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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

NYTimes Russ Douthat’s Assessment of Admissions Criteria Overvalues Tests

March 17, 2019 Comments off

Over the past week the NYTimes has been full of stories on the admissions scandal whereby millionaire parents have blatantly used their money to effectively buy their children’s way into school. At the end of the week, conservative columnist Russ Douthat weighed in on the the scandal advocating that concluding his analysis with this:

But the “more meritocracy” world — the world where bipartisan criticism produces a Harvard class of 2032 with fewer legacies and non-Asian minorities and an average SAT of 1570 — could be worse than what we have. Because such a change’s essential premise, that intelligence alone really merits power, is the premise that has given us many present difficulties, and if extended may only give us more.

This concluding paragraph illustrates how Mr. Douthat, like USNews and World Report and way too many parents and admissions counselors, views SAT scores as a sound metric for “intelligence” and evidence of “merit”. Standardized tests like the SAT are a poor proxy for “intelligence” or “merit”…. but they yield a seemingly easy and precise means for ranking students and colleges, they are relatively cheap to administer, and they can be used to short-circuit a more comprehensive and more time consuming method of analyzing an individual’s “intelligence” or “merit” or the “quality” of an educational institution. The SATs, then, are a easy, cheap, and fast way to assess “intelligence” and “merit”… and our politicians and voters are always seeking easy, cheap, and fast solutions to problems whose solutions are complicated, expensive, and time consuming.

If we ever hope to improve our public schools, we need to disabuse parents, voters, and politicians of the notion that there is a fast, easy, and cheap means of measuring “intelligence” and “merit” and MAYBE even re-think why this compulsion to measure is even important at all.

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Another Year, Another Lawsuit Against New Hampshire’s Funding for Public Education

March 15, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education” (ANHPE) blog posted the news that the Conval School District in the southern part of the state filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to provide the funding needed to provide an adequate education to students. The suit caught several funding advocates off guard because the legislature is currently deliberating on how much money to provide in the coming fiscal year based on an as-yet-unfunded settlement with a group of property poor districts. Coeval, unlike the districts in the current litigation, is NOT property poor… and despite their presumed ability to pay for schools is filing the suit under the pretext that the level of funding the state is offering for an “adequate” education is woefully inadequate. Here’s an excerpt from the post:

The lawsuit says the current price tag for a base “adequate education” —  $3,636.06 — does not reflect accurate costs for facilities, transportation, and teacher salaries and benefits….

By ConVal’s calculation, the state should pay $10,343.60 per student, which would total over $22 million per year.

An NHPR broadcast journalist indicated that the lawsuit troubled some advocates for higher spending because of the timing of the suit, a sentiment echoed by Carl Ladd in the ANHPE post:

Carl Ladd, the executive director of the N.H. School Administrators Association, says he worries about the lawsuit’s timing.

“I can really sympathize with school board and community, but the courts aren’t going to be a quick fix,” he says. “My fear is that if this is back in court, the legislature will just wait and not do anything.”….

I fear that Carl Ladd is correct in his assessment of the timing of this suit… but… it begs the question of whether there will EVER be a “good time” for a lawsuit and whether NH will ever change it’s system for funding public schools. When I first came to NH as a Superintendent in 1983 there were rumblings of lawsuits by property poor districts and since then there have been “victories” in court that have not translated into fair and equitable funding in reality. The Conval suit is unlikely to result in any quick fix unless the filing by a district with relatively strong tax base paves the way for a full scale debate over school funding in the 2020 gubernatorial election. As Michael Tierney points out, the “arguments that Conval is making would be applicable to many school districts across the state” and if the voters in those “many districts” get behind a candidate who wants more State money to go to schools maybe another court victory won’t be needed. Indeed, as we have witnessed for decades, a court victory without legislative support will go nowhere.

College Admissions Scandal is an Indictment of Our Competitive, Celebrity Driven Culture

March 13, 2019 1 comment

Yesterday the NYTimes and virtually every media outlet in America broke a story regarding the indictment of fifty individuals for their roles in conspiring to secure seats for their children in elite colleges and universities. As the NYTimes article reported:

The scheme unveiled Tuesday was stunning in its breadth and audacity. It was the Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution, a sprawling investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.

And there are more indictments to come. But as the MSNBC interview below with Anand Giridharadas and Tressy McMillan Cottom indicates, the biggest indictment is that of our culture:

http://https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/fifty-charged-in-massive-college-admissions-scheme-1456907331756?fbclid=IwAR31UXBEEhNLlGUJFBmCSQsKu8M-WZALostGO-zh3dIYKKSaTd2M9zhDx08

After watching the interview and reflecting on this scandal, I recalled many parents who defended their decisions to “defend” their children when they were being disciplined by asserting that they were doing what any parent would do to support their child.  But, as these indictments indicate, not every parent is capable of doing what a billionaire can do.

But here’s are some tougher questions that I pose to myself and to other parents who are “…doing what any parent would do for their child”: 

  • Who is advocating for those children who DON’T have a parent capable of advocating?
  • If I can afford to have a realtor show me a house in any community, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • If I can afford to rent a house in an affluent community with prestigious schools for my family while maintaining another residence located in a less prestigious school district, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford to do so?
  • If I can afford to pay tuition for my child to attend school in a prestigious district and transport them to and from school, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not am providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • The same kind of questions can be posed for parents who can afford tutors, music lessons, competitive team sports, and the books, electronic equipment, musical instruments, gear and coaching that accompanies those activities.
  • And, the same kinds of questions can be posed for parents who can afford to have family museum memberships, to send their children to summer camps, or take children with them on vacations abroad.

It would be beneficial of this scandal would compel us to look at the deep underlying inequities that impact children and recognize the need for our culture to be more compassionate toward those children who have the bad luck of being born to parents who care deeply about them but are financially incapable of “…doing what any parent would do for their child”?

 

Something Positive Emerges from the Ashes of the Amazon Debacle: Public Awareness of Tax Breaks

March 9, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes today featured an article by Matthew Haug describing the tax breaks developers received in the construction of Hudson Yards, an ambitious project that involved the construction of several multi-millions dollar office towers, infrastructure upgrades, and parks and a new school on the West Side of Manhattan. The article’s title, “Amazon’s Tax Breaks and Incentives Were Big. Hudson Yards’ Were Bigger” seemed to implicitly accuse those who supported Hudson Yards but opposed Amazon as hypocrites. But from my perspective, the article did something more important than pointing out hypocrisy: it pointed out that not all tax credits are money grabs by a singular billionaire, that not all tax credits have an adverse impact on nearby neighborhoods, and ALL tax credits need to be examined in the sunshine before they are agreed upon by politicians.

The Hudson Yards project DID make several billionaires even more wealthy… but since government cannot directly provide capital for major projects like Hudson Yards (or Amazon for that matter), some venture capital is required and that venture capital requires a high rate of return since, in some cases, the venture capitalists make bad decisions by investing in projects that do not pan out at all. But unlike the Amazon project— which benefitted one corporation that has a deserved reputation for undercutting wages, displacing local small businesses, and rewarding shareholders with the profits made on the backs of overworked employees and underfunded local governments— Hudson Yards engaged multiple businesses most of whom will receive tax breaks contingent on the creation of new jobs. Also unlike the Amazon project, Hudson Yards was coordinated and devised in concert with the local government. Finally, Hudson Yards was taking an area of the city that the Times described as:

…a neighborhood that included a stubby collection of brick warehouses, factories and tenements built when the Hudson River docks were busy. In the middle was an unsightly rail yard.

Hudson Yards supporters believe the development, which included an extension of the No. 7 subway extension, parks and other improvements, will make the Far West Side an overall better neighborhood. And as for critics of economic development projects like the Amazon one, the Times concludes its article with this:

Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn, a Democrat who is a founder of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said it was smart to expand the No. 7 subway and create parks on the West Side.

But tax breaks for specific companies are a different story, said Mr. Lander, who was an opponent of the Amazon deal.

We’re giving away tax breaks without paying close attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal,” he said.

If the failed Amazon deal compels newspapers and politicians across the country to pay closer attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal, then some good will come out of this debacle. Who knows, maybe voters will want to provide more funds to the government so that they can upgrade infrastructure on their own as a means of luring business. It’s just possible that good roads, high quality public services, beautiful parks, and good schools might entice businesses to locate in a city or region more so that cold cash.

A Predictable Meltdown Results When a Former Investor in For-Profit Schools Oversees the Dismantling of Regulations Governing Those Schools

March 8, 2019 Comments off

NYTimes reporters Stacy Cowley and Erica Green describe the rapid meltdown of a college chain that resulted when Betsy DeVos aggressively deregulated post secondary schools in the name of giving “new life” to an industry that was “on its heels” during the Obama administration. And why was it on its heels? Because, as the Obama administration’s Department of Education recognized, the profiteers who operated private (mostly proprietary) colleges misled students who went deeply in debt to get the education they understood they needed to be successful in the global economy. The students never got their degrees because the colleges did not have the wherewithal to provide the education they promised. When the Obama administration fined the colleges to help pay back either the students’ personal loans or the government who provided loans for the schools the profiteering colleges either went out of business or transferred their ownership to a different entity. The winners in all of this were the investors and the college administrators who received unseemly high salaries. The losers were the students who hoped to better themselves only to find themselves deep in debt. I am certain that the laissez faire capitalists will shrug their shoulders and say that’s the way the market works: caveat emptor! One can only hope that every disaffected student will at least learn that the policy of deregulation— UNDER-governing— is the problem and not the government itself. But that unit was probably not included in the introductory economics courses offered.

Goodwill MOOCs Surpass All Others for Enrollment. Why? They Provide What THEIR Customers Need: Job Training

March 2, 2019 Comments off

Many education writers and bloggers, including yours truly, have predicted that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) would someday replace the traditional post-secondary offerings, But like many others, I was completely surprised to read that Goodwill— yes, THAT Goodwill that sells used clothing— has the second most robust MOOC program in the world! Why? Because while start-ups like Udacity, edX and Coursera all fought over the traditional post secondary market, Goodwill seized the larger and more urgent market: those seeking fundamental job skills. As Brandon Busteed of Forbes writes:

…there’s good reason to believe it could quickly surpass all MOOCs in total users.  Why?  It’s simple.  Goodwill got the premise right.  And that premise is all about jobs.  It’s providing the education and skills that help move people from unemployed to employed, from a low-paying job to a higher-paying one, from a bad or average job to a good job.

And in our country, unemployed and under-employed workers all agree that getting a job that pays well and offers benefits is the way to get off the treadmill of pointless and low-paying work… and that getting job skills is essential to securing a better job! And the good news from my perspective as one who sees the world through the lens of social justice, Goodwill, unlike its competitors, is not interested in profit:

Goodwill’s entire focus, though, is a market of people who arguably have both the highest degree of motivation and the least means of accomplishing their goals.  Their model may be the ultimate application of the MOOC educational model – free courses for those who desperately want jobs and can’t afford to pay for education or training.  If Goodwill and its donors and partners can find ways to sustain offering their courses for free to those who need them most around the world, they will most certainly become the world’s biggest MOOC.

I wish them well, and hope that the Federal government, who seems to feel free to bail out and /or support profiteering private post-secondary schools, might find a way to support Goodwill’s MOOCs.

NPR’s “Dog Bites Man” Headline: “DeVos Announces Support for Proposed School Choice Tax Credit”

March 1, 2019 Comments off

An article in the NPR blog had this completely unsurprising headline:

“DeVos Announces Support for Proposed School Choice Tax Credit”

The article was equally unsurprising in terms of who supported it and who didn’t. As the article noted, the “school choice tax credit” idea is nothing new: several states have adopted the ALEC inspired legislation that enables wealthy donors to make contributions to a slush fund that can be accessed to pay for presumably indigent children to enroll in the “school of their choice”… that is unless the school is in a well-funded district or a school whose costs are prohibitive. What “choice” does that leave? A for-profit charter school or a religiously affiliated private school that underpays its staff and offers religious training as part of the curriculum.

Dog bites man is NOT news. Neither is the political reactions to a warmed over ALEC bill promoting “choice”.