Category Archives: Education / Youth

Promises Promises…

Trump promised to revive coal mining. Bernie is once again promising to eliminate student debt. Bernie’s goal is a lot more attractive, but his strategy is equally delusional.

Trump, of course, is too dumb–and unconcerned–to know how energy markets work; he just throws red meat to his equally-uniformed base. Is that what Bernie is doing, too? Playing to his core voters without realizing how unrealistic/unworkable his promises are? I doubt that. Unlike Trump, he’s pretty smart–and he actually knows how government works.

And that’s worse, because it means he has to know his plan is an absolute non-starter.

Student debt is admittedly an enormous problem, both for the students who spend years burdened by it and for the economy, where it constitutes an enormous drag on consumer spending and economic growth. Policymakers definitely should do something to alleviate the burden, but the pertinent question is: what sorts of proposals make sense?

What would a workable solution look like?

Economists point out that simply canceling all student debt ends up helping high-income families most, which seems like a less-than-prudent use of tax dollars. Estimates are that the top 40 percent of earners would receive about two-thirds of the benefits.

Sanders has made a similar proposal before, and David Honig, a friend (who is an exceptional lawyer), took a “deep dive” into that previous plan. I am appending his analysis. It’s long, and it’s legalistic/technical, but it also demonstrates why political promises sound so much better when they aren’t closely examined.

I’ve bolded language that I think is particularly important…Here’s David’s summary.

________________________–
Time for a breakdown. Here we go:

TITLE I—FEDERAL-STATE PARTNERSHIP TO ELIMINATE TUITION

SEC. 101. GRANT PROGRAM TO ELIMINATE TUITION AND REQUIRED FEES AT PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

That’s our first title, and what it tells you is that this isn’t a Federal program alone, it’s a State and Federal program. In turn, that means that States have to sign on. The King v. Burwell precedent from the ACA litigation is going to still control, and that means we’re not talking about free tuition everywhere, just in blue States.
 
(a) Program Authorized.—
(1) GRANTS AUTHORIZED.—From amounts appropriated under subsection (f), the Secretary of Education (referred to in this section as the “Secretary”) shall award grants, from allotments under subsection (b), to States having applications approved under subsection (d), to enable the States to eliminate tuition and required fees at public institutions of higher education.
(2) MATCHING FUNDS REQUIREMENT.—Each State that receives a grant under this section shall provide matching funds for a fiscal year in an amount that is equal to one half the amount received under this section for the fiscal year toward the cost of reducing the cost of attendance at public institutions of higher education in the State.

That’s your formula — 2/3 Fed, 1/3 State. So if Sanders’ own estimate is right, that the cost to the Feds is $750B over 10 years, that means the States are going to have to come up with $375B, and they can’t tax Wall Street.

So how much do they get? Well, that’s interesting, and the legislation quite clearly institutionalizes the vast differences in education spending from State to State:

(b) Determination Of Allotment.—

This is how the dollars are determined.

(1) INITIAL ALLOTMENT.—For fiscal year 2016, the Secretary shall allot to each eligible State that submits an application under this section an amount that is equal to 67 percent of the total revenue received by the State’s public system of higher education in the form of tuition and related fees for fiscal year 2016. For each of fiscal years 2017 through 2019, the Secretary shall allot to each eligible State that submits an application under this section—
(A) an amount equal to the allotment the State received for fiscal year 2016, plus
(B) if the State provides additional funds toward the cost of reducing the cost of attendance at public institutions of higher education in the State for any of such fiscal years that is more than the matching funds requirement under subsection (a)(2), an amount equal to such additional funding provided by the State, which amount provided by the Secretary may be used for the activities described in subsection (e)(2).

Ummm, wow. So the State gets 2/3 of the revenue it received in the form of tuition and related fees? That, by the plain language of the statute, would exclude money spent by the State from general funds, lottery funds, special education funds, etc., and include only tuition and related fees. So States that subsidized education the most would get the least? That’s how it reads. If so, this is a total non-starter, and the legislation is a complete sham —  a promise written in unrealistic numbers to make it seem possible. If that is really what is intended, kill it now. Just forget it, and stop even pretending it was realistic.

But, in the interest of fairness, let’s assume it doesn’t really mean what it says, and that what it is really intended to do is replace all State spending on higher education. Okay? Is that fair, at least for the sake of discussion?

Even under that reasoning, there are problems. California’s budget is $10.5B, while Vermont’s is $84M. More important, New Hampshire is $104/capita, while Wyoming is $606/capita. So we start with that spending (assuming it’s not really tuition, which would make the whole thing a farce), and see right away that the new Federal program would instantly endorse unequal spending decisions made State-by-State, and pay for those decisions with Federal money. How long do you think that would last without challenge, either in Congress or in the courts? Yeah, not very long. If the money is coming from DC, paid via New York, what justification is there to spend so much less in one State than another?

And for years after 2016, while the States can increase their spending, they only get a one-to-one match in Federal funds, rather than the initial two-to-one match, making future State spending far more expensive than past State spending.

(2) SUBSEQUENT ALLOTMENTS.—Beginning in fiscal year 2020, the Secretary shall determine the median allotment per full-time equivalent student made to all eligible States under this section for fiscal year 2019 and incrementally reduce allotments made to States under this section such that by fiscal year 2025, no State receives an allotment under this section per full-time equivalent student that exceeds the median allotment per full-time equivalent student made under this section for fiscal year 2019.

Oh look, starting in 2020 there is an “evening out” of the money. Except, it comes down, instead of going up. So a State that was spending a lot of money on education gets a whole lot less, dropping the median, while a State that was spending less doesn’t get more. The median just keeps dropping to the lowest common denominator.

Do people really think this is a good idea?

(c) State Eligibility Requirements.—In order to be eligible to receive an allotment under this section for a fiscal year, a State shall—

Okay, so what does a State have to do to stay in the system?

ensure that public institutions of higher education in the State maintain per-pupil expenditures on instruction at levels that meet or exceed the expenditures for the previous fiscal year;

You have got to be kidding me! So one-half of the States, the ones actually trying to fund their higher education, get less starting in 2020, but the State has to keep paying just as much? So now the funding will go down from 2-1 to perhaps 1-1, or even less? This is insane. In the meantime, they have to do just as much with even less than they had before? So the University of California system is going to have funding from the feds that matches funding to Missouri, but has to put just as much California money into it, while trying to maintain their standards? Interesting.

ensure that tuition and required fees for in-State undergraduate students in the State’s public higher education system are eliminated;

Hey guys, we get less money, but we can’t charge tuition. Terrific!

(3) maintain State operating expenditures for public institutions of higher education, excluding the amount of funds provided for a fiscal year under this section, at a level that meets or exceeds the level of such support for fiscal year 2015;

Okay, this one’s not a big deal. Except, it hints that when it said “tuition” up above, it really meant “tuition.” And that’s nuts.

(4) maintain State expenditures on need-based financial aid programs for enrollment in public institutions of higher education in the State at a level that meets or exceeds the level of such support for fiscal year 2015;
(5) ensure public institutions of higher education in the State maintain funding for institutional need-based student financial aid in an amount that is equal to or exceeds the level of such funding for the previous fiscal year;

Huh? Why do they have to spend just as much on need-based student financial aid if students don’t have to pay tuition? Somebody please explain this one.
 
(6) provide an assurance that not later than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, not less than 75 percent of instruction at public institutions of higher education in the State is provided by tenured or tenure-track faculty;

A lovely goal, but the money just dropped through the floor for the highest-paying half of the States in the country.

(7) require that public institutions of higher education in the State provide, for each student enrolled at the institution who receives for the maximum Federal Pell Grant award under subpart 1 of part A of title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070a et seq.), institutional student financial aid in an amount equal to 100 percent of the difference between—
(A) the cost of attendance at such institution (as determined in accordance with section 472 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1087ll)), and
(B) the sum of—
(i) the amount of the maximum Federal Pell Grant award; and
(ii) the student’s expected family contribution

So in addition to the funding discussion above, now they have to make up the difference between costs and Pell grant money? This is starting to sound like a whole lot of new unfunded mandates, the kind the Supreme Court doesn’t like.
 
and
(8) ensure that public institutions of higher education in the State not adopt policies to reduce enrollment.

Same enrollment, less money.

(d) Submission And Contents Of Application.—For each fiscal year for which a State desires a grant under this section, the State agency with jurisdiction over higher education, or another agency designated by the Governor or chief executive of the State to administer the program under this section, shall submit an application to the Secretary at such time, in such manner, and containing such information as the Secretary may require.

Only States that want to participate will need to submit applications. Guess which States will want to participate? The Democratic States that spend low amounts of money on higher education. The higher-paying States, even if they’re blue as blue can be, won’t want any part of it, for the reasons noted above. 
 
(e) Use Of Funds.—

How do they get to use the money?

(1) IN GENERAL.—A State that receives a grant under this section shall use the grant funds and the matching funds required under this section to eliminate tuition and required fees for students at public institutions of higher education in the State.

First, reduce tuition. Okay, got it.

(2) ADDITIONAL FUNDING.—Once tuition and required fees have been eliminated pursuant to paragraph (1), a State that receives a grant under this section shall use any remaining grant funds and matching funds required under this section to increase the quality of instruction and student support services by carrying out the following:
(A) Expanding academic course offerings to students.
(B) Increasing the number and percentage of full-time instructional faculty.
(C) Providing all faculty with professional supports to help students succeed, such as professional development opportunities, office space, and shared governance in the institution.
(D) Compensating part-time faculty for work done outside of the classroom relating to instruction, such as holding office hours.
(E) Strengthening and ensuring all students have access to student support services such as academic advising, counseling, and tutoring.
(F) Any other additional activities that improve instructional quality and academic outcomes for students as approved by the Secretary through a peer review process.

Second, you have to put any additional money back into education. Savings may not be spent elsewhere. Not even State money. So the Feds are now controlling the State use of its budget, even if the State is meeting all its obligations. Interesting. How long do you think that will last in court?

(3) PROHIBITION.—A State that receives a grant under this section may not use grant funds or matching funds required under this section—
(A) for the construction of non-academic facilities, such as student centers or stadiums;
(B) for merit-based student financial aid; or
(C) to pay the salaries or benefits of school administrators.
 
Oh for ____’s sake! Do we really think school administrators, the people who enroll students, who handle disciplinary issues, who manage dormitories, and a thousand other things, aren’t part of running a successful university? Is there some imaginary university where the kindly professor meets the students under the ol’ oak tree to impart knowledge, while they nibble their brown-bag lunches?
 
(f) Authorization And Appropriation.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $47,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2016, and such sums as may be necessary for each of the fiscal years 2017 through 2025.

And the cost? $47B the first year, and whatever is necessary for the years to follow.

Conclusion

There you go. That’s Sanders “free college” plan.

It doesn’t sound quite as great to me when you look at the details as when you put it on a bumper sticker.

That reminds me–how are all those new coal mines doing?

 

Sex And The State

Indianapolis’ Pride Celebration gets bigger and better every year–this year, the parade was so crowded with people enjoying the lovely day and the multiple marchers and floats that the “usual subjects”–with their signs proclaiming the sinfulness of “homo” sex– almost escaped notice.

Those “usual subjects”–the scolds who come out of the woodwork to tell LGBTQ folks that God disapproves of them, and the “good Christians” who scream invective at women entering Planned Parenthood clinics–are reminders that Americans have always had a real problem with sex. Not just gay sex, either. Any sex.

Residents of more laid-back countries (no pun intended) have found both America’s excessive religiosity and famous prudishness puzzling, and both of those elements of our political culture are barriers to reasonable policymaking. Most of the country has finally  recognized that statutes forbidding fornication, sodomy and the like didn’t prevent those behaviors, but simply allowed police who were so inclined to harass marginalized folks with what lawyers call “arbitrary and capricious” enforcement.

The gratifying disappearance of these silly statutes, however, doesn’t mean we Americans have lost our obsession with sex. The fights have simply moved to other venues, like abortion, transgender bathrooms and especially sex education policy, where “family values” warriors continue to insist that only abstinence should be taught in the classroom.

Sex education has been a controversial subject for decades as public school officials and parents have debated the best ways to help teenagers avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Not all states require schools to teach sex ed. But many states require sex education instructors to discuss or stress abstinence from sexual activity, with some schools offering abstinence-only programming, which urges kids to wait until marriage and often excludes information about contraceptives.

So-called “comprehensive” sex education programs teach students about abstinence, but (in a nod to hormones and reality) also teach about contraception, sexual health and how to handle unwanted sexual advances. Such curricula are gaining ground in some states.

In 2019, sex education continues to make headlines even as teen pregnancy rates continue to fall. Policymakers in Colorado, California and Alabama have pushed for big changes in the way sex education is taught there. In Colorado, a bill that would ban abstinence-only education in public schools awaits the governor’s signature. The legislation, which also requires that sex education be inclusive for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ), was “one of the most contentious battles of the 2019 legislative session,”according to the Colorado Times Recorder.

In Alabama–home of the recent law banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest– the state’s sex education law requires teachers to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” (A bill has been introduced that would change that requirement, but as this is written, it’s still on the books.)

As of 2016, abstinence was a required topic of instruction in states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Texas…. 29 states, including Florida, Montana and Pennsylvania, did not require their sex education curricula to be based on medically accurate information. In some schools, teachers have been accused of inflating condom failure rates to discourage use.

I know that basing policy on evidence is out of favor in the Age of Trump, but the research is instructive: abstinence-only education results in higher teen birth rates. (And those “virginity pledges” that fundamentalist dads brag about? Researchers found that girls who took pledges were more likely to become pregnant outside of marriage when compared with girls and young women who did not take abstinence pledges.)

Facts are such inconvenient things.

I know it’s heresy, but maybe–just maybe–schools should teach kids medically-and-age appropriate information about their bodies, rather than inaccurate, incomplete or counterproductive information intended to mollify prudes and religious fundamentalists.

It’s Only Money…

There have been some truly jaw-dropping revelations coming from recent Congressional hearings–but most have been overshadowed by the continuing dramas of Trump’s refusal to produce documents demanded by Congress and Barr’s evident fabrications about the Mueller Report.

This one is particularly maddening, if only because allowing clueless Betsy DeVos to run anything–let alone the Department of Education–is infuriating.

In this article in Common Dreams, Jeff Bryant offers one particular example of DeVos’ overwhelming incapacity:

During a series of recent congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to respond to a recent report finding the U.S. Department of Education has been scammed for hundreds of millions of dollars by fraudulent or mismanaged charter schools. Her responses reveal not only her inability to counter legitimate concerns over the spread of charter schools but also the charter school industry’s resistance to honestly address a chronic problem with its schools.

The report, which I co-authored with Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris, found that up to $1 billion awarded by the federal government’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) went to charter schools that never opened or opened for only brief periods before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, and fraud. Our calculation was that a least a third of the $4.1 billion spent by the CSP was wasted.

Members of Congress repeatedly referred to these findings when questioning the secretary’s management of charter school grants and her proposal to increase funding for the program to $500 million annually. In response, DeVos first attempted to deny the problem, saying, “You are always going to have schools that don’t make it.”

When her “some schools won’t make it” excuse didn’t seem to convince those doing the questioning, DeVos insisted that the country needs “more charter schools, not less.” And when she was unable to explain her department’s obvious inability to properly monitor the charter grant program, she attacked the authors of the report, claiming that they had a “political agenda.” (She was also unable to provide any evidence that their conclusions were inaccurate.)

Following the hearing at which the monetary losses were explored, the Network for Public Education wrote an open letter to DeVos, in which they pointed out that 250 charter schools in DeVos home state of Michigan had received grant money between 2006 and 2014, and that 109 of those–or 42%–had either closed or never opened, wasting more than $20 million dollars. Despite this abysmal result,  DeVos’ DOE gave Michigan $47,222,222 in 2018 for the express purpose of starting up or expanding charters.

It isn’t only Michigan.

In Ohio, of the roughly 290 charter schools that received federal grants from the CSP during the same time period, 117 schools, 40 percent, also never opened or are now closed. The amount of waste to taxpayers totals $35,926,693.

In Louisiana, 51 of the 110 charter schools, 46 percent, that received funding through the CSP failed.

In California, of the more than 780 charter schools that received grant funds, 297 schools, 38 percent, closed or never opened, resulting in $103,467,332 in wasted education funds.

In Florida, of the some 500 schools getting federal grants, 184 schools, 36 percent, never opened or closed, representing a loss of $34,781,736 in lost federal tax dollars.

It is only fair to point out that this is not evidence that charter schools are all substandard or fraudulent. There are plenty of perfectly good charters, just as there are (propaganda to the contrary) plenty of perfectly good public schools. The data tends to show that overall, charters (which are public schools) perform pretty much the way traditional public schools perform.

Private schools that accept vouchers are another matter.

What this situation does unequivocally demonstrate is that, under Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has abandoned oversight, thanks largely to her cozy relationship with for-profit “educators” and her fixation on privatizing  public education.

Under DeVos, DOE is wasting billions of dollars that could be used to actually improve public education.

Her protector and fellow ideologue, Mike Pence, must be so proud…..

 

If Evidence Mattered…

I post fairly frequently about my multiple problems with school voucher programs, and I apologize for the repetition, but really!

Vouchers tend to be a “work around” the First Amendment–a mechanism for transferring tax dollars to religious schools; they steal critical resources from public schools that need those resources; they are re-segregating the schools…I could go on.

Vouchers were marketed as a mechanism allowing poor kids to escape from failing public systems and enroll instead in private schools that would give them a much better education. Proponents also argued that having to compete for students would lead to the improvement of the public schools.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Vouchers are increasingly used by families that would have and could have sent their children to parochial schools with or without them (in Indiana, families making up to 100,000 a year); meanwhile, starving public schools of resources doesn’t exactly help them improve.

Most significantly, research consistently shows that those “superior” private/parochial schools have failed to improve the educational outcomes of the children who use vouchers to attend them.

Brookings recently added to the available evidence

Four recent rigorous studies—in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—used different research designs and reached the same result: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools. The Louisiana and Indiana studies offer some hints that negative effects may diminish over time. Whether effects ever will become positive is unclear.

The four different studies analyzed by Brookings used four different methodologies, but arrived at the same conclusion: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students who do not attend private schools. The four recent studies thus replicated the results of eight previous research projects, which Brookings also referenced.

The Trump Administration–and especially Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education–have been pushing voucher expansion. DeVos was largely responsible for the expansion of charter and voucher schools in Michigan, and does not appear to be deterred by the fact that student performance declined dramatically. An article in a Michigan newspaper, reproduced in the Washington Post, reported

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.

What remains in short supply is quality.

In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.

This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.

There is much more, and I encourage anyone interested in DeVos’ success in destroying Michigan education to click through, or to Google the numerous other articles chronicling the decline.

As the Brookings article notes, it used to be rare for policy initiatives to be expanded in the face of evidence that those initiatives are having negative effects on key outcomes. But this is an anti-evidence administration. Zealotry, religious convictions and (in Trump’s case) gut instinct–seasoned with breathtaking ignorance– are what guide policy prescriptions in Trump’s Washington.

 

“Elite” Colleges And Rich Delusions

When the news broke about rich parents buying their children’s admittance to “elite” colleges–falsifying credentials, paying smart kids to take the SATs, and bribing admissions personnel–it reminded me of my mother’s most abiding regret.

My mother was extremely bright, and made excellent grades in high school. She desperately wanted to go to college–but her parents were poor, and could only manage tuition at a local college if she lived at home. Room and board elsewhere were out of reach. My mother wanted a traditional campus social experience (as she said later, she was young and misguided), so she just didn’t go to college. She read voraciously and educated herself, but the local college was very good and she would have benefitted from going.

The lesson–which I never forgot–is that If a good education is really what you want, it is widely available.

There are an estimated 5,300 colleges in the U.S. They vary widely in the breadth and quality of their offerings, but you can get a very good education–I will go so far as to say an excellent education–in the top 500 or so. (Probably more.)

Of course, you need to want an education–not merely a social life, an impressive credential, connections to wealthy classmates, or bragging rights for making it into the most selective institutions.

I’m not knocking the benefits of going to a school with the offspring of the rich and famous; I still remember being a first-year associate in a law firm with a number of Harvard and Yale graduates. If a client needed local counsel in another state, the lawyer involved would frequently pull out his alumni register and hire a classmate practicing in that state. I’m sure that those school ties are equally valuable in a number of other professions.

As the news media has delved into the scandal, what they have discovered is something that most of us who are in academia have always known: the “elite” schools are certainly very good, but they are also selective about their selectivity, routinely favoring the offspring of alumni, especially generous alumni. (Jared Kushner’s father endowed a building at Harvard, and presto! despite mediocre grades, Jared was admitted) They also have special “quotas” for certain kinds of athletes.

You can find plenty of intellectual deadwood in those “groves of academe.”

The parents involved in this particular scandal apparently fall into the “bragging rights” category, but whatever their motivations, ensuring that their children received a superior education was pretty clearly not among them.

What this sordid episode revealed was the utter superficiality of so much of American culture, where appearances are more important than substance, where a college education is seen as a credential rather than an opportunity to explore the store of knowledge that humans have amassed, or an effort to confront the existential questions that loom so large when we are young.

Approaching a college education as if it is a more “elite” form of job training is why many middle-tier struggling institutions are jettisoning courses in the humanities in favor of technical skills and STEM, and why parents try to talk their children out of majoring in “impractical” subjects like philosophy or anthropology or English literature.

People who view all of life as a game of one-upmanship want their children to attend “prestige” universities, whether or not those institutions are the best fit for that child.

People who view life as an adventure to be illuminated by knowledge, who view learning as a life-long task and college as a place where you learn how to engage in that task, are satisfied if their children attend any of the many, many institutions able to nourish their intellectual curiosity and introduce them to the great minds and achievements of human civilization.

If I was still helping my children search for those places, however, I think I’d look askance at the schools that (legally or illegally) traded admissions for money…