Friday, June 09, 2017

Elite High Schools Plot to Undermine College admissions

They want to give universities vague bromides about their students instead of concrete grades

Recently the online trade publication Inside Higher Ed had an article titled “A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts . . . and Transform College Admissions.” The plan — by the Mastery Transcript Consortium, which counts over 100 top private schools as members — would have its participants stop reporting grades to college admissions offices and instead provide a new model for transcripts and portfolios. The consortium’s proposal would serve as one more step in a trend going back a century toward introducing vagueness and, by extension, discretionary power into college admissions.

The new transcript model is still in development but will follow the principles of “no standardization of content” between schools, “no grades,” and, in obvious tension with the first two principles, “consistent transcript format.” A sample transcript on the consortium’s website lists competencies in eight areas, only two or three of which even remotely resemble traditional academic subjects and most of which can be described charitably as character traits or accurately as self-actualization gibberish. Each of these eight areas is explained with half a dozen or so bullet points that seem to be cribbed from a personal ad at Davos (e.g., “develop flexibility, agility, and adaptability”).

To understand the deep logic of the proposal, it helps to ignore the pleasant-sounding rhetoric about personalization and focus on who and whom. One thing that jumps out of the IHE article is that this proposal is a creature of elite prep schools. Most American high schools have, at most, a handful of students who are realistically competitive at elite universities, but elite prep schools aspire to place a substantial fraction of their students there. Alas, that college admissions offices expect to see grades puts elite high schools in the embarrassing situation of implicitly comparing their students to one another. (While the IHE article’s title just describes a plan without planners, the title that appears on search engines and at the top of readers’ browser tabs is the much more informative “Top Private High Schools Start Campaign to Kill Traditional Transcripts and Change College Admissions.”)

The main advantage of the consortium’s new transcript model is not that it provides more information than grades by virtue of nuance and detail, but that it provides less, by means of not having a readily commensurable scale. The proposed system will make it harder to compare prep students with each other. It will make it almost impossible to compare prep students — summarized with a radar plot of character traits and a “featured credit” of “exhibit moral courage in confronting unjust situations” — to the plebs who are still reporting that they earned a 3.9 GPA including an “A” in AP Calculus.

In fairness, the consortium hopes that public schools will eventually adopt the model and that in the meantime perhaps faculty and administrators at consortium member schools can evaluate portfolios for public-school students. If you believe that, I would suggest that you have failed to earn credit in “identify, manage and address complex problems” or “detect bias and distinguish between reliable and unsound information.” However even if we assume that the consortium’s model of evaluation would work at scale, it still has the core function of obscuring concrete academic achievements and shifting emphasis toward vague notions of character.

This would be one more step in a long-standing trend in college admissions, as described in Jerry Karabel’s book The Chosen. From 1898 to 1919, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton opened up their admissions requirements by adopting the College Entrance Exam Board and abandoning a Greek-language requirement. These reforms made admission more open to non-elite boys, who as a rule were unable to take the schools’ proprietary entrance exams and attended high schools that did not offer Greek. As a result, the Ivies saw a sizable increase in Jewish students, and Columbia even experienced WASP flight, which its peers dreaded. Although Harvard discussed an explicit Jewish quota in 1922, this proved unpalatable, and so between 1922 and 1926 the big three Ivies adopted admissions boards that gave a heavy emphasis to qualitative evidence of “character” (read: WASP culture emphasizing muscular Christianity, club membership, and athletics over book learning) as a pretext to limit Jews.

Decades later, the University of California system, within which both Karabel and I are sociologists, adopted a similar policy to ensure racial balance. Traditionally, about half of the UC class was admitted by a GPA and SAT formula. The beginning of the end of this policy came in 1995 and 1996, when a Board of Regents vote and ballot initiative barred the use of affirmative action at the University of California, without which the flagship campuses of the university admitted notably fewer blacks and Latinos and notably more Asians and “decline to state” as freshmen. (White students were stable.) In response, between 1998 and 2001, the university switched to a system of comprehensive review greatly emphasizing qualitative evidence of character, and this had the desired effect of bringing the undergraduate body a bit closer to the state’s overall ethnic composition.

Basing college admission on well-roundedness and character is both noisy and cumbersome. Anyone who regularly writes letters of recommendation knows that they consume an enormous amount of time to write, and anyone who regularly reads them knows that they typically convey minimal actual information, largely because by convention they are almost never negative. Admissions essays at the undergraduate level are even worse, serving primarily to demonstrate the insatiability of credulous admissions officers for bromides.

However, the time consumed by writing and reading the materials in the admissions packet is dwarfed by the effort that goes into shaping lives to fit them. One of the biggest impacts of the demand for well-roundedness is that making a well-rounded child is an enormous drain of time for families. Garey and Valerie Ramey’s NBER/Brookings paper “The Rug Rat Race” suggests that our culture of intensive parenting is driven by competition for college admissions. They find a pronounced rise in time spent on child rearing since the mid 1990s concentrated among college-educated parents. Tellingly, the pattern does not hold in Canada, which has a less hierarchical college system. Nor does the pattern apply to underrepresented minorities, whom colleges already seek and who experience diminishing marginal returns to résumé-polishing.

To treat time spent raising kids as a problem sounds heartless, but when the increased time consists of chauffeuring kids from activity to activity or “helping” them with projects, this is a brutal war of attrition against rivals to the meritocratic elite, not quality family time. In the long run, this may lead not only to endless stress for parents and kids alike, but also to lower fertility, since if you make something more costly, you get less of it.

The sick irony is that giving great weight to well-roundedness and character is seen as egalitarian. Test prep serves the role of Satan in the theodicy of meritocracy, a ready explanation for the association between test scores and social class of origin. What this myth overlooks is that most scholarly studies of test prep estimate that it raises SAT scores by a piddling couple dozen points out of 1600. Nonetheless, our suspicion of the SAT’s well-known association with household income provides an egalitarian rationale for the regressive turn to all variety of precocious “achievement” as the basis of college admissions, as if test scores could be bought but résumé-padding could not.

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about SATs, they are much less prone to class privilege than having to found an NGO in high school. And so we had the shameful spectacle of Stanford admitting a young man whose essay consisted of writing “Black Lives Matter” a hundred times, but who also was the son of a hedge-fund manager, attended a $33,400-per-year high school, and generally had a vita stuffed with what he describes as “activism” but is more straightforwardly recognized as waiting in line for grip-and-grin photos at expensive political fundraisers.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a plutocratic elite preening to college admissions officers about how sophisticated and nuanced it is, forever.


Men Not Learning?

The nation has just emerged from graduation season. Many of us know young people who are either leaving high school and moving on to college or graduating from college and heading off into the world. But college and the promise of better career opportunities aren't what they used to be.

The job market for college graduates in America in 2017 is tighter than it's ever been, and it gets more competitive every year. No matter the degree earned, the average college graduate is becoming less likely to find a job in their chosen profession within five years, in some cases even 10 years, after graduation. Given the fact that a four-year college education can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000, this is a troubling fact that is crippling an entire generation of young people looking to enter the workforce.

It's a frightening and demoralizing situation to be saddled with a debt large enough to buy a small home before the age of 25 with nothing to show for it but an 8 1/2 x 11-size piece of onion skin paper with fancy lettering. There was a time when these degrees led straight to high-paying jobs. But that time is quickly waning.

Change is happening on a social level on college campuses, too. A recent article in the Denver Post notes that women now outnumber men nearly two to one in college attendance. Women hold nearly 60% of all bachelor degrees, and they account for almost half of all students in law, medical and graduate business programs.

It's a great thing and a long time coming that women have reached this level of academic excellence. But it comes amidst a wave of militant feminism that has a high price. By comparison, over the past decade, as the Denver Post notes, close to 30% of male college students have quit during their freshman year. This is a nationwide phenomenon. What gives?

There is something ugly beyond the increasingly limited economic value of a college education in modern America. And that's the fact that college isn't about education anymore. It's about indoctrination. Colleges in this country are not a place for learning, but are rather factories for cranking out sycophants of leftist ideology. They are surely not the haven for free speech they pretend to be. Look at the walkouts, protests and riots that are now taking place on college campuses sparked by nothing more than diverse opinions that run counter to statist groupthink.

Relationally, college has gotten bad too. James Shelley, director of the Men's Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, gives voice to one of the real reasons young men don't want to be on college campuses. These institutions, says Shelley, "welcome young men to college by essentially telling them that they are potential rapists."

Indeed, incessant repetition of the phony one-in-five-women-are-raped statistic isn't helping. Why would young men subject themselves to such legal jeopardy?

The hostile social environment combined with the extremely limited return on investment of spending money and time in an institution of higher "learning" that no longer offers better employment after graduation makes college a bad idea for a lot of young men. It should come as no surprise that they are dropping out of — or not even bothering to enroll in — these institutions.

The problem this growing segment of emasculated men are experiencing is that there isn't really a viable alternative outside of college. Society has effectively shamed the idea of vocational training and learning a trade as some backwards mindset that no longer suits our young people. Working with your hands has become scorned in a nation that was built by people who once practiced the very trades that we now need most.

The fact is there are not enough tradesmen, or tradeswomen for that matter. The high-end professions that college is supposed to train people for these days are drowning in applicants. There are more people trained for these jobs than the market can bear.

While colleges teach classes on the evils of Western civilization and offer degrees in understanding "Star Wars" and "The Simpsons," America's infrastructure is thirsting for people with tangible skills. That's where opportunity truly is, and where viable income and steady work can be found.

Mike Rowe, TV personality and one of America's foremost practical thinkers, offers countercultural advice that should be considered by America's young people: Don't follow your passion. Passion doesn't pay the bills; opportunity does. Don't be inspired by the one-percenters who followed their passion and became Oscar- and Grammy-winning performers. Follow opportunity. Find where no one else is meeting a need and fill that need.

Higher education is not a sham. Wanting to learn more about the world is a noble pursuit and young Americans have an opportunity rare in most countries. But education is not a value in its own right. It should lead somewhere. And that place is not a leftist reeducation camp that teaches people to hate each other based on belief or gender. That place should be where you learn a skill or a trade that allows you to make a living and build a future for yourself and for your future family. This country was built by people not afraid to get their hands dirty. That is what truly makes America great.


Why up to half of all Australian teachers are quitting within five years

As a former High School teacher I cannot relate to the "cri de coeur" below at all.  I had no time pressures whatever. I just taught from the textbook and got my students excellent results that way.  But I concede that it may be different in Primary School

Everyone remembers the nerves on their first day of school, but Margaret Gordon had it especially tough. The 22-year-old was made to stand up in front of the entire assembly at her school on the NSW Central Coast and introduced by the principal as "Miss Gordon, who has just graduated from Sydney University".

Ten minutes later, the new primary school teacher was shown to a classroom full of year 2 students.

"It just felt like the workload snowballed," Miss Gordon, now 25, said. "Early on, I was at school by 8 every morning and I'd leave hopefully by 6pm when the cleaners kick you out, and weekends would just be planning and gathering resources.

"There would maybe be a little bit of time in there for grocery shopping."

She has since learnt to manage the workload and recovered her weekends, but for many of her fellow early career teachers the transition from study to work never becomes any easier.

Up to half of all Australian teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, and new research conducted by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health suggests the problem could be in the way the school day is structured.

Of the 453 teachers surveyed across NSW, two-thirds identified time management and having too much work as their biggest challenge, and more than half said they wanted more time for collaboration, mentoring and planning.

"One of the things identified is that teachers feel their time is limited and there are high demands on how they use that time," the study's program manager and principal investigator Gavin Hazel said.

Nicole Calnan, a membership and training officer at the NSW Teachers Federation, said: "It's one of the few positions where we expect teachers to produce the same results from their students in their first year as someone with 15 years of experience.

"We need to make sure that if we do expect that, they have support and more time within the school day for professional learning and collaboration with other teachers."

Ms Calnan said countries like Finland, which have fewer required hours of direct instruction, provide a successful model of how teachers could be given more time outside the classroom during school hours.

Australian primary teachers must provide a total of 6060 hours of direct instruction across K-6 classes every year, compared to their counterparts in Finland who are required to provide 3794 hours of direct instruction, according to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on classroom instruction. The average number of required direct instruction hours across OECD countries is 4553.

"Their teaching day is structured differently," Ms Calnan said. "Face-to-face instruction time isn't as great as other countries, which means teachers have greater time for lesson preparation and students have more time for social interaction.

And obviously Finnish students still perform very well."

Ms Calnan said improving career experiences for new teachers would require a greater policy focus on teacher wellbeing, instead of only looking at how students are performing.

"[This] research is a welcome addition to our understanding of what early career teachers are facing," she said. "That hasn't been a priority for political parties."

Ms Gordon, who also represents the NSW Teachers Federation, said she has been lucky to have a good mentor in the teacher next door and her principal, but her experience stands in contrast to that of many of her friends from university.

"One school can be a vastly different experience from the one next door," Ms Gordon said.

"Some people have said the executive at their school were not supporting them or putting pressure on them; other people have talked about parents' expectations being too high. "You pretty much sign a contract and off you go.

"I think there needs to be more of a structured induction with different focuses on things like your wellbeing and how important it is to get sleep."


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