2050 goal, leaving Australia even more isolated on the issue.

Mr Albanese on Monday piled pressure on Mr Morrison and said a future Labor government would adopt a net zero 2050 target. 'Australia is now isolated amongst our major trading partners,' he said.

In a press conference on Monday morning, Mr Morrison said he would not bow to international pressure and that his government alone would decide Australia's climate targets.

'Australia will always set its policies based on Australia's interests,' he said. He said he wanted to achieve net zero emissions but feared a target could harm the economy and threaten thousands of jobs in fossil fuel industries. 'I owe it to Australians that if we make such commitments, I have to be able to explain how we get there and what it would cost,' he said. 'Our goal is to achieve [net zero] as soon as you can, but we'll do it on the basis of a technology roadmap.'

Mr Morrison slammed Labor for wanting to sign Australia up 'unconditionally' to a net-zero target without knowing the cost.

He doubled down in Question Time in Parliament, saying: 'Until such time as we can be very clear with the Australian people about what the cost of that is... it would be very deceptive on the Australian people and not honest with them to make such commitments.'

Mr Albanese - who believes investment in renewable energy will create jobs and bring power bills down - said he would announce his costings closer to the next federal election, which is due in May 2022.

Climate change is a prickly issue for Mr Morrison who would face a rebellion from Nationals and right-wing Liberals in his government if he were seen to be harming fossil fuel industries.




Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Expect More Federal Interference on Education from Joe Biden

For parents of school-aged children, protecting their future through access to quality education is as equally important as Medicare and Social Security to our senior citizens.

No matter if the U.S. is experiencing a robust economy or a recession, parents deserve to know how the candidates will protect their children’s future by ensuring that they understand the critical value of enabling states, local communities and families to create strong educational systems tailored to fit their child’s learning needs.

The federal government is not the answer when it comes to education. The feds and the next president need to keep their hands off of state and local decision making on education in order to turn this sinking ship around. Since the federal takeover of public school systems under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, school districts have been kneecapped and have not been nimble enough to address students’ needs. The grip of labor unions and various federal mandates have dramatically dropped the quality of public education since the 1970s.

Since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education, states and local school districts have been drowning in rules and regulations that are time-consuming, labor-intensive and very costly to the taxpayers. These federal regulations have added endless layers of bureaucracy that ultimately impede on local decision making. Every year, bureaucrats on all levels waste billions of dollars that could be going to students or families but, instead, are used to protect government jobs which are often unionized. Overwhelmingly, this system does not prioritize the actual needs of the students it claims to serve.

Seemingly, every new administration that comes into office thinks it has the answers and solutions to the decline of American education. But additional regulations are simply bandaids that will not heal the serious wounds.

This year, however, voters have a choice. Marking a change from even fellow Republican President George W. Bush’s policies, the Trump administration has, for the most part, approached education with a hands-off approach during the last four years. The Trump administration has allowed states, as much as possible, to run their schools with autonomy from the federal government while breaking down government barriers to educational opportunities outside of public schools. Trump has demonstrated his dedication to students instead of to systems, including giving states more independent decision making without bogging down local school districts with more federal mandates. This hands-off approach from the federal government has allowed states to focus on what is working and what isn’t.

From school districts to the classrooms, all the way down to individual students, the last four years have been a reprieve compared to previously overly-zealous administrations, namely that of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Their tenure was marked by taking advantage of the 2009 recession and a $4.35 billion federal education boondoggle. The Obama-Biden administration seized the opportunity to wave a carrot in the faces of states that were suffering from cash flow issues during the Great Recession. Funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama and his U.S. Education Sec. Arne Duncan only gave stimulus money to states that competed for Race to the Top education grants. The awards for these funds were based upon points for imposing educational policies and states and local school systems tying themselves to more federal mandates. The more buy-in from local school districts, the more points they received. Part of the scoring included states adopting a set of national standards — Common Core — that at the time were still in draft form. It was months before states were able to actually review the new set of educational standards.

The Common Core State Standards. along with all of the excessive student assessments which accompanied them, have been a failed experiment. Fortunately, during the last few years under the Trump administration, states have been able to pause long enough to recognize they must reverse the courses they followed under the Obama-Biden administration.

Parents frustrated by the education their students are getting in public schools, whether in-person or virtual, should not be fooled by Biden. A Biden presidency would reverse the hands-off approach of the Trump administration when it comes to education. Having Biden in the White House would also further the federal strangulation of school choice–to the detriment of students nationwide.

With DeVos out, Biden plans series of reversals on education

President Trump tried to bully schools into opening their buildings, a hard-edge pandemic tactic that succeeded in places and backfired elsewhere. President-elect Joe Biden is hoping to pry them open with money for increased coronavirus expenses and clear guidance on how in-person schooling can resume safely, a shift that signals a new era for education policy in the United States.

Under Trump, the Education Department has been led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, who alienated many by casting public schools as failures and promoting alternatives to them. Through executive action and negotiations with Congress, Biden wants to bolster public schools.

He has promised hundreds of billions of dollars in new education spending, for preschool through college. He has proposed college debt forgiveness. And he wants to overturn a controversial regulation on sexual harassment and assault that universities and others strongly opposed.

He has also promised to appoint an educator as education secretary and likes to tell people that a teacher will join him in the White House. Jill Biden, an English professor at a community college in Northern Virginia, has said she plans to continue teaching as first lady.

“Teaching isn’t just what she does — it’s who she is,” Joe Biden said Saturday in a victory speech after being declared the winner of the presidential race. “For America’s educators, this is a great day: You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”

With the election results clear, transition teams for every federal agency are beginning the work of assessing the state of each department, cataloguing Biden’s promises, determining what can be done by executive action and what needs congressional action, and setting priorities.

For the Education Department, the transition committee is being led by Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, several people said. Darling-Hammond, who was considered for education secretary by President Barack Obama in 2008, is under consideration again, people familiar with the process said. Also under consideration are two teachers-union leaders: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association.

Biden has said he wants a diverse Cabinet, and many of those being touted or considered are people of color.

Democrats for Education Reform, a centrist group that supports Obama-era accountability measures, is pushing several names and hoping for a secretary who will be open to their views. That will be a challenge, given that Biden aligned himself closely with teachers unions, who oppose much of the group’s agenda. In an email to supporters obtained by Chalkbeat, the group’s president pointed to three big-city school leaders: Sonja Brookins Santelises of Baltimore City Public Schools, Janice K. Jackson of Chicago Public Schools and William Hite of the School District of Philadelphia.

Other names mentioned by people familiar with the process include Tony Thurmond, the California state superintendent of public instruction; Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), a former national teacher of the year; Betty A. Rosa, interim commissioner of education in New York state; and Denise Juneau, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

Teachers unions, on the rise, poised for gains in a Biden administration

Trump repeatedly proposed deep cuts to education that Congress rejected. Many of Biden’s promises require new spending, and they, too, will face head winds in Congress, particularly if the Senate remains under Republican control.

Biden has promised to triple spending for the $15 billion Title 1 program, which targets high-poverty schools. He has said he would double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses and social workers in schools. He has promised new money for school infrastructure. And he has said he would dramatically increase federal spending for special education.

He also wants to fund universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-old children; make community college debt-free; and double Pell grants to help low-income students pay for college.

First up will be coronavirus-related spending, particularly if Congress has not passed a relief package before Inauguration Day. Some emergency funding for schools was approved in the spring, but the Trump administration has been unable to cut a legislative deal for additional money.

Biden has endorsed at least $88 billion to stabilize state education funding and help pay for protective equipment, ventilation systems, reduced class sizes and other expenses associated with operating school during the pandemic.

“Schools — they need a lot of money to open,” Biden said last month at the second presidential debate.

Weingarten, the union president, suggested that a coronavirus relief bill negotiated by Biden could wrap in some of the rest of his agenda, such as support for more school nurses or counselors. “There’s a real opportunity to meet the needs of children,” she said.

Biden also has promised to give schools “clear, consistent, effective national guidelines” for reopening. That process will begin Monday when the Biden transition team announces a committee of scientists and experts that will turn his campaign proposals on the pandemic into an “action blueprint.”

Trump simply demanded that schools reopen, saying it is better for children and for the economy. The pressure campaign succeeded in some places, with schools throughout Texas and Florida ordered to open. In other communities, his demands had the opposite effect, hardening teacher and parent opposition to going back.

Arizona voters approve Prop. 208, education tax on state's highest earners

Arizona voters have approved Proposition 208, a measure that would raise money for educator salaries by taxing the state's highest earners.

The measure, also known as the Invest in Education Act, will raise revenue primarily for educator salaries by adding a 3.5% tax surcharge on taxable income over $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples. A small fraction of taxpayers would be affected.

The Associated Press declared the measure a winner shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday.

Proposition 208's leaders said at a news conference Tuesday night they believed the measure would earn voters' approval.

"Voters agree that strong schools mean a strong economy," said Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children, the organization supporting Proposition 208.

The committee opposing Proposition 208 acknowledged the education tax measure’s victory in a statement Friday. Jaime Molera, the committee’s chairman and a former state schools superintendent, called the win a “setback” but struck a hopeful note in the statement.

“It’s back to work to continue to seek ways to support Arizona’s education system across the continuum in a way that strengthens our economy,” he wrote.

The “No on 208” campaign was backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee were among the state politicians who opposed Prop. 208.

State Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman voiced her support.

Proposition 208 led in preelection polls, garnering support, particularly among Democrats, despite the fierce campaign being waged against the measure.

The measure was born out of the #RedForEd movement in 2018, when educators protesting low salaries and classroom funding repeatedly cut since the Great Recession pledged to "Remember in November."

After the vote, Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, took a shot at the state's governor and lawmakers.

"Voters will have sealed the deal on something that no legislator has had the courage to do, no governor has had the courage to do," he said.

Where would Invest in Ed funding go?

Educators probably will need to wait awhile to see a difference in their paychecks. David Lujan, one of the authors of the measure, said the money likely would start to flow to salaries in the spring of 2022.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a third-party state entity that analyzes the financial impact of ballot propositions, estimates that Proposition 208 would raise $827 million for education, about $100 million less than Invest in Ed's initial estimate.

The measure would send money to the following areas:

50% of the money would go to hiring and raising the salaries of teachers and other certified employees, such as counselors and nurses.

25% would go to hiring and increasing the salaries of student support staff, including classroom aides and bus drivers.

12% would go to career and technical education programs.

10% would go to programs dedicated to retaining and mentoring teachers.

3% would go to scholarships for the Arizona Teachers Academy, which waives college tuition for teachers-in-training who commit to work in Arizona schools after graduation.




Monday, November 09, 2020

UK: Teachers are no more likely to catch Covid-19 than those working in other frontline professions, according to official data

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest there was no difference in infection rates between primary and secondary school teachers and other professionals between the start of September and mid-October.

Other professionals included care home workers, healthcare workers, and those working outside of their home for at least one day a week.

It comes after trade unions blasted the Government for keeping schools open during lockdown, insisting they must be shuttered to protect educational staff.

But the chief inspector of Ofsted, which monitors standards in schools, warned yesterday that some may be sending children home 'too readily' amid the pandemic.

Speaking at the online National Children and Adult Services Conference, she warned there are 'indications' some schools are shuttering too early.

She also highlighted a rise in the number of parents opting to educate their children at home, adding it included 'quite a proportion' of the children that have special education needs.

Reports show the number of children attending school dropped from 89 to 86 per cent before the half-term break.

ONS statisticians found the highest and lowest percentage risks of catching Covid-19 between teachers and those in other professions overlapped, suggesting there was no difference in risk between them.

They calculated these - known as the standard deviations - to show the risk of catching coronavirus across all teachers, as the sample they tested was only a small section of the total number of teachers in the UK.

In their sample they found nursey teachers had the highest rate, at 0.45 per cent of all teachers in this sector surveyed, followed by university lecturers, 0.41 per cent, and secondary school teachers, 0.38 per cent (0.15 to 0.78).

Primary school teachers had the lowest rate, at 0.23 per cent.

In other professions 0.44 per cent of those surveyed tested positive for Covid-19.

Several trade unions have called for teaching staff to also move back to working from home during the second national lockdown, along with other workers.

The National Education Union (NEU) seized on ONS data showing a fall in the number of Covid-19 cases among secondary school students over the half-term break to suggest schools play a key role in transmitting the virus.

It accused the Government of a 'squandered opportunity' for failing to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown over the half-term period.

'We should expect the rates in secondary schools to begin to rise again after the half-term effect, along with them the number of children who are off school,' warned the union's joint general secretary Kevin Courtney.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, told a the online National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) yesterday that schools should not be so keen to send students home.

'There are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily,' Ms Spielman said.

She highlighted a rise in the number of parents opting to home school this term - adding 'quite a proportion' of the children have special educational needs.

Ms Spielman said: 'And here, many parents haven't made an active decision to keep their child at home - they've been told that schools can't accommodate them.

'Because it's too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won't allow it. It's deeply concerning and, understandably, many parents feel cut adrift.'

She added: 'For the children with SEND that have been able to get back into education, it hasn't been plain sailing either.

'We're hearing that many have suffered setbacks in their communication skills - probably down to having reduced social interaction for such a long time.

'And, although some people are working really creatively to help families, this is an ongoing concern.

'We'll be looking at this more in the next report from our autumn visits.'

A report on school attendance has revealed it dropped from 89 per cent to 86 per cent ahead of the October half-term break.

How COVID Could Permanently Change Public Education

Last spring, more than 50 million K-12 students were hurriedly sent home as the nation’s public schools shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those students have returned to their classrooms now, for full or partial in-person instruction, while others have continued with distance learning or quit public school systems altogether.

Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, discuss the changes afoot in American education and the consequences for students across the country.

Remote learning has placed a heavy burden on many parents, including Courtney Wittenstein, Maria Makarenkova and Jenna Ruiz, who share their experiences and the decisions they have made about their childrens' education during the pandemic. And Joseph Connor, the co-founder and chief operating officer of SchoolHouse, a company that matches teachers with families for at-home instruction, explains why COVID-19 has led to an increasing interest in microschools and learning pods.

Three Takeaways:

Many large urban school districts have struggled to serve their students during the pandemic and have not been nimble enough to respond to the crisis and personalize their offerings, according to Reville, who leads Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab and previously served as Massachusetts secretary of education. He says those districts already had outdated educational models and are now, “like a traumatized patient or somebody coming out from under an earthquake and just standing up, dusting themselves off, beginning to communicate and restore some basic elements of normalcy to get going again.”

Noguera, a former public school teacher himself, fears distance online learning has deepened inequity in public schools. USC Rossier School of Education conducted a recent survey of low-income families in the L.A Unified School District, and found many students were unable to consistently participate and became disengaged because of access issues, including shaky internet connections and lack of suitable devices, he explains. Overcrowded housing situations, parents working outside the home and homelessness have made remote learning particularly challenging for some in L.A.

During the pandemic, parents with more resources have been able to supplement or even replace their students’ public school education with the help of tutors, learning pods, online activities, and other enrichment opportunities. Noguera and Reville believe it will be possible for public schools to help other students, who have experienced learning losses, to catch up in the months and years ahead through extra summer school classes and additional tutoring. However, it will require additional funding and political support, says Noguera.

Australia: New education centre aims to end culture war over student testing

An education veteran is warning student testing has become a battleground for culture wars between those who argue teachers are avoiding accountability and others who say it reduces education to a set of numbers.

But Tom Alegounarias, the former chair of the NSW Education Standards Authority and one-time president of the Board of Studies, said assessment was too important to be derailed by simplistic debates, as it was vital to a quality education system.

With Professor Jim Tognolini, he has set up a Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment at Sydney University. It aims to build teacher confidence and expertise in testing, undertake research and provide expert analysis.

“On the one hand you have people arguing that teachers are unaccountable and afraid of testing because of accountability,” Mr Alegounarias said. “On the other hand you have teachers who say the purpose of education is being perverted for the sake of an ideological commitment to numbers and a market-type accountability.

“This has distracted the profession and the community in general from more fundamental educational purposes.

“What we want the centre to do is build the depth and expertise of teachers, and the confidence of teachers - and in turn the community - that students are being assessed with reliability, validity and accountability. Ours is an educational mission, not a political one.”

In recent years, debate has raged within the sector over tests such as NAPLAN. Many also argue the Higher School Certificate has had its day, prompting the NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, to say she was concerned about a “faddish push” to downplay the importance of exams.

Mr Alegounarias will chair the centre, and Professor Tognolini will be chief executive. The board will include representatives from the three school sectors, academics and teacher representatives, including unions.

It will be self-funded, not-for-profit, and sit within the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, in the Faculty of Arts and the Social Sciences.

Professor Tognolini said the recent NSW curriculum review and Gonski report emphasised the importance of good quality assessment evidence to teachers, and the challenges.

“The centre will work collaboratively with other assessment centres across Australia and internationally to learn from and have an impact on assessment and measurement issues that are truly global in their reach,” he said.




Sunday, November 08, 2020

The Last Refuge of Pure Meritocracy

Racial consideration for college admissions hearkens back to Grutter v. Bollinger, the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2003. It held that affirmative action programs can pass muster as long as they are “narrowly tailored” in order to achieve the “compelling interest” of promoting diversity on college campuses.

Colleges across the country have since repeatedly cited the ruling as the basis for their use of “holistic” admissions. But the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division isn’t buying that claim from Yale, saying they let skin color play an inordinate role in admissions.

It charges that Yale, Harvard, and others are really using holistic admissions as a guise to circumvent the high court’s guidelines. To do nothing in light of the available data, therefore, is to “permit our institutions to foster stereotypes, bitterness, and division,” said Eric Dreiband, an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

The latest lawsuit against Yale, coupled with the defeat of Prop 16 in California, which would have repealed the state’s 24-year-old ban on affirmative action in public colleges and universities, signals that the battle over race and college admissions is destined for the Supreme Court. The court’s new conservative composition will likely make race irrelevant in college admissions in the years ahead, said Edward Blum, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and president of Students for Fair Admission.

If so, what would higher education in this country look like? We already have the answer at the California Institute of Technology.

All that matters at Cal Tech is a proven record of aptitude to handle rigorous academic work. As a result, racial diversity is noticeably absent.

Despite intense pressure to bring the school in line, Cal Tech has refused to bend its standards. That means no preference is given to athletes, legacies, development cases, or racial minorities. Being rich, famous, or well-connected counts for naught. All that matters is enrolling the most academically advanced and accomplished students with a passion for science. Although all four factors are highly controversial in today’s cutthroat competition for admission at elite colleges, it’s race that is the most incendiary.

Cal Tech is indifferent to what other colleges do in this regard. It’s not that it hasn’t tried to recruit underrepresented minorities. On the contrary. However, it won’t alter its commitment to admitting only those students whose academic credentials it alone deems worthy. As a result, Asians constitute more than 40 percent of its undergraduate student body. That would be unthinkable at any other college.

Its refusal to grant legacy preferences or development cases as virtually all other colleges do has resulted in relatively low alumni giving, compared to the Ivies and other marquee-name schools. But generous governmental, corporate, and individual funding has propelled Cal Tech ahead of the Ivies in its general, per-student financial resource picture.

That’s another reason why Cal Tech doesn’t recruit athletes: It doesn’t need to. Although it knows that competitive sports, particularly football and basketball, can be cash cows, they have also compromised academics at even the nation’s most elite institutions. That’s a price Cal Tech won’t pay.

Cal Tech can afford to march to its own drum because it has produced world-class scientists and researchers, positioning itself among the top half-dozen universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. When 17 of its alumni and 14 of its faculty have been awarded Nobel Prizes, and six of its alumni have won the Turing Award in computer science, it is evidence that Cal Tech has made the right decision.

The larger question today, when race is dividing the nation, is whether Cal Tech can serve as a model for other colleges.

Its small size and sole focus on training young scientists mean it faces an uphill battle against other large institutions with a broader mission. Yet the U.S. clearly needs more schools like Cal Tech if we expect to be able to compete with other nations in the knowledge economy. They serve as a reality check that people are not equal in intellect and ability. Some are naturally brighter and willing to work harder than others. What’s wrong with rewarding them above others without taking race into consideration, notwithstanding the argument about the putative value of holistic admissions?

What about the effect on black and Hispanic students? Despite what reformers claim, abolishing racial factors does not at all mean they will be at a disadvantage.

Equally heartening, the number of black students graduating with STEM degrees nearly doubled 10 years after the first post-209 cohort was admitted.

Consider what happened in California after the passage of Proposition 209, which barred the use of race in admission to the state’s public colleges. Although enrollment initially fell in 1998, the total number of black and Hispanic students receiving bachelor’s degrees was quite encouraging. Black enrollment at the University of California more than doubled since the year before Prop. 209 went into effect. Hispanic admission increased nearly five times.

Equally heartening, the number of black students graduating with STEM degrees nearly doubled 10 years after the first post-209 cohort was admitted. For Hispanics, it was up more than 125 percent, according to Richard Sander, a UCLA economist and law professor. In short, black and Hispanic students are not a monolith. Those who possess the wherewithal for success will be admitted and can clearly perform as well as white and Asian students.

It’s this last point that can serve as a viable model for public colleges that are less selective than Cal Tech.

By establishing a school under their aegis that is specifically designed for students with special interests and abilities, public colleges could have it both ways. They could continue to follow their traditional paradigm focused on learning while offering an innovative way to appeal to students who wish to distinguish themselves from their peers. The military is an example: Minority draftees and enlistees have long demonstrated their enthusiasm for elite training. UCLA showed that black and Hispanic student applications rose after racial preferences were eliminated. The same desire to prove their ability to be successful in rigorous programs on their own could transfer here.

Nevertheless, we persist in assuming black and Hispanic students need a leg up. It’s a policy that indelibly marks them as incapable of competing with students from other races.

Britain’s teaching unions are a disgrace

Shutting down schools will do untold damage to working-class kids' life chances.

Are there more shameless creatures than the leaders of Britain’s teaching unions? Not content with having kept children out of the classroom throughout the spring and summer, they are now leaping on the second lockdown to demand schools shut once more. In the blink of an eye, they went from crying over Dickensian fantasies of starving children to insisting these very same youngsters are barred from school and prevented from learning. In a matter of days, they went from arguing that parents are incapable of feeding their children to arguing these same parents must take time off work, lose income and become home tutors.

On Saturday, even before Lockdown 2 was officially announced, the heads of the teaching unions called for schools and universities to close. The National Education Union, never slow to come up with reasons why teachers should not be in the classroom, launched a petition calling for schools and colleges to be locked down: it currently has over 150,000 signatures. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham joined in, calling for schools to close for a fortnight at the end of November.

Whatever their qualifications, I wouldn’t let one of these union leaders or any of their acolytes teach my children. Their calls to shut schools are completely irrational. At the start of this year there was much we did not know about this novel coronavirus. Now we do. We know that it poses virtually no risk to young children and very minimal risk to older teenagers and young adults. We know that children are extremely unlikely to transmit coronavirus. In countries all around the world, schools have reopened without becoming hotspots for transmission.

We also know the devastating educational impact closing schools has on children. A new study published this weekend shows that pupils in Year 7 are an incredible 22 months behind what is expected of children their age. Not only did children not make progress during lockdown but it seems they may have gone backwards, forgetting knowledge and skills they had previously learnt.

We know that this educational disadvantage does not impact all children equally. Private-school pupils were far more likely to have a full timetable of interactive online lessons while some of their state-school peers had to make do with a few photocopied worksheets or emailed-home instructions. Children in overcrowded houses, without laptops and wifi, without a parent on hand to answer questions, suffered most of all.

If schools close for a second time, it will be children from these poorest families that are hit hardest. Everyone, from Andy Burnham to the education union leaders, all their cheerleaders on the left, and every single one of those who rushed to sign the NEU petition knows this. They know that their children will be just fine, but other people’s children will not be. And yet still they continue with their petitions and their media appearances and their Twitter hashtags, determined not to give up until schools are shut or, at very least, time in the classroom is rationed on some bizarre rota system.

Suddenly, the campaign for children to have free lunches during the school holidays rings hollow. It is the lockdown left who are the true Dickensians here with their insistence that working-class children must know their place. By all means throw the urchins a few sandwiches. But teach them? Allow them access to knowledge that could transform their lives? Let them study for qualifications that could lead to a decent job and future income? Not on your life.

In the eyes of all those who last week campaigned for free school meals, and this week demanded that schools be shut down, working-class children are just a political football. They are presented as an undifferentiated blob, consisting of innocent starving waifs or vicious vectors of disease, depending on which story its tellers predict will strike a bigger blow against the Tories. And education is an easily dispensable, meaningless activity. The message from the #PutSchoolsInTheLockdown philistines is that schools should be shut and exams cancelled: that way no one will ever be held to account for how much children have been failed. Give all the little waifs a certificate and everyone will be happy. This is a degraded view of education and a disgraceful way to treat children.

The next time anyone from a teaching union bleats about children living in poverty we need to remind them that their shameful demand to close schools would keep parents from working and providing for their children and deny disadvantaged children the education that could transform their lives. Fortunately, there are many hard-working teachers who do want schools to remain open and have worked hard to ensure classrooms are a safe environment for children and adults. Their voices need to come to the fore. They show it can be done. It is vital schools remain open.

UK: What’s really behind the school-meals row?

Marcus Rashford’s campaign for schools to provide free meals during the holidays has raised important questions on what role schools should play in society.

The main purpose of schools is to pass on the knowledge and wisdom of previous generations to the young. Contained within that, schools are expected to socialise children in society’s values and beliefs.

Although welfare provision doesn’t fall directly into that remit, it is generally accepted that schools should provide welfare support for the hidden costs of free education, such as money required for lunches and travel costs. The issue of school uniforms is also about sensitivity towards the reality of child poverty. While school uniforms teach children the importance of formality, and to focus on learning over fashion labels, they are also meant to hide differences of parental income among schoolchildren. The demand that schools provide free meals for children when they are not on school premises, however, is something new. It raises questions about how far state schools should venture into income support. And what happens when an additional role is added to an already over-stretched sector?

During the Covid-19 recession, free meals during the holidays might appear a sensible stop-gap measure. But there is also the danger that schools start to lose sight of their main function of teaching and learning. During the pandemic, a number of educationalists seem to have lost sight of schools’ primary function. For instance, there have been calls for all GCSE exams to be scrapped permanently so that school can focus more on ‘combating child poverty’.

These sentiments are a continuation of practices that have been in place since the 2000s. The existence of breakfast clubs and homework clubs, the extra cash available for extended services, are all designed to keep children on school premises for longer and longer. The implication here is that the longer children are away from their useless and incapable parents, the more they will develop and prosper as individuals. This is another problem with extending free school meals – it adds to the continued narrative that low-income families are lacking in basic agency.

The apparently well-meaning policies introduced in schools shouldn’t blind us to the broader social-engineering project of reforming the poor which is at play here. Since the defeat of the labour movement and trade unions, this has become the overriding policy outlook of all sections of the Labour Party. Although poverty is correctly presented as a problem for individuals, scratch the surface and campaigners are often more interested in the lifestyle choices of the less well-off than their lack of income. In other words, they want to encourage poorer people to embrace middle-class values and norms – but without having middle-class levels of income and wealth.

At a radical left conference I spoke at a decade ago, opponents of spiked in the audience argued that we tended to ‘celebrate’ the less salubrious aspects of working-class life. For instance, the 2007 smoking ban in pubs – which spiked opposes – was presented as a ‘victory for the labour movement’ by another panellist. But neither I nor other spiked contributors are cheerleaders for anti-social behaviour, such as hooliganism or petty criminality. Instead, we argue against the demonisation of innocuous consumption choices, such as reading tabloid newspapers or eating burgers. The bar for what the opinion-forming middle classes deem to be acceptable and unacceptable norms for the masses gets higher and higher.

Central to all of this for welfarist radicals is a banal preoccupation with healthy food and nutrition. For them, healthy eating is a key marker of what makes a ‘proper’ person. And it’s something they want children from poorer backgrounds to embrace with enthusiasm. There has been far more effort devoted to this than in trying to cultivate a love of learning. This is why school lunches have been a focal issue within primary and secondary education for over 15 years or so. Campaigns have resulted in bans on fizzy drinks and chocolate in school vending machines to the scrapping of turkey twizzlers and the introduction of salad choices. Educationalists are keen for all children to conform to middle-class food fads. What children eat is often considered more important than what they learn.

There’s no doubting Rashford’s sincerity in his school-meals campaign. And as a consequence of the lockdown recession, some parents will certainly require financial support. But the latest discussion around ‘child poverty’ has become yet another pretext for reforming the poor’s ‘awful’ eating habits and lifestyle choices. After all, food poverty can be addressed with informal networks (such as food banks), food vouchers or increasing means-tested child benefits. These measures are less appealing for Labour activists because it would mean leaving poorer parents to their own devices. For campaigners, it would be far better if schools could bypass parents altogether and serve up couscous and broccoli. Indeed, one common objection raised about food banks is that users end up eating ‘too much processed food’.

The demand for the state to feed poor kids is a continuation of an existing culture war against the ‘great unwashed’. This is not about eradicating poverty and inequality, but erasing certain attitudes and lifestyle choices. Writing in The Times, James Kirkup explicitly calls on the state to protect children from their ‘parents’ constraints’ with a ‘national programme of parenting classes’ to follow. What began as a seemingly benign campaign to end ‘child hunger’ predictably ends up reviving notions of extensive state intervention into family life.

Nevertheless, amid all these eager plans for ‘helping children’, one crucial area of a child’s life that doesn’t get mentioned is the quality of teaching and learning in schools. If we really want to help the next generation prosper, schools should focus more on their key role of transmitting knowledge and developing the minds of young people.