Archive for March, 2019

What Makes a Fair College Admissions Policy? JStor Invites Three Writers to Respond… And Their Responses Show What is UN-Fair

March 29, 2019 Comments off

I receive a weekly newsletter from JStor, a website that provides scholarly research on a host of timely topics. This past week’s edition included a reaction from three researchers on the question “What Makes a Fair College Admissions Policy?” In reading the responses, I found that all three writers concur on one issue: as long as their are gross inequities in the funding of public K-12 schools there will never be an admissions policy that could be deemed “fair”.

After recounting all of the potential “objective” means of determining qualifications, Julie Park’s essay on race-neutral admissions policies offers this insight:

Let’s remember what’s even more unfair: That low-income students and so many students of color are denied access to high-quality public schools. That many affluent, White, and East Asian American students experience tremendous advantage in college preparation. And of course, that there exist policies and practices that overtly favor the wealthy, from donor preferences to the incredible admissions scandal of recent months. These things are much, much more unfair than someone with a perfect SAT score—one of thousands of similar applicants in the pool—getting turned down by Harvard and then being able to attend some other fantastic college.

Christine Yano also laments efforts to objectify student assessment in an effort to be “fair”. She rather views the development of a cohort as an art based on the intuition of an admissions officer as opposed to a science based on cold hard data. She writes:

Fairness…requires admissions officers to look beyond numbers and conduct the screening process not as science, but as art. This is the art of human assessment, predicting the future from the past. Adding up test scores does not necessarily guarantee success within this ideal of a vibrant, richly diverse educational institution. Nor is GPA a pure predictor, if the successful life of a campus is also measured by unquantifiable elements such as leadership and creativity, both broadly conceived.

Nadirah Farah Foley advocates a move away from meritocracy asserting that “A truly fair system would reject meritocratic logics and instead operate on the principle that high-quality education is not a reward for the few, but a right of the many“. After reading the first two analyses, both of which implicitly accept the world as it is, I found myself nodding with complete agreement at Ms. Foley’s call for a total and complete overhaul of the current system:

I think we need to go a step further than asking what constitutes a fairadmissions process, and instead ask what constitutes a fair society. We should recognize that our college admissions process is merely holding a mirror up to our society, reflecting how competitive, individualistic, unequal, and unfair the United States is. A truly radical solution would require the reorganization of our entire class structure and the redistribution of resources,thus obviating the need for such a high-stakes college application process.

It seems that we cling to meritocracy as a way of clinging to some hope of a better life in an increasingly unequal world.But rather than investing our hope in a fairer admissions system, I think we should dream bigger, and invest our hope in a more just society—one in which we live in community rather than competition.That might look like taking up Harvard professor Lani Guinier’s call to emphasize “democratic merit,” or it might look like dispensing with merit—and its attendant acceptance of deserved inequality—entirely.

Everyone deserves access to education. A fair admissions system would have that as a core premise and reject ostensibly just, “meritocratic” inequalities.

How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be? We need to start by acknowledging that the opportunities offered to children raised in poverty are in no way comparable to those available to affluent children and that any pretense of “fairness” requires us to either spend more on K-12 education or open the doors to all higher education institutions to all students. While neither of these options is likely to occur in my lifetime, they could happen with a generation if we face the unfairness that exists today.

Amanda Hess’ NYTimes Article Castigating Parents for Bribes Misses BIG Point: We ALL View a Good Education as a Transaction.

March 28, 2019 Comments off

Today’s most read article in the NYTimes is Amanda Hess’ article “People Don’t Bribe College Officials to Help Their Kids. They Do It to Help Themselves”. The main point of the article is that parents value the cachet of having their children attend an “elite school” far more than their children. The article focuses on YouTube “star” (and now “victim” of parents bribing her way into college) Olivia Jade as a proxy for a whole group of students whose parents work behind the scenes to get their children admitted to prestigious schools. It seems that Olivia Jade’s broadcasts feature several examples of her demeaning the purpose of higher education and the importance of school altogether. After describing how Olivia Jade has already achieved success of a kind in YouTube’s world, the article concludes with this: 

Olivia Jade… is worried that other kids at school are going to take advantage of her. “That’s already my big fear of meeting people at my college — that they are just going to use me,” she says. She seems to see the value of a good education, in exactly the way so many parents see it: as a transaction.

Ms. Hess overlooks one sad reality: it isn’t just parents who see a good education as a “transaction”…. it’s the entire culture we live in. What is schooling but a transaction when the ultimate metric for K-12 education is employability or readiness for college— and college’s ultimate metric is lifetime earnings.

A Toxic Mix: Redlining, Wealth Disparity, and Supreme Court Rulings on Bussing

March 26, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes recently ran two seemingly unrelated articles that underscored the underlying obstacles to achieving equal opportunity for all children in our country, especially given a set of Supreme Court rulings that effectively preclude opportunities for choice across district lines.

How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades“, a recently republished 2017 Upshot article by Emily Badger that fell under the heading “Self-Fulfilling Prophesies”, described the seamy history of redlining, a practice whereby real estate salespersons and banks conspired to limit the access of housing for blacks to certain neighborhoods through the use of color-coded maps. The result was de facto segregation and the creation of a vicious cycle:

The maps became self-fulfilling prophesies, as “hazardous” neighborhoods — “redlined” ones — were starved of investment and deteriorated further in ways that most likely also fed white flight and rising racial segregation. These neighborhood classifications were later used by the Veterans Administration and the Federal Housing Administration to decide who was worthy of home loans at a time when homeownership was rapidly expanding in postwar America.

A few days later the Times published Sarah Mervosh’s article “How Much Wealthier are White School Districts than Non-White Ones? $23,000,000,000 Report Says” The headline provides the cold hard facts about the funding disparity between affluent white school districts and property poor black districts. But the relationship between housing practices and wealth disparity jumps out:

The report took aim at school district borders, which it said can chop up communities and wall off wealthier districts to fund their schools with local property tax revenue, while poorer districts are unable to generate the same revenue.

“Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many,” the report said.

Anyone who has examined school funding knows this is true not only on a racial basis but also on a socio-economic basis. The only way these disparities can be fixed is through increased funding at a higher level: either at the State level or through some kind of compensatory federal funding. Unfortunately neither of those mechanisms are working, and so children born into economically deprived neighborhoods or communities are stuck in underfunded schools.

And school choice is not the solution either. As the EdBuild report that was the basis for the NYTimes article notes, school choice only makes things worse:

Arizona also had one of the most drastic differences in funding among states listed in the report. Dr. López said that in her state, “boundary lines are a huge contributor because of gerrymandering, segregation and zoning.”

But she said the situation in Arizona was exacerbated by a new kind of “white flight” because of the popularity of charter schools and open enrollment, a policy that allows parents to request that their children attend schools outside the district. In Arizona, funding generally follows the student, rather than staying in the district.

It’s depleting even more funding from these districts that were already at a disadvantage to begin with,” Dr. López (associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona) said.

Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the department was aware of disparities in the state but did not believe the gap was “as egregious” as the report suggested.

“Equity and fairness are a major concern for us and we are open to exploring a variety of options to address these problems,” he said in a statement.

But he said the State Legislature would need to take action to consolidate school districts, something school boards generally oppose.

“It is far from certain that consolidation would help here,” he said. “What will help is more funding for education across the board,” with a focus on addressing inequities.

The Arizona spokesman may not see the gap as being “as egregious” as the report indicated in his State, but anyone conversant with spreadsheets can verify EdBuild’s findings and, in so doing, demonstrate that there are significant disparities between the funding in property poor districts and affluent ones.

Everyone who studied history is aware of the Brown v. Board of Education case that overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case which determined that it was acceptable to offer “separate but equal” services for blacks. It has been over 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land, a longer time period than Plessy was the rule of law, but nothing has changed. Why? Because two successive court cases involving bussing that followed Brown v. Board of Education had the effect of making district boundaries impermeable unless it could be shown that the boundaries were drawn solely for the purpose of segregation. As a NYTimes article in 2012 reported, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district the court “upheld the use of busing as a “remedial technique” for achieving desegregation” based on the reasoning that it was not enough “for school officials to draw school attendance lines that appear to be racially neutral“, they had to “foster integration by such affirmative measures as gerrymandering school boundaries to include both races, pairing ‘white’ and ‘Negro’ schools, and drawing school zones that combine noncontiguous areas in racially diverse neighborhoods.”

But two years later, the court made it clear that such rules did not require cross district bussing, stating that “...students could only be bused across district lines if there was evidence that multiple districts had implemented deliberately discriminatory policies.

So the court ruled that intra-district “gerrymandering” is required, but inter-district solutions are not unless it could be shown that “multiple districts had implemented deliberately discriminatory policies”, a very high bar.

The result is a politically intractable moral problem. Our nation seems unwilling to raise the funds needed to create a level playing field, instead buying into the notion that children can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they are born into poverty and are somehow deserving of more services if they have the good fortune to be born into affluence. The only solution to a moral problem is to appeal to the higher angels of voters. Here’s hoping that 2020 will bring forth a candidate who will do that.