Sunday, September 19, 2010

Qualifications chief attacks 'diseased' British exams system

The article below blames the British system of competing exam providers for a race to the bottom but ignores the pressure from the former Labor government to maximize pass rates at all costs. If government had stressed quality rather than quantity, the boards would have competed in that arena

Schoolchildren are being short-changed by a “corrupt” examinations system, according to a former Government advisor. The creation of multiple exam boards is fuelling unhealthy competition between providers as they effectively make their tests easier to win business from schools, it was claimed.

Mick Waters, a former official at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, suggested that it was in examiners' interests to help pupils pass to make a profit. The claims are made in a new book – Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teaching – which charts how the education system has been undermined by political and commercial pressures.

Mr Waters, who quit as the QCA’s director of curriculum last year, told researchers: “The system is diseased, almost corrupt. We've got a set of exam bodies who are in a market place.... I've seen people from awarding bodies talk to head teachers implying that their examinations are easier. “Not only that, they provide the text book to help you through it.”

Currently, Britain has multiple examination boards that sell course syllabuses and exam papers to individual schools. Head teachers can choose which syllabuses to follow in qualifications such as A-levels and GCSEs. In many cases, examiners write text books linked to the test syllabus and provide pointers to help teachers maximise pupils’ results.

Although they are vetted by Ofqual, the exams regulator, critics claim that unhealthy competition between boards distorts the education system, with schools opting for tests that produce the highest grades. In the book, Mr Waters accused chief examiners of “insider trading”.

John Bangs, visiting professor at London University’s Institute of Education, and one of the book’s authors, said examiners wrote the “textbooks, as well as the questions, and Ofqual does not have the nerve to regulate them”. “It's a great problem,” he said. “This is a major finding.” He called for the creation of a single examination board. [He would]

Prof Maurice Galton, from Cambridge University, who co-authored the book, said: “If I'm at a board and I've got less people getting As than another board, I'm going to bump my As up because otherwise the schools will look at it and think 'I'll use this board, it's easier to get any A'.”


Australia's absurd new school buildings. A "revolution" all right: A great leap backwards

The Leftist Federal program that produced these absurdities was called "Building the Education Revolution" but the $600,000 school tuckshops are 'unusable'. A big price for a tiny building. You could build two family homes for the same price

SMALL canteens constructed under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program encourage the provision of pre-packed heat-and-serve food. Critics of the canteens, which are about 24 square metres and cost up to $600,000, say they lack the space needed to prepare fresh food.

The Healthy Kids Association general manager, Jo Gardner, described the buildings as unsuitable for producing healthy food on a mass scale. "The standards being implemented by the state Department of Education and Training in new and refurbished canteens are grossly inadequate," she said.

"They do not meet opportunities for schools to efficiently and effectively deliver fresh food - they have inadequate bench space; they don't have wash-up sinks that are of a commercial nature. The push is very heat-and-serve."

The department has agreed to extend the new canteen being built at Tottenham Central School near Dubbo after parents complained it was unusable.

"The biggest problem with the design is that the preparation space is minimal," the school's Parents and Citizens' Association president, Rick Bennett, said. "The bench space is OK if you are serving pre-packed food like pies and sausage rolls where there is no preparation. But as soon as you need to prepare something like a salad box you're in trouble because of the lack of space."

He also said the lack of serving space meant children would spend most of their lunch hour in the queue rather than running around. "The kids only have a small amount of time for their lunch," he said. "You want as many people serving in the canteens as possible so the kids don't spend their entire lunch break standing in a line waiting to be served. By the time they have eaten, there is no time for them to run around and play."

An Education Department spokesman said the canteens were in line with the department's schools facilities standards.

But Louise Appel, secretary of the Parents and Citizens' Association at Orange Grove Public School, which received the same canteen, said the design was flawed. "They told us that this was the standard design and I would say, 'But read my lips - there is no bench space,' " Ms Appel said. "What sort of standard design for a canteen has no food preparation space?"

The canteen at Orange Grove, in Sydney's inner-west, has also undergone alterations to create more bench space.


How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others

When college presidents and academic administrators pay their usual obeisance to "diversity" you know they are talking first and foremost about race. More specifically, they are talking about blacks. A diverse college campus is understood as one that has a student body that -- at a minimum -- is 5 to 7 percent black (i.e., equivalent to roughly half the proportion of blacks in the general population). A college or university that is only one, two, or three percent black would not be considered "diverse" by college administrators regardless of how demographically diverse its student body might be in other ways.

The blacks in question need not be African Americans -- indeed at many of the most competitive colleges today, including many Ivy League schools, an estimated 40-50 percent of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants.

As a secondary meaning "diversity" can also encompass Hispanics, who together with blacks are often subsumed by college administrators and admissions officers under the single race category "underrepresented minorities." Most colleges and universities seeking "diversity" seek a similar proportion of Hispanics in their student body as blacks (since blacks and Hispanics are about equal in number in the general population), though meeting the black diversity goal usually has a much higher priority than meeting the Hispanic one.

Asians, unlike blacks and Hispanics, receive no boost in admissions. Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as the quota-like mentality that leads college administrators to conclude they may have "too many" Asians. Despite the much lower number of Asians in the general high-school population, high-achieving Asian students -- those, for instance, with SAT scores in the high 700s -- are much more numerous than comparably high-achieving blacks and Hispanics, often by a factor of ten or more.

Thinking as they do in racial balancing and racial quota terms, college admissions officers at the most competitive institutions almost always set the bar for admitting Asians far above that for Hispanics and even farther above that for admitting blacks.

"Diversity" came to be so closely associated with race in the wake of the Supreme Court's Bakke decision in 1978. In his decisive opinion, Justice Lewis Powell rejected arguments for racial preferences based on generalized "societal discrimination," social justice, or the contemporary needs of American society as insufficiently weighty to overrule the color-blind imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. That imperative, however, could be overruled, Powell said, by a university's legitimate concern for the educational benefits of a demographically diverse student body.

Virtually all competitive colleges after Bakke continued with their racial preference policies ("affirmative action"), though after Powell's decision they had to cloak their true meaning and purpose behind a misleading or dishonest rhetoric of "diversity."

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a critic of racial preferences, accurately explains the situation: "The raison d'etre for race-specific affirmative action programs," Dershowitz writes, "has simply never been diversity for the sake of education. The checkered history of 'diversity' demonstrates that it was designed largely as a cover to achieve other legally, morally, and politically controversial goals. In recent years, it has been invoked -- especially in the professional schools -- as a clever post facto justification for increasing the number of minority group students in the student body."

While almost all college administrators and college admissions officers at the most elite institutions think in racial balancing and racial quota-like terms when they assemble their student body, they almost always deny this publically in a blizzard of rhetoric about a more far-flung "diversity." Indeed, there is probably no other area where college administrators are more likely to lie or conceal the truth of what they are doing than in the area of admissions and race.

Most elite universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of 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-middle-class Catholics, working class "white ethnics," social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce.

Students in these categories are often very rare at the more competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League. While these kinds of people would surely add to the diverse viewpoints and life-experiences represented on college campuses, in practice "diversity" on campus is largely a code word for the presence of a substantial proportion of those in the "underrepresented" racial minority groups.

The Diversity Colleges Want

A new study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford is a real eye-opener in revealing just what sorts of students highly competitive colleges want -- or don't want -- on their campuses and how they structure their admissions policies to get the kind of "diversity" they seek. The Espenshade/Radford study draws from a new data set, the National Study of College Experience (NSCE), which was gathered from eight highly competitive public and private colleges and universities (entering freshmen SAT scores: 1360). Data was collected on over 245,000 applicants from three separate application years, and over 9,000 enrolled students filled out extensive questionnaires.

Because of confidentiality agreements Espenshade and Radford could not name the institutions but they assure us that their statistical profile shows they fit nicely within the top 50 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ratings.

Consistent with other studies, though in much greater detail, Espenshade and Radford show the substantial admissions boost, particularly at the private colleges in their study, which Hispanic students get over whites, and the enormous advantage over whites given to blacks.

They also show how Asians must do substantially better than whites in order to reap the same probabilities of acceptance to these same highly competitive private colleges. On an "other things equal basis," where adjustments are made for a variety of background factors, being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white (for those who applied in 1997) equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310 SAT point advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points.

The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student's chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE database. To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.

Here the Espenshade/Radford results are consistent with other studies, including those of William Bowen and Derek Bok in their book The Shape of the River, though they go beyond this influential study in showing both the substantial Hispanic admissions advantage and the huge admissions penalty suffered by Asian applicants. Although all highly competitive colleges and universities will deny that they have racial quotas -- either minimum quotas or ceiling quotas -- the huge boosts they give to the lower-achieving black and Hispanic applicants, and the admissions penalties they extract from their higher-achieving Asian applicants, clearly suggest otherwise.

Espenshade and Radford also take up very thoroughly the question of "class based preferences" and what they find clearly shows a general disregard for improving the admission chances of poor and otherwise disadvantaged whites.

Other studies, including a 2005 analysis of nineteen highly selective public and private universities by William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil, and Eugene Tobin, in their 2003 book, Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, found very little if any advantage in the admissions process accorded to whites from economically or educationally disadvantaged families compared to whites from wealthier or better educated homes.

Espenshade and Radford cite this study and summarize it as follows: "These researchers find that, for non-minority [i.e., white] applicants with the same SAT scores, there is no perceptible difference in admission chances between applicants from families in the bottom income quartile, applicants who would be the first in their families to attend college, and all other (non-minority) applicants from families at higher levels of socioeconomic status. When controls are added for other student and institutional characteristics, these authors find that, on an other-things-equal basis, [white] applicants from low-SES backgrounds, whether defined by family income or parental education, get essentially no break in the admissions process; they fare neither better nor worse than other [white] applicants."

Distressing as many might consider this to be -- since the same institutions that give no special consideration to poor white applicants boast about their commitment to "diversity" and give enormous admissions breaks to blacks, even to those from relatively affluent homes -- Espenshade and Radford in their survey found the actual situation to be much more troubling.

At the private institutions in their study, whites from lower-class backgrounds incurred a huge admissions disadvantage not only in comparison to lower-class minority students, but compared to whites from middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds as well. The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers.

When equally matched for background factors (including SAT scores and high school GPAs), the better-off whites were more than three times as likely to be accepted as the poorest whites (.28 vs. .08 admissions probability). Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it. The opposite class trend was seen among non-whites, where the poorer the applicant the greater the probability of acceptance when all other factors are taken into account. Class-based affirmative action does exist within the three non-white ethno-racial groupings, but among the whites the groups advanced are those with money.

When lower-class whites are matched with lower-class blacks and other non-whites the degree of the non-white advantage becomes astronomical: lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely. These are enormous differences and reflect the fact that lower-class whites were rarely accepted to the private institutions Espenshade and Radford surveyed. Their diversity-enhancement value was obviously rated very low.

Some of the private colleges Espenshade and Radford describe would do well to come clean with their act and admit the truth: "Poor Whites Need Not Apply!"

Besides the bias against lower-class whites, the private colleges in the Espenshade/Radford study seem to display what might be called an urban/Blue State bias against rural and Red State occupations and values. This is most clearly shown in a little remarked statistic in the study's treatment of the admissions advantage of participation in various high school extra-curricular activities. In the competitive private schools surveyed participation in many types of extra-curricular activities -- including community service activities, performing arts activities, and "cultural diversity" activities -- conferred a substantial improvement in an applicant's chances of admission.

But what Espenshade and Radford found in regard to what they call "career-oriented activities" was truly shocking even to this hardened veteran of the campus ideological and cultural wars. Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis.

The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. "Being an officer or winning awards" for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, "has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions." Excelling in these activities "is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission."


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