The A-List college obsession

The Operation Varsity Blues scandal showed what some parents were willing to do to get their children into marquee-name colleges (“Panic Mode,” Time, Apr. 12).  But their actions were so unnecessary.

The truth is that what students major in is far more important in landing a well-paying and satisfying job than where they spend four years hitting the books.  I submit that majoring in computer science at, say, the University of Mississippi is more productive in that sense than majoring in gender studies from Harvard University. My views on this were published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on Apr. 9th (“Regional Colleges Can Compete by Emphasizing Choosing the Right Major”).

So what the desperation comes down to is really about buying a brand.  That may satisfy some students and parents in the short run, but in the long run it won’t matter much.

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Erasing student debt is a bad idea

With student debt now $1.6 trillion – up from $250 billion in 2002 – forgiveness is being considered by politicians (“Erasing Student Debt Makes Economic Sense. So Why Is It So Hard to Do?” Time, Apr. 1).  They argue that it would be good for the economy in the long run.

I say it’s a bad idea because it sends a clear message about individual fiscal responsibility. What about those students who have successfully paid off their loans?  Don’t they deserve compensation?  One of the most important lessons young people need to learn is how to handle their finances.  If they know that the government will always be there to bail them out, it will encourage even more poor decisions.

The truth is that young people have been wildly oversold on the importance of a four-year degree.  Rather than spend thousands of dollars on degrees that are not worth the paper they are printed on, they need to rethink their career plans. Community colleges, which offer a wide variety of courses in virtually every field, are a far better option.

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The proper use of standardized tests

Once again, standardized tests are in the news (“Standardized tests aren’t the problem, it’s how we use them,” the Brookings Brief, Apr. 1).  This time the argument against them is that they are useless because the pandemic has disrupted the education of students across the country.

Although that’s certainly true, the better argument against them is how they are used.  If they are used to name and shame, then they do little to improve educational quality.  The proper purpose should be strictly as diagnostic tools.  That’s what Finland, whose students consistently shine on tests of international competition, does. 

Unfortunately, to most people all tests are equal. That’s a huge mistake because tests are designed with different purposes in mind.  Great care is necessary in drawing inferences about outcomes. We don’t assume all antibiotics are equal.  Why should tests be different?

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Teachers unions’ shutdowns will backfire

By resisting reopening of schools during the pandemic, teachers unions unwittingly accelerated parental choice (“School Choice Advances in the States,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 30).  Education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers are evidence that unions are losing public support.

Until they took an unyielding stand, parents tended to be in their corner.  But their patience has finally run out, as seen in West Virginia, Georgia, South Dakota and Arizona.  I support teachers unions, but I think they have shot themselves in the foot by failing to be more flexible.

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Using a lottery for admission to elite schools

In an attempt to racially diversify their student bodies, elite high schools are replacing merit with a lottery in deciding who is admitted (“Top High Schools Scrap Merit-Based Admission. Will the NBA Follow? The Daily Signal, Mar. 18).  This is the latest attempt to undermine whatever excellence remains in the nation’s public schools.

It’s largely in reaction to the overrepresentation of Asians in the best high schools.  Yet if we truly believe that hard work and intelligence are the keys to success in school, then a lottery makes a mockery of those words.  The truth is that if students are admitted by lottery, too many will soon find out that they are over their heads.  They will then drop out.

In professional basketball, most of the players are black.  We don’t demand a lottery to racially diversify teams.  We accept the fact that black players are the best.  Why can’t we do the same in education when Asians consistently outperform their peers?

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Campus sex-assault cases in wrong venue

Betsy DeVos did one good thing while Secretary of Education by protecting the rights of an accused person (“Betsy DeVos’s campus sex-assault rules need a tweak, not an overhaul,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 22). Prior to her tenure, accused students were presumed guilty.

Although colleges must now provide the accused with timely, written notice of accusations against them and allow cross examination, the process still needs further change.  Specifically, all such cases should be handled by off-campus police.  They are professionals who have vast experience doing so.  Campus police are employees of colleges, which means they are susceptible to pressure from college administrators and students.

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Community colleges don’t mislead students

I feel sorry for the 130,000 students or so who were misled by for-profit colleges about landing a job (“A DeVos System Allowed 12 Minutes to Decide Student Loan Forgiveness,” The New York Times, Mar. 20).  But what I don’t understand is why these adult students never enrolled in community colleges instead.

They could have received excellent training in virtually any field they wanted at an affordable price.  Instead, they chose to spend upwards of $100,000 for a degree that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Were they so naïve to believe the claims made by these schools?

Nevertheless, the Education Department should grant partial relief to those defrauded.

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Religious schools can’t have it both ways

When the Supreme Court struck down a Montana provision banning state aid to parochial schools in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, it seemed to settle the issue.  But Maine continues to exclude religious schools from the state’s tuition-assistance program, which is the basis for Carson v. Makin (“The Supreme Court Has Unfinished School-Choice Business,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 18).

If the high court rules once again that religious schools cannot be denied state funds, will they have to play by the same set of rules as traditional public schools?  Or will they continue to be able to admit, discipline and expel students who for one reason or another are deemed too difficult to educate? 

I say they can’t have it both ways.  Once religious schools accept public funding, they should be required to operate like public schools.  But don’t count on it.

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Open-border policy will overwhelm schools

I have great empathy for the thousands of unaccompanied children flooding the nation, but I have greater concern for the effect on public schools (“US schools -and students – will pay a price for Biden’s open borders for minors,” New York Post, Mar. 17). 

The nation’s largest school districts were already failing to provide a basic education for too many students.  The influx of newly-arrived minors will make the job of teachers even more difficult.  We have a responsibility to put the needs of our own first.

If the flood of newcomers continues, parents will enroll their own children in private and religious schools so that their education does not suffer.

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Law-school professors punished for student-standing remarks

It seems that anytime a law-school professor says that Black students in their classes underperform their classmates they are either fired or penalized (“Georgetown Law professor trashes Black students on Zoom call, gets fired,” New York Daily News, Mar. 11).

The latest example took place at Georgetown, but the same thing happened at the University of Pennsylvania in Mar. 2018. Their crime was stating what they had seen in their law-school classes. 

I don’t think the punishment they received fit the crime. I don’t believe the professors at Georgetown and Penn are racists.  When analysts state that Black students underperform their counterparts on the SAT, they are not attacked.  Why are law-professors treated differently?

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