Category Archives: Education

A California Attempt to Repair the Crumbling Pillar of U.S. Education

The “teacher’s unions” have probably caused more damage to our country than about anything I can think of. The negative, life-long, impact the the poor educational system has had on America’s youth is off the chart. But I guess, 80 million Americans keep voting them in?? mrossol

WSJ 11/28/2021, by Andy Kessler

Public-school education has gone from bad to worse. In the Chicago Public Schools, only 26% of 11th-graders were at grade level in reading and math in 2019. Remarkably, the school system had a record-high graduation rate of nearly 84% in 2021. Those students must have had strong senior years! This is why over half of first-year community-college students in the U.S. take at least one remedial course in reading or math. In the U.S., 43 million adults are illiterate. This is a disgrace.


In pre-pandemic California, only 32% of fourth-graders were at or above proficient for their grade in reading. Only 19% of eighth-grade Hispanics read at grade level, and only 10% of eighth-grade blacks did. Those who find disparate impact everywhere should be screaming from the rooftops that public education is racist. Instead, silence.

Despite these poor results, spending per student goes up each year. New York spent $25,139 per student in fiscal 2019. In California, it’s over $20,000. So why haven’t outcomes improved? Parents know why. Bad teachers don’t get fired. Because of tenure, even some capable teachers mail it in. Bad school districts don’t get fixed. Caps on charter schools, even those with proven records, limit their ability to put pressure on public schools. Teachers unions are all-powerful.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Welch is trying to improve California’s education system. He tells me we need “accountability of quality education.” You may recall the 2014 Vergara v. California decision, a suit Mr. Welch and others funded. Filed on behalf of nine public-school students, the ruling found that five California statutes related to teacher tenure, firing bad teachers and layoff policy violated the state’s Constitution. In his ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu noted, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

No matter. The California Court of Appeal reversed Vergara in 2016 stating: “With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes.” In the court’s view, the California Constitution guarantees merely a free public education.

So Mr. Welch was back where he started, with, he says, an “educational system that doesn’t prioritize its actions to educate the children to a degree necessary to function in our society.” Bad teachers are constitutionally protected.

But with his background as a logically thinking Cornell-educated engineer, he set out to prove bad teaching was “a constitutional violation.” In the Democrat-controlled California Legislature, that was going to be a tough sell. Teachers were the fourth-largest campaign contributors to California’s legislative races in 2020 behind energy, prison guards and healthcare. “The Legislature won’t listen to the people,” Mr. Welch grumbles.

Fortunately, Californians can change their constitution through ballot initiatives. And voilà, a group named Kids First including Mr. Welch filed the Constitutional Right to a High-Quality Public Education Act. Here’s the key provision: “And law, regulation, or policy, or any official action affecting students generally, which does not put the interest of the students first, shall be deemed to deny this right.”

Critics will focus on the lack of a definition for “high-quality public education.” Mr. Welch explains, “The metric for existing or any future legislation, and every school board decision, is ‘Does it make students better or worse?’ ” Pretty simple, yet I suspect it would be deadly effective. This would, by necessity, launch many lawsuits to challenge the status quo of tenure, of the inability to fire bad teachers and of everything else. It would become the guiding principle for any new legislation: Does it put kids first? “The corollary to this right is the existence of a high-quality teaching profession,” Mr. Welch says.

And then there is this provision: “The remedies for this right shall not include new mandates for taxes or spending.” It’s smart for two reasons. It will help the initiative pass, and history has shown that throwing money at the problem doesn’t work.

The cost? Around $8 a signature—they need a million to get on the ballot—plus the cost of the inevitable TV-ad battle with the California Teachers Association and its 310,000 members. That could get expensive.

I asked Mr. Welch why he wants to spend his time and hard-earned capital on this. “What we’re doing to our kids is horrific,” he says. “I can’t think of a greater loss of potential than the poor quality of education of our children. And all the other societal problems that come with it. The prison system uses educational outcomes—fourth-grade reading levels—to determine what size correctional facilities they’ll need.” Scary.

I think a successful Kids First ballot initiative would do more for “equity” than any government program. “The best way in making a productive functioning society is making sure everyone lives up to their potential,” Mr. Welch says. “Education is one of the basic pillars of American democracy.” That pillar is crumbling.

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American education needs a revolution

UnHerd, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali,  11/11/2021

Perhaps I was naïve, but when Brandeis University offered me an honorary degree in 2014, I accepted it in good faith. Brandeis’s motto, after all, is “Truth, even unto its innermost parts”. Yet what followed proved the very opposite: that, at Brandeis, the innermost parts of truth don’t count.

After a bit of encouragement from my usual critics, the Council of Islamic Relations, followed by a petition from a motley array of faculty members, Brandeis rescinded their offer. Frederick Lawrence, who was then the university’s president, rang me just hours before the university issued a public statement.

At the time, I dismissed it as a one-off incident; an anomaly that could simply be brushed off. How wrong I was. That same year, a group of Muslim students tried to cancel my study group on the political theory of Islam at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, part of the Kennedy School. First, they complained to the university’s administration. When that didn’t work, they sent a letter to the funders of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. Then they suggested that I should install an imam in my class to counter my arguments. Unlike at Brandeis, the university authorities didn’t capitulate.

In both incidents, the challenge to academic freedom and free speech was posed by Islamists. But that didn’t disturb me: as an apostate who has spent many years criticising them, and received death threats in return, I was used to their antipathy.

Fast forward to 2021, however, and it seems I was wrong to dismiss this censorious attitude as an Islamist impulse. Hardly a week goes by without reports of a professor being protested, disciplined, and sometimes fired for violating the new and stringent norms of academic discourse. We read of scholars such as Kathleen Stock being driven to resign from their positions after constant hounding and threats. We read of a lecturer being no-platformed for daring to suggest that evaluations should be based on academic merit. We read of a Native American student being forced to apologise by a Yale University diversity tsar for making a harmless joke in an email.

Suggested reading

Critical Race Theory’s new disguise

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

And that’s just in the past month. We have reached a point where grace and forgiveness are extinct on American campuses; where reputations built over decades can be destroyed in a week. Some people still describe the phenomenon as “political correctness”. But this is much more like a religious movement. It’s hardly surprising that the Islamists’ opportunity to piggyback on existing illiberal and intolerant forces is now even greater.

Social justice, critical race theory, diversity, equality and inclusion — such terms are difficult to object to when taken at face value. And as a consequence, they have grown and spread like weeds in almost every institution. By the time we recognised the deeply illiberal notions that lurked behind these bland phrases, it was too late; they had already taken over whole departments, embedding their extensive roots into the fabric of academic institutions.

I didn’t see this coming. Seven years ago, I considered those who sounded the alarm to be engaged in histrionics. But today it is impossible to deny that the alarmists were right.

After the Brandeis cancellation, I published my intended remarks, stating that “we need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged”. At the time, I was hopeful. Yet every passing year, free discourse increasingly became the exception in academic settings.

And while countless academics have been crucified for daring to speak out, it is ultimately their students who have suffered most in this tragedy. Our education system is failing them: rather than being a place of learning, universities have transformed into a place of fear. They demand safe spaces and a life free from all forms of aggressions: micro and macro. They graduate ill-prepared for the future, no longer equipped with the critical skills needed to thrive in a society where safe spaces, trigger warnings and preferred pronouns are not the norm. Their lives as students have been stripped of opportunities to overcome challenges and adversity, to develop inner-strength and confidence.

Faced with such a toxic climate, riddled with the weeds of intolerance, one might think the solution is to simply give up. But to do so is not only cowardly; it ignores the fact that there is cause for optimism in the future. There are seedlings sprouting that point to renewal.

This is partly because America’s markets remain strong and reactive, bringing supply to wherever there is demand. The American market is hungry for a new approach to education. Demand is high for a university that delivers on academic freedom, merit-based recruitment of students, and is a safe space for people to learn and exchange ideas, not imagined injuries. And the supply is coming.

This week, I joined an intellectually diverse and curious group of professors and scholars in launching the University of Austin (UATX). It is an institution that stands, above all, for the pursuit of truth. It will offer a rigorous, liberal education from leading experts in their fields; a place that will teach students how to think, not what to think; a place where they will be intellectually challenged and, at times, made to feel uncomfortable.

Professors will be able to explore ideas and topics that are taboo elsewhere, without threats to their reputation, livelihoods or well-being. Unlike nearly a fifth of universities, we will not require statements of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. All we are looking for is a commitment to learning. And that doesn’t seem to be in short supply: within 12 hours of announcing the University of Austin, more than 900 academics submitted inquiries seeking a position.

Their students, once applications open, will be accepted on the basis of merit, based on an admissions exam. The university states: “UATX will not arbitrarily factor in race, gender, class or any other form of identity into its decisions. UATX stands firmly against that sort of discrimination in admissions.” Of course, none of this matters if spaces are only reserved for a wealthy elite. So we are working on a financial model that will help lower tuition costs and provide scholarships or bursaries, providing an equal opportunity for students, regardless of their financial background.

Starting a new university will no doubt be challenging, but the truth is that this is only the beginning — the first of many new educational institutions. American parents all over the country are in revolt against the increasingly divisive educational opportunities available to their children (witness the results of the Virginian gubernatorial elections). In the coming decade, it is not inconceivable that the market will deliver new grade-school opportunities for students, as well as other new institutions of higher education.

There are those who fear that the political extremes of the Left and Right may one day destroy the republic. But the only way to destroy America is to destroy our market system. As long as individuals have choice and the market self-corrects, we will continue to thrive. Where there is demand — and the result in Virginia prove there is demand — the supply will follow.

This is what the University of Austin symbolises: a new choice for all those disillusioned with the established institutions. For too long we have looked on as universities have been disfigured, blissfully unaware that all we needed to do was create our own. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new Renaissance.[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=538aba52e2&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29


The Views That Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT

I am a professor at the University of Chicago. I was recently invited to give an honorary lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The lecture was canceled because I have openly advocated moral and philosophical views that are unpopular on university campuses.

Here are those views:

I believe that every human being should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context, that means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them.

I care for all of my students equally. None of them are overrepresented or underrepresented to me: They represent themselves. Their grades are based on a process that I define at the beginning of the quarter. That process treats each student fairly and equally. I hold office hours for students who would like extra help so that everyone has the opportunity to improve his or her grade through hard work and discipline.

Similarly, I believe that admissions and faculty hiring at universities are best focused on academic merit, with the goal of producing intellectual excellence. We should not penalize hard-working students and faculty applicants simply because they have been classified as belonging to the wrong group. It is true that not everyone has had the same educational opportunities. The solution is improving K-12 education, not introducing discrimination at late stages.

I believe we are obliged to reduce bias where it exists, where we can. That includes honest reflection on whether we are treating everyone equally. But you cannot infer bias based only on the ratios of different groups after a selection. A multitude of factors, including interest and culture, influence these ratios. I disagree with the idea that there is a right ratio of groups to aim for. Instead, the goal should be fair selection processes that give every candidate an equal opportunity.

I run a large course on the politically charged topic of climate change. But I refuse to indoctrinate students. The course presents the basic scientific evidence and encourages students to think for themselves about the best solutions to the problem. I correct my students when they make scientifically unsound arguments, but I encourage the full range of political perspectives as students work out their preferred societal response. These practices reflect an understanding that the pursuit of truth is the highest purpose of a university and an acknowledgment that I myself could be wrong.

More broadly, the university has a duty to encourage students and faculty to offer their opinions and insight on the widest possible range of topics. That is best done in a respectful atmosphere, but disagreement with an argument is no excuse to prevent a person from speaking or writing. It is normal to feel discomfort when someone contends against your strongly held beliefs. But in a truth-seeking atmosphere, you must master this discomfort and either confront opposing arguments rationally or accept their validity.

It is true that someone will occasionally say something that hurts your feelings. But hurt feelings are no reason to ban certain topics. We are all responsible for our own feelings. We cannot control things that are external to us, such as the comments of others, but we can control how we respond to them. The ancient Stoics developed practices to discipline emotions and pursue rational thought. These techniques have been refined in modern times in logotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Instead of cultivating grievances and encouraging resentment, schools and universities can teach these practices and promote the principle that no one can truly harm us but ourselves. That principle allows for the expression of hurt feelings that does not involve restrictions on speech. This will have the added benefit of preparing students for a world in which anything can hurt their feelings—if they let it.

Mr. Abbot is an associate professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.


National School Boards Association Apologizes Over Letter Comparing Parents to Domestic Terrorists

If I were on a school board, I would urge disassociation with NSBA. They issued an apology, but the mentality or beliefs that caused them to write what they did in the first place is likely still very much a part of that organization. Proof is in how they will respond to parents’ input. mrossol

By Lorenz Duchamps  October 23, 2021

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has apologized to its members on Friday for a letter that was previously sent to the Biden administration in which the school board group compared parents accused of trying to intimidate educators to domestic terrorists.

In a memo issued to NSBA members, the board said that “on behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter,” which was sent on Sept. 29, urging President Joe Biden to take action to stop what it described as “threats and acts of violence” against school boards, teachers, and others involved in the public education sphere.

“There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” the NSBA wrote. “We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We apologize also for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations.”

It added that the NSBA deeply values “not only the work of local school boards that make important contributions within our communities, but also the voices of parents, who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety.”

The memo comes as school board organizations in at least 20 states distanced themselves from the NSBA, citing disagreement over the way it has characterized concerned parents. Some have quit or moved to leave the NSBA.

The NSBA’s initial controversial Sept. 29 letter (pdf) claimed that some clashes between school board members and parents over issues such as masking policies, the critical race theory, among others, should be equivalent to parents engaging in “a form of domestic terrorism.”

“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the organization wrote.

Emails (pdf) obtained by Parents Defending Education last week disclosed that the NSBA was in touch with the White House and others in the administration before the release of the letter.

“In talks over the last several weeks with White House staff, they requested additional information on some of the specific threats,” Chip Slaven, the NSBA’s interim executive director and CEO, wrote in an email to NSBA board members just hours after the letter was released to the public.

Most of the incidents the board included related to parents vigorously pushing back on controversial teachings or material and not incidents where any laws appeared to be broken.

Several incidents did ultimately lead to arrests at school board meetings, including a father in Loudoun County, Virginia, who was upset his daughter had been raped and school officials allegedly acted to cover it up.

Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum several days after the NSBA’s letter, ordering federal officials to crack down on parents accused of threatening violence or trying to intimidate educators.

Epoch Times Photo
Attorney General Merrick Garland gives an opening statement during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice at Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 21, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Garland, testifying to Congress in Washington, said he learned about the letter by reading about it in the news and had not been told by the White House to issue the memo. He said he was certain the White House communicated its concerns about the letter to his department and that that would be “perfectly appropriate.”

On Oct. 21, Garland denied claims that the U.S. Justice Department would label parents as domestic terrorists, and parents who take issue with school board policies will not be investigated.

“The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in the schools,” Garland said, the New York Post reported. “That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘Patriot Act.’”

Jim Green, the executive director of Oregon’s School Boards Association, said in a statement on social media the board appreciates NSBA’s apology over the controversial letter that was issued to the Biden administration.

“We appreciate NSBA’s apology over some of the languages in the organization’s appeal for protecting the safety of school board members,” Green wrote. “That doesn’t mean the underlying issue—keeping volunteer school board members safe from threats and violence—isn’t important. It is.”

“But NSBA recognized that the wording it used alienated many parents, our vital partners in public schools. It’s my hope with this apology that the national organization can learn from the experience and move on.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.