Friday, April 24, 2009

Testing for 'Mismatch'

If members of some minority groups are admitted to elite colleges because of affirmative action -- and don't perform as well as they expected -- does this show a serious flaw in efforts to diversify student bodies?

Critics of affirmative action answer in the affirmative, and this is the basis of the controversial "mismatch" theory -- namely that affirmative action doesn't actually help its intended beneficiaries because they may struggle academically where admitted instead of enrolling at less competitive institutions where they might excel. Mismatch is heatedly debated -- in part because of the political potency of the argument. After all, it allows critics of affirmative action to say that they aren't just worried about white applicants, but about black and Latino students, too.

In a paper released Friday, four scholars at Duke University (three in economics and one in sociology) propose a new way to test for mismatch. They say that much more information is needed than has typically been available in the past. But because they were able to obtain this information for Duke, they argue that a mismatch test is possible. They propose a test in which applicants admitted to an elite university are asked to predict their first-year grades and are then told the average grades earned by members of similar ethnic and racial groups admitted under similar circumstances. In this situation, they argue, students admitted under affirmative action could make an informed judgment on whether they were being mismatched.

The data released by the scholars in explaining their idea could be quite controversial. Private colleges and universities historically release very little information, broken down by race and ethnicity, about the admissions qualifications and subsequent performance of students. Getting even SAT averages by race can be difficult. Duke provided the researchers not only with SAT averages, but with admissions officers' average rankings of admitted students on a five-point scale, by race, as well as the students' own projected first-year grades and actual grades.

Generally, the data show that Asian admitted students had better rankings and scores than all other groups, although their advantage over white students was modest. But Asian and white applicants are generally far above other applicants. And while all groups, on average, overestimated their academic performance in their first year at Duke, black and Latino students had the largest gaps between the performance they expected and what they achieved.

The study, "Does Affirmative Action Lead to Mismatch," is by Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban M. Aucejo, Hanming Fang and Kenneth I. Spenner, and was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (An abstract is available here, as is information on how to download the study for $5.)

More here

Reforming Britain's schools — a self-correcting system

Plagued by persistent regulation, our system of state education is barred from reaching the level of quality that teachers not only aspire to, but are fully capable of achieving. Schools themselves are better placed than local government to decide where they should be allowed to set up and how they should function.

It takes only a small reform of our current system to allow the potential of our teachers and schools to be fulfilled - the creation of a system where schools of all kinds, whether they are state, private or charity-run, provide free and universal education, funded on a per-pupil basis by government, and given the freedom from burdensome regulation that the private sector enjoys. This is not an imposed reform, instead enabling schools to run themselves, opting in of their own accord, with government acting as the financier rather than the provider of free education.

The beauty of the reform is its self-correcting nature - the first of these free schools will appear where education is most in demand. As a school becomes popular, more parents will choose to send their children there and since it is paid per pupil, its income will increase. If a school is unpopular, then fewer and fewer pupils will be sent there until it either improves or fails. Schools will be able to innovate, directly rewarded for successful models of education through their popularity. Even if the amount paid per pupil is too low, then fewer schools will opt into the system until it can be increased.

However, this reform requires that all schools that have opted into the system be allowed to make a profit - something that the opposition party have shied away from, despite it being the principal reason for the system's success in Sweden. Without the entitlement to make a profit, not only will uptake of the system be slow, but successful schools will also be unable to expand and spread that success to other parts of the country for all pupils, parents and teachers to enjoy.


The naked truth about strip searches in school

Ensuring school safety is important, but the Supreme Court must uphold students' rights

For many 13-year-old girls, being featured – even fleetingly – on a national news program might be exciting. Not for me. My image flickered across the screen only briefly on "Dateline NBC" – it was during one of my basketball games, and it showed all of my awkward teenage glory.

The context, however, made the whole thing more embarrassing than exhilarating: The program was all about how a group of my female classmates had been strip-searched after a gym class when several students reported some makeup, cash, and CDs missing. "Dateline" producers had filmed several of our team's games to use as B-roll while the anchor discussed the case.

Though I wasn't one of the girls in the class forced to remove their clothing to prove they weren't hiding the stolen items, I still look back at the episode – which for a time nearly ripped our community apart – with anger and a sense of betrayal.

Soon after the ordeal took place, I overheard my parents and grandparents discussing it, saying they didn't think the administrators and police officers who orchestrated the search were wrong. I fled the house in tears, aghast that my own family thought it would have been OK for me to have been made to undergo a humiliating act in front of a group of strange adults.

The incident at my school was not the first, nor the last in which young kids were made to strip as a result of school administrators bent on proving their "zero tolerance" for crime. The Supreme Court heard arguments in another such case tuesday – this one involving an 13-year-old Arizona honors student who was strip-searched in 2003 when school officials suspected she possessed ibuprofen. The search turned up nothing.

Defenders of such tactics insist that limiting schools' ability to carry out searches will invite more drugs and danger into classrooms. Certainly, the sentiment of protecting young people within school walls is right, but the method of protection must match that sentiment.

If students are going to be subjected to increasingly restrictive policies – no cellphones, iPods, painkillers, etc. – certainly administrators should have to operate under some limitations as well. And having rules in place to prevent kids from being forced to expose their bodies (something they'd be punished for if done by their own volition) might be a good place to start – particularly if all that's at stake is little more than some 99-cent bottles of Wet 'n' Wild nail polish and a copy of the "Grease" soundtrack.

In weighing potential threats, schools should take several factors into account: Does the suspected student pose an imminent threat? More important: Is the search itself reasonable? While that's open to interpretation, a good rule of thumb might be to get parental permission for anything other than simple tactics like making a student empty his or her pockets.

Savana Redding, the Arizona student whom the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with before the case landed before the high court, still recounts the incident as "the most humiliating experience" of her life. My closest friend shares that pain. Eleven years later, she says that being searched so intrusively left her with a deep emotional scar.

"In all the meetings and interviews afterward, the police and vice principal made it sound like they were just doing it to protect us," she recalls. "But they didn't care about protecting us in that locker room, when girls were crying and begging to call their parents."

A 2005 survey by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation revealed that high school students know shockingly little about some of their most basic constitutional rights – and it's no wonder when schools are trampling on them so blatantly.

In Tinker v. Des Moines, a 1969 case involving students who wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court famously noted that students do not "shed their constitutional rights ... at the schoolhouse gate." At the very least, that should include not having to shed their clothes.


1 comment:

Uno Hu said...

I realize that 13 year olds have limited experience in refusing to participate in activities they are ordered by authority figures to participate in or perform. That, in itself, puts or should put certain limits on what school administrators or teachers, are allowed to require of students (such as disrobing for a stip search).

But think for minute what would have happened had one of these students had an overdeveloped-for-age sense of their own rights. What would have happened had a student responded "I'm not taking my clothes off on order for you or anyone else. And if they come off, it will be by force initiated by you and resisted by me as would be any form of assault. Proceed if you wish, and if you have a deep desire for some up close and personal face time with my lawyer."

The student I'm sure would have been suspended, but that can be dealt with quickly by parents or a letter from an attorney. The result would have enhanced rather than eroded that student's self esteem. It seems certain groups in our country have forgotten the power of civil disobedience to authority!!