Should sex ed include fertility information?

Exactly what sort of safe sex should be taught to our young students is always a topic of debate. As we recently saw in Texas, abstinence-only programs don’t seem to work and can even lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Telling kids too much about how to have sex bothers many parents, educators and lawmakers, though. It seems that the jury is still out on the best way to empower students with sex-ed knowledge. One topic that is never debated, or even discussed, as it relates to sex education is fertility itself and that needs to change, according to some experts.

In a story that ran in The Guardian, reproductive specialist Dr. Geeta Nargund says that schools are spending so much time trying to prevent pregnancy that young people are missing out on important knowledge about their own fertility. In her own practice Nargund counsels many women who did not have the facts about their own ability to conceive children until it was too late for it to happen naturally.

That, argues Nargund, is grounded in the misconception that women who wait to have children until they are financially and emotionally ready can do so later in life. The real science is much starker and fertility drops dramatically after women hit their 30s, and continues to fall with each passing year.

I think Nargund has a valid point. If we want students to have all the facts about sex, then let’s not just present one side of the story. Women who want to wait to have children should certainly be able to make that choice but should have all of the information in front of them.

What’s your stance on sex education as it relates to fertility?

Global academic collaboration: a new form of colonisation?

Hanne Kirstine Adriansen, Aarhus University

Higher education in Africa is as old as the pyramids in Egypt. But the continent’s ancient institutions have long disappeared. The type of higher education that’s delivered in Africa today, from curriculum to degree structure and the languages of instruction, is rooted in colonialism. This has led many to question whether African universities are still suffering from a sort of colonisation – of the mind.

The story of renowned climate change researcher Cheikh Mbow is an example. Mbow was born in Senegal in 1969 and studied there. Looking back at his experiences during his first years of university, Mbow observes: “I knew all about the geography and biology of France but nothing about that of Senegal.”

Mbow also happens to be my friend, and together with one of his colleagues we wrote a book chapter about the production of scientific knowledge in Africa today. The chapter is based on Mbow’s life story – which I’ll return to shortly.

In recent years a new consciousness has emerged about higher education’s historical roots. People are calling strongly for a decolonised academy. This feeds into a broader debate about the role of modern universities.

There’s little doubt that Africa’s universities need to be locally relevant – focusing their teaching and research on local needs. Unavoidably, though, they’re simultaneously expected to internationalise and participate in the heated global higher education competition. Standardisation is the name of the game here. Universities compete to feature on global ranking lists, mimicking each other.

Internationalisation also sees African researchers like Mbow travelling North in search of research environments with better resources. These international collaborations can be hugely beneficial. But all too often it’s organisations, universities and researchers in the global North that call the shots.

So how can the continent’s universities manage the tricky balance between local relevance and internationalisation? How can they participate in international collaboration without being “recolonised” by subjecting themselves to the standards of curriculum and quality derived in the North? How can they avoid collaborative programmes with the North that become mere tick-box exercises that only benefit the Northern researchers and organisations?

International collaboration grows

Over the past 20 years, international interest in African higher education has intensified. Aid agencies in the North have developed policies that are designed to strengthen Africa’s research capacity. Scandinavian countries were among the first to do so: Denmark has the Building Stronger Universities programme. Norway and Sweden have similar collaborative programmes.

Such initiatives are important. Research funding is very limited at African universities. National higher education budgets are quite low, especially compared with universities in the North. In their bid to educate rapidly growing populations, African universities tend to emphasise teaching rather than research. So these institutions rely heavily on external funding for research and depend on support from development agencies via so-called capacity building projects. These projects engage researchers from the North and South in joint activities within teaching and research, ideally to create partnerships based on mutual respect.

Many researchers from universities in the North and South are involved in these collaborative projects, usually as practitioners. Only rarely do we turn these collaborative projects into a research field, turning the microscope on ourselves and our own practice. After participating in a capacity building project in Africa, some colleagues and I became interested in understanding the geography and power of scientific knowledge.

We wanted to know how this power and geography is negotiated through capacity building projects. We also sought to understand whether such projects functioned as quality assurance or a type of neo-imperialism.

Simply put, our research explored whether capacity building and the tendency towards increased international collaboration in higher education is helping or hindering African universities. The answer? Both.

‘Monocultures of the mind’

The problem with such projects is that they might create what Indian activist Vandana Shiva calls “monocultures of the mind”. Shiva argues that these make diversity disappear from perception and consequently from the world. People all end up thinking in the same ways.

International collaboration can cause African universities to become more dependent on the North. Their dependence is on funding; through publication in journals from the North; and through technology that only exists in the North. It also manifests in thinking mainly using concepts and solutions developed in the North.

Another problem is that this international collaboration may draw African universities into the competition fetish that dominates higher education today. This may help them to become globally competitive. But they risk losing their local relevance in the process.

Capacity building projects risk creating Shiva’s monocultures of the mind. But they can also have the opposite effect: they can empower African researchers and help them to become more independent.

Empowerment through capacity building

Renowned climate scientist Cheikh Mbow in action.

For Cheikh Mbow, the North represented both an imposed curriculum through colonial heritage and the chance to acquire the skills needed to become an
emancipated academic capable of creating new knowledge.

His PhD project explored natural resource management in Senegal “but using methods designed in the global North, in particular from France”. During his project he travelled from Senegal to Denmark and was exposed to another way of behaving. At his home institution, the Université de Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, questioning the knowledge and methods of older professors was perceived as misbehaviour. In Denmark he experienced a different system. There he was asked to question what was taken for granted even if it meant questioning older professors.

Paradoxically, the Danish system enabled Mbow to become an independent researcher. He became aware of how knowledge and methods inherited from the North were used in an African context without being questioned.

Mbow explains:

After several years of research, I began challenging some of
the received knowledge and managed to specify what is particular to Africa.
After being able to contextualise knowledge, I was able to create knowledge
that concerned and responded to societal needs and local realities in Africa.

This is precisely what the African academy – and its societies more broadly – require.

Collaboration to decolonise

I would argue that collaborative projects such as capacity building programmes can be a means to assist African universities in producing contextualised knowledge. These projects can even lead to some sort of decolonisation of the academy if they are based on long-term partnerships, a close understanding of historical, political and geographical context, and not least a common exploration of knowledge diversity.

This article is based on a blog that originally appeared here.

The Conversation

Hanne Kirstine Adriansen, Associate Professor, School of Education, Aarhus University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How companies learn what children secretly want

Faith Boninger, University of Colorado and Alex Molnar, University of Colorado

If you have children, you are likely to worry about their safety – you show them safe places in your neighborhood and you teach them to watch out for lurking dangers.

But you may not be aware of some online dangers to which they are exposed through their schools.

There is a good chance that people and organizations you don’t know are collecting information about them while they are doing their schoolwork. And they may be using this information for purposes that you know nothing about.

In the U.S. and around the world, millions of digital data points are collected daily from children by private companies that provide educational technologies to teachers and schools. Once data are collected, there is little in law or policy that prevents companies from using the information for almost any purpose they wish.

Our research explores how corporate entities use their involvement with schools to gather and use data about students. We find that often these companies use the data they collect to market products, such as junk food, to children.

Here’s how student data are being collected

Almost all U.S. middle and high school students use mobile devices. A third of such devices are issued by their schools. Even when using their own devices for their schoolwork, students are being encouraged to use applications and software, such as those with which they can create multimedia presentations, do research, learn to type or communicate with each other and with their teachers.

When children work on their assignments, unknown to them, the software and sites they use are busy collecting data.

Ads target children as they do their homework. Girl image via

For example, “Adaptive learning” technologies record students’ keystrokes, answers and response times. On-line surveys collect information about students’ personalities. Communication software stores the communications between students, parents and teachers; and presentation software stores students’ work and their communications about it.

In addition, teachers and schools may direct children to work on branded apps or websites that may collect, or allow third parties to collect, IP addresses and other information from students. This could include the ads children click on, what they download, what games they play, and so on.

How student data are used

When “screen time” is required for school, parents cannot limit or control it. Companies use this time to find out more about children’s preferences, so they they can target children with advertising and other content with a personalized appeal.

Children might see ads while they are working in educational apps. In other cases, data might be collected while students complete their assignments. Information might also be stored and used to better target them later.

For instance, a website might allow a third party to collect information, including the type of browser used, the time and date, and the subject of advertisements clicked or scrolled over by a child. The third party could then use that information to target the child with advertisements later.

We have found that companies use the data to serve ads (for food, clothing, games, etc.) to the children via their computers. This repeated, personalized advertising is designed specifically to manipulate children to want and buy more things.

Indeed, over time this kind of advertising can threaten children’s physical and psychological well-being.

Consequences of targeted advertising

Food is the most heavily advertised class of products to children. The heavy digital promotion of “junk” food is associated with negative health outcomes such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Additionally, advertising, regardless of the particular product it may sell, also “sells” to children the idea that products can make them happy.

Research shows that children who buy into this materialist worldview are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and other psychological distress.

Teenagers who adopt this worldview are more likely to smoke, drink and skip school. One set of studies showed that advertising makes children feel far from their ideals for themselves in terms of how good a life they lead and what their bodies look like.

The insecurity and dissatisfaction may lead to negative behaviors such as compulsive buying and disordered eating.

Aren’t there laws to protect children’s privacy?

Many bills bearing on student privacy have been introduced in the past several years in Congress and state legislatures. Several of them have been enacted into laws.

Additionally, nearly 300 software companies signed a self-regulatory Student Privacy Pledge to safeguard student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance and use of student personal information.

However, they aren’t sufficient. And here’s why:

Student privacy laws are not adequate.Mary Woodard, CC BY-NC-ND

First of all, most laws, including the Student Privacy Pledge, focus on Personally Identifiable Information (PII). PII includes information that can be used to determine a person’s identity, such as that person’s name, social security number or biometric information.

Companies can address privacy concerns by making digital data anonymous (i.e., not including PII in the data that are collected, stored or shared). However, data can easily be “de-anonymized.” And, children don’t need to be identified with PII in order for their online behavior to be tracked.

Second, bills designed to protect student privacy sometimes expressly preserve the ability of an operator to use student information for adaptive or personalized learning purposes. In order to personalize the assignments that a program gives a student, it must by necessity track that student’s behavior.

This weakens the privacy protections the bills otherwise offer. Although it protects companies that collect data for adaptive learning purposes only, it also provides a loophole that enables data collection.

Finally, the Student Privacy Pledge has no real enforcement mechanism. As it is a voluntary pledge, many companies may scrupulously abide by the promises in the pledge, but many others may not.

What to do?

While education technologies show promise in some areas, they also hold the potential to harm students profoundly if they are not properly understood, thoughtfully managed and carefully controlled.

Parents, teachers and administrators, who serve as the closest protectors of children’s privacy at their schools, and legislators responsible for enacting relevant policy, need to recognize the threats of such data tracking.

The first step toward protecting children is to know that that such targeted marketing is going on while children do their schoolwork. And that it is powerful.

The Conversation

Faith Boninger, Research Associate in Education Policy, University of Colorado and Alex Molnar, Research Professor, University of Colorado

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the guns-on-campus debate matters for American higher education

Steven J. Friesen, University of Texas at Austin

As of Aug. 1, 2016, a new law allows concealed handguns in college and university buildings in Texas.

It’s already had an impact on me as professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Thanks to this law, I set foot in a federal court building for the first time.

And I was not alone. The courtroom was packed. Other citizens were there as well to support three professors who are suing the state’s attorney general and the University of Texas for the right to ban guns from their own classrooms.

Why are these professors taking the extraordinary step of suing the state of Texas and their own university?

In order to understand the situation, we need to consider the political tensions between the legislature and the university, the ideological struggle over the goals of higher education and the possible dangers of bringing more guns to campuses.

Campus carry law in Texas

Until this year, Texas law allowed anyone with a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry a loaded hidden gun on campus, but not inside buildings. This restriction kept down the number of people carrying weapons legally on campus.

During the 2015 legislative session, a majority of Republicans pushed the idea to allow guns on campus. University administrators, faculty, faculty council, staff, undergraduate and graduate students and campus police overwhelmingly opposed the idea.

University of Texas campus. Larry Miller, CC BY-NC

However, in spite of campus opposition, in May 2015, the proposed law, known as Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), was approved. So, as of Aug. 1, 2016, anyone with a concealed handgun license can carry a loaded, semiautomatic pistol into most offices, classrooms, hallways, public spaces, cafeterias and gyms at state universities. All that they need: four hours of training and a score of 70 percent accuracy on a shooting test.

Supporters argue that Americans have a constitutional right to protect themselves and carry weapons with as few limits as possible. Carrying guns into classrooms, they say, is part of that right.

Clash of ideologies

For many of us, however, this conflict is about a larger ideological battle over the goals and character of higher education in Texas, with one side emphasizing obedience to authority and the other the need to critique authority.

Let’s consider these two views of education.

The ideology of higher education in the U.S. has historically focused on critical thinking, and faculty overwhelmingly see this as the primary goal (see especially Table 3) of college and university classes. According to this view, universities and colleges are encouraged to question orthodoxy. In other words, higher education should subject all truth claims to intense scrutiny.

The goal of this process is not to tear down society but to make it better, to allow us to develop our full potential as individuals and as a nation in the pursuit of liberty and justice.

Will guns on campus allow critical thinking? Joeri van Veen, CC BY-NC-ND

But here is where the conflict comes in. As the discussion below shows, the campus carry movement has, it seems, a different ideology for higher education. The underlying motivation is that traditional authority must be maintained and, in the end, disagreement is resolved by force, not by debate. For this ideology, critical thinking is a potential threat to authority.

Republican Party principles

Evidence for this comes from the ideas expressed in the Texas Republican Party platform, a formal declaration of the principles on which a party stands and makes it appeal to voters.

The 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform took an explicit stand against “critical thinking skills and similar programs…that focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Subsequently, the 2016 Texas Republican Platform stepped back from that extreme statement. But it still asserted that parents or guardians – not the government – should have ultimate control over the education of their children.

In the 2016 platform, both guns and religion are discussed in the section on education. Here is what it looks like:

The section on education supports the radical position that all law-abiding citizens should be able to carry guns anywhere without restriction. It says,

“We collectively urge the legislature to pass ‘constitutional carry’ legislation, whereby law-abiding citizens that possess firearms can legally exercise their God-given right to carry that firearm as well. We call for the elimination of all gun free zones. All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas.”

Another paragraph in the education section discusses “safeguarding religious liberties.“ This one begins by saying,

“We affirm that the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength.”

It goes on to denounce “the myth of separation of church and state,” and it supports the right of businesses to refuse service to anyone based on religious conviction.

What this does is to reaffirm the ideology of the Republican Party of Texas – that education should be governed by traditional authorities of family and conservative forms of Protestant Christianity and not by critical inquiry.

In other words, religious commitment of individuals is more important than civil rights. Furthermore, according to this traditionalist view of authority, liberty and safety are preserved not so much by critique and analysis as by encouraging everyone to carry a gun.

Views from ground zero

This raises the question of how this ideology affects students and professors in the classroom.

As the political battle raged in the Texas legislature in spring 2016, I taught a science and religion class in which we spent the semester analyzing the volatile debates in the U.S. about human evolution and creationism.

I asked my students how they would feel about the possible presence of guns in classrooms.

One student self-identified as having a concealed handgun license and did not have trouble with the presence of guns. But most others thought that it would make them more cautious and less forthright in class. One student said she would be vigilant about how other students were acting. Another said she would censor her opinions.

Protests on campus against campus carry.Katie Labor, CC BY-NC-ND

The sentiment they expressed was confirmed in anonymous polling I conducted before our discussion. Two students (11 percent) were in favor of concealed carry on campus as demanded by SB 11, while 13 (68 percent) thought guns should be completely illegal on campus except for law officers. Only three students (16 percent) felt that SB 11 would make them safer, while 11 (58 percent) expected that the law would make campus less safe.

While one class is hardly a representative sample, these numbers reflect discussions I’ve had with my classes over the last few semesters. The numbers also match a variety of conversations I’ve had on campus.

What might change on campus?

As a professor, I have other concerns for my students beyond the classroom. We work with students at a difficult time in their lives as they work through the transition to adulthood. Some of them also face serious emotional issues. When I have to deal with failed exams, missed assignments and occasional plagiarism or cheating, I sometimes worry about how they will respond.

So far I have not encountered physical threats to my own safety, but I know faculty who have. While waiting in line for the security screening at the federal courthouse, I learned of two more examples. One was a professor of computer sciences who told me about the time when he was physically shoved and verbally abused by a student who got a B rather than an A.

He decided not to press charges. But when the legislature passed the campus carry law, he retired rather than face the possibility of legal weapons in university buildings. Another faculty member told of the time she had to convince her dean to drop a student from her class midsemester for anti-Semitic remarks the student made about her.

Systematic studies point toward other problems that await us if we increase the number of guns on campus. We can expect more accidental shootings, more successful suicide attempts and perhaps even an increase in sexual assaults. In the event of an actual active shooter event, we can expect that an armed civilian will make no difference or even make the situation worse.

Will guns change the character of higher education?

The ideological struggle will continue. Polling early in 2015 showed that Texans were divided on campus carry: 47 percent were in favor, 45 percent were opposed and 8 percent were unsure (this included 22 percent strongly supporting and 32 percent strongly opposed). Campus protests and a satirical student campaign against SB 11 are planned.

What’s the difference that the new law will make? Gun image via

Supporters of the law have filed a formal complaint with the attorney general’s office to make the law stronger by preventing faculty and staff from banning guns in their own offices. Legal papers filed by the University of Texas and the state attorney general have stated that professors would face disciplinary measures if they barred guns from classrooms. There is significant political pressure and special interest money to expand gun rights.

If the lawsuit of the three professors is not successful, we will begin to find out fairly soon what difference SB 11 will actually make in real lives – in the classroom, in the relationships of students, faculty and staff – and in the character of higher education in an American setting.

The actual difference will not be abstract or theoretical. Both opponents and supporters of SB 11 claim that the struggle over guns on campus is a matter of life and death.

The Conversation

Steven J. Friesen, Professor, Louise Farmer Boyer Chair in Biblical Studies, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why science and engineering need to remind students of forgotten lessons from history

Muhammad H. Zaman, Boston University

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion highlighting the need for incorporating social sciences in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines in order to foster creativity, increase empathy and create a better understanding of the human condition among scientists.

Unfortunately, however, all this talk hasn’t changed the reality on the ground.

As a researcher and teacher in biomedical engineering, looking at the fundamental functions of the human body, I feel that we in engineering (as well as other sciences) have done a disservice to our students. We have failed to connect them to the history of science through stories of scientists.

Our students, these days, have little knowledge about the giants on whose shoulders we all stand.

And yet there is strong evidence that students are more likely to develop an interest in science and pursue science education when engaged through narratives that tell a story.

Research also shows that such stories enable students in STEM disciplines to better understand and apply their classroom knowledge in real-world settings.

Missing piece in science learning

In one of my engineering classes, I discuss how fluids, such as air and blood, flow in the human body. These processes are critical to our health and well-being.

As I do that, I also discuss the associated discoveries made by many leading scientists. The seminal work of scientists such as Joseph Fourier, Daniel Bernoulli and Isaac Newton has transformed our world and tremendously improved our quality of life.

What do students know about Newton? cea +, CC BY

However, beyond the most famous anecdote about the falling apple leading to the discovery of gravity, I find that students in my class know little about Newton’s contributions. While students in my class may have a rich understanding of the Fourier transform (a fundamental mathematical relationship that forms the basis of modern electrical engineering), they literally know nothing about who Fourier was.

Research suggests that context and history play a strong role in connecting science and engineering theory with practice.

But despite studies highlighting the importance of storytelling and historical case study approaches, impersonal PowerPoint presentations dominate classrooms. Historical perspectives and rich stories are missing in such presentations.

Why it matters

As educators, we face tremendous pressures to pack technical materials into our courses. So why should we include history in our lesson plans?

First, history provides a compelling perspective on the process of scientific discovery. We have known through research that historical references can help students clear up common misconceptions about scientific topics, ranging from planetary motion to evolution.

Looking at the story of science over centuries enables students to understand that research and discovery are continuous processes. They can then see that the laws and the equations that they use to solve problems were discovered through long and sometimes painful processes.

The findings they arrive at today, in other words, are the fruits of the hard work of real people who lived in real societies and had complex lives, just like the rest of us.

Second, a sense of history teaches students the all-important value of failure in science. It also highlights the persistence of the scientists who continued to push against the odds.

Recent research suggests that by discussing the struggles and failures of scientists, teachers are able to motivate students. Indeed, the discussion of struggles, obstacles, failures and persistence can lead to significant academic improvement of students, particularly for those who may be facing personal or financial difficulties or feeling discouraged by previous instructors and mentors.

Learning from history

This dose of inspiration is particularly valuable for STEM students who face barriers in their academic work, either due to lack of financial resources or due to their gender or race.

The stories of past scientists are a reminder to them that history is an opportunity. Not all great discoveries were made by people who were at the very top of the socioeconomic pyramid.

Connected to the process of discovery and innovation is the fundamental notion of the multidisciplinary approach.

Students need to understand that this approach is not a creation of the 21st century. People have used the multidisciplinary tools of their time for hundreds of years. Johannes Gutenberg, for example, combined the flexibility of a coin punch with the mechanical strength of the wine press to invent the printing press, which created a profound global impact in disseminating knowledge.

The Gutenberg Press replica.Casey Picker, CC BY-NC-ND

Finally, a fundamental goal of modern engineering education is to create socially conscious engineering practitioners who have a strong sense of ethics.

Following an engineering education, individuals could go on to develop medical technology for resource-constrained settings, or work on stem cells or genetic engineering. The importance of ethics in any of these areas cannot be underestimated.

Case studies and history could be immensely valuable in teaching ethics. History provides strong evidence of how the environment around scientists was equally important in shaping their lives and discoveries. Lessons from history could provide insights into how to make ethical choices related to technology or engineering principles.

History, heritage and a holistic view of learning

The goal, in the end, is not to compromise on the rigor, or to focus exclusively on history and personalities, but to make the material more accessible through story-telling and connection with our common heritage.

By making students realize that they are part of a grand tradition of learning, success and failure, we might find that the goals of retention, inspiration, access and rich engagement with the material are closer than we realize.

The Conversation

Muhammad H. Zaman, HHMI Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Want college to be affordable? Start with Pell Grants

Donald E. Heller, University of San Francisco

In her speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton talked about free college and student debt relief.

Convention speeches are not normally known for providing details of policy proposals, and keeping with tradition, Clinton offered few details of her own. Now that we are past the conventions and into the campaign, presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely to speak in more detail about their specific policies.

What is missing in the debate about free college, however, is a discussion of the role of Pell Grants, the centerpiece of the federal government’s student aid programs. These grants, which used to cover almost the entire cost of a college education for poor students, today cover less than a third. The current Republican budget proposal would erode it even further, threatening the ability of students from poor and moderate-income families to attend and graduate from college.

From my perspective as a researcher who has studied questions of college access for two decades, any discussion of free college has to include the role of Pell Grants in college affordability.

What are Pell Grants and why are they important?

Pell Grants were created in the 1972 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. This coming academic year they will provide grant aid of up to US$5,815 to students from low- and moderate-income families.

Last year, over eight million undergraduates across the nation received a total of about US$30 billion in Pell Grants.

In 2011-12, 41 percent of undergraduates received a Pell Grant. Dollar image via

Data from the U.S. Department of Education show that in the 2011-12 school year (the most recent data available), 41 percent of all undergraduate students received a Pell Grant, almost double the 22 percent of students who received them in 1999.

For most students, the funding they receive from the Pell program outstrips what they receive in aid from either their state or the institution they attend.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, I calculated that the average Pell Grant recipient received an amount from that program that was five times greater than what they received in state grant aid and 2.6 times greater than the amount of scholarship assistance received from the institution attended.

Without Pell Grants, in other words, many low-income students would not be able to attend college, or would not be able to attend full time and make good progress toward earning their degree.

Pell Grant value dips, tuition increases

In a book I edited a few years ago, I demonstrated that back in the 1970s, a student attending a public, four-year university and receiving the maximum Pell Grant would have approximately 80 percent of the price of her college education – tuition, housing, food, books and miscellaneous costs – covered by the grant.

If the student had no resources of her own to contribute, the remaining 20 percent of the cost was often made up through state grants, scholarships from the university, work study and perhaps a small amount of student loans.

Today the maximum that a Pell Grant covers is only about 30 percent of the price of attending college for that same student. The erosion in the value of the grant is due to two reasons: 1) the rising price of college attendance and 2) a drop in the real value of Pell Grants.

Since 1985, average tuition prices at public, four-year colleges and universities have increased 222 percent after adjusting for inflation. The situation at private four-year colleges and community colleges is only slightly better – average prices in the two sectors have increased more than 130 percent in real terms during the same three decade period.

Pell Grants, in contrast, have grown much less rapidly. The average grant increased only 30 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars during this same period.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush after he signed a bill on Pell Grants. Larry Downing/Reuters

In the latter half of the 1980s and through most of the 1990s, Congress and a series of presidents – Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton – allowed the purchasing value of Pell Grants to decline even further.

The maximum Pell Grant actually dropped 19 percent in real dollars between 1985 and 1996. While federal funding over the last two decades has allowed it to regain some of its value, the maximum Pell Grant today is still below the 1975 level in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Impact of GOP proposal

As bad as this situation is, it could get much worse. The current Republican spending plan in the House of Representatives proposes to place a cap on the maximum Pell Grant. What this means is that it would stay at its 2015-16 level for the next 10 years.

While it is hard to predict for sure what will happen to tuition prices over the next decade, it is fairly certain that prices will continue to rise. This will cause the value of the Pell Grant to erode even further during this period.

Students protesting against rising college costs. Max Whittaker?Reuters

For example, again, based on my calculations, if college prices increase 3 percent per year over the next decade, and Pell Grants are held at their current level, its purchasing power at public four-year institutions would drop from 30 percent of total college costs today to only 21 percent in 2026.

At private four-year institutions, the Pell value would drop from 17 percent of costs today to only 12 percent 10 years from now.

The Republican proposal, if enacted, would undoubtedly have an impact on the college access and success of students from low- and moderate-income families. Constraining the grant aid available to them from the federal financial aid programs could force more students to drop out of college. Or, students could take longer to earn their degrees, or could afford to attend only a community college rather than a four-year institution.

The impact on college access for these students would be detrimental to the nation as a whole. As President Obama noted in his first address to Congress in 2009, the future growth of our economy will depend on having more workers with post-secondary credentials. Without a Pell Grant program that keeps pace with college costs, we will be unable to attain this goal.

Clinton and Trump should be talking about the issue of college affordability on the campaign trail. But they need to address all of the policies that help make college affordable for students and their families.

Funding for the Pell Grant program is a critical component of that.

The Conversation

Donald E. Heller, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of San Francisco

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Zero tolerance laws increase suspension rates for black students

F. Chris Curran, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The State Senate of Michigan is currently considering legislation that would scale back “zero tolerance” discipline policies in the state’s public schools.

Zero tolerance discipline laws require automatic and generally severe punishment for specified offenses that could range from possessing weapons to physical assault. They leave little leeway for consideration of the circumstances of the offense.

The bill, already approved by the State House, proposes to add provisions that would consider the contextual factors around an incident, such as the student’s disciplinary history, and would ask whether lesser forms of punishment would suffice.

In other words, suspension and expulsion would no longer be as “mandatory” and there would be a little more “tolerance” in these state discipline laws.

As a researcher of education policy and school discipline, I would highlight that these revisions, some of which have been passed in other states, represent a significant change of course for state school discipline law.

In fact, my recent work and that of others suggests that the shift away from zero tolerance approaches is for the better.

Why zero tolerance policies were introduced

Throughout the 1990s, the number of states with zero tolerance laws, those requiring suspension or expulsion for specified offenses, increased significantly.

The rapid adoption of such laws was spurred in part by the passage of the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, federal legislation that required states to adopt mandatory expulsion laws for possessing a firearm in school.

These safety concerns were further heightened by the shooting that took place at Columbine High School, a public high school in Littleton, Colorado.

Following Columbine, by the early 2000s, nearly every state had a zero tolerance law in place. Many of these laws expanded beyond firearms to include other weapons, physical assaults and drug offenses.

Push back against zero tolerance

Clearly, such zero tolerance laws were meant to improve the safety and order of the school environment. However, in recent years, they have been seen as being overly prescriptive and as contributing to racial disparities in school discipline.

For instance, there are cases of students being suspended for accidentally bringing a pocketknife to school. In one high-profile case, a student was suspended for chewing a pastry into the shape of a gun.

Black kids are suspended at a higher rate. Children image via

Additionally, federal data show that black students are suspended at rates two to three times higher than their white peers.

As a result, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a joint “Dear Colleague” letter directed to public school districts. The letter was a call for reductions in the use of suspensions and expulsions and, instead, for a focus on ensuring the fair use of school discipline for students of all backgrounds.

Here’s what new research shows

In a newly published study, I explored the implications of state zero tolerance laws – laws that require school districts to adopt zero tolerance policies.

In particular, I sought to find out if they contributed to increased use of suspensions and if they led to racial disparities. Given claims by proponents of such laws that they increase the safety and order of the school overall, I also wanted to see if these laws contributed to decreases in perceptions of problem behaviors in the school as a whole.

I used national data collected by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Schools and Staffing Survey. The sample included thousands of school districts and principals spanning the late 1980s to the mid-2000s.

The study revealed three important findings.

First, the study showed that state laws requiring schools to have zero tolerance policies increased suspension rates for all students. Second, suspension rates increased at a higher rate for African-American students, potentially contributing to racial disparities in discipline. Finally, principals reported few decreases in problem behaviors in schools, suggesting that the laws did not improve the safety and order of schools.

The findings, in context

The findings show that the adoption of state zero tolerance laws result in increases in district suspension rates. For the average-sized district, such laws resulted in approximately 35 more suspensions per year.

Though this number may seem small, the potential impact is quite large.

A recent study by researchers at UCLA, for example, suggests that a one percentage point reduction in the suspension rate nationally would result in societal gains of over US$2 billion through reduced dropout and increased economic productivity. In short, state zero tolerance laws may be imposing significant financial costs on society.

Burden of zero tolerance laws is not shared equally. Boy image via

Furthermore, the burden of these costs are not equally shared across all groups.

The results of my study suggest that the increase in suspension rates for black students as a result of these laws is approximately three times the size of that for white students.

Coupled with other research that finds links between zero tolerance policies and racial disparities, this finding demonstrates that these laws, though supposedly neutral with regard to race, are disproportionately impacting students of color.

Recent data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights also point to persistent disparities by race in the use of school discipline.

No reduction in misbehavior

Proponents of zero tolerance discipline have argued that the use of suspensions and expulsions increases the safety and order of the learning environment as a whole. My study found evidence to refute the claim.

In my data set, principals rated the degree to which various behavior problems (i.e., fighting, disrespect, use of drugs, weapons) were problems in their schools.

I found that, in the view of principals, the presence of a state zero tolerance law did not decrease their rating of the degree to which these various behaviors are problems. In other words, state zero tolerance laws did not appear to be contributing to improved levels of safety and order overall.

What the results mean for policy and practice

Students, parents and other stakeholders have an expectation that schools should be safe and orderly environments that treat all students equitably. While it is imperative that schools take active steps to achieve these goals, the findings of my work call into question whether state zero tolerance discipline laws are the most effective way to do so.

While suspension and expulsion may still be appropriate tools in some circumstances, it is important for schools to consider context, and states to allow such discretion, in the administration of school discipline. Furthermore, it is important to have safeguards in place to ensure that such discretion is utilized equitably for students of color, who too often experience disproportionate disciplinary exclusion.

The revised disciplinary laws under consideration in Michigan and similar revisions to school disciplinary policies in other states represent more promising steps to ensuring effective and fair school discipline.

The Conversation

F. Chris Curran, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scholarly collaboration: it’s time for the global South to call the shots

This article was written by Clive Kronenberg

Collaboration is, without a doubt, a positive and important part of academic life. Scholars benefit enormously when they’re able to develop teamwork skills for conducting research jointly or in partnerships.

Scholarly alliances can lighten the heavy burden of publishing in high-class international journals. It makes investigative ground work and funding procedures far less intense. It enables more scholars to share in successes. It is also crucial to identifying and grasping seemingly intractable social problems. All of this can benefit entire regions and even nations.

But there are also pitfalls and problems. Scholars from the global north still tend to dominate such “partnerships”. With more capital in hand, they often call the shots. Over the past decade or so, there have been some attempts to change these power dynamics.

The South-South Educational Scholarly Collaboration and Knowledge Interchange Initiative – or S-S Initiative – fits into this mould.

I am among those who initiated this endeavour. Over the past 18 months or so, its work has yielded some valuable lessons, insights and results. We’re a small group of academics with a shared focus on rural education. We all come from areas in the global South: Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Together, we’ve set up good, effective working engagements.

A history of oppression

In 2014 I started developing a national data base of rural education researchers. My goal was to boost general awareness of, and possibly create linkages between, local scholars dedicated to producing new and improved knowledge of a globally neglected yet crucial area of public schooling.

This culminated in the S-S Initiative. Current participants and collaborators are from Cuba, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina, Mozambique, Rwanda, and South Africa. Scholars from Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Malawi and the Ivory Coast have also expressed interest in getting involved. It’s clear, then, that participants have something in common beyond their interest in rural education: they all come from countries that have historically been the victims of acute colonial oppression, marginalisation and underdevelopment.

This history continues to negatively impact on the provision of good, quality education, particularly in the realm of rural schooling.

There are many potential approaches to the global problem of rural education. There currently exists a range of secluded, often insulated remedial measures and strategies concerning this sector. These must be shared to develop and increase knowledge that ultimately is mutually beneficial. It is important to create suitable spaces where such prospects can be presented, engaged, and eventually applied where feasible.

Broad goals

The initiative has several key aims. With appropriate interest and support, these will be expanded and developed over time.

First, we’re reaching out to rural education scholars from the global South to join the membership data base. This provides opportunities for the exchange of ideas and experiences, as well as the possibility of launching partnerships in future.

It also sets the groundwork for conference presentations as well as the constitution of review boards. The selection of postgraduate supervisors and external examiners are further opportunities under consideration. In this way, experts can come together and apply their insights and work in a collective manner. Such a course, we hope, will offer suitable prospects to initiate and advance meaningful change in the broader S-S educational field.

We have launched a call for book chapters on the topic of rural education. It is hoped this will eventually lead to the formal establishment of a South-South Educational Journal, with a duly-appointed international review board. There is a dearth of academic journals collectively or especially devoted to learning and teaching practices in the global South as a whole.

It is not a question of expertise: scholars in this initiative have deep knowledge and experience of academic publishing. While some occupy leading positions on editorial boards, others have played key roles in actually establishing and administering academic and scientific journals.

We also hope to merge DVD documentary production with educational field research. This has the potential to reach a wider audience, thereby bringing parents and communities more decisively into the research fold. Schools and children thrive more when parents are more engaged in education.

Together with a dedicated, supportive team, I have already produced one DVD of this nature. A second is close to completion. And, with a colleague in the S-S Initiative, plans are underway for a documentary about rural schooling in the Republic of Cuba.

Small, steady steps

Funding will always be an issue for academics, particularly those from less developed territories. Fortunately, the S-S Initiative was enriched and boosted with funding I received from South Africa’s National Research Foundation. This allowed us to organise a symposium hosted at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Education Faculty.

This gathering brought together a range of educational research scholars from the global South. Established, emerging and postgraduate scholars presented their work with special attention devoted to rural education. It was, as such spaces can be, fertile ground for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. It also allowed us to discuss possible future collaborations.

At their best, these kinds of initiatives don’t just benefit individual academics. Our hope is that by drawing together experts from the neglected global South, rurally-based school children’s educational development can take centre stage.

The Conversation

Clive Kronenberg, NRF Accredited & Senior Researcher; Lead Coordinator of the South-South Educational Collaboration & Knowlede Interchange Initiative, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

After Fisher: affirmative action and Asian-American students

Michele S. Moses, University of Colorado; Christina Paguyo, Colorado State University, and Daryl Maeda, University of Colorado

After eight years, the Abigail Fisher case finally has been put to rest. In a landmark judgment on June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious affirmative action in university admissions.

Abigail Fisher, a white woman, had sued the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) for its race-conscious admissions policy after she was denied admission. She had argued that the university violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Supporters of race-conscious admissions programs are understandably gratified. But has the case resolved the larger moral and political disagreements over affirmative action?

Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which supports colorblind policies, has already called the decision just “a temporary setback.”

Indeed, over the last 40 years, affirmative action opponents have repeatedly strategized anew after important Supreme Court decisions in favor of affirmative action. They did so after the 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when the Supreme Court, while allowing race to be one of the factors in choosing a diverse student body, held the use of quotas to be “impermissible.“

And they did so after the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, when the high court again ruled that race-conscious affirmative action was constitutional.

We are scholars who study affirmative action, race, and diversity in higher education. We believe that the disagreement about affirmative action will not
end anytime soon. And it may well center on lawsuits on behalf of Asian-American college applicants.

Here is what is coming next

Through his organization, the Project on Fair Representation, Abigail Fisher’s advisor, Edward Blum, is currently engaged in a lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policy.

What is different about the Harvard lawsuit is that the lead plaintiff in the case is not a white student. The plaintiff is an Asian-American student.

Asian-Americans participate in an Advancing Justice conference. Advancing Justice Conference, CC BY-NC-SA

“Students for Fair Admissions,” an arm of the Project on Fair Representation, filed a suit against Harvard College on November 17, 2014, on behalf of a Chinese-American applicant who had been rejected from Harvard. The lawsuit charges that Harvard’s admissions policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars federally funded entities from discriminating based on race or ethnicity.

The “Harvard University Not Fair” website greets readers with a photo of an Asian-American student accompanied by the following text:

“Were you denied admission to Harvard? It may be because you’re the wrong race.”

How it started

This controversy over how Asian-Americans are being treated in selective college admission was jump-started in 2005, when sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung published findings from their study on the effects of affirmative action bans on the racial and ethnic composition of student bodies at selective colleges and universities.

Espenshade and Chung found that if affirmative action were to be eliminated, the acceptance rates for black and Latino applicants would likely decrease substantially, while the acceptance rate for white applicants would increase slightly. But more than that, what they noted was that the acceptance rate for Asian-American applicants would increase the most by far.

As the researchers explained, Asian-American students “would occupy four out of every five seats created by accepting fewer African-American and Hispanic students.”

Such research has been cited to support claims of admissions discrimination against Asian-Americans.

In the complaint against Harvard, Espenshade’s research was cited as evidence of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Specifically, the lawsuit cited research from 2009 in which Espenshade, this time with coauthor Alexandria Radford, found that Asian-American applicants accepted at selective colleges had higher standardized test scores, on average, than other accepted students.

Are elite institutions discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions process? Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

These findings, especially that Asian-American applicants seem to need a higher SAT score than white applicants or other applicants of color in order to be admitted to a selective college are being used as proof that elite institutions like Harvard are discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions processes.

The picture is more complicated

As we know, selective admissions processes are much more complicated than SAT score data can show. There are many factors that are taken into consideration for college admission.

For example, in the “holistic” admissions processes endorsed by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, standardized text scores are not the only, or even the main, criterion for admission. “Holistic” review takes many relevant factors into account, including academic achievement, of course, but also factors such as a commitment to public service, overcoming difficult life circumstances, achievements in the arts or athletics, or leadership qualities.

So, why would the plaintiff in the Harvard case conclude that the disparities in SAT scores shown by Espenshade and Radford necessarily indicate that Asian-American applicants are being harmed by race-conscious affirmative action?

Legal scholar William Kidder has shown that the way Espenshade and Radford’s findings have been interpreted by affirmative action opponents is not accurate. The interpretation of this research itself rests on the faulty assumption that affirmative action is to blame if an academically accomplished Asian-American applicant gets rejected from an elite institution.

Based on his analysis, Kidder concluded,

“Exaggerated claims about the benefits for APAs [Asian Pacific Americans] of ending affirmative action foster a divisive public discourse in which APAs are falsely portrayed as natural adversaries of affirmative action and the interests of African American and Latinos in particular.”

In our opinion as well, focusing on simplistic ideas about standardized tests as the primary evidence for who “deserves” to be admitted to elite institutions like Harvard may serve to stir up resentment among accomplished applicants who get rejected.

As the “Harvard Not Fair” website and accompanying lawsuit demonstrate, these findings have been used to fuel a politics of resentment among rejected Asian-American applicants.

When speaking with reporters, Espenshade himself has acknowledged that his data are incomplete – given that colleges take myriad factors into account in admissions decisions – and his findings have been overinterpreted and actually do not prove that colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

Are Asian-American students a monolithic group? Charlie Nguyen, CC BY

Moreover, in using images of Asian-American students to recruit complainants against Harvard and other highly selective institutions of higher education, the Project on Fair Representation relies on the idea that Asian-Americans comprise a monolithic group. In fact, the term “Asian-American” refers to a diversity of Asian ethnicities in the United States, whose educational opportunities and achievements vary widely.

The 2010 census question on race included check boxes for six Asian groups – Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese – along with a box for “Other Asian,” with a prompt for detailed responses such as “Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on.”

In addition, by casting plaintiffs as meritorious and deserving of a spot at an elite university, it also conveys the stereotypical received wisdom about Asian-American “model” students who are wronged by race-conscious affirmative action programs.

The Harvard lawsuit comes next

At this time, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is pending.

Now that Fisher has been decided, this case is the next front in the divisive politics surrounding race-conscious affirmative action in higher education admissions.

Relevant to the Harvard case is that a civil rights complaint alleging that Princeton University discriminates against Asian-American applicants was dismissed in 2015 after a long federal Office of Civil Rights investigation.

Although public disagreement about the policy continues, affirmative action is an imperfect, but as yet necessary tool that universities can leverage to cultivate robust and diverse spaces where students learn. June 23’s Fisher ruling underscores that important idea.

Related to the coming public discussions about the Harvard lawsuit, we are of the opinion that race-conscious policies like affirmative action need to be supported. The fact is that “Asian-Americans” have diverse social and educational experiences. And many Asian-Americans benefit from affirmative action policies.

The Conversation

Michele S. Moses, Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice, University of Colorado; Christina Paguyo, Post Doctoral Fellow, Colorado State University, and Daryl Maeda, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of Colorado

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the charter school debate has moved beyond ‘better’ or ‘worse’

Joshua Cowen, Michigan State University

The charter school debate is getting even more heated. Recently, charter opponents launched a campaign from the steps of the Massachusetts State House to warn that charter schools were “sapping resources from the traditional schools that serve most minority students, and creating a two-track system.” Similar opposition has been voiced by critics across the country as well.

So when it comes to educating kids, are charter schools good or bad?

Differing views

Minnesota authorized the first charter schools in 1991. Charter schools are public schools that are independent and more autonomous than traditional schools and typically based around a particular educational mission or philosophy.

Charters’ governance structure – who can operate a charter and what kind of oversight they face – varies by state. For example, while charter schools in some states are managed by nonprofit organizations, in other states they are run for a fee by for-profit companies.

Regardless, over the years, an increasing number of students have been enrolling in charter schools. At present there are more than three million students enrolled in 6,700 charter schools across 42 states. Nationally, charter school enrollment has more than tripled since 2000.

The response to charter prevalence is varied: proponents say these schools provide a vital opportunity for children to attend high-quality alternatives to traditional public schools. Especially when those traditional schools are struggling or underperforming.

Opponents, like those in Boston, say charter schools are threats to the very idea of public schooling – they weaken neighborhood schools by reducing enrollment, capturing their funding and prioritizing high-ability students instead of those most in need of educational improvements.

What’s the evidence?

As a researcher who studies school choice, I know that many of these arguments are reflected in evidence. But, the truth is, when you look nationwide, the effects of charter schooling on student test scores are mixed – charters in some states do better than traditional public schools, worse or about the same in others.

Research has been less ambiguous when it comes to educational attainment. We know that kids from Boston charter schools, for example, are more likely to pass the state’s high school exit exam “with especially large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored college scholarship.” Charters also “induce a clear shift from two-year to four-year colleges.”

What’s more, a new study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (the top peer-reviewed policy journal in the country) has shown that students from charter schools not only persist longer in college than those from traditional public schools, but also earn more in income later.

But critics charge that charters achieve these kinds of effects by pushing out kids with learning disabilities or problematic behavior – or avoid such children altogether.

Critics say that charter schools tend to push out underperforming children. Neon Tommy, CC BY-SA

There are also concerns that charter advantages are rooted in new patterns of racial/ethnic segregation because white and minority families may choose schools with more children of the same race or ethnicity.

Then there is the understudied issue of teachers in charter schools. Most of these teachers are not unionized, which remains a source of major tension between charter and traditional public school advocates.

We know, for example, that charter teachers tend to exit schools at higher rates than other public teachers, which, all else being equal, could be detrimental to student outcomes.

But we also know that charter administrators may prioritize teacher effectiveness and other attributes in making staffing and compensation decisions. This differs from traditional schools, where teachers’ pay and job retention are not usually linked to their classroom performance.

What do parents think?

Public opinion about charter schools varies along with this evidence.

A recent national poll indicated that 51 percent of all Americans support the idea of charter schooling. Only 27 percent actively opposed charters, which means almost as many Americans either don’t like or don’t have an opinion about these schools as those who do and support them.

What might explain some of these differences?

A massive new survey of parents in urban areas across the country provides some insight.

Respondents in these urban areas were far more supportive of school choice generally and charter schools in particular than the national average: no less than 83 percent (in Tulsa) and as much as 91-92 percent (in Atlanta, Boston, Memphis, New Orleans and New York City) agreed that parents should have more school choices.

No less than 58 percent (in New York City) and as much as 74 percent (in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and New Orleans) believed that overall, charter schools improve education.

What do parents think? Henry de Saussure Copeland, CC BY-NC

In that survey, there was a direct correlation between respondents’ perceptions of surrounding public school quality and support for charter schools: the worse parents believed their traditional schooling options to be, the more they favored charter schools.

Charters are here to stay

So, where do we go from here?

Scholars like me tend to conclude our studies by saying “we need more evidence.” And on charter schools, that’s true: we need to know more. But on the big questions of public policy – and education certainly is one of these – research tends to go only so far.

Rigorous evidence can tell us about differences between charter and traditional schools. But it cannot solve a more fundamental and subjective disagreement about whether public education should or should not continue to exist largely as it has for the last century.

This is especially true whenever we add the caveat – “it depends.”

Whether charter schools are better for kids than traditional public schools appears to depend on which charter schools we are talking about, and in which states.

So too does the question of whether charters exist to help all kids or to provide a specialized education to a few. And whether parents see charters as a positive force in their communities appears to depend on their sense that traditional schools will provide what they need for their children.

In my view, one thing seems certain: charter schools are here to stay. Already, there are more of them every year.

So, it’s time to move the debate away from “are charters good or bad for kids” and to a more careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the charter approach in many different places.

Charter proponents can and should recognize that not all charter schools are superior to the traditional public model. Charter critics should note that traditional public schools have failed many families – especially poor families and families of color – and there are reasons many have turned to alternative education providers.

More evidence is needed, to be sure, but these basic realities are likely to remain.

The Conversation

Joshua Cowen, Associate Professor of Educational Policy, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.