Thursday, January 07, 2010

Do We Need More Latino Scientists?

Inside Higher Ed reports on yet another report, this one from the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education, that measures the success (or lack of it) of various institutions “in getting students from Latino backgrounds interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) disciplines and, ultimately, to degrees.”

Yes, but why should we be concerned with the number or proportion or whatever of Latino students getting STEM degrees?
Like many recent analyses, the center’s report embraces the idea that the United States must -- for competitive, economic and other reasons -- draw more, and more qualified, young people into STEM fields to help ensure that it has skilled workers for the information age.

But like most of the USC center’s own work, the newly released study -- part of a three-year project financed by the National Science Foundation -- views the issue through the prism of an “equity” framework, which it defines as “creating opportunities for equal access and success among historically underrepresented student populations, such as racial and ethnic minority and low-income students.”

In other words, says Alicia C. Dowd, the center’s co-director and a co-author of the report, the study aims both to recognize the central role that Latinos (given their growing share of the U.S. population) will have to play if the country is to achieve the college completion goals set out by President Obama, and to focus on how well colleges and universities are educating Latinos compared to other students....

As I have argued before, I believe the only reasonable “equity” concern is whether discrimination prevents individuals from any racial or ethnic group from having the same opportunities other students have to choose their own careers. Non-discriminatory factors, such as poverty, may also have a racially disparate impact, but in my view the appropriate response is to have financial aid available to all who qualify, not racially targeted financial aid. In short, equity, like equality, requires colorblind non-discrimination, not racial and ethnic proportionality.

But what of the combination of the national need for more scientists with the fact that Latinos will make up an increasing proportion of college students? Doesn’t that justify ethnically targeted policies to encourage more Latinos to become scientists, and to assist those who do choose to do so?

I have my doubts. If public policy should concentrate on the production of more scientists, shouldn’t research be directed toward developing policies and programs that produce, well, more scientists — not more black, Latino, women, etc., scientists?

What if all the money and effort that has been and is being directed toward increasing the numbers of “underrepresented minority” STEM students and graduates had instead been directed toward, say, increasing the number of Asian Americans in STEM fields? Now insofar as “equity” is the concern, we don’t need any more Asian scientists because they’re already “overrepresented.” But maybe with a little money and effort we could produce even more Asian scientists, in fact more than would be produced by spending that money trying to jack up the numbers of scientists from “underrepresented” groups? Wouldn’t that be a better investment?

Just asking.


Britain's selective school controversy

There was an interesting article in the Guardian (yes, really) yesterday about grammar schools and selection. Peter Mortimore (ex director of the Institute of Education) argued that selection underpinned a "hierarchy of status", promoted snobbery and prevented many schools from gaining a fair share of pupils. He seems to want grammar schools to be re-positioned, to "serve the whole community." However, he didn't really explain how this can be done.

So many people are anti-selection on an academic basis, and yet all in favour of academies/colleges which select on the basis of music, sport or languages. I find this very contradictory, but probably not as concerning as those who argue against private and grammar schools without really addressing why parents seek them out. They may not be "good" for the education system as a whole, but parents often choose them because they feel their children will not be stimulated or stretched properly in the state sector. They want the best for their child; is that so bad?

And often they interpret this as meaning smaller class sizes, the removal of disruptive children and a strong peer group. Instead of dismissing these parents as pushy, why not address the issues which concern them? Ed Balls has called for an education debate before the next election. I hope it's a real one, which addresses issues that genuinely concern parents. In any case, Mr Balls will soon be appearing on School Gate to do a Q and A, so please ask him questions then.


Australia's private schools become less affordable

Even though there are lot of them. The reason is higher demand -- once again the old law of supply and demand dictates price. And why the higher demand? Because many government schools have got so bad -- mainly due to negligible discipline -- that parents are driven to the private sector in desperation

TOP private schools have become less affordable over the past decade, despite taxpayer subsidies and claims from John Howard when he introduced the current funding system that fee increases would taper off. The yearly fees in the top schools of about $11,500 in 1999 were about 28 per cent of the average yearly wage, whereas this year's fees of about $23,500 at these schools are about 36 per cent of the average salary.

The decline in affordability comes despite private schools securing billions in taxpayers' money under the Socioeconomic Status funding model that has been extended until 2012 by the federal Labor government. When it unveiled the SES model in 1999, the Howard government boasted it was about giving parents of all incomes a "choice" in schooling. "In some cases, it will mean that fees won't go up at the same rate that would otherwise be the case," the then prime minister said at the time.

However, looking at the typical fees payable for the upper echelon of schools, this is clearly not the case. To use the Kings School in Sydney as an example, a parent in 1999 would pay $11,595, or 28.4 per cent of the average wage of $40,820. This year, that parent would be paying $23,442, or 36 per cent of the average wage of $64,896.

The Rudd government decision to extend the SES funding model until 2012 gave non-government schools an estimated $28 billion. It was made despite protests from public education unions.

The Australian yesterday reported that private schools were putting up their fees for this year by an average of 6 per cent.

The reaction to the hikes has been muted so far, with parents groups and the Independent Education Union noting that the education component of the consumer price index had risen by 5.6 per cent in the past year. IEU federal secretary Chris Watt said teachers' wages were rising at about 4.5 per cent a year and it was possible that schools were facing reduced fee payments and donations from alumni amid the global financial crisis. "If the increase was of the order of 10 per cent, we would say it's outrageous, but it's not that much more than the base wage increase plus extra costs," he said.

Tony Abbott yesterday defended the public subsidisation of elite private schools and said they had the right to increase fees. "In the end, these are private institutions and it's up to them to decide what their fees should be," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott also defended the SES funding model. "Every Australian child is entitled to government assistance towards his or her education," he said. "Whether people choose to utilise that assistance by going to a public school or whether they choose to go to a private school and receive a reduced level of support, but nevertheless a substantial level of support, that's up to the parents of the child."


No comments: