Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Scotland: Poor students losing out as schools offer fewer subjects

Children from deprived families are facing “completely unacceptable” restrictions on their education because schools in poor areas teach significantly fewer subjects than those serving the middle classes, The Times can reveal.

A new analysis of Scottish government data showing deprivation levels, alongside a school-by-school breakdown of the number of Highers on offer, shows a direct link between how affluent a catchment area is and the variety of curriculum subjects available to pupils in their senior phase.

In the schools serving Scotland’s poorest communities, an average of 17.2 subjects are on offer. But, in schools where less than one in four pupils lives in a deprived postcode, teenagers can expect to choose between 23 subjects.

Previously, the Scottish government has sought to explain a disparity in the number of subjects available by saying that the Curriculum for Excellence allows headteachers the flexibility to take “different approaches” to meet the needs of pupils.

However, opponents said that evidence showing a clear link between deprivation levels and the extent of subject choice will undermine Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that her government is prioritising the need for all children to have equal opportunities irrespective of their background. The figures will also call into question the SNP’s success in closing the gap in attainment levels and life chances between rich and poor.

When confronted with the findings, the Scottish government said that it believed “it is important that local authorities and schools offer a broad range of subject choices that meet their pupils’ needs and aspirations”.

The analysis of subject choice was made by comparing data on the number of subjects on offer at more than 200 schools — published earlier this year by the Scottish Conservatives after freedom of information requests — and Scottish government figures on school deprivation levels.

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This analysis appears to show that the poorer the background of a child, the fewer options they have at school.

“That’s completely unacceptable, and has to change as a matter of urgency if we are to make progress with the attainment gap. Much of this will be related to teacher recruitment, and that’s something the SNP has sole control over. There will be some cases where children can study other subjects at different schools, but that is hardly an ideal scenario.

“Nicola Sturgeon has said education is her top priority, but that claim is wearing thinner by the day.”

Previously, teachers have said that a staffing shortage is having an impact on the number of subjects on offer, with deprived schools often finding it more difficult to recruit and retain staff. There is also evidence to suggest that parents of middle class children are more likely to engage with how a school is run and lobby headteachers.

While generally schools will all offer common subjects at Higher level, such as maths, English and history, some children will be denied the opportunity to study less common subjects such as psychology, media, economics or computing at their own school.

Experts have previously warned that Scotland’s system which allows a wide variation in subject choices and curriculum flexibility, could discriminate against poor students because “more socially advantaged” parents were better placed to ensure their children made the best decisions about what subjects to take.


Low-income students remain rare at elite universities

As the Trump administration takes aim at race-based college admissions policies, many of the country’s most competitive schools, including Ivy League universities, are struggling with an equally vexing problem: how to create more economic diversity on their campuses, giving strong students of modest means the same opportunities long available to children from the nation’s wealthiest families.

Selective colleges in Massachusetts and across the country have made some progress in expanding their ethnic and racial diversity. But when it comes to admitting and educating students from low-income families, many of these schools have made little headway — or fallen behind.

Even some schools that make generous financial aid available have trouble recruiting qualified applicants from among the country’s neediest families. In many cases, such schools aren’t even on those families’ radar. And many poorer students have limited access to SAT prepatory classes, private counselors, and the college-level coursework in high school that can put them on track for admission into a selective university.

“It seems to me that having a multiracial aristocracy is better than an all-white aristocracy, but it’s still an aristocracy,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who has advocated that colleges use socioeconomic factors in admissions. “Every university president will say, ‘We look for strivers and give them an advantage in admission.’ But the bottom line data suggests things haven’t changed.”

Nationally, 40 percent of undergraduates receive a Pell Grant, federal aid for students who come from lower-income families. But at the eight Ivy League institutions, Pell recipients accounted on average for just 16 percent of undergraduates, according to 2014 data published this summer. (At Harvard, that figure is 19.3 percent.)

High-achieving, low-income students, often the first in their families to attend college, struggle to feel they belong on elite campuses.

Advocates for low-income students say these elite schools should aim for at least 20 percent.

The underrepresentation of Pell recipients isn’t just an Ivy League problem. Many selective schools, including Tufts University and Northeastern University, let in only a meager number of low-income students. At Tufts, the share of undergraduates who receive Pell aid has been about 11 percent in recent years. At Northeastern, 13 percent of about 13,200 undergrads came from low-income families, according to data compiled by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

That has happened despite the number of high school students seeking undergraduate degrees remaining high and an overall increase in Pell recipients.

Recent research from the Equality of Opportunity Project also indicates that some of the most competitive schools in America have enrolled more students from families at the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom half of income-earners. In addition, at many selective schools the share of low-income students declined or remained flat between 1999 and 2013, according to tax data culled by the project, a collaboration of several noted economists.

Muna Mohamed, a 19-year-old student at Tufts, said she didn’t need to see the data to know about the wealth gap on her campus.

“You can see it,” said Mohamed, whose family moved to Lewiston, Maine, from Somalia. “It is apparent in the university how many students come from wealth.”

In the winter, the school is awash with undergraduates in Canada Goose parkas, which sell for nearly $1,000 apiece, she said, while she has to work two jobs to help pay for expenses not covered in her generous financial aid package.

Mohamed, who applied to Tufts on a whim and a desire to leave Maine for a more cosmopolitan experience, said many students from her public high school don’t even have the college on their list. They don’t bother, she said, because they think it’s too expensive, not realizing that the school offers significant financial aid and support to low-income students who get in. Or perhaps they have never touched base with a college recruiter, whose visits may not be well-publicized, she said.

“It’s not part of the culture much, so you don’t do it,” Mohamed said.

Officials from Tufts and other colleges said they are trying to reach more low-income students.

Karen Richardson, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts, said the university concluded a $95 million scholarship fund-raising campaign last year that has allowed it to offer a record $21.7 million in need-based grants to the incoming first-year class.

Northeastern in the past decade has more than doubled its investment in financial aid. Officials there noted that the school does a better job than many of its peers in helping low-income students climb the economic ladder.

Other colleges are also expanding their recruiting efforts, making it easier for low-income students to apply, eliminating merit-based aid in favor of need-based financing, and ensuring that cost isn’t a barrier for families and students who would otherwise qualify. Some elite schools now pay to fly low-income high school students to campus to meet admissions officers.

Yale University is among 30 institutions, including all the Ivy League schools, that last December signed on to the American Talent Initiative, which aims to attract, enroll, and graduate an additional 50,000 lower-income students by 2025. Yale officials said the school has also created more room for low-income students, in part by increasing its undergraduate class size. This fall’s first-year class includes 61 percent more Pell recipients than the class enrolled in 2013, said Karen N. Peart, a spokeswoman for the university.

Some rich schools with hefty endowments, including Harvard, allow needy students to attend for free. Since Harvard launched its program in 2003, the number of first-year students who qualify annually has increased by 100, to 320 students annually in a class of about 1,600.

Harvard has also increased by 4.7 percent its share of students who come from the bottom 40 percent of income earners between 1999 to 2013, the highest increase among all Ivy League schools, according to data from the Equality of Opportunity Project.

At the same time, the percentage of students from low-income families at some of Harvard’s peer universities has decreased or barely budged, according to the data.

“We aggressively recruit for students from low-income backgrounds,” said Sally Donahue, director of financial aid at Harvard. “It would be great if highly selective schools would have more low-income students, but it gets complicated.”

Schools want to ensure that they admit students who will thrive on their campuses, and those who come from higher-income families, attend rigorous high schools, and have the resources to get academic tutoring are better prepared to match up with highly selective universities, Donahue said.

Advocates, such as Kahlenberg, have pushed for a class-based affirmative action that would more directly benefit students who rise above the disadvantages of poverty.

But improving access to college for lower-income students can be expensive, requiring that the school provide not only financial aid, but also money for intensive recruiting and more academic and financial help once students arrive on campus, said Katie Fretwell, dean of admissions and financial aid at Amherst College.

“It takes a big endowment, and it takes a commitment from on high,” she said. Amherst’s endowment is $2 billion.

Amherst College, where last year nearly one in four students received Pell aid, recruits at charter schools — including the Academy of the Pacific Rim, Boston Collegiate Charter School, and Prospect Hill Academy in Greater Boston — and works with nonprofits that help match high-achieving, low-income high-schoolers with scholarships. In addition, Amherst has recently accepted more transfer students from community colleges. About 60 percent of the 100 transfer students that Amherst accepts during a four-year period are from community colleges, Fretwell said.

When elite schools do provide access, it can be a life-changing experience for students.

Kaelan McCone, 20, a political science and French major from Greensboro, N.C., said he was able to complete an unpaid internship in Spain this summer because of a grant from Amherst.

He and his more wealthy classmates have had similar opportunities, McCone said, even though his father works for UPS and his mother is a retired teacher.

Still, it’s hard to avoid some differences at a school where the median family income for students is $158,200, McCone said.

Some students leave the country frequently, he said, and others eat out at a nice restaurant every week without a second thought. When he was submitting his taxes, a friend asked him why his family’s accountant didn’t take care of the paperwork, said McCone, who worked at a food bar, as a tour guide, and as a Spanish tutor to earn spending money.

“I can’t afford to spend $20 for a meal every Saturday night,” he said. “Instead, I work.”

Some higher education researchers warn that as the US Justice Department targets race-based admissions policies with its investigation into whether Harvard’s practices discriminate against Asian college applicants, turning to socioeconomic factors in admissions isn’t the easy replacement to creating diversity on campus.

If only socioeconomic factors are used, schools are likely to lose some of their ethnic diversity, said Rachel Baker, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California Irvine who has studied the issue.

Still, if elite colleges want more lower-income students on their campuses, they have to start paying more attention to income in admissions decisions, Baker said.

Right now, there’s little evidence that income is a strong factor in admissions decisions, which could lead to higher education becoming even more segregated by class, she said.

Poorer students will remain in community colleges, state schools, and for-profit institutions, where resources and access to business networks are scarce, while the rich graduate from well-funded, selective institutions, Baker said.

“We cling so strongly to this idea that college is an equalizer, with stories of homeless to Harvard,” Baker said. “But it’s not common. It’s not widespread. By and large, where you go to college is very strongly correlated to your upbringing.”


More campus censorship: "White lives matter" rally planned for 9/11 cancelled

One cannot really blame the university.  With antifa on the prowl there could well have been real violence and possible death.  They have achieved their aim of silencing alternative voices on campus

A “WHITE lives matter” event scheduled to take place at a Texas campus on September 11 has been cancelled by the university amid security fears.

Texas A&M University abruptly cancelled the planned rally on its campus next month after pressure from state politicians, who said hatred should be rejected in all forms.

Former A&M student Preston Wiginton began organising the white supremacist gathering after Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly. He notified the media with the headline, “Today Charlottesville, tomorrow Texas A&M.”

A&M university said in a statement that the rally had been cancelled because of “concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff and the public”. It added: “Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville and Texas A&M creates a major security risk on our campus.”

At least one person died and 16 were injured when a car ploughed into a group of anti-racism counter-protesters in Virginia.

Rally organiser Mr Wiginton had invited prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, whose presence sparked massive protests when spoke on the campus last December. “I think that was a stepping stone for white people to realise that there are issues, and they feel comfortable enough now to talk about them,” Mr Wiginton told local newspaper The Eagle.

But the university said it still supported free speech but circumstances had changed and the “threat to life” had compelled it to cancel the event.

The cancellation came hours after Dallas Democratic Representative Helen Giddings gave a House floor speech while nearly all of the chamber’s 150 members stood beside her. She urged university administrators to “unequivocally denounce and fight against this violent group” adding “all of us in the state of Texas want to say with one voice, Texas will not stand for hate.”

Austin Republican Representative Paul Workman added that a petition being circulated for A&M graduates in the House was attempting to “keep this from happening on our campus.” The chamber then held a moment of silence for victims killed and injured in Charlottesville.

Similar sentiments came from the Texas Senate, which also held its own moment of silence.

Local Republican Senator Charles Schwertner has said he had planned to attend a counter protest of the A&M rally. Although the group may be allowed to meet at the College Station campus, Schwertner said, “The First Amendment also allows us to respond in kind, to stand up and say what we believe as a society, as Americans and as Texans. We should not stand for bigotry, for violence, for racism.”

Dallas Democratic Senator Royce West said he would also go to the Texas A&M campus on 9/11. “We will do everything in our power to make sure those days gone by will not be repeated. I’m confident they won’t be,” he said, recalling the Jim Crow-era of segregation and discrimination. “We will stand strong against those hate groups, Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan.” Mr West added: “My 17-year-old grandson asked me yesterday, ‘Should my generation be more like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X?’ I had to pause and listen to the hurt in his voice and doubt in his ability to pursue the American dream. I didn’t answer the question ... That’s where we are in America today.”’


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