Thursday, April 12, 2018

UMass Boston feels snubbed after Mount Ida deal

I don't know why UMass administrators privilege UMass Amherst over UMass Boston but I suspect that it is because UMass Amherst is twice as white (majority white at Amherst versus minority white at Boston). Heh!

UMass Boston students and professors are livid after learning that UMass Amherst will buy a new campus in Newton for its students, while Boston is forced to keep cutting people and programs to make ends meet.

To them, the university system trustees’ approval of Amherst’s plan reinforces a longstanding belief on the Dorchester campus that the University of Massachusetts Boston is considered second-best.

“The board just really doesn’t care about Boston,” said Katie Mitrano, president of the UMass Boston undergraduate student body.

“This is going to starve us even more. It’s going to put us into competition with our sister campus,” said Lorna Rivera, a women’s studies professor at UMass Boston.

“There is a lot of neglect of the Boston campus within the UMass system in a way that we can only link to socioeconomic discrimination,” said Charla Burnett, a UMass Boston PhD student and graduate student employees union representative.

Attorney General Maura Healey said over the weekend she would look into the situation to see if Mount Ida students could possibly qualify for relief from their college loans and to help determine what transfer options are available.

Under the UMass plan, Mount Ida students have the chance to automatically enroll at UMass Dartmouth or apply to transfer to another UMass campus.

Amherst intends to use the campus for its students to complete internships and academic collaborations with Boston-area colleges and businesses. Amherst officials said the 72-acre facility, which comes with dorms, laboratories, and sports fields, will also help fund-raising by having a facility closer to alumni in the city.

The purchase will be financed by the Amherst campus with $37 million in tax-exempt bonds, plus other borrowing. All UMass campuses have separate budgets, and their borrowing abilities depend on how much debt a campus has in relation to its operating revenue.

The Boston campus has struggled acutely over the past year with an operating deficit at one point projected to reach $30 million. The deficit was caused, in part, by millions of dollars in delays and overruns on various construction projects on the campus, as well as decades of general financial mismanagement, according to the results of an audit released last fall.

As a result of the budget challenges, UMass Boston has cut course sections, laid off employees, imposed a hiring freeze, closed an on-campus day care center, and even instructed students to cut back on printing and copying.

Rivera, the women’s studies professor, also runs the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development & Public Policy, one of 17 centers and institutes at UMass Boston that will lose funding from the university.  “It makes one wonder, . . . of all the campuses why is UMass Boston consistently excluded and shamed and marginalized from the whole system?” she said. ‘This is going to starve us even more.’

The Amherst deal is not final. The state Board of Higher Education is required to approve Mount Ida’s plan for how students will complete their degrees. Its next meeting is scheduled for April 24.

In addition, although UMass trustees approved Amherst’s plan to buy the campus, a UMass system office spokesman said on Monday that the deal is still subject to more research.


Nation’s ‘Report Card’ Shows Federal Intervention Has Not Helped Students

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law in 1965, he vowed the unprecedented new federal intervention in K-12 education would “bridge the gap between helplessness and hope” for “educationally deprived children.”

When President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Education Organization Act into law in 1979 creating the Department of Education, he exclaimed that “the time has passed when the federal government can afford to give second-level, part-time attention to its responsibilities in American education.”

When President George W. Bush began making the case for No Child Left Behind, he elegantly stated that his federal education policies would end the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

And when President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the “stimulus”—sending an unprecedented $98 billion to the Department of Education—he said that it represented “the largest investment in education in our nation’s history” and would ensure American children wouldn’t be “out-educated” on the international stage.

Yet more than half a century after Johnson signed Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law, and 38 years after the Department of Education became operational, it has become clear that federal intervention in K-12 education has failed to achieve its primary goal: reducing gaps in academic outcomes between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers.

On Tuesday, the National Center for Education Statistics at the Department of Education released the highly anticipated results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s “report card,” underscoring that point.

The scores are a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies, including historically high levels of spending, the addition of new programs, numerous federal directives, and perhaps most consequentially, Common Core.

Eighth-grade reading increased one point in 2017 from 2015, up to 267. Fourth-grade reading was not significantly different, declining from 223 in 2015 to 222 in 2017. Fourth-grade math scores were unchanged, at 240 in both 2015 and 2017, and eighth-grade math scores did not significantly change, moving from 282 in 2015 to 283 in 2017.

Both the math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are measured on a point scale of 0 to 500.

In terms of the percentage of American students considered proficient in math and reading, the 2017 report card has little to cheer.

37 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better in reading, unchanged from 2015.

36 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or better in reading, significantly better than in 2015, when 34 percent of eighth-graders reached proficiency or better. This was the only subject and grade level to show any significant improvement since 2015.

40 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better in math, unchanged from 2015.

34 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or better in math, which was not significantly different from 2015.
Only a single state—Florida—posted gains in fourth-grade math since 2015. Florida was also the only state to post gains in eighth-grade math.

And while nine states saw improvements in eighth-grade reading, not a single state increased fourth-grade reading performance over 2015 levels. Fourth-grade math scores also decreased by two points in the nation’s largest districts.

Achievement Gaps Persist

The achievement gap between white students and their nonwhite peers also remained unchanged. The gap actually widened between students who were the lowest performers in math and reading, and students who were the highest performers.

For example, eighth-graders in the lowest 25th percentile of performance saw a statistically significant two-point decline in math, from 258 to 256, while eighth-graders in the 90th percentile of math performance saw a significant increase from 329 to 333.

A Trend Line Emerges

Although the 2017 scores are uninspiring, they should be particularly concerning when considered in conjunction with the 2015 results, the most recent release prior to this year’s report card.

The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress represented the first time math and reading scores had declined or remained stagnant since the test was first administered in 1990. Further declines and an overall stagnation in 2017 suggest a trend—namely, scores are going in the wrong direction.

Forty-nine out of 50 states were stagnant on the 2017 report card, and achievement gaps persist. Historically, federal education spending has been appropriated to close gaps, yet this spending—more than $2 trillion in inflation-adjusted spending at the federal level alone since 1965—has utterly failed to achieve that goal.

Increasing federal intervention over the past half-century, and the resulting burden of complying with federal programs, rules, and regulations, have created a parasitic relationship with federal education programs and states, and is straining the time and resources of local schools.

Instead of responding first to students, parents, and taxpayers, federal education micromanagement has encouraged state education systems and local school districts to orient their focus to the demands of Washington.

Instead of building on the failed policies of the past and continuing top-down education mandates from Washington, a drastically different approach should be taken to significantly limit federal meddling in education and to empower state and local leaders.

It is time for the federal government to re-examine its intervention in local school policy.


Want to know how to get into Harvard? Court may allow some admissions documents to be open to the public
If there’s a Holy Grail in higher education, this might be it: thousands of documents that lay bare the inner workings of Harvard University’s admissions process.

The US Justice Department thinks the public deserves to see the information. Students and guidance counselors would love a peek. And a federal court case that could end up before the US Supreme Court hinges on this trove of information and whether it offers proof that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants in its admissions, as an advocacy group has alleged.

On Tuesday, US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs indicated that some of Harvard’s admissions data will become part of the court record and open to public view in the coming months.

Still, how many of the tens of thousands of documents — which include student applications, notes about students from admissions officers, manuals for how to evaluate applications, and data on how Harvard scores student qualities for admissions — will be revealed is unclear.

Harvard has argued that much of the data is akin to “trade secrets,” and a good chunk will likely remain secret. The university has also repeatedly denied that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

In a court session Tuesday ahead of a trial scheduled for this fall, Burroughs asked Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit organization that has been fighting affirmative action policies on campuses, to file two versions of court documents. One version, which will be publicly available, will have the sensitive information redacted; the other won’t.

She urged both sides to work on determining what should be redacted, although warned them against blocking out too much information, rendering the documents incomprehensible.

“I don’t expect to get pages and pages of blackness,” Burroughs said, in reference to heavy redactions.

The affirmative action case against Harvard has attracted intense scrutiny, especially under the Trump administration.

Students for Fair Admissions filed its lawsuit against Harvard in 2014, claiming that the university caps the number of high-performing Asian-Americans it admits each year.

Separately, a coalition of Asian-American groups also filed complaints about Harvard with the Justice Department in 2015. Those complaints spurred little action during the Obama administration. Then last year, the Justice Department launched an investigation into Harvard’s admissions policies.

Since then, the federal agency has threatened to sue Harvard over the slow disclosure of documents. And last week, it sided with Students for Fair Admissions in court, arguing for more transparency of Harvard’s admissions data.

“Applicants to Harvard, their families, and the general public have a presumptively paramount right to access the summary judgement record in this civil rights case,” John Gore, the acting assistant attorney general, wrote in a court filing.

But Harvard is concerned that some students might be identifiable through a quick Google search, even if their names and addresses are redacted.

Additionally, the university is worried that the information could be a boon for the college admissions industry and families who are all looking for any advantage to help their children land a spot at the Ivy League school.

“Publicizing this information would cause applicants and college consultants to seek to orient their applications to what they perceive Harvard wants, to the detriment of the authenticity of the information Harvard receives and its ability to make its best judgements,” wrote Felicia Ellsworth, an attorney with WilmerHale, which is representing Harvard, in a filing.

Harvard officials have also raised fears that Students for Fair Admissions would use the information in a “media campaign” to further its “agenda to eliminate consideration of race in higher education and to assail those institutions that consider race in order to pursue their compelling interest in the educational benefits that flow from a widely diverse student body.”

But William Consovoy, an attorney for Students for Fair Admissions, said so many of the documents in this case have been deemed top-secret that he hasn’t even been able to show his client some of the information.

On Tuesday, Burroughs allowed Consovoy to share some of the information with Students for Fair Admissions solely for review in the case.


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