Category archives: Education

Be Wary of Uniform Education Measurements

by Nathan Oppman

March 18, 2014

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited the challenge of measuring college success. As college debt increases, it will likely become more important to acquire tangible measure of collegiate success. Some members of Congress and the Department of Education have weighed in with new ways to measure college outcomes.

The problem with establishing uniform measurements is that education is multi-faceted. Getting a job is not necessarily an indication of academic success. College is not designed to be a job training center, but to give students a greater understanding of the world. Education is valuable beyond the workforce in such areas as voting, training children, and morality. If a degree does not directly lead to a job, then it is not necessarily wasted. If going to college leads to a job, it does not mean the education was exceptional.

It is important to accurately assess the many benefits that college education can provide. But we should be assessing those benefits at the local level and should seek to discourage any government imposed national measurements. From No Child Left Behind to Common Core, we have learned that we must be wary of our government’s involvement in education. Keep an eye open for national collegiate success measurements and tell the federal government to keep out of the classroom.

Another Whack at Common Core by Teacher’s Union

by Emily Minick

February 20, 2014

Common Core is turning out to be a Common Disaster.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the largest teacher union, wrote a letter to the union’s three million members calling the Common Core rollout, “completely botched.” This is a blow to the standards and assessments many thought were a consensus among educators and states across the country to prepare students for college.

In recent months there has been a steady stream of teacher unions, teachers, parents and government officials expressing their concern over Common Core and hesitation about its rapid rollout and implementation timeline. Common Core is a state initiative that the Obama Administration is pushing and is already being incorporated in schools across the country, with full implementation required by the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core removes local accountability for a child’s education. Presently, if a parent is concerned about their child’s education or teaching material in the school, there is a direct course of action for a parent to raise their concerns. With Common Core, however, that course of action and accountability between parents and teachers is muddled, at best, and completely removes accountability from the local school, teacher and even the state.

This is because Common Core was written, developed, and adopted with little input from parents and educators. Now, with 45 states and the District of Columbia having adopted the standards, educators and parents are learning that their child’s education is suffering, and there is little they can do because the standards and assessments are already written, being taught in school, and only allowed limited revisions.

In his letter to the union members, Dennis Van Roekel stressed the fact that the frustration with the standards are not isolated, citing the fact that 70% of teachers believe the implementation of Common Core is going poorly in their schools.

This statistic is astonishing. Developers of the Common Core standards and assessments seem to have forgotten that educators and parents should be consulted about what is taught in the classroom.

Common Core Math Doesn’t Add Up

by Robert Morrison

January 6, 2014

Why would you deliberately dumb down math standards for all American students? That seems a far-fetched claim about the Common Core education standards currently being pushed by the Obama administration. Yet, that is what is happening, according to the highly respected education analyst, Sandra Stotsky, Ph.D.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Dr. Stotsky notes that President Obama has been touting his administration’s initiatives in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — as essential for America’s workforce of the Twenty-first Century. Of course, America should be a leader in these key areas. Still, as Dr. Stotsky explains:

…the basic mission of Common Core, as Jason Zimba, its leading mathematics standards writer, explained at a videotaped board meeting in March 2010, is to provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college—“not for STEM,” as he put it. During that meeting, he didn’t tell us why Common Core aimed so low in mathematics. But in a September 2013 article published in the Hechinger Report, an education news website affiliated with Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Zimba admitted: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”

We are seeing in Common Core what we are seeing in ObamaCare: You have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. Forty-five states were hustled into adopting Common Core. They were pushed and prodded, some would even say bribed, by massive lobbying by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

This effort did not begin under President Obama, it is true. But this centralizing tendency, this usurpation of state authority, has accelerated under Mr. Obama. His “Race to the Top” initiative provides incentives in which the states get to reclaim more of their own money if they jump through the Obama administration’s hoops. No wonder critics of ObamaCore call this program “Race to the Trough.”

Federal educrats are very keen on testing. We might devise a test for them. What improvement in American education can you attribute to the federal intrusion into the sphere that the Constitution reserves to states and localities?  How has the federal government improved a single school in our neighborhood?

President Obama is avid to promote science and technology. Some years ago, he went to Copenhagen with his top science advisers to promote his views on climate change. He was able to persuade the leaders of the world’s governments at this much-touted Global Climate Summit to do exactly what? Little has been heard in the past five years of his accomplishment there. And that was when he was riding high in the polls, buoyed by his freshly-minted Nobel Prize for Peace.

Even his strongest supporters might give him a grade of “incomplete” for his success in getting other world leaders to adopt his stringent demands for change. China and India won’t cooperate in his war on coal, that’s certain. And, of course, their carbon footprints are growing daily.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss assures us that Barack Obama is the smartest man ever to occupy the Oval Office. That may be, but it was surely curious to come upon this jarring note in the president’s best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope.

[I] came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.”

Well, Sir, with all due respect: The Earth revolves around the sun. It rotates on its axis. I learned this in fifth grade. I recently taught it to my five-year old grandson. It’s no small matter. Copernicus got really famous for making this scientific breakthrough.

So why are we being lectured and hectored by a man who missed this key science lesson in fifth grade in Jakarta? The idea behind Common Core is that the elites in America know what our children and grandchildren need to know and can effectively design a national curriculum to impart it.

We’ve heard it all before. Can they do this amazing thing? They say: Yes, we can.

And they are just as convincing when they tell us: If you like your children, you can keep them. 

ObamaCore: Not his Signature Achievement

by Robert Morrison

January 3, 2014

We all know that ObamaCare is the president’s “signature achievement.” The media keeps telling us so. I don’t know what my own signature achievement might be, but I’m certainly happy it’s not a “screwed up” (his own word) launch of a health care takeover.

Less well known, but equally botched, is the so-called Common Core state education standards. Defenders of this federal power grab howl when critics call it “ObamaCore.”

Not fair. This didn’t start under President Obama, they say. True. And anyway it’s voluntary, they say. Not so true. It’s only voluntary if the states want a chunk of their own money back from the tight-fisted federal education department.

The reason it is fair to call it ObamaCore is because it is the fulfillment of President Obama’s pledge to “fundamentally transform this country.” Like ObamaCare, ObamaCore reduces the states to mere local branches of the federal government. It strips them of their rightful authority under the Constitution. It turns citizens into subjects.

Speaking of signatures though, an incident at my local hospital reminded me recently that ObamaCore really roils Americans at the grassroots. A young hematology technician approached me as I rolled up my sleeve to give blood. She slipped in the needle and asked if I’d heard they were going to drop cursive writing from elementary school curricula. Yes, I had heard something about that, I quickly volunteered. She then proceeded to fill me in. This young professional woman was livid. My blood started to boil, too (not always the best thing when they’re trying to draw it.)

Why would Common Core proponents want to get rid of cursive handwriting? Well, we won’t need it anymore, they assure us. Everything will be done on iPads, iPhones, and word processors. We have to get hip and get moving into the Twenty-first Century, they tell us.

This incident was most revealing. Out in the country — away from Washington, D.C. and its perennial fights over money — people are really agitated about Common Core. The dropping of cursive writing is just one element, but it’s an important one. We all sense this, even if we cannot give all the reasons why.

Let’s start with the Founding Fathers; it’s always a good idea. Benjamin Franklin was the most inventive genius this country ever produced. Yes, he was even smarter than Bill Gates. Let’s look at Benjamin Franklin’s signature. It’s a work of art.

Surely, the man who was a printer, who set type and who made his living not writing in cursive, might have been dismissive of his signature. But his signature is bold and assertive. It obviously is meant to be an expression of Benjamin Franklin himself.

George Washington’s signature tells us here is a man to be reckoned with. Although personally humble, and although he did not sign the Constitution with the same oversize flair that John Hancock employed when signing the Declaration of Independence, there is yet a solidity and an integrity about Washington’s signature that suggests it will last as long as the Rock of Gibraltar does.

Thomas Jefferson affixed his signature to tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime. He wrote with a speed and dexterity that is stunning to us today. His letters—of which he carefully kept copies to keep critics from “twistifying” his words — proceeded like a Niagara from his mountaintop retreat at Monticello. Founding Father Benjamin Rush would say that he and John Adams thought for us of the revolutionary generation.

Lincoln thought out intellectual problems, too, by writing. There seems to have been something in the mechanical process of handwriting that enabled this deeply introspective man to work out the most difficult challenges of statecraft by his writing. As a stimulus to thought, Lincoln’s handwriting expressed logic, eloquence, and vast power. Douglas L. Wilson refers to his craft as Lincoln’s Sword. His words have a biblical cadence and a musical allure.

Microsoft’s founding genius, Bill Gates, is urging us to swallow all of Common Core. But this admittedly clever man recently confessed that he had made a big mistake with Crtl-Alt-Delete. That awkward sequence of keystrokes was something the tech whiz says he messed up. He has not told us whether he also messed up in his large donations to President Obama’s campaigns.

I’m hoping my grandchildren will be media savvy and fully able to negotiate whatever technical devices are yet to be developed. But I also want them to know the joy of writing and the importance of their signatures as an expression of their own immortal selves.

Is all of this precious heritage at risk from eliminating cursive writing? Maybe not. But this change is not hopeful. And it can serve us as a synechdoche — that is, a part that truly represents the whole.

We know this much: Those who today grasp for ever more crushing power over 317 million of us Americans have done nothing thus far to earn our trust.

Like ObamaCare? You’ll Love ObamaCore!

by Robert Morrison

November 8, 2013

After a nuclear war, President Kennedy warned, “the living will envy the dead.” Well, at least the dead don’t have to talk about ObamaCare. That topic has dominated America’s politics for five years. It may succeed in getting everyone covered — with sod. By boring us all to death.

Let’s shift gears. Let’s talk about ObamaCore, aka Common Core Education Standards.

Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a National Board Certified Math teacher from the Midwest. This highly motivated and gifted teacher wanted to persuade FRC to embrace Common Core Education Standards. She made a strong case, claiming that the Common Core Math Standards were far better than what she had been working with before.

I had to defer to her judgment about that, since it’s been decades since I’ve darkened the door of a math class. But I pressed her gently on the idea that if these new math standards really were superior, what prevented her state from adopting them on their own?

Why did her state need to be prodded, pressured, and bribed into adopting better math standards? Indeed, if there really are better methods for teaching math, and better goals for math student achievement, how could such information be suppressed in this happy day of Al Gore’s Internet?

I noted to this dedicated professional the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had found it necessary to sweeten the pot with a donation of $373 million in inducements to the National Governors Association and others to adopt Common Core?

Question: If a single governor is being investigated for accepting lavish gifts from a businessman, why isn’t the National Governors Association being investigated for accepting millions from the Gates family foundation? Is it the new rule that you should never try to bribe a single governor; you must bribe all the governors!

I will be criticized for calling it bribery, I am sure. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation simply wants to let the grassroots speak to their elected officials about education reform. These are beneficial changes for everyone, they assure us.

If that is so, then why does the Obama administration require states to sign on to Common Core Standards in its “Race to the Top” program? It is one of the only ways your state can get a waiver from the disastrously intrusive federal initiative, “No Child Left Behind.”

This is rich: You don’t like No Child Left Behind? You can escape the tortures of the rack by voluntarily climbing into the Iron Maiden of Common Core.

It’s unfair to call this grassroots initiative ObamaCore, they will say. This is a state-initiated project, with plenty of Republican support. Like Jeb Bush. Like Mike Huckabee. They will repent, I’m sure.

The reality is: Common Core Education Standards, financially pushed by major Obama donor Bill Gates, is another project for centralizing and bureaucratizing education in America.

And that project has been a colossal failure. We can challenge the centralizers to show us one school in America that has been improved on orders from Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan was the last president to staunchly oppose the federal education department. He zeroed out its budget for all eight years of his presidency. Liberals in Congress — Republicans as well as Democrats — always jammed the money back in the appropriations bills.

ObamaCore is an attempt at even greater control of education by a distant bureaucracy that does not know local conditions and is not responsible to local voters.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his classic work, Democracy in America, praised our public schools and offered them as an example of de-centralization of administration. Tocqueville spoke of the American “genius” for voluntary association. He said he knew of no nation on earth that had schools better suited to its people than those of the Americans.

Tocqueville saw, as did Jefferson before him, that locally administered schools were a key element in America’s amazing democracy. The experience in and the responsibility for running our counties’ schools was what equipped us to maintain our own republican form of government.

ObamaCore is not only a clear and present danger to what little discretion remains for local education authorities (LEA) and state education authorities (SEA), it is a grave threat to private, parochial, and home schools, as well.

The demand for “alignment” of all curricula in the nation, the coordination of these curricula with the requirements of the College Entrance Examination Board, menace intellectual freedom.

When Oregon in the 1920s adopted a Ku Klux Klan-initiated ballot proposition forcing all children to attend public schools, private and Catholic school groups went into federal court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents who chose to send their children to schools other than those operated by the government.

In its justly famous ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), Mr. Justice McReynolds wrote:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

The Court then found the Oregon ban on private schooling:

an unreasonable interference with the liberty of the parents and guardians to direct the upbringing of the children, and in that respect violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court here spoke of parents’ rights and high duties. Nowhere in the agitation for ObamaCore will you read any such language.

ObamaCore agitators are far more likely to sign on to educationists’ importunate demands that “we must take charge.” The we who must take charge of the nation’s education, and hence direct the destiny of the children, are the governors and Big Business. Not the children’s parents. Not locally elected school boards. Not state legislators immediately answerable to their constituents.

Under ObamaCore, the elites in Washington shall direct the destinies of our children.

This is unwarranted. It will ultimately fail, just as the fifty-year record of federal usurpation of state and local authority in education has failed.

It necessarily involves indoctrination of all our children in federally-mandated curricula. We know what this means.

We have faced this issue before. In 1943, in the midst of World War II, the State of West Virginia tried to force school children to salute the American flag. Some religious parents sued.

At FRC, we endorse and encourage the Pledge of Allegiance, but we would never coerce the flag salute. And we stand firm for religious freedom of conscience. As a result, we support strongly what the Supreme Court ruled in that famous case.

Mr. Justice Robert Jackson eloquently stated it:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

ObamaCore threatens to extinguish the light of that “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” Justice Jackson’s warning should compel us to recognize ObamaCore for what it is: a powerful attempt to prescribe what shall be orthodox in every academic subject.

Dr. Ben Carson provoked liberals when he said ObamaCare was all about control and not about good medicine or quality health care. Dr. Carson is right. When they rammed ObamaCare through a rubber-stamp Congress, liberals added — at the last moment — the federal takeover of college student loans. What did these college loans have to do with a federal takeover of health care?

If we thought it was all about health care, then we missed Dr. Carson’s brilliant insight: The operative word is takeover. No wonder President Obama said his goal was “to fundamentally transform this country.”

ObamaCore is an unconstitutional and unnecessary takeover of education. For the sake of liberty we must resist it. In opposing Common Core Education Standards, we can safely stand with Founding Father Thomas Jefferson:

I have sworn upon the altar of Almighty God

Eternal hostility to every form of

tyranny over the mind of man.

Millennials Have a Tough Economic Row to Hoe

by Chris Gacek

October 21, 2013

Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity, recently had an insightful article in Forbes, “Heavily in Debt Millennials Now Must Foot the Federal Deficit Bill, Too.” Feinberg focuses on the difficult economic times facing Millennials. His observations rest on some pretty basic facts. First, the typical college graduate is trying to pay down about $32,500 in student loan debt. Then, the unemployment rate for those ages 18-29 is a near-record 16%. Feinberg proceeds to note that the burdens of the massive, growing federal debt are going to fall most heavily on those who are just starting their careers. That will be painful for decades as the entitlement state implodes but will probably entail decreased benefits and higher taxes.

I would add that Obamacare is going to be an immense, crushing burden unless it is repealed. We already see companies not hiring to avoid having fifty employees and triggering Obamacare requirements. There is also the trend to hire only part-time workers. It is hard to pay off college loans when you don’t have a full-time job.

Needless to say these trends are devastating to the formation of families and having children. Even worse, may be the impact of Obamacare’s pricing structure. It will take some time to see how this all sorts out, but it appears that young families will have much higher premiums, very high deductibles, and co-pays on the order of 40% … for a “bronze” or lowest-quality plan. If this is true, middle-class families will be devastated as they have to cut back on necessary expenditures like child-care to pay for the insurance. Many industries like the vacation and leisure industries, for example, should take note. There won’t be any money for that stuff and other disposable goods.

This could get ugly quickly.

Adding Insult to Injury: The Latest Shoe to Drop in Today¿s College Scam

by Chris Gacek

September 12, 2013

It used to be that the quality of an American university or college degree spoke for itself.  An employer could evaluate one’s academic achievement by looking at a transcript and making a fair assessment.  Well, those days appear to be fading fast.  Decades of academic bureaucratic bloat, grade inflation, and dumbing down curricula have had such a profound effect that a standardized, online college exit exam is being introduced in the spring of 2014.  The 90-minute test, produced by the non-profit Council for Aid to Education, is called the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+), and its scores can be shared with employers.

This article and this letters column (“Dear Joyce”/ Joyce Lain Kennedy) from the Chicago Tribune provide good background information on the CLA+.  From these articles it becomes clear that “grade inflation” has destroyed the value of the college transcript.  Here is another interesting observation:

Additionally, some employers are rethinking the value of famous-name institutions.  Is a degree from Harvard or Stanford really worth multiple times that of a solid state university? That rethink is why the CLA+ could level the hiring field by valuing the individual over the institution.

Wow.  So, these bloated educational bureaucracies are producing wildly overpriced educations that may soon have to be validated by a $35 national test that assesses “analysis, problem solving, writing, quantitative reasoning and reading.”  Now that is adding insult to injury.

Student Reliance on Federal College Aid and Debt at Highest Levels Ever

by Chris Gacek

August 20, 2013

According to Libby Nelson in the Politico, the Department of Education has just released a quadrennial report (“2011–12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:12): Student Financial Aid Estimates for 2011–12”) analyzing the manner in which students are paying for college. Based on data from 2011-12 that uses a sample of more than 100,000 students (mostly undergrads), the report indicates that for the first time a majority – 57% — of undergraduates are receiving federal financial aid of some kind. Also, a higher proportion than ever are taking out loans. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that “[i]n total, the number of Pell Grant recipients has increased more than 50 percent since 2008….” Pell grant spending has increased from $12.8 billion in 2007 to $35.6 billion in 2011.

So, just as national awareness of the harms of college debt have become more and more clear, students are becoming more indebted. According to Nelson, “About 41 percent of all undergraduates took out loans, up from 35 percent four years ago.” This is tragic.

President Obama is set to take a bus tour later this week to discuss holding down college costs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone in Washington is discussing the promotion of alternate types of education (e.g., online) and alternate degree credentialing systems that could actually lower the cost of higher education. Lowering college costs will require unleashing market forces for a product that remains resistant to competitive forces. That has to change.

Is College Worth It?

by Family Research Council

August 15, 2013

Please take a look out our excellent lecture discussing the net value of a college education for all students in a world of economic uncertainty, heavy debt accumulation, and low-quality degrees.  Our speaker is Dave Wilezol who co-authored Is College Worth It? with Bill Bennett.  (Yes, that Bill Bennett.)  Mr. Wilezol discusses a range of topics but focuses on the need for prospective college students to be hard-nosed about a number of factors that will determine whether a college degree is the best path for a person to take.

Some More College Debt News: Domestic and International

by Chris Gacek

May 27, 2013

The Washington Post published an revealing story by Nick Anderson that discusses how colleges are pumping out master’s degrees:

The nation’s colleges and universities are churning out master’s degrees in sharply rising numbers, responding to a surge in demand for advanced credentials from young professionals who want to stand out in the workforce and earn more money.

From 2000 to 2012, the annual production of master’s degrees jumped 63 percent, federal data show, growing 18 percentage points more than the output of bachelor’s degrees. It is a sign of a quiet but profound transformation underway at many prominent universities, which are pouring more energy into job training than ever before.

Needless to say: this is the opposite direction in which a society saturated with education debt should be heading.  We need undergraduate degrees that are substantial enough that they provide the basis for a solid career.  But the schools are doing what makes sense economically.  Pump out graduate degrees, degrade the values of such degrees, and rake in more money.

* * * * *

It turns out that college debt is becoming or has become a major international problem.  One organization of college debt analysts, CollegeStats, has a webpage tracking college debt in these countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Japan, and Australia.  It looks like American grads have it the worst, but the U.K. and Canada are not far behind.  It is a growing problem in a number of countries.  CollegeStats has done excellent work in aggregating this international data.

Archives