Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Judge: NY Teacher Exam Not Discriminatory Just Because Minorities Score Lower

A federal judge in New York has deigned to allow a teacher licensing exam which tests rudimentary academic skills and knowledge.  Judge Kimba M. Wood issued her ruling Friday, reports The New York Times.

In June, Wood had struck down another test of basic knowledge used by New York City to vet potential teachers. Wood concluded that the test illegally discriminated against racial minorities because members of racial minorities scored lower on it.

Members of racial minorities also score lower on the test Wood has allowed but, she reasoned, the low scores on the new test of basic knowledge are totally different than the low scores on the old test of basic knowledge.

Wood, a judge in the Southern District of New York, ruled that the two tests are different because the new one more accurately evaluates the skills needs for teaching successfully.

The teaching licensure exam Wood has allowed is called the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST). It focuses on reading and writing skills and is aligned with the national Common Core standards for English.

Education materials behemoth Pearson, which has a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York’s Common Core-related tests, developed the literacy skills test.

Prospective teachers seeking certification in the state of New York must take the literacy test as well as three others.

The Academic Literacy Skills Test first appeared in the 2013-14 school year.

Would-be black and Hispanic teachers have failed New York’s Academic Literacy Skills Test at a considerable clip. Just 41 percent of black teacher candidates passed the test on the first attempt. Just 46 percent of Hispanic teacher candidates passed on their first try.

The first-time pass rate for white teacher candidates on the test has been 64 percent. Over 80 percent of America’s current teacher workforce is white.

In a court filing, former New York State deputy commissioner of education Ken Wagner asserted that the literacy test and the other three teacher licensing tests “ensure that each newly certified teacher entered the classroom with certain minimum knowledge, skills and abilities.”

New York State Education Department spokesman David Tompkins lauded Wood’s ruling.  “Our students need and deserve the best qualified teachers possible, and the ALST helps make sure they get those teachers,” Tompkins said, according to the Times.

Critics of testing academic skills as a way to license teachers argue that tests of basic literacy can only measure how well someone can speak and write.  “The question is, is that one of the criterion for determining who will be a good teacher?” Alfred S. Posamentier, former education dean at Mercy College in the swanky suburbs north of Manhattan, told the Times. “My sense is that the answer is no.”

Due to complaints from professors and officials in university education departments, soon-to-be teachers don’t actually need to pass the literacy exam until June 30, 2016. If they fail the literacy test, they can display their English language prowess through coursework.

At issue in Wood’s Friday ruling and her previous ruling is the concept of disparate racial impact. The basic rule when disparate racial impact occurs as the result of an employment test is that proponents of the test must show that the test assesses skills specifically necessary for the job.

The New York City test Judge Wood threw out was called the Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST-2). It tested a basic high school-level understanding of both the liberal arts and the sciences.

Approximately 4,000 teachers and teaching applicants lost their jobs or did not get hired because they couldn’t pass the old test.

Members of minorities failed the old test at a substantially higher rate than white people did. Hispanic and black applicants had a passage rate of only 54 to 75 percent of the passage rate for whites.

One sample question from the old test asked prospective educators to identify the mathematical principle of a linear relationship when given four examples; another asked them to read four passages from the Constitution and identify which illustrated checks and balances. Besides factual knowledge, the test also checks basic academic skills, such as reading comprehension and the ability to read basic charts and graphs.

This neutral subject matter contained an insidious kernel of racism, Judge Wood ruled.

Wood is most famous as President Bill Clinton’s second failed choice for United States Attorney General. She ran into trouble because she hired an illegal immigrant as her nanny.


Modern College Students Can’t Laugh About Anything

A new article for The Atlantic magazine dives into the anti-septic world of college stand-up comedy, where the humor of a joke is measured by how well it avoids giving offense.

The article, “That’s Not Funny!,” chronicles Caitlin Flanagan’s journey to a convention held by the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), where administrators and student government representatives venture to choose potential stand-up comics to book for on-campus performances. And what performers do these students choose? Only the ones who avoid saying anything remotely offensive.

“They wanted comedy that was 100 percent risk-free, comedy that could not trigger or upset or mildly trouble a single student,” Flanagan writes. “They wanted comedy so thoroughly scrubbed of barb and aggression that if the most hypersensitive weirdo on campus mistakenly wandered into a performance, the words he would hear would fall on him like a soft rain, producing a gentle chuckle and encouraging him to toddle back to his dorm, tuck himself in, and commence a dreamless sleep—not text Mom and Dad that some monster had upset him with a joke.”

The situation, Flanagan surmises, reflects the broader “infantilization” of college students, who must be kept happy and entertained lest they wander off, taking their tuition money with them. She names comedian after comedian forced to sanitize acts or risk being shut out of a lucrative market.

One comic Flanagan discusses brings the house down, only to be rejected by most schools when his routine crosses too many racial boundaries.

“We’re a very forward-thinking school,” an Iowa student says. “That thing about the ‘sassy black friend’? That wouldn’t work for us.”

“We don’t want to sponsor an event that would offend anyone,” says a student activities planner from Western Michigan University.

Even the comics allowed to perform at the convention, Flanagan notes, were screened in advance, with members who could enhance the “diversity” of the event favored even if they were unprepared while anybody with overly risqué was screened out.

“As I listened to the kids hash out whom to invite, it became clear that to get work, a comic had to be… deeply respectful of a particular set of beliefs,” Flanagan says. “These beliefs included, but were in no way limited to, the following: women, as a group, should never be made to feel uncomfortable; people whose sexual orientation falls beyond the spectrum of heterosexuality must be reassured of their special value; racial injustice is best addressed in tones of bitter anguish or inspirational calls to action; Muslims are friendly helpers whom we should cherish.”

Flanagan’s work reinforces the concerns of Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, both of whom grabbed headlines in the past year by saying they avoid college campuses due to their political correctness


College Lays Off Hundreds, Blows $900k On President’s Mansion

The University of Akron, a public college in Ohio, is attracting ridicule over the revelation that it has spent lavishly to renovate its president’s house while also trying to plug a $60 million budget hole.

In an emergency effort to rapidly cut its expenses by $40 million, Akron has announced that it is eliminating 215 positions at the school. Victims of the cuts include the school’s non-profit publishing company, a big chunk of its theater staff, and its baseball team.

Scrutiny over the deep, rapid cuts has led to local press discovering that one reason for the school’s big financial hole is a massive splurge last year on the university president’s house.

According to documents obtained by the Northeast Ohio Media Group, the school spent about $950,000 renovating a house for current president Scott Scarborough, who arrived at the school late last year. The house already belonged to the school, but had received no significant work in 15 years under Scarborough’s predecessor.

While several hundred thousand dollars were spent on renovations to the heating, plumbing, and other essential parts of the house, this price tag also included a host of lavish improvements.

For example, an invoice published by The Akron Beacon-Journal found over $150,000 in spending on furnishings and decorations for the house. Purchases include several thousand-dollar chairs, five thousand-dollar kitchen stools, and an $1,800 bedroom mirror.

Most notoriously, though, the purchases include a $556 decorative olive jar, which has been swiftly singled out for ridicule by those critical of Akron’s excess. The olive jar already has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, with its “comments” including statements along the lines of “Holy shit! I cost that much?”

Akron is a public college, but has tried to defend the house spending by saying it was paid for exclusively from private donations rather than public funds. But the school also assigned a substantial number of school staff to spend hundreds of hours working on the renovation, and those staff were state employees.

Akron has had to suppress a great deal of bad publicity stemming from the layoffs, even creating a special page entitled “Just the Facts” to counter claims such “The University’s academics wallow in mediocrity” and “The University’s graduation rates are awful.”


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