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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Is the SAT About to be Abandoned? If So, Will Standardized Tests Follow?

October 15, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent PBS New Hour segment reported that many colleges are giving serious consideration to abandoning the use of the SAT as a primary metric for admissions. Why? Here’s one reason:

Critics of the tests have long argued that they reflect income more than ability, a chorus that is growing louder. And this year’s notorious Varsity Blues admission scandal — in which parents, through an intermediary, bribed test administrators to change test scores or let students cheat — reinforced the idea that the tests can be gamed, legally or illegally, by families with enough money.

My hunch is that there is another reason: the SAT score, viewed as a proxy for “academic excellence”, is the basis for lawsuits contending that colleges who use the test as the basis for entry are screening out many Asian-American students who attain higher scores on the tests than either African-American or legacy students.

The so-called “competitive colleges” have many high scoring students to choose from and, in some cases, more than ten times as many applicants as they need in order to sustain themselves. These schools have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want and, consequently, they select based on “diversity”. In many cases “diversity” provides a means for the colleges to avoid affirmative action challenges from African-Americans by accepting students-of-color with SAT scores that are below those of rejected Asian Americans. But “diversity” also provides a means of appeasing graduates who are large donors and whose children SAT scores are middling, a means of fleshing out orchestras, athletic teams, and a means of “creating” geographic and economic diversity in each class.

As the PBS report indicates, when “competitive colleges” ignore SAT scores it does not dilute the academic strength of the school. It DOES, however, undercut any argument that these schools are denying access to “less qualified” students at the expense of one group who consistently scores high on those tests. For Asian-Americans this abandonment of tests is, arguably, bad news. But for those who are born into poverty, who attend public high schools outside the affluent suburbs or college towns the abandonment of the SAT as a basis for entry is good news… for it forces college admissions officers to look at their applications and determine if they have what it takes to succeed in higher education.

From where I sit, the faster SATs are abandoned the better… and with any luck at all those who measure the “quality” of public schools based on standardized test scores will follow suit. If that happens, instead of defining individual “excellence” based on a single test 8th grade students seeking entry to NYC’s “competitive” public schools will be examined in a more wholistic fashion. If that happens, instead of schools receiving a “grade” based in any way on a standardized test they will be carefully assessed using a wholistic accreditation process, one that involves a self-assessment as well as an external one. Would such a system cost more money? Yes— but it would be fairer, more focussed on each student’s individual needs, and would greatly expand the opportunity for students to engage in creative activities. Here’s hoping it happens soon!

Another Article on Gifted and Talented Programs in NYC… Another Case of Acid Indigestion

October 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I just finished reading another article lamenting the proposal to end Gifted and Talented programs in NYC public schools. In today’s NYTimes Eliza Shapiro describes a highly successful program for elementary aged children in East Harlem, one that has “only” 64% of its students drawn from Asian and white students. The problem with this success story is that 31% of the total school population is Asian or white. I was immediately skeptical of the so-called “racial balance” of the “model school” since it did not reflect the city at large. I was even more skeptical when I read that standardized tests remained as the primary “gate” for determining who was “gifted”.

Too many gifted and talented advocates and parents seek acceleration instead of breadth. They want to teach three year olds how to read and third graders algebra and trigonometry. This acceleration on a narrow path limits “giftedness” to those skills and “work products” that can be readily measured and omits skills that defy easy measurement and divergent thinking. Whenever a single test is used, Campbell’s law will kick in and parents seeking to have their children identified as “gifted” will spend precious time and money for test prep programs. The result is that many 4 year olds are missing art, music, athletics, nature… and day dreaming.

The net result is what Neil Postman called “The Disappearance of Childhood” several decades ago when parents began to interpose themselves more and more into the lives of their children. When kids lose the opportunity to explore information on their own, explore their environment on their own, and play games they invent with their friends they learn much more about life than when they are coached to take tests and only engage in sports that are overseen by adults.

The solution for NYC might be to adopt Joseph Renzulli’s enrichment model that broadens that curriculum for all children instead of accelerating a narrower curriculum for those who can learn quickly. Renzulli’s ideas about giftedness are broader than those of Terman— the father of standardized testing. He believes that many children are gifted in ways that cannot be readily measured by a pencil-and-paper test and that it is pointless for children to move quickly through a narrow curriculum that is based on skills and work products that are readily quantifiable. But in our “meritocratic” system where standardized tests have displaced teacher recommendations when it comes to identifying “gifted” students and where statistical artifacts like “reading at the ninth grade level” are viewed as important by parents there is no room for “slow learners” with creative skills.

 

Fanfare Over Business Roundtable’s Commitment to Responsible Leadership Undercut by Investors

September 29, 2019 Comments off

This morning’s NYTimes features an article by business writer David Gelles titled “The Week CEOs Got Smacked“, a recounting of the decision of boards of directors to fire some of the leaders from the Business Roundtable who advocated corporate responsibility. I read this article on the heels of watching the Netflix Documentary “American Factory“, a clear-eyed look at the trade-offs necessary if our country hopes to re-enter the manufacturing marketplace given the current political and corporate governance structure. That governance structure is controlled by a small group of plutocrats who explicitly set government policy in China and Russia and have an increasingly large voice in setting government policy in our country. I have long believed that both economic systems are regressing toward a mean where a small group of shareholders of borderless corporations and autocratic governments control the remainder of the global workforce. This perspective makes me want to strengthen democracy in hopes that our elected officials will create a government that will develop regulations that assure corporate responsibility.

China’s de facto form of economic control is best described by the term “command capitalism”, which is defined in a 1998 book by J. L. Porket here,  The current US economy is best described as “state capitalism”, which is defined by Wikipedia here. Neither of these systems has a place for corporate responsibility and neither has a place for democracy.

Porket’s description of “command capitalism, as noted above, was written in 1998— before the advent of Big Data and before China emerged as the economic powerhouse that it is today. One section of Porket’s analysis of the inherent flaws of command capitalism should be re-examined. He suggests that the government cannot exert full control over the economy because “...at least some information received by it is insufficient, incomplete, unreliable, inaccurate and distorted.” With todays trove of data and the ability to synthesize that data to identify consumer tastes and trends, the government may be able to exert near full control over the economy. Moreover, as the American Factory movie illustrated, the lack of opportunities for unskilled labor in the US is compelling our country to accept the wages, hours, and working conditions that exist in China in the name of “efficiency” and profit.

At the same time, our country is increasingly beholden to a faceless group of “shareholders” whose insatiable demand for profits drives corporate and government policy. This section of the Wikipedia definition of “state capitalism” describes my perception of where the US economy stands:

Noam Chomsky, a supporter of libertarian socialism, applies the term ‘state capitalism’ to economies such as that of the United States, where large enterprises that are deemed “too big to fail” receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms’ assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where private production is largely funded by the state at public expense but private owners reap the profits.[11][12][13] This practice is in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.[14]

Chomsky’s description of the economy is captured in the aphorism that in our economic system today “corporate leaders pocket profits while taxpayers cover the costs of risk”. In the movie, Fuyao Glass received $10,000,000 from the taxpayers in Dayton Ohio to bring 800 jobs to the area, which sounds like a large number until that is compared to the 2000 jobs that GM provided… and sounds even worse when views learn that the new jobs pay $14/hour, roughly half of what GM workers received.

American Factory describes the course we are on… one where the need to reward shareholders exceeds the need to retain a civil democracy where the pursuit of happiness is differentiated from the pursuit of money or, as is increasingly the case, the pursuit of survival.

How can we change direction?

On the governance level, we need corporate leaders to stay the course of the direction of the Business Roundtable and, ideally, advocate that all corporations adopt the B-Corp principles that place employee well being in the forefront of their mission.

On the political level, we have to place a higher value on the “pursuit of happiness” and a lower value on the pursuit of material well being. In the framework described by Arthur Brooks at a recent lecture at Dartmouth College, we need to emphasize endogenous goals and deemphasize exogenous goals.

But the ultimate transformation that is necessary to change our thinking is one of spirit. We need to spend more time and energy helping each other and less time trying to “beat out” the competition.

And last, we might want to examine our compulsion to be as efficient as possible. Throughout the movie there was a relentless focus on efficiency— a focus that was in place in the factory where I worked in Work Standards in Dearborn Michigan in 1966. In the concluding scene of the movie, a Chinese engineer was proudly demonstrating how he would improve efficiency in the Fubayo glass factory: he had designed robots to replace the humans. The ultimate standard for efficiency IS a robot: it will do a job with repeated and uncomplaining precision for hours on end without any interference from life outside the factory. Humans cannot compete with robots if efficiency is the standard.

 

 

 

 

Yet ANOTHER Study Proves Poverty’s Power to Diminish Performance… and Desegregation is the Path Out of Poverty

September 24, 2019 Comments off

The Hechinger Report posted an analysis of research done by Stanford University Education Professor Sean Reardon that demonstrates the detrimental impact of poverty of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests. Here are Reardon’s findings as described by Hechinger Report writer Jill Barshay:

In the study, Reardon finds that racial segregation is a very strong predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and black or Hispanic students, but it’s school poverty — not the student’s race — that accounts for these big gaps. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is larger, the achievement gaps between black and white students are larger. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is smaller, the achievement gaps are smaller. The two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.

“There’s a common argument these days that maybe we should stop worrying about segregation and just create high-quality schools everywhere,” said Reardon. “This study shows that it doesn’t seem to be possible.”

Reardon said he couldn’t find a single school district in the country where black and Hispanic students were learning apart from white students and performing well with test scores that weren’t lagging behind those of white students.  In the cases where achievement gaps were small, such as Detroit, achievement was low for both black and whites students. They’re not models to copy.

“It doesn’t seem that we have any knowledge about how to create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty,” said Reardon. “And if we can’t do that, then we have to do something about segregation. Otherwise we’re consigning black and Hispanic and low-income students to schools that we don’t know how to make as good as other schools. The implication is that you have got to address segregation.”

The nation’s failure to “create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty” is widely reported and applies to charter schools as well as public schools. But Ms. Barshay notes how Mr. Reardon’s findings amply and clarify this reality:

It’s well known that high-income students perform better on tests than low-income students. Higher income students tend to have better educated parents who not only may read and talk to their kids more but also convey the importance of an education and set high academic expectations for their kids. What’s interesting in this study is that not only does the level of school segregation predict the size of the achievement gap between white and black students, it also predicts the rate at which the achievement gap grows as students progress from third to eighth grade.

In the concluding paragraphs of Ms. Barshay’s report, she describes an interactive website, the “Opportunity Explorer,” “where anyone can see the test scores for every public school in the United States“.  Mr. Reardon offers this important insight on the data he used to determine student performance:

Reardon advises visitors to the website to avoid equating test scores with school quality. “The average test scores that kids have in schools or school districts are the results of all the opportunities these kids have had to learn their whole lives, at home, in the neighborhood, in preschool and in the school year,” Reardon said, “so it’s misleading to attribute average test scores solely to the school where they take the test.”

“If you want to know how good the schools are,” Reardon said, “a better but not perfect measure would be the learning rates because those are measuring how fast are kids learning while they’re in school, regardless of where they started.”

A tool like the Opportunity Explorer offers data geeks a chance to do some comparisons… but such a tool also implies that parents could shop for a school the same way they could shop for groceries… and while grocery stores will allow anyone to come inside and look around and buy what they can afford, schools are not the same because some schools are located in communities where housing prices effectively bar anyone with a low income. Until we figure out a way to encourage people of different social strata and different races to live together we will not be able to solve the problem of unequal opportunities based on wealth and race.

Plessy v. Ferguson Comes to Football… Will Academics be Far Behind?

September 23, 2019 Comments off

This attention-grabbing headline in the NYTimes article by Timothy Williams caught my eye immediately:

The article describes the reality of team sports— and academics in high schools across the country in this analysis by Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, who noted that:

“….the sports achievement disparity between wealthy suburban public schools and their urban counterparts has degenerated into “a competitive gap that is similar to the income gap” in the nation.

The divide has always been there,” he said, “but it has widened.”

The disparity, experts say, is meaningful beyond the world of athletics because sports participation has been found to aid in academic success and college admissions, and is a predictor for professional success.

I’m not at all certain the “divide has always been there”… but I AM certain it is worsening for athletics AND academics.

The notion of using demographics to separate athletic teams is appalling… it seems to be contrary to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” provision of public services like schools. But Iowa is not alone in moving in this direction as Mr. Williams writes:

Over the past few years, officials overseeing high school sports in states including Minnesota, Oregon and Colorado have added provisions allowing schools with high poverty levels to drop down to lower athletic divisions. Washington State will introduce the idea next year, and Iowa is considering it.

This provision puts principals, parents, and athletic boosters in economically disadvantaged schools in a tough position: they can either keep their school in an athletic league where they will be overmatched or agree to being placed in a less competitive league where their students might win some games.

Once poorer schools decide to abandon athletic competition with affluent schools rather than seeking equitable funding will they also decide to abandon their fight for equitable funding for academics and shunt their students into second tier colleges? If athletics is the last bastion of true meritocracy… the last place where an athletically gifted child born into poverty can thrive despite his economic disadvantage… how can we hope to create a true meritocracy in academics if school leaders decide to abandon the effort to provide an even playing field in athletics?

 

EdBuild Study Provides Evidence of the Persistence of Racism in Public Schools

September 20, 2019 Comments off

EdBuild, whose mission is to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools, issued a report indicating that black school districts receive $23,000,000,000 LESS revenue than all white districts despite serving the same number of students. Why? Because affluent families flock to districts where property taxes can underwrite higher quality schools leaving poorer non-white students segregated in property poor districts. As the authors of the report write:

The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity. Families with money or status can retain both by drawing and upholding invisible lines. Many families do just that. This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity

Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.

This residential discrepancy cannot be fixed easily… but it might be possible for the students in poorer schools to receive the same level of funding if we worked at the state level to raise and allocate funds more fairly. And the racial disparities EdBuild flags are intolerable:

For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.

Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.

If we want to continue holding onto the belief that education can be a leveling force in our country, we cannot continue to use the same funding system in place today… and if we want racial and economic justice we need to face the fact that our current system is discriminatory. The report concludes with this:

Even after accounting for income, the average student in the U.S. inherits far more opportunity by attending a small, concentrated white school district. Because each state handles district boundaries and school funding differently, funding policies affect students in divergent areas in different ways.

But a single fact is clear—financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color. That is the inherent shame of the system we’ve built, and one we haven’t gone far enough to fix.

David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Comments off

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.