Archive for May, 2019

SAT Adds “Adversity Score” to Mitigate Demographic Reality, Sidestep College Decisions to Abandon Tests as Metric

May 24, 2019 Comments off

The College Board announced last week that it was introducing an “Adversity Score” in an effort to mitigate the demographic reality that children raised in poverty and minorities generally score lower on their tests than their affluent and white counterparts and to sidestep the reality that more and more colleges are abandoning the use of the test in their acceptance decisions. The bottom line in both cases is that the survival of ETS depends on its acceptance as a proxy for “merit”, and that case is increasingly difficult to make given the fact that there is no correlation between SAT scores and college success and sufficient evidence that individuals with relatively middling-to-low SAT scores fare well in post-secondary education.

Of late there has been wide coverage given to millionaires who spend thousands to help their children prepare for these tests and, in rare instances, pay to have someone take the tests in place of their children. This is happening because so-called “elite colleges” require high SAT scores for admission and entry into those colleges is viewed as an essential first step toward success. But increasingly the “elite colleges” are finding applicant pools full of high scoring students whose SATs cannot be used in any statistical sense to identify the most worthy candidates— especially when the “elite” schools want to offer a wide array of arts, music, and athletic programs that require students whose SAT scores might not otherwise qualify them for entry. Given the mass of students whose SAT scores exceed 1500, the “elite” schools are relying less on the scores and more on other factors. The SAT decision to offer an “adversity Index”, then, would not make a difference in most cases of admission to an “elite” school except to offer a fig-leaf’s protection when a college accepts a low scoring athlete or musician.

From my perspective, the sooner we abandon the SAT as a proxy for “merit” the better. It might be possible that if “elite” colleges abandoned the SAT altogether that US News and World Report would no longer focus on it and MAYBE the whole notion that a single test is the proxy for success would disappear. If that is the case, schools might be able to go about the business of educating students based on something more holistic than a pencil-and-paper test.


The Secret Everyone Knows but No One Talks About

May 23, 2019 Comments off

Anyone who reads this blog will not be surprised with the big picture on this issue… but I was astonished at how wide the disparity is. In a plutocracy money matters most.

Categories: Uncategorized

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

Bernie Sanders Is Bringing Back the Most Underrated Education Policy

May 22, 2019 Comments off

Over the past two decades, education reform has been a major topic of debate and policymaking, from President Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill to President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. Reforms have generally followed the pattern of adapting mechanisms from the for-profit business world to “fix” supposedly broken aspects of the public education system: weakening teacher
— Read on

Last week it was standing up against for profit charter schools. This week it’s standing up for the benefits of integrated schools. The silence of other candidates on both of these issues is deafening. Yet I read that Bernie Sanders got a chilly reception at an event sponsored by “She the People” a group that looks to push more women of color to the polls, in SC while Joe Biden was applauded. Maybe Bernie Sanders’ positions will become clearer in the months ahead… and maybe some folks will look more closely at Joe Biden’s record.

Categories: Uncategorized

Another Assault on Free Speech: Banning Books on Injustice in Prisons

May 22, 2019 Comments off

AP writer Terry Tang recently reported that the ACLU is appealing a decision by the AZ Department of Corrections to ban the book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.” Written by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, Ms. Tang describes the book as one that “…examines law enforcement and mass incarceration through its treatment of African American men.” And she indicates that the author is at a loss to understand why his book is being banned:

Butler, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said his publisher was notified by email in March that his book had “unauthorized content.” The notice did not specify what led to the decision but warned that some aspect of the 2017 book was “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.”

Butler said he is mystified as to what raised alarm bells. He uses the title, which is a maneuver police have used to restrain a suspect by the neck, throughout the book as a metaphor for how society and law subjugate black men. Nowhere does Butler advocate violent or retaliatory behavior.

“I disavow violence because first, I think it’s immoral, and second, because it wouldn’t work,” Butler said. “I’ve received letters from several inmates who have read ‘Chokehold’ while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading ‘Chokehold’ has caused any problems in prison.”

I find it hard to believe that a book that the author states does not advocate “violent or retaliatory behavior” could be “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.” But I DO understand how a book dealing with the treatment of African American men might provoke some unsettling questions in prisons that currently house them in disproportionate numbers.

It strikes me that one of the major purposes of schooling is to raise unsettling questions and promote open-minded dialogue. In prison, though, I have the sense that compliance and conformity in behavior and thinking are more important. I would like to believe that outside of prison things are different… but as long as students are being trained to pass examinations with one-right-answer I might be deluded.

Bible Bills Proliferate… Can Bills Mandating Christianity as a State Religion Be Far Behind?

May 21, 2019 Comments off

Washington Post writer Julie Zausmer reports that several states are considering laws that would mandate that high schools offer courses on the Bible, using a law recently passed by Kentucky as the model. From Ms. Zausner’s article it is evident that “Project Blitz”, a nationwide effort by “activists on the religious right” is using an ALEC-like model to promote these bills.

I usually try to avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but the recent abortion laws adopted by at least eight states make me think that “Project Blitz” is an effort to slip the nose of the camel under a tent, and the camel in this case is an effort to make Christianity a State religion. It is noteworthy that only BIBLE instruction is mandated, in effect ensuring that public schools offer only Bible instruction in the same way madrases in the Middle East offer exclusive instruction in the Koran.

I found Ms. Zauzmer’s report chilling. I was unsettled to reading about students who analogized Bible reading to shooting hoops in the gym, who read the Bible from cover to cover, who believe that the Bible is “…more important than any other book I could be reading”, and who feel comforted that the schools are offering the creation story as opposed to “evolution and the big bang”. I recall that when I was a teenager in the early 1960s our teachers— and even our minister— encouraged us to question things for by questioning we would expand our knowledge and shore up our understanding.

The wall between church and state is a mental construct, one that can be erased by zealous legislators or legislators who fear being displaced by candidates whose beliefs and convictions are stronger and more passionate. We need to keep that figurative wall in place if we hope to retain our democracy.

A Billionaire’s Generous Offer Put Into Perspective

May 20, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes and virtually every major news outlet in America featured an article describing billionaire Robert F. Smith’s decision to pay off the debts of every single graduate of Morehouse College, the historically black institution that invited him to speak at their commencement. Described as ” the richest black man in America”, Mr. Black made his fortune in investments and he characterized this generous donation as an investment in the future of the graduating class at this college, a donation he hoped the graduates would replicate in the future.

Mr. Smith’s donation of roughly $11,000,000 is heartwarming and exemplary, but it is a relatively inconsequential donation to a billionaire. According to a related NYTimes article, Mr. Smith “…has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates to be worth $5 billion”, which means that his $11,000,000 donation is analogous to a $220 gift by an individual who has “amassed a fortune” worth $100,000.

As readers of this blog realize, I read and was blown away by Anand Giridharadas’ book “Winners Take All” which described how billionaires are slowly but surely taking control of our country and how many billionaires use their largesse to mask the fact that their business practices are the underlying cause of the problems they are “solving”. Here was his take on Mr. Smith’s donation:

“This is generous, no doubt,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of large-scale philanthropy. “But a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt, or the subprime crisis, on an epically greater scale than this gift.”

Mr. Smith’s donation also illustrates the flaw in allowing a small number of individuals to amass huge sums of money and allowing them to spend it in a way they see fit. Based on what the NYTimes reported Mr. Smith’s donations are all worthy but they are somewhat idiosyncratic. For example he’s made large donations to relatively conventional causes: colleges and universities; museums; the arts; and, as was the case at Morehouse, scholarships. But he also made donations to organizations that mirror his personal interests in music:

He bought and restored a storied resort, Lincoln Hills, outside Denver, where black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington once played. And he has founded programs to support music education and minority entrepreneurship in Austin, Tex., where he lives, and Chicago, where Vista has an office.

Mr. Smith’s story is especially compelling because he accrued his wealth on his own, moving from a comfortably middle class background in Denver to that of an individual who could invite John Legend, Seal, and a youth orchestra to perform at his wedding on the Amalfi Coast.

But many billionaires spend their money in ways that are counterproductive to the well-being of our country. The Koch brothers, for example, spend millions to elect anti-environmental and pro-fossil fuel politicians at all levels of government. The also spend millions to create think tanks that issue reports that reflect their libertarian views and join forces with other like-minded billionaires to acquire media outlets to champion the findings of those reports. The messages about “government being the problem”, “welfare queens”, “Willie Horton”; “failing public schools”, and “taxes that are too high” are all the legacy of well heeled donors who are interested in maintaining a status quo that provides them with economic and political leverage…. a status quo that is debilitating to democracy.