A decade ago, the charter-school movement was moving from strength to strength. As student enrollment surged and new schools opened in cities across the country, America’s first black president provided much-needed political cover from teachers’ union attacks. Yet today, with public support fading and enrollment stalling nationwide — and with Democratic politicians from Elizabeth Warren to Joe Biden disregarding, downplaying, or publicly disavowing the charter movement — the situation for America’s charter schools has become virtually unrecognizable.
This is a strange state of affairs, given the ever-growing and almost universally positive research base on urban charter schools. On average, students in these schools — and black and Latino students in particular — learn more than their peers in traditional public schools and go on to have greater success in college and beyond. Moreover, these gains have not come at the expense of traditional public schools or their students. In fact, as charter schools have replicated and expanded, surrounding school systems have usually improved as well.
To be sure, the research is not as positive for charter schools operating outside of the nation’s urban centers. Furthermore, multiple studies suggest that internet-based schools, along with programs serving mostly middle-class students, perform worse than their district counterparts, at least on traditional test-score-based measures. But like the technologies behind renewable energy (which work poorly in places where the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine), charter schools needn’t work everywhere to be of service to society. And, contrary to much of the public rhetoric, the evidence makes a compelling case for expanding charter schools in urban areas — especially in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, and San Francisco, where their market share is still relatively modest. Indeed, encouraging such an expansion may be the single most important step we can take to improve the lives of low-income and minority children in America’s most underserved urban communities.
It is a particularly cruel irony that many within the Democratic Party — with its historic legacy of standing up for needy urban families — have turned against a policy that could so dramatically improve the lives of their constituents. But despite some Democrats’ about-face on charter schools, it is imperative that America’s dispirited education reformers — who have experienced more than their fair share of disappointment — not throw in the towel just yet. Although the political climate may now entail a serious fight over charter schools in the coming years, the benefits of such schools make them well worth the effort.
THE EVIDENCE ON URBAN CHARTER SCHOOLS
In general, the most rigorous studies of charter schools rely on data from the randomized admissions lotteries that are conducted when individual schools are oversubscribed, which ensure that research resembles a natural experiment.
With few exceptions, these lottery-based studies have found that attending oversubscribed charter schools is associated with higher achievement in reading and math — especially in large, human-capital-rich cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York City. For example, a 2011 study of the Promise Academy charter schools in the Harlem Children’s Zone found the effects of attendance in middle school were “enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics,” while the effects in elementary school were “large enough to close the racial achievement gap in both mathematics and [English language arts].”
If all charter schools were so effective, there would be little to debate. But unfortunately, charter schools that are popular enough to make use of admissions lotteries are likely atypical. Consequently, although studies may tell us something important about the schools in question — and, perhaps, about the potential gains associated with the policies and practices that allow them to do their work — this research can tell us little about the overall performance of urban charter schools.
In an effort to overcome this limitation, many recent studies have used a statistical technique known as “matching” to compare the academic trajectories of students in charter schools to students in traditional public schools with similar characteristics and levels of academic achievement. A 2012 study that used matching found that students in Milwaukee charter schools made more progress in English language arts (ELA) and math than otherwise similar students in traditional public schools, as did a more recent study of students in Los Angeles charter schools.
Although there are many approaches to matching, perhaps the best known in education circles is the virtual control record (VCR) method developed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO has used the VCR method in recent years to generate an extensive collection of national, state-, and city-specific estimates of the “charter effect.” In a 2015 analysis of charter performance in 41 urban locations, for instance, CREDO estimated that students who attended a charter school in these cities gained an average of 28 days of learning in ELA and 40 days of learning in math per year. (For the purposes of this discussion, 180 days of learning can be thought of as the progress the average American student makes in the average school year.) Students who enrolled in an urban charter school for at least four years gained a total of 72 days of learning in ELA and 108 days — over half a year’s worth of learning — in math.
Notably, these gains were concentrated among low-income black and Latino students. Black students in poverty gained 44 days of learning in ELA and 59 days of learning in math per year. Similarly, Latino students in poverty gained 25 days of learning in ELA and 48 days of additional learning in math. Students with English-language-learner status gained 79 days of learning in ELA and 72 days of learning in math.
Nationally, ELA and math achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students are roughly two grade levels. So while most charter schools aren’t erasing racial achievement gaps, the average urban charter is putting a sizable dent in them.
Since the goal of public education is to serve all students effectively, one key question is whether the success of students in charter schools comes at the expense of their peers in traditional public schools. Yet contrary to the assumptions of many charter-school opponents, there is little evidence that this is the case.
In fact, most of the “spillover” effects that charter schools have on the traditional public schools in their vicinity appear positive — or at worst, neutral. To wit, a recent review of the literature on this question identified nine studies that found positive effects, three that found negative effects, two that found mixed effects, and 10 that found no effects whatsoever. As that summary suggests, evidence that charter competition has salutary effects on district-run schools has now been detected in a wide variety of contexts, from the dense urban cores of Milwaukee and New York City to the sprawling suburbs of Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.
Logically, if urban charter schools have a positive effect on their own students’ achievement and a neutral or positive effect on other students’ achievement, it follows that their overall effect on student achievement must be positive. To test that hypothesis, researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently examined the relationship between the “market share” of local charters — that is, the percentage of publicly enrolled students in a geographic school district who attend a charter school — and the average reading and math achievement of all students (including those in traditional public schools). Overall, the data revealed that an increase in the former was associated with an increase in the latter, especially in black and Latino communities and in the largest urban areas. In other words, at least when it comes to charter schools in America’s biggest cities, a rising tide really does lift all boats.
BEYOND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
While most parents expect their children to leave school with a mastery of critical academic skills and knowledge, the ultimate success of an education lies in the degree to which it empowers students to thrive in adulthood. Consequently, to gauge the true efficacy of charter schools, one cannot simply rely on charter students’ performance record based on standard academic tests.
Fortunately, a growing number of studies allow us to examine the relationship between enrollment in charter schools and long-term, real-world outcomes. One evaluation of a high-performing “no excuses” charter school in Chicago found that, compared to their peers, “lottery winners are 10.0 percentage points more likely to attend college and 9.5 percentage points more likely to enroll for at least four semesters.” Similarly, in a follow-up study of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, researchers found that the same students who had previously experienced large test-score gains relative to their district peers were also “14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college.” Furthermore, admitted female students were “12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant in their teens,” while male students were “4.3 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated.”
Other lottery-based studies encompass multiple schools. For example, one study found that attending an oversubscribed Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) middle school between 2008 and 2011 had a positive effect on post-secondary enrollment. Similarly, a 2016 study found that charter schools “increase pass rates on Massachusetts’ high-stakes [high-school] exit exam, with large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored [college] scholarship,” and that they “induce a substantial shift from 2- to 4-year institutions.” Finally, a recent study of the Democracy Prep charter network found that it boosted students’ odds of voting in the 2016 election by six percentage points.
Like the lottery-based studies of charter schools’ impact on achievement, this research doesn’t necessarily generalize to all charter schools. However, at least two studies have used matching techniques to estimate the long-term effects of charter attendance for entire cities or states.
The first, a 2011 study of charter schools in Florida and Chicago, found that “among students who attended a charter middle school, those who went on to attend a charter high school were 7–15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who transitioned to a traditional public high school,” as well as “8–10 percentage points more likely to attend college.” The second, a more recent study of charter schools in North Carolina, found that students who attended a charter high school were “less likely to be chronically absent, suspended, be convicted of a crime as an adult, and more likely to register and participate in elections.”
In short, although the literature on charter schools’ long-term effects is still developing, the early evidence — like the two studies mentioned above — is extremely encouraging as well as highly consistent with the evidence on charter schools’ short-term effects on academic achievement.
In the absence of any compelling evidence that charter schools’ well-established benefits for low-income and minority students come at the expense of students in traditional public schools, the claim that charter schools exacerbate segregation is perhaps opponents’ most potent line of attack. And though, as of yet, the evidence is neither dramatic nor conclusive, there is some limited evidence to support this argument.
In a recent literature review, for instance, researchers identified 10 studies of charter schools and racial integration, including two that found they increased integration, five that found no significant effect, and three that found that they decreased integration (i.e., increased or at least preserved segregation). Meanwhile, in the most comprehensive analysis to date, researchers at the Urban Institute found that higher charter market share was associated with a small increase in racial segregation within the average school district. Specifically, the authors estimated that if every charter school in the country was eliminated, racial segregation in the average district would decrease by approximately 5%. However, that same study also found that charter schools reduced segregation between school districts. Consequently, when the analysts looked at segregation across entire metro areas, they found no significant effects.
For some charter skeptics, even the faintest hint of “re-segregation” on any level is intolerable. While this objection to charter schools is understandable, an overemphasis on this dimension of their impact risks missing the forest for the trees.
First, it’s important to recognize that American schools are already highly segregated and have been so for the many decades of traditional public-school hegemony. Thus, it’s not as if charter schools are derailing an otherwise successful program of racial integration.
Second, much of the most concerning segregation takes place within outwardly diverse schools. For example, if math or other subjects are tracked, pre-existing achievement gaps can and do lead to highly segregated classrooms, even within schools that look integrated on paper.
Third, some research suggests that, because it “decouples” housing and education markets, expanding school choice makes it more likely that white parents will move into “racially segregated urban communities.” In other words, even if charter schools do lead to slightly less diverse schools in some places, their arrival may mean that neighborhoods become more diverse.
Finally, it is simply a fact that many “racially isolated” charter schools achieve exceptional results for the minority students they serve. At the end of the day, the argument that charter programs will re-segregate America’s schools misses the profound difference between policies of enforced segregation and those that empower black and Latino families to opt out of a system designed by and for the white majority. Parents who choose all-black or all-Latino charter schools that defy society’s expectations of failure are hardly modern-day Bull Connors.
CRITICS OF THE RESEARCH
As should be obvious, much of the pro-charter argument depends on the validity of the methodologies upon which researchers have relied (and of CREDO’s methodology in particular). So, given how much is at stake, it’s worth taking a moment to understand the various criticisms of CREDO’s approach, most of which can be summarized in two points.
First, critics claim that CREDO’s estimates could be biased by unobserved differences between students in charter schools and students in traditional public schools. In other words, it’s possible that the students in charter schools make more progress than “otherwise similar” students (i.e., students with similar demographic characteristics and prior achievement) in traditional public schools because of factors that are hard to measure, like unusually involved parents.
Second, the critics argue that even if CREDO’s estimates are unbiased, they might not generalize to other locations or higher levels of charter market share. For example, if the 25% of Boston’s black students who are enrolled in a charter school are above average, easier to teach, or otherwise different from the rest of the city’s black student population, the same schools that are seemingly serving these students so well might struggle to replicate their results with the other three-quarters of that population. And of course, insofar as the extraordinary success of Boston’s charter schools depends on conditions that are not replicable — such as the city’s unusually deep reservoir of human capital — it may be difficult to reproduce this success in other locations.
For each of these criticisms, there is a compelling counterargument. For example, when the federal Institute of Education Sciences (IES) evaluated non-experimental methods for studying charter schools, it found that matching studies generated “impact estimates that are not significantly different from the experimental estimates.” Other attempts to assess the validity of matching approaches have reached similar conclusions. And in general, it’s difficult to overlook the similarities between CREDO’s estimates and those generated by other experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Like the CREDO studies, for example, those other studies found increased positive effects for disadvantaged students and students of color, as well as a stark gap between the performance of urban and non-urban charter schools, all of which suggests that CREDO’s estimates should be taken seriously.
As for the second criticism, although our knowledge of the opportunities and challenges associated with an exclusively charter-based system is thus far limited to the experience of New Orleans (which made the switch almost overnight following Hurricane Katrina), we now have quite a bit of experience with “charter-heavy” systems, where charter market share is somewhere between 15% and 45%. In general, the evidence collected in such environments suggests that the returns associated with higher charter market share do not necessarily diminish as charter market share increases. For example, one rigorous analysis found that the “average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased…despite a doubling of charter market share.” And CREDO’s 2015 estimates for cities like Detroit and Washington, D.C., were highly positive, despite the fact that charter schools enroll more than a third of the students in these cities. Finally, the evidence suggests that New Orleans’s leap of faith led to substantial gains for students — although it’s not clear how much smaller those gains would have been if the city had stopped at 50% or 75% charter market share instead of going all the way.
Obviously, even if one takes CREDO’s estimates at face value and accepts that there is room for growth in most places, it’s still the case that charter performance varies by location. But what this criticism often overlooks is that charter policy also varies by location. So at best, this line of reasoning is a double-edged sword. After all, nothing but politics prevents states and localities from adopting smarter education policies.
IMPROVEMENTS OVER TIME
Collectively, the research discussed makes a compelling case for expanding charter schools in urban areas. Yet that case would be incomplete without a final, critical, and frequently overlooked point: Charter schools (and urban charter schools in particular) have improved since the movement’s inception — even as their numbers have increased — and will probably keep improving in the coming years.
The first half of this claim is difficult to contest. For instance, after breaking down previously collected achievement data according to school year, CREDO estimated that students in urban charter schools gained 24 days of learning in reading and 29 days of learning in math in 2008-09. Yet by 2011-12, it estimated that these figures had increased to 41 days for reading and 58 days for math. Similarly, meta-analyses of the lottery-based and quasi-experimental charter-school literature suggest a gradual improvement in overall performance. For example, a 2008 review of 17 lottery-based and value-added studies found “compelling evidence that charter schools underperform traditional public schools in some locations, grades, and subjects, and outperform them in other locations, grades, and subjects.” Yet in 2019, the same authors concluded that charter schools had positive effects in the elementary and middle grades, with no statistically significant effects in high school.
Although the causes behind this improvement are complex, it stands to reason that it is at least partly attributable to the inevitable learning process that occurs whenever a new idea is introduced. As skeptics are quick to note, “charter schools” often feels like an unhelpfully broad category. Fortunately, thanks to nearly two decades of research, we know quite a bit about what sorts of charter schools work best, for whom, and under what circumstances. Another landmark CREDO study (and other research) tells us that non-profit “charter management organizations” (CMOs) are, on average, higher performing than for-profit networks or independent “mom-and-pop” charter schools. And numerous studies suggest that “no excuses” schools have had a particularly positive effect on black students’ achievement. Finally, as noted previously, we know that charter schools in urban areas outperform those in rural and suburban districts, especially when it comes to serving black and Latino students.
Though it’s unlikely to persuade the critics, one obvious implication of all this research is that we should allow high-performing CMOs like KIPP, Success Academy, and IDEA to expand their footprints in major urban areas. And in fact, that’s more or less what has been happening in places where charter schools in general have been allowed to grow: Since 2015, the share of newly created charter schools run by for-profit entities has fallen from 20% to around 10%, while the share of new schools run by CMOs has increased to 40%.
Once one starts looking for them, the signs that states and localities are learning from one another’s experiences are everywhere. To wit, at least half a dozen cities have now adopted common applications that make it easier for parents to choose from and apply to multiple schools. Or take Texas, which historically has had a relatively low-performing charter sector. In 2013, the Lone Star State boosted funding for its charter schools while also moving to close its lowest performers. Following the law’s passage, CREDO’s estimate of Texas charter schools’ effect on math learning went from negative 17 days per year in 2013 to positive 17 days per year in 2015, with even larger gains for poor students and the state’s ever-expanding Latino population.
This improvement is too recent to be reflected in CREDO’s national estimates, as are the widely recognized improvements in several other states’ charter sectors. But the more important point is that, even after 25 years of “learning” on the part of both states and localities, charter-school policy in most places is far from optimal. Additionally, a 2018 study found that, once the cost of facilities and other unavoidable expenses was taken into account, charter schools received 27% — or about $6,000 — less per pupil than traditional public schools. And in more than a dozen major urban districts — including Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. — it has been estimated that charter schools receive anywhere from 25% to 50% less revenue per pupil than traditional public schools. In other words, urban charter schools are achieving their remarkable results despite spending far less money per pupil than their district counterparts. If and when legislators begin funding charter schools more equitably, one can only imagine the levels of success they — and their students — will achieve.
RENEWING THE PROMISE OF CHARTER SCHOOLS
In recent decades, education reformers have experimented with numerous approaches to boosting the achievement of disadvantaged children of color — from reducing class sizes to insisting that teachers receive “National Board Certification” to investing heavily in failing schools. Yet ultimately, most of these ideas were abandoned because they were politically untenable or, in hindsight, unscalable or ill-conceived. In contrast, the case for charter schools has only strengthened over time — and the experiences of places like New Orleans, Newark, and D.C. suggest we have only begun to realize their potential.
Precisely why urban charter schools work so well for students of color is difficult to say. In theory, freedom from district bureaucracies and teacher-union contracts should allow them to make better hiring decisions, appropriately reward strong performance, and let go of ineffective teachers when necessary. But it’s also possible that more intense competition between schools encourages them to make better use of their resources. Or perhaps the periodic closure of low-performing charter schools leads to a gradual improvement in quality. Or maybe allowing more school choice improves the “match” between students and schools in ways that disproportionately benefit at-risk students. Since research supports each of these theories, the best possible answer to the question of causal mechanisms may simply be “all of the above.”
Despite what many may have heard, the growth of charter schools is not out of control. To the contrary, where growth has been permitted, it is completely under the control of disadvantaged populations that can now exercise their right to pursue a better education. And despite the overheated rhetoric that dominates public conversation, the truth is that charter schools enroll a modest percentage of students in most major cities. In New York City, for instance, they enroll just one in five black students and one in 10 Latino students. Yet at the start of the 2019-20 school year, nearly 50,000 families in the Big Apple were denied a place in a charter school.
Nationally, roughly one-quarter of black students and perhaps one in six Latino students in urban districts attend a charter school. So how much progress could we make by expanding charter market share for these groups? Although any concrete estimate is subject to criticism, our back-of-the-envelope arithmetic suggests that moving from 25% to 50% charter market share in urban areas could cut the achievement gap in half for at least 2.5 million black and Latino students in the coming decade. And of course, with more equitable funding, improved oversight, and an expanded role for truly high-performing networks, the dividends might be even larger. With so much to be gained for America’s most poorly served children, there is simply no reason not to prioritize the expansion of charter-school policies and programs in the years ahead.
The Department of Education published a final rule Wednesday that expands religious liberty protections on college campuses and allows DOE to suspend or cut federal funding from colleges that violate the First Amendment.
Known as the “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” final rule, it ensures the equal treatment of religious student groups at public universities, and “provides clarity for faith-based institutions with respect to Title IX.”
“This administration is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organization should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
If public universities fail to give religious student groups the same rights as other campus organizations, such as use of campus facilities and access to student fee funding, they could lose federal funding.
The final rule also seeks to promote “free inquiry” and to protect “academic freedom” on college campuses. “Denying free inquiry is inherently harmful at any institution of higher education because students are denied the opportunity to learn and faculty members are denied the opportunity to freely engage in research and rigorous academic discourse,” the rule reads.
In extreme cases of First Amendment violations, DOE can determine a university is ineligible for future grants. Private universities can also face the same consequences if found violating their own speech codes.
“These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations, and they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals,” DeVos explained.
While the final rule claims that universities must allow for differing ideas and viewpoints on campus, it also gives private or religious institutions the freedom to adopt their own speech standards, so long as they comply with them.
“Religiously affiliated institutions, in freely exercising their faith, may define their free speech policies as they choose in a manner consistent with their mission,” the rule states.
The rule also states that “religious student organizations should be able to enjoy the benefits, rights, and privileges afforded to other student organizations at a public institution” as well.
The final rule will going into effect 60 days after the date of official publication in the Federal Register.
The journalism school at Arizona State University caves to student activists.
Walter Cronkite said on receiving a global-governance award in 1999: “I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.”
Today, those who attend the journalism school named after the famed broadcaster are not so lucky.
The spread of “cancel culture” in newsrooms — declaring people henceforth “canceled” from society owing to ideological disagreements — is nothing new. Look no further than the hysterical reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging government to use its authorities under the Insurrection Act to “restore order to our streets” amid riots and looting. Newsroom activists flooded Twitter, objecting to its publication. The opinion editor was forced out. And the Times attached a note at the top of the op-ed (nearly 40 percent as long as the piece itself) apologizing for daring to publish the opinion of a sitting U.S. senator.
It was entertaining that Cotton’s tame commentary provoked such a disproportionate meltdown from those who consider themselves serious journalists. But that this scourge is seeping into local campus newsrooms is deeply worrisome — and seep it has.
The first sign of cancel culture bubbling up at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication involved Sonya Duhé, whom the university named dean this spring. Her tenure was cut short almost instantly after she published a tweet praying for “the good police officers who keep us safe.”
The protest-allied campus revolted against the incoming dean’s “racist” tweet and provoked a former student to accuse Duhé of committing “four years of microaggressions” against her. Other students would come forward to allege that she had made similar “microaggressive comments” to them.
It wasn’t one week before the Cronkite School revoked its offer and pledged to be more “inclusive” moving forward.
Things have only gotten worse — and, now that administrators have gotten used to the sweet taste of cancel culture, it appears that student journalists themselves are on the dinner plate.
When Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, published a poll following a May looting spree in Scottsdale, progressive students complained that the poll’s language was too friendly toward police officers — so Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It deleted the poll and apologized for causing “divisiveness”: “It was not our intention to downplay the actions of law enforcement.”
When a second young journalist published a Q&A with a former police officer in June, students complained that this exchange also was too friendly. Once again, Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It wiped the Q&A offline and replaced it with an apologetic note pledging to “better serve and represent our communities, especially the black community and other communities of color.”
The list goes on.
The most recent “cancel” target is Rae’Lee Klein, a young journalist at the Cronkite School’s Blaze Radio. After the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Klein, on her personal Twitter account, linked to a New York Post investigation and wrote: “Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.”
Progressive students were apoplectic. The board voted to remove her as station manager, threatened to resign if she did not, and released a statement from “Blaze Radio alumni” condemning her for trying to “dehumanize and insinuate blame on the victims of police violence.”
Luckily, Klein has refused to resign or succumb to this cancel culture flare-up, explaining on-air her decision to push back against “a situation where our opinions and our beliefs are held against us or [are] characteristic of our ability to lead.”
While she plants her feet, other young journalists at ASU understandably are reaching for the escape hatch. In August, two such undergraduates founded The Western Tribune, an “independent student journalism” website, as a home to “the oft unheard voices of our generation.” They won’t be the last.
These campus newsrooms are a means for tomorrow’s leaders to write down, or say out loud, the opinions they’ve been keeping in their minds and to see if those ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the real world. These young ideas rarely do — and the invaluable lesson that students glean from that realization will be lost forever if administrators cut them off at the knees by continuing to appease oversensitive cry-bullies whose antics threaten these vital sandboxes.
If things continue as they do, soon there will be no conservatives left to cancel, and progressive journalists will only be left to cancel themselves like a scorpion stinging itself to death.
And that’s the way it will be.
A new study shows African-Americans and children from poorer backgrounds outpace their peers in traditional district schools.
Public charter schools were once viewed as a nonpartisan compromise between vouchers for private schools and no choice at all. Not now. In its 2020 national platform, the Democratic Party calls for “stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards” and says federal funding for charters must be conditioned on “whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students.” Charter schools are indeed acting as good stewards by outpacing district schools on achievement growth—especially for the most at-risk students.
In a new study we compare the progress made by cohorts of charter and district school students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2005-17—a sample of more than four million test performances. Overall, students at charters are advancing at a faster pace than those at district schools. The strides made by African-American charter students have been particularly impressive. We also see larger gains at charters, relative to district schools, by students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Sometimes known as “the nation’s report card,” the NAEP administers math and reading tests every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in all 50 states. Ours is the first study to use this vast storehouse of information to analyze changes over time in the charter and district sectors. By adjusting for student background characteristics—sex, ethnicity, income, and (for eighth-grade students) computer availability and the number of books in the home—we made direct comparisons between student outcomes at charter and district schools. Because NAEP data don’t allow us to track specific students, we looked at changes in performance from one student cohort to the next over 12 years.
In 2003 an exploratory precursor to these NAEP surveys revealed that the average performance in reading and math of fourth-grade students attending charter schools trailed that of students attending district schools. When these results became public, the finding garnered widespread media attention.
Much has happened since then. For one thing, the charter sector has grown to include 6% of all U.S. public-school students—up from 2%. Just as important, we are now able to report that student achievement at charters has been rising at a considerably faster pace than at district schools. Nationwide, eighth-graders attending charter schools show learning gains over students at district schools amounting to three months of learning from 2005-17. The differences between charters and district schools is smaller at the fourth-grade level.
Relative to district schools, the most striking gains at charters are for African-American students, who constitute about 30% of the charter-school student population nationwide. Even after adjustments for background characteristics, their achievement gains in eighth grade exceed those at district schools by about six months of learning. African-American student performance in fourth grade rose by an extra four months of learning. Progress at charters by white students was more measured. Gains for charter-school student cohorts were two months of learning above those in the district sector.
Eighth-grade student cohorts from poor families are also making more-rapid progress at charters than at district schools. The scores of those in the bottom 25% of the socioeconomic distribution increased nearly twice as much as those of students in the district sector.
The charter advantage isn’t universal—Asian-American and Hispanic students are doing equally well in both sectors, as are students in the Western U.S. more generally. But the sizable gains for African-Americans and students from poorer backgrounds bolster President Trump’s claim that school choice is a civil-rights issue. Much more progress needs to be made to close the achievement gap. But if charters haven’t resolved social divides, they have proved to be a healthy tonic for the American educational system. Charters are improving outcomes even without the “stringent guardrails” proposed by the Democrats.
A disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.
The kitchen table will once again serve as a makeshift desk for millions of students when they head “back to school” in the next few weeks. Seventeen of the nation’s 20 largest school districts have said that they’ll reopen with zero in-person instruction. Nationally, only about 40 percent of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another ten percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction).
In short, close to half the nation’s K–12 schools may begin the new year remotely, a figure that will be far higher in the systems serving the most students. This painful reality, combined with teacher resistance to reopening and parental concerns about student safety, has prompted districts to work overtime promising that remote learning will be much better this fall.
While we’re big fans of making the best of a bad situation, we fear that this misplaced optimism has made it easier than it should be for school leaders to keep the doors locked this fall and has undermined commitment to the contractual arrangements, training, supports, and instruction needed to ensure that remote learning is more than an oxymoron. To be clear, remote learning is wholly in order where the public-health situation has rendered classrooms untenable. But it’s critical that parents, teachers, and school administrators in those locales proceed with no illusions.
This spring’s virtual-learning experiment was underwhelming, to say the least. Researchers at NWEA, Brown, and the University of Virginia have estimated that students will begin the coming school year already woefully behind, with just two-thirds the learning gains in reading and as little as half of the gains in math that we would normally expect. This is hardly a surprise, given that nearly a quarter of students were truant and that, even as the spring semester ground to an end, only a fifth of school districts expected teachers to provide real-time instruction.
Despite assurances from district officials that this fall’s remote instruction will be much improved, there’s a lot of cause for skepticism. For one thing, the evidence is pretty clear that, for most learners, virtual learning today is significantly less effective than classroom instruction. Research suggests that is likely to be particularly true for disadvantaged students.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that school systems worked out the kinks of virtual learning over the summer. Consider New York City’s dismal experience with summer learning. In the nation’s biggest and biggest-spending school district, despite New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza’s pledge that the city’s summer learning plan would get kids “ready to hit the ground running come September,” the program was plagued by the same problems that befell schools last spring — from technical glitches to poor curricula to sky-high truancy rates.
Less than half of districts offered any sort of professional development to their teachers over the summer, and just 20 percent have plans to provide support to teachers in a remote-learning setting. Parents have expressed frustration about the dearth of communication or guidance from their schools, and educators themselves have fretted that they’re not sure, after a lost spring, how they’ll convince students that this fall’s remote learning should suddenly be taken seriously. And, however tough it was for teachers to connect with students this spring, they’d already had six months of in-person instruction to build from; things are going to be exponentially tougher this fall for those teachers who know their students only as pixels and email addresses.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have served as another impediment. Even when the concerns sometimes seem exaggerated, one can appreciate why teachers may be hesitant about in-person schooling. Extraordinarily troubling, however, is that — once schools have gone fully virtual — more than a few union locals seem to be intent on pursuing provisions designed to hinder remote teaching and allow teachers paid as full-time educators to operate as part-time employees.
In Los Angeles, the “tentative agreement” between the district and the union stipulates that teachers will only need to deliver one to three hours of live instruction a day, with the exact amount determined by a complicated distance-learning schedule that incorporates grade level and, weirdly, the day of the week. In San Diego, the tentative agreement between the union and the district calls for three hours of live instruction a day, one “office hour” a day, and two hours of prep time for teachers (during which students are supposed to be doing “asynchronous” work, i.e. watching videos or filling out worksheets).
All of this leaves parents in a tough spot as they contemplate another lost semester, knowing their kids need more than the two hours of Zoom calls and busywork that many schools are offering. Some parents have been found a solution in “learning pods,” small, parent-organized classrooms led by a tutor or teacher that deliver a lot of the benefits of in-person schooling while minimizing risk. Others have turned to virtual charter schools with more purposeful, robust online programs. Still others have sought to transfer to smaller private schools offering some form of in-person learning.
Yet far from celebrating these attempts to do what many schools won’t, the nation’s scolds have apparently decided this a good time to upbraid and obstruct parents who dare to do more than sit and fret. Parents who form learning pods have been lambasted in the New York Times for choosing “to perpetuate racial inequities rooted in white supremacy” and criticized in the Washington Post for “weakening the public education system they leave behind.” Those trying to move their kids to virtual charter schools have been fought by union leaders who, in Oregon, pressured state officials to block such transfers. And in Montgomery County, Md., parents who’d turned to private schools found local officials striving to shutter these options just weeks before the start of school.
When the public-health situation warrants it, remote learning is better than nothing. But, even before we turn to the crushing impacts on working parents and children’s mental health, it’s crucial to appreciate just what a dismal substitute today’s remote learning really is. And, while it’s far from clear that district and union leaders are focused on putting in place the measures that might help, a disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.33
The takeaway is pretty straightforward. In most places, remote learning is going to be a mess this fall. School and system leaders should be doing all they can to reopen schools as rapidly and thoughtfully as their local health context permits. And, in the meantime, educators, community leaders, and policymakers should do all they can to help families find solutions that will work for them.
The pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. This means something else big: Their hard opposition to school reopenings is politically devastating for Democrats.
Prominent Democrat politicians have started making huge concessions on reopening schools. Back in May, Democrats pounced after President Trump supported reopening. Despite the data finding precisely the opposite, it quickly became the Democrat-media complex line that opening schools this fall would be preposterously dangerous to children and teachers.
In July, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to put the city’s 1.1 million school kids back in schools half the week and “online learning” the rest of the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked a public fight with him, saying, “If anybody sat here today and told you that they could reopen the school in September, that would be reckless and negligent of that person.”
Then on Friday, Cuomo cleared schools to open this fall, just a few weeks after making uncertain noises about the prospect as teachers unions breathed down his neck. That same day, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader, joined the Democrat messaging reversal:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tucked the posture shift into a Saturday response to Trump’s latest executive orders, saying “these announcements do…nothing to reopen schools,” as if Democrats have been all along supporting school reopenings instead of the opposite. Just a few weeks ago, Pelosi was on TV bashing Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for encouraging school reopenings, saying, falsely, “Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.”
What gives? For one thing, New York’s richest people have fled during the lockdowns. If their kids’ tony public schools don’t offer personal instruction or look likely to maintain the chaos of rolling lockdown brownouts, those wealthy people have better choices. They can stay in their vacation houses or newly bought mansions in states that aren’t locked down. They can hire pod teachers or private schools.
And the longer they stay outside New York City and start to make friends and get used to a new place, the less likely they are to ever return. Cuomo is well aware of this.
“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house, or in their Connecticut weekend house, and I say, ‘You got to come back! We’ll go to dinner! I’ll buy you a drink! Come over, I’ll cook!’” Cuomo revealed in a recent news conference. “They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking? ‘If I stay there, I’ll pay a lower income tax,’ because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.”
Reopening means swimming against their anti-Trump base and teachers union donors’ full-court press to amp school funding and slash teacher duties. That means the below-surface financial and political pressure Cuomo, Pelosi, and Schumer are under to make this kind of a reversal must be huge. It’s likely coming from not only internal polling but also early information about just how many people have left New York and New York City, as well as interpersonal intelligence from their influential social circles.
This means three things. First, the pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. Second, Democrats’ hard opposition to school reopenings has been politically devastating. Third, all the push polls and media scaremongering promoting the idea that most parents shouldn’t and wouldn’t send their kids back to school have failed.
One of the most significant reasons it failed is that parents’ experience with online pandemic schooling was a horror show. Another is that private schools have clearly outpaced public schools’ response to coronavirus. That’s both in offering quality online instruction when forced to close, and in seeking to remain open as much and as safely as possible, all while teachers unions have been staging embarrassing tantrums over people on public payroll actually having to do their jobs to get paid, even though epidemiologists have noted “there is no recorded case worldwide of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil.”
Public schools have been so clearly shown up by private schools during the coronavirus panic that state and local officials have begun to target them specifically, and have carefully included them in all onerous government burdens on school reopenings, to reduce their embarrassment and bring private schools down to the public school level as much as possible.
The most prominent recent example is in Maryland, where a local bureaucrat in one of the nation’s richest counties specifically banned private schools from safely teaching children in person, and is now battling with the state’s Republican governor over the edict. In North Carolina, many private schools are offering safe, face-to-face, five-day instruction, while most public schools are not.
Part of this is just that government bureaucrats hate individuals making their own decisions based on their own circumstances (a major reason for mask mandates, by the way). But also they’re scared because the coronavirus panic is expanding the massive fault lines inside public schooling. And public schools are a feeder system for Democrat support.
Before coronavirus hit, a near-majority of parents already thought a private school would be better for their kids than public school. People really are not happy with public education. Mostly they do it because they think it’s cheap.
But politicians’ handling of coronavirus has shown that public education is actually very expensive. The instability, the mismanagement, the lying, the public manipulation, all of it has tipped many people’s latent dissatisfaction with public schooling into open dissatisfaction. It’s a catalyst. Now many more people have decided to get their kids out of there, either by homeschooling, moving school districts, forming “pandemic pods,” or finally trying a private school.
Like all the rich people leaving locked-down locales, parents removing kids from locked-down public schools have scared public officials. If just 10 percent of public-school kids homeschool or join a private school for two years, that is a watershed moment for the social undercurrent of animosity towards public schools. That is especially true in the government funding era we’re entering, in which government debt and health and pension promises are set to gobble up education dollars faster than ever, a dynamic that was already ruinous before it was accelerated further by the coronavirus.
This is dangerous to Democrats’ political dominance because the education system tilts voters their way through cultural Marxism, and because public education is a huge source of Democrat campaign volunteers and funds. Now Democrats have detached people from their conveyor belt. The consequences will be huge.
Reopening public schools the way Democrats are doing is not going to stave off this tsunami, either. New York City’s “reopening,” for example, includes several days per week of distasteful online instruction, as well as a rule that a school will close for two weeks any time two inmates test positive for COVID. That’s a recipe for endless school brownouts that will drive parents and kids nuts. Humans simply can’t live under this manufactured instability, by the pen and phone of whatever self-appointed petty little dictators feel like changing today.
Democrats are trying to have it both ways. They’ve learned that parents are not going to put up with putting school indefinitely on hold when everything from swimming to climbing stairs is more dangerous to children. But they also want to maintain the fiction that coronavirus is an emergency situation that requires tossing trillions of dollars in deficit funding out of helicopters, keeping people cooped up and restive as an election nears, and purposefully choking the nation’s best economy since before Barack Obama got his hands on it.
Democrats are their own worst enemy. The problem is, the rest of us are so often their collateral damage.
It seems critical theorists won't stop until they've denied, rewritten, and scrubbed every semblance of Western Civilization from the education system.
It started on July 5 when Nikole Hannah-Jones, who penned the lead essay for The New York Times’ 1619 Project, was trolled with a meme. The meme came from philosopher James Lindsay, whose upcoming “Cynical Theories” book on identity politics co-written with Helen Pluckrose is already an Amazon bestseller. Lindsay summarized the exchange:
[I]t appears someone put this Woke Mini into the employ of satirically replying to Nikole Hannah-Jones on the fifth of July in response to her tweeting, ‘I wonder if folks always talking about ‘standards’ ever stop to consider that it’s their so-called standards that are the actual problem.’ Hannah-Jones decided to make fun of me by quote-retweeting this delightful troll, including the image of the ‘2+2=4’ Woke Mini, and adding the comment, ‘Using Arabic numerals to try to make a point about white, Western superiority is just so damn classic.’
Referring to George Orwell’s 1984, and poking fun of wokesterism, Lindsay quipped: “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.”
Hannah-Jones’s response energized Twitterati who mostly appear to be employed in education bureaucracies. They attempted to prove that in certain instances two and two equal five.
One of these was Kareem Carr who, according to his profile, is a Ph.D. statistics student at Harvard University He offered several examples of situations in which he claimed 2+2=5, including: “Imagine a system where we can only measure things to 1 decimal place. So 2 could mean 1.5 to 2.4 … 2.4 + 2.4 is 4.8 … in our theoretical system, this would look like 2+2=5. Again pretty normal to have an error in measurements in normal life.”
“Second example. Imagine computing distances between airports on cost. Is it possible that flying from airport A to B is $200 and B to C is $200 but flight from A to C is $500 … happens all the time. Again pretty typical everyday example.”
In the first instance, Carr proves that 2+2=5 when one makes a measuring error, then rounds up. Yet mathematical notations have the language to express errors and approximations, and it’s not “equal to.”
The second example confuses prices with distances. Carr might as well say that an airline offered a discounted $500 ticket for $400, thereby confirming that 200+200=500.
Carr should know better. A theorem is proven wrong if we find a set of values for which it doesn’t hold. Truly showing that 2+2=5 means that 2+2 is not 4. Yet this is not the point Carr and the rest of the woke math team want to advance. Rather, they are saying that 2+2 can sometimes be construed as equaling four, so who is to judge?
As one observer noted, they are deconstructing math here or using the methods of post-modernism developed for humanities. But these methods simply don’t apply to other fields of inquiry (indeed, whether they apply in the humanities is still an open debate). The humanities rely on gathering then interpreting information, whereas mathematicians derive knowledge through deduction, or discovering universal laws under which systems operate.
That 2+2=4 is a simple truth, just like the fact that there are two easily recognizable sexes, male and female, is indisputable common sense. To get people to agree that it’s not is disorienting. Lindsay says this is intentional:
…the activists are seeking a radical rewriting of the entire rational project, and any reason that doesn’t forward their favored actors as the sole arbiters of what is true and correct needs to be deconstructed by rhetorical tricks and marginalized by moral and, perhaps, physical force and intimidation. They’re seeking a revolution.
The wokies are not interested in truth, Lindsay goes on to explain. Their objectives are purely political: to identify “systems of oppression,” and transfer political power to preferred groups. To this, Lindsay adds:
This is … a breakdown of the fundamental logic of civilization, which depends entirely on the ability for each citizen to generally understand something of how that civilization operates. It is also a replacement of that fundamental logic of civilization with the fundamental logic of something more basic and less able to meet the needs of the people who will still be forced to live within it: self-interest, cronyism, corruption, and an unstable form of uncivilized might-makes-right that will surely eventually collapse into the more brutal and familiar stable sort in which whomever can kill enough people gets to make the rules.
While I agree that people incapable of clear thought are a threat to democracy and civilization, to call the 2+2=5 crowd revolutionaries gives them too much credit. They are long marchers, grifters, and cowards with an insatiable quest for power. There is no point in having a revolution when they can simply issue a ukase mandating everyone acknowledges that 2+2 is not necessarily 4.
Because it relies on logic and is independent of fact-gathering, mathematics is the single most liberating field of knowledge. It stands free from ideological contamination and depends solely on an individual’s ability to reason. Because identity politics is the ideology of bondage, it cannot easily coexist with math.
The hard left may never convince Americans that their fake math is right, but they don’t need to win by persuasion when they have pawns strategically positioned in the nation’s school districts and education schools. Seattle Unified School District made the news last school year with their ethnic mathcurriculum, which twisted knowledge into identity.
SUSD is at the forefront, but not alone in their fight against reason. Consider, for instance, Rochelle Gutiérrez, a math education professor at the Illinois School of Education who champions something called “living mathematx” and “rehumanizing” math for non-Caucasians.
Gutiérrez was involved in a mutually affirming Twitter conversation with Angela Knotts, a co-director of the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, an educational consultancy that advises school districts around the country. Here is a snippet: “A5 – I think there is an implicit question here which is, Why do we teach math as a ‘core’ subject in the first place? What is the historical legacy of school math? Also, who was/is intended to benefit & how? #cmcmath #mathequity”
It seems a bit self-defeating for an education bureaucrat specializing in math to call for the eradication of her field, but Gutiérrez enthusiastically picked it up: “Yes! This is a part of what I’ve been referring to as defunding maths: literally defunding it from K-12 curriculum (requirements, testing) & society (STEM funding and salaries) but also figuratively from our minds (giving the current version more value than other subjects/gifts).”
The remarks almost make it seem like these gals are not so much in favor of eliminating math as they are for eliminating clear thinking on public school properties, and redistributing wealth from high-achieving people to politically preferred ethnic groups.
Next, Mathematical Association of America, a professional organization to which 25,000 educators belong, ran interference for the 2+2=5 bunch. MAA published an essay by Dr. Keith Devlin, who, without linking to the actual debate, assured readers that the Woke Math proponents never said two and two is five.
He further stated that of course arithmetic is cultural because we belong to the culture that understands what two and two add up to. If other cultures don’t have this knowledge, they are well-advised to appropriate it from us, and we shouldn’t shy away from teaching it.
There might not be very many people subscribing to such bizarre opinions, and they might not have many followers, but every last one of them has institutional power to destroy mathematics and with it the future of our children. If there ever a cause for conservative canceling, we should cancel these specialists. They do not belong in education.
If there is a potential silver lining to the United States' experience with COVID-19, it can be found in the domain of primary and secondary education, where the demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. The pandemic has both laid bare the US education gap and pointed the way to a solution.
STANFORD – After years of rumblings for change in US education, the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a catalyst for improving the system. America’s educational divide – especially in grades K-12 (elementary through high school) – is now clearly visible for anyone to see. Disparities in quality and access to education are a major source of the economic, social, and racial inequalities that are driving so much social unrest from Austin and Oakland to Portland and Seattle. Whether they come from impoverished inner-city neighborhoods or the suburbs, the least-educated Americans have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic effects.
Fortunately, economist Thomas Sowell (my colleague at the Hoover Institution) has offered a solution. In his new book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, he shows that schools with more autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools are closing the educational divide, providing sorely needed choice, opportunity, and competition.
Sowell’s careful analysis of the data, which was available before the pandemic struck, shows that students in publicly funded but privately operated charter schools like Success Academy in New York City score remarkably higher on standardized achievement tests than do those in traditional public schools. The book contains reams of convincing evidence, all of which is explained beautifully and presented clearly in more than 90 pages of tables.
Sowell controls for many factors, including school location: students at charter schools within the same building as a traditional public school perform several times better on the same tests. And he supplements the hard data with simple evidence, such as the long waiting lists to get into the better performing charter schools. But if charter schools work so well, what explains the enemies mentioned in the book’s title? Critics of charter schools would list many reasons, but the main one, Sowell laments, is that public schools simply do not want the competition.
Will the COVID-19 crisis finally change things? There are already positive signs that it has. Last month, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a new, five-year $85 million scholarship fund that will help students from lower-income families in Washington, DC go to schools of their choice. It is part of her department’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded school-choice initiative in the United States. The average income of families in the program is less than $27,000 per year, and more than 90% of students in it are African-American or Hispanic/Latino.
In another promising sign, US Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recently introduced a bill to direct some of the educational relief funding in this year’s US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to school-choice programs. That money would enable lower-income families that are hard-pressed by the pandemic to send their children to alternative schools. Among other things, the legislation would direct 10% of CARES Act educational funds toward scholarships for private-school tuition or reimbursement for homeschooling costs.
But most telling, perhaps, is the fact that many families and individuals are coming up with their own solutions. Consider the sudden blossoming of pandemic learning “pods,” wherein parents get together, find teachers, and form a class for kids in the neighborhood. Learning pods are a natural civil-society response to school closing in many districts in California and elsewhere. When schools suspend services, parents immediately will seek out alternative solutions, especially when they have concerns about their children’s ability to learn remotely.
Of course, learning pods already have enemies of their own, with critics complaining that the practice is unfair, harmful for traditional schools, or available only to those who can afford to hire teachers. But that is all the more reason to make high-quality, effective schools more widely accessible. Quashing new ideas is not the answer.
The struggle over pandemic-era education is quickly moving to statehouses. In June, as part of the new state budget, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 98, which caps per-student state funding for charter and public schools at last year’s funding levels. The point is to limit charter school enrollments at a time when demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. But with those public schools closing and resorting to remote teaching, students from lower-income households will be the ultimate victims.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday
There are already at least 13,000 students waiting to enroll in charter schools in California. But owing to SB98, notes State Senator Melissa Melendez, “if you are in a school that is failing that is really too bad. You are just going to have to stay there and deal with it. That is not fair to the student or the parent.”
In his book, Sowell points out that, “Those who want to see quality education remain available to low-income minority neighborhoods must raise the question, again and again, when various policies and practices are proposed: ‘How is this going to affect the education of children?’”
If we all focus squarely on that question, the pandemic’s long-term impact on education could turn out to be highly beneficial.
There’s a lot riding on whether the nation’s children go back to school in the fall. The restoration of the economy. The ability of many parents to return to work. The safety and continued education of our kids. All of that, one way or another, is contingent on the return to things as they were before COVID hit.
The science says it’s safe if reasonable precautions are taken. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics are, to one degree or another on board. Keeping kids out of school might be more harmful, say the experts, than letting them attend.
Leading the fight against the return to normalcy is the usual cast of characters, many of whom oppose a normal school year because President Donald J. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos want it. That’s a reflexive response, hardly meaningful as these are the same people who’d probably try to give up breathing if Trump said it was good for you.
Teachers and their unions are also resisting. You would have thought they’d be anxious to get back to work, especially since the science shows it is in the best interest of the children. But no, they’re on the frontlines arguing against any proposal that doesn’t at least cut back on the time that will be spent in the public-school classroom.
Some are going further. In Washington, D.C., where bad decisions by local politicians have caused the novel coronavirus to hit especially hard, public school teachers this week briefly lined up “body bags” outside the city’s administrative offices to pressure Mayor Muriel Bowser to keep the government-run schools closed.
It’s not in the kids’ best interests to do that. Yet the teachers’ unions who are the first to proclaim they are the guardians of that sacred trust anytime something like a tax increase to fund education comes up are leading the charge to keep schools closed and more. A coalition of unions, including those representing teachers in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Racine, Little Rock, and Oakland has assembled a list of demands that is at best self-serving and, as they say, “non-negotiable.”
They won’t come back to work, they say, “until the scientific data supports it.” Which it does, even if they won’t acknowledge it. Also on the list is “police free schools,” a “moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing,” a “massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street,” “Support for our communities and families, including (a) moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs,” and “All schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers.”
There may be a couple more, but you should understand their intent by now. The unions representing these teachers want to bring an end to any chance students might have, especially those in the inner cities, to a better education leading to a better quality of life than they knew growing up by putting an end to accountability and an end to the competition posed by charter schools.
We shouldn’t be funding these people with our tax dollars. We should be doing education differently, starting with what we pay for. We should be funding learning instead of schools and children instead of teachers. What we’re doing now doesn’t work unless you’re a politician who backs things as they are because you get political support for doing so.
Thomas Sowell, the great economist and public intellectual who has long been a leader in the fight for education reform once said, “Propagandists in the classroom are a luxury that the poor can afford least of all. While a mastery of mathematics and English can be a ticket out of poverty, a highly cultivated sense of grievance and resentment is not.” Yet that’s what we’re seeing in the demands the teachers’ unions and their coalition partners are making before they’re willing to let the schools reopen. They’re showing us they’re not in it for the kids as they claim. They’re in it for themselves and they’ve finally, because of the COVID crisis, exposed themselves for what they are.
Let me begin by stipulating that I do not consider myself an authority on the future of higher education. I have been too long absent from the field to have insights derived from recent experience. I retain, nevertheless, a keen interest in the topic. Following are some thoughts about the what I would like the higher education of the future to look like.
Who is served by higher education?
Fundamentally, higher education, like all socialization, serves both the greater society and the individual: society by increasing its cadre of specialized experts in maintaining and advancing society’s technology and life experience; the individual by further defining and securing his/her role in society.
Humankind are all herd animals. We are born with the need to belong to a group of our fellow humans. Sociologists describe those groups as family, clan and tribe, depending on the size and intimacy of the group. “Family” is composed of those we are closest to and is the smallest of the groups. “Clan” denotes a larger, less intimate group, such as our cultural or religious or political associations. “Tribe” is the largest and least intimate of our associations, but equally important to the individual’s well-being, including nation, language, and history.
All humans are also curious. Our search for new knowledge and understanding never ceases, although the range and perspective of inquiry varies considerably from individual to individual, often from time to time for the same person over a lifetime.
Within this framework, higher (and all) education primarily serves the tribe by expanding the individual’s scope and perspective of inquiry or curiosity. Life itself is constantly providing the same service, but in a random and unpredictable fashion. Education is supposed to provide perspective and order to the individual’s ability to interpret these experiences in a meaningful context.
What are the criteria for evaluating whether or not higher education is providing a valuable experience?
The criteria are easy to identify, if difficult to evaluate. They are: Does higher education fulfill its obligation to society? And to the individual?
Higher education’s obligations to the greater society are twofold: cultural and technological. The knowledge and skills pertaining to an expansion of the individual’s understanding of his/her culture include the history, language and ideals of the society in which one lives. The second criterion is the same obligation in the realm of the society’s technology base, in the broader sense of “technology”, namely the “techniques” by which the society copes with the various challenges of its existence: food, heat, light, communication, transportation, lodging, water, to name a few of the obvious. The technology requirement presumes specialization in some aspect of these social needs.
Higher education’s obligation to enhance the individual’s well-being and success in his/her society include more personal knowledge and skills. Included here are topics such as religion, a practical understanding of how society is organized and functions, how government works, problem-solving skills such as logic, research, factual versus false data, appreciation of the arts, including painting, architectural, music, and the like.
These are areas frequently of controversy. How to deal with dissent, to weave one’s own way though the thicket of varying opinions, false claims and disputed facts represents a valuable but illusive skill which should be part of every college experience.
We have now set the stage for a discussion of the future of higher education:
Higher education exists to serve society and the individual by expanding his/her knowledge and skills of
In this manner, higher education seeks to expand the individual’s success in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
I have always been intrigued by the concept of “Individual Educational Plans” (IEP), defined as “a written plan/program [which]… specifies the student’s academic goals and the method to obtain these goals.” Originally signed by President Reagan in 1986 and enhanced periodically since, the IED is required for all handicapped children.
What if IEP’s were specified for ALL children? The practical implementation of such an idea was beyond our capabilities until the introduction into education of the digital age. Unfortunately, computers were confined to two areas of education, teaching content (a problematic application) and administration. It has not been used extensively for the application which it would be most fruitfully applied, namely, implementation of complex scheduling. Elsewhere I have designed the way in which computers could be used to implement IED’s for ALL children. Needless to say, I was ahead of my time (where I spent most of my later years in education!).
However, I believe such a plan could now be implemented for higher education with today’s technology. After all, we were able to execute a form of this pedagogy in the 1970’s before computers were even introduced, as I explain the accompanying essay (see “The Fiddler and Me” attached).
The system would draw heavily from several sources: the Oxford University tutorial method of instruction, computer-based scheduling (which I helped introduce in my post-Crown Center career with Control Data Corporation) and doctoral degree programs, as well as the credit-for-experience, Portfolio Plan, which I pioneered in Kansas City’s Crown Center campus (details in accompanying essay). A very significant addition would be the computer-based courseware now available as well as the internet with its nearly unlimited research resources.
Briefly, the system would look like this:
Development of his/her IEP based on each student’s individual interests and guided by a personal academic advisor. “What do you know now? (Portfolio optional) What don’t you know now that you would like to know? How will you acquire that expertise? How will we measure what you have learned? (Thesis required.)” Content could be achieved at the student’s discretion by seminar, tutorial or digitally. Benchmark endorsements from faculty required.
Many details are left undeveloped here because of space limitations. However, I hope this vision will be achieved somewhere down the road as higher education continues to evolve.
It looks the same in all of my local Facebook groups: “Looking for a small group of 1st graders to go in on a homeschool type pod where we hire a retired or not comfortable to go back teacher to facilitate daily learning.”
The volume of these posts led to a spin-off group of almost a thousand members with hardly any advertising. The whole objective of the spin-off is for families to advertise the “pods” they want to build based on age, location, the degree of caution they’re exerting, and study goals. And it’s chock-full of posts like the one above, sharing a theme: Parents are trying to connect with other parents and with teachers to supplement or completely replace the lessons planned in public schools.
With many school districts announcing they won’t return to the classroom until at least winter or late fall, with parents still reeling from the disaster that was distance learning last school year, parents are banding together and forming their own “micro-schools.” This is a grassroots plan not without controversy.
A woman in the Bay Area in California wrote on the phenomenon, which is taking place near her as well. “This is maybe the fastest and most intense PURELY GRASSROOTS economic hard pivot I’ve seen, including the rise of the masking industry a few months ago,” she wrote. “Startups have nothing compared to thousands of moms on facebook trying to arrange for their kids’ education in a crisis with zero school district support.”
She continued, “The race and class considerations are COMPLETELY BONKERS. In fact, yesterday everything was about people organizing groups and finding matches– today the social justice discussion is already tearing these groups apart.”
Government intervention isn’t always the answer. Here’s what the government can do: allow parents and families the flexibility to take the money the state should be spending on their children and allow that money to follow those children to pods, tutors, or functioning online options.
There are countless teachers and teachers’ unions protesting the idea of going back to work. If they aren’t comfortable, there is nobody forcing them back. And it’s time to call their bluff, as President Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers in 1981. When 11,000 of them went on strike, believing themselves to be irreplaceable, the president called their bluff and said, “Tell them when the strike’s over, they don’t have any jobs.”
In a sane world, teachers’ unions would not have outsized power to throw temper tantrums, and this is how we’d handle such a situation. We would fire any teacher not wishing to return to the classroom without a documented medical reason and funnel their salaries into a fund that students could then use to supplement their education.
In a remarkable turn of events, four members of the United States Supreme Court recently affirmed the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious bigotry. On June 30, by a vote of 5-4, the court struck down a Montana law barring the inclusion of religious schools as an option for families participating in educational choice programs – with the court’s liberal wing in opposition to the majority.
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the justices answered what the non-profit Institute for Justice called the “open question” arising from previous decisions in cases like 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris whether religious institutions could be explicitly excluded from choice programs.
The national effort to ban government support for Catholic schools goes back to the 1880s. The Republican Party, following the leadership of one-time House Speaker, U.S. Senator, and 1884 GOP presidential candidate James G. Blaine attempted to hamper the rise in influence of the Catholic immigrants coming from Europe in large numbers, in part through the use of “Blaine Amendments” that blocked state funding for religious schools.
Writing for the majority in Espinoza, Chief Justice Roberts cited them as being “born of bigotry,” adding that the “no-aid provisions of the 19th century hardly evince a tradition that should inform our understanding of the Free Exercise Clause.” The Court also said the “exclusion [of religious schools] from the scholarship program here is ‘odious to our Constitution’ and ‘cannot stand.’”
The Blaine Amendments were pushed by the kinds of people who, in 1884, referred to the Democrats as the “The Party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” It was a slogan that likely cost Blaine the White House while the state constitutional amendments named for him are a stain on the records of those who supported them, the states that adopted them, and the country as a whole. Yet it was liberal Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan who in essence affirmed them by refusing to join the majority in Espinoza.
The anti-Catholicism of the period wasn’t limited to the schools. The same concerns that drove the Blaine Amendments produced groups like Planned Parenthood, whose leader, Margaret Sanger, spread the efficacy of birth control among poorer Catholics in the cities. Her motivation, to keep Catholics from having so many children, is well documented even if modern historians tend to overlook it.
Had this been an issue that involved race, the dissenters – had there been any – would have had their decisions linked unfavorably to such odious court rulings as the ones made in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson. But, because Espinoza involved religious bigotry, its antecedents are overlooked and the justices on the wrong side have not been called to account. That’s because, for too long, the “establishment clause” of the 1st Amendment has been given decided preference over the “free exercise” provision. As the latest decision hints, however, a day of reckoning when the two sections of the amendment concerning religious freedom must at least be given equal weight is coming.
Our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
A concerned student at Binghamton University, a public university in New York, challenged the propriety of the school’s partnership with the China-funded Confucius Institute on its campus earlier this year. Last month, the university published an imperious rebuff to the inquiry.
“The campus is confident that the concerns you raise in your email do not apply to Binghamton University’s [Confucius] Institute,” wrote the school’s attorney.
Simply put: Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
But the FBI is moving in the opposite direction. In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a Senate committee, declaring his intention to investigate the Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institutes on American college campuses.
Confucius Institutes are ostensibly educational partnerships between the Chinese government and host schools in foreign countries. Their stated purpose is to teach language and culture, but they do much more than that.
Professor Jonathan Lipman of Mount Holyoke College explains, “By peddling a product we want, namely Chinese language study, the Confucius Institutes bring the Chinese government into the American academy in powerful ways. The general pattern is very clear. They can say, ‘We’ll give you this money, you’ll have a Chinese program, and nobody will talk about Tibet.’” Tibet is one of the three “T-words” (Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen) that cannot be discussed at the institutes, in violation of academic freedom and free speech.
Confucius Institute funding is tied to China Politburo member Liu Yandong, who formerly led the United Front Work Department. Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute testified before Congress that the United Front Work Department’s purpose is “to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.”
New York University historian Jonathan Zimmerman cautions that Confucius Institutes bear an alarming resemblance to the 1930s “Mussolini model” of funding “Italian language centers” in the United States to promote fascist propaganda. In light of academic freedom and transparency violations, Wray testified again in 2019, saying Confucius Institutes are “part of China’s soft power strategy and influence,” which “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”
In announcing the FBI’s planned probe into campuses with Confucius Institutes, Wray corroborated what higher education researchers have warned for some time: These Confucius Institutes are not really educational projects and have no business being associated with higher learning institutions. They are propaganda centers planted on America’s campuses as part of China’s worldwide intelligence operations.
American colleges and universities depend for their existence on academic freedom and the transparency that supports it. Confucius Institutes, however, have been shown to abuse academic freedom and mock transparency.
It is thus heartening to see that roughly two dozen U.S. universities have moved to close their Confucius Institutes since 2014. In 2013, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Marshall Sahlins penned an articleasking, “China U: Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?” He urged his university to set an example by revoking its partnership. In 2014, his university did just that, as did Penn State.
That said, about 80 schools still continue their ill-advised “partnerships” with these propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party.
Joining in opposition to Confucius Institutes in America are the national executive board of the College Democrats of America (along with 15 of its state presidents), the executive committee and national committee of the College Republican National Committee, Students for a Free Tibet, the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association, Students for Falun Gong, and a number of other organizations, all of which can be found by going to the website of the movement’s organizing body, the Athenai Institute.
The American Association of University Professors — hardly a right-wing organization — called on universities in 2014 to drop their Confucius Institutes, finding that they “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers urged universities to get rid of them as well.
This exodus is not restricted to American educators. This year, Sweden closed its last remaining Confucius Institute. A 2014 Washington Post editorial argued that “academic freedom cannot have a price tag,” urging that Confucius Institute partnerships should be terminated if universities refuse to publish the terms of their contracts with them.
However, too many American universities continue muzzled. According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which has been keen to this threat for some time, as of May 1, there are a total of 86 Confucius Institutes in this country. “This includes six that are scheduled to close in summer 2020: the University of Maryland, New Mexico State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Arizona, Miami University of Ohio, and the University of California-Davis.” NAS also found seven institutes at K-12 public school districts.
That roughly 80 universities have failed to safeguard their institutions’ commitment to free speech against these propaganda efforts means that either they lack the moral fiber required to defend American core values, or they were never that hot about American values in the first place.
Consider the recent survey conducted by the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which found that 77 percent of colleges now use secret social media blacklists “to censor the public, in violation of the First Amendment.” Or perhaps it’s a third option: Is it all about the money? Lipman remarks, “In this economy, turning [Confucius Institutes] down has real costs.”
NAS reveals that the Chinese government “selects and pays the teachers, sends free textbooks, and offers upwards of $100,000 a year in annual funding” for the institutes. Although universities “are supposed to match” China’s contributions, they “typically do so by volunteering classroom and office space. The result is that colleges can charge tuition for courses that are being funded — and whose content is largely being decided — by the Chinese government” (emphasis added).
NAS’s findings are supported by a study published in The China Journal by Brookings Institution fellow David Shambaugh, who found that the funding “is in fact laundered through the Ministry of Education.” Laundered from where? From communist China’s External Propaganda Department.
If you still wonder about the purpose of Confucius Institutes, consider this assessment from someone who should know. Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, praised the institutes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”
What can be done? A number of proposed remedies are already circulating. In addition to sounding the alarm, NAS has called on schools that accept Confucius Institute dollars to refund the same amount back to the federal government, as well as enforce federal transparency requirements on the institutes. These and like measures would be a good start.
Better still, our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
Column: Is American society ready for the coronavirus pandemic?
A few months after September 11, 2001, David Brooks went back and looked at coverage of Pearl Harbor for an article in the Weekly Standard (“After Pearl Harbor,” December 10, 2001). What he saw intrigued him. A sense of unity and patriotism followed both surprise attacks. But media after Pearl Harbor had none of the sorrow, sensitivity, and angst that filled the news, with reason, after 9/11. Recognizing the inevitable costs of war, Americans on the home front at the outset of World War II were nonetheless eager to carry on as usual. They did not apologize or second-guess. They soldiered on. “When you step back and contemplate the range of post-Pearl Harbor media,” Brooks wrote, “you are struck by how extraordinarily proud of itself America then was.”
I revisited Brooks’s article this week while thinking about the differences between America during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and America during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic today. Some of the distinctions are self-evident. America is far more wealthy, free, and technologically advanced than it was then. We enjoy the benefits of incorporating half the population into our economy and society, of ending de jure anti-black racism, of attracting the best and most ambitious talent from across the globe. We are no longer a rising power but a reluctant hegemon. A raw deal awaits any American who trades places with a doppelgänger from midway through Woodrow Wilson’s second term.
What changed is the American ethos. Expressive individualism replaced self-restraint. Narcissism and the therapeutic sensibility triumphed over the reticence and sense of tragedy that comes from living in places and times where there is no safety net and death is a constant presence. The culture of debunking, revisionism, and repudiation informs education, entertainment, art, and occasionally sport.
The size, scope, and ambition of the federal government and its managers is far greater now than it was then. So are the public’s expectations of government capabilities and performance. The institutions that stand between the individual and state have weakened where they have not crumbled. Family, community, religion, and voluntary association attenuate as modernity deprives them of their traditional functions.
The United States is beginning to shut down and self-isolate. Its G7 partners range from states of quarantine (Italy) to lockdown (France) to closed borders (Germany). Countries do not make such decisions on a lark. Nor is the reason for these extraordinary measures a secret. What terrifies the authorities is the prospect of surges in infection that would push public health systems beyond capacity and result in mass death. To prevent a medical catastrophe, the authorities guarantee an economic one.
The social capacity of America has received less attention. The worst-case scenarios anticipate an epidemic that lasts until a vaccine can be mass produced 18 months from now. Do we believe that American society could withstand until then the additional pressures that have been put on it over the past week?
The typical discussion of how coronavirus will change your life focuses on a specific practice or sector of industry. You hear a lot about telework, home schooling, vote by mail, or movies released on Video on Demand rather than in theaters. This piecemeal approach is understandable. Perhaps the problem is so complex, the potential extent of the disruption so massive, that the way to approach it is to study one aspect at a time.
But an extended lockdown will affect more than activities. It will warp institutions. There is a debate over how Congress might operate under social distancing. What about churches, synagogues, and mosques? Church attendance was falling before the virus. Even if the pandemic were to revive the religious impulse, would-be prodigal sons won’t be able to attend services. Church finances—nonprofits in general—will be harmed. In some cases, the damage will be irreparable.
The family enters this crisis beleaguered. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt writes in National Affairs of “the collapse of work for adult men, and the retreat from the world of work of growing numbers of men of conventional working age.” The recent improvements in the overall labor force participation rate will disappear if the economic fallout of the pandemic is large and enduring. Long-term joblessness and lack of prospects are barriers to marriage and to family formation. And the two-parent family is the seedbed for the character formation of young people. The social costs are enormous. And they are mounting.
Bill de Blasio’s indecision over whether to close New York City schools revealed that these institutions perform parental functions as much as educational ones. The school has become much more than a place of instruction. It is the site of feeding, caring, and supervision (if not disciplining) of children. Deprived of the shelter of the local school, children and young adults will have to look to parents for meals, instruction, and surveillance. Are parents ready to fulfill the responsibilities assumed by the state? What will happen when parents return to work or look for new employment? Will teenagers obey a guidance or curfew that is not enforced under penalty of law?
Large pools of nonworking or truant males are not associated with social or political stability. But they loom large in our future. The economic self-isolation of America can continue only for so long as American society permits. And if Americans, as they have tended to do, revolt against strictures from above, how will authorities respond? None of the answers are comforting. If the coronavirus overwhelms America’s social capacity, our government won’t be in a position to choose between an economic crisis or a pandemic. It will have both.
Apparently, the majority of Democratic presidential contenders want to parade student debt sob stories around. These stories don't show the full picture.
Of all the pandering showcased during Democrats’ attempts to win back the presidency, wiping out student debt ranked at or near the top.
“I believe that education is the future for this country,” socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders barked during the first round of Democratic primary debates, explaining that’s why we must “eliminate student debt and we do that by placing a tax on Wall Street.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke similarly. “I can tell you this,” the Minnesota senator demagogued, “if billionaires can pay off their yachts, students should be able to pay off their student loans.”
There can be no serious discussion of this issue, however, in 60-second sound bites. So, beyond the soak-the-rich shtick that shades every Democratic economic debate point, the candidates resorted to two tactics: shock and sob stories.
The size of student debt provides the jolt necessary to peddle their plans to the American populace. “I got $100,000 in student loan debt myself,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell bemoaned. “College affordability is personal for us,” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg shared, noting that his household has “six-figure student debt.” So, sure, “I believe in reducing student debt,” Buttigieg announced.
Next came the sob stories. Those student loans are suffocating a generation, the candidates suggested. After all, “40 million of us who can’t start a family,” the diaper-changing daddy Swalwell contradictorily proclaimed, adding that they “Can’t take a good idea and start a business and can’t buy our first home.”
“We can’t put people in a position where they aren’t able to go on and move on,” frontrunner Joe Biden agreed.
Tellingly, when not constrained by the debate format, these same politicians push the same narrative to garner support for bailing out student loans, all while the media provides the Democrats a free assist.
“With loans totaling more than $130,000,” Buttigieg’s household is “among the 43 million people in the United States who owe federal student loan debt,” the Associated Press reported last month, before highlighting the myriad plans to bail out student debt pushed by a cadre of presidential candidates. The AP then furthered the narrative by using statistics to shock the public into socialism:
The debtors are so numerous and the total debt so high—more than $1.447 trillion, according to federal statistics—that several of the Democratic candidates have made major policy proposals to address the crisis. Their ideas include wiping away debt, lowering interest rates, expanding programs that tie repayment terms to income and making college free or debt-free. Student loan debt is often discussed as an issue that mostly affects millennials, but it cuts across age groups. Federal statistics show that about 7.8 million people age 50 and older owe a combined $291.9 billion in student loans. People age 35 to 49, a group that covers older millennials such as Buttigieg as well as Generation X, owe $548.4 billion. That group includes more than 14 million people.
Then the sad tales continue the sales pitch for a government solution to student debt—a ploy that began well before the 2016 elections. Here’s one of myriad media examples.
“Shayna Pilnick, 28, would like to buy an apartment but can’t afford a mortgage. Jacqueline Mannino, 23, and her boyfriend, Benjamin Prowse, 26, want to get married. Jacob Childerson, 24, and his wife, Jennifer, 25, wish they could start a family, but they live with Jennifer’s parents,” is how USA Today opened its 2013 profile of millennials unable to obtain their dream life because they are “tethered” to “tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.”
There are many ways to counter these arguments, based on both economics and equity. But it’s hard to counter soundbites with sense, so instead, here are my inquiries for these politicians, the press, and all the students demanding relief from the burdens of their debt: Tell me your sob stories from age 12 on, not what you can’t do now, but what you couldn’t do then. Tell what you had to do then and through college to avoid what is now, to you, crushing student debt.
What time did you get up to deliver papers in junior high? How many hours a week did you work since 14 to save for college? How many toilets did you scrub? How many high school football games did you miss because you were working? What dream college did you forgo to avoid taking out student loans?
Which 8 a.m. class did you take so you could complete your major’s requirements and still work in the afternoon? Which bus line did you take to get to your job because you didn’t borrow to buy a car? What job did you work full-time while completing your MBA at night?
What did you do to afford college? What didn’t you do because of the cost of college? Were you getting tattoos and traveling your way through college? Were you pledging and partying? Did you go to your top-choice university? Maybe an out-of-state public university with higher tuition rates? Which spring break and study abroad destinations did you visit along the way?
Did you splurge on your fairytale wedding instead of paying down your student loans? What cars did you buy or lease? Where did you live? What electronics did you own? What clothing and other personal expenditures did you have? In short, show me the money and how you spent it!
None of my business? You’re right. Nor is your student debt my business or my problem.