Wednesday, November 01, 2017

‘Anti-racist’: ‘I will always call on my black women students first’

The discriminatory technique is more common in classrooms than you think.

Stephanie McKellop, a graduate teaching assistant in history at the University of Pennsylvania, drew notice last week for her promotion of a little-known progressive pedagogy. As McKellop explained in a tweet, “I will always call on my Black women students first. Other [people of color] get second tier priority. [White women] come next. And, if I have to, white men.” While McKellop had apparently been doing this all along, her public boast yielded a firestorm.

McKellop later claimed that UPenn was preparing to condemn her teaching practices, writing that “Penn thinks I’m racist and discriminatory towards my students for using a very well worn pedagogical tactic which includes calling on [people of color].”

UPenn Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty acknowledged that “we are looking into the current matter,” but no condemnation has so far been issued. In any event, McKellop went on to explain that this “well worn” technique is called “progressive stacking.”

In a later missive, McKellop helpfully linked to the relevant Wikipedia entry, which explains that progressive stacking “is a technique used to give marginalized groups a greater chance to speak. . . . In practice, ‘majority culture’ is interpreted by progressive stack practitioners to mean White people, men and young adults.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, progressive stacking was popular with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

More than a few academics have spoken up to defend the use of progressive stacking. Nolan Cabrera, an associate professor of educational-policy studies and practice at the University of Arizona, explained to The Chronicle of Higher Education that “in college classrooms . . . it’s very common for people of privileged social identities to dominate conversations,” and that progressive stacking is “an acknowledgment that traditional pedagogical techniques have silenced marginal voices.”

Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the City University of New York, told Inside Higher Ed that (as the site paraphrased it) “progressive stacking has been around at least since she was in graduate school in the 1990s.”

It takes little imagination to see the practical problems with all of this. For one, as Reason’s Robby Soave notes, “Even if you think social inequalities make it impossible to be racist against white people, McKellop’s contention that ‘other POC get second tier priority’ is absurdly offensive on its own.”

Just how ought a teacher calibrate for all the relevant disparities? Among Asian-Americans, for example, educational attainment varies enormously between different subgroups, with Korean- and Taiwanese-American students vastly outperforming Vietnamese and Laotian Americans. Should students within the latter ethnicities be given classroom-speaking preference over those of the former?

More to the point, it represents a profound parody of the American creed when “anti-bias” educators start employing race-based distinctions as an instructional tactic. After all, there was a time when schools unabashedly treated students differently based on race and ethnicity: This was called discrimination.

People of goodwill have spent long decades struggling to address and atone for this vicious legacy. We may not be there yet, but undeniable progress has been made — guided by the ardent conviction that race-based discrimination has no place in American education. Today, though, a small but growing slice of college and K–12 educators are suggesting it is okay, even admirable, to treat students differently based on the color of their skin.

The reality is that progressive stacking and its ilk ultimately rest on dubious applications of junk science. While claims of “implicit bias” serve as the justification for “anti-racist” pedagogy, the credibility of the entire body of work has been called into doubt. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis examined nearly 500 studies on the “Implicit Association Test” — arguably the foundational measure in the study of implicit bias — and found fundamental problems with the test itself.

Researchers, including one of the test’s co-creators, found that “the correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought.” They cautioned that “there’s not necessarily strong evidence for the conclusions people have drawn” about implicit bias.

Similarly, a seminal 2004 study analyzed the impact of membership in an ethnic-identity-based organization on undergraduate student attitudes. It found that, for black, Asian, and Latino students, such membership “actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.”

In truth, what we know about promoting racial comity flies in the face of progressive-stack theory. As social psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim explain, the positive benefits of interracial contact “depend in large measure on certain conditions, like having common goals, a sense of cooperation and equal status. The benefits disappear when there is anxiety about cross-group interactions.

On a campus, this means that increasing the number of black students and professors could, in theory, improve race relations, but such benefits are unlikely when accompanied by microaggression training and other measures that magnify racial consciousness and conflict.”

For whatever reason, some educators seem intent on finding more and more ways to bastardize pedagogy in pursuit of their ideological agendas. It is easy to laugh at this nonsense and allow commentators to downplay incidents like McKellop’s as outliers or curiosities. But we fear they are better understood as warning signs that crusading educators have made it their mission to upend some of America’s most cherished principles.

The great crusade of 20th-century education was the battle to extinguish racial discrimination in schooling. While we may not have yet delivered on that promise, we should call on educators left and right to resoundingly reject those “anti-racist” crusaders who have decided it’s time to abandon it.

State legislators, school boards, and university trustees should make it clear that discrimination — whatever the purported motivation — will not be tolerated in America’s classrooms. Period.


Customized Learning for California

Helping K–12 Students Thrive with Education Savings Accounts

The taxpayer-funded public education system in California is broken. It costs residents nearly $66 billion dollars annually, resulting in an average per student cost of more than $12,000. In fact, K–12 education represents the single largest share of the state’s entire general fund budget, nearly 43 percent.

Yet student achievement places California among the bottom five states in the nation in reading and math. Currently, nearly one out of five high school students does not graduate, and just 43 percent of those who do graduate meet California’s four-year college course requirements.

The proven policy-path for dramatic improvements in student achievement is parental choice: giving parents the ability to choose the methods and means of their children’s education, including the freedom to use education savings accounts, or ESAs.

The concept behind ESAs is simple. In the typical ESA program, parents who do not prefer a public school for their child simply withdraw him or her, and the state deposits most or all of what it would have spent into that child’s ESA. Parents then receive a type of dedicated-use debit card to pay for authorized expenses including private school tuition, online courses, testing fees, tutoring, and special education therapies. Any leftover funds remain in the child’s ESA for future education expenses, including college under some programs.

Today ESAs are helping more than 11,000 students in states with operational programs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. And so far in 2017 at least 17 bills enacting or expanding ESA programs have been introduced in 13 states.

ESAs are popular, easy to use, fiscally responsible, and constitutional. Best of all, they empower parents to choose how, not just where, their children are educated, which customizes learning in ways that no one-size-fits-all system could ever match—no matter how lavishly funded.

This Independent Institute Policy Report discusses K–12 education options in Calfornia, explains the basic mechanics of ESAs, corrects misconceptions about ESAs, and outlines the features of a California ESA program that is privately funded through tax-credit contributions, much like tax-credit scholarship programs operate in other states across the country. The Appendix offers an elaboration of the fiscal impacts of the California ESA proposals and provides a comparison of ESAs programs in five states.

California’s public school system, which largely rations education based on where a child’s parents can afford to live, is a relic of a bygone era. Such a system cannot provide the customized preparation students need to succeed in a rapidly changing, increasingly competitive world. In contrast, ESAs would empower parents and guardians to personalize their child’s education, and would foster a educational landscape that can quickly adapt to meet the diverse needs of students and their families.


Australia: Dream turns into degree-factory nightmare

The Rudd and Gillard governments’ habit of meddling in places it had no right to be was driven not so much by socialism as solutionism; the impulse to solve problems yet to be defined. It accelerated the expansion of what the Productivity Commission delicately refers to as the non-market sector in its landmark review of national economic ­efficiency released last week.

The non-market sector — health, welfare and education for the most part — accounts for more than 20 per cent of economic activity and is powered by government investment.

Are our degree factories delivering value for money? One suspects not, in the light of the commission’s recommendation that higher education providers should be included in consumer law, giving unhappy students the right to seek compensation if the service they received was “not fit for purpose” or was “supplied without due care and skill”.

The commission charts the extra­ordinary growth of universities in which more than a million Australians are enrolled today, twice as many as there were when the century began.

The federal government’s direct contribution increased from $19 billion in 2007 to $31bn last year, not counting the amount it lends to students, a substantial slice of which it will never recoup. Outstanding government loans to students have tripled across the same period from $16bn to $49bn.

Those who received the most benefit, if benefit it is, are the millennials, a generation that may well become known as the education boomers, the most well-credentialed generation in history. Four out of 10 women aged between 25 and 35 have a bachelor degree, or higher qualification, as do three out of 10 men in the same cohort.

Ten years ago the figures were 24 and 22 per cent respectively.

For those who regard human beings as inputs that increase production, this investment in education should be an unqualified good. Yet human beings, it turns out, are not machines, and the demand for the services of graduates has its limits. Full-time employment for graduates has fallen from 85 per cent in 2008 to 71 per cent last year.

More than a quarter of graduates work in jobs unrelated to their studies, to which their degree may add little value. In fields such as the humanities, languages, arts and social sciences, the figure could be as high as half. Graduate wages as a proportion of the average minimum wage have been falling since 2008.

Students’ return on investment is shrinking, and they know it.

A survey last year found high levels of dissatisfaction: almost half thought they had received inadequate services.

The higher education revolution engineered by Julia Gillard as education minister and then prime minister has been a force for destruction, as revolutions usually are. The ideal of excellence has been usurped by the dogma of inclusion. A place at a university is a right, and in some circles is seen as a requirement, a four-year transition from youth to adulthood without which no life is complete.

The average Australian Tertiary Admission Rank of univer­sity entrants, a proxy measure for academic preparedness, fell from 79.9 per cent in 2010 before the glorious Gillard revolution to 76.4 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, the proportion of students abandoning university courses rose, from 12.5 per cent in 2009 to 15.2 per cent in 2014. More than a quarter of students are failing to complete their degrees in nine years. In the commission’s view, this represents a waste of the student’s time and money, and squandered taxpayer funding.

Gillard’s changes to higher education are one more example of the costly but avoidable public policy mistakes about which the commission expresses concern.

In part, the blame falls on the public service for its failure to conduct standard due diligence and its excessive aversion to risk which makes it slow to acknowledge mistakes and quick to centralise decision-making.

The commission is understandably muted, however, in its references to the poor performance of elected governments. The rushed delivery of rash promises, bypassing of normal cabinet process, reliance on verbal rather than written advice, failure to stress-test proposals and reckless disregard for future costs were highlighted two years ago in an important report by Peter Shergold that, disconcertingly, appears to have been little read.

One suspects the author foresaw as much and so cunningly decided to include the guts of it in the title. Learning from Failure: Why Large Government Policy Initiatives Have Gone So Badly Wrong in the Past and How the Chances of Success in the Future Can be Improved, together with a well-thumbed copy of last week’s magnum opus from the Productivity Commission, should be placed in a prominent position on every would-be revolutionary’s bookcase


No comments: