Ph.D. glut persists

Despite the lack of jobs requiring a Ph.D., there seems to be no end to those pursuing the long-haul degree (“America Is Pumping Out Too Many Ph.D.s,” Bloomberg.com, Jan 4). That’s particularly the case for doctorates in the humanities and social science.

The only positive note is that more than 140 doctoral humanities and social science program admissions have been suspended for this year.  I say that is a blessing in disguise for students because it spares them from eventually finding out that aside from personal satisfaction a doctorate is a poor investment.

Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on adjunct rather than tenure-track faculty.  As a result, even those lucky enough to find an adjunct position soon learn that they must find work outside of academia to support themselves.

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‘Release time’ will backfire against teachers’ unions

Although both state law and the New Jersey Constitution prohibit paying government workers not to perform the jobs they were hired for, and instead work full-time for labor unions, The Jersey City Board of Education entered into an agreement with its teachers’ union allowing just that (“The N.J. Teachers Who Get Paid Not to Teach,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4).  The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon rule on the issue.

Whatever the outcome, I don’t think teachers’ unions that do this realize how harmful the practice is in terms of taxpayer support.  As readers of this column know, I support teachers’ unions, having participated in three strikes during the 28 years I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  But release time is outrageous and will only alienate taxpayers on the fence about teachers’ unions.

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DeVos did one good thing

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will go down in history for doing terrible damage to public schools (“The Wreckage Betsy DeVos Leaves Behind,” The New York Times, Jan. 3).  Instead of working to improve them, she stood as a bystander for their deterioration. 

Yet there is one thing that DeVos deserves great credit for.  In November 2018, she advanced regulatory proposals to assure the right of due process for students accused of sexual misconduct. Colleges and universities must now allow both accuser and accused the same right to choose advisers who can cross-examine witnesses.  Prior to that rule, the scale was heavily weighted in favor of the accuser.

That’s no small thing in today’s Inquisition in higher education.  Too many lives of innocent students have been ruined when they were unable to hire outside counsel to defend themselves. 

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Anti-racism education goes too far

When KIPP charter schools announced that they were deleting their longtime slogan, “Work Hard, Be Nice,” the news set off a debate about the very purpose of education (“ ‘Anti-Racist’ Education Is Neither,” The American Mind, Dec. 18, 2020). Try as I may, I cannot understand why the slogan is considered prima facie evidence of racism.

What KIPP and other schools want is indoctrination – not education.  They see schools as places of ideological conditioning.  Anything that has proven in the past to be indispensable for upward mobility is seen as practicing whiteness.  I pity students who are subjected to such absurdity.  Yet it is spreading without any signs of abating.

The values and mores that form the foundation for our civilization are under attack.  Anyone who questions the dogma behind the anti-racist movement are labeled racists themselves.  As a result, rational debate is impossible.

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Off-campus student speech not business of schools

When a ninth-grade student in Pennsylvania expressed her frustration in crude language on social media after failing to make the varsity cheerleading squad, she was suspended from the junior varsity squad (“A Cheerleader’s Vulgar Message Prompts a First Amendment Showdown,” The New York Times, Dec. 28). The student sued the district, winning in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held that public schools can’t punish students for off-campus speech.

School administrators want the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case in order to get a definitive ruling on the issue.  I hope the high court rules against the school district.  What the student said was not disruptive and contained no threat.  So what were school officials thinking when they decided to punish her for one year? If her speech contained a threat of violence of any sort, that would be an entirely different matter.

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Education secretary selection

The nomination of Miguel Cardona as the next Secretary of Education is a welcome choice (“Biden Names a Former Teacher to His Cabinet to Oversee Schools ‘In a State of Crisis,’ “ Time, Dec. 22).  I say that because he is a former public-school elementary school teacher.

For too long, those in the post had no such experience.  Betsy DeVos, was the most obvious example.  Teachers need to be heard if reform is to be successful.  Only people who have actually taught will gain the respect of classroom teachers.  I wish Cardona the very best at this critical crossroads, but I think we have to be realistic about what any cabinet secretary can accomplish.

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Keep elite high schools elite

New York City, home of the nation’s largest school system, will eliminate the use of grades and other screens in determining who is admitted to its specialized high schools for at least one year (“Reopen Schools, and Reform Them,” The New York Times, Dec. 20).  The rationale is that the schools in question have too few Black and Hispanic students. Instead, a lottery system will be used.

The problem with using a lottery to determine who gets in is that too many students will soon find themselves over their heads in handling rigorous academic work.  When that happens, they will either drop out, or more likely the schools will dumb down instruction.  In the former, their self-esteem will be badly damaged.  In the latter, their more able classmates will be deprived of the education they deserve.

There will never be a way to satisfy everyone.  But the truth is that some students are smarter and work harder than others.  Their performance on the current entrance exam reflects that.  The exam is not perfect by a long shot, but a lottery is the wrong way to correct matters.

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School choice and mental health

A new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” found that states with charter school laws saw a 10 percent decrease in suicide rates among 15 to 19 year-old students (“School Choice: Better Than Prozac,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18).  There are far better reasons, however, to support parental choice.

I say that because the study confuses correlation with causation. Just because one thing follows another does not necessarily mean it was caused by the first.  The decrease in the suicide rate can be due to other factors beyond students being in a school that their parents chose for them.

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Catholic schools and the pandemic

Catholic schools in Boston opened for in-person instruction in the fall without the dire predictions that opponents made (“How Boston-Area Catholic Schools Opened for In-Person Learning Amid the Pandemic,” EducationNext, Dec. 17). Despite a population of 35,500 students, teachers and staff, only a tiny fraction of one percent has been infected.

The superintendent attributed the results to adhering strictly to CDC guidelines.  If so, why can’t public schools in Boston and elsewhere do the same thing?  Is it because teachers’ unions are using the pandemic as the justification for higher salaries?  As readers of this column know, I support teachers’ unions.  But there is a limit to what I believe are demands that will backfire.

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Worst teacher shortage since 2000

Public school employment is now at its lowest level since 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Teacher Shortage Compounds Covid Crisis in Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 16).  Although the pandemic is largely responsible, it is not enough to explain what is occurring.

Burnout and demoralization have been slowly building for years, as the demands made on teachers have shown no signs of abating.  As a result, the pipeline of college students studying to become teachers has been unable to keep pace with retirements and attrition.

I think the situation will only get worse.  The classroom has become too stressful for even the most dedicated teachers.  Nevertheless, there are those who persist in arguing that teachers are overpaid.  I submit that substantial raises will be insufficient to recruit and retain the best and the brightest to the classroom.

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