Archive | Education

New Report on EU’s “Settlement Guidelines” for Israel

The Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem think tank, has released a legal and policy analysis, by Prof. Avi Bell and myself, of the European Commission’s recent “settlement guidelines” – a ban on funding Israeli entities located across, or, more importantly, conducting any “activities” in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Gaza. I’ve previously explained how the Guidelines’ are not about either international law or the Palestinians, and how they contradict and undermine the EU’s own practices elsewhere.

Israel and the EU are currently in the throes of negotiations about the document. The paper presents important new information for discussions of business and academic activities in occupied territories.

The report is available here; and this is from the Executive Summary:

•The Israel Grants Guidelines adopted by the European Commission are singularly discriminatory
against Israel. They contradict international law as established in U.N. documents and leading
court cases, as well as the European Union’s own interpretations of international law.

• The EU provides aid and financial cooperation to numerous countries that maintain settlements
in what Europe considers occupied territory, such as Morocco, Turkey, and Russia. In none of these
cases has the Commission imposed limitations on the aid akin to the Guidelines for Israel.

• The Commission’s position that the Guidelines are mandated by international law are further belied by EU programs that provide grants specifically for settlers in belligerently occupied territory, such as the EU’s programs in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.

• Under international law, there are no prohibitions regarding organizations engaging in “activities” in occupied territories, yet the Guidelines bar funding solely on the basis of such “activities.”

• In pretending that the Guidelines fulfill the requirements of international law, the Commission
exposes the EU to legal challenge for EU funding of

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Bryan Caplan’s Voter Achievement Test

Widespread political ignorance has persisted despite major increases in education and IQ, and in the availability of information through the media. But economist Bryan Caplan – a leading academic expert on political knowledge suggests a possible solution – the Voter Achievement Test:

After years of reflecting on voter cognition,… I’ve come up with a remedy that seems both practical and palatable. At risk of being pragmatic and constructive:

1. Get rid of traditional civics and government education; the data show it’s waste of money.

2. Create an annual Voter Achievement Test with questions about politics, economics, and policy.

3. Each year, any citizen who wants to take the test can do so at testing centers around the country for free.

4. Participants receive cash rewards based on their score. E.g.: $1000 for 90%+, $500 for 80-89%, $100 for 70-79%, $0 for less.

The Voter Achievement Test doesn’t just give citizens a clear incentive to actually master the material by whatever means they find effective – elective classes, free reading, Internet, discussion, etc. It also gives them a clear incentive to maintain their mastery of the material, because they can retake the test for cash prizes every single year.

I actually discussed the idea of paying voters to learn political information in Chapter 7 of Democracy and Political Ignorance. But I don’t develop it in as much detail as Caplan. His plan has some virtues beyond the ones he mentions.

First, unlike with the literacy tests of old, it doesn’t actually deprive anyone of the vote. No one is even required to take the test, much less forfeit the franchise if they don’t do so. Second, liberal egalitarians should like the fact that this plan would probably increase knowledge among the poor more than the affluent. The [...]

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My Balkinization Post on Whether Political Ignorance Can be Overcome through Education and Information Shortcuts

The fourth in my series of Balkinization guest-blogging posts on my book Democracy and Political Ignorance is now up. It explains why it is extremely difficult to overcome political ignorance through information shortcuts, education, and other conventional strategies for increasing public knowledge. [...]

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Off-GPA-Balance-Sheet: Splitting the Higher Education Tension Between Education and Credential Through Online Education

The New York Times has a useful article today on MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses.  Reporter Alan Finder points out that online education has been around in one form or another for a decade. What’s different today is the rise of the MOOCs; the article walks through the three leading MOOC providers – EdX, Coursera, and Udacity – and describes how each works and the important differences between them.  One day, I’m pretty sure, online education in various forms – through MOOCs, or in combination with traditional classrooms, or other ways yet to emerge – will be a genuine alternative for both educational content and higher education credential.  For many reasons, however, that day is still a ways off.  So I’m interested in asking what the value of online education is today – its value for an undergraduate currently in school, not waiting for institutional changes in higher education itself, at the level of the whole system.

If an undergraduate doesn’t plan on going on to further graduate or professional education – for which GPA matters – then one might be able to take classes for their practical, real world educational value, even if one’s GPA suffers (because, after all, a reason to take these courses in a terminal degree program is that one is relatively, somewhat less worried about the signal, but instead seeks the content, which means deliberately choosing courses where one has little background knowledge, at least by comparison to other students who, looking to protect GPA, only take classes for which they are already well-prepared).  GPA matters in the real world more than one might think, especially in the early years of competing in the real world, especially for liberal arts majors looking for work in a tough environment:  GPA matters because one is competing [...]

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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Political Ignorance

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently gave a speech lamenting widespread political ignorance in the United States:

Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told the crowd that packed into a Boise State ballroom to hear her Thursday.

About one-third can name the three branches of government. Fewer than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.

“Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name,” she said.

O’Connor touted civics education during her keynote address at the “Transforming America: Women and Leadership in the 21st Century” conference, put on by the Andrus Center for Public Policy. She also described being a female lawyer in the 1950s, and challenged her listeners to help the next generation of leaders reach their goals….

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance,” O’Connor said.

That ignorance starts in the earliest years of a child’s schooling, she said, but often continues all the way through college and graduate school.

O’Connor argued that learning about citizenship is just as important for American children as learning multiplication or how to write their names.

“We have to ensure that our citizens are well informed and prepared to face tough challenges,” she said. “If there is a single child not learning about civics or not being exposed to what they must do as citizens, then all our lives are poorer for that.”

Having just written an entire book on the dangers of political ignorance, I completely agree with Justice O’Connor that this is an important problem. She is performing a useful public service by [...]

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Private Schools Increase Political Knowledge and Reduce the Danger of Political Indoctrination

Allison Benedikt’s Slate essay arguing that if you send your kids to private school you are a “bad person” who is undermining the “common good” has drawn many responses. Art Carden, Kevin Grier, Kevin White, and Megan McArdle have pointed out most of the flaws in her logic.

But both Benedikt and her critics have overlooked one important way in which private schools actually contribute to the common good. One of the most important rationales for public schooling is the need for an informed electorate. Public schools are supposed to teach our kids about government, history, and public policy, so that they will grow up to be informed voters. Unfortunately, as I discuss in my book on political ignorance, political knowledge levels have stagnated at fairly low levels for decades, despite massive increases in funding for public education. Many studies show extensive ignorance about politics and history among recent high school graduates. This is unlikely to be accidental and also unlikely to change, even if all current private school students start attending public schools, as Benedikt would have them do.

On the other hand, as I discuss in Chapter 7 of the book, the evidence suggests that political knowledge is higher among students who attend private schools, even after controlling for various demographic variables such as race and family income. I’m not suggesting that private schools necessarily do a great job of teaching history and civics. But they are, on average, doing a better one than government-run schools. Sending all students to public school would further exacerbate the already severe problem of political ignorance.

The elimination of private schools would also increase the power of government to use public education for indoctrination. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, “A general State education [...]

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The Fiduciary Foundations of Federal Equal Protection

Does the federal government have to adhere to the equal protection of the law? President Andrew Jackson certainly thought so. He vetoed in 1832 the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, and based his veto message on constitutional grounds–among them, that the Bank was special interest legislation, created not for good of the general public, but to enrich select interests. President Jackson wrote: “There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.”

This was the first use of the phrase “equal protection” in an American political document. Three and half decades later, the Fourteenth Amendment forbade States to deny to anyone the “equal protection” of the law.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bolling v. Sharpe that the D.C. public schools could not be racially segregated. The Court held that the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process clause makes the principle of equal protection applicable to the federal government. Bolling was a hastily-written opinion, and it shows. Over the years, Bolling has been derided for creating “reverse incorporation”–as a good result that is hard to defend intellectually, other than by conceding the Supreme Court the power to act as Platonic Guardians.

That view is challenged in a new article by Gary Lawson (BU), Guy Seidman (Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel) and Rob Natelson (Independence Institute). Their article “The Fiduciary Foundations of Federal Equal Protection” The abstract explains:

that a federal equal protection principle is not only consistent

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Getting the Details of Online Courses Right Is Likely to Be More Difficult Than Anticipated

I’m afraid I’ve been absent from blogging for quite a while, but am eager to pick it up again on a more regular basis … and one reason I’ve been away from blogging is some work on online higher ed.  There’s a lot of discussion about MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and while I don’t doubt that these will play an important role in the future of higher ed, at the moment I’m more preoccupied with the basics of how live classroom courses in universities today integrate online work into them.  To cut to the chase, it’s a lot harder than it looks, and it happens badly – not just badly, but in ways that make learning more difficult if not impossible – a lot more often than I would have guessed, just based on some informal work I’ve been doing in the area (i.e., as a teacher and faculty looking to make better use of these options and practical recommendations on how to do it, not as a researcher studying it systematically).

For example, consider a basic undergraduate accounting course that I’ve been following (not at my university, btw).  The professor is an experienced teacher who teaches well, explains things well, and is well-regarded by the students.  But the department has opted for an accounting textbook that, like so many do these days, comes with a website for doing homework and assessment online.  Okay, there are some sites that do this well – and others that don’t – and a bunch that, to judge by student and faculty complaints, do not really keep the website up to date.  So, in this case, the professor taught using a slightly different way of presenting the basic concepts, slightly different terminology, with no explanation that could be got from the [...]

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Must Public Schools Collect Dues for Public School Employee Unions?

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided an interesting case concerning the collection of union dues for public school employees in Michigan. In Bailey v. Callaghan, a divided panel upheld Michigan’s Public Act 53 which provides: ““A public school employer’s use of public school resources to assist a labor organization in collecting dues or service fees from wages of public school employees is a prohibited contribution to the administration of a labor organization.” In other words, under this law, public school employee unions (including teachers’ unions) cannot rely upon payroll deductions to collect union dues and fees, but must shoulder the burden of collecting member dues themselves.

Unions challenged PA 53 on First Amendment and Equal Protection grounds. Judge Kethledge, joined by Judge Gibbons, made quick work of the union claims. Writing for the court, Judge Kethledge explained,

The theory behind their First Amendment claim runs as follows: unions engage in speech (among many other activities); they need membership dues to engage in speech; if the public schools do not collect the unions’ membership dues for them, the unions will have a hard time collecting the dues themselves; and thus Public Act 53 violates the unions’ right to free speech.

The problem with this theory is that the Supreme Court has already rejected it. “The First Amendment prohibits government from ‘abridging the freedom of speech’; it does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expression.” Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass’n, 555 U.S. 353, 355 (2009). Here, Public Act 53 does not restrict the unions’ speech at all: they remain free to speak about whatever they wish. Moreover, “nothing in the First Amendment prevents a State from determining that its political subdivisions may not

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Desire to Homeschool Not a Basis for Asylum

This morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided Romeike v. Holder.  Judge Sutton’s opinion for the court begins:

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike have five children, ages twelve, eleven, nine, seven and two, at least at the time this dispute began. Rather than send their children to the local public schools, they would prefer to teach them at home, largely for religious reasons. The powers that be refused to let them do so and prosecuted them for truancy when they disobeyed orders to return the children to school. Had the Romeikes lived in America at the time, they would have had a lot of legal authority to work with in countering the prosecution. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213–14 (1972); Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534–35 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400–01 (1923).

But the Romeikes lived in Germany when this dispute began. When the Romeikes became fed up with Germany’s ban on homeschooling and when their prosecution for failure to follow the law led to increasingly burdensome fines, they came to this country with the hope of obtaining asylum. Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures that the United States Constitution prohibits. But it did not. The relevant legislation applies only to those who have a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law. As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in

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How to stop school shootings right now: Abolish pretend “gun-free zones”

Real gun-free zones (enforced by metal detectors backed up by armed security guards) are fine for certain buildings. Pretend gun-free zones (bans on gun carrying by licensed people, but no procedures to keep out criminal gun carriers, and exacerbated by the absence of armed security) are magnets for mass killers. There is a reason why mass killers frequently attack schools, movie theaters, or shopping malls which are pretend gun-free zones.

My article Pretend “Gun-free” School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction, 42 Connecticut Law Review 515 (2009), examines the policy arguments. The article details some (but far from all) of the instances in which a lawfully-armed person at the scene has thwarted attempted mass murders. The reason that everyone knows about Sandy Hook Elementary, and few people know about Pearl High School is that the latter had a Vice-Principal with a gun.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s call for armed guards in schools is a good idea. Especially in light of the copycat effect which results from heavy media coverage of notorious crimes, the policy ought to be implemented right away.

Opponents of LaPierre’s proposal say, wrongly, that armed security at Columbine did no good. At Columbine High School, the attack coincided with the “school resource officer” (a sheriff’s deputy) being off-campus.  The officer returned during the start of the attacks, and fired some long-distance shots at the killers, who were on the school porch. Those shots drove the killers into the school building, and saved the lives of several students who had been wounded. Atrociously, the officer failed to pursue the killers into the building. Dozens of additional officers arrived within minutes, but none of them entered the building either, even though an open 911 line indicated that killings were taking place in the library, while police [...]

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Education and Voting Rights for Knowledgeable Children

In response to my post arguing that we should grant voting rights to politically knowledgeable children, Paul Horwitz of Prawfsblawg makes the following suggestion:

What spurred this post is Ilya Somin’s argument on the VC yesterday that knowledgeable children ought to be allowed to vote. He addresses some standard objections in his post, but a number of his commenters wrote to argue that such a rule, if enforced by knowledge or literacy tests, would end up privileging some groups and disadvantaging others (as, indeed, previous tests have done in the United States). Indeed, given massive educational inequality in this country, it’s hard not to see how this proposal wouldn’t give much more electoral power to the wealthy, well-educated, mostly white elite. Unless….perhaps Ilya would welcome a trade-off: knowledgeable children get the vote, in exchange for guarantees of massive public/private efforts to assure meaningful educational and welfare rights to ensure that the opportunity to be a knowledgeable child voter is fairly and widely distributed among the entire population rather than limiting that vote to enclaves with better resources. I’m just going to go ahead and consider this Ilya’s very subtle case for overruling San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez [the 1973 decision that ruled that there is no constitutional right to equal education spending].

Paul is, of course, entitled to interpret my argument however he wants. But I have no desire to overrule Rodriguez. Setting aside the legal merits of the case, extensive evidence compiled by economists Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth shows that increasing education spending in public schools does little or nothing to increase educational achievement. On the other hand, I would be happy if my child-voting proposal were paired with increased school choice, which does have a demonstrated record of increasing educational achievement among poor [...]

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That’s Some Poetic License

From 25 Spanish Plays for Emergent Readers (K-1, Scholastic), an item from a play about planets:

Neptuno: Yo soy Neptuno. Nunca estoy solo. ¡Mi pequeño amigo Pluton esta a mi lado todo el tiempo!

I’m not much on Spanish, but I’m told this means,

Neptune: I am Neptune. I am never alone. My little friend Pluto is by side always!

Except that the minimum distance between Neptune and Pluto is apparently 17 AU (i.e., 17 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun), which is more than half the distance between Neptune and the Sun. Wolfram Alpha reports that, right now, Pluto and Neptune are 28.47 AU apart; that’s almost as far as the current distance between Neptune and the Earth (29.49 AU). Pluto and Neptune don’t travel together at all. (The statement in the play would have been true if Pluton had been taking about his pequeño amigo Caronte.)

I realize that kids’ plays aren’t always supposed to be completely accurate, and that’s fine as to parts that are obviously fictionalized (e.g., Neptune talking). But if the statements sound like they might be accurate, why not make sure that they are accurate — especially in a play that teachers are likely to see as a way to teach children both Spanish and some very basic things about astronomy? [...]

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