More on War on Free Speech at Colleges

free-speech-feature-300x206I’m pleased to have come across this thoughtful piece I just read on The Atlantic website:

The writer Conor Friedersdorf verifies the threat being waged against free speech principles on college campuses and the chilling effect it’s having on both students and professors.

My favorite part of the college experience was participating in robust free speech. In college and law school, I loved debating my fellow students and professors inside and outside the classroom. These debates taught me so much. By listening to counterpoints to my views, I improved my public policy positions and even changed a few when I realized the weakness in my arguments.

Throughout our society, too many people fail to understand the doctrine of freedom of speech. It’s always meant to be a two-way street. You say what you think and I can respond with counterpoints. The backbone of a free society is a marketplace of ideas with a full and substantive debate on the issues we face. Freedom of speech certainly doesn’t mean that you speak and no one can disagree with you.

The college students that want campuses to be “safe zones”  and administrators enforcing speech codes apparently fail to appreciate the tremendous value of free and open debate in the college environment – or maybe this is just another example of politically correct extremism practiced by zealots who don’t support the doctrine of free speech and seek to block the expression of ideas they disagree with.

Do you have a child attending college soon? If yes, visit the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where you can review the free speech ratings for most colleges in our country.

Jim Maisano

(Jim serves as a Westchester County Legislator in New York)



Is Your Kid Graduating College With A Marketable Degree?

Unemployed-College-GradsEarlier this year, I noticed a brief article, Look to Smartphones for Unemployment Solutions, in the New York Post business section, and it has popped back into my mind several times since then, so I thought it should be shared:

The premise of the article is that about half the students graduating college are unemployed, despite the fact that many companies cannot find adequate job candidates with the necessary technical skills for the modern marketplace. I find this remarkable – why don’t young people leaving college have marketable degrees, especially ones that reflect the education necessary to perform available technical jobs? What are these “hot” technical jobs with nice starting salaries? The article cites mobile data engineers, wireless network engineers and mobile app developers for tablets and smartphones. According to the article, 3.5 million technical jobs go unfilled. A tech executive stated that once promising technical candidates are identified, firms “need to hire quickly and be prepared to extend compensations and benefits packages that beat what competing firms are willing to offer.”

It certainly troubles me that kids are graduating with massive debt, in particular from private colleges with huge tuitions, and yet, they leave college with degrees that don’t allow them to qualify for the actual jobs available. Why aren’t colleges training kids properly for real world jobs? What an incredible disconnect between colleges and economic realities. I’m glad my son is only in eighth grade – we have time for research to ensure his major lands him a good job when he graduates college in 2023!

Jim Maisano

(Jim serves as a Westchester County Legislator).

Education Reform

school_childrenWashington is great at coming up with names for new educational initiatives, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top. What they are not good at is creating sensible plans for educational reform. As is typical for the federal government, no matter who is in charge, they think money fixes everything. We are the wealthiest nation on earth but compared to our first world competitors, we are middle of the pack in terms of education.

A friend posted a link on her FB page to a three year old article in the Atlantic Monthly describing the educational system in Finland. For those that don’t know, Finland consistently ranks in the top three for students with the highest achievements. How do they do it? It’s certainly not by testing their students year in and year out. Teachers are given autonomy in evaluating their students and their written evaluation serves as the primary grading mechanism. Nationally, their focus is on equity not excellence. The thought being that focusing on quality education across the board means everyone does well. Our reforms seem to be more centered around satisfying unions or corporations and not thinking about the student.

If you read the linked article, you’ll see that some say that Finland’s model cannot work here because our society is not nearly as homogeneous as theirs. I’m on my local school board and in my view, my city is a microcosm of the United States. I’ve heard this same argument from administrators that there are socio-economic issues beyond the school district’s control that impact their ability to delivery quality education. I don’t buy that. Where there’s a will there’s a way. But there in lies the problem.

Remember the great space race of the 60s? As a nation, we came together to support the mission to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, before the Soviet Union. We had a collective will to achieve that goal. That will does not exist for public education. My guess is that our “cultural heritage” of rugged individualism cannot be overcome. How this comes into play is in how public schools are financed.

Funding for schools come from three sources, local, state, and federal governments . As of 2010, the percentage split was 44% local, 44% state, and 12% federal. With the local support coming from property taxes, areas with high valued properties get to spend more on their schools, then areas with low valued property. Would those in the high property tax areas be happy to see their money go out of their district to support another? Somehow the argument has to be made that it is each person’s self interest to make sure everyone has access to quality education. And the only way to achieve equity across the board is to distribute funds where needed.

So now I’ve come a 180 degrees from where I started. Federal government has been unsuccessful in its approach to education yet I support a distribution of funds (which can only be done at the state and federal level). The difference is this, I support it with no strings attached. Allow the local districts to receive their funds from the state and federal government without the demands of testing and data gathering that they presently insist. That also means that the federal or state government should not support teachers’ unions either financially or by law. That’s not to say I want to see them abolished, just that they should stand on their own two feet and exist where they provide value for students, not teachers.

Jeffrey Hastie