Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Elite American Private Colleges Discriminate Against Asian Students

Students of different races have varying odds of admission to elite private colleges, a study finds

A recent study of the applicants to seven elite colleges in 1997 found that Asian students were much more likely to be rejected than seemingly similar students of other races. Also, athletes and students from top high schools had admissions edges, as did low-income African-Americans and Hispanics.

Translating the advantages into SAT scores, study author Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist, calculated that African-Americans who achieved 1150 scores on the two original SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges in 1997 as whites who scored 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s.

He also found some indications that while rich students make up an increasingly large share of the entering freshman classes, the top private schools appeared to be giving admissions edges to low-income minorities, but not necessarily low-income white students. The very richest students also generally had lower acceptance rates than similarly qualified, but less wealthy, students.

Espenshade warned against concluding that his study proved that colleges improperly discriminated. For one thing, Asians, who make up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, often make up nearly a third of the applicant pools to elite colleges. And they generally account for at least 10 percent of the student body. Meanwhile, low-income students and minorities make up disproportionately smaller shares of the applicant pools and, often, student populations. Harvard reported last year, for example, that 15 percent of its undergraduates were Asian, but only 7 percent were black, and just 6 percent were Hispanic.

In addition, Espenshade's study didn't account for "soft" qualifications such as essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, musical or artistic talents, or community service, all of which play important roles in admissions decisions.

Nevertheless, some experts said Espenshade's findings seem likely to add more fuel to long-running criticisms of admissions offices. Even though the study reflects 12-year-old practices, "I have no doubt that circumstances have not changed in the interval between then and now," said Ward Connerly, who has spearheaded anti-affirmative action drives in several states. Connerly and other observers noted that college admissions policies have been controversial for decades.

During the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, African-Americans, American Indians, Jews, and other minorities were barred or severely restricted from many colleges. Civil rights laws and court rulings banned discrimination and encouraged colleges to reach out to long-disadvantaged students.

Some of those efforts created resentment among white and Asian students who felt they were denied opportunities to make room for those whom they believed to be less qualified minorities. Sparked by a lawsuit filed by a white applicant who had been rejected from a medical school, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 ruled that racial quotas were illegal. Voters in California, Michigan, and Washington have since voted to ban many affirmative action practices. In recent years, Asian-Americans have fought admissions policies they believe artificially limited their numbers on campuses. In 2006, an Asian student who scored a perfect 2400 on the three SAT tests filed a federal complaint against Princeton alleging the university rejected him because of anti-Asian bias. The U.S. Department of Education is now examining Princeton's admissions policies.

Although the schools Espenshade studied have not been identified, Princeton says it wasn't part of the set. And it says it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. "The class of 2010 had a record 17,564 applicants for a class of 1,231. We admitted only about half of all the applicants with maximum 2400 SAT scores," says university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt. "Princeton considers factors such as interest in and demonstrated commitment to a particular field of study or extracurricular activity, exceptional skills and talents, experiences and background, status as an alumni child or Princeton faculty or staff child, athletic achievement, musical or artistic talent, geographic or socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, any unique circumstances, and a range of other factors," she added. Currently, Asians make up 15 percent of Princeton's undergraduate student body.

Mitchell Chang, a professor of higher education at UCLA, said Asians have long complained about the "penalty" they face when applying to colleges. But Espenshade's documentation of a threefold difference for similarly qualified students at elite private universities "is stunning. Really worrisome." Chang said Asian students might be disproportionately less likely to participate in certain kinds of extracurricular activities and that many Asian parents push their children to apply to famous "brand name" elite schools. But he insisted that the Asian applicant pool is nevertheless diverse. He fears that college admissions officers might be stereotyping Asians and saying to themselves: "'We don't want another academic nerd.' "

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, noted, however, that other recent studies have shown that many well-qualified students who come from low-income, African-American, or Hispanic families don't apply to elite schools. So the few who do apply are likely to have better odds.

Espenshade's research indicates that eliminating affirmative action policies would most likely reduce the number of Hispanic and African-American students and racial diversity on campuses. Some schools that have eliminated affirmative action policies have seen significant changes in their student demographics. At UC-Berkeley, for example, 42 percent of undergraduates are Asian. Fewer than one third are white. While African-Americans make up 14 percent of the general population in Michigan, they account for only 6 percent of the undergraduates at the University of Michigan.

Espenshade found that when comparing applicants with similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications, and family history for seven elite private colleges and universities:

* Whites were three times as likely to get fat envelopes as Asians.

* Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites.

* African-Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.

* Athletes were more than twice as likely to get in as non-athletes with similar qualifications.

* Students from private high schools were twice as likely to receive acceptance letters as similar students from regular public high schools.

* Students from highly regarded public and private high schools were three times as likely to win admission as others.

* Students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes were about twice as likely to get in as students in the next 10 percent.


The British teachers who can do no right

A report claims that a third of teachers have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. Our writer argues that it's time parents recognised their responsibilities

Who would be a teacher in Britain today? The public may be surprised by a new poll that reveals 28 per cent of school staff have been falsely accused of wrongdoing by pupils, but most professionals who work in schools will not be. Living with parents’ criticism, complaints and false allegations from pupils has become part of a teachers’ lives. They work in a world where pupils feel they can make accusations because their parents will automatically back them, often with far-reaching results.

The poll by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that school staff who have been the subject of an unfounded allegation of misconduct by pupils, often have their careers blighted and their private lives damaged.

So how have we got to this situation where the adults involved in education, from parents to teachers, are in a not- so-civil civil war. And how does this affect the children they are trying to serve?

In my view, the first problem is that we now live in a culture where many of us no longer think twice before making a disparaging comment about any grown-ups in front of children. And as parents’ frustration with their children’s schools performance grows, it is the often hard-working teachers on whom they take it out.

Geraldine, for example, is an angry par- ent. This 39-year-old office administrator intends to sue her daughter’s Portsmouth primary school for failing to get Trish through the 11-plus. When I ask her: “Was it really the teachers’ fault?” she dismisses my question with a look of incomprehen- sion. She is, she says, “totally geared up” to “take on” her daughter’s “useless teachers”. But what example does this set Trish?

Tiff, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mum in Kent, is also a confident and seasoned advocate of her three children’s interest. Her latest triumph was to face down her 14-year-old daughter’s headmaster and force him to revoke the detention that she was given for texting in the middle of her science lessons. Tiff is so contemptuous towards her daughter’s headmaster that she calls him a “waste of space”. Her daughter, meanwhile, feels vindicated for her behaviour.

These mothers are just two of many examples of parental misbehaviour. Researching my new book Wasted: Why Education isn’t Educating, during which I spoke to scores of parents, it struck me how quickly they turned into vociferous critics of their children’s school. Often, they responded to a teacher’s criticism of their offspring as if it were a slight on themselves.

And the way grown-ups behave in everyday life does not go unnoticed by children. I have met kids as young as 8 or 9 who feel that they have permission to make fun of and attack their teachers. One group of 14-year-old boys whom I met in Canterbury routinely described their teachers to me as “losers”, “random” and “morons”.

On the other side, many teachers say that they now dread meeting their pupils’ parents. Parents’ evenings have become a battleground where the father or mother is the enemy. Greg, an experienced science teacher who works in a Manchester comprehensive, told me of his well-rehearsed routine for managing the “pushy parent”. “If you take their whining seriously they can turn your world upside-down,” he says. His solution is to “smile, switch off, look agreeable and move on as fast as possible”.

But not all teachers possess Greg’s confidence. Sue has been teaching drama in a Surrey school for two years. During that time she has had several rows with parents. She recalls that the low point of her career so far occurred when she had a shouting match with an angry parent in front of her class. A furious mother stormed into the school hall in the middle of a play rehearsal demanding to know why her son was not offered a more important part.

Another public face-off with an aggressive parent may prompt Sue to sign up for one of the many assertiveness-training courses for teachers that are now a growing strand of in-service instruction. They offer conflict management, mediation and communication skills for teachers requiring support to deal with difficult parents. It is a sign of the times that teachers’ organisations even now have leaflets on topics such as “fear of parents’ evenings”. One leaflet titled, Meet the Parents, published by the Teachers Support Network, cautions that it “can be a daunting experience”. It warns that sometimes parents will “support their child against the school — no matter what”, that they can turn “hostile, defensive and confrontational” and in rare cases even become “aggressive or violent”.

Predictably, sections of the teaching profession have responded to displays of parental disrespect by returning the favour. Educators blame parents for the low achievement and poor behaviour of their children. Without thinking of the damaging consequences for parental authority, many educators too have no inhibitions about ticking off irresponsible parents in front of their kids.

It is difficult to unravel the origins of the divisive feuds among grown-ups that afflict institutions of education. But it is evident to me that these squabbles have been exacerbated by recent government policies. A few months ago, a report published by the MP Alan Milburn argued for harnessing the energy of “pushy parents” to improve standards of education. He echoed the suggestion of the former Education Minister, Lord Adonis, that more pushy parents were needed to force schools to improve. In March, the Government announced a scheme that would allow parents and pupils to use “satisfaction ratings” to grade their school. Such measures risk reinforcing the tendency for parents to vent their frustration on their children’s schools, while failing to provide any constructive measures to improve the quality of education.

Mobilising parents’ instinctive love for their children to shore up the institution of education does not solve deep-seated problems. It simply encourages parents to become their children’s advocates, leading to the widespread adoption of the “my child, right or wrong” attitude. Once such attitudes gain momentum, parents can easily lose sight of what is in the best interest of their child and his or her classmates. One father told me that having challenged the mark that his daughter got for her geography project and questioned the teacher’s judgment, he knew that he had gone too far. “It got to be bigger than a dispute about the grade and it felt wrong,” he says.

It’s not hard to see how parents have got here. With increasing pressure on state schools and growing anxiety about standards, schooling has become a focus of intense competition for parents. Many devote considerable resources to get their children into a “good” school, some paying as much as £2,000 to get legal help with their appeal if children don’t win a place. Rob, 43, a businessman from Birmingham, was appalled when told that his 11-year-old son was refused a place in his school of choice. He appealed and showed up to a panel hearing with a solicitor, who specialised in education law. He says: “I made sure they knew that I meant business.”

Paying for legal advice, moving house to live in the catchment area of a desirable school, or even joining the congregation of a church with an attached school, is now not unusual. Studies indicate that a fifth of secondary pupils in England and Wales receive private tuition. In some middle-class secondary schools more than half of students had used a private tutor. Once the children are in the “right” school, their parents play an active role in helping them with their homework and projects. According to a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, two thirds of parents help their children with GCSE coursework — and many do far more than “help”: it is often parents, not the students, who are busy looking for information on the internet or at the library.

Despite all these efforts, petty and divisive bickering between parents and teachers will undermine all the good that parents try to do. If adults behave authoritatively towards youngsters at home and in their communities, teachers will feel comfortable in exercising authority in the classroom. However, if grown-ups point the finger at one another for a school’s alleged failing they undermine not only the authority of the teacher, but of all adults.

Education works best when it is underpinned by a genuine intergenerational conversation. Ideally, through such a conversation, the experience and wisdom of the adult world is transmitted to children. But when grown-ups find it difficult to speak with one voice and education becomes a battlefield on which pointless conflicts between grown-ups are fought, those intergenerational transactions are lost. Teachers and parents need to be on the same side — for the sake of education. Our children and our futures depend on it.



Three current articles below:

Teachers failing the maths grade

STUDENTS in almost 60 per cent of high schools are being taught by unqualified teachers, with mathematics one of the worst-hit subjects. The disturbing number of teachers working in areas outside their expertise has been uncovered in a special survey of 1473 principals across Australia.

One in five schools in NSW said they had at least one maths teacher who was not fully qualified. Other subjects shown to be suffering from a lack of specialists include technology, computer science, languages, science, music and special education.

The shock figures emerged as more than 30,000 Year 12 candidates sat the HSC General Mathematics paper yesterday and a leading maths educator warned Australia was slipping behind other countries.

The Australian Education Union said its survey showed schools faced major problems including serious shortages of teachers qualified in key subjects and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. "(It) found that because of the shortages 59 per cent of secondary schools had teachers working outside their area of expertise," AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said. "We need a long-term plan to address the chronic problems with the supply of teachers. "It is not good enough to have unconnected initiatives that do not go to the fundamental issue of how we value and reward teachers."

Principals were also asked what they believed the Rudd Government's main education priority should be. Twenty-eight per cent said increased teacher numbers. None suggested computers for Year 9-12 students, a policy plank of the Government.

One of the state's top maths students in the 2008 HSC, Ahmad Sultani (Parramatta High School) said maths needed a much better image in the early years of high school. Mr Sultani, now completing his first year at UNSW, said the subject should be promoted more vigorously to students.


School heads to get more control

STATE education departments should hand control of school finances and the power to hire teachers to principals and school boards, reversing a century of bureaucratic stranglehold over the running of schools. A federal government report, released to The Australian, argues that the starting point in school governance should devolve decision-making to the school level, allowing principals to respond to the individual needs of the students and their communities. The only place for centralised control over schools should be in setting frameworks for curriculum and standards and, in exceptional cases, where a school believes it is more efficient for decisions to be made by the department, such as for very small schools and those in remote areas.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday backed the broad directions outlined in the report, saying the Rudd government was already pursuing the measures in its education reforms. "School principals should have the autonomy to make more staffing and salary decisions to help tackle local problems like poor literacy and numeracy," she said. "It is important principals have the support and flexibility they need to respond to the needs of their students. The creation of the first national education authority responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting provides a solid framework for greater principal autonomy."

The report highlights the need for principals to be trained as managers to run the business of schools, and Ms Gillard said the new Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership formed by the commonwealth, states and territories would fulfil that role in developing the tools and support required.

The release of the report, commissioned by the previous federal government, comes in time for a national forum hosted by Ms Gillard next month, giving individual school principals a rare opportunity to speak directly to the government about its education revolution. Announcing the forum at the weekend, Ms Gillard said she wanted to have a "national conversation with school principals about the challenges they are facing on the ground".

The report identifies widespread support among principals for greater autonomy, with a large proportion wanting greater involvement in the selection and management of staff and their performance and greater flexibility in the allocation of school budgets. "There is a general acceptance of the view that a degree of autonomy is necessary if schools are to respond to the expectations of their communities and the mix of student needs in the local setting," it says. "Principals accept the need for accountability and seek to exercise a higher level of educational leadership. "(But) administrative support for government schools is inadequate given expectations for schools and in comparison to the support for principals in most independent schools."

In Australia, state and territory governments give varying degrees of autonomy to schools within a framework of standards and accountability, with Victoria giving principals the greatest control and NSW the most rigid centralised system.

The report notes that, as a result, there are less innovative approaches to school autonomy in Australia of the kind gaining momentum in other places around the world, such as the charter movement in the US of publicly funded and privately operated schools, usually run by local communities, and the academies in England, of privately run and funded schools operating as public schools. "New governance arrangements should be established to allow federations of schools to be established and greater creativity should be encouraged in the development of new kinds of schools that will have higher levels of autonomy ..." the report says.

"(It) shall provide schools or several schools planning together with a range of options to traditional patterns of governance, including federations of schools to share resources and other innovative governance arrangements. After more than a century of operations in which the 'default position' has been 'centralisation', a new default position of decentralisation should be adopted, with exceptions to be based on local and regional circumstances. "The default position should remain at centralisation in establishing frameworks of curriculum, standards and accountabilities."

It says the most effective model for school autonomy has "direct school involvement in the selection and performance management of staff, the deployment of funds in a budget that covers real costs in all aspects of recurrent expenditure, adaptation of curriculum and approaches to learning and teaching to the needs of the school's community, and choice in determining the source of support required by the school".

But it says autonomy should not permit schools to change the selection of students, such as enrolling only smart students and excluding students in their local catchment area.

The report says any system must allow individual schools flexibility in the level of autonomy they think is appropriate, saying that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful. "The extent of autonomy in each instance may be varied according to exceptional circumstances," it says.

The report, commissioned in 2007, calls for decision-making to be simplified and a reduction in the compliance and paperwork demanded of principals. It says school budgets should reflect the actual salaries paid to teachers rather than the average.


Teachers accused of sexual misconduct missed by government screening system

TWO private school teachers under investigation for sexual misconduct against students were able to walk into state school jobs without background checks. One teacher was accused of further misconduct in the state system before Education Queensland learnt of the original allegations, 18 months after the teacher was hired.

The cases, which allegedly occurred at Brisbane and Gold Coast schools, have highlighted flaws in Education Queensland's teacher screening system. The teachers were not required to reveal whether they were under investigation when they applied for jobs in the state school system.

Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show Education Queensland only became aware of the alleged misconduct when the teachers were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission by the Queensland College of Teachers in September last year. One teacher has been sacked and is facing court action. The other has resigned. The QCT is investigating six other alleged inappropriate relationships.

The State Opposition has labelled the screening process for teachers a "disgrace", accusing the Government of putting the rights of teachers before student welfare. "It's not acceptable they can slip through (the net) and turn up teaching somewhere else while they're under investigation," Opposition Education spokesman Bruce Flegg said.

The RTI documents show one of the teachers was under investigation following allegations he "inappropriately touched a student, breached the student protection policy, carried on an inappropriate relationship with one of the students, (and) allowed students to engage in behaviour that could have exposed them to physical harm" while working at a Brisbane Catholic school. The Courier-Mail understands the teacher subsequently resigned, before taking up a position at a state high school. This teacher has since been sacked and the matter is before the courts.

In the second case, the teacher resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct at a Gold Coast Catholic school, only to be given full-time work at two state high schools during which time the teacher was accused of further misconduct. That teacher has since resigned.

An internal investigation by the State Government's Ethical Standards Unit recommended in October last year that the Department of Education and Training "urgently undertake a risk assessment process to determine the appropriateness of retaining these officers in their current teaching roles". It found hiring processes "do not require an applicant to declare outstanding or incomplete investigations". "The department does not have any jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of employees prior to their engagement . . . and cannot be held accountable under the department's Code of Conduct for his alleged behaviour whilst employed in the private school sector."

Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to be interviewed but said in a statement that he "understands" additional checks were now being undertaken. They include a disciplinary investigation by a past or present employer and police check.


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