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The Dunce Party

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 10:59pm in

Tennessee lawmakers attempt to rid schools of “divisive concepts.”

What Happened When France Sent Low-Income Kids to Wealthy Schools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

In 2004, Maxence Arcy moved with his family to Bellefontaine, a poor suburb of the French city of Toulouse. Limited by what he could afford, the father of six bought a place on a sprawling housing estate in the neighborhood which had catchment schools with the worst educational record in the region.

“At the time, there were only Mahgrebians and Africans living on the estate and going to these schools,” says Arcy, who originally migrated from Morocco in search of work in 1984. “It was a kind of segregation in the 21st century.”

But in January 2017, local authorities closed those schools in France’s fourth biggest city and instead bussed the 1,140 affected pupils to high-achieving facilities in the prosperous downtown in an attempt to write a new chapter of education equality.

The theory, according to Georges Méric, president of the Haute-Garonne region that includes Toulouse, was that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” Put another way, by inserting the students from Bellefontaine and two other suburbs, La Reynerie and Mirail, into schools of proven success, social determinism would be countered and all children would benefit.

“There are districts in Toulouse with 90 or 95 percent immigrant populations,” says Méric, who helped develop the scheme. “They are very poor and opportunities are hard to come by. But the young children living there have the right to success in life.”

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Under Méric’s €56 million project, buses take the pupils — aged 11 to 15 — to nearly a dozen different schools in the city center in journeys that take less than an hour. The school principals and teachers are supported by six “social mix masters” who help facilitate logistics such as transport and tackle any problems that arise, such as dealing with parent concerns.

Five years on, the test results have been noteworthy. Before the bus scheme began, the drop-out rate for students living on the three estates after taking the Brevet — France’s national diploma for 15-year-olds — was almost 50 percent. That rate has now fallen to less than six percent and grades have risen by nearly 15 percent on average. Some 94 percent of pupils have stayed in the same school, calming fears that the scheme would lead wealthier families to move their children into the private sector.

“The welcoming colleges had a very good academic level already, that was important,” says Méric. “It’s worked very well. There has not been segregation in them and it’s promoting the wider acceptance of diversity across the city.” (Middle school is the U.S. equivalent of what is called college in France.)

Georges Méric, president of the Haute-Garonne regionGeorges Méric, president of the Haute-Garonne region, speaking about the school diversity project at a press conference. Credit: Aurélien Ferreira.

Eduardo Mosqueda, a professor who specializes in access to education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, acknowledges the successes of the Toulouse project. But, he says, consideration must be given to the amount of funding it requires. 

“I can’t help to wonder what the differences are in resources [that were] available to students in Bellefontaine compared to students in the schools where they are being bussed in terms of quality curriculum and adequately prepared teachers,” he says. “If the project to bus students costs €56 million, how much would student achievement improve if that money was invested into improving the schools that were closed?”

Even so, despite their poor academic performance, the Bellefontaine schools already had a high student to teacher ratio of around four to one, which came at a significant cost.

Mosqueda also believes bussing might lead to added pressures on pupils. “Students that are bussed are also in new school environments where it may be difficult to integrate given the racial, income, cultural and linguistic differences,” he says.

Yet Maxence Arcy’s 13-year-old son, Adam, who switched from a Bellefontaine school to one in Saint Aubin, has had few issues to date. “There’s a bus that comes to pick him up 200 meters from our house,” says Arcy. “He’s mixing with other students. He’s happy, he has improved his grades. He wants to be an engineer.”

For Arcy, the initiative is a textbook example of how to improve social diversity and the opportunities of future generations. “We were always for the project,” he says. “We wanted our child to see other nationalities and cultures. We were just concerned about the distance to the new school, but the bus works well.”

Adam ArcyAdam Arcy, a student from Bellefontaine who now goes to school near Toulouse’s city center. Credit: Maxence Arcy.

One crucial learning from the scheme has been the need for extensive dialogue between all parties involved. As many as 80 meetings, including 50 public meetings, were held before the bussing project was launched, helping address the concerns of those who voiced opposition to the project. 

The latter included parents worried about the distances the children would have to travel and a handful of teachers who were resistant enough to the idea of changes in the student makeup that they went on strike to try and prevent it.

“It wasn’t comfortable at the beginning,” says Méric. “There was resistance both through administration and the local level. But we listened to their concerns.”

These lessons could be invaluable, according to Malika Baadoud, director of L’École et Nous, a Bellefontaine-based parents association, given that schooling segregation is present across France and other countries. Often resulting from societal divides, she says, it has led to high dropout rates, school violence, racism and teacher burnout. “In certain areas of France, social and racial diversity simply doesn’t exist,” says Baadoud, who has held her role since 2003 and was last year awarded the prestigious National Order of Merit for her work. 

One of the initial concerns for parents whose children were set to be bussed further afield, according to Baadoud, was the fact that many families don’t own cars. But that was resolved by providing parents with free bus passes to travel from the estates to the schools to meet their children. “Slowly it was proved that all of these fears were unfounded,” says Baadoud. “They know it’s an opportunity for their children. It’s something that is unprecedented.”

The project is here to stay. Already this year two new schools have been built away from the estates’ traditional catchment areas in other, more privileged parts of Toulouse to ensure permanent social mixing in the classrooms and promote a more diverse staff. 

Encouraged by the results, several other cities and towns across France are now studying ways to launch their own bussing initiatives, according to Méric, with the Ministry of National Education helping to coordinate.

“Others have contacted us — regional departments and ministerial officials have come to see us,” he says. “I hope the scheme multiplies.”

The post What Happened When France Sent Low-Income Kids to Wealthy Schools appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Critic swallows book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 5:58pm in

The Sydney Book Review is my kind of book review. It’s online and free. Ever since I joined the blogging revolution in 2005 it’s seemed crazy to me that so many of our literary publications are locked up and sold (usually at a loss) in tiny subscriptions.*

So three cheers for the form of the Sydney Book Review. Alas I’ve only got about one cheer for its content. There’s a strong academic and left ideological overlay in both the selection of subjects and of reviews themselves. Neither need be problems. But I mean both in the bad sense. There’s rarely any joy in the reviews. They’re usually not well written and many are laden with the presumptions, preoccupations and jargon of the academy. Anyway, I usually peruse what’s on the menu and reading this review of Trent Dalton’s work gives me as good a way as any to illustrate my concerns.

The reviewer, who’s also the editor of the publication, announces that Dalton’s books need to be subjected to greater critical scrutiny. After all, they sell in the hundreds of thousands. So she gives it critical scrutiny. Good idea. My own ‘critical scrutiny’ for what it’s worth (not much) is that I listened to Dalton’s first blockbuster novel Boy Swallows Universe on Audible (in a very animated and wide-eyed narration) and loved it. Its exuberance shines through. I thought it was a ‘young adults’ book which is not to disparage it. And I didn’t feel patronised or that any dumbing down was going on. The author had previously won awards for features in the Courier Mail and was trying his hand at his first novel. And a rollicking good bit of magic(ish) realism it was too.

It’s about a kid who’s grown up in an abusive environment surrounded by ‘bad characters’ who gets himself into a big adventure and brings down a Mr Big of a crime syndicate. It’s a story of good triumphing over evil. The hero, Eli, and the author have a lot in common. Dalton came from the wrong side of the tracks.

However the reviewer wishes she was reviewing a different kind of book. Her main gripe is that she disagrees with what she takes to be its politics. Indeed she suggests, it’s a novel for Scott Morrison’s Australia (Ouch! I wouldn’t want to be the blogger for Scott Morrison’s Australia.). “Boy Swallows Universe was published just a few months before Morrison was sworn in as Prime Minister in 2018″ she offers as a confirmatory aside:

When Dalton waxes lyrical about ordinary readers, he sounds like he’s trying to distinguish them from a fantasy cohort of uptight critics. When he gets going about fan mail from tradies, he sounds like Scott Morrison.

Just think about that. Dalton says he writes for people like himself, and appreciates letters from tradies, and he’s likened to our Prime Minister and Gaslighter in Chief. Another passage:

Dalton’s people make their own luck; all the better if they’re autodidacts. Teachers are treated with scorn, none more so than goody two-shoes Mrs Birkbeck, the school counsellor in Boy Swallows Universe, who tries to intervene in the chaotic lives of Eli and August. The ideology of the novel harmonises with the songbook of News Limited: the state is an ineffective guardian of the poor and has no role to play in supporting social mobility or addressing structural disadvantage.

So Dalton is telling a story — as we’ll see it’s based on his own experience — but the reviewer wants it to be a representative story. In some sense, it has to be representative to succeed. It is representative of extraordinariness (isn’t that one of the main roles of fiction?). It’s just not demographically representative as judged by current social science. Further, the reviewer wants to take Dalton’s story as some kind of statement about who he votes for. It’s a few years since I listened to the book, so I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Dalton suggesting that “the state is an ineffective guardian of the poor and has no role to play in supporting social mobility or addressing structural disadvantage”.

My recollection is just that the novel does not chance its arm on that old chestnut of upper middle-class dinner parties “What is the proper role of government?”. If I’d had to guess I’d say that Dalton would vote Labor, but I might easily be wrong. But if I am then more reason for me to wonder if there’s anything in Dalton’s experience that might help me revise my own priors. I’ll certainly hazard a guess that he had more than one government-funded “ineffective guardian” in his time as one of the poor. Since she’s so interested in this aspect of the novel, perhaps the reviewer could take more interest in “ineffective guardians” of the poor and how governments serve them up again and again. You can still do that without denying governments a major role in ameliorating inequality and other aspects of our society when the subject comes up at a dinner party.

Here’s the most telling passage of the review:

It’s well known that Boy Swallows Universe draws on Dalton’s childhood experiences, that Dalton, like Eli Bell, found safe passage through a violent and traumatic childhood and became a journalist at News Limited. Dalton’s story is exceptional and Eli’s coming of age reads like a fairytale, not because of the supernatural embellishments, but because of its sheer unlikelihood. For certain readers, it is no doubt reassuring to learn of individuals who have overcome the obstacles of trauma, poverty and social marginalisation to attain the markers of middle-class success. This fairytale, in which a kid hauls himself up by his bootstraps through strength of will and character, relies on and reinforces pernicious and demonstrably untrue ideas about poverty and social marginalisation – namely, that it requires nothing more than effort to get out of it. There’s a mountain of empirical research that shows this proposition to be false.

Dalton’s people make their own luck; all the better if they’re autodidacts. Teachers are treated with scorn, none more so than goody two-shoes Mrs Birkbeck, the school counsellor in Boy Swallows Universe, who tries to intervene in the chaotic lives of Eli and August. The ideology of the novel harmonises with the songbook of News Limited: the state is an ineffective guardian of the poor and has no role to play in supporting social mobility or addressing structural disadvantage.

Well, my gob was truly smacked. First, the reviewer seems to think that the novelist’s task is to represent the findings of social science on structural inequality. I mean you could write a novel about Michelangelo producing the Pieta, the David and the Sistine Ceiling, but how many people are going to produce the greatest artworks in Christendom? The idea that a little boy could grow up and do that — I mean what are the odds? Would social science say that was representative of the reality of your average life in Renaissance Florence (I hear they had a lot of structural inequality back then)?

Second, my flabber was utterly ghasted at the way in which the reviewer quotes the author’s own life as no match for ’empirical research’.  How dare the author use his own survival and ultimate triumph over difficult circumstances as the basis of a fictionalised story of someone triumphing over difficult circumstances! A mountain of empirical research shows that the ‘proposition is false’.

‘Nuf said.

What’s the alternative I hear you cry. Well, most get grants from governments and/or are subsidised by universities and philanthropy, and most of the rest is a labour of love by various academics and writers around the traps. Many aren’t well paid, so it would be good to get them some money, but they usually get peanuts through these publications. And usually the physical publication barely pays for itself is a cost itself, especially when properly accounted for in all the management time spent on it. I suspect what drives the old fashioned model is a nostalgic guild mentality of those involved. It’s sad to watch those who fancy themselves as an intellectual vanguard being so slow to embrace the possibilities of new technology. But the Sydney Book Review’s editor is keen on the responsiveness and low cost of publishing online. So good on her.

Conservative and Vote Leave Links to Remote Learning Organisation Set to Become a Government Body

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 8:47pm in

Sascha Lavin investigates the political ties of an online education provider that has won millions in state contracts

An organisation responsible for remote learning during the pandemic has ties to the Conservative Party and the Vote Leave campaign, Byline Times can reveal. 

Virtual school Oak National Academy (ONA) received £7 million from the Department for Education (DfE) for providing remote education to teachers and pupils, according to data obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. 

The organisation is set to move into public hands, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announcing in March that ONA – one of his department’s “great achievements” – would become an independent government body. 

However, new analysis by Byline Intelligence Team raises questions about the independence of Oak Hill’s leadership team and board.

ONA co-founder, David Thomas, has links to Conservative peer and donor Lord Theodore Agnew. Before starting ONA, Thomas was a strategy director at Inspiration Trust (IT) and a principal at Jane Austen College, one of the multi-academy trust’s schools. 

IT was founded by Lord Agnew in 2012 where he is still a trustee, despite a brief stint away from the organisation – resigning almost a year after he was appointed as an Education Minister. 

Agnew, who also served as a non-executive director at the DfE during David Cameron’s time in Downing Street, has donated £162,250 to the Conservatives since 2007. Agnew is also a shareholder at Faculty – the artificial intelligence firm that was hired to work for Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign.

ONA’s founders, Thomas and current principal Matt Hood, have further connections to the Government: both are Department for Education advisors. This comes as the British Educational Suppliers Association is poised to take legal action over allegedly “unlawful” Government subsidies provided to the online school and a lack of transparency over nationalisation plans.

Meanwhile, ONA project board member John Blake also sits on the advisory council at Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE), an influential education campaign group pushing for stricter discipline in schools. ONA’s project board is not responsible for the school’s governance, according to an ONA spokesperson. 

PTE was founded by Rachel Wolf, a long-term associate of Dominic Cummings and former Education Secretary Michael Gove who went on to co-author the Conservative Party’s 2019 General Election Manifesto.  

After landing her first job with Boris Johnson when he was Shadow Higher Education Minister, Wolf became advisor to then Shadow Education Secretary Gove, working alongside Cummings. 

Wolf’s husband, lobbyist James Frayne, worked with Cummings on the anti-Euro campaign 20 years ago and the pair founded the New Frontiers Foundation think-tank together.

Wolf and Frayne came under fire last year after a High Court judge found that a £550,000 government contract handed to the couple’s polling company Public First at the height of the pandemic was unlawful. The ruling was overturned in January, but the Good Law Project, which brought the case, plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

PTE’s sole director, Jon Moynihan, as listed on Companies House, also gave more than £120,000 to Vote Leave, where Cummings was a director. Venture capitalist Moynihan also held key positions in the campaign, including acting as its Finance Committee chairperson and its Campaign Committee chairperson.   

ONA also has ties to Vote Leave and the Conservative Party through the organisation’s connections to Ark Venture’s. The chair of ONA’s advisory council, John Blake, led Ark’s public affairs team until 2021, and ONA’s education director Tom Rose was a partner at Ark for four years before joining the online school. Additionally, Ark shares two board members with the Ambition Institute, where ONA’s principal Matt Hood was CEO. 

Ark is chaired by Sir Paul Marshall, a prominent Brexiter who donated £100,000 to the Vote Leave campaign. Marshall has also handed half a million pounds to the Conservative Party since Johnson took over as party leader in July 2019, and is a major investor in the right-wing broadcaster GB News.

Another member of Ark’s board is former Conservative Treasurer Lord Stanley Fink, who has given £3.9 million to the Conservative Party since 2003. 

There is no tangible evidence to suggest that Oak Academy has benefited directly or unduly from any of its connections to the Conservative Party or the Government, or has in any way acted improperly. 

A spokesperson for ONA said: “Oak was started as a grassroots organisation, created by teachers, for teachers, in response to the pandemic. It has received cross-party support and the backing of every major teaching union and education professional body. It has no connection to Vote Leave whatsoever.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Oak was established with unprecedented pace and innovation in the first weeks of the pandemic by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, backed by Government grant funding to deliver on an urgent need to support schools and families with remote learning. It will become an arm’s length body to the Department for Education – focused on supporting teachers to deliver excellent lessons and building on its success to date.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Election 2022: no education minister and an opposition without a school funding policy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 4:57am in

Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek taunt Scott Morrison, calling on him to identify who is actually education minister – the disgraced Alan Tudge or the disgraceful Stuart Robert – but Labor has questions of its own to answer. School funding in Australia is a rolling disaster but neither major party wants to talk about the Continue reading »

The Texas University That Charges Low-Income Students Precisely Zero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

This story was originally published by Washington Monthly. It is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

In a world of skyrocketing college tuition and spiraling student debt, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is resolutely affordable.

Located in Edinburg, Texas, an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border, UTRGV is a new school formed in 2013 from a merger of new campuses and legacy institutions. It enrolls a student body that is more than 90 percent Hispanic and heavily first-generation. The school’s mascot is the workingman Vaquero, Spanish for “cowboy” or “cattle driver,” who dons full ranching attire, including gloves, scarf and boots. Designed by students, the mascot’s costume is full of subtle messaging, like blue-stitching on the vaquero’s boots to symbolize the Rio Grande river joining Mexico and the U.S.

More than 60 percent of students at UTRGV have incomes low enough to qualify for Pell grants. Yet, says President Guy Bailey, “Over half of our students who are undergraduates don’t pay any tuition or fees. Most of our students who qualify for Pell grants pay nothing.”

In addition to Pell, the state-funded TEXAS grant provides up to $5,195 per semester to in-state students attending Texas public universities. UTRGV closes the gap with its own Tuition Advantage program, which covers remaining tuition and fees for families with incomes up to $100,000 (a cap set to rise this year and one met by few families in this poor region). The school guarantees tuition levels for four years, so there’s no “surprise billing.” In 2019-20, the average net cost to attend was $917 — less than 12 percent of the $7,907 price tag for flagship UT-Austin.

“With first-generation low-income students, you have to start with finance,” says Bailey, who was himself a first-generation student. “A lot of kids don’t graduate because they just run out of money.”


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The press tends to focus on the failures of higher education, including especially the low graduation rates, poor outcomes and massive debts at schools with large numbers of low-income enrollees. Yet hundreds of post-secondary schools — like UTRGV — are doing right by their students, providing a quality education at a reasonable price. Institutions like these, the majority of which are regional public colleges and minority-serving institutions, are also addressing income inequality by creating economic opportunity, as a new report from the think tank Third Way concludes.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, UTRGV ranks among the nation’s top five schools for promoting economic mobility. The four others are all in California and Texas, with sizable Hispanic enrollments:  California State University-Los AngelesCalifornia State University-Dominguez HillsTexas A&M and California State University-Bakersfield. (All of these schools also rank highly in Washington Monthly’s College Guide, which eschews prestige-based metrics in favor of economic mobility and national service.)

Third Way’s report, authored by Senior Fellow Michael Itzkowitz, ranked the nation’s four-year colleges based on the proportion of students receiving Pell grants, the cost of attendance and students’ expected earnings after graduation. What emerged was a list of institutions that both enrolled high numbers of low- and moderate-income students and provided them a good return on their investment. What might be surprising, says Itkowitz, is how poorly some of the nation’s best-known colleges perform on this measure. Harvard, for instance, ranks 847, while Stanford ranks 548. Many state flagships also rank poorly; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, is 701st for economic mobility, while the University of Michigan is at 535. (UT-Austin ranks 347.)

“While the fortunate few who get into these institutions are very, very likely to receive a strong economic return, there’s just such a limited number of low- and moderate-income students who attend these institutions in the first place,” says Itzkowitz. At Harvard, for instance, just 11.6 percent of undergraduate students are Pell recipients, as are only 16.7 percent of students at Stanford.

The Cal State schools atop Third Way’s rankings, on the other hand, serve majorities and super-majorities of Pell students. In fact, says Itzkowitz, the top ten schools in his analysis enrolled more than 95,000 Pell students in 2019-20 — more than six times the total enrolled by the nation’s most rejective (i.e., “selective”) institutions. “While it’s common to see your private elite Ivy-League schools mentioned in news stories, it’s other schools that are actually delivering on the promise [of economic mobility] for exponentially more students,” says Itzkowitz.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions also dominate Third Way’s rankings, which Itzkowitz attributes to these schools enrolling large numbers of low-income students and, in some states, benefiting from generous state funding.

North Carolina’s Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) — the top-ranked HBCU in Itzkowitz’s analysis — is one of three schools designated under the state’s tuition subsidy program, NC Promise. In-state students attending NC Promise colleges pay just $500 in tuition per semester, while out-of-state students pay $2,500. In contrast, in-state tuition at the flagship UNC-Chapel Hill runs $7,019 and $34,882 for out-of-state tuition.

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Affordability is, however, only part of the equation. The top-ranked schools in the Third Way report also excel in helping their graduates land well-paying jobs, which university leaders attribute to their schools’ strong ties to their communities and a deep understanding of their students’ needs. UTRGV President Guy Bailey, for instance, says his students receive extensive academic advising services (often from former first-generation students) and access to work opportunities on campus. (“If you can work on campus rather than going to McDonald’s or Walmart or something like that, we can work with you better to ensure that you can get your classes and work done,” Bailey says.) As one result, more than 80 percent of first-year students return for their second year, putting UTRGV near the top in the University of Texas system for student retention.

ECSU, meanwhile, works with local, regional and national employers, so students have a pipeline into jobs the minute they graduate. For example, the school’s aviation science program, which is unique in the state, entered a partnership with United Airlines in 2020 that has already placed multiple graduates. “They’re not just looking for my flight students,” Chancellor Karrie Dixon told New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey at an event last October. “They’re looking for students in accounting and finance and business. … They’re looking at the entire operation at United Airlines and having our students have opportunities for employment.”

The presence of schools like UTRGV and ECSU is great news for higher education and lower-income students. “There are a lot of institutions that aren’t featured in mainstream media that are serving students extremely well,” says Third Way’s Itzkowitz.

On the other hand, the continued dominance of a handful of exclusionary schools in popular college rankings and in Washington policymaking is worrisome. Affordable, high-quality schools might not continue to get the resources they need to sustain their work. Students enamored of brand-name schools might overlook the excellent but unsung institutions in their own backyards, and other institutions might miss valuable lessons about how to improve their practices. Ideologically driven battles over the admissions criteria and campus culture of elite schools obscure the bigger issues the majority of America’s students need to get ahead. Far too many schools that serve low-income and first-generation students aren’t like UTRGV or ECSU. At nearly a third of the nation’s colleges, more than half of students end up earning less than a high school graduate, according to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce.

But the tide could be turning. In addition to alternative rankings like the ones produced by Washington Monthly and Third Way, newly announced Carnegie Classifications for higher education institutions will also reflect schools’ performance on social and economic mobility. Measuring what matters could ultimately improve everyone’s game and bring about badly needed reform.

“American higher education needs to restructure itself, understanding that its past is not going to be its future,” says UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “We have to rethink what we do, and I think you start with students and what they need.”

The post The Texas University That Charges Low-Income Students Precisely Zero appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

If I were the Minister responsible for Higher Education in the next government these would be my priorities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 4:58am in



What should be the top priorities of any incoming Federal Government concerning tertiary education in Australia after decades of cost-cutting, restructuring and corporatisation? We have discussed these issues with hundreds of colleagues over the last few years and have several decades of collective experience researching and writing about the Australian higher education system (AHES). We Continue reading »

The Means-Test Con

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/05/2022 - 8:31pm in



The Means-Test Con

During the 2020 Democratic primary, Pete Buttigieg’s personal ambition led him to poison the conversation about education in America. Desperate for a contrast point with his rivals, the son of a private university professor aired ads blasting the idea of tuition-free college because he said it would make higher education “free even for the kids of millionaires.”

The attack line, borrowed from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was cynicism masquerading as populism. It was an attempt to limit the financial and political benefits of a proposal to make college free. Worse, it was disguised as a brave stand against the oligarchs bankrolling Buttigieg’s campaign, even though it actually wasn’t — almost no rich scions would benefit from free college.

This rancid form of bullshit was a staple of Buttigieg’s campaign — like “Medicare For All Who Want It” — but he and copycats like Amy Klobuchar were just pushing the larger lie that is now the foundation of economic policy debates. Call it the means-testing con — the idea that social programs should not be universal, and should instead only be available to those who fall below a certain income level. It is a concept eroding national unity and being carried forward by wealthy pundits and a Democratic Party that has discarded the lessons of its own universalist triumphs like Social Security, Medicare, and the GI Bill.

This break from universalism popped up this week when the Biden administration tore a page from Buttigieg 2020’s assault on the higher education discourse: The White House leaked that it is considering finally following through on Biden’s promise to cancel some student debt, but not the $50,000 pushed by congressional Democrats, and only for those below an income threshold. That’s right — as Biden’s poll numbers plummet among young people, his administration is considering limiting and means-testing debt relief for federal loans that were already effectively means-tested through need-based eligibility requirements.

In trial-ballooning the college debt relief proposal, Biden is boosting the media-manufactured fiction that real, universal college debt relief would mostly help rich Ivy League kids — even though data from the Roosevelt Institute conclusively proves that canceling student debt “would provide more benefits to those with fewer economic resources and could play a critical role in addressing the racial wealth gap and building the Black middle class.”

Crucially, the report points out: “People from wealthy backgrounds (and their parents) rarely use student loans to pay for college.” This makes sense when you think about it for several seconds: If student debt relief was actually a boon to the rich, politicians would have treated it like every other oligarch handout and just immediately passed it with no controversy or debate at all.

But setting aside how the media-driven discourse omits those inconvenient facts, what’s noteworthy here is the underlying principle.

This latest discussion of means-testing follows Biden and congressional Democrats pushing to substantially limit eligibility for COVID-19 survival checks and the expanded child tax credit. Taken together, it suggests that Democrats’ zeal for means-testing is no anomaly — it is a deeply held ideology that is both dangerous for the party’s electoral prospects and for the country’s fraying social contract.

Means-Testing Is A Weapon Against The Poor

The superficial appeal of means-testing is obvious: It promises to prevent giving even more public money to rich people who don’t need it.

But have you ever noticed that means-testing proponents don’t want means-testing for giant income tax cuts, tax deductions, corporate subsidies, bank bailouts, or any other government handouts to the rich?

Have you ever noticed that demands for means-testing only emerge during debates over social programs for the non-rich?

Yeah, that’s the tell — the one that lets you know means-testing isn’t anti-oligarchy, it is pro-immiseration and otherization.

Means-testing is a way to take simple universal programs and make them complicated and inaccessible. In practice, calculating exact income levels and then proving them for eligibility means reams of red tape for both the potential beneficiary and a government bureaucracy that must be created to process that paperwork.

Data from the food stamp and Medicaid programs illustrate how means-testing creates brutal time and administrative barriers to benefits, which reduce payouts to eligible populations, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) rightly suggested. And as The American Prospect’s David Dayen points out, in the case of means-testing student debt relief, those barriers may end up wholly excluding large swaths of working-class debtors. They may even exclude medical school debtors in the middle of a public health crisis, and lawyers who don’t all end up with high-paying corporate jobs.

This is a feature, not a bug — it is means-testers’ unstated objective. Their support for high-income tax cuts, corporate subsidies, and other oligarch giveaways should definitively prove they aren’t little-guy populists who want to limit help to the rich. They are let-them-eat-cake austerians who see means-testing as a technocratic way to weaponize red tape in service of limiting help to the poor.

Screaming that quiet part out loud during the debate over the child tax credit, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — who previously backed a Wall Street bailout for his donors — positioned himself as the Beltway’s means-tester-in-chief, while declaring that “I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society, moving towards an entitlement mentality.” Then the West Virginia coal magnate took time away from his yacht and Maseratied himself over to the Capitol to reportedly tell his Senate colleagues that the child tax credit had to be limited in order to prevent destitute parents from wasting it on drugs.

For its part, the Biden White House recently lamented that “long forms, long lines, and lots of documents — these are the hurdles that can make it difficult and frustrating for individuals and communities to access government programs and services.” Yet, the kind of means-testing Biden is floating for college debt relief would make that Kafkaesque status quo even worse.

In effect, means-testers are trying to intensify the crushing and regressive taxes America imposes on people’s limited time — the administrative burden that rich folk can pay accountants and attorneys and personal assistants to evade, but that everyone else has to try to muddle through on their own.

“Targeted Social Programs Make Easy Targets”

That “on your own” religion is the biggest problem right now on virtually every policy issue — from economics to climate, from public health to education, much of America has brushed off the “ask not what your country can do for you” ethos, and embraced the belief that we’re all bowling alone and shouldn’t care about anyone other than ourselves. The new national religion is Margaret Thatcher’s refrain that “there is no such thing” as society — and means-testing is a key tenet of that catechism.

Universal programs like Social Security and Medicare may be derided as “entitlements,” but the reason they have (so far) survived for so long is because their universality makes them wildly successful in their missions and more difficult to demonize. It also precludes austerians from otherizing and disparaging the programs’ recipients. Indeed, “keep your government hands off my Medicare” was a ridiculous Republican form of Obamacare criticism, but it also underscored the transpartisan unity in support of universal social programs that provide the same benefits to everyone regardless of income.

Means-testing destroys that potential unity. It may initially poll well, but it turns “entitlements” into complicated “welfare” programs only for certain groups, which then makes those programs less popular and makes the beneficiaries easy scapegoats for political opportunists (which then stigmatizes recipients and deters them from getting the assistance).

Think Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” trope vilifying recipients of means-tested food stamps. Then think about all the iterations of that us-against-them attack that have justified ever-more-cruel cuts to the social safety net over the last half century, leading us to a Joker America where fewer and fewer people — and especially fewer young people — believe the government is interested in helping anyone other than wealthy political donors.

“When eligibility for benefits is conditional, all kinds of bad things happen, ranging from the intentional exclusion of whole (usually maligned and disempowered) demographics to huge numbers of otherwise-eligible people tripping over red tape and falling through the cracks,” wrote Jacobin’s Megan Day. “Another major problem with means-testing is political: so long as there’s an income threshold, austerity-minded politicians will always try to lower it, leaving more people out as time goes on. In other words, targeted social programs make easy targets.”

Now sure, billionaires are eligible for Social Security and Medicare, and their kids are eligible for free K-12 education — and that aristocracy absolutely doesn’t need that help. But when those programs were created, we decided that retirement income, old-age medical care, and public education are universal rights, not targeted privileges.

By extension, we accepted that rich people being granted those rights along with everyone else was the relatively small price to pay for simplicity, universalism, and the attendant national unity that comes with it. (America also decided that it would recoup that largesse to the rich with far higher and more progressive tax rates — which the means-testers typically do not support.)

Not surprisingly, Democrats’ creation of popular universalist programs coincided with the most electorally successful era in the party’s history, and polls continue to show huge support for initiatives like universal pre-K and universal child care.

Equally unsurprising: The era of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden White House staffers, and other smarmy Democratic automatons promoting fake means-test populism has coincided with rising popular hatred of liberal technocrats and the Democratic Party they control.

A Return To Roots, Before The GOP Figures It Out

What is surprising is that Republicans may be starting to understand all this better than Democrats.

For instance, President Donald Trump’s signature spending legislation offered direct, non-means-tested aid to small businesses during the pandemic. It was hardly perfect, but it was straightforward, universal and relatively successful: Federal Reserve data show it produced far more widespread help to the working class than Democrats’ top-down bank bailout during the financial crisis. And because of that simplicity and success, it was popular.

Same thing when it came to the uninsured during the pandemic. In a corporate health care system that rations care for the poor, Trump touted a plan to just pay hospital bills for COVID patients who didn’t have coverage. Again, it was hardly perfect in its implementation, but it signaled Republicans’ understanding of a saleable principle: keep it simple, stupid.

The COVID survival checks under Trump were means-tested, but for the most part they went out automatically and to nearly everyone — even, supposedly, the kids of uber-wealthy Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Bain Capital). The checks were simple and popular, and the public wanted more.

When it comes to student debt relief, there’s a rare chance for Democrats to also embrace simplicity — and prevent the GOP from outflanking them. They can reject the best-and-brightest pedants whose paternalistic West Wing-ism scoffs at simplicity and presumes social programs are only smart if they are impenetrably complex. Those know-it-all liberals championed the trade, tax, deregulatory, and means-tested austerity policies that incinerated the Democratic Party brand among working-class voters. It’s long past time for a change.

Democrats now have the opportunity right in front of them — they can reject the small-minded technocrats who dominate Washington and realize that complexity is not a hallmark of intellect, but is often instead the afterbirth of those too stupid or corrupt to make things simple. More specifically, they can use the student debt crisis to finally return to their universalist roots — and they don’t have to skimp and provide merely $10,000 worth of relief.

“Republicans will attack forgiving $10,000 in student debt as voraciously as if Biden canceled all student debt while demoralizing tens of millions who will still be drowning in it,” wrote Senate Democrats’ Budget Committee staff director Warren Gunnels. “Think big or go home. Cancel all of it.”

Biden has the executive authority to do exactly that. He could simply send out a one-page letter to every student borrower telling them that their federal student debt is now $0.

Yes, if that happened, bailed-out private equity kingpin and onetime car-elevator owner Romney would throw another temper tantrum about “free stuff.”

Yes, Republican lawmakers would try to block it, Jeff Bezos’s editorial board would be mad, and affluent pundits would tweet-cry to each other, incensed that some less fortunate people stuck in a predatory debt trap would get to enjoy even a taste of the freedom and luxury they’ve enjoyed their whole lives.

But amid all that elite whining and couch fainting, Democrats would be launching a battle against an immoral system of education debt — and directly helping 40 million voters ahead of a midterm election.

It’s so easy and simple — which is probably why they won’t do it.

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Russell Group University Assets Burgeon Under Conservative Rule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 5:15pm in

As students and lecturers face tougher circumstances, the wealth of their institutions has risen markedly in recent years, reports Sascha Lavin


Russell Group universities have increased their assets by almost 50% – some £16 billion – under Conservative rule, analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

The elite group of 24 universities saw their asset wealth increase from £26 million to £48.7 million between 2011 and 2020 – an 87% boost. This amounts to a real-term rise of 49% in net assets during this decade. 

The windfall in wealth hasn’t trickled down to university students and staff. Instead, the Government recently announced a student loan hike – set to hit lower-earning graduates the hardest – while university staff have experienced a pay cut of 25.5% in real terms during the past 12 years of successive Conservative rule.

The National Union for Students told Byline Times that the increase was "immoral".

Its vice-president for higher education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said: “Students, not pound signs, should be universities’ priority. In the past few years, I have heard from students locked inside their accommodation and relying on both food banks and loans from (financial services company) Klarna. It’s simply immoral that universities were benefitting so much at the same time.”

While nearly one in 10 students were forced to rely on food banks during the Coronavirus pandemic, universities hoarded wealth. Russell Group universities accumulated £2.2 billion in surplus cash during the crisis, according to a recent Telegraph investigation. 

Teaching time was also reduced and classes moved online during the crisis – a trend that continues to this day as academic staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions – yet students are still expected to pay more than £9,000 a year for their degrees.   

With the class of 2020 taking out £45,060 in loans on average, recent research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that graduates felt that tuition fees represented poor value for money. 

Already being crippled by the costs of university, the same study reported that graduates found their debt “draining, weighing them down, on their shoulders”. Yet, the Government recently announced plans to saddle students with even more of the same.

Under the proposed student loan changes, graduates will be forced to pay back more of their loan, sooner, and for longer, at a time when the cost of living is rocketing. The repayment term after graduation is set to increase from 30 years to 40 and the repayment threshold would be frozen. Interest rates on these loans are also set to increase from 1.5% to 9% among low earners and up to 12% for higher earners.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that these changes will hit the lowest-earning graduates hardest, who stand to be £28,000 worse off than under the current system.

University staff have also lost out during the past decade. Academics who have already had their pay cut by 20% in real terms over the past 12 years, despite a greater workload, now face a 35% reduction in pension payouts under the Universities Superannuation Scheme. 

Byline Times previously reported that some university teachers are unable to buy a house or start a family because of the lack of job security, with zero-hour and short-term contracts becoming increasingly common. 

The Education Industry

Yet, as students and staff struggle to make ends meet, universities have amassed billions in assets under successive Conservative governments. 

The University of Manchester had the biggest jump in asset wealth over the decade: its real-term net assets soaring by 100% to £1.8 billion. 

One final year medical student at the university took to Twitter to explain their struggles to make ends meet as their student loan and NHS bursary falls £3,313 short of the £10,330 estimated annual living costs for a University of Manchester undergraduate.

Luisa Ortuzar, a first year international student at University College London (UCL), also worries about money. “It’s so expensive in London, I’m struggling quite a bit," she said. "And I’m paying so much money for receiving no class because teachers are also super angry because they are cutting their salaries.”

UCL’s asset wealth rose from £750.4 million to £1.6 billion between 2011 and 2020 – a 73% increase in real terms. 

“We are deeply sorry to hear that one of our students is struggling financially and we encourage them to seek support with our student funding advisers. We have schemes to help students who are facing financial difficulties and can provide advice and information,” a UCL spokesperson said. “While most of our asset value sits with our estate, a considerable proportion of our endowment portfolio is held exclusively for the funding of scholarships, bursaries, studentships and hardship funds. In the most recent financial year, we spent £89 million on student scholarships and prizes, which is three times the amount we spent in 2011.”

The prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge proved to have the most assets, with a combined post-debt wealth of £27.5 billion – £6.4 billion more than the total net assets of the remaining 22 Russell Group universities.

Oxford saw its assets rise from £5.8 billion to £12.9 billion – a 77% real-terms increase over the 10-year period. 

Cambridge has also accumulated vast sums of wealth since 2012, with its net assets almost doubling to £14.6 billion over the decade – or equivalent to 55% after inflation. Wolfson College saw the biggest increase in total assets among the university’s colleges – a 128% real-terms rise in asset wealth from £27 million to £78 million.

Proving Winston Churchill’s theory that land “is the original source of all wealth”, Oxbridge’s nearly 70 colleges collectively own 51,000 hectares of land – an area more than four times the size of Manchester – worth £3.5 billion, according to a 2018 Guardian investigation. 

Yet, the vast wealth of these two institutions rarely has an impact on those who need it most. Research by the Sutton Trust and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published last year, found that Oxford and Cambridge failed to boost social mobility because so few people from disadvantaged backgrounds are admitted each year. 

According to the study, in the mid-2000s, children on free school meals were nearly 100 times less likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge than their privately educated peers. 

Although the University of Oxford prides itself on spending £15 million each year on outreach activities and financial support in a bid to recruit undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, this investment is a fraction of the university’s eye-popping wealth – just 0.12% of its nearly £13 billion-worth of assets. 

A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “We have made significant progress in admitting students from more under-represented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the last five years there’s been a 2% increase in the number admitted from POLAR Quintile 1 areas of the country.”

The Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) is a measurement used by the Office for Students – the higher education regulator – to look at what percentage of children in each area enter higher education.

But, according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Oxford and Cambridge, along with 15 other Russell Group universities, failed to recruit enough students from POLAR 1 areas – parts of the UK where students were least likely to go to university.

The Russell Group, Manchester University and the University of Oxford did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was updated on 3 May at 12pm to remove a reference to a publicly-available tweet that referenced the personal details of a student.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Voting Ends Soon in UFT Elections: A Referendum on Leadership the Past Two Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 6:43am in


Education, Labor

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest teachers’ union local in the country consistently left members unsafe, confused, ill, and even dead.

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The post Voting Ends Soon in UFT Elections: A Referendum on Leadership the Past Two Years appeared first on New Politics.