Thursday, February 11, 2021

Tragic First-Person Accounts of the Effects of COVID-19 School Closures on Children

For reasons unknown, there are still raging debates over whether or not to reopen schools. Simultaneously, schools in states like Georgia and Florida have been open since the fall and managed to keep the children whose parents want them to attend school in person open most of the time. Where they have not been prohibited, private schools opened nationwide. Multiple studies in the U.S. have shown that transmission of COVID-19 is minimal in the school setting, supported by data across the globe.

Even the CDC has recognized this data, citing “scant” transmission in the classroom. Yet nationwide, children are still learning remotely. Most often, continued closures involve irrational demands from teachers’ unions and teachers’ associations. This debate is raging in several counties in Virginia, where it is up to the individual school districts to decide how to provide instruction. One mother, Yael Levin-Sheldon, has had enough.

She has been coordinating a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to collect data on the negative impact these closures have had on children. Today, she released the data summary for emergency room visits for self-harm and suicide for children between 10 and 19 in her Central Virginia health region. The incidence of emergency room visits in this age group per 100,000 has gone up year-over-year in every single one of the seven counties. Some of the increases are startling.

In Henrico County, Levin-Sheldon’s home county, the rate went from 34.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 180.8 per 100,000 in 2020. She was motivated to begin collecting data after advocating for schools in her district in June. In the process of her advocacy, she has been called a teacher-killer and a racist in public meetings and online forums. Levin-Sheldon said she is frustrated because all of the private schools in her area are open. Watching her own children’s behavior changes has been devastating.

Her two children were thriving students who loved school and received good grades. Now, she re-teaches them each evening after their remote learning classes to help them to maintain their grades. However, she has needed to seek professional help for both children. Her older child is exhibiting symptoms of OCD and has developed several compulsive habits, including obsessive handwashing. Her younger child has become emotionally labile, showing a wide range of behavior in short periods, from severe anger outbursts to inconsolable tears in minutes.

Levin-Sheldon says there is a school board meeting on Thursday, but the public is not allowed to attend. She expects no progress as the last teachers’ association demand was to fully vaccinate the teachers a month apart and wait the two weeks for effectiveness. The CDC director said today that that was not required. At any rate, it will not happen in Henrico County until the end of March in the best-case scenario. That is right before spring break, and at best, children may get a few weeks of in-person classes before school is out. Levin-Sheldon said:

I know a number of teachers and don’t blame them. Several are ready to return to school and are afraid to speak up. They are being bullied by the Henricho Education Association. I blame a lack of leadership from the school board and by Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.

In Chesterfield County, Kristin Gladstone has similar frustrations. She has a special-needs high school student who is back to school in-person, only because of the small class size. These students are alone in the building, and the student is missing his regular classroom experience outside of the special education program.

Her freshman has attended school for precisely four days since the original shutdown. When they immediately went back to distance learning, her child looked at her and said, “Mom, I’m just losing hope.” This honors student struggled to get average grades last semester and ended up with two Ds. Now, the child is talking about dropping out of school and suffering from decreased appetite, insomnia, and wild mood swings.

Gladstone is functioning as a mother, teacher, and caregiver, taking care of her terminally-ill mother. It is a daily battle to get her freshman to log into remote class and attempt to complete his work — and hers. She is seeking therapy for her child but firmly believes a return to school would have prevented all of this. Just attending for four days in November started to improve her child’s appetite.

School closures have had devastating impacts outside Virginia, as well. On Tucker Carlson Tonight, attorney Laura Grochocki appeared to share the stories she has collected from clients and her community. She represents Lisa Moore, whose son Travis Till committed suicide during the school closure orders from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Grochocki is receiving death threats for taking on this case through her small not-for-profit Remember America Action organization. In the interview, she says Moore’s story is just one of the many she has heard, and the foundation cannot take all of the cases her team would like to:

[There is an] outpouring of people calling us and begging us for help. And parents calling us and asking for someone to help them. And the stories of these parents and their kids. Some kids, not just Trevor Till, but at least ten other cases in Illinois that I am aware of , of kids committing suicide. And eating disorders and hospitalizations over depression. And thousands and thousands of kids from low-income, diverse and rural communities not able to go to college because they are not going to be eligible for scholarships because they didn’t get scouted their junior year…….The crisis is out of control and no one wants to talk about it.

Grochocki said Remember America Action would have filed hundreds of lawsuits across the county if her team had the resources to do it. She said this case was a simple Equal Protection case because Governor Pritzker allowed professional and college teams to play but teen athletes have been crushed by the restrictions.

It is long past time for our national and local leaders to end this madness. Not all private schools have invested millions in new ventilation systems and plexiglass. Most of the studies have used commonsense hygiene measures and cloth masks with additional cleaning requirements. The need for more federal spending is a ridiculous excuse at this point.

The disadvantages that children, even in good schools and without learning disabilities, will have compared to their peers in places where schools are open is unconscionable at this point. There is no way to know how long the gap will exist or the long-term effects of the mental health crisis. It is high time someone pulls a Ronald Reagan with the air-traffic controllers and tells these teachers’ unions and associations their members can be replaced in short order or they will start docking their pay. The future of too many children depends on it.


CDC vs. Biden White House: Again, Teachers Don't Have to Be Vaccinated for Schools to Reopen

After pushback from the Biden White House, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky is reiterating that schools can safely reopen before teachers are vaccinated for Wuhan coronavirus.

"I want to be clear about what the science shows and what I believe and how we should prioritize. There is accumulating data that suggests that there is not a lot of transmission that is happening is schools when proper mitigation measures are taken. When there is masking, when there is distancing, de-densification of the classroom, ventilation, contract tracing, hand washing. All of those things, when they are done well, the data suggests, the science suggests, that there is not a lot of transmission happening in schools and in fact the case rates in schools are generally lower than they are in the population surrounding it," Walensky said during an interview with MSNBC Wednesday night.

At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on Walensky, saying her guidance wasn't an "official" assessment from the CDC, siding with teachers unions refusing to return to work until teachers and students are vaccinated.

"They have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools, and so we'd certainly defer to that, which we'd hope to see soon," Psaki said.

The demand for student vaccination is especially excessive, given the vaccine hasn't been approved by the FDA for children under 14-years-old.


Sen. Rubio amendment would block schools from stimulus funding if they refuse to reopen by April 30

In January, President Joe Biden unveiled his proposed $1.9 trillion Covid relief legislation which would issue yet more checks to American households, this time totaling $1,400 per individual and an additional child tax credit for $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children over 6.

It would also give $350 billion to states and localities to balance their budgets after record drops in revenue, and $170 billion to schools and universities to supposedly reopen.

The December legislation signed by former President Donald Trump had already put $82 billion towards schools for reopening.

In the meantime, it offers a paltry $15 billion to small businesses that the states are forcing to remain shut down. To be fair, in the December legislation the Paycheck Protection Program was extended by $280 billion. To date it has covered more than 6 million loans at $595 billion combined between the CARES Act and the phase four bill that passed in December, saving as many as 50 million jobs.

The Biden plan would raise the unemployment add-on extension up to $400 a week — this is the additional amount that has been attached to regular unemployment benefits — raising it from the current $300 a week, but still lower than the $600 a week from the CARES Act passed in early 2020.

And, on the virus, it would include another $20 billion for vaccination distribution and $50 billion in testing, coming atop the $20 billion for vaccine purchases, $8 billion for vaccine distribution and another $20 billion for more Covid testing from the December bill.

As it is, Senate Democrats plan on passing the bill using budget reconciliation — averting a Senate filibuster that would normally take 60 votes to overcome — making it a straight up partisan affair. The Senate voted 50-49 to proceed with reconciliation as the vehicle for the legislation.

Meaning, even with just 50 votes in the Senate, if they vote in lockstep, that’s enough for Democrats to pass the bill even if not a single Republican votes for it. They cannot stop it. It is therefore questionable if Republicans will be able to get any provisions into the bill.

But one they should definitely fight for is an amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would force schools to reopen by April 30 as a condition for receiving funds. The amendment is based on the Put Students First Act.

“If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding. I propose that if a school refuses to offer students an in-person option by April 30, 2021, 100 days into the Biden administration, that funding should be rescinded and directed to school choice and the reopening plans of schools that are prioritizing their students’ needs,” Rubio wrote in a Fox News oped Feb. 2 unveiling the legislation.

Which makes all the sense in the world. After all, does it really cost $1.9 trillion to reopen the Covid economy? No, you just need to get the schools reopen.

More than any other provision offered by the Biden plan, Rubio’s plan could be the key to reopening the economy from the Covid lockdowns. 56.4 million children go to K-12 schools, including 50.7 million who go to public schools.

As millions of children remain home from school, many including special needs children are regressing badly, attending classes from their beds and are generally not being prepared for the rigors of college and being in the workplace. By March, many students will have gone almost a full year without in-person learning.

Under the Biden plan, it is unclear when schools will ever reopen, with the administration proposing to retrofit 130,000 schools across the country with new ventilation. A new 200-page report on Covid response from the Biden administration states, “In the coming weeks, FEMA, in consultation with ED and CDC, will work with states and local governments to utilize disaster relief funds to address barriers to school reopening, including purchase of masks and sanitizing products, as well as necessary emergency changes to school ventilation.”

The importance of reopening schools cannot be overstated. Millions of working parents are being forced to cut back hours or quit their jobs to take care of their kids who would normally be in school.

As a result, females have been disproportionately displaced from the labor force. In fact, females have the lowest labor participation now than at any time since 1987.

Overall, 25 million jobs were lost when labor markets bottomed last April. So far, just 16 million of those have been recovered. How long will it take to recover the 9 million other jobs lost to Covid if schools remain closed after April? If the Rubio amendment is not adopted by the Senate, President Biden and the rest of the country will find out.


Erasing Classic Literature for Kids

When I was a boy about 11, I committed a crime that changed my life. I stole a book. I was a book thief. I found it in another kid's desk and began reading, hiding it behind some boring textbook, and couldn't give it up.

And when the last bell rang, I hid it furtively under my jacket as if it were some rare, precious and struggling bird, and walked home. It's still with me. I'll never give it up.

That book that opened up the world to me. What was it?

"Odysseus the Wanderer," written for children by the classicist Aubrey de Selincourt. It is a version of the "Odyssey" of Homer, the greatest adventure story ever told. I've since read several translations of Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey."

The crafty Odysseus, the man of wrath, was an expert trickster. He duped the Trojans with his Trojan horse, befuddled the man-eating Cyclops and withstood the deadly song of the sirens.

Though he was clearly pre-Christian, I considered the wandering King of Ithaca as a patron saint. There was no trap he couldn't escape with his wits. His story has shaped Western literature -- as well as "Star Trek" -- for some 3,000 years.

But there is one thing Odysseus may not be able to withstand: The woke culture.

The political left and the growing #disrupttexts movement -- fueled by critical race theory -- in American public schools wants him gone.

Classic Western literature, from Homer to Shakespeare, Mark Twain and even Harper Lee, is now being canceled, much in the same way that the Islamic State group and early Christians destroyed ancient statues that offended them.

There is something quite barbarous about it all.

Just a few days ago, zealots in San Francisco began stripping "offensive names" from public schools. Names such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, who is a living witness to her own cancellation.

The stripping of names are public events. They pit aging, worried traditional liberals against a radical leftist movement that will devour them as surely as the relentless Bolsheviks devoured the more moderate Mensheviks.

But the purging of great literature often takes place quietly, among woke teachers and librarians. If the classics aren't exactly banned outright or burned, they have another way: To place offending literature on the back shelf, out of the reach of the young, where they're lost to gather dust in the shadows.

Author Padma Venkatraman wrote an essay titled "Weeding Out Racism's Invisible Roots: Rethinking Children's Classics" in the School Library Journal. She supports this purge. "Challenging old classics is the literary equivalent of replacing statues of racist figures," she writes.

"... exposing young people to stories in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm may sow seeds of bias that can grow into indifference or prejudice."

And so, the astounding complexity of great literature and great writers is now reduced, as are so many things these days, to angry zealotry and political correctness.

Shakespeare's glaring sin is his anti-Semitic treatment of Jews in the "Merchant of Venice." But isn't there value in his other works? Do I really have to ask that?

Harper Lee's sin is creating hero Atticus Finch, the white liberal savior of a Black man wrongly accused. And what is the blind poet Homer's outrage? He didn't think of himself as belonging to the West, the way we think of the West.

But when Odysseus enters the underworld and meets the vain and deadly killer Achilles, Odysseus is told this: "I would rather be a slave of a landless barbarian than king of all the dead."

A #disrupttexts leader, Lorena German, author of "The Anti-Racist Teacher," explains her purge this way:

"So, let us be honest, the conversation really isn't about universality ... This is about an ingrained and internalized elevation of Shakespeare in a way that excludes other voices. This is about white supremacy and colonization."

If the new test for all literature, movies, statues -- anything of historic value we consume -- is 100 percent purity, all will fail. And who would grade the test?

When I was young, there were no books that couldn't be read. To deny classic literature was to brand yourself a barbarian.

But now those narrow minds deciding what books children will read are the dictators of the new "tolerant" culture. There is nothing delicious in the irony.

There is great value in diverse characters the young can identify with. I'm not arguing with that. Even Homer understood the multicultural world.

What's irksome is the way offered, as ideological catechism to politically shape the minds of the young. If it meant more kids picking up books and reading, I might understand.

But kids aren't stupid. They're not easily led farm animals, despite what the new Napoleons believe.

If children associate literature with didactic political indoctrination, whether from right or left, the smart ones will put up a wall and shut down. And they won't develop the necessary skills of logic and critical thinking needed to grasp and wrestle with the great conflicting ideas offered in classic Western literature.

Perhaps that's the real plan. Who needs to develop critical thinking when the great books are gone?

Politics is always downstream of culture. And I'm just glad I stole that book when I could. When books weren't placed on the back shelf, out of the reach of a child.




Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Backed by CDC Data, Jim Banks Introduces Legislation Urging Schools to Reopen

Banks pointed to the dangers of long-term remote learning, which has proven to be substantially less effective than traditional, in-person instruction.

“For nearly a year now, our country’s leading experts have gathered data on the effects of COVID-19 as well as the consequences of remote learning on our children,” Banks said. “Every possible metric indicates that young people need in-person instruction and that failure to do so has disastrous consequences. School districts nationwide must remain open.”

The Keep Our Schools Open Resolution is backed by data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that indicates that reopening schools is safe, even while the pandemic continues. With restrictions and mandates still in place, the CDC deems reopening K-12 schools safe for children and educators.

“Back in August and September, we did not have a lot of data on whether or not we would see the same sort of rapid spread in schools that we had seen in other high-density work sites or residential sites,” Dr. Margaret Honein, a member of the CDC’s COVID response team told The New York Times. “But there is accumulating data now that with high face mask compliance, and distancing and cohorting of students to minimize the total number of contacts, we can minimize the amount of transmission in schools.”

In addition to learning issues with remote schooling, the CDC also observed a troubling spike in mental health visits for children.


San Francisco School District Warns About This New Tool of White Supremacy

Acronyms are grounded in white supremacy. Where did this originate from? You guessed it: San Francisco (via ABC 7 Bay Area):

First the San Francisco School Board decided to rename 44 schools because they are named after people with ties to racism or slavery. Now the Arts Department has taken a bold move by changing its name, "VAPA" because they say, "acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture."

Schools have yet to reopen in San Francisco, but their Arts Department has continued to work toward ensuring that all students have access to quality arts education.

The director of that department said, "We are prioritizing antiracist arts instruction in our work." So they got rid of the acronym "VAPA," which is short for visual and performing arts.

From now on, they'll simply be called SFUSD Arts Department.

"It is a very simple step we can take to just be referred to as the SFUSD Arts Department for families to better understand who we are," explained Sam Bass, Director of the SFUSD Arts Department.

In a letter, he explains that acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture.

"The use of so many acronyms within the educational field often tends to alienate those who may not speak English to understand the acronym," he added.

That's based on a 1999 paper written by author Tema Okun titled "White Supremacy Culture." Okun told me that, "Our culture perpetuates racism when things continue to be written down in a certain way."

Ed at Hot Air cited Reason’s Robby Soave who commented on this narrative about acronyms, white supremacy, and using this paper as a casus belli:

The New York Post reported that the memo cites a 1999 paper by Tema Okun. That paper does not specifically say that acronyms are racist, though it does label “worship of the written word” as an aspect of white supremacy. Other purported characteristics of white supremacy are “perfectionism,” a “sense of urgency,” “individualism,” and “objectivity.” (If this list sounds familiar, it’s because the National Museum of African American Arts and Culture got in trouble last year for promoting similar nonsense.) While some acronyms may be confusing to non-native English speakers, it’s quite a stretch to describe them as a function of white supremacy.

Ironically, Okun’s paper lists memos as characteristic of white supremacy, so the department should probably fire Bass for racism. And at risk of stating the obvious, the new name—SFUSD Arts Department—contains an acronym just as surely as the old one did. White supremacy is just that insidious; even an arts department dedicated to antiracism can’t seem to rid itself of the stain. …

The arts department’s badly explained name change isn’t nearly as consequential, but it’s still emblematic of a school district caught in the throes of far-left orthodoxy

Are we at a point where the more education you receive the dumber you get? When you see this nonsense and its spread, you have to wonder.


The Teachers Unions Overplay Their Hand

Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously, and cynically, said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” As has become increasingly clear, teachers unions across the nation have used that advice as their playbook during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exploiting a crisis, as the teachers unions have done for the past 11 months, carries significant risks, however, and the unions will likely soon understand that their strategy of stalling the reopening of schools has backfired. Exhausted parents and exasperated public officials – even some of the most far-left progressive advocates of teachers unions – are increasingly expressing their dismay at the unions’ unwillingness to allow children back into classrooms.

The unions have presented a two-pronged argument for keeping the classrooms closed. First, contrary to the evidence, they argue that virtual education is an adequate replacement for in-person instruction. The majority of students in America’s largest cities have been out of the classroom for almost an entire year, and we now have sufficient data and studies that refute the unions’ arguments. The nonprofit research organization the Rand Corporation, for example, recently produced a study detailing the many ways virtual education has failed to meet students’ academic and emotional needs.

The second part of the unions’ argument in favor of keeping classroom doors shut is the theory that teachers face an undue risk if they go back to in-person instruction. Again, the unions are resolutely determined to ignore the facts. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that schools pose no great risk of virus transmission, and schools in many parts of the world and in America have reopened safely. Even in cities with extreme lockdown measures such as Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City, private schools have found ways to conduct in-person lessons, and to do so safely. Public schools have opened in many districts, as states across the country have opened.

Scientific facts are stubborn things, but the unions seem not to care.

There are, however, other types of facts at play, and the unions would be well-advised to take note of two facts, in particular. Fact number one: parents are increasingly wary of the unions’ antics, and, fact number two: progressive officials in Democrat-run cities (normally so accommodating to the unions’ demands) are increasingly willing to tell the public the real reason classrooms are closed – the unions are playing games.

It should come as no surprise that as parents have gotten wise to the teachers unions’ endless delaying strategies, their positive image of the unions has declined. Last August’s annual Rasmussen poll on public impressions of teacher unions shows a decline in the unions’ image, as more Americans believe the unions are looking out for themselves more than they are for students.

Parents are expressing their displeasure with the unions not only through their answers to public opinion polls but also through an even more powerful form of expression – by taking their children out of the public school system.

As private schools have prioritized in-person instruction, parents have flocked to those schools, even where tuition costs are steep.

Homeschooling is also on the rise, and more parents are taking their children out of virtual schooling that revolves around teachers unions, preferring instead to have the flexibility and control of their children’s education.

At the same time that parents are questioning why the teachers unions have so much control over when the schools are allowed to reopen, liberal mayors and city officials are showing similar levels of frustration.

Washington, DC’s liberal mayor Muriel Bowser showed her dismay this past week with the teachers unions’ threat to stage protest and stay home from their first week back in classrooms. “I have to tell you that, just like anyone who is sitting here, when your boss tells you that this [is] where you need to be at work, that’s where you got to be.”

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, no conservative, to be sure, has been in a heated match with the union there for months. Last week, she noted that her administration has been “a voice and advocate for those parents who just want options. And in this day, the CTU [Chicago Teachers Union] leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing.”

“A big bag of nothing” is a fair assessment of what many parents feel online schooling has provided for their children.

There’s a fine line between Rahm Emanuel’s exhortation to make sure a crisis “never goes to waste,” and turning a health crisis into a national education emergency, and using children as pawns in a political struggle. If the unions don’t alter their stance and start prioritizing children’s education, they may quickly find they have no bargaining chips left to play.


Should Universities Make Policy Pronouncements?

Amidst all of the past year’s turmoil, the riots, apparent police brutality, and, most recently, insurrectional destruction at the U.S. Capitol, university presidents have spoken up in fierce condemnation. They have said things like “University X deplores and condemns the violence and the break down of order and civility and the recent riots.” Most Americans, including me, would wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. Yet I am somewhat uneasy about them nonetheless. Why?

Universities are forums for the expression of varying ideas, opinions, perceptions, artistic creations, etc. They are sometimes called “marketplaces of ideas,” where competing viewpoints can be exchanged and debated in a thoughtful and civil manner. Universities are communities, “owned” legally by some governing board or church, but in reality the “property” of a broader community of individuals—students, faculty, alumni, etc.—with varying viewpoints and perspectives who use them as a place for learning and exchanging ideas.

In such an environment, for university presidents to make assertions about what the institution believes is presumptuous and suggests that the university community unanimously endorses an opinion, which, human nature being what it is, likely is simply not true. It goes against the very idea that universities are institutions celebrating viewpoint diversity, and, indeed, that diversity is the crucible out of which evolves a broad consensus with its set of policies, traditions, and via our teaching ultimately our future leaders—things that help create, sustain and strengthen our national identity.

To me, it would have been appropriate for a college president after the Capitol Hill destruction to say, “Personally, I find the behavior in Washington deplorable, and hope that the authorities persecute all the perpetrators of the insurrection to the fullest extent of the law. My university, however, is made up of thousands of students, faculty and others who may offer additional or alternative perspectives: that is what we are all about—dialogue and debate over issues of human interest. I value vibrant discussion and civil debating of recent events by members of our university community.”

Groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and others have reported a sharp decline in those believing in unfettered freedom of verbal expression on campus, and an increase in students and faculty suppressing their true feelings about issues for fear of being ostracized or maybe punished by others in the university community with other perspectives. The campus Cancel Culture offers vivid examples of flagrantly inappropriate suppression of viewpoints. Often, one hears about students with generally conservative or traditional points of view who feel intimidated by a prominently leftish campus environment increasingly intolerant of free market or classical liberal perspectives.

Admittedly, a campus which observes the Chicago Principles on free expression should almost unanimously agree that violations of the rights of others is intolerable, and the president should be able to say “At University X, we believe in the peaceable freedom of expression and are chagrined by event X (perhaps the recent destruction at the Capitol) which infringes that freedom.” A university can and should legitimately embrace the freedom of people to express themselves peacefully without harming others (not the case recently in Washington). Where you draw the line between the narrow cases where presidential proclamations of university positions is acceptable and where it is not may not always be clear cut. As a general rule, however, university presidents should stay out of controversial current issues, since anything they say is likely to be inappropriately construed as representing the position of the entire campus community.

There are some issues difficult to resolve. Religious institutions may establish universities where the school is expected to adhere to church teachings. Faculty may be required to sign pledges that they adhere to church positions on important matters of doctrine. Catholic institutions often face difficult decisions about members of the campus community taking positions (say on abortion) opposing that of the church that founded and financially supports it. Schools where the religious ties have weakened over time face legitimate conflicts regarding this. Personally, I abhor schools that censor the views of members of the campus community, but if informed individuals prefer to live in an environment where some forms of expression are forbidden, in a free society that should be acceptable.




Monday, February 08, 2021

My Family Has School Choice. So Should Yours

Some families, including mine, have always had school choice. But until the pandemic, I hadn't had much occasion to think about what that really means.

After a disastrous spring of two kids doing spotty online learning through their Washington, D.C., public school, we knew we needed a change: We were contemplating a move to the suburbs, an in-person micro-school run by some friends, and an expensive traditional private school with the sort of fancy testing and hygiene plan that the public system could never manage.

We even briefly considered starting a compound in West Virginia with some pals.

We were anxious and confused, but had the means to rebuild a proxy of a service that the government collects money for, and promises to provide.

We ended up organizing a pod of six kids from three families in a neighborhood full of overeducated, annoyingly high-functioning D.C. people. It worked out great, and the "governess" we hired—as he calls himself—is adored by our kids.

For us, the city's faltering efforts to reopen became just a mildly stressful inconvenience. But what about people who can't afford these options and are already grappling with massive uncertainties and a sense of powerlessness in their lives, such as parents who are out of work, homeless, or struggling with substance abuse?

A recent ProPublica investigation told the story of a gifted 12-year-old named Shemar attending a fully remote East Baltimore public school. His family's effort to access the free Wi-Fi provided by Comcast "foundered quickly in a bureaucratic dead end."

"No one made sure that Shemar logged on to his daily class or completed the assignments that were piling up in his Google Classroom account." His grandmother was on the scene, but she "attended little school while growing up in a sharecropping family…His great-uncle, who also lived in the house, had dropped out of school in South Carolina around the age of 8 and was illiterate."

In Baltimore, "[c]itywide, about 80% of students had logged on," ProPublica reported, "but only 65% were reliably present, according to the district. Before the pandemic, the attendance rate was 87%."

In Los Angeles, kindergarten enrollment was down by about 14 percent; in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by 17 percent. And the prospects for kids who did enroll weren't great. According to one study, only one in three school districts required teachers to deliver instruction during the spring part of the lockdown.

There is money to give kids like Shemar the sort of choices that my family has. Inflation-adjusted per-student spending has risen 280 percent since 1960, and the U.S. currently spends over $15,000 per child each year. Yet when COVID-19 struck, for most families, there was no mechanism that would allow them to use that money to better serve their particular needs.

District schools with massive technology budgets struggled to get laptops, tablets, or hotspots to kids in need. School libraries full of books sat silent and unused. Playgrounds were roped off.

Students lost the equivalent of three months of learning in mathematics and one and a half months of learning in reading, according to a McKinsey study. Schools that predominantly serve students of color were most impacted.

Meanwhile, we learned that opening schools for young children isn't a major risk. Brown University economist Emily Oster worked with a team to create a dashboard that tracks COVID-19 cases in schools. She says, "This summer there was this idea that we're going to open schools and that's going to be the thing that destroys everything. That does not seem to be true. We're not seeing schools as the locus of large amounts of spread. The rates are actually quite low."

Schools were imposing tremendous costs on families for very little benefit in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

But even worse is the sense of powerlessness for too many families. Their lives had been disrupted, and despite the huge amount of resources in the system, they were being told that they had no alternatives.

We always knew that when local governments negotiate with teachers unions, the needs of students and their parents are the first to get traded away. During the pandemic, that dynamic has meant that attending in-person school is a privilege afforded to the children of the rich.

Families like mine already have choices. The horrors of the last year have laid bare the fundamental inequality of denying the same power over their children's education to everyone else.


What’s in a Syllabus? The Keys to Undoing Academic Freedom, If We’re Not Careful

The syllabus is such a basic document that most of us tend not to think much about what goes into making one. What are its necessary ingredients? A listing of the required study and reading materials, obviously. Dates of important milestones, like term papers and exams, as well. Lecture schedules, weekly assignments, and a rubric on how the assignments and exams factor into overall grades.

Oh, and an acknowledgment—mandated by the institution—that your campus was built on land stolen from Indigenous peoples, and that your being there contributes to an ongoing intergenerational trauma.

Wait, what?

That particular hypothetical isn’t a hypothetical: It was considered for adoption by the University of Maryland’s (UMD’s) School of Public Policy as part of a broader statement on “Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in the School of Public Policy.”

The proposed “Land Acknowledgement” stated:

We acknowledge that we are gathered on the stolen land of the Piscataway Conoy people and were founded upon the erasures and exploitation of many non-European peoples.

The proposed statement further invited students to avail themselves of university resources that can provide “a richer understanding of generations of racialized trauma rooted in the institution.”

To its credit, UMD has clarified that the School of Public Policy is not requiring faculty to use or affirm the Land Acknowledgement statement. Rather than dismiss it as a curiosity, however, it’s worth unpacking further, as we’re bound to see other statements like it.

Law professor Eugene Volokh, in a piece calling attention to the proposed UMD policy, ran down the various issues, including the legal issues, involved with such compelled statements:

What if a faculty member doesn’t endorse the land acknowledgment statement, perhaps because he takes the view that conquest of land and the displacement of peoples is the norm in human history…and not something that he thinks merits particular condemnation or explicit attention? Or what if he’s skeptical of claims of “generations of racialized trauma rooted in the institution?” The school may have its own view of the matter, but one principle of academic freedom is that faculty need not endorse all the views that the school endorses, and cannot be compelled to publicly make such an endorsement.

Indeed, to Volokh’s last point, the United States Supreme Court’s doctrine against compelled speech is a hallowed one in our First Amendment tradition, stretching back to its ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that decision, the Court famously held:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Let’s also not forget the stain left by higher education’s enforcement of anti-communist loyalty oaths in the 20th century, the signing of which was a condition of employment at institutions across the country.

The Supreme Court ruled against those in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, pronouncing academic freedom as “a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom[.]”

That we’re in the position of reminding institutions of the Supreme Court’s scorn for compelled speech shows the work we have ahead of us.

This isn’t the first time the college syllabus has been a front for larger cultural battles. In recent years we’ve had debates over trigger warnings, which can to a degree be instructive. Separate from the question of whether trigger warnings are effective (and there is some research suggesting they have a negative effect on resilience) was the question of who should make the call on using them.

My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, viewed the matter significantly as one of individual academic freedom. If a professor decided they were worth employing, that’s their right―as is the right to decline using them. Forcing faculty to use them against their own judgment violates academic freedom―as does prohibiting their use by faculty who believe they serve a helpful purpose.

That approach can lend some perspective to this matter. First Amendment and academic freedom considerations should weigh heavily against universities either compelling or prohibiting faculty from including things like UMD’s Land Acknowledgement statement on their syllabi.

This doesn’t end the discussion, however.

For one, saying these matters are best left to a professor’s own judgment is not the same as saying professors have carte blanche to set whatever rules they please without violating students’ rights. Take the case of a professor at Iowa State University whose syllabus flatly prohibited “any instances of othering” (a term that’s a bit hard to nail down) and prohibited arguments against abortion, same-sex marriage, and the Black Lives Matter movement. (The professor, fortunately, later modified the syllabus to better align it with students’ First Amendment rights.)

There’s a lot more to this matter than a simple statement about stolen land. That provision is part of a larger statement much likelier to be representative of shifts underway at campuses around the country, which have implications for the rights of students and faculty alike. Alongside the Land Acknowledgement, UMD also considered a “Commitment to an Inclusive Classroom,” whose language read in part:

Materials, discussions, and activities will respect all forms of diversity. All students are expected to promote this aim through their words, actions, and suggestions. If something is said or done in this course, either by myself, students, or guests, that is troubling or causes offense, please let me know right away.

Again, fortunately, UMD has clarified that this language will not be compulsory. A good thing, as this would have risked subjecting whole classrooms to a vague, subjective speech code that begs students to shy away from venturing any potentially controversial opinions in the classroom, lest they find themselves investigated or sanctioned for “caus[ing] offense.”

In this setting, what does it mean to have to “respect all forms of diversity?” Can the honest expression of opinion on hot-button issues avoid sanction? And what of the professors, especially those whose teaching confronts challenging issues, who risk being caught under the glare of such a policy, whether through offering their opinions or overseeing the exchange of those opinions between their students?

These aren’t idle questions, and they get to problems that have been brewing in higher education for some time.

In recent years, FIRE has often seen administrators rush to protect students from offense and discomfort rather than protect professors’ academic freedom. References to racial and ethnic slurs even in pedagogically relevant contexts have become particularly fraught, as professors have found themselves removed from teaching and subject to interrogation simply for, for instance, quoting accurately from literary icon James Baldwin or discussing legal cases concerning racial discrimination, as though mentioning such terms in an educational context were no different from using them as a slur.

Higher education was struggling enough with this tension before it was hyper-charged in 2020 by the upheavals George Floyd’s death triggered. Numerous faculty were caught in this crossfire and faced campaigns aimed at getting them terminated from their professorships even for inadvertently upsetting campus sensitivities.

Gordon Klein was suspended at the University of California, Los Angeles for declining (in accordance with UCLA policy) to change exam and grading procedures for black students. At St. John’s University, Richard Taylor was removed from teaching after students denounced an academic exercise evaluating the “Columbian Exchange” as tantamount to forcing them to defend slavery. And at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, Gary Shank was terminated for using the n-word while leading a class discussion about why the term is so problematic.

All the while, universities have been under pressure to reframe their educational models through the lens of antiracism. A simple Google search shows the extent to which universities are prioritizing this, and the University of Maryland is no different. Its public policy school is working from a larger framework of “Nine Antiracist Actions” including “prioritizing more antiracism content across courses.”

Mandatory syllabus statements are the tip of the iceberg. Such statements may seem insubstantial in themselves, but they’re the result of a rethinking of the academic enterprise in ways that reach deep into the classroom.

Universities aren’t without rights here. By tradition, the university has a strong hand in broad curricular decision-making. Further, it’s important to protect the rights of faculty to choose to approach their material through an antiracist lens.

But administrators mustn’t chill student and faculty expression with vague and uncertain requirements. Nor can a public university violate clearly established First Amendment rights in asserting its role.

There are few environments better situated for a wide-open discussion of antiracism and its related issues than the university. But universities are also troublingly susceptible to demands for orthodoxy and the squelching of dissent, perhaps never more so than in moments of national reckoning.

Such moments are the perfect time for the rigorous discussion of the issues. They’re also a time to take a step back and remember that no cause is well served by compelling individuals to express their solidarity with it. UMD seems to understand this. Will others?


UK: Winchester College to review sex education lessons amid row with parents

Winchester College has said that its sex education lessons are now under “review” amid a row with parents over whether the content was age-appropriate.

The £41,700-a-year boarding school defended its decision to enlist the organisation It Happens to deliver sex education classes to pupils, as it wrote to families to give them “necessary reassurance” over its approach.

But Nicholas Wilks, the school’s second Master, told parents that: “We will of course review this, as every other area, of our provision.”

Winchester College has been accused of “indoctrinating” its pupils after 14-year-old boys were told that they will not be prosecuted for having “consensual” intercourse.

Some parents at the 640-year-old boarding school are furious that their sons were told that the age of consent “is not there to punish young people for having consensual sex”.

Students in Year Nine and Year Ten at the elite public school were given a virtual lesson on relationships, sex and health education earlier this week by Dr Eleanor Draeger from the organisation It Happens.

Dr Draeger, who describes herself as a a sex education trainer and medical writer, told boys aged 13 and 14 that in a “happy, healthy relationship” where “you both want to have sex and you both have sex, you are unlikely to be prosecuted from that because its not in the public interest”.

She went on: “It’s just two 14 year olds who want to have sex with eachother who are consensually having sex.”

In his letter to parents, Mr Wilks said that schools have a statutory obligation to deliver relationship, sex and health education, adding that: “It Happens exists to deliver accurate information so that young people can make properly informed choices”.

A spokesman for It Happens said the comments have been taken out of context.

They added that they have had an "enormous" amount of positive feedback from teachers, pupils and parents who attended their sessions on Wednesday.

Relationship, sex and health education is a "sensitive subject and we understand that we touch upon topics that parents may find new and thought-provoking", the spokesman added.

"Eleanor is a hugely experienced NHS doctor who has been working in Sexual Health for 16 years and has extensive experience delivering Sex Education training to teachers and talks for pupils in school for many years".


Harvard University did little to address allegations of sexual harassment by ex- Vice Provost Jorge Dominguez

Harvard University did little to address multiple allegations of sexual harassment against a powerful professor over four decades - and instead promoted him to a top administrative post, an external review found this week.

Professor Jorge Dominguez, who worked in the Ivy League school's Latin American Studies department before being appointed vice provost, is believed to have harassed at least 18 women dating back to 1979, when a woman first reported him.

After a year of investigation, an external panel published a 26-page report on Thursday that said the college has a 'permissive' culture when it comes to sexual harassment.

The report attributed the lack of action over the years to a 'high-ranking power' imbalance, senior staff 'protecting' each other, the demotion of junior staff who complained as 'trouble-makers' and a chronic lack of female faculty and students.

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow also apologized to Stanford Professor Terry Karl, 73, who was allegedly assaulted by the now 76-year-old Professor Jorge Dominguez in 1983 when she was an assistant professor at Harvard. She said the assault included kissing, groping and once Dominguez saying, 'This would be a nice place for a rape'.

Karl had reported Dominguez to Harvard at the time, and the school found her allegations to be 'factually accurate,' according to the recent report. A 'letter was placed in his file' and he was relieved of administrative duties for three years and forbidden, the school says, from participating in any of Karl's future promotions.

He took a leave of absence in 1984 when 'news spread' of the unpublicized sanctions, but returned to his position in 1985. Harvard said its secrecy was compliant with policy at the time.

Karl later left for Stanford University, citing concerns of working alongside him.

Bacow said: 'Harvard failed her. She deserved better.'

In the report from Thursday, multiple current and former students and staff said Dominguez's behavior was an 'open secret', with women frequently warned not to be alone with him.

But the report also found Dominguez was far from alone - with multiple reports made against other, unnamed male faculty members over the years, also not acted upon.

Dominguez stepped down in 2018 after The Chronicle of Higher Education published multiple exposes on the allegations, that caused a total of 18 women to come forward, including Karl.

In May 2019 an investigation under Title IX — the federal law outlawing sex discrimination in education — found Dominguez 'engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct toward several individuals, on multiple occasions over a period spanning nearly four decades.'

He was later stripped by Harvard of his title of professor emeritus and banned from campus.

That same month, found Dominguez at a home in New Hampshire, but he refused to come to the door, sending his wife instead. 'I'm going to say he doesn't wish to speak,' Dominguez's wife, Mary, said in 2019. 'No comment is all you are going to get.'

The external panel was appointed by Harvard in September 2019 to investigate why victims did not come forward, why staff did not address the claims and what could be done to protect staff and students in the future.

The committee, headed by former MIT President Susan Hockfield, recommended close to a dozen changes for Harvard, including greater transparency when faculty are sanctioned for sexual harassment, centralizing personnel records, strengthening the vetting process for promotions, improving the faculty gender balance, and monitoring employees with past violations.

'Cultures that are permissive of sexual harassment are characterized by members feeling that it would be too risky to report their experience of sexual harassment, that their complaint would not be taken seriously, and that no corrective action would be taken in response to their complaint,' according to the report.

Over more than a year the panel interviewed four of the women who came forward to the Chronicle, as well as multiple current and former students, staff, faculty, administrators. They also combed the university's archives.

The panel found that: 'Domínguez’s harassment was a matter of common knowledge among some members of the Government Department. However, many who suffered from or knew of Domínguez’s misconduct did not report it.'

The report highlighted that 'the pronounced power hierarchy' at Harvard stopped many women coming forward with allegations against the 'powerful administrator' Dominguez and other accused staff, as well as senior staff closing ranks and being 'highly collegial among themselves and protective of each other'.

It said: 'The close ties among the senior faculty left students—and even junior faculty—feeling uncertain of their status and rights. In this culture, junior members feared their careers could be derailed or destroyed if they triggered the displeasure of a senior member. Even in the absence of direct retaliation, students worried about being branded as 'troublemakers' by powerful members of the community.'

The panel said one individual did not report Dominguez's harassment for fear that her mentor, who was untenured, would lose his job.

Another student described a departmental forum [in 2018] at which a senior faculty member began the proceedings by describing Domínguez as a 'friend', which inhibited students from speaking openly about him.

The allegations started in 1983 when former assistant professor at Harvard Terry Kay made a formal complaint against Dominguez who she claimed kissed her, and put his hand up her skirt, telling her he was going to be the next head of department and he would be the one who would decide her future advancement.

It wasn't Karl's only example. She said: 'He always touched me. He repeatedly tried to kiss me. All this was found to be true by Harvard. He was found responsible but still they gave him higher positions.'

Another night they were walking on campus when he turned to her and allegedly said: 'This would be a nice place for a rape.' 'It was totally creepy', she said. 'Any time I exerted my own judgment he threatened me.'

But although Dominguez was initially reprimanded, he soon returned and began to 'rebuild his career', the report found.

Karl, on the other hand, departed for Stanford shortly after the Dominguez returned to campus in the mid 1980s, citing the difficulty of carrying on working with him.

Over four decades, even while women on three occasions reported inappropriate behavior by Dominguez, no action was taken against him, the panel said.

Despite these allegations, and many more unreported ones, Dominguez was promoted, pointing to significant problems in Harvard’s culture and shortcomings in its sexual harassment reporting procedures, the report said.

But after the 2018 investigation in The Chronicle was published, even more women came forward - eventually with a total of 18 women having made claims that Dominguez harassed them over the past 40 years.

Cleveland lawyer Charna Sherman, 64, said she reported the professor in 1979, when 'he got up from his desk, came across the room and kissed me full on the lips'.

University of Baltimore law professor Nienke Grossman, 44, said she was a senior in 1998 when Dominguez allegedly touched her, first on her back and arm, eventually grabbing her thigh.

Karl told The Boston Globe she hasn’t had a chance to read the entire report, but appreciates the apology, which comes about 40 years after the harassment began. 'Apologies mean such a great deal when an institution, a university department, and a predator try to take away your dignity and your future,' Karl said.

But most women who are sexually harassed don’t get apologies from their institutions, she said.

Sophie Hill, a fifth-year doctoral student in Harvard’s government department who pushed the university to conduct an outside review including inviting Professor Karl to campus in February 2020 to talk about the allegations, said the results show the extent of the problem at the university.

'It’s such a case study of how many people looking the other way can accumulate to this gross injustice,' Hill said. 'It’s not about Dominguez but the frailty of our institutions.'

Meanwhile, according to the Globe, Harvard has several open investigations into sexual harassment by faculty.




Sunday, February 07, 2021

Our educational industrial complex is broken, time to reform higher education and student loans

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in January 2020, but is particularly relevant today as the left demands student loan forgiveness transferring wealth from those who either did not go to college or have already paid their loans to those who are saddled with massive debt with degrees that equip them to flip burgers at McDonald’s.

By Richard McCarty

Our educational industrial complex is broken, and swift reform is needed. College costs continue to rise much faster than inflation, and too many students are plowing themselves into debt and wasting years of their lives pursuing pointless degrees. Upon leaving college, these students are often surprised to discover that their degrees have little value. Of course, most colleges are liberal indoctrination centers, where conservative voices are few and often drowned out.

It is time for the federal government – and state and local governments – to stop picking winners and losers. Just as it is unfair for the federal government to recognize the American Bar Association as the sole accreditor of law schools and allow it to erect unnecessary hurdles to keep people from pursuing law degrees; just as it is indefensible for governments to subsidize unreliable solar and wind projects that drive up electricity bills; just as it is illegitimate for state governments to license hair braiders and interior designers to lock competitors out of the field; just as it is improper for the federal government to grant immunity to credit reporting agencies in spite of their negligence and incompetence; just as it is wrong for governments to deny poor people due process and allow predatory towing companies to sell their cars when they cannot afford exorbitant towing fees; and just as it is improper for states to subsidize moviemaking; so it is wrong for the federal government to shovel money to colleges via student loans.

To begin to address these problems, the federal government should do four things: privatize student loans once again, sell off its portfolio of student debt, allow students to discharge college debt in bankruptcy, tie lending rules to the value of a degree and require colleges to repay half of the remaining value of discharged loans.

The first step is the federal government ending its own college loans, but it should also sell off its student loan portfolio, which is nominally worth more than $1.5 trillion. Unfortunately, more than 40 percent of student loans are considered to be “in distress.” Furthermore, according to one estimate, 40 percent of student loan borrowers may be in default in just three short years. If for no other reason, the federal government should sell off its student loan portfolio to stem its losses on these toxic assets.

In addition, Congress should pass legislation to once again allow former students to discharge college debt in bankruptcy if a borrower is unable to find a decent job years after leaving college. In the past, borrowers were allowed to do this, but bankruptcy laws were tightened after lobbying by the banks. One reason that conservatives should support allowing the use of bankruptcy to discharge crushing student debt is to allow more young people to move on with their lives. Conservatives are often dismayed that more young people are not moving out of their parents’ homes, marrying, buying a home, and having children – things which tend to make one more conservative.

One of the reasons for this situation is student debt. Unfortunately, bankruptcy for student debt is seen by some as merely a way of letting borrowers off the hook, but it should really be viewed as a way of holding lenders accountable. For years, government lenders have happily loaned money to unserious students and those who wish to pursue frivolous degrees.

Bankruptcy for student debt, plus privatization, would encourage lenders to be more prudent with their money.

Prudent regulation would tie lending practices to the value of a degree and job prospects in chosen fields. The fewer jobs available in a chose major, the riskier the loan.

Finally, colleges should be required to cover half of the outstanding loan balances when alums discharge debt in bankruptcy, thereby sharing the risk with lenders. Because colleges have been admitting unserious students, coddling and indoctrinating students, offering junk degrees, and cranking out graduates who are unprepared for the real world. Requiring colleges to reimburse banks for a portion of their losses would motivate colleges to stop trying to enroll anyone and everyone with a pulse. It should also lead to colleges cutting costs, eliminating pointless degrees, and focusing less effort on training social justice warriors and more on helping the next generation build the economy.

One way or another, our country needs less college debt, fewer college graduates with worthless degrees, and more trade school graduates, more apprentices, and more entrepreneurs. These straightforward reforms should help advance these goals while making a positive difference for students, parents, and taxpayers.


To Close the Skills Gap, Create Industry-Vetted Certificate Programs for Students

Even though experts believe college is still worth the cost, employers question the value to their businesses. Many believe college degrees do not provide graduates with the skills needed in today’s workplace.

In a 2014 survey of over 600 business leaders, only 11 percent strongly agreed that college graduates had the skills their companies needed. The majority believed that universities are not adequately preparing students. The gap has only widened since then. Employers expect more from college graduates.

The mismatch between college programs and the needs of the business community creates two problems for graduates. Many cannot find meaningful employment after graduating, and then they cannot pay off their student loan debt. Unfortunately, universities are doing little to address this issue.

So why aren’t colleges offering courses that teach students the skills employers want?

The answers lie with university faculty who make course and curriculum decisions. Without industry experience, faculty cannot teach workplace skills.

This problem is often more severe for STEM degree programs despite STEM grads’ higher salaries because of the large gap between theory and practice. Universities need to change their approach and work with the business community when they create new courses.

One way four-year colleges could make their degrees more valuable (and marketable) is by embedding skills-focused courses in degree programs.

By asking local and regional employers about the skills they need, college leaders can create certificate programs within a major that makes students more employable. It could be the future of higher ed.

Certificate programs are packages of four or more courses focused on specific employers’ needs that teach students in-demand skills. Colleges could also mandate an industry internship as part of a certificate program, so students gain relevant working experience. Many of those courses will require adjunct faculty who actively work in the business world. Academics seldom have the experience or the industry perspective needed to teach those more practical courses, as they connect theory with real-world application.

As COVID-19 affects the job market, many students and recent graduates will need to reconsider their career goals. Industry-vetted certificates can be an effective means for students to make changes. Many certificate programs already exist at the graduate level, but there is no reason not to embed these in more undergraduate programs. Industry-vetted certificates may be the 21st-century version of academic “minors.”

For example, even STEM disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics don’t guarantee a job. Many will need to return for graduate education to be marketable in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and med-tech industries. However, with embedded certificate programs such as Regulatory Affairs & Clinical Trials, Forensic Chemistry, or Data Mining & Analysis, undergraduate students are eminently employable even before completing their degree.

From my experience as a dean at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, one of the most successful certificate programs was Regulatory Affairs & Clinical Trials for biology students. It comprised five courses:

Drugs, Biologics, Devices, & Diagnostics,


Project Management,

Clinical Trials, and

Industry internship

Senior managers from Atlanta’s pharmaceutical, biomedical, and medical device industries vetted all courses in advance. Upon completing the certificate program, most students had job offers before graduation, often with the company where they interned. The pay range (often mid-$50,000) was at the high end of the scale for students with a bachelor’s degree. The university placement office played a significant role in arranging internships and preparing students for interviews.

Biology is a student-friendly STEM discipline that attracts many would-be medical students. Unfortunately, only the top 5 percent get accepted in medical school, and most biology graduates struggle to get a job with only a bachelor’s degree. A certificate program helps them find a decent job.

Cleveland State is one of the more progressive universities in creating certificate programs. Their online catalog lists 25 certificates from many departments—although only one requires an internship and none appear to be vetted by industry representatives—with some of them available to several different majors. The certificates range from chemistry and art and design offerings to business and biomedical engineering.

Lesser-known institutions like Cleveland State can make a name for themselves with certificates; they can’t compete with flagship universities on prestige, but industry collaboration can help them stand out.

Some believe today’s hiring managers expect too much of college graduates and that complaints of skill gaps are unrealistic. They feel employers keep raising the bar each year and are creating a barrier to entry. For example, a recent survey found over 60 percent of almost 100,000 full-time jobs for entry-level hires required at least three years of experience. Employers appear to want employees who have proven they can do the job. Recent graduates often see this requirement as a catch-22. Industry-vetted certificate programs that include internships might help address these concerns.

Adding certificate programs won’t be easy, however. The faculty will resist change. New courses and programs within most universities must originate from faculty and require approval by departmental, then college, and finally university curriculum committees—any one of which can veto the proposal. Those bureaucratic hurdles are the crux of the problem.

Most departments or colleges lack “champions” for certificate programs. A faculty member seldom sees the need for certificate programs because their experience is in the academy, not industry or business. Additionally, if someone within the department is not qualified to teach the course, faculty may fear an adjunct will displace an existing position. That fear is greater as COVID-19 budget crises have meant job cuts for faculty, both adjunct and tenure-track.

The applied nature of certificate programs relative to the traditional, theoretical focus of the academy presents another issue. Industry-focused classes are often unfairly viewed as “professional training” and considered by faculty as lacking rigor.

Another option for accommodating certificate programs is locating them within Colleges of Continuing and Professional Education based in most universities. This option has the advantage of making the program accessible to students who currently work in the industry, have a degree, and want to enhance their skill set to improve their lot in life.

Many CCPE already have industry-focused certificates such as Kennesaw State, University of Texas, and UCLA, but quality control is always a concern because none of them are accredited. An additional downside is that CCPE do not offer academic credit for their courses and are thus inaccessible to undergrads. Of course, leadership from the top can correct these limitations.

Unfortunately, after several years, even successful certificate programs can lose departmental curriculum committee support for some of the reasons mentioned above.

To stay viable, certificate programs need defenders in the departments that house them. Leadership changes or loss of its supporters frequently doom the program. Specialized certificate programs are fragile and hard to start, but they matter to students. Universities need to find ways to make these micro-credentialing programs sustainable.

In a visionary report titled “Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education,” Georgia Tech provost Rafael Bras envisions certificate programs as micro-credentials so employers can evaluate job seekers. However, “the future is now” and colleges need to work with local industry to develop and vet certificate programs.

Many previous examples focus on STEM disciplines, but certificates can enhance other degree programs. By embedding such programs within arts, humanities, and business degrees, universities become more relevant, and college degrees can be more valuable to graduates and employers.


Schools: Biden Chooses Union Extortion Over Science

Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly accused President Donald Trump of "ignoring the science" on Wuhan coronavirus and vowed, "science will always be at the forefront of my administration."

"It's hard to believe this has to be said, but if I'm elected president, I will always lead the way with science. I will listen to the experts and heed their advice. I will do the opposite of what we're seeing Donald Trump do every day," Biden tweeted on March 26, 2020.

In July 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data-based guidance showing the virus has an extremely low spread rate in schools and stated with mitigation efforts, schools could be reopened for in-person learning. In January 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics produced a similar study showing the same results: schools are safe for teachers and students.

President Biden seemed to listen to this science and vowed to reopen schools within 100 days of his new administration. Two weeks in, the heavily Democratic teachers unions have very different plans.

Teachers unions in San Francisco, Chicago, Northern Virginia and elsewhere are refusing to get teachers back into the classroom while continuing to move the goalposts on school reopenings.

First, they demanded funding for mitigation and safety efforts. In return, they received more than $70 billion through a series of congressional relief plans last year. Local districts have also poured in extra cash. Now, they want more.

Next, they demanded to be put at the front of the vaccination line – ahead of vulnerable seniors. They were granted special status and early eligibility for the vaccine. Now, they're refusing to go back to work until children are also vaccinated, knowing the vaccine hasn’t been FDA approved for individuals under the age of 14.

But do teachers really need to be vaccinated in order to safely go back to work? The answer, according to one of America’s leading scientists, is no.

"There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during an official White House briefing this week, flanked by the CDC logo. "Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools."

Despite vowing to "follow the science," Dr. Walensky's comments prompted White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki to distance the administration and falsely argue the comments were made in a "personal capacity."

But while the White House gives into teachers unions' extortion efforts, saying schools can't reopen until a $1.9 trillion "relief package" is passed through Congress, children across the country are suffering. More specifically, the academic development of children with special needs or living in poor income households is being devastated. For many, there will be lifelong, permanent and irreversible damage.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, the failure rate among students is through the roof.

"A new internal analysis from Fairfax County Schools found an alarming increase in the number of students left behind by the switch to online learning. The percentage of middle and high school students getting F grades in two or more classes has jumped a stunning 83%, according to the 'Study of Teaching and Learning During the COVID 19 Pandemic,'" WUSA9 reports. "Students with disabilities are struggling even more. They've seen a 111% increase in children getting two or more F grades."

In Las Vegas, officials rushed to reopen as an alarming number of teenagers took their own lives.

"Since schools shut their doors in March, an early-warning system that monitors students' mental health episodes has sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials, raising alarms about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm or cries for care. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives," The New York Times reports. "The spate of student suicides in and around Las Vegas has pushed the Clark County district, the nation's fifth largest, toward bringing students back as quickly as possible."

Private schools have been open since the fall 2020 semester began, some even earlier. Public schools across the country, including in large Florida districts and small rural districts with limited resources, are open. There is no excuse to remain closed, and teachers who want to get back in the classroom are being held hostage.

Biden's refusal to stand up to the unions and his public rejection of his own CDC director proves his willingness to put politics, union donations and Democrat activism above the wellbeing of students. Follow the science? Only if the teachers unions go along with it.


China’s Ministry of Education has issued another warning to students wanting to study in Australia

Chinese students have again been warned against studying in Australia in a move that could worsen the already strained relationship with Beijing.

State-owned media has reported that China’s Ministry of Education on Friday told students to make a “full risk assessment” about studying in Australia following reports of racism and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“It noted that a series of vicious attacks on Chinese students that have happened recently in multiple places in Australia have posed a serious threat to their personal safety,” the Global Times wrote.

“The raging pandemic also makes international travel risky.”

Australian universities rely heavily on the Chinese, who make up the largest cohort of international students.

Beijing first cautioned students about racist incidents against Asians and the pandemic in June last year in the midst of Australia’s plans to allow international students to return to the country.

However, the burgeoning number of Australian citizens wanting to return from overseas and restricted quarantine capacity has thrown a spanner in the works of returning planeloads of international students to campuses nationwide.

The Global Times reported that the education department warning was evidence that Australia had “poisoned” the relationship with China.

Shanghai-based Australian scholar Chen Hong – who had his visa cancelled by Australian officials after an intelligence investigation – said the “worsening discrimination problem” that Chinese students face in Australia has reached “an alarmingly high degree”.

“The Australian government’s continuous attacks against China, which have been echoed by the media especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, has misguided the local Australian people to generate hostility toward the Chinese,” he said.

The Scanlon social cohesion study released this week found there was a “relatively high level” of negative opinion towards Asian Australians in 2020.

Three in five Chinese Australians responded the racism in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big problem’.

The UK and Canada have been raised as alternatives for Chinese students wanting to study overseas, heightening concerns from Australian universities that they could lose their pre-pandemic share of the market.