Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big man shortage on U.S. campuses

Partly caused by government regulations

It's well-known that there's a severe gender imbalance in undergraduate college populations: About 57 percent of undergrads these days are female and just 43 percent male, the culmination of a trend in which significantly fewer young men than young women either graduate from high school or enroll in college.

It's also well-known - at least among college admissions officers - that many private institutions have tried to close the gender gap by quietly relaxing admissions standards for males, essentially practicing affirmative action for young men. What they're doing is perfectly legal, even under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination by institutions of higher learning receiving federal funds. Title IX contains an exemption that specifically allows private colleges that aren't professional or technical institutions to prefer one sex over the other in undergraduate admissions.

Militant feminists and principled opponents of affirmative action might complain about the discrimination against women that Title IX permits, but for many second- and third-tier liberal arts colleges lacking male educational magnets such as engineering and business programs, the exemption may be a lifesaver, preventing those smaller and less prestigious schools from turning into de facto women's colleges that few young people of either sex might want to attend.

Now, however, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has decided to turn over this rock carefully set in place by admissions committees. The commission launched an investigation in the fall into the extent of male preferences in admissions decisions at 19 institutions of higher learning. These include public universities (where such preferences are illegal under Title IX); elite private institutions such as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins; smaller liberal arts schools (Gettysburg College, with 2,600 undergraduates, is on the list); religious schools (the University of Richmond and Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.); and historically black Virginia Union University, also in Richmond.

On May 14, the commission's general counsel, David P. Blackwood, announced that four of the 19 schools - Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg and Messiah - had raised legal issues concerning compliance with the commission's subpoenas and that Virginia Union, while responding politely, had not complied in any way. Mr. Blackwood said the commission might have to ask the Justice Department for help in obtaining admissions data from Virginia Union.

The commission's investigation has triggered a variety of ideological conflicts and created some unusual ideological allies - and it ultimately may provide a forum for rethinking Title IX itself. Critics charge that the U.S. Education Department has interpreted the 1972 law so as to make it illegal for colleges to attract males by more palatable means such as men's sports teams, forcing them to resort to outright sex discrimination in admissions.

On one side of the current conflict are the opponents of affirmative action for any group, whether based on sex, ethnicity or religion. Typically, such opponents compare efforts to limit the number of women in a college population to the quotas for Jews that once prevailed in the Ivy League and the de facto quotas disfavoring high-achieving Asians that typically have arisen as a consequence of "diversity" measures favoring blacks and Hispanics.

Squarely in the anti-affirmative-action camp is the instigator of the Civil Rights Commission's admissions probe, Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego appointed to the commission by the Senate in 2007 and one of the backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that outlawed racial and other preferences by public institutions in California. "The exemption in Title IX was created to protect single-sex schools - to allow men's schools to remain men's schools and women's schools to remain women's schools," Ms. Heriot said in a telephone interview. "The admissions policies of coeducational schools weren't covered."

On the other side is a group that might be called "biological realists," a group that undoubtedly includes many admissions officers and alumni fundraisers. Their argument is simple: Call it sexist or call it simply hormonal, but most young people want to attend a coeducational school where the number of students of each sex is roughly equal.

There are almost no all-men's colleges left in the United States, and only about 50 all-women's colleges (two longtime holdouts, Hood in Maryland and Randolph-Macon in Virginia, went fully co-educational in 2003 and 2007 respectively, and even the most academically prestigious of the survivors, such as Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke, draw a significant percentage of their student bodies from socially conservative populations in the Mideast and East Asia where single-sex education is the norm).

Furthermore, once any institution is perceived as predominantly female, whether it is a school noted for a profession such as kindergarten-to-grade-12 teaching or a college with a severe female-to-male gender imbalance, it loses prestige. Men shy away, and eventually, so do the most talented women, who want to be where the high-status men are. If high school seniors won't apply to a college because they don't like the sex mix, the college drops both in perceived selectivity - such as in the U.S. News & World Report rankings where the applications-to-acceptances ratio is paramount - and actual selectivity as it scrambles to fill seats with less able students.

It's a rule of thumb that the less academic prestige a college has, the more likely it is to suffer from imbalance among applicants and also among those who choose to attend (there's no gender imbalance at Harvard or the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for example). At community colleges that take all comers, for example, 62 percent of students are female, and the for-profit open-admissions University of Phoenix boasts on its website that it has a 67 percent female student body. "The lower the pecking order, the more women," Ms. Heriot said.

It's a potential death spiral of which most college administrators and governing boards are well aware. In 2005, trustees at the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill were distressed to discover that the entering freshman class was 58 percent female. Some trustees openly suggested that the university create some sort of affirmative action for men.

There's a third interest group in the mix, the hard-line feminists who insist either that males as historical oppressors should never qualify for admissions preferences or that men's general lack of interest in institutions and activities that are "too female" is not a biological but a cultural phenomenon that can be reversed by role-modeling, mentoring and sensitivity sessions. In a forum this spring for Education Next, Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and principal author of the American Association of University Women's 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls," argued that male high school graduation rates and male college enrollments would increase if there were a national campaign to encourage fathers to read to their children and more boys in the kindergarten-to-grade-12 system had access to "men who hold other than traditionally male jobs."

The Civil Rights Commission has the power only to make recommendations, not rules, and Ms. Heriot would not say whether it would consider recommending statutory changes to the Title IX admissions exemption that would, say, apply it only to historically single-sex schools. "The first step is getting the records from these schools and finding out whether they're giving preferential treatment to men," she said. Ms. Heriot did say that the commission might suggest steps that colleges could take to attract more male applicants and thus reduce overtly sex-preferential admissions.


Pupils aged five should be taught all about sex: British health watchdog's instruction to schools

Children as young as five should be taught about sex, the Government’s controversial health watchdog said last night. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence – whose main role is to ration NHS drugs – is to write to every primary school telling it to start sex education when pupils are five.

It will tell teachers that children should not be taught to say no to sex – but should learn about the value of ‘mutually rewarding sexual relationships’.

Sex education is not compulsory in English schools – and even where it is taught, parents have the right to take their children out of lessons. But this guidance from NICE – albeit in draft form – will put greater pressure on headteachers to provide sex education at an earlier age.

At present, the only part of sex education that is compulsory is the science element – the human reproductive system and how babies are made. This is taught at secondary school. Guidance from the Department for Education suggests that from the ages of five to seven, children should learn the names of parts of the body, how people change as they get older, the difference between right and wrong, and that friends and family should care for one another.

The 74-page document was produced on NICE’s own initiative after it convened a panel of public health officials and representatives from family planning groups to produce guidance on reducing teenage pregnancy. NICE says that public health is part of its core remit and that cutting teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease would save the NHS money.

Schools do not have to follow the sex education document – but it is the first ever comprehensive guide to what children should be taught produced by a Government department.

Critics said it was far beyond NICE’s remit and was in danger of actually encouraging children to experiment with sex after learning about it at far too young an age.

Recommendations from NICE include teaching children how to put a condom on and that excessive drinking can lead to sex. It advises schools to use social networking websites to get the sex message across and calls on teachers to offer children confidential sex advice if they need it – without their parents being told.

The report concludes that sex and relationships education is ‘more effective if it is introduced before young people first have sex’. It says sex education – including information about sexually-transmitted infections, methods of contraception, pregnancy and abortion – can help children and teens delay sex until they are ready. ‘It does not cause them to have sex at an earlier age, or to have more sex, or sex with more partners, and nor does it increase the number of unwanted or teenage conceptions and abortions,’ the guidance says. [On what evidence?]

Critics last night accused the body of pressuring schools to push the boundaries on sex education and said the guidance undermined traditional values. Norman Wells, of pressure group Family and Youth Concern, said: ‘The team that drafted the guidance included lobby groups with an agenda to break down moral standards and redefine the family. Organisations with a commitment to marriage and traditional family values were not represented.’

Margaret Morrissey, of lobby group Parents Out Loud, said: ‘They tell me that once you give indepth information about sex and drugs, 90 per cent will go and experiment – and there’s no way back from that.’

Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate is the highest in western Europe. There are now more than 40,000 under-18 conceptions every year. Last night the Department for Education would not comment on the guidance.

But Simon Blake, of young people’s sexual health charity Brook, who helped draw up the guidance, said: ‘It’s a myth that sex education encourages children to be more promiscuous or have sex at an early age. ‘In fact, evidence demonstrates this type of education helps children and young people resist pressures to get involved in activities that might damage their health.’


Half of British schools fail to offer good education

Almost half of all state schools in England are failing to offer pupils a good education, according to inspectors. The proportion of schools rated as either inadequate or only satisfactory by Ofsted has risen to 47 per cent. Last year inspectors said two in three schools offered pupils at least a "good" education. Since then however, the number of schools graded as "inadequate" has more than doubled.

Nearly one in 10 (9%) of schools investigated by Ofsted were declared inadequate in the autumn and spring term 2009/10. Throughout the 2008/09 school year, just 4% of schools in England visited by inspectors fell into the category. At the same time, the number of schools rated "outstanding" has almost halved to just over one in 10 (11%), the figures show.

The change comes after the Government reformed inspection criteria in September, placing a greater emphasis on exam results as the best way to measure standards at schools.

Inspectors now spend twice as much time monitoring lessons and schools must analyse their own strengths and weaknesses before they are visited. Under-performing schools are inspected more frequently than before, while the very top institutions are less likely to be visited by inspectors.

Lord Hill, the Schools Minister, said: "With almost half of schools inspected since September judged as only satisfactory or inadequate, it's clear there is urgent need for real reform. "We need to create more excellent schools and drive up standards across the board, and that's exactly what our academy proposals will help to do. We also intend to reform the inspection regime so that Ofsted's expertise is more targeted on the weakest schools."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said reforms to the grading system caused confusion because schools could be downgraded even if their standards of education improved.

There has been speculation that poor results could result in head teachers being sacked and schools turned into independent academies in order to improve standards.

Mr Dunford said: "Of course, we want schools to keep striving for higher standards but it is not helpful to parents or schools when the basis for the grading system changes every four years."

In almost 4,000 inspections carried out since September, just 11 per cent of schools were given an overall rating of "outstanding", compared with 19 per cent last year. Almost one in 20 schools (4%) was put in "special measures", meaning they could be taken over if results are not improved in 12 months.

The figures are a slight improvement on assessments from the first term of this school year, when only nine per cent of schools were marked "outstanding" and 10 per cent were judged to be "inadequate".

Ofsted Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said: "The new framework is helping ensure schools are better able to understand their weaknesses and areas in need of development. "It is particularly pleasing to see that 11 per cent of schools considered to be serving areas of high deprivation have been graded outstanding in the last term, matching the overall national figure for schools."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "The Ofsted inspection framework introduced in 2009 not only redefined the English language, but also shifted the goalposts for what would be deemed to be an 'outstanding', 'good', 'satisfactory' or 'inadequate' performance by a school.

"Ofsted accepts that disproportionately more of its time is spent inspecting particular categories of schools. The statistics published today are, therefore, heavily biased and do not present a true picture about how well the system as a whole is doing."


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