When Green Goes Too Far on Campus

Many American universities are now “going green.” To some extent, this makes sense. Universities are huge enterprises that stand to save hundred of thousands of dollars by cutting down on waste, using energy more wisely, and making better use of the resources they already have instead of always insisting on new, better, and more of everything. When green is frugal, it should be welcomed on campus.

But in many cases campus greening, now called “sustainability,” goes far beyond smart moves to use resources more wisely. It has become a matter of religion.

Jesse Saffron catalogs one North Carolina school’s foray into sustainability in today’s article for the Pope Center. He writes:

“North Carolina State University (NCSU) provides an illustration of the problem. An especially pernicious brand of environmentalism—‘sustainability’—is on the verge of becoming an unstated, but very real, part of the school’s mission. University leaders are developing an aggressive public relations campaign and curriculum change that could create a system in which students are inculcated in social justice, environmental justice, and progressivism—all of which are tenets of sustainability.”

In short, the campus “Sustainability Council” seeks to replace debate with dogma, making sustainability a part of everything the school does.

Saffron warns, “Left unchecked, this seemingly harmless movement (which has a strong presence at other North Carolina universities, too) could sow the seeds of social upheaval by turning hearts and minds away from the principles of a free society.”

Read the whole article here.

Intolerance in the Academy

Last week, a new finding about ideological imbalance made headlines all over the country. According to Matt Woessner, an associate professor of political science and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg, liberal professors now outnumber their conservative counterparts by a ratio of roughly 5 to 1. Daniel Klein, a professor of economics at George Mason University, said the imbalance might be even worse than that—with faculty who vote Democratic outnumbering those who vote Republican by 9 to 1 or even 10 to 1.

Those inside the academy respond that the imbalance doesn’t matter since professors leave their ideology out of their work.

But Jonathan Anomaly, a lecturer and research professor with the Duke/UNC Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program, recently discovered that this is not the case. In today’s article for the Pope Center, Anomaly describes his experience with what he calls “The New Creationists,” those who “use Darwin as a bludgeon against the old creationists, but then reject scientific conclusions when they conflict with their political convictions.”

These academics rejected an article by Anomaly for his suggestion that biology may play a role in explaining some differences between men and women and between different ethnic and racial groups.

Moreover, they were very nasty about it—hurling insults at academics that Anomaly cited, including Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, and Jonathan Haidt. Read Anomaly’s full account of his interaction with these “New Creationists” here.

Ed Next Poll results released

Yesterday Education Next released results of the 2015 its annual national Poll on School Reform. Find the results here and Ed Next’s analysis, here.)

The Ed Next Poll is a treasure trove of interesting data on a variety of topics including: what do people think of their schools; which subjects do parents want emphasized; school spending; school choice, Common Core State Standards, school personnel policies and school discipline.

Some of the main findings include:

  • When the general public is asked to rate the schools in their community, 52 percent of the schools receive an A (11%)  or B (41%). When asked to rate the public schools in the nation as a whole, only 23 percent received an A (2%) or B (21%).
  • Parents want increased emphasis on character and creativity. Parents desired focus on those topics is almost double their desired focus on reading or math.  For an extended discussion on this topic see Jay Greene’s, Ed Next Poll Shows Character is Important.
  • Support for Common Core State Standards continues to slide. While the current drop (4 points) is less than the 12 point drop between 2013 and 2014. However it also means support for CCSS is not below 50 percent.  Teacher support for Common Core Standards has plummeted from 76 percent in 2013 to 40 percent in 2015.
  • Parents support testing; 67 percent of the general public favors required annual federal testing in reading and math; that compares with 66 percent of parents and 47 percent of teachers.
  • Support for charter schools – while still above 50 percent—is  slipping. Public support declined from 54 to 51 in the previous year.
  • Public support for government vouchers for low income students to attend private schools declined from 37 percent (2014) to 34 percent (2015).
  • Fifty-nine percent of the public opposes letting parents decide whether to have their children take annual tests in math and reading. This compares to 52 percent of parents and 57 percent of teachers.
  • The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of a law that levies an agency fee against teachers who refuse to join the unions.   Fifty-six percent of the public side with the teacher and favor ending the use of agency fees; 50 percent of teachers also want to end the practice.

Kentucky results: Common Core standards don’t enhance college readiness

A lot of eyes are on Kentucky these days.  Mostly because the state implemented Common Core standards before other states. Hence, what happens – or doesn’t happen — in Kentucky may be harbinger of things to come elsewhere as well.

So when Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute blogged earlier this week on Truth in American Education’s web site about Kentucky’s disappointing test scores you can bet the article drew interest.

Innes raises the $64,000 question: Does common core improve college readiness in Kentucky?

If it does, shouldn’t there be a noticeable uptick in college readiness scores?

That’s not what Innes found.

Using test results from Kentucky EXPLORE State Trends 2015  PLAN State Trends 2015 and PLAN assessments — tests designed to give a good indication if students in eighth or tenth grade will eventually be college ready — Innes writes:

The 2014-15 school year EXPLORE test results for Common Core subjects of English, math and reading are all uniformly lower than in several previous years.  For example: English has been in steady decline for the past two years, Reading performance is notably lower now than just last year and actually is also lower than results for all but one year since 2009-10 as well.

Math performance also dropped from 2013-14 and with only one exception, the 2014-15 math Benchmark performance is worse than the  performance in any of the previous five years.

These decays in performance in Common Core subjects raise concerns about the true functioning of Common Core in the Bluegrass State. The latest scores from the 2014-15 term are for the fourth year of full Common Core operation in Kentucky and the state’s education program should be stabilizing. We should not see such decay on a true college readiness test if Common Core is really working in Kentucky. However the graph above indicates that at the eighth grade level, at least, Common Core in Kentucky has a problem.

Things only look slightly better for Common Core in the PLAN results. While math has shown some improvement, both English and reading scores also decayed in the 2014-15 school term

Though Innes doesn’t analyze ACT scores, I took a quick peek at Kentucky’s scores. If Common Core standards are positively impacting students, wouldn’t we expect scores would start to rise?  Kentucky’s composite score increased half a point in the last four years. Subject scores improved modestly varying from increases of two-tenths to four tenths of a percentage point.  Also noteworthy is the percentage of students who met all four college readiness benchmarks. In the last four years the percentage increased from 16 to 19 percent. Percentages in English, mathematics and science all increased slightly but the percentage for Reading declined over the last four years.

These scores while they signify modest improvements, hardly reflect the uptick that Common Core advocates said the standards would deliver.

It’s difficult to get a reading on the same impacts in North Carolina, since North Carolina only required 100 percent of students to take the ACT exam in 2013, at the same time Common Core standards were going into the classroom.

If Kentucky is leading the way on Common Core, initial results don’t look good.

School sends home political fliers

Yes, I know Carolina Plott Hound broke this story last night, but it cannot receive too much attention.

Yesterday our friend Lady Liberty wrote about her anger  in finding a political flier in her child’s homework folder when he returned home from a Wake County school.  The flier was publicizing a “walk in” at the school on November 4th and encouraged attendees to wear “red 4 ed”  It is not legal to for a school to distribute political materials.  The flier is linked to a web site Organize 2020.   Interestingly, the last line of the organization’s rambling mission statement is : We need a union.

Do you think there might be a few connections to NCAE?

Art Pope greets his protesters

A small group of protesters showed up outside a luncheon in Raleigh sponsored by the Civitas Institute. A new poll on political races was to be unveiled. Businessman and former Republican legislator Art Pope was scheduled to speak at the luncheon. The protesters want Pope to resign from a new UNC advisory board to which he had recently been appointed. They claim Pope is using his money to hurt public education and buy elections. So, as he has done in the past, Pope went out to greet the small group and answer it’s accusations. See the video clip below..

Public Teachers Now Covered with Statewide Liability Insurance

Many public school employees joined such organizations as the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE)  mainly for the classroom liability insurance. They had dues automatically deducted from their paychecks to pay for it. But beginning in September of 2011 a new statewide insurance policy went into effect for those employees and it is free. That new policy is not widely known.

Representative Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) worked to get the new policy into the budget. He says grouping all of those employees into one pool reduced the cost. Folwell says public school employees also no longer have to join a group to get the insurance and it saves local districts…

At the same time lawmakers approved the statewide insurance they passed legislation to eliminate the state’s involvement in automatically deducting certain organization’s dues from paychecks. Gov. Perdue vetoed the legislation, but the legislature overrode her veto a couple of weeks ago. The NCAE filed a lawsuit to keep the deductions and that is currently working through the court system.

Folwell says the legislature didn’t receive much praise from the education system for giving teachers free insurance…

Heritage Weighs in on Wake County Schools

Anissa Borchardt lends a much-needed and reasoned voice to the brouhaha over diversity and neighborhood schools in Wake County. Borchardt, writing on the subject  in the Heritage Foundation blog, The Foundary, quickly gets to the heart of the matter: the right of parents – or lack thereof – to choose quality schools and correctly highlights the best way to address these concerns. She writes:

 Having a county bus children to a school—in some instances over an hour away—is not the answer to creating more diverse learning environments. The main focus should not be on the distribution of children but rather empowering parents to choose a quality education. The power should ultimately reside in the hands of the parents to choose the school in which their children can best excel.

School choice, not the central planning that comes from policies such as busing or assignment-by-zip-code, ultimately fosters innovation and leads to academic achievement increases for all children. And school choice has many forms, including innovative practices in online learning, which are beginning to catch fire across the country.

It’s exactly these types of innovative practices that can become available to students when robust school choice options are in place. And hopefully for the students in Wake County, the board’s move to end bureaucratic busing policies will usher in something far more effective than the status quo.

Nice to see a good article on an important subject.

The Washington Monument Strategy or Reality?

Have you heard of the Washington Monument Strategy?  Erskine Bowles may have used it when he said recently that the UNC System may be forced to consider closing a campus if the General Assembly goes forward with large budget cuts.  Or perhaps Bowles was simply being forthright with the public.

The Washington Monument Strategy is simple: when budget cuts are on the way, bureaucrats and interest groups decry the cuts and whip up anger by saying that some popular program will be eliminated.  The name is derived from the National Park Service threatening to close the Washington Monument, obviously a popular tourist destination, if their budget was cut.

Of course, given the possible size of the budget cut facing the UNC System, Bowles is right to say that closing down a campus should be considered.  The alternative is to cut funding for each university in the system – cuts that might compromise the quality of education at universities that rely heavily on state appropriations.

Bowles may also have floated a political “trial balloon” to gauge public reaction to a campus closure for future reference.  As a current UNC System student, I have been surprised that the mention of a closure has not been a more toxic issue on campus and in the public at large.

A more in depth discussion of the issue can be read here.