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Is Betsy Devos a closet reality-based education tzar?

With her ascension to the highest post in education, Betsy DeVos, a longtime conservative from Michigan, who has spent a great deal of her career studying education policy, is finally in a position to make real changes to the nation’s woe-stricken education system, if she can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that famously afflicts all D.C. institutions.

 

Many in the reality-based community, who freely acknowledge the intractable nature of things like the achievement gap and the disparate outcomes regarding school discipline, have expressed grave concerns at various points in the past that DeVos is a fantasy-prone ideologue not much different from the career progressive educrats that have preceded her.

 

However, there are reasons to believe that Mrs. DeVos may be a bit wilier than some have given her credit. She has been coy about exactly how the Department of Education would ensure against “school discrimination”, a time-honored canard that has destroyed thousands of schools across the country and wasted trillions of dollars since 1965. The Education Secretary refused to acknowledge that discrimination is a problem or say what the Department of Education would be willing to do to combat it.

 

After the infamous case of Judge Russell Clark attempting to engineer the closure of black versus white achievement gaps in Kansas City, to the tune of $2 billion and locally ruined schools, as well as hundreds of other such cases over the years, the evidence, which includes a large body of literature from sociology, phychometrics and other fields, is in. There is no way to close the achievement gap, because it’s innate.

 

That hasn’t stopped judges, including Clark, from trying. Another infamous case was that of forced busing in the Boston Public Schools, which ultimately ruined that city’s public schools as well. With Mrs. DeVos as Secretary, the Department of Education may have its first chance to escape the fantastic thinking that has led to so much waste.

 

Student Loan Forgiveness is Highly Doubtful

President Obama might have promised loan relief to the millions of students around the country that have crippling student loan debt. However, with the election of President Donald Trump comes big surprises in the budget.

 

A survey of college students showed that approximately 50% expected some kind of student loan forgiveness program from the federal government.

 

Analysis conducted by the US Department of Education projects that borrowers who enroll in any kind of loan forgiveness program would repay every penny that they borrowed and then some. Some of the debtors found within the programs offer monthly payments that are capped to their earnings. Even when this is in place, those who are making payments are projected to pay around 76% more than what they actually borrowed. What is being forgiven is the interest that could be 20 years old or more depending on how long a student has been making payments.

 

Only about half of the people who enroll in the plans within the 2018 fiscal year would even receive any kind of forgiveness. Some government figures suggest that even that estimate is too high.

 

There is a lot of paperwork that needs to be completed in order for a borrower to apply for a loan forgiveness program. If they qualify, it’s likely that they will get lower payments, but after making so many payments, it is likely that they will have paid off everything that they initially borrowed to begin with. The debt is too high and students simply can’t make all the payments.

 

The programs are less than desirable, which also leads to students demanding something better than the never-ending cycle currently in place.

 

 

Student Loan Issue Reaching Crisis Levels

Getting a college degree is a requirement for success in many industries in the United States. While the need for a college degree, and even a further degree, continues to grow in demand, the costs of going to college have increased rapidly as well. Since the costs of going to college are outpacing the rate of inflation in the country, this is making it unaffordable for many people to go. Instead of paying for college at the time, many students are now tasked with having to take out student loans.

 

According to a recent news article, the amount of debt that students are accumulating has grown significantly and the situation is now approaching crisis levels (http://www.wdel.com/blogs/on-the-money/watch-out-for-the-growing-student-loan-bubble/article_fba41ab2-3efc-11e7-9b57-cfa2f9a3f7cb.html). In the past 12 months alone, the 44 million student loan borrowers across the country had more than $1.3 million in outstanding student loan debt. Further, the amount that is borrowed is increasing rapidly. The average student loan balance today is nearly $37,000, which is 70% higher than it was only 10 years ago. Further, more than 2 million student loan borrowers now have debt balances in excess of $100,000, which is unaffordable in many cases.

 

What has a lot of people more concerned is that more than 11 percent of student loan debt is in default. This is by far the highest level of debt of all types of consumer loans. Furthermore, the rate is increasing as thousands of more borrowers are going into default every day. The reason for the increased rise in debt is attributed to a lot of different factors. Some of these include the ease of obtaining student loans, the rapidly increasing costs of going to college, and even some schools taking advantage of the ease of debt to charge far more to students than they would have been able to otherwise.

 

 

Charter School Network Tackles Problem of Poor College Performance

Charter schools throughout the United States have amassed an impressive rate of success when it comes to graduating students and sending them on to college. Unfortunately, it is while in college that many charter school graduates start to have problems. Fortunately, one educational network has begun tackling this menacing issue.

Publicly funded but privately run charter schools are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, with choice and improved academic performance the two major selling points of these educational facilities. In one charter network, an incredible 95 percent of its students not only graduate but go on to college. Among these same students, however, only about 25 percent have actually received an advanced degree within six years of their graduation from high school. According to some observers, the problem is related to the fact that charter schools fail to prepare their students for aspects of higher education that are both academic and social in nature. More information about the difficulties facing students after they attend charter schools is available at www.reddit.com/r/education.

Achievement First, which is a national charter school network, has introduced a new system that promises to better prepare its students for the college experience. Its so-called “Greenfield” system uses a personalized technique that allows students to learn in stages before they advance. The program offers two classes that provide art and dance instruction. Additionally, students will be given the opportunity to experience subjects that are normally not part of the primary or secondary school curriculum, such as architecture.

The new system will be utilized during the coming year in the schools that are operated by Achievement First in Brooklyn, N.Y. A school in Connecticut that employed the same system has shown promising results, with improvements in both math and reading skills among its students. However, it will take time to determine whether this translates to improved performance at the college level.

 

College Administrators Grapple With Free Speech Issues

Throughout the country, colleges have been swamped with incidents involving students and others vocally opposing the appearance of various speakers. This has usually taken the form of right-leaning speakers having their platform denied by hecklers or other aggressive activism on the part of student groups. However, in some cases it has been avowedly liberal administrators and staff themselves who have become the targets of anti-free speech activism.

 

This has befuddled a number of administrators, many of whom recall no precedent for the current level of tension and angst surrounding the right of speakers with challenging or unpopular views to be given space to address college campuses.

 

At Middlebury College, one such incident unfolded when Charles Murray, a liberal-leaning libertarian social scientist, attempted to give a speech in the college’s auditorium. The speech was emceed by Allison Stanger, one of the colleges most progressive and liberal professors with a long record of fighting for social justice causes. Still, the speech was shut down when a group of students declared that Mr. Murray was a racist, based on a small subsection of a book which he and a fellow social scientist had published over 25 years before.

 

Mr. Murray repeatedly tried to give his speech to the assembled audience but was heckled and shouted down with such vigor that Mrs. Stanger opted to move the speaker into a closed room, from which he broadcast the speech over a closed circuit television system.

 

But things came to a head when, upon leaving through a back door, a mob descended on Murray and Stanger, who was accompanying him to his car. In the ensuing melee, Mrs. Stanger was struck so violently that she required hospitalization and is currently in neck brace. Mr. Murray was unharmed.

 

Such is the level of hysteria that even liberal speakers are causing on today’s campuses.

A Report Card for Trump’s Education Plan

United States President Donald Trump has taken considerable flack from just about every direction during his first 100 days in office, but not much has been mentioned with regard to public education.

 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not start off on the right foot as she brought on more political opposition than any other cabinet member appointed by Trump. Since then, critics have mentioned that DeVos is set to “destroy” American public education. This, of course, can be easily considered hyperbole; nonetheless, national news broadcaster Univision recently published a sort of report card on what the Secretary really has planned for her term.

 

Although DeVos is one of the most powerful advocates of vouchers to allow students to enroll in private schools at a cost to taxpayers, there is not much she can do to advance this intention.

 

DeVos has said she will not impose voucher programs because she cannot technically do so; however, she keeps talking about the value of religious education, and this is something that makes some people nervous.

 

A broader impact could come from policies pushed by a lobby group associated with DeVos: a tax credit program for families to contribute towards private school scholarships for their children. This approach is already practiced in 17 states, and DeVos could push towards greater adoption at the cost of making political enemies not just for herself but also for Trump.

 

The White House does not seem to worry about education or about DeVos, and there really should not be many reasons to worry anyway; after all, prior policies from the Obama administration gave more power to individual states than to the Department of Education.

 

By the standards of the Bush administration, Trump would get an F in education, but times and policy have changed. The less the White House gets involved in education, the easier it would be for states to determine what should be done. In the end, Trump gets a C.

 

Campus Skirmishes Raise Questions About Colleges’ Role in Ensuring Speech

Over the last two years, various incidents have taken place at American universities that have brought to the forefront a number of serious questions about the scope and limitation of freedom of speech on the nation’s campuses. From Berkeley to the University of Missouri, students, faculty and outside speakers have tangled, at times violently, over who should be permitted a public venue and what they should be allowed to say.

 

While this may seem little more than fodder for amusing op-eds to the great mass of Americans, it has far-reaching consequences. Few things have been more important to the creation of modern society than freedom of academic inquiry. In fact, it is often precisely the suppression of ideas that is pointed to as the chief reason that the Dark Ages persisted for so long. Figures like Galileo and even Leonardo Da Vinci once faced the possibility of burning at the stake for countervening the teachings of the Church. Some fear that our modern society has gotten to the point where political correctness is taking on some of the worst characteristics of the Catholic Church of old.

 

But on a more practical level, the administrators grappling with these issues face immediate and stark consequences. The University of Missouri is an example of campus unrest causing real damage. In 2016, Melissa Click, a professor there, was fired over controversial speech. The following semester, applications dropped by nearly 30 percent.

 

In Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, had attempted to give controversial speaker Ann Coulter a venue in which to address the campus. His plan called for up to 100 extra police officers, a number that would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars for a speech lasting just a few hours. Ms. Coulter ultimately rejected the offer and the university is currently being sued by a student group.

 

 

Universities Struggle to Strike Perfect Balance on Free Speech

In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, reveals the extreme difficulty he and his peers in the American University system face when dealing when problems surrounding the freedom of controversial speakers to address their campuses.

 

The most recent event to embattle Berkeley, often credited as the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, was the planned speech by right wing author Ann Coulter. Ms. Coulter was invited at the behest of the Berkeley student group Berkeley College Republicans, but her planned speech almost immediately ran into trouble.

 

First, the University couldn’t grant her access to the usual venues that are used to accommodate speakers on the campus. Mr. Dirks cited security threats as the primary reason for denying Ms. Coulter the ability to speak in one of the normal venues. Next, the University extended her an invitation to speak in the venue of her choice but at a time when fewer students would be around. This offer was rejected by Ms. Coulter, saying that scheduling her at times when students will not be present was an unacceptable abridgment of her first amendment rights.

 

Ms. Coulter went against the wishes of Mr. Dirks and the rest of the Berkeley administration, vowing to give the speech at the time and place of her choosing. This enraged many campus activists groups, prompting threats of violence, should the planned speech go forward. These threats finally caused the group that had invited her to withdraw their invitation. A group is now suing the university concerning the violation of the rights of students to hear Ms. Coulter speak.

 

All the while, Mr. Dirks insists that even his plan to provide Ms. Coulter with a suitable venue at an alternative, less crowded time would have set the university back tens of thousands of dollars.

University Administrators Walk Fine Line With Student Demonstrations

Universities throughout the United States have been recently besieged by a flurry of student demonstrations against causes ranging from unpopular speakers on campus to perceived unfairness against different identity groups. While such disturbances are nothing new to the U.S. higher education system, a system with a long and storied career of student activism, the tone, intensity and often the message of the new wave of activism is something that is largely unprecedented.

Mizzou looms large in every administrator’s mind

Recently, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, wrote an op-ed where he attempted to clear the air and describe the travails he faces as an administrator who, on the one hand, is making every effort to protect the rights of students to speak and hear others speak but who also has a college to run, with a finite budget and real-world business considerations. Perhaps more than any other recent event, these episodes have brought into focus the challenging job that administrators face while running complex publicly funded organizations that nevertheless rely heavily on attracting the brightest students.

One event that has put things into stark relief for administrators facing potential student unrest is the case of the University of Missouri. In 2016, a liberal Mizzou professor was fired for speech that she believed was both protected and appropriate. Still, this was not enough for some Mizzou student activists. They created a huge uproar on campus, nearly leading to the cancellation of the entire football season. The melee drove a deluge of negative publicity about the school.

In addition to facing a million-dollar lawsuit filed by the former teacher, the University’s enrollment dropped by almost 30 percent the following semester. If Mizzou is unable to make up for that shortfall, the entire University could face bankruptcy within a few, short years. It is nightmare scenarios like this that keep college deans up at night.

American Universities Grapple with Limits of Free Speech

Over the last two years, American universities have been besieged by a polarized social and political climate that has brought to the forefront various serious questions about the role that institutions of higher education, especially those receiving public funding dollars, should have in guaranteeing free speech.

Recently, these issues have once again been thrust into the national spotlight with the events surrounding a planned speech by right-wing author Ann Coulter on the Campus of the University of California, Berkely. The author has been unafraid to take controversial positions over her career, a move that has served her well, propelling many of her books to rank on the New York Times bestseller list.

But the current questions are not ones of political viewpoint or soundness of arguments. Ms. Coulter forced to withdraw from her planned speaking engagement when the University was unable to accommodate her in a suitable venue and her original sponsors, the Berkeley College Republicans, simultaneously withdrew their invitation, amid fears of violence. The irony is that Berkeley was the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement, a movement started in the 1960s, partially with the aim of promoting the ability of all speakers, no matter their viewpoints, to be permitted access to America’s university campuses.

This latest cancellation of a speaker at Berkeley comes amid a series of similar incidents. Last year, another speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, also characterized as conservative, was likewise denied a platform at the college. That time, however, his speech was cut short by rioters who had apparently come from off-campus solely for the purpose of disrupting Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech.

This has raised questions as to the responsibilities Berkeley itself has to guarantee a platform to all speakers. Conservative activists have pointed to the multiple instances of speakers being denied as evidence that the college administration is biased in favor of more liberal speakers.