Category Archives: Education

James Madison Weeps

WSJ Sept. 19, 2017 7:13 p.m. ET

‘Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government,” wrote Ben Franklin. “When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.” Imagine what Franklin, James Madison and the other Founders would make of a new Brookings Institution survey showing that American college students have no clue what the First Amendment means.

John Villasenor surveyed more than 1,500 undergraduates, and among the alarming findings: Most American college students do not know that even hate speech is constitutionally protected; half agree that it’s okay to shout down a speaker whose views they don’t agree with; and nearly one of five believe it is acceptable for a student group opposed to a speaker to use violence to keep him from speaking. Some of the answers vary by political identification, but overall the findings suggest great confusion.

Mr. Villasenor’s conclusion is blunt. “Freedom of expression,” he says, “is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses.” We’d take that further. Given that a functioning democracy rests on free expression, what do these results say about America’s future when these students leave school and begin to take their places in public life?

It’s easy to mock the students for their ignorance. But what about the people responsible for teaching them? These results suggest that the failures of our education system are beginning to have terrible consequences for America’s civic life.

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Apprenticeships!

Something Germany has known for years.
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WSJ 6/19/2017

One restraint on economic growth is the increasing U.S. labor shortage, especially for jobs that require technical skills. Meanwhile, many college grads are underemployed and burdened by student debt. The Trump Administration is trying to address both problems by rethinking the government’s educational priorities.

President Trump directed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta last week to streamline regulations to make it easier for employers, industry groups and labor unions to offer apprenticeships. Many employers provide informal apprenticeships for new workers, but the Labor bureaucracy regulates and approves programs whose credentials are recognized industry- wide.

About 505,000 workers are enrolled in government- registered apprenticeships. The programs typically pair on-the-job training with educational courses that allow workers to make money while honing skills in fields like welding, plumbing, electrical engineering and various mechanical trades. While construction apprenticeships are common, training programs are growing in industries like restaurant and hotel management.

Nearly all apprentices receive jobs and the average starting salary is $60,000, according to the Labor Department. That beats the pay for most college majors outside of the hard sciences. Last year’s National Association of Colleges and Employers survey estimated the starting salary of education majors at $34,891 and humanities at $46,065.

For decades the cultural and economic assumption has been that Americans will be better off with a college degree. This is still true overall, and economic returns to education have risen. This is especially true for those with cognitive ability who acquire skills in growth industries like software design or biological sciences. Politicians have responded by subsidizing college almost as much as they do housing—with Pell grants, 529 tax subsidies and more recently debt forgiveness.

Yet the politically inconvenient reality is that not every kid is cut out for traditional college, and those who struggle in high school may be better off learning a trade. Many without academic inclination or preparation often spend years (and thousands of dollars) taking remedial classes to compensate for their lousy K-12 education. The six-year graduation rate for four-year colleges is 60% while the three-year graduation rate at community colleges is a paltry 22%. The Obama Administration response was to push even more subsidized student debt to force feed even more kids into college. Student debt doubled in the Obama years to $1.3 trillion, which will burden workers and taxpayers for decades.

Another problem is that few colleges and high schools teach vocational skills. The Labor Department Jolts survey of national job openings found more than six million in April—the most since Jolts began tracking in 2000. The vacancies include 203,000 in construction, 359,000 in manufacturing and 1.1 million in health care. These are not jobs that can be filled by Kanye West English deconstructionists. They are also typically jobs that can’t be supplanted by lower-wage foreign competition.

While employers subsidize most apprenticeships, the President has proposed spending $200 million to promote the programs. This would still be a drop in the $26 billion bucket (not including student loans) that Washington spends on higher education each year.

One objection to shifting this money will come from unions that receive much federal job-training money with poor results. But if others can run a better program, they should get the cash. It’s true that most government job-training programs are ineffective, so it’s good that Mr. Trump has instructed federal agencies to compile a list of those that should be eliminated.

An especially odd objection is that apprenticeship training is a mistake because skills become out of date over time, especially later in one’s work life. But that’s a risk throughout the economy, and all the more reason to get young people skills to enter the job market now and build up savings for the future. This makes more sense than subsidizing a college degree for a job at Starbucks.

Perhaps the most important message is that there’s dignity and purpose in all work, college degree or not.

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Who’s Afraid of Student Journalists?

This story first broke by the New York Times?
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By John J. Miller
WSJ 2/9/2017

Riots last week at the University of California, Berkeley stopped Milo Yiannopoulos, a rightwing provocateur who contributes to Breitbart News, from speaking on campus. The violence forced the cancellation of his event and inflicted $100,000 in damage to school property, according to administrators. Then it spread to New York University, where police arrested 11 protesters who tried to halt the libertarian comedian Gavin McInnes from talking to students. The American Association of University Professors has said nothing about this coastal turmoil. Yet it has condemned what it apparently regards as a greater threat: students who provide accurate reports on the shouted-down speakers in their auditoriums and the left-wing biases in their classrooms.

In a 1,000-word statement released last month, the AAUP bemoaned “new efforts by private groups to monitor the conduct of faculty members,” which it likened to “witch hunts.” Then it named names: Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform and the College Fix.

I know a little about the first two groups and a lot about the third: I founded the College Fix seven years ago. Every day the website publishes articles by student journalists, who work with our professional editors to tell true stories about campus politics and culture. Our goal is to create compelling and original content, while identifying a new generation of promising writers and editors before they make the mistake of going to law school.

In recent days, the Fix has carried accounts of the disturbances at Berkeley and NYU. Our writers also have covered Barnard College’s proposal to require attendance at workshops on “inclusion and equity,” plus Pepperdine University’s decision to remove a statue of Columbus, whose presence has became too “painful,” according to the school’s president, Andrew K. Benton.

The Fix also brings readers into classrooms, as it did last fall when professors turned their lecterns into bully pulpits. One article described how Bruce Conforth, a music lecturer at the University of Michigan, began an election-eve class by urging students to vote for Hillary Clinton because she favors abortion rights, a higher minimum wage, and tuitionfree college. Readers who questioned the article’s accuracy could watch an accompanying video of Mr. Conforth’s stump speech.

Professors who proclaim their own partisanship are bad enough, but some even turn their classrooms into semester-long re-education camps. Last fall at the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado, history lecturer Jared Benson and sociology instructor Nicholas Lee taught a course titled “Resistance and Revolution.” In expletiveladen lectures, these self-styled Marxists called America’s founders “terrorists,” compared the Sons of Liberty to the Westboro Baptist Church, and ridiculed “the taxationwithout- representation argument” as “asinine” on the grounds that American revolutionaries were rich men who didn’t want to pay their fair share. They also insisted that Ronald Reagan had little to do with the demise of the Soviet Union and that Martin Luther King Jr. was a secret communist (which they meant as a compliment).

I know exactly what motivates the student reporters behind these stories, because I got my start in journalism by covering classroom shenanigans. For four years at the University of Michigan, I worked at the Michigan Review, a student publication. We wrote about the campus government, criticized the administration’s speech code, and praised Nirvana’s breakthrough album before most of our readers had heard of it. Nobody got paid for working at the Review, but we did get passes to a Nirvana concert.
One day in 1991, the Review’s phone rang. The editorial page of the Detroit News wanted a student to write about a course on race and ethnicity that the school was thinking about turning into a graduation requirement. Would I attend for a few weeks and draft something?

Sure, I said. The course proved to be revealing. One instructor said that he aimed to tell students a version of American history that included the dirty bits their high-school teachers had left out. Another explained that only white people can be racist because nonwhite people lack power. In the end the faculty approved the course, which remains a graduation requirement today. But I like to think that my account in the News gave Michiganders a glimpse of what their flagship public university was doing.

I wasn’t wrong to perform journalism on my professors, and neither are today’s students wrong when they tell the truth about what’s going on in their lecture halls.

The AAUP thinks differently. Although careful to mention First Amendment rights, its statement focuses on the rotten things that can happen when pesky students exercise free speech: They enable “stalkers and cyberbullies,” “threats of physical violence” and even “death threats.”

This is backward. Students who challenge their teachers are neither harassers nor censors. They’re journalists and whistleblowers, who find the one-sided politics of their professors to be newsworthy. In the name of academic freedom, the AAUP wants to pressure them into silence.

Mr. Miller is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, a writer for National Review, and the founder and executive director of the College Fix.

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The DeVos Apocalypse

A bit more on this important event. It will be interesting to see the landscape 4 years hence.
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WSJ 2/9/2017 By Daniel Henninger

The extraordinary battle over Betsy De Vos’s nomination to be secretary of education is the defining event of the Trump presidency’s early days.

As presented, the DeVos confirmation appeared to be a standard partisan conflict between Democrats and Republicans, or in the conventional update, all that’s good and all that’s Trump.

But something deeper was at stake here, which is why the Democrats raised the nomination for a second-level cabinet post to a political apocalypse.

The person who introduced Mrs. DeVos at her confirmation hearing was former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, arguably the last of the unequivocal Democratic moderates. In the confirmation vote, every Democrat opposed Mrs. DeVos, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The issue presumably at the center of this nomination fight is the future of the education of black children who live in urban neighborhoods.

During a strike in the 1930s, a miner’s wife wrote a song that became a Democratic anthem, “Which Side Are You On?” The question remains: Which side are you on?

A standard answer is that the interests of the Democrats and the teachers unions are conjoined. Still, many of us have wondered at the party’s massive resistance to publicschool alternatives and most reforms.
Beneath that resistance sits a grim reality: Many urban school systems are slowly dying. As with the decline of the industrial unions, the Democrats’ urban base of teachers is disappearing by attrition. The party is desperate to hold on to what’s left, and increasingly that includes its bedrock —black parents.
Enrollment in many urban schools has been declining for years. It’s down significantly in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and elsewhere. Falling alongside have been membership rolls in urban teachers unions, notably in Michigan and Wisconsin, two Trump pickups this election.

Families who could afford it have moved away. Many adult blacks stayed behind and, inexorably, the education of their children fell behind, a fact documented annually year after year. By the way, good public teachers got trapped, too. Some of the best lost heart and left, replaced by less able teachers, some grossly so.

For parents of children in the nation’s suburban public schools, none of this mattered much, so sustained political support for reform of city schools was never very deep. But in the cities, dissent rose.

The charter-school movement emerged first in Minnesota in 1991. Wisconsin passed the first school-choice legislation in 1989, authored by a Democratic black activist named Polly Williams. Some of us thought then that Polly Williams was the start of a new, bipartisan civil-rights movement. How naive we were.
The movement persisted. According to a 2016 study by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, using state databases, these are the percentages of students now enrolled in public charters only: In now-famous Flint, Mich.: 53%. Kansas City: 40%; Philadelphia: 32%; the District of Columbia: 45%; Detroit: 53%.

In Louisiana, which essentially abandoned its failed central- administration model after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans charters are at 92%.

The steady migration of poor families to these alternatives is a historic saga of social transformation. It happened for two reasons: to escape public-school disorder and to give their kids a shot at learning.
This is one of greatest civilrights stories since the mid-1960s. And the Democratic Party’s role in it? About zero. Other than, as in the past two weeks, resistance.

In 2002, the Supreme Court, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s deciding vote, ruled that Cleveland’s (still successful) school voucher program was constitutional.

In 2013, the Obama Justice Department sought an injunction against Louisiana’s voucher system, arguing the alternative schools were . . . too black. By this logic, children are wards of the state first and the free sons and daughters of their parents second.

Let’s be clear. We are talking about the professional Democratic Party and their full-time adjuncts. Many Democrats, some as “wealthy” as Betsy De-Vos, abandoned the party’s hard-line resistance and supported charters and choice.

America’s inner cities are the foundation of the Democratic Party. Now, its urban political arm, the teachers unions, is shrinking. And its moral foundation of black parents is drifting away. Hillary Clinton explicitly promised more of the status quo. They didn’t turn out for her.

This relentless erosion of an unreformable party explains the rage over one woman, Betsy DeVos.
Some of the least attractive elements of this opposition reemerged, notably anti-Catholicism and anti-Christian bigotry. Stories cited as reason for opposition to Mrs. DeVos her support for “Christian schools.” It’s true. Those Christian and Catholic schools, supported by vouchers, have sent thousands of black and Hispanic kids on to college, the first in their families to make it that far.

Frederick Douglass, speaking in 1894 in Manassas, Va., said, “To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.” That in 2016 this reality should be redefined in our politics as it was so clearly by the fight against Betsy DeVos is one for the history books.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

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