Archive | Education

Keeping Wolverines Out of Oklahoma City Schools

USA Today reports that a boy in an Oklahoma City kindergarten was required to turn his t-shirt inside-out because it violated state policy concerning appropriate school attire.

Cooper Barton, 5, comes from a family of Michigan fans. He went to school wearing a maize and blue shirt with “The Big House,” the nickname for Michigan’s 114,000-seat stadium, written on the front. The school principal made Cooper turn the shirt inside out due to the state policy.

The rule is among many restricting clothing and dress in the city schools. It came into effect in 2005 after suggestions from a gang task force. On the list of banned items, non-Oklahoma college dress falls directly in between gang symbol haircuts and “satanic cult dress, witchcraft and related symbols.”

More here. [...]

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It’s Deja Vu all Over Again

Remember how George W. Bush crafted an education “compromise” with Sen. Edward Kennedy and other leading Democrats? The federal government would significantly increase its spending on education, and in return the states would be held to strict, enforceable standards to improve public education, especially for the poor. Many of us predicted that the money would flow, but eventually the standards would go.

I’m not especially surprised, therefore, to read the following in the Times: “In just five months, the Obama administration has freed schools in more than half the nation from central provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, raising the question of whether the decade-old federal program has been essentially nullified.”

There’s a definite lesson in this for those who want to pursue “spend money now, in return for reforms in the future,” or “raise taxes now in return for future spending cuts” policies. And it’s a lesson that’s hardly novel. [...]

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Can the Education Department Place Conditions on NCLB Waivers?

This past week, the Department of Education announced it would allow states to obtain waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act, but “would set a “high bar on flexibility.”. (HT: Neal McCluskey) According to the announcement:

states can get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—or No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.

Specifically, according this fact sheet, a State may receive flexibility if it develops a “rigorous and comprehensive plan” to address “three critical areas” the Department of Education believes will “improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.” Encouraging school districts to emphasize these three “critical areas” may or may not be a good idea, but it is highly problematic if (as it appears) the Department of Education is imposing these conditions without statutory authorization.

The NCLB Act allows for waivers of statutory and regulatory requirements placed on state recipients of federal education funds in Section 9401.  This provision identifies things a state must do to be eligible for a waiver, including showings a state must make, but it does not impose any of the conditions detailed in the Department of Education’s announcement. For example, Section 9401 requires a state to explain how the waiver will enable the state to ” increase the quality of instruction for students” and “improve the academic achievement of students,” but the Department of Education’s new requirements seem to go much farther than this. Moreover, nothing in Section 9401 appears to authorize the Secretary of Education from setting additional conditions on waiver requests.  So has the Department of Education over-stepped its bounds? It [...]

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The Education Bubble

The Atlantic‘s Daniel Indiviglio highlights the enormous growth in student loan debt over the past twelve years.

Indiviglio comments:

This chart looks like a mistake, but it’s correct. Student loan debt has grown by 511% over this period. In the first quarter of 1999, just $90 billion in student loans were outstanding. As of the second quarter of 2011, that balance had ballooned to $550 billion.

The chart above is striking for another reason. See that blue line for all other debt but student loans? This wasn’t just any average period in history for household debt. This period included the inflation of a housing bubble so gigantic that it caused the financial sector to collapse and led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. But that other debt growth? It’s dwarfed by student loan growth

It should be apparent that this trend can’t continue — and won’t.  The only question is what will cause it to change. [...]

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Campus Carry passes Texas Senate

As an amendment to a broader bill on education. Details here, from the Austin American-Statesman. Campus carry already passed the House as a stand-alone bill, so it seems likely that the House will concur with the Senate amendment. Texas Governor Rick Perry has repeatedly indicated his support for the measure. The floor discussion of the amendment should be available here, in RealPlayer format (although the Senate site warns that the stream has compatability problems with RealPlayer 14).

If enacted, the bill would only authorize carry by persons who have already been licensed by the State of Texas to carry throughout the state. Permit applications require fingerprinting for the background check, and passing a safety training class. Permits are only issued to persons aged 21 or older. Of course a licensee may not carry a firearm while intoxicated. Texas Penal Code 40.035(d). For a guide to the Texas concealed handgun laws, which in many respects are more restrictive than the handgun carry licensing laws of many other states, see this document from the Texas Department of Public Safety. 

For discussion of the policy issues involving campus carry, see my article Pretend ‘Gun-Free’ School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction, from the Connecticut Law Review. As the article observes, campus carry has been the rule for years at public colleges and universities in Utah, and at Colorado State University, among others. There have been no reports of problems. [...]

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Are Our Students Educated?

Are students learning anything in college?  The research of NYU sociologist suggests that, at least for a sizable portion of undergraduates, the answer is “no.”  Here are reports on Arum’s work from McClatchy and USA Today. As characterized in these stories, Arum’s research finds that a large proportion of undergraduate students are not learning to write, think critically, or engage in complex reasoning.  The amount of time spent studying is quite small, and students can attend years of college with little to show for it. [...]

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John McWhorter on Efforts to Remove the “N Word” from Huckleberry Finn

Last week, co-blogger Jonathan Adler noted the publication of a new edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces all of the book’s many uses of the word “nigger” with “slave” in order to make it more palatable to modern teachers who want to assign the book to students. In this recent column, prominent black linguist John McWhorter criticizes such efforts to sanitize a classic:

NewSouth Books would seem to be creating a baby-food version of Huckleberry Finn, with the n-word replaced by “slave” because of feedback from teachers who claim the book has become “unteachable.”

I see. Eighth-graders are too unformed to understand the difference between someone calling someone else the n-word and an author using the word in an ancient book to reveal characters as ignorant. Interesting, given that the same eighth-graders hear the same word used by rappers daily and understand the difference between that usage — as a term of endearment — and the epithet one….

[I]s it really that adolescents can’t comprehend the layers inherent in the word and its usage? Are people younger than 18 really so foggy about the notion that social conditions change over time? And isn’t showing the open use of the word in the past part of showing how far America has come? And meanwhile, it’s hard not to notice that the typical black view regarding NewSouth’s action is that it would be a whitewashing of history. Black people want their kids to see the real Huckleberry Finn.

McWhorter’s objection (and mine) is not to the mere publication of the sanitized version of Finn. If there are people who want to read it, that’s fine. Rather, the problem is with its use as a teaching tool in schools. Part of the value of assigning the book is the way it [...]

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ROI for Law School

Probably many readers have seen this New York Times article, offering a lengthy and well-reported analysis in the Business Pages by David Segal of whether law school is a worthwhile investment.  The analysis points to a couple of different factors, including:

  • supply of lawyers outstripping demand, now and into the future;
  • cost of legal education outstripping the ability to repay on most lawyers’ salaries;
  • oversupply of law schools (leading to oversupply of lawyers, but in fact contributing its own frictions in bringing supply and demand to clear);
  • huge information gaps making it difficult at best for would-be students to make a decision;
  • inaccurate and gamed information supplied by law schools on employment and salaries of graduates.

The article traces through several law grads, with a particular focus on a graduate of Thomas Jefferson law school in San Diego, who has racked up several hundred thousand dollars in debt – if he were paying the monthly payments, they would be around $3,000 a month, if I recall the article correctly.  He himself says that he’s not so good at keeping track of that sort of thing.  The debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so he and his girlfriend have simply gone off the employment or any other kind of income grid, pretty much.

A lot of readers of the article will be unimpressed with the young man’s cavalier attitude both to running up the debt – including on remarkably idiotic things, like trips abroad – and to repayment at all.  But while we all should take a lesson – I for one take a deep breath and hope that my own kid would not make these kinds of mistakes – there’s also a fact that it was only in the last two years or so that the vast majority of [...]

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Should We Teach Kids to Play to Win?

Political scientist Barry Rubin has an interesting column criticizing the modern tendency to teach kids that playing to win is bad:

My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place…..

[A]m I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive….

The playing field was perfectly even, but the boys were clearly miserable. They felt like losers, their behavior rejecting the claim that everything was just great, or that mediocrity was satisfactory as long as everyone was treated identically. They knew better than to think outcomes don’t matter….

When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment…..

For the starting line-up, I put the best players in and kept them in as long as they didn’t say they were tired

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A “Generation of Nincompoops”?

AP writer Beth Harpaz worries that we are raising “a generation of nincompoops” because modern technology has obviated the need for kids to learn basic mechanical skills:

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care….

The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he’d never had to get cubes out of a tray — in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don’t understand can openers.

But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn’t you wrestle that ice-cube tray to the ground? It’s not that complicated!

Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book “The Dumbest Generation,” which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says “the absence of technology” confuses kids faced

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Debating the Signaling Model of Education

At Econlog, GMU economist Bryan Caplan and Princeton economist Bill Dickens have been debating the signaling model of education. See this post for Bryan’s most recent contribution and links to earlier parts of the debate. Bryan argues that a large part of our education spending (perhaps as much as 80%) is socially wasteful “signaling.” It is a kind of arms race where students try to get more education than than their rivals in order to signal their conscientiousness, conformity, and intelligence to potential employers. Crucially, however, much of the information learned is actually not needed for their careers; the real objective is just to rack up better-looking credentials than the Joneses in order to look good to employers.

Both sides make many good points. Overall, I am not persuaded by Bryan’s argument, at least not yet. The crucial objection, raised by Dickens, is that if most education expenditures are primarily about signaling, it should be possible to find other, cheaper ways to signal these desirable traits to employers. Bryan in fact concedes that “intelligence is fairly easy to observe (even in a regime where IQ tests are only semi-legal).” For example, applicants can submit their standardized test scores even if employers don’t require them to do so. Intelligence can also be signaled by getting a high grade in one or a few difficult courses at the high school or college level. You don’t really need four years of college grades. So the debate really turns on the extent to which it’s possible to find easier and cheaper ways to signal conscientiousness and conformity. Here, Bryan argues that there is an adverse selection problem:

[C]onscientiousness and conformity are often hard to spot – especially when people have a strong incentive to fake them. Even worse, low educational attainment relative to IQ

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Proposals for Increasing Student Achievement

Stuart Buck has two interesting proposals for increasing educational achievement among minority students, based on his book Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation:

I do suggest one idea that I think has some promise: eliminate individual grades, and let students compete against other schools in academic competitions.

This idea is far from original. Rather, it comes from the eminent sociologist James Coleman. Coleman observed the striking fact that while students regularly cheer for their school’s football or basketball team, they will poke fun or jeer at other students who study too hard or who are too eager in class: “the boy who goes all-out scholastically is scorned and rebuked for working too hard; the athlete who fails to go all-out is scorned and rebuked for not giving his all.”

But this is odd, is it not? Why are attitudes toward academics and athletics so different? Sports are more fun than classwork, of course, but that does not explain why success would actually be discouraged in class.

Coleman’s explanation was disarmingly simple: The students on the athletic teams are not competing against other students from their own school. Instead, they are competing against another school. And when they win a game, they bring glory to their fellow students, who get to feel like they too are victors, if only vicariously.

But the students in the same class are competing against each other for grades and for the teacher’s attention. Naturally, that competition gives rise to resentment against other children who are too successful (just as students will hate the football team from a cross-town rival)…..

Coleman’s suggestion, therefore, was that if you want the students’ attitudes towards their studies to resemble their attitudes toward sports, you should minimize the role of grades — which involve competition against one’s classmates.

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The Bernardine Dohrn of the early 20th century: The terrorist professor at U of Texas law school

My DU colleague Thomas Russell, who used to teach at the University of Texas Law school, has a written a paper, available on SSRN, which urges the University of Texas Law School to rename Simkins Hall, a law and graduate male student dormitory named for William Stewart Simkins. Simkins taught equity, contracts, procedure, and related topics at UT for three decades in the early 20th century. He was also a founder of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, and every year at UT he gave a formal speech extolling the Klan.

Most of Russell’s paper concentrates on Simkins’ career at UT, as well as the 1954 decision (five weeks after Brown v. Board was announced) to name the dormitory after him. I was curious to learn more about Simkins had actually done with the Florida Klan, so I read Michael Newtown’s book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida. [...]

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Taking the Washington Post to School


Today’s Washington Post features a story by Michael Birnbaum on the controversial new Texas social studies standards.  As characterized by the Post, the standards sound quite bad.  Ann Althouse was concerned by the story, so she looked at the Texas materials (for which the Post had declined to provide a link) and was appalled.  “Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated!” She summarizes:

If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it.  Or at least link to the text. And if you choose to paraphrase and not even link, and I have to look up the text myself, and your paraphrase is not accurate, it is my job to embarrass you by pointing that out.

Based on what Althouse reports, Birnbaum and the Post should certainly be embarrased.

UPDATE: Just so there is no confusion, neither this post nor that by Ann Althouse is a defense of the Texas standards. However bad they are, news outlets should report on them accurately.  What Althouse shows is that the Post utterly failed in this regard.  Criticizing the Texas standards should not require misrepresenting them.

SECOND UPDATE: It appears Ms. Althouse may have blogged too soon — and I may have been too quick to repeat her accusations against the Post.  Althouse relied upon the text of the standards as proposed a few months ago, not the final language.  The Texas State Board of Education revised the standards this past week before approving them.  Based on live-blogging by the liberal Texas Freedom Network (see here and here), and the direct quotes (and, in some cases, video they provide), the Post‘s characterizations of the final [...]

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How President Obama is bringing real education reform to Colorado

Today is the final day of the 2010 Colorado legislature, and cautious optimists are looking forward to final passage of Senate Bill 191, a dramatic reform of Colorado’s tenure system for public school teachers. To be precise, after three years, Colorado teachers get a set of “due process” rights, not tenure, but the effect is to make it nearly impossible for ineffective teachers to be fired. Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Denver Democrat and former public school principal Michael Johnston, would change all that.

In brief, the bill would replace the current system of gaining tenure (work three years without getting fired) with a requirement for three consecutive years of teaching success. Tenure could be lost, however, based on two consecutive years of teaching failure. After that, a school district could choose not to rehire a teacher for the next school year, but if so, the teacher would be entitled to an appeals process. The appeal amendment was added yesterday, and was the price of getting the bill though the Colorado House.

Fifty percent of what constitutes “success” would be based on the academic progress made by students during the school year, according to objective tests. The other 50% is to be based on objective criteria to be established by the State Board of Education. The metrics must take into account factors such as “student mobility” (e.g., students whose live with one parent who has no fixed address, and who only attend school sporadically), which of course make academic progress much more difficult.

Senate Bill 191 is supported by the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Children’s Campaign (which Colorado’s current Lt. Governor, Barbara O’Brien, used to head), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Democratic Governor Bill Ritter, all Republicans in the state legislature, and a critical mass [...]

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