TIME celebrities

Bill Maher Will Be UC Berkeley’s Commencement Speaker Despite Student Protest

Celebrities Visit "Late Show With David Letterman" - September 8, 2014
Television personality Bill Maher enters the "Late Show With David Letterman" taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater on September 8. Ray Tamarra—WireImage

School says it's not "an endorsement of any of Mr. Maher’s prior statements"

The University of California, Berkeley says it will not rescind an invitation to comedian Bill Maher to be the school’s commencement speaker, despite a student vote to disinvite him.

The student committee in charge of the speaker selection process voted to rescind the HBO host’s invitation on Tuesday amid growing criticism of Maher’s views on religion and particularly Islam. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org to cancel Maher’s December commencement speech.

But on Wednesday, the university released a statement saying it will not accept the student vote.

“The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech,” the school said. “It should be noted that this decision does not constitute an endorsement of any of Mr. Maher’s prior statements: indeed, the administration’s position on Mr. Maher’s opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context, since we fully respect and support his right to express them.”

Maher’s response to the controversy? You’ll have to watch the show:

TIME Education

5 Apps That Can Do Your Homework Much Faster Than You

7 Apps That Will Do Your Homework For You
peepo—Getty Images

There's no doubt these academic aids can complete your homework, but whether or not that's cheating is up for debate

In the field of educational technology, some apps might be getting too smart.

More and more apps are delivering on-demand homework help to students, who can easily re-purpose the learning tools to obtain not just assistance, but also answers. Whether or not that’s cheating—and how to stop it—is one of the concerns surrounding a new app that can solve math equations with the snap of a camera. While the software has inspired teachers to create real-world homework problems that can’t be automatically solved, that strategy doesn’t hold up to other apps that tap into real-life brains for solutions.

Here’s a look at five apps that can do your homework for you, and what they have to say about cheating:


Price: Free
Availability: iOS, Android app coming in early 2015

The new, seemingly magic app allows users to take pictures of typed equations, and then outputs a step-by-step solution. As of Wednesday, the app is the number one free app on the App Store. But the biggest issue, one teacher argues, isn’t if students will use the app to cheat, because many will. Rather, it’s about how teachers will adapt. A PhotoMath spokeswoman said educators have welcomed the app with positive reviews, but the software remains “quite controversial.”

“We didn’t develop PhotoMath as a cheating tool. We really wanted kids to learn,” said Tijana Zganec, a sales and marketing associate at tech company MicroBlink, which created PhotoMath. “If you want to cheat, you will find a way to cheat. But if you want to learn, you can use PhotoMath for that.”


Price: Free, but some homework services require payment
Availability: iOS and Android

HwPic is a tutoring service that allows students to take send pictures of their homework to tutors, who will then respond within minutes to your questions with a step-by-step solution. There’s even an option to expedite the answers if a student is in a hurry. HwPic Co-Founder Tiklat Issa said that the app was initially rejected by Apple’s App Store, which believed it would promote cheating, but he successfully argued that just because someone uses the app in a way that it’s not meant to be used doesn’t mean the app should be punished.

Issa added that HwPic prohibits cheating in its terms and conditions. Tutors don’t solve homework that has words like “Quiz” or “Exam,” and they often know if a student is sending a photo during a test if they’ve paid for expedited answers, and if the photo is dim, blurry and taken under a desk. “We’ve minimized cheating,” said Issa. “We haven’t eliminated it. That’s kind of unrealistic.”

Wolfram Alpha

Price: $2.99
Availability: iOS and Android

Wolfram Alpha is similar to PhotoMath, only that it targets older students studying high levels of math and doesn’t support photos. The service also outputs step-by-step solutions to topics as advanced as vector calculus and differential equations, making it a popular tool for college students.

“It’s cheating not doing computer-based math, because we’re cheating students out of real conceptual understanding and an ability to drive much further forward in the math they can do, to cover much more conceptual ground. And in turn, that’s cheating our economies,” said Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research’s Director of Strategic Development, in a TEDx Talk. “People talk about the knowledge economy. I think we’re moving forward to what we’re calling the computational knowledge economy.”

Homework Helper

Price: Free
Availability: iOS and Android

Chinese Internet search company Baidu launched an app called Homework Helper this year with which students can crowdsource help or answers to homework. Users post a picture or type their homework questions onto online forums, and those who answer the questions can win e-coins that can be used to buy electronics like iPhones and laptops.

The app has logged 5 million downloads, much to the dismay of many some parents who argue that the students spend less time thinking about challenging problems. A Homework Helper staffer admitted to Quartz, “I think this is a kind of cheating.”


Price: Free, but some homework services require payment

Slader is a crowdsourcing app for high school and college students to post and answer questions in math and science. While students can post original homework for help, many questions in popular textbooks have already been answered on the app, according to Fast Company. An Illinois high school said earlier this year that it suspected students were using the service to cheat on their math homework.

Slader argues that it’s “challenging traditional ideas about math and education,” and said that the ideas behind its app “aren’t a write-off to teachers,” according to its blog. Slader told San Francisco media outlet KQED that it shouldn’t be dismissed as a cheating tool, but rather considered a way for students to access real-time help.

TIME Education

The War on Teacher Tenure

A still life showing 4 red apples in a row. The apple second from right is rotten.
A still life showing 4 red apples in a row. The apple second from right is rotten. Danny Kim for TIME

It’s really difficult to fire a bad teacher. A group of Silicon Valley investors wants to change that

This story original appeared in the Nov. 3, 2014, issue of TIME.

On a warm day in early June, a Los Angeles County trial-court judge, Rolf M. Treu, pink-cheeked beneath a trim white beard, dropped a bombshell on the American public-school system. Ruling in Vergara v. California, Treu struck down five decades-old California laws governing teacher tenure and other job protections on the grounds that they violate the state’s constitution.

In his 4,000-word decision, he bounded through an unusually short explanation of what was an unprecedented interpretation of the law. Step 1: Tenure and other job protections make it harder to fire teachers and therefore effectively work to keep bad ones in the classroom. Step 2: Bad teachers “substantially undermine” a child’s education. That, Treu wrote, not only “shocks the conscience” but also violates the students’ right to a “basic equality of educational opportunity” as enshrined in California’s constitution.

It was the first time, in California or anywhere else, that a court had linked the quality of a teacher, as measured by student test scores, to a pupil’s right to an education. What happened next was predictable: the educational establishment hit DEFCON 1. State and national teachers’ unions decried the ruling as part of a subversive effort to destroy labor unions and pointed, truthfully, to the fact that the lawsuit was launched and underwritten by a Silicon Valley muckety-muck who lives in one of the fanciest ZIP codes in America. Others painted Treu, who was appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, as a brazen partisan. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former D.C. chancellor of schools Michelle Rhee praised the decision for challenging the “broken status quo.” Other education reformers, including former CNN anchor turned education activist Campbell Brown, pronounced it the most important civil rights suit in decades and filed two copycat cases in New York.

On some level, these reactions were premature. Treu’s decision holds no precedent-setting power and won’t affect any California law unless an appeals court upholds the ruling sometime next year. Both the state and the teachers’ unions have appealed and are awaiting a trial date. But on another level, the Vergara case is a powerful proxy for a broader war over the future of education in this country. The reform movement today is led not by grassroots activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types and billionaires. It is fought not through ballot boxes or on the floors of hamstrung state legislatures but in closed-door meetings and at courthouses. And it will not be won incrementally, through painstaking compromise with multiple stakeholders, but through sweeping decisions–judicial and otherwise–made possible by the tactical application of vast personal fortunes.

It is a reflection of our politics that no one elected these men to take on the knotty problem of fixing our public schools, but here they are anyway, fighting for what they firmly believe is in the public interest. David Welch, the 53-year-old engineer and businessman behind Vergara, is the least well known of a half-dozen tech titans who are making the repair of public education something of a second career. In the past 15 years, Microsoft’s Bill Gates has poured billions into everything from helping states write and implement the Common Core State Standards to building a new history curriculum. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has dropped $220 million on public schools in Newark, N.J., and the San Francisco Bay Area, while Netflix’s Reed Hastings has spent millions more on buttressing the charter-school movement in California and beyond. For the past four years, PayPal’s Peter Thiel has been divvying out dozens of $100,000 “scholarships” to kids who are willing to ditch university in favor of “self-education.”

This latest batch of tech tycoons turned education reformers follows in the footsteps of a long line of older magnates, from the Carnegies and Rockefellers to Walmart’s Waltons, who have also funneled their fortunes into education-reform projects built on private-sector management strategies. While this newer class of tech philanthropists are in some ways similar to the older generation, they also come to school reform having been steeped in the uniquely modern, libertarian, free-market Wild West of tech entrepreneurship–a world where data and innovation are king, disruption is a way of life, and the gridlock and rules of modern politics are regarded as a kind of kryptonite to how society ought to be.

“Life in a Silicon Valley operation is, O.K., we need to change something. How do I create an agent of change?” Welch explains, sitting in a windowless boardroom at the Cupertino, Calif., headquarters of his company, Infinera, which makes fiber-optic communications technology. “But here you have the most important aspect of society, in my mind at least–the ability to educate our children–and it’s incapable of change. It’s failing, and it doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s failing, much less do anything about it.”

“Why Isn’t Anyone Fixing This?”

Of all the Silicon Valley tycoons you might expect to make headlines, Welch is near the bottom of the list. Even in the geeky back alleys of Palo Alto, his name doesn’t always ring a bell. He doesn’t give TED talks, he doesn’t headline coding conferences, and his company is hardly a well-known brand. The unassuming father of three, who has bushy eyebrows and the well-ironed, air-conditioned look of the well-to-do, earned a Ph.D. from Cornell in electrical engineering and made his many millions working at two startups in Silicon Valley. Neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he clearly prefers a world of concrete facts to taking sides. “I don’t believe in putting on a jacket that says I’m red or blue,” he says. “I believe in identifying the topics that are important to me and then figuring out the right way to talk about them.”

As the youngest of seven children growing up outside Annapolis, Md., Welch went to public school and then to the University of Delaware. He didn’t think much about how the system actually functioned, or malfunctioned, until his own children were born in the ’90s and went on to have “some public experiences and some private-school experiences.” (Welch, as a rule, doesn’t talk about his children’s lives.) He then became involved in the NewSchools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and other entrepreneur-led education ventures targeting under-served students, and StudentsFirst, the controversial nonprofit founded by Michelle Rhee. But even by the early 2000s he’d homed in on what he saw as the root of the systemic failure of California’s public schools: the state’s laws on teacher tenure and other job protections, which are among the strictest in the country.

It seemed crazy to Welch that teachers in California receive tenure–permanent employment status designed to protect them from unfair dismissal–after less than two years on the job and that principals are often required to lay off the least experienced teachers first, no matter which ones are the best. It seemed even crazier to him that in some districts it takes years and tens of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher who isn’t doing a good job. Welch remembers asking a big-city California superintendent to tell him the one thing he needed to improve the public-school system. The answer blew Welch away. The educator didn’t ask for more money or more iPads. “He said, ‘Give me control over my workforce,'” Welch said. “It just made so much sense. I thought, Why isn’t anyone doing something about that? Why isn’t anyone fixing this?”

In early 2010, Welch decided, as he puts it, to “jump off the cliff” and do something about it. His first move was to meet with Kathleen Sullivan, a constitutional lawyer whose name is sometimes whispered to be on the Democrats’ short list of nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court. He pitched her what was at the time a rather unformed idea. “I said, ‘Here’s my premise–if children are being harmed by these laws, then something, somewhere, is being done that’s illegal,'” Welch says. After about six months, Sullivan and a small team of lawyers in San Francisco delivered a draft of the legal theory that would become the foundation for Vergara.

Welch’s next move, in April 2011, was to hire a jack-of-all-trades public relations firm, which is now called Rally. It launched a nonprofit, Students Matter–branded in the bright yellow and black of a No. 2 pencil–that was tasked with two missions. The first was to build a coalition of supporters and funders and create a public campaign surrounding the case. The second was to find a team of lawyers who were willing to reverse engineer a lawsuit on the basis of an untested legal theory on behalf of plaintiffs who didn’t yet exist.

Building on Brown

Before states began passing tenure laws in the early 20th century, a teacher could be fired for holding unorthodox political views or attending the wrong church, or for no reason at all if the local party boss wanted to pass on the job to someone else. But what began as a popular idea has become increasingly controversial as countless stories of schools and districts being unable to fire bad teachers have populated the news. In a story that hit headlines in 2009, the L.A. Unified School District was legally barred from firing a teacher who told an eighth-grade student who had recently tried to slit his own wrists to “carve deeper next time.” Episodes like that help explain why even in California, where the electorate votes overwhelmingly Democratic and is often sympathetic to unions, recent polls show that voters are skeptical of tenure.

Part of Students Matter’s job was to take this commonly held but abstract idea–that tenure and other job protections do not serve the public-school system–and essentially personify it in the form of students on whose behalf the case would be filed. Among the nine plaintiffs, who ranged from elementary-school to high-school age, were Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara, sisters from Pacoima, Calif., who were 15 and 16 years old when they took the witness stand this year. Beatriz, the lead plaintiff, testified about three of her middle-school teachers, describing them as apathetic, verbally abusive or simply ineffective. “It was always loud in there, and [he] would even sleep during class,” Beatriz said of her sixth-grade math teacher. “He didn’t even teach, and he couldn’t control his class. I couldn’t hear anything because of how loud it was.”

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a white-shoe firm based in Los Angeles, then built the case on a foundation of Brown v. Board of Education–the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that separate is not equal–and California Supreme Court cases from the 1970s and 1990s. Each of the California cases interpreted the equal-protection clause in the state constitution to mean that one group of students should not receive an education inferior to that offered to another group. For example, in a 1992 case, Butt v. State of California, the California Supreme Court found that when a school district with a budget shortfall decided to save money by dismissing students for summer vacation six weeks early, it violated the state constitution, since students at the schools with the shorter school year received an education that was inferior to that of students at schools with full school years.

The argument in Vergara v. California took that same idea but added a controversial twist. Instead of examining the equality of students’ educational opportunities by comparing discrete facts–like the amount of time spent in class or the amount of funding a school receives per student–Welch’s lawyers made the case that the court should compare the quality of students’ in-class learning experiences. They argued that students who are stuck in classrooms with bad teachers receive an education that is substantially inferior to that of students who are in classrooms with good teachers. Laws that keep bad teachers in the classroom, they concluded, therefore violate the equal-protection clause of the state constitution. They also argued that poor and minority students, who are more likely to be in classrooms with bad teachers, endure a disproportionate burden, making the issue a matter of civil rights as well.

Happily for Welch’s lawyers, their innovative argument happened to coincide with a flood of new academic research on teacher quality that could serve as evidence in court. A three-year study led by Harvard education expert Thomas Kane, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that a bad teacher, as measured by his or her students’ test scores, could set a student’s educational progress back by 9.54 months. In December 2011, another study, by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty and John Friedman with Columbia University’s Jonah Rockoff, looked at school records, test scores and tax returns for 2.5 million children and young adults from the past two decades. Using a controversial tool called value-added measures (VAM) to control for factors like race and poverty rates, they found that replacing a poorly performing teacher with an excellent one could increase students’ lifetime earnings by $250,000 per classroom. “The fact that we could show how students were actually harmed by bad teachers–that changed the argument,” says Marcellus McRae, an attorney on the case.

The Vergara trial began in January of this year and stretched over two months in court. More than a few times, teachers and administrators called by the defense to represent the position of the teachers’ unions found themselves in cross-examination inadvertently buttressing Students Matter’s case instead. As Judge Treu later noted, nearly every witness agreed under oath that competent teachers are among the most important components of a child’s in-school educational experience and that “grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school.” The trial ended March 27, and on June 10, Treu handed down his tentative decision.

In his 19 years on the bench, Treu’s opinions rarely made news, but this one would be an exception. If roughly 1% to 3% of California teachers are in the bottom 5% of competence, Treu wrote, citing witness testimony, that means there are between 2,750 and 8,250 such teachers currently in California classrooms. That population, Treu wrote, “has a direct, real, appreciable and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said teachers hold their positions.” In the law office near the courthouse, Welch and dozens of supporters erupted in celebration, hugging and kissing and crying.

What Comes Next?

The Vergara decision has been the source of outsize drama in California’s election cycle this year, playing out on stages both small and large. The battle for state superintendent of public instruction–not the kind of race that usually garners the big bucks–has already attracted as much as $10 million from state and national teachers’ unions on one side and wealthy donors on the other. Union-backed incumbent Tom Torlakson, who has decried the Vergara decision as a soulless attack on teachers and vowed to see it overturned on appeal, is now within a hairbreadth of losing to Marshall Tuck, a Silicon Valley–backed reformer, who has celebrated Vergara as a major win for California kids. Tuck’s deep-pocketed supporters spent $4.5 million in just the first two weeks of October. Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown, who is up for re-election in November and counts the teachers’ unions among his biggest political backers, has negotiated a careful middle road. While he has dutifully appealed Treu’s decision in the case, he was careful to avoid earning the ire of the Silicon Valley set. “Changes of this magnitude, as a matter of law and policy, require appellate review,” Brown’s office wrote in the notice of appeal, an exercise in blandness.

But the Vergara case, despite topping out–so far–in a lowly state trial court, reaches well beyond California’s border. In New York, Campbell Brown’s Vergara-style lawsuit, along with a similar suit filed by the New York City Parents Union, has become yet another political lightning rod and ignited discussions among activists who are impatient to file a similar case in other states like Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey.

The debate over Vergara and its copycats highlights the broader landscape of education reform in a time of highly polarized politics, gridlocked legislatures and soaring inequality. When traditional avenues of reform seem increasingly impassable, those with vast amounts of money or simply an ingenious legal theory–or both–can seem like the only forces capable of effecting change. Some, like Welch, believe that’s part of the natural growth, disruption and innovation of a healthy society, and he applauds the “bold actions” of the wealthy few. “Thank God that people like Bill Gates and the Walton family feel the moral responsibility to put their assets toward what they think is right,” he says.

But others worry that the means of reform are as important as the ends. Michael Petrilli, who runs the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, says that while he generally does not support teacher tenure and job-protection laws, he is concerned that the recent spate of education litigation in California and New York sets an adversarial tone at a time when reformers need teachers to buy into other large-scale reform efforts, like implementing the Common Core State Standards in classrooms. Fellow conservative Michael McShane, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, also pointed to the problem of using litigation to solve civil rights issues. “Courts are really good at saying, ‘That’s unconstitutional. It’s out,'” McShane says, but in the wake of such decisions, there’s usually a flood of related cases that require the courts to act as arbiter of the minutiae of a developing policy. “If it’s now unconstitutional to allow a ‘grossly ineffective’ teacher in the classroom, then that raises more questions. How do you define ‘grossly ineffective’? Using what measures?” After all, judging a teacher’s quality can be tricky business. During the Vergara trial, one of the plaintiffs described her middle-school teacher as ineffective and undeserving of tenure; that same teacher had been previously named Pasadena’s Teacher of the Year.

Testing Wars

The question of how to judge a teacher’s value gets to a fundamental irony in the national war over education reform today. Welch’s unexpected victory in Vergara, which hinges on the necessity–and feasibility–of measuring a teacher’s effectiveness, comes just as a broad range of educational experts have begun to question the validity of the tests and evaluations on which those teacher-effectiveness measures are based.

American policymakers’ love affair with quantitative accountability tools is relatively new. It wasn’t until 1994 that the Clinton Administration began requiring states to develop their own standardized tests for some subjects, and in the early 2000s, President George W. Bush doubled down on that initiative with No Child Left Behind. The Obama Administration built on that foundation, using Race to the Top funds and No Child Left Behind waivers to encourage states to use test scores to evaluate teacher performance. Today, most states have teacher evaluations that already are or may soon be tied to tenure, layoff decisions and merit-pay bonuses.

This two-decade trend has not, of course, been free of controversy. But what began with protests over “high-stakes testing” and cheating scandals in various public-school districts in the mid-2000s has morphed in the past six months into an outright mutiny, driven in large part by the controversial rollout of Common Core State Standards, which are linked to new state curriculums, more-difficult tests and new teacher evaluations. Teachers in Florida, Colorado, New York, Texas and Tennessee have filed lawsuits against their states, alleging unfair testing expectations; in New Mexico, teachers have burned their evaluations in protest, demanding better in-class support and job training instead. Many argued that policies focusing on cold, statistical measures fail to take into account the messy, chaotic reality of teaching in communities where kids must contend with poverty and violence.

A growing number of studies appear to support that point of view. In April, the American Statistical Association released a statement questioning whether VAM, the methodology that undergirds the Chetty study, adequately measures a teacher’s total value to a student’s education. In May, the American Educational Research Association found a “surprisingly weak” correlation between teachers’ VAM scores and their actual skills, as evaluated by surveys and expert observations. In July, the Department of Education found that VAM scores varied wildly depending on what time of day tests were administered or whether the kids were distracted. Even the Silicon Valley reformers appear willing to dial back the emphasis on testing and evaluations, at least for a bit. In June, the Gates Foundation called for a moratorium on tying consequences to evaluations based on Common Core standards until 2016, and in August, the Education Department announced that states could delay using student test scores in teacher evaluations for two years. This month, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools called for state and district leaders to cut back on unnecessary testing and test preparation.

David Welch says he’s undeterred. While he’s received an informal crash course in the unforgiving politics of education reform in this country in the past year, the back-and-forth doesn’t interest him. “I look at this as my responsibility to help and improve the society I live in,” he says. “And I’m willing to fight that battle as long as I have to fight that battle.”

TIME Education

Skin Cancer U? Students Tan on Campus at Top Colleges

A woman lies in a tanning booth in Anchorage, Alaska on Dec 15, 2005.
A woman lies in a tanning booth in Anchorage, Alaska on Dec 15, 2005. Al Grillo—AP

America’s top universities may be teaching a dangerous lesson about tanning.

Twelve percent of the nation’s top colleges and universities have tanning beds on campus, and nearly half have them either on campus or in off-campus housing, according to a report published online Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology.

Students can even use “campus cash” debit cards loaded up by parents for tanning at 14 percent of the 125 top colleges and universities compiled by U.S. News & World Report. And when tanning beds were offered in off-campus housing, it was free to tenants 96 percent of the time, the study found…
TIME Education

Why Ph.D.s Shouldn’t Teach College Students

jacomstephens—Getty Images

Marty Nemko is a career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform.

Professors, the campus and even the university as an institution need to be replaced

Despite a college degree’s enormous cost, almost half of college freshmen (43%) don’t graduate even if given six years. If they graduate, a 2011 national study found, 36% of the 1,600 students tested “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” in four years. And in the just-published follow-up, which tracked those students since their graduation in 2009, one-quarter were living at home two years after graduation and more than half said their lives lacked direction. Twenty percent were earning less than $30,000 a year, half of those less than $20,000.

Hidebound higher education

College hasn’t changed much in centuries. For the most part, there’s still a research-oriented Ph.D. sage on the stage lecturing on the liberal arts to a student body too often ill-prepared and uninterested in that. That occurs on a plush campus with a porcine administration, which results in a four-year sticker price at a brand-name private college of more than $200,000. (And those are 2012 figures. They’re higher now. Plus, those figures exclude tens of thousands of dollars in books, travel, living expenses and miscellany.)

Time, not for reform, but for reinvention

The meteoric rise in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which see an average enrollment of 43,000 students per course, is an early sign that the public wants change. But MOOCs aren’t the answer. Sure, they’re free and available to all, but because they’re still taught largely by those professor types to often unprepared students, the completion and learning rates are low. MOOCs have a completion rate of only 10%.

Undergraduate courses should not be taught mainly by Ph.D.s. The gap between their and their students’ intellectual capabilities and interests is too great. The instructors should be mainly bachelor’s-level graduates who themselves had to work hard to get an A. Just as you’d probably learn computer basics better if taught by someone who had to work to acquire mastery rather than by a born computer whiz, the same is true of most undergraduate courses. To be licensed to teach, prospective instructors should have to complete a pedagogy boot camp, a one-weekend to one-semester intensive, which ironically, in most colleges, is required of teaching assistants but not of professors.

Most courses would be taught via online interactive video, which would both save much money—no campus required—and allow a dream team of the world’s most transformational instructors to teach. That way, everyone—from the poorest, weakest student to the most brilliant—would have access to the best in interactive instruction. In addition, the online format allows for individualized pacing and exciting simulations impossible to provide in a nation’s worth of live classes.

Extracurriculars would occur at local gyms, swimming pools, theaters and athletic fields. Where those were insufficient, facilities on existing campuses would be used, but much of campuses could be sold off.

Importantly, courses would not be attached to any institution. Anyone could submit his or her course for approval to the U.S. Department of Education. Screening would be done only for quality and rigor, not for censorship of content. If approved, the instructor, when posting availability of the course on one of the existing MOOC sites (Coursera, edX or Udemy), could include a badge saying the course is U.S. government–approved for X units of undergraduate credit. When a student has completed the specified number and type of courses to comprise a bachelor’s degree, the student would submit proof of completion to the Department of Education, plus the results of a proctored exam that would assess if the student had acquired bachelor’s-level skills in reading, writing, critical thinking and mathematical reasoning. If so, they would be granted a U.S. bachelor’s degree.

The result would be a far better college education at far lower cost.

A high-quality pathway for academically weak students

Today, we push nearly everyone to college, even those who did poorly in high school, for whom college is unlikely to be the best way to spend their years and money. America needs a major apprenticeship initiative like those in Germany and England: a partnership between schools and employers that creates a high-quality experience for high schoolers whose track record indicates they’re more likely to succeed in a practical curriculum than by deriving geometric theorems, deciphering the intricacies of Milton or applying quantum mechanics.

In the meantime, what to do?

Higher education’s glacial pace of change, despite years of withering criticism, does not portend major improvement in the offing. So what’s the current crop of would-be college attendees to do?

Attending college should not be a fait accompli. If you did poorly in high school or are burned out on academics, you’re likely to join the almost half of college freshmen who don’t graduate even if given six years. So you might want to consider a noncollege path. For example, while not ideal, America does have a system of apprenticeships. Or try to work at the elbow of a successful, ethical business owner or nonprofit executive. Or consider the military: It offers training in a wide range of career fields. Or take just a gap semester or year to refresh and edify yourself in the real world before starting college. Try some focused traveling—for example, visit elementary schools in different areas and keep a blog. Or start a simple business. Even if it fails, you will have learned much about entrepreneurship, organization, people and life.

A College Report Card

If you are planning to attend college, you’ll make a wiser choice if you ask each prospective school’s admissions office for the following information, which collectively make up what I call the College Report Card:

  • Results of the most recent student-satisfaction survey.
  • The most recent report by a visiting accreditation team (for a college to retain accreditation, a team of experts periodically visits for a few days and writes a report listing the identified strengths, weaknesses and recommendations).
  • The four-year graduation rate.
  • The average four-year student’s growth in writing, analytic reasoning and mathematical reasoning (many institutions use a standardized exam like the Collegiate Learning Assessment).
  • The percentage of students who graduate with their intended major who are professionally employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.

It would be a consumer boon if the government mandated that all colleges post the College Report Card on their home page.

We claim that American higher education is the world’s best. Like many claims, it deserves closer examination.

Marty Nemko is an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Allegations of Mass SAT Cheating Delay Test Scores in China and South Korea

Students in China and South Korea who took the SAT on Oct. 11 will have their test scores delayed

All students living in China and South Korea who took the SAT on Oct. 11 will have their test scores delayed and reviewed because of allegations of widespread cheating, officials from the College Board and its global test administration and security provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS), tell TIME.

The allegations of cheating, which are “based on specific, reliable information,” according to the officials, could be held up for as many as four weeks, potentially excluding some students for “early decision” or “early action” admissions to U.S. colleges and universities. Each individual test score will be evaluated for evidence of cheating.

“The College Board will make universities aware of the circumstances and can supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying,” ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing tells TIME. “Students should contact their preferred schools for more information.”

“Universities generally do their best to accommodate late scores from students when there are extenuating circumstances,” Ewing adds. Even if test scores are delivered in November, they will be reported as October scores, he says.

Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, confirms that “the administrative delay will not hurt the chance of admission for an individual applicant, since any scores that arrive before our review process is complete will be considered.” He adds that students from countries like China where there are no SAT test centers available are not required to submit SAT scores.

The College Board has faced cheating scandals in the past, although this appears to be the first time “reliable allegations” have affected more than one entire country at the same time. “We have conducted administrative reviews in a number of countries over the years including the United States when we want to assure that no student gained an unfair advantage over students who tested honestly,” Ewing says.

In May 2013, the College Board canceled a scheduled exam in South Korea because of allegations of widespread cheating, affecting an estimated 1,500 students. That was the first time allegations of cheating affected an entire country.

Students from China, India and South Korea now make up roughly 50% of the total number of international students in the U.S., according to a 2013 Institute of International Education report. The number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has increased by 20% every year since 2008, reaching nearly 200,000 in late 2012.

Under current rules, Chinese students without foreign passports must travel outside of mainland China to take admissions tests for U.S. universities. “Chinese national students interested in taking the SAT are welcome to take it in SAT testing centers in Hong Kong, Macao or any other country such as Taiwan or Korea, among others,” the College Board website reads. Those with foreign passports can take the test in China at international schools.

“The scores under question are for Chinese test takers who tested outside of China (not Hong Kong) and NOT for those taken at the international schools in China,” Ewing says in an email.

“Based on specific, reliable information, we have placed the scores of all students who are current residents of Korea or China and sat for the October 11th international administration of the SAT on hold while we conduct an administrative review,” according to a statement from the College Board and ETS released Wednesday to TIME. “The review is being conducted to ensure that illegal actions by individuals or organizations do not prevent the majority of test-takers who have worked hard to prepare for the exam from receiving valid and accurate scores.”

The College Board sent emails this week to all students affected by this round of allegations of cheating. “Dear Test Taker: We at ETS are highly committed to quality standards and fairness,” the email reads. “After every test administration, we go to great lengths to make sure each test result we report is accurate and valid. It is with this objective in mind that we sometimes take additional quality control steps before scores are released. For the reasons stated above, your October 2014 SAT scores are delayed because they are under administrative review.”

The email ends by denouncing “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit” and asks that individuals share any information with the College Board that could help in the investigation. “We take action on all credible information and go to great lengths to ensure each test result we report is accurate and valid,” the email says.

— With reporting by Tessa Berenson

Read next: This Is How the New SAT Will Test Vocabulary

TIME Education

How Did the University of Pennsylvania Become a Party School?

Students walk through the University of Pennsylvania campus on December 16, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Students walk through the University of Pennsylvania campus on December 16, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Christian Science Monitor—Christian Science Monitor/Getty

The environment at Penn does not seem to have changed so radically that it would reach the Playboy pinnacle

I have no idea why I am so devoted to the University of Pennsylvania. What I do know is that I was a much better person when I graduated in 1972 than when I entered four years earlier. Which is why I am currently serving my third year as president of my class, as a longtime alumni interviewer of high school applicants for admission, and a mentor to different on-campus groups.

Like alumni of colleges around the country, I check out the US News and World Report rankings of universities and colleges and have been gratified when Penn rises in the poll and somewhat dismayed when we fall. Last month, one publication selected Penn as the top research university in the world; another proclaimed that more Penn graduates are billionaires than those of any other college. Neither of these two titles came as a surprise to me.

However, Playboy’s selection of my alma mater as the top party college in the nation came as a total shock to this undergraduate from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although over 50 percent of my class joined either fraternities or sororities, the popularity of the Greek system at Penn diminished significantly during my four years there as the peace movement and feminism gained traction. At that time, the legal drinking age in Pennsylvania was 21, and fake IDs were relatively hard to obtain. Unless you were friends with the hockey players who served as bouncers at the legendary campus bar, Smokey Joe’s, an underage male student had no chance of entering. And as recreational drugs got more popular on campus, the taste of the cheesesteaks improved, but the parties did not.

I went to memorable parties in my time at Penn—including one that ended with my dining room table broken in half and two women waking up in my bed—but they were few and far between. I spent most of my nights either working until deadline in the newspaper offices or writing papers due the next day.

The environment at Penn does not seem to have changed so radically that it would reach the Playboy pinnacle. In conjunction with my alumni activities, I visit the campus a minimum of five times per year. At nearby bars, I’m just as likely to see students from Drexel as Penn. As I stroll down Locust Walk through the center of campus after a football or basketball game, the fraternities that line the east side of the walk seem more subdued than they were 40 years ago. The students are better dressed and better-looking, but it always seems like the undergrads are in a rush—to the library, to the gym, to a music organization, or to a part-time job. With these types of pressures, it is difficult for me to understand when Penn students have time to party enough to draw Playboy’s attention.

The student body seemed as surprised as I was by this latest distinction. In an online survey conducted by the campus newspaper, 76 percent of respondents said that Penn does not deserve the Playboy ranking. One of the students I mentor, Cha Cha, wholeheartedly agrees. As she explained to me in an e-mail, “I don’t think anyone was not surprised by this ranking. … If you aren’t into parties, you definitely won’t really come in touch with any—which is probably more unavoidable at an actual party school.”

Cha Cha—who is going to graduate with degrees from both the Wharton School and the College of Arts and Sciences—chose Penn because she believed it would give her the tools she needed to become a force in the medical industry. While she might be an atypical student, even for Penn (she studies on big party weekends like Homecoming), she is closer to the norm on campus than a regular binge drinker is.

As a high school senior when I applied to Penn, I had no ambitions to be a force in the medical industry, or any other industry. I was thinking every weekend there would be an alcohol-induced orgy. I was infrequently right. Cha Cha clearly has a better grip on the value of a Penn education than I did—or that Playboy does, for that matter.

Jeffrey M. Rothbard is a partner in the law firm of Rothbard, Rothbard, Kohn & Kellar in Newark, New Jersey. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Sexual Assault

The Troubling Statistic in MIT’s Sex Assault Survey

MIT Campus Sexual Assault
The main entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Rick Friedman—Corbis

Many students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence -- even the ones who experienced assault

A new survey of student experiences with sexual assault at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an encouraging step for schools working to put an end to the shamefully widespread problem of campus rape.

That the prestigious school released the study publicly is helpful in erasing the stigma surrounding sexual assault. And the numbers show that even an institution far better known for Fields Medals than frat parties has an incidence of campus rape comparable to other colleges. Roughly 35% of MIT’s 11,000 graduates and undergraduates took the anonymous survey. Of the undergrads, about 17% of women and 5% of men reported experiencing sexual assault while at the Massachusetts school.

But a deeper look at the numbers points to a more troubling statistic. Even though 17% of female undergraduates reported an experience that fits the survey’s definition of sexual assault (“unwanted sexual behaviors … involving use of force, physical threat, or incapacitation”), only 11% of female undergraduates checked “yes” when asked directly if they had been “raped” or “sexually assaulted.” Despite a concerted effort by the Obama Administration, state officials and campus leaders, MIT students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence — even when reporting that they had experienced assault.

Sadly, that’s not exactly surprising. Experts say there are numerous reasons students struggle to understand the definition of sexual assault, including denial about the experience and and the hesitation to apply the label to attackers or those who experience it. “There is still such a stigma to be a ‘rape victim’ or a ‘rapist,'” says Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire researcher and expert in sexual assault prevention.

The MIT survey also indicated a tendency among undergraduates to blame victims, including themselves, for assaults that had taken place. Fifteen percent of female undergraduate respondents and 25% of male undergraduates said that a drunk person who is assaulted is “at least somewhat responsible” for what happened, while 31% of female undergraduate respondents and 35% of males said they believed that sexual assault and rape “happen because men can get carried away in sexual situations once they’ve started.”

Of students who said they had been assaulted, many blamed themselves, which may explain why so few of them decided to report the incident. Of the assault victims, 72% said they didn’t think it was “serious enough to officially report” and 44% said they “felt they were at least partly at fault or it wasn’t totally the other person’s fault.”

These attitudes are somewhat incongruous with the fact that assault victims also reported having felt a great deal of trauma because of the assault–35% reported being unable to complete assignment and 30% reported being unable to eat. Only about 5% of respondents to MIT’s survey reported the experience to someone in an official capacity.

MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart says part of the challenge in reducing assault is educating students about all the forms it takes. “We can’t prevent what is not agreed upon by everyone,” she says.

Barnhart says that MIT has had an increase in reported sexual misconduct since the survey was advertised last spring, a sign that awareness is growing.

Still, as Stapleton says, “it’s going to take time to change the culture.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 29

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Community colleges should lead the way in preparing America’s workforce, and states need to join the effort.

By Matthew Dembicki in Community College Daily

2. To bring Asian-American communities to the ballot box, we must overcome cultural barriers, and that starts with language.

By Akiko Fujita at the World

3. We should be honoring, not quarantining, health care workers who put their lives at risk to fight Ebola abroad.

By by Jeffrey M. Drazen, Rupa Kanapathipillai, Edward W. Campion, Eric J. Rubin, Scott M. Hammer, Stephen Morrissey, Lindsey R. Baden at the New England Journal of Medicine

4. Prison officials should judge inmates by their actions, not the color of their skin.

By the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times

5. Deliberate efforts to welcome and nurture immigrant families can help reverse the trend of shrinking rural populations.

By the Rural Family Economic Success Action Network

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Campbell Brown Responds to TIME Cover


The founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice responds to Time’s “Rotten Apples” cover.

This is one part of a series of readers’ responses to this week’s cover.

The label and imagery of “Rotten Apples” at the front of the magazine has driven much of the debate about the article. That is a shame, because it has overshadowed the substantive reality explored in the piece.

We know the vast majority of teachers are committed, caring and conscientious. They are not rotten; they are the core of our success stories in public schools.

The real issue is covered in the body of the story itself, and in the victorious Vergara case on which the Time piece is based: tenure, dismissal and seniority laws that work to keep grossly ineffective teachers in class. The most telling anecdote came from the superintendent whose singular request to improve his schools was not more public money or supplies but “control over my workforce.”

Why? Because states with flawed teacher laws are doing the unfathomable. They are working against their own stated mission of teaching all children well. In New York, the courts have found that access to at least a sound, basic education is guaranteed by the state constitution – and yet state laws actually undermine that.

It happens because tenure is granted to teachers long before school leaders have a reasonable chance to determine if those teachers are effective. It happens because dismissal laws make it nearly impossible for schools to fire teachers deemed grossly ineffective or even dangerous. It happens because teachers are laid off based solely on their level of seniority, without regard to their quality.

That fact that it happens in a minority of cases still amounts to hundreds or thousands of children in a large district. And if it happens at all and we know about it, is that not a problem we should fix? Otherwise, what is the message sent to students who are taught by teachers who brazenly fail to lead or control their class, let alone inspire their students? Sorry kids, better luck next year?

Parents are turning to the courts as a last resort, as a matter of inspiration out of desperation. Years of legislative inaction and inertia inside school systems have offered no other choice. If elected leaders will not lead, parents are justified to question whether these laws causing such problems are even constitutional.

The Time article mentions the New York case supported by my organization, but unfortunately describes the litigation in shorthand, calling it my lawsuit. It is not. I use my platform as a former TV journalist to draw attention to the cause. But the case belongs to the families who serve as plaintiffs, and they do not do it casually. It is not easy to take on the state government and the teachers’ unions.

These parents are fighting because they want more good teachers in our schools. Turns out that, they, too, are trying to fix this. And they deserve our support.

In search of more perspectives on TIME’s cover?

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, responds here.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, responds here.

Christopher Ciampa, a teacher from Los Angeles, responds here.

Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association, responds here.

Courtney Brousseau, a high school senior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., responds here.

Billy Easton, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, responds here.

Gary Bloom, former Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent, responds here.

Educators from the Badass Teachers Association respond here.

Stuart Chaifetz, a New Jersey parent, responds here.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser