What’s Wrong with Teacher Raises?

Should public-school teachers earn more? Sure. But if we’re going by the recent recommendation for a “Grand Bargain” from Hoover’s Eric Hanushek, we should pump the brakes. Because talking about increasing salaries for some teachers is ultimately not the primary conversation we should be having about America’s public schools. We’ve been talking about the history of teacher pay on the Tweeter and I’ll adapt some of the conversation here.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are tired of hearing me say it, but I’ll keep saying it anyway: Teachers are not the problem when it comes to school performance. Discussions about “merit pay” and “underperforming teachers” have long distracted attention from the main issue in America’s divided public-education system.

Historically, the first curve ball in teacher pay comes from our assumption that teachers have always received (relatively) low pay. Dr. Hanushek (and others) assume that teaching attracts high-quality candidates “for love of kids, for feeling of social purpose, or for what-have-you.”

But in the first half of the 1800s, teachers expected to make a lot of money. Famous teachers–mostly men, but some women too–would open entrepreneurial schools, usually based on some sort of proprietary method of teaching. They would try to attract tuition-paying families.

For example, the most famous teacher in the early 1800s, Joseph Lancaster, assumed that his teaching would make him rich. As he told his daughter in a letter from Boston on July 14, 1819, he would soon buy a “small estate for thee” because his teaching would make him “rich and independent.”

Lecture flyer 1

Lancaster still hoped to make a pile in 1834.

What happened? The low quality of the teaching was not the thing that drove down teacher pay. The uncomfortable historic truth is that teacher pay was driven down by the inclusion of low-income students in publicly available tuition-free schools.

Once tuition was taken out of the picture, public schools struggled to find ways to pay teachers enough. First they tried to get children to do the teaching for free. It didn’t work, because as soon as children got some teaching skills, they took paid jobs as teachers.

In the early 1800s, New York tried to solve this problem by FORCING children to teach for free until they were 21, pushing them into indentured servitude. (I know some teachers these days will say this sounds familiar…)

The problem historically has NOT been that most teachers have been willing to work for less. Rather, the problem has always been that governments—with good reason—wanted to provide education for all kids, regardless of their ability to pay.

That’s why Secretary DeVos’s recent pronouncements about public-school funding have been so grating, especially to historians.

Which gets us to Dr. Hanushek’s “Grand Bargain.” Historically, the bargain is flawed because it’s built on a faulty premise. Dr. Hanushek writes,

if the United States is to improve its schools, the available research indicates that the only feasible solution is to increase the overall effectiveness of our teachers.

That’s just not the case. Historically and today, the most obvious way to improve schools has not been to “increase the overall effectiveness of our teachers.” That’s not a bad goal, obviously, but it distracts attention from the proper conversation we should be having. Namely, the most obvious place to start–if we want to make public schools more effective–has been and will be to increase the overall affluence of our students.

When it comes down to it, the problem with Dr. Hanushek’s approach is not in the details. Rather, it is in the big picture. Too many reformers–smart ones and not-so-smart ones alike–try to tweak schools in order to make society more fair and equitable. I appreciate their goal and share it.

But schools alone cannot fix society. Schools ARE society. If we want a fair society, we cannot tweak schools, we need to heal society.

Pay teachers more? Yes, for sure. That makes sense if we want to attract and retain high-quality candidates. But if our first goal is to improve society, we should start with the more fundamental problem.

Campus Radicals De-Platform Trump…but It’s Not What You Think

Didja see this one? Conservative campus pundits may have thought they had figured out the provocation playbook. But the treatment of Donald Trump Jr. at UCLA confounded their expectations.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH know the usual story: Conservative provocateurs have had easy pickings so far. Organizations such as Turning Point USA have been able to dictate the terms of many campus confrontations, turning their activists into willing “punchbait.” Attention-seekers like Ben Shapiro have had a field day poking the intellectual soft spots of leftwing campus activists.

shapiro-by_katie_cooney_720

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro speaks freely at the University of Wisconsin.

This time, however, the usual script just didn’t work. Speaking at UCLA, Donald Trump Jr. trotted out the usual accusations. “Name a time,” Junior accused,

When conservatives have disrupted even the furthest leftist on a college campus. It doesn’t happen that way. We’re willing to listen . . .

Junior probably expected cheers from his conservative crowd, but instead he got shouted down. The even-more-conservative activists in the crowd demanded a question-and-answer session with Junior. He would not oblige, and the angry conservatives wouldn’t let him finish.

Watch the clip. Then ask yourself: Has the short-sighted strategy of conservative groups such as Turning Point USA finally come back to bite them on the behind?

Why Do Scientists Defend Some LGBTQ Rights and Not Others?

Okay, all you science nerds—what do you make of this story? It raises a couple of big questions. First: among mainstream scientists, is anti-LGBTQ Christianity really more objectionable than anti-mainstream-science Christianity? And are some kinds of anti-LGBTQ religion more objectionable than others?GSA baylor adHere’s what we know: Two professional scientific organizations recently pulled job ads from Brigham Young University. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America yanked the ads because BYU discriminates against LGBTQ students and faculty.

I have my own strong opinions about this sort of move.* This morning, though, we’re not talking about me. Rather, we need to examine a couple of questions raised by this move. The first question is the most obvious, and it was raised by some faculty members at BYU. Namely, why is Brigham Young University being singled out for exclusion? The GSA, at least, still apparently welcomes ads from other universities that discriminate against LGBTQ students.baylor creationism

By accepting an ad from Baylor University—which has an explicit anti-LGBTQ “practice” policy—the GSA seems to be differentiating between types of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Why?

The decision to nix the BYU ads raises another troubling question: Would these science organizations take ads from institutions that dispute mainstream science itself? Though Baylor quickly reversed course, in the early part of this century it established a creationist science center on its campus. According to at least one report, President Robert Sloan tried to impose a religion litmus test on new faculty. As one participant later recalled,

Jim Patton, a professor of neuroscience, psychology, and biomedical studies and former chairman of his department, remembers sitting in on an interview with Sloan and a candidate for a psychology position. The young scholar was asked whether he went to church and read the Bible. When he answered yes, he was then asked the topic of that week’s Sunday school lesson and which theology texts he was currently reading. “If precise answers weren’t acceptable,” Patton told me, “folks weren’t allowed to work here.” Many professors came to feel that Sloan was filtering out everyone but the fundamentalists.

Baylor may have changed course in terms of creationism. But when the university was pushing a different kind of science, would the GSA or AGU have accepted ads from Baylor? Or would these professional organizations have made the same protest against alternative-science institutions that they make against (one) anti-LGTBQ one? And what about now?

These problems lead us to our questions of the day. What do you think:

  1. Should professional organizations discriminate against discriminating colleges?
  2. Should they be more consistent and ban Baylor, too? (And other anti-LGBTQ schools)?
  3. Should they defend mainstream science with the same vim that they use to defend LGBTQ rights?

____________________________________________________________________________________________

*In general, I support this sort of professional activism. I agree that anti-LGBTQ policies put institutions outside the realm of mainstream thinking. If religious institutions want to engage in anti-LGBTQ policies, that is their right, but such policies should not be supported by public money. And other institutions, such as these professional societies, are well within their rights to exclude discriminatory colleges. I personally would support such a move by my closest professional organization, the History of Education Society (US). But just to make sure everyone dislikes me, I also advocate more freedom for students to participate in discriminatory student groups.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week flown by–here are a couple of the ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs that caught our attention this week:

Liberty v. BYU: What does it mean? At DN.

It’s unclear exactly why football has become the sport most linked with Christianity, but it could be their shared qualities.

Its worshippers — ahem, fans — congregate weekly in grand structures adorned with posters of past glory, reminiscent of bibilical scenes depicted on stained-glass windows; games begin with a procession onto the field, often accompanied by rituals — from Miami’s fire extinguisher fog to Clemson’s run down the hill; and on the green 100-yard altar, players sacrifice their bodies, push themselves through pain and exhaustion, learning important lessons of sacrifice for a better good.

Will Democrats survive as the “party of the rich”? At FT.

The richest 15 percent of House districts are now represented by 56 Democrats and just 10 Republicans. In 2018, voters in America’s wealthiest counties, cities, and neighborhoods made a decisive turn toward the Democrats, and now America’s traditional party of the left—whether it admits it or not—is the party of the rich.

How much stuff do teachers buy for their classrooms? It’s a lot. Teacher responses at WaPo.

Why? Because every child NEEDS these items and because we are a Title 1 school; many cannot afford the necessities. Kids need to have equal supplies; including food. I don’t regret spending this money as I can teach my students when they have all the tools needed to succeed.

Heading for a breakdown? The history of civil war in America at AC.

a party system ending without a consensual replacement means that longstanding customs and norms that undergird constitutional relationships are quietly pared away. In other words, well before legal confrontations over legitimacy, the erosion of informal rules sets up adjudicating crises over formal rules. This was a feature of the final deterioration in Congress before 1860, marked by brawls on the floor of the House and a bloody assault in the Senate.

sumner-beating.jpg

Could it get this bad again…?

U Washington’s College Republicans booted out of the national organization for “hurtful and inappropriate conduct,” at CHE.

What can happen when a young-earth creationist doubts his faith? At BL.

I asked hard questions about what I believed about science, the world, and the Bible. I prayed for wisdom, battled doubts, and struggled with painful internal conflict. On one occasion, I asked myself what I would do if, to remain a Christian, I had to choose between YEC and my growing commitment to evolution. I then experienced a deep discomfort when I didn’t have an immediate answer.

What happens when a conservative Christian church tries to take over a liberal college town? At RNS.

Led by controversial pastor Douglas Wilson, Christ Church of Moscow has for years been planning a spiritual takeover of the town — transforming both its politics and its soul. Wilson is gentle and soft-spoken when not behind the pulpit but will go head-to-head with anyone in a debate.

wilson logos

Town/church tensions?

Phillip Johnson, architect of intelligent-design movement, dies at 79. Obit at CT.

Johnson’s landmark book, Darwin on Trial, argued that Darwinian evolution didn’t have real evidence or good arguments, but was instead “another kind of fundamentalism.” When it was published in 1991, Darwin on Trial galvanized a group of Christians who opposed the theory of evolution, but also wanted to distance themselves from Bible-based creationism, which could not be taught in public schools.

There are “evangelicals,” and there are “evangelicals.” On the difference between “cosmopolitan” and “populist” white evangelicals at AB.

Do you hang out at an InterVarsity chapter at Harvard? Do your friends watch Huckabee on FOX News? Do you study sociology at Wheaton College? . . . Each of these persons can make an authentic claim to evangelical identity. But if you were only hanging out in the faculty lounge at an evangelical college or with humanitarians at an evangelical NGO in Phnom Penh, there’s a good chance you were shocked by the 81 percent. The election exposed the many evangelicalisms that have been there all along.

The New Deal as Social Gospel, at R&P.

R&P: Can the New Deal be understood as the political expression of Roosevelt’s faith?

JB: That’s very well put! He wasn’t alone in shaping it, of course. Harry Hopkins, who served as Roosevelt’s right-hand man throughout the administration, was a committed Social Gospel Methodist from Iowa. Eleanor Roosevelt had worked in Social Gospel programs following her return from boarding school abroad. And Frances Perkins, who served as FDR’s Secretary of the Treasury for all of his 13 years in office, was very devout and theologically informed, and she was the architect of Social Security, among other programs. She very consciously pursued her political work as an expression of her Social Gospel commitments.

FDR

When Jesus hung out on the Left…

Chicago’s teachers demanded smaller class sizes. Will that help students? A review at TC.

The results were clear: students in the smaller classes performed significantly better on math and reading tests, with a gain of 4 percentile points or more. The benefits of smaller classes were even larger in schools with low-income students.

More recent research indicates that the benefits of being taught in smaller classes persist long after students have moved on to the next grade. They become more likely to complete high school and go to college and less likely to end up becoming parents in their teens, to name some of the most compelling examples.

Queen Betsy’s speech about MI schools—fact-checked at DFP.

DeVos: “ESSA invites each state to determine their standards and develop innovative assessments that focus on achievement and excellence. States can also set aside a certain percentage of federal taxpayer funding to use in new and creative ways. There’s a student-centered funding pilot program for dollars to support students — not buildings. I like to picture kids with backpacks representing funding for their education following them wherever they go to learn.”

This is a school choice absolutist mantra, and frankly, I just don’t get it. School choice absolutists bemoan the dollars spent on buildings and administration, and sometimes on teachers, saying money should be spent on children instead. But kids learn are taught by teachers, and generally indoors. To repair Detroit’s dilapidated school buildings would cost about $500 million.

Will Chief Justice John Roberts help Trump survive impeachment? At Slate.

There’s every reason to think that Roberts—conservative, Republican, and lifelong believer in expansive executive power—is not going to want history to remember him as the guy who emptied the ashtrays of a carnival barker president.

Did teacher power put a Democrat in the KY governor’s mansion? At CHH.

Beshear’s running mate Jacqueline Coleman introduced the governor-elect shortly after all precincts reported Beshear led the race by 4,658 votes.

“It’s official,” Coleman said. “The war on public education is over.”

In his victory speech Beshear said public education will be his top priority, and a pension is a “promise.”

“To our educators, this is your victory,” Beshear said. “From now on, the doors of your state’s capitol will always be open.”

Wisconsin considers a mandatory-cursive bill for its schools, at WSJ.

the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, submitted written testimony in a cursive font that he composed on a computer.

Bart Simpson on cursive: “Well, I know hell, damn, and fart.”

Can Big-Time Sports Do It Again?

[Editor’s Note: Well, they went down in flames, but Liberty football gave it a good go yesterday against Brigham Young University. As commentators scrambled to explain the cultural significance of this gridiron contest, I thought it might be worth rerunning this piece from last year. As Liberty U climbs the peaks of college respectability, it will find itself paying a higher and higher price for its stubborn refusal to accept other parts mainstream higher-ed normalcy.  We’ve seen that Liberty faces some unique pressure in its quest to retain top faculty. Will its dream to become the “Notre Dame” of the evangelical world lead it to a different sort of conformist pressure?] liberty v byu

I never thought I’d see it, but here it is. Following Brigham Young University’s tentative opening to LGBTQ+ students and issues, could the same spark change things in evangelical higher ed? After all, schools like Liberty have long yearned to follow the BYU path in one crucial area.

BYU LGBTQ

Here’s what we know: Liberty University in particular has always jonesed for recognition as a leading university, and sports has always been one of its preferred qualifications. As President Pierre Guillermin put it awkwardly in 1982, Liberty wanted to be “the Notre Dame of the Christian world athletically and the Harvard of the Christian world academically.”

Of course, the Catholic leaders of Notre Dame might say that they already ARE the Notre Dame of the Christian world athletically, but let’s move on. The central point is that leaders of evangelical higher education have always wanted recognition as more than just niche colleges; they have always wanted to reclaim their role as the leaders of American higher education overall.

When Liberty brilliantly and ruthlessly capitalized on the possibilities of online education, current president Jerry Falwell Jr. did not invest the money back into Liberty’s online program. No, Falwell tried to make the old Liberty dream come true. He poured money into traditional campus amenities, especially including Liberty’s athletic program.

This year, the investment paid off. Liberty beat top-ranked Baylor in football, triggering a joyous campus-wide freak-out. Which leads us to our question: Will the dream of big-time sports force Liberty to open itself to friendlier LGBTQ+ policies?

After all, that’s what seems to be happening at Brigham Young. As Chronicle of Higher Ed reports this morning, BYU’s recent tentative opening to LGBTQ+ students was sparked by BYU’s lust for athletic recognition.

As CHE recounts,

In 2016, the Big 12 Conference announced it was officially considering expansion. BYU’s administrators and athletic director jumped at the chance to join. But publicly vying to join the conference brought on national criticism of the university, which observers said did not uphold the NCAA’s stated support of inclusivity because of its treatment of LGBTQ students.

After the university’s effort to join the Big 12 failed, Tom Holmoe, the athletic director, suggested that pushback from LGBTQ advocate groups stood in its way. In response, BYU requested an invitation to the NCAA’s annual Common Ground conference, an effort begun in 2014 to provide a place where leaders and students at religious institutions can talk about LGBTQ issues and “begin exploring how to bridge these gaps and find common ground.”

Might Liberty follow a similar path?

Generations of Christian pleading for equality and recognition have scored only minor victories. As I noted in my recent book and in these pages, administrators at evangelical colleges—even the more liberal schools—are under intense pressure not to change their rules about same-sex issues.

Perhaps it will take a different sort of pressure from a different direction to really change things in evangelical higher education.

The Curse of the Cursive Curse

You can’t say the guy doesn’t have a sense of irony. Apparently cursive is back on the table for Wisconsin schools, and the legislator who introduced the bill–wait for it–wrote it out in a cursive font on his computer.

Cursive-loving educational conservatism is nothing new. SAGLRROILYBYGTH will remember similar mandatory-cursive efforts in Indiana in 2016. They might recall a similar move in Maine from earlier this year.

The drive to keep cursive alive has a longer tradition as well. As I found in the research for my book about twentieth-century educational conservatism, I kept coming across conservative complaints that schools were abandoning the traditional subject of handwriting, often called “penmanship.”

In the pages of the Pasadena Independent, for example, editor T.G. Wood complained in 1950 that “progressive” education fads had led to less learning of traditional subjects.  Parents were increasingly starting to wonder, Wood wrote acerbically,

why little Johnny puts two and three together and comes up with nine, why his penmanship shows little or no improvement, and why his reading is poor or backward.

An angry Pasadena reader agreed.  Back in the old days, one letter-writer explained, Pasadena’s schools had benefited from the work of teacher Albert P. Meub, “a penman of national note.”  Meub had tried to keep the subject of penmanship in the schools, the letter-writer complained, but to no avail.  The rush for progressivism in schools had led to the willy-nilly abandonment of traditional subjects such as penmanship.

Maybe it’s understandable that parents would want to take advantage of a nationally noted penman. Is that what’s going on in Wisconsin? The bill’s sponsor, Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac, was a little coy about his intentions. As he told his colleagues, he wasn’t pushing the bill for conservative reasons. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Thiesfeldt

said studies have shown writing in cursive fosters neurological connections in students’ brains, improves retention and can help dyslexic children read because cursive letters are more distinctive than printed letters.

“This bill isn’t just about nostalgia or being able to read grandmas’ letters and primary source historical documents,” Thiesfeldt said.

I wonder if there’s more going on in Madison, or if there really are reformers who want cursive back in school for its own sake.

If it were up to you, would you mandate cursive for public schools? I don’t think it’s worth it. But then again, my grandma never wrote me any letters.

–Thanks to AP for the tip!

What Do Radical Creationists Really Care About?

Sure, creationists care about creationism. But as SAGLRROILYBYGTH know well, radical creationists these days tend to talk a lot more about other culture-war issues. (What counts as “radical” creationism? Check out the classification system I’m using in the new book.)

what do radical creationists care about

Ken Ham’s tweets categorized: October 4, 2019–November 4, 2019.

This morning, I got curious about the relative emphases different issues got by radical creationists, so I did an unscientific little test. I perused the tweets of young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis for the past month. I noted the top issue in each of Ham’s threads.

In some cases, issues could have been counted in different ways, but I limited each thread to what I thought was presented as the most important issue. For example, in recent tweets about the AIG Pastors’ Conference, Ham tweeted about both the topic of the conference–racism–and the proceedings of the conference. I placed each tweet in only one category, based on my reading of what Ham was presenting as the most important issue.

The results are not very surprising to people who follow the goings-on at Answers In Genesis. Sure, AIG cares about promoting its flashy Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. But by far the most important issue–at least in terms of tweet volume–is the threat posed by LGBTQ rights. Just over a quarter of Ham’s tweets warn followers of the dangers of Drag Queen Story Hour, same-sex marriage, and transgender equality.

So what? It’s not news, really, that Ken Ham should primarily be understood as a fundamentalist minister who draws a culture-war line based on young-earth creationism, rather than as a science activist who happens to have conservative religious beliefs. This tweet-chart only demonstrates the way Ham’s focus these days is anti-LGBTQ first, creationism second.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You’d think no one would do anything else while the History of Education Society was meeting in Columbus, Ohio, but there were still some headlines this past week:

The Chicago teachers’ strike is over, after 11 days. Was it worth it? At Vox.

The district also committed to spending $35 million to shrink oversized classrooms and to prioritize schools that serve the most at-risk students. The deal includes a 16 percent pay raise for teachers over five years, and a remarkable 40 percent raise for teaching assistants, clerks, and other lower-paid workers. The new, five-year contract will also boost investment per pupil and reduce the number of students in each class.

Teachers had wanted more, though. They also wanted more affordable housing in the city for students and teachers. That’s something no teachers union has demanded in recent contract negotiations.

chicago teachers strike againWhat happens to public schools when there are fewer students? The view from MI:

Fewer students mean less funding. But schools costs don’t drop in lockstep with enrollment declines, as school officials point out.

Another evangelical college shuts its doors, at WCPO.

[Cincinnati Christian University] did not “operate with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions” or establish processes governing fair, ethical behavior among its employees.

Didja miss the headline that Queen Betsy was held in contempt of court? Two historians explain why at WaPo.

Last week’s ruling forced the department to admit wrongdoing. But its actions were not an accident or oversight — abetting the exploitation of our nation’s most vulnerable students goes to the very core of DeVos’s vision for education.

How Trump’s Bible teacher became a shadow diplomat, at NYT.

[Ralph] Drollinger himself is aware that some foreign governments’ interests in his studies might not be entirely biblical. “I can get these guys to help me,” he told me a few weeks earlier, speaking of his allies in Washington. “And everybody overseas wants to know someone in D.C.”

Why is Liberty U’s star professor leaving? At NA.

Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime English professor at Liberty University and a high-profile voice in the evangelical movement, will leave the school next year because of mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.

“For me, teaching is an art and I need the freedom to express that art,” Prior, who has accepted a position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said in an interview this week.

“Trump cult?” Not so fast… at R&P.

Scholars of new religious movements have shown that the mythology of cultic mind-control is more rhetoric than reality. It is easy to understand why critics of the president dismiss him as a cult leader, and his political followers as brainwashed. But it says a lot more about the power of the language than it does the president himself.

Sports page: Congrats to the Nats, but please stop saying a Washington team hasn’t played in a World Series since 1933. The Negro-League Washington Homestead Grays played in the 1948 World Series, at SUSIH. HT: PS.

BH_Grays-1024x521Jill Lepore’s This Americaresurrecting the tradition of liberal history, at The Nation.

Driving the demagogues out of the Barnes & Noble will require more than just taking back the nation as an object of serious historical inquiry. Lepore also sees a need to show that object in a more flattering light. Whereas many of her colleagues narrate US history as a tragedy and a chronicle of oppression, Lepore sets out to capture a fuller range of feeling. Her version features “a great deal of anguish,” she admits, but it also contains “decency and hope,” “prosperity and ambition,” “invention and beauty.” Lepore’s relatively upbeat tone is more than a sensibility; it’s a politics. The Bill O’Reillys of the bookshelf, she insists in This America, have not only taken control of the national story but also claimed for themselves the mantle of patriotism. Lepore wants to take it back for liberals. . . . In the end, she argues, it is liberals, not radicals, who can deliver progressive change. They do so using the most powerful tool within reach: the nation.

The Really Scary Thing about Queen Betsy

I know it’s too late for Halloween, but here’s something scary to think about: As Jack Schneider argued this week at the History of Education Society annual meeting, the reason Betsy DeVos flubs so many basic questions in interviews is not because she is dim. It is not because she is a tony socialite out of her depth, or as Stephen Colbert described her, “one of the garden-party guests from Get Out.” No, the reason Queen Betsy makes so many prominent mistakes is far more frightening for people who care about public education.

Given recent revelations from Trump’s White House, it’s easy to forget what used to seem shocking, but back in 2018 Queen Betsy astounded America with her vast ignorance about educational questions. A lot of commentators concluded that she embodied ineptitude.

Exhibit A was her interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes:

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually — the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVOS: Michi — Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and —

As Chris Cillizza commented for the Washington Post at the time,

If I was a boxing referee, I would have stopped this exchange about halfway through. If you are the secretary of education, you have to know you are going to be asked about the effects of school choice — particularly in your home state. So, if you’re going to argue that school choice has made public schools better, you had had better find a whole hell of a lot better spin that “I don’t know.”

As Stephen Colbert put it,

DeVos’s theory is that if you take money away from public schools and give it to charter schools, that will somehow help the public schools. It’s a system called . . . Stupid.

It’s tempting to dismiss Queen Betsy as merely ignorant, but Professor Schneider raised a more frightening prospect in his paper. Namely, Secretary DeVos is unaware of basic ideas about public education BECAUSE SHE DOES NOT CONSIDER THEM RELEVANT TO EDUCATION POLICY. schneider berkshire

The core of Secretary DeVos’s thinking about public education, Prof. Schneider argues, is that it should and can be dismantled. For more, you can now preorder Schneider’s latest book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

And that’s the really scary aspect of Sec’y DeVos’s public ignorance about public education. As the leading federal official responsible of education policy, Queen Betsy does not think she needs to know the features of a doomed system. Why study the layout of deck chairs on the Titanic?

What Liberty’s Billions Can’t Buy

I thought it would come from the sports side. But Karen Swallow Prior’s recent decision to leave Liberty University makes me wonder if academics might do the trick instead.

Karen Swallow Prior

It’s not me, it’s you.

First, a little background: SAGLRROILYBYGTH know the unique story of Liberty’s billions. After the school’s online programs became incredibly popular, current President Jerry Falwell Jr. invested in brick-and-mortar campus improvements, football, and basketball.

When I conducted research at Liberty for Fundamentalist U, I was agog at the lavish accoutrements. It wasn’t only the all-year snowboarding hill. It wasn’t only the fact that Liberty had purchased a nearby mountain on which to slap its logo. It was also the splendid archive facilities and professional archive staff.

LU sign on mountain

Go tell it on the mountain…

Liberty has also managed to hold on to star professors such Karen Swallow Prior, until now. Professor Prior just announced she is heading to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Why?

As she told a local newspaper,

“With the rise of Trump, I felt a lot of the values that shaped and formed me were being betrayed by many within evangelicalism. . . . I know a lot of people who voted for Trump and I understand why they did and I get that, but for me it was too much of a compromise.”

Prior said her criticism of Trump has caused tensions on Liberty’s campus and has contributed to her decision to leave the school.

If Liberty can’t hold on to academic talent, it will have squandered its billions. Though it sometimes might not feel like it, students and their families care about a top-notch academic college experience. Even top-ranked sports teams and flashy campus amenities won’t attract students if those students feel like a university is not a “real” college.