Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bias and Bigotry in America's Academia

Pat Buchanan

A decade ago, activist Ron Unz conducted a study of the ethnic and religious composition of the student body at Harvard. Blacks and Hispanics, Unz found, were then being admitted to his alma mater in numbers approaching their share of the population.

And who were the most underrepresented Americans at Harvard? White Christians and ethnic Catholics. Though two-thirds of the U.S. population then, they had dropped to one-fourth of the student body.

Comes now a more scientific study from Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford to confirm that a deep bias against the white conservative and Christian young of America is pervasive at America's elite colleges and Ivy League schools.

The Espenshade-Radford study "draws from ... the National Study of College Experience ... gathered from eight highly competitive private colleges and universities (entering freshman SAT scores: 1360)," writes Princeton Professor Russell K. Nieli, who has summarized the findings:

Elite college admissions officers may prattle about "diversity," but what they mean is the African-American contingent on campus should be 5 percent to 7 percent, with Hispanics about as numerous. However, "an estimated 40-50 of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants," who never suffered segregation or Jim Crow.

To achieve even these percentages, however, the discrimination against white and Asian applicants, because of the color of their skin and where their ancestors came from, is astonishing.

As Nieli puts it, "Being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white ... equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1,600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310-point SAT advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points."

"To have the same chance of gaining admission as a black student with a SAT score of 1100, a Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550."

Was this what the civil rights revolution was all about -- requiring kids whose parents came from Korea, Japan or Vietnam to get a perfect SAT score of 1600 to be given equal consideration with a Jamaican or Kenyan kid who got an 1150? Is this what it means to be an Ivy League progressive?

What are the historic and moral arguments for discriminating in favor of kids from Angola and Argentina over kids whose parents came from Poland and Vietnam?

There is yet another form of bigotry prevalent among our academic elite that is a throwback to the snobbery of the WASPs of yesterday. While Ivy League recruiters prefer working-class to middle-class black kids with the same test scores, the reverse is true with white kids.

White kids from poor families who score as well as white kids from wealthy families -- think George W. Bush -- not only get no break, they seem to be the most undesirable and unwanted of all students.

Though elite schools give points to applicants for extracurricular activities, especially for leadership roles and honors, writes Nieli, if you played a lead role in Future Farmers of America, the 4-H Clubs or junior ROTC, leave it off your resume or you may just be blackballed. "Excelling in these activities is 'associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds on admissions.'"

Writes Nieli, there seems an unwritten admissions rule at America's elite schools: "Poor Whites Need Not Apply."

For admissions officers at our top private and public schools, diversity is "a code word" for particular prejudices.

For these schools are not interested in a diversity that would include "born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower- and middle-class Catholics, working class 'white ethnics,' social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children or older students just starting into college and raising children."

"Students in these categories," writes Nieli, "are often very rare at the most competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League."

"Lower-class whites prove to be all-around losers" at the elite schools. They are rarely accepted. Lower-class Hispanics and blacks are eight to 10 times more likely to get in with the same scores.

That such bigotry is pervasive in 2010 at institutions that preen about how progressive they are is disgusting. That a GOP which purports to represents Middle America, whose young are bearing the brunt of this bigotry, has remained largely silent is shameful.

Many of these elite public and private colleges and universities benefit from U.S. tax dollars through student loans and direct grants. The future flow of those tax dollars should be made contingent on Harvard and Yale ending racial practices that went out at Little Rock Central High in 1957.


Slipped standards in NY

New York State education officials acknowledged on Monday that their standardized exams had become easier to pass over the last four years and said they would recalibrate the scoring for tests taken this spring, which is almost certain to mean thousands more students will fail.

While scores spiked significantly across the state at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national exams, they said.

“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said during a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

Large jumps in the passing rates, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg trumpeted in his re-election campaign last year, led to criticism that the tests had become too easy.

The state agreed to have researchers at Harvard University analyze the scores and compare them with results on national exams and Regents tests, the subject exams that high school students are required to take for graduation. Those researchers found that students who received a passing grade on the state eighth-grade math exam, for example, had a one-in-three chance of scoring highly enough on the math Regents test in high school to be considered prepared for college math.

State math and English exams, which are given to all third through eighth graders, have historically been easier to pass than national math and English exams, which are given to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders around the United States.

But according to the Harvard researchers, the New York state exams have become even easier in comparison with the national exams: students who received the minimum score to pass the state math tests in 2007 were in the 36th percentile of all students nationally, but in 2009 they had dropped to the 19th percentile.

“That is a huge, massive difference,” Dr. Steiner said.

The tests are developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill and overseen by the State Education Department and its volunteer technical advisory group, which is made up of several testing experts.

Dr. Steiner, who became education commissioner a year ago, said that the exams had tested a narrow part of the curriculum, particularly in math, and that questions were often repeated year to year, with a few details changed, so that a student who had taken a practice test — as many teachers have their students do — were likely to do well.

“It is very likely that some of the state’s progress was illusory,” said Daniel Koretz, the Harvard testing expert who led the research. “You can have exaggerated progress over all that creates very high pass rates. It doesn’t seem logical to call those kids proficient.”

The state said it had begun to include a broader range of topics on its tests, making the questions less predictable. Dr. Steiner refused to say what the passing scores would be for the tests this year but said the numbers would be a “major shift.” Last year, 77 percent of students statewide were deemed proficient in English, up from 62 percent in 2006; 86 percent passed the math test, compared with 66 percent three years earlier. The scores this year are expected to be released at the end of the month.

The changes are likely to lower the passing rates significantly all over the state, particularly in districts and schools in large urban cities. Superintendents in Buffalo and Syracuse are criticizing the changes, saying that the move to raise the passing scores is akin to moving goalposts.

“We’ve lost sight of the purpose of the test — it’s supposed to show you’ve mastered a certain skill at a certain time,” said Daniel G. Lowengard, the superintendent in Syracuse.

“I think it’s unfair to teachers to say thank you very much, you’ve been doing this work for the last three or four years, and now that your kids are passing, all of sudden we’re going to call a B a C and call a C a D.”

But in New York City, where the scores are used for things like letter grades assigned to schools and teacher and principal bonus pay, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said he supported the changes.

“We’ve said a million times we support higher standards,” he said. “It will make all of us raise the bar.”


Australia: Now some want to dumb down doctorates

All other educational qualifications have been dumbed down so I suppose this was inevitable

THE Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies has voiced opposition to plans by the universities of Melbourne and WA to tag as doctorates their new masters-level degrees in health disciplines.

Council convenor Helene Marsh, dean of graduate research at James Cook University, said the universities' plans to badge professional masters qualifications as doctorates would "demean" the PhD.

She warned that the market for masters degree programs already suffers from wide variations in what constitutes a masters, and that the sector shouldn't let the same problem hit doctorates.

Professor Marsh said the council's opposition was in line with its guidelines that all its members had agreed to, including members from Melbourne and UWA.

The council's intervention comes just ahead of an August 2 roundtable in Sydney of vice-chancellors organised by Universities Australia to try to agree on a unified sectoral position on doctorates. It follows the Australian Qualifications Framework's decision to reject Melbourne's plans.

"The council doesn't support plans by any Australian university to give degrees which do not include the equivalent of at least two years of original research the status of a doctorate," Professor Marsh said in a letter to the HES.

"We certainly don't consider it appropriate for masters-level degrees to be badged as doctorates, irrespective of whether the degree entitles the graduate to the honorific title of Dr," she said.

The Australian Technology Network of universities has signalled its primary concern will be to protect the standing of doctorate qualifications.

"The ATN believes it is paramount for Australia to protect the stature of the doctorate to maintain our international standing of the qualifications so many people have worked hard to get," ATN chairman Ross Milbourne said in a statement to the HES.

La Trobe University vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said he is "agnostic" on the issue, but he noted that while the Melbourne and UWA plans are supported by US practice, they are out of step with the Bologna process in Europe.

Professor Johnson said the key problem in the debate over different masters-level qualifications was that the sector lacked agreed exit capabilities against which to measure qualifications.

"If we could all agree clear indications of exit capabilities we wouldn't be having this current stoush," he said.

Professor Marsh said original and significant research is the "fundamental defining characteristic" of doctoral degrees.

"The council doesn't accept that a doctorate can be earned solely or substantially on the basis of coursework. "Indeed, the council believes that coursework within a doctorate should be for research education, whether this is directed towards making a significant contribution to knowledge for the discipline or to professional practice."


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