Journal of Educational Controversy


Monday, March 9, 2020

How do the Educational Plans of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Differ?

Editor: Below is an article from Inside Higher Ed on some of the differences between the educational plans of democratic primary candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.  We thank Inside Higher Ed for permission to reprint their analysis for our readers.

Big Differences in Biden and Sanders's Plans

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have different ideas about college affordability and higher education policy, both in their approaches and the specificity of their plans.

Federal policy reporter

Inside Higher Ed
March 9, 2020 

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Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has left two candidates with different approaches to dealing with college affordability and other higher education policy issues. In addition to having different price tags, the plans released by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders differ in how much detail they provide.
Price Tag:
Biden: $750 billion
Sanders: $2.2 trillion
Debt Forgiveness:
Sanders: Would cancel the entire balance of $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt in the U.S.
Biden: Would take a more targeted approach, enrolling all existing and new borrowers in income-based repayment plans, except for those who choose to opt out. Borrowers who make $25,000 or less per year would not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and wouldn't accrue any interest on those loans. Others would pay 5 percent of their discretionary annual income above $25,000 toward loans. The plan would forgive 100 percent of any remaining debt for those who have made payments for 20 years. It also would change the tax code so that debt forgiven through income-based repayment wouldn’t be taxed.
Biden's plan also would revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, giving $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate debt relief for every year of national or community service worked, up to five years. Individuals who work in schools, government and other nonprofit settings would automatically be enrolled in the forgiveness program. It would seek to address the problem of applicants for PSLF being rejected for not enrolling in the right repayment plan. Adjunct professors would be eligible for forgiveness, depending on the amount of time devoted to teaching.
Free College:
Sanders: Would spend $48 billion per year to eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs. His plan would create a federal-state partnership in which the federal government would pay two-thirds of the cost of providing free tuition, with the state responsible for the other third.
Participating states and tribes must meet several requirements to be eligible, including reductions of their reliance on low-paid contingent faculty members. Funds generated by the program could not be used for administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid or the construction of nonacademic buildings such as stadiums and student centers.
Biden: Would make up to two years of community college free for all students, including those who attend part-time, the children of undocumented immigrants and those who did not graduate high school recently. The program also would be created through a federal-state partnership, in which the federal government would provide 75 percent of the cost, with states picking up the remainder. The federal government would cover 95 percent of the cost of eliminating tuition at tribal community colleges that serve low-income students. Those who would receive two years of college tuition-free could then get another free two years at historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.
Other Student Aid:
Sanders: Because tuition would no longer exist at public institutions, low-income students would be free to use federal Pell Grants for books, transportation, housing and other costs. The plan would require states and tribes that participate in the federal-state partnership for free college cover any costs that are left over, after grants, for low-income students. It also would triple spending on Federal Work-Study, with a focus on institutions that serve large numbers of low-income students.
Biden: For community college students, the federal-state partnership for free college would be so-called first dollar, meaning that student aid grants could cover other costs of attending college besides tuition.
To help students at four-year institutions pay for costs other than tuition, the plan would create a new grant program to provide support services for students, especially veterans of the U.S. military, single parents, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities. The grant could be used for public benefits, textbook and transportation costs, and childcare and mental health services. Institutions also could use the money to create emergency grant programs for students who experience an unexpected financial challenge that threatens their ability to stay enrolled in college.
The plan would double the maximum award amount of Pell Grants, increasing the number of middle-class students who’d be eligible for the program. It would allow Dreamers and the formerly incarcerated to receive the grants. Biden would prioritize the use of Federal Work-Study dollars for jobs that either provide skills that are valuable for students' intended careers or that contribute to their communities by mentoring students in K-12 classrooms and community centers.
For-Profit Institutions:
Sanders: The plan does not mention for-profit colleges or debt cancellation for students who were deceived by for-profits.
Biden: The plan would require for-profit institutions to prove their value to the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible for federal aid. It also would eliminate the 90-10 loopholethat, according to several veterans' groups, gives for-profits an incentive to aggressively market to service members and veterans. The plan would empower the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action against private lenders who mislead students about their options and do not provide an affordable payment plan during times of financial hardship. It would restore the Obama administration’s borrower-defense rule, making it easier for people deceived by for-profit institutions to have their student debt forgiven. It also would allow private student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy.
Improving College Performance:
Sanders: His plan would create a federal-state partnership that would differ from the one eliminating tuition. That program would provide a dollar-for-dollar federal match for states and tribes to increase academic opportunities for students, hire new faculty members and provide professional development opportunities for professors.
Biden: His plan would create a grant program to help community colleges implement evidence-based practices to increase student retention and completion of credential programs. It would invest $8 billion to help community colleges improve the health and safety of their facilities and acquire new technology. It would provide grants to states that work to accelerate students’ attainment of bachelor's degrees and other credentials, such as through offering dual-enrollment programs for community college and four-year degree tracks.
HBCUs and Other Minority-Serving Institutions:
Sanders: The plan would spend $1.3 billion per year to eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees for low-income students at roughly 200 HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. To be eligible, at least 35 percent of students at the institution would have to be low income.
Biden: The plan would invest $18 billion in grants to provide two years of free tuition to low-income and middle-class students at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. In return colleges must invest in lowering prices, improving retention and graduation rates, and closing equity gaps for students of color.
It would spend another $10 billion to create at least 200 new centers of excellence that serve as research incubators and connect underrepresented students in career fields like climate change, globalization, inequality, health disparities and cancer. Would boost funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities, including HBCUs and tribal colleges or universities, and would dedicate additional federal funding or grants and contracts for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. The plan would require any federal research grants to universities with an endowment of over $1 billion to subcontract with an HBCU, tribal college or minority-serving institution. It also would spend $20 billion to build research facilities and labs at HBCUs, tribal colleges and minority-serving institutions. And the plan would invest $10 billion in programs at HBCUs, tribal college and minority-serving institutions that increase enrollment, retention, completion and employment rates.
Biden: He would pay for the $750 billion plan by closing the “stepped-up basis” loophole, which lowers the capital gains tax liability for property passed on to an heir. Biden also would cap itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers at 28 percent.
Sanders: He would pay for the $2.2 trillion plan by taxing Wall Street trades.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Author Sam Chaltain Responds to President Trump's State of the Union Address Tonight

Author Sam Chaltain writes an insightful analysis in anticipation of tonight’s State of the Union address by President Trump. We reproduce it here for our readers.  Readers can read a previously published article by the author in our  Volume 3 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, entitled, Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools.  

Feb. 4, 2020

In his State of the Union address tonight, President Trump will renew a call for tax breaks in order to provide more scholarships for students to attend private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarships would provide up to $5 billion in federal tax credits to individuals and businesses who donate to scholarships for families to use at private, faith-based schools or to fund homeschooling. “For decades,” Trump explained, “countless children have been trapped in failing government schools. We believe that every parent should have educational freedom for their children.”

To which I say, buyer: beware.

And: it’s complicated.

As a resident of Washington, D.C., site of one of the country’s most ambitious school voucher plans to date, and a city in which half of the city’s students attend public charter schools, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. And, for what it’s worth, I even support school choice. I helped launch a charter school here. My sons attend another one, and the city is beginning to see some real collaboration between its charter schools and the district. Good things are happening.

At the same time, I worry about what could happen if too many of us simply assume that the invisible hand of the modern school marketplace — or, worse still, the incentivizing hand of the federal official — is a sufficient strategy for ensuring that all children receive equal access to a high-quality public education.

One sees, for example, the horror stories from Michigan — aka Ms. DeVos’s former laboratory — where four out of five charter schools are run by for-profit entities (read that again). One sees the sizable discrepancy between the expulsion rates of charter and district schools in D.C. and elsewhere. And so one should take seriously the warnings of scholars like Harvard’s Michael Sandel, who urges us to think much more carefully about the role market-based thinking should have — scratch that, does have — in our lives.

“Markets don’t just allocate goods,” Sandel writes in What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. “They also express and promote certain attitudes towards the goods being exchanged.” And what has occurred over the past thirty years is that without quite realizing it, we have shifted from having a market economy to being a market society. “The difference is this: A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.”

Anyone who has closely followed the sturm und drang of American school reform over the past decade has seen evidence of what Sandel is describing. Our growing reliance on — and resistance to — data-driven decision-making is a direct result of an ascendant technocratic faith in applying scientific rigor to the previously opaque art of teaching and learning. Economist Gary Becker sums up this thinking well when he asserts: “The economic approach is a comprehensive one that is applicable to all human behavior, be it behavior involving money prices or imputed shadow prices, repeated or infrequent decisions, large or minor decisions, emotional or mechanical ends, rich or poor persons, men or women, adults or children, brilliant or stupid persons, patients or therapists, businessmen or politicians, teachers or students.”

That’s a mouthful, and it captures the sea change Sandel wants us to see. Whereas in the not-too-distant past, economic thinking was restricted to economic topics — inflation, investment, trade — today it is being used to outline a new science of human behavior: one that assumes modern society will work best when human beings are allowed to weigh the costs and benefits of all things (including where to send their children to school), and then choose whatever they believe will yield the greatest personal benefit.

The part of me that agrees with that logic is the part that supports the basic idea of school choice. After all, we have tolerated a system of unequal opportunity in this country for too long, and there’s real merit in the argument that one’s zip code should not become one’s destiny. School choice in cities like mine gives everyone the same chance at a high-quality education, and empowers each family to set its own “shadow prices” — the imaginary values that are implicit in the alternatives we face and the choices we make — and then make their own decisions about where to send their children to school. As the rally cry goes, MY CHILD, MY CHOICE.

Who could argue with that?

Certainly not Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of the legislative sponsors for the new plan. “Competition improves,” he asserted. “And in this case, injecting new money to give that freedom, to give that competition, to give that power of choice, will enhance the quality of education to kids all across the country.”

But here’s where it gets complicated.

In the end, should we define public education as a public good, or a private commodity? Will our efforts to unleash self-interest (which is, after all, what the economist seeks to economize) strengthen or weaken the connective tissue of our civic life? And will the current trajectory of the school choice movement unleash a virtuous cycle of reforms that improves all schools, or merely add another layer in our historic apartheid system of schooling?

On these questions and others, I agree with former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, who, when asked by reporters in 1971 to offer his assessment of the impact of the French Revolution of 1789, said: “It is still too soon to say.” But I also agree with British sociologist Richard Titmuss, who argued that “the ways in which society organizes and structures its social institutions can encourage or discourage the altruistic in man, foster integration or alienation,” and strengthen or “erode the sense of community.”

President Trump’s myriad other amoral tendencies notwithstanding, our changing notion of community should be the central concern of anyone who cares about school choice. How can greater choice bring us closer to each other, and to a revitalized notion of civic virtue and egalitarianism? How can we ensure that school choice does not contribute to an even wider divide between the haves and the have-nots, and an even wider discrepancy between those who know how to negotiate the increasingly commodified assets of modern life, and those who are merely left to take whatever comes their way? And how can school choice reflect this basic truth about democracy — that while it does not require perfect equality, it does require that citizens share in a common life, one that is grounded as much in the “we” as the “me”?

These are the questions we must explicitly ask — and answer — if we want school choice to become a force for good. And we can’t do that without explicitly debating the extent to which market-based thinking can get us there. As Michael Sandel reminds us, “when market reasoning is applied to [an issue like] education, it’s less plausible to assume that everyone’s preferences are equally worthwhile.

“In morally charged arenas such as these, some ways of valuing goods may be higher, more appropriate than others.”

Check out Sam Chaltain’s  four-part short film series, Diverse by Design  (produced in partnership with Pigeon Roost), that provides a different picture of what school choice can (and must) resemble.

Permission granted to reprint.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Wisdom from the Faith Traditions for 2020

In the beginning of each year, we like to draw on the great faith traditions for wisdom on living the good life.  The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding again offers us its list of resolutions from diverse religions, beliefs and traditions.


To Live the Golden Rule
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Christianity, Matthew 7:12

To Embrace Religious Differences
Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.
The Bahá’í Faith, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Bishárát

To Act Virtuously
Cultivate virtue in yourself, And it will be true.
Taoism, Tao Te Ching chapter 54

To Respect the Earth 
Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species.
Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam (2.2.41)

To Treat the Stranger with Kindness
And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Judaism, Exodus 22:20

To Challenge Fake News
I replied thus: I am Zoroaster, the staunch enemy of liars and falsehood. I shall fight against liars as long as I have strength and shall uphold truth and righteous people whole heartedly.
Zoroastrianism, Yasna 43 (Verse 8)

To Advocate for Justice
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just.
Islam, Sahih International 4:135

To Speak with Honesty and Compassion
Speak only that which will bring you honor.
Sikhism, Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib

To Practice Nonviolence 
One is not called noble who harms living beings. By not harming living beings one is called noble. Buddhism, Dhammapada (Verse 270)

To Make Peace Possible
Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.
Confucianism, Confucius

Monday, December 30, 2019

Education Week Lists its Top Debates for the Last Decade

If you want to read Education Week’s selection of the top eleven “policy debates” and “challenging issues” of the last decade, you can link to it here:

2010 to Now: A Turbulent Decade for Schools

By Evie Blad and Andrew Ujifusa

December 18, 2019

 The new year brings to close a decade of stormy education policy debates, challenging issues for the nation’s schools, and the maturing of a new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Between 2010 and 2020, enrollment at U.S. public schools grew more diverse. The public narrative on the teaching profession swung between calls to fire ineffective educators and sympathy for those who must work two jobs to keep up with their bills. And U.S. education secretaries caused controversy like never before. (continue to article)

Here is their list.  Go to the article for a description of each.

  1. The Every Student Succeeds Act
  2. Betsy DeVos
  3. Obama Makes His Mark
  4. Common Core and Testing
  5. Tumultuous Times for Unions
  6. School Shootings and Safety Debates
  7. Student Enrollment: Two Tipping Points
  8. Pendulum Swing for Civil Rights Enforcement
  9. Battles Over School Choice
  10. Teacher Activism
  11. Bonus: ‘Whole Child’ and SEL

See also:


Friday, December 27, 2019

For Teachers Preparing to Teach about Impeachment and the 2020 Election

iCivics, the civic education organization, founded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has come out with new programs, lessons, and video games to help students understand the upcoming impeachment process and the 2020 election.

Check out their latest resources. 

1.     NEW Cast Your Vote Game
There’s a whole new version of our Cast Your Vote game that gives students practice researching candidates and issues ahead of Election Day. Download the Cast Your Vote Extension Pack and use the materials to help you reinforce the game's key concepts.

2.     Impeachment and Conviction Infographic   
Do your students have questions about how the impeachment process works? Our new infographic and accompanying teacher’s Slide Deck will equip you to teach about this current event in your classroom.

3.     Politics & Public Policy Unit 
Dive into this curated unit to amp up election excitement in your classroom. Students will learn concepts and processes through simulations, presentations, vocabulary-building activities, and a mock election!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

In Memoriam: Jonas F. Soltis

I was saddened to hear that the last mentor from my doctoral days at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Jonas Soltis, has passed on.  I was so fortunate to have had Philip Phenix, Maxine Greene and Jonas Soltis as my professors and members of my doctoral dissertation committee during the 1970s.  While Phil Phenix gave me a holistic view of what philosophy can provide, and Maxine an existential one, it was Jonas that honed my analytical skills during the heyday of analytical philosophy that still dominated the field during those years.  Jonas’ evolution in his approach to philosophy in subsequent years had a profound effect on both my thinking and teaching as I tried to help new teachers see the relevance of philosophy to their work.  His application of philosophy to actual classroom issues and contemporary problems left an indelible mark on multitudes of young teachers that I have taught during the years as well as on the launching of the Journal of Educational Controversy.  His legacy will be a powerful one.

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Fact Sheet on "Fake News" for Teachers

Editor:  We are passing along this fact sheet by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding for teachers who are addressing this topic in their classes.  We thank the Tanenbaum Center for permission to reprint.

©2018 TANENBAUM | Center for Interreligious Understanding | 55 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004 | (212) 967-7707 |


Are our opinions based in real—and not fake—facts? Below we share some of the real facts worth knowing…

What is "fake news"?

"Fake news" is information that is presented as credible and factual, but that is not true and is intended to deceive people. It is a deliberate attempt to sway someone’s opinion or validate it with disinformation. Simply stated, it is inaccurate, untrue, disinformation repeated by seemingly credible sources you trust including certain news sources or a trusted family member.

"Fake news" is not new—even the mythical age of "objective journalism" had its hiccups. During WWII, the Nazi party propagated fake news propaganda against the Jews; the Communists against the Capitalists, and the U.S. against Japanese-Americans; in the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy was accused of manipulating reporters and blacklisting those who couldn’t be manipulated. But, it wasn’t until the rise of web-generated content that "fake news" surged as a powerful force again.

According to the journal of Digital Journalism,i researchers have come up with six distinct definitions of fake news—news satire, news parody, propaganda, manipulation, sponsored content and fabrications. In February of 2017, Callum Borchers of the Washington Post claimed in his article ‘Fake news’ has now lost all meaning that following the 2016 election the term "fake news" has been repurposed by politicians to dismiss reporting that they disagree with.ii

 Is "fake news" real?

Some of it, sometimes. Fake news can include an element of truth, but other facts are either distorted or misrepresented. Critically analyzing content and information has always been essential and checking for factual errors is a good place to start. Ultimately, however, fake news is biased and aims to convince its audience of a specific viewpoint, often political or ideological.

How do I spot "fake news?" And what can I do about it?

Consider the source & vet the publisher’s credibility—

 Where is this information coming from? Would the site meet academic citation standards? Always check your sources. has a history of touting conspiracy theories, while The Guardian is known for journalism, having won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2014.
 What is the domain name? If the logo seems "off" or the website has additional letters added at the end such as "" then you’re probably not looking at a credible source. Double-check and make sure .co is not referencing Colombia’s internet country code top-level domain.iii

 Can you perform reverse image searches for photos or sources? In the era of Photoshop, you can’t always believe what you see. (Don’t know what a reverse image search is? Check here.

 What is the publication’s point of view?

Read beyond the headline—

 Headlines are often designed to be inflammatory clickbait, so what’s the whole story? Does the headline match the content of the article? Reading the article is key.

 Does the website carry a disclaimer? Satirical sites like The Onion or parody shows like SNL may contain a disclaimer, while others will not. Is it sponsored content? News organizations, even reputable ones such as The Washington Post increase their revenue running advertisements. Content may read like a regular news article, but cite a disclaimer that it is sponsored content and represents the opinion, interests, goals of the sponsor.iv

 Does the headline or story purposely play on your fears and/or anxieties? Is the story so outrageous you’re having a hard time believing it? Do some digging—if other credible news outlets are reporting on the same information then it’s probably trustworthy.v

Investigate the author—

 Is the article clearly attributed to an author? What other pieces has the author written?
 Are they a contributor or are they a paid staff writer? An author’s bio can be a telltale sign of a fake Even that the author is fake.

 How can I check out "fake news" stories?

There are a lot of organizations working on fact-checking, and dedicated to reviewing content. Some to check out include:

● has been exposing false viral claims since the mid-1990s, including fabricated messages, distortions containing bits of truth and everything in between.vii

From the beginning, PolitiFact focused on looking at specific statements made by politicians and rating them for accuracy. This site rates statements based on the information known at the time the statement is made.viii

People take old photos and try to pass them off as current content. Check where that image has appeared before and who has shared it. Make sure the image is original and is used in its original context.ix

Why do I sometimes believe "fake news?

There are lots of reasons this happens—to all of us. Sometimes we fail to ask important questions about the content with which we engage. And with the advent of the internet and the rise of social media,x discerning whether content is credible or not can be difficult.

Ways to counter this include being careful not to accept information that simply confirms our own beliefs and personal biases. People of all ages, from media-savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, are susceptible to quickly forwarding along and sharing information without first verifying the content is true and the sources are accurate. And when it comes to checking if the info is legitimate, there’s no quick fix. Discerning whether information is factual will take some digging.xi

The reality is that "fake news" is not a new phenomenon, but with the help of the internet, not only has our access to information increased—so has our ability to create and share information (and misinformation). Fifty years ago, sources of information were much more limited. We got our news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that vetted and verified before reporting. In the age of the internet, we now have entirely new ways of publishing, sharing and consuming information, with little to no verification standards. This means that the responsibility for verifying your news is now your burden and not the primary responsibility of the source.

Information overload and increased access to content distribution mean that web-generated news is on the rise. And that means we now must assume responsibility for safeguarding and verifying the truth, the facts and reality.
i Digital Journalism, ii The Washington Post,
iii Domain Typer,

iv The Smithsonian,
v First Draft News,
vi The News Literacy Project,
viii PolitiFact,
ix The News Literacy Project,
x The Smithsonian,
xi TIME,

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Latest News Reports on Court’s Affirmative Action Decision

As we prepare our upcoming issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, “The Ethics of Memory: What Does it Mean to Apologize for Historical Wrongs,”  events keep catching up to us.  One of the topics we encouraged authors to examine was on affirmative action.  The courts have just handed down the latest decision on affirmative action.  Below are some news reports along with a link to the actual decision to keep our readership up to date on events.





* Plaintiff
* Civil Action No. 14- cv -14176 -ADB
* Defendant

Friday, September 6, 2019

Washington Post Article Continues the Conversation We Started in our Article in 2012 on No-Excuses Charter Schools

We always like to provide our readership with updated thoughts on articles we have published.  Readers will remember the article in our 2012 issue of Volume 6 by Alice Ginsberg entitled “The Dog Ate My Homework: Embracing Risk in the Chilling Climate of No Excuses Schools,” that took a critical look at such schools.    

Recently, Valerie Strauss, an education reporter for the Washington Post, published an article, “Some ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say they are changing. Are they? Can they?” In the article, Strauss reflects on some recent exchanges of ideas on the possibility or impossibility of changes in these schools.

We invite thoughts and perspectives from our readers on this ongoing conversation.

Readers can read the Washington Post article at: