Category Archives: Education

Shutting Bad Schools, Helping Students

Sure, not politically correct, but perhaps correct, nonetheless.

By Michael J. Petrilli And Aaron Churchill
April 27, 2015 7:21 p.m. ET

As difficult and disliked as school closures can be, a new study being released Tuesday by the Fordham Institute indicates that the students usually benefit. When we looked at the impact of closures on their achievement, we found that, on average, children directly affected by closure gained significantly—the equivalent of an extra month of learning in their new schools.

Shutting schools is politically dangerous. Just ask a big-city mayor or superintendent who has tried it. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has had to fight for his political life after taking heat for closing scores of schools in 2013. Even with school budgets drowning in red ink, authorities in Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and many other places have faced intense resistance to school closures. Survey data helps explain: Nearly 60% of Chicago voters disapproved of the school closures supported by the mayor.

For our new study, we looked at Ohio, home to cities that have struggled with sluggish economies, waning populations and competition from charter schools. Taken together, the school districts in the state’s eight major cities lost more than 50,000 pupils over eight years. Some schools wound up with too few kids to be sustainable; others were closed because of educational failure. Some charters closed, too, for the same reasons.

As one might expect, these urban school closings affected mainly disadvantaged pupils. In the nearly 200 closed district and charter schools we studied, 73% of students were African-American and more than 85% were poor. The average student in a closing school scored at approximately the 20th percentile on Ohio’s math and reading tests.

The study utilized state records to chart the trajectory of students’ test scores before and after the school closings. Our research team from Ohio State and the University of Oklahoma estimated the academic impact of closure by comparing displaced-students’ achievement trends with those of similar students who were unaffected by closure.

To suggest the size of the educational impact of closure, we presented the findings as “additional days of learning,” which assumes that a year’s worth of learning happens over a 180-day school year. This metric captures the incremental benefit of an intervention—in this case, school closure—on test scores, and is frequently used in education research to convey the results of statistical analyses.

The research reveals that displaced students typically receive a better education in their new school, relative to what they would have received in their closed school. Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading—gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math—46 additional days. These learning gains correspond to an improvement that moves students from the 20th to 22nd percentile in the achievement distribution.

Across both sectors, when students landed in higher-quality schools than the ones they left behind, the gains were even larger—60 days in both math and reading for public-school students, and 58 and 88 days, respectively, for charter students. In other words, students displaced into a higher-quality school make gains that boost their achievement from the 20th to 23rd percentile.

These results suggest that charter and district authorities should welcome school closures as a way to improve the education outcomes of needy children. Of course they must also be judicious, take into account the supply of higher-quality schools, and work with parents and community members to ease the transition. But done properly, shuttering bad schools might just be a saving grace for kids who only get one shot at a good education.

Mr. Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where Mr. Churchill is the Ohio research director.

Shutting Bad Schools, Helping Students – WSJ.


The Study of Military History

The topic as been purged from US university curricula at our peril.
From remarks by Lewis E. Lehrmanat the New-York Historical Society on March 23, when the $50,000 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History was awarded to Alexander Watson’s “Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I” (Basic Books, 2014):

The study of military history has in fact been purged from many of the faculties and curriculums of the universities of the Western world. How did this happen? Perhaps it is explicable by some form of political correctness; or, parochial specialization; or, the armchair unrealism of the faculty lounge; even ivory tower snobbery—among other related social diseases. . . .

From the emergence of Homo sapiens in northeast Africa about 75,000 years ago, the DNA historians and population geneticists now teach us that there have been only three perennial institutions of human society—War, Trade, and Religion. Mister Churchill, long ago, reminded us that few of the major unresolved issues arising between nations, have been settled by little else than war—and by its consequences in victory or defeat. None has made the point so well as President Lincoln in his last war message to Congress of December 6, 1864. Between the rebels and the Union the unresolved issue “is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory.” This is what President Lincoln said. And this is what he meant.

In a word, the world we inhabit is inscrutable without military history in its deepest and largest understanding.


Bankruptcy Options for Student-Loans??

Another MAJOR ‘wealth transfer’ from taxpayers, to non-payers. An absolute crock…
By Josh Mitchell And Katy Stech
March 10, 2015 12:17 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The White House said Tuesday it is weighing whether to make it easier for Americans to discharge student loans through bankruptcy, a major change that would effectively open the door for student debt being treated on par with credit-card debt and mortgages.

Federal law prohibits student loans—whether made by private lenders or the federal government—from being wiped out in bankruptcy, except in rare circumstances. Other forms of consumer credit, including mortgages, credit-card balances and auto loans, face looser requirements for being discharged in bankruptcy.

President Barack Obama , in a presidential memorandum Tuesday, directed administration officials to study whether to push for legislation to loosen the rules imposed on “all student loan borrowers” in the bankruptcy process. The White House released few details on how far the possible changes would go.

Some 40 million Americans currently hold student debt, the White House said, with total debt outstanding now roughly $1.3 trillion.

The effort was announced as part of a broad initiative the White House labeled a “Student Aid Bill of Rights.” The other steps under Mr. Obama’s plan include setting up a system for borrowers to register complaints about the companies, known as servicers, that collect student-loan payments on behalf of the government. The servicers would face stricter federal oversight and new rules designed to make them more proactive in reaching out to distressed borrowers and offering better repayment terms.

Any change to bankruptcy law for student-loan payments would likely drive up taxpayer and lending-industry costs. The government is the primary lender of student loans, making 90% of student loans annually. Private lenders such as Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo & Co. and Discover Financial Services make up about 10% of student loans.

Student loans are considered a risky form of debt because borrowers face only minimal credit checks when applying for federal student loans. Many borrowers have checkered histories and are often unemployed, or in part-time or low-paying jobs. The lending industry has argued that loosening the bankruptcy rules for student loans would increase the risk of losses and drive up borrowing costs, since lenders would raise rates to account for the additional risk of bankruptcy.

The White House said the efforts announced Tuesday are designed to stem defaults among borrowers and ease the nation’s student-loan burden. Consumer advocates have long argued that many Americans remain burdened by unsustainable student-debt loans for years, sometimes decades, and that bankruptcy should be an alternative.

“The agencies will develop recommendations for regulatory and legislative changes for all student loan borrowers, including possible changes to the treatment of loans in bankruptcy proceedings and when they were borrowed under fraudulent circumstances,” the White House said in a statement.

Fewer than 1,000 people try to get rid of their student loans every year using bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy experts say that attempting to discharge the loans in bankruptcy is both expensive and uncertain. The process involves filing a lawsuit in federal court, and lawyers typically charge several thousand dollars upfront for that work. A Wall Street Journal analysis found 713 such lawsuits were filed last year.

Many bankruptcy lawyers say they are hesitant to take on these cases because of the wide range of rulings that judges have handed down. In court, lawyers for a bankrupt student-loan borrower have to convince the judge that the borrower will never be able to afford their monthly payments—a difficult case to make.

Starting in 1976, federal loans were automatically dischargeable after five years of repayment, but borrowers could get out of them earlier if they proved that repaying them would cause an “undue hardship.” But that benefit was gradually removed, and student loan borrowers now need to establish “undue hardship” no matter how many years of federal loan payments they have made.

In 2005, Congress passed a sweeping bankruptcy overhaul for consumers that made private student loans non-dischargeable as well.


Colleges Need a Business Productivity Audit

And you would think universities would be leading the effort to figure this out. Not.
By Frank Mussano And Robert V. Iosue Dec. 28, 2014 6:54 p.m.

College tuition rates are ridiculously out of hand. Since the late 1970s, tuition has surged more than 1,000%, while the consumer-price index has risen only 240%. The percentage of annual household income required to pay the average private four-year tuition reached 36% in 2010, up from 16% in 1970. What explains the ever-increasing costs?

For one, three quarters of a typical college budget is spent on personnel expenses, including benefits. Yet the average professor spends much less time in the classroom today than two decades ago. In 2010 44% of full-time faculty reported that they spent nine or more hours a week in the classroom, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. In 1989 more than 60% said they did. The traditional 12-15 hours a week teaching load is changing into a six-to-nine-hour workweek, a significant decrease in productivity.

The typical defense of the reduced workload goes something like this: Professors have increased research demands, more extensive classroom preparation and committee work, as well as additional administrative and student-counseling responsibilities.

Except for a handful of elite researchers, this argument doesn’t add up. High-school teachers, for instance, teach 20-30 hours a week, while also facing increased administrative responsibilities. Some parents work longer hours or perhaps even two jobs to defray a child’s college expenses.

There’s another problem: The number of college administrators has increased 50% faster than the number of instructors since 2001, according to the Education Department. Administrative costs have far outpaced other college expenses during the past two decades.

There are numerous examples, but some of the more stunning cases include the University of Minnesota, which added 1,000 administrators in the past decade, reaching a ratio of one administrator for every 3.5 students, according to 2012 reporting in this newspaper. Arizona State University increased the number of administrators by 94% between 1993-2007, according to the Goldwater Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania nonteaching staff swelled by 83%—even though the schools’ respective student enrollments and instructional expenditures did not grow anywhere near those rates.

All the while, colleges launched a prestige arms race, dropping millions on extravagant buildings. Higher-education construction spending has doubled since 1994, with a peak of $15 billion in 2006 that has leveled off at $11 billion in recent years. Adding to the frenzy are the various magazine rankings that base much of their quality-assessment formula on the amount of money spent on student services and facilities, even if the funds are wasted. Campuses have everything from lazy rivers to climbing walls to luxury dormitories.

On top of that, student-loan debt has skyrocketed to $1.2 trillion. Easy access to government loan money has given colleges license to boost tuition with no motivation to keep costs down. College counselors encourage incoming freshmen to take on unconscionably large loans that ultimately fatten school coffers. The institutions know they will not be held liable for missed loan payments. More than 20% of the nation’s households have incurred student debt, averaging $33,000 for the class of 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal. Default rates stand at 14%—higher than for mortgages, autos or credit cards.

In short, colleges and universities engaged in a spending spree because they can. But there’s one simple idea that might start to reverse the spending spree: audits of higher education. In the business world, officials keep an eye on the bottom line. If profits are down, there’s a performance audit to identify unprofitable practices. Similar audits are conducted on defense plants, hospitals, social agencies and other businesses that benefit from tax dollars. Why not audit higher education?

A required review could focus on basic teaching workloads, space utilization and personnel costs as they relate to program revenues. Since the federal government already collects data annually on higher education, it could start asking for more information related to productivity. Colleges would be forced to reconcile sloppy and obscure bookkeeping methodologies to report statistics in a format consistent with government-defined metrics.

Eventually, benchmark comparison data could be established for various categories of institutions. The Education Department’s new college rating system could also collect and present cost-income productivity ratios that consider credit hours completed compared with labor costs and other expenses per student. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know which colleges are most productive with their tuition dollars?

Granted, there would be a lot of gnashing of teeth in the higher-education community at the thought of using a business assessment technique within its ivory walls. But even if what resulted were recommendations, and not mandates, the scrutiny would open many eyes to inefficient practices.

Mr. Mussano is the former dean of administrative services at York College of Pennsylvania. He and Mr. Iosue are co-authors of “College Tuition: Four Decades of Financial Deception” (Blue River Press, 2014).

via Frank Mussano and Robert V. Iosue: Colleges Need a Business Productivity Audit – WSJ.